Game Collecting on a Budget: 10 Great NES Games for under 10 Bucks

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This Thanksgiving, lets give thanks to Nintendo Entertainment System and its marvelous library of games. I’m thankful that I don’t have to empty my savings account to buy great Nintendo games. As a frugally-minded game collector, I shy away from big name Nintendo and Sega titles, opting to find the hidden gems among the various retro libraries. I chose ten games which can almost always be found for less than $10 dollars, whether that be on Ebay, Amazon, a flea market or game store. The trick with game collecting is to collect out of enthusiasm not nostalgia. Beginning as an amateur record collector, I never cared much for rarity, choosing to hear my favorite 70’s and 80’s bands on the superior quality of vinyl. The same goes for games, I care little about the rarity or nostalgia, but care a lot for the gameplay and experience. While Super Mario Bros and other Nintendo darlings can be found for under $10 on the online marketplace, there’s no guarantee a nefarious reseller won’t try to sell it for $25. As a result, I chose ten games that are underrated and off the radar, while having unique gameplay that rivals the best sellers on the system.

10. Deja Vu (ICOM Simulations/Kemco-Seika)

Deja Vu is one of a handful of point-and-click adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System (almost all by ICOM Simulations). You play as an amnesiac detective who must solve puzzles and uncover clues to reestablish his identity. The graphic text adventure takes place in 1940’s Chicago and features complex gameplay, jazzy 8-bit tunes, and highly detailed graphics. I fell in love with the game when I found it in an Ebay game lot. Even though the graphics were static, the game world felt almost endless.

With well designed background graphics and little animation, the developers of Deja Vu were able to craft an elaborate world, once only relegated to text adventures. There are complex sewers, a casino, abandoned buildings, and much more to explore in the noir adventure. Like many adventure games,it takes only few hours to beat the game, but that all depends on how fast you can solve the puzzles and advance the story. The game isn’t for everyone, you must use the d-pad as a mouse and issue commands to your player, which can be frustrating to the average Nintendo player. The game comes with a battery save which really comes in handy as you can die A LOT. If you like classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Zork, you’ll love this game. Average price: $7.

9. Shadowgate (ICOM Simulations/Kemco Seika)

Playing Shadowgate is like being stranded in the middle of a dark maze and having only five matches to light your way. Despite being from the same developers as Deja Vu, Shadowgate provided tougher puzzles, ambiguous death traps, and a burning torch that must be kept lit at all times. Viewed

from a first person perspective, the castle-crawling adventure game plays much like a visual storybook, an obvious step forward from the text-adventures on the PC. The game isn’t for everyone, using the d-pad as a cursor can be frustrating especially when its low accuracy affects gathering items and solving puzzles. While I could beat the aforementioned Deja Vu without a walkthrough, I found myself glued to my phone displaying a gamefaqs guide more than the television screen. For around $7 for a loose cart, Shadowgate provides not only engrossing, esoteric gameplay but also one of the most haunting and melodic soundtracks on the system.

8. A Boy and His Blob (Imagineering/Absolute Entertainment)

With a score and title screen unabashedly aping Indiana Jones, one would expect a Boy and His Blob to be a treasure-hunting, dungeon crawling adventure platformer. Though adventure and exploration form the structure of this platformer created by Pitfall designer David Crane, A Boy and His Blob is more of a testament to innovative game design than a rehashing of typical genres. As evinced by the title, you play as a boy who must guide his blobby alien bud Blobert through earth and Blobonia to save the respective planets from a sugar-obsessed emperor. As you journey through different environments, you must feed your blob jellybeans to have him morph into different platforming friendly objects, like a ladder or a chasm-escaping bubble. Perhaps the most “Atari” game on the Japanese system, the game won’t win any accolades for graphics or sound effects (the main theme loops over and over like an old Atari 2600 game). Despite its simplicity, for around $5, A Boy and His Blob provides hours of innovative gameplay and should be in any Nintendo collector’s arsenal. There was also a wonderful remake on the Wii, check it out.

7. Rygar (Tecmo)

Action RPGs are among my favorite games to play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Never actually playing the system as a child, I have a hard time slugging through generic platformers with impossible gameplay and poor programming. Action RPGs like Rygar provide a panacea for Nintendo frustration, allowing for health upgrades, an arsenal of weapons and quest items, and, most importantly, a diverse and expansive game environment. Rygar stands strong among great games like Legend of Zelda and Metroid, but has largely gone unnoticed. As Rygar, you must defeat the evil Ligar by visiting five Indora gods who will give you items to aid you on your quest. Fantastic controls allow you to slice apart enemies with your yo-yo shield in a few hits, and a select menu enables three spells for use once enough magic is collected.  Featuring side scrolling platforming and overhead exploration, Rygar plays like the Adventure of Link if it was ten times easier. The highlights of the game are definitely the role playing and dungeon crawling elements, as enemies and bosses are quite easy to defeat. For less than $5, Rygar will not disappoint.

6. Willow (Capcom)

Licensed games are a lot like breakfast cereals. Sure, Fruity Pebbles and Golden Crisps are based off of Hanna Barbera cartoons, but after awhile they’re just a sugary corn-based meal you eat for breakfast (so much so you may even buy the generic knock-off brand). Movie tie-in games don’t fare well with critics or consumers unless they provide innovative gameplay (Goldeneye, The Walking Dead, etc.), and even then the games will often overshadow their source material. Willow, based on the eponymous George Lucas box-office bust, outshone its source material and became one of the most underrated action RPGs of the 8-bit era. Known for 2-D fighters, shooters, and platformers, Capcom lacked what many developers specialized in, role-playing games. Capcom is not known for slacking off on licensed games (DuckTales, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, etc.) and Willow bares no exception. Not surprisingly, the game has nothing to do with the movie, and instead follows the Zelda and Final Fantasy formula where the player can explore the game environment and take on quests to complete the story. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t really comment on the story or characters. You control Nelwyn in a third person perspective while you traverse forests, caves, and dungeons collecting swords, magic, and leveling up health and attack. The soundtrack is amazing, melodic (I first heard of Willow from The Advantage’s cover), and more diverse than the Legend of Zelda. Pick up the working man’s Zelda for about $5 or less.

5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Sunsoft)

Everyone knows about the horrendous and controller-busting licensed games from LJN and Acclaim, but few can legitimately call the licensed library from Sunsoft and Capcom poorly done cash-in titles. Sunsoft brought us the console tie-ins to 1989 Batman, Fester’s Quest, Journey to Silius (originally a Terminator game), and Gremlins 2. The third person platformer sets itself apart from the crappy LJN licenses by providing tight controls, quality graphics and cutscenes

, great level design, and an awesome soundtrack. I haven’t seen the film (I wasn’t allowed to!), so I can’t tell if its following the story or not. You control a little mogwai guy through sewers, factories, and kitchens, fighting other mogwais with paper clips and magic wands. It’s very difficult, but fair in its challenges. You can collect orbs and shop for a health bar, weapon upgrade, or a balloon that will save you from falling down chasms. Grab this game for about $7.50.

4. Marble Madness (Atari/Rare/Milton-Bradley)

Although derided as a potential choking hazard for children, playing with marbles has been a nostalgic pasttime for kids since the beginning of the 20th century. Designed by Mark Cerny (who earned a lifetime achievement award for game design in 2004) for the arcade in 1984, Marble Madness simulated the nostalgic marble game as players used a trackball to guide their marbles through isometric mazes and contraptions. The ingenious and nostalgic design influenced countless games like Marble Mania, Super Monkey Ball, and Snake, Rattle, and Roll. Even Sonic the Hedgehog felt its influence as Cerny

went on to program for Sonic 2. The Nintendo port by Milton-Bradley unfortunately came without a trackball, utilizing the Nintendo d-pad to the best of its ability. It did, however, allow to simultaneous two-player challenges, making the game one of the better two-player games on the console. Despite the lack of the trackball, the Nintendo port is quite faithful to the 1984 arcade machine, featuring the same esoteric soundtrack, level design, and head-to-head challenges. For a mere $3, Marble Madness is a challenging and entertaining game to play with your retro-gaming friends.

3. Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Capcom)

Based on an anime based on an early 20th century American comic strip, Little Nemo will forever be confused with the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, while its source material remains even more obscure here in the States. In the comic strip and the film, Nemo is a young child who explores his lucid dreams only to wake up in a state of confusion in the final pane. Capcom’s Little Nemo builds upon the comic strip and anime introducing players to several fantastical dream levels, whimsical tunes, and otherworldly gameplay. a platformer reminiscent of the Mega Man series, you play as Nemo throughout the levels, but are completely vulnerable to your environment without the aid of an animal friend. That’s right, you must feed animals candy and ride them like taming a sweet-toothed horse. Each creature has special abilities which allow you to traverse each level–you’ll find a tree-climbing gorilla, a wall-climbing lizard, and a dirt-digging mole among other utilitarian critters. Graphics, sound, and level design are all on-par with Capcom’s great NES series (Mega Man, Duck Tales, etc.), which makes me wonder why the game is so underrated. Junko Tomiya’s enchanting score embodies the whimsical nature of the game with its Parisian and early 20th century inspired score. Don’t be deceived by its kid-friendly themes, this is an incredibly difficult game, I couldn’t even get past the second level. Overall, Little Nemo: Dream Master with its quixotic gameplay and level design will leave you coming back for more, no matter how many times a stupid spider kills your sugar-induced gorilla. Instead of picking up a Mega Man game for $30+, pick up a copy of Little Nemo for around $6, you won’t be disappointed!

2. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins (Capcom)

Developed for the arcade in 1985, Ghosts ‘n Goblins will forever be known as one of the most difficult games ever created. Nintendo and Capcom fans know of its ball-busting difficulty, but Sir Arthur has been all but completed overshadowed by other Capcom stalwarts (younger gamers may know Arthur as the short knight with the spears in Marvel vs. Capcom 3). The Nintendo port saw no change in its brutal difficulty– Arthur could only survive two hits and the game could only be beaten in two complete playthroughs! That’s right, e

ven though the princess is in the same castle, you still have to fight through the same levels over again on a higher difficulty to fight the final boss, Satan. Even with infinite continues and mid-level checkpoints, the arcade platformer will continue to pummel you until your swollen fingers cry out for help. Every Nintendo collector should have this game, not only as a collectible but as a game you can continue to challenge yourself with. If you beat it, you’ll have bragging rights among all your friends! Pick this up cheap for about $8.75 before it gets pricey.

1. The Guardian Legend (Compile/Broderbund)

Very few games can successfully intertwine opposing video game genres. Some hybrid games will blatantly favor one genre over the other (Snatcher– great interactive drama, bad light-gun shooter), while others intermix genres so fluidly it becomes its own genre (ActRaiser– brilliant city sim and brilliant platformer). The Guardian Legend fits into the latter category, incorporating the fast paced action of space shooters and the addictive exploration of action rpgs. Compile, infamous for their quality space shooters like Blazing Lazers and MUSHA, were not known for role-playing games, but nevertheless, created a true contender to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series (I like to think of it as the thinking man’s Zelda). As the Guardian (a female, I might add), you must infiltrate and destroy the alien planet Naju before it impacts with Earth. While inside the depths of Naju, you must activate ten safety devices to prevent its cataclysmic impact. As you explore the labyrinthine Naju, you will gather power ups, new weapons, and keys to unlock other areas. Within each section of the labyrinth, you will transform into a laser-shootin’, grenade-launchin’ mech shooter (much like in MUSHA and the Aleste series). Here you will use the same arsenal of weapons shooting down aliens as you do in the overhead exploration areas, a concept that works amazingly well. You’ll fight your most difficult bosses in the space-shooting stage rather than the overhead stages. While the bosses may be difficult, they become easier with greater weapon upgrades. The game is expansive and non-linear, but is tied down by its massive password save system. The music again is stellar, diverse, and very catchy. “Space Zelda” or “Zelda with guns” is how affectionately explain the game to my friends, but even those descriptions don’t do it justice. I played the game last year over several days and was just blown away at the expansiveness of the gameworld and variety of the space-shooting levels. Usually space-shooter fans and adventure fans don’t mix, but The Guardian Legend may be the game to bring these two disparate groups together. Although it reached a high of $18 in June of 2012, the cartridge can easily be had for around $7. It is still absent from the Virtual Console, so buying the cart is a must!

Thank you guys for reading through my article, I know I missed quite a few great games, so here are my runner ups with their average price on VGPC: Crystalis(SNK: $9.75), Faxanadu (Hudson Soft: $4.76), Life Force (Konami, $7.00), Blaster Master (Sunsoft: $5.30), Xexyz (Hudson Soft: $5.00), and The Goonies II (Konami, $3.89).

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MadWorld (Wii)- Review

In an alternate universe where Sega launches their Dreamcast II and becomes even more popular than the Wii, Madworld would be their shining opus to Sega’s trademark: style and violence. Developed by Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns) and producer Atsushi Inaba (Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Devil May Cry), MadWorld satiates the bloodthirst of the most deranged Sega fanboy. Anyone living throughout the 90’s remembers the controversy Sega brought along with their Sega Genesis, having the bloody version of Mortal Kombat and creating the ESRB with Night Trap on the Sega CD. Sega has never shied away from violent games, but has fallen in ranks the past decade in controversy to Rockstar Games– anyone remember Manhunt? An open-world beat-em-up, MadWorld builds upon Sega classics like Jet Grind Radio, Streets of Rage, and Mortal Kombat to provide a gory, visceral experience catered to the adult Wii audience. With a gritty high contrast black-and-white color palette, MadWorld plays like Jet Grind Radio, except instead of decorating your game world with  colorful graffiti, you paint the town red with the blood and guts of your enemies–the only color present in the game.

Set on the fictional Jefferson Island, you play as Jack Cayman, a chainsaw-wielding former marine, forced to participate in a televised death match game show (DeathWatch). Imagine an updated and fully-fleshed version of Smash TV and you get the idea. As Jack enters a section of the city, he must reach a certain score before fighting the boss. Extra points are awarded to those creative enough to earn them. Impale an enemy with a caution sign, shove a barrel over them, and then hang them on a meat hook to achieve a maximum combo. The comically over-saturated violence adds to the fun of the game, as you uncover new challenges and death traps to rack up points. The “Man Darts”, “Man Golf”, and various blood sport minigames not so subtly poke fun at the Wii Sports craze (Wii Blood Sports is a good description of these games). Throughout each level, you’ll unlock new “Blood Bath Challenges” where you can accumulate massive amounts of points by causing as much mayhem as possible. The challenges do repeat during some levels, but are nevertheless absolutely entertaining. The only downside to combat in the title is how crucial combo kills and challenges are in completing the game. You can’t simply hack everyone into pieces with your chainsaw (its incredibly easy and fun, though!). Because you have a time limit in each stage (around 30 mins), acquiring enough points to reach the stage boss can be tough (having only three lives a level doesn’t help).

Kreese Kreely (John Dimaggio) and Howard “Buckshot” Holmes(Greg Proops) are the announcers of DeathWatch, giving you second-by-second encouragements, insults, and insights on your unfiltered mayhem. The voice-acting is top-notch, and the x-rated comedy stylings of Greg and John will leave you chuckling at their depravity. Jack’s gruff voice (Steven Blum) adds to overall Sin City feel of the game, and every other character’s voice acting is great. The underground hip-hop soundtrack blends in well with the cel-shaded black and white graphics, driving home that Jet Grind Radio feel. The only complaint I can lodge would be against the repetitive announcer segments. For two minute challenges, the announcers only have two or three lines repeated over and over.

Although many might find the Wii’s smart gesture controls gimmicky, in MadWorld they literally make the game. With a regular gamepad, MadWorld just wouldn’t be as fun of a ride. Tapping A unleashes a slew of punches and B whips out your devastating chainsaw. Flailing around the Wiimote like you have a chainsaw attached to your arm will do the same in the game. Stun an enemy enough and you can perform a gory finishing move. The type of finishing move changes to different enemies, but my favorite has to be pulling the Wiimote and Nunchuk apart to twist off an enemy’s head. The finishing moves aren’t for everyone, they are by far the goriest and most visceral action scenes. Moving, jumping, and rotating the camera are haphazardly controlled by the Nunchuk. The camera can be a big issue during boss fights and more powerful enemies, as the lock on feature barely works and the camera can be a little wonky.

What would a great beat-em-up be without a slew of increasingly challenging boss fights? In MadWorld, you’ll face a giant monster named Lil Eddie [pictured], a werewolf, an armadillo man, and many more B-movie villains (the game doesn’t take itself seriously). Boss fights are not very hard at all. If you use the right gesture at the cue, you’ll get in a skirmish with the boss where successful time-event gestures will result in a big blow to the baddie’s health. With a little strategy, the bosses are mostly easy (until a few of them recharge their health–cough, cough, Frank). The most annoying enemies are the Drill Man and the Grim Reaper, who will appear randomly through the castle stage and wipe out half of your health.

The story, written by Yasumi Matsuno of Final Fantasy and Tactics Ogre fame, is surprisingly well-written for a bloody beat-em-up. This isn’t a Streets of Rage or Final Fight game with a short and vague story at the beginning. In MadWorld, the basic Running Man plot evolves into conspiracy theory, eventually revealing that contestants must fight against a lethal virus to obtain a vaccine. I found the story line to be engaging, though playing this game puts my mind off of paying attention.

All in all, MadWorld’s no-holds-barred approach to slapstick video game violence will leave you entertained for a good 5-6 hours. The smart gestures will leave you sore after a few tough boss fights, but really make you feel like you’re a cold-blooded chainsaw wielding killer. The Jet Grindhouse Radio level design and classic beat-em-up finishing moves wouldn’t disappoint even the most hardcore Mortal Kombat fan. While every Sega Genesis fan probably owned Streets of Rage, any Wii aficionado or game collector must own MadWorld. Despite its few flaws, the game may just be the most violent and fun game on the system. Get it while its still cheap!

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Ten Great VGM Soundtracks You’ve Never Heard Before

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Every hardcore gamer and collector is familiar with the amazing soundtracks from Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros, and Legend of Zelda. Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu are household names among gamers old and new, but what about those talented composers attached to games that just didn’t sell as well as Nintendo blockbusters? For a good number of video game composers, their work goes largely unnoticed. When I was a DJ at my college radio station, I was given to opportunity to host a video game music show, and, as a result, I was able to uncover some amazing soundtracks, many of which were on poorly made or otherwise average games. With the help of Legacy Music Hour Podcast and vgm websites, I was able to dig deeper into the vgm genre.  During the 8 and 16 bit era– my main expertise– composers were given great leeway when composing for games, sometimes composing without any screenshots or guidance. A film composer would be fired if he or she composed a soundtrack oblivious to the tone of the film, but video game composers do their best work this way.  In this article, I chose ten overlooked games that have suffered due to poor gameplay, limited release, or just forgotten to time. Some of these games are exceptionally good, but, for whatever reason, they remain hidden gems. Every one of these games has an amazing, memorable, and well composed soundtrack, and I will provide Youtube videos of their tracks. Enjoy!

10. Deja Vu (NES)- Hirayuki Masuno

Comprising of 8-bit jazz melodies, Masuno’s soundtrack mimics beautifully the bluesy jazz of a mid-50’s Noir film. Deja Vu was a point and click adventure port from the Mac to the PC. As a amnesiac private eye, the player must solve puzzles to refresh his memory. It is a great game for the NES, but largely unknown due to its esoteric gameplay. The soundtrack was composed only for the NES version.

9. Insector X (GEN)- Unknown

Developed by Taito for the Arcade and Sega Genesis, Insector X is a run of the mill horizontal shooter where you play as an insect and fight off many more insects. The gameplay isn’t as good as say Thunderforce or MUSHA, but the soundtrack is outstanding and it is a shame the composer has not been found. The ending theme is somber and reminds me of the warm ambient synths of 70’s electronica.

8. Erik the Viking (Unreleased NES)- Neil Baldwin

Composed by Neil Baldwin, who wrote about all of his soundtracks here, and released years after the game was cancelled, Erik the Viking was planned to be a Zelda-type RPG based on the obscure film. The soundtrack is reminiscent of Commodore 64/Amiga soundtracks of the 1980’s, rife with arpeggios, digitized sound effects, and catchy melodies. Days of Ocean Blue is a real gem with its 8-bit seagulls, crashing waves, and relaxing melodies.

7. Ghouls n Ghosts (Commodore Amiga)- Tim Follin

I could fill an entire list with all of Tim Follin’s work. Follin is the Jimi Hendrix of Video Game Music, composing amazing soundtracks for very unknown titles like Silver Surfer, Plok, Solstice, and Capcom ports to Commodore and Atari computer systems. Though Ghouls n Ghosts is a very popular title, the Commodore Amiga port was played by far fewer gamers. The soundtrack has many original tracks by Follin, as well as improvements upon Tamayo Kawamoto’s arcade score. The soundtrack carries a progressive rock feel, reminiscent of Gentle Giant or early Genesis. An eerie feel pervades the score, adding to the ambiance of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.

6. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (Gameboy)- Hidehiro Funauchi

The Castlevania series is known for having outstanding soundtracks, but not much is mentioned of the Gameboy releases. Featuring stereo audio, Funauchi’s dark and melodious soundtrack brings a much needed punch to the black and white gameplay. Listen to Ripe Seeds and Cloud Castle.

5. DoReMi Fantasy (Super Famicom)- Jun Chikuma

With the ability to sample music on the Super Nintendo soundchip came the ability to create realistic and symphonic music. Jun Chikuma’s soundtrack is very experimental, using ambient and rhythmic samples throughout the game. A sequel to Milon’s Secret Castle on the NES, DoReMi Fantasy is a typical platformer, but never made a release in the US(but it is available on Virtual Console). Though Super Nintendo tracks can sound very choppy at times, Chikuma’s soundtrack almost sounds like an N64 game, drawing comparisons to the ambient tunes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The music barely fits the cutesy level design and SD characters, almost like playing on mute with a David Lynch movie playing instead.

4. M.U.S.H.A. (GEN)- Toshiaki Sakoda

MUSHA is known as one of the best vertical shooters on the system and one of the most valuable games on the system today. It features a speed metal soundtrack and fits really well with the gameplay and Genesis PSG soundchip. If a band covered every song on the soundtrack, there’s a good chance it would be mistaken for an 80’s hair metal album.

3. The Mahjong Touhaiden (Super Famicom)- Soushi Hosoi, Pirowo

You would never think to find a minimalist composition ala Steve Reich in a Super Famicom Mahjong game, but you’ve probably never heard from The Mahjong Touhaiden. I have no idea what this game is like, but after hearing it on the Legacy Music Hour, I was hooked. “Mister Diviner” could be a B-side to Music for 18 Musicians, phasing flawlessly between two repeating melodies. I’d like to think Hosoi-san went on to become one of Japan’s most prominent minimalist composers, but I don’t think that happened.

2. Snatcher (Sega CD)- Konami Kukeiha Club

With its library of crappy FMV games and CD-audio Genesis games, Snatcher is known to be the best among the forgettable Sega CD library. A mix between Blade Runner and The Terminator, Snatcher is an interactive cyberpunk adventure, mixing adventure gaming and light gun shooting all in one game. Although many composers moved to orchestral instruments in the Sega CD days, the composers of Snatcher stuck to the gritty sounds of the Genesis synthesizer. The soundtrack is dark and bluesy, a bit like Vangelis’ Blade Runner score with a Japanese feel. It went largely unnoticed on the system, but recent interest in the game has turned it into a prized collector’s item. Check out “Theme of Jaime” and “Entrance to Hell”.

1. Mr. Gimmick! (Famicom)- Masashi Kageyama/Naohisa Morota

Mr. Gimmick! was released only in Scandinavia and Japan and is one of the best games released on the system, sporting a unique physics engine and an extra sound channel. Developed by Sunsoft, a company known for their excellent soundtracks, Kageyama-san compositions are unmatched by any other Nintendo game. The songs are upbeat, catchy, and tightly composed. Words cannot express how great this soundtrack is, just listen to all of it!!

I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of great obscure game soundtracks, but I’ll do another one soon.

 

Secret Files: Tunguska Wii Review

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I love point-and-click adventure games. When I did my review on Shadowgate for the NES, I mentioned the innovation behind porting a “MacVenture” to a home console. While Nintendo more or less forsook adventure games on the SNES, N64, and Gamecube, there was a bit of an adventure game renaissance on the Wii. Because of it’s mouse-like Wiimote, adventure games found a second home on Nintendo’s best selling console. Notable Telltale remakes made their way to the console, like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, as well as Revolution Software’s 1996 classic Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. The Wiimote and hardware made emulation of these games very simple and easy to pick up. Due to a big drop in demand for adventure games in the early 2000’s, adventure companies were cautious with their products. Telltale Games, founded by former LucasArts designers, simplified puzzles, provided hint systems, and did away with tedious pixel hunting. As a classic adventure game fan, I am a little disappointed in the simplistic puzzles, but, at the same time, I like being able to finish an adventure without resorting to a guide.

Story

Secret Files: Tunguska (Geheimakte Tunguska in German) is a testament to the new era of adventure gaming. Published by Bavarian company Deep Silver for the PC in 2006, it was released in 2010 on the Wii and Nintendo DS. A sequel, Secret Files 2: Puritas Codas, was released in 2009 on the Wii and PC as well. Like a surprisingly large amount of adventure games, Secret Files’ takes a real historical event and builds a compelling story around it rife with mystery and conspiracy. You play as Nina Kalenkov, an ordinary girl turned sleuth as she must locate her scientist father, Vladimir Kalenkov, after a mysterious break-in at his Berlin museum. While at the museum, Nina suspects a mysterious hooded brotherhood as the culprit, but as the story progresses, the real enemy becomes clear. Built as the center of the story is the real life 1908 Tunguska Event — the largest asteroid impact in recorded history. Supposedly the radiation from the event has caused strange growth of the surrounding fauna, and it is believed Nina’s father was kidnapped by Russians to investigate the phenomenon. The story will take Nina, and her father’s colleague Max Gruber, across the world as they uncover a intriguing conspiracy regarding the event. As the story unfolds, Nina and Max explore Cuba, Ireland, Russia, Tibet, and Germany, piecing together the mystery. The mysterious narrative reminded me of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars and Beneath a Steel Sky, both games with numerous plot twists and conspiracy-laden themes. The mood overall is dark and unsettling, though they try and fail at times to make it funny –just watch the montage before the credits.  The story is quite engaging though derivative for an adventure game. Despite its strong narrative, the English language translation is rife with poor voice acting and mistranslation.

The Wii version did not come with alternate languages tracks, and I really wish it did. The voice acting is sub-par to say the least. Despite taking place in five different countries, every single NPC speaks with an American accent. I’m not sure how this was in the German version, but in the English version not even the Irish characters have accents, it really took me out of the story. Nina’s voice acting is a bit annoying, her high-pitched valley girl voice just doesn’t fit with the dark mood of the story — I really cringe every time she calls her dad, “Daddy”. The English translation is also not perfect, resulting in a few word variants not spoken in standard American English.

Gameplay

Secret Files has one of the best controls of any adventure game console port. You control Nina and Max’s movements with the Nunchuk and point and click with the Wiimote. The 2.5D environment is very easy to navigate and the ‘snoop key’ –activated by the 1 button — highlights all interactive objects, saving the player from pixel hunting. Like in most adventure games, items in your inventory can be combined together, but, to make the process even simpler, the controller will gently vibrate when two items are able to be combined. This was a great feature, as I would often scroll through my massive inventory in games like Monkey Island trying to find out if i can combine two of my items. Be prepared to deal with a rather large inventory; you’ll often guide Nina to dig through trash to obtain four or five new items — she’s a real scavenger! There are also a few items you’ll never use — an onion, a teddy bear, and a ladle– so don’t worry if you missed something, you can still finish the game.

Graphically, the game is dated, though it was praised for its graphics at the time. Cutscenes are the most dated looking, having a similar quality to an average PS2 cutscene. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and interactive objects blend in well with

the environments. The music is minimal, appearing only in cutscenes and music playing in the background.

Puzzles are very straightforward and less obtuse than the puzzles of older adventure games. I finished at least three-quarters of the game without any guide. In each location lies a main puzzle, one in which the game provides a hint for if you’re confused. These involve traditional puzzles, like arranging four different coins Sudoku-style on a board. Lateral thinking puzzles advance the story and are incredibly entertaining. My favorite puzzle was fixing a little girl’s bike and camera to get photographs of some masked men terrorizing the museum. In return you receive a microwave hamster magnet, a very subtle reference to Maniac Mansion. Another wonderful puzzle involves using a cat for taping a phone conversation. The puzzles were very entertaining  and did not need much lateral thinking chops to solve.

Overall, Secret Files: Tunguska is an enjoyable adventure game for the Wii, despite being a somewhat average adventure release on the PC, comparatively. Puzzles are enjoyable, yet not too difficult, and the story is very entertaining, despite being a somewhat typical adventure game storyline. The voice acting is the games’ only true downfall, which may be remedied with a German language track option. The Wii version can be easily obtained for under $10 and the PC version and its sequels can be found on Steam for about the same price. Secret Files: Tunguska is a true hidden gem on the system and should be played by any fan of the Wii or adventure games.

The Weird and Wonderful Wii: Hidden Gems, Oddities, and Sleeper Hits on Nintendo’s Best Selling Console

Funny Story, I actually paid my roommate’s rent for his Wii, and i got Twilight Princess, New Super Mario Bros, and some VC games. I used it for Netflix and the Virtual Console for a long time. Eventually, I went the route many have to prolong the entertainment value of their system and softmodded it. I hooked up my old external harddrive and uploaded every NES, Genesis, Super Nintendo, and even some Sega CD games. It wasn’t until recently when i saw MetalJesusRocks Wii Hidden Gems episode that I decided to start building up my Wii Collection. Unlike Xbox 360 and PS3, Nintendo Wii had a ton of exclusive titles. With their unique control system, I believe a good amount of Wii games will become very collectible. Already three games have reached over $100 on Ebay (Xenoblade Chronicles, Metroid Prime Trilogy, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn). So this month, I’ll be writing some reviews on some of the lesser known Wii titles that are unique to the system.

Here’s what I have so far (links to gameplay videos):

Games I don’t have yet, but will review when i have them:

Comment below if you know of any other Wii games i should review.

The Future of Brick and Mortar: How the Decline of Physical Media will Transform — not destroy — the Retail Video Game Store

Generation Y: I Can’t Touch any of My Favorite Things Anymore!

Being born in the late 1988, I grew up in the tame 90’s. With the fall of Communist Russia, Presidential sex scandals, and a healthy economy, it doesn’t fill up many history books. While my parents’ grew up in an era of tumultuous race relations and the transition to equal rights, I grew up in an era of technological and economical innovation and change. Technology has begun to emulate anything we want to see or hear, but has made little innovation in simulating touch or smell.

I remember going to Blockbuster every Friday and renting a couple new releases and a Super Nintendo game. Walking through the shelves of a video store as a kid, I would haphazardly look at the grisly VHS artwork in the horror section. I remember shopping at Best Buy and Tower Records and scouring the shelves like a Paleontologist for the new release from my favorite Christian hardcore band. My family had one computer and we only got decent internet connection in 2003. I remember carrying my case full of CDs and a walkman one school year and a iPod that replaced everything the next year. It is astonishing to think that a 13-year old today has probably never used a CD Walkman. While my parents’ generation have 30+ years of memories of physical media and brick and mortar stores, my generation may be the first to truly experience the transition to purely digital media.

A Series of Wishful Thoughts

Videodrome- The last remaining video rental store in Atlanta, GA

I grew up wanting to be a business owner. No, I didn’t want to become the next Bill Gates or even own a chain of pizza buffets, I wanted to own a record store, then a video rental store, and now a video game store. I would be told time and time again how unfeasible physical media retail is in this era of technological breakthroughs in media consumption. I held onto my dreams until I started seeing Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, Tower Records, and Circuit City start disappearing left and right. The very small and unique stores thrived as their competition dwindled, Videodrome and Criminal Records here in Atlanta are extremely popular with film buffs and record enthusiasts. Even with the convenience of movies, music, and game streaming with Netflix, Spotify, and Steam, there is still a demand for independent retail. There was still hope for me yet, albeit as a very niche business opportunist. I have always been a lover of music and movies, but my love of retro gaming has proven to be more than a fledgling hobby.

You Just Can’t Put it in a Box

While CD, record, and video rental stores can only thrive in the right environments now, video game stores can be found everywhere, though they mostly belong to the GameStop conglomerate. GameStop still operates around 6,700 stores worldwide, while Blockbuster recently closed its last 300 stores just recently. It may be an unfair comparison, but why is it that consumers are so quick to accept a RedBox in a gas station as their alternative to a video rental store, while buying video games is still seen as a worthy trip to a brick and mortar store? Is it the customer service, the large variety of games, or the ability to trade in your old games for a new one? the answer is quite simple, video rental machines have a flat rate for their service and a lower variety of movies, perfect for the average customer that needs a kids movie after buying groceries. Strangely enough, I remember when Blockbusters were attached to grocery stores just for this convenience — I think mine was turned into a pharmacy. Customers can rent games as well, but due to the length and replayability of games, renting them is just not worth it sometimes. A video game vending machine just wouldn’t work; no one would want to put $60 in a box and hope for the best. For all intents and purposes, GameStop is a glorified pawn shop. It is the quickest and easiest way to liquidate your disappointing games and systems and trade them in for a great experience. Though you can most definitely do the same and get more money through eBay and Amazon, the convenience GameStop offers is unbeatable.

Give me Convenience or Give me Death

Just doesn’t have that metallic tin can taste.

Convenience is what will keep small businesses around for our lifetimes. Even with 3-D printers, lightning fast internet, and cloud streaming, people will still generally be drawn to shopping outside their home. Even in Star Trek, humans and aliens alike will complain about the artificiality of replicators and the Holo-suites. Full disclosure: I have Netflix, Spotify, and Steam, and I use the first two for television, movies, and music enjoyment; the last time i bought a CD or DVD was in 2007. I never saw the appeal of buying movies and CDs, because when i did buy them, they ended up sitting on my shelf after watching or listening to them once or twice. I like Netflix and Spotify because I don’t have to invest in expensive DVD collections or feather dusters. Gaming, however, is something I almost never emulate and always search for the original hardware and software. When I do play an emulated game, it is because it is incredibly expensive or rare. I would argue that emulating games is less convenient because the amount of effort to accurately emulate a game (control scheme, graphics, experience) can be daunting. Although audiophiles will swear by vinyl’s sound quality (i do too) and cinemaphiles by 35mm, the average consumer will be content with the quality of audio and video streaming. With streaming media comes questions of true ownership, and for gamers this is of the utmost importance.

Do I really own this? The Digital Grey Area of Ownership

Although I love the convenience of Netflix Instant and Spotify, I can’t help but feel really bummed out when my favorite album or TV show disappears completely from the service! It’s almost like paying $50 a month for a gym membership only to come in one day and find all the treadmills gone. I suppose this is to be expected from monthly services like Netflix and Spotify, but it shouldn’t feel so restricted. Although you can buy games, music, and movies online and own them permanently, what happens when they stop selling them? If DRM only allows you to play media on your computer, how will the obscure, underrated games, movies, and artists survive past their prime? Many video games have this problem, but have physical forms that can preserve them. Earthbound, Little Samson, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and others have reached exorbitant prices on eBay because  developers have neglected to re-release them or emulate them (Earthbound being the exception). In a world without physical media, will games like these disappear forever?

How the Brick and Mortar Game Store can Survive the Physical Media Apocalypse

When Microsoft announced that their Xbone games could not be sold used, gamers everywhere erupted in outrage. Claims that this would kill independent and chain game stores were heard across the media, eventually leading Microsoft to change their decision and allow for multiple use games. If you don’t know already, game stores only make about $5 on every new game they sell, but make large profits on used games. This isn’t new to the gaming world, PC games have come with unique keys since the early 2000’s (I remember trying to lend The Sims to a very dismayed friend). But for console gamers, sharing, renting, and buying used games is intrinsic to the culture. The game store is part of the overall culture as well, though this is changing. With the rise of broadband internet,affordable computers, and smartphones,  gaming is becoming popular among both genders and all age groups. The modern game store, as epitomized in GameStop, will eventually come to an end. With shelves filled with the latest games and hardware, modern game stores are going to be less appealing, as an average consumer can just buy all their games at Target along with their shampoo and school clothes. Vintage game stores are making a comeback by supplying the demand for older systems and used games. Game collecting, once niche and unassuming, is now a growing and sustainable hobby among Generation Y. Independent game stores not only feed collectors demand for retro games, but also provide a community with affordable ways to game. However, many small game stores are unready for the physical media apocalypse.

Where Game Stores Are and Where they Need to Be

There are two types of game stores owners: Pawnbrokers and Hobbyists. Pawnbrokers have no interest in games, can’t recommend a good game for you, and only care about their net profit. If they stopped selling games and started selling TVs, they wouldn’t notice a difference. Hobbyists know everything about games, old and new, can recommend games, and offer fair prices on their inventory according to market values. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I’m a staunch supporter of good game stores. I make an effort to visit a game store in every state I visit (Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, California) and can instantly tell how long before a store goes kerplunk. A good store knows its old games are not instant gold; they price according to average retail and internet values. A bad store has piles of defective junk behind the counter, believing defective video game accessories have some value (I’ve been to this store). A good store has knowledgeable staff, testing stations, and experience in restoring older games to working condition. A bad store will have overpriced items, messy shelves, unplayable games, and a staff that has no interest in gaming. I believe game stores will eventually turn into hobby shops, the same way comic books left chain bookstores and became their own enterprises. A successful game store will have an online presence (Click and Mortar), large variety of games, and a large customer base.

Generation Y Me? 

If you imagine the Cloud as a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth intent on causing physical media to become extinct, you’re probably taking too much cough medicine, go to sleep. When dinosaurs went extinct, mammals thrived and prospered and eventually we came along some 65 million years later. Dinosaurs may have died, but we still have their descendants, birds (man, that emu really looks like a raptor). Brick and mortar stores (CD, rental, video games) will continue to survive while our generation becomes wealthier and more nostalgic for the past (They just aren’t as ferocious as they used to be). Game collecting will take the place of comic book collecting of our parents’ generation and thrive in an environment becoming increasingly less tangible.

Shadowgate (NES)- Where Death Awaits at Every Corner

ImageI’ve always been a fan of point and click adventure games. My most cherished gaming memories were of my many playthroughs of Curse of Monkey Island, Sanitarium, and Grim Fandango. When I got too frustrated trying to beat that carnival stage boss in Sonic 3, I’d turn to adventure games for an entertaining and dying-free experience. I loved guiding the self-assured Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood through a lush and detailed Caribbean pirate cove. LucasArts had people like me in mind when creating their most memorable adventure series, providing death-free gameplay, comedic story lines, and brilliant character design. Instead of battling an endless array of enemies or playing a level endlessly, adventure games lured potential players with eccentric puzzles and cinematic story lines. LucasArts fans may be weary of playing a game like Shadowgate. Developed by ICOM Simulations, Shadowgate is a timed and perilous adventure, wrought with wrong turns resulting in graphic death scenes and obtuse puzzles. As a LucasArts fanboy, I was a bit taken aback when i popped this game into my NES. The castle plundering adventure captivated me throughout its perilous hallways. Graphically it was very primitive, akin to a text adventure with a interactive graphics window. It did not feature voice-acting, animated characters, or straightforward puzzles. Nevertheless, Shadowgate is an underrated NES classic unique to the system and should not be missing in any serious nintendo collection.

Released in 1987 on the Apple II under the “MacVenture” series, Shadowgate became the first point-and-click port to the NES in 1989. You play as an unnamed hero, “The seed of prophecy, the last of the line of kings”, who must stop the evil warlock lord from summoning the Behemoth at Castle Shadowgate and destroying the world. Well, it’s not the deepest story line out there, but it’s the exploration of Castle Shadowgate that provides the most entertainment. The user interface resembles an archaic dungeon crawler on the PC, ala Ulitma, with three windows [Graphic, Inventory, and Text/Commands/Map].

Shadowgate User Interface

It is a very different experience from the LucasArts and Sierra adventure games. Played from a first person perspective, you guide your character through the castle, unlocking doors to different rooms of the castle. Several rooms are unreachable without a specific item. The puzzles can be very obtuse and nerve-racking. For example, when encountering the troll on the bridge, you must use a spear to kill him, even though you have a sword, a hammer, and a sling in your inventory. If you use the wrong item on the troll, he kills you. The amount of items you can add to your inventory is gigantic — in fact, many items have no real use at all. During all of your exploring, you must pick up torches and keep at least one of your torches lit at all times. If they become unlit, the music will warn you of your imminent death.When struggling through puzzles, this can be very frustrating. If you do run out of torches, the game will take you back to the previous room and give about 5 minutes of gameplay. With a battery save on the cart, it is better to start back from a save than play without any torches.

Despite its difficulty, Shadowgate is one of the more versatile pc nes ports. The cursor is not too difficult to use on the game pad, but does have some trouble with accurate clicking. The inventory screen can be daunting to scroll through, as there are close to 50 items you can add to your inventory. Unlike other adventure games, the clickable items are easy to find on the screen.

Getting through the game takes about 2 hours with a game guide. The time it takes depends on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles. If you love RPGs and dungeon crawlers, you’ll love exploring every inch of the castle. Overall, it is a great NES game, worthy a place in anyone’s collection.

Shadowgate spawned two sequels, Beyond Shadowgate on the Turbo Grafx CD and Shadowgate 64 on the N64. The sequels were major departures from the original game, but still adhered to the adventure game format. Look for the remake of the original games by Zojoi coming in the future coming to pcs, iOS, and Mac. Check out their Kickstarter page and donate!