Saturday, October 29, 2016

Transformers: The Headmasters (Nintendo Famicom Disk System)

You would think making a video game that contained transforming robots wouldn't be so hard, but the history of official Transformers video games has been pretty rough. When I first learned that there was a Transformers game released for the Nintendo Famicom I was beside myself. Then I played the game. Let's just say it's a awful piece of trash and easily one of the worse video games I've ever played. Even this fan can't make excuses to enjoy the game even though I wanted to like it.

If Takara didn't learn their lesson with their first Transformers Famicom effort, The Mystery of Comvoy, they tried it again,. This time however they released a game on Nintendo's Famicom Disk System and went with a Headmasters theme.

The game looks and "plays" a lot like the original, but this time you control Rodimus Prime over Ultra Magnus. The game does let you choose which planet you'd like to play. I remember you had Cybertron, Earth and a few other planets to choose from, but if I'm being honest the game is so bad it doesn't matter which planet you go to as they all suck.

After about 10 minutes I had enough of this game. I can't recommend it at all. Maybe as a display piece if you're a Transformers fan, but if you are just a fan of video games all I can say is stay away, very far away! If you want to play a good Transformers video game, play the Playstation 2 game.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's time to revisit Willamette Parkview Mall in the HD remake of Dead Rising for the Xbox One

(This post was originally made for my video game blog, Adventures in Video Games)

I'm not always an early adopter of a new hardware platform, but every once in awhile there will be a game that I really want to play on a platform I don't own. Dead Rising was that must play game for me when it launched in August 2006 for the Xbox 360. When I finally found myself buying the 360, Dead Rising was one of the first games I purchased.

To celebrate the games 10th Anniversary, Capcom released an HD version of the original game via Steam and the Xbox One. At $19.99 for the physical version, how could I not pick up the game and relive all those fun memories I had of slaying zombies inside the Willamette Mall. By the way, most of the images were taken on my iPhone while I played the game so believe me when I say the HD version looks much better than my pictures!

It's been at least 8 years since I've played Dead Rising on my 360, but when I sat down recently to play through the game again on the Xbox One I felt right at home again. In addition to giving the game an HD makeover, thankfully the save feature has been upgraded. If you've played the original then you'll probably remember how annoying it was only having one save slot. I know I had to play, and re-play and re-play the game a lot before I was able to make it anywhere. In the HD version, you now have 5 save slots to choose from. While you still can't save your game just anywhere (still have to find a bathroom or save in other places like the security room), it does help a lot and makes the game a little more enjoyable if you ask me.

If you've lived your life in a hole and you've never played this game, do yourself a favor and at least pick up the Xbox One version. The game is a take on the 1978 George A.Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" movie basically...even though the 360 version of the game has a disclaimer right on the front that the game wasn't approved or licensed by Romero (ironically enough, this same disclaimer is absent on the HD remake). You take control of photo journalist Frank West. He is tipped off of an incident in Willamette, Colorado and pays a helicopter pilot to get him closer to the city for the scoop. There are a lot of cinematic scenes that help the story unfold and unlike in some games where the store may be weak, I enjoyed the overall story in Dead Rising. 

The game opens up with you in the helicopter flying towards the city. As you approach, you tell the pilot to fly over the town. Here you have a photo taking session, zooming in and out snapping pictures at will. You only have 30 pictures before your camera battery dies so you have to be careful in what you snap. You are rewarded with Prestige Points (or PP) and based on the category of your photo (drama, horror, erotica, outtakes or brutality). Once you fly over the city, Frank tells the pilot to drop him on the roof at the mall...this is where the real game begins.

You have 72 hours before the pilot comes back to pick you up. You have to be on the roof at 12 noon and complete certain tasks (or cases) in order to get the best ending. You play in a fairly open world environment and based on your actions, or lack there of, are given multiple endings. Being very familiar with the game, I didn't have any real problems beating it with the best ending the other day. I didn't even have to "cheat" and use the Mega Buster weapon this time around!

The story unfolds inside the Willamette Parkview Mall and you are free to go where you want. The mall is comprised of different areas and is basically one large circle, with an open air park in the middle. You are immediately thrust into the action when some survivors in the mall that you meet are overtaken by the zombies at the malls entrance. This is where you meet Brad, a Department of Homeland Security agent. He takes you back to the security room when a mall worker, Otis, welds the door shut for protection. You also meet Jessie, another DHS agent. These 3 people serve as your eyes and ears and help you as the story unfolds. The main story, told in a series of cases, occur at different times throughout the day. You have to keep up with these if you want your game to continue. If you fail to start or complete a case, it's game over. It's not too hard to keep up with these, but you do have optional side quests that Otis will radio you with. Whatever you do, make sure you answer Otis' calls as if you don't or if you get interrupted you'll get a tongue lashing from the old man!

Your character starts out relatively weak, but you gain PP as you kill and photograph zombies. You can also earn larger amounts of PP by rescuing survivors in the mall as they appear on the security cameras. Otis will radio you and tell you where they are in the mall. It's up to you if you actually want to help them out. The AI in the game for the survivors is pretty lame so it makes escorting them to safety back in the security room a chore a times. While you are in the mall there are a lot of things to do if you get bored of killing zombies. Many of the malls stores have different clothing you can change Frank in and out of. Everything from dresses to children's clothes to a tuxedo are at your disposal. Above you can see I traded in Frank's leisure suit with khaki shorts, a sleeveless vest, orange shoes and a ball cap. You can also find different books in various stores in the mall that will give you new abilities. Some may make certain items last longer while other books will make you more effective riding a bicycle or help make the survivors you are rescuing less afraid and easier to escort to safety.

Before you could make new weapons in Dead Rising 2, Frank simply picks up just about anything in the game and uses it as a weapon. What you have at your disposal starts off rather small, but soon you'll find yourself wielding all sorts of items depending on the area of the mall you're in. Go the North Plaza section and you'll find this section of the mall is undergoing a remodel. Here you'll find lead pipes, nail guns, 2x4 studs and other construction related items. In the food court you'll obviously find restaurants with food you can use to heal Frank. The mall is quite diverse and you'll find yourself doing a lot of running back and forth, but eventually you'll figure out the layout pretty quickly. 

Be careful while "shopping" as there is more than just the zombies you have to worry about. A certain times in the games story, Otis will call you to go and check out a certain section of the mall. This is where you'll fight a Psychopath, a human survivor that has gone a little crazy during the zombie apocalypse. Some of these battles can be challenging if you're not properly equipped with the right items. Above you'll see one of the psychopaths, a crazed butcher you'll take on near the end of the game. He is armed with razor sharp knives and runs around the plant eating from buckets scattered around the perimeter of the room, giving him health. You have to be quick to take him out or you'll find yourself being the latest special on his menu!

I shouldn't be spoiling anything on a game that is 10 years old, but if I do I don't apologize. As the story continues to unfold, you'll find out that this zombie outbreak is basically the work of one make, Carlito, the same guy you meet on the roof of the mall when you first start your game. You'll cross paths with him on several different occasions during the game. His sister, Isabelle, will eventually help you in your quest to stop her brother's terrorist plot. It turns out that it's basically retaliation for what the U.S. government did to his home town of Santa Cabeza in Central America. It seems out military was experimenting with some sort of testing to mass produce cattle, but during this process a local wasp was infected with some sort of virus which would eventually spread to the population in this small town, spreading this "zombification" disease. 

Carlito would harness these wasps and bring them to the States as a way of getting back at our government. Zombies aside, this is a pretty disturbing plot if you ask me, but there is just enough humor and non-realism to help make the story interesting and not disturbing. Carlito is pretty cunning, but ultimately he'll meet his fate after trading gun fire with Brad (the DHS agent) and he'll be hauled off by the butcher psychopath. Upon his death, he leaves you with more questions than answers. By this time you have already spoiled his plans of spreading the virus by removing bombs he had set in the maintenance tunnels underneath the mall. It's getting close to time for you to head back to the roof top to meet your ride out of town with your story.

After Carlito's plans are foiled, the jammer he had in his hideout is no longer blocking Jessie's outgoing calls to DHS headquarters. However the news isn't good as the government is sending in armed forces to "clean up" the mall...both zombies and humans alike! These special forces run around the mall with machine guns and will not hesitate to open fire against you. Be careful when taking them on however because they can take you hostage, giving you one of 5 different endings to the game. Eventually when you go back into the mall, all the zombies will be dead and your only threat are these guys and their drone helicopters.

The first time I got this far in the game, let's just say I was tired and relived that the game was almost over, or so I thought. I made it to the roof just in time to cue the cut scene. The helicopter pilot Ed, is on the roof of another building waiting for you. Once he sees you, he takes off to come and pick up you and any survivors you rescued. However Frank doesn't see him at first and starts to walk away, not knowing how he'll escape the mall. What happens next in the cinematic scenes surprised me, but just made the story and the game more interesting.

While Ed is flying to the mall to pick you up, cheering all the way, a zombie appears behind him and well...has lunch courtesy of Brad. I was able to snap the action just in time to see the blood splatter on the helicopter's windshield. Needless to say Brad doesn't make it which is bad news for Frank and the others.

Poof! Up goes Frank's chances of getting out of the mall and being able to share with the world the real story of what is going on in Willamette...or at least that's what they want you to believe. Frank starts to sulk, sitting on top of the helicopter landing pad and ultimately faints. Cue the credits.

You are given the results of the game As you can see here I was able to do everything that was needed to get the best possible ending, Ending A. I just fell short of leveling Frank all the way up to level 50. I ended at level 48. Thinking the title screen will come up next, you are treated to yet another scene. This starts what they call Overtime mode. Isabelle finds you on the roof and drags you back to Carlito's hideout. Apparently you are infected with the virus and have 24 hours before you are told the zombification process will take hold. Isabella asks you to pick up some items from around the mall, along with some of the queen wasps as she may be able to make some sort of medicine that will at least stunt the process.

You'll find yourself back in the mall searching out about 10 different items/supplies Isabella needs. By this point you should be familiar with the mall's layout and have the shortcut unlocked so retrieving these items isn't too hard. You still have the special forces agents you have to contend with however. Once you have these items returned to Isabella, she is able to make a drug and injects it in you. She mentions the zombification process differs from person to person and she isn't sure if the drug she just injected you with will hold off this process for 1 day or 1 year.

While you are retrieving the items for her, you'll notice that Ed's helicopter crashed into the clock tower in the center of the mall (located in the outdoor park). Left from the wreckage is a hole in the side of the tower. Frank informs Isabella that it may be a way out of the mall, but the one problem is that the path is absolutely packed with zombies. Earlier Frank calls himself a "ticking timebomb" and that gives Isabella an idea. While she was making Frank's medicine, she discovers a way to create a pheromone that repels the zombies, so Frank and Isabella cover themselves in said pheromone to escape from the mall via this underground path.

This tunnel is absolutely crawling with zombies and I was surprised at how well the system handled that many things on the screen at once. There was hardly any slow down or flicker. This part of the game is annoying in my opinion. You have to hold Isabella's hand and she doesn't always follow you that well. There will be times you get separated and unless you have some good weapons like Adam's mini chainsaws, you're in trouble as the sheer number of zombies will easily consume you. There are times where you have to open a circular gate in the wall to allow Isabella to crawl through to the other side to open the gate. Keep in mind you have to be holding her hand when you approach the round gate, otherwise it won't prompt you to push the action button. Once you make it all the way to the end, you open a larger gate to distract the special forces so you can make your escape in a jeep.

Not so fast! You don't make it too far before you find a large tank blocking your path. You are treated to more story scenes as it rounds out the story as the special forces leader, Brock Mason confirms Carlito's story of Santa Cabeza. The game now switches to a vehicle combat style, where you are controlling the gun mounted on the back of the jeep. I'm guessing Frank is still driving as the jeep continues to circle this industrial looking area while you take fire at the tank.

The first time I fought this tank I had no idea what to do. On my latest play through I didn't pause the game to search out my answer on the internet, instead I just continued to open fire on the tank. It didn't take long for me to realize the tank's weak points were the small red lights on each side of the front. While you aim your fire there, a laser will try to lock on you. If it does lock on, what out as the tank will open fire on you. Throughout the battle the tank will also launch mini helicopter drones and fire missiles at you. You have to take these out before they take you out. It seems as if the battle goes on much longer than it should, but after you are able to take out the tank you still have one more fight left.

You now have to take on Brock on top of the tank. On the ground, surrounding the tank is a horde of zombies. You have been stripped of all of your items, both weapons and healing items. Let's hope you saved your game midway through the tunnel when you had your chance. At first it seems as if Brock is nearly impossible to beat. Depending on how high you leveled up Frank, you may find Brock to be a frustratingly difficult fight. What I have found that works well is to spam the knee drop move on him. I would jump on and off the tank's turret and when he would follow me I'd have my opening to make a quick jump and drop the knee. I just kept doing this move over and over until I defeated him.

In a very cool cinematic scene, Brock falls off the tank onto the ground only to be instantly consumed by the zombies waiting below. Now you have beaten the game. Even the ending game credits have been slightly altered this time around as you see a horde of zombies in the background, slowing marching towards the screen.

Once you are taken back to the title screen, you will see that you have unlocked the Infinity mode. If you choose to play, you get to resume with your same character level. This mode is a survival mode and the goal is to see how long you can last. You can't save your game and all of the survivors you rescued are now your enemy. Your health will slowly tick away (think how your health ticked away in the old school Gauntlet arcade game), I believe one block every 100 seconds. Food is limited so you have to use some strategy if you are going to last. When you take out one of the survivors, they will leave behind weapons and food. It's not as easy as it sounds. I've been trying for the last two days to at least unlock one of the achievements, but it takes a long time and you can't save your progress so you have to devote some good time to play this mode.

I was making some great progress the other day, but it was getting close to the time my wife and kids were coming home. I paused the game and turned off the TV and planned to resume my game after dinner. I forgot that if you pause your Xbox One for too long, it'll power off. Noooo! All that progress was all for nothing. I tried again the next night, but I literally fell asleep sitting on my couch while I had Frank perched up on a roof in safety. I woke up to realize what happened and immediately kicked myself. I tried again earlier today as my wife and kids had an event after school. I had made it further than I had the last two attempts and was excited about getting at least one more achievement, however I took a 20 min break when the kids got home. When I came back I remembered that I skipped an update so my console wasn't online. When I tried to connect to Xbox Live, it launched the update and of course the system rebooted and I lost my game progress again. Enough! I guess I'm just not destined to play the Infinity mode.

If you do play this mode, here are some tips I found that helped me. When you start, immediately make your way to the various book stores in the mall and pick up the books that boost the effects of food. I also like to pick up the book that makes bladed weapons last twice as long as there are a lot of hunting knives you'll come across and they are really effective. Keep in mind there is a Survivalist book in the room where the hostages are kept in the North Plaza. This book boosts the effects of food by 100%. If you stack this with one or two of the 50% food books, you can carry around one item like steak or orange juice and leave your inventory slots open for weapons. One of these food items will completely fill up your life, even if you've maxed out Frank's life bars. Now you are free to roam around the mall and do as you wish. Even if you find yourself in a pinch and in need of food, any item will greatly replenish your health.

In 2009 the game was remade for the Wii as Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop. The game is quite different in many ways, but I've yet to really sit down and play it. I feel now is the perfect time for me to play it so I can compare it to the original, but that is a post for a later day.

All in all I love the original Dead Rising. The sequels are fun, but the original is still the best in my opinion and I'm happy to report this HD remake is just as much fun, if not better than the original. The game isn't perfect by any means, however it's a game that has given me over 30 hours of entertainment. If you are playing it for the achievements however, keep in mind this was an early 360 game and the developers were still learning on how to work with achievements and score them. What I mean is while there are a lot of achievements to chase, they are all worth 20 points each. Some are easy to get while others seem near impossible. Dead Rising has aged well and I still find it a blast to play. The HD visuals are nice and the upgraded save system is a God send. Pick up this budget title if you haven't played it, or if you are like me and it's been nearly 10 years since you last visited Willamette...I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

KO Korner: Dinosaur Corps Tyrannosaur FS-204 "Goryu D-322"

One of the hard things about collecting vintage toys for myself is knowing that in some cases I have chunks of plastic sitting on my shelves that can bring in a decent amount of money. The vintage Japanese Transformers G1 Dinoforce toys are just one example of toys I bought for song and eventually sold.

I was planning to do something really nice for my wife and I's 10th wedding anniversary a few years ago, but like any father with kids I was low on money. My wife really wanted to go on another cruise so we started to price them out and it was clear I was going to need to make some sacrifices in order for this to become a reality. As much as it pained me to sell my complete, individually boxed set of Dinoforce Pretenders I knew they would fetch enough for me to pull off a really nice gift for my wife.

A few years later I really got the itch to replace them, but like many things I've sold in the past the current prices were just too prohibitive of me doing anything. After all, it's hard enough at times to keep up w/ the current Transformers toys and my other hobbies, yet alone go out a chase some hard to find elusive TFs like the Dinoforce toys. I was aware that there were at least two different KO versions of these toys that were produced in the 90's that share the same size and a very similar color scheme to the originals. With a little searching I found that these toys appeared to be originally available in parts of Italy, particularly Greece. I eventually found a Greek eBay seller that had one of the boxed specimens for sale. These toys also came packaged in a blister card, but many of the colors on the dinosaur shells had been altered whereas the boxed version seemed to resemble the original color scheme more. After I moved some items in my own eBay store, I finally pulled the trigger and purchased my first Dinoforce KO, Tyrannosaur FS-204...or better known as Goryu.

Ironically enough Goryu was the last Dinoforce member I purchased to complete the set and now he's the first of the KO versions to be bought. I'm still unsure of the company that made, or should I say knocked-offed this figure. I was surprised however at the quality of the packaging and overall quality of the toys themselves. That made swallowing the 3 digit price tag a little easier!

You can refer back to my original review of the vintage Goryu Transformer to compare the two, but you should see that this packaging somewhat mirrors the original. While the art for "Dinoking" is very striking, I do miss the individual art the authentic packaging offered.

Instead of an actual instruction booklet enclosed in the box, the simple transformation sequence was printed on the back of the box. Towards the bottom the rest of the Dinosaur Corps team was displayed. As a reminder, you can click on these pictures for an enlarged view.

Here's a close up of the sticker on the back of the box, I'm assuming Zaharias is the company responsible for these Dinosaur Corps? Notice how the R is backwards, just like the R in Toys R Us. Coincidence?

Additional shots of the packaging

Long gone are the days when Transformers, or even KOs were packaged in styrofoam. These Dinosaur Corps figures come a very cheap, flimsy plastic tray. One end started to rip as I tried to pull the tray out for the first time. The figure and the dinosaur shell are housed in their own compartment in the tray, along with a section for the weapon, combiner part and sticker sheet.


The first thing I notice upon removing the toy from it's packaging is that the dinosaur Pretender shell wasn't oily to the touch! While many Transformers collectors may not have had the chance to own or even handle the Dinoforce toys, collectors should be familiar with how certain pieces on G1 Pretender toys (Monster Pretender shells) are oily to the touch. Sometimes it's just the arms of the humanoid/monster Pretender shells, but the Dinoforce shells are notoriously for having that oily or sticky feel to them. I suppose this is due to some sort of chemical breakdown of the plastic or the chemicals in the plastic reacting to the oil in our skin. Whatever the case, this t-rex shell wasn't oily or sticky at all.

The other thing I noticed pretty quickly too is the excess plastic on the horn of the shell's armor headpiece. I'm not surprised, after all this is a KO. From what I can tell from my own pictures and from my memory, this toy is pretty spot on for the original. The colors of both the robot and the shell match well. However the chest of the shell isn't painted gold like the original. Even the stickers match the originals, minus the Destron symbol of course.

The shell functions the same as the original. The combiner foot pegs onto the back of the dinosaur. There is also a smaller peg hole for the hand gun if you wish to plug that in. The figure itself fits inside the shell just fine and is just as snug as I remember the original being. The hard plastic cover is a tough fit however on the shell, but I never at any time felt the side tabs were going to break as I put the cover on or removed it.


The robot itself is pretty underwhelming...just like the original. Plastic quality is rather good and I didn't find any defects on the figure. Even the splash of red paint on the robot's face was applied pretty good. To this day however I'm still unsure of what the alt mode is supposed to be.

Just like the original, "Goryu" forms the left leg of "Dinoking". I couldn't find anywhere on the packaging if the combined form was given a new name like the individual members have.

Since I purchased this figure, I've been able to acquire two more boxed versions of the Dinosaur Corps. They don't appear to pop up for sale very often so it may be sometime before I'm able to complete the set, but it sure is nice to know that I've purchased 50% of this pretty cool combiner team for about the same cost as one of the vintage pieces commands now on the secondary market.

Is it the same as owning the original? Well, no. However there are times when you as a collector just has to make sacrifices and cut corners where you can. I don't regret selling the original vintage pieces as it was worth the gift to my wife and the time we spent together...but I do have to admit it's nice to "almost" have these toys back on display in the collection.