Mega Man Powered Up

With this being the final day of PSP Month, I thought that it would be appropriate to close it out with the game that started it all. Mega Man Powered Up is the reason why I bought a PSP all those years ago. As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I didn’t care about the PSP, as I had been told so many times that it sucked, and that I should stick with the Nintendo DS if I was absolutely hard up for handheld gaming.

I don’t remember where exactly I had read about this game. It was another one of those nights where I was up all night on the internet, trying to find something after a hard day’s work. What that something was, I didn’t and still don’t know. Probably the same thing I’m looking for now. Existentialism and loneliness aside, I found some review or blog post about this game, and it caught my attention immediately. First of all, I fucking love Mega Man, something that I’m sure is obvious by now. Second, this is a remake of the first game, a game that after ten sequels and numerous spin-offs, is still really good. Not only is this a remake, but it’s a remake where you can play as the bosses? A remake that includes a level editor that lets you upload and download those levels? Sign me the fuck up!

Whichever team was in charge of doing this remake knew what they were doing. They knew what they were doing with the art style, if nothing else. The thing about Mega Man is that Mega Man is adorable. It’s a series about cute robots blowing each other up with guns, yes, but doing it in a cute way. They could have easily taken the taller, leaner Mega Man 8 Mega Man and slapped some polygons to him, like Mega Man 11 did to mixed results. No, they knew that the best Mega Man is the short little boy in his ridiculous blue get-up very obviously influenced by Astro Boy, and we got a cute 3D representation of that. Mega Man Powered Up is a cute game about cute robots jumping around and being cute. Everything, from the little Blue Guy, to all of the Robot Masters, to the standard enemies, right down to the platforms you jump on and off of, has that wonderful candy-coated sweetness to it that more games need.

The actual game itself is exactly what it’s advertised as; it is a remake of Mega Man 1, but with some more stuff. The levels have been redesigned to be less annoying (shout out to Guts Man), there are two new bosses to fight, returning bosses have new patterns and attacks, all types of cool stuff. You can also choose to play the original levels, though those also use the new graphics, and thankfully removed that weird inertia the Mega Man had whenever he stopped running. Those are nice to have, but the new designs are so good, that it wouldn’t be such a big loss if the old levels weren’t included; not like there aren’t several different avenues to play the original game.

Being able to play a version of Mega Man on the go that isn’t compromised in any way with several quality of life changes is enough of novelty to justify buying a PSP for it. The addition of all the extra characters; all the bosses, with their unique weapons and abilities, as well as Roll and Protoman, who themselves are unique on their own, that’s also awesome. If you’re reading this, then there’s a pretty good chance that you know what Mega Man is. Either you love him, or his games are too hard for you. This is a Mega Man game, and it’s a really fucking good one. The only real shame here is that Capcom didn’t give any of the other games this treatment. Go long enough to at least give us Mega Man 2: Even More Powered Up. But whatever, at least we got this one, which gives me another excuse to listen to another redone version of Elec Man’s theme, one of my favorite pieces of Mega Man music, mostly because it is blatantly ripped off of Journey’s “Faithfully.”

 

Now, before I get into the real meat of this game, I have to bring up the one big issue that it has. Something that any other company would have looked at, said “holy SHIT!” and immediately scrapped and pretended they never saw.

Oil Man.

One of the new bosses added to this game is Oil Man. I don’t think I have to point out what exactly is wrong with his design; it’s pretty fucking obvious. But maybe this was an accident? It’s not like his look had to be altered in the US release or any-

OH MY FUCKING GOD

Yeah…yeah…this game, this great, awesome, cute game also has a character that looks like a horrible racial stereotype, complete with doing a little dance at the beginning of his fight. As much as I’d like to charitably describe this as an accident, this is Capcom, the same company that thought releasing Resident Evil 5 was a good idea, and has had several artists come out as extremely anti-Black in recent years. So who the fuck knows? It is very unfortunate, and I thought it was worth bringing up when I’m otherwise blasting metaphorical rope over this game.

Shitty racial imagery aside, the real meat of MMPU is the level editor. A good level editor, at that. The levels that I made in it all those years ago are terrible garbage, but working on them made those soul-draining shifts at my job all the more bearable. It’s simple enough for a complete idiot to use (see example: me), and is as much fun to make your own stages as playing the actual game, if not moreso. Put down some platforms, place some enemies on them, make it so that you only have access to Cutman’s weapon, whatever. Since the only limit to the number of stages you can have is the amount of space on your Memory Stick, you could conceivably make the equivalent of your own fan-game. Granted, you are still limited to the MM1 weapons and characters, but you can still make it work.

Unfortunately, due to Wi-Fi adapters changing how they connect to the internet, I cannot get my PSP online anymore. However, last time I checked, not only are the servers for MMPU still online, people are still uploading stages! As recently as 2019, people were still making their own creations in Mega Man’s level editor. That’s awesome, and shows that there’s still a tremendous community hard at work. Yes, there is that fan-made Mega Maker, which is fantastic by the way, but there is still something to be said about MMPU’s staying power.

Maybe I’m alone in this line of thinking, but I consider handheld games to be more of an intimate experience than ones on console, or even most PC games. Probably because you have to physically hold the entire system, and play the game on a screen too small for other eyes to see, but it does feel like more of a personal experience. With this, you get reminded that there’s nobody to impress here. You play through the game for you. You make the levels for you. You can make all the levels you want, you don’t have to upload them. There’s no quality control on your Memory Stick, fill it up with trash that’s only fun to you. Ultimately, I think that’s the lasting appeal of not only Mega Man, but of the PSP itself. Simply you, and a tiny, glowing screen, having a personal experience. In my weird opinion, I think this is why RPG’s and Visual Novels and Wizardry-likes ended up working so well on the system. Going through a chapter on the bus, grinding out a few dungeon floors during a lunch break, putting a level together in bed before going to sleep. There’s this intangible warm and fuzzy feeling I get from handheld games. Mega Man is just as important to this as any of those.

Mega Man Powered Up is, one very specific character aside, a game that I can’t gush about enough. Going through this game, and all these other games, I’m glad that I made the spur of the moment decision to cover the PSP for the whole month. It’s a hell of a system. Before I wrap up this post and this month, I think I’ll take a moment to list some other lesser known, good ass games I did not get around to writing about; maybe next year:

  • Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory and Rengoku 2: The Stairway to Heaven
  • Ys: The Oath in Felghana
  • Space Invaders Extreme
  • Every Extend Extra
  • Brandish: The Dark Revenant
  • I Am An Air Traffic Controller- Tokyo Airport Hero
  • Thexder Neo
  • Konami’s other STG compilations (Parodius, Salamander, and Twinbee)

there’s some cool stuff on the archive, psp edition

It’s that time of the month again (that time of the month being “whenever I feel like it”) where I crack open every transphobes least favorite den of piracy, the Internet Archive. Since I decided to dedicate an entire month to a handheld system, I have been looking for anything cool related to it here.

Problem: there really isn’t anything super cool, I’m sad to say. Mostly rehosted reviews from YouTube, some old clips from The US Army Presents: G4 TV, and some magazine scans. Unfortunately, it’s no longer the 90s, and games media began its descent into the boring “we’re too cool for games” atmosphere we know today. I’ll try and make this entertaining, which is more than I can say for these original sources.

Jessica Chobot Licking a PSP…again

Might as well start by ripping this fucking band aid off. I’m sure you all remember Jessica Chobot from that time she licked a PSP back in the mid-2000s, something that got a lot of nerds worked up, either because “why is there a girl doing stuff to my video games?” or “whoa, check out the hot chick licking the gaming system. It’s like she’s licking my fuckin’ dick, bro!” Well, she’s here to do again. Hachi machi, I guess.

A couple of things: why does a tech review show need a laugh track? Yes, I know, it’s not literally a machine that plays a laughing effect; it’s the production crew making noise, pretending to be interested in what’s happening on-screen. It’s still stupid. Whatever, this is one of those shows that The US Army Presents: G4 TV put together to try and distance themselves from when they were still TechTV. You know, getting hosts who could not give a fuck less about the subject of the show, calling things “gadgets,” trying to give the show this “night life” edge to make it look cool, that sort of thing. There’s a reason why The US Army Presents: G4 TV is now the “Paramount” Network, and is home to endless reruns of Bar Rescue.

Oh right, a girl licked a PSP in a provocative way. I told you that there was not a whole lot of shit for me to find.

 

Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII Strategy Guide

Yes, someone out there thought that an extremely short, linear game that seemingly only exists as a form of mockery for anyone who cares/cared about Final Fantasy VII absolutely needed a strategy guide. For the record, Crisis Core might very well be the worst game on the fucking system; a needless, insulting prequel to the greatest game of all time that felt less like a love letter, and more like a bomb threat. It’s also a game that takes great pains to explain every last aspect of it to you. There’s an in-game tutorial that you can access whenever. But whatever, Brady Games is getting their asses kicked by the growing presence of GameFAQs, and Final Fantasy is popular, so maybe a couple of marks will buy this?

pictured: enemy variety

man, i hope i don’t get lost in this labyrinth!

I looked through this whole thing, with a lot of useless information that you could find either in-game or by using common sense. What is missing, however, are two tips that players could actually use:

  • You can avoid most of this game’s terrible combat by hugging the walls when traveling down the same boring corridor.
  • In Banora cave, you can find Emerald Weapon hiding out behind a wall of ice.

There’s not really a whole lot else to say; I mostly wanted to take the opportunity to say that Crisis Core sucks, and I really fucking hope that none of what was in this game shows up in the next episodes of the FF7 remake.

 

PSP: The Official Guide Book

Now, I thought this would be yet another strategy guide. No, this a whole multi-issue publication dedicated to the PSP, only with a misleading name. Unfortunately, this is a UK-based publication, with all the bull shit that entails. So, let’s take a virtual trip to TERF Island and see what they think about video games, I guess.

Not that anyone really needs it, but if you were ever looking for documented proof that the British are brain-wormed idiots, it would be right here, with this middling review of Mega Man Powered Up. Forget for a moment that MMPU is like, probably the best game on the PSP by a fucking mile, the actual writing here sucks as bad as this terrible opinion. Believe it or not, a remake of the first Mega Man game might actually, in fact, play like the other Mega Man games that followed it. What an amazing deduction. These people have college degrees.

I went ahead and looked at the previous month’s issue, as I had a feeling about something. Sure enough, that issue had a preview of MMPU.

Oh okay, I was right, and this was like every other shitty magazine of the time. You know the kind: previews glowing with praise, getting all excited about the game coming out, then a month later, the review is written and ends with some bull shit like, “play this if you’re the kind of person who’s not allowed within 500 feet of a school, jerk!”

How about a double-page spread on GUN? Remember GUN? Everybody loved GUN, right?

No! Nobody loved GUN! Fuck GUN! I played that shit, and it was terrible, trend-chasing garbage that was rightfully forgotten almost immediately. It wanted to be a free-roaming GTA knock-off, but it also wanted to be a linear shooter in the vein of Max Payne, but it also wanted the element of strategy from playing multiple sides against each other, but it also wanted to be this and that. Ultimately, it was a boring, overhyped shooter where the “GTA” elements were nothing more than letting you shoot random civilians, which would cause the PS2 to freeze. Anyways, here’s a whole bunch of hype about its undoubtedly also terrible PSP game. Fuck you, Mega Man, Colton White is here to lead gaming into a new generation.

 

Now, it’s pretty obvious that I’m being extremely negative, and coming across like I’m in a bad mood. This is because I am! I wanted to find some cool shit about this cool little handheld, and instead I am being given a reminder of the exact moment games changed, and not for the better.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if there weren’t really good games coming out during this time; I literally just insulted an entire country in defense of Mega Man, but rather, this is when the industry began to change. Or at least, become less subtle. The beginning of that transition into the monster we know as “AAA” today. The time period when games media became so utterly cynical. I’ve talked about the older magazines, and that were terrible, by and large. But at least they were staffed by people who actually liked the fucking things! Not like the mid-2000s, or even now for that matter, where it’s mostly coiffed douchebag Firstname Lastnames hoping they can eventually work their way to reviewing Playboy: The Mansion for Maxim Magazine. Gone are the days of publications at least willing to give half a page to something that didn’t have massive advertising budget to it. These are the days of Assassin’s Creed being cynically shoved in your face, while awesome shit like Rengoku 2: Stairway To H.E.A.V.E.N is going to be left in the dirt. Not that games press didn’t have issues with giving a little too much attention to total shit back in the day (see examples: GameFan giving the cover to fucking Skeleton Warriors, and the whole mess every other publication had with Rise of the Robots). Games as a business has changed, and changed for the worse.

I understand that this post may come across as “old man yells at cloud,” but I’m not a person who is completely averse to change. As an example: I’m a big wrestling fan, and wrestling has absolutely changed from when I was a kid, but it changed for the better; I’ll watch the worst AEW show over the best Hulkamania-era WWF show any day of the week. Gaming does not have an AEW, where the business is run by people actively involved in that business, as opposed to out of touch suits embarrassed to be there. Suits changed gaming. Everything has to be so fucking slick and “cool” and you have to acquire things in a certain way; Top 10 Games Least Likely To Result In You Being Turned Down For Sex By A Woman I Made Up In My Head. Something that is really hurting today’s press, aside from all the rampant abuse and bigotry, is that they all want to be like the Big Boys. You should never want to be like the Big Boys. You have to be an alternative. What can you bring to the table that I couldn’t get at IGN? It sure as hell isn’t boring writing and doing what you can to sweep Activision-Blizzard’s heinous actions under the rug!

Potentially controversial take here, but I think that we, as critics, need to go back to 30 years ago. Not literally 1:1, but I mean in terms of having a personality, having a staff that doesn’t think they’re too cool for Halo because they’re worried that they might accidentally go into multiplayer and wind up on a team with a poor person, having a unique look, maybe hire someone that isn’t yet another white dude with a terrible beard, having something that can keep me reading, even if I don’t agree with every opinion presented. This post was a stark reminder that we don’t have this, and that’s frustrating, because games are cool, enthusiast press is cool. Liking things is cool! I hate being negative on my web site, believe it or not! I would much rather talk about things I like than things I don’t. But I have to be negative here, because this all sucks. I would like to see some change.

Elminage Original

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big mark for Wizardry, and games very similar to Wizardry. The concept of creating a cast of characters, then sending them into this dark, cold endurance test of fighting monsters and navigating traps is a winning one. Even when the world has come to an end, and we’re all fighting over basic necessities via motorsport deathmatches, driving around in really sick Rat Fink style hot rods, I’ll still be ending my days hunched over a computer, navigating a fictional dungeon. At least until I’m bludgeoned to death by some leather fetishist when he finds out that I have the last Snickers bar in North America.

Dungeon Crawlers are addicting. For me, anyway. I would imagine that the hours I pour into these games is similar to those with an addiction to MMOs, only I don’t have the excuse of being in a social environment, sticking with the solo, lonely nature of looking at numbers and taking notes. But let’s not psychoanalyze my mindset based only on my taste in games

Elminage Original is one of these attention-grabbing Dungeon Crawlers. Elminage as a series is something that “gets” the magic of Wizardry far better than a lot of similar games. This makes sense, given that the developers, Starfish, actually made a bunch of post Sir-Tech Wizardry games, most notably Wizardry Empire on the Game Boy Color. Unfortunately, this is only one of the two Elminage titles that left Japan; Elminage Gothic being the other one.

EO is very much in line with Wizardry 1 through 3: make characters, go into dungeons, fight monsters, find magical artifacts, repeat. And like the old-school games it’s influenced by, it does all of this with very little story behind it. You finish the first floor, go back to the king, he tells you to go find some magic rings, and then suddenly the world is now open to you. The world, of course, being more dungeons. Regular dungeons. Forest dungeons. Underwater dungeons. Each of these dungeons with multiple floors. Multiple floors made up of maze-like corridors and traps. Lots of cold, dangerous hell holes full of cool-looking monsters hell-bent on killing the blank slates you’ve created. This may sound repetitive, and it probably is if you’re like, normal or something. But if you’re like me, a complete freak, this kind of shit is right up your alley.

hachi machi

Yes, crawling through dungeons is awesome, and I love doing it. But what makes this, and really, what makes a lot of dungeon crawlers so appealing to me is the fact that this is a genre that encourages you to make your experience your own. You are given a barebones template, and told to fill in the blanks. True Role Playing. You make your characters, but it doesn’t have to stop at a name and some attribute settings. Elminage gives you a start and an end, and allows you to mentally draw the line linking them. Why is your knight risking his life? Is your evil-alignment thief only in it for the money? Why is there a maid on your team (yes, one of the selectable classes is “Maid.” That’s awesome.), and who, if anyone, does she serve? What made your magician want to start learning alchemy? Later Elminage games gave you a spot to write out entire character bios if you so chose. Your imagination is as integral to the game as much as Starfish’s design is. Even the graphics presented in-game don’t actually animate; they are merely still sprite images. Two features that are included, that I intentionally did not use, are the ability to import your own images for character portraits, as well as import your own music to replace the game’s soundtrack. I chose not to use custom faces, opting to use their respective class icons, because I wanted to illustrate to you, the reader, how important it is to imagine things. Yes, I am certainly more than capable of making my own art assets, but isn’t it better if I tell you about my Werebeast who fights with her bare hands? Isn’t it better for you to hear about a Fairy Maid and a middle-aged Hobbit Ninja-in-Training, than to see it? Let you build up your own image and idea of my adventures, the way I did for others when I would read about their playthroughs of Wizardry way back when. I feel like this is something that’s been missing from games for a very, very long time, and I would love to see a return to it.

Elminage Original has its issues: difficulty can be uneven, causing you to go from a pushover battle with some slimes and rats, to getting murdered by three rows of magicians hitting you with status effects and lightning. The localization is a bit fucked in parts, such as the original unpatched release mislabeling four different races, which made character creation a pain, and what text is left can be weird. Dwon stairs, for example.

mods, please change my title to “the wiped-out adventure person”

Oh, and the wall textures for forested areas look like absolute shit.

Other than that, Elminage is fantastic. It would get better sequels, but if you want to sit down with your PSP and enjoy a classic-style RPG with an even more classic 20×20 map layout that demands you to get good immediately, and you can’t read Japanese, this is where it’s at. Load up Elminage Original, and make that experience your own. Tell your own story.

Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy

When I began PSP month, I made mention of how this little system had kept me sane during a particularly bad time in California. Santa Clarita, to be specific. This would been back in 2012, and I was visiting some relatives, shortly before they succumbed to the ravages of age. This was not a vacation, obviously, and a number of other things had happened that I will spare you the details of drove a permanent wedge between myself and the rest of what little family I had left. It was stressful, it was a nightmare at times, and worst of all, it was boring.

If you’ve never been to Santa Clarita, there is fucking nothing to do there. At least nothing to do outside of developing a tolerance for needle drugs. And if you are from/currently live there, I am so fucking sorry that your city sucks. The highlights of my trip were being taken an hour out to Ventura Pier, where I then proceeded to freeze my ass off in the ridiculously high speed winds there that day, and then going back to Santa Clarita, to a Taco Bell with only two people on staff during lunch hour, and the burritos I ordered had somehow become two soft tacos that had nothing but lettuce in them. The phone reception was terrible, so I couldn’t exactly use the internet; back when I was still rocking the Blackberry. Really, the only two things I could do was either wait until the evening for the Lakers games to come on, or play my PSP.

I only had the time and the packing room to bring a few games with me. One of those games was the one that this post is about: Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy. I had just purchased a copy of the game a day before my flight, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to play before then, so this was a must to bring. On retrospect, I’m not entirely sure why I got the game. I had spent a lot of time, probably too much, on the first Dissidia, and didn’t care much for it. Dissidia 1 was something I got because I needed something new to play on my break at work (this was back when modding a PSP was an extremely complicated process of needing a certain model system, specific games, and having to do shit with the battery. Not like the very idiot proof “put some shit on a memory stick and press X” that I would use later on.), and because the concept of a Final Fantasy fighting game is a good one. While I did not like Dissidia, I still got the sequel, because it had more characters; literally the “she has a new hat” justification for me buying something.

Something that needs to be made clear: like the first game, Dissidia 012 is fucking terrible. A truly wretched, unplayable, bewildering experience. This is not something you play because you want to have a good time. This is something you play because you are a dumb, horny idiot that wants to look at Kuja’s package while listening to a nice remix of FF6’s “The Decisive Battle.”

hachi machi

No, I was not enjoying myself in any traditional sense during my time in Santa Clarita and Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy. No internet. No good TV. Not a whole lot of privacy. Nothing to do in a go-nowhere place with no transportation. I spent nearly a month hunched over this little silver gadget, ogling femboys with launch-era PS2 amounts of polygons, trying to solve the bizarre moon logic that the game itself runs on. This was my entertainment.

Actually trying to figure out how this game works is a struggle all its own. It’s like a designer passed out while watching Advent Children, had a fucked up dream, then made a game about it. Final Fantasy characters floating around, trying to land slow moving attacks that have zero impact, until one of them finally hits the other. You have to do Bravery Attacks, which are slow and do no damage, in order to do some actual damage with your HP Attacks, which are even slower. Every fight is two of your favorite Final Fantasy characters hitting the air, and if the other character gets in the way of that air, it’s their own fault.

pictured: a typical dissidia match

The thing about Dissidia is that, unlike literally every other fighting game ever made, you have to unlock your move set via leveling up. Moves, and also basic innate abilities. It’s like having to earn a Hadouken in Street Fighter, or the double jump in Guilty Gear. It sucks. Dissidia gives you a lot of numbers and meters and systems and all types of shit to complicate the concept of a 1-on-1 fighting game, but then you stop and wonder about all the stuff that’s missing. Combos? Normals? Spacing? Nothing.

There’s a story mode, too. A story mode that I have never finished. I can only take a bunch of people standing around with phoned-in voice lines talking about bull shit that doesn’t make any sense for so long. I was starved for entertainment during my time in California, but even I had my limits.

Dissidia sucks. Full stop. It looks great, and sounds great, but then there’s nothing else beyond that. In any other circumstance, I would tell you to stay far away from it. But having played it in the situation that I did, I can’t. Dissidia is this weird fever dream of game that doesn’t make any sense, plays like shit, where the appeal ends after staring at Kuja’s junk for a week, and yet, it’s worth playing. The PSP was home to some great games. It was also home to a lot of bizarre stuff you couldn’t really find anywhere else. Dissidia is this fascinating thing that no AAA company would ever release today; the third game on PS4 was much more reigned in. It’s full of bad, half-baked ideas that don’t come together, the actual fighting part feels terrible to play, and often times seems like every negative stereotype of 2000-2010s Japanese games in one package, and I love it. 10/10.

The last two days of my stay, I went to a mall and got myself a copy of Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Much better game. So long and good riddance, Santa Clarita.

Gradius Portable Collection

There’s a lot to be said about Konami in 2021. A lot of bad things to be said. Their shitty, abusive work environment. The complete shitcanning of Kojima Productions. Turning the beloved Pro Evolution Soccer series into a cynical gambling den. Turning the beloved everything else they’ve ever made into a cynical gambling den. Strong-arming the Japanese insurance industry. It’s clear that Konami is and was run by evil clowns, and that the amazing games they published were made in spite of them, rather than because of them.

Among these games were a large host of shooters. A whole bunch of all-timers that, even in the era of Touhou and Danmaku, are as amazing today as they were in the 80s and 90s. It’s the 2000s, the PSP is doing well in your home country, and nostalgia is always a good way to make a buck. You run to M2, the undisputed kings of porting retro games, and throw a bunch of money at them to make your shit look good again. Specifically, Gradius. Yes, there were also collections made for Parodius, Twinbee, and Salamander, but I’m focusing on Konami’s flagship STG today. I love to fly around in the Vic Viper.

Anyways. This compilation has five games: Gradius, Gradius 2, Gradius 3, Gradius 4, and Gradius Gaiden. Now, these are not straight ports of the games. Rather, these are all reprogrammed versions of the arcade originals, now given support for the PSP’s widescreen resolution, and not the roughly 4:3 that they originally had. You now also have the option of giving your ship a smaller hit box, which in some ways feels extremely perverse, but is still welcome. Despite the improvements of being able to see more of the screen and being harder to hit, these games are still really hard and demanding, which I love. Gradius is still a series about pattern recognition and being able to react accordingly.

 

Gradius 1

Admittedly, a major reason why I wanted to cover these games is because I very recently 1cc’d the original Gradius, 100% indisputable this time; last time I did it, I was on Vicodin after a dentists’ appointment, and therefore was in no position to confirm that I actually did it.

and once again, i 1cc’d after fucking up a couple times, and finishing the last level without all the cool power-ups.

Gradius still rules. It’s as good in 2021 as it was in 1985. It is a game about flying through a dangerous warzone where everything is trying its damnedest to kill you (and they most definitely will your first time around). It’s about pattern recognition; knowing when and where the enemy will strike. It’s about having the right weapon for the job (I will firmly place myself in the camp of “the Double Shot isn’t actually a terrible weapon, jerks!”). You have to learn all of this pretty quick, as dying will absolutely fuck you. Losing a life causes you to lose all your power-ups, and can leave you way too slow and under-powered to handle whatever lies ahead. Now, it is possible to finish the game like this, as I’ve done, but it’s not ideal, it is however, really cool to finish the game with only a pea shooter and maybe one speed up.

no really, this gets hard pretty quickly

Now, because this is based on the original arcade release, this collection does not include the extra level added in the PC-Engine port of Gradius. That sucks, as I actually really liked that level. This is an extremely minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things, though. I mean, this collection is worth it for this one enhanced version of the original Gradius alone.

 

Gradius 2

Gradius 2? It also still rules. It takes everything about the first game, and makes it bigger, badder, and also a bit harder. Now you get multiple weapon loadouts to use, all of which are viable and versatile for an entire run. I still tend to use the original loadout, as I am an old boomer fuddy-duddy, but I do have a soft spot for the Photon Torpedo-Ripple Laser combo.

On an audio/visual level alone, Gradius 2 might actually be the best in the entire series. It starts off with you flying around a series of burning planets, shooting at giant fire dragons, all set to this killer song, “Burning Heat.” It’s a hell of a memorable way to open your video game.

When I said the game was a bit harder, I meant it. The first game got tough on stage 3. This one gets tough on stage 2, arguably the first boss, even. It’s these obvious rip-offs of the Facehuggers from Alien that get me the most. They are pretty hard to hit, they come from enemy spawners that are surrounded by turrets, and if you fuck up here and lose your power ups, it’s almost a guarantee that YOU SHALL NEVER RETURN ALIVE.

I’m still working on getting that 1cc for this one. I can make it up to stage 4 without continuing, but after that? Forget it. Game’s awesome.

 

Gradius 3

Fuck Gradius 3. It’s awful, and is the worst game in the series by a mile. Doesn’t matter if it’s the arcade game, or the even worse SNES port that ran at like 2 FPS, it sucks. All it does is take all the things you liked about the first two Gradius games, and replaced it with way too fucking bullets on screen, and enemies that take way too much damage to kill. Skip it.

 

Gradius 4

Admittedly, I have very little experience with this one. This might actually only be the second or third time I’ve played Gradius 4. As such, I don’t really have much to say about it. It seems pretty cool. I like the T-1000 melting effect on the dragons on the first stage. No kidding, I’m actually quite fond of the font that the power-up bar has; looks like the interact menu in a particularly seedy PC-98 game with lots of big titties and exploding heads.

My big complaint about this one is that a lot of it feels a bit desperate. Like, I know that a number of years had passed between the release of Gradius 3 and 4, but there’s a lot that comes across as Konami going for that Nostalgia Pop. Remember the giant crystals that broke and became smaller and more dangerous? Remember the shitty bubbles in Gradius 3? Remember shooting the core? There are a lot of callbacks that probably didn’t need to be made, as Gradius 4 could have stood as its own game without feeling like a Best Of. Not a terrible game, but there are better ones.

Oh, and that announcer is terrible. Dude sounds like a cross between the fat kid from Mission Hill, and someone who has made a three hour YouTube video on character balance in Super Smash Brothers.

 

Gradius Gaiden

A-AURORA BOREALIS!? AT THIS TIME OF DAY? AT THIS TIME OF YEAR? IN THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY? LOCALIZED ENTIRELY ON YOUR PSP?

Speaking of better games, the final one on this collection is Gradius Gaiden. Gaiden kicks fucking ass. This really does feel like Gradius for a new generation (that generation being a hardware generation, as this was on the Sony Playstation). It’s frenetic. It’s intense. It’s fun. Most importantly, it’s still Gradius, but it stands on its own, which Gradius 4 really didn’t.

Other cool things: multiple ships to choose from (though I still stuck with the Vic Viper), and being able to customize your power bar. You want that extra firepower early? Sure, go ahead and put your Options at the front. Gradius Gaiden gives you so much room to tailor your experience, then tells you, “alright bitch, now it’s time to play the game. Get good, asshole!” There’s very much the spirit of the first two Gradius’ (Gradiuses?) at play here. Incredible game.

One callback that I do like is the junkyard level, where the wreckage of Gradius 1 bosses shake loose from the floors and ceilings to mount a mostly-feeble offense against you.

 

Omake

This game is not on the Gradius collection. It is actually a part of the Salamander compilation. I guess there weren’t enough Salamander games to justify a compilation without a couple extras.

Anyways, this is an enhanced port of Gradius 2 for MSX. The MSX game is far, far more different than the original, being more of its own offshoot, really. What makes this special is that the slowdown and choppiness have been removed. The MSX was not a system  known for smooth scrolling or intense action; one of the reasons why Metal Gear was a game about avoiding enemies, rather than taking on an entire army. This one is surprisingly really cool, too. Maybe not on the level of the big arcade boys, but still leagues ahead of Gradius 3.

Thought I would write about the Gradius Collection because 1) Gradius rules and 2) because I don’t think too many people know about this one, or if they did, would have assumed it was a half-assed emulation job. It’s not! It’s an improved experience that matches, and even surpasses the originals. Definitely one of those must-haves for the PSP.

Except for Gradius 3. Go fuck yourself, Gradius 3.

Knights in the Nightmare

A thing to note about the PSP is that it was the home to a lot of SRPG’s. Strategy Role-Playing Game for the newbies. This seems weird, as this is a genre known for having long, back and forth battles that would not normally make it friendly for a handheld format. Funny thing is, for the most part, these kind of games actually worked on the PSP, having a smaller amount of units on a map, or quick battles, and something to speed up the process. Provided you installed the fan patch to fix the magic and summons slowing the game down to a crawl, Final Fantasy Tactics was a fun way to spend a commute.

Knights in the Nightmare is one of these games. This is a game that takes its format and makes the most of it. It’s fast paced, it’s hectic with shit flying all over the screen. Knights is this freak of nature; a tactical RPG and a bullet hell shooter. I understand that this does not make any sense.

KitN is a game by one of my favorite overlooked developers: Sting. Not be confused with the legendary pro wrestler, or the guy that was in a band with my illegitimate father. Sting is a company that makes stuff that goes off the beaten path; they are responsible for the greatest roguelike ever made in Baroque, for example. They also apparently worked on the Wonderswan port of Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, meaning that I need to start up a new Wizardry playthrough sometime. Knights continues this Sting tradition of being different, and also being awesome.

dude, you…you can’t say that…

Battles don’t play out the way they do in other SRPG’s. Your units are fixed in place (with the exception of two unit types, that only move when using certain attacks), can only face and attack in two directions. Enemies don’t actually do damage to your units, instead focusing on attack you, The Player, specifically. This is where the bullet hell comes in, as the real main character is you, represented by the cursor, and enemies fire projectiles that your cursor needs to dodge. Getting hit takes away not life, but time. Right, forgot to mention that these battles take places over the course of timed rounds, and you have to complete a battle before the final round is over. And to win battles, you can’t just blindly kill every enemy; you have to kill them in a way that fills a tic-tac-toe grid, and you can select enemies that fill that specific part of that grid via a between rounds roulette wheel.

This sounds confusing, admittedly. But it’s to this game’s credit that it becomes second-nature pretty quick. KitN presents you with a lot of numbers and menus, yet it never feels overwhelming, allowing you to get back into those fast-paced, snappy battles. On a mechanical level alone, Knights in the Nightmare is extremely cool, unique, and worth playing. The PSP version (this also got a DS release) also includes a small extra campaign if you have save data from Yggdra Union.

I’m spending all this time talking about how the game plays and its uniqueness because, again, this is a game by Sting, and this unorthodox style carries over into its plot. Much like their best game, Baroque (will never not take time to say Baroque is awesome), Knights in the Nightmare is also a nihilistic, somber story about the shitty side of humanity and the world coming to an end. Your “cursor” is actually the soul of an assassinated king. Due to said king being preordained as having the power to defend humanity against gods and demons, he can’t truly die, and now rules over an army of dead soldiers in an attempt to restore some semblance of order in a world that has quickly gone to shit since your murder, thanks to your killer also summoning a powerful demon. From the testimony of various soldiers and generals, you were a wise, caring leader that’s worth fighting for, even in death…then you experience the story from the perspectives of those outside of your kingdom and realize that, actually, you were a racist, genocidal monster that did everything he could to hold down other non-human races in poverty and unlivable conditions.Your undeath will also involve you resuming your duties, literally wiping out entire villages and tribes on your way to taking out this god that wants to end humanity. Needless to say, this is a game that has a little bit of moral ambiguity to it. You’re a bad guy doing a good thing for bad reasons, and a lot of people are going to get killed along the way.

This story is told through a series of disjointed, out of order flashbacks. Scenes of a knight’s life moments before their death. The torturous transformation of your son into a werewolf, and his eventual death at your hands. Your assassin unwittingly making his own daughter into a sacrifice. All the political intrigue of the various kingdoms. Then, after it’s all over, you find out that this is a story being told by the Grim Reaper himself, questioning humanity’s constant conflict and willingness to kill one another. I dare say that Knights in the Nightmare may have a touch of “The Politics.” Now, I will maintain that Sting’s best narrative effort was, again, Baroque, but Knights still does some cool stuff that can make you feel very uncomfortable at times. This is a game with multiple endings, and none of them are particularly happy ones.

When I thought about dedicating an entire month to the PSP, I didn’t want to simply do write ups of its best games, like Metal Gear and Monster Hunter; you can find those anywhere. I wanted instead to focus on stuff that’s less known, but still immensely interesting. Knights in the Nightmare is cool, it’s fun, it’s sad, it’s weird, it’s fucked up. I love it, and I hope that you’ll play it yourself and love it, too.

AUGUST IS PSP MONTH!!

a small sample of my collection

Continuing my gimmick of doing unique stuff with this site while it is still Summer, I thought I would actually plan out my posts in advance this month, rather than the usual “write about whatever.” The theme for August is, obviously, the Playstation Portable.

Why the PSP? Well, for one, it’s a step below the original Game Boy in terms of being my favorite handheld system. And for two, I thought it would be fun to talk about it. During the PSP’s day, it was a widely derided system in a lot of my particular online circles. It was gay shit for homos and why would you want to play that fucking thing don’t you know that SONY KILLED THE DREAMCAST!? Also, I watched my wonderful friend Miffy play the Cover Girl magazine game on the thing, and that really kickstarted my thought process. You can check out the post she made on it over here.

I ended up getting one of those newer model silver PSP’s around 2007-2008 because I really wanted to play Mega Man Powered Up, the remake of Mega Man 1 with a level editor. Might do a write up on that one. That little system quickly endeared itself to me. Lots of great games. Being able to play old PSX games on it. The unnecessary-but-I’m-glad-they-were-there media players. It kept me sane during a particularly hellish time I had in Santa Clarita, California. As much I did and do like the original Nintendo DS, I am going to put forth that the PSP is the better system. I say this knowing full well that the DS has Bangai-O Spirits.

So, every post I make here this month will have something to do with the PSP. Game reviews, digging through The Archive, and so on. It should be fun, I think.

Taking this paragraph break out to link to some PSP writings I did on the old version of this site, when I was still dumb enough to think that making an entire site in Twine would be a good idea:

Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side 3rd Story

Work Time Fun

Cool. That’s the end of this announcement post. I’ll have something up later in the week. Until then.

Racing Game Roundup, Handheld Edition

Another month, another upcoming Gran Prix, it’s time to play some racers and talk about them on the internet! This particular entry will follow a theme that I will expand upon in an upcoming post.

Gran Turismo PSP

I’m still torn on how I feel about this one. Obviously, you’re not doing a 1:1 recreation of a console GT on a new handheld. It would be ridiculous to expect nearly a thousand cars, loads of tracks, more than four cars racing on said tracks at a time, and all the various bells and whistles that you associate with Gran Turismo when the PSP is still so new.

Then I did a few seconds of research and found out that this came out in fucking 2009. 2009, and Polyphony Digital thought that it would be a good idea to release something so bare-bones. You get a small amount of cars available at a time, in two lap races on a small amount of tracks, and that’s about it. No license challenges, no ranked challenges, nothing. Just pick a car and drive. And while I can respect that simplicity, and totally understand why things would be so stripped down for a game that you’re mostly going to be playing during bus/train rides or during a break at work, there’s not really much of a reason to come back after a while. Due to the random nature of buying cars; you can only buy from about 4-5 dealerships at a time, and they’re randomly determined after finishing a race, unlocking shit is a lot more tedious than it needs to be.

Despite all this, it’s still Gran Turismo. It still plays well. I can still drive a 240z at Suzuka and Monaco. I can’t completely hate it, but I can feel a bit let down by it.

 

Ridge Racer PSP

Until I sat down and played this, I only knew about this version of Ridge Racer from one thing: that disastrous Sony E3 presentation. You know, the one that spawned a series of extremely unfunny memes? Giant Enemy Crabs lol and all that bull shit? “Jokes” that were so fucking bad that it caused me to feel at least a twinge of sympathy for Sony. Like, congrats Gamers, you are all so annoying and terrible at telling jokes that you made a massive corporation that released a $700 console and openly thought it was “too cheap” look like the good guys. Fucking assholes. Anyways, I ignored Ridge Racer as a result of this.

If you needed any further proof that gamers ruin everything, it’s this, because Ridge Racer on the PSP is fucking awesome.

Holy shit, this game rules. It is essentially a Ridge Racer Nostalgia Fest, in that you drive through tracks from previous games, and listen to music from previous games, as well. So you can tear through Wonder Hill from Ridge Racer 4 while listening to that really cool Genpei Toumaden remix from Ridge Racer 5. Or listen to music from the first game while driving on the beach track from Ridge Racer Revolution. All while using the new nitrous boost system that would later be used in 6 and 7. It’s cool, and extremely fun.

I do need to take this time to mention how good this game looks. Ridge Racer came out in 2004, once again proving that Namco’s artists are some of the absolute best in the entire industry. Great stuff.

Ridge Racer is a fun as fuck racer with a lot of shit in it. Also, the loading screen is a playable version of Rally-X.

 

Pimp My Ride

Oh yes. I saw this, and knew that I had to play it. This is the kind of low effort garbage I adore. Now, it’s been about a million years since I have seen an episode of Pimp My Ride, but I do remember that it was a show where people with shitty cars would beg popular Hip-Hop artist Xzibit for help, to which he would send the car to a garage, where a team of experts would then put a bunch of shit on said car that made it look even worse in the end. You know, like “yo man, we put an aquarium in the roof towards the back seat, so when you’re failing to once again convince your girl to try anal, you can take a gander at this Flounder.” Shit like that. I was not a fan of the show, but my friends were, so I ended up having to watch a lot of episodes.

Pimp My Ride The Video Game is a shitty open-world driving game. The first half is you driving around, picking up cash icons and crashing into other cars to get money. You can also do some extremely low effort mini-games, like dancing and honking your horn at a crowd of onlookers.

You do this until you get a certain amount of money. Once you do, then comes the second half: Pimping a Ride. Credit where it’s due, the developers actually got Xzibit to do a phoned-in voice over here. The X to the Z sends you back out into Pimp City (yes, really) to make stops at various Pimp Stations with loading screens are full of “Pimp Hints” between them to Pimp out some poor fuckers’ car. I’ve heard the word “Pimp” so many times that the word has lost all meaning; it may as well be its own Smurf language at this point. This Pimping game is really Pimpy and can seriously Pimp my Pimp, and if you don’t like it, Pimp off.

Now, the idea of competing to customize a better car could make for a good game. That is not the case here. Predictably, the game plays and controls like absolute Pimp. This is not a game made by an A-Team with a lot of money behind it, and it shows. But at least it’s Pimp in an interesting way. The kind of game you play and laugh at for a little while, before scrambling to put the Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer UMD into your system. It Pimps, but there are games out there that Pimp more.

nice interior