Friday, March 31, 2023

For Trans Day of Visibility, Here's a Review of a Shoot 'Em Up Arcade Game By Arcade Pioneer and transwoman, Jamie Fenton: Gorf

Gorf is a shoot 'em up arcade game by Midway Manufacturing that was designed by Jamie Fenton, as one of the first, if not the first. games developed by a transgender woman. It uses a lot from previous games in the genre, yet manages to remain a unique game on its own.

It contains four distinct phases. The first, Astro Battles, is based on Space Invaders. The second phase, Laser Attack, has dive-bombing ships, a ship that fires a single laser beam, and the Gorf robot. The third phase is named Galaxians and is obviously based on Galaxian, with ships in a formation similar to Space Invaders and ships that dive bomb at the player ship. The third, Space Warp takes place in a wormhole where enemies fly out from the center of the screen and attempt to destroy the player's ship. The fourth, Flag Ship, is a battle against the enemy ship where a force field has to be broken before the floor of the flagship is shot through in a similar matter to the arcade game Phoenix.

The game loops the four phases through six space ranks, each with increasing speed and additional enemy patterns. The ranks include Space Cadet, Space Captain, Space Colonel, Space General, Space Warrior and Space Avenger. Once the four phases in Space Avenger are completed, the game remains on the Space Avenger rank but continues the loop.

Like other games of the time, such as Q-Bert, the sound effects are minimal but are amplified by the use of a synthesized voice. Like Q-Bert's backward speech, it is used here in a humorous manner. The voice will make insults and will make it feel targeted towards the player as it will say the current space rank as part of the insult.

Gorf is a game that is important to video game history for who made it, as Jamie Fenton was one of the first transgender female game designers. It was popular in its time, but it hasn't remained at the forefront of gaming history as the games that inspired it. This is a shame, as it is a fantastic game that has very different gameplay styles in each of the four phases. If you get a chance to play it, make sure to give this fantastic piece of arcade game history a play.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Sega Kills Sonic In A Visual Novel For April Fools' Day

These are the April Fools' Day jokes I love! Sega has actually released a real, free, graphic novel for April Fools' Day titled The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog.

You can grab it from Steam right now.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Arcade Table Tennis Game Mega Review: Pong

Pong wasn't the first video game nor was it the first arcade game, but it was the first game to jumpstart the craze that created the worldwide video game market.

Pong is not an original concept, both in the fact that it was simply a video game version of two-player table tennis, and also in the fact that the idea spawned from a May 1972 demonstration of video game table tennis created by Ralph Baer.

That demonstration of the ITL2000, a console better known as the Magnavox Odyssey, was attended by Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari. Bushnell took the general idea with him and tasked Allan Alcorn with developing a game based on what he witnessed.

Pong kept the basics of the square representing the ball, the middle line representing the net, and the score counter. However, Pong changed from Baer's Table Tennis in two main ways that arguably made the game more playable for mainstream audiences. Whereas in Table Tennis, the ball would be out when it went past the vertical gamespace, as in real-life Table Tennis, Pong would bounce the ball back, more akin to air hockey. In addition, Baer's game had the option to give the ball some English, which is slang for giving hitting the ball to give it a bit of a curve. Alcorn's Pong simply had the game bounce directly off the paddle.

Thus, this simple black and white game with a simple beep sound effect when the ball bounced, was tested as a coin-operated machine. It became a huge hit, leading to more arcade clones of Pong by Atari and other companies, a home console by Atari, home console versions of Atari's Pong clones, and even more console versions of Pong clones by other companies.

Today, Pong is not even a shred as impressive as it was when it was released. But, there is no denying that it made a mark not just on the video game industry, but in worldwide pop culture as a whole. It still can be fun to play in short bursts, as it's essentially black-and-white air hockey without the drag from the air, and air hockey never will become not fun.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Open World Third-Person Shooter Review: Yakuza - Dead Souls

Yakuza: Dead Souls, known as Like a Dragon: Of the End in Japan, was a third-person zombie shooter spin-off of the Like a Dragon series, which was formerly known as the Yakuza series in the West.

It is a weird premise, as the Like a Dragon series has always been as much about yakuza drama as it is about visiting shops and talking to wacky people to open up even wackier sidequests. A zombie apocalypse doesn't seem like it could fit in that mold. But, as Fist of the North Star: Last Paradise would show years later, an apocalypse doesn't slow down business much. Shoppers gonna shop.

As a matter of fact, the premise actually plays to the game's benefit. Because people aren't exactly beholden to yakuza alliances when faced with a zombie horde, that allowed two yakuza to join in the mix. The Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, and the Lifeline of Kamurocho, Shun Akiyama from Yakuza 4 are back as protagonists. But they are joined by the Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima, and the Dragon of Kansai, Ryuji Goda. The former is Kiryu's frequent series rival, while the latter was the villain of Yakuza 2.

Ryuji Goda survived his fight with Kiryu at the end of the game, causing him to be kicked out of the Omi Alliance. Somewhere along the line, he is equipped with a metallic arm that transforms into a machine gun and becomes an apprentice to an elderly takoyaki cook. That pretty much sets up the tone of the game, which plays into the campiness more than any other game set in the Like a Dragon universe.

No one screams campiness more than Goro Majima, and Sega CS1 definitely had fun with his character here. It contains the funniest Majima scenes in the entire extended series, and that's saying a lot. This is the guy who randomly slammed his head on a desk to start an elevator after all.

It also has some really crazy sidequests, including one that even included Karens a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic brought those crazy entitled women into our real lives as well. On that subject, it was definitely surreal playing this during a global pandemic. What probably seemed silly in 2011 was extremely real when played today. There were people who refused to shut down their shops, even though the evidence of the virus was right outside their door, the aforementioned Karens, and a woman who wore her medical mask on her chin instead of covering her nose and mouth.

The game begins with an open Kamurocho, but as the game continues, more and more of the city will be quarantined off in an attempt to keep the zombie virus away from the main populous. It is possible to enter the quarantined zones, which is necessary at some points in the main story, to finish sidequests, and to get businesses to reopen. In the case of the latter, the manager has you clear out the horde of zombies and monsters right outside the door. After that, the business will reopen and will remain open.

The shooting, which is the main gameplay mechanic, is unfortunately a little wonky. It takes a while to get used to the aiming and shooting mechanic, but, it becomes easier to use after trial and error. There are several different types of monsters, from zombies to screaming undead women who will bring more in zombies, to faceless wall-crawlers, and big giant bosses. A lot of these enemies are really similar to those found in Capcom's Resident Evil games as well as Sega's own House of the Dead series.

Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fun spin-off of Sega's now-popular Like a Dragon series. The playable characters are fun, especially the always hilarious Goro Majima who has some of his funniest scenes ever in this game. The storyline is suitably campy, with crazy experiments and a former top yakuza turned takoyaki cook. This is probably the only game in the extended Like a Dragon game where I'm not sure if the main story or the sidequests are goofier, and that's a good thing since playing into its campiness is by far the game's best strength. The shooting mechanic is a little wonky and takes a while to get used to, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Yakuza 4 reviewYakuza 5 Review

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Arcade Beat 'Em Up Review: Battletoads

Battletoads was tough as nails on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but by the time the toads came to arcades, their game became a lot more balanced and a lot more fun.

The game was developed by Rare, but it plays a lot like a Konami arcade beat 'em up such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. This is fitting considering Battletoads originated as a Ninja Turtles homage.

Battletoads has nice, large detailed sprites for both the toads and the enemies. It also has some fun with the format by having the enemies occasionally thrown toward the screen when defeated.

Like many beat 'em up games, to shake things up a bit from the usual walking and beating up of enemies, there is also an elevator level with the stage moving vertically as the enemies come in from the sides.

The game is not any more difficult than a Konami beat 'em up. It can be played through to the end easily since adding a credit continues right where the game left off. In the era of emulation that won't cost you a large chunk of quarters to do so.

Battletoads is a fun, colorful beat 'em up arcade game. The game isn't punishing like the console game of the same name, as it plays a lot like a Konami arcade beat 'em up. It's a shame that this one isn't as remembered as the console Battletoads, but its inclusion in the Rare Replay compilation at least makes it easily available to players new and old.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, March 27, 2023

Creature Collecting Gardening Game Review: Viva Piñata

Viva Piñata was a creature collecting gardening video game by Rare, featuring animals represented by colorful piñatas, that was published by Microsoft Game Studios.

It was originally developed as a gardening game for mobile devices but shifted to a console game after the Microsoft acquisition of Rare.

The game uses that gardening simulation as a base, as the player has to plow the garden, plant seeds, and create ponds. The main draw of the game is what happens when the garden grows. If conditions are met, a silhouette of a creature will visit the garden. If more conditions are met, that creature will become a colorful piñata creature that will join your garden.

Thus, the goal is not just to grow a garden with ponds and plants, but to collect piñatas as well. It takes a while to collect them all, but it is a very calming and peaceful game with cute designs for the piñatas. 

It is a unique game so, like games such as Nights into Dreams, it might take a few plays until you discover whether this game is your cup of tea. It took me two consoles to discover I really enjoy it. I first played it on the Xbox 360 but stopped playing it after a while. After I played it on Xbox One due to its inclusion in Rare Replay, I discovered that I actually enjoy it quite a lot.

Viva Piñata is a hard game to judge, as it is one of those unique games that you either hate or you love. It has a relaxing game design and the piñatas are adorable. It also does what it says on the tin. You grow plants in a garden and attract various piñatas. However, it is a slow-moving game that doesn't involve much beyond farming. If that's your cup of tea, it is a fantastic game since it takes the usual farming mechanic and adds a creature collection aspect on top of it. However, if you aren't into farming games, it's a game that likely isn't going to be for you.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Arcade Brick-Breaking Game Review: Breakout

Sometimes a game comes along and gives birth to a new subgenre that becomes named after that game. Adventure, Pong, and Tetris are a few of these. Breakout is another.

Breakout was created by Steve Wozniak and was sold to Atari by Steve Jobs. Both of these men co-founded Apple Computer the same year that Atari released Breakout to arcades. Aspects of Breakout were later used in the design of the Apple II computer.

Breakout takes a paddle that is similar to Pong but places it on the bottom of the screen. There are blocks above the paddle that are broken by a bouncing ball. The goal is to move the paddle left and right in order to keep the ball bouncing so that all blocks are broken. 

The ball increases in speed as the game goes on, making the game gradually become more difficult. In addition, once the ball reaches the top rows, the paddle shrinks to half its size. This makes it quite challenging, but still fun.

The bricks were colored by the row in which they resided. The bottom two rows are yellow, the next two rows are green, the two rows after that are orange, and the two top rows are red. In addition, the paddle was colored light blue.

The game can be played in single-player or two-player mode. In the latter, one player plays the game until the ball is lost, and then the screen changes so that the second player can play the game. As with most arcade games of the time, the goal in both modes is to get as high of a score as possible.

Breakout is a classic game that is actually still enjoyable today. The graphics and colors are simple, but they do their job well. It's a fun challenge as the game gradually increases in speed. It created a subgenre known as Breakout games or Breakout clones. Some of the latter games did the Breakout concept better than the originator. However, if you enjoy games like Arkanoid, it's worth playing Breakout to see where the concept began.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5