The Adventures of Donkey Kong

So I recently picked up a stuffed Donkey Kong toy, one that can be seen in an old AVGN episode, as a mascot at work. My coworker and I figured our shoddy work area could use something fun, after all, the area consists of 3 wobbly tables, dozens of power cables and thousands of dollars of networking equipment. Not exactly what you would call fun or interesting. After a bit of digging on Ebay, I found the perfect one, a nearly mint condition 12″ Donkey Kong from the early 80’s.

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After getting to know each other over the course of the weekend, I decided that he was a cool enough chimp to bring into work. He started off pretty darn well. I decided to put him on cabling duties

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After proving his worth on cabling, it was time to move him up to the big time. Kong worked on configurations.

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And even supervised the operation

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However, one day I caught him stealing cookies and had to scold him. Something he didn’t take lightly. Lets just say that he has been demoted to the passenger seat of the car.

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-Classic Game Nerd (Jared)

 

New Beginnings

I’ve decided to take, “The Game Age,” into a new direction. With my ever changing interests in games and my recent fascination with board and card games I’ve decided to broaden my range of content. Classic game reviews and opinions will continue as often as I can but I think board/card gaming and modern gaming deserves a place on here as well. I feel that being pigeonholed into one type of post got rather tiresome for me and it drained my interest in something I enjoy. Now, don’t take this as a lack of enthusiasm on my part (I love sharing my opinions) but I feel that an increase in topic variety will help immensely.  Anyway, we will have to see where this goes and thanks to everyone that has visited my page.

Regards,

Classic Gaming Nerd (Jared)

Super Dodgeball (Short Review)

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Super Dodgeball is a good deal of fun. Developed by CSG Imagesoft in 1989, the game was a fresh take on the simple game of dodgeball.

Now you might be asking yourself, “How could there possibly be a fresh take on dodgeball,” well for starters, the characters have health bars. Yep, they players have health meters and the goal of the game is to bludgeon your three opponents to death with the innocent dodgeball. The next key difference is that players don’t return to play once a ball has been caught, once their meter is empty, they are out permanently. The next key difference is the players on the side of the arena. You can choose to pass the ball off to them in order to get a cheap shot in. However, these attacks don’t do very much damage so unless your opponents are camping the back, this isn’t the recommended way to beat them.

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But what good is a game about dodgeball without some cool abilities. Well let me tell you, there are some pretty sweet, “super throws,” as I call them. One of them is just a standard throw that flies across the screen faster. But others split the ball into multiples or allow you to jump over the center line. Most of these are accomplished by getting a running start and throwing the ball right before you hit the center. If you do hit the center before hand, then your player drops the ball and turns around thus giving your opponents a nice opportunity.

The single player game is pretty simple. It is a world tour mode where you control team USA as they travel around defeating their opponents from all four corners of the earth. Honestly, this is where my only gripe about the game comes in, I would have like to try some of the other teams. Fortunately, the game only takes 30-40 minutes to complete. Now you might think this is criminally short but it stops the game from overstaying its welcome. Super Dodgeball is one of those games that is best in short bursts.

But lets be honest, the best part of the game is the multiplayer. You can choose your team and demolish your friend sitting next to you. Reliving those childhood memories of throwing a ball in their face is very good fun.

Overall, Super Dodgeball, is a fun little arcade style game. Is it extremely long or is the most detailed? No but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a blast to play for an hour or two every once in a while.

 

7/10

Theme Park (PSX Review)

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Theme park is the grandfather of all amusement park sims. It was developed by bullfrog in 1994 and is known for its robust management systems and quirky sense of humor. The game was originally released on the PC but the game that I am the most familiar with, is the first Playstation or PSX release.

Theme park begins innocently enough with a rather amusing cutscene. A family is suffering from boredom in their living room when a man who looks like Willy Wonka (The Gene Wilder version) taps on the screen and brings them to a magical land full of fun. What follows is a demonstration of some of the rides and a dog riding a rollercoaster. Next, you are transported to the name screen. I highly recommend writing the name down or making a note of it as you will need it to load/continue a game. From here, you name your park and select your difficulty settings. For the uninitiated, I highly recommend the easier settings because all of the logistics are handled for you.

So, what logistical nightmares await you if you don’t decide to take it slow? Well, you need to order supplies for your shops, handle stocks, deal with employee wage increases, manage research and development of new rides and finally, deal with staff training. This seems like a lot at first, but incrementally increasing the difficulty allows you to take on these challenges in a good fashion. For example, the easiest difficulty gives you new rides and shops every new year, but also handles ordering supplies for you. The next difficulty allows you to research rides and training at your own convenience and still takes care of ordering supplies. Finally, on the hardest difficulty, you need to manage everything. These difficulty settings can really help ease you into the game.267187-theme1

Speaking of intricacies, I haven’t even covered what all goes into building a successful park. For starters, you begin with just a basic plot of land, a park gate and some pavement. From here, you can build paths, rides, shops and terrain. When  you build a ride, a gate and a staircase are then placed. I highly recommend placing the staircase and gate in easy to see locations as the game doesn’t allow you to turn the camera, which is a huge pain. On the subject of obscured views, when you place trees or other features, they tend to cover what is behind them, so be careful not to mask everything with trees as it turns into a management nightmare.  Anyway, I digress, when you select a ride, you can view a variety of settings with which you can fiddle around with. Such as ride speed or how often the ride goes before it needs to be repaired. Over time, your rides will need to be repaired more often due to general wear and tear.

Speaking of repairs, that is where staff comes into play. As is typical for most games of this type, you can hire handymen, mechanics, security guards and entertainers. However, these staff might be some of the most useless employees of your park starting out. I literally watched a mechanic ignore a smoking ride that was right next to him. Eventually the ride exploded and killed the riders on board. I was furious by this. Fortunately, you don’t have to stand for this nonsense. You can choose to either fire the employee or to further their training through research. Be careful though as employees that have better training will want salary increases. If you don’t agree to their demands, they will go on strike and then you will really be in trouble as rides fall apart and garbage heaps pile up everywhere. Not to mention the park goers will vandalize your park until all of your signs are bent in half, it is not a pretty sight.

But enough doom and gloom, lets get on to the most important part of any amusement park. The rides! The selection was rather impressive for its time. These can range from bouncy castles, to haunted houses, to flight simulators to everyone’s favorite, the roller coaster. Though you only start with just a few rides research and development will turn up dozens more. Each of these rides has several factors that must be noted. These are excitement, reliability, cost (of course) and version. Excitement is exactly what it says, how enticing it is to the customers, will it leave them with big smiles or big frowns? Reliability is probably the most important part because the lower the reliability, the more often it will break down. Example, the, “Snakes and Ladders,” slide breaks down constantly, it almost doesn’t seem worth it. Fortunately, the lower the excitement/reliability, the lower the price. Finally, we have the version. This tells you how much the ride has been upgraded, naturally, the higher the number, the better it will perform. Where version 0 will break down a lot, version 2 will break down much less. Again, this is all done through research and development.

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Finally, what good is a theme park without large amounts of overpriced food and game stalls? Again, Theme Park has a massive amount of options here ranging from coffee shops to the steak house to the balloon shop where balloons can cost 20 dollars. Yes, it isn’t very realistic on prices, but if the customers are willing to buy them, then so be it. Honestly, my favorite part of the restaurants is the design of them. Seriously, they are extremely creative and detailed. My personal favorite has to be the giant hamburger, bet you can’t guess what they sell there.

 

Now that we have gotten all the management stuff out of the way, there are still another couple of things that I want to comment on. For starters, the game has a really quirky sense of humor. The ride, shop, facilities and staff descriptions can be hilarious and even a little disgusting. For example, here is the description for the plane flyer ride, “The Plane Flyer is an inexpensive ride for the nuclear family. Not too wild, why just last week, my granny went for a spin.” Another (more lowbrow) example is for the outhouse, “This toilet smells, leaks and is ecologically unsound.” Honestly, the first time I read those, I laughed out loud.

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The next thing I need to comment on is the in game cutscenes. These are fantastic and allow you to ride several of the rides within the park. It is a neat feature that doesn’t need to be in the game, but it is there. Unfortunately, on my version of the game, some of the cutscenes cause the game to crash. No the disk isn’t scratched, I checked. It might be a compatibility issue with the PS2.

 

Lastly, and I think this is something exclusive to the ps1 version but I am not sure, you can go to a street level view and see your park in all it’s 3d glory. Honestly, it looks awful and the draw distance is pretty weak. While it may be an issue with the hardware at the time, or the developers not caring, it is a pretty neat little concept. Now If only there was a way to walk around instead of just spinning the camera.

 

All in all, Theme Park is a game that deserves some attention. It has some great humor, fairly deep mechanics and has a fun cartoony look that ties it all together perfectly. The only real downsides that I have seen is that it can be difficult to learn at first and that once you find a formula, the game becomes extremely repetitive. But for one of the first games of its kind, it is hard to fault it.

 

7.8/10

 

Settlers of Catan (Board Game Review)

I recently got my hands on what might be one of the most addicting games of all time….A board game known as the Settlers of Catan. Created by Klaus Teuber in 1995, Catan has grown to become one of the most successful board games of all time. Something, not even Teuber could have predicted. While an immediate success in Germany, Catan didn’t reach popularity in the states until the early 2000’s. Since then, it has become a classic amongst US gamers and is now being sold in 30 different languages.

So, some of you may be asking yourself, “What exactly is Settlers of Catan?” For starters, the game takes place on a newly discovered an island that is rich with resources. The goal of the game is to harvest and trade resources with the other players and to build the biggest civilization. These resources include, lumber from trees, brick from clay, wool from sheep, wheat from a wheat field and finally, ore from a mine. Each of these resources  are incredibly important at different times in the game. For example, you will find yourself spending more wood and brick early on while ore will become king during the late game. Though it may seem like certain resources will wear out their welcome, they don’t as trade is possible. For example, if you have access to lots of brick, you could trade it with the other players for different resources. However, should you find your friends or family unreasonable, or don’t want them to have a certain resource, you can always trade 4 resources for 1 of any other with the bank. But that isn’t all, building a settlement (or city) on a port will allow for better rates through traders. For example, some traders offer 3:1 on any resource or 2:1 where the 2 has to be a certain resource such as sheep.

Speaking of resources, how does a player acquire these resources? Well, it is simple, when the game starts, players will take turns placing settlements and roads on the map. Once two settlements and two roads are placed by each player, resources are dolled out based on the tiles that the settlements are placed on. From here, every player takes a turn rolling two 6-sided dice. Now, say an 8 is rolled, every resource tile that has an 8 on it, produces resources for anyone that has settlements or cities on it. Now it may be tricky at first to know where to place but the game helps by giving a percentage chart for every potential roll of the dice. Naturally, 2 and 12 are the least common with 6 and 8 being the most.

Now that leaves us with 7, the number that is statistically rolled the most on a pair of 6 sided dice. Once a player throws a 7, then its time for the robber to come into play. Firstly, all players who have 8 or more cards in their hand must immediately discard half of them, rounding down. From there, the robber may be moved to a tile on the board or stay put in the desert. If placed on a space, you randomly steal a card from a player as well as deny resources to anyone on the tile. But that isn’t the only way to play a robber.

Development cards, can be purchased by spending a single ore, wheat and sheep. There are several forms of cards, some allow you to build roads, gain victory points or even steal resources from everyone. These are less common however than the almighty knight card. Playing a knight card allows you to move a robber on any of your turns. I find it is always a good idea to have at least one in your hand at all times. Not to mention, playing a knight card brings out the worst in all your friends as they try and throw each other under the bus to keep you from robbing them.

And that is what truly makes the game great, like monopoly, people play sides. They will sweet talk you if they have what you want, or shun you forever if you place the robber on them. Its these turns of characters and fairly deep strategy that really makes Catan shine. For example, a friend of mine declared war early on by playing a robber on one of my best tiles. We went back and forth, robbing each other and avoiding making any trade with each other. However, the second another player got ahead in score, our attentions shifted and suddenly, we had a new target.

All in all, the Settlers of Catan is a masterpiece of gaming and has been called the game of our generation. While the jury may still be out on that, there is no doubt that this game is a blast. Go buy it!!

Planescape Torment

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Planescape: Torment is a game that couldn’t have come to my attention at a better time. The game that I played through prior was Skyrim and as I was going through it, I realized something. The world of Skyrim is so uninteresting, all the quests felt generic and the story is something I have seen a million times before. Now, I am not saying Skyrim is a bad game, the combat was engaging, the spells were fun to tool around with and the graphics were beautiful. Not to mention, It was filled with secrets and treasures that were a blast to find/collect. But after putting some time into it, I found myself craving a good story, something that I hadn’t seen before. Thankfully, Torment fulfilled that longing.

You play as the Nameless One, an immortal who has lived hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. While immortality may seem like a gift, in this mans case, it is a horrible curse that has taken his tole on him through the years. His body is scarred and maimed beyond recognition and he has lost all the memories of his past life. Thankfully, your character comes with instructions tattooed on his back. These can be read by your first companion, Morte. Now Morte is a bit of an oddity as far as game characters are concerned, he is a wise cracking skull that floats along with your character. After a lengthy introduction and some instructions, you are thrust headlong into a struggle to regain your mortality.

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Though, it may seem like combat is a primary focus of the game, it isn’t. Almost every encounter throughout the vast majority of the game is done through an incredibly dynamic dialogue system. In most games, you get only a few options of dialogue, in Torment, 10-15 options is pretty common. Not only that, but many of the options, if done right, can give large amounts of experience that can be used to further your characters skills. Another interesting aspect of the dialogue is that almost every person you meet in the world, has a story. From your average guardsman trying to find love to a wizard trying to steal a job from another to a giant metal construct who builds weapons in the hope that they will be used to destroy all living things. The world feels alive and is incredibly intriguing. Though  I have to admit, hearing everyone’s life story can be a bit tedious at times and not everyone is that interesting, but isn’t that the way life works?

A fairly typical dialogue tree

A fairly typical dialogue tree

Which brings us to one of the games weaker aspects, combat.  It is all run on the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 game system, but instead of physically rolling dice, the game does it for you. While the thought of AD&D brings up a very deep and engaging system to mind, Planescape: Torment takes a different approach, there are limited weapons and the only character you can truly customize is your own. So your teammates will only level a very specific way. But it isn’t all bad, the spell effects in the game are breath taking and are some of the coolest I have ever seen in a  game. One of my personal favorites causes a lightning storm to hit all the enemies in an area.

As is common in games of this era, the areas are static backdrops that are teaming with detail. The only thing that moves are the characters within the world. I personally like this style because it really allows the games art to shine through. None of the buildings look alike and each area is unique in it’s own way. For example, the city of Sigil is fairly typical looking whereas Curst, another city, looks entirely different and is much, much less inviting.

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This brings us to my favorite aspect of Planescape Torment, the fact that it really messes with your perceptions. One example that I always bring up is the Brothel of Slating Intellectual Lusts. When I first came across it, I was expecting a typical brothel. No, this one is meant for the mind. People come in and hire one of the workers to talk to them in a variety of ways. Some are more kind and gentle, some are verbally abusive and others are there to debate with. I never thought I would see something like that in a video game. And this is just one of hundreds of examples from city blocks that are alive to kind hearted demons.

The final element that I need to discuss is immortality. Death in Torment has absolutely no negatives, unless it is your companions. If the Nameless One dies, he just respawns in a different area with full health. Your enemies on the other hand, don’t. While this may seem like cheating it…well…it actually is. Being able to cheat death makes you feel incredibly empowered and is sometimes even necessary to complete the game.  But don’t let that fool you, there are still some areas that are quite difficult to navigate due to the massive amount of enemies.

I honestly could write an entire novel about how much I love Planescape Torment, it has a staggering amount of detail and some of the most fascinating dialogue of any game I have ever played. The only downside is the simplistic combat and general lack of it for the first half of the game. Thankfully, the world is so interesting that you won’t notice it’s absence. I highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a good story

9.5/10

Atari Flashback 4 (System Review)

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The Atari 2600 is a one of the most influential systems of all time. While it may not be the first cartridge based system out there, it was the first to popularize the concept. Atari was at the top of their game in the late 70’s and into the early 80’s. The games were simple and mostly focused on getting a high score. Despite the simplicity, the games have a charm to them and are a blast to play. The 2600 has since sold over ten million units and is one of the most successful consoles in history. Despite this, Atari eventually went out of business and has gone overlooked by younger generations.

Fortunately, the Atari legacy still lives and fans continue to create games for the system to this day. These games range from Atari versions of Halo and Duke Nukem to independent games as well. But not only that, there have been emulators and emulator consoles. The Atari Flashback 4 is one of them. The console is small, and comes with buttons (instead of switches) and wireless controllers. The Atari paddle controllers are also available for order, or in the deluxe box of the system as well. Built into the system are 76 games that vary in terms of quality. There are some winners and some losers but, in general, there is a pretty good selection of them.

Yes this exists, no it isn't on the flashback 4. I just wanted to post it

Yes this exists, no it isn’t on the flashback 4. I just wanted to post it

I hope to do a review of some of the games in the future but I can already say that the standouts are Adventure, Asteroids, Haunted House, Jungle Hunt, Missile Command, Star Ship and Yar’s Revenge. These particular games control extremely well and are highly addictive. Despite this,games such as breakout and pong don’t play well with the regular controller, so the paddle becomes a necessity. On the flip side, the paddles are reasonable to purchase and you can use an actual Atari controller, paddle or even a Sega genesis controller with the console as well. Which brings me to my next minor complaint, the wireless controllers need to line up pretty well with the receiver which can be frustrating while playing with friends in a small space. On the other  hand however, you don’t have to deal with annoying wires and player 1 gets the reset and start buttons on his/her controller, which is a genius addition.

Jungle Hunt

Jungle Hunt

Speaking of great ideas, the makers of the Flashback 4 replaced the strange coaxial connector of the original Atari with a RCA cable meaning that you can connect it to modern televisions without the use of an RF adapter. They also have a very small AC adapter that looks similar to that of a cell phone charger which means that storage is quite simple.

Overall, the Atari Flashback 4 is a pretty neat little console. For 50 bucks you get 76 games, 2 wireless controllers and plenty of Atari fun. While I do plan to get an actual 2600, the Flashback 4 is a great little introduction to the Atari 2600 and is a reminder that even though a console can be primitive, there is still a ton of fun to be had. I do have one final complaint to make though, and this is something you need to know going in, there are no game manuals included. While this isn’t an issue for the majority of the games, it can be a bit annoying for games such as Earthworld, Fireworld and a couple of others, they need the manuals.

While it may seem like I did a lot of complaining about the system in my review, I believe that the Flashback 4 is a fantastic entry into the Atari world for any would be investor. For a fairly low cost, you get access to 76 games, a poster and two wireless controllers. I have spent hours messing around with the games, trying new modes and challenging myself with some of the more difficult games. This console is a blast!

7/10