paris-dakar rally special

A wise philosopher once said: Video Games Can Be About Anything. Think about any game, and how truly out there and strange their settings are. A plumber saving a magical kingdom from a family of evil turtles. A man armed only with a pack of cigarettes taking down a nuclear-equipped terrorist group. A medieval Syrian assassin loaded up on cocaine time-travelling to the 1980s to kill Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Games that we as an audience consider to be “normal” are pretty weird in actuality. Of course, there are simulation titles and sports games to keep things grounded a little bit (with some exceptions to be made there, as well).

The Paris-Dakar Rally is (or was) a rally race series that would begin in Paris, France and end in Dakar, Senegal. It was a very popular event, with musicians and actors competing in the race mixed in with all the professional drivers. Making a video game based on it seems like a no-brainer, right? Racing games tend to be fun, and even the worst ones sell decently enough for a company to make at least a small profit. So that is exactly what developer ISCO did, and now we have the Paris-Dakar Rally Special for the Famicom.

ISCO are a unique developer, we’ll say. They’re mostly known for their porting of other companies games, mostly Data East (Two Crude Dudes and Captain America and The Avengers on Sega Genesis being done by them). However, they did do their own original titles. And by “original titles,” I mean absolute fucking dog shit like Seikima II: Akuma no Gyakushu and Transformers Convoy no Nazo. The former is a terrible platformer with confusing level layouts and terrible music, which is an absolute insult given that it’s a game based on a really cool metal band from the 80s. The latter is that game we all played because we looked at a list of NES ROMs and thought that, holy shit, there’s a Transformers Nintendo game!? It has to be good! And then it wasn’t. So ISCO’s output is…something.

 

Okay, so ISCO struck out twice with their games so far. It would be pretty easy to think that Paris-Dakar Rally would suck too. Not only does the game not suck, but it may very well be one of the most, if not the most, imaginative of the 8-bit era.

The thing about this racing game is that the first thing you do is not race. Rather, you have to wander around Tokyo, talking to banks, corporate offices, and racing clubs to get a sponsorship and enough money to buy a car. It’s a nice bit of flavor, given that the real-life rally was a primarily privateer affair (privateer in this case meaning drivers who are not part of an auto manufacturer and must pay their way into a race).

Once all that’s out of the way, you then have to get yourself a navigator to help you with all the terrain on the desert tracks. You get assigned one based on how well you do on a reflex test? Okay, sure.

Now, as someone who has played through this game multiple times, I’ll straight up admit that I have no idea if this entire segment actually effects how the rest of the game is played; I have not noticed any difference in the cars regardless of my sponsor or navigator. But whatever, I appreciate the effort put into making all this.

Once all of that is out of the way, we fly to Paris and actually begin the race. Let me tell you all right now that this first level is by far the hardest of the bunch. If you’ve ever seen a video from the Japanese Retro side of Youtube, they tend to give up here. It’s simple enough in concept: you drive, trying to make it to the end of the course. You have to dodge other cars, obstacles in the road, and barrels being tossed onto the track. There will be cars that will suddenly speed up from behind you in an attempt to crash into you, and speeding up to maximum acceleration will only make them fly at you faster. At the same time, you can’t take the race slow, as you still want to get a good completion time, and you’ll run out of fuel. You get three hits and a full of tank of gas before you’re fucked, and if you’re fucked, then you get to restart the whole race from the beginning. It’s hard, but it’s definitely doable if you’re willing to put some time into pattern memorization and knowing when to speed up and slow down (kind of like real racing that way).

Then the second half of Paris begins. Now the course is a…maze? Like, a Pac-Man style maze where you need to dodge other cars, who are now very much trying to collide into you. Alright.

The next stop on the rally is leaving Paris and getting to Barcelona. That’s an easy enough race, simply avoid falling boulders, dodge eggs being laid by birds overhead, and if any lizards or sewer rats get in the way, shoot them with your gun!

Yes, okay, so P-DRS is not even remotely a realistic racing game. It’s not even an unrealistic racing game like Rad Racer or Outrun. Like I quoted at the beginning: Video Games Can Be About Anything. This is not the video game version of a realistic race, this is unbridled creativity and/or not giving a fuck. This is a race from Paris to Dakar as envisioned by a madman. Normally, a lesser reviewer who have made some tired crack along the lines of “heh, what were these guys on when they made this game, DRUGS!?” I will not be doing that, because that’s a disservice to this game that we have been given. It takes a special kind of person to take the concept of a racing game, then turn it into a side-scrolling shooter only part of the way through. A shooter where you need to get out of the car and solve some basic switch puzzles, sometimes walking on clouds to do so.

I need to make this clear: I am not being sarcastic, this is not some weird gimmick I’m doing. Paris-Dakar Rally Special rules. This game is really good, despite what its reputation would have you believe. It is an absolute work of art, this complete risk being taken to make something truly original, something I love about the 8-bit era of games where developers made whatever they wanted.

The next leg of the race is Barcelona to Alger. Geography students out there, or I guess anyone who looked at a map on Google, knows that there’s a pretty big body of water that separates these two places. You would think that maybe the race crews would take a ferry across, and continue the race.

Or, you know, just fucking drive through the ocean.

Much like the Mach 5, your Rally car is submersible, as are your guns. You’ll need those guns, because you have to face sharks, octopi, schools of fish, helicopters dropping bombs (as opposed to providing medical aid, something they are meant to do in the real rally), and missiles fired at you from an unknown source.

Emerging from the ocean, we arrive at the desert. The first half is fairly benign, with more shooting at animals the size of your car and sometimes navigating deep rivers. Snakes, camels, moles, stuff like that.

The second half, however, is much different. The organizers of the race didn’t seem to think that it was a bad idea to hold a race in the middle of an active war zone. Now my 4WD is taking out tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets. I need to reiterate that this game rules.

You think after all of this, the final level in Dakar is going to be completely wild. Just the most off-the-wall shit imaginable. In a way, it kind of is, because it is simply a race on a dirt track in Dakar.

That’s the twist. After all these genre-changing levels, full of weird shit, the final level is an actual racing game. You know, ISCO could have made all of their levels like this. They could have done a regular racing game, and it probably would have been fine. Good, but not great. Instead, they made something that lives up to the name of Special. A wild, extremely memorable experience that I’m sure pissed off a few people expecting a playable version of the actual Paris-Dakar Rally. Like, there wouldn’t be a bait-and-switch in games this good until Solid Snake stopped being the protagonist in Metal Gear.

Look at this cover. Would you have had any idea of what was actually happening in this game?

Creativity like this is a rare unicorn; it’s not often that the whole “average video game concept turned on its ear in increasingly strange ways” actually works. I mean, sure, P-DRS isn’t exactly Mega Man 2 or something in terms of being technically good, but sometimes there’s more to being a game than technically good. Sometimes all a game needs to be good is to make you laugh at an absurd situation while you make an Abrams tank explode with a gun mounted to an brandless race car.

Video games can be about anything.

rediscovering an old game from my youth

In my recent spree of playing and replaying old Castlevanias and listening to all the Goth Metal I cast aside because I mistakenly thought that being a goth kid was “cringe” as soon as I hit adulthood, I had been struggling to try and remember another game I had played as a teen. I remembered downloading it along with a bunch of CV fangames during the early-2000s. Despite me grabbing it with all those fangames, this was very much its own thing; unique graphics, sound, atmosphere. Of course, the passage of time, and the continuous spiral of internet search engines becoming an SEO-driven joke instead of a source of information, have made trying to find this game again really hard. I’ll spare you any more suspense and tell you that I did eventually find it after a couple weeks of searching.

This game is called Vampire. A simple title that did nothing to make my search for it any easier. Vampire is a Windows ’95 game made by the doujin group Sprite. Unfortunately, the game was never finished, and is only a few levels long. It was released in 1997, the version I’m playing here is an updated release from 1999, and while there has been progress made on the game and shown online, it’s all from 2011. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure this is the only Vampire experience we’ll be getting.

Vampire is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. The main character is a girl with a whip named Millenia, who fights skeletons and bats and various other monsters on her way to fighting, well, a vampire. Playing Vampire is pretty straightforward. You move from left to right (occasionally down to up, or up to down), whipping horror movie monsters in environments that look like an expensive Malice Mizer video. All the while you hear music that, while in MIDI format, definitely has that Goth Rock vibe, with synthesized bells and church organs. Though the game is unfinished, the few levels of action we get are enjoyable enough. I will give some criticisms here and say that the controls can be pretty sluggish; sometimes you may double-tap forward to run so as to get extra distance on a jump, only to slowly walk forward before jumping instead and fall way short of your target. Millenia has an attack where she can whip upwards, but it seems to have a terrible hitbox, as trying to hit things with it is nearly impossible. The last complaint I have is that level 3 has that “enemy that will always get in your way the moment you need to jump onto a platform” bull shit going on. These are complaints that might have been addressed in a future release, if we ever got one.

As it is, Vampire is still a pretty darn good game. But there’s more to a game than mechanics. Something Vampire has that a lot of independent games and even major studio games don’t have is atmosphere. Vampire, if nothing else, is cool. This is a game full of personality, despite the major handicap of not being finished. Each level is dark and oppressive. There are cliffsides full of large monsters. Villages that have been taken over by an army of skeletons and axe-wielding goat demons, displaying their human victims in the streets. Woods populated by harpies and dragons. The pathway to the castle, covered in snow (represented by some great particle effects) and guarded by Zeiram-esque body horror creatures. There is a Gothic aesthetic to Vampire that hasn’t really been matched outside of heavy hitters like Symphony of the Night or Bloodborne, which is all the more impressive given that this a small project made by a handful of people.

(Before anyone mentions anything, yes, I’m aware that at least a few art assets have been lifted from other games, including Symphony of the Night (see the background of that church screenshot). The original art, however, is still fantastic.)

In and of itself, Vampire is a good enough little game on its own. But there’s something to these smaller games essentially lost to time that I appreciate. I can’t quite figure out what that is, exactly. Maybe the whole idea of making a game for the sake of making the kind of game you want to make, and then doing it. Maybe it’s the fact that, again, this is an unfinished work, and that there has been no update on said work in nearly eleven years adds a bit of mystery to it. We as players only get a small glimpse of what could have been an indie classic. That’s some intriguing shit right there. As it is, Vampire is another relic of a bygone era that I have nostalgia for: that era of clicking around and finding cool stuff.

Now, you can’t really get Vampire anywhere, not even on its official site. So, to make things easier, I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the latest version right here.

akumajou dracula

Lately, I’ve been rediscovering my goth side. Yes folks, believe it or not, I once had a wardrobe of entirely black clothing, with dyed hair and painted nails, listening to screaming metal music and visual-kei. Then my mid-20s happened, and for whatever reason, probably because I had a job with a degree of power and I wasn’t intent on sleeping in a car ever again, I repressed it all. I cut my hair, let the dye run out, went out into the world with regular nails, brought more colors into my closet, and tried to be a “normal adult,” whatever the fuck that is.

But fuck all that. I’m turning 36 this year. I’m not getting any younger, folks. I’ve also reached a point in my life where I’m significantly less invested in what people think of me; you already made up your mind about me back in 2015, and either you like me, or you curse the laws of this country for making murder illegal. For all the chest-beating and grandstanding about “keeping it real,” I haven’t been keeping it real to myself, and it’s time to change that. I’m getting fucking goth again in 2022. Let’s start by reading the rest of this post while listening to my favorite Malice Mizer track, Shiroi Hada ni Kuruu Ai to Kanashimi no RONDO:

Anyways, this has mostly been a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been playing Castlevania games again, as those were the games I played a lot of back when I was a proper Moody Teen™. It may seem weird that someone into morose shit like vampires and rainy nights and heavy music with church organs and wispy femboys with impossibly good skin would like a game where I have to kill the vampires, but uh, well, I never really gave much thought to that other than the games look cool.

The Castlevania that I just finished, and the one that I’ll be writing about, is the Sharp X68000 remake of the original NES Castlevania. This would itself eventually get remade for the Playstation and released as Catlevania Chronicles. Or as most of the world knows it, that one where Simon Belmont has pink hair.

I stuck with the original computer game for this post, because I wanted to see the game as it was originally designed, since the PSX version has some changes made to balance the difficulty. Also apparently, the PSX game did not include the third sound chip option that the X68k game has, which makes the music and sound even better.

Having played through the original, I can tell you that the difficulty is greatly over-exaggerated by the internet. Maybe it’s because I’m America’s Most Important Gamer, but I had very little trouble finishing Dracula X68k (as I will now refer to it). I lost maybe three lives, used zero continues, and did not use the modern-day emulation crutch of savestates. I sat down at my PC, and acted as though it were 1993 and I was sitting down in front of my X68000. Don’t get my wrong, it’s challenging, and may seem daunting at points, but it’s a very “doable” playable game. This isn’t exactly Castlevania 3 in terms of being really hard.

As I said earlier, Dracula x68k is a remake of the original Castlevania. It has some new enemies, two new levels, some slight layout changes, and Simon can whip downward while in the air. Other than that, it’s still Castlevania 1. The castle entrance is the exact same as it is in every subsequent CV, and you fight a giant bat at the end. You fight Medusa, Frankenstein’s Monster, Death, then Dracula himself. The mummy, Akmodan, is gone. In his place is a clone of Simon that bursts through a mirror. New bosses are a dragon skeleton, a wizard, and a werewolf. I think it’s a much cooler line-up, personally. The remake comes across as less hokey than the original, with the new bosses and the new art style, which is awesome. Monsters look more gruesome and the architecture is more detailed, which I appreciate. But where the art truly shines is in the remade level where you fight the Grim Reaper. It is the most gory, edgelord level, and I fucking love it. Dismembered and flayed bodies hanging on hooks with blood and guts all over the place. Babies bursting out of formaldehyde jars to attack you. Still-living humans trapped in a sentient paint canvas. It is so cool, like something out of a torture porn movie.

This level in particular goes a long way towards highlighting just how much the monsters in Dracula’s castle simply do not care for and even outright hate humanity. It reminds you that, oh yeah, the Belmonts are fighting for humanity’s survival in the face of nearly insurmountable evil, not dancing with a bunch of movie monsters once every 100 years. A nice mix of brutality with the elegant, decadent designs of the castle.

Dracula X68k is awesome. It’s another great quest through Dracula’s castle, fighting off the most evil of the evil, that looks and sounds great, and plays really well. Having finally played this, I’m kicking myself for waiting this long. This is an all-time great game in the series; I would put this up there with the likes of Symphony of the Night, Rondo of Blood, and Bloodlines. Just an absolute stone-cold classic that needs to be played, whether it be through emulating an old computer, or playing it on the Playstation. Better late than never to support Dracula X68k, I suppose.

naming save files is always fun lol

giving the master system its due

This is another one of those weeks where I’m away from home on business, and the SD card on my Switch died, so any entertainment I can get for the time being is whatever is on my laptop. Not too much of a difference between this and what I do at home; I mean, I’m always playing retro shit, but it’s still not the same as being in my Gamer Chair with a monitor that has a higher resolution and also having the option to also play fighting games and immersive sims when the mood strikes.

I figured that I would take this time to explore a gaming blind spot that I have: the Sega Master System, or the better named Sega Mark III in Japan. Much as I love me some Sega, this is the one system I have the least experience with; I could tell you more about the SG-1000 and the Nomad than I can this one. With a lot of time on my hands, and an inability to do any cool, creative work in said time, I thought I would bring back the old gimmick of playing a bunch of games, and giving some thoughts on them.

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

In this day and age, people only see Alex Kidd as Sega’s failed attempt at a mascot until Sonic came along. This is a pretty fair assessment: Alex Kidd games were fucking terrible. Except for this one. Somehow, Alex Kidd wound up in a good game. Like, a really good one. Turns out all you needed was not have terrible controls, give Alex an attack range of more than half a pixel, and have level design that suits his abilities better. Who would have thought?

The whole point of this one is that it’s a cutesy take on the original arcade Shinobi, but now with Alex in place of Joe Musashi. Even if this game were terrible, I love the idea of it. Maybe if there were more Alex Kidd games that weren’t dogshit, Sega could have explored this idea of cutesy cross-overs more often. Alex Kidd in Outrun World, or Alex Kidd in Alien Syndrome World, or even Alex Kidd in Teddy Boy Blues. I think that could have worked, and Alex could have been a nice companion mascot for Sonic, instead of being relegated to fucking nothing.

Anyways, this cutesy take on Shinobi is really fun. Plays well, and is short enough (4 zones, with 3 stages per zone) to not drag for too long. I’d rather have a game leave me wanting more, than something that never fucking ends and winds up in your backlog for life. But I must say again that it’s a shame that we didn’t get more of these Alex Kidd cross-overs.

 

Rainbow Islands

It is no secret that I love me some Taito arcade games. Rainbow Islands is a certified all-timer, and I will take any opportunity to play it. Having played through to the end (including the secret 8th world), I can say that this is an extremely good port, only a step behind the PC-Engine CD version, and the original arcade game (naturally). Given that you don’t have to jump through as many hoops to get to the secret levels, you can even argue that it’s better. I mean, you probably shouldn’t, but you can.

Rainbow Islands is a cutesy sequel to Bubble Bobble where you kill monsters with chemtrails rainbows, collect fruit and colorful gems, all while listening to a peppy chiptune rip-off of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Well, at least in the original versions: the SMS port changes the music slightly; I imagine someone somewhere, whether it was Taito or Time Warner Media, figured out that there could be some legal trouble with flagrant disregard for copyright law, and made some changes. Sure, it’s not the same without that classic tune, but it’s fine. At least it’s still leagues better than whatever that fucking audio disaster was on the Playstation and Saturn versions.

Like Alex Kidd, Rainbow is more bright, colorful, cutesy stuff that I’m quickly realizing is the Master System’s forte. A lot of stuff that plays well and looks nice. However, Rainbow Islands has something very ahead of its time: MORAL CHOICES.

Making the wrong decision does in fact give you a bad ending. You might become the president, or marry the hottest idol singer Japan has to offer, but you left your friends behind. What a jerk!

I should also point out that the original English release of this game is bugged, and you can’t actually get to the final world. The game will crash and send you back to the title screen, leaving a whole generation of kids confused at a very abrupt ending. You can remedy this by playing the Brazilian release, or downloading a patch.

 

Psycho World/Psychic World

Oh hell yeah, this game owns. The Master System does not have its own Mega Man game, but Psychic World is more than worthy of filling that role. You run around as this chick with psychic powers, shooting monsters and picking up new abilities from defeating bosses. Sounds fairly routine, and it kind of is in the sense that it is very much a shooter-platformer of the era. It slightly differs in that there’s some light puzzle solving: using your wind blast to turn vapor into ice, giving you platforms to jump on. Or having to use your flight ability to find hidden areas, or to destroy obstacles before they impede your progress three screens later. Or using an ability that gives you temporary invincibility to walk through level hazards. Fairly simple stuff like that. But the level design is really good, and does a good job of teaching you what your abilities do “on-the-job.”

Plus, the bosses are large and cool looking. Even the smaller mid-bosses.

Now, I have been told by The Internet that the Game Gear version of the game has better graphics, and the original MSX2 game has multiple paths in its levels, so I will have to give those two a shot at some point. That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the SMS port; I might even put this up there with all-timers like Phantasy Star or Golvellius. Great game on a great system that definitely deserves better than its reputation as a low-rent NES or “lol Brazil likes it.”

I still have more of this system’s catalogue to explore; apparently this is home to the best version of Ultima IV. Maybe this could become a recurring feature on the site as well.

a real 100% legitimate actual review of hogwarts legacy

This is a game that everyone has been talking about, for one reason or another. A lot of controversy surrounding it, mostly due to the words and deeds of Harry Potter’s author, J.K Rowling. Transgender women the world over have begged people not to play it. Cisgender people the world over responded by saying “I am definitely going to play the game.” Others said that they would simply pirate the game, a much better stance to take, as telling a marginalized group that you are willing to support a piece of media based on the works of an extremely bigoted woman for free, rather than having wasted spent $60 ($70 on Playstation 5) of your hard-earned money on it, is much less offensive.

Now, granted, I understand that the opinions and thoughts of trans people are currently in the mud, and it’s hard to trust us due to some of us having a heinous, neo-nazi past where we did horrible things like watch South Park and the WWF back in 1998, or use the R-Word on Livejournal in 2002 to describe our high school math class. In fact, some of you may even close this tab as soon as I confess to having laughed at a Seanbaby article 22 years ago. After all, maturing and improving as a person are legitimately impossible; especially if you are a literal child brought up in societies where bigotry is the norm, and propaganda is broadcasted through media on a 24/7 cycle, and drilled into your head via the education system. So you probably don’t want to hear the literal embodiment of David Duke and Richard Spencer after they did the fusion dance and watched a History Channel special on Hitler tell you not to play a video game. I get that, and I can only apologize for my fellow Performative Male Allies being literally the only group of people on Earth to ever have a regretful adolescence. Definitely not a psyop at all.

Anyways, because of this, I thought I would actually plunk down the cash for this new Harry Potter game. I could have spent that money on anything: the upcoming expansion for Monster Hunter Rise, the PC port of Monster Hunter Rise, the re-release of Persona 4 Arena Now With Rollback Netcode, some season passes for KOF XV or Guilty Gear Strive, a whole lot of pornography, half an avocado, anything. But, I feel like I owe it to my betters in society to actually play Hogwarts Legacy before I pass judgement on it. Plus, I need to Support The Developers, as we all know that game developers do not make a single cent until the game is released and purchased by the public. So fuck it, let’s take a look at this, shall we? Let’s see what Avalanche Software has been up to since their Glory Days of developing Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero for the Nintendo 64.

I…hmm. I’m not one for being a graphics snob; I am firmly in the camp of art style trumping technical prowess. But man, this is really not looking like a AAA game.

Alright, prerendered graphics are making a comeback, I guess. I must admit that I have never read a Harry Potter book or seen a Harry Potter movie, but this looks enough like Hogwarts, based on some commercials I saw for that short-lived Harry Potter trivia show that always played while I watched AEW Dynamite. There’s some castles, and a kid with glasses. That’s Hogwarts, right? So you walk around Hogwarts, I guess that’s the open-world aspect that this game is supposed to have. I think it’s open-world, I actively avoided any and all news about Hogwarts Legacy.

Harry is endlessly chased by a number of enemies, who are all faster than him, by the way. This makes sense, as Harry is but a child being chased by people much older and more experienced than him; it’s his fault for not having the wisdom of someone over twice his age with a rose emoji in their username who just finished reading Das Kapital. Again, I have zero knowledge of the Harry Potter series, so I’m sure there’s a reason he’s being chased around by a World War II soldier, a caterpillar in a keffiyeh, and the actual Grim Reaper. I was surprised at the enemy variety; I was honestly expecting like, a banker, a Hollywood producer, and uh, fuck, I don’t know, a guy who runs a bagel shop, I guess. Apologies to my Jewish friends, I’m not super up to date on all the stereotypes really shitty people hold you to.

The goal of Hogwarts Legacy is to slowly, and I mean slowly, walk around and pick up flying orbs that all move faster than Harry does, while avoiding enemies that all move faster than Harry does. What I’m gathering from all this is that Harry Potter is slowest mother fucker in the Wizarding World. You pick up a certain number of them, and you suddenly appear in a forest.

sorry, the FORBIDDEN forest

Anyways, the forest is more of the same. Walk around, pick up orbs, try not to get killed. Except there’s now a Sengoku-era Japanese peasant chasing you around, as well.

I forgot to mention that if you pick up a flashing orb, Harry turns blue for a short time, and can destroy any enemy by touching them. So what I’m gathering is that Hogwarts Legacy is Pac-Man. It’s fucking Pac-Man, except you can only see a small part of the maze at a time, the foreground makes it so you can’t see shit most of the time, and Pac-Man moves slower than an old person walking in front of you at the grocery store.

I very quickly made it to the third area of this open-world adventure, simply titled “Journey beyond your imagination.” Okay.

You know what? Fair. If I were a character in a J.K Rowling story, I feel like the Middle East would in fact be something beyond my imagination. Or at least the Middle East as depicted in Disney’s “Aladdin.” There’s not much to say here: it’s more fucking terrible Pac-Man. I feel like this level might be the hardest one so far, what with all the tight corridors and turns you need to make. I should also point out way too late that the controls in Hogwarts Legacy are really fucking bad. Harry only does one thing: Walk, and that’s still a struggle. Getting Harry to turn a corner is a magic spell in and of itself. Regardless, with some effort, I got all the fucking bull shit orbs and made Peace In The Middle East.

The game took me back to the title screen, except there’s no “Push Start” prompt this time. I spent sixty bucks on this!? This is it, huh? This is what people are willing to alienate their trans friends over? Like, okay, yeah, we’ve done really shitty, unforgivable things to cis people that have destroyed their trust in us, like think Eminem’s first album was kind of sick back when “My Name Is… (Slim Shady)” was constantly playing on MTV, but come on dude. As we all know, every trans woman with an “edgelord” phase was literally wielding tiki torches during the “Unite The Right” rally, not listening to Marilyn Manson and saying “man, Mr. Kliegerman is a real faggot” during the lunch period in 7th grade. So maybe monetarily and/or morally supporting J.K Rowling, a person whose dogshit views are legitimately being used to justify legislature that will make life infinitely harder for people, is what we deserve in return. Harry Potter Hogwarts Legacy, Game of the Year 2022. Support those developers, ya’ll.

Fuck off.

Going to tell my kids that this was Elden Ring (Ultima)

A couple weeks back, I was recovering from my COVID booster shot. That shit left me wracked with pain, exhaustion, and it gave me a cold somehow. As such, I needed to pass the time doing things where I didn’t have to move much, and sitting down watching TV and YouTube can only entertain me for so long. So, how about a retro game? How about an RPG, at that? Should I do more Wizardry? There’s Never Been A Better Time To Play Wizardry! No, no, let’s do something different for once. Wizardry isn’t the only groundbreaking RPG series responsible for influencing literally every game in its genre in the decades since. You know, I’ve played a lot of games in my life, but I have never played an Ultima. So how about I give it a shot?

I spent that week, on and off, playing the original Ultima whenever I either wasn’t passed out or unable to sit still because it felt like my nerve endings were on fire. I admit I didn’t have the highest expectations for Ultima; there’s this fine line I have when it comes to being able to accept medieval fantasy. There’s the cool, dark fantasy of things like Berserk, Japan’s take on Wizardry, and Dark Souls. On the other side of that coin, there’s Renaissance Faire Bull Shit, like post-Morrowind Elder Scrolls. The kind of bull shit where some cringe white guy puts on a ludicrous deep voice and a bad English accent and says something like “Hark! Dost thou wish to partake in a feast of mead and leg of lamb?” Essentially, being a weeb, but for the UK. Ultima always struck me as Renaissance Faire Bull Shit, and is why I avoided it for so long.

At the very least, Ultima 1 manages to avoid a lot of things I do not like about that sort of aesthetic. Instead, it’s actually a pretty charming little adventure. Playing through Ultima, it is extremely to see how it was able to influence the creation of games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

Ultima really is the flip side to Wizardry, in that they are both extremely playable despite their age. Though, I must say that I am still firmly on Team Wizardry, and would consider that game to be extremely playable and infinitely replayable. But Ultima is still good: you wander around a surprisingly large overworld, take quests from kings, fight monsters in dungeons, and other things that are considered cliche in this day and age. If you have played literally any other RPG in the decades since, you’ll know what to expect out of Ultima if you haven’t experienced it yet. Once you figure out how everything works, you can knock it out in an afternoon.

The thing that really got me to like Ultima is in how creative it is. It doesn’t simply stop with fighting monsters and wizards. No, you fight monsters and wizards, but then you pick up laser guns that you can use in place of swords and bows. You can acquire a flying car that can travel over land and sea. You will eventually get access to a space shuttle (probably the same one Richard Garriott’s dad flew around in), and fly around in out space, shooting down TIE Fighters. There’s time travel. There’s regicide. All these off-the-wall ideas that go beyond “I like Dungeons and Dragons” like a lot of other CRPGs.

Space itself isn’t even an important aspect of Ultima. You simply fly around, shoot down 20 other ships, then land back on Earth. Once that’s done, you never have to fly again. It’s such a superfluous feature, but I love it for that reason. The addition of space travel was nothing more than, “space is cool” and let’s throw it in the game, why the hell not? I can appreciate that. Why are you able to pick up a laser gun and shoot skeletons and giant spiders? Because it’s cool. After all the flying is done, you go back to a castle that doesn’t have Lord British in it, kill the jester and all of the guards (the king too, if you want), and then you rescue the princess that’s in the jail. But if you become a Space Ace, suddenly she thinks that’s so much cooler than your average one-man army, and tells you the location of a time machine. Why is there a time machine? Why wouldn’t there be a time machine?

Ultima has this hyperactive energy of not giving a fuck that I absolutely adore. I like modern games, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of them feel way too “safe.” Everything has to be done a certain way, lest you be branded with the dreaded 7/10 and your company goes bankrupt. Few of these games have this wild energy that something like Ultima does. Ultima itself doesn’t even have that anymore. There’s just something about a couple of dudes throwing all their ideas at an Apple ][ and creating an entire genre from it. I think, more than anything, Ultima’s legacy is that of creativity, and going completely fucking wild in your game design ideas.

The King of Fighters ’95

The King of Fighters XV came out this week, and is awesome, probably the best KOF in many years. In getting hyped for this coming release, my friend Hazel and I spent pretty much all month playing other games in the series, while I personally did that thing where I pulled up that old nostalgia of playing on real Neo-Geo cabinets and remembering my fervent teenage fandom.

A bit of history, before I actually start talking about the game I’ll be reviewing today: growing up, I used to go to a lot of arcades back when those still existed. This would have been back in the 90s, when Street Fighter 2 was the hottest game in the world. Funny thing is, I can count on one hand the number of SF2 machines I ever saw at those places. There were a lot of Mortal Kombat machines, and entire rows of Neo-Geos. There was more excitement between me and my friends over the fact that there was a Samurai Shodown 2 than the fact that Street Fighter had four new characters, only one of which wasn’t lame as fuck, and that was only because Cammy’s extremely flat ass hung out of her outfit.

Anyways, I spent a lot of formative years with Fatal Fury, World Heroes, and the previously mentioned Samurai Shodown. Then one day, a new game showed up: The King of Fighters ’94. I thought this was a pretty wild game: you could play as three characters at once, some of whom I recognized from the other games. The new characters looked pretty cool, too; there was Tiny Freddy Kreuger and The Fat Guy With The Giant Ball. There were The Guys Who Played Sports, Army Guys, and Guy With Bandanna Who Shot Fire But In A More Stylish Way Than Ryu. And of course, the Fatal Fury team. Fatal Fury might actually have been the first fighting game I have ever played, so Terry and company always have a spot in my heart.

As I got older, arcades kind of, you know, died. I eventually figured out how emulation worked, and proceeded to spend my teen years replaying these old games, except now I had unlimited quarters and was completely spoiled for choice. Plus, with the internet and fan culture, it was very easy to find a lot of KOF fansites and message boards, back when those still existed (though some have survived the transition into Web 3.0), and getting to find out all this lore and this extra shit SNK only ever released in Japan. SNK, if nothing else, are a company very, very good at providing fanservice, and I’m not just talking about Mai Shiranui’s massive Oingler-Boinglers. This was a company that would bring its voice actors into a studio and have them cut whole albums. Like, have you ever wanted to hear Terry Bogard rap? I mean, you probably didn’t, but he did.

The King of Fighters became more than just a series of really hard games I was bad at because the AI was really cheap. I got to obsess over these really cool looking characters, listen to arranged versions of the games’ music, and ogle the extremely spicy fan art. I was (still am) a big supporter of the Kyo x Iori pairing, and of fucking course I “read” all of The Yuri and Friends. To cut an extremely long tangent short, I really fucking love these games because 1) they are stylish as fuck and 2) because it felt like you were rewarded for being a fan. At least until shit went south after 2000 and SNK got bought and sold by about 80 different Pachinko companies.

In between these two phases of my life, I had been given a copy of KOF ’95 for the Game Boy for my birthday. I was excited, because oh my god it has the Team Edit, so you can make your own teams, instead of the pre-set ones you had to pick in ’94! I played the absolute fuck out of that game every day during and after school (because I sure as fuck wasn’t paying any attention in class). I would play it at home. I loved this game, and loved the characters and they cutesy art style they all had on the Game Boy. I knew all the secret codes by heart (press Select about twenty times when you turn on the Game Boy and you can play as Saisyu, Rugal, Nakoruru, and pick the same character more than once). So much fun. My favorite character was Kensou, because he wore shorts, and I also wore shorts, but I got made fun of for wearing shorts. See, I was a very skinny kid, so I got called “Chicken Legs” a lot. And on days where I wore cut-off shorts? Oh man, that was rough. Only faggots wore cut-offs, and in those days and at that age, being gay was a fate worse than death! I would ask my mom and dad to please get some pants, and they would say no, I spent money on those clothes, and I took the time to cut those pants into shorts, so you are going to go to school and you are going to wear them! Anyways, Kensou wore shorts and shot fireballs, so he quickly became my favorite character.

Now, a couple of things to admit to here:

1) Once I got the original Neo-Geo games on my PC, I never played this version again until it was time to write this.

2) I front-loaded this post with a ton of nostalgia talk because, upon replaying this game, I made a horrible discovery: that The King of Fighters ’95 on Game Boy is absolute fucking dog shit.

I remembered this game being great! Then, I played it. The controls are beyond unresponsive, with massive input lag. Landing any kind of attack is a matter of luck. Jumping causes you to fly from one end of the stage to another, making jump attacks completely useless. It plays like one of those “Strret Figgter vs Nortal Kambot.nes” bootlegs. Of course, this being an SNK fighting game, the CPU will take every opportunity to fucking kill you immediately (kid me must have been smart enough to turn this shit down to “easy” or something). Attacks, when they actually do come out, have next to zero range on them. Projectiles are always dodged by the enemy, so trying to spam those is a fools game. A little PROTIP from me: the key to victory is picking Ralf, Kim, and Eiji, and simply using their special moves, which do more chip damage than actual hit damage; a properly aimed dive kick from Eiji can one-hit KO an opponent.

This game is so bad, and I am so bummed. I thought that I would write a little thing about this fun game I played as a kid because a new game in the series is out. Instead, I have to shake my head and question how I was ever able to find enjoyment in this. It wasn’t like I was starved for good Game Boy games. I had Mario Land! I had Kirby! I had Space Invaders! I had Link’s Awakening! There was not a stark lack of quality in my library that my standards were so low for KOF to clear it. Was it simply me being a stupid kid and “oh wow Neo-Geo game in my pocket” was enough to give it a thumbs up? In only a few years, the Neo-Geo Pocket would be out, and show how a handheld KOF game is supposed to be done. As it is, this port is a meaningless roadbump. Now all I have is this fond memory that isn’t as good as I remember it. That sucks.

tony hawk’s pro skater 1+2 remaster

I remember when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 had come out. School had let out for the day, and I had made the five minute walk over to a friend’s house. My friend was sitting in his room, Playstation on, and he looked at me and said, “look!” He had already gotten his copy of THPS2, and was skating around in the school level. He always got games at release, not because he was loaded or saved up his money, but because his older brother worked at Hollywood Video, and constantly stole their games to either sell or for his and his brothers’ enjoyment. Think he’s still doing time in prison for armed robbery.

Anyways. I remember watching him fly around in the school, a level that looked and felt bigger than any level I had played in Tony Hawk 1, to the sounds of Papa Roach’s “Blood Brothers,” the only time it has ever been acceptable to listen to Papa Roach. The game grabbed me in a way few games had grabbed me up until that point. Now, I had definitely played through the first game. More than once, even. But, especially in retrospect, Tony Hawk 1 feels like a trial run for all the things Tony Hawk 2 would do. I love Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. It is one of my absolute, all-time favorite games, and I make it a point to play through it at least once a year since I first saw it in 2000, getting a 100% completion in every level. I have every park layout committed to memory. I sing along to every song, except for the couple of Hip-Hop tracks where I need to Follow The Rules. I mess around with the Create-A-Park editor, making a fun little box of ramps and rails. It will never get old.

Back in 2020, I got the Tony Hawk Remaster on the PS4 as a birthday gift. Then a week ago, I got it on PC for a price that may as well have been free. I only offhandedly talked about the PS4 game back when I played it, describing it as “Tony Hawk, but with more stuff.” This is true, but I feel like there’s more to talk about, and that’s what I’m going to do here.

I’ve said in previous posts that I would consider Resident Evil on the Gamecube the best video game remake there is. This is because my stupid ass was so wrapped up in the RE series that I forgot about Tony Hawk. As far as I am concerned: me, Ramona, in 2022, says that the Tony Hawk 1+2 Remaster is the actual best remake. It is everything I loved about the original games, but better. It runs better, looks better, sounds better, controls better. As a game, it is flat out a better experience than loading up the original on my PSX. There’s some new songs, some new skaters, the Create-A-Skater is slightly more robust, and that Create-A-Park is a thing of wonder.

none of these are my face

sp**d

I’m trying to be careful here, because the whole thing about this trend of remakes and remasters is built upon a cynical foundation of marketable nostalgia; do you remember [THING]? Well, here is [THING] again, with some high-definition graphics now! Rarely is there ever a feeling that one of these games is put together out of genuine appreciation for what made the original so great. At risk of falling for my memories being marketed to, I don’t think this is the case here. This isn’t just Tony Hawk, but better. I play this, and it’s 2000 again. I’m back in my friend Brian’s condo, in his dark, windowless basement/bedroom. It’s the weekend, and we’re planning on being up all night, filling up on candy and soda we got from the Safeway down the street. We’re going to listen to loud music with the blacklight turned on, enjoying our stolen video games, talking about girls in class we want to fuck, because this is an escape. We live in a shitty neighborhood, come from broken homes, and are still recovering from the trauma of being straight up physically assaulted by some police officers only a couple of months prior. Landing a sweet combo of over 100,000 points to forget about being slammed head-first into concrete, having drugs hastily shoved into my pockets, and some pork-scented fuck forcing me to put my fingerprints on a gun. And what could we do about it, call the cops? This is definitely not an innocent time, yet it is one I still look at fondly because the human brain does not make any sense. I’m doing cool, physically impossible tricks with a skateboard because the world outside kind of sucks. It feels good to illegally experience the breadth of the Playstation’s peak (1998-2000) under the calming glow of a blacklight, listening to Jack Off Jill albums over and over. Riding around schools and parks with my friend and calling each other gay as a pejorative because otherwise we would give in to the darkness. Well, actually, my friend would give in to the darkness within a year or two. I have no idea what he’s up to these days, assuming he’s even still around.

Tony Hawk Remastered trades on nostalgia, and for once, I don’t mean this as an insult. Like skateboard culture itself, this is a game where the loners and the weirdos can fit in just as easily as anyone else. Playing this brought back a flood of memories, both good and bad. Not just memories of playing the game nearly 22 years ago, but memories of a different time, a different world even. The memories are the same and the skating is the same. Despite all of the new additions, it feels like nothing has changed, or that I went back in time. I don’t think this remake would have been nearly as good otherwise.

The original Tony Hawk had a particular aesthetic that it well and truly landed: that Y2K, pre-9/11 style. We (“we” meaning “kids”) were leaving the edgelord 90s, and making our way into the hopeful future. Then, well, everything happened, and that came to a screeching halt. The remake is explicitly set during a wide-scale COVID shutdown, with the schools being closed in lieu of at-home learning, and messenger planes in Ventura telling you to “Wash Your Hands” and “Wear A Mask.” Weird how one game can manage to be a time capsule for two very different times. When I played Tony Hawk 2, school sucked, home sucked, the streets sucked. I bet there’s a whole new generation of kids out there who will play this during a time when home sucks, school sucks, the streets suck, and now there’s the threat of a virus that world leaders are using as a proxy eugenics tool. And I bet that just like me, the kids who make it will look back upon this game fondly. Maybe they’ll play it once a year, too. PROTIP: store-brand soda is cheaper, allowing you to buy more of it when you don’t have a lot of money. Strawberry shortcake ice cream bars and Creme Savers (strawberry or orange) go really well together. One more PROTIP: if you know a guy who gives you weird pills after class and you held onto them until the weekend, don’t make the mistake I did and try chewing them like a fucking Flintstones tablet; only bad times ahead.

3DO-Face #4: Sex. Now that I have your attention: Sex

After the last few 3DO porn games, I thought this time around, I would cover a title with the least imaginative title possible. This is another “classic” by Vivid Interactive. The “Interactive” part is only one of the biggest lies this piece of software will tell. Sex is similar to Blonde Justice, in that it merely a movie in the 3DO format, meaning that I’m once again reviewing a porn I just finished watching.

Like Blonde Justice, Sex is a series of clips bereft of context. This fever dream of ugly men pawing at B-Movie actresses with all the grace of a sedated bear trying to catch a fish in a lake that’s completely frozen over. Scenes change at such a rapid fire pace, it’s impossible to comprehend what’s happening at a base level. Woe be to any idiot who tried masturbating to this. The “action” is absolutely no different from the kind of stuff you could find if you stayed up late enough to catch some softcore film on HBO or Cinemax. All of this set to what I can best describe as the most “buying avocados at the grocery store” music you have ever heard.

You’ve probably already figured this out, but I need to make this point very clear: this is a movie called Sex. There is absolutely zero sex present within it. Yeah sure, there’s sexual content, but that’s not sex; you don’t just take your top off and rub your stomach a little bit and then bam, it’s over. That’s no ding-dangs going into any hoo-hahs. Or any holes, for that matter. Hell, there’s no ding-dangs or hoo-hahs to begin with! It’s as if everyone involved with this production were bisected at the waist.

bro if you were any further away from that chick’s crotch, you would be in a different zip code

Let’s take a moment to think about all the other 3DO porn games I’ve look at real quick:

Neurodancer- it is a cyberpunk-themed titled where topless women indeed dance. Okay.

Blonde Justice- there was at least one (1) blonde in it, and the murderous stalker got killed at the end, which is a kind of justice. Okay.

Virtual Photo Studio- there was a whole picture taking mechanic, and you weren’t literally interacting with the women, so it is a virtual experience. Okay.

Sex- no sex, unless you count a dude rubbing a girl’s underwear covered ass with an ice cube, and you shouldn’t.

People will bring up the entire career of Peter Molyneux, or the launch of No Man’s Sky as the biggest falsehoods in gaming. No. No, the biggest lie in the history of games is this extremely unsexy piece of shit on the 3DO called “Sex” that is COMPLETELY LACKING IN ANY TYPE OF SEX.

THERE IS NO SEX IN “SEX”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to think that maybe this whole 3DO thing was a great big rip off. The games weren’t all that great, it cost too much, and the porn was immediately outclassed by literally anything you could already buy at a shop/through mail order or find abandoned in the woods. This was the 90s, you could watch people pee on each other for like twenty bucks and all you needed was a VCR. If you want to watch half-assed tit-grabbing between two actors with no chemistry, hey, feel free to drop $700 on a video game console and an additional $60 for this garbage. I reckon being a Tier-1 simp on some girl’s Twitch is more worth your time, probably. Anything has to be better than five disparate scenes where the most you’re getting is a pair of titties and anywhere from half to three-quarters of an ass.

this was funny at least

Anyways, here’s the part where I post some spicy pics in case anyone got here from Google’s image search, which is surprisingly still useful in finding actual web sites with stuff you want to see on them. This one has some seriously slim pickings.

Dungeon Encounters

2021 was a pretty good year for the dungeon crawler. Aside from Wizardry, there was stuff like the extremely stylish Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi, the not-as-deep-but-still-unique Live In Dungeon, and this game: Dungeon Encounters.

This was a real surprise of a game that suddenly appeared and vanished from collective memory just as quickly. It’s an RPG by Square-Enix that got fuck all in terms of any kind of advertising or promotion; Song Summoner for the iPod got more exposure. For some of you, this piece may very well be the first time you’re hearing about Dungeon Encounters. The game simply appeared, and didn’t have the privilege of being buried under the constant news of Final Fantasy XIV, Final Fantasy VII Remake, or that Avengers game nobody gives a fuck about. But, if there’s anyone who will champion an unloved dungeon crawler, it would be me.

One of the main selling points of Dungeon Encounters is that it is a game directed and put together by Hiroyuki Ito, the man responsible for Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle system. He also directed Final Fantasy VI, IX, and XII, but this is not nearly as important as creating the ATB. Dungeon Encounters is all about the ATB. I’ve never met Hiroyuki Ito, or read any interviews he’s done, but based on this game, he comes across as the kind of guy who would like Wizardry more if there wasn’t so much fucking plot in the way.

Dungeon Encounters is a game distilled down to its essence. If there’s a plot, it means nothing. You can’t even create your own party; you are simply given a list of pre-made characters whose bios are a couple sentences long. Honestly, it feels like this base level of personality was done as a compromise for what little marketability this game has. Otherwise, they exist as blank slates with no mechanic difference between them. Every character, regardless of appearance, can equip the same weapons, the same armor, the same magic. You pick four characters from a list, then send them out into the dungeons: a stained paper-map with blank squares for you to fill out. Battles are static avatars making sound effects at each other over a still background image. That’s it. That’s the whole game.

As I’ve said before, there are two things that make a dungeon crawler good: the slow, yet rewarding progression through a tough environment, and creating a party to go through said tough environment. Dungeon Encounters only contains 50% of what makes a good dungeon crawler, yet that doesn’t take away from how good this game is. This extremely lo-fi RPG that manages to be completely addicting; needing to fill out the next floor, then the next floor, then the next floor, then it’s three in the morning and where did the time go? It’s literally a game about watching numbers go up, and it is somehow utterly compelling.

What really hits that pleasure center of my brain is not just its mechanics, not just this addicting need to explore and increase numbers. No, Dungeon Encounters’ art assets feel like an absolute afterthought, with Panther men fighting alongside stereotypical wizards, a high schooler magically appearing in this world, a robot, and a how-are-you-not-being-sued version of Totoro. The characters you are given all look like they come from different, non-existent games. Growing up in a poor family, I didn’t really get to play with the same toys a lot of other kids did. My action figure collection came from garage sales and extremely discounted variant figures nobody wanted, like Arctic Commando Spider-Man or some shit. I was lucky to even have the toys, so forget about ever having those elaborate playsets I would always see in commercials, where Batman would shoot a Nerf dart at a pile of precariously stacked cups that his enemies would always happen to be standing on. So instead, I would have to get creative, with paper towel tubes, those little tables that come with your pizza, the side of my bed that had a wooden frame, and that one rug with all the buildings and roads on it.

Because I had such a disparate collection, my imagination would have to work overtime. I had to come up with a context for Wolverine teaming up with a bootleg Transformer, an extremely tall Robin (as in Batman’s sidekick Robin), and a three-inch Mega Man I got for five bucks to fight a Ninja Turtles Foot Solider, another Robin that I designated as the evil Robin (I really liked Robin as a kid, proving that I have never been the alpha in any relationship I’ve ever had), a bootleg He-Man, and a random Star Wars character I was given as a gift. This was how I had to play as a kid.

Dungeon Encounters gives me that same vibe. I’m given all these random pieces to move around fighting other pieces on a paper map. There’s no overarching plot, so you have to come up with your own. Playing Dungeon Encounters is like playing with toys when you’re a poor kid. Much like a kid with no money, the game feels like it was made on an extremely small budget, and yet it’s all the better for it. And also like a kid playing with toys, Square-Enix’s marketing department responded to the game’s completion with a “that’s nice, dear” before going back to watching TV. This is a game that requires an imagination, which is a nice change in a sea of games that think for you. Another thing that popped into my head while writing this is that Dungeon Encounters does come across as an inverse Wizardry. Wizardry gives you its plot and tells you to make the characters within it, while Dungeon Encounters gives you characters and tells you to make the plot.

I guess that’s really the best way to explain a game like Dungeon Encounters: like a mismatched toy collection. It doesn’t look as impressive as the rich kid toy box full of every single G.I Joe, but you’ll probably end up having a lot more fun with a caramel-colored Batman and a dollar store “Transmorpher.”