Author: AJ Amideo

I've been gaming pretty much since I was old enough to hold a controller. I've always been a console guy but I've recently kind of shifted over to Steam (though I'm still not giving up the controller). I'm also absolutely obsessed with arcades.

AJ’s E3 2019 Roundup

Well, the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo wrapped up a few days ago and it was definitely a memorable one for quite a few reasons. There was plenty of exciting news from the world of video games, as well as the typical head-scratcher or two. As with most E3s, there were far too many games shown and announcements made to possibly be able to cover everything in a single post, so I went ahead and condensed it down to a more easily digestible dozen for you. So without further ado, here are the top 12 highlights I have selected that were either unveiled or reconfirmed at the event.

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Review: Team Sonic Racing

There's something you should probably know about me before we dive into this review. I grew up a Sega kid. While my friends were all playing their Nintendos and Super Nintendos, I was cutting my proverbial gaming teeth with the Master System and Genesis. As you might expect, this led to me quickly becoming a pretty avid Sega enthusiast, as I still am today. Granted, as time went on, I came to eventually love Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft as well, but deep down, my heart still beats for Sega.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Sumo Digital's 2010 masterpiece, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, came out, I consumed it with a ravenous hunger; and it was good. So good, in fact, that I actually consider it to be one of my favorite games of all time. For my money, it beats all others - I'm not just talking about copycat cart racers, the Mario Kart games as well. Some may disagree with that statement, but I will happily and convincingly tell them why they are wrong.

Sumo Digital's 2012 follow-up, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, was also a thoroughly enjoyable affair, but it came nowhere close to reaching the lofty heights of greatness as the criminally-underrated original. It had exciting things to offer, sure (new fan favorite all-stars, amazing new stages, a cool transformation mechanic), but the graphics were lacking a bit by comparison and the gameplay was plagued by some pretty awful rubber-banding that unfortunately couldn't be turned off (unlike in the first game). It just seemed to lack the same level of care and attention to detail as the original. ​Which brings us, now, to the third entry in the series...

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The SEGA Saturn: A 2×12-Year Retrospective

The Sega Saturn was an important chapter in the history of game consoles, mostly for not doing much of anything right. Though it was a technically sound piece of hardware that theoretically should (and could) have gone toe to toe with Sony's disruptive PlayStation, a series of monumental errors on the part of Sega caused the Saturn to wither and die a tragic and somewhat untimely death at retail. Since that time, it has been all but forgotten by the majority of gaming culture but it's worth remembering for the lessons that can be learned from its various associated blunders, as well as for the few things the console did have going for it.

Sega's failures with the Saturn were manifold and they arguably began before the system was even conceived of. In the early part of the '90s, in order to compete with NEC's recently released TurboGrafx CD (as well as Nintendo's rumored upcoming Super Nintendo CD add-on (which is what essentially went on to become the PlayStation) Sega decided to develop and release their own CD drive for their popular Genesis console. Later, Sega would also release an additional, more powerful, cartridge-based add-on for the Genesis - the 32X. Both of these peripherals were largely over-priced failures that mainly served to fragment and frustrate Sega's previously growing fan base.

Despite the fact that backwards compatibility has never been much of an industry standard, the lack of it in the Saturn's case certainly didn't win it any supporters. Sega's newest console included a CD drive and a cartridge slot, yet could play neither Sega CD discs, nor any of the two previous generations worth of Master System, Genesis, or 32X cartridges. Adding insult to injury, the Saturn was announced at a price point of $399, $100 more than Sony's PlayStation. Many fans balked at the prospect of having to pay more for Sega's hardware, after having already shelled out for supefluous add-ons and media that were no longer being supported.

Finally, Sega had initially indicated that the Saturn would launch on Satur[n]day, September 2nd, 1995. However, they decided to be clever and try to get a jump on the competition. At the (very first) Electronic Entertainment Expo on May 11th of that year, they surprised everyone by announcing that it was already available, that very day, at select stores. Unfortunately, the plan backfired. Key retailers that were not let in on the surprise were more than a little upset with Sega. One store chain even responded by dropping Sega's wares altogether. To make matters worse, most of the launch games were still scheduled for release in September, leaving the Saturn with few titles to choose from during the first several months of its life. By the time the PlayStation was released, not a great deal of gamers had opted to pick up a Saturn and Sony's console quickly and easily surpassed the sales of Sega's offering.

Sega may have inadvertently sealed the Saturn's fate before (and even on) the date it came out, but that doesn't mean the console was totally worthless. To the Sega loyalists who were still willing to buy one when it launched, or the more cost-conscious fans who waited for the price reductions that followed soon after, the Saturn was still the best place to play fantastic new titles that could only be found in the arcades (if anywhere else). The games are the biggest reason why, despite all of its numerous failings, the Saturn is still viewed with a modicum of respect, and a good bit of nostalgia in certain circles. So, as a way to honor it on its 24th birthday today, we would like to present you with 12 such examples of the Sega Saturn's said sole saving grace.

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WRUP: Happy Satur(n)day!

So , little known fact: today is actually the 24th anniversary of the American release of the Sega Saturn! And it's a Saturday. Saturn, Saturday...Satur(n)day! Get it Anyway, in honor of the occasion, I will be posting a retrospective in short order. I hope it will inspire you to celebrate the rest of this Satur(n)day in your own way.

First, however, we are in need of a WRUP! And since nobody else seems willing or able at present, and I, apparently, haven't done one in a very, very long time, the responsibility seems to have fallen to me this time around. Lucky me and lucky you.

What's everybody playing this weekend?

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AJ’s 4 In February: 4th In February

Once more, with feeling! It's time for another 4 in February. By now you probably know what that means (though you'd certainly be forgiven if you didn't) - the forswearing of all games, save a select 4, all of which must be completed entirely within the confines of the double-fortnight that is February. This being my 4th 4 in February, I feel like it may be the year that fortune finally smiles upon my attempt. True, that I cannot foresee whatever results may be in store for me, but perhaps I can forestall my typical lack of success this time around through sheer force of will and just a little extra effort. Failure is not a foregone conclusion! Oh, and perhaps I should mention the games I will be playing, before I forget. Read more

AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of 2018

Happy 2019, everyone! Is it just me or do the years feel like they are flying by these days? Before we get too far into the new year, let's not forget to take a look back at the one that's just passed and make note of all the truly great gaming experiences we got out of it. As it turns out, 2018 was a pretty fantastic year for video games - and I have quite a bit of praise to heap on some of them. So without further ado, here are the 12 best games of 2018 (as selected by me).

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The PlayStation 3: A 12-Year Anniversary Retrospective

Well, it's another 12-year anniversary today and that means it's time once again for a retrospective of one of the great consoles of recent gaming history. This time around we have the distinct pleasure of taking a look back at the somewhat-remarkable run of Sony's PlayStation 3. Though news of its release came with lofty expectations, a series of unfortunate decisions over its lifetime (particularly at the start) did keep it from becoming the console titan it was meant to be. Despite this however, an extremely solid and varied library, along with a couple of strategically competitive moves allowed it to still finish out the generation neck and neck with the competition.

Coming off of the runaway successes that were the PS1 and PS2, it seemed as though Sony could do no wrong. Regrettably for them however, this was not the case. In the years and months leading up to the launch, Sony made a series of blunders that all contributed to a less-than-stellar start. For starters, they let Microsoft beat them to launch with the Xbox 360, a full year before the PlayStation 3 would be released. This gave the 360 plenty of time to carve out a decent foothold in the market and prove itself worthy of gamers hard-earned dollars. In addition, Sony selected the uniquely designed Cell processor for their system, which, while theoretically capable of delivering better graphics than the Xbox's more traditional Xenon processor, didn't really do so in practice. Making matters worse was the fact that the Cell's unorthodox design initially caused many third-party developers to struggle to deliver games that looked even as good as the 360 versions.

As if those two shortcomings weren't bad enough, there were two arguably even bigger issues with Sony's system. At the time Sony announced the PS3 to the world, they were in the midst of a legal dispute over the vibration technology in their controllers. As a result, the PS3 ended up having to launch without it. At that point in time, vibration had already been an industry standard for nearly two generations and was utilized with both the PS1 and PS2. More importantly, the previous year's Xbox 360 had it (and even the upcoming Nintendo Wii was advertising it). Sony was eventually able to settle the dispute and release a vibration controller for their new system, but not until almost a year and a half after the PS3 had already been released.

Finally, the most egregious error Sony made was with the price. Whereas the 360 was competitively priced, the PlayStation 3 was anything but. Questionable design decisions, such as their risky gamble to go with their expensive new (and not yet industry standard at the time) proprietary Blu-ray disc format, as well as the inclusion of additional internal hardware to enable backward compatibility for PlayStation 2 games, drove production costs through the roof. This resulted in a significant price disparity between the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, to the tune of 125 to 200%, depending on which models you were comparing. This means that in some cases Sony was asking for twice as much money as the competition, for a system that, to many gamers, was an arguably inferior offering.

Thankfully, despite these regrettable decisions, Sony was eventually able to turn the system's fortunes around. Shortly before correcting their embarrassing lack of a basic vibration controller, Sony pursued an aggressive (and costly) campaign to ensure that their Blu-ray technology did in fact become the industry standard. Then, starting in 2007, Sony also began selling PS3s with revised hardware configurations (such as the lack of an ability to read PS2 discs) in order to bring costs down. All of these measures together, in addition to the ever-increasing strength of exclusives available for the console, managed to change the PlayStation 3's reputation from a largely unnecessary exercise in extravagance to a genuinely compelling and competitive entertainment machine.

That library, in particular, is what we're here to talk about. And while it was a bit difficult to limit this list to just these 12, it's hard to argue that they're not all fantastic titles. So without further ado, here are 12 of the very best reasons to have owned a PlayStation 3:

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More Games To Play When It’s Halloween

Well, it's nearly that time again - my favorite holiday of my favorite month (in my favorite season). I love this time of year. A few years back I decided to mark the occasion by making a list for you featuring some of my favorite games I play to help get me in the festive spirit. This year, like an undead creature of the night, I have emerged once again to bring you even more. While a lot of these selections are sequels to games on my original list, that shouldn't diminish their value any. On the contrary, I'm sure you will find that some of these games are equally effective at striking the proper tone. So without further ado, allow me to present you with more games to play when it's Halloween:

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Games For Dads: Kirby: Star Allies

Games For Dads is a column featuring new or recent games that I feel are ideal for being played and enjoyed together by parents (dads, in my case) and their kids.

Welcome back to Games For Dads! It's been a few years now, since my first and only entry. At the time I had kind of assumed that the coming years would be rife with great Nintendo titles for me to enjoy with my son. Since then, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family (who I look forward to gaming with in the coming years), but I haven't seen nearly as many must-play co-op experiences from Nintendo as I'd expected. There were one or two, to be sure (Yoshi's Woolly World is definitely worth a mention), but between the relatively quiet closing year(s) of the Wii U, and the fairly sparse opening year of the Switch, it's mostly just been titles with pretty lackluster co-op options (if any at all), or Switch ports of stuff I could have covered already on the Wii U (Mario Kart, for instance).

Yoshi aside, (I chose not to cover Mario Kart because my son isn't that big into racing games yet), there's been shockingly little else worth mentioning. Until recently, that is. Last month, Nintendo (and HAL Laboratory) gifted us with what is arguably the best original couch co-op multiplayer game to come to the Switch so far, as well as one of the finest Kirby games ever made.

It should go without saying that Kirby games are always family-friendly. Boys and girls of just about every age seem to adore the little pink puffball. Even with my son having grown a little bit older and more discerning, Kirby: Star Allies was still an instant hit for him. I picked the game up on a Friday and he basically played it for the entire weekend, only stopping to take breaks when he was hungry or his parents asked him to.

More friends means more chaotic fun to be had.

You've Got a Friend In Me

Every new Kirby release in recent years has done a good job of bringing some unique new feature to the table that has helped to differentiate it from past titles. Kirby: Triple Deluxe had a power-up that bestowed Kirby with the ability to inhale extra-large items, including obstacles and sometimes even scenery; Kirby: Planet Robobot introduced various fun little mechs for Kirby to tool around in. Kirby: Star Allies features a mechanic that, though similar to something that had previously been seen in Kirby: Super Star, has been significantly revamped and improved upon here - the ability to create friends.

Unlike the single pal you could have in Super Star, and only by swallowing and then dropping an enemy, in Star Allies you can instantly make multiple friends just by throwing hearts at them. Once hit by a heart, most enemy types will instantly convert into computer-controlled allies (hence the title). What's more, you can have up to three of them at any time.

The "make friends" mechanic is pretty ingenious as it offers a quick and easy way to assemble a fairly varied, super-hero team style crew of helpers to assist you. Additionally, the game offers local same-screen co-op for 2-4 players. That means you can recruit up to three real-life buddies (or family members) to play as any, or all, of your virtual ones. Meta Knight, indeed! While his sister is a bit too young still (and his mom doesn't play many games outside of Tetris and Dr Mario), I can tell you that my son and I had quite a blast playing it together, just the two of us.

Curling stone Kirby!

With Your Powers Combined

In addition to the fantastic four-player friending frenzy, Star Allies also brings back an improved power-combining mechanic similar to the ones found in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and Kirby: Squeak Squad. What it allows you to do is combine just about any two powers in the game. So, for instance, crossing parasol with sword creates a splash sword. Beam and bomb gives you zap bombs. What do you get when you cross a staff with fire? A fire staff, naturally! And those are just a small portion of all the possible power pairings; there are literally dozens of others that are discoverable throughout the course of the game.

My son and I were only too happy to try and figure out all the different power combos as we played. One of our favorite discoveries was what happens when you cross stone with ice. A couple months ago, I had just introduced my son to the wonderful world of winter sports, thanks to the detailed television coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games. So, you can imagine our excitement and surprise at traversing a level in our brand new Kirby game and then suddenly seeing him transform into a familiar-looking slip-sliding (enemy-smashing) curling stone.

Figuring out how to combine (and utilize) all the crazy power combinations is easily half the fun of Star Allies. What's also cool is that the ability to combine powers isn't merely limited to Kirby himself, as even his frienemies can get in on the fun. What this invariably results in is a delightfully chaotic ballet of different characters bounding all over the screen, hurling various elemental powers every which way. Moments like these are a joy to behold and kept my son and I endlessly entertained.

Star Slam Heroes, a mini-game in which Kirby charges up a baseball bat to see how far he can smack an incoming meteor.

Easy On the Eyes

So, even though Kirby: Star Allies does feature awesome AI/person-controlled multiplayer as well as slick new power combination options, it is a touch on the short side. My son was actually able to beat the game (with really not a whole lot of help) after only a few days. But, like past Kirby games, there are a couple of mini-games available from the start, in addition to a couple of extra modes that unlock upon completion of the game. Between these, the fantastic variety on offer in the main game, and also items to find and collect in every level, Star Allies does feature enough content to make it worthwhile.

As the first Kirby game to arrive on Nintendo's current most-powerful system, Star Allies is also pretty nice to look at. While Kirby games aren't typically known for pushing the envelope where graphics are concerned, they are always colorful. And this title does a great job of utilizing the Switch hardware to really make those colors pop. Even my little daughter seemed to be entranced by what she saw on the screen. (And I have a feeling that when she's ready, Star Allies will likely be one of the first games that she takes to.)

The music and stages are a great mix of the new and familiar​. My son played enough Kirby titles over the past couple years to feel right at home with Star Allies. The great thing about the Kirby franchise, one of the key reasons it enjoys such mass appeal and staying power, is that the games are so easy and inviting to pick up and play. Yet, a truly great Kirby game manages to be engaging and fun despite the familiarity and simplicity. That's what you get with Kirby: Star Allies - the perfect blend of old and new that is easy to learn and a whole lot of fun to play. Whether you're a longtime fan of Kirby or you've just been introduced, you're sure to enjoy this one. Kirby: Star Allies is a winner for kids and parents alike.

(This is a repost of an article that also appeared on 12/12 Games.)


[Images: Nintendo]

AJ’s 4 in February: 3rd Time’s the Charm?

Here we go again! It's now the second month of the year, which can mean only one thing: it's time for another round of..."4 IN FEBRUARY!!!" Last year marked my second consecutive year participating in #4iF and it was also my second year of failure. Will this year be different? Who knows? Who cares? For me, it's not so much about the finishing as it is the pure unadulterated fun of participating. So, what's on tap for AJ this year? Let's take a look!

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