Monday, November 23, 2009

The Ten Best Virtual Console Games*

Sin and Punishment N64You might notice there is an asterisk next to the title of this article. That is because I wanted to write an article about my favorite Virtual Console games for the Wii, *but I didn't want it to be a list that includes the following games: Mario World, A Link to the Past, Mario 3, Punch Out, Ocarina of Time, Super Metroid etc. If you haven't played those games, get a better job, move out of the third world ghetto slums in which you are currently living and fucking play them. Simply put, if you haven't played Super Metroid or A Link to the Past, I don't even want you reading my blog.

Regardless of how great so many of those first-party Nintendo games are, I want to expose people to new (old) classic games. So I'm going to list some of my favorite games of all time that are not on everyone's list of " the greatest games ever made". This is a list of classic games that you may not have played, and it is also a list that will be updated the very second Tecmo Superbowl or The Lost Vikings gets released for Wii Virtual Console.

Adventures of Lolo 2#10 Adventures of Lolo 2 (NES)
Adventures of Lolo 2 is a extremely charming puzzle game that gets real hard real quick. Don't say I didn't warn you. This isn't a falling blocks puzzle game like Tetris or Puzzle League. The puzzle designs in all three Lolo games are more akin to the sorts of block pushing puzzles you might find in a Zelda Dungeon.

I did warn you, Adventures of Lolo 2 is a hard game, but this early HAL production is a real classic. Pick this game up if you enjoy a good brain teaser with some emphasis on action.

Super Dodgeball NES#9 Super Dodgeball (NES)
I am a huge fan of 8-Bit Technos games. I love the big blocky character art style, and I love the over-the-top presentation of nearly all of their games. I particularly love the violence in Super Dodgeball. In Super Dodgeball players don't get knocked out of the game... they fucking die... ascending to heaven as angels! Classic!

There are a lot of strategies and special moves to be found in this game of dodgeball. You will soon figure out which of the many international teams are best, and you'll even find yourself rearranging your roster of players, so you will have access to your favorite special attacks. No matter how charming and violent Super Dodgeball may be, I still wouldn't get this game if I was looking for a single player experience. Super Dodgeball is all about murdering your friends!

Wrecking Crew 98#8 Wrecking Crew (NES)
Wrecking Crew is a very early, and somewhat simplistic puzzle game starring Mario. It was also one of Nintendo's early programmable games that let you design levels (like Excitebike). Of course, the main problem with those programmable games was that you couldn't actually save your levels after you turned the power off. With the Virtual Console, you can... sort of. You can save one level at least, thanks to the save state feature in all Virtual Console games.

Wrecking Crew isn't an epic by any means, but it does have tons of challenging levels, and you can go to any level in the game from the title screen, so there is no need for a save feature or password system, you just need to remember which level you completed last. I've spent hours smashing buildings, climbing ladders, and avoiding those eggplant looking creatures in Wrecking Crew on my Virtual Console... this game is $5 well spent.

Gunstar Heroes Megadrive#7 Gunstar Heroes (Genesis/Megadrive)
The first of two Treasure developed games on this list, Gunstar Heroes is my favorite shooter for the Genesis. Heck, its probably my favorite 16-bit run and gun shooter ever, since I can't stand those damn "Mode 7" levels in Contra III.

Gunstar Heroes has everything you'd want in a shooter from the early 1990's. It has a genius weapons system that the player can adjust on the fly, and the programmers pulled off all sorts of crazy graphical effects you won't see in any other Genesis game. Frankly, I'm a little surprised this game was emulated so efficiently on the Virtual Console. You won't find any 16-bit game with more action and flair than Gunstar Heroes.

Ristar is better than Sonic#6 Ristar (Sega Genesis/Megadrive)
Ristar was a very late Genesis release, but it's roots lie in the very infancy of the development of Sonic the Hedgehog. You see, in early development Sonic was a rabbit who could grab things with his long ears. At some point Sonic Team decided they wanted to go with an emphasis on speed, and the rabbit became an annoying fucking hedgehog with an annoying fucking attitude, and annoying fucking idle animations. Ristar was Sonic Team going back to their original idea, this time with a different character who grabbed things with his long elastic arms instead of ears, and it's one of my favorite 16-bit platformers ever.

I know I'm going to get some complaints from the furries out there, but I think Ristar is better than any of the Sonic games. The graphics are sharp, the control is super tight, and the difficulty balance is somewhere between just right and damn hard. If you are a fan of 16-bit Sonic Team, why haven't you played this great game?

Wave Race 64#5 Wave Race 64 (N64)
When I first put this game in my N64 back in 1996, I couldn't believe what I was seeing and playing. I never thought a jet ski game would be one of my favorite games of all time. The waves were beautiful, transparent, and had a huge impact on gameplay. The physics and control in this game were so spot-on and perfectly tuned. With a little practice you could duck under or catch air off of almost any wave in the game.

Wave Race is a game for real racing fans. The courses are brilliantly designed, and the balance between the racers is perfect, offering a racer for every skill level and every racing tactic. Perhaps it is a sad comment on water based racing games, but even now, Wave Race 64 is still the best game ever released in the genre. Splashdown was a fine game... but Wave Race is better in all the ways that really matter.

Lifeforce is better than Gradius#4 Lifeforce (NES)
A sequel of sorts to Gradius, Lifeforce adds a two player option and the "Contra code" for an easy 30 lives. The gameplay, level design, and graphics are all sharper than Gradius, and you'll curse your friends as they steal your lives just as you did in Contra. I'm continually shocked by the number of people who haven't played this classic game. Lifeforce is the best shooter ever released for the NES... nothing even comes close. I don't think I have any more to add... except for this...

Up, Up, Down, Down, L, R, L, R, Start!

Super Tee Shot#3 Kirby's Dream Course (SNES)
If you are as geeky as myself, you just might remember that game advertised on the back of early SNES consoles called Super Tee Shot. Well that game was never released, but it eventually became Kirby's Dream course. Kirby's Dream Course is a hybrid of golf, pinball, and your average 16-bit platformer. The physics are fairly easy to grasp and the control is tight as you bash Kirby through the many courses in this game. There is so much challenge and so many techniques to discover, it is very easy to sink a lot of time into the single player portion of the game.

So the single player is great in Dream Course, but if you can find a friend willing slog through what is a pretty steep learning curve, only then will you really understand Dream Course's real potential. 2-player games are extremely tactical and competitive. You can do cold, evil, devious things to your opponents. Expect physical violence to result. Kirby's Dream Course is one of the great overlooked classics of the entire 16-bit era.

Bomberman 93#2 Bomberman 93 (TurboGrafx 16)
With the way Hudson has whored themselves out by releasing every single god-damned TG-16 game they ever made on Virtual Console, I'm shocked that they haven't released any of their SNES Bomberman games. No matter, Bomberman 93 is almost exactly the same game as Super Bomberman for the SNES when it comes to its ground-greaking 4-player vs mode. This is one of the best 4-player (5 player if you have a Gamecube controller to add) games ever made.

I would also add that everything that made this game great back in 1993 has held up perfectly. This game is not only one of the best multiplayer games on Virtual Console, but its one of my favorites in the entire Wii library... right up there with games like Smash Bros, New Super Mario Bros Wii, and Boom Blox. Get it!

Note: Bomberman 94 has also been released for the Virtual Console as an import title. I haven't had a chance to play this update yet, but from what I've read, it is another quality Bomberman release.

Sin and Punishment#1 Sin and Punishment (N64)
Sin and Punishment is the best N64 game never released in the United States. Thanks to the Virtual Console, you can play this game before you dig into the sequel due out on Wii in 2010.

Sin and Punishment is a rail shooter like Starfox or Panzer Dragoon with one little twist... most of the levels are played on foot and you can wield a sword against nearby enemies. I guess you could call Sin and Punishment a cross between the arcade classic Cabal and Starfox 64. The really great thing is that Sin and Punishment is every bit as good as Starfox 64! Thanks to some brilliant art design and technology from the developer (Treasure), this game holds up very well visually. This is one of the very few N64 games that I can go back and play these days... its a masterpiece.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Its Time to Kill the Postal Service!

From Wikipedia:
Article I, section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution grants U.S. Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads. The Federal Government has interpreted this clause as granting a de facto Congressional monopoly over the delivery of mail. According to the government, no other system for delivering mail - public or private - can be established absent Congress's consent. Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters.
I'm not going to claim that the Postal Service never had it's place here in the US. You could argue that the Postal Service did a lot to keep Americans connected during our nations formative years when no other model existed to provide that service. I may or may not completely agree with you... but you could still make that argument while sounding informed and intelligent.

But look at the state of things now. Postal unions are standing in the way of modernization. The USPS had a 2.8 billion dollar loss in 2008, its third straight. But now its getting even worse. The USPS ran up a 1.9 billion dollar loss in just the 2nd quarter of 2009! FedEx and UPS offer rock solid reliable service without any taxpayer dollars. The USPS is projecting a decline of about 10 billion pieces of mail each year for the next two years. There are also new technologies such as email and online bill paying being used by millions of Americans that make the Post Office's services much less essential to most citizens. No matter how one feels about the Post Office's place in history, I think anyone who is willing to look at the facts would have to admit that something needs to change. The change I want to see is this... it is time to kill the United States Postal Service as a government organization.

The main problem in my view is the Postal Service's lack of profit motive. No private company could be run like the Post Office is operated today and stay in business. The Postal Service doesn't exist to give unionized mailmen high wages and expensive pensions. The Post Office should not be a welfare state, and if it is, they could at least own up to that fact. The Postal Service does, or at least should exist as a service provider. If they can't provide that service efficiently, or without taxpayer dollars, they do not deserve their monopoly protection or their state ownership. As it stands now, it is hard to see the Post Office as anything more than a welfare state.

Thankfully, this is a problem that is easily solved. There are models around the world as to how we should handle this government monolith that will lose money each and every year from here to eternity. Germany and The Netherlands have already privatized their mail delivery, and are now models of efficiency compared to our Postal Service. The Germans being efficient? I know it's a shock, coming from the country that industrialized homicide.

After a net loss in the the 3rd quarter, Deutsche Post adopted a new cost cutting plan, and is now projecting profits through the rest of their 2009 fiscal year. I'd love to see any state run organization turn things around that quickly! Heck, a German State bank still owns over 64% of Deutsche Post, but the rest of those outstanding shares are held by private and institutional investors, and that alone provides enough profit incentive to make Deutsche Post much more efficient and responsive to changing conditions than our mail delivery in The States.

The Post Office is a slow moving government monolith that cannot possibly adjust quickly enough to meet modern economic conditions. But the Post Office does have an infrastructure worth billions (if not trillions) of dollars that could be sold to private companies wanting in on the business. There are two ways to handle this. The government should at the very least lift the Post Office's protected monopoly status and let it die a long debt ridden death like any other inefficient company would in a competitive marketplace. Or we could sell it off and get the taxpayers some of their money back. Obviously, I'm for the second option.

I don't want the Post Office to die a long and painful death, and I really don't want to pay that bill. I want to see the Post Office put out of it's misery as quickly and humanely as possible. Death with dignity... right? I want to see it divided up and sold to the highest bidder(s)... whatever would bring in the most cash. I then want to see those private interests change that business model and make a shit-ton of money while offering better services. Political interests may make this a hard-sell, but the time is here now... we need to kill the Post Office.