WINTER 2010

Posts from January, February, and March of 2010.

March 31, 2010... Winter Lose

So much for winter!  Guess I'd better whip up a new banner now that the snow has melted.  I'm feeling in a Bonk-ish mood lately, so that's the way I'll probably go.

Now for some gaming news!  Unsatisfied with tearing Guitar Hero and Call of Duty to shreds, Activision CEO Bobby "Extra Absorbency" Kotick is set to sink his teeth into Blizzard next.  The World of Warcraft creators originally had some autonomy from Activision, but a corporate restructuring has put Thomas Tippl in charge, who serves under... you guessed it, Bobby Kotick.  The same Bobby Kotick who ripped the creative heart out of Infinity Ward and stretched Guitar Hero to the point of snapping.

I have a funny feeling that ten years from now, we'll be talking about Activision the same way we talk about Acclaim now.  In the past tense.

March 30, 2010... Holy Gomola!

Now here's a juicy find, from the fine folks at Tiny Cartridge... a PC Engine emulator for the Nintendo DS that runs most games at or near full speed.  The cleverly named NitroGrafx still has trouble with more demanding titles like Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, and the US titles need to have their encryption broken first, but it's still one of the more impressive emulators I've tried on the system, ranking right up there with jEnesis DS and trailing just behind NeoDS.  I'm playing Gomola Speed right now, and although the DSi's low profile D-pad makes it hard to wrap your alien boa constrictor around food pellets and enemies, the game at least looks just like it did on Magic Engine.  Games that aren't as dependent on diagonal input work perfectly, including TurboGrafx favorites like Galaga '90, Ninja Spirit, and Bonk's Revenge.  Here's the icing on the cake... NitroGrafx will even run CD-ROM games!  I gave Castlevania: Rondo of Blood a quick spin, and although the apparent lack of MP3 support made it a mostly silent experience, the overall performance was much stronger than I would have expected from the dated DS hardware.  This is definitely one to download if you want to take these games on the go and don't have a PSP handy.

In amazing dumbass news, some kid attending the Penny Arcade Expo tried to sneak off with a beta copy of the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game Breach.  Well, "sneak" isn't really the right word... he stepped up to the booth with a laptop and USB cord, and loudly announced to the development team, "I'm going to steal your game."  When they asked him to stop, he made a break for the door with one percent of the code, about ninety-nine percent less than he would have needed to play the game.  He was arrested later that day, but is currently out on bail... way out.  After paying two hundred dollars to spring himself from the clink, he skipped his arraignment, then skipped town.  If you live on the East Coast and notice someone with a cocky grin and an unsettling resemblance to Harry Potter, you're advised to call the authorities... or better yet, Dog the Bounty Hunter.  Yeah, do that.  It'd be a lot more entertaining watching him drag this kid's sorry ass back to jail.

March 29, 2010... Cruel to Be Kind

I bought Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection yesterday, and although I'm really impressed with the quality of the emulation and the reasonable price (just fifteen bucks at GameStop!), I do wish Backbone hadn't been so sadistic with the unlockable bonuses.  You won't have to cough up any Microsoft points for them, but you will have to wade through duds like Flicky (imagine Mappy if Mappy sucked), Alien Storm, and Super Thunder Blade to gain access to Sega's awesome arcade games.  At this point, I would almost pay to unlock Zaxxon if it meant never having to play Decapattack again.

Oh yeah, I also bought Madworld, because... uh... why did I get this again?  Oh yeah, it cost eight bucks on Amazon.  I could never resist a deal like that, even if it's death to my budget.  It's probably why I also picked up Dragon Age: Origins from the Electronic Arts store during the PAX East sale.  I wouldn't have even considered this purchase a month ago, but since the price was so low and my admiration for Mass Effect 2 is so high, I just had to take the plunge.

Speaking of PAX East, I had a man on the inside who was able to attend all three days of the show.  It sounds like the convention has really grown since it began in 2004, threatening to eclipse the E3 trade show in both attendance and industry involvement.  However, as large as PAX has become, there is still plenty of room for classic gaming, as demonstrated by the Crazy Otto machine on the show floor.  The early ancestor of Ms. Pac-Man was available for all to play, but our man on the field took special interest in the game, taking footage of it in action.

The gameplay looks roughly the same as Ms. Pac-Man, but the marketing department did this game a big favor by asking the designers at GenCom to change the characters.  Crazy Otto is a tiny yellow head on spindly legs, and the monsters look like apples with antennae.  The famous intermissions are still there, but the love affair is between Crazy Otto and a bright red clone.  Ooohkay...?

There are many times when I felt that video game history took a wrong turn- the push for 3D at the cost of everything else, the hype-fueled success of the Playstation 2, and Electronic Arts' turn to the darkside just to name a few- but in this case, I think it made the right move in kicking Otto to the curb and introducing Ms. Pac-Man as his replacement.  As good as it was, I don't think anyone would have remembered this game with its original cast of characters.

March 27, 2010... Suffer Like G Did

And you will, if you play Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles!  There's a review of the game in the usual place.

Good news for gamers burned by King of Fighters XII... there's every indication from early screenshots that the sequel will suck less.  Teams that were split apart for the sake of a speedy release have been reunited, and classic KOF characters like Mai Shiranui, Chin Gentsai, and the Degener-esque King are back into the ring after a year-long hiatus.  One of the pictures suggests that there could be up to thirty-one characters in KOF XIII, a significant improvement over the paltry twenty-two in the previous game.  Now they just have to give back all the moves that Clark lost and we'll be in business!

Nintendo is also throwing its hat into the 2D fighting ring with Photo Dojo, a DS exclusive that lets you create your own characters and backgrounds with the system's built in camera.  It's clearly not going to compete with King of Fighters XIII or even the massively flawed previous game, but the footage on Kotaku suggests that it'll at least be good for a few lulz.  Kielbasa PUNCH!

March 25, 2010... Kind of Gamey!

The PSP turned the big 0-5 yesterday.  It's a good time to look back on all the fun I had, uh, emulating old PSOne games on the system.  All right, that's not totally fair.  I really enjoyed Burnout Legends and Mega Man: Powered Up too, and would have gotten my money's worth out of the classic game collections if the PSP's display hadn't been so friggin' blurry.

Microsoft's Game Room service launched yesterday as well, and I've got to tell you, this thing needs serious work.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the notion that a console powerful enough to handle the mighty Mass Effect 2 could have trouble keeping up with a crusty arcade title like Shaolin's Road.  Things are going to get messy when Krome breaks the 8-bit barrier and tries to emulate Konami's more demanding beat 'em ups from the early 1990s. 

Until Microsoft and company work out the kinks with this service, I'd just recommend that you pick up Atari Anniversary for the Xbox.  It'll run on an Xbox 360, and will give you half the titles offered in the Game Room for a small fraction of the price.  While you're at it, grab yourself a copy of Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, which features dozens of classic arcade games you won't find in the Game Room.  You won't get any mascots running around a faux arcade, but on the plus side, you won't have to pay for them, either.

March 23, 2010... Tales from the Darkside

I thought that turning Resident Evil into a light gun game would be a brilliant idea.  Unfortunately, Capcom also made the mistake of trying to turn it into a movie with Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles.  While this means that the acting is at least ten thousand times better than it was in The House of the Dead, it also leaves the player fighting a camera held by the most spastic, easily distracted director since Quentin Tarantino.  Instead of looking out a window or down at a gum wrapper on the floor, why not face the zombies attacking me?!  While you're at it, try to keep the camera steady... I'm tired of filling the walls with holes because you jerked away just as I was lining up a head shot.

Perhaps what's most obnoxious about The Darkside Chronicles is that none of its weapons have the head-poppin' impact they had in Resident Evil 4, or even its watered down sequel.  If the pistol in indeed "effective for head shots," why do I have to shoot a decayed corpse between the eyes five times to bring it down for good?  I don't remember this being an issue with The House of the Dead, where a shot to the face takes off part of the face.  It's probably because Capcom thought it would be cute to force the player to buy upgrades for all the firearms, which cost a king's ransom in gold.  Look, I'm not interested in scouring each stage for money so I can waste time with obsessive-compulsive inventory management.  Just cut the crap and give me a shotgun that turns zombies into a pulpy mess with a single squeeze of the trigger.

Anyway!  I'll be taking a mini-vacation today, but since the hotel will have wireless access, I won't actually be going anywhere as far as you're concerned.  When I'm not watching cable television, soaking in a whirlpool, or getting hammered on rum and cokes, I'll be loading my DSi with downloadable content.  If you've got any suggestions for purchases, feel free to leave 'em in the forums.

Speaking of the DS, the rumors of a next-generation handheld from Nintendo are picking up steam.  If you're thinking about buying the DSi XL, I'd strongly caution you to hold onto your money and wait for the true successor to the DS, which will probably be released at the end of the year.  Previous reports claimed that the system will include a GameCube-quality graphics processor and an iPhone-like accelerometer, but a recent update on Siliconera brings a whole new dimension to its capabilities.  The upcoming 3DS will offer a three-dimensional picture without the need for expensive glasses... or even those cheap ones you used to get at movie theaters.

I'm not sold on 3D visuals of any kind, and I don't think the illusion of depth will bring much to the gaming experience.  However, if developers reserve that gimmickry for the title screen and concentrate on bringing next-generation graphics and gameplay to a Nintendo handheld, I'll be happy.

March 21, 2010... Special News Flash!

It would appear that Australia's Michael Atkinson is out as the attorney-general of South Australia.  What this means to Australian gamers is that they'll finally be given access to uncensored mature-rated titles, unless another tight-fisted tool with a grudge against an entire industry swoops in to fill the power vacuum.  Special thanks to Merus from the GameSpite forums for this news, and to Aussie-Nintendo for confirmation.  More news at it happens.

March 20, 2010... Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

That wraps up Mass Effect 2!  It was thirty-five hours of awesome (with the occasional minor annoyance), capped off by an incredible climax.  Now that it's all over, maybe I can get some work done around here!  If I can resist a second playthrough, anyway.

So!  I'm toying with the idea of adding iPod/iPhone/iPad/iCarumba reviews to the site.  The lack of a real controller with real buttons is still an issue with most games, but the quality of the software on this versatile line of phones and music players has nevertheless improved.  I've already gushed about Street Fighter IV in a past update, but I'm just as impressed with Pac-Man: Championship Edition, which looks nearly identical to the original game on the Xbox 360 but packs in dozens of new stages.  The expansion pack that costs more than the actual game was a tacky move on Namco's part, but there's enough content in the standard package that you probably won't need it.  Other games worthy of notice include Space Miner, Mole: Quest for the Terracore Gem, and the trip-a-riffic Space Invaders: Infinity Gene.

I'd like to make an announcement before I sign off.  JustinZero is the latest member of the few, the not totally ashamed members of The Gameroom Blitz's forum.  Stop on by and welcome him if you have the inclination.

March 18, 2010... Rock All Night, Sleep All Day

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks.  Mass Effect 2 has torn my sleep cycle a new one over the past week.  I've just had too many days of going to bed at the crack of dawn and waking up at three in the afternoon.  It's just not healthy, man!  Anyway, a review is forthcoming, so stay tuned.

Just one thing before I go... Microsoft is switching to a smaller motherboard for its Xbox 360 game console.  Could a slimline version of the system be far behind?  We never got a travel-sized version of the original Xbox, so a more compact Xbox 360 would be an overdue but nevertheless welcome gesture.

March 15, 2010... Shirt Heads

Last night, I started a Zazzle store with three T-shirt designs.

Shortly afterward, two of those designs were taken down because they were treading on the sacred ground of intellectual property.

I understand why big, greedy corporations would want to protect their precious fucking copyrights, but it wasn't like I wanted to make a fortune on these shirts.  I just wanted a chance to celebrate video game culture, and perhaps get a little recognition in the process.  It's what I was hoping for with the homebrew games, and the video reviews, and this site.  However, every time I try to start a trend, it either falls on deaf ears or is ruthlessly shut down thanks to this country's plutocratic copyright laws.  When you're met with this much indifference and resistance, why even fucking bother?

March 15, 2010... Holy Shirt!

Would you wear this on a T-shirt?  Because I'm thinking of putting it on one.

March 12, 2010... A New Hope

My faith in video games has been renewed thanks to Mass Effect 2 for the Xbox 360 and a surprisingly sharp conversion of Street Fighter IV for the iPhone.  Mass Effect 2 was an especially pleasant surprise... it's the first Bioware title I can honestly say I enjoyed, and the more I play it, the more I love it.  Street Fighter IV is no slouch either.  Capcom has done the impossible, making its flagship fighter playable on a format that hobbles most old-school arcade games.  Some concessions had to be made- the pared down cast is almost exclusively taken from the nearly twenty year old Street Fighter II- and there are some puzzling quirks in the otherwise clever interface.  Why can I tap the revenge meter to pull off super moves with Ryu, but not Chun Li or Guile?  Nevertheless, it's an unbelievable port that's also a cruel tease to PSP and Nintendo DS owners.  C'mon Capcom, why not bring this to a real handheld game system?

All right, let's get right to the good stuff.  There's a new feature on The Gameroom Blitz, dedicated to Xbox Live Indie Games.  Far too many of the titles on the service are getting the cold shoulder from mainstream sites and blogs, so I'm picking up the slack with periodic reviews of my favorites, along with a few duds that offer a bitter reminder of what quality control was like on the service back when it was called Community Games.  I don't think I'll ever cover as many as Juice has on his own site, but if I can reach ten percent of that total, I'll be pretty happy with that achievement.  Wait, Indie Games don't have achievements!  Pretend I said "accomplishment."

March 10, 2010... Grumpy Old Men

After a furious rant prompted by a failed attempt to download Street Fighter IV for my iPod Touch, I've realized (perhaps not for the first time) that I never feel more alive than when I'm bitterly complaining about petty grievances.  My God, I'm Andy Rooney!

Anyway.  There's fun stuff planned for The Gameroom Blitz in the near future, but there are still a few loose ends I need to tie up before it's ready.  Just know this... it's something almost no other sites are doing, and it should keep the Blitz more current than it's been in the past.  Those are the only hints you'll get until it's ready!

March 9, 2010... Pause for Effect

I started Mass Effect 2 last night, and wound up playing the game for over three hours.  Why don't I remember the original being this fun?  Oh yeah, probably because it wasn't.  Bioware has completely overhauled the sequel, streamlining the interface and throwing in a handy compass that keeps aimless wandering to a minimum.  The action scenes are more engaging, too.  Sure, cover shooters have been done to death over the last three years, but Mass Effect 2 adds a lot of fresh features to keep the action from feeling like just another Gears of War rehash.  Having Jacob work his midochlorian magic on enemies while Miranda rips them apart from the inside is a beautiful thing.

In other news, Microsoft's Game Room service launches in a couple of weeks.  If you haven't been keeping track, it's a virtual arcade with hundreds of classic titles from Atari and Konami.  The games are reasonably priced, costing three dollars each, but bare-bones in comparison to the typical Xbox Live Arcade release, without any enhancements.  Some of the games are a hard sell even at three bucks a pop, especially the thirty year old Atari 2600 releases.  However, there are a few gems that are worth the price of admission, with many more promised for the future.  I'll be sure to offer my first impressions of the Game Room when it arrives in late March.

March 7, 2010... Fashionably Late?

I'm here, I'm here!  Sorry, I just got preoccupied with stuff.  Stuff like this, mostly.

I really need to get cracking on that Xbox Live Indie Games feature.  Developers have really stepped up their game since the service first launched as Xbox Live Community Games a year and a half ago.  While there are still plenty of cheesy Flash-quality titles with grade school artwork, the number of professional and semi-professional games have sharply increased.  I'm especially impressed with Shoot 1UP, a shooter which brings wicked excess to new levels, and Kaiten Patissier, a screen-twisting, cake-making puzzle/platformer with pastel graphics straight out of a late-era Super Famicom release.  Surely these games are worthy of some publicity, even if it's just from this place!

Some quick notes before I amscray.  They're making a sequel to Scribblenauts, which shouldn't be a surprise since the first one sold pretty damned well in spite of its flaws.  Eh, player control is so last century anyway!  Steve "17" Ballmer is hinting at an Xbox 360 with a smaller form factor.  It's exactly what everyone wanted from the last Xbox, but better late than never, I suppose!  Finally, Walter Day of Twin Galaxies fame is hanging up his referee whistle after nearly thirty years of tracking the high scores for every game known to man.  All the best to you, Walt!

March 5, 2010... Superzapper Wii-charge!

I was feeling a bit peckish, but one disconcertingly greasy poppyseed muffin later, I've got the strength to begin this update.  I'll take this opportunity to inform you, loyal and few readers, of three important facts about the Nintendo Wii:

1) Its Classic Controller kind of bites.

2) A GameCube joypad isn't much of an improvement.

3) You do have other options.

The first, Thrustmaster's T-Wireless game pad, was reviewed on The Gameroom Blitz a couple of years ago.  The controller was hobbled by a crummy directional pad but was rescued from mediocrity by one very cool feature... the option to remap the buttons and even the joysticks to your heart's content.  This let you customize controls in Virtual Console games that didn't natively offer it and even play Sin and Punishment with twin analog joysticks, a more intuitive setup than any of the three offered in the game's option menu.  At the time it was released, it was a welcome alternative to the Classic Controller, but not a perfect one.

No, those would come later, starting with Raphnet's Genesis to Wii adapter.  This dongle plugs into one of the GameCube ports on the side of the Wii, and supports hundreds of controllers with a 9-pin D-shell connector.  Chances are, if it's really old, it'll work.  You can even plug in an Atari 2600 joystick and use that if you're so inclined, but since so many Virtual Console games require at least two buttons, you won't get very far in anything more complicated than the original Mario Bros.  No no no, I mean the one with the POW block and the toilet crabs!  Anyway, the adapter shines when used with the Sega Arcade Pad, a small six button controller that hit stores just in time for the Genesis version of Street Fighter II.  The buttons are awkwardly mapped to more closely approximate the layout of the GameCube controller, but the Sega Arcade Pad is as comfortable and responsive as it's always been, and synchs up perfectly with Genesis titles like Streets of Rage II.  If you've got a large library of these games on your Wii, this adapter is a must-have in spite of its slightly cheap construction and the couple of weeks it will take to arrive from French Canada.

Raphnet's adapter is pretty good, but believe me, there are better ones out there.  My personal favorite is this Chinese number that lets you connect a Playstation gamepad directly to the bottom of the Wiimote.  This opens up a whole new world of possibilities... Thrustmaster's T-Wireless gamepad wasn't compatible with Geometry Wars: Galaxies, but this adapter is, and the game plays like a dream with a Dual Shock.  It's also given me a chance to dust off my purple Saturn joypad (which is worth a zillion dollars now, but you'll have to saw off my fingers to get mine!) and burn through a few games of King of Fighters: Orochi Saga.  It's like 1998 all over again, with me sitting in my underwear, spending all night playing games from a teetering stack of Saturn imports.  Except now, I'm older, the system is more powerful, and... uh, the underwear is larger.

Some industry news before I go... the battle between Activision and the founders of Infinity Ward has reached its climax, with Jason West and Vince Zambella accusing their former boss of overstepping his boundaries and douchemaster general Bobby Kotick dismissing their claims in the most condescending manner possible.  The relationship between Activision and Infinity Ward has always been contentious- West and Zambella were never down with the "no fun" approach to game design that Kotick champions- but after the wildfire success of the Modern Warfare series, the last thing I thought Activision would do was jeopardize its future by gutting Infinity Ward and breaking the spirit of its remaining employees.  Didn't they learn anything from the castration and subsequent failure of Guitar Hero?

March 4, 2010... Seriously Short Update

There's a new review on the Blitz, courtesy of Ken Tibbs.  He's a long-time reader of the site and a regular contributor to the forum, so I thought I'd give him a shot as a reviewer.  He's left no stone unturned in his comprehensive examination of the recent Playstation 3 exclusive White Knight Chronicles... if you're thinking of adding it to your collection I'd suggest giving Ken's review a look first.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just found out that my next batch of classes starts NEXT WEEK and I need a couple of hours to freak out.

March 2, 2010... How Much Is Enough...?

How much is enough?
When your soul is empty
How much is enough?
In the land of plenty
When you've had all you want
and you still feel nothing at all
How much is enough?

February 28, 2010... I Actually Miss the Encyclopedia Britannica Guy Now

Boy, this wasn't a good way to close out February.  I did a little surfing on Wikipedia and discovered that the reference to my GameBoy Advance conversion of GORF in that game's Wiki page was quietly erased, along with a brief description of another programmer's Jaguar CD game, which was released in limited quantities several years before.  Well, isn't that a nice fuck in the ass!  I spent three long months on that game, only to have it largely ignored by its intended audience, then blotted out of existence by the one source of mainstream publicity I had available.

The apparent logic is that since the games weren't official, they weren't worth mentioning.  So what?  The arcade game wasn't strictly according to Hoyle either, lifting elements from two popular coin-ops without the consent of their respective developers.  More importantly, the GameBoy Advance version of GORF is a good game.  So was the Jaguar CD version, judging from the accolades it's received from the few gamers lucky enough to get their hands on it.  These games are better than any of the official versions of GORF I've played... isn't that worthy of some mention?  Not according to skirt-chasing douchenozzle Jimmy Wales and his army of anal-retentive dweebs with delusions of alpha maledom.  A note to Jimmy if he's reading this, and I do so hope he is... what's the point of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit if you're just going to edit it out?

One more thing... if you're planning on firing up your Playstation 3 today, don't.  It's convinced that 2010 is a Leap Year, and has went into a Y2K10 meltdown as a result.  Customers have complained that their systems will no longer access the Playstation Network or even run games thanks to this bug.  This mess will surely be ironed out in the next week, but until then, you might want to put your progress in Heavy Rain on hold and play some other system for a while.  Might I recommend the Sega Saturn?  Perhaps something in a fine 1985 vintage...

February 26, 2010... Ninja Blah

I've written another review!  I'll just keep cranking them out, and you'll keep not reading them.  Today, the victim is... well, I won't refer to it by name, in the fear that it will come back to haunt me like Biggie Smalls or Tim Rogers.  All you need to know is that it's got more quicktime scenes per ounce than any game short of Dragon's Lair.  Also, you should never rent or buy it under any circumstances.  Just play Ninja Gaiden II instead, and have your little brother flip to a rerun of The Matrix on TNT every thirty seconds.  You'll get roughly the same experience.

Also, Sony just realized that the PSP Go was a dumb idea.  And the last horse drags itself across the finish line!

February 24, 2010... Look Ma, One Hand! (also, Wii/DS spring releases)

First order of business: there's a new review on the site.  Dust off that Wii... it's time to live vicariously through 21st century swordsman Travis Touchdown in the outrageous action game No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle!

What's next on the menu?  Nintendo recently announced release schedule for both the Wii and the Nintendo DS.  You can click this link for all the juicy details, but here's a brief look at what's coming out and when:

Mega Man 10 (March 1st): Holy crap, I forgot all about this one!  And it's coming out next week?!  Man, I gotta find a way to get my Wii online.  Anyway, this is the sequel to the well-received Mega Man 9, which was the subject of one of my last video reviews.  If you didn't watch it, all you need to know is that it was a worthy successor to the NES Mega Man games and a lot more enjoyable than the spin-offs released for more powerful systems.

Nintendo DS XL (March 28th): The super-sized sequel to Nintendo's popular handheld will arrive in stores by the end of March.  This is great news for sight-impaired players and PSP haters with screen-is envy, but it's hard for me to get excited about it now that news of the more powerful DS 2 has been leaked.

Cave Story (March 28th): It's been a long time coming (a long, long time!), but at last, the beloved action-adventure title will arrive on the Wii with sharper graphics and numerous enhancements to the gameplay.  As a consolation to players who were expecting it over a year ago, all this extra content will be included with the game by default, rather than sold separately as was originally planned.

Monster Hunter Tri (April 20th): Exciting news for fans of the series... not only will Monster Hunter Tri come packed with the more ergonomic Classic Controller Pro, but it will be free to play online.  If you've never tried Monster Hunter, you'll have a chance to get up to speed by playing the demo released on WiiWare in March.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (May 18th): Just in time for the upcoming Bruckheimer film, The Forgotten Sands rewinds the series back to the good old days, before the prince got all mopey and started listening to Godsmack.  As an added bonus, the Wii version comes with Konami's loose port of the original Prince of Persia, first released for the Super NES in the early 1990s.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (May 23rd): This is the brass ring, fellas.  Nintendo's serving up a second helping of Super Mario Galaxy, with the same eye-popping graphics and planet-hopping gameplay but more interaction with Yoshi.  If you like Yoshi, score!  If not, putting up with the greedy green dinosaur is a small price to pay for a sequel to the best game on the Wii.

Sin and Punishment 2: Star Successor (June 7th): Sin and Punishment was pretty sweet as a Virtual Console download, but there were just two problems with it.  The first was that the jagged graphics that were already dated when the game was first released on the Nintendo 64 in 2000 weren't done any favors by seven years of technological advancement.  The second was that the gameplay was perfectly suited to the Wiimote, but the game didn't actually support it.  The sequel will address both of these issues when it's released in the first half of June.

Metroid: Other M (June 27th): This one's a wild card.  This game, developed by the currently Itagaki-free Team Ninja, features stunning side-scrolling action along with the first-person shooter segments introduced in Metroid Prime.  However, there's no telling how the side-scrolling scenes will actually play... will they offer the exploration and careful platforming of the very first Metroid game, or the instant gratification of Team Ninja's stylish Ninja Gaiden series?  Only time (about four months of it, I suspect) will tell.

Dragon Quest IX ("Summer"): Square-Enix shocked the world by skipping the next generation consoles and bringing the ninth installment of the Dragon Warrior (or is it Dragon Quest now?  Whatever!) series straight to the Nintendo DS.  This one's actually been out in Japan for almost a year now and has predictably been well-received in that territory, but finding an audience for it here in the United States will be an uphill battle.  That's probably why Square-Enix chose to let Nintendo take that risk.

Speaking of Square, I spent a little quality time with Einhander and was amazed by what I saw.  It's a rock-solid shooter with some of the most stylish graphics I've seen on the original Playstation... a little stark, yes, but the Blade Runner-meets-Tron aesthetic really works for me.  As you'd expect, there are plenty of bosses, and many of them are utterly breathtaking.  In the second stage, you'll battle an all-terrain vehicle that weaves its way through the desert like an angry rattlesnake, launching heat-seeking missiles and even pouncing on you.  Sink enough shots into this serpentine dirt buggy and it falls apart piece by piece, eventually taking out a city block in a violent explosion. 

This fight is epic enough to be a suitable climax for the stage, but that was just the mini-boss!  The real deal at the end of the stage is armed with machine guns and flamethrowers, and is so gigantic it won't even fit on the screen.  Einhander, you do what other Playstation shooters only wish they could, and that's with one hand tied behind your back!

February 23, 2010... Ladies and gentleman, the president. And a goat.

Sorry for the wait, folks... I thought I'd be able to introduce you to the site's next contributor, but it seems he's a little shy.  Instead, I'll bitch about Cross Edge, one of several RPGs released last year by niche developer Nippon-Ichi.  There are many, many things wrong with this game, but all the other reviewers have ravaged it for its microscopic sprites, needlessly complicated combat, and monotonous soundtrack.  Instead, I'll complain about the one aspect of the game that ruined it for me... the most pointless and desperate video game crossover since the Battletoads teamed up with the stars of Double Dragon.

Any excitement that could be had from uniting characters from five different worlds is completely ruined when half those worlds are more like pea-sized asteroids floating aimlessly through the darkest corners of the universe.  What the hell is Idea Factory, and why the hell should I care?  The game ignores these questions, pairing the instantly recognizable Darkstalkers cast with lame newbies fresh from the Generic Anime Protagonist factory.  The notion of forgettable characters like Atelier Marie fighting alongside the brightest stars from Namco and Capcom is like asking the kid picked last in recess to pinch hit for Babe Ruth.  A note to Nippon-Ichi, if they're even around in six months... crossover games don't work when half the characters in the cast shouldn't have been created in the first place.

February 20, 2010... Put Down the Knife, Baby!

SoThink HTML Editor is the jealous, abusive girlfriend of web site editors.  The minute I edit a page in another program, SoThink takes its revenge by converting the entire file to the letters "m."  I think it's time to ditch the bitch before she goes into full Lorena Bobbitt mode and hacks off my PNG files while I'm sleeping.

Anyway, not much exciting has happened over in Blitz country over the last few days, so you haven't been missing much.  I just bought a copy of Muramasa that I'd rented from GameFly, further hemmorhaging what little money I have remaining on frivolities.  In my defense, it's a pretty entertaining frivolity!

I've been having a lot of fun with Wii games lately, which totally was not what I was expecting when I dragged the old system out of the shed last month.  Lately, I've been spending as much time with Nintendo's humble console as I have with the mighty Xbox 360, especially during last week's No More Heroes 2 marathon.  Meanwhile, the last time I turned on my Playstation 3 was to watch the Blu-Ray edition of Labyrinth for a college class.  Yes, I'm getting a grade for watching David Bowie dance with Muppets.  Yes, America's educational system really is that deep in the crapper right now.  I think they'll be printing my diploma on squeezably soft three ply paper.

In Blitz news, I've got a couple of fun surprises waiting for you all in a couple of days.  Stay tuned!  Also, if you see SoThink HTML Editor, tell her that I was working late tonight and that the perfume on my neck was from a mall sample.

February 17, 2010... Backlog Jam

Thanks to GameFly, my own impulse spending, and even a few generous donations, I have entirely too many games to play.  There's the shockingly fun 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand, the yet unfinished Darksiders, that copy of Red Faction Guerrilla I'm getting in the mail for buying Darksiders, the two Wii games GameFly sent that I've had for weeks but STILL haven't beaten, PixelJunk Shooter, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a free copy of Cross Edge that the previous owner just wanted out of the house, three flavors of Rock Band... it's gotten totally out of control.  I promised myself I wouldn't buy more games until I finished what I had, but beating Dark Sector opened the floodgates to even more software I didn't need.  If there's any bright side to this, it's that I should be able to supply the site with fresh reviews for the rest of the year... and at the rate things are going, probably the rest of my life!

Just a couple of things before I go.  First order of business: I'm switching over from SoThink HTML Editor to PageBreeze.  If I like the results, the switch will be permanent.  If there are weird formatting issues with the front page, you'll know why.  Second thing: Capcom is releasing an iPhone version of Street Fighter IV, but given the system's exclusively touchscreen control, the game will probably be more like Thumb vs. Thumb.  People are hounding Capcom to release a PSP version of the game, and I can't say I blame them... it just makes more sense in that format.  Finally, in Conan-zuma's Revenge news, word in Hollywood is that guitarist and professional lickspittle Kevin Eubanks won't be back for Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show.  Wow, things must be REALLY bad for Jay when he can't even get support from his favorite house n-er, band leader!

February 14, 2010... This Concept of "Wuv" Confuses and Infuriates Us!

It's Valentine's Day.  In the immortal words of Dick "Nosferatu" Cheney, "So?"

I do have a present for you though, esteemed and extremely few readers.  I've written a review of the PSN release Pixeljunk Shooter, which reminds me as much of the old computer game O'Riley's Mine as Atari's thrust-heavy shooter Gravitar.  It's just two months old, which is actually a pretty good lead time by The Gameroom Blitz standards.  I've also got a review of a very old game over at 1UP.com... the Pac-Man tabletop released by Tomytronics in the early 1980s.  Give that a look if you're in an especially nostalgic mood.

February 12, 2010... The Day the Music Died

Things are tough all over for the music game genre.  Activision and its defiantly douchebaggy CEO Bobby Kotick recently put a bullet between the eyes of Red Octane, the co-creators of the Guitar Hero series, as well as a sizable portion of the staff at Neversoft, which assumed control of the series after Harmonix left for greener pastures.  Well, that's what they thought, anyway.  The developers of Rock Band were retroactively stiffed out of the $150 million "performance bonus" they were given in 2008, when MTV was confident that its video game subsidiary was a cash cow with inexhaustible udders.  Here's my question... what kind of moron gives you millions of dollars for games you'll make years later, then demands that money back when the games bomb and the cash has already been spent?  Oh yeah, the same moron who ran Midway into the ground last year.

In RPG news, Fable III is reported to be about a man of great power who makes fantastic promises to the people of his kingdom, only to discover too late that they were all impossible to keep.  So in other words, it's the life story of Peter Molyneaux.

Speaking of broken promises, I'd like to apologize for not writing a review this week.  The original plan was to do a write-up of Brutal Legend, but despite Jack Black's best efforts, that game just wasn't much fun.  The gameplay was such a snooze that I couldn't bring myself to finish the impossibly long battle with General Lionwhyte, the apparent stunt double for David Bowie on the set of Labyrinth.  Now I'm leaning toward a review of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, since it's a more recent release which frankly is a hell of a lot more entertaining.  I'll let you know what I decide sometime next week.

February 11, 2010... Master of Mura

I need a new banner for the site.  Something wintery, but not so Christmasy.  Any suggestions?

So, I replaced the Wii component cable, and that seemed to do the trick.  The jitters are gone completely, and I've only seen a couple of brief screen flashes when I was playing the system last night.  I'm actually pleasantly surprised with the Wii... now that I've got it working again I dare say I've underestimated this machine.  There's a lot of rotten apples in its software library, yes, but that only makes the unspoiled fruits that much sweeter. 

New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Muramasa: The Demon Blade are especially good.  The first game is a throwback to the 2D platformers of days gone by, with generous portions of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World added to the mix.  In fact, there's so much borrowed from those two games that you start to think "New" Super Mario Bros. is just coasting on Nintendo's past successes.  However, it starts to blossom as you progress, dishing out the devilishly clever levels gamers have come to expect from Shigeru Miyamoto.  The power-ups are a mixed bag (not the micro mushroom again!) and I can't imagine how the game would work with four players, but flying solo it's been well worth the time and money.

Muramasa is the descendant of Odin Sphere, which in turn was the offspring of Princess Crown.  The series has steadily evolved over the last fifteen years, growing from a charming and ambitious action/RPG that wasn't much fun to play, to a game with the same high aspirations but tighter action scenes and gorgeous hand-painted backdrops, to an extremely polished title that's just a stone's throw from excellence.  The combat in Muramasa is so refined that it makes Odin Sphere look like Princess Crown, and Princess Crown look like a slog through a tar pit.  With a joystick and a single button, you'll glide through the air with the deadly grace of a hawk, slice foes to ribbons with a relentless barrage of sword slashes, return shuriken and other projectiles to their senders, and block- then counter- incoming strikes.  Such simple control could have quickly turned into a button-mashing mess- just ask anyone who owned an Amiga in the 1990s!- but in Muramasa it's perfectly natural, and damned near perfect.

The graphics are on par with Odin Sphere, which is to say outstanding.  Never mind that Odin Sphere is three years old at this point... its visuals are timeless, and the same can be said of Muramasa.  VanillaWare's Japanese motif is utterly flawless, with hilly countrysides, shady forests, and humble villages all rendered in exquisite detail.  Each stage is a living painting, with the only downside being the pasted together marionettes passing as characters.  Sorry, but after ten years of watching Flash cartoons, I've grown acutely aware of the difference between real animation and the subtle tilting of heads and limbs.

So I guess the bottom line is that Muramasa is a terrific game.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but the fact that I can't put my finger on what's missing suggests that it's very close to that point.

February 8, 2010... Wii Croaked

There's reason for me to believe that my Wii is on its last legs.  Whenever I use it, the gameplay is interrupted by thick horizontal black lines cutting through the screen at random intervals.  It doesn't matter if I'm playing disc games or just hanging out at the front end, the lines will keep popping up until I shut off the system in frustration.  Lately the lines have been accompanied by a violently jittering picture that's just as random but even more distracting. 

I've done some research, and there are two possible explanations for this... either the television set isn't designed to work properly with the Wii, or the system's graphics processor has been melted into a glob of silicon.  I'm ruling out the first option, since I'm pretty sure I would have noticed a long time ago if the television wasn't playing nice with the Wii.  That leaves a costly repair as my only remaining option. 

I don't even want to send it back to Nintendo, because my system's running the Homebrew Channel and I hate the thought that they'd remove it or send me a new system with an unbreakable security update.  There's a lot of cool stuff you can do with the Homebrew Channel that has nothing to do with pirating Wii games... to me, it's part of the system's functionality, and losing it all for the sake of the system's shaky official software library is too bitter a pill for me to swallow.

The funny thing is that out of the three current generation systems I own, including a near-launch Xbox 360 and a Playstation 3 I MacGyvered back to life with spare parts, the Wii would have been the last console I thought would die before its time.  I'm going to roll the dice on a replacement component cable and see if that fixes the problem.  If not, I guess that means The Gameroom Blitz will be a Wii-free zone for at least the three weeks it'll take for Nintendo to examine it.

February 5, 2010... Grand Theft Hell No

Seriously, I'm done with this fucked up series.  I don't care how much praise it gets from magazines like the oh-so-trustworthy Play, I don't care how many celebrities they can get to make cameo appearances, and I don't give a damn how many new features they pile into the next game... I'm not buying this again.  I've given Grand Theft Auto entirely too many chances, and it's disappointed me each and every time.  The only time I've felt good about buying a game in this series is when I picked up a copy of Vice City for the PC, and that was only because its soundtrack was written to the disc in MP3 format and easily added to my collection.  I didn't actually play it, because if I had, I would have stomped the disc into dust like I did with GTA4 today.

How do I hate thee, Grand Theft Auto 4?  I'd need a hundred hands to count all the ways.  Instead of fixing the core issues that have dogged the series from the very beginning, you throw more cherries on top of the shit sundae and hope nobody notices.  The driving is only slightly less woeful than before, with a massive turning radius for all but the best cars, and the combat is a sluggish, pathetic mess; trounced by the seven year old True Crime: Streets of LA.  The game engine is mechanical and constipated next to other sandbox games I've played in the last three years, and no amount of vapid mini-games, mean-spirited advertisements, and other extraneous features can hide this.  In short, it's crap.  All the "professional" reviewers who were paid to say otherwise should hang their heads in shame while I strike them repeatedly with a rolled up newspaper.

Let me take this opportunity to warn other game developers not to take the same route Rockstar did and turn their games into "life simulations" at the cost of the core gameplay.  Nobody's playing your games to bowl or gamble or troll for booty.  They could do this stuff in real life, or if they're that desperate, play video games exclusively devoted to those pursuits.  What you need to do is concentrate on your game's central focus, the reason your customers bought it in the first place.  When you blur that focus with needless distractions, as the makers of Burnout and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater did with the most recent titles in those series, you fail as game designers.

February 3, 2010... Australian Idiot

There's a new review on the web site, folks.  This time it's Borderlands, the unique blend of first-person shooter and dungeon crawler that was released last summer.  Next up to bat is Brutal Legend, an equally peculiar hybrid starring Jack Black of Tenacious D fame.  It's only rock and roll, but will I like it?  Find out next week.

Before I go, I'd like to direct your attention to a man.  He's not much of a man, though... just Michael Atkinson, prime minister of South Australia.  He's been a target of ridicule for gamers thanks to his stubborn refusal to approve a mature rating for video games in Australia.  That ridicule is well-deserved... in an age where the video game industry makes $25 billion each year and top releases like Modern Warfare 2 rival the success of the big-budget films like Avatar, Atkinson's attitude is a dinosaur, and deeply condescending to the citizens of his country.

Recently, the attitude has spread from the video game industry to the world of politics, where it affects everyone.  Atkinson crafted and eventually pushed through a law forcing bloggers and other internet commenters to post their full names and home addresses when discussing political candidates and issues in an election year.  Atkinson insisted that the law was meant to protect candidates from the big, bad opinions of the blogosphere, but who would protect the bloggers from retribution when the candidates took office and had control of the already overreaching powers of the Australian government?  It's not hard to imagine a situation where a dissenter would be bullied into submission by tax collectors, or police officers, or even child protection agencies.

After Australia's citizens expressed their objections, Atkinson backed away from the bill, promising that it would not be enforced and that he would repeal it... after the election.  Wait a minute, what?  You wrote this bill.  You made damned sure it became law.  Now Australians are supposed to trust you to kill this law, written by you to protect you from negative opinions of you on the internet?  The late Steve Irwin gave rectal exams to crocodiles every week, and even he wouldn't be dumb enough to fall for this.  Freedom is not a carrot on a stick.  Freedom is not a shell game.  Freedom is not something to be barted for with self-serving politicians.  It's an unalieable right, and shame on you for treating it like your own personal commodity, to be doled out at your whim!

This actually ties back into video games, because Atkinson made a similar statement when discussing his most vocal critics on the subject.  After complaining that he's received death threats from disgruntled gamers, he claims "I'll consider changing my mind about all this when the gaming community decide to behave in a civil fashion."  The death threats are a non-issue... hell, I've received death threats.  There are crazy people out there who communicate exclusively in death threats.  That's no reflection on the gaming public as a whole.

As for listening to gamers about the R18+ rating, that was quickly revealed as a lie when Atkinson dismissed an open discussion on the subject, claiming that it wouldn't be fair because only those in favor of the rating ("R18+ nerds," as he called them) would participate.  Hell, with that logic, you might as well ban free elections.  Only the people who care about them are going to vote, right?  Given Atkinson's frightening socialist leanings, I wouldn't be surprised if that were next on the menu for him...

January 30, 2010... O No She Didn't!

I swear, Oprah's studio audience makes fans of The View look like worldly intellectuals.  Then again, I'd probably strain to find nice things to say about Jay Leno too if I could get a brand new car out of the deal.  "Uh, he feeds Kevin Eubanks only the highest-quality dog food?  He's not on television twenty-three hours of the day?  Wait, that won't do... how about this?  He smells like Cool Ranch Doritos!  That's a compliment, right?  Now where's my Corvette?"

Off that subject (which I have so thoroughly beaten to death over the past week), I just received Brutal Legend in the mail from GameFly today, and am currently downloading The Battle of Forli, one of the missing chapters from Assassin's Creed II.  I've heard it's not up to the standards of the rest of the game, but what the hell, it'll give me a chance to ride Da Vinci's flying machine and catch that achievement I missed the first time around.

Also on tap for the near future is the Wii game New Super Mario Bros., from the makers of old Super Mario Bros.  I didn't actually want to buy this game outright, but since GameFly thought it would be cute to send me Brutal Legend instead, I guess I had no choice.  This game has held onto its value more stubbornly than Uncle Scrooge to his first dime... I felt lucky just to get it for $46 shipped!

January 27, 2010... Never Buy the Chrip Chrip Shoes

Really.  They totally suck.

Oh yeah, I thought I should mention that there's a new review on the Blitz.  This time it's Bayonetta, the wild 'n crazy action title from the creators of Devil May Cry and God Hand.  It's practically the offspring of those two games, with the lesser qualities of both carefully bred out.  The camera is wisely set at a distance from the action and the sharp control leaves you free to pound on angels to your heart's content without having to tuuuuuurn around to face one hiding in a blind spot.  The dumb, momentum-killing puzzles from Devil May Cry are also far less frequent, restricted to scenes where the heroine must stop and rewind time to gain passage to exits held just out of her reach.  However, the gorgeous graphics and complex combat have remained intact, making Bayonetta superior to the beat 'em ups Platinum designed for Capcom and one of the best games released this year.  We've still got eleven months left, so there's plenty of time for it to be elipsed by other releases, but nothing's topped it yet.

A friendly reminder before I go... The Battle of Forli mission pack will be released for Assassin's Creed 2 today, if you're lucky enough to have the Xbox 360 version.  Are you stoked?  I'm totally stoked.  There's also a patch for Darksiders that's supposed to fix its ugly screen-tearing issues, so if you own the Xbox 360 version of the game, be sure to grab that too.

January 25, 2010... Late Night Just Got Darker

As you may already know, Conan O'Brien was pushed out of The Tonight Show just seven months after its debut.  I've got the details on his departure in About Last Night... but if you've been following this controversy and already know all the facts, I'll just give you my opinion right here... it's Jay Leno's fault.  He never wanted to leave The Tonight Show, and did everything within his power to undermine Conan O'Brien as the host even after claiming that he wanted the transition to go smoothly and that O'Brien was "the perfect host."  Actually, Leno's been making a lot of claims lately, many of which directly contradict things he said before Conan took his job.  

What's most galling about Leno's hostile takeover is that he's trying to frame this as Conan O'Brien's failure, claiming that "if you don't get the ratings, you don't keep your job."  Oh really now?  If we're going by that metric, your scheming ass should have been the one dropkicked out the door.  The Jay Leno Show received terrible ratings for its time slot, was poorly received by critics, and even coined a phrase used by frustrated affiliates to describe how Leno would make viewers stampede from NBC and not return for the rest of the night.  They weren't calling it the Conan O'Brien effect, pal.

However, since NBC is currently run by dimwits with the foresight of naked mole rats, Jay Leno gets to keep his job while Conan O'Brien is offered as the scapegoat... his reward for pulling Late Night out of the muck after NBC treated its last host with all the tender care of a twenty dollar hooker.  If there's a plus side to this, it's that Conan O'Brien is more popular than ever, inspiring an almost cult-like legion of followers, and Jay Leno's Svengali act is all the more transparent.  Comedians have come forward to admit their contempt for Leno, other talk show hosts have mercilessly torn into him, and there are even rumors that celebrities are extremely reluctant to appear on The Tonight Show after he makes his return.

Leno is acutely aware of his damaged reputation and is fully invested in damage control, scheduling a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey ShowHe'll make some condescending remarks about Conan O'Brien (which Conan will be helpless to defend against after signing that bogus non-defamation contract), squeeze out a few tears near the end of the interview, and win back most of his old fans.  They'll be fooled, but we'll know better.

January 22, 2010... Down with the Sickness

Rock Band fever has hit its climax here at JessCREATIONS*, Co. Studios.  I just ordered a wireless guitar to replace the lackluster X-Plorer packed with Guitar Hero III, along with a drum set that will probably be used twice before getting packed into the shed with all my other extraneous gaming peripherals.  Say "hi" to my Tekken 5 joystick and Logitech steering wheel for me while you're in there, would you?

However, like the bumbling Nazis from Hogan's Heroes, I regret nothing... nothing!  I'm having a whole lot of fun with Beatles: Rock Band, and althoug I love singing and strumming along with the music, the experience just won't be complete without a chance to pound on the skins like good 'ol Ringo Starr.  I guess what I'm trying to say is this... I WANT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS!

Anyway, new content is planned for the Blitz, starting with a review of Borderlands.  I took the economy tour with this one, playing five hours without assistance, but I'm confident that I've seen most of what this game has to offer.  Put simply, it's a first-person shooter for hoarders.  You start the game hunting for the fabled "Vault" hidden somewhere on a vast Wile E. Coyote desert planet, but by the time you're done, you're so obsessed with finding great guns and replacing them with even better guns that you'll have forgotten all about the treasure.  Who needs El Dorado when you can have All Destructo?

I need to spend a little more time with Bayonetta, though.  This game is completely out of control, split evenly between ludicrous cut scenes and frantic, often punishing battles.  The going isn't as rough as it was in Demon's Souls- not even close- but I've racked up enough Joe Pesci statues with my lackluster fighting skills to start my own Martin Scorsese museum.  Come on guys, cut me a break!  I don't even have enough haloes to buy a freakin' sucker!

January 19, 2010... Cause for Alarm

I just received the rest of my bounty in the mail today, including my two GameFly rentals and that copy of Darksiders I ordered last week.  I've heard great things about Darksiders, but my copy came with a sticker on the front of the packaging that leaves me with some lingering doubts...

A ten out of ten from Play Magazine?  Yeah, I've heard that one before...

Or what about this time?

Then there was this...

But this was the one that broke the camel's back for me...

All right, enough with the comedy.  I've got games to play.

January 18, 2010... King Me

It's time to celebrate the birthday of a celebrated civil rights activist by kicking back and doing absolutely nothing.  Fortunately, since most of the stuff I ordered was delivered on the preceding Saturday, there's a whole lot of nothing for me to do!  Let's start from the top, shall we?

DSi:  Admittedly, I thought this minor upgrade of the Nintendo DS was a dumb idea, and I said as much in an update from last year titled "DSi? No, Dork."  However, you get a lot more receptive to the system when your DS Lite is on its last legs and begging for retirement.  So I grabbed a DSi from eBay and ran it through a battery of tests.  Actually, it was more like a AA battery of tests, but here's what I learned from the couple of hours I spent with the unit. 

The frontend is vastly changed, abandoning the stripped down look of its predecessor for a sliding bar of applications.  Pressing left and right on the D-pad switches apps, while the A button selects the currently highlighted program.  These range from the cartridge you've inserted to a variety of widgets, including a music player (without MP3 support.  THANKS, Nintendo...), voice recorder, and snapshot factory.  These utilities are just for fun and don't have any practical use, but contorting my face into the horrible offspring of the Elephant Man and Don Knotts beats twiddling my thumbs while waiting for that AceKard 2i to arrive. 

As for games, it plays them well enough... the larger displays makes scribbling on the touchscreen less restrictive and really brings out the detail in 3D titles like Super Mario Kart DS.  On the down side, the D-pad is nearly flush with the unit and diagonals are just as problematic as they were on the DS Lite, if not more so.  There's also no support for Game Boy Advance titles, and the only way to get it back is with a grey market peripheral called the iPlayer that costs as much as an actual Game Boy Advance and doesn't play the games nearly as well.  Yeah, I think I'll pass on that.

The Beatles: Rock Band:  As a young man, my interest in the music of The Beatles was casual at best.  I always regarded them as that silly boy band whose music got really weird and experimental after a chance encounter with Bob Dylan and his inexhaustible supply of weed.  However, as I've aged and my tastes have refined, I've grown to appreciate their versatility.  The Beatles had a fluidity unmatched by any other musical act (with the possible exception of Weird Al Yankovic), smoothly flowing from the catchy rock that put them on the map to bittersweet ballads, low down dirty blues, and even carnival music.

If anyone deserves a dedicated music game, it would be The Beatles... and it couldn't be a simple compilation like Guitar Hero's tributes to Metallica, Aerosmith, and Van Halen.  The game would have to be built around the band, and inseperable from it.  The Beatles: Rock Band is exactly that, a time capsule stuffed with the Fab Four's best performances with imagery that brings you into the studio and even the songs themselves.  Never fear though, gamers, you'll get as much love as George, Paul, John, and Ringo!  The game is hugely fun, whether you're hitting all the right notes as the lead singer or keeping the beat with a guitar or drums. 

The only downside is that the selection of songs is a little slim, and you'll have to buy additional albums online to shore up the numbers.  I was forced to pick up Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to offset the number of irritating "yeah, yeah, yeah" songs loaded into the default track list, effectively raising the price of the game twelve dollars.  Also, the fact that solo performances from former Beatles members can't be imported into this song- just the flagship Rock Band series- is kind of a bummer.  Could you imagine a dreamscape stage for I Got My Mind Set On You with George Harrison rocking out in Pee-Wee's Playhouse?  You'll have to, because it's never gonna happen.  It's an annoyance, but a forgivable one when you consider everything the game gets right.

January 14, 2010... Glaive and a Head Cut, Two Bits

Good news, nobody!  I just signed up for a GameFly account, so maybe I'll start writing reviews of recent games for this dump!  I'll also be receiving several other items in the mail, including a Nintendo DSi (not a moment too soon, considering the sorry state my old one is in), a copy of T*HQ's Zeld-a-like Darksiders (hey, couldn't be any worse than Twilight Princess!), a more spacious Xbox 360 hard drive (250 glorious gigs!), and other gaming goodies which prove the old adage that a fool and his money are soon parted.

While you're waiting, let me talk about some of the old 'n busted titles that I've been playing over the past week.  First up to bat is Rock Band 2, which has supplanted Gitaroo Man and Samba de Amigo as my favorite music game of all time.  Sorry guys, but you were released almost a decade ago!  I was pretty skeptical about Rock Band at first, but after watching the outrageous opening (who knew Cheap Trick could rock that hard?) and playing my first set, I couldn't help but fall in love with it. 

The biggest advantage Rock Band has over Activision's long-running and crassly exploited Guitar Hero series is that it uses real songs from the original artists, including tracks like Man in the Box and Pump it Up that were practically made for games like this.  Er, if the songs hadn't been made first, I mean.  Even less obvious choices like Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know work surprisingly well... I haven't had this much fun angrily ranting about Dave Coulier since Full House went off the air!

However, there are plenty of other reasons to prefer Rock Band 2 to the competition.  The character customization is a pretty cool plus, letting you build your band from scratch and dress them in outfits ranging from Stephen Tyler's tight pants and silk sash to bone-studded armor lifted from a GWAR video.  There's support for multiple instruments, so if the standard guitar isn't your thing, you could always bang away on a set of drums or even sing along using a USB microphone.  Finally, the game just has more personality than Guitar Hero, thanks to trippy video filters and dynamic camera angles that make each performance look like a concert video.  Without a doubt, this is as much a step up from the stale Guitar Hero series as the very first Guitar Hero was from Konami's lackluster Guitar Freaks.

I've also been making headway in D3's Dark Sector, which I'd procured from Goozex for the trade-in equivalent of five bucks.  It ain't bad, although you wouldn't know that from reading some of the reviews.  Many of the complaints made by Game Revolution in particular do have merit... close-quarters combat consists of hammering the B button with one hand while crossing your fingers with the other, and any weapons you've stolen from enemies only last for a half minute before they self-destruct, forcing you to rely on a small selection of purchased guns and your character's default weapon. 

But oh what a weapon it is!  The game's baby-faced mercenary holds a glaive, the unholy marriage of a boomerang and a curved dagger.  It's the weapon of a thousand uses, as any well designed video game sidearm should be.  Toss it at an enemy once to stun him, then aim for a limb to lop it off, dooming the soldier to a short, painful death from blood loss.  You can also lock the camera behind the glaive and guide it to its next target, whether it be a gun-toting goon or a switch granting access to new areas.  The glaive can even be treated with electricity or fire, making it even more deadly in combat and burning a hole through the pulsing alien membranes standing between you and your next objective.

Without the glaive, Dark Sector would have just been Uncharted without the platforming or the charm.  Then again, R-Type might have been just Gradius with an H.R. Giger influence if it hadn't been for its versatile Force Unit.  It really goes to show how a single, cleverly designed play mechanic can make all the difference in an otherwise derivative video game.

All right, that'll do it for this update.  I'll save my Beautiful Katamari and Mirror's Edge rants for another time.  Believe me, I have enough complaints for Mirror's Edge alone to fill three pages.

January 9, 2010... I Picked the Wrong Time to Stop Sniffing Glue Updating

A whole lot of gaming news happened over the past four days... and I wasn't here to cover any of it!  No wonder nobody reads this crap anymore.

The hottest news off the presses is that Nintendo and Sony are busy working on successors to their handheld game systems.  The next DS will pack a Tegra2 processor and a significantly higher resolution for graphics that could "conceivably approach the quality of the Wii."  Remember, this is a handheld, so that's actually pretty impressive!  The new portable will also have an accelerometer, allowing for tilt 'n turn gameplay right out of the box.

The PSP2 pushes the envelope even further, with visuals that, according to tech site SlashGear, are "at a level between the original Xbox and Xbox 360."  I'm wary of such lofty promises- after all, Sony has written a lot of checks its collective behind couldn't cash over the last fifteen years- but even Xbox quality performance would be more than enough for a handheld game system with a five inch screen.  Just be sure to add the dual thumbsticks this time, OK, guys?  Yes, dual thumbsticks.  Write that down if you must.

Next on the menu is Bayonetta.  This action title from the makers of Devil May Cry actually makes that series seem tame by comparison... which is no small task considering that Devil May Cry gave us lantern frogs with lesbian fairies for lures and heroes who treat five foot long swords through the torso like you and I would treat a paper cut.  The demo starts with the lead character, a kinky British dominatrix, standing atop a clock tower hurtling through space.  Angels accost our heroine as the tower streaks through Earth's stratosphere, and she fights back with lethal locks of hair, platform shoe pistols, and the worst instruments of torture you've seen since Acclaim went out of business.  It's nuttier than an explosion at the Planters factory, but it never feels forced.  You don't ask why a clock tower is orbiting Earth or why you're tearing angels in half with everything but your bare hands... you just go with it.  It's probably better that way... the day you make sense of this game is the day you'll be carted off to the nearest Rubber Ramada for an extended vacation.

There's one final order of business... Microsoft is working on an extension of its Xbox Live Arcade service, which will let your avatar play games inside a virtual arcade.  Unfortunately, you can't actually explore this game room, making it little more than an excuse for Microsoft to tack five hundred megabytes of bloat onto an 8K Atari 2600 ROM.  On the bright side, it means that the number of arcade games playable on the Xbox 360 could reach four figures.  Sunnier still is the fact that each new title will be significantly less expensive than traditional Xbox Live Arcade offerings, at three dollars each.  You could also pay fifty cents for two credits, but what kind of yutz is going to do that?

Yeah, I think that just about covers everything I missed.  See 'ya next update, folks!

January 5, 2010... By Popular Demand

You asked for it, and boy are you going to get it!  There's a review of the recent-ish Ubisoft release Assassin's Creed II posted on the Xbox 360 page.  It's a bit stream of consciousness, but it makes its point eventually.

I can't promise I'll make a habit of posting new reviews on a regular basis, especially with classes starting next week, but we'll play it by ear and see what happens.

January 2, 2010... Capping off the Holidays

It's been a Gameroom Blitz tradition to post updates on my birthday, so why break the streak?  I just wish I had more to say!  I finally received a copy of Rock Band 2 in the mail (hopefully functional this time) and lucked into a cheap copy of Beautiful Katamari at a video store not far from my house.  I haven't had a chance to play the former game, but did sink an hour into the latter.  It seems like business as usual for the King of all Cosmos and the tiny green battery mascot unfortunate enough to be his son... the only significant differences I noticed from We Love Katamari are the sharper graphics you'd expect from the Xbox 360 and a lot less detail in the king's netherregions.  He's switched his attire from uncomfortably snug black tights to poofy pantaloons, saving a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the player's eyes.  I imagine this was done to make the game more palatable for an American audience, but I like to think of it as a special birthday gift just for me.  Now if only I could make him stop throwing billiard balls at me...