A Quick Byte: Abzu

A MOST AGREEABLE PASTIME

5359645-lWowwwww, where did this game come from? I had heard nice things about it, but it didn’t look or sound particularly amazing. It really just looks like Journey, but underwater, and while Journey also surprised me with it’s endearing simplicity, it’s got nothing on the sheer beauty of the world of Abzu.

I grabbed this when it was one of the free PS Plus games a month or two ago, not really expecting much, but hey free is free. I ended up trying it out recently when I had a few hours to kill between longer games, half-expecting that it would just end up deleted and forgotten like the majority of the free monthly games offered. Oh, how wrong I was.

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I think it’s something that has to be seen in its full glory to really have the same impact. Not only do screenshots do it justice, but even…

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Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite Collector’s Edition arrives

Woooooo! On the plus side, these statuettes are a nice bit bigger than I thought they’d be from the ads. On the minus side, these light up Infinity Gems (I know they’re called Infinity STONES now, but I am, as always, stuck in the past) look like fucking Easter eggs.

They’re noticeably cheaper looking than they were in the ads and for some reason I had assumed that they would be actual removable gems, but instead are just permanently attached lights in a cheap plastic box. Oh well. Luckily I mainly got this for those statuettes, and those turned out to be even better than expected, so I count it as a win so far.

Now to go play the game. Review to come some time next week, naturally.

Now Playing: The Omega Virus

Managed to find a sweet deal on this blast from the past on eBay. Ok, so that was apparently 2 years ago and we just now got around to actually playing it, but nevermind that. It was just one of those things where I was suddenly hit by nostalgic memories of this game out of nowhere and decided that I had to have it again (no idea what happened to the one I used to have as a kid). The box is a little bit beat up, but amazingly it has all the pieces and they’re all in almost new condition. It even has the little notepad full of score sheets, still almost entirely full.

So this is a massive electronic, talking board game where 1-4 players compete in order to find and destroy the deadly sentient Omega Virus. To do so you first need to find each of the 3 colored keycards to be able to open the red, yellow, and blue rooms, then in a random one of each locked colored room you’ll find 1 of 3 devices you need to destroy the virus. Along the way you’ll run into traps, and maybe some other players, which you’ll have to face off against in a kind of rock-paper-scissors-like battle which can result in a device or keycard being destroyed if you lose. On the bright side, you can find a probe that acts as a second character for you to expand your search efforts with.

Anyway, if you manage to survive all of that you still need to find the room that the virus is in and defeat it in what will almost certainly be multiple turns of combat. Oh, and did I mention that this is all happening on a 30 minute timer (or slightly less or more, depending on how many players there are), and that as time starts running out, entire sectors of the board will explode and become inaccessible? Meanwhile, the virus is literally yelling taunts at you at every turn, telling you how bad you are at this and how you’re definitely all going to die.

Yeah. This game was pretty ahead of its time and it’s all surprisingly well-designed too. The system of typing these 3 digit codes in to do everything seems daunting at first, but you pick it up very quickly and there are helpful little quick-guides written on each player’s side that list all the basic commands. You just have to make sure you keep proper track of what rooms you’ve visited and where you can find each item again if you need to, which you can easily mess up when you’re trying to do everything as quickly as possible to beat that clock.

Another factor that makes things interesting is the interactions between players. It’s entirely up to you if you want to try to peacefully co-exist with your fellow players and focus on beating the virus or you want to shoot your friend in the back because if you can’t win NO ONE CAN!

So I’m pretty pleased with having this again, as it turns out. It requires a little effort and a lot of room to set up, but it can be learned and played very quickly, and it holds up very well for being a game made for children in 1992.

P.S. that is not my hand. I just wanted you readers to know, I don’t have girl-hands!

Night of the Emus

A great lesser-known side-scrolling action game from Capcom. It has absolutely nothing to do with Street Fighter other than the main character being a guy named Ken who punches things. Ken is apparently a scientist and former street fighter champion, so I suppose it’s possible that he’s actually supposed to be Ken Masters, but the game never gets into that. No, you’re too busy trying to track down whoever killed your lab partner, stole your science experiment, and spread it around all over the galaxy to turn everyone into weird alien monsters. To do this you have to warp around to different alien worlds looking for infected creatures to beat up so you can warp to the next world, with the idea being that each warp is going to bring you closer to your final objective (somehow).

As was so often the case back then, this game was extremely tough. Not like Battletoads or Ghosts n’ Goblins tough, but still pretty difficult. You have a surprisingly large variety of attacks for having only two buttons to work with. Pressing attack while stationary and doing it while holding a direction or jumping all do different kinds of attacks and of course the game doesn’t explain any of this to you, so you need to figure out how to fight properly on your own and very quickly, as you’re immediately thrown into the action without a second to spare. This is also one of those games where you need to rush to find power-ups to increase your attack strength too, because you’re going to be too weak to beat the deadly creatures otherwise. Unfortunately, you also lose attack power every time you get hit, so you really need to git gud quick if you want to have a chance.

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting levels with a huge roster of crazy bosses to fight, and a great soundtrack. It’s one of my favorite NES classics even though I don’t remember 2010 being anything like this.

Silver Surfer is a shooter that rotates between side-scrolling and vertical scrolling. It’s one of those games that you always seem to see on those “Top 10 hardest NES games” lists, but again, I don’t think it’s THAT bad. Yes it’s tough. You die in one hit and lose all your attack strength power-ups when you do, but if you can just survive long enough to get your attack strength up then you start blasting through all the waves of enemies pretty quickly. There’s also a password system and a bunch of helpful cheats available, so it’s all very do-able.

As a kid, I appreciated that they included a lot of familiar faces from the Silver Surfer series of the 80’s, which made it feel a little like maybe the creators actually read the things, unlike most other early comic-based games. Once you really start playing it though, it was clear that they were just making this all up. I have no idea why I had to fight through some hell-like plane filled with angry flying pumpkins to get to Firelord and etc. The weirdest thing was when you finished all the main areas, Galactus sends you off to fight the final battle in the “Magik realm”, which is apparently ruled by…Mr. Sinister? Weird.

Probably the most noteworthy thing about this game though, is the music. The soundtrack was absolutely insane for an NES game. I like a lot of old-timey 8-bit music, but this one always stood out as being impressively complex and surprisingly metal for its time. Even if you never actually play this game, you should still check out the soundtrack. I dare you to listen to this song and not turn it up and want more.

This was one of those strange arcade classics that everyone loved to play, but no one could actually understand it or beat it. You beam into these alien infested ships and are told to wipe out the infestation, but it just doesn’t seem possible. You can run around blasting aliens like crazy, but you never seem to be able to get anywhere close to clearing them all out before time runs out and the ship self destructs, which teleports you out of the level and tells you you failed. The best outcome seems to be if you can find the self-destruct system and set it to go off early, which you would think would also be a loss, but instead congratulates you and gives you bonus points. I suppose the ideal victory would be to completely wipe the aliens out somehow, but this doesn’t seem to be possible by yourself. My best efforts only ever got them down to about 40%.

I suppose it doesn’t much matter in the long run, as this seems to be one of those good old endless games, like Gauntlet or Rampage, that just goes on and on and on until you run out of quarters and die. It’s still fun in short bursts though. This is one you really need to experience the original arcade version of too, as the NES version had to be one of the absolute worst arcade-to-home ports ever made. I mean I know the NES was very limited compared to arcade tech back then, but just look at how damn ugly it was.

Review: Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition

A MOST AGREEABLE PASTIME

imageI have a confession to make. I’ve never played Night Trap before! It sure seems like something I’d have played, doesn’t it? I’ve always wanted to try it, but I never had a Sega CD and I just never got around to playing the later ports. On the plus side, this means I went into this completely untainted by any nostalgic bias.

The first thing I noticed about Night Trap was that it was indeed a very dated game. It was originally designed as a VHS game and it definitely shows, for better or worse.

21543815_10154762728881366_5327540073846809914_o Doesn’t seem to be anything suspicious going on here

From the characters, the sets, the plot, the dialogue, the tone, the music, and everything else, this game just bleeds 80’s-ness. It all feels very much like some kind of cheesy made-for-TV horror movie that you would have seen in the early 80’s. The kind that’s…

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Now Reading: Junji Ito stuff

I don’t have much knowledge or experience in the realm of manga, but I do know that Junji Ito is fucking awesome and I wish there was more stuff like this out there. His stories are extremely strange and very graphic, and his art style matches that tone perfectly. He is basically like if David Cronenberg and John Carpenter moved to Silent Hill and somehow had a baby together.

Gyo means fish and this is indeed a story about fish, sort of. It starts out with some fish crawling out of the water on mysterious new legs, with a bunch of tubes jammed in their gills. They seem to be acting strangely and emitting a terrible smelling gas. More and more sea creatures start appearing on these mystery legs until it becomes a worldwide plague, and it only gets weirder from there on. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s an extremely bizarre tale that features some truly grotesque (in a good way!) imagery.

Uzumaki, or spiral, is not as graphic as Gyo, but it is much weirder. Most of it is made up of a bunch of short stories following the people in this town that’s become “infected by spirals”. At first, people just seem to be getting mysteriously obsessed with spiral shapes, but then come the strange spiral-related occurrences and deaths, and it just keeps getting weirder and weirder as the whole town seems to be caught up in this mysterious curse. Most of the stories follow this main girl, Kyrie, who you would really think would get the fuck out of there after being directly involved in about a dozen blatantly supernatural and horrible deaths, but no, she and everyone else stick around until it’s too late and no one can leave anymore. At this point the story turns into a continuous series of tales about the final stages of the town’s curse and how the survivors try to stay alive and figure out just what the hell is going on.

Tomie seems to be his most famous work, having spawned 7 or 8 movie spin-offs, but it’s also one of his earliest and arguably the weakest of these 3. Tomie is really just a collection of short stories about Tomie, a mysterious undead girl who seems to be some kind of mash-up of a succubus and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Occasionally one or two stories in here are connected to each other, but for the most part they’re all standalone tales, and there isn’t really an ending to any of it. It’s still some pretty interesting stuff though. Tomie worms her way into random people’s lives, makes them obsessed with her and destroys their personal lives, and usually ends up being horribly murdered as a result, which just leads to her multiplying and mutating into even worse things. Again, very strange stuff.

Anyone else read this stuff and have any similar recommendations? I could really use more of this in my life. I’ve read Gantz and I’m going to get around to Berserk one of these days, but if you know of any other crazy horror or seinen stuff, I’d be glad to hear it (I think I actually already made a list somewhere of recommendations that I’ve been meaning to check out, but still, I could always use more)!

Show us your game collection, Richenbaum!

A MOST AGREEABLE PASTIME

I’m not one to start bragging about my toys unsolicited, but Sir Lucius was kind enough to ask, perhaps not realizing that like some nerdy vampire, once invited, I will be all up in your business.

Today’s tour begins with the living room. Here we have the PS4 Pro, PSVR, Xbone, and disgustingly excessive 4K HDR smart TV.

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It was this or have children, so we went for the TV.

This particular TV has an Android OS capable of emulation and external flash and hard drive use so just about all my old-timey console games are now playable directly on the TV, which is good because there doesn’t seem to be any room left in here to plug any more consoles into this thing!

Let me also add, for anyone wondering, that the 4K hype is absolutely true (especially if you have HDR too). It’s a costly transition…

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Watchin’ stuff

Just got back from seeing IT, and it was pretty damn good. It was very similar to the old mini-series (this being just the first half still) in a lot of ways, but of course with everything turned up to R-rated levels. There were one or two iffy CG parts, but the majority of the effects were very well done. Well paced, creepy, consistently entertaining, and some surprisingly funny moments, mostly coming out of the mouth of that kid from Stranger Things. Definitely a winner of a remake.

Back to yesterday though, it was time to watch some of these recent new Netflix movies. I hadn’t been planning on watching this. I never saw the show or read the comic. I’ve heard all the praise about it, but it always just sounded too teen drama for my liking, so I had zero interest in seeing this version of it either. Then I heard that Adam Wingard (GO WATCH THE GUEST RIGHT NOW!) directed it, so I had to check it out. I thought it was pretty good. I’m sure it’s very different than the originals, because of course an overseas movie adaptation of a much longer story is going to be, but I don’t know anything about that, I just know that this was an enjoyable movie and that it’s made me interested in checking out the original stories, so that seems like a job well done from my perspective. My wife saw the show and told me it’s been changed quite a bit, referring to this version as “not Death Note”, but also saying that it was still good for what it was (so it’s not just me and my Adam Wingard fan bias!).

This wasn’t bad. It’s a goofy concept, with Noomi Rapace playing the part of 7 identical sisters, which is the kind of premise you’d expect to come out in the 80’s or 90’s. The core plot is pretty predictable, but it’s still a solid enough light-sci-fi/action/thriller to be enjoyable.

Black Panther runs around L.A. beating the shit out of people with a bicycle chain while trying to find out who killed his sister. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Some nice performances from a pretty good cast and some pretty graphic violence.

An action/thriller that actually has very little action in it. It’s kind of a bait and switch, really. You go in expecting Steven Seagal to be beating everyone up, but in reality (INCOMING SPOILER FOR 20+ YEAR OLD MOVIE) the plan to save the hijacked plane goes wrong almost immediately and Seagal dies, leaving a leaderless, wounded crew that’s missing most of their gear to figure out how to complete the mission before the government just shoots the plane down. It’s from the 90’s, so of course it gets a little goofy at times, but it’s still a pretty good thriller.

And finally, David Mitchell and Robert Webb‘s new comedy series has begun. It’s not really a “laugh out loud a lot” kind of comedy. It’s more on the dry and awkward side, sort of like Peepshow, but not quite as goofy so far. It’s off to a good start though.

Night of the Emus

This was one of those love/hate games back in the day. Everyone wanted it and everyone wanted to play it, but no one I knew could ever beat the damn thing. It was a brutally hard game in general, but the extremely limited number of health, lives, and continues made it near-impossible. Once one of your turtles dies, that’s it, they’re gone until you lose them all and use up one of your two whole continues. It was a pretty fun game though, with super catchy music and some interesting enemy design. Worth revisiting now that you can just use save states instead of losing and restarting the game over and over until you want to smash your head through the TV like the old days.

Why bother playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on NES, which is just an inferior port of the arcade game, when you can just play the arcade game itself? This was one of the best beat-em-ups in arcades at the time and it’s still fun to play after all these years.

This one came out so late in the life of the NES that I, and probably everyone else too, never got around to trying this one. I can see why it didn’t get much attention. It’s really just a bad knockoff of the arcade port, yet with worse looking graphics somehow. Again, you only get a small handful of lives and continues, and this being a beat-em-up like the previous one, save states aren’t much help in avoiding damage. Maybe I’ll look up some cheat codes and try again someday, but there wasn’t really anything particularly exciting about it to make me want to bother returning. Eh, we’ll see.

Time for a break from those turtles. I recently heard this called a 16-bit Dark Souls and it looked pretty good so I figured I’d give it a shot. Yeah, it’s a tough one alright. Enemies aren’t particularly smart and don’t have much in the way of health, but they tend to literally appear out of thin air in groups and come rushing at you before you have time to react. The levels become pretty maze-like and are filled with secrets and traps. It was pretty ahead of its time in this way, for a platformer. There are some pretty rough edges though. Weird control issues with turning, ducking, and anything involving ladders. You can gather gems to use to buy items at shops, including better weapons, but most of the time I bought weapons I just ended up finding the same weapon for free not long after anyway so buying anything other than health and lives seemed like kind of a waste. It gives you a password each time you finish a “level”, each of which is actually made up of 3 pretty long “worlds” and a boss fight, but ain’t nobody got time for that. It ended up being a lot longer than I thought and I had to finish it up the next day, so I guess that’s it for this time!

Now Reading: The Astounding Wolf-Man

This was a fun, but short-lived sort-of-spinoff to Kirkman’s Invincible. I guess it doesn’t really start out as one, technically, but after a while it turns out to be in the same universe and ends up being pretty directly connected to other characters from Invincible. I really liked the idea of a werewolf as a superhero. Of course there have been characters like Werewolf by Night who have been around for decades already, but despite living in a superhero universe, they’ve never actually been a superhero role, fighting crime and supervillains and such. Wolf-Man looks and feels much like a supernatural version of Invincible, with a lot of drama and colorful villains and the same kind of very graphic, yet simultaneously cartoonish violence. It’s not exactly what I’d call an essential read, but it’s pretty fun if you’re into this kind of thing. I would have gladly kept reading it if it had lasted longer than 25 issues. Oh welllllllll.