Friday, September 30, 2022

Horror-Comedy Film Review: Little Shop of Horrors

This review was originally published on Jupiter Beagle on October 11, 2008.

For the next 20 days leading up to Halloween, I’m going to review some of my favorite horror-themed entertainment. To start the 20 Days of Halloween Celebration, I decided to review one of my all-time favorite films, Little Shop of Horrors. This film is based on an off-Broadway musical that itself was based on a low-budget cult-classic black and white horror film.

The film stars Rick Moranis, who plays a nerdy florist who works at a florist in a poor neighborhood. The owner, Mr. Mushnik, is about to close the shop due to weeks of little to no business when it is revealed that Seymour bought a strange plant to try to improve business. He names the plant Audrey II, after the other employee of the florist, a girl who Seymour has a huge crush on. The strange plant brings in a ton of business from curious people coming in to see it. 

Seymour soon has a problem, as the plant is slowly dying. He tries everything to make it healthy and pricks his finger on a thorn. The plant responds to the blood, and Seymour soon finds out that human blood will make the plant thrive. This is when the fun kicks in, and the horror plot soon unfolds as the plant gets larger and larger and needs more blood than Seymour can provide.

Remaking the film into a musical seems like a strange choice, but it works well. The movie is made very tongue-in-cheek with over-the-top acting, and unrealistic 1950s and 60s era American ideals. The musical actually makes all this campiness a lot of fun. The music was written by the famed musical duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who would later write the music for the Disney animated films Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The music is written in the style of 1960s rock and roll and is incredibly memorable. A song sung by Steve Martin, who plays Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend, easily steals the show.

Fans of the original musical will be somewhat sad to know that the ending has changed here to something movie test audiences found more satisfying. In the process, one entire song from the musical is omitted from the movie and is available only on the movie’s soundtrack. However, if you want to see the original ending there are DVDs available with deleted scenes with the original ending on them. For most people, this won’t be an issue, as the new scene in question does work quite well to end the movie.

The music is wonderful and the casting is great. There are plenty of cameos of Saturday Night Live and SCTV alumni throughout the film. The movie is over-the-top and very campy, but as it is based on a low-budget horror film it works out well. If you’re a fan of musicals or horror comedies, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

System Review: Sega Genesis Mini/Mega Drive Mini

After years of licensing the right to make retro consoles of their systems to AtGames, with varying results, Sega opted instead to design and manufacture the Sega Genesis Mini themselves. The emulation was handled by M2. 

Going with M2 for the emulation was the right call, as the emulator runs the game with no visual or audio differences from the original system, as far as I could tell.

The system runs on a Zuiki Z7213 system on a chip with a 1.3 GHz quad-Core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of flash storage.

Outside of Japan, the system comes with two three-button controllers. The Japanese version comes with one six-button controller. It comes with forty games for the Genesis system. These games are excellently curated, as most of the games rank among the most fun games for the Sega Genesis.

The forty games include Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle,Alisia DragoonAltered Beast, Beyond Oasis (known as The Story of Thor: A Successor of The Light outside North America)Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Castlevania Bloodlines (known as Vampire Killer in Japan), Columns, Comix Zone, Contra: Hard Corps, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Dynamite Headdy, Earthworm JimEcco the Dolphin, Eternal Champions, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Golden Axe, Gunstar Heroes, Kid Chameleon, LandstalkerLight Crusader, Mega Man: The Wily Wars (known as Rockman: Mega World in Japan), Monster World IV, Phantasy Star IV, Road Rash II, Shining Force, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, Space Harrier II, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition (known as Street Fighter II Dash Plus: Champion Edition in Japan), Streets of Rage 2, Strider, Super Fantasy Zone, Thunder Force III, ToeJam & Earl, Vectorman, Virtua Fighter 2, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

Mega Man: The Wily Wars was released on cartridge in Japan and Europe. North America only had access to Mega Man: The Wily Wars on the short-lived cable-based subscription game download service Sega Channel.

In addition to the forty listed above, the Sega Genesis Mini also includes two new ports of arcade games. The Darius port was developed by M2 and Hideki Konishi, while Tetris was a solo effort by M2. The Tetris port is based on Sega's arcade version. This is a new port and not the one that had an extremely small print run in the 1990s due to Nintendo holding the video game console rights for Tetris at the time.

The Japanese version of the system, the Sega Mega Drive Mini, also contains forty classic games and two bonus games. However, the game list is slightly different. It comes with Alisia DragoonAssault Suit LeynosCastle of Illusion Starring Mickey MouseColumnsComix ZoneContra: Hard CorpsDariusDyna Brothers 2 SpecialDynamite HeaddyThe Game's Crown CollectionGhouls 'n GhostsGolden AxeGunstar HeroesThe Hybrid FrontLandstalker, Langrisser II, Lord MonarchMonster World IVMUSHA, OutRun 2019, Party Quiz Mega QPhantasy Star IVPuyo Puyo 2, Puzzle & Action: Tant-R, Rent-a-Hero, Road Rash IIRockman: Mega World (known outside Japan as Mega Man: The Wily Wars), Shining ForceSlap Fight MDSnow BrosSonic the HedgehogSonic the Hedgehog 2, Sorcery Saga ISpace Harrier IIStreet Fighter II Dash Plus: Champion Edition (known as Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition outside Japan)The Story of Thor: A Successor of The Light (known as Beyond Oasis in North America)Streets of Rage 2Strider, Super Fantasy Zone, The Super Shinobi, Sword of Vermillion, TetrisThunder Force III, Vampire Killer (known as Castlevania Bloodlines outside Japan), World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Wrestleball, and Yu Yu Hakusho: Battle to Unite the Demon Plane

As with the Nintendo Mini consoles, I’ll be looking in-depth at the above games in the future, and the links will be updated accordingly. With this mini console, it is like a return to the days of old since Sega has once again rivaled Nintendo. The emulation is excellent and the console is packed with enjoyable classic games. Whether you get the Sega Genesis Mini or the Sega Mega Drive Mini, you'll get tons of enjoyment.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Horror-Comedy Film Review: Beetlejuice

This review was previously published on Jupiter Beagle on October 15, 2008.

Beetlejuice is a film by the master of the horror-comedy, Tim Burton.

It features a newlywed couple who die in an accident as soon as they move into their new home. Before the couple even realizes they are dead, their home is sold. The new family, the Deetzes, moves in and turns out to be quite the opposite of the folksy attitude of the deceased couple. They decide that they want to scare the Deetzes out of their home but turn out to be too nice to do so. They decide to hire a self-proclaimed “bio-exorcist” named Beetle Juice, who turns out to have his own ulterior motives for helping them out.

The cast is brilliantly cast. Michael Keaton is perfect as the wise-cracking, foul-smelling undead con-man Beetle Juice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are the kind, folksy, newly-dead couple. Jeffery Jones and Catherine O’Hara are wonderful as the pretentious Deetzes. Winona Ryder plays probably the most memorable role of her career as Lydia Deetz, the daughter of Charles Deetz, a gothic girl who has an obsession with the morbid.

The musical score by Danny Elfman is wonderful and is very memorable. The film also contains a memorable song and dance comedy routine to the tune of Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). It happens so abruptly and is so delightfully strange, but somehow manages to not feel out of place.

Beetlejuice is a comedy classic. The music is great, the comedy is wonderful, and all of Tim Burton’s trademark nightmare-like sets and creature designs are here. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the time to watch it.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Adventure Superhero Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 9, 2018.

The first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, chronologically, did an excellent job of maintaining an exciting story that never felt bogged down by the world-building elements. These elements, such as the Tesseract retrieved from Odin’s Vault and the shield made from vibranium, fit right into the story without feeling out of place.

The film follows Marvel’s oldest property for which they retained the film rights. The film follows Steve Rogers, a sickly, thin, boy from Brooklyn in the 1940s. When the United States joins the Allies in World War II, Steve Rogers is a man, but his frail sickly body prevents him from being enlisted. He tries to enlist five times with five different addresses, but he is marked 4F – unfit to serve – at each examination. His childhood friend “Bucky” Barnes warns him to stop falsifying his information in trying to enlist, as it is a criminal offense that could result in prison time.

Steve ignores his friend’s advice and is caught during his next attempt to enlist. Thankfully, he was caught by a German scientist named Dr. Erskine who recognizes that Steve is a good man who wants to enlist, not for the satisfaction of killing, but to prevent the Nazis from bullying the world as he has been bullied his entire life. Steve becomes the second person to be given Erskine’s super soldier treatment after a Nazi soldier named Johann Schmidt was given the treatment prior to the point when Dr. Erskine fled to the United States. The treatment amplified what is inside people, turning Johann Schmidt into the villainous Red Skull, and turning Steve Rogers into the virtuous Captain America.

Captain Rogers proves that he is more than a marketing tool when he saves his friend Bucky, and soldiers from other Allied units, from deep within enemy lines.

Red Skull has been building up Hydra within the shadows of the Nazis, an organization named after the Greek legend. The group is intent on taking over the world, including Nazi Germany, and imposing the Red Skull’s rule over all of humanity. To combat the Red Skull, Captain America forms an elite group named the Howling Commandos from a group of rescued soldiers, including his friend Bucky Barnes.

He also has help from Agent “Peggy” Carter, of the top-secret war agency the Strategic Scientific Reserve, or SSR, who develops feelings for Steve Rogers over the course of the film. Her character will later be further developed in her titular short film and television series, but Agent Carter already shows herself to be a fantastic asset to the SSR here, as she kills the driver of a car from many meters away.

The film is a fantastic adventure and a modern take on the adventure serials of the 1940s, much in the same vein as Raiders of the Lost Ark before it. It remains one of the best films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is well worth watching at least once, if not multiple times.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Action-Adventure Mega Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first game based on the quartet of pizza-loving sewer dwellers. It was also Konami's first game based on the property. The end result missed the mark in nearly every aspect, but it did lay the groundwork for the much more beloved games that followed.

If there was ever a game that I wondered how on earth I managed to complete as a child, this was it. The game starts out on an overhead map. You can change between turtles whenever you like by hitting the start button. These are the best parts of the game. The game goes downhill from there. Once you enter the sewer, the game switches to an action platformer. The problem is that jumping feels off and the level design is hit-or-miss. When it misses, it really misses. You can control the height of your jump with light button taps, but often the level will put a ceiling between where the turtle is and the platform to which he has to jump. This leads to infuriating sessions where the current area has to be completed again since the enemies respawn. The Cowabunga Collection minimizes hair-pulling as it has a rewind button. This is definitely the preferred way to play, as even seasoned platformer players will fail to make a jump at least once in the game.

The other infuriating thing is that Donatello and Leonardo are the only useful turtles. Michaelangelo and Raphael have a very small range compared to the two aforementioned ninja-practicing testudines. The best thing to do is to leave Raphael and Michaelangelo for areas where it is nearly impossible to not lose health. This brings us to the worst part of the game, the dam section. Without the save function of the Cowabunga Collection, I would not blame anyone who rage quit after trying this level. Heck, I wouldn't blame anyone who rage quit even with the save function. The turtles have to swim through a maze to disarm eight bombs in only eight minutes. Impeding them are electric beams and electrified seaweed. The latter is the worst part as it is nearly impossible to make it through without hitting seaweed since the path is so narrow and pressing the swim button causes the turtle to rise up quite a large amount. Also, the time limit makes careful swimming impossible. The time limit also makes waiting for the electric beams to stop a challenge. It's nearly impossible to make it through without draining the health of one, or likely two, turtles. That is why it is best to save the weakest turtles in this game, Michaelangelo and Raphael, for this level.

The overhead level actually becomes quite a bit of fun when you get to the point where you can drive the party wagon. Walking enemies can be run over and vehicles can be hit with bullets shot out from the party wagon. Once you get the missiles, you can destroy enemy vehicles with one hit. It's tempting to just fire away at vehicles with missiles, but there are also blockades that can only be destroyed with missiles. Sadly, the fun overworld driving sections only last for one level, and most of that level is spent going in and out of sewers and buildings searching for missiles and grappling hooks that you will need to get to sections that can't be jumped across. With these sections being platforming sections, the fun of the overhead section is quickly overshadowed.

Alongside the Nintendo Entertainment System version, it was also released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Arcade via PlayChoice-10, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, and ZX Spectrum. Some of these versions have more appealing graphics, but the platforming sections are surprisingly even less responsive. This makes the NES version the best of the bunch, which isn't saying much.

The one bright spot of this game is the music. Even though there are mainly only two musical scores for the overhead and underworld levels, with the exception of some new music in the final level, they are really great and can get stuck in your head well after the game is over. When I was a little girl, I would just stand in place on the overhead map or hang out in an enemy-free part of the sewer just to hear the music.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is probably best summed up as a game with some good ideas that are poorly implemented. Some of the ideas, such as the spin attack powerup would make its way into better Konami games such as Turtles in Time and Hyperstone Heist. Other than the music and the short overhead sections, there's not much to recommend. It would be a mediocre game, but the terrible dam level takes it even lower. Unless you're playing with the emulator functions in Cowabunga Collection, don't bother playing it. Even with the collection, there's really no point playing it unless you want to earn the achievement for doing so.

Final Verdict:
1½ out of 5

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game Review

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Arcade Beat 'em Up Mega Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an arcade game by Konami that was one of the premiere beat 'em ups when it was released in 1989. It still holds up today, especially in the newer releases that have multiplayer support over the internet.

As is common in arcade games, the story is scant, but it does get the job done. The goal of the game is to save your friends from the Foot Clan, then track down the Technodrome to defeat Krang and Shredder. The Nintendo Entertainment System version also adds a level where you have to shut down a weather machine that has been covering New York City with snow and another level where you fight a shogun in a martial arts dojo. 

Alongside the Foot Clan ninjas, Shredder, and Krang, there are also popular villains from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman. It also includes the lesser-known villain, Tragg the rock soldier. The Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game also includes two bounty hunters created specifically for the game, Shogun and Tora. 

Other than the fighting gameplay which feels responsive and easy to learn, the presentation is what makes this game unforgettable. It has fun character animations, both in the sprites of the turtles and those of the enemies. Two of my favorites are the animation played when one of the turtles falls down a sewer hole and those of the motorcycle-riding Foot Clan ninjas. The Nintendo Entertainment System Version has smaller sprites and simpler backgrounds, but it surprisingly includes most of the animations from the arcade version. The NES version also has two exclusive levels, the aforementioned snow-covered New York City and a level in a dojo. These levels, especially the dojo level, have some fun animations of their own including ninjas jumping up through the floor and the tiger painting that comes to life and fights the turtles. There is some slowdown,  flickering sprites, and only one type of enemy on screen at the same time in the NES version. However, it is really impressive how Konami managed to recognizably replicate the arcade version and add extra levels on such limited hardware. Digital Eclipse's emulation in the Cowabunga Collection is the best way to play the NES version, as it has options to remove most of the flicker and slowdown. 

The chiptune music is great, and it is fun that the catchy opening song is included in a sample that isn't compressed too badly. The voice samples, however, are more heavily compressed. This is fine for the electrocuting robots that channel the Daleks from Doctor Who by saying "do not resist us". The heavily compressed samples for the turtles such as "shell shocked", April's "save me", or Shredder's "tonight I dine on turtle soup" sound quite tinny and aren't as impressive as they once were. The NES version doesn't have any samples and does play a few different level songs as well as those from the NES exclusive levels, but the arcade game's music that is there has transferred quite well to the little grey toaster that could.

The arcade version has support for up to either two or four players playing simultaneously depending on the cabinet. The NES version only has support for up to two players playing simultaneously. The arcade version has unlimited continues. When I was a little girl, I went to an arcade with a pocket full of quarters. I probably paid a good ten dollars in order to get to the end. Like a lot of arcade games of the era, the ending is presented entirely through text. The text is fitting, however, and it has the same tone as the television series on which it was based. The NES version is harder, as continuing in the arcade version continues right where it left off while continuing in the NES version starts from the beginning of the current level. There are also only three continues in the NES version, although this can be changed to ten in the Cowabunga Collection. In the aforementioned collection, there is also a god option that makes the chosen turtle invincible and kills most enemies with one hit.

In addition to the arcade and NES versions, there were also versions for home computers such as Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and DOS. There are a lot of limitations in these versions, and the controls feel a lot stiffer on each, so they aren't really worth playing. The arcade version, either in the arcade or via the emulated versions in the now unavailable Xbox 360 version or in the Cowabunga Collection, is the best way to play this game. The emulated versions have online play, so if you enjoy multiplayer games, these versions are the way to go.

If you are interested in playing the additional two levels in the NES version, the control is just as responsive as the arcade version, so could be worth playing if you aren't turned off by the limitations of the older hardware. The best way to play the NES version is with the settings that mostly eliminate the flicker and slowdown in the Cowabunga Collection.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game is a bonafide classic that manages to hold up well to modern tastes. The fun animations, great chiptune music, and excellent level design make this one a must-play for Teenage Mutant Turtle fans as well as those who are fans of arcade beat 'em ups. The arcade version is the best version to play, but the NES version is fun if you are interested in the two exclusive levels. The Cowabunga Collection is the best choice to play as it includes both the arcade and NES versions and it sports accurate emulation, online play, and the ability to reduce slowdown and flickering on the NES version.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ReviewFall of the Foot Clan Review coming soon

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Like a Dragon 8 Coming in 2024

The big Ryu ga Gotaku Studio reveal is that Like a Dragon 8 is coming in 2024. It will feature the same turn-based RPG gameplay as Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Like a Dragon 7).  Surprisingly, it will feature two protagonists: Ichiban Kasuga and Kazuma Kiryu. Yakuza 6 (Like a Dragon 6) was supposed to be his swan song, so it will be interesting to see what prompted the now silver-haired Kiryu to return to the action. 

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name coming in 2023

The Like a Dragon fun continues with the announcement of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. This game will show what happened to Kiryu between Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Judgment and Lost Judgment are now on Steam

The excellent Like a Dragon (formerly Yakuza) detective series spin-off, Judgment has finally come to Windows.

Steam now has both Judgment and Lost Judgment available as well as the excellent Lost Judgment DLC, The Kaito Files.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Like a Dragon: Ishin! Remake Heading West


Like a Dragon: Ishin!, the Yakuza samurai spinoff with Yakuza characters as mostly real-life figures from Japan's Meiji Restoration during the Edo Period, is getting a remake for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Even better news, it is coming to the west with an official English translation. The original game was released for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, however, it never left Japan.

It will be available worldwide in February 2023.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Open World Action-Adventure Mega Review: Spider-Man

There have been many great Spider-Man games over the years. However, Insomniac's Spider-Man changes up the mix a bit, with a more experienced Spider-Man, playable Mary-Jane Watson and Miles Morales stealth sections, and a mix of iconic and lesser-known characters in Peter Parker's rogues gallery. 

Spider-Man uses the mechanics from the Batman: Arkham games with the addition of climbing on walls and webbing. It is this final factor that makes the game really enjoyable and sets it apart from its inspiration. It is really fun to web up thugs, and super enjoyable to swing around town. Swinging is the mechanic that will make or break a Spider-Man game, and this one delivers. It also adds a mechanic to make Spider-Man's swinging zippier. The zip web is thrown in front of Spider-Man, causing him to zip forward. Spider-Man also makes new gadgets as the story progresses which can be used in combat. It's fun to use the web bomb to web up enemies and then use the concussive blast to throw them back and stick them to walls.

The Arkham mechanics work well because, in both the game and the comics that inspired it, Spider-Man is a lot like Batman. He is also a genius that makes gadgets and has a suit lined with electronics. For the things that Spider-Man doesn't have, such as a bullet-proof suit and a grappling gun, Spider-Man makes up for it with a healing factor and his web shooters.

Alongside the Spidey missions are story beats where the plot switches to the Daily Bugle reporter Mary Jane Watson and the teenage coder Miles Morales. As she is Peter's on again, off again girlfriend, M.J. Watson is in close contact with Spider-Man, and as a reporter, she proves invaluable in finding evidence. Stealth is the key in these sections of the story, as both characters have to get in and out of situations without being caught. These sections are a controversial part of the game, but personally, I enjoyed them a lot. I just wish there were more M.J. stealth sections, not just because Miles Morales got his own game by Insomniac, but also because they are more fun. Once M.J. gets the ability to shock enemies unconscious, the stealth sections become quire enjoyable.   

The story sees Peter Parker working for Otto Octavius working on mechanical arms for people who lost their own. As time allows, he also helps his Aunt May, who works at the F.E.A.S.T. shelter. The charity, founded by a businessman named Martin Li, is so named as it provides resources for food, emergency, aid, shelter, and training.

In addition to his obligations as Peter Parker, he also patrols the city as Spider-Man. This version of Spider-Man takes its Batman inspiration further as he works with a contact in the police department. Yuri Watanabe is a great addition to the Spider-Man lore, as she is a wonderfully complex character and not just a cookie-cutter police chief.

Fans of the comics and films will be happy, as the story includes Spidey staples such as Kingpin, Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Electro, Rhino, Scorpion, Black Cat, Taskmaster, and Norman Osborn. It also has lesser-known villains such as Mr. Negative, Shocker, Hammerhead, Silver Sable, and the obscure villain, Screwball. Mr. Negative, in particular, is a very compelling villain that I hope makes it to the big screen someday.

The presentation is excellent. It has moments of cinematic action, which are very reminiscent of the Uncharted series. Many are quick-time events that provide precise button pushing, but the prompts stay on screen for a while, so, thankfully, they aren't a challenge. The visuals are quite realistic, even in the original PlayStation 4 version. The textures and models in the remastered version are improved and sometimes changed, especially Peter Parker who is completely redesigned. The former actor for the face of Peter Parker, John Bubniak, has been recast to Ben Jordan (no relation to the paranormal investigator). This was done to better match the facial performance capture of Yuri Lowenthal. Both versions are excellent. I, personally didn't notice a difference in the facial movements of either actor, but your perceptions might be different than mine. The rest of the actors are excellent as well, especially Watanabe's voice actor, Sumalee Montano. Her vocal performance helps a lot in making Yuri Watanabe a compelling character.

Insomniac's Spider-Man is Spidey's best game so far. With great visuals, interesting characters, fantastic voice acting, fun cinematic staging sequences, and cinematic music, it is worth playing both for people who are fans of the comics and films as well as people who only have casual knowledge of the web-slinger. 

Final verdict:
5 out of 5

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Blog Subjects Broadened

As you might have noticed, I've been reviewing a lot of games other than adventure games recently. I used to have another blog where I posted these, but I barely update the other one, so I decided to consolidate them all into my main blog - this one.  It will still be named The Adventuress, though, so there will not be any stand-out changes, really.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Action RPG Mega Review: Yakuza 3

Yakuza 3 had big shoes to fill as a follow-up to the excellent Yakuza 2, which was bigger than the first, with more areas to explore, well-written characters, and one of the best stories of the series. Yakuza 3 manages to be a fun game that does improve upon the second game in some aspects but falls short in others.

Taking the series theme of family to the extreme, Yakuza takes place two years after the previous game wherein Kiryu and his adopted daughter Haruka live in an orphanage that Kiryu manages. Morning Glory orphanage is located on a beach in Downtown Ryukyu, Okinawa. It is named for the Ryukyu Archipelago, of which Okinawa is a part, and is based on the real-world Kokusai Dori. As is the case with every Yakuza game, Kiryu also travels through Kamurochō, Tokyo, based on the real-world Kabukichō.

The story centers around the land in Okinawa, which has political bills in the Japanese parliament that would either build a resort or a military base with high-tech weapons supplied by the United States. Morning Glory orphanage is on part of that land, and Kiryu refuses to let it go, as he prioritizes the children that live there over anything else. Kiryu soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy once two people are shot in order to obtain the deed to the land. 

The returning characters are portrayed true to their character, and the actors are top-notch as always. The storylines of the new characters are also handled well, and the actors for these characters also do a fine job. The game also has a character speaking English. His voice is wooden at first, like many Sega games with English-speaking characters, during and before the release of this game in 2009. He was meant to be emotionless, but his performance felt a bit forced during his stoic scenes. However, once the character was allowed to emote, his performance was much more enjoyable. The only character storyline that fell flat for me was the one involved in the surprise reveal. The reason for his appearance in the game was convoluted but did make some sense, in a topsy-turvy kind of way. It seemed a bit forced, however, especially since he was never mentioned before or after this game.

The brawling parts still feel a bit stiff compared to later games, but they suffice once you get used to them. The most intriguing part of the game is how it has many different types of gameplay the game employs, and how they are used in future Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio games. In this way, Yakuza 3 feels like a testing ground for new ideas. It is the first game that allowed Kiryu to run in order to catch suspects. This would be used in future Yakuza games and featured prominently, with improvements, in Judgment. One sidequest also had the detective adventure style of gameplay that would feature extensively in all games in the Judgment series. Kiryu trailed people, interviewed suspects, and obtained evidence working on a murder case. It also had a series of sidequests where Kiryu tracked down assassins to try to convince them to go legit. This bounty hunting system was later used in Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise.

The remastered version of the game is by far the best way to play, as many sidequests were cut from the original international version of the game. The sidequests were restored in this game, except for those that made fun of a transgender character. With worldwide moral standards being quite different a decade after its original 2009 release, so it makes sense that this one was removed in the remaster in all territories. The storyline in question has Kiryu calling the character "it" and, as such, is quite cruel. Thus, the removal is, in my opinion, no loss at all. The only other removal, other than some incidental music that was changed for licensing reasons, is the AnswerxAnswer arcade game. As this would require extensive translation and localization for the questions asked, this arcade game is removed in the original release outside of Japan as well as in the remastered version in all territories. 

The sidequests are fun and are sometimes quite funny. Also, this is the game that introduced revelations, where Kiryu will take a picture of actions performed by the people in Kamurocho, giving him inspiration for new fighting moves. The actions performed by these people are so random, wacky, and off-the-wall, that they are often laugh-out-loud funny.

Yakuza 3 is very fun, but it is a touch flawed. The sidequests are among the best parts of the game. Plus, the remastered version restores most of those that were cut from the original international releases. The only part of the sidequests that was cut compared to the original was a storyline making fun of a transgender person. As I am against bullying, I commend Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio for removing that. As for the main storyline, it is interesting, with its espionage-type of storytelling. However, it is let down a bit by the fact that the reason that the surprise character appears in the game is convoluted and contrived. Other than this part though, the story is interesting and the main villains are interesting. 

The opponent that is part of the yakuza is the most compelling part of the game. The game goes to great lengths to show his life and how he got to the point he turned into a villain. With this amount of character building, he is a worthy Yakuza villain, right up there with Akira Nishikiyama in the original Yakuza, and Ryuji Goda in Yakuza 2. If it weren't for the forced surprise character, the story would also be up there with those two games. As it stands, it is like a lot of its sidequests in that it feels like a testing ground for ideas, but this particular one didn't quite stick the landing. It's still an excellent game, however, despite its flaws, and I do recommend playing it.

If you wish to play the remastered version as close to the original release as possible, there are fan patches that restore the licensed music and the removed sidequests. However, no patch restores the AnswerxAnswer arcade game in the remastered version. The only way to play that arcade game is with Japanese text in the original Japanese PlayStation 3 release.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Yakuza Kiwami 2: Majima Saga reviewYakuza 4 review coming soon

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Open World Action RPG Review: Fist of the North Star - Lost Paradise

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a game by Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio that manages to do the seemingly impossible. It combines the popular open-world action RPG gameplay of the Yakuza series, in which the protagonist gets in fights with punks and solves the problems of civilians in districts of sprawling cities, with the post-apocalyptic Fist of the North Star series, in which the world has become chiefly deserted.

When I went into this game, the only thing I knew about the Fist of the North Star series was that it was a super violent take on a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world. After playing the game, I realize this is actually a pretty apt description. Kenshiro is the successor of a violent form of martial arts known as Hokuto Shinken, which allows practitioners to use pressure points in the body to either heal ailments or cause the body to spontaneously explode from the inside. He was made the successor as he only uses the violent form of his martial art on rivals that want to kill him and murderous punks that wear very-1980s shoulder pads and often sport mohawks.

Kenshiro has come to the aptly-named Eden, a walled city that is considered a paradise as it exists in the middle of the post-apocalyptic desert. He is searching for his lost love, Yuria, who is rumored to be inside the city. For fans of the Fist of the North Star series, other major characters appear although various storylines are retold differently to account for the existence of Eden. The characters of Eden are original, and fit the style of the series. The story does jump right into a confrontation with Shin, the rival of Kenshiro that left the seven marks on his chest. For people, like me, who aren't fans of the source material, this is a bit disorienting. Thankfully, the rest of the story is easy to follow.

Inside Eden, the Yakuza-style of gameplay, for which Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio is known, is executed remarkably well. There are bars, restaurants, and a coliseum to fight in. More familiar venues can be unlocked, such as an arcade, casino, and even a cabaret club. Various games for the arcade can be found with a buggy you unlock in the main story. Games include the familiar UFO Catcher crane game, OutRun, Space Harrier, and Super Hang-On. The neatest game to be unlocked is also the last. The 1986 Sega-developed Fist of the North Star beat 'em up can be played in Kenshiro's sleeping quarters, complete with a Sega Mark III console, the original Japanese version of the Sega Master System.

The cabaret club minigame is similar to the one in Yakuza 0. You recruit hostesses, which work like card-based RPGs. They are given ranks from common to super-super rare (SSR). Each time a hostess waits on a customer, she is given experience, but her health is depleted based on how the customer treats her. I like the ability to add two hostesses to each table. However, I dislike the training mechanism in this version of the cabaret club minigame. It's very superficial in that you have to give the hostesses gifts to increase their rank rather than training like in the other versions of the minigame wherein giving them gifts to increase their rank is optional rather than mandatory. That said, I do like the substories of the hostesses, especially the large woman who feels that she isn't feminine because of her looks. The way Kenshiro inspires her is very well done, and as a large woman myself, I appreciate that.

The Japanese voices feature voice actors from the Yakuza series. My personal favorites are Takaya Kuroda, the voice of Kazuma Kiryu, as Kenshiro, and Hidenari Ugaki, the voice of Goro Majima, as Jagi. Those two have iconic roles in the Yakuza series and they bring the same energy to this game. Plus, the stoic attitude of Kiryu fits with Kenshiro and the craziness of Majima fits with Jagi. Even more fun, there is downloadable content that lets Kenshiro have the appearance of Kazuma Kiryu. It's a bit weird seeing Kiryu causing thugs to explode, but the stoic attitude and voice acting of Takaya Kuroda, with the appearance of Kiryu, are a lot of fun for Yakuza fans. This game also has optional English voices, which is the first time this happened for a Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio game since the original Yakuza. Thankfully, the script translation works well with actors that speak English, and those actors fit their roles well.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a mashup of two universes that are so different that it doesn't seem like it should work, but it actually ends up working really well. It's a game that appeals to fans of the Yakuza series and the Fist of the North Star series as it includes characters from both universes. The gameplay is straight out of the Yakuza series and it is set in the desolate, violent world of Fist of the North Star. Even if you are only a fan of only one of the two universes or just a fan of action RPGs in general, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise should still appeal to you.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Open World Action RPG Mega Review: Yakuza (Kiwami) 2

The second Yakuza game was bigger than the first, with the addition of a new district, Shinseicho, based on the real-life Shinsekai, as well as including the usual Yakuza series hangout spot, Kamurocho, based on the real-life Kabukicho. In the Yakuza Kawami remake, the second district was replaced by Sotenbori from Yakuza 0, which is based on the real-life Dotenbori. In the case of both Yakuza 2 and the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake, in many ways, bigger does indeed mean better.

In this game, Kiryu Kazuma is approached by the fifth chairman of the Tojo Clan, Yukio Terada, who wishes to broker an alliance between the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance. After Terada is murdered, Kiryu decides to take on this goal himself, as he was the one who appointed Terada as the fifth chairman. Thus, he places his adopted daughter, Haruka, in the care of the orphanage where they both grew up, and sets out on the dangerous task to broker peace between the two biggest yakuza organizations in Japan.

The story of Yakuza 2, which takes place a year after the events of Yakuza, is often praised as being among the best in the series and within the top two with Yakuza 0. That praise is well deserved, as it is an exciting murder mystery with a lot of twists and turns thrown in. On top of that, the female detective, Kaoru Sayama, whom Kiryu first meets in this game is written superbly. The writers are good at writing for interesting female characters, but they usually are relegated to the women at the cabaret clubs. It is fun to interact with these women, who range from ultra-feminine to tomboyish. However, they rarely have a tough, yet feminine woman who can hold their own in a fight. That's a shame because Yakuza 2 showed that they could do it well. It took over a half a decade, with the release of Yakuza 5, for another tough, feminine woman to appear in a Yakuza game, and over another half a decade for a playable strong, feminine female character to become playable with the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Another awesome character is the Kansai dragon, Ryuji Goda, who is one of the main villains of the game, as he wants to defeat Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, to stake the claim as the only dragon in the yakuza. He is written and performed so well that he became popular with the fans enough to become a playable character in Yakuza: Dead Souls.

As for gameplay, this game is the one that shows its Shenmue lineage the most. Yakuza showed it with quick-time events, fetch quests, and a puzzle near the beginning of the game where Kiryu had to infiltrate the funeral of the third chairman of the Tojo clan. Yakuza 2 has these as well, but it has an actual adventure puzzle near the middle of the game where Kiryu has to interpret clues to open a safe. The puzzle is done very well, and, as a fan of adventure games, I'm happy that it was kept intact in the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake.

Speaking of the remake, compared to Yakuza Kiwami, the controls are still a bit stiff and there is only one fighting style for Kiryu. In addition, some locations with mini-games are no longer accessible in Yakuza Kiwami 2, such as bowling, pool, and the Club Adam host organization. In addition, with the replacement of Shinseicho for Sotenbori, the Shinseicho minigames have been moved to Kamurocho and Sotenbori or removed entirely. Making up for it, however, some mini-games have been added to the Kiwami remake, including the Majima Construction clan creator and cabaret club management. 

Yakuza 2 is an excellent game with multiple locations to visit, well-written and excellently voiced new and returning characters, and a superb plot. Any version is worth playing, from the PlayStation 2 original, the Japanese-only high-definition versions on PlayStation 3 and Wii U, or the Kiwami remake, although I wholeheartedly recommend playing the Yakuza Kiwami 2 remake. Yakuza 2 absolutely deserves its praise as one of the best games in the series, and the remake cements it there, even when compared to later games in the series.

Final verdict:

5 out of 5

Yakuza (Kiwami) reviewYakuza Kiwami 2: Majima Saga review

Monday, August 8, 2022

Arcade Fixed-Screen Shoot 'em up Review: Space Invaders

In 1978, Taito released Space Invaders, the hit video game that established the shoot 'em up genre as a heavy hitter within the video game industry.

I first played Space Invaders in 2000 while working on my arcade emulator, LASER. Unlike Lupin III, I had actually heard of this game before because it was a big-name game. It was and still is being ported to, and getting remakes and clones for, just about every platform imaginable.

Like all games on Taito 8080 hardware, it is a relatively simple game. It is a black and white game, although some arcades placed a color plastic overlay over the monitor to give the allusion that there are red and green colors on certain parts of the screen. There are score and life counters, invading aliens, a ship, and bunkers that can be shot through by the player and enemies alike. Later versions of the game displayed the color parts of the screen with actual color graphics rather than a plastic overlay.

The object is simply to pilot a ship at the bottom of the screen, which can only move left and right, and to shoot the invading forces before they shoot you. When all the aliens are shot, the screen refreshes and another fleet of aliens need to be dealt with. With each new fleet, the game gets progressively faster. To paraphrase a quote from Lrrr in the animated television series Futurama, instead of shooting where the ships are you should shoot where they are going to be.

There is also very little sound. There is the whirring sound when a bonus ship floats by the top of the screen that can award extra points, the zap sound that occurs when you shoot, and a simple four-note progression that acts as the music. These simple sounds work very well, however, and even the four simple notes that are played throughout gameplay surprisingly work well and don't become annoying with extended play.

The whole game is incredibly simple, but it is far from being tedious. Like Pac-Man, it is one of the early arcade games that truly stands the test of time. I was not born when the game came out and I didn't get a chance to play this game until decades after its release. However, even decades after my first time playing, I will still play it whenever I get the chance. Anyone interested in video games should try it at least once. It is a true classic.

Final verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Open World Action RPG Review - Yakuza Kiwami 2: Majima Saga

Included with Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a short side story about Goro Majima. It was quick, but it was fun and it surprisingly added content to the main game while tying things back to the excellent Yakuza 0.

The three chapters of the Majima Saga are unlocked while progressing through the story of the main game. There is also an option to send cash to Kiryu for the main game in a much easier way than Yakuza 0. This time you just simply send the cash through any ATM. Defeating enemies here doesn't actually yield cash, though the stronger enemies will give Majima silver, gold, or platinum plates. These can be sold in the pawn shops for cash, which can then be sent to Kiryu or spent on items or food.

In the Majima Saga, it is better to stock up on health items rather than food, since it is impossible to eat beyond your stomach gauge. Majima is also limited to one move set here, although it's a doozy. You get full access to Majima's Mad Dog move set from Yakuza 0, as Majima doesn't gain experience. This is plenty, as Majima uses his knife with lightning-quick speed.

The combat is satisfying, but the main draw of the Majima Saga is its side story. It fills in the blanks within the story as to why Majima left the Tojo Clan. It's also the perfect game to have a Majima side story within it, since Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio, and Japanese culture in general, features romanticized yakuza that have morals and have left the yakuza life behind them. This is true of Kiryu and Ichiban Kasuga, and it is also true of Majima in Yakuza 0. Since Yakuza 2 is the only mainline Yakuza game where Majima is working as the head of Majima Construction rather than running a Tojo family, a Majima sidequest is a perfect fit.

The parts of the Majima Saga that showed the forming of Majima Construction were fun and were actually laugh-out funny at parts. However, the best parts are the scenes that tie the game into Yakuza 0. I wasn't expecting an emotional story out of this, so it definitely surprised me, in a good way. Hidenari Ugaki is always excellent as Majima, and he really pulled out the stops to give Majima the full range of emotions here.

Majima Saga is short, but sweet. It's a story that fills in the blanks of not only Yakuza 2, but Yakuza 0 as well. Any fan of the Yakuza franchise should check out, as its content more than makes up for its short length. It isn't the main reason to play Yakuza Kiwami 2, of course. However, if you do have Yakuza Kiwami 2, or you are planning to pick it up, you owe it to yourself to play the Majima Saga

Monday, July 11, 2022

Open World Action RPG Mega Review: Yakuza (Kiwami)

Before the release of Yakuza 0, Yakuza was the beginning of Kazuma Kiryu's story. Yakuza 0 proved to be one of the best games in the whole series. With the release of Yakuza Kiwami, which brought the game up to modern standards yet kept the core story intact, the original Yakuza actually holds up quite well.

The game begins in 1995, seven years after the events in Yakuza 0. Kazuma Kiryu, a twenty-seven-year-old member of the Dojima family within the Tojo Clan, has climbed the ranks within the clan. He is just about to become the patriarch of his own family when he takes the blame for the murder of Patriarch Shimano, although he was not the one that killed him.

Ten years later, Kiryu is paroled and he is released from prison. He now has to deal with members of the Tojo clan that want him dead, as well as the usual violent thugs that wander around Tokyo's Kamurocho district. A decade in prison has made his skills rusty, so he has to gain experience so that he can regain his former strength.

In the Kiwami remake of the game, Goro Majima, the Mad Dog of Shimano, vows to help him restore his strength so that he can battle him properly. This is called "Majima Everywhere", and the name is apt since the battles take place all around the city. This is simultaneously both the funniest and the most frustrating part of the remake since Majima will pop up from just about anywhere at any time. The best way to handle this is to keep leveling up, especially health and beast style moves. Defeating Majima will add moves to Kiryu's dragon style. and other than learning moves from Master Komaki, is the only way to do so. Like Yakuza 0, Kiryu can use the aforementioned beast and dragon style move set. Kiryu can also use moves in his brawler and rush styles. Each of these styles can be accessed by pressing a direction on the directional pad.

Kiryu's story picks up steam when he comes across a young girl, Haruka, that is somehow tied to the one billion yen that has been stolen from the Tojo clan. The Kiryu saga of the Yakuza franchise has always been about family, and that is true here as well. Yakuza 0 had Kiryu protecting his adopted father, Shintaro Kazama, and his sworn brother, Akira Nishiyama. Yakuza picks up that trend, as Kiryu does everything he can to protect Haruka, the little girl that ended up in his custody.

In Yakuza Kiwami, the Japanese voices are left in the western versions, but in the original western release of Yakuza for PlayStation 2, the English voices were dubbed by famous voice actors. It pains me to recommend the Japanese voices, as the English cast was amazing. Among others, it included Mark Hamill giving Joker vibes as Majima and Bill Farmer doing his best Sam the Canine Shamus as Detective Date. The English voices are actually really good. It's just the janky script that let them down. Not only is the dialog in the original English PlayStation 2 version clunky. but names of places and people have been shortened or even changed for little reason. To this day, no one but the translator knows why the Florist of Sai was given the name of Kage in English. He certainly never received a given name in the original Japanese version. Thankfully, Yakuza Kiwami has a much less awkward translation with the original names intact.

In the original Yakuza, the minigames were regulated to the UFO catcher, visiting with cabaret club hostesses, hitting baseballs at the batting center, blackjack, pachinko slot, and roulette. Yakuza Kiwami keeps the UFO catcher, batting center, blackjack, and roulette and removes the pachinko slots as well as four of the six hostesses. However, it adds minigames from Yakuza 0, including billiards, bowling. cee-lo, cho-han, darts, a karaoke button-based rhythm game, koi-koi, mahjong, oicho-kabu, Pocket Circuit slot car racing, poker, roulette, and shogi. The Sega game centers in Yakuza Kiwami also contain Battle Bug Beauties: MesuKing,  based on the Catfight Arena from Yakuza 0.

All of the minigames are fun diversions, but the best part of any Yakuza game outside of the main story is the side missions. There are many sidequests, and Yakuza Kiwami thankfully doesn't remove any sidequests from the original. Kiwami also adds a few new ones to tie the game back to Yakuza 0. Like any Yakuza game, some of them can be quite off-the-wall hilarious. There's nothing like the adult baby gangsters seen in later games, but the wackiness the series is known for definitely started here. As with any Yakuza game, the last side mission is an extremely hard fight with a member of the Amon family.

Yakuza is a great game regardless of which game you are playing, even if it is the PlayStation 2 version or the Japan-only Wii U and PlayStation 3 high-definition versions. However, the best way to play is definitely the Kiwami remake. It does remove 2 out of 6 hostesses and the pachislot games, however, it adds 12 minigames, adds three fighting styles, and brings the presentation up to modern standards. In doing so, it restored the original game's status as one of the best games in the series.

Final verdict:

4 out of 5

Yakuza 0 reviewYakuza (Kiwami) 2 review

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Arcade Maze Game Review: Lupin III

In 1980, Taito released Lupin III, the first video game based on the popular Lupin the Third manga and anime. It was developed on the same Intel 8080 hardware platform that powered Taito's classic Space Invaders. That game stood the test of time, but does Lupin III fare nearly as well?

I first came across Lupin III in 2001 while working on my arcade emulator, LASER. As it is a deceptively simple game, like all games on Taito 8080 hardware, I did not expect much of it. However, as I worked to get the graphics and controls working properly in my emulator, I began to see that it actually is very enjoyable.

It is one of the first maze games, as it was released three months before Pac-Man, the seminal game in that genre. The purpose of the game is to clear out all of the money bags from the bank while avoiding the police. Like most early maze games, once the screen is cleared, it keeps repeating at a faster rate until all player lives are lost. Like Pac-Man, despite sounding boring, it is a lot of fun in practice. This is especially true in the international version.

The original Japanese release was a simple affair as all characters were colored yellow and the game contained no sound. The international version had multiple colors for the various characters, stage music, a stage clear jingle, and messages when stages are cleared. It also replicated the intro in an expectedly simple, yet amazingly effective, style. This makes the international version quite fun to play, and, like Pac-Man, it is infinitely replayable.

The international version of Lupin III is available in the Taito EGRET II Mini console, making it available to the home market for the first time. Although it has simple gameplay mechanics and simple, yet effective, animations and sound, the international version is extremely replayable. It is one of my favorite games on Taito 8080 arcade hardware and it is well worth playing if you ever manage to come across it.

Final verdict:
3½ out of 5

Monday, April 18, 2022

Return to Monkey Island Announced

I apologize that I haven't been around. I've been ill for a while. I still am, unfortunately. But news has happened that caused me to want to post here again regardless.

Ron Gilbert's take on a Monkey Island game that tells the story about what happened after the cliffhanger ending of Monkey Island 2 is no longer hypothetical. It will be released later this year.

Return to Monkey Island