World Driver Championship

The Nintendo 64 has a lot of great racing games, but most of them are kart racers or adapted from the arcade. Don’t get me wrong, I do love those types of games, but I’ve always wondered if the N64 ever birthed a competitor for Sony’s racing simulation Gran Turismo. After a bit of internet research I came up with a few candidates that may be able to answer that question. The one I decided to try first is World Driver Championship.

World Driver Championship isn’t exactly a racing simulator, but it does boast 15 world driving teams, 10 tracks throughout the world, 20 events spread across two different levels of competition and 30 highly detailed cars with realistic handling and physics. Starting off, the game allows the player to choose from only a few of those teams, race for them and earn points to rank up and unlock more team options and better cars to drive. Each team offers a different style of car with a few upgraded versions which become unlockable, but at first the car options are very lackluster, and kind of difficult to drive. Once you’ve chosen which team you’ll drive for you can start a series and do the best you possibly can. Each series has two different sets of points: the points you earn that determine where you place in the series, and points toward your overall rank. The player starts at rank 30 and will earn points to work their way up to 1st place from there.

In a way World Driver Championship can be looked at as a racing RPG, but only for the fact that you sometimes have to grind out the same series of races a few times to get enough points to gain better cars to be competitive in another series. Earning the gold trophy will unlock a new racing series, but if you didn’t earn enough points to unlock a car good enough to compete in that series you’ll just have to keep grinding. This can be a bit frustrating at first as, previously mentioned, the handling on the beginning cars can be a bit difficult. If you’re having a problem with any particular race the player is given the option to practice the track as well as qualify for a better starting position before actually taking part in the event. However, if you drive poorly during an event the AI are not very forgiving, and last place can sometimes be a very familiar finish.

Graphically World Driver Championship is very impressive for a Nintendo 64 game. There is even a high-res mode that doesn’t require the expansion pak, although it does crop it down into a letterbox shape on the screen. Draw distances are seemingly endless as I’ve never noticed any fog and minimal pop up, so I can focus on the horizon and where my next turn will be. Truthfully sometimes this game feels like a Playstation game with the graphics and way it renders everything. As if that wasn’t enough, entire races can be viewed as a replay and even saved to a memory pak.

However, all things have their dark side and this game has a few things that do annoy me. First there is a complete lack of ability to personally upgrade or modify your car, with only upgraded versions you unlock from ranking up being offered. Another gripe that I have is there seems to be an invisible margin on each AI car which, if hit while trying to overtake, will send the other car flying in the right direction, while slowing your car down by at least 70%. Sometimes you’ll be holding a line in a turn then, suddenly and mysteriously, find your car spinning out wildly, allowing you to watch all the cars pass you as you wonder what just happened. Lastly, this game doesn’t seem to fully understand drafting and its importance within racing games as a way to help pass and overtake opponent vehicles. Sometimes you may seem as if you’re drafting and gaining on the AI, while other times there seems to be no possible way to draft at all.

World Driver Championship isn’t perfect, but it does scratch that itch for a more realistic driving game on the N64. Oddly I both enjoy and detest the ranking system. I enjoy it because obviously every game needs a goal to accomplish, but the fact that you’re given cars that seemingly fight against you at the beginning, causing you to race the same races over and over to unlock better ones, robs the game of some enjoyment. Sticking to it, learning each track and its variants, and just doing your best is the only tactic I’ve found that works. World Driver Championship isn’t a terrible game, by far, but the beginning does feel needlessly complicated just to pad out a sense of accomplishment.

Posted June 29th, 2020

Building the Ultimate Game Boy

Throughout my thrift store journeys I’ve purchased a handful of Game Boy consoles, most of which were in desperate need of repair or restoration. Some only needed elbow grease and care, but the others, sadly, were so far gone they became relegated to the parts bin. A few years ago I looked into my parts bin and saw an AGS-101 and a AGB-001 sitting there. I could feel the desire to become a part of something better burning deep within their souls, so I decided it was time to make my own backlit GBA (or as I call it the GBA-101).

The GBA I found had a broken screen and a heavily worn shell, but the rest of the console worked perfectly. The GBA SP I found worked perfectly, but its shell was heavily damaged and the moisture detector on the motherboard had turned pink, causing me concern about the console’s long-term reliability. Having previously reshelled a GBA I had a few shell options in which to place the newly formed GBA-101. I decided to mix and match and settled on an indigo front with the transparent back, inspired by the Gamecube controller with the same color scheme.

Having all the ingredients sitting there before me I only needed one more thing to pull this off, the ribbon cable adapter. For anyone thinking about creating their own GBA-101 you must take into consideration that the GBA has 2 motherboard variations: 32 and 40 pins. To see which type of ribbon cable adapter you need take the battery cover off the GBA and you’ll see a number at the top where the battery cover clips in. If the numbers start with a 1, it’s a 32 pin and you will need a type B ribbon cable. If the numbers start with a 0, it’s a 40 pin and you need a type A ribbon cable. While you’re ordering the ribbon cable you might want to buy an aftermarket shell, buttons and glass front lens for the GBA, but that’s all up to your personal desire.

Before the AGS screen will fit inside of the AGB, the shell has to be modified first. This part can be a bit tricky if you don’t have the right tools. I happen to have a very useful X-acto blade (X-Acto blade 17) that is flat and works really well in achieving the necessary cuts on the front of the shell. Carefully cut all the necessary parts down flush and you’re almost ready to finish up.

When you’re done modifying the front of the shell, you can now put everything back together, taking care to align the new, bigger screen. Put everything back together and make sure you plugged the screen into the ribbon cable correctly and you’re ready to go. Yes, on my first attempt I plugged the screen in backwards, no harm was done but nothing worked until I flipped the connector around. Some ribbon cables come with brightness switches, some come with an extra cable attached and some are just plain A to B ribbon cables. Mine came with an extra wire, which I didn’t solder onto the board, and it works perfectly fine.

I did previously make a GBA Macro (or as I call it the DS Boy Advance), which is the bottom half of a Nintendo DS modified slightly to become a backlit GBA, but those only play GBA cartridges. The benefit of the GBA-101 is that you’re not limited as to which Game Boy library you want to play. From the classic grey carts to the transparent GBC carts all the way to the GBA carts, you can play them all. I’ve always loved my main AGS-101, but my hands tend to cramp up after a few hours of playing a game. The AGB-001 form factor is perfect, so this modification was exactly what I wanted in a Game Boy.

Now I have to say I would never take apart two perfectly good working units to make one of these. There are kits available with screens and ribbon cables that don’t require cannibalizing an AGS-101. Had my AGS-101 simply needed to be reshelled I would have done so, but, again, the water indicator on the motherboard was pink indicating some moisture had come in contact with the board. The motherboard could be perfectly fine, but I personally wouldn’t want to spend the money to reshell it and the board short out sometime down the road, so I chose to make the GBA-101. Here are the conditions of both units as I found them at Goodwill:

Posted June 26th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Interact Barracuda

If you’ve read a portion of my other Peripheral Vision posts you’ll know I have quite a few strange video game controllers. One of the strangest among the collection is my Interact Barracuda. Compared to all the other oddities I own this is an absolute unit. I’m a grown man with grown man hands I have to admit, even I find this thing to be a behemoth of a controller.

Apart from its size the Interact Barracuda is, to me, a bit of a mystery, in terms of how it works. You see, every button can be programmed however the user likes and the programming stays even after the controller is turned off. Well lucky for me to have bought one secondhand and not have the user manual to understand the darn thing. (Seriously, if anyone could scan the user manual for this thing or knows where a PDF could be found, please comment below. Thanks!) So imagine my surprise when I plug the controller in to test it for this article and find the game I was using going completely haywire every time I pressed a button. After I goofed into deprogramming a few buttons it worked pretty much as I feel a Playstation controller should, but still for the most part this controller just confuses me.

If the back of the box is to be believed this thing is supposed to mimic Sony’s Dual Analog controller. With the switch at the very top middle you have three mode settings. From what I’ve gathered Mode 1 seems to be Digital, but also allows the user to use the analog sticks. Mode 3 turns on a vibration feature and the only reason I know this is because one of the games I tested would display a vibration option in the start menu only when the switch was in Mode 3 position, so that must be DualShock mode. Finally, Mode 2 doesn’t do jack and the games always display an error message telling me the controller currently plugged in isn’t compatible — just like the Sony Dual Analog did.

The controller also offers a few features that I feel are completely useless, and those are the slow motion and turbo features. Slow motion in the PS1 era is more frustrating than it ever is useful and sadly the Barracuda’s turbo button is rapid fire for all or nothing. This means if you need to hold X as a throttle, and circle to fire you’ll have rapid fire on circle but stuttering acceleration on X, rendering is useless. Speaking of useless, the L and R buttons are on the bottom of this massive thing and aren’t very easy to press in whatsoever! Again, I don’t have tiny hands, but even I have a problem pressing in the L and R buttons comfortably. There is also a switch between the handles of the controller that are suppose to swap the functions of the analog sticks, I see no difference. Useless switch.

My conclusion about the Interact Barracuda is that I feel Interact let their heads wonder too high above reality. If they could have made some of these features more useful, and in some cases work at all, and cram them into a slightly more normal sized controller for the time it probably would have been useful. It’s size isn’t off putting, but it’s just not as comfortable as other Playstation controllers, and that puts it well behind many, many other controllers in terms of desire of use. The Analog sticks are concave like the Sony Dual Analog and that’s ok, but what isn’t ok is the fact the caps spin on the metal shafts and retaining grip isn’t always easy. Personally, I’m just not a fan of the Barracuda. I see where Interact was heading with it, but I think their desire to make an outlandish controller overshadowed the controller’s true potential. Plus I’m scared to admit this controller outsmarted me because I don’t have the manual to fully understand it. There, I said it.

Posted June 22nd, 2020

Eternal Eyes

In the age of Pokemon’s success everyone was looking for their slice of the pie. While Hudson Soft and Atlas were busy publishing Robopon to try and take down Game Freak’s behemoth other companies were trying to catch the trend curve and see where they might fit in. Sun Corporation quietly sat back and when they finally saw their opening they published their attempt to seize the moment with Eternal Eyes.

The game follows the life of Luke, a descendant of the Cucurotheatro who possessed crimson eyes. The Cucurotheatro were known as magical puppet masters, also possessing the ability to detect jewels which could turn blank magical puppets into creatures used to aid them in battle. These magical puppets were used long ago in The War of the Goddess to seal away the Goddess of Destruction and free humanity from her evil clutches. After the war, the Cucurotheatro seemingly disappeared from existence without explanation. Now that some are seeking to free the Goddess of Destruction it is up to Luke to learn the abilities of his ancestors and help retain the peace and freedom of the world.

Eternal Eyes is a turn-based, tactical RPG much like Final Fantasy Tactics, but with the main mechanic of the game being very Pokemonish to see if they could capitalize on two already successful franchises at once. The ultimate goal being to create a party of magical puppets, aka Mappemon, (*sigh* yes, seriously..) and defeat those who wish to free the evil Goddess of Destruction. Throughout many different battles and dungeons you’ll collect blank puppets and jewels, which can be combined together to create different types of puppet monsters. These monsters can also be evolved and learn new spells with the jewels collected.

While the Pokemon aspect feels weak to me, it’s painfully obvious Sun Corporation went heavy into the tactical side for this one. In fact, I think if they had focused more on the tactical, turn based RPG elements and removed the puppet aspect entirely this game would probably be more highly regarded. I’m not sure I could see Eternal Eyes ever being able to match that of FF Tactics, but even as it stands Eternal Eyes is a fully playable game, and it’s not that bad, so it might have come close.

The story is a bit cheesy, but I guess it fits the needs of the game and sets up a bit of backstory, although I’m not the kind of person who plays a game strictly because of its story. The graphics are where I feel this game did something right. What drew me into this game was the fact that the graphics reminded me of some of the MMORPGs I played on PC at the time. Replaying Eternal Eyes now, the graphics are still pretty good for a PS1 game. The game play isn’t overly exciting but it does feel rewarding to beat monsters as well as collect and create your own puppets. Again, if Sun Corporation had made this game maybe even just 99.9% tactical RPG I feel this game would have been more highly regarded, but the puppet aspect just makes this game feel like a Pokemon clone that never quite hit the mark.

Posted June 19th, 2020

Overpriced or Justified: Expensive NES Games

In the 25 years or so I’ve been collecting video games, rarity and value only started to factor in about ten years ago. I started collecting as a kid, buying or trading for old games from other kids in the neighborhood. I would keep the games I liked and trade away the others to places like FuncoLand. Around 2010 vintage gaming became a more popular hobby, and in some cases a business. At that time it wasn’t uncommon to walk into a flea market and see a $30 copy of Gyromite or even 10 Yard Fight locked away behind glass as if they were Smeagol’s precious.

In many situations it was obvious these were people who had read one of the many extremely misleading click bait article about NES games selling for tens of thousands of dollars, so these people rifled through old boxed, found NES games and wanted to cash out their old, forgotten tokens. What piqued my interested though were the games with titles I had never heard of before that were actually fetching high prices. Admittedly I don’t know every game in the NES library, but I once held an arrogant notion that if I hadn’t heard of a game before it must not be worth playing. Now that I’m older, and maybe a little bit wiser, I feel I should take some time to challenge younger me and see whether some of the more valuable NES games that I own are overpriced or worth what they’re selling for.

Now I fully acknowledge many factors go into a game’s value, but I will be basing my opinion mostly on playing the game. These won’t be in-depth reviews of the games either, I will just play through the game until I get bored or have to stop myself.

One of the earliest examples of a game with what I considered to be a high price tag is Casino Kid 2. The first time I ran across this game I thought to myself “Well this person has clearly lost their mind.”. After checking ebay prices and seeing sold listing matching what the seller was asking I started to wonder what made this game so pricey. Lucky for me I found a copy that was sorely under priced and I snatched it up. Casino Kid 2’s value has gone up considerably since that time and I still haven’t done anything with the game beyond putting it into my collection. So let’s see what it’s like.

Casino Kid 2 was released in 1993, which means this game probably hit shelves with very little, if any, marketing behind it. The story is about a champion gambler from the US who now must fly all around the world to challenge other top gamblers in other countries. If you run out of money, it’s game over. Now I know next to nothing about gambling but even I know you don’t gamble with a machine because the machine controls the rules and what is dealt, so clearly I went into this game with a purely opened mind.

I hated it!

I just don’t find gambling fun. The truth about gambling is that it’s not about about winning, it’s about getting you addicted to losing your money. Maybe if I understood gambling I might enjoy this game, but as it stands now I just didn’t. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and it just felt like a tug of war that only ended when I reset the game to try one of the other gamblers. I guess I could say I took a gamble in buying this cartridge and even though I paid a small fraction of what they are valued at, I still feel like I lost. My only regret is I didn’t get to eat at the $2 casino buffet.

Another game that I noticed creeping up in price, but was quite well documented around the time I started factoring in rarity and value, is Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2. Being a Capcom game you know this one is going to be great quality, but I question whether it’s all that different from the first one. Does this game get its price tag from a case of late release, or is this game really that far superior to its first release, and much of the NES library?

To fully understand what I was getting myself into I first played the original Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers and it is actually quite fun, as I knew a Capcom game would be. Doing this gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect from Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2. As far as gameplay goes they both feel very similar, but the graphics in the second are vastly improved. Controls are very responsive, I would say maybe the second one has a slight bit of an edge and tune up when it comes to maneuverability. At first I felt like I was just aimlessly going through screens collecting R/R squares with very little resistance until I got to a boss, but the more I played the game the more I started to enjoy it. Is Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 worth the asking price? If you want a similar experience with slightly lower graphics you’ll do perfectly fine with the first. That’s not to say the second isn’t a good game, I just don’t see it being a worth what it’s selling for online good game.

I’m a bit disappointed by Casino Kid 2 because Sofel also released Wall Street Kid, which I enjoyed. I’m just simply not a gambler and I know better than to gamble with something that knows the rules and is programmed to make you lose. Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 wasn’t a disappointment though, and I’m glad I picked it up all those years ago. Again, I don’t see either of these games being worth their asking price based solely on their game play, but I do understand scarcity has caused people to value them highly. Don’t get me wrong, I too fall into the pit of being glad I own these games, even if I’ll never touch Casino Kid 2 ever again. If I didn’t own either of these games and my only options were to pay market value or go without, I feel I would be perfectly fine playing the first Rescue Rangers and never knowing Casino Kid 2 even existed.

Posted June 15th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Sony’s Dual Analog

Before the success of Sony’s DualShock series, there was another controller that looked slightly similar by the name of the Dual Analog. The Dual Analog was released in Japan in 1997, alongside a pair of compatible games, Bushido Blade and Tobal 2. The controller was advertised as giving more precise controls, with a rumble feature for a more realistic experience. When considering its release outside of Japan, Sony decided that the rumble function would be removed from both the European and American versions of the controller.

Hands on with the Dual Analog will yield immediate differences between it and it’s brother, the DualShock. The first thing I noticed was the handles are significantly longer as well as one of the screw holes on each side sits right where my fingers need to grip. The controller is also significantly lighter than the DualShock, since there are no rumble feature motors inside. The analog stick caps are hard plastic that are concave, where as the DualShock analog sticks have convex rubber tops and the L2 and R2 buttons have an odd rim.

The Dual Analog has three modes including digital, analog as well as a flight mode. Digital mode is just like the original Playstation controller and disables the analog sticks entirely. During digital mode the LED will remain unlit. Pressing the analog button will turn the LED red and engage Analog mode, which functions exactly like the DualShock. Pressing the analog button again will change the LED to green, which is flight mode. Flight mode is said to emulate Sony’s bigger and more expensive Playstation Analog Joystick set, but I couldn’t get any of the games I have that are compatible with the Analog Joystick to work. When engaging Flight Mode I always received an error message telling me the controller currently plugged in was incompatible, even though on the back of the case is shows a joystick and says Analog Joystick Compatible.

To compare the Dual analog and the DualShock, there really isn’t much difference other than cosmetics and the added feature of the Flight Mode. The Dual Analog is comfortable to hold, despite the aforementioned screw holes being right where my fingers need to go, and since none of my games seem compatible with the Flight Mode, it’s basically the same thing to me. The Dual Analog is an interesting piece of video gaming history as I feel its creation gave birth to the DualShock, which has become a staple for the Playstation consoles to this day. The Dual Analog wasn’t around very long so they are a little harder to find than the digital or DualShock controllers. If you already own an Analog Joystick and DualShock, I would say the Dual Analog might not be worth hunting down unless you just absolutely have to have one. If you don’t own, or don’t have room for the Analog Joystick and can find a Dual Analog fairly cheap and easily then maybe it’s a good alternative. That is if Flight mode is actually emulating the Analog Joystick controller.

Posted June 12th, 2020

Auto Destruct

As a teenager the Sony Playstation was my favorite console and I simply couldn’t get enough of what it had to offer. While perusing a rental store I found a game that caught my eye by the name of Auto Destruct. On the back of the box I read: “Your family was murdered by a nihilistic cult. Driven by revenge, you join a mysterious underground order to even the score. Your mission: fire up your killer ride, load up on devastating weapons and drive the cultists out of town.” If that’s not a teenager’s video game paradise I don’t know what would be.

Auto Destruct was developed by a company called Neurostone and published by Electronic Arts in January 1998. At that time Auto Destruct was among the first games with a 3D environment that you could freely roam, and the very first one I had ever tried. The player takes the roll of a former professional driver named Booth who, as previously mentioned, is taking revenge against a cult who killed his wife and daughter in a terrorist attack. The group you are now working with to seek that revenge will setup tasks for you and your car to carry out. Missions will include tasks such as seek and destroy, pickup and deliver, follow and collect, against the clock, and escort. Whats more is that each mission may have multiple tasks to fulfill within the same mission. While you may start out following a van dropping jewelry, you might end the mission by collecting the town’s mayor, after having to protect him from suicidal cult members, and drive him to safety.

Before each missions the player is given a short briefing on what their mission is. With both visual instructions as well as real voice acting, the player is then allowed to carry out said mission, while vocal instructions will continue to aid the player periodically. When you get behind the wheel you’ll notice on the left of the HUD there is a map for the player to locate where their objective is, and on the right is a confusing cluster of circles that show the player their car’s health, their opponent’s health, their fuel level and current speed. Nothing is marked, so the game’s manual is pretty vital in understanding this cluster at first.

The player can obtain many different weapons as well as a few different power ups to help them with missions. The car’s health and fuel can be replenished by pulling into gas stations, while weapons can be refilled or gained by driving over them after finding them inside warehouses found around the city. To collect anything, simply run it over and voila, it’s now in your possession, this includes cash drops from a police helicopter that helps the player throughout the game.

Strangely enough Auto Destruct offers both a password system and allows the player to save to memory cards. With my given disgust with most password systems, even when that was the only method to save your progress, I actually think this isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe someone didn’t have a memory card, like I didn’t when I first bought my PS1, well a password system allows the player to enjoy the game and still be able to save their progress. It feels a bit odd, but I truly think that’s a good idea.

I remember Auto Destruct being quite a fun experience all those years ago, and replaying through it now it’s simply ok. Some missions can be frustrating because of slightly wonky handling of the car, but I find that’s to be expected with a lot of PS1 games. The environments looks pretty good for PS1 era but there is some popup, if that type of thing bothers you. The city’s terrain is mostly flat with a few small hills, hilly grass areas and the occasional river. Your cars traction on the roads seem fine, if not a tad be slippery but if you take the time to play the game for a bit you’ll get used to it. However driving on grassy areas is really slippery, so avoid doing so unless instructed to do so on a mission, which does happen. And what would a 3D environment be without traffic and pedestrians? It would be exactly like Auto Destruct, as traffic and pedestrians are almost non-existent. There will be rare occasions where a car or a person will get in your way, but by and large the city seems abandoned.

Auto Destruct isn’t a well regarded game by any means, but I still enjoyed it. It’s a bit cheesy, it a bit hokey but it still supplied me with a good time. Reviews for the game usually pan the game as being less than they expected it to be, or not very good at all, but Auto Destruct is what it is. As was often the case, back in the PS1 era, when trying something that is fairly new you may not get it right the first time, and those who copy your work will surely surpass you, but you have to give it a try. Neurostone sure did gave Auto Destruct a try, and I for one am glad they did, masterpiece or not.

Posted June 8th, 2020