Archive for the ‘Xbox 360’ Category
This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch? It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.
This week Fred is joined by Steve (@r9cast) of the R9 Cast and Norma (@normii477) of Knuckleballer Radio and Zombiecast to discuss the beloved Xbox 360. They discuss the console launch, launch titles, significant advances, hardware setbacks, and a bunch of other ups and downs in Microsoft’s second, and currently most notable, console.
The photo of my Tauntaun sleeping bag as referenced in the show can be found here.
Normally I wouldn’t see myself even taking a second glance at a title like this. Thanks to the re-invention of shovelware on the Wii and subsequent titles of its ilk, it’s not a good day to be a 3D rendition of a classic game. Couple that with Chip’s lackluster impressions of the multiplayer – which were spot on – and I did not go into Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures with high expectations. To my surprise this title is a rock solid 3D platformer that can almost serve as a pseudo Kameo 2, borrowing most of its gameplay elements from that title, but there just isn’t enough here to justify even the budget price associated with it.
Pac-Man has never done well as a platformer. Whether it’s with the 16-bit era titles in the Pac-Land series or really anything Namco has done with him other than re-creating the original game, there just doesn’t seem to be anything there to differentiate these games from all the rest, until now. Pac-Man’s world has changed quite a bit. He’s back in high school (and apparently appropriate age despite being older than I am), the four ghosts that plagued him in the original arcade title are now his friends, and he loves to wear different hats that grant him special powers. None of this begins to define a worthwhile game until you start playing the initial levels and using early hats like the frost beam or the iguana that have grounded but useful applications. Then you realize the level design compliments these powers well and a bit of Mario nostalgia sneaks in. Pac-Man retains the eating ghosts mechanic and can even use a “scare” power to turn them blue and devour them old school style. Before you know it you’re having a blast traversing the game’s six worlds, all borrowed from video game tropes of old, and you don’t want to stop playing.
That’s the hook, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures does a fantastic job of keeping what works in classic games and borrowing different aspects of contemporary platforms into balance. Levels don’t feel too long or too short and all challenges you face are either easy to recognize or recycled from a game in the past. Perhaps it puts the game into a niche category of lifelong gamers in their 30s that can remember the past and present alike, but I feel confident this game is just as properly suited for younger audiences that enjoy the likes of New Super Mario Bros. and Skylanders. What these classic adult gamers will quickly note that younger gamers may not is that the game just delivers too little all of the time. I loved some of the late boss battles, but there are only like five in the game so you aren’t experiencing them much. Additionally Pac-Man has multiple hearts of life to assist him completing his task, but if he has a hat on he will lose that instead of taking damage. Since each boss requires a special hat to overcome, all you really have to do is pick up another hat as fast as you can to have infinite life. The same goes for collecting extra lives, something I feel the developers were well aware was an effortless task due to an achievement for having more than 50 lives. I accidentally unlocked that one. Each world only has a handful of levels along with a couple of bonus levels, which results in no more than 45 minutes of dedication to complete and an overall completion time just over 4 hours. There’s also a push to have you complete each level twice, but the reward is completely pointless. It just feels like a game where developers did just enough to consider it complete.
That doesn’t mean that this title lacks polish, just that the overall content is lazy. I never had any issues with glitches, errors, pop-ins, or defects, the game ran smooth as silk and looked quite good in the process. Load times were hardly noticed and all cutscenes could be skipped with ease. I mention this because too few budget titles these days – and even high caliber titles like Arham Origins – don’t seem to be getting the coat of polish that major boxed releases deserve. While Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures offers a more scant amount of content, it is at least properly tweaked and well programmed. Unfortunately any hardcore gamer that picks this up will breeze through it in a weekend (if not a day) and be left with little else to do. Well, I guess there’s multiplayer. What the Pac-Man universe definitely didn’t need is a 3rd person perspective of the original game where you play as the ghosts and screw each other over to avoid being eaten. It’s a stupid premise from the very onset and doesn’t work out all that well when you put it into practice. Most of the time standing still or getting lucky is the way to win and I don’t think players both young and old prefer a multiplayer mode like that (and even if they do there are plenty of free options). So for the record, this is not a game to be played in multiplayer.
I must say I am pleasantly surprised with Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures and found it an enjoyable campaign for the weekend. In fact, had it shared the nearly triple length that Kameo, a game that utilized most of the puzzle platform and elemental powers this game does, I would be giving it a much higher score. Even adding different difficulties or alternative versions of the original levels would do, anything to extend the gameplay I was enjoying. It doesn’t, though, and by the time your 4 hours are up, possibly a couple more hours for achievement/trophy farming, this game can be discarded. If you can rent it or find it on the cheap under $20, platformer fans may want to consider jumping at the opportunity, but as for the rest of the gaming audience it just doesn’t deliver enough to justify taking notice.
Final Score: 2 out of 5
View our review policy and meaning of scores here.
This game was provided for review from the publisher on the Xbox 360 platform. It was completed by the reviewer in approximately 4 hours, with an additional 2 hours given to single player replays and an hour with multiplayer both online and offline. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, and PC for an MSRP of $39.99.
This week Fred welcomes listener Yuri (@JamesFortengard) and fellow podcaster Isaiah (@i_say_uh) from the Party Chat to discuss the console generation that officially comes to an end on 11/15/2013. They discuss innovations, trends, and passing fads of the longest generation ever in history that awarded gamers with some of the most dynamic experiences to date.
Console: Xbox 360 (XBLA Indie Games)
Released: September 13, 2013
Developer: Psychotic Psoftware
Publisher: Psychotic Psoftware
Similar Titles: Sine Mora, Deathsmiles, eXceed
In full disclosure I have been watching Power-Up since it was first discussed about a year ago, along with my push to support the game on Kickstarter, and contact with the developer. Still, like so many other games one can get jazzed about in concept art and developer interviews it really comes down to the released product (and I never show favor to a project I back). I assumed that with the title and art design Power-Up was going to be a Gradius clone – which definitely isn’t a bad thing since I’ve been dying for a true sequel – but what I received instead was a delightful surprise. Power-Up has a hook that feels unique, and coupled with the beatiful art, aggressive design, and a momentum-inducing soundtrack it stands alone as its own property. The fact that it sells for a mere dollar only stresses even more that developer Psychotic Psoftware is almost giving away a product that would be a steal at ten times the amount.
Naturally as the title implies, Power-Up is a side-scrolling shmup that is all about building up weapons and raking in the highest possible score. What’s unique about the way it handles power-ups is the fact that you have five weapons to choose from, all available from the beginning, and it’s up to you how you upgrade them. Swapping weapons at will is easy, simply tap the left or right bumper to move to the previous or next weapon, and whatever you have active when you collect a power-up will level it up. While this may seem somewhat simple, especially since most shmup players are acutely aware of their preferred shot, the level and enemy spawn design forces you to utilize each weapon at certain times. This combination of having all the right tools at your disposal and requiring you to know when and how to use them is why I’m so impressed with this game. All of the so-called rules of shmups are broken, enemies flying in from every direction attempting to shoot down or even kamikaze their way into your ship makes for a frantic game of cat and mouse. Not only that, but play tactics depend solely upon you, so if you can handle enemies from behind without relying on the reverse shot or above/below without a vertical shot then success can really be had any way you want it. There are times – namely boss battles, flurries of enemies, or scenarios – where I couldn’t see how you wouldn’t use a specific weapon, but if there’s one thing I know about shmups it’s that nothing is impossible.
You can’t really categorize the title either, it’s not a “bullet hell,” “cute ‘em up,” or any other fun nickname we give to the overall design of a game because it simply tries to be everything at once. Bright beatiful sprites float onto the screen and although it can get quite frantic and real estate becomes rare, the color scheme assures that both enemies, bullets, and your fighter are clearly defined. This is a problem many contemporary shmups have and with the screenshots I initially saw it was a concern, but never did a background or enemy type allow for hidden obstacles. On top of all that the art is beatiful. I had seen design sketches and screen grabs and it all paid off with a gorgeous game that knows how to utilize 2D sprites with correct hit detection. In the end it’s an addictive title that quickly justifies some of the deeper unlocks (like a skin that’s available after 20 hours of total gameplay). Difficulty is no exception to its peers – Power-Up is a tough game – but you really need to play quite a bit and get used to the upgrade weapon system before even thinking about getting through the game’s graciously large levels. I found this game best in small, one hour doses in the beginning to get warmed up and after a while I was able to get only a play or two in with that little time. I was a bit bummed with no continue system, something I don’t see the damage in adding, and without it I was more tempted to give up after each game over if my run had gone on more than 45 minutes. Fortunately the responsive controls assured that any failure was my fault and mine alone, and I someday hope to drop to my knees in triumph upon completing the title.
Shmups have fallen to the wayside, especially in the United States, these days and with fewer and fewer developers on the horizon I fear the extinction of the genre. Furthermore what remains are predominantly Japanese developers like Cave that refuse to think outside of the box and let go of the now too common “bullet hell” subgenre. Power-Up restores my faith that with enough effort, some flexibility, and just a tweak to an established system new life can breathe back into the world of shmups. With this price point we may even see those not too keen on the genre taking the dip, but with the sea of pathetic clones of titles like DoDonPachi crowding the XBL Indie space it’s important to let word of mouth set this title free. I hope to see Power-Up sell a bit better at a more appropriate $10 price tag because I’m certain most developers won’t put the care and love that Psychotic Psoftware has at this price point, but who knows. Either way, fans of shmups and even those wondering if they can still love the genre after being away for so long should support this project and developer by picking it up. It’s a drop in the bucket from a cost perspective, what can you lose?
Final Score: 4 out 5
Most HD remakes require a certain degree of love for the original game, especially when you consider a brunt of them just increase the resolution on lower quality assets. In the case of NES classic DuckTales, this doesn’t really apply. It was a stunning game that had few flaws when placed up against other titles of its time. There was much work to do bringing it into modern times and if you are going to do this type of upgrade while still retaining sprites, WayForward is probably the best equipped for the job. The visual result is spectacular, justifying the somewhat melodramatic title of Remastered in a mere screenshot. Unfortunately it seems the team was so focused on keeping the aesthetics intact that they spent little time on gameplay. As a result DuckTales Remastered is a title that will tug at your nostalgic heartstrings before crushing them under the minor, but significant, tweaks of this modernization.
If you aren’t familiar with WayForward’s previous works, they have grown a reputation for bringing back the past with hand drawn sprites integrated into contemporary gameplay. It is an astronomical cost in both work and resources, but I have been impressed with everything they have provided before (Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, and Bloodrayne Betrayal to name a few). Not only that, but this developer has also shown striking success with licensed products as well, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Aliens: Infestation are must plays, so I felt that with Capcom and Disney at its back this was a match made in heaven. Upon starting up the game it looks like all the time and money sure paid off. It’s like the cartoon came to life, with solid animation that looks like it leaped off the cells of an animator’s sketchpad. Environments are bright and beautiful, re-creating the worlds from the NES counterpart to perfectly adjust for “nostalgia goggles” (ie: what your mind remembers of a game versus what it really looks like today). Touched up with all of the original voice actors and not a flat performance in the bunch, I can’t imagine how this title could ever demo poorly, especially if your previewers aren’t playing. In terms of visual and audio appeal, WayForward knocked it out of the park.
Then comes the gameplay, which is where the whole project falls apart. The technical complication with such gorgeous sprites is that collision detection cannot be properly determined and therefore hit boxes are utilized. WayForward has always struggled with this on big screen console games, although the portable outings, whether by the benefit of low resolution or smaller screens, don’t seem to suffer the same fate. When you couple that with the dexterity and precision that DuckTales requires, it can get quite frustrating when Scrooge falls right through a massive boss, receives damage, and puts him right in the pattern to get hit again. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if you hadn’t just played a 20-30 minute level for the forth time, which in contrast had almost none of the challenge these boss encounters or late dexterity tests do, and had to skip through dozens of annoying cutscenes along the way. Furthermore Scrooge’s jumps and pogos seem a little off, feeling floaty and imprecise when compared to the much older version. I know many of you readers may scoff at this statement, claiming Scrooge seems to control perfectly with no awkwardness to his movement at all. If you’re comparing it to today’s games, sure, but when you play the NES version and this version back to back, the pixel-counting detail we used to commit to games simply doesn’t hold up in Remastered. I heard of pogo issues from other reviewers, but I must admit that I didn’t have any problems. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t perform like an ideal update 90 percent of the time, but in this particular case the devil is in the details.
Put it all together and you have a game that looks, sounds, and presents itself as the best gift a retro gamer could receive, but after a few hours you’re left hurt and heartbroken. This truly proves that the best graphics and sound in the world cannot hide the fact that if a game doesn’t play right, it just isn’t enjoyable. Normally I side with WayForward’s titles, appreciating the full presentation despite the weak collision and amped difficulty, but in the case of DuckTales Remastered I just cannot ignore the flaws. It’s not difficult in the way old games were meant to be – you would replay frustrating obstacles in an attempt to perfect your run – this whole high risk high reward at a mere boss battle or new area isn’t difficulty, it’s developer trickery. Still, there is an audience for this game and assuming you can commit to hours of working your way through the levels and overcoming the annoying gameplay tweaks it can be one rewarding accomplishment. Perhaps I don’t have the time or patience to learn a game inside and out, not for difficulty but rather for flaws, in order to see that coveted game ending. As a retro gamer my heart tells me I wanted a remake like this – and I can’t stress enough that if WayForward working with Capcom couldn’t pull it off, there aren’t many other options – but now that I’ve tasted the finished product I’m feeling that perhaps the gems of the past should remain that way.
Final Score: 2 out of 5 Please see our review policy for how games are scored and what each score means.
DuckTales Remastered was played via a review copy provided by Capcom and was tested on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. I played for approximately seven hours and was unable to complete the game at this time. A majority of the game was played on medium, however this was adjusted to both easy and hard to assist in determining differences in difficulty.
Originally hitting arcades back in 1993, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom was quite the oddity. It prominently featured gameplay similar to that of its other brawler brethren, specifically the combat system of Final Fight mixed with the license quality of titles like The Simpsons, but also with the added benefit of being part of the complex D&D story. Not only was the game addictive but mild RPG elements, power-ups, and branching paths that had you etching a unique campaign were almost unheard of in arcades. Unfortunately this gameplay style and a long branching campaign required two important things: time and money. It probably costs somewhere between $5-$10 in quarters to conquer the first game, and probably twice that to take on the sequel Shadow Over Mystara and at least an hour of your time. As it stood, I never completed this game as a child, either due to lack of time or money, and I always wondered how fun it would be to have this title at home. Well finally Capcom has decided to bring this classic arcade duo in digital format and finally give free rein to a pair of arcade games that are among my favorite of all time.
As for the games themselves, they haven’t changed much. You get unlimited credits, all of the gameplay straight from the arcade, and both games in one. Not only that, but Capcom has integrated a sort of save system that remembers each level as you complete it. This is a great benefit over the arcade version because it’s hard to find 1-2 hours (or more depending on how much playing you want to do) without interruption, so now you can quit anytime and pick up at the beginning of the level you left off. Additionally the controls are left untouched, the four face buttons of whatever platform you choose relates directly to the original 4-buttons of the arcade and I was pleased to see my fight stick gave the game that true arcade feel. A front end menu system not unlike the ones recently seen in Darkstalkers Resurrection provides a collection of all the loot that can be collected in a checklist format, plenty of challenges to activate as you play, a mostly useless leveling system based on completion of the overall collection, and unlockable art and content. It all bundles the collection into a nice package for those that enjoyed it in the past.
Not only did Capcom bring both games together, but it has plenty of additional options to tweak the gameplay to your liking. Whether you prefer the world of smooth, slick modern visuals or want to try to capture that old school arcade feel the options are there for you. Display resolutions are available in traditional 4:3 boxed versions, a widescreen perspective, a stretched mode for full screen, and even three arcade views including a zoomed out over-the-shoulder view of the original 4-player dual cabinet. I don’t know why anyone would want to view the game that way, but now you can at the press of a button. You can also toggle scanlines, make the graphics smooth or sharp, and even have a modern type bezel art that shows you how close you are to completing challenges. With online capabilities you now have drop-in drop-out co-op play for up to four people, which can be as open or limited as you choose. Some of the aforementioned unlocked bonus content is the ability to have mods in the game such as regenerating health or unbreakable equipment, which can make the game more amusing when trying to do a speed run or assisting someone else. There are even passive options like seeing stats on your friends, leaderboards, and even the ability to make spell and equipment selections on the gamepad in the WiiU version. While I honestly think the visual options are the only true necessary extra, I was pleased to see that although an inexpensive HD re-release, this wasn’t thrown together.
To this day I still love Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons games to the point that I dropped around $50 to import the Japan-only Saturn port of this collection long ago. Now it’s fully localized and available without any sacrifice to the gameplay and at a much lower price. If you are a fan of arcade games, the D&D universe, or brawlers you definitely need to check out one of the most impressive sprite-based arcade titles to ever release. Now I may actually get to explore all of the various alternate routes and branching paths thanks to an unlimited amount of credits and time. Despite the fact that Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara does little more than bring back the two arcade titles to home consoles, the games themselves justify the purchase even if they were nothing more than direct ports of the original. Thank you Capcom, now my collection of favorite license-based brawler titles is nearly complete.
This title is available for $15 starting today on PSN and Steam, with the XBLA version going live tomorrow. No information was given on the upcoming WiiU digital release. A review copy of this title was provided with the main campaign of both games totaling about two and a half hours. We played approximately six hours of gameplay for this review including online and offline co-op and several replays of the campaigns.
This week Fred and Trees are talking about the Tomb Raider series and its busty protagonist Lara Croft that shadowed the video game as a pop culture icon in the late 1990s. We discuss development, creation, and production of both Core and recent Crystal Dynamics’ vision for Lara and her many adventures.
Video game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.
Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.
Backwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.
It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?
Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):
- ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
- Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
- Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
- Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
- Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
- Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
- Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
- Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
- Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.
For those not aware of the microcomputer craze in Europe that dominated the late 80s, the name “Giana Sisters” may not mean much. By the time the NES came out in Europe many had already invested in a microcomputer and parents were not eager to purchase a new console, so having games on popular computers like the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 was essential. The Great Giana Sisters was a widespread clone of Super Mario Bros. that provided a great side-scrolling platformer alternative to Nintendo’s classic. Unfortunately due to its highly similar content, including an opening level that literally cloned 1-1 from Super Mario Bros., Nintendo’s legal involvement got the game pulled off store shelves. Since then it has lived on as a rare holy grail for some gamers and having played it myself I must admit that it doesn’t steal as much from Super Mario Bros. as the initial level would suggest. Now the Giana Sisters are reborn in one of the first Kickstarter projects to benefit and release from the crowd-funding program and it is clear that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is anything but a clone. In fact, Super Mario Bros. could learn a thing or two from this gorgeous modern platformer.
Twisted Dreams is a sequel to this controversial original, which did see a legal re-imagining on the DS in 2009, and picks up an original story that thankfully does not require knowledge of the original. Maria, Giana’s sister, has been kidnapped by an evil dragon and it’s up to Giana to enter the dream world and rescue her. Now a teenager, Giana is capable of utilizing the power of her two personalities – an interesting take on the changes one experiences in those awkward teenage years – allowing her to transform between a bright “Cute” persona and a rebellious “Punk” persona at will. Most interesting about this transformation is that it comes not only with new powers, but the entire world changes on the fly along with her. This dichotomy of not only the play style, but also the aesthetic of the entire game, creates a unique formula for each level. It allows the platformer to escape the confines of relying on level design and instead allows small simple spaces to become obstacle courses that will challenge your mind and reflexes. It’s not about dodging the pit and jumping on the enemy anymore, you need to think and think fast to make it in Twisted Dreams.
I can’t explain enough how gorgeous this game is and even after spending more than 10 hours with it I’m still delighted at the feel of each level. Without any knowledge of the technical side of development, I’m guessing the game loads both versions of each level and has transition effects built in that can be accessed at your whim. You control whether you want to be Cute or Punk and you can even do dynamic things like swap personas mid-jump or initiate a special attack with one persona and change to the other instantly, allowing the attack to affect the other persona’s world. It sounds a bit complicated on paper, but trust me it makes perfect sense in-game. As you may expect, Cute persona has a bright and vibrant world, along with her signature spin jump that allows you to float while spinning in the air. Punk’s darker demon-like world includes her signature move of a blast ball that has a ricochet effect, an interesting reflection of another popular platforming franchise, requiring fast-paced movements and twitch reflexes. Each work fine alone, but it isn’t long before you are required not only to master each persona’s movements, but also to mix them on the fly in order to get through the levels. In addition the gem collecting mechanic from the original returns as a secondary objective to completing levels.
This is where the challenge of Twisted Dreams shows its true colors. With each new world, the number of levels increases and the challenge goes from innovative to downright brutal. European games from the microcomputer days are universally known to be aggressive, difficult tests of patience and Twisted Dreams honors those days. It’s not impossible, mind you, and with mid-level checkpoints and unlimited lives you will eventually be able to get through any level albeit at the cost of your score. Upon completion of any level you are scored based on how many gems you found and how many times you died; you can earn up to 3 stars for gems collected and up to 2 stars for minimal lives lost. I was pleased to see that you can get all 5 stars without a perfect run, so feel free to test the waters from time to time or let those impossible gems go. On the flip side, you must get at least half of all possible stars in a world to unlock the boss, so it may be necessary to repeat a level or be more explorative and cautious at times. All of these factors best explain why this game is ideal in the format its downloadable package suggests: small doses. I completed a level here and there some nights, always took a break after each fierce boss battle, and enjoyed the game in stride so as not to give those rushed reviewer impressions. If you make this game a chore it will become just that, so do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy each dazzling level. For the hardcore that are scoffing at every word I’ve written, fear not, there’s a hardcore mode that removes checkpoints and an über hardcore that makes you start over from the beginning if you die. Just unlocking these modes is a challenge – hardcore’s unlock requires you complete each boss level with at least 4 stars and über hardcore wants 5 stars in all levels in hardcore mode. Needless to say this is a game that has the potential for addicts to play for the rest of their lives. All of these intense modes put a focus on precision that I wasn’t all that pleased with on the awkward Xbox 360 d-pad. Thankfully third-party controllers and the demo of the game on Steam put my concerns at ease as this is a hardware issue and not a programming one.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams and I must admit that the 2D platformer aspect and historical context prepared me for yet another cash-in clone of New Super Mario Bros. What I got was a unique title that was a treat for the eyes, a joy for some of the most intense platforming in years (and I beat BloodRayne Betrayal), and a hybrid soundtrack from original composer Chris Hülsbeck and Swedish heavy metal band Machinae Supremacy that was fantastic. If you are a retro fan or a platforming enthusiast, especially one that’s been disappointed with the recent glut of New Super Mario Bros. games, then Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for.
This title is available on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade for $15 with a PS3/PSN and WiiU version is due out soon. It was provided to our site as a review copy and took approximately 8 hours to complete with a total of 12 hours put in for review purposes.