Friday, June 27, 2008

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Where Are You Hiding Arcade Cabinet??

You remember them well from when you were a wee tyke. The flashing lights, the loud bells and chimes, the sticky floors, the awesome artwork on the sides. Yes, I am talking about your local video arcade. Back in the 80's, these establishments of entertainment were all over. But it seems that like many vestiges from our past (drive-in theaters, roller rinks), the tall, upright cabinets are dissapearing from the landscape. People would rather plunk down hundred of dollars on consoles and expensive computers and buy $50 games that they play for a couple of weeks and forget about it. Few carry pocket-fulls of quarters and traverse the aisles of video arcade machines. Yet the iconic figures contained in these machines are still alive. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, X-Men, The Simpsons game, Street Fighter, and so on.

In my city, there were a bunch of arcades where a hyperactive kid could spend his pesos. Tilt, Aladdin's Castle, two different Golflands, Chuck E Cheese, Nickel City. Now, only Golfland, CeC, and Nickel City remain.

So, in order to rekindle my love of joystick action (don't read into that statement), I ventured to Nickel City (with my two brothers), one of the last frontiers of arcade gaming. And surprisingly enough, the place is still alive and doing well.

Nickel City is a fun place to kill some time and some aliens (in Alien vs. Predator). Most games only cost one nickel per credit. Some of the newer games cost upwards of 10 nickels (50 cents ain't bad). And there is a whole row of FREE PLAY games. This is where I spent most of my time. King of Dragons, Knights of the Round Table, Fighter's History, World Cup '94, Pac-Man, and Altered Beast were my games of choice. In addition to the free games, there are of course the ticket games. You know, the well crafted machines with funny artwork that steal your precious coins when you pop them into those skinny slots. I probably wasted half of my $5 dollar bag of nickels on these traps. And did I have any tickets to show for it? Well yeah, but I didn't hit any bonuses on these games.

My brother AJ and I also spent some quality time with one of our greatest joys, Pop a Shot. As brothers who are always trying to one-up one another, mini hoop action was a fine challenge (he wouldn't play DDR). But it wasn't my day. He pretty much shut everyone down and not only got the high score, but then proceeded to beat his own high score more than once. It was quite amazing, actually. All the little kids were captivated by his jumpshot on the six foot hoop.

Of course, being the benevolent older brother that I am, I game him a slow golf clap and toasted his victories. NOT. You've got to understand something, after 20 years of competition, you don't let something that has a big influence in your life (hoops) become an embarassing moment. So I challenged AJ to another arcade classic, air hockey. Needless to say, fueled by Laffy Taffy and Arizona Ice Tea, I got the better of him in this round. The score was 7-4, total domination.
I then proceeded to find my youngest sibling, Wes. He was playing another favorite of ours, Mega Man: The Power Battle. As Mega Man and his cooler brother, Proto Man, we took down Dr. Wily and his robot minions, while only spending about a forty cents on three playthroughs. You can't go wrong with that.
After an hour and a half of playing, I still had two dollars of video entertainment left. So I spent some time playing some games from two of my favorite genres, fighting and sidescrolling. Tekken 2, Street Fighter II, Power Stone 2, Tech Romancer, Virtua Fighter Evolution, Cybots, The Fallen Angels, King of Fighters '96, Puzzle Fighter, The Simpsons, X-Men, Blood Brothers, and even some Metal Slug 6 action.

With no nickels left and enough tickets to spend on Abba Zabbas and Now and Laters, we jammed on over to the free game section. Sure, a bunch of the machines weren't operating and a few had graphical glitches, but they were FREE! AJ and I played Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man to see who would last the longest. Once again, I blew him away, even though the joystick wouldn't turn Pac-Man right! Eat that ghosties!

So with candy in hand and childish grins on our faces, we departed Nickel City. After two and half hours of quality fun and only $5 dollars spent (take that movie theater), we left knowing that sometime down the road during summer, we would return. Hopefully, some of the machines we wanted to play (Dungeons and Dragons side scroller) would be functioning. If you have the chance to visit your local arcade, do it soon, because you don't know how long it's going to be there!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

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Two-Player Mayhem!

So, as I said in my first post, my best friend of twenty years is moving to Minnesota for his job.

We've definitely had some great memories, triumphs, and certain things that are better left forgotten. But one of the things that we will never forget and will always share is our love for video games. Even while he's in the land of 1000 Lakes and I'm in the Golden State, we can still kick butt together through Xbox Live or PC gaming. To honor his departure, we had our last beer and taquito fueled all-nighter playing our favorite two-player games on our favorite console, the NES.

This is a list of what we played throughout the years, and our favorites for whatever strange reason. So here we go!

5. Contra Force

Okay, so don't get me wrong. We do play the original Contra and Super C, but Contra Force holds a special place in our hearts. The four characters have their own special weapons that can be upgraded. How can you go wrong with dudes named Burns, Iron, Smith, and Beans? When we first played through I thought they were A-Team rejects. But as the game went on it was fun to play as the different teammates and their various weapons. The levels were interesting enough. The one where you jump from chain to chain took a few tries. Maybe we were retarded, but on the overhead level with the boats we didn't know where to go. We just kept running back and forth shooting. Of course you needed to go on one of the smaller boats! Duh! The boss fights are definitely interesting. I remember one dude who was three times bigger than any other character, and another boss who would run around and you had to chase him throughout the level. Some might argue this isn't a true Contra game (being it was originally titled Arc Hound in Japan and never released), but it's still some fun run 'n gun two player action!

4. Double Dragon II

Before Scott Wolf graced us with his presence in the movie, and the laughably bad cartoon ( there was the game. Double Dragon taught me never to trust anyone named Abobo and to watch my back for shadow warriors. My bud and I enjoy taking on the roles of Billy and Jimmy Lee and kicking and punching our way to save Marian. In the first game, you could only trade off with your friend to control the character. But DDII featured both brothers in simultaneous beat down action. This game is especially memorable for all of the traps. There are many numerous AND annoying traps. The one that gave us the most trouble was a level that had a bunch of jumps you had to make in a row. Wow, what an unnecessary hassle. Despite the traps, it's fun to co-op your way through while taking out dopplegangers with Hyper Uppercuts and Whirlwind Kicks!

3. Battletoads

Ah yes, one of the most infamously difficult games for the NES. What can you really say about Battletoads? Rash and Zitz had to rescue fellow toad Pimple and Princess Angelica from one of my favorite NES baddies, the Dark Queen (she's really hot). The road to their rescue was definitely not easy. The game features some crazy difficult levels. The first two aren't bad, but the difficulty ramps up (literally) when you jump on your hover bikes and maneuver past inconveniently placed walls and crevasses. That level gave us the most trouble. It took a couple tries to make the second of the big jumps. Now honestly, this is the one game on the list that we never beat! It was just that hard. Even with Game Genie codes. Still though, with the memorable characters, awesome music,and just plain silliness, Battletoads lives up to the hype.

2. River City Ransom

This is it right here. The ultimate beat 'em up. High school gang kids destroying each other over a kidnapped girlfriend. But if you ask me, Alex and Ryan didn't need a reason to kick some serious butt. Featuring such memorable gangs as the Frat Guys and the Generic Dudes, RCR made you wonder where the teachers were during all this. You basically ran around the city beating up gang leaders until you found out where main baddy Simon was. The game play was simple enough, but the cool part was buying food and books to upgrade your stats and learn new moves. You could grab a Tuna Roll, Cornish Hen, Merv Burger, Roman Shake, or Love Potion, or relax in the sauna. Plus, you could take out the "Infamous Dragon Twins" Randy and Andy. HAHAHAHA!The game continues to have a cult following.(


1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II The Arcade Game & The Manhattan Project

Yeah, I was a HUGE TMNT fan when I was a kid. Along with Ghostbusters, these were the two franchises that I worshipped. More than Transformers, He-Man, or Thundercats. So when I got my first NES, this was one of the first games I played. Even today, me and my friend burn through this game and its sequel, The Manhattan Project. You picked your favorite terrapin ninja (mine was Leo), and fought your way up to who else but the Shredder. Sure, the gameplay is very simple, but the fact that it was the Turtles keeps us engaged. Waves of Foot Soldiers in all the colors of the rainbow (and then some) would try and stop us, but their attempts were feeble. Even the desperate ninjas with machine guns and lasers were no match. Who knows how many Foot Soldiers were blown up during our twenty year rampage? I could discuss these games in great length and give you all a play-by-play as we wield our NES game pads yet again, but Rocksteady needs to be taught a lesson. Sorry Shredder, but you will never dine on turtle soup!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Gas or Games?

You know those commercials with the talking cars made by Chevron? Yeah you do.
Well I saw one recently with one car complaining to another that it doesn't
get the same Techron gas as the other. Shut up please! The last thing I want to see on TV is anything about gas. Gas, and the lack of it in my car, has prevented me from doing a few things this summer.
This includes purchasing items that entertain me, like video games.

So, the question is, where will my funds be spent this summer?

The last game I bought was GTA IV, and it is definitely a game that can suck up your life.
The last time I filled the tank of my 2002 Toyota RAV4 it cost me $3.99 a gallon.
It's been nearly three weeks since then and gas around my city is up and around $4.50.
This has caused me to change my driving habits and walk to my destinations whenever possible.
I had a free pass to ride the local light rail and buses when I was in school, but that ship has set sail. Ahh regrets...

Now, the Swedish kid who's been staying at our house since November says us Americans are spoiled, and that our gas prices are nothing compared to Sweden.
He is correct in that Scandinavia indeed pays about $6.50 a gallon, but they tax everything there. And kids get paid monthly to stay in school, but that's another topic.
Of course, our dollar is worth less than Euros and Krons, public transportation is not as good, our cars aren't as fuel efficient, we pay for our own healthcare...etc.

What this really translates into is that summer is going to be rough on my wallet.

I'll be using the train more to visit friends/watch baseball in San Francisco, but even that has been affected by gas prices. More cars at the station I park in, less seats on the train, me running across busy expressways across traffic Frogger style to make the bullet train.

This has also led me to do something I've avoided my whole life, budget.
Which games will I indulge myself with in the upcoming months?
Let's take a look...Wii Fit, Metal Gear Solid, DBZ: Burst Limit, Soul Calibur 4, Bionic Commando, Top Spin 3, Madden 2009, Battlefield: Bad Company, Resident Evil 5, Final Fantasy IV, Alone In the Dark, Hellboy, Ghostbusters. Narrowing down the list to two or three titles will be tough.

How will you spend your summer cash?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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The End of the Beginning

So here we are. June. The weather is reaching 90 degrees +. Gas is almost $4.50 a gallon. My brother will be coming back from Cal Poly soon, our Swedish exchange student will be departing back to Västerås, and my best friend will be moving to Minneapolis.

This initial post is just to get oriented with what this blog is "all about". Basically, anything that tickles my fancy is fodder for my musings. Video games, funny videos, interesting articles, sports, and lessons in life. So read up.