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Archive for December 2012

The Hobbit Review

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hobbit_boxConsole: Xbox
Released: October 24, 2003
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4-$10 (used), $10.49 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – PS2, Gamecube, and PC and a modified version for the Gameboy Advance
Digital Release? No

No, sorry, this is not the ZX Spectrum game from 1983, but rather the more widespread console release from twenty years later, although I’ve never played the original so perhaps it’s garbage and this is the better choice.  Back when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was nearing its end, a slew of video games hoping to cash in on the wild success of Peter Jackson’s movies released.  After sapping all of the film properties, the books themselves became source material for spin-offs and one of the first was based on Tolkien’s prequel book The Hobbit.  As a mild fan of the series I always felt that The Hobbit was the better book and overall story, which explains the tale of how Bilbo Baggins became the first hobbit to embark on an adventure with 12 dwarves and wizard Gandolf the Grey.  Not only that, but it introduces the ring, odd creature Gollum, and probably one of the only dragons in that universe, the unrivaled greedy dragon Smaug.  Despite the semi-decent cartoon version of the book that I had seen in my youth, I was immediately drawn to the playful cartoon re-imagining of Tolkien’s book and despite some major snags in the gameplay department, I was pleasantly surprised.

hobbit_bilboshire

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Podcast: It’s All About Making That GTA

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gta

In honor of the release of several iterations of the Grand Theft Auto series releasing on various digital platforms and GTA V information slowly leaking out, I figured it would be a good time to dig into the vaults and re-release an old retro podcast I did with former Vault Reviews co-host Jamie (now known better as Ellie Clark).  We highly compressed the audio as a master track, so I apologize for the low bitrate, but that doesn’t stop this great overview of the entire GTA series from being entertaining nonetheless.


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Buying Guide: The Nintendo Entertainment System

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NES

We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

Most of us that are over 30 and grew up gaming had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) at one point or another in our collection, so it’s not that common to have a reseller screw you over with a used console.  Still, I think it’s best to know exactly what you need to look for in your NES so here’s the official list of items that should be included in a used console:

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

The Japanese Always Get The Better Version: Contra (Famicom)

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contra_boxConsole: NES/Famicom
Released: 1988
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $26.01 (used), $399.95 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Arcade, Microcomputers, PS2, DS (all are the Arcade version)
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version), XBLA/PSN (Arcade ver) ($5 on all platforms)

With box art that is clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone combining forces to be in a franchise that belongs to neither, Alien, this game has it all.  For the most part you and potential partner rush through eight levels, including a jungle that is ripped straight out of Predator, to attack bad guys and eventually aliens.  It’s a confusing game in America because nothing is spelled out for you, the game just drops you in the jungle without any plot, scene, or explanation.  Now that I’ve played the Famicom version (and the video below will show the complete game to you as well), it looks like there’s a decent plot that unfolds.  Since I don’t know Japanese nor can I read Kanji, what is actually conveyed is a mystery to me, but I’m sure the translated explanation is only a Google search away.  Contra not only introduced us to a frustrating and fun franchise, but it’s also where most of us learned the Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start).  If you put this into the title screen you would begin the game with 30 lives (if you instead end the code with Select before Start you can start a two player game with both players having 30 lives), which was the only way most of us could beat the game when we were younger.  After years of practice I can now complete the game with the given 3 lives, although not flawlessly, and I prove it in the video below. 

contra_jpn_cart

The Famicom version I’ve always heard is “enhanced” over the NES version and the two are worth roughly the same amount, so when I was picking up the title at a retro show I opted for the Japanese version.  It’s not really that different, but the changes of note are the aforementioned cutscenes, moving backgrounds, and slightly easier difficulty.  Either way it just goes to show that the Japanese version of most games will always be the better version.  Then again when this title released in Europe it was renamed to Probotector and features robots instead of humans (although in either version the enemies pop and explode).  Without further ado, I give you the completion video of Contra on the Famicom.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Genre Study: Japanese RPGs (JRPGs)

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jrpg

Nowadays when people refer to a “JRPG” it’s either associated with a flood of nostalgic love for a handful of long-running series or a groan as modern Japanese companies try to capture the form of evolution that many game players strive for.  This is because modern day JRPGs aren’t a whole lot different from the ones that started life and popularity back in the 16-bit era in Japan and the 32-bit era in America.  If you’re not too familiar with or have never played any of these games, modern or classic, you may wonder why games that follow a well-known and successful formula may fail.  Sure, gamers’ tastes have changed to a certain extent, but there’s still plenty of us that love to play these classic titles and have no problem sinking tens of hundreds of hours into beating them all over again.  Unfortunately for modern titles of this ilk, they suffer from a lack of resources and that personal touch that made the older games so charming.  Even when they do, like the recent Wii release The Last Story, these titles still can’t hold a candle to the heavy hitters of history.  As a result fans of the genre have pretty much independently decided to freeze this genre, and its subsequent games, in time and appreciate that era as exactly that: a specific time of genre-specific gaming bliss.  This makes it difficult for modern gamers trying to break into the genre because the amount of time to complete most games is much lower these days, lack of explanation and exploration are things of the past, and the price tags on the “classics” are either sky high or dirt cheap for the “poor ports.”  For that reason, we’ve compiled a basic overview of the genre as a whole, it’s roots, and the factors that make a title considered JRPG.  At the end we also suggest a handful of very accessible titles that are good for those starting out, especially with many of the classics porting to handhelds with varying results, and will continue coverage throughout this site.

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Podcast: Call of Duty: Combat Evolved

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halo_of_duty

Halo and Call of Duty, the two powerhouse FPS titles of this holiday season duking it out at full price amidst a sea of discounted games on Black Friday (and surpassing the sales of many of them).  It wasn’t always a guaranteed hit, though, and this week we discuss the birth of both franchises including the genesis of the studios that created them.


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Written by Fred Rojas

December 5, 2012 at 11:46 am