Thursday, August 16, 2018

Back From Hiatus...

Hey-- it's a new post! Yeah, it's been awhile. A few months, in fact. Let's just say that it's been pretty crazy for me. To wit:

-- The last few weeks of the 2017-18 school year were CRAZY, and then I've been teaching over the summer.
-- I finally finished my writing contributions for an upcoming book of SNES game reviews. I wrote 85 reviews myself, and it took about a year to complete.
-- I've been working hard on my YouTube channel, uploading new episodes of Unsealed and more.
-- I've been volunteering my time as a Social Media Manager for an upcoming local video game convention.

Needless to say, balancing all of this made it tough to consistently update things here-- but with the book done (minus a few edits, which I'll be working on this weekend) and with more time coming after the convention wraps up in early September, that will free up some time to dedicate here. 

While the website has been quiet since May, the YouTube channel has not been. There's been a ton of new stuff added there since the last update, and I invite you to check it out. I'll be getting back to updating here when new videos go live, including extra written notes and commentary from me. 

Here's the most recent video I posted:

I picked up some new games (and a few doubles/replacements) from Gadget Depot in Holyoke, MA-- which used to be Game Depot, but is now being run by a different manager. My cousin and friend Sam met me there, and he recommended a few games to me. He also hooked me up with some cool games, which I cover in the video. I don't usually do much game hunting in the summertime, so this was a nice change of pace.

On the Unsealed side, I just began a three-part miniseries covering the final three years of the Madden vs. NFL 2K battle.

I'll have much more to say about this heated rivalry once I wrap this miniseries up. I will say at this point that I never really leaned toward one side or the other; I bought both Madden and NFL 2K every year, as I found both to have significant strengths. The next episode will be coming this weekend.

That's it from here, for now. It's good to be back! 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Unsealed: Racing in Ridge City

It's time for another Unsealed episode, and this one begins a series of videos that will focus on the games I bought for my PlayStation 2 when I got it in January of 2001.

As usual, here are some additional thoughts to go with the video:

-- The shirt that I'm wearing is a pretty cool one. It's a promo shirt that was given out when the "slim" PlayStation 2 models were released. This is the model that I use; its form factor is great for a setup with lots of consoles, and it runs very well. I have had to replace my PlayStation 2 several times, mostly due to issues with the laser not reading certain discs, but given that PlayStation 2 games make up more than 30% of my entire retro library... having a working console is a must.

-- Boy, do I love Ridge Racer games. Each game has its own positives that keep me coming back... whether it's the nostalgia of Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution, the addictive money-earning Grand Prix mode in Rage Racer, trying to unlock all of the cars in Ridge Racer Type 4, or revisiting early PlayStation 2 power with Ridge Racer V, it's one of my favorite series. I'm glad I found one of these games still sealed to open for this episode.

-- My angry Dreamcast story is a bittersweet one. As it turned out, affording a PlayStation 2 in January 2001 wouldn't have been financially possible unless I had made such a rash decision and traded away my Dreamcast collection; however, I did regret selling it off for years until I finally replaced the Dreamcast and a handful of games back in 2016 during RetroWorld Expo. I certainly was angry when I found out that SEGA was going to be pulling the plug on Dreamcast, though, and it took me years to get over that irrational anger.

-- The black PlayStation 2 shirt was a nice find on eBay. While I'm not the biggest fan of the vacuum-sealed shirt package, it was a perfect thing to have for the Unsealed series... and it made sense to open it here, in this episode that kicks off my earliest PlayStation 2 games.

-- There are three more episodes that will follow this theme. Unfortunately, I was not able to land sealed copies of the first SSX, Tekken Tag Tournament, and Swing Away Golf. All told, when I got my PlayStation 2, I had enough trade credit (and a bit of cash) to afford a total of seven games to go with the console and a memory card.

That's it for now-- but there's more to come, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Unsealed: May The Fourth Be With Us

It's May 4th, which is often considered a Star Wars holiday. Get it? "May the Fourth be with you." It's a play on words, but it serves as a decent reason to talk about Star Wars and take the wraps off of a Star Wars video game.

Here are some additional thoughts, based on what I talked about in the video:

-- Atari's Star Wars coin-op was the first video game based on the movie that I ever played. It's interesting to note that players can go for high scores quickly by choosing to begin on higher waves. I almost always picked the highest; while my game wouldn't last too long this way, I could routinely get past a couple of waves and get my initials on the scoreboard. It was, to me, a sacrifice worth making.

-- The three Atari-published Star Wars coin-ops can also be found on Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike for the Gamecube. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are games that I often go back to here, even though the Gamecube controller just isn't as precise as the wheel/stick combo on the arcade cabinet. Rebel Strike isn't that expensive, and I do recommend it for your Gamecube library (if you don't already own it). It's not quite as good as Rogue Leader, but the game does have a multiplayer version of that game as a feature... which is a nice touch.

-- I do miss Circuit City. There were two locations close to where I live, and I often found deals on PlayStation 2 games there. I also bought my PlayStation 3 and my first HDTV there back in 2007. Sadly, it's another chain-- like Comp USA, FuncoLand, Game Crazy, Electronics Boutique, Babbage's, Software Etc., and so on that are relegated to my memory now. I won't forget them.

-- One of the neat things about Rebel Assault II-- at least in my view-- is that the actors in the game got to wear costumes from the films that hadn't been worn in years. There's also a new model of TIE fighter introduced that I think is a really sweet design. I've always liked TIE fighters more than X-Wings. Weird, I know.

That's it for now-- thanks for watching and reading, and look for more videos soon!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Unsealed: When Tony Met Shaun

It's time for another new Unsealed video, and this one is perfect for the early arrival of hot and humid weather around these parts.

A few additional, post-shooting thoughts:

-- Man, Comp USA. That brings back memories. I didn't shop at my local store too often, but I do remember some sweet deals in there from time to time. Unfortunately, Circuit City was across the parking lot, and that store had a better selection of console games... as well as better clearance sales. Nevertheless, it was yet another in the long list of retail stores that I used to shop at which no longer exist. This makes me feel old.

-- As someone who's played snowboarding games a bit, but has never actually been snowboarding for real... I have a tough time with realizing that if I miss a certain jump or objective, I can't simply turn around and go back. You can't snowboard uphill. It's nice that the dev team put lift icons in certain locations that can take players back up the mountain, but force of habit always leaves me looking like a dummy when I instinctively turn around to go back and do something.

-- Not long after I got this game for my PS2 when it was still relatively new, I started running karaoke shows. I played two songs from this game's soundtrack at the shows as "bumper music" to run while waiting for the next singer to come up: Alien Ant Farm's Courage and Spineshank's New Disease. Licensed video game soundtracks actually accounted for quite a few songs that I would play for bumpers, but that's a story for another time.

-- The Tony Hawk offshoots could never really capture the same magic that the games that inspired them had. Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder is a decent game, but it's not one that I find myself wanting to go back to that often-- unlike Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, for example. Aggressive Inline, which I shot an earlier Unsealed episode on, is perhaps the best of the Hawk-influenced games... and it wasn't even an Activision title. Go figure.

Anyway, that's it for now. The next Unsealed video is hopefully going to come on May the Fourth. That might be a sorta-kinda hint.

For now, though-- thanks for checking the videos out!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Unsealed: The Z-Axis Pinnacle

There's a new episode of Unsealed up now on YouTube, which you can check out here:

If you can't see what it is from the thumbnail, it's Aggressive Inline for the PlayStation 2. Released in May of 2002, this game essentially rivaled Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 that year. Both games were more open world experiences, with missions found by moving through each level. It's not the more linear "list of objectives to complete before time runs out", but it works well here in that "time" can be regenerated by pulling off tricks to keep the player's "Juice" meter at least somewhat full. The trick linking system, which seems to have been built off of the system that development team Z-Axis developed for its Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX series, is easy to learn and can be chained to rack up some huge scores.

I'm happy to finally own a complete copy of this game, and will definitely be spending some time with it over the summer-- once my other writing responsibilities are completed.

I hope you check out the video!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Spring 2018 Update

YouTube/video update: I've been shooting a series of videos recently that feature me opening up sealed games that have been unopened for many years, and I've finally condensed many of them into one master playlist on my YouTube channel. I still have a stack of unopened games to unwrap in the coming weeks and months, so this playlist will be growing.

After only posting five videos in March, I posted nine in April. The channel now has 192 total videos, and I'm hoping to get it to 200 by the end of May. I'd like to do a stream or two from the PlayStation 4, as well as a few more Unsealed videos-- though the day job and focusing on the book are priorities.

Super NES book update: I'm more than 70% done with reviews for the book, and will be making the final push over the next 6-8 weeks. It's been a learning experience for sure, and has at times tested my love of sports video games with some of the absolute stinkers that I've played... but it's been a fun project overall, and one that it's been an honor to be a part of. One big challenge has been keeping within hard word counts. It's led to some creative editing and getting to major points faster. I tend to be verbose as it is, so this has been tougher for me than maybe it would be for most.

Retro Library Update: As of May 1st, my Retro Library (NES, SNES, Genesis, SEGA CD, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Gamecube, and Wii) game count stands at 2,861 titles. Some notable recent additions include Gradius V for PS2 (a birthday present from a good friend), along with Thunder Force V and G-Darius for the PlayStation (loose copies, but they run well). One of the benefits of my Unsealed series on YouTube has been to get better and/or complete copies of games that I had already owned. One example is a black label (original) copy of Burnout 3: Takedown for the PS2, which replaces the slightly-scratched-but-still-playable Greatest Hits version I bought in 2011 while living in Arizona.

That's about it for this update. The Summer 2018 update will land after the book deadline, around July 1st. In the meantime, as time allows, I'll try to post more stuff here-- or at least try to post links to YouTube videos as they go up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thanks For the Memo-Wii-s

I've been fascinated by the Wii since before it launched in late 2006. I had an opportunity to try the Wii before it came out while at a mall in Connecticut. I got to do some bowling, Wii Sports-style, and instantly fell in love with the platform. As a former league bowler, I loved using the motion control aspect of the Wii Remote Controller-- or Wiimote, for short-- to impart hook on the ball, much like I'd rotate my wrist and then hand through the ball upon release to add rotation and cause the ball to break to the left. It felt natural, and the simple graphics were fun to look at.

I wound up getting a Wii at launch, but didn't hook it up to the internet consistently for another few months after getting it. Wii Sports held my interest for a long time post-launch, along with Excite Truck, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and Trauma Center: Second Opinion. I knew about internet connectivity, but wasn't living in a place with Wi-Fi until the summer of 2007. Once I was logged in, though, I began to experience features of the Wii that were once personally exciting... and are now, unfortunately, either currently or soon-to-be decommissioned.

The Wii's Weather and News Channels were, to me, pretty neat. Sure, I could just jump on a computer to check the weather or news of the day, but the Wii's Channel interfaces made it all the more interesting to me. I checked these channels often, right up until I traded my Wii towards a launch day 3DS in March of 2011. Admittedly, I took these channels for granted and gradually spent less and less time playing with the extra features. For some strange reason, I never stopped to think that one day they might be taken offline. When they were shut down at the end of June in 2013, I didn't have a Wii at the time... and practically ignored the fact that it was happening.

The Everybody Votes Channel was another frequent stop for me.The premise of the channel was simple enough: A closed-ended question was asked, and channel visitors would move their Mii toward which answer they chose to lock it in. Results for each question were shown, both at the time of answering and then again when the window of time for the question ended. Results could be sorted by country, and I thought that was really cool. Like the News and Weather Channels, this too was shut down in late June 2013.

Fast-forward to late 2015. By this time, I was three years into building my library of older video games and consoles. I finally (re)bought a Wii in November, while working for GameStop. I went all out, buying a ton of games (thanks to a Buy 2 Get 1 sale that was happening at the time) and putting together a formidable library right away. I also began to buy games from the Wii Shop Channel. These were mostly Virtual Console purchases, including several TurboGrafx games such as Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood, Lords of Thunder, Gate of Thunder, Alien Crush, Devil's Crush, and others.

One thing that struck me when getting reacquainted with Wii during that time was that the News, Weather, and Everybody Votes Channels were dead. It was sad to see the icons for news and weather on the Wii menu, only to have them error out when trying to open them. It's still sad, made worse by the fact that Nintendo doesn't allow users to delete these channels from the Wii Menu. Instead, the icons stand there, like virtual tombstones. When I stare at these, I'm reminded of times when I used to check these channels out-- and it's unfortunate that I can never do that again.

While these other channels were gone and relegated to memory only, the Wii Shop Channel stood fast. Over the course of the next 27 months, I gradually added to my library of Virtual Console and WiiWare games. I continued to fill out my TurboGrafx library, while also adding NES and Super NES games to the mix. I bought Final Fantasy (Formerly and Later Known as IV) II. I bought Chrono Trigger. Both games cost me $17 after tax combined; buying both carts for Super NES would have cost me around $120 combined, so this was the better deal. I bought the three NES Ninja Gaiden games. Then I expanded further to Genesis (Splatterhouse 2 and M.U.S.H.A.) and Nintendo 64 (Mario Party 2, Smash Bros.).

I added a few WiiWare games, like the pair of Target Toss Pro games and Carnival King from Golden Tee gurus Incredible Technologies. I bought the awesome trio of ReBirth games from Konami, giving me refreshed experiences in the Gradius, Contra, and Castlevania universes. I grabbed the quirky Tomena Sanner. I bought the Wii revivals of Alien Crush, Adventure Island, and Star Soldier from Hudson.

Then, this past week, I got the reminder about Nintendo shutting off the ability to buy Wii Points, starting at 4pm Eastern today, March 26th. I splurged on a ton of games to try and beat the clock. I admit that I spent more than I should have, trying to make sure that I had all of the games that I had thought about buying before I couldn't buy them anymore. I bought Riot Zone. I bought Fighting Street. I bought Muscle March. I bought Excitebike World Rally. I grabbed a few more Super NES games.

All told, as the curtain closes on the Wii Shop, I will have bought 74 games. I'm aware that, once my system dies-- and it could at any time-- I lose them all. It's the risk that comes with buying digital, even moreso from Nintendo for the Wii. Nintendo had no account system in place for the Wii, so games can't be transferred from one Wii to another. If my Wii dies sometime in the next nine months, I *might* be able to get my games transferred if I send the old one and my replacement one to Redmond, WA-- but that's not a guarantee. It can be argued that this has been a complete waste of money, so the odds are pretty good that once my console dies, the money spent will be lost for good.

But, see, here's the thing: the Wii Shop Channel, despite its lack of an account system and its weird Points system that required some extra math work to make the point allocations work without having any left over, has been Nintendo's best storefront-- in terms of content. No Virtual Console service to date, spanning later platforms like the 3DS, Wii U, and New 3DS, has been as varied as the one found on Wii. More troubling is the fact that Nintendo has been exceptionally evasive when it comes to plans for Virtual Console on the Switch... if there are any plans at all. The Wii Virtual Console offered games for eight different platforms: NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, TurboGrafx, Genesis, Master System, Neo Geo, and coin-ops/arcade games. The Wii U comes close, but doesn't quite match this variety. The 3DS and New 3DS are worse.

I admit that losing the Wii Shop Channel is a sad thing for me, personally. After years of checking in when I had some extra money and picking up a game or three on impulse, I'm not going to be able to do that anymore. After January 2019, I won't even be able to just visit the Wii Shop, browse, and listen to that catchy shopping tune that's been in my head for 11 years. (The tune is so catchy that I have it as a ringtone for my iPhone.) Browsing through the Wii Shop over the years has often conjured memories, such as when I remember certain games being announced for the service or when I hit on a lottery ticket and had some extra money to grab a Wii Points card from the store.

Soon, the entire channel will be just a memory, like the News, Weather, and Everybody Votes Channels before it. When I turn on my Wii, I'm going to see those icons and know that they symbolize what used to be, instead of what is. Systematically over the past few years, the Wii has been cut down to half of what it once was: channels are gone forever, online play is gone, and the console's internet connectivity feature is now little more than fuel for Netflix or Amazon Video.

The Wii has the dubious distinction of being the first console that I own which doesn't perform exactly as it did when it was new. Inevitably, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3-- the Wii's brethren from the seventh console generation-- are inexorably marching toward the same fate. Many of the Wii's games are still fun to play, but there's no denying that there will always be something missing from the overall experience-- and that's perhaps the saddest thing of all.