Review: Ys Origin (PC)

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Ys Origin
XSeed Games, PC

Written by Chris Dominowski.

The Ys series has long since been the odd duck of the JRPG world. Not that the quality of the games has been suspect; far from it, but from a myriad of other reasons such as platform release decisions, little advertisement, and infrequent localization. Most of all, it has carried the distinction of being the only major JRPG series to make its home primarily on home computers, as opposed to consoles, save for a brief stint on the PlayStation Portable. However, the computer iterations of the series have almost never been released outside of Japan. Thus, the recent release of Ys Origin and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on Steam has marked a symbolic coming full circle for the franchise, despite being older titles in their native country. Ys Origin in particular has never been released officially in English. Being one of the most lauded entries in the series’ recent history, there was a fair amount of hype in the JRPG community surrounding its long-awaited release. Does Ys Origin live up to its longstanding pedigree, while holding its own in its 6 years since original release? Only one way to find out.

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Ys Origin is meant to be quick, light fare compared to most of its RPG brethren. The game features three different stories to play through (the last of which is locked until finishing the first two), and each story takes about 15-20 hours to complete. If you are content with finishing the game through just one story, that’s all well and good, but if you love the game enough to put in the time and effort, you will have an awfully substantial game to play through (Not to mention extra modes such as Time Attack which are unlocked after completing your first story). XSEED translated the game themselves, as opposed to basing their work off the existing translation patch, and it was clear that a fair bit of effort went into making the dialogue sound as natural as possible, which is carefully-written, as opposed to the relatively standard plot.

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Like any RPG, Ys Origin lives or dies based on the quality of its battle system. An otherwise good game can be ruined if it is hampered with chore-like gameplay. That is why I am pleased to report that the combat in Ys Origin is fast, fluid, and immensely rewarding. Being an Action RPG, there is inherently a great deal of choice and fluidity already built into the genre, but this game simply nails all of the core tenets of the sub-genre. Each fight brings new challenges and enemies, all of which have their own quirks that must be accounted for in your fighting style. For example, if there are many flying enemies in a particular room, switching to a lightning attack to reach them effectively is a good option. Or, if you are in a room being swarmed by a horde of low-level enemies, a spinning wind attack will clear them out nicely. These skills keep everything moving at a fast clip, and ensure your interest is maintained while playing. Even level-grinding isn’t really necessary at easier difficulty settings, which matches the tone presented by the game’s play mechanics perfectly. This may be one of the few times when I recommend playing a game on easy mode, not because of difficulty, but because it creates a more consistent sense of flow. Although, if you do play on normal mode, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem. One thing I feel I cannot go without mentioning is the boss fights. These are easily the most creative and challenging bosses I have seen in an ARPG. You are almost never pitted against a boss where the main tactic is mashing the attack button until it stops moving, but each one has a pattern and/or weak point that you have to figure out before fighting. It gives the game a very retro vibe in terms of design. When you finally do memorize a boss’ pattern, it’s an exhilarating feeling to finally beat each one. The art for the bosses themselves are nothing new, but the way in which you fight them absolutely is. I had a tremendous amount of fun with Ys Origin’s battle system, and I consider it to be one of the two best parts of them game.

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The other of which is the soundtrack. The Ys series is famous for its unconventional-yet-excellent soundtrack, mixing hard rock, orchestral, and a hint of Celtic music to deliver a unique auditory experience. Origin does not disappoint in the slightest, providing a soundtrack that is both powerful and memorable. The tunes for each level put you in the exact mood the game wants you to be in; a commendable artistic achievement on Falcom’s part. This is some music you will want to listen to well after finishing the game. Anyone who has heard Ys’ soundtracks before knows what they’ll be getting, but new players will likely be astounded by the level of care and attention given to the game’s aural presentation.

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It’s not every day that we get a game that is quite as fun as Ys Origin. The story isn’t terribly deep, and most of the game is meant exclusively to showcase the gameplay, but that is precisely why it works so well. The game has one of the most engaging and polished battle systems ever put in a Japanese Action RPG, and needless to say, it is a blast to play. It’s actually just a bit scary that it has taken 6 whole years for this game to receive a proper localization, given its quality. $20 is a meager asking price for one of the best JRPGs available on Windows, and any fan of the genre who has a Steam account should definitely at least consider it.

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Review: Tales From Space Mutant Blobs Attack (Vita)

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Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
DrinkBox Studios, Vita

Written by lisalover1.

The launch doldrums of a system are usually some its darkest days, marked primarily with games either rushed to meet release schedule, or simple ports of existing games, followed up with a dry release schedule for the next several months. It is very rare to see a true full-fledged gem pop up in the release window of a console, as truly good games take time, thought, and familiarity with the hardware in question. I’m not here today to herald the presence of a masterpiece among mediocrity, or even a game that’s part of the top tier of the recent renaissance of 2D platformers. What I am here to talk about, however, is a platformer that is beyond solid, and one of the PlayStation Vita’s best games.

Mutant Blobs Attack is a physics-based 2D platformer that was part of the Vita’s launch lineup as a download-exclusive title. The gameplay consists of what can best be described as a 2D Katamari game, where you grow your blob character to larger sizes by absorbing progressively larger items laying around the levels. The game features touchscreen/touchpanel-based puzzles, and even levels that use the handheld’s gyroscope and accelerometer. The game’s level design proves to be quite creative, using these unique features to good effect to create an experience that is at the same time refreshing and intuitive. The only complaint I have with this kind of design methodology is that this game could have been just as easily done on a smartphone or tablet, with the only sacrifice being the physical directional pad and analog stick. Sure, the extra control options are more than welcome, but in an age when phones can play a game such as this competently, it just feels unnecessary to make it a full-blown Vita release. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that Mutant Blobs Attack is a well-made game. The controls are spot-on, allowing for both d-pad and stick controls. The game is long enough to make you feel like you got your money’s worth, but it never overstays its welcome, and its pick-up-and-play nature lends itself well to a handheld, always keeping you wanting just one more level. Not only does the game consistently come up with new puzzles and ideas, but it is never afraid to let old ones go before they become tiresome. The best analog I can think of is Super Mario 3D Land, which accomplishes a similar feat with the capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS. The whole game just feels cohesive and tight in a way that few other games have the patience or restraint to do.

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The game’s art direction evokes something that can only be described as a cross between a doodle and pop art of the 1950’s. It is very lighthearted and silly, serving as an effective homage to the classic 50’s horror film itself, The Blob. Appropriately enough, the style is essentially identical to the game’s predecessor, About A Blob, which was a lesser-known PlayStation 3 exclusive, also download-only. The style suits the game quite well, reflecting the premise. You can see the developers’ sense of humor shine through in some of the background art, such as the text on decorative billboards and the ridiculous things the blob itself can absorb. The game’s slower, more deliberate nature compared to most other platformers allows the game to have spot-on controls without sacrificing a single frame of animation, allowing the game to look and feel very fluid when in motion. The high frame rate is a showcase for the Vita’s power, with every second of the game passing by without a hint of lag. Although it should come at no surprise that the system can handle a game like this standing on its head. Still the game is pretty to see in action, and will satisfy the tastes of all but the most discerning of fans of 2D games. In terms of audio, however, the game isn’t really anything to write home about: The sound effects are generic and the soundtrack follows suit with some regrettably forgettable tracks. You probably won’t be putting it on your MP3 player anytime soon. It’s a bit of a shame; the rest of the game was shown such care and attention, except in the audio department.

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Should you buy Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack? If you are one of the lucky few to own a Vita, then absolutely. At $8, the game is a steal, and almost necessary playing material for early adopters of the system who want something to play. But, if you don’t have a Vita, I wouldn’t rush out to get one just for this game if I were you. It isn’t a system-seller by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a stellar game that deserves the attention and PSN credit of all current Vita owners.

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Feature: Roadtrip To FunSpot

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Roadtrip to FunSpot

Written by fvgazi.
Photo Credits: Eric R + Ryan B.

“Funspot is the mecca of classic arcade games” – from the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, well – mostly the early 90’s, created a special place in my heart for arcade gaming. While reminiscing with a buddy of mine about the physicality of arcades and the movie King of Kong; we decided there was only one thing left to do… ROADTRIP TO FUNSPOT!

Driving from Long Island, NY to Laconia, NH was a nice five and a half hour drive full of fart/penis jokes, unhealthy snacks, and nerd talk. We eventually arrived to be completely awed by the awesomeness that is Funspot. After walking into the second of three levels we were greeted with rows of classic arcade games and a small Keith Apicary shrine.

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I grabbed my $20 bill and fifty free token coupon and practically ran to exchange it for a boatload of tokens (over a hundred and fifty!). The first thing we agreed to do was walk around before diving in so we could find out everything Funspot had to offer. There was a small, and I mean small, display case with a few consoles and some video gaming history. Past that was heaven where there was an enourmous room with over a hundred classic games known as the American Classic Arcade Museum. This room would be the area I would spend the majority of the evening with my friends.

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In this room I found countless pre-90’s shmups (my favorite genre!) and the arcade machines that Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe had competed on. It was here where I got my first taste of original R-Type, 1942, Sky Shark, and 1943 arcade machines. Every game in that particular room only cost one token and I had over a hundred and fifty to blow. Luckily I had been honing my shoot-em-up skills for the month before going.

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There was so much we did over the eight hours we spent dropping quarters (tokens). All four of us had taken over a Ninja Turtles arcade cab and beat it, I had drove myself insane on Commando, Robotron 2084, and Sinistar, and we ate quite possibly the worst pizza we ever had. New Hampshire has tax on food, WTF? That was one of my two gripes with this place. The food was pretty terrible, but that’s kind of expected from places like this. My other gripe was actually kind of a huge let down. A good number of cabinets had not been maintained and as a result were unplayable. Many games had wobbly joysticks, stick or non-functioning buttons, or the coin slots did not register when adding credits. This was probably the case with about 10% of the games I played.

It was a great idea going over the Winter when there were not many tourists or kids. After 7pm the place was empty with the exception of the few older “hardcore gamers” such as ourselves. Around 10:30 or 11pm I still had about fifty tokens left so I decided to blow them on ticket games and somehow won almost a thousand tickets. I actually broke the machine and had to get it refilled which was pretty hilarious. Got myself some nice parting gifts, though!

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All in all, my friends and I had a great time for not very much money at all (the $20 lasted all day!). Back to the motel room to rest our scanline burned-out eyes. If you’re in the Northeastern USA and love arcade gaming, I highly recommend FunSpot for a day of fun. It’s a little over an hour from Boston, MA which makes for a nice stop on a trip (like PAX East)!

See you next year FunSpot!

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Review: The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Volume 1 (Book)

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The Sega Master System Encyclopedia Volume 1
Derek Slaton
CreateSpace

Reviewed by lisalover1.

Something really neat is happening in gaming culture recently. Now that it is becoming more common for video games to be seen as a recognized and legitimate art form, more effort is being put into gaming literature and maintaining game-related historical records for later reference and study. With efforts such as the Smithsonian’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibit, and classes being offered on game history in many major universities, the subject is finally being granted the respect and resources it deserves. However, we are not quite all the way there yet. Many of these aforementioned efforts only focus on the most iconic and well-known games from history; the ones everyone already knows by heart. That’s all well and good for a primer on the subject, but how about experts who want to delve deeper into the realms of gaming’s history, studying the good and the bad to form a coherent picture of the gaming landscape at any given time. Sadly, there is very little of this information available in formal documentation. Aside from various fan-run sites, there are few viable resources from which to study game history, especially early game history, and especially for lesser-known consoles and home computers. This is where books like the Sega Master System Encyclopedia come in: To provide a comprehensive, singular resource for which to study the games of a particular console.

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This encyclopedia series means to cover every single game every commercially released for Sega’s first home game console, the 8-bit Master System. The format for covering these games is essentially a detailed review for each title; describing its contents, as well as the author’s opinion on the title’s quality. I would have been in favor of a more professional and scholarly approach, given its innate nature as an encyclopedia, but as it is, it still works very well as a reference guide. But, it’s in the multimedia portions that this book truly shines. Each game is given a standardized introduction page, complete with release date, developer info, number of players, and genre, as well as the box art. This looks very clean, and gives a good background for the game in question. The author took full advantage of the ebook medium, as well as the advantages of the tablet computers on which it was published. At the end of each game review, there is a gallery of several screenshots of the game, with a caption on each one, almost always related to the aspects mentioned in the text. Following this up is an enclosed YouTube video containing footage from the game, a very nice touch that gives the reader a better feel for the more minute workings of the game they just read about. I applaud this decision to include content that simply could not be done in a print book; it shows care and attention to detail on behalf of the author. Another nice touch to play to the strengths of a tablet is the chapter navigation: With a few touchscreen gestures, you can easily jump between chapters like single pages, allowing for quick and easily navigation or for finding a specific game. The whole presentation is orderly, readable, and overall professional; something I wish I could say for the text itself. Yes, my one criticism for the book, as I previously mentioned, is that the write-ups for each game feel more like a review than an informational piece. The tone is exceedingly casual for an encyclopedia, and while I understand that the lack of content in these older games leaves less to discuss, some extra research about each game or some trivia would have gone a long way in making this book feel like a legitimate historical guide.

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The first volume of the encyclopedia covers the games alphabetically from Action Fighter to F-16 Fighting Falcon, so we can expect several more volumes from the author in the coming months. My only issue with this structure is that the same author previously put out a similar guide for the Master System, in which the entire library was covered in the same book for $10, as opposed to the $5 for this first of many volumes of the revised encyclopedia. Given, the old edition lacks the polish and presentation of the new one, but if you are on a budget, this is something to consider. As of now, the book is only available on Apple’s iTunes bookstore, but the author has plans to publish the book on Amazon’s Kindle bookstore, as well as in print. However, given the masterful nature of the digital version of the book, I would forego the latter option and get either the iBook or Kindle copy. I, along with the gaming community at large, greatly commend the author for compiling a comprehensive guide to the software available on a relatively obscure system. If you have an interest in the Sega Master System, or the history of games of that era, I would recommend giving this encyclopedia set a shot.

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The Hunt: Sonic 2 Pack-In Oddity

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I noticed that an ebay auction for a boxed Mega Drive 2 was about to end at £1.50 and it was only a few minutes from where I work, so I bid and went to pick it up. Everything was in nice condition and it still had the Sonic 2 pack in game. This is odd because it has the PAL box, but its a Genesis cart and manual.

I beleive its original to the set as the manual has a sticker on it that says ‘Suitable for both Genesis and Mega Drive consoles’, which is very central and very straight. Doesn’t look like it was put on by hand by an old import shop or anything.

I’ve done a fair bit of searching on this and never come across any collector who has seen anything similar before. Looks to me like they were running low on MD versions and had to stick Genesis versions of the cart in there to meet the deadlines. Kind of funny since all the manuals warn you the that importing games could damage your console.

Submitted by CurlyPaul, Racketboy Forums.

Yard Sale Gamer will publish some of our readers’ finds while on the gaming prowl. We love to hear the stories behind your most unique finds because the thrill of the hunt is just as exciting as obtaining the game itself. If you’d like one of your finds to be included on the blog, email your name, anecdote and a picture or two to: yardsalegaming [at] gmail [dot] com

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Review: Assimilate (NES)

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Assimilate
Nessylum, NES

Written by Flake.

Assimilate is an example of a type of indie game development I want to see more of. The game is designed and coded for Nintendo hardware. This is not a flash game pretending to be 8-bit. Assimilate is the real deal. It looks it as well – the graphics are rough in that oh-so-nostalgic way. The gameplay is simple. The music is repetitive but sometimes catchy. Assimilate strongly reminds me of games made by LJN, but I mean that in a good way. Seriously.

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The game is simple: You control a spaceship hovering above a large city. Your mission is to cruise back and forth, looking for candidates to tractor beam up to your ship. When you have them, you will brain wash them and, hopefully, return them safely to their homes. While you do this, you will have to dodge anti-aircraft fire from below. Since you have to stay in place to tractor beam a victim to your ship and then back to their homes, you have to do your best to guess both the timing and the firing angle of the next attack. One hit and you go from Assimilate to “Ass Immolate”.

C’mon, that’s pretty funny.

The game retails in two varieties: An authentic-ish cart with a manual and a box or just the cartridge and manual. The carts are produced through Retrozone, which goes a long way to explain the sheer quality of the build. Only a seasoned retro gamer is going to be able to discern the small tell-tale signs that show that the cart and board are not vintage. That said, Retrozone is not known for being cheap. If you are a huge fan of old games, I can assure you that the quality of the build matches the price. Fortunately, a demo is available on Nessylum’s homepage so that you can try before you buy.

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Okay, so these were all the things that I liked. The controls are tight, the gameplay fun, the production values are high, and the whole package reeks of nostalgia. Most of Assimilate‘s flaws come from Nessylum’s attempts at humor. Assimilate is very much meant to be a tongue and cheek game. Sometimes it succeeds. Sometimes if fails. Sometimes the game comes off as insanely condescending.

Assimilate‘s humor succeeds when it does not take itself seriously. The dialogue in the game is so cluttered and clumsy that you would think for certain it was a poorly translated Japanese game if you did not know any better. The story is insanely convoluted, another trade mark of 80’s era Japanese games. Well, maybe not just 80’s era…. This kind of humor, I liked. It makes Assimilate a big inside joke for all of us who lived through the years where a Winner was Us.

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Also, a special nod goes to Nessylum incorporating a feature where you can jettison a brainwashing candidate if you need to get away from incoming fire. It is oddly satisfying watching the little people fall to the bottom of the screen.

Neesylum’s attempts at humor fail the hardest in the manual. It almost felt like the inspired, funny, self-referential humor in the game came from one person and a totally different person wrote the manual. The instructions are littered with bad jokes, lame attempts at puns, references to anal rape, and condescension. The humor is forced and it feels that way. Reading through the manual, I almost felt embaressed for Nessylum to have gotten so much right just to mar the final product in such a way. It is a shame, too, because so much effort obviously went into the rest of the manual – hand drawn depictions of enemies, back story, and homages to classic quirks in old NES manuals abound. All of this is sullied in the end, however.

At any rate, if a new old-style NES game interests you, you are the ideal market for Assimilate. Bad decisions in manual writing aside, the game is solid. I tested the game in a Retroduo on a 32 inch LCD flat screen with S-Video and it looked and sounded great. According to the website, Nessylum will also work perfectly on authentic Nintendo hardware including the top loader.

For more information on Assimilate or to purchase a copy of the game, please visit http://nessylum.wordpress.com.

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The Hunt: Recca Summer Carnival 92 Reproduction

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Like most collectors I love to buy games. I even like buying them for other people. No one I know really games so I dont get to purchase gaming stuff for my friends and family very often. To fill that void in my life I’ve been joining online Secret Santas on different gaming sites for the last few years. Last year I was taking part in the annual Nintendoage.com Secret Santa. The want list forwarded to my secret partner just stated I was looking for “any licensed game not currently in my collection”. The minimum dollar amount was $20 so I patiently awaited my gift of a few common carts to fill in some holes in my collection. I got my package before X-mas, but decided not to open it until we got back from our family vacation. Upon returning a few days after X-mas I eagerly tore into the parcel and was quite puzzled by what I saw. Not only was it not a licensed game it wasnt even an unlicensed game I recognized. A little bit of googling showed me that it wasnt even a North American release, but a Japanese festival game. At least I like Shmups so I popped it in for a test run. Not only did it turn out to be one of the best Shmups I’ve ever played its one of the most impressive games on the NES really pushing the system to the limits. To top off the “cool-ness” factor of the cart the guy who sent it to me made the reproduction himself, so its really a one-of-a-kind. He printed off his own sticker, painted the cart a nice off-white color and slapped a warning label on the back informing me not to feed it to gators. One of my favorite gifts from recent memory.

Submitted by Kelsy Polnik, Canada.

Yard Sale Gamer will publish some of our readers’ finds while on the gaming prowl. We love to hear the stories behind your most unique finds because the thrill of the hunt is just as exciting as obtaining the game itself. If you’d like one of your finds to be included on the blog, email your name, anecdote and a picture or two to: yardsalegaming [at] gmail [dot] com

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