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Ground Kontrol: To Funland

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I have recently returned from a much needed retreat. We trekked halfway across the continent of North America to visit the fabled land of Portland, Oregon. Its good to be home, but at the same time I wish I did not have to leave so quickly. I got the chance to visit two arcades on my trip, some nice places to game that are severely lacking where I live! Close to where I stayed is a fairly big tourist town near the beach, and there’s a pizza place that has a big arcade attached to it. Sounds just like the pizza place on the corner we all grew up with doesn’t it? The difference is that this one had a lot of cabinets, with a lot of newer games! The second one is the already well known location in downtown Portland, Ground Kontrol.

Funland

http://www.funlandseaside.com/

The first arcade is called Funland, and its attached to a Fultano’s Pizza. They claim to have been around since the 1929, which would likely make them one of the oldest, continuously operating arcades in the entire United States, probably high in the running for North America as a whole. This makes this arcade a bit of a relic, but there is a distinct lack of video games actually from the 80s or earlier here. The earliest game I saw was a Galaga/Ms. Pac Man combo cocktail. Other than that the oldest game was Street Fighter II. This place is the definition of the modern arcade, gone are the money changing machines where you pop a bill in and get a bunch of quarters in return. Instead you load your money onto a card, and then swipe the card through a reader at every machine.

There are a lot of machines to enjoy in Funland, with multiple rooms to peruse and explore. The back room is where all the fun lies. Pinheads might feel a bit left out as there are only four tables at this place, and they’re all newer Stern games. I did enjoy the Tron table though. There are plenty of light gun and racing games here at this location, and there are a lot of cabinets hailing from the mid-late 90s to enjoy and get nostalgic over.

The problem during my visit is that many machines were out of order, even some that were turned on said “Out of Order” on the card scanner. They have 3 full Daytona USA units on the floor, but every one of them was out of order! There was a Sega Super GT next to it, and even that one only had one half of the machine turned on and in working order. The big attraction here was getting to play these brand spanking new arcade games, Time Crisis 5 and the 2 Star Wars Battle Pods they had here are so new that they haven’t had time to get all arcade sticky!

Ground Kontrol

http://groundkontrol.com/

Those looking for a nostalgic arcade trip will highly enjoy Ground Kontrol. You’ll pop quarters into machines all night here, both arcade machines and pinball tables! There are some newer Stern tables here as well, but the selection is dominated by classics from Williams, Bally, along with a handful of other companies like Sega. The arcade games include many classics that you’ll just have to pop a few quarters in, even a fully stocked Playchoice-10 is available. I visited this location with our very own member, Nupoile! He even brought his wife along for the ride.

Keep in mind that there are adults consuming alcohol at this location, and there is some stickiness as a result. That’s about the only downside to the experience I had there. I was going to play Nightcrawler in X-men and having a big puddle of sticky goop right next to my joystick was not the best. Smash TV’s movement stick was almost dead as well, but that was the only technical issue I experienced there. Everything else worked well and there was plenty of choice on both the lower floor, and upstairs.

Downstairs is all arcade, all day. There’s a bar down there as well. We’re all here for arcade first so we’re going to leave our glass in the convenient cupholders attached to nearly every machine in the entire building, right? There is plenty from the old school here, but not much from the new. More old school arcade cabinets are found upstairs, but they’re not quite the star of the show there. Expect to hear some people trying to form full 6 player X-men groups, along with teams of Simpsons and Turtles in Time players! Four player Blitz is a must have, and both arcades delivered that fix. Nothing beats elbow dropping your opponent after throwing him to the ground.

Upstairs is as close as you can get to the Heavenly Gates if you’re a pinhead. Classic pinball tables line the walls on the second floor, with a couple of newer Stern’s poking their head in as well. There were plenty of excellent games on the floor. A few favorites here include Scared Stiff (two multiballs on my first blind play!), The Addams Family, Theater of Magic, South Park and Tales of the Arabian Nights. Of course like any good arcade their selection of games on the floor changes from time to time as well.

Ground Kontrol is a must visit location if you find yourself in the Portland, Oregon area. If you’re a fan of arcade video and pinball games you find a nice corner to relax in here, and plenty of beer to quench your thirst. Unlike most bars and restaurants I visited in the area this one had few beers on tap in comparison, but more in line with what I’m used to. Everywhere seemed to have at least two dozen beers on tap, while Ground Kontrol was getting by with six, the red ale I tried was quite delicious.

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Psychotic Reviews: Suikoden Tierkreis

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Suikoden Tierkreis was the second game to be made by Konami for a non-Sony system, but it was the first of those games to be released outside of Japan. Suikoden Card Stories is basically a retelling of Suikoden II as a trading card game and was released on the Game Boy Advance exclusively in Japan. I have no idea what I’m doing in that game, but I do know what’s going on in Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS mostly because of the English language. Tierkreis was the first Suikoden game since the release of Suikoden V on the PS2, and was anxiously awaited by fans of the series since there was about a three year gap between releases.

Tierkreis is a complete and total spinoff of the series. It has absolutely nothing to do with the main numbered series. As a result of this it introduces its own world with its own set of rules, all new characters, and new political entities. There are some familiar elements from previous games, such as the headquarters and 108 Stars of Destiny to recruit. This game calls them Starbearers though.

Some of the most loved design choices from the main series are gone for this game. There are no tactical battles, there are no one-on-one duels. Well, technically there are some one-on-one fights, but these take place in the normal party based battle system. The familiar cinematic system of dialogue and counters is nowhere to be seen. The weapon sharpening system has been axed in favor of equippable weapons. What was a nice way for characters to have more defined personalities was replaced by the ultimate ‘throwaway character’ system.

Many of the plot elements are unfolded through the job board. A number of these end up with the recruitment of more Stars, but some are just there for money making purposes. Thankfully, not all recruitments involve this board, so you still have to explore towns and other areas to find out where people are hiding out. You make most of your money in this game by actually moving the plot forward, as you can turn in these missions at the job board to earn a big paycheck.

This game still focuses on political machinations and the various ambitions of the independent rulers of their respective areas. Unlike the main games there are many different nations, kingdoms, tribal areas, and cities all within the game world. There is a religious, militant, zealous imperial styled country, a magical kingdom, a city of porpoise people, a tribe of felines, a kingdom of swordsmen, as well as smaller villages.

Tierkreis’ world is described as being much larger than just the explorable area, as there are many worlds connected by gateways. There is another tribe that specializes in using these gateways to travel between worlds and use items they find to trade in other worlds. This also lets characters from other worlds visit your own, but sadly the reverse is not true. It would be awesome to have small areas to explore in other worlds while keeping the plot focused on the main world.

This is not completely unique to this game though. The idea of other parallel worlds existing has been blatantly mentioned in previous games, including the first two, Suikogaiden II, Suikoden IV and Tactics. Some stars of those games are theorized to be from other worlds, but this idea was never the focus of any of the stories from those games, just one piece of a massive puzzle. Tierkreis is completely focused on not only the fact that these parallel worlds exist, but how they are related to each other.

The lack of tactical battles really hurts the feeling of grandeur that previous games give. Going into a different screen where there are units to maneuver, tactics, and strategy to earn a victory is just much more satisfying. In Tierkreis you usually make one to three parties and each one gets a couple normal battles, maybe a boss battle, and then you’re on your way.

The music is a big step down from the main series. Short loops make their return from the first Suikoden, but each area gets its own unique tracks. The visuals are quite nice for a handheld of the time, and most characters have multiple pieces of art to represent different emotions and facial expressions. The game even has voice acting! I do not care much for the voice acting on the main characters. It sounds like somebody gave the VA for the main character an extra $20 to say all of his lines as fast as possible, so he is hard to understand since words fly out of his mouth. He also has a lame catchphrase: “We don’t know what’s going to happen until we try!” That might make some more sense after you play the game though. The others range from good to mediocre, but with the game’s budget this is probably better than one might expect.

Overall Tierkreis is a fine game for what is offered here. It works well, the story is a bit simpler than the main series entries, but it is worth a look even if you’re not a fan and are looking for a fun RPG to play on the go. If you’ve played the main games before this may feel underwhelming with all the changes and omissions, but the game is fine for what it tries to do and give the player. The story works well, but the localization is quite messy at times with punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes fairly consistent throughout the game.

Composer Compendium: Hitoshi Sakimoto Chapter 2

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Alongside Radiant Silvergun Sakimoto composed the arcade shooter Armed Police Batrider before moving over to the Nintendo 64 for Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, working with the Quest Trio alongside Hayato Matsuo and longtime colleague Masaharu Iwata in the following year, rounding out the 20th century. The new millenium started with a bang, with a solo composition for the much beloved game Vagrant Story.

The follow up to Vagrant Story included Iwata and Sakimoto composing the soundtrack for Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, a solo composition for Kuusen, and then moving onto Legaia 2: Duel Saga with Yasunori Mitsuda and Michiru Oshima. Next was Tekken Advance before he got to work with Capcom on Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. At about this time Sakimoto, Iwata, and Manabu Namiki founded their own company called Basiscape, which has grown into the largest company of freelance composers.

In 2003 Sakimoto worked with Squaresoft once again on the long awaited follow up to Final Fantasy Tactics, FFT Advance for the Game Boy Advance. He got the chance to work with Ayako Saso, Kaori Ohkoshi, and the legendary Nobuo Uematsu on this project. The next year he worked with Treasure and Konami on Gradius V, then on Stella Deus for Atlus along with Iwata. With is Basiscape crew he helped compose the Cave shooter Mushihimesama, making 2004 a busy year.

His schedule let up a bit in 2005, but then kicked into full gear in 2006. For the former year Basiscape composed Wizardry Gaiden: Prisoners of the Battles, Bleach: Heat the Soul 2, and Zoids: Full Metal Clash. By now many of the games would be credited to the quickly growing Basiscape. In the latter year the list just gets longer, with the Basiscape credits including Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, Digimon Battle Terminal, Digimon World Beta Squad, Battle Stadium D.O.N., and Fantasy Earth: Zero. Last but certainly not least was his contribution to the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XII along with the rest of the Quest Trio, Taro Hasuke, Yuji Toriyama, and Uematsu once again!

Basiscape continued to get many contracts in 2007, and Sakimoto is credited on Bleach: Heat the Soul 4, GrimGrimoire, Odin Sphere, Opoona, Deltora Quest, and continued with his Final Fantasy compositions with Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, the PSP FFT remake War of the Lions, and the sequel to FF Tactics Advance, Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. His days beyond the PS2, GBA, and PSP would include the PS3 instant classic Valkyria Chronicles in 2008.

This year would continue with some different games that Basiscape worked on. The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road for the DS was one of them, along with Elminage, and Coded Soul. The following year saw the company work on Elminage II, Tekken 6, Lord of Vermillion II, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

2010 saw a return of the old, as well as some newer faces in Sakimoto’s life. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was remastered and re-released for the PSP late in the year. But there was also Lord of Arcana that he worked on with Uematsu, and Valkyria Chronicles II as a solo effort. Valkyria Chronicles III released in the following year along with Rikishi: Legend of Paper Wrestling.


I want this game translated so bad.

Most recently he has worked on games such as Dragon’s Crown, Crimson Shroud, and The Denpa Men series. An upcoming game with his compositions listed is Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians.

Spooky Plays: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

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I would have loved to play some more survival horror games this year, especially with the relevant holiday this month! Driven by time constraints I decided to pick my halloween game based on the ability to pick up and play, so a good childhood classic came up as the forerunner.

You can smell the cheese through the monitor!

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a tongue-in-cheek top down maze like action game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (just called Zombies for the MD players out there) that released in 1993. The game is meant to be a spoof of old drive-in monster movies, putting the player in charge of a boy wearing 3D glasses, or a girl with a pony tail and baseball hat. Armed with only your trusty squirt gun you must go around and save all the civilians in each level while staying alive and avoiding all the monsters, or killing them for points.

No teens were harmed in this game.

Zombies is packed so full of levels it is ready to burst, boasting 49 on a regular playthrough, but 55 counting all bonus levels! That is a long haul for even some of the most dedicated gamers, thankfully the game has a password system that works. All you need to do is write down the 4 letter password you get after completing every few levels. 4 letters. Its glorious. All of these levels are built from many different tilesets which are smartly spread out through the entire game, no 5 hedgemazes in a row here.

Cliches are this game’s best friend, the team at Lucasarts really showed their love for all of those old cheesy monster movies by putting nearly all of them in the game. Secret areas are where many large nods are placed, the first one having a big Frankenstein’s monster guarding an extra life in the lab. Of course every game has its own first enemy, and in this one the choice is as clear as day, the name is in the title! It will not take long to encounter more difficult and annoying enemies though, like all the Evil Dolls, werewolves, chainsaw maniacs, mummies, and martians among others.

Others like gigantic babies for like, no reason.

In order to deal with all these enemies the developers gave you a ton of weapons to use, but first you have to find them strewn about or hidden in the various levels. One should never run out of ammo for their squirt gun, soda cans are used as grenades, popsicles can be thrown, paths can be blown open with the rocket launcher, forks and plates can be thrown, footballs can kill zombies. There is so much hidden around to find that the fun might never end! On top of weapons there are several secondary items to find, such as first-aid kits, keys, potions, shoes, and lazy clowns to name a few.

The game’s controls are smooth and responsive, the only real problem comes with the perspective. Since it is top down and some of the weapons require precision then sometimes you’ll shoot something and it will just barely miss. Think of beat’em-ups and how you have to be perfectly lined up with your opponent to hit them. The music and sound effects in this game are amazing, perfectly fitting given the game’s background and goal.

Now so far I’ve just been laying down my thoughts and a review of the SNES release of ZAMN but as of this writing I do not own the Genesis version, so can’t reliably comment on it. The Super Nintendo version is a must play, whether it is around Halloween or just at some random time. It is easy to pick up and play and get into, it doesn’t matter if you start from the beginning or use an old password, there is plenty of variety and challenge here to keep anybody busy until the dead return to their eternal slumber. Go play this classic right now if you have it for SNES, Genesis/MD, or Virtual Console!

PSP Farewell Part 1 of 2

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With the recent release of Sony’s new Vita there are many out there who are ditching their PSP and the many games and UMDs available for the once lukewarm selling system. So while many are saying farewell to their PSP and personal library I am saying ‘Hello!’ to the world of Sony handhelds. Why is that? I only recently picked up a PSP and a handful of cheap games the same night, only about a month ago. So here are some reasons why another collector should be saying ‘Hello’ to this system as well!

First point: Timing

There is no better time to set your sights on a new system than shortly after it is deemed obsolete and the general public has a shiny new toy that is trending to talk about. Because everybody is offloading their PSP and games in lieu of the Vita’s ability to download some games then it means the market is being flooded with fresh, new titles that will hopefully soon make it to everybody’s favorite haunts. This means prices are dropping for all but the most coveted and sought after titles. From here on out, we will be talking about some of the big marks for a collector of physical media and why the PSP should not be ignored.

Second Point: Imports

The PSP is region free, just like its brothers the PS3 and Vita, so there are many reasons an importer will find this system friendly. I am just entering the realm of importing, and I am also a fan of the Suikoden series, so the system already offers me at least one personal title to pursue as I fill in the rest of the small holes in my own personal collection of that series.

Genso Suikoden I & II

Genso Suikoden: Tsumugareshi Hyakunen no Toki

There are a few other reasons for the import friendly RPG fan to be excited about the PSP library. For example a remake of Breath of Fire III was released in Japan and the EU, so it is perfectly friendly for any BoF fan that only speaks English to go after the EU version of the game. Other options include Sega’s Shining Hearts, Valkyria Chronicles III, Falcom’s Zwei!, Namco’s Tales of Eternia and the quirky Nendoroid Generation. If you know what a Nendoroid is then you should have an idea of what to expect. There are also quite a few options for the fan of the good old Shoot ’em Up, with Taito’s Dariusburst topping my list of desires. A remake of R-Type is available from Japan and Europe’s PSN to add to the list,

A vast majority of import options are based on the most popular anime in the Land of the Rising Sun, and as such can be just what you expect, or maybe even worse than that.

Valkyria Chronicles 3

 

Third Point: Remakes/Re-releases

Right here is where the PSP library will shine for any fan of Japanese developed, console RPGs, and where I will have a hard time even starting the list!

Atlus starts with an A so I might as well mention that Personas 1-2 were completely remade, graphics and sound were upgraded to make use of the PSP’s superior capabilities. Persona 2: Innocent Sin was also released for the very first time in English on this system! I’m proud to say the collector’s edition of that game was one of the first ones I grabbed. Eternal Punishment is currently in the works from Atlus, no word yet on if it will come across the Pacific. Both 1 and Innocent Sin had soundtrack’s released in a collector’s edition for North America. Persona 3 was also ported, however it is more recent and the upgrades were given to the combat system to make it function like Persona 4’s, but story was cut out that was in the PS2’s FES edition. Where’s Persona 4 you ask? Well its being re-released on the Vita, so this trend looks like it will continue, at least from Atlus. Outside of Persona the great Atlus also re-released the cult-favorite Game Boy Advance title Riviera: The Promised Land.

Capcom has the aforementioned Breath of Fire III re-release to check out if you wish to import a copy from Europe.

Falcom remade and re-released Ys 1 and 2 in a collection called Ys I and II Chronicles. I can say with experience that these are some fun games to play if you just want to run around and grind mindlessly. Button free combat, Peter Molyneux must be completely jealous that Falcom did that in 1987! The collector’s edition came with a soundtrack and this is one series that certainly deserves it! More Falcom re-releases include entries in The Legend of Heroes series. I personally have not grabbed any of these yet, but Trails in the Sky has been tempting me.

Game Arts also threw their hat into the RPG remake ring by releasing Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. If you have been wanting to experience the first Lunar but do not want to shell out a pretty penny for either the Sega CD or PS1 release then I would go for this one!

And last but not least (maybe for their newer games) for the RPG side Square Enix. As you can expect I am going to be mentioning a series that has Final and/or Fantasy in its title. Sure enough Square re-released Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 4! Their release of 4 for PSP also includes the various spin offs that have been increasing in number for the past few years.

Before I lose all of your attention I will mention some re-released arcade games that came to the system. SNK’s Metal Slug Anthology piles 7 classic run and gun games onto a single UMD. And Konami’s Gradius Collection crams 5 classic shmups onto one UMD as well. Natsume brought Harvest Moon to the system with a re-release of the PS1 classic Back to Nature. On this system it is known as Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl.

Next Week I will return with a focus on titles built specifically for the PSP. No remakes, imports, or remade imports in Part 2!

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