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Hi. I'm Mike. This isn't updated often.

Month: June 2009

Owning THREE PS2s…?!

It is certainly a fair question to ask why I would need to own three PS2s in the same house. What kind of setup could possibly require this? We certainly never intended to have three, but our logic for doing so may be sounder than even I originally thought.

It started out with the original PS2. While I did not get it immediately after launch, it was soon enough into its lifespan that it is the original launch model. This has been one of the most-used consoles in my lifetime, with a gaming library (both in terms of global releases and my own personal collection) that exceeds anything that has come before.

Since I had little interest in modding my system to play Japanese games (and genuinely having zero interest in bootlegging or “playing backups”), I opted to go with a genuine Japanese PS2 to supplement the American one. I ended up getting a Hell of a deal on one (yet another launch model) from a fellow staff member at AnimeNEXT many years back, just in time for the Japanese release of DragonBall Z 3 (“Budokai 3”). It served me quite well over the years, allowing me to play my precious DBZ games with both their Japanese voices and music… not to mention cheap, English-language “Asian versions” of games (Tekken 5), and plenty of other fighting games that either never came out here, or came out years later (Neo-Geo Fighting Coliseum, Virtua Fighter 2 [Sega Ages version]), etc.

So here we are in the present-day. At the end of last March I asked you all whether or not the PS2’s $99 price drop affected you in any way. Would you get a new system to replace a broken one? Supplement the first one for use in a different room of the house? Maybe even get your first PS2 ever? The comments seemed to run the gamut of all those scenarios, but none of them really applied to me at the time.

Here I am in the new house, though, with plenty of rooms, plenty of TVs, plenty of newer systems and games… and yet a desire to still play some PS2 games from time to time, both classics that we also break out to play, as well as games I just never got around to playing.

Originally, I set it up so that the two PS2s (American and Japanese) were hooked up to my old TV via component up in our loft. This was an easy and convenient way to still let me play some PS2 games since our PS3 model (the 40 GB mass market one) does not have backwards compatibility.

However, as convenient as this was, it posed a few problems. For starters, it would now be impossible to play Dance Dance Revolution. While there might be enough room up in the loft… really, no-one needs to be stomping around up here. Also, while it’s nice and comfy up here with a couch, it is not quite the same as wirelessly playing games down on the new HDTV in the living room. We enjoy playing some old favorites when company is over (namely Capcom vs SNK 2, Street Fighter Alpha 3, etc.)… and while we do have newer games available to us that will eventually become staples, it really isn’t that much fun to say “Forget the nice, big TV with surround sound… let’s go play up in the loft.”

When we received our entire security deposit back from the apartment folks (which we did not anticipate at all due to the cats taking a loving to picking at several areas of carpet and molding), we quickly decided that getting a slim PS2 to hook up to the HDTV in the living room was no longer “overboard”. Here is the current PS2 setup we have throughout the house:

The Japanese PS2 remains in the same place. The majority of play-time the system sees is typically single-player DBZ games on my own, so there is no problem just crashing up on the couch in the loft with it on the old SDTV. It is still hooked up via component, so it looks the best it is going to look on an old tube TV.

ps2_loft

The new “slim” PS2 is hooked up to the new HDTV (also via component) down in the living room. It hangs out with its other fellow small system, the Wii, in a door in the cabinet. Thanks to suggestions from folks on Twitter when asked, we decided to go with the Logitech wireless PS2 controller to keep things tidy. It was a great recommendation, and is a fairly sturdy-feeling replacement for an actual wired PS2 controller. Should we need to get some two-player action going on, the wired controller it came with lives in the drawer above this door.

ps2_slim

The most interesting of the bunch is the original American PS2, which has been moved down into the basement. One of the reasons we choose this house over a couple others in this development was its finished basement. The colors are… well, they are certainly “finished basement” colors rather than “rest of the house” colors… but that is neither here nor there. The old system has essentially been transformed back into a DDR-only machine on a crappy old TV. Hooked up via old fashioned composite cables, high-quality audio and video are nowhere in our mind when we want to bust out the old Red Octane Ignition 2.0 pads (seen in the reflection of my highly-artistic photography) for some DDR. In case we want to play some of the Japanese PS1 games, the original PS1 and its Pro Action Replay patiently wait in silence. Once we crash after playing for a while, the NES is just a switch away.

ps2_basement

This all comes full-circle to those questions I posed back in March: why would you purchase a PS2 at this point in time? I read all of your responses, and now you have read my own. This past May, sales of the PS2 were down 32%… but they still sold 117,000 PS2s.

I am just a statistic, at this point.

Random Images: Mount Vesuvius

It’s pretty amazing how little I’ve written our our honeymoon trip to Europe so many months ago. Maybe I’ll correct that, eventually.

Until then, here are some random photos.

While in Italy, we were able to browse through Naples, Pompeii, etc. We even took a trip to the top of Mount Vesuvius! You take a van up most of the way (frightening beyond belief on the way back down on the narrow, windy roads), but must walk up the rest of the way to reach the top. Our regular camera’s battery died shortly before we reached the top, but I did have my iPhone on me and was able to snap this at the peak down into the pit of the volcano:

volcano_pit1

Here is a view of Naples far below:

volcano_naples1

Yeppers. Good times.

Random Game Purchase: Donkey Konga

It doesn’t take much more than a good coupon to drive me into game-buying-mode. When I came across Gamestop’s 20%-off coupon for used Gamecube games over at Cheap Ass Gamer, I was all over that. What would I get? Luigi’s Mansion? Maybe another Resident Evil? I kept thinking to myself what some cheap games would be to fill in some embarrassing-gaming-holes on the Cube, but decided I would just go and peruse to see what was there without much in the way of specific targets.

I had totally forgotten that a couple years ago I picked up a boxed copy of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and its included “DK Bongos”. Gamestop had a floor full of them for ~$20 (and extra bongos for about the same price), some time ahead of the deluge of upcoming, additional, crazy amounts of fake plastic instruments.

I pretty much picked up Jungle Beat and its “perphs” with the intention of eventually grabbing the Konga games. Up until this weekend I had not seen them sitting around on the used game shelves… either that, or since I had forgotten I was looking for them, I didn’t see them even if they happened to be in hidden in plain view. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw copies of both domestic Donkey Konga games on the “Used” shelves this weekend! It was $9.99, so with the 20%-off coupon, we’re talking about $8 for the game.

After a quick scroll-through of the song lists in the games on the iPhone (thank you, mobile ‘net access!) I decided that the first game was the clear winner of the song-list-battle. The Mario and Zelda themes? The dub Pokemon theme? Oh, c’mon. Sold.

donkey_konga_cover

I’ve played a little bit of Taiko Drum Master (import and domestic) on the PS2 courtesy of Andrew, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into in terms of gameplay. While I was not smashing fake plastic drums with fake wooden drum sticks, I was at least hitting fake plastic drums with my hands. Hit the left drum, hit the right drum, hit them both at the same time… easy enough. The one gameplay aspect I had to look up online was the blue/white sparkly icon on the timeline. While my copy of the game came with its cover and generic insert, it did not come with the actual instruction book. Turns out I have to clap my hands on those icons (having totally missed the little microphone/clap sensor on top in between the drum heads). Once I figured out what I was doing, it was clear sailing.

I decided to play on the Gamecube itself (as opposed to via the Wii) hooked up to an old tube TV due to the fact that it was a rhythm-based game, and I’ve had it up to here with lag (also correctly assuming that Nintendo would have nothing built into the game to compensate for said lag on newer A/V setups). I had a pretty good time in the 30-45 minutes I spent with the game last night (having already played R.B.I. 3 on the NES in the basement, and FFIV: The After Years on the Wii in the living room, now playing on the Gamecube up in the loft). My hands had enough of the smashing and clapping after about that much time, though I expect I could have easily played for an hour had I not already spent an entire day doing various activities around the house.

The “licensed” songs that I did play were probably the best of the bunch (“All the Small Things“, “The Impression That I Get“, “Right Here, Right Now“), and I can’t see myself visiting some of the more juvenile ones all that often (“The Loco-Motion“, “Campfire Medley“). The Nintendo-specific songs were all a blast to play, especially the bongo-ified version of the main Zelda theme.

As you complete songs (on either its equivalent of the “easy” and “medium” single-player difficulties available by default), you accumulate coins to spend in its in-game store. Yes, it’s another coin-collect-athon in the traditional Nintendo sense, and it fits right in with the rhythm game unlock system of the day; think of spending money to unlock songs in Guitar Hero II or playing a certain number of songs in DDR to unlock new courses.

While you can spend the coins on “expert” levels of songs (as I did for the dub Pokemon theme song, which playing will accumulate a higher number of coins), you can also spend coins on new sound effects for the bongos. You have standard bongo sounds and NES-style beeps available at the start, and I decided that I would spend some cash on Zelda-inspired sound effects to complement the default ones. After selecting a song, banging the bongos to the left and right allows you to select these custom sound effects, so now I am banging out heart-collecting sounds and Link yelps. These custom sound effects cost significantly more than “expert” versions of songs, so you’ll have to decide on your own which kinds of unlockables you want to shoot for first.

I certainly enjoyed what I have played so far, and see myself having another couple rounds with the game in the near future. More so than either of the North American Donkey Konga releases, though, I have found myself incredibly enthralled by the prospect of importing Donkey Konga 3. Its track list is impressive from both a gamer perspective (a song from Katamary Damacy, plenty of Famicom remixes) and an anime perspective (“CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA” from DragonBall Z, “Mezase Pokemon Master” from Pokemon, “Re-write” from Fullmetal Alchemist). The going price on eBay seems to be $25-40, which is pretty fair considering it’s no longer available new on sites like Play-Asia.

Of course, here’s my biggest problem:

donkey_konga_floor

Since unpacking the DK Bongos, I have even more fake plastic instruments sitting around on my floor with no real place to appropriately store them.

(I also picked up XIII on the Gamecube for about $3. I know nothing about it other than that it’s rated “M” and was $3 + 20% off).

Online Consoles Follow-up

As a follow-up to some material covered in episode seven of our podcast, here are a couple quick bits of information and reading:

– At E3, Microsoft announced that they had one more title to bring over to “Xbox Originals”… and then it’s done. We can probably safely assume that no more software updates will be coming to the 360 to allow for additional disc-based backwards compatibility. (Link: IGN)

– Sony officially unveiled the PSP Go at E3 to no-one’s surprise. The UMD slot is indeed gone, and no official statement has been given with regards to how consumers with existing UMD-based games will be able to possibly transfer them to their new hardware. Current rumors involve kiosks set up at stores, or a trade-in program. Additionally, the PSP Go is completely incompatible with all existing PSP accessories (including mini-USB cables) due to a new multifuction port. (Link: Engadget)

– No “Portable Virtual Console” was announced by Nintendo for the DSi. Do you think it’s still coming?

– We didn’t get a chance to cover every single last thing about video game consoles and online connectivity, so if you’re up for a little more reading, CNet has covered a little bit more. While it’s not the best in terms of breadth of information covered or even straight-up writing style, you’ll probably find something of interest. I definitely need to do some kind of “Fond Memories…!” segment or something regarding Sega Channel (much to Andrew’s chagrin, I’m sure).

Conversation 007: Online Services, Games, Demos, and More

Hey, lookie here. It’s a podcast episode! That’s right, we finally got off our butts for the first time since February to record a show. We had a whole slew of ideas kicking around, but ultimately decided to discuss how online services for consoles have really changed the playing field. Whether it’s exclusive demos, downloadable content, further making magazines irrelevant… services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network (and perhaps to a lesser extent WiiConnect24 and Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection) have created an entirely new vocabulary gamers must be familiar with just to exist these days.

There was just so much content cover, we didn’t even get around to discussing things like the reliability of services (PSN run slow for anyone else?), paying for access and the future of paid services (Gold, anyone?)… and on and on and on.

We were happy to bring Meri on to shoot the shit with us this episode, and can’t wait to have her on in the future, again. In addition to talking about the games we’ve been playing and our main topic, we also gave our Top 10 Console Download Games.

As always, big special thanks to everyone out there sticking with us while waiting for a new episode by contributing your responses on the blog posts and continuing to drop us a line. Whether it’s your own Top 10 Games or a question for us, we would love to hear from you.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: Save Concerns

I never finished either New Super Mario Bros. (DS) or Super Mario Galaxy (Wii). Both came with extreme excitement and anticipation on my end, but something about them just didn’t click with me. I may not be able to put my finger on it with Galaxy, but the DS game? I can tell you exactly what it was and why that caused me to never finish the game, despite starting it up twice:

The save system.

For those who don’t know, you cannot save whenever you want in New Super Mario Bros. You can save when you clear a castle (mid-stage or end-boss), just like you were able to in Super Mario World. If you want to save at any other point in the game, you had to spend special coins that you collected throughout regular gameplay; three of these coins were hidden away in each stage. Despite this actually being an expansion on the save system from World, this was a major deterrent to completion (and even overall enjoyment) for me. From my perspective, if I am playing a portable game, I do not necessarily know how long I have to play before I need to do something else. The whole point is that the game is portable and can conform to my busy schedule. If I have to schedule my saving around the game rather than myself, I should just be at home playing a console game. It did not even matter that I always had plenty of coins to spare, and was probably coming up on a castle, anyway… it was the principle of the matter, to me.

This is what concerns and intrigues me about New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you take a look at the E3 trailer, you can clearly see Mario collecting what appears to be large coins, and a special slot on the left that fills up as you collect these three coins:

nsmbwii_coins

My question to myself is this: if it was so much of a problem on DS, will the (apparent, but not confirmed) same save system in the new console version provide the same frustration? Or, like the older versions, will the fact that it is on a console with (presumably) more time to dedicate to it end up with it not even mattering?

How about you all? Did the DS version’s save system drive you away, or did it not even matter? Any concerns or thoughts about the new one?

D’oh! “Rock Band” DLC Incompatibility

Not wanting to seem entirely biased in one direction (though it’s mostly true), it looks like I have to cough up a little disappointment due to the fact that in-game content and DLC for The Beatles: Rock Band will be incompatible with other versions of Rock Band, which extends to not being able to export from one game to the other.

This, of course, comes after I snarkily turn my nose up at the Guitar Hero franchise and its lack of compatibility between games from the very get-go of Activision’s take-over.

I will give Harmonix somewhat of a pass, since with the inclusion of new features like three-part harmonies, it might be rather difficult to process back into the single-vocal-track for the standard Rock Band games. I guess I was holding out hope that it would simply strip out the harmony parts and bring just the lead vocals over. If anyone could make that work, it would have been Harmonix.

I’m still waiting to hear whether or not Guitar Hero 5 is going to offer compatibility with World Tour DLC and especially its on-disc songs (since I personally haven’t purchased any DLC for it). As much as I don’t want to fall for Activision’s shenanigans again, the on-disc artist list is getting a little too difficult for me to ignore. Thrice, Brand New, Sunny Day Real Estate… graaaaaaaar! If I can bring my World Tour on-disc songs into 5, I might consider picking it up. Harmonix set the bar on this one, and I don’t know if Activision can ignore that yet again.

Was a podcast recorded last weekend? I dunno. Maybe.

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