Saturday, April 13, 2013

Classic gaming, discovering new gems is always a fun time.

One of my favorite things about retro gaming is finding new games that you've never had the opportunity to play before and trying them out for the first time to find that you've been missing out on something special for a very long time. This has been my experience since around 2006 when I got back into retro gaming after having been away from playing classic games since around 1998 or so, and it's been quite a fun experience.

I've been an avid fan of the Nintendo Entertainment System since the late 80's and most of my fondest gaming memories are from the early 90's when I really sank my teeth into the NES. A lot more of my love came for the NES between 1996-1997 when I was going through my “game room” years and during these times I've bonded with the NES quite a bit and it has become my favorite gaming system of all-time. In recent years I've rekindled my love for the NES through buying something called the “Generation NEX” by a company called Play Messiah, which is basically an NES system clone that is small and compact and plays NES and Famicom games. I immediately started buying classic NES games again through some local video game stores that carry retro titles as well as buying through eBay and other retro gaming sites, and I fell in love with the NES all over again through discovering games that I've either never played before or only played once or twice back when I was a kid. It's been quite a blast! During my most recent foray into playing classic NES titles I really wanted to discover games that I've either never had the chance to play before or have yet to really sink my teeth into. My goal was to check out some new games that would help to flesh out my collection of classics that I've spent more than half my life playing, and so far I've stumbled upon some titles that really have stood out and I'm sure I'll be finding even more as time rolls on. The first game that really took me by storm is a “3D” dungeon crawler called Swords & Serpents, a game that basically is an on screen first-person representation of the classic board game Dungeons & Dragons. Aside from the VERY annoying password system (you need a different password for all 3 of your characters), this game is an absolute joy to play and paved the way for the TSR's AD&D first person RPG's that hit PC's and consoles in the mid 90's. I played this game from beginning to end multiple times a few years back and it's only a matter of time until I sit down and do it again, it's really quite enjoyable and has left me with some fond memories through the time I had with it. Soon after that I discovered a port of a classic arcade game called N.A.R.C, which is a traditional 2-player side scrolling shoot em' up where you play as cops trying to take out bad guys who are supposedly dealing drugs. Picture Contra, but not as pretty. N.A.R.C is a game I was well aware of back in the early 90's but yet I never thought to rent it or play it at all, not even any friends of mine owned it. But in this era of retro gaming I've discovered it and am highly enjoying it. I think I remember this game being one of a few machines that were inside of a local skating rink that featured a handful of arcade games back in the early 90's, and I definitely remember it being featured in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the scene where Danny is hanging out in Shredder's clubhouse (or whatever). Regardless, if you're into two player co-op shooters like Contra, or any kind of two player games in general, than give this one a shot.

 A set of titles that have ticked my fancy as of recently have been the Adventure Island series, which are once again games that I was well aware of back in the day but never paid any attention to despite their popularity. A month or so back I was playing Adventure Island (the first one) almost every night as I tried my hardest to advance through the game, but let me tell you, this game is NO cakewalk and is one of the hardest side-scrolling platform titles I've ever had the chance to play. After about 2-3 weeks of playing every night and learning the levels I was able to finally finish it and move onto the second game. Adventure Island II is a fun game and they've added a lot of different things to it to give the game a challenge and to make it different from the first, but I preferred the first game more and immediately went back to play it. Unfortunately I can only get through about half of the game this time around and am once again stuck, lol. I guess I will just have to re-learn the levels like I did the first time around. As for the second game, I returned back to that one and cannot seem to beat it as it gets extremely hard about halfway through. Adventure Island II is still an amazing platform title, I'd say it's very addictive and offers the player a fun (if not hard) experience, but the first Adventure Island has become something of a personal favorite of mine since I began playing it a little while back. Also, I've stumbled across a game called Star Tropics over the past several months, which is yet another game that I knew of but unfortunately ignored when I was younger despite my father once asking me if I wanted that game or something different circa 1990 during a trip to a local toy store. Man, what was I thinking by not ever playing this game! Seriously, it's a lot like the original Legend of Zelda but with prettier graphics and a deeper story and the game is an absolute blast to play. I have played through it twice, the first time just to screw around and the second time to really take in everything there is to do (which is a lot). It's 6 hours of pure gaming bliss and I highly recommend it to my readers who happen to be retro gamers, if you truly loved Legend of Zelda than you'll adore Star Tropics.

In retro gaming there is always a little something for everyone. You're given the chance to play games spanning multiple decades, multiple systems, multiple categories, with multiple people or all by your lonesome. There is a huge world to discover when playing classic video games, you just have to take the time to do it. I'm so glad that I've stumbled upon many classic games that I've yet to have the chance to play, now that I'm getting around to playing them I'm finding more and more than the fun and wonder of retro games is so much better than the modern crop available in every major store in the United States or around the world. Sure, today's games can be fun, but let's face it.......nothing beats classic gaming on the NES, SNES, Genesis, 2600, PSX, or N64. The golden age of gaming may be over, but the roots in which it planted will never die and I encourage everyone reading this to take a trip down memory lane and revisit the games you've known and loved your whole life and to discover something new while your at it. Feel free to message me on Twitter @Manga4life and let me know of your favorite classic games and if there is something I should be checking out, I'm always open to new suggestions.

And that does it for another entry here at The Thought Corner! As always, you can catch me over at the CBR forums, forums, the Retro Roundtable, and the official Dynamite Entertainment forums, or you can hit me up at Twitter @Manga4life. Take care everyone!

© 2013 Cozy Cabin Publishing LLC

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Valiant Entertainment: One year later.......still the absolute best.

Well, it's been just about one year since Valiant Entertainment has been publishing comics and as everyone who knows me knows, I'm a massive nu-Valiant (VEI) fan. Ever since I found out they were going to be publishing comics once again I've sat back and listened not really knowing if it would be something I'd truly be into and wondering if it was just going to be another failed attempt to bring some some old comic book company in a market that really can't support it. Boy am I glad I was wrong! Now, before you read this blog I want you to know this isn't going to be an entry about how Valiant is back and putting out comics based on properties the original Valiant owned some 20+ years back, I've already covered that some months back. Instead, this installment is going to serve as kind of a “how have the comics been” kind of post.

First off, I just want to say something that I truly felt I'd never say as a comic book collector. What I'm about to say struck me as funny because I've always held the years between 2000-2003 as my absolute favorite comic book collecting years alongside 1995-1998. Between 1995-1998 I was deep into X-Men titles, primarily Uncanny X-Men and the self-titled book that was on store shelves at that time, as well as DC's Sovereign Seven in which I held in high regard as my absolute favorite comic book. Those years were absolutely magical for me, and then 2000-2003 came along and I was introduced to the Crossgen “Sigil-verse” and it became my absolute favorite comic book line up of all-time. Never again did I think I would experience as much joy as I did during the few years I actively collected Crossgen books. There was just an awesome feeling I had inside when I visited my local comic shop to pick up the latest issues of the Crossgen books I was into, when the publisher folded I felt like my time in comics was at it's end (though it wasn't). And then in 2012 something happened. A new publisher called Valiant Entertainment was about to release a line of comics based on a bunch of early 90's properties by another company with the same name that I cared nothing for, but yet a small part of me wanted to give them a try. I knew almost nothing about the old Valiant and felt that this was probably just going to be another failed attempt at a former publisher making it's return to comics, but I just wanted to check out the first issues of these books anyhow just to see what the hype was about. I'm sure glad that I did. As many who know me already know, X-O Manowar and Harbinger have absolutely floored me to the point of no return. The story presented in X-O Manowar has officially ranked alongside some of the best comics I've ever read, which is something I never thought would have happened. I was so hooked on the first issue that I was literally climbing the walls in suspense of what was to come in issue #2. It's been a long time since I've felt like that (Project Superpowers, maybe.). As the story of X-O Manowar unfolded month after month I found myself turning pages with child like excitement wondering what was going to happen next, when a comic book happens to make me feel this way it's such a welcome feeling because I feel like most comics have gotten complacent in the past several years and the Valiant books don't have that feeling to them. Harbinger has been the other gem of the line up and has probably been the book with the highest critical praise by fans and reviewers. And for good reason, this book reads out so well that you can't help but to fall in love with the characters and share emotions with them as they roll along. I've felt scared, happy, sad, and enraged with every step this team has taken and the fact that emotion is running this wild so early on in a series is amazing and should be considered a testament to the creative staff on this book. It's simply amazing on ever level possible.

So in short, how has X-O Manowar and Harbinger been through their first 10-12 issues? Simply amazing and some of the best comic books I've ever had the chance of reading. So, what about the other books in the line? Well, those have been pretty spectacular as well. Shadowman has a nice horror/dark feel to it that really resonates with the reader, it also features some of the coolest villains in comic books at the moment with the recently deceased Mr. Twist and the nefarious Darque. The book is illustrated masterfully and really holds it's own against any comic on store shelves today with pencils, inks, and colors that give the book a wonderfully dark ambience. The initial arc of Shadowman started off really good but took a dip toward the end (had to be honest here), but the book rebounded with pocket aces when issue #5 hit store shelves and really planted a foot into the ground as one of the single best issues Valiant has published since it began publishing in 2012. Shadowman has proved itself in it's 5 issues that have already been published that it has what it takes to entertain and I highly recommend this book to the kind of reader who likes dark storytelling. Moving along to Bloodshot, which is a gripping tale that features some amazing supporting characters and some pretty gruesome moments as the lead hero tries to figure out who he is and what is going on around him. The story seems to be the strong part in this title, however the art does seem to range from good to “meh” depending upon what is happening in the book and the guest artists have been less than stellar in my opinion. But it is what it is and Bloodshot offers a compelling tale with amazing characters that really offer the reader something special, the art I could honestly take or leave. Picture Wolverine but with a more military style storytelling with a tinge of superheroics. It's hard to explain, but trust me, it's a fantastic read. The last book of the bunch has received tremendous critical acclaim but I am personally not a fan of it. The book is called Archer & Armstrong and it's a story about two polar opposites who are forced to team up together in a weird mix of action, adventure, and comedy. It just wasn't my mug of beer but it does appear to be well received by fans and critics alike. The one thing I do have to mention about Archer & Armstrong is that if you really want to get into the mythos of the Valiant universe that you really need to read this title. It features some supporting characters who will obviously play an intrical part within the unfolding of the universe and many A-list Valiant characters have been profiled in this title early on, including Eternal Warrior (who seems to be an important character). Even though I wasn't too high on Archer & Armstrong that doesn't mean it's not a good book, it's getting praise for a reason but it just wasn't my style of book but that shouldn't steer you away from trying it out. Picture a large drunk teaming with a man on a mission in a tale that has a tinge of cult and religion to it and you have A&A, if it sounds intriguing that check it out.

At the end of the day I would say that in the past year of publishing Valiant has stolen my heart and has really become my favorite publisher in the comic book industry. For years that title belonged to Dynamite Entertainment but with quality titles like X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Shadowman, Bloodshot, and new titles forthcoming such as Quantum & Woody, it's hard to see anyone taking Valiant's throne from them. The comic book industry has noticed and every major comic book review web site and publication has praised Valiant for what they've been doing since last May and the company has won numerous awards to close out 2012. What will 2013 bring? Well, Quantum & Woody has already been announced, the Harbinger Wars crossover between Bloodshot and Harbinger kicks off this spring, X-O Manowar has already started it's Planet Death storyline which is prepping to be a modern epic that will be remembered for years to come, and Valiant has said that there will be more characters and titles introduced by the end of the year. So it looks like we have a full plate ahead of us moving forward Valiant fans, I just can't wait to see it all come together. 

Well, that's all for this week guys! Catch me on or over at the CBR,, or the Dynamite Entertainment forums if you care to converse about anything or everything. Or simply watch this space for more content coming shortly, the gears of the brain are ticking and more great things are happening soon. Thanks for reading!

© 2013 Cozy Cabin Publishing LLC