RetroN Jr. Announced at CES 2020

RetroN Jr. Lets You Play Your Game Boy Games on Your Giant HDTV by Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo

Now that ThinkGeek is no more, Hyperkin will be carrying the “April Fool’s Day prank turned real” torch and turning the RetroN Jr.—a gag product it originally introduced on April 1, 2017—into a legitimate way to enjoy classic Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance titles on a big screen TV.

I’d use the word “legitimate” loosely in this context.

The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) was this week out in Las Vegas, NV. There was a tons of wacky, cool, and overly ambitious tech revealed this past week. I won’t be commenting on it all. I think John Voorhees at MacStories did a great job of summing the highlights up. I wanted to throw up a small post about the RetroN Jr.

It is the next emulation box from Hyperkin in a similar vain of the RetroN 5. These plug ’n play boxes come off cheap like what you’d find in a drug store toy aisle. Back in 2014, before I dove into the RGB rabbit hole, did think the RetroN 5 looked dope. When I look at the RetroN Jr., I see a nostalgia fueled cash grab, but I see why this type of product keeps happening.

The middle ground for bringing classic games to the modern era is still developing with first-party mini consoles like the SNES Classic or the Sega Genesis Mini. These often sell out quickly though and only play the games pre-installed by the company producing it. Portable games have not had that demand met yet by official console makers yet.

The higher fidelity end of the market is flourishing with scalers and the upcoming Analogue Pocket, put that’s a steep price of admission for the casual consumer with their copy of Tetris or Pokémon Blue lying around. Hyperkin has seen this gap in the market and is meeting that need, even if it involves cutting corners.

It’s a balancing act: features and price. Someone like myself knows the value of accurately running these games in higher visual quality, but until official consoles are produced and can stay in production or FPGAs become cheaper to make, companies like Hyperkin will prey on nostalgia of consumers.

Apple’s Ad-entity – Go Left Gaming

Apple’s Ad-entity – Go Left Gaming:

This was the first article I wrote about Apple. I’d like to do more writing about Apple outside of Twitter, so I figured I would repost it here.

Almost 10 years later, the entire landscape of the company has changed. The iPhone was only one year old at the time of the “New Soul” ad. At the beginning of 2017, the iPhone made up 69.5% of Apple’s revenue and having sold 1.2 billion units in its lifetime. The iPad wouldn’t be out for another two years. Needless to say, the face of Apple has changed over the last decade: and lately, I’ve begun to notice a shift.

It is funny to see most of Apple’s official videos that I linked to in the original post be removed from their YouTube page. I’m curious if they can be found on their official press site or if Apple actively wipes old product ads away from their media facing history.

The History of Breath of the Wild – Go Left Gaming

The History of Breath of the Wild – Go Left Gaming:

I wrote this history back a week before the worldwide launch of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

It has been a long, winding journey just to get to the game’s launch on March 3, 2017 though. Zelda fans love timelines, so I thought it would be worthwhile and interesting to look back at the history of the development of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It is easy to forget where a game has come from and exactly what it took to get to a launch.

I am sharing this here for two reasons:

  1. To test reblogging/sharing posts from other sites.
  2. I’m proud of this piece and like it quite a bit.

Lara Croft GO Review – PlayStation Insider

Originally published on PlayStation Insider on January 6, 2017. PlayStation Insider is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.

I am a huge proponent of quality, mobile games. If a game is up to snuff and cost a few bucks, I think the developer should have their share. A popular genre on mobile platforms are puzzle games. Titles such as Threes, Monument Valley, and twofold inc. are gems on my iPhone that I go back to regularly. Three years ago, Square Enix announced that its Montréal studio would be making mobile games. It was not the company’s first foray into mobile gaming, but the results immediately caught my attention. 

I am a huge fan of Hitman GO and was stoked that it made its way to Vita with a platinum trophy. After playing Hitman GO on Vita, I could not wait for Lara Croft GO to make its way to PlayStation. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Lara Croft GO is here on PS4 and Vita, with new levels in tow, and was worth the wait.

Lara Croft GO is a natural evolution from Hitman GO. Square Enix Montréal found a core turn based puzzle mechanic and then applied a given Square Enix franchise to it (please give me Kingdom Hearts GO). The board game vibe of Hitman GO perfectly suited the franchise in an oddly delightful way. For their second title, Square Enix Montréal adapted their formula to the Tomb Raider franchise. They ditched the board game diorama design from Hitman GO in favor of a fuller aesthetic. Lara Croft GO sports dense jungles, buried ruins, and hidden caverns that give the levels life. Colors are imaginative with warming oranges and soothing blues blending all together. The modern polygonal graphics tie it all together for a visually captivating game, whether you play on Vita’s OLED display or your HDTV.

My favorite visual elements come from the way Lara moves. Generally, she moves in a standard forward fashion. When climbing off a ledge or going backward, she somersaults with a striking fluidity. Even when I would swipe quickly to speed up the level, I would make sure to stop to watch the graceful animations.

Gone are the specific challenges on each board like Hitman GO. Replacing the challenges are collectibles scattered throughout the levels. Tap the jars to collect gems and statues that unlock different outfits for Lara. Their placement can be blatantly obvious, while some are deviously hidden behind platforms and moving objects. The level select screen shows you how many per level you have collected. This makes completing your collection and pursuing the platinum trophy an addictive delight.

When concerning the actual puzzles, Lara Croft GO is engaging by introducing new mechanics in a well paced manner. I learned the skills I needed in early levels of each chapter. Over the course of the game, it became up to me to master the rules of the game. 

For example, one type of enemy is a snake. If you step in front of the snake, it will kill you. Approaching a snake from any other side or using a spear to throw from a distance, allows you to kill it and progress. By the end you are navigating boards with five or more snakes and pitfalls with only one spear. 

Puzzles may have occasionally stumped me, but for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes. When I finally solved the puzzle, a clear click of a light bulb coming on sounded inside my head. This lead to a satisfying sense of accomplishment and kept me going for just one more level.

A surprise to myself was the visual storytelling packed into Lara Croft GO. The entire main campaign revolved around Lara exploring an ancient place with a big, ol’ spooky snake following her around. It fit into the world and gameplay without bogging down the game itself. It all wraps up in grand fashion and was a load of fun to tackle. The final levels are worth talking about because of just how much fun they are to play. The whole narrative thread is icing on the cake.

Lara Croft GO isn’t without its frustrations, unfortunately. The port to Vita, the platform I played on the most, has egregious load times. 40 to 50 seconds just to load some levels. I found myself catching up in my Twitter feed, looking back at my Vita and the level would still be loading. Anytime you die or restart a level, lengthy load times accompany it.

On PS4, the game loads instantly. Once you play on PS4, it’s hard to go back to the Vita version. The home console port does have some funky stuttering, particularly when collecting items or moving too quickly. It is a shame though, because the touch controls on Vita make navigating less frustrating than its dualshock counterpart. Plus, being able to chip away while on the go is nice. Thankfully, automatic cross save is enabled. Any time you boot up the game, it syncs with the server to give load the latest save.

This port to PlayStation systems isn’t without something new and shiny. A whole new chapter has been developed by Ko_op. Titled “The Mirror of Spirits,” these new levels sport one of the series’ best puzzle mechanics: mirror paths. On one side of the level is the Lara avatar you have used the entire game, and on the other is a spirit Lara that mimics your movement. The challenge of navigating two characters through two different puzzles kept me on my toes. This level pack provided some of the best puzzles in the entire game, which was a welcome treat to someone who had already played Lara Croft GO on iOS.

Lara Croft GO is a captivating puzzle game. It excels at what made Hitman GO so great and shines with the Tomb Raider IP. Square Enix Montréal should keep bringing their iOS games to PlayStation as far as I am concerned. They fit right in on the ecosystem (particularly the Vita). The new expansion is the best in the game, so much so that I would argue it is worth the price of entry even if you have already played the game on iOS. Lara Croft GO is everything I wanted in the next GO game and is an absolute must play puzzle game.


Amnesia: Collection Review – PlayStation Insider

Originally published on PlayStation Insider on December 9, 2016. PlayStation Insider is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.

Horror games seem to be a dime a dozen these days. Games about robot bears and creepy dolls litter digital game shops. Even with PSVR hitting mainstream consumers, horror VR experiences flooded the gate at launch. Back in 2010, a champion among the horror genre stood out within the community: Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

I still remember my first encounter with Amnesia: The Dark Descent back in 2013. A friend of mine bought it for me on Steam for my MacBook Air. I barely made it to the first puzzle before my computer’s fans were whirling like a jet engine. I never touched the game again. 

Three years later and I finally could complete what I had attempted with my friend thanks to Frictional Games. The Amnesia Collection includes Amnesia: The Dark Descent, its DLC titled Amnesia: Justine, and its indirect sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. These games have left the PC market and come to PS4 in a bundle. Unfortunately, the jump to console leaves much to be desired in these ports.

As far as horror games go, Amnesia: The Dark Descent nails the sense of dread. Almost always surrounded by darkness, light sources are a scarcity in the game. You have a lamp that contains a limited amount of oil that is used up while the lamp is on. You may also light torches with tinderboxes you find lying around the castle. If you run out of light sources and can’t find anymore, the darkness will start to mess with your character’s head. 

Amnesia: The Dark Descent‘s signature insanity mechanic means if you stay in the dark for too long or look directly at monsters your character’s sanity will slowly drain. This causes the screen to go wobbly, which leaves you slow and vulnerable to monsters. To keep your sanity, you must solve puzzles and stay in the light as much as possible. It’s this balancing act that is the core challenge—and charm— of the first game.

Once you grasp this mechanic though, the rest of the game becomes crystal clear and it is not a pretty sight. This version of Amnesia: The Dark Descent is woefully marred with egregious technical hiccups and design choices. Monsters will walk in place or not trigger at all. If you get near an enemy stuck in a loop or near an invisible trigger (which is often where you need to go), the beast will suddenly snap out and attack. If you succumb to a monster, odds are it will simply not be there when you reload the checkpoint. Sometimes your checkpoint will even be ahead of where you were in the area. This sucks all the tension out of encounters.

The game performs as if Frictional Games just right clicked the PC file and chose “Save as .PS4.” The controls are not optimized for a gamepad whatsoever. The only gamepad added feature is rumble, which shakes more than Scooby-Doo in a haunted mansion. There is no option to reduce or shut off rumble. 

This is no remaster, but I am disappointed there was no sort of visual polish. Textures are muddled and drab. You’ll be seeing a lot of them too, since you’ll be crouched against the wall in the dark, especially in the latter half of the game. In fact, the game doesn’t even present itself at full resolution. This small black box encompasses the screen at all times. I checked for any options or if it was my television’s aspect ratio settings. Nope. The game just presents itself at a funky ratio.

Amnesia: Justine performs in a similar way to Amnesia: The Dark Descent since they are intertwined. The reuse of assets in Amnesia: Justine is smartly used to create a small plot line. I enjoyed the idea of saving or killing captives throughout different rooms. It’s short and sweet, allowing for more playthroughs and casual attempts.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is an unique Amnesia game since Frictional Games only published the title. The Chinese Room, creators of Dear Esther, developed this indirect sequel. Outside of the name, the two games share little in common. Sanity and item management are totally removed. You find a modern lantern that never runs out of light. Puzzles are reduced to point-and-click roadblocks. No item you need is too far away or puzzle too difficult to solve. 

There is also little actual danger. The first couple hours are completely devoid of it. When danger does present itself, all you have to do is put out your lantern, crouch, and walk around the threat. Despite diverging from its roots, I did enjoy Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs more than Amnesia: The Dark Descent because of what I found to be a more intriguing and engaging story.

Released in 2013, A Machine for Pigs does boast sharper and more detailed environments than its predecessor. The game actually is presented at your TV’s full resolution! Unfortunately, this graphical boost may bring out more technical monsters than expected. The game features horrifying frame rates whenever you decide to turn, enter a visually packed room, or run. Basically, anything outside of walking straight forward. It’s truly scarier than all the pig corpses lying around.

All three games do utilize stellar sound design, though. I could be playing in a fully lit room and still feel tension in my gut because of the nail-biting sounds. Whether is was guttural growls, scraping, or heavy footsteps, I found sound to be my anchor in the experience across this collection. Monsters and the worlds came alive through my headphones.

When looking at each Amnesia title, they are truly solid foundations for horror games. It’s not a surprise to see the PC community praise the franchise, but when it comes to this PS4 collection, it’s hard to get sucked in. The real horror is how it made it onto PS4 in such a maimed state. Frictional Games seems to have dragged the corpse of their beloved game series to console and left it to rot. The beating heart of a classic can be heard if you listen close enough. It’s just a shame you have to dig through the corpse to find it at all.