Review/Build: Sega Astro City 1/12 cabinet model by WAVE

“Candy cabinets.” It’s a catch-all English term to refer to Japanese-style sit-down arcade cabinets where you can fairly easily switch the games contained within. There seems to be a bit of speculation as to where the term came from… though I’d wager the most obvious source is the Neo Candy cabinets, which commonly housed Neo-Geo MVS units.

There are a lot of different models of “candy cabs” out there, but to many, the de facto candy cabinet is the Sega Astro City, a model you’ll still see around many a Japanese arcade in this day and age. Countless matches of Virtua Fighter 2 were played on these machines back in the day, and their versatility and adaptability have made them a popular choice for retrogaming setups to this day.

Yes, the Astro City is practically synonymous with arcade games to many Japanese arcade fans. Which is why we all exploded with glee when we found out that model maker Wave, who had previously made replicas of modern Vewlix cabinets and the riding Hang-On cabinet, was going to make an Astro City model.  This was gonna be great!

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And yes, it is a pretty spectacular kit! It’s not too tough to build for the beginner, but offers a lot of potential for customization if you really, really want to create the miniature arcade machine of your dreams. In my case, I wanted to put a very particular game inside one of these cabinets. But I wanted to build it together with you, my dear readers – and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today!

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Figure review: figma Akira Yuki and Sarah Bryant from Virtua Fighter

I knew the day would come where I’d be reviewing a figma on this site — Max Factory figmas, along with Bandai’s Tamashii line, are essentially the standard for Japanese pop-culture action figures in terms of size, quality, and price. There are a ton of figmas based on a wide spectrum of anime, manga, games, and the occasional real-life figure, all recreated in 1/12 scale with a good amount of articulation. Of course, not all figmas (figmae? figmata?) are made equally: some are clearly better-made and more interesting than others, but generally, the quality baseline for them is pretty solid — the “bad” figmas aren’t so much poorly-made as they are a bit on the dull side in terms of playing with them.

I was actually expecting the first figma I’d review here to be Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza series, as he was due out in August, but he got hit with a serious delay, pushing him all the way back to a December release… which makes me think that the manufacturer discovered some horrible engineering flaw as they were wrapping up production and they needed to redo the whole thing. It’s okay though, we have something that’s just as blue-blooded Sega as our hot-blooded ex-Yakuza pal: Virtua Fighter figmas!

If you’ve been following the site for a while, you probably remember me being really excited about these back when they were first announced at Wonder Festival a few years back. Hell, I’ve been a VF fan for most of my life, why wouldn’t I lose my mind over VF characters finally getting the figma treatment? Sure, they were the polygonal VF1 models and not the slick, realistic models of VF5, but at least they were something! And let’s face it, there’s something really lovable about that flat-shaded model 1 look.

But enough talk. Let’s review some plastic! Ready… GO!

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The Nintendo 3DS Streetpass Games, ranked from worst to best

As some of you may be aware, I recently attended PAX West to give a panel on kusoge. PAX, along with any other nerd convention in the country, is prime territory for racking up 3DS Streetpass hits. Nintendo, in a move that seemed extremely cognizant of this fact, put out four new purchasable Streetpass Plaza games just before the convention started. I eagerly grabbed them before I went on my whirlwind tour of Seattle and Portland, and spent time not fretting over every tiny detail of the panel and/or playing indie games going through the newest batch of Streetpass stuff.

Then I thought to myself, “Boy, there sure are bunch of these paid Streetpass games now! If you hadn’t bothered with them before, where would you even start? After all, some of them are super good, but others are really not worth time or money at all… I know! I should totally review all of the paid Streetpass stuff, because nobody else seems to be bothering with looking at these games beyond a surface level glance!”

So that’s exactly what I’m doing! I’ve ranked every paid 3DS game here from what I feel are worst to best, categorizing them in five different ranks. (Find Mii 1/2 and Puzzle Swap are excluded since they’re already part of the 3DS package, and technically, you can get either Market Crashers or Slot Car Rivals for free as well.) I tried to go a bit into why I ranked the games why I did, though if there’s not much to a game, I probably have a lot less to say about it than something with meatier mechanics.

DISCLAIMER: If you live someplace like rural North Dakota where you’re not getting Streetpasses regularly, then even the best of these games are tough to recommend. Them’s the breaks, sadly.

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Figure Review: Play Arts Kai Fran (Final Fantasy XII)

Holy crap! Did you all see that the long-rumored HD remake of Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Job Version is finally happening?! You all have no idea how excited that makes me! Depending on what day of the week you ask, Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy (alternating with FF5, and hey, the Four Job Fiesta starts soon, so sign up for that!) It’s gonna be so great to revisit FFXII again with all the new additions from the Japanese re-release and spruced up visuals and Fran and Balthier, oh my GOD! Two of the best characters in the whole series!

And, in typical Square-Enix fashion, with the announcement of a new game comes a couple of new figures! They’re making an all-new Balthier and a Judge Gabranth to join Fran, released quite recently in their Play Arts Kai line.

Play Arts Kai, for the unaware, is a “revision” of Square-Enix’s old line of Play Arts figures, which they distributed around the mid-aughts both in Japan and abroad. Said figures mostly had a reputation for being kind of mediocre: hard to pose and stand, with emphasis on looks over function. Kai figures were supposed to fix these problems: they were bigger, more poseable, and featured some incredible detail in the sculpts. Yet the early Play Arts Kai figures also faced harsh criticism: they looked great in their shiny, elaborately designed packaging, but the visual appeal faltered once you got them out and tried to pose them like you saw in the promo pictures.

I’ve mostly avoided Play Arts Kai since the early figures, and since then, plenty of companies have jumped into the market to release well-sculpted, articulated figures geared towards fans and collectors. “Surely, the advancements made by other companies in this market has influenced Square-Enix to improve their own product line!” I thought. And hey, those pictures looked pretty good!

Square certainly seems confident in the quality of its pieces, too – in fact, the official MSRP for Fran in the United States is $120. One hundred and twenty U.S. dollars! That is no chump change, no siree. Of course, I ordered her from Japan at a discount, because I at least attempt to be somewhat frugal with my stupid nerd stuff. I can’t say there wasn’t some hesitation with my preorder… but it’s Fran, and Fran is so rarely recognized, even by her own creators! I waited eagerly for her to grace my doorstep.

Then she arrived. And now I am here to warn you, dear readers: Don’t believe Square-Enix’s lies.

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Stallion Solitaire: Pocket Card Jockey

It’s usually the games you love – or the games that are really, really bad – that are the easiest to write about. When you’re singing praise, the words seem to flow effortlessly from your pen – and the same goes for when you’re telling everyone about a phenomenal piece of hot garbage.

But Pocket Card Jockey for the 3DS? Hoo boy. I mean, how do you even begin to sell this concept of horse-racing sim solitaire to people? That sounds like the most aggressively boring thing on the planet. In actuality, though, it’s an amazingly complex and deep game! …with a huge mess of intertwining game systems that sounds like complete gibberish if you try to describe them rather than showing them.

But by god, I’m gonna try. Because you know what? Pocket Card Jockey is already one of the best games released in 2016. No horsin’ around.

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Figure Review: Nendoroid Kirby (Good Smile Company)

Jeez, do you know how long I’ve wanted to do a proper figure review on this site? I’ve done plenty of reports on interesting gaming stuff coming from the Wonder Festivals, but I haven’t really sat down to review a complete product yet. The main reason is that my photography setup isn’t particularly ideal: I don’t have a mini-booth or anything for shooting pictures in, and my best camera is my iPhone 6S. For reviews like these, photography is a pretty crucial element.

But, eventually, I felt like I just had to suck it up and make do with what I had on hand. After all, pictures might be worth a thousand words, but I could also write thousands more words to go with them if I had to!

Of course, then I had to choose a subject. There were two figures I really wanted to talk about, one smaller and fairly inexpensive and another that was positioned as a more high-end product. I figured we should start with the smaller one first — not only did it turn out to be the better piece overall, it’s also one of Nintendo’s most beloved characters, with a new game due out just a few months from now.

Without further ado…

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Here’s Kirby!

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Matsuno Family Double Whammy: Osomatsu-kun (Megadrive)

With the good comes the bad, I suppose…

So hey, I just wrote an anime review about Osomatsu-san, the recent reboot of a classic gag manga/anime that was a massive hit overseas. Remember how I mentioned that there were two Osomatsu-kun anime series before it, one from 1966 and another from 1988? Well, as you might already know, 1988 was the launch year of the Sega Megadrive in Japan. The console launched in October of that year with Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, impressive renditions of popular arcade titles, while a very faithful port of Juuouki/Altered Beast followed soon after in November. But here’s a factoid for you: the fourth-ever Megadrive game, released a little under two months after the console’s debut, was a licensed game based on Osomatsu-kun.

Titled Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou (“Nonsense Theatre”), the game features a bunch of familiar series characters: the Matsuno brothers, Totoko, Chibita, Iyami, Hatabou, and so on – in new and bizarre roles in a strange-as-hell series of fantasy settings.

It’s also an astounding pile of garbage. And I played all of it.

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Matsuno Family Double Whammy: Osomatsu-san (Anime series)

The irony of anime being easier to legally enjoy than ever before, thanks to online streaming and simulcasts, is that I’m actually watching less anime than I did when I was younger. I’m not sure why, either. Maybe it’s because the flood of new series that comes out with each season is overwhelming. Or maybe it’s because I’m an old fart who prefers the general look and stylings of anime from the 80s and early 90s. Or hell, it could just be that the list of hundreds upon hundreds of games I want to examine is higher priority. As a result, there’s a lot of stuff I want to watch, and fully intend to watch… someday. Mostly stuff folks online have given high praises, like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Ore Monogatari, Tatami Galaxy, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, and a whole shitload of Gintama. (And maybe some Ushio and Tora too, y’know, to satiate my love of out-of-left-field throwbacks.)

My viewing habits have changed, too: rather than buying DVDs volume by volume as I did in the early aughts, I prefer to binge-watch batches of stuff when the time arises. I make a few exceptions: I eagerly ate up SeHa Girls when it came out, and I’m watching the adaptation of Jojo part 4 weekly. Generally, though, I like my anime in meaty chunks — which is how I opted to view the subject of today’s article. I watched most of the first half of Osomatsu-san before I left for my Japan trip, and blazed through the rest of it last weekend in-between some writing, which was probably the ideal way to consume this show: Once you get a taste of the Matsuno brothers, you want another hit of it as soon as possible.

It’s a damn fine show, is what I’m saying.

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Book Review: Legends of Localization Book 1: The Legend of Zelda by Clyde Mandelin

I should preface this with, perhaps, an admission of potential bias: I think Fangamer is one of the raddest “nerd stuff” companies out there. Their merchandise is clever and classy, their clothing is nicely designed and high-quality, and they’re just a nice collection of really cool folks selling cool gear. They don’t put out books quite as often as clothing and accessories, but when they do, they’re usually pretty fantastic.1 So when Clyde Mandelin, well-known fan and pro translator, announced that he was going to expand on some of the material of his Legends of Localization site in book form, I was pretty hyped!

Though, I have to admit, I wasn’t horribly enthused by the initial choice of focusing on Zelda I. There really wasn’t a whole lot of text to the game, after all – how could you possibly fill up a 200-page book about it? As it turns out, however, there’s a lot of interesting ground to cover in localization that extends beyond just in-game text, and Mandelin’s book goes into all of it in great detail.

So, let’s get right to it – here’s a review of Legends of Localization, Book 1!

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Images used in this piece are a combination of my own and promotional images from Fangamer’s website. The latter should be easy to distinguish with the watermarks!

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  1. With the noted exception of SMB3 Brick by Brick, which I was so disappointed by that I vowed to start reviewing gaming books – and here I am!

Bloody Disappointing! The Corpse Party: Blood Drive Review

Well, so far my most anticipated Vita releases for 2015 have (mostly) been serious disappointments.1 First there was Persona 4 Dancing All Night and its numerous issues, and now we have Corpse Party: Blood Drive, a follow-up to the superb (and very under-the-radar) PSP horror title Corpse Party. Unfortunately, Corpse Party: Blood Drive is most certainly not superb. Quite far from it, actually.

Let’s look back at the original game for a moment. Corpse Party was a horror-themed adventure game that began life as an RPG Maker project on the Japanese PC-98 computer, and eventually wound up on the PSP after numerous remakes and revisions. It’s the story of a group of students (and a teacher) who wind up trapped in the abandoned, cursed Heavenly Host Elementary after performing what they think is a harmless friendship ritual, but is actually a rite to enter an evil alternate dimension. Heavenly Host is a long-abandoned school that was the site of numerous horrific happenings, filled with numerous tortured souls who want nothing but to inflict their pain and suffering on others in the most agonizing ways possible. Its roots as an RPG Maker game were obvious in the visuals, which consisted of 2D sprite graphics and top-down environments, as well as its simple interactions, which made it more of a 2D horror adventure game than a “survival horror” experience.

Corpse Party was unusual in many ways, but it worked wonderfully as a horror game: the sprite visuals were incredibly unsettling once the awfulness of Heavenly Host began to set in, the sound design and voice acting was nothing short of amazing (listening to characters’ death throes is nothing short of terrifying), and the technical/engine limitations meant that most of the game’s scariest scenes were told through only text and sound – making them even more effective than if they were purely visual. (You can only see so much hyper-detailed viscera before it loses its impact, but detailed descriptions and sounds of pain and suffering can be absolutely brutal.) The characters were engaging, and they interacted quite well with each other, revealing lots of weird and unique little personality quirks (some far more disturbing than others).

That’s a brief summary. If you want a more detailed review of the original Corpse Party, I shall point you in the direction of friend-of-the-site Gaming Hell!

Anyhow, despite being a PSP exclusive, the game seemed to do well for publisher XSEED – in fact, we wound up getting a collection of side stories (and a brief prologue to Blood Drive) in the 2012 release of Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, which took the game even further into adventure game/visual novel territory. Some folks found it disappointing, but I enjoyed seeing more about the characters and setting of the game as revealed through its various vignettes.

So how does Corpse Party: Blood Drive manage to screw up such a good thing? Oh boy, where to begin…

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  1. Ultra Despair Girls was riveting, though certainly janky at points, so at least there’s that.