Thursday, April 28, 2005

SMS With A Side Of Light Phaser

Our friend Scott had never seen a Sega Master System, so the other night we decided to get it out and show it to him. This was mostly spawned after playing Fantasy Zone on the NES and talking about how much better the SMS version was.

Anyway, after some brief setup, the SMS was fully operational. Not counting the two games built into the console, I own four cartridges for this puppy. We played three of them:

1. Astro Warrior - an excellent "shmup" shooter game. Solid control, excellent powerups and huge bosses. Need I say more?
2. Fantasy Zone - like an acid trip in a cartridge. Incredibly colorful side-scrolling shooter, though pretty difficult.
3. Double Dragon - Despite its problems, this is one of the best Double Dragon ports out there. This game brings back many fond memories of beating up Green Abobo.

Once we made it through the carts (ironically, Time Soldiers got skipped because we didn't have time to play it) we decided to check out the only lightgun game that I've ever played for the SMS, Safari Hunt. Think Duck Hunt, only with a lot more targets, some of which take multiple hits or move very quickly. This would be a great game except for a few inherent problems with the SMS lightgun, the Light Phaser:

-Grip is terribly non-ergonomic and uncomfortable due to its nearly 90 degree angle to the gun's barrel
-Rear sights are too close together, rendering poor sight picture

These traits, coupled with the much slighter trigger pull that the Light Phaser has compared to Nintendo's Zapper, are what keep me from getting more lightgun games for the SMS. I just don't like the peripheral as much. The Zapper just feels so much more natural. Once everybody left I had to break out Duck Hunt just to reaffirm to myself that I wasn't a poor shot by any means.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not knocking the SMS. If I didn't love the thing I wouldn't have bought one. Who knows, maybe my eyes/hands were tired. I'll have to give the Light Phaser another chance... time to start looking into titles. Maybe I can pick up Wonder Boy III cheap while I'm at it...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ratings Jam: Neo Fami/FC Game Console (plus Bonus: The Amityville Frontloader)

Since I mostly started this "weblog" because I wanted to do peripheral reviews, I figured I'd start with my most recent acquisition: The FC Game Console, which is the "USA Version" of a pirate system called the Neo Fami. (This is gonna be a long one, so I'll put the condensed version at the end.)

Just pulling it out of the box, I can tell that it's not just a typical NESClone. The thing is tiny--about the size of four standard CD jewel cases stacked together. It's a top-loading unit, and the slot is pretty tight; in fact, sometimes I have a lot of trouble getting the games out. The power and reset switches are toward the front of the unit, and the power switch lights up with a sweet blue LED. Two standard NES controller ports are in the front, as well; due to the unit's tiny size, they're sidways, whcih keeps me from using the NES Satellite without some fancy wirin'.

The AC jack and AV out are in the back of the unit, and that leads me to both my first big plus and my first big minus. The video out is EXCELLENT, much better than what I expected. Why couldn't Nintendo put nice video on their toploading NES instead of the worst RF out ever? The colors are clean and crisp. The audio out, however, leaves something to be desired. The sound does not emulate properly; some of the sound channels are spot-on, but others are way off-pitch. This is particularly noticeable in Super Mario Bros, which was the first game I tested in the system.

The second real problem with the machine is compatibility. All of my licensed NES games work properly with the FCGC (although certain games, like Kung Fu, took like a million re-inserts and adjustments before they'd work). A few unlicensed games didn't work, but others worked fine. Example: Gauntlet, in the black engen cartridge, was unplayable, but Pac-Mania worked better on the FCGC than it does on my NES. The same with my Camerica gold-cartridge games; Micro Machines was a garbled mess, but Dizzy the Adventurer worked wonderfully.

Of course, I had to try out some pirate cartridges on this thing. Super Mario Bros. 3 was so bad that I couldn't even get past the title screen. Rockman 2, however, played just fine, no stability issues or anything. My Super Mario Bros. 2j cart also works perfectly, albeit with the same sound oddities as regular Super Mario Bros.

The FC (why do my abbreviations keep getting shorter?) comes packed with 2 controllers. they're standard pirate controller fare, except they feature both turbo for A and B and slo-mo buttons. Granted, it's the crappy push-pause-really-fast slo-mo which I've found only really works with Q*Bert, but hey, it's there. The controllers have a pretty cheap feel to them, also standard pirate fare, but they work just fine in both the FC and my regular NES.

I ventured to get the classic Famicom-colored unit (red/white), which comes with matching controllers. The unit is also available in indigo/blue or, for an extra couple bucks, chrome. Pretty swanky. It's made by Gametech, but the logo on the unit says Yobo, and it's sold in the US by Gamesoft. I decided that the best stress-test for the unit would be to take it out to one of our weekend get-togethers, where Zapper games are the toast of the town. We discovered that the Zapper works great, and after extended periods of time the unit generated very little heat.

So, to sum it up:

+Very portable
+Works with any NES controller, including Zapper
+Very clean video output
+Cool design

-Flawed sound output
-Incompatibility issues
-Very finicky cartridge slot
-Cheap feel

The Bottom Line: If you're going to buy one of these, buy it for the novelty. Working NES units are not hard to find, and with proper maintenance they'll last a long time. Still, the FC Game Console is a pretty cool conversation piece, and you can always whip it out of you cargo pocket at a party: "Hoo-wah! Nintendo!"

At lunch today, discussion about a particular cartoon from Ill Will Press sparked this conversation:

Drew: Hey, look what I got from that internet auction site.
Kevin: What is it?
Drew: It's a front-loading NES from that haunted house in Amityville. Amityville!
Kevin: You bought a haunted Nintendo?
Drew: Watch, this is cool, you put in regular old Super Mario Bros. and...

48 seconds later

Kevin: Duck Hunt? How did you end up with Duck Hunt?
Drew: No one knows! What’s even cooler is when you put in Duck Hunt, you get Hogan's Alley, and when you put in Hogan's Alley you get a gold Zelda cart!
Kevin: Bull$#!+.
Drew: Oh yeah? Fine. It just so happens I have Hogan's Alley right here.

56 seconds later

Kevin: Whoa!
Drew: See? Legend of Zelda.
Kevin: That's freaky. What happens if you put Low G Man in there?
Drew: Good question!

6,798 seconds later

Kevin: Is... is that a Famicom Disk System disk?
Drew: Oh man, what a jip. I was hoping it'd be one of those Game Genies.
Kevin: Ooh, try Friday the 13th!
Drew: Eh, you know, the auction description said not to use Friday the 13th.
Kevin: Why?
Drew: I dunno, something about getting back Master Chu and the Drunkard Hu hand or something. Eh yeah, don't fuck around with it.

987 seconds later

Kevin: Whoa, it's Master Chu and the Drunkard Hu.
Drew: What did I say about using Friday the 13th?!?

Drew: The Amityville toaster, make gaming spooky, spooky talk from toaster, spooky play me game, yum yum yum, Master Chu.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Blue Wizard Is In Deep $#!+

Since classic gaming is one of the few topics on which I seem to have an opinion, I made the mistake of starting this accursed weblog, just like all the other tools I know. Enough of that, though--let's talk Gauntlet.

Yesterday, after a fiasco involving a Tengen Gauntlet cartridge and an FC Game Console where the very laws of physics were meaningless, we decided to set up a four-way game of Gauntlet II on the NES in the living room. Lemme tell you how more 4-player games should have been released for the NES. (Incidentally, a multi-adaptor called the Four-Play would have been equally awesome.)

After playing Gauntlet for ten minutes, I started to wonder why I never played it before. It's just a good group game. We were in the middle of a Quake III Arena-centric gamefest at the time, so players would be popping in and out, handing off controllers as they went. It was so fine.

One dumb technical flaw: After plugging 4 controllers into the NES Satellite, we discovered that the game was barely playable; the movement was excessively choppy, and the person using the NES Advantage could barely move. I switched out the controller, thinking (errantly, I might add) that the Advantage was drawing a lot of voltage or something. In reality, the problem was that somebody had pressed in the slow-motion button on the Advantage without my knowledge, causing the game to have seizures. Talk about garbageous.

So, final word on Gauntlet II: as the old Game Boy F-1 Race commercial said, "Round up your posse and check it out." Other than people pushing you into walls, it can't be beat.

Anyway, the next post will be my review of the aforementioned FC Game Console: console, controllers, and cream cheese.