Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preliminary Review: Dark Cloud for the PS2

Take an early PS2 RPG, add a bit of Harvest Moon, a dash of the later to come Lego series, a little bit of Sim City as well as My Sims and what do you get? Well, you would probably get something fairly similar to Dark Cloud.

As my video game hunting days have come to a silent halt, it's time for me to check out the games that I've already acquired. Somewhere within a 5 inch deep stack of loose PS2 discs was that of Dark Cloud. Completely unsure of what it was, I popped it in one night, about a month ago, and gave it a test.

At first I didn't fully get it, all I knew was that I enjoyed collecting these little parts, killing all these creatures and exploring this dungeon. The problem being that this was just a quick test, I didn't read anything, nor did I even save my progress. Weeks went by and the fun I had with Dark Cloud followed me around, so I decided to make some room on my memory card and actually give it a serious go, as well as read all the dialog this time.

This time I found out why the initial field was so barren, what I was expected to do within the dungeon and that there is no leveling system as such. I was tasked with rescuing and rebuilding my town from little orbs within a nearby dungeon to it's former glory, all the while collecting weapons and leveling them in a Final Fantasy 2 sort of leveling scheme. All of these things seemed fine, until a few levels into the dungeon, when things became quite difficult.

Now I will admit that I was a bit rushed and didn't really consider grinding, I was just having so much fun collecting the little bits and pieces of my town, that I never really cared to go back and grind out to level my weapon. So as I went deeper and deeper monsters became tougher and took larger chunks of my weapon's durability, which became greatly frustrating by the fact that the sword I worked so hard to level up would break at the drop of a hat.

As frustrating as things have been, perhaps only perpetrated by my own haste, things have also been quite fun. Dark Cloud looks great, in my opinion, for a 2001 PS2 title. I'm quite glad I picked it up when I found it, of course I picked up almost any loose PS2 disc I found anyway. Overall I'm enjoying the time I'm spending with Dark Cloud. I wish I could find the case and manual to have it complete, but at least I've got it, and I'm enjoying it anyway.

To be honest, I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often.

Back in January 2011 I walked into a cold, musty Salvation Army and stumbled upon a box in the tiny little electronic's section that had a Nintendo 64 with Mario Kart 64 in it, a PSone and few other miscellaneous items inside. Nothing had a price tag so I sheepishly asked an employee if she could tell me what they wanted for the whole box. She simply said "On second", turned around and shouted for the manager.

The manager asked me if I wanted everything and I acted as if I didn't, but inside I really did! He threw a price at me of $10. With everything that was inside I couldn't pass up $10, so I didn't. Needless to say, I went home that night feeling quite satisfied with the purchase. A fresh N64, Mario Kart 64, a few other good N64 games as well as the nice little PSone with a copy of Test Drive Off-Road 3 inside.
How it looked for my Sam's Scores article 4 years ago.
The joy was quickly quelled when I tried to use the console a few days later. I popped in South Park, as it was my newest PS game, and it failed to read it. Well, the joy wasn't completely gone immediately as I've had quite a few run-ins with lasers that didn't want to read discs anymore. Most of the time I've managed to get them reading and they usually last a little while longer, sadly this wasn't the case.

After quite a few failed adjustments I just gave up and tossed the presumed broken laser. Perhaps someday I could buy a replacement online and finally have a working PSone. Besides, at this point I already had an original PS console, as well as the slim PS2, I didn't need a working PSone to play games, more just a display piece, to say I had one. 

To this date I've acquired four PSone consoles in total. One without a lid, which means the laser from that one went into the one that is the subject of this entry. By now you may be asking yourself why I'm making a blog entry specifically for one of my four PSone consoles? Well, that's because this one in particular is quite special. How special? Keep reading!

While I was tinkering with the laser, I happened to notice that this console had some weird wires coming from the motherboard. Now, this isn't so weird as sometimes I've seen consoles with resistors soldered into places and jumper wires soldered in from A to B, etc. This being my first PSone, I didn't really pay much attention to it, I just replaced the laser and let everything go.

By the way, replacing the laser made the thing boot right up without problems, so that made me happy, but by this time I had 2 others that worked already, so it wasn't a big deal.

It was about three months ago, give or take, when I started looking into possibly importing PS games, or even making backups of some of my more scratched games. I'll be honest, I want to be able to play burnt backups of PS games anyway, but without a modded console I couldn't do that. I asked around, as I know a few friends who had played imported games on their PS consoles back in the day, and they explained to me their methods, none of which were modchips.

With a few weeks research I found that PSone consoles had modchips and they were quite easy to install. Then, it finally dawned on me. This was why none of my other PSone consoles had that chip, this one was special, it was modified!

Although it took me a while to finally get a backup burn that finally worked, it did in fact work. Albeit just a copy of PS cheat device discs, Gameshark, Code Breaker and Action Replay software on one disc. I even tested the console with four of the infamous anti-mod protected games, none of which were tripped up by the modchip. I'm not saying I'm going to go crazy, especially since my failure rate at making working backups was so high, but it is nice to have a modchip installed in my PSone and to be able to confirm it works.

To be honest, I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. With modchips being fairly popular for PS, PSone, PS2 and a even other consoles, I'm surprised I haven't run across another console with a modchip installed. It would be nice to own a modified PS2 or something, but I'm not going to bother doing it myself. I'm excited that my PSone modchip works, it's just nice to have one as part of my collection that may come in handy, should I decide to start importing PS games.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Movie license games I've been playing lately.

About two months ago I found myself in a bit of a video game slump. That desire to play a video game, yet not have to trudge through another campaign of something I've already done before. Well as I really have no desire to go buy anything new, that only left me with the option of indeed trudging through another campaign of something I've already done before.

My two choices were Scarface and The Godfather for the original Xbox. What you may notice right from the start is that these two games are both licensed titles, from movies that were both vastly better than their video game counterparts. But hey, when you're creating video games based on two of the best movies ever made, can video game media really do any justice to their namesake?

Now, the singlemost troublesome issue that I had with another play through of these games happened to be the opaque tinted glasses of nostalgia. I remember, quite fondly, sitting down of an evening and playing these games as I stretched out across the living room floor and sometimes even cuddled up to my Corgi. What I don't remember, however, are all the frustrating, brain aching moments when these games simply don't play by the rules. Not only do they not play by the rules, but they often glitched me into such a terrible position that it made continuing the game impossible.

After many, many, many, and I do mean many, tries, retries and varies stoppages for hours or even days, I managed to complete The Godfather, as well as get fairly deeply rooted within Scarface. I'm not going to go into great detail about the games, go check them out for yourself. Yes they frustrated me, but I also had a pretty good time once I finally relaxed and focused on the task that needed to be done.

Do these games do any justice to their movie namesakes? Absolutely not. In fact they had to alter the movie plot entirely for Scarface and say Tony survived the attack, lost everything and is now rebuilding his empire to take on Sosa and take him down. While in The Godfather, some unknown schmuck rises through the ranks, literally within in-game days depending on how fast you get things done, to become the Don. On a funny note, since Al Pacino's likeness was licensed for Scarface, they had to completely alter the look of Michael Corleone in The Godfather game. Neither character being voiced by Mr. Pacino.

These games could have been stand alone games with different themes, different titles and different characters, but instead they tied them to two of the most beloved and critically acclaimed movies of all time. Would they still be just as fun and frustrating of they were titled "Billy Bob the Coke Dealer" for Scarface and "Cheap New York Mafia Simulator" for The Godfather? I doubt it. I believe the only reason these games are fun at all weighs heavily on the titles they were licensed from. And that fact alone.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sonic Collection: Cross-platforming

Three years ago I wrote an entry here about my feelings on buying the exact same game for more than one console. Since that time I've slightly, and I do my slightly, laxed my opinions on that matter. For example, I would love to get 18 Wheeler for the Gamecube, simply because I love the Gamecube, even though I already have it for the Dreamcast and it's the exact same game.

But sometimes companies will release a game and add slightly varying content for each console, such as the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox, so I would gladly own them all. Or perhaps a company will release a game on one console, see how great it's selling and then release it with a slightly different title for other consoles, such as the Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic Mega Collection Plus.

Sonic Mega Collection was originally was released only for the Nintendo Gamecube, until things got a little greedy and they decided to release it as Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PS2 and Xbox. Sonic Mega Collection Plus added additional games to the roster, including most of the Sonic games for the Game Gear, making it completely unfair to the owners of the Gamecube version. The Gamecube never saw a release of Sonic Mega Collection Plus, but the score was upped by the (in the USA) Gamecube only release of Sonic Gems Collection!

Without a Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the Gamecube, my only option was to hunt down a copy for either the PS2 or Xbox. Which just so happened today, at the Goodwill 50% off sale! The original price tag was $5.99, so I only paid $3 for it, so I can't complain. For what I paid, coupled with the additional games and the overall fact that it's genuinely a great product, I don't mind owning this and the Sega Mega Collection for the Gamecube, although I doubt I'll be playing the Gamecube version much from now on, rather I'll be hunting down a Sonic Gems Collection.

That brings me to the fact that I do own most of the Genesis Sonic games in cartridge form, so why would I want to own them again for the PS2? Well I guess it's ease of use. It's easier to pop in a disc to my PS2 and play games I don't own (the Game Gear Sonic games) alongside the games that I do already own. I mean, they're all on the same disc, so why not?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How Minecraft Helped my Anxiety Disorder.

Ah, Minecraft! One of the most popular, addictive and yet despised video games ever created. The time was mid-2012 and I was just starting to try and cope with my anxiety. What originally helped me was watching Minecraft videos on youtube. Youtube was rife with people using Fraps and Minecraft to record little series and wait for the viewers to find them.

After watching a handful of youtubers playing the game, I decided to give it a try myself. The problem was that I was only playing the free version; the old, extremely outdated, free version. After sending some videos to a friend of mine, knowing he would find it as interesting as I did, he actually bought us both a registration ticket for Minecraft. Sweet!

Now I wasn't just wasting hours on watching people playing Minecraft, I too was playing it! The constant element of exploration, the ability to go anywhere, see anything, battle, build and spelunk kept the majority of my anxiety at bay, at least while I was wrapped up in the world of Minecraft. My anxiety disorder was in no way healed or cured, but this was a major contributor to helping me keep my mind off the insanity that was going on inside my head, and inside my head alone.

I dreaded leaving the world of Minecraft, not out of OCD, although that may have been part of the reason, but because when I left my anxiety came tearing down the door of sanity, much the way a Zombie would in Minecraft. My anxiety would just creep up behind me and explode, much the way a Creeper would in Minecraft. All the hissing, negativity, jumping back and forth, coming and going as it pleases, only fighting back when I truly wanted to face my fears and be free, much the same way as the Enderman.

The countless hours turned into a giant man-made island kingdom out in the middle of the sea. It's taken many years, which throughout those years have helps me keep my mind off my anxiety disorder. Building, mining, creating, adventuring, collection and everything else that Minecraft encompasses, it all helped my anxiety, if only for the time I spent playing it. Again, Minecraft is in no way a cure for anything, but it did help me break the tension of anxiety, as well as taking me out of anxiety enough to help me realize this is an internal struggle, not the struggle that anxiety wants me to believe it is. It's a battle with calming the thoughts that anxiety feeds me, rather than believing them and allowing myself to fall into a downward spiral of anxiety.