Remembering the Playstation

From the 80’s to the early 90’s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo decided to partner with Sony on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90’s that I virtually ignored home console games. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming months I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Xbox One – Revealed

Just a few days ago, Microsoft revealed the successor to the popular Xbox 360 console. The Xbox One. As a result, have now been introduced to all three of the “next-gen” consoles.

The Xbox One in many ways is a standard upgrade. More processing power, better graphics capability. The software is a 64-bit Windows 8 based OS. The Kinect is now built in to the base package and features voice commands that can control the console. Additionally, the system now features Blu-Ray support instead of standard DVDs.

Microsoft seems to pushing this system as more of an entertainment center than a game console. It will feature a television pass-thru that allows interaction with standard Television programming. This is also something that Nintendo has done with the Wii U.

I watched the keynote, and personally, much like the PS4 reveal, I didn’t see anything that floored me. Of course we still have E3 to receive more info on both products, but so far I don’t see any clear breakaway winner between the two. In fact, I don’t see anything in particular that makes me want to run out and grab either one, to be honest.

This is going to be a situation of “time will tell”. The Xbox doesn’t typically have any exclusive titles (beyond Halo). And if the Playstation does acquire some exclusive releases, Microsoft might be in for a bad time.

We’ll have to see how this all plays out in the coming months.

Dawn of the Handhelds

Somewhere between the glory days of the NES and the introduction of the SNES, Nintendo brought us the now legendary Game Boy. I was living in Japan when this little brick of happiness was released and I remember being in complete awe of it. It was not the most attractive device. A grey hunky of textured plastic with a puke-green screen that somehow formed grey/black pixels into graphics. But it played games. Damn good ones too.

Back then, the Game Boy came with a free copy of Tetris, the now-classic puzzle game with a soundtrack and proved that even beeps and bloops could be catchy and infectious to anyone within earshot.

As if an addictive puzzle game was not enough, it came with multiplayer capabilities. Yes, you would link two Game Boys together with a cable and ram bricks on to your best friend’s screen at the worse possible moment. It was amazing and the beginning of a whole new era for gamers.

As the system matured, so did the games. Eventually, many of these early portable titles even rivaled classic home console games in complexity and fun. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at the Game Boy titles that I loved as a kid, and even checking out a few of those that I may have missed the first time around. Previously, I touched on two of the Castlevania titles when I had my Castlevania playthrough back in the fall, so if you’re curious about my thoughts on those, please feel free to look back and enjoy.

 

Playstation 4 Announcement

So just the other day Sony had a big press conference to announce the upcoming release of the Playstation 4. While we’ve seen no picture of the console itself, several details including an image or two of the controller have been presented.

Based on the picture alone, the controller hasn’t changed a whole lot. The biggest difference appears to be a small touch pad in the center of the device. Exactly what functions this touchpad can perform are still unclear, but I worry that this may be a bit gimmicky. The start and select buttons are gone, replaced by and Options and Share button. The option button seems like a good idea, it’s sort of an all-in-one menu button. Press it and you’re brought to an options menu in the PS4 OS. I’ve long felt that the days of needing a “start” and “select” have been long gone, so this is a welcome change. The Share button is an obvious clue that the PS4 is going to linked in to social media. In fact, Sony has stated that this connectivity is a core focus of the device.

Some other really good tidbits about the PS4: Sony claims the device will have a near instantaneous power on and off time. They state that it will be able to download games in the background regardless of what else is going on, and will even have network functionality when turned off. This is a good thing for patches, etc.

The system specs and abilities seem to be on par with what one might expect for a next-gen console. But here’s where we get to the part that worries me. There will be no hardware backwards compatibility. That’s right, the PS4 cannot read discs from any previous generation console. Instead, Sony is pushing something they call “Cloud Play”. This is essentially a streaming service. Let’s say you want to play a PS2 era game. You will have to “purchase” the game online. The game is not downloaded or installed on your PS4, instead, the game is hosted on a server somewhere at Sony and you interact with the server online. Your button presses are sent over the internet, performed at Sony and a video stream of the game is sent back to your home. So basically, you’re playing a game remotely. If this works, I think could be a brilliant solution. However, I feel there is a lot of potential for lag and other issues that could really degrade the performance. Of course, only time will tell if this is going to work as expected. Of course another downside to this is that all those PS1, 2 and 3 discs you have are worthless if you want to play on the PS4.

For me, I’m not really all that excited about the announcement. As you know, I have a first generation PS3 (fully backwards compatible) and I recently had to do a home refurbish. I worry that my existing console may be on its last legs, but I don’t see myself rushing out on day one to get a shiny new PS4. Instead, I’m going to sit back and let the media and other gamers pick it apart. I’m going to see what the verdict is on the cloud gaming and then make my decision.

Also, these days many developers are starting to really embrace cross-platform gaming. Final Fantasy XIII was released on both PS3 and Xbox360. The days of PS Exclusive titles seems to be waning. So it may even be safe to say that unless the PS4 has some really tempting exclusives, I may consider skipping it altogether. Time will tell.

 

Playstation Panic

One of the worst things about modern gaming consoles tends to be their lifespan. In the last few years, I’ve gone through two Xbox 360’s and recently I began experiencing issues with my PS3.
The problem most of these devices seems to encounter has to do with overheating. After a while, dust accumulates inside the consoles, or the cooling fans stop working and then one day – BOOM! They are fried.

What I think people tend to forget is that modern day consoles are actually mini-computers designed to only play games. However, unlike a tower PC, they are compact, and made to fit nicely in a home entertainment center. But, put a lot of heat generating devices in a small enclosed space and you’re going to have trouble.

Now, let me state, that I have never experienced this issue with a Nintendo product. I’m not being biased, just honest. The old NES certainly has design flaws that, over time, could cause some issues. But aside from that, I’ve never had a problem with a Nintendo product. I still have Game Boy Advances that power on and work as good as the day they were brought home.

Recently, I experienced a panic moment with my PS3. You see, I have an old PS3. One of the highly-coveted originals. As you may or may not know, when the PS3 was first released it was a big honking piece of machinery. It could play Blu-Ray movies, DVDs , PS1, PS2 and of course PS3 titles. The only problem was, it was expensive and it was prone of heat issues.

While I still have a PS2 tucked away in the recesses of my house, I am not ready to give up this magnificent all-in-one system. So needless to say, when my PS3 suddenly started sounding like a B-52 taking off during the middle of my Mega Man marathon the other day, I hit the panic button.

Luckily, I think I have identified and corrected the issue before my system was fried to a crisp. The biggest problem facing the original PS3, is not actually dust build up, but rather the drying up of the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU chips.

Much like a PC processor, the chips inside a PS3 need adequate cooling or they will overheat and burn up. This cooling is accomplished by attaching a metal device known as a heatsink to the chip. The heatsink is then cooled off with a fan. To ensure proper transfer of heat from the chip to the heatsink, a special thermal paste is applied to the face of the chip. Should this paste ever dry up or dissipate for any reason, it’s only a matter of time.

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    The PS3 internal chips, naked.

Luckily, a friend and I turned fixing my PS3 into an afternoon project. I’m happy to report that it seems to be running quieter than ever after the fix. Correcting this issue was not difficult at all. If you encounter the telltale signs of games freezing, and extremely/sudden loud fan noise – it may be smart to power off the console as soon as possible and either call Sony or do a Google search for the instructions needed to fix it yourself.

First Impressions: Wii U

Well, I’ve had some time now to sit down and really dig into the depths of the Wii U. Overall, the verdict is still out. But let me begin with some of the first things I have noticed thus far.

First, the controller. I was very skeptical about the design on the new control pad. It looks bulky and impractical. However, once I actually got my hands on it I was pleasantly surprised. It is quite comfortable to hold, and the back sides of it are actually very ergonomic. The hidden stylus is included in the top. I call it hidden, because it took me three days to notice it… (Perhaps I should have read the instruction manual.) This time, there’s no more batteries. The controller is charged via power outlet. Sadly, it seems the life of the controller is not as good as I hoped. My Wii U pad seems to drain rather quickly, that’s a bit of a bummer.

Second, the graphics are much improved over the Wii. The Wii U comes with an HDMI cable. This allows for both surround sound and HD resolution. Personally, I ran into an issue because all the available HDMI ports on my TV were already taken. Luckily, I had an old Wii component cable (the blue, green and red cable). This also allows for HD video. However, it removes the option for surround sound.  –  With three gaming systems, a Blu-ray player, and an HD satellite receiver all plugged into one TV and surround box, I’ve found myself running out of options. But that’s no fault of Nintendo’s.

One quirky thing I noticed is that even with the right aspect ratio and TV resolution selected, it seems that the edges of the screen are still not being displayed. Like the border of the TV is cutting off the picture. Puzzled by this, I did some research online and I discovered a post stating that you need to tweak the settings on your TV to correct this issue… I’m not sure about this. I don’t experience this issue with any other system or device. Weird and annoying.

You are able to transfer your Virtual Console purchases and saved games from your existing Wii system. I can’t help but feel this is a bit more complicated than it needs to be. First you have to install an app on both your Wii and Wii U. Then you need to perform a back up of sorts on the Wii. Once complete, you can import via the Wii U. Doing so will erase the data from your Wii. An SD card is required for the transfer. While basic in theory, it’s feels a bit more convoluted in practice. But all in all, it works well and is complimented by some very cool animations – note to hackers: any unauthorized software will not be carried over. Also, if your SD has ever been hacked or “bannerbombed” your Wii U will more than likely crash when attempting to read the card.

The Wii U set up is pretty straightforward. Finally, Nintendo has a created a user-based system that allows you to multiple “logins” for members of your household. Also, if you have a Club Nintendo account, you can link it to your logon. Upon first start, your Wii U will have to perform a day-one update. This is pretty much a necessity as it unlocks many of the Wii U’s advertised features. However, it takes quite a while to perform. It actually took almost 2 hours for me on a fiber optic connection.

Once the update is complete and your Wii U is all booted and ready to play, you’re greeted with a weird looking home screen on the TV. I still haven’t quite figured it out… in the center of the screen are any Miis you’ve created. Surrounding them are hundreds of random Miis, all popping up various speech bubbles. Apparently, these are other Wii U owners and they are displayed through the Wii U’s internet connection. I’m sure there’s a way to turn this off, but it’s not immediately apparent. There’s really no navigating this screen that I’ve discovered. It’s just there.

The actual system menu appears on the screen in the middle of the gamepad. This resembles the layout you would find on a 3DS system. Pretty easy to navigate.

Now, I expected my VC and WiiWare titles to appear somewhere on the Wii U homescreen. However, they do not. You must first go to the Wii Channel to access this. Which means, you still need to keep a Wii Remote on hand. I found this to be a bit annoying. But apparently, even today, new VC titles are still only being sold on the Wii Shop and not the Nintendo Store. This seems a little odd.

The first thing I did was remove a few of the channels that I knew I was not going to use. I’m not a Hulu user or a fan of Amazon Video, so goodbye to these. I tinkered a bit with the Netflix app – a huge improvement over the Wii version. Next, I set up the Wii U gamepad to control my TV and satellite box. It worked surprisingly well. It will be nice to just pick up the gamepad and be able to switch the TV over to the proper input without having to hunt down three different remote controls.

Next, I poked around the TiiV application. This allows you to connect to your cable or satellite provider to route your favorite shows to the Wii U. I set this up, but I have not actually used it yet. I’m not sure I really see the point in it yet. Why do this and take up bandwidth? Why not just…. watch TV?

Finally, I browsed the new eShop. Several retail games were available for download at full price. But at this time, very few shop titles are available. I was a bit surprised by the lack of selection. I think I’ll stick with physical game discs. The basic Wii U has very limited disc space and I’m not too keep on the idea of slapping on an external HD anytime soon.

So far, my impressions of the system are hard to determine. I see a lot of potential here, and it is still VERY early in the life of the product. The game selection in stores is not yet very good. I feel the system is pretty solid and defiantly an improvement over the original Wii. However, at this particular moment I can’t exactly recommend it to everyone. But, I have no doubt at all that in time, the system will mature. If you can afford it, the deluxe version is probably the way to go.

I have only spent a few hours poking around the system. So I’ll dedicate more time to various ins and outs in the coming days and report back.

Enter the Wii U

This Christmas, my son will unwrap a brand-spanking new Wii U. He has absolutely no clue he will getting one.

For those of you not in the know, the Wii U is Nintendo’s successor to the highly popular Wii. It is backwards compatible with Wii games and controllers and will also retain Virtual Console functionality. Aside from a nice upgrade in graphic and processor power, the Wii U also features a new touchscreen style game pad. Sadly, this device is not compatible with GameCube discs. However, Nintendo has hinted that GC games will soon be available for purchase from the eShop.

I have to admit, the first time I saw the device I was a little less than enthused. It seemed very gimmicky to me. In fact, I had all but decided to wait this one out a bit. However, my son started dropping hints, and well, I kinda wanted one too so the choice was easy.

The hardest part will be waiting for Christmas to drop it on him. Expect a full post-Christmas report on my thoughts and also his experiences with the system.

Evolution

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So far I’ve written about my experiences growing up with the original 8-bit NES. But naturally, like many other kids who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, I was also the proud owner of its successor the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The SNES was a thing of glory to behold. It boasted better graphics and better sound… I mean you could actually hear real speech. (Maybe only in 10 second fragments, but still!) This was a big deal. It also had a lineup of games that were a force to be reckoned with; Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Zelda: A Link to the Past…. It was enough to make your head pop. It’s hard to make a statement like this, but I daresay that the Super Nintendo was just as important to legacy gaming as the original NES. I look at the NES as the seed/root and the SNES as the vine/blossom of Nintendo’s success.

Some of the greatest RPGs of all time saw the light of day on this box of 16-bit goodness. In fact, the SNES has been hailed by many as the pinnacle RPG platform. Not only did Nintendo’s first-party titles and various RPGs flourish on this new system, but the early 90’s saw the rise of two-player fighting games, these also soared to popularity thanks largely in part to the Super Nintendo. Games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II owe a debit of gratitude to the SNES.

As I mentioned in another post, around the mid-90’s my attention waned a bit from console gaming. I became more interested in social activities. Any gaming I did during this period was in front of a PC. My consoles sat on a shelf collecting dust while I learned the ways of new games like DOOM, Quake, and Diablo.

In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released. By this point Nintendo was so far off my radar I barely noticed. I vaguely remember seeing an ad for Mario 64 and I thought to myself “Wow. Would ya look at that!” To date, the N64 is probably my most neglected era of gaming. I have since gone back and experienced many of these great games on the Wii, but I feel like I missed being in the middle of all the action. It is a pox on my gaming record to be sure.

Around the same time, Nintendo faced it’s first serious competitor: The Sony Playstation. Sony’s console made the move from cartridge-based games to CD-ROM. My old roomate had one and after seeing it for the first time, I remember wondering if Nintendo’s days of dominance were over. It certainly seemed that way. The N64 fell in popularity over time and the Playstation earned a much larger audience. Third-party developers jumped ship in record numbers. The Final Fantasy series moved exclusively to Sony’s console. As did many games from Capcom and Konami.

Sony followed up their success in 2000 with the release of the Playstation 2. This console changed everything. It was leaps about bounds above anything seen before. Many PC defectors, like myself, were lured back to the living room thanks to the PS2. In attempt to strike back, Nintendo released the GameCube. It was a cute looking device that accepted odd little mini-discs. The GameCube was responsible for some good titles, but by this point it seemed that Nintendo has officially lost the battle and the home console scene now belonged to Sony. Thankfully, Nintendo was able to weather the storm due to the popularity of their handheld gaming devices.

It was around this time that Microsoft decided to enter the scene. They brought the Xbox to the table and for the first time ever the console battlefield included 3 main competitors. It was during this time that I stepped back on the console scene. I had been recently married, and my love for Final Fantasy had been rekindled. I purchased a PS2 and caught up on many of great games I missed over the years. Then one day, my wife came home with a GameCube. This enabled me to get reacquainted with Nintendo and their offerings at the time. I was slowly on my way back to being a full-fledged gamer again.

2005 was the year that console gaming came back full force. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360. For the first time a modern game console was combined with the power of the Internet. Sales surged and Sony’s dominance took a hit. To retaliate, Sony struck back with the powerful but pricey Playstation 3. I believe that price alone is what kept many people away from the PS3 initially. Due to this, the Xbox retained the top spot in many households for a time. (Mine included.)

By this time, I was fully back in my gamer persona. Nostalgia had worked it’s magic on me and I watched Nintendo’s next move with baited breath. Rumors had been flying around the Internet of Nintendo’s new project; codenamed “Revolution”. Everyone was talking. I remember the guy at my local Gamestop almost salivating as he claimed to have the inside scoop:

“I’ve been told by a very reliable source that it looks like a pyramid. On each facet is a slot for a different cartridge!! There’s one side for Nintendo, one for Super Nintendo, N64, Gamecube, and then the last side takes the new discs!”

Naturally, I had to point out that pyramids only had four sides, but that didn’t seem to matter to him.

What Nintendo actually did produce was the now famous Wii. Like many others, I was put off by the name. “Play with my Wii” jokes flew around the office. But I was intrigued by the new motion controls. I remember thinking it would either be revolutionary or a complete bomb.

The Wii was a smash-hit, outselling everything else. The secret to its success was its appeal to all audiences. Heck, even my parents bought one! Through the Virtual Console feature, new gamers were able to experience classic NES and SNES games that they had never seen before. Nintendo had returned!

That brings us to today. The three-way console race is still on and it’s hard to say who dominates. The beautiful thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Games are released across multiple platforms and these days and it makes little difference which you choose. I personally own all three systems and I enjoy each of them.

Now that we are all caught up, the main focus of this blog can finally begin. It is in this world that the modern gamer finds themselves. If you’re like me, you work full time job. You have a family to raise and life away from the computer or television screen. Time is limited. You love games, and you still want to experience them all, what do you do? I mean think about it. There’s new great titles being released every day. Now with things like Xbox Live, Playstation Network and the Virtual Console almost any legacy title you want is only a download away. It can be frustrating.

The answer is time management and focus. I’ve learned this the hard way. I also find a lot of my free time sucked away by MMO games. It is easy to fall behind. This blog is going to be a chronicle of my journey through the world of gaming. I’m going to be reliving the games of my youth as well as tackling the games of today. This site will serve as motivation to finally tackle that backlog. I hope you stay tuned.

The Nintendo Era

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The world of gaming changed forever in October of 1985. That is the month that the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America.

I still remember getting mine. It was Christmas morning, at my grandmother’s house. I tore the wrapping paper from the corner and my eyes caught sight of the golden Nintendo Seal. I knew immediately what it was before the rest of the paper was even off the box. I had stared at the NES boxes on the shelf at Toys ‘R Us long enough that even a little peek of what lie underneath the wrapping gave it away.

The NES came with a copy of Super Mario Bros., but I also received a copy of Metroid that year. Metroid sat on the shelf for a few weeks, however. I was completely hooked on SMB… I clearly remember sitting in front of the TV for the next two days playing Mario almost non-stop. It was snowing outside and much too cold to go out and play (thankfully), so I had a convenient excuse.

As time went on, my game collection grew and grew. I had most of the classic titles:

SMB, Kid Icarus, Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Mega Man, Contra, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Double Dragon, Skate or Die…  You name it. And what I didn’t own, I rented from the video store.

At one point, I subscribed to the official Nintendo magazine: The Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter.

The first issue I received featured the newly released Mike Tyson’s Punchout. The next issue was the intro for The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The following one featured some hockey game, I don’t recall which. There were no further issues of the newsletter, because that next month, it was changed into the magazine we all know and love: Nintendo Power.

The first issue of Nintendo Power was a real jaw-dropper. On the cover, they premiered Super Mario Bros. 2. Seeing those words in print, virtually caused time to stop.

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I was a total fanboy, as were most of my fellow third-grade classmates. Not only did we collect games, but we had various controllers, the NES MAX, the NES Advantage… years later I was even the owner of the notorious Power Glove. If it wasn’t accessories we were buying, it was literature. Hint guides and code books were all the rage. Our school book fair sold them in droves. It was easy money for publishers.

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But even the mighty fall to some extent. Nintendo has had many competitors since the NES debuted in the 80’s. I think it’s fair to say that as time has gone by, Nintendo has lost a bit of their audience to competitors like Sony and Microsoft. These days, Nintendo seems to focus more on casual and family gaming, leaving them as a bit of a niche taste. Perhaps this will change with the release of the new console the Wii U, who knows. But I will say this, I still don’t think that any future console will ever cause the revolution that the original NES started. I would probably not be a gamer if it wasn’t for this big grey toaster.

Keep puffing on those carts.