Now this is a fantastic game!

Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball [GameCube] – Review

Now this is a fantastic game!
Now this is a fantastic game!

One of the facets that draws me towards collecting video games, or as some might simply put it, buying a lot of video games, is finding superb games that have been more or less forgotten. Finding a hidden gem in the bargain bin makes me feel like a connoisseur of the medium. Even if I don’t play all of today’s “instant classics” I feel I’m doing my part by shining a spotlight on the good, perhaps overlooked, games of yesterday. One such game is Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball for the GameCube.

Originally released into Japanese and European arcades in 2001, it was ported to the GameCube a year later. Sega AM2, whose games I continuously find myself playing and writing about – Power Drift and Shenmue recently – developed this game as well. In short, it’s a fast-paced simulation of two-on-two beach volleyball. There are a few modes that can eat up some of your free time, but the one that’s most important is multiplayer.

Serves and spikes implemented a power meter, as well as directional input.
Serves and spikes implemented a power meter, as well as directional input.

Enjoyable with up to three friends locally, the multiplayer proved to get raucous quickly. The game takes the bump, set, spike formula of volleyball and presents players with an intuitive user-interface and simple controls that make it easy to grasp. Couple that with the fast-paced flow of the game, and it can wind up growing on you. Speaking personally, it only took my friend and I a few matches to get hooked. After a few hours, we had learned the ins and outs of all the ways to receive and attack the ball to keep volleys going for a long time. We found it to be so enjoyable, we had to force ourselves to quit, hours after midnight this past Friday.

The multiplayer is definitely the draw in my mind, but there’s a brief diversion in the single player modes. The world tour is the primary draw and in it, I was able to customize a team and take them through eight rounds of tournaments. My partner started off unable to assist in any way, but as we lost and lost I earned experience to put into her various abilities. By the final tournament, I was the weakest link on the team! I wish this mode could’ve been played cooperatively; it’d eliminate the teambuilding element, but it’d also eliminate working with a brain-dead partner. There’s an arcade mode that I haven’t dabbled in yet, as well as a tutorial mode that further cemented what my friend and I had discerned on our own through hours of play.

I can't imagine how rowdy four player matches could get.
I can’t imagine how rowdy four player matches could get.

Discovering games like Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball has made collecting video games an enjoyable hobby for me. It’s even better when I find a gem that can be enjoyed with others, such as this one. The fast-paced action and intuitive adaptation of the sport will make this a go-to game for my multiplayer sessions. Which is the game’s main draw, as there’s little reason to play solo other than unlocking costume parts that harken back to Sega’s past. Regardless, this is an older game that’s worth a look for fans of local multiplayer.

Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Warp Zones and the Design of Vs. Super Mario Bros., in Short

Within the first few seconds, Vs. Super Mario Bros. tricks you into thinking it’s simply an arcade port of the NES classic. By the end of World 1-1, it’s apparent that the stages have been altered. It starts when you can’t find the invisible block containing the stage’s 1UP after the first set of green warp pipes. You’ll no doubt second guess your memory throughout the game as the stages begin to grow more original. You have now entered The Twilight Zone Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Finally, there's a purpose for that score.
Finally, there’s a purpose for that score.

Having played loads of Super Mario Bros. recently, I have its stage design burned into my memory. One subtle element of the original’s stage design is the way the developers mislead players in regards to the Warp Zones. Think about it. The first one, in World 1-2, is accessed by running across the top of the stage and avoiding the blatant exit. The remaining two are present in World 4-2.

Thinking you’re onto a formula, you run to the end of World 4-2 and sure enough, access another Warp Zone by running across the top of the stage and avoiding another blatant exit. That’s not the one you want though. Whereas the first Warp Zone transported you to Worlds 2, 3, or 4, this one merely progresses you a single world, to World 5. While this fooled me for me many sessions, I finally found the true second Warp Zone. Appearing much earlier in World 4-2, it allows travel to the remaining Worlds: 6, 7, or 8. That’s intentional.

Luigi is the Biz Markie of the Mario universe.
Luigi is the Biz Markie of the Mario universe.

I believe that sort of thinking was extracted to the entirety of Vs. Super Mario Bros. For anyone coming to it as I have, with the original, forefront in my mind, it’ll throw you for a loop. It appears to look and play the same from the first quarter, but that assumption is bucked within seconds. Because of the differences, it can be construed as tougher, at least for those who have played the original. Additionally, many of the changes are inclusions of stages from Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels – the original, much tougher, Super Mario Bros. 2. Plus, playing with a joystick just doesn’t feel right.

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. [NES] – Review

Super Mario Bros.What can I say about Super Mario Bros.? I mean, it’s Super Mario Bros. Everyone knows about the 1985 classic. Everyone can recall Mario’s initial journey through the Mushroom Kingdom on his quest to rescue Princess Toadstool from the diabolical Bowser. Everyone has stomped on the heads of numerous Goombas, kicked several Koopa shells, and found the game shortening Warp Zones. Everyone has beaten it, ecstatic to see the princess instead of yet another Toad. Well, that is everyone but me.

The music just started playing in your head, I know it did.
The music just started playing in your head, I know it did.

After briefly playing Vs. Super Mario Bros. at PJ Gamers, one of my local arcades, I realized I had never beaten the Mario game that started it all. Never mind Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., or Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. really kicked off the career of Nintendo’s mascot. Thus, I’ve spent the last week or so playing the game in hours-long sessions attempting to beat it. Finally, after discovering secrets and honing my platforming skills, I’ve gotten good enough to reach the end.

Among other elements, I feel two of the most important are the game’s precise controls and simplicity. They tied together in an interesting way after spending hours learning stage layouts and adapting to the controls. I’d often get reckless and misjudge a jump or run into enemies enough times to deplete my stock of lives OVER AND OVER AGAIN. It could get frustrating, but it was psychological – I was getting too comfortable with my abilities. In many ways, overcoming my careless tendency to hold down the run button was the key to my success.

Super Mario Bros. - The Final Battle

My experience with the game was enhanced by playing it with a friend, switching off when we’d lost all of our lives. Like most things, playing this game was improved with a partner. The kicker was discovering the hidden 1ups that were necessary to extending our sessions and devising strategies for dealing with tough sections. Accessing the Warp Zones was the most fruitful of our discoveries. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the game without accessing the secrets we did and I wanted to be able to say I completed Super Mario Bros. so there, I said it.

Pokemon Colosseum - Japanese Box Art

Pokemon Colosseum – Game Notes

Taking notes of the games I play has become a routine of mine. This is especially helpful when I play an RPG. Now Pokemon Colosseum isn’t necessarily the most convoluted example of the genre, but there are some key points I needed to remember during my playthrough. Plus, since I’ve been nicknaming every Pokemon that I can, giving them a greater sense of uniqueness, it’s kind of fun to keep in-depth records of each.

So follow along if you will, with my session-to-session notes on my Pokemon Colosseum progress.

Continue reading

I just had to use the Saturn box art for this post.

Power Drift [Arcade] – Review

For a month or two, Power Drift sat in a backroom corner of PJ Gamers. Not functioning, there wasn’t a reason to place it alongside the likes of Gyruss or Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. It was around this time that I was experiencing Shenmue II and developing an appreciation for Yu Suzuki. Being one of his lesser known games, I was interested in playing it. Released in 1988, I’d only recently read about it in a Retro Gamer profile of Yu Suzuki. Thankfully, it’s operational now, and although it lacks the fun hydraulic cockpit (it’s a stand-up cabinet), it’s unique.

The camera was usually in this cockeyed position as I drifted around the courses.
The camera was usually in this cockeyed position as I drifted around the courses.

What makes it unique amongst other racing games that could’ve been found in an eighties arcade are the roller coaster-inspired race tracks. These tracks feature massive climbs and drops and every turn is an opportunity to kick out the rear wheels and drift around competitors. The visuals helped sell the roller coaster feel of the tracks thanks to a sprite-scaling effect. As the name implies, the sprites grew and shrunk seamlessly as I played the game. This was doubly impressive as the game ran at a very fast clip. Watching the tracks rise, fall, and twist was mesmerizing – like watching a snake slither in the sand.

As with most arcade games, it didn’t take me long to understand what to do and how to do it. Progressing in the game became tough quickly though. I forewent ever hitting the brakes and instead began massaging the gas pedal around corners. Falling off ledges and colliding with other drivers was the key to success. The latter was challenging; I didn’t feel like I had the level of control over my racer as I’d like. Of course I also was zooming around stages NEVER HITTING THE BRAKES! Sometimes the hit detection seemed a little dodgy too, perhaps forming my opinion of the controls. It’s clear that to get a higher score and experience more stages, I’ll need to evolve my strategies. It’s a fun and unique game, especially to watch, but the loose controls took me a while to adapt to.

Gyruss - FDS

The Box Art of Gyruss

I’m going to skip over posting about the box art for Pokemon Colosseum as there wasn’t much difference between the various regional releases. Gyruss on the other hand, so a handful of releases in the early eighties.
Gyruss - ColecovisionParker Brothers published the early home versions and used the above box art for these releases. Those looking to play a home conversion of the Konami arcade shooter were in luck if they owned an Atari 2600, 5200, Coloecovision, Atari 8-bit computer, or a Commodore 64. The cover depicts a triangular space station. Perhaps these are the satellites that surround the power-ups in the game?

Gyruss - NESThe next set of home conversions came courtesy of Konami themselves. Released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan and the NES here in America, this box art evoked the stage progression of the game. Many planets are ahead of our starship pilot and there’s even the attention to detail noting the tubular nature of the gameplay. Very impressive! The FDS box art is practically the same and can be seen as the featured image to this post, kind of.

And that’s pretty much it for home conversions of Gyruss. It has been featured on a few arcade compilations published by Konami, but they don’t do those too often. Beyond those, it was released onto Xbox Live Arcade very early in the Xbox 360′s lifespan. This was a pure emulation of the original arcade game with little distinguishing features. Gyruss appears to be a game that hasn’t won over a lot of people. Regardless, it’s a stupendous golden age arcade game.

Gyruss

Gyruss [Arcade] – Review

Having grown up in the 1990s and 2000s, I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend time at an arcade. When PJ Gamers opened up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and did so with dozens of arcade cabinets, I was excited. More so than any other, Gyruss has captivated me. It’s a 1983 space shooter emulating the gameplay styles of Galaga and Tempest, in fantastic fashion. Besides featuring pure gameplay that’s so common in most arcade classics, a high score competition between my friend and I has kept me hooked.

Blasting that orange sphere granted the double blaster power-up.
Blasting that orange sphere granted the double blaster power-up.

Controlling a spaceship and having it revolve around the screen in a tubular manner took some getting used to. The spaceship mirrored the position of the joystick, which I haven’t experienced too often. Likewise, the waves of enemy spacecraft entered the screen any which way across the twenty unique stages. There were enough enemy types and wave formations to keep the game fresh and the sole power-up was fun to obtain, and definitely worthwhile. Another holdover from Galaga were the challenging stages breaking up the pace. Memorization proved to be influential in succeeding, but so too were quick reflexes and calmness.

Blasting an enemy wave early on.
Blasting an enemy wave early on.

Having spent enough time learning the gameplay and adapting to the rule set, success was ultimately, in my hands. After a month or so, my friend still reigns supreme with a score only 10,000 or so more than 200,000 odd points. I’ve lost the fire to try multiple times a week, but I do give it a shot every time I visit PJ Gamers. Gyruss has tuned into one of my favorite arcade games and I believe it to be incredibly indicative of the golden age of arcades. This, because of its pure, simple gameplay and rule set and its emulation of the pioneers that came before it. Ironically, these elements make it feel unique, while still feeling so similar to its golden age contemporaries.

The internet's source for Mansion of Hidden Souls.

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