Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -3: AD&D: Dragons of Flame

Greetings, players! It is I, your friendly Dungeon Master, otherwise known as Matthew. I remain locked away within the depths of Questicle's own Temple of Elemental Evil, but have no fear! For soon the ancient and eldrich magicks needed to escape and enact my vengeance shall be at hand! And then we'll see just how well Sega Does! MWAHAHAHAAA!!!

You know, it's not much of a secret, but early attempts at converting PC games to home consoles were usually poor. Once in a while a decent port from the PC would show up, but for every Sim City on Super Nintendo came dozens of crummy RPG's, most of which carried the Dungeons & Dragons license. That's a shame, because anyone whose sole encounter with D&D stems from the garbage ports on the NES likely has a poor perception of what D&D brings to the table. The game world can be so much more than ugly poop brown color palettes and horse jumping simulators. D&D games can be captivating, magical experiences that stick around long in the memory. The kind of games that keep fans talking decades later. The kind of games you want to play again the moment you finish them.

Well, I think we've got something special for you today to help change your minds on both D&D games and PC-to-console ports. So come along, friends! Let me take you to the days of high adventure!




                                                      Ohhhh... crap. Nevermind.



        Yep, I *totally* remember the epic battle with giant hornets from the Chronicles trilogy.


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pony Canyon

DEVELOPER: Atelier Double

GENRE: Action RPG

RELEASE DATE: 1992


The world of Dragonlance beckons! In this Japan-only sequel to Heroes of the Lance, players are once again set loose on the realms of Krynn, tasked with guiding the legendary companions of yore on an epic quest to save the world from the evil Verminaard. If you're a nerd for the books, the plot here is essentially the second half of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. And if you're not boned up on the lore, well, let's assume we're going to kill a bad guy because... reasons.

On the surface, Dragons of Flame bandies an action RPG aesthetic not too dissimilar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. You'll navigate overworld maps, battle swathes of enemies on 2D action screens, and occasionally enter larger dungeon areas to find keys or treasure. But while Zelda II is analogous to a classy Hollywood feature with appropriate production values, Dragons of Flame is like a low budget direct-to-video knockoff with Treat Williams and Lou Diamond Phillips at the top of the bill. (Or maybe I should say a disappointing animated film with Lucy Lawless as Goldmoon? Hmm...)

Some of the mechanics from Heroes of the Lance were tweaked to make Dragons of Flame easier to play, but a pinch of sugar can't disguise the bitter taste. You're still looking at the same fugly set of graphics and character display taking up half the damn screen. Still hearing the same dull sound effects. Still fighting the same annoying Draconians who throw Hadoukens at you and back away when you approach. The magic system remains as poor as it was in HotL, requiring you to pause the game in the middle of battle and navigate clumsy menus to find the spell you want. It's a sin the developers failed to replace the spellcasters' physical attacks with magic spell attacks, because let's be honest - there's no way in the Abyss that Raistlin and his nonexistent strength can take down a troll by hitting it with his staff.

Which reminds me: since when did the all-powerful Raistlin Majere resort to lobbing puny Magic Missile spells at bats in order to survive anyway? That's like Darth Vader picking up a blaster pistol instead of wielding the dark side of the Force. Gandalf using morning breath to fell an orc. Chuck Norris KO'ing someone with anything but a roundhouse kick. Hulk Hogan beating someone with a finger poke. These things just don't happen.

So while Dragons of Flame isn't the worst D&D-based game to show up on the NES, it's hardly going to ignite your interest in the Dragonlance setting, nor will it compel you to pick up a bunch of oddly shaped dice to play games of make-believe with strangers. I think the best I can hope for with this review is that it might get you to check out The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All. Treat Williams was a treasure in that one.


3 Bigby's Interposing Hands out of 7



                         TASSLEHOFF! YOU'VE CREATED A TIME PARADOX!


Matthew Conway talks THAC0 and the Vancian magic system on Twitter at: @Mattaconda

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -2: Zooming Secretary


 Hello again, Nintendo fanbodies! MC here, still locked inside Dylan's panic room. Still eating Snickers bars for sustenance. Still wondering what the upside was to take on this gig in the first place...

But enough of my problems – today should be celebrated as a momentous occasion! It's Questicle.net's first foray into the murky waters of homebrew NES games! True, the site has covered a number of unlicensed titles, from questionable Bible-themed board games to renegade versions of Ms. Pac-Man, but even the worst of the unlicensed games usually had a small team of people working on the development side and at least some pittance of bankroll behind the project.

On the other hand, most NES homebrews are one or two person jobs worked on for little to no compensation. They're labors of love by enthusiasts and serve as a means for a coder or an artist or a musician to further hone their craft. They're the games you play once you've plumbed the depths of the NES library, not knowing whether you'll get another crummy snake game or the next Retro City Rampage.

We won't look at every single NES homebrew out there – the field is too vast and there's far too many games in a half-finished state to make that task remotely feasible. But the notable releases (for better or worse) may be featured in this series from time to time, provided I can get the air conditioning working in this room.




Good to know Mikhail Gorbachev landed an office job after the fall of the Soviet Union.




                               Paul McCartney's “Another Day”: the Video Game.


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: PinWizz and Shiru

DEVELOPER: Shiru

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: Dec 28th, 2011


Have you ever dreamed of typing out endless TPS reports for a soulless corporate machine? How about sitting with a phone surgically attached to your ear all day, dialing out an endless quantity of mundane appointment confirmation calls while the best years of your life slowly drift into the ether? Or maybe you're like me and you just wanted to see what it'd be like to be Dolly Parton in 9 to 5 for one day?

Well, dream no longer, friends! You can live out all of these fantasies and more with the much-needed secretary simulator known as Zooming Secretary, a homebrew that invokes the classic arcade games from the earliest days of the NES. Work your way up, up, up the ziggurat lickety-split by running around the office answering phone calls. (I like to imagine you're working in the same office suite as the Wall Street Kid.) Every time a phone rings an icon will appear over the phone telling you the information the caller wants. You'll need to run over to the appropriate filing cabinet, collect the files, and bring them back to the phone before time expires. Complete a set number of calls to move on to the next stage, but miss too many calls and you'll be back on the streets combing the newspapers for job advertisements.

These seemingly simple workday tasks are complicated by your co-workers, each of whom has a different means of keeping you away from the phones and closer to the breadline. Take your overbearing boss, for instance. He thinks he's helping by shouting overcomplicated instructions at his employees, but in reality all he does is slow you down. And then there's Chatty Cathy, whose constant prattle will confuse your poor secretary and cause her to mix up the files she's carrying. Swing the momentum back in your favor by triggering a speed boost power-up when you run past the coffee machine, then rack up some extra points in the bonus stages, where you'll discover you're working too hard and are now dreaming about answering phones.

The simple arcade mechanics coupled with the early 80's style graphics and sounds make it hard not to love Zooming Secretary. If you're the type who fancies chasing high scores in games like Mario Bros. or Popeye, you'll want to try Zooming Secretary. You can download the game for free here: http://shiru.untergrund.net/files/nes/zooming_secretary.zip.


7 Swingline staplers out of 7



                     And that's why unemployment figures are rising again, folks.


Matthew Conway can be found talking even more nonsense on Twitter at: @Mattaconda

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -1: Titanic

 
Hello, NESQuesters! I'm Matthew Conway, writer of various internet blog-things of no consequence and full-time Retro Gaming Rain Man. I'm here because the proprietor of this fine website asked me to pen a few guest articles for him while he's busy doing other things. I'll never forget when I got the call from Mr. Cornelius. Our conversation went something like this:
 

Dylan: "Michael."

Me: "Uh, it's Matthew."

Dylan: "Michael, I'm a busy man so I'll get straight to the point. I need some more content on Questicle while I'm out in Los Angeles. Trying to secure my multi-million dollar book deal AND sell the movie rights at the same time is taking longer than I thought it would."

Me: "Wait, I knew about the book, but... they want to make a *movie* about your Nintendo blog?"

Dylan: "Damn straight! I hear Tim Burton wants to direct, but I'm holding out to try and get Todd Holland on board."

Me: "You... you want the director of The Wizard to make your movie?"

Dylan: "Shutup! Don't judge me or I'll have your ass in court! You have any idea how much stroke I have now, son? You know anyone else who reviewed all the American Sammy games AND plays the baddest game of Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf on this planet?"

Me: "Well, no, I suppose not..."

Dylan: "So listen, Mitchell, you're gonna do some content for me. Review some of those weird requests the crazy kids in the comments section keep asking for. Like the California Raisins game. Or any of the 639 Japanese mahjong games. Or the nude hack of the California Raisins mahjong game. I don't care what you do, just get over here and do it, okay?"

Me: "Um, well, okay. But you'll remember the little people once your book and movie deal is finished, right?"

Dylan: *click*
 

And so here I am, with carte blanche on the weird and wonderful world of unlicensed NES oddities, rare imports, romhacks, de-makes, etc. It's a little strange being locked inside Mr. Cornelius' basement, but I'm sure the Snickers bar and can of Tab soda he tossed down the stairs will hold me over until he gets back from L.A. In the meantime, I have some games to review! And first on the list is...
 
 
 
                                                Too soon, game. Too soon.
 
 
 
                                     I wasn't even supposed to be here today! 
 


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Shenzhen Nanjing Technology

DEVELOPER: Dragon Co. / Nice Code

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 2005 / April 15, 1912
 
 
 
"Titanic" - the James Cameron movie - is the story of Rose and Jack, two star-crossed lovers from the Montague and Capulet clans on a voyage across the sea of green to find the remnants of the Yellow Submarine. Along the way they meet Celene Dion, who sings "My Heart Will Go On" at a shopping mall to an audience of teenage girls and weepy soccer moms for six hours on repeat.

Yeah, leave it to Hollywood to turn one of the most tragic maritime disasters in recorded history into a complete work of fiction. Then leave it to a Chinese pirate game company to turn said fiction into a Prince of Persia-style platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Uh, no, I didn't quite follow my own logic there either.

At any rate, Titanic - the video game - plays much like any run of the mill platforming game on the NES. You have a choice between Jack or Rose as your character, though both play identical, thus your decision comes down to which idle animation you prefer. Rose looks as if she's hunching over to whistle at her imaginary pet dog whilst Jack does an awkward head-bob which makes it look like he's either suffering from a serious medical condition or he's headbanging to Pantera records. The character animation is smooth at first glance, but do not be deceived, the control is not. Like the aforementioned Prince of Persia, jumping must be precise. You can hang off ledges like the good Prince, but you'll need to line up your jump perfectly and say a Hail Mary or two if you want to make it. Forward jumps are also a pain, although it was through the awkward forward jump that I discovered a number of glitched areas where you can jump through supposedly solid objects and cheese your way through certain parts of the game. And that's what you get when you don't have the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on your cartridge, folks.
 
 
 
                                I *definitely* wasn't supposed to be in here today...
 
 
Since we're talking about a sidescrolling platformer, there are enemies to contend with, and there's no chance to grab a weapon and bash them. Instead, you're left to jump, dodge, and occasionally duck out of the way from rats, electrical currents, furnace flames, falling light bulbs, flying axes, and blocks of ice. For the most part, I applaud the developers' sense of creativity here. They needed enemies of some variety, and they (mostly) stuck to real-world things that you'd have to contend with if you were trying to climb from the lower depths of a massive ship up to the top deck while it sinks. Simon Belmont flying axes aside, the enemies are more coherent with the source material than, say, those damn killer bees in Back to the Future.

The first few stages of Titanic are repetitive enough to lull the player into a false sense of security, but the game livens up with some ambitious level design as you advance. We're talking a screen push stage, swimming stages, 'find the object' stages with different doors to explore, and even a final area on the deck of the ship which features multiple levels to explore via climbing ropes and ladders. None of this is particularly great in actual play, mind you, but I still appreciate the ambition on the part of the developers, who were very likely working on the most threadbare of budgets.

Platoon aside, Titanic is one of the more bizarre choices for a movie-based video game adaption on the NES. And given the game's 2005 release date, it's not as if someone tried to strike while the iron was hot. (Unless the Chinese bootleg market is just now catching up on American films from 1997, in which case I eagerly anticipate the upcoming Jungle 2 Jungle bootleg video game.) Titanic is nowhere near hidden gem or undiscovered classic status, but it's worth a look if you're up for some esoteric gaming or you really have a hankering to control a pixelated Kate Winslet in a video game.
 

4 Gilligans out of 7
 
 
  
               Not quite as grim as Friday the 13th's game over screen though...
 
 
 
Matthew Conway can be found on Twitter at: @Mattaconda
 
 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Were the Best Selling NES Games?

Hey everyone, Dylan here with a brief update.


While the NES Compendium is being sorted out, I thought I'd keep Questicle.net going with some guest posts from retro gamers I trust and respect.


First up, we have Tom Badguy from VTW Productions. Tom and I have been Internet buds for a couple years now. I admire his directness, his enthusiasm, and his professionalism in his videos and podcasts.


His video is about the best-selling NES games not named Super Mario Bros. It's insightful and you all should watch it at least a dozen times.




For more of Tom's work, check out www.vtwproductions.com and listen to the podcast Tales of Relevant Thought. Your mind will thank you.


More NES Compendium updates coming soon. In the meantime, follow my journey into the world of Sega at SegaDoes.


Thanks, as always, for reading and being awesome,


Dylan


Monday, June 2, 2014

The NES Book is Coming and I Need Your Help


Yes, the post title is accurate: a book based on Questicle.net is in pre-production, tentatively titled "The NES Compendium."


The book will focus on revised reviews (all 754 of them), more screenshots, yearly overviews of the NES from 1985-1994, and...?


If you were to purchase a book that chronicled the NES in its entirety, what would you want to see? Coverage of Nintendo Power? Coverage of old Nintendo merchandise? Interviews with key players? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I can't promise I'll include all of the suggestions I get, but I will take them into account as I start to assemble the book.


Thanks in advance for the comments. Keep an eye out on Questicle.net for more information in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, check out SegaDoes.com 'cause that's what I do now.


- DC





Monday, May 5, 2014

The Quest to Review Every NES Game has been Completed


To those who have stumbled onto this antiquated blog - strangers in a strange land - welcome. Let me tell you what Questicle.net is all about.


For about 3 1/2 years - July 2010 to March 2014, give or take a couple months off - I, Dylan Cornelius, reviewed every North American NES game in alphabetical order. In my List of NES Games, you will find reviews for all 754 NES games - from 10 Yard Fight to Mega Man 2 to Zombie Nation. You will not find (many) reviews of European or Japanese games, though there are a few scattered about.


My NES reviews are not your typical "graphics, sound, controls, gameplay" focus, though I do talk about those features at times. Rather, they are abrupt, strange, nonsensical. I took a different approach to game reviews because I found the standard way conventional and boring.


These reviews are very personal, sometimes visceral, responses to old Nintendo games. They are not for everyone. If you just want to know if a game is good or bad, you should probably use GameFAQS or some other random reviews site. If you want to explore the curious thoughts of a lifelong gamer who grew up with the NES, but never explored the system's depths, Questicle might be for you.


My new vainglorious gaming quest involves tackling all of Sega's console libraries, beginning with the SG-1000 and ending with the Dreamcast at SegaDoes.com. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you there.


Friday, April 25, 2014

My New Blog

Hello faithful Questicle readers.


I officially have a new blog - SegaDoes.com - wherein I'll be reviewing every game ever made for every Sega console. I invite you to join my descent into madness. Thousands of not-yet-written reviews await.


I won't abandon Questicle entirely. I still have those review requests to get to, after all. As one might expect, though, the updates on this blog will become more and more infrequent. It's been a fun, bumpy 3.5 year ride, but I'm ready to give the NES a rest.


Here's to a glorious Sega-driven future with you all!




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The Quest to Review Every Nes Game by Dylan Cornelius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.