Stick it to The Man

You may recall that we featured the Dreamcast Arcade stick here at the 'Yard several months ago when Robert showcased his rather excellent self-modded unit (also pictured below). Being relatively blas√© about the library of outstanding 2D fighters on the Dreamcast until fairly recently, I never really thought too much about acquiring a stick for my own collection - I saw one at a recent games expo but the seller wanted a small fortune for it so I passed it up (and it was in pretty poor condition, too). Since then though, I have seen the error of my ways and have been amassing a fairly impressive catalogue of Capcom, SNK and Sammy beat 'em ups and so thought it was about time I took the plunge and got hold of an arcade stick with which to fully appreciate these masterpieces of virtual combat.
I looked to eBay first, but was offended by the outrageous prices on display there. I later saw an Arcade Stick advertised as part of a console bundle on a free ads website but the seller wasn't prepared to sell the stick without the console (and had been harassed by several others before me, it turned out). This weekend though, I visited the city of Exeter and happened across a dedicated retro-gaming shop called Critical Mass Games & Manga. Inside, the small but nicely laid-out store was full to the rafters with games, consoles and peripherals from all eras of gaming...and the best bit was that there wasn't an over-inflated eBay price in sight. I found a plastic bucket full of £1 cartridges (from which I salvaged a couple of carts - Afterburner for the Master System and Super Hang-On for the Mega Drive) and also spotted a copy of Power Drift for the NTSC-J Saturn (which cost me the princely sum of £4). The whole point of this post though, is that I also stumbled across this:
Yes, an official Arcade Stick - priced at a very reasonable £34.99 and in fantastic condition. As soon as I saw it, I pretty much knew I wasn't going to be leaving the store without it...so I just bit the bullet and handed over my debit card. As you can see from the shots, it's a totally un-modded standard unit but to be fair that's fine for me. I'm hardly a hardcore 2D fighting fan, but the thing is a revelation when playing King Of Fighters, Guilty Gear, Mark of the Wolves or any of the other fighters I've recently dug up. The stick feels nice and solid (and makes a reassuringly audible 'click' as you move it around) and the large face buttons are perfectly laid out; and there's a slot for a VMU and a start button too. I haven't tried slotting a rumble pack in there yet, and I'm yet to see if the stick actually works with any other types of game (I can't imagine Incoming or UEFA Dream Soccer being much fun with it though!), but for the fighters I've tried it with so far, it's perfect.

Edit: Of course, if you're not lucky enough to find an Arcade Stick for a reasonable price in the wild, you could always just build your own...?

Atari Jaguar Indie Titles Coming to Dreamcast?

I make no secret of the fact that as well as being something of a Dreamcast fanatic, I also have a soft spot for Atari's much-maligned and under-appreciated Jaguar system. Is it mere coincidence that both of these consoles' failure to penetrate the mass market ultimately lead to their parent companies withdrawing from the hardware manufacturing business (and in Atari's case, any form of business)? I'm starting to wonder if I'm some kind of angel of death - if I am, Sony had better watch out seeing as I recently bought a PS4...
The reason I bring up the Atari Jaguar is that I recently discovered that Orion, the independent developer responsible for several recent Atari Jaguar cartridge and CD-based adventure games is considering porting his wares to the Dreamcast. In a post on both the Dreamcast-Talk and RetroCollect forums, Orion asked whether gamers would be interested in seeing four recent titles make the leap from the Atari to Sega formats:

Mal Custom Consoles' Amazing Modded Dreamcasts

As documented here at the 'Yard several months ago, I had one of my Dreamcast consoles painted a lovely shade of blue by the talented guys at Warp Zone Games. I've always been a sucker for modded systems and even something as minor as a different coloured LED excites me more than it probably should. Imagine my slack-jawed joy then, when I stumbled across Mal Custom Consoles' custom Dreamcasts, pads and even mouse and keyboard setups...

The Games of South Park


South Park, whether you're a fan of the franchise or not, is a bonafide cultural phenomenon. The creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park debuted in 1997 and quickly gained a cult following that appreciated the show's adult humour and unique animation style; and it wasn't long before the games industry took notice of the popularity of the series. What better subject matter to turn into a game? With simple stylised visuals, catchphrases and soundbites aplenty, highly-recognisable characters and a fan-base who were champing at the bit to spend money in order to actually be a part of the fictitious world they loved; South Park: The Game wasn't just waiting to happen - it was waiting to be huge.

Ultimately it was the now-defunct outfit Acclaim that managed to bag the rights to South Park, but the highly-anticipated virtual adaptation of the story of four foul-mouthed kids (and the extensive ensemble cast) living in a surreal Colorado backwater turned out to be little more than a massive disappointment.
This is an emulated N64 shot - the original is a lot fuzzier 
This conclusion is drawn because the developer, Iguana merely took their successful N64-based Turok 2 game-engine, stripped out any mention of the Lazarus Concordance, hand-held nuclear weapons or the Primagen and lazily replaced them with even more fog, piss-soaked snowballs and thousands upon thousands of mindless turkeys. Quite appropriate then that this poor excuse for a game consists of little else than throwing said urine-doused snowballs at endless swarms of cartoon turkeys who just constantly charge at you from a thick blanket of fog. Still, it kept the nice Turok-based control system and the N64 Expansion Pak added some sharp hi-res visuals where available.

"Between the abysmal graphics, bad sound, and horrible gameplay, South Park is definitely one of those games that is bound to come up when you start thinking about the worst game you've ever played. It's a real throwback to the days of completely worthless games with decent licenses - the kind Acclaim used to be infamous for back in the days of 8-bit and 16-bit gaming."
- Gamespot on the PS1 port of South Park

This wasn't the last time Acclaim - unperturbed by an almost universal critical panning - attempted to bring an authentic South Park experience to consoles though, and the N64 wasn't the only platform to play host to licensed offerings rooted in Stone and Parker's odd, snowy little town.

The Dreamcast was treated to two further South Park titles, and here I present them for dissection. Will this trip down to South Park end well? Or will we all end up being dragged to Hell by Satan and forced to eat Mr Hanky over and over again until the end of time? Don your best woolly hat and join me as we attempt to find out...

South Park: Chef's Luv Shack
Taking the form of a party game, Chef's Luv Shack sees the eponymous sex-addicted Chef host his own public access TV gameshow. The show's voice-over actor promises Chef that the contestants will be bikini-clad models and that the grand prize is a night of love-making with the host...but sadly due to the lack of any bikini-clad models in South Park, children from the local elementary school will be standing in. Whether this makes Chef a paedophile, I don't know - but it's the premise for the game so don't shoot the messenger. It's all in good humour and I actually found myself quite enjoying Luv Shack, if only because the styling of the game is spot on and the interaction between Chef and voice over guy is so faithful to the style of the TV show.
The game plays like any standard multi-player party title - each player picks one of the four main characters (that's Kyle, Kenny, Stan and Cartman, should you be one of the three people on Earth who don't know their names) and you are quickly whisked off to play a few rounds of quick-fire questions and 'amusing' mini-games. The questions range from being centred on the South Park universe to being completely unrelated to anything at all, and the mini games range from firing frogs onto lilypads to landing parachutes. These basic mini games do break up the monotony of answering a set of quite tough questions and are often governed by a strict time-limit. Today, the idea of being able to play an interactive episode of South Park is not so unbelievable (the Stick of Truth is just that, after all), but back in 1999 this was pretty much as good as it got. And it isn't half bad to be honest. The TV show is hardly Studio Gibli-esque in production value, so it's quite easy to forget you're playing a game and not just watching an interactive episode of the TV show at times. Luv Shack was never going to set the world on fire when it came out, but it does what it sets out to do, and does it well. A worthy title if you like party games and/or South Park.

South Park Rally
The second South Park title released for the Dreamcast is Rally, and it's not hard to see why Acclaim thought it would be a good idea. The kart racer has always been a firm favourite on consoles and contemporaries like Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing were all big players of the era. The difference between those games and South Park Rally, however, is that the aforementioned racers are actually fun to play. Rally features a fairly large roster of characters and plenty of tracks, and even though the game lends heavily from the overly-simplistic visual style of the show (it'd be odd if it didn't, to be fair), it still manages to look pretty nice.
The frame-rate is smooth, the tracks have lots going on...but then you'd probably expect that from a game on a 128-bit system. No, the thing that stops Rally from being as good as it should have been is that the structure of the actual races is all messed up. In Mario Kart you race around a track, pick weapons up and generally have fun. In South Park Rally you generally do the same thing...but the tracks are free-roaming (of sorts) and the checkpoints are all in illogical sequence. Furthermore, you actually have to drive over the little patch on the floor in order to activate it and it's too easy to completely miss the checkpoint, think you've hit it and carry on to the next one...before realising you hadn't driven over the last one enough for the game to register it. It gets very confusing, and very annoying very quickly. Add to this the sheer number of obstacles littering and roaming around every course (school buses, snow ploughs, cows etc), all of which will bash you about and send you flying into the nearest piece of scenery...

South Park Rally is not a fun experience for these reasons. It has plenty of inventive (by which I mean crude) weaponry on offer, the karts handle well (although the triggers are not the default acceleration/brake controls, oddly) and there are tonnes of voice clips...but the bizarre set-up of the point-to-point races just doesn't work in a racer of this style. It's weird, but I've also noticed recently that South Park Rally seems to be becoming one of the more expensive racers for the Dreamcast. After playing it for a while in order to write this feature, I just cannot see why.

Conclusion
While both games are clearly aimed at a more mature audience (bot have their fair share of expected vulgarity and expletives), I would have no problem recommending Luv Shack over Rally. The former is an enjoyable quiz that gives a lot of fan service with obscure references and the like. Rally smacks to me of being a cheap cash-in game, designed solely to ride the crest of popularity the 'kart' racer was experiencing at the time. There are superior games on the Dreamcast in this genre (see Wacky Races and Looney Tunes Space Race for more info) so it's hard to recommend. Luv Shack on the other hand doesn't have much in the way of competition when it comes to party games. Planet Ring is redundant and Sonic Shuffle is apparently sleep-inducingly dull (or so I'm told). If I could only have one of these games, it'd be Luv Shack every time.
As a little bonus to end this South Park special, it's worth noting that the Dreamcast was actually featured as a plot device in one particular episode: the Season 4 opener involves Cartman discovering that the tooth fairy pays quite well for pristine pearly whites and deduces that with the cash he could raise from his friends' teeth...he could afford to buy a Dreamcast. Ultimately, Cartman's plan fails and he never gets his hands on a DC (and the console is never actually shown in the episode), but it's a nice little homage to our favourite system.

The Dreamcast Messenger Bag

By now, you've probably seen or even bought one of those rather nice-looking Dreamcast-themed messenger bags from online retailer Insert Coin. I almost bought one myself a few months ago, but I have seen people carrying them at various gaming conventions and they tend to end up looking a bit battered after a while; not to mention dirty - white stuff always looks pretty grotty after a while, simply because the colour allows all sorts of grime to be visible, even if you are the most mindful person on Earth. If you're not familiar with the bag I refer to, here's a picture:
I resisted the urge to purchase one for the reasons previously explained, but my quest for a Dreamcast-themed bag didn't end with my reluctance to buy that particular item. No, I found something better. Much, much better:
An official Dreamcast-branded messenger bag from the launch of the PAL system! The pictures don't really convey just how nice this bag is - it's made from really sturdy material and has a nice comfortable strap. The best thing though, is that it's got loads of really cool little details on it. From the swirls on the buckle tags to the Dreamcast logo text on the zips, this really is a quality item. Inside there's a laptop section and pen holders and one of the side pockets is exactly the right size for a VMU! Not that I'll be carrying one around with me (much), but I couldn't resist seeing if one of the little blighters would fit:
It's a great piece of memorabilia that is not only extremely unusual, but very useful. This will most definitely not be stuffed in a cupboard and forgotten about - I intend to make it my primary work bag and will take great pleasure in showing it off.

New SLaVE Trailer Shows Off Gameplay Footage

We've featured Jay Townsend/Goat Store/Isotope's interesting-looking SLaVE previously here at the Junkyard, but until now very few details have been available regarding how the game will actually play. Well, wonder no more - a new gameplay trailer has been released showing lots of glorious in-game footage. The 'Robotron meets Doom' description now doesn't seem so far from the truth having viewed the video. The neon-lit stylised visuals remind me a lot of the early PS1 title Assault Rigs and the frame rate looks super-smooth - I'm a big fan of FPSs and the prospect of a new one for the Dreamcast excites me massively. The projected release date for SLaVE is April 2015 and you can place a pre-order a special edition (complete with poster) for the very reasonable price of $20 by going here.

With AMEBA, Elysian Shadows, Hypertension and SLaVE all on the horizon, the future is looking gloriously bright for Dreamcast fans.

The Vanishing of Shrapnel: Urban Warfare

The popularity of military shooters like COD and Battlefield isn't a modern phenomenon. The tactical (or not so tactical) shooter featuring hard-as-nails military types shooting big guns and blowing stuff up is a trope of games as old as the hills, and the Dreamcast also played host to its fair share of similar titles. Soldier of Fortune, Rainbow Six and Spec Ops II: Omega Squad all followed the familiar template of the genre...and for the most part they all did it well. I say 'for the most part,' because Spec Ops was an unfinished mess of a game that could probably have done with another six months of development time before being pressed to GD...but that's another story. Or is it? Spec Ops was developed by Ripcord Games and Zombie Studios and their series of military shooters enjoyed moderate success on the PC and PlayStation, and more recently on the Xbox 360 and PS3 under the Spec Ops: The Line moniker. However, the Spec Ops connection goes slightly further on the Dreamcast...but ultimately leads down one of my favourite avenues - cancelled games.

New Indie Title Announced: AMEBA

Who would have thought that in 2014 we'd still be writing about exciting new releases coming for the Dreamcast? Shmup fans have The Ghost Blade coming soon from Hucast Games, adding yet another 2D bullet-hell masterpiece to the growing catalogue; and RPG enthusiasts have the fantastic-looking Kickstarter-funded adventure Elysian Shadows to look forward to. Not only those two, but Goat Store’s psychedelic first person shooter SLaVE is looming on the horizon too. So that’s the shmup, RPG and FPS genres covered…but what if you’re into something else entirely. Say, visual novels with a distinctly Western spin on things? Well, you’re in luck - there’s another new Dreamcast title coming: AMEBA. 

Coming from the mind of former Games Tribune journalist Carlos Oliveros and his Retro Sumus development team, AMEBA is described as a 'detective adventure' that he first had the idea for whilst translating Pier Solar into Spanish several years ago. Carlos actually left Games Tribune (which for those who don't know, is a games/technology magazine sold in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries of South America) when he embarked on his quest to transform AMEBA from the stuff of dreams into reality, as he didn’t want the burden of having to evaluate other developers’ games while working on his own - a very noble and magnanimous move in our opinion. But enough from me - Carlos tells it in his own words…

How do you investigate a series of murders that may as well have never existed? Or, how can you be sure you haven't lost it, when you're the only cop in your city who thinks several un-connected deaths were not accidental or natural? These are the questions veteran inspector Hugo asks himself on an everyday basis.

I usually loathe visual novels. With the exception of just a few really good ones, they're too ‘Japanese’ for my tastes, culturally speaking. So we're taking the genre in a new direction: no anime-like art, as the teaser poster shows, obviously a more western take on storytelling and characterization, a serious story. Imagine Davind Fincher's Seven meets Frank Miller's Sin City comic books. Well, that's what I'd like, but I'm not expecting to reach that kind of quality!

Carlos very kindly furnished us with some concept AMEBA art, and to give a feel for how the game will (hopefully) eventually look, here's an image of an inspirational NTSC-J title, Kara No Shoujo:

This isn't AMEBA - it's just to give a feel for the style of game

The visual novel genre is not one a lot of Western gamers will be familiar with, but AMEBA has certainly captured my interest. Like any good story, it promises an intriguing tale and I’m very curious to see how this type of game will make use of the Dreamcast’s processing power - we know they system can produce stunning visuals and sound, so to see it used in a novel way (excuse the pun!) interests me greatly. Retro Sumus have an exciting team of talented industry veterans onboard for AMEBA, and there are some great ideas being put forward, however we have been asked not to reveal too much about the story, setting or characters just yet...even the meaning behind the title of the game. Curiouser and curiouser...

There's no official statement yet on the funding the AMEBA project will need, but Kickstarter is just one of the options being considered at the moment. If it can reach the level of popularity that Falco Girgis’ Elysian Shadows has, we can’t see why won’t be enjoying AMEBA in the not too distant future. Keep an eye on the official website for upcoming announcements and developments on AMEBA.

In the meantime, here's a first look at the AMEBA teaser trailer:

A Tale of Two Cities

Many of the Dreamcast's finest titles lived on after the console's untimely death. Either through being ported to other systems, or having whole new series spawn. The Soul Calibur series, while not really a Dreamcast exclusive as it's roots are on the PlayStation, has gone on to have great success on subsequent hardware generations. Likewise with Jet Set Radio, Virtua Fighter, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis and a whole load of others. It's true that Shenmue still hasn't been granted the final part of it's intended trilogy...but that's a whole different kettle of fish. The point I'm trying to make here, is that the Dreamcast wasn't just a great machine for all the reasons we've been banging on about for the last (almost) decade here at the 'Yard - it was also a springboard for some of the finest games on today's more contemporary systems.

So now the threadbare segue has been reached and jumped like some rickety stile, let's get down to business: Project Gotham Racing is an absolute beast of a racing series on the Xbox and Xbox 360, and was/is a complete masterpiece. The final PGR game in the saga (PGR4) is one of my favourite games ever. Not just favourite racing games - I mean of any genre. It has looks to die for (I'm yet to see a PS4 racing game that looks as good as PGR4, by the way. Drive Club - I'm looking at you) and the car handling is sublime. Tracks are innumerable, the challenge is immense...and above all, the game is super fun. That said, the previous games were also of exceptional pedigree - PGRs 1-3 are all fantastic racing games too. But before this turns into an Xbox love-in, let's go back to the origins of the series - the Dreamcast's magnificent Metropolis Street Racer. At this juncture, I have a confession to make. While I was thinking about writing this post, it suddenly dawned on me that Project Gotham Racing is so-called as it is a reference to the fictional city in which the caped crusader punches creeps' faces in. How did I come to this realisation? Metropolis Street Racer. Project Gotham Racing. PGR's name is a subtle nod to the city of Metropolis (aka Superman's 'hood)! Yes - it's taken me the best part of 15 years for that in-joke to filter down into the inner-reaches of my brain and initiate 'Eureka Mode.'