Archive for October, 2009

Pocket Monsters HeartGold Import Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on October 31, 2009 by satoshimatrix

Not long ago, Nintendo released two more entries in the ongoing Pokémon main series of games in Japan – Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver. If you’re wondering why these titles sound fermilliar, its because they probably are – Pokémon Gold and Silver were the games that along with Crystal made up what is now referred to as Pokémon Generation 2 back in early 2000.

Back then, I was completely stoked for the new games, which promised so much: a new world to explore, new Pokémon, new attacks, better visuals and sound, refined battle system, a real-time clock, in-game radio, phone, genders for all Pokémon and thus breeding and more…..goddamn Pokémon G/S were crammed with features. They had introduced so many new concepts that the games that followed on the GBA actually removed some of them to make the games more streamlined and simpler.

But now, ten years after their Gameboy Color debut in Japan, Nintendo/Game Freak saw fit to remake Gold and Silver from the ground up on the Nintendo DS using the graphics engine that powered the 2007 Pokémon games Diamond and Pearl. Was their plan a success?

a new gold

Without a doubt, a resounding
yes. Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver are both the best Pokémon games ever made and once again take the throne as the absolute best games on their platform , just as their original versions did on the Gameboy Color all those years ago.

Knowing that there was no way I could wait the year or so it would take for a localization, I simply had to import a copy of HeartGold from Japan. Thus, obviously, this review will cover the Japanese versions of these games. Not that there’s any other version, but hey….also, don’t ask me a thing about the PokéWalker. I’m not touching that thing.

Genre

IMG_0686Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver. As such they play exactly like every other Pokémon game in the main series. In case your suffering from amnesia and have completely forgotten how the Pokémon games work, you engage in turn-based battles using your starter Pokémon against wild Pokémon and other trainers to gain strength and catch other Pokémon in orde to defeat other powerful trainers. The primary goal of the game is to become a Pokémon master, but like all Pokémon games, you also have the secondary goal to capture each of the 400+ Pokémon asnd complete your Pokédex. A third goal is to maybe train a few parties of six Pokémon. Altogether, these goals probably offer around 200 hours of gameplay at the very least. Truly, these are not short RPGs by any means despite their appearance.

Story

Pokémon games are generally light on story, but essentially, you play as a beginner Pokémon trainer aiming to become a Pokémon Master. Along your journey you must collect badges from Gym Leaders and foil the secret plans of the criminal organization Team Rocket.

JohtoGraphics

Like with all other Pokémon games, players will be divided into two categories, no exceptions – those who are fine with the visual presentation and those who feel it is completely outdated and in major need of an overhaul. See, with every new release in the main series, the main graphics have only improved slightly. For the main overworld field graphics, the original Gold and Silver used a slightly improved engine from that of Red and Blue. Then Ruby and Sapphire used a slightly improved engine from Gold and Silver. After that, Diamond and Pearl used a slightly improved engine from Ruby and Sapphire. Guess what HeartGold and SoulSilver do? If you guessed they use a slightly improved Diamond/Pearl engine, you’re catching along. The games do employ some DS-specific visual tricks such as changes in depth and 3D buildings made of simply polygons rather than sprites, but these effects are tacked on and the game wouldn’t suffer without them at all.

In battle, the biggest difference ever was from the days of Red and Blue where most Pokémon barely resembled what they were suppose to look like to Gold and Silver’s excellent sprite sets. HeartGold/SoulSilver uses even more detailed, excellent sprites.There really isn’t more than I can say. Basically, the visuals are the same as they’ve always been, only slightly enhanced.

Sound

The return to Johto would be a rather dull experience if the fantasitc music from the originals were not present and luckily they are – and holy shit do they sound good. Every chiptune from Gold and Silver have now been remixed using the godly DS soundchip and the remixes range from very good to “holy shit, did my DS just produce that awesome track?!”. I’ve played a lot of DS games, but I haven’t had that kind of experience since the first time I heard Golden Sun on the GBA. That’s how good it is.

GameFreak has seriously raised the bar in terms of audio on the DS. This game demands to be played either by pumping the sound out via headphones or better yet, a surround sound speaker system. As a special totally awesome treat for long time players, towards the end of the game once you get all sixteen badges, return to Celadon City and get an item called the GB Player – this nifty item reverts all audio tracks back to the 8-bit GBC chiptunes, and even generates new chiptunes for tracks not found in the originals!

One last time I think I should mention – as always, Pokémon shout their 8-bit cries rather than scream their names as in the anime. Considering what an amazing job GameFreak did arranging the music, it’s sad to hear the 8-bit screeches that play during it. I hope that someday this changes, or at least gives you the option to change it. The 8-bit cries have become so entrenched with the games that I’m not sure I’d like a Pokémon game without their ridiculously primitive sounds.

KantoGameplay

Rather than bore you with how these games play I’ll simply list the highlights:

-Can trade with Diamond Pearl and Platinum, as well as import Pokémon from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed and LeafGreen. English Pokémon can be traded without problem to the Japanese game and vise versa!

-Fully touchscreen driven interface in all aspects, not just battle.

-Refined battle system from Diamond Pearl and Platinum.

-New backpack interface that is touchscreen driven and allows easy sorting of all your hundreds of items by game’s end

-PokéGear makes its return with its watch, map, phone and radio functions fully intact

-Visitable Kanto with almost all of the locals from the original Red and Blue visitable once again, unlike in the original versions of Gold and Silver which simply would remove doors and entrances, making the Kanto region a rather dull one in the original versions of Gold and Silver.

-New events, and even a new area to the west of Cianwood City.

Control

As mentioned, the entire game has been overhauled to support the touchscreen in all menu aspects. In fact, the only button required to play if you want to do everything on the touchscreen is the D-pad. However, you can still play it with buttons should you prefer. This makes me very thankful, as this is the primary reason I hated StarFox DS so much.

old gold/silver guideClosing Comments

The game may be in Japanese, but it so closely mimics the original versions that you can still use old strategy guides for the GBC versions if you have any. Old guides still ring true with item, trainers and Pokémon locations as well as general maps. The maps really make exploring some areas much easier. You might want to track down the Vercus Books Pokémon G/S guide on ebay or something. Personally, to tell the truth, this isn’t the first time I couldn’t wait for the English version of Pokémon Gold and Silver…I had gone through the same thing almost ten years ago. I wanted to play through Pokémon Gold on an emulator (for shame I know) but my then-knowledge of Japanese was null. That’s why I bought this:

Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver Translation Guide

This guide was written in late ’99 shortly after the release the Japanese version and predates any other guide I’ve seen. It carefully details each area what you need to do, who you need to talk to, what items are for sale, etc. Even now, it proves a handy refrencebook for the Japanese experience as it explains the translations of key concepts and words.

Still, its no subsitute for actual Japanese knowledge and as the games are aimed at Japanese children, the language used is fairly simple and free of any kanji. This fact alone makes HeartGold and SoulSilver worthy games for those who are seeking to learn Japanese through videogames.

A great choice indeed!

Example

An example of the translation guide

Overall, except a great experience if you should decide to import the game. It’s epic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0687

Hot Gold double slot action!

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Finds #1

Posted in Finds with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by satoshimatrix

Today I decided to stop into my local used game store to see what they had. Spending a good 15 minutes looking around and not seeing anything, I thought I should check the cheap bin to see if there was anything worthwhile among the junk.

After shifting through some total shit, I came across these:

Mobile Light Force 2 and Impossible Mission II. Mobile Light Force 2 is Shikigami no Shiro 1 with a horribly westernized cover and Impossible Mission 2 is one of the rarer unlicensed NES games.

The best part? Mobile Light Force 2 was only $2 and Impossible Mission? FREE.

I normally don’t get such good deals. I’m feeling mighty good about myself tonight!

Hori EX2 Sanwa Mod

Posted in Mod Projects, Tutorials on October 16, 2009 by satoshimatrix

Last time, I suggested that one could improve the Hori EX2 – and that’s saying a lot. As those who own it and have used it before can tell you, the Xbox 360 Hori EX2 Arcade Stick is a very high quality home console arcade stick at an affordable price.

The Hori EX2 is a wired USB arcade stick for use on Xbox 360 and Windows. It features six full 30mm arcade-sized face buttons (A B X Y LT RT) as well as smaller secondary buttons (LB RB Start Back and the Xbox Guide). It also has a headset jack so you can fully use it on Xbox Live. The stick comes standard with a Japanese style balltop joystick with a square restrictor plate.

My stock Hori EX2

My stock Hori EX2

The Hori EX2 measures 11″ x 8″, is 1 ½” tall and it weights in a only a couple of pounds. This means unlike the monterious $150 sticks it is both small enough and heavy enough to be perfectly suited to rest on your lap rather than being forced to be played on a table. I don’t know about you, but I find using setting up a table while on the couch to be extremely awkward. Yay for the EX2.

The real reason the Hori EX2 stands out from others is the maker – Hori. Hori is a Japanese arcade manufacturer and have been making console peripherals for years in Japan. Hori products usually mean high quality and the EX2 is no exception. From the stick to the buttons, every part of the EX2 is authentic Hori parts.

However, as good as Hori parts are, they are not the highest quality you can get. For that, most turn to Sanwa, another Japanese arcade part manufacturer. Remember those arcades kiddies? Chances are if you were playing a Japanese game,you were using Sanwa parts. So why settle for Hori when you can have Sanwa?

Well, it seems a lot of people have had this idea, and there is a fantastic tutorial you all should check out if you want to replace the stock Hori parts with much better Sanwa. parts.

http://pineconeattack.com/2009/03/07/how-to-mod-the-hori-ex2hori-wii-fighting-stick-with-actual-sanwa-joystick-and-buttons/

This tutorial focuses on the Wii version of the EX2, but it is almost identical to the 360 stick.

Having preformed the mod, I feel I can better share some insight into avoiding some mistakes and clearing up somethings that the tut makes a little misty.

Differances between the Wii and 360 EX2’s interiors:

-The Wii has only one main PCB for the buttons. The 360 has a daughter board. The tut calls for 18 gauge wire and it is unneeded in the 360’s case. Just normal wire will do.

-You can desolder and remove the common ground PCB rather than slice it up. Fitting the Sanwa microchips in place without it will reduce space and make fitting it inside the small Hori casing easier.

-The Wii tut says that you should be able to slightly grind away the metal base with a dremel until you don’t make contact with the base. The EX2 for 360 doesn’t have enough room for this, so completely drill a hole through it and then widen it until you no longer make contact with the joystick. Use simple electrical or duct tape to cover the hole from the bottom. This is an easier solution and since its on the bottom of the stick, it won’t matter if its unsightly.

And thats it! Once done, you will have an even better EX2!


Japanese balltop anyone?

Or are you more of an Amercian bat top style gamer?

...Or are you more of an Amercian bat top style gamer?

The Death and Rebirth of Arcades

Posted in Retrospectives on October 15, 2009 by satoshimatrix

Once upon a time in an age of VCRs and bad hair, there were these spaces inside of malls which housed strange, large upright machines that had an appetite for quarters. In return for a handful of shiny coins you were suppose to be saving, these stand-alone gaming devices would entertain much better than whichever dinky console you had at home. In these places – “arcades” for you kiddies – you could find the newest and best looking 2D shooters, fixed screen big hitters like Pac-man, sidescrolling beat ’em ups and of course, fighting games. If you wanted to play an “perfect” version of any of these game genres, you had to go to the arcade, period.

Now its twenty years later and things are much, much different. Today’s consoles are powerful enough to make gamers forget all about cigarette-burned cabinets and burning through several dollars only to get your ass handed to you by some random stranger you just met at the arcade. With the advent of online gaming,that random stranger is no longer in the same arcade as you – he’s on the other side of the world. Online console gaming has killed off the arcades. How did this happen? To understand we must look at the roots of console vs arcade experiences.

During the late 80s. 8-bit home consoles like the NES were barely capable of running even the most basic of arcade games and with their limited two button setups, the NES and Master System were also impractical for most multi-button arcade games.

By the 16-bit era, consoles slowly began to see ports of arcade fighting games as well as special arcade sticks designed for home use. Still, consoles still had a mere fraction of the power behind the arcade machines and the home console fighting sticks really sucked in comparison to real, high quality controls found only after making a trip to the arcade.

This was the case all the way up to the dawn of the 128-bit era around the turn of the century. With consoles finally catching up to what arcades could do, it was time for third party companies to start to deign higher quality arcade sticks for the home market. One of the first that I can think of is the fantastic Dreamcast Arcade stick.

Now that even the 128-bit generation is behind us, the arcades are dead everywhere but in Japan, the land of their origin. Now with a few exceptions, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have become the new primary source for all the oldschool arcade genres, fighting especially.

Indeed in many ways the new console powerhouses have become the new arcade. the PS3 and Xbox 360 both have the graphics and online capabilities to make an experience like the old arcade days new again. With lots of fighting games ending in 4 (Soul Calibur 4, Dead or Alive 4, Street Fighter 4) Blazblue and oldies on Live Arcade, it should go without saying that you should own a quality arcade stick if you want to play fighting games on the PS3 or 360.

So then which fighting stick should you choose? I don’t know about PS3, but there are now several on the market for 360.

Hori EX2 ~$40

Madkatz SF4 Arcade stick ~$60

Madcatz SF4 Arcade stick SE ~$150

Hori Real Arcade Pro 360 ~$170

High end sticks are much more expensive because now they are made with the same quality parts as you used to find in real arcade cabinets.
But what happens if you want to go with the cheap EX2? Well you’re in luck! Turns out you can mod it to include the same high end parts as its big brothers but at a fraction of the price!

Stay tuned to learn more.

Xbox 360: Red Ring of Death Repair

Posted in Tutorials on October 5, 2009 by satoshimatrix

After a good gaming session of Street Fighter IV with a friend, my 360 froze to a black screen. I turned it off, and then on again, only to be greeted by my old nemesis.

Red Ring

The damn ring of death that means your Xbox 360 is broken. This was the third time my 360 has had the RRoD, and its the third time I fixed it. If you’ve ever owned an Xbox 360, chances are extremely high that you’ve seen this little problem before. For consoles manufactured before the middle of 2008 (that is, the old core/regular white systems without HDMI) its almost a foregone conclusion that your system will red ring at some point.

Even if this hasn’t ever happened to you, there are two things every Xbox 360 owner should know:

1. Why it happens

2. How to fix it yourself WITHOUT sending it back to M$.

Section 1 – Why the Red Ring occurs

To put it simply, the cause of the RRoD is that your 360 motherboard is overheating. Like any computer worth a damn, the 360 will refuse to boot up if it thinks its overheating. So then that leaves the obvious question: why does this happen? The first generations of the 360 very often experience a build up of heat over time that continues to increase until the error occurs. Its happened to me and everyone I know who bought a 360 before the Elite came out.

The 360 uses lead-free solder, which as you may know, is more brittle than regular solder. Over time, the solder balls under the GPU and CPU can, due to repeated exposure to heat, literally start to loose their bond between the motherboard and the chips. A poor connection tells the system it has a general hardware failure, and that means you get the RRoD.

Although you can fix the problem, there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening again. I’ve installed an X-clamp and an aftermarket fan that dramatically improves airflow, and still the RRoD returns. The problem lays in the design of the system. Still, you can get rid of the Red Ring for about ~6-8 month periods by following this heatgun tutorial.

There are several fixes for the RRoD, but the heatgun method is the most direct and most successful approach outside of reflowing the solder with a reflow station costing upwards of 10 grand. Since chances are you dont have that kind of money to throw around, and since the heatgun approach is so successful, there are some who try to cash in on the heatgun fix by selling a heatgun repair service. Here you will get the same treatment by following this free, do it yourself walkthrough.

So an overview: in order to fix the problem, you need to reflow the solder balls under the GPU and CPU. To do that, you need to introduce enough heat to the chips that the solder will liqufy before hardening back into place.

You might have heard of the infamous towel trick where people wrap their 360’s in a towel and turn it on, purposely leaving it to overheat in the hopes it will come back to life. The basic idea behind this is to reflow the solder balls just like what this tutorial will cover, but unfortunately the towel trick method is extremely inefficient and runs the risk of an electrical fire. Yikes! So instead of doing something stupid and unsuccessful like that, why not just go to the source of the problem eh?


Section 2. How to fix the RRoD

The repair process requires you to take the console completely apart thus voiding any warranty, but if you plan on doing this yourself you either don’t have one or don’t need one. Even under warranty, the process of mailing your system to M$ usually takes around six weeks. If you use this guide from start to finish, you can have a working 360 again in around 2 hours tops.

This project requires:

– Xbox 360 with RRoD (this tutorial covers the older variety and may not work for Elite models)

– Heat Gun (electric paint remover) a heatgun is a lot like a hair dryer, only it produces far far more heat. Heatguns range in price from $15 – 50. For the sake of this project, a fairly low end model without a switch to change the temperature will work fine. It should go without saying, but a simple household hair dryer can not be substituted for a heatgun.

– Large sheet of thick plastic (at least the size of the 360 console) weatherproof plastic for interior walls works great; you can get this at your hardware store.

-Tinfoil enough to cover the 360’s motherboard

-3-4 sticks of Poster sticky tac this might seem like a lot, but its better to have too much than not enough. This is a good extra measure to keep your system’s capacitors from overheating.

-Torx 5 and 10 screwdrivers to open the system

-Star and flathead Phillips screwdrivers also to open the system

-Clamps optional if you have decent ones. Mine suck. You don’t really need them as long as you’re careful.

-Exacto Knife to cut the plastic and tinfoil

-Marker simply to mark where to cut the plastic and tinfoil

A complete balanced breakfast!

A complete balanced breakfast!

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for your console should you screw up and destroy it. If you have moderate repair skill and the ability to follow direction, the fix is fairly simple. Note that it isn’t what I would call “easy”. Just like in life, there are no “easy” fixes.

Step 1 – Take the system apart. There are countless tutorials on how to do this already, so just check someone else’s tutorial on how to take your system apart. Google is your friend.
Step 2 – Remove the Heatsinks and place everything in a safe spot off to the side for later when you reassemble it.

Step 3 – Once you’ve got it apart, you can inspect it for any physical signs of problems such as cracks. If you don’t see any, you’re ready for the next step.

Step 3.5 – OPTIONAL: I would recommend buying an X-clamp off ebay. The entire kit is $5. Get it and install it later. You should get this because it reinforces the bond between the motherboard and the CPU and GPU. It will help ensure this RRoD stays away longer. Anyway, you should know have a bare 360 motherboard.

bare 360 motherboard

Step 4 – Before we heatgun, let’s add a bit more protection to the parts of the motherboard you don’t want to overheat. Skipping this step will likely result in the destruction of your 360. You’ve been warned.  Take your several sticks of stick tac and roll it all up into one large clump. Knead the clump and break off sections to form fairly thick blobs of stick-tac and cover up all interior capacitors. Doing this will give the caps an extra layer of protection against the tremendous heat the CPU and GPU need to receive before solder can reflow.

Cut along the red line if you want to do everything. Otherwise use only the green.

Cut along the red line if you want to do everything. Otherwise use only the green.

Step 5 -Once the capacitors are covered, place your large sheet of weather proofing plastic over the motherboard and with a marker trace an area along the interior. It’s recommended you follow the full red line area in my above picture, but at the very least trace the green line.

Cut alone here

Cut alone here

Step 6 – Remove the plastic from over the motherboard and once set aside, cut out the interior of the line you traced. Place the plastic over the motherboard so that it lines up within all the capacitors covered in stick tac. Then press down where the stick tac is to help keep it in place. You could clamp it down, but I didn’t and it worked out fine. Just don’t bump it.

Step 7 – next, take a large sheet of tin foil and cover the motherboard with it. Again like the plastic, trace along where the interior is and then cut out the middle. Pack the foil over any plastic and then up and away from the caps. Tin foil is a great way to reflect heat away from anywhere you don’t want it and along with the plastic and stick tac will keep your caps safe and sound while you heatgun the main chips.

Apply tinfoil and serve

Apply tinfoil and serve

Step 8 – find yourself a heatgun (a really powerful blow dryer used to remove paint) to remelt the solder balls under the CPU and GPU. No, a soldering iron will not work. You want to blow extremely hot air over the chips to melt and reflow the solder under them. A soldering iron wouldn’t get hot enough to do this, and physical contact would likely destroy your precious chips.

Step 9 – Turn on the heatgun and allow it about a minute to heat up to proper temperature. If your heatgun has settings, set it to low to low-medium. You only want to reflow solder, not weld steel.

Step 10 – Wave the heatgun in slow circular motions about a 30cm above the motherboard. Continue this process for a few minutes. Then move in closer and make slow motions about 15cm above the motherboard for another minute or so.  Finally, move real close and apply slow circular motions to the entire area for about 30 seconds. Sometimes the solder can be stubborn.

Red Ring got you cold? Time to heat things up!

Red Ring got you cold? Time to heat things up!

Step 11 – Let it rest for at least an  hour, preferably longer or overnight. Make sure you don’t touch anything or allow the 360 to be bumped in any way.

Step 12 – Once the system has completely cooled down, set the motherboard back into its metal case. Reattach the heatsinks and fan and hook up the power assembly PCB as well as AV and power cables. Once everything is set, press the small button on the power assembly PCB. If all things went according to plan, your system will now have sprung back to life.

Step 13 – Once you know your system is working again, fully reassemble it and bask in the knowledge that you fixed your so called “broken” system!

If this guide has helped you, please drop a comment telling of your success and also give the manufacturing date can be found on the back of your system. My theory is that most systems are prior to middle 2007, as Elite systems made after about the middle of 2007 were redesigned to stop the RROD from occurring as often.