Saturday, December 17, 2011

For the fourth game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a complete-in-box copy of Nintendo's Balloon Kid.

Educational aside: This GameBoy-based sequel-of-sorts to the Famicom/NES classic, Balloon Fight, was released throughout North America in 1990 and throughout Europe in 1991. For some unknown reason, it never received a proper, packaged release in Japan, although a colorized version of the game--called Balloon Fight GB--was released via the company's Nintendo Power service in 2000. 

For more information on Balloon Kid--which was produced, in part, by Gunpei Yokoi and Yoshio Sakamoto (Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka composed the game's perky soundtrack)--read these blog posts

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let's Play: 'Which Box Art is Better?' (Rhythm Heaven Fever edition)

I've been looking for a reason to publish a post about Rhythm Heaven Fever ever since I read (a few days ago) that the game was going to be released in North America on February 13 with a so-low-everyone-who-owns-a-Wii-had-better-buy-it-or-I'll-scream price tag of $29.99. (Pre-order it here. Don't worry, I did so on Tuesday.)

Well, Nintendo of America gave me that reason on Wednesday night, when it unveiled this wacky Wii game's official North American box art.

Is it possible for a piece of box art to induce a seizure? I wouldn't have thought so before I saw Rhythm Heaven Fever's cover (above), but now I'm not so sure. Regardless, it's certainly busy, isn't it? And colorful. Both of which make sense, I guess, based on what I've seen of and read about this crazy music game.

Anyway, moving along. We can't play "Which Box Art is Better?" without comparing the cover above to its European or Japanese counterparts, can we? Unfortunately, the game isn't due to be released in Europe until the second quarter of next year, so no box art is available for that region yet. Thankfully, it was released in Japan--as Minna no Rhythm Tengoku, or Everybody's Rhythm Heaven--long ago (on July 21, to be exact). Here is that version's less-cluttered cover:

I'll be honest: I initially hated the North American art. Like I said earlier, it's really busy--almost too busy, in my opinion. Also, I'm not a fan of mixing fonts, and seeing that bubbly "Fever" butting up against the angular "Rhythm Heaven" sort of makes me want to slam my head into the nearest wall. Oh, and that band of screenshots and text along the bottom? I tend to despise that tactic, too.

All that said, I actually think I prefer the North American cover to the Japanese one. Don't get me wrong, I love the latter art's simplicity, as well as that lovely rainbow banding, but it's a bit barren, isn't it? Also, those three little ... things beneath the logo seem out of place to me. I'd rather see more of them or none of them, you know what I mean?

Do you guys and gals have a preference for one version's box art over the other? Also, will you be buying a copy of this game when it's released in your neck of the woods?

See also: Previous 'Which Box Art is Better?' posts

For the third game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... a boxed copy of Nintendo's Clu Clu Land.

Note that I didn't describe this as a "complete in box" copy of this Famicom/NES classic. That's because the plastic tray that's supposed to cradle the cartridge (and protect the box) wasn't included. Oh, well.

Regardless, I quite like Clu Clu Land's box art. To tell you the truth, that's the main reason I picked up the copy seen in the photos above and below, as I'm not much of a fan of the game at this point.

I'm also a bit of a sucker for banana-yellow Famicom carts, it seems, as not only do I salivate over the one that contains Clu Clu Land's code, but I also salivate over the ones produced for the Famicom version of Super Mario Bros. and the GameBoy Advance version of Kid Icarus.

Fore more photos of yellow (as well as red, orange, blue and white) Famicom carts, check out this Flickr set.

See also: Previous '12 Games of Christmas' posts

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For the second game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... NEC Avenue's PC Engine port of Fantasy Zone.

This version of Sega's surreal, pastel-filled shmup was released in 1988, by the way. It isn't an arcade-perfect port, but it's close enough that only the most anal Fantasy Zone fans would turn up their noses at it.

You may remember me saying recently (in this 'Second Chances' post) that I haven't always been a fan of this game. Well, my opinion of it has changed enough over the last few months that the complete-in-box copy of it seen above was one of the first things I purchased after my birthday.

Now if I could just get past the third or fourth stage.

Anyway, for anyone interested: Another photo or two of my copy of Fantasy Zone can be seen in my Flickr photostream. (Also, click on the ones above to take a closer look at them.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

For the first game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me ...

... Kirby's Return to Dream Land!

Full disclosure: I actually received this game as a birthday gift. Of course, I mentioned in yesterday's post that all of the games included in this series were acquired between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I guess there's no reason for me to apologize.

Anyway, its packaging is pretty spiffy, don't you think?

I've already beaten the game's main campaign, by the way, although that isn't really much of an accomplishment given its overall lack of difficulty. Of course, Kirby games generally aren't about presenting players with overtly challenging enemies and levels, are they?

No, Kirby games are all about having fun--or at least they are in my experience--and I certainly had a blast playing through this one. (My favorite part: Obtaining and using Kirby's screen-filling super abilities.)

Have any of you played Kirby's Return to Dream Land yet? If so, what did you think of it?

See also: 'The 12 Games of Christmas'

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 12 Games of Christmas

What do you do after you buy and/or receive as gifts a crapload of games between your birthday (which comes just after Thanksgiving) and Christmas? If you're me, you take photos of said games and then share them in a series of posts called "The 12 Games of Christmas."

The first of these posts will be published tomorrow morning. Another such post will be published on Thursday morning and then another will be published on Friday morning and so on and so forth until Christmas day.

Although I'm calling this series "The 12 Games of Christmas," don't look for that title when searching for the above-mentioned posts. Instead, look for headlines like, "For the first game of Christmas, the UPS man brought to me..."

The games that will be highlighted in this series cover the gamut, by the way. Some of them are Japanese and some are North American, for instance. Also, some of them are older (yes, a few of them are Famicom and PC Engine games) and some are newer.

Anyway, tune in tomorrow to see the first one! And then, if you're at all interested, keep tuning in every day (yes, even over the weekend) until Christmas.

Let's Play: 'Which Box Art is Better?' (Xenoblade Chronicles edition)

The folks at Nintendo of America revealed Xenoblade Chronicles' box art yesterday afternoon (via the company's Facebook page). Unsurprisingly, said box art doesn't differ much from the box art created for this Wii game's Australian, European and Japanese counterparts.

Don't believe me? Well, here's the art that graced the cover of the Japanese version of the game, released as Xenoblade in June 2010:

Nintendo's crack team of designers zoomed in--just a bit--on the illustration and added the word "Chronicles" to the cover before releasing the game in Australia and throughout Europe a few months ago, as the image below makes abundantly clear:

So, how have they changed up Xenoblade Chronicles' box art in anticipation of this open-world RPG's North American release next April? (Read about it here.) They went back to the original, zoomed-out version of the illustration that appeared on the Japanese version's cover, for starters. After that, they added in a subtitle that's so subtle it's almost nonexistent.

Personally, I like the European and Japanese covers more than the North American one. Honestly, I'm surprised Nintendo of America's designers didn't just go with the more-than-fine Euro art, since all they had to do to it was replace the PEGI rating with an ESRB one. I guess they wanted to earn their paycheck.

Anyway, that's my opinion this time around. Which one do all of you prefer?

See also: Previous 'Which Box Art is Better?' posts

Monday, December 12, 2011

A few belated thoughts on A Closed World

Although A Closed World, the free online game made by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab that aims to explore queer issues within the confines of an RPG-like environment, has been out for a few months now, I avoided playing it until earlier this week.

Mind you, I didn't intentionally ignore it. I remember reading about its release with more than a little interest, but for some reason I can't recall at the moment it fell off my radar before I got around to playing it.

How'd it get back onto my radar? While chatting with the Gayme Bar guys last week, one of them brought up the game as a good example of how the medium can address and otherwise tackle LGBT issues.

Feeling like an idiot for not having played it, I vowed to do so the very next day. That I did--and then some, as I played through the game three or four times over the course of about an hour (mainly so I could see how things differ when you choose to play as a male or female).

My initial impressions based on those playthroughs: It's ... interesting. I of course like that the game tries to depict the struggle of being "different" (whether that means being queer or being a minority or an outcast in other ways), but with just a few exceptions A Closed World's story is a bit too awkward and heavy-handed for me. Also, it can be confusing at times, as you aren't always sure who you're dealing with or where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do. (Thankfully, the game's map is tiny, so you can only wander around like a lost puppy for so long.)

On the plus side: The game's graphics, especially those found in its turn-based, rock-paper-scissors battle scenes, are quite pretty. Its soundtrack is similarly appealing.

I don't want to say much more than that right now, as I'm currently in the middle of writing a "somewhat gay review" for this game (expect it to be published sometime in the next week or two) and I'd rather save most of the pro-versus-con discussion for that post.

In the meantime, I highly recommend giving A Closed World a go--whether you're a member of the LGBT community or not. Yes, it's flawed in many ways, but for the most part I think it's admirably so. Also, it's sure to prompt you to consider how future games should tackle these same issues. For that reason alone, I think playing through A Closed World once or even twice is well worth anyone's time.

Play: A Closed World

Nathan Drake by Sam Bosma

Of all the PS3 games I want to own and play, Naughty Dog's trio of Uncharted titles are near the top of the list--thanks in large part to the fact that I find the game's protagonist to be, well, kind of hot (for a guy made out of polygons, especially).

As such, it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear that I perked up (take that as you will) when I came across the following drawing of said protagonist, Nathan Drake, while perusing Google+ a few days ago. (Thanks, Maré Odomo!)

Baltimore-based artist Sam Bosma is the man who's responsible for whipping up this wonderfully realized illustration, by the way. More of his work can be seen on his blog and on his website.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Great Gaymathon Review #48: Barunba (PC Engine)

Game: Barunba
Genre: Shoot 'em up
Developer: Namco/Zap Corp
Publisher: Namcot
System: PC Engine
Release date: 1990

There are a number of reasons to like this odd, side-scrolling shmup: Its box art is lovely (as is its manual), its bosses are huge and its gameplay offers up a few surprises that help it stand out from the pack. Sadly, there are many more reasons to dislike it--most of which have to do with the aforementioned gameplay. (Two that don't: The great majority of the game's enemies and backdrops are at best boring and at worst ugly, while its sound effects are the definition of "grating.") Specifically, although the globe-shaped ship gamers control while playing Barunba impresses with its rotatable weaponry, the rather cumbersome rotation aspect actually gets in the way more often than not. As such, most folks are likely to keep their guns aimed straight ahead as much as possible. Also, although each of the game's five stages are surprisingly extensive (e.g., long), most of them become a drag well before you reach the end. So, with three bullet points in favor of Barunba and four against it, what's my final verdict on this Namcot-published HuCard? I'd say it's a curiously unique but disappointingly flawed game that's worth playing only if you find it on the cheap or if you're fairly obsessed with the shoot 'em up genre.

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts