Mini-Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on August 29, 2019 by slateman

Surmising several listens briefly: I like Fear Inoculum more than the last two albums combined. Tool holds a special part of my musical life – from getting into them back during Undertow to the game-changing ├ćnima. I saw the band four times and bought Salival at its midnight release back when Tower Records still existed. But their last two efforts left me desiring more, though Lateralus left more of an impact than its successor. The last time I saw them, I emerged bored by the second half, after a tremendously-exciting first half. And there we ended it – more than a decade ago – and with no real hopes or expectations for this long-gestating follow-up.

The first single released earlier in the month was promising and I don’t particularly like tracks 5 or 6. However, the remaining four songs are remarkable. They are familiar, yet new. The tracks sound wonderful and have a spectacular, heavy feel. But just like the prior album, something was missing. And it was easy to identify: Maynard. Part of what drove me to the band two-and-a-half decades ago was his fiery nature. He would unleash and it was amazing. But now, he’s rarely not monotone. He’s skilled – no doubt – but it gets boring. One song has this amazing buildup. Each bar comes with the promise of this culminating bomb! You feel the excitement…you wait for the inevitable…and you leave disappointed at the cliff from which you fall.

While I am highly critical of Maynard, he is quite adept at his craft, minus the aforementioned lack of fire. Just two or three perfectly-placed “AHHHHhhh!”s would make this album all but perfect. But it speaks to how good the rest is that it’s a solid record even without kick-ass Maynard. The songs are reminiscent of the past, which feels so familiar. That mix of new and nostalgia make me thrilled to put it on yet again – barring those two skippable tracks. I’ll have to look into the added digital ones. For now though, even on release day, I can proclaim this a superior record to the prior two.

Upcoming Metal Releases

Posted in Blog, Music on August 29, 2019 by slateman

Just a quick toss-up with upcoming release dates for personal reference. Still no easy AotY release.

13 Sep – Korn (The Nothing)
13 Sep – The Hu (The Gereg)
27 Sep – Borknagar (True North)
04 Oct – Insomnium (Heart Like A Grave) (1 Dec in Rome)
18 Oct – 1349 (The Infernal Pathway)
25 Oct – Alcest (Spiritual Instinct)
25 Oct – Mayhem (Daemon)
27 Oct – Opeth (In Cauda Venenum)
01 Nov – Blind Guardian (Legacy Of The Dark Lands)

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #9: Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on August 27, 2019 by slateman

I vividly remember playing the original Ghosts ‘N Goblins in the back corner of some shady restaurant ages ago. The machine had two buttons on either side of the stick, but the right side didn’t work. So there I stood, playing this filthy machine with cigarette ashes on it, with my hands swapped: right hand crossed over my left. It didn’t help that the game was notoriously difficult to begin with. Certainly the button issue only exacerbated that challenge.

As the years went on, I played the sequels and spin-offs. Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, its Super sequel on consoles, Maximo earned me some publishing cred and later, the PSP’s Ultimate Ghosts ‘N Goblins. I never completed that last title: it was far too difficult. That would’ve been over a decade ago.

I find my patience for these types of game has dwindled. I don’t care for Mega Man games like I used to and a return to the franchise seemed truly unlikely. However, something piqued my interest as I sat in my newest temporary quarters, with Vesuvius in the distance. Given my passion for using save states, the series might not seem so daunting. Of course I would be mistaken in that regard, but the real question was: which game should I go back to? After some research, it was decided! the SNES game it would be! Like many other titles on this backlog, I’d played this iteration before but didn’t think I ever beat it. Now having played it again (and twice), I can verify – there’s no way in goddamn hell I beat this game.

To begin, the start is oh-so-familiar. The graveyard, the music, the weapons. Everyone who has played any of these titles will feel right at home and the new double-jump mechanic opens things up quite a bit, especially given the unforgiving jumping controls. Each of the first few stages is broken into two uniquely-different segments. Here we have the standard cemetery followed by a watery section with waves crashing over you. While this is not a truly difficult portion (and I played on standard difficulty), it’s riddled with memorization sections that inevitably lead to death your first run through. Even with my cheating ways of save states, this game demanded a specific set of memorized jumps and perfect setups. Skull platforms roll towards you requiring rigid timing. Enemies appear just as Arthur launches himself. It was perfectly normal for the time, but damn frustrating decades later.

The second stage begins on a haunted ship before asking you to navigate the waters on rafts. Stage three descended into fiery depths while five was the standard icy world. This one came with fantastic rain effects and the best song of the above-average soundtrack. These straddled a fourth level that showed off Nintendo’s Mode 7 effects, spinning the stage around as you went along new paths. It was unique and showy and quite entertaining. However, when the sixth stage began, the stages no longer split and the endgame was present. These two levels culminated in Astaroth and Nebiroth battles which were demanding, but not impossible. The biggest issue was with controlling jumps and the commitment once you did jump. These could ruin your run quickly. However, another concern with the latter boss was time. After taking quite a while to reach the second Astaroth, I barely beat him before time ran out. Sadly, Nebiroth followed and with a scant 20 seconds remaining, the only solution was to restart the stage all over again. It felt a wee bit too bullshitty for me, so I tossed on an infinite time code and beat his ass. I have no shame.

Speaking of bosses, there were several impressive ones. The cockatrice, a 360 centipede dude, a hydra and some frozen monstrosity were all generally fair challenges. The expected animations were there in spades and for the most part, it wasn’t the hardest game ever. Unfortunately, defeating the final boss revealed that you simply couldn’t see the game’s true ending on the first run. A second was required with a specific weapon in order to fight the real final boss. This is par for the course w/ GNG games, but it was something I gladly had forgotten about. Play again? Hrmph…I don’t know if I really want to!

However, I really wanted to see the real ending and it turns out the GBA version featured an arrange mode which changed levels 2-5 and the Princess’ Bracelet could be found during the first run through. Thus, I dove back in for a second full replay. You have a choice between an easy path and a hard one which mimic two of the standard difficulties from the original. A third path altered those four middle levels completely which made the entire game a different experience. These came with new bosses and the fourth level was a revamp of the original GNG level! These were wonderful and made the slightly-downgraded GBA title a remarkable port.

This all made a second playthrough truly worth it and allowed me to fight Sardius (Samael in Japan). An intense challenge, he unlocked the true ending which was worth the wait. A bit of detail about the Princess’ Bracelet is followed by short details about a number of enemies and then a full credits scene, with Arthur and Princess Prin Prin riding off before the sunrise. The full replay really gave me a full feeling for the game and while I’ll never return to play it all again, I fully appreciate the difficulty the game and the series sets. I might consider the PSP game again, but not without save states! Judge me if you will, but that game was friggin’ hard!!!

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #8: Castlevania Chronicles

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on August 13, 2019 by slateman

Castlevania Chronicles (which loses the -s in Japan) was a 2001 collection landing exclusively on the Playstation. The remake of the Japanese-only Akumajou Dracula (itself a reboot of the original Castlevania) was one I was excited to finally play it when it arrived at the budget-friendly price of a mere $20. While my retro-gaming backlog has since evolved to include games I’ve actually played before, I don’t think I ever quite beat this game. Playing the arrange mode rather than the original, I found the rigorous challenge quite demanding, and I bet I never made it through. Let’s see how it fared, remembering I didn’t really even touch upon the classic X68000 version. Note that much like many other games of the era, Japan received the better box art.

This retread through classic Castlevania locales was fun and the updated visuals looked good enough when compared to traditional 2D sprites. It loses some of that magic of animation when moving into the quasi-3D world but Simon animated well, even with his strange new hair color and the setpieces remained exciting. Large bosses, colorful stages and some cool 3D techniques made for a visually-appealing romp through Dracula’s castle. However, its difficulty was quite the challenge and my up-and-down life rendered the experience a stop-and-go one, marred with hardware issues and long breaks in play. None of this truly diminished the fun, and my trusty SN30 Pro worked well, though I had some lag issues when playing on my phone initially.

The diverse stages really were quite refreshing, bouncing from the usual forests and castle entrance to blues and greens and bright environs.

Bosses were large and diverse, and of course challenging, however with three selectable difficulties, playing on easy mode at least opens the game up to casual fans. The remixed soundtrack remains one of my highlights, with new takes on familiar tracks and the official CD release made available later contained that and the original X68000 tracks. I didn’t hit upon them, but there are two MIDI song lists available when playing the original title. Several unlockables exist as well, with a small art gallery, which also contains SotN pieces, an interview with Iga (in the West, not Japan) and the like.

The entire collection feels a bit bare-bones in spite of these perks, but for $20, it’s hard to complain. Simon controls better than in the original, sections feel bombastic and the music rocks. Traditionally I’d write a lot more about this, but it’s taken me about a month to complete the game. I suppose I really should go back and zip through the original version. What I find interesting is that Iga took the time to remake this obscure entry instead of the world-renowned Dracula X: Chi No Rondo. (That took another six years – but it felt like far longer than that back in the day!)

Getting to Dracula contained the expected transitions: Death, a staircase before the moon and a pair of forms when fighting him. Their predictability was the only real shortcoming, to me, as that tradition is part of gaming history. The redone ending, featuring a crumbling castle, was dreadful but par for the course in the late ’90s.

Just for fun, I took a few snaps from the intro of the X68000 game, given here as larger thumbnails because of their odd number.





Again, this article should be longer than it is – but such is life. Why don’t you go back and review an 18-year-old remake of a 26-year-old game? That’s what I thought!!!

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #7: Alien Vs. Predator

Posted in Aliens, Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on July 18, 2019 by slateman


Capcom was a well-oiled machine by 1994, building off the opportunities after Street Fighter II’s ridiculous success. Their side-scrolling beat-em-up Alien Vs. Predator was not the first entry into the crossover franchise, but it remains my favorite. I don’t recall actually playing this in arcades; it came out a little late for me, but I did play it via emulation sometime in the next decade and quite liked it. Will returning to it offer the same nostalgia for a 1990s quarter muncher or has it aged less well than its contemporaries? Having moved from temporary quarters in Sweden to temp quarters in Italy, now seemed a good time to find out the answer to that very question!

Laptop, SN30 Pro and RetroArch. Check. It starts out great, mowing down aliens as one of four different characters, each of whom plays quite differently. Of course I chose Linn Kurosawa, an awesome character Capcom has oddly not cashed in on enough! The stages blazed by with two different attacks, sub weapons aplenty and killer animations. The CPS2’s Q-Sound allowed for kick-ass audio: explosions that boomed and the familiar tinny gun sound from my favorite movie ever: Aliens.

However, at its heart, it’s a side-scrolling beat-em-up. How much more can you do with the genre? Little things help, with special moves, the usual food and point pick-ups and the lot. You can shoot grenades away as enemies throw them at you. There is a bonus stage later on and one level had you driving atop one of the mobile units from the movies. However, in the middle, the usual spin arrives: that the evil madman from Weyland Yutani (misspelled in the ending as Wayland) wants to harness their power, etc. etc. etc. Thus, for a good portion of the game, you end up fighting human soldiers. This was likely a good choice to keep it from getting stale but I ended up simply not caring. Segments felt repetitive and while the game fashioned a story out of the absurd premise, even that grew thin.

Cut scenes were spread throughout the game which was quite nice and it contained plenty of dialogue – a far cry from brawlers from half a decade earlier. Animations in these interludes were minimal but in the rest of the game they were spectacular. Multiple types of aliens existed with a bevy of attacks and hit animations. Flame throwers engulfed enemies in fire and the game was bombastic as it should be. However, with two bosses being the queen, it appears in retrospect the diversity of enemies simply wasn’t there. What was there was pretty kick-ass, I must admit. Backgrounds were colorful, detailed and fit the series perfectly.

In the end, my fond memories were not quite matched by the game’s fun factor. Released three years earlier, I’d just as soon go back to Sunset Riders first. It was definitely an entertaining run and playing as other characters might spice things up a bit. This is set to appear on Capcom’s upcoming all-in-one arcade stick, a great entry considering few have played it in the last 25 years.

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #6: Sunset Riders

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on July 5, 2019 by slateman

Konami’s 1991 side-scrolling western has always been fondly remembered in the annals of gaming, though it never received a follow-up. The title’s impressive animation and lighthearted theme made for a game that stood out in a time of ever-increasing machisimo – an trend that never seems to have faded. Despite playing this back in the day and not really fitting the backlog category, it’s a game I have wanted to revisit for some time. Thus, while the packers jam virtually every possession of mine into boxes and I’m required to be in the house while it happens, today was the day to hit up nostalgia alley. There was only one small hiccup; I played the wrong game.

With a laptop and an external drive available, I booted up RetroArch and synched up my trusty 8BitDo SN30 Pro. The thing is awesome. A quick search on mamedb.org told me the file name to search (as I don’t have a full MAME frontend on the laptop) and away I went! The game, while good, seemed to be a bit lacking. It was reasonable but the animation seemed substantially off and it really lacked some of the punch my memory told me it should have. Upon beating it, with no real story or level transitions, I inspected to see that I was in fact playing the Genesis/Mega Drive port and not the arcade original. Well, that explained a lot!

Still, it was a fun game despite its reused assets and lack of diversity. There were fewer stages and animations but the final stage had a bit more than the arcade game as your hero ran through the city streets. Each world was split in two: the first half to save the lady and the second to face a boss. The simple mechanic effectively doubled the level count, though it was far from transparent. On one level, however, rain started falling, a pretty cool effect on the 16-bit system! I took some snapshots and have no real urge to play the SNES game to compare a third time. I went straight into the arcade game after and chose my favorite: Cormano!

Moving on to the far superior and technically impressive, the arcade version came in two flavors: a two-player model and a four-player one. The latter actually assigned a character to a controller and since Cormano was the fourth such choice, I opted for the two-player game where you could choose who you played as. The experience was familiar, both from my prior Genesis run-through and from my near-three-decade-old memories. This game is fantastic. Animations are over the top. Explosions are enormous. Action sequences are thrilling and colors are tremendously vibrant. From the first stage where you step on a rake and hit yourself in the balls to flames engulfing enemies, the entire run-through was just a pleasure.

Music is the clear weak link, sounding much like an arcade might in 1991. But songs aren’t memorable and they feel repetitive and bland. Sound effects are better and the voice samples, which were changed to speech bubbles in the home versions, are pretty cool.

Of particular note is how un-PC it is. Native Americans run at you with every stereotype known to man and the boss, Chief Scalpem (changed to WigWam on home consoles) begins by saying, “Me ready for Pow-Wow.” Women fare no better. While they are present with dynamite throughout, they are often relegated to the usual sex symbols. You can enter saloons and emerge, babe in hand, with a power up of some kind and a kiss on the cheek. Damsels in distress can be found and they even dance for you in one stage. It’s all nonsense and the absurd nature of it all may be enough to offend nowadays. Perhaps this is why Konami never re-issued it on newer consoles.

But as ridiculous as the entire game may be, it’s a tremendous amount of fun. Horseback-riding sections, bonus levels and characters with different animations and weapons keep the action fast and entertaining and worth revisiting. While the other titles in this retro-game backlog may be console experiences or one-and-done efforts, I would gladly come back to Sunset Riders and very well may do so one day. Maybe get a few controllers and play through with the kids. Politically incorrect or not, it was a genuinely-fun game that looks great even now, 28 years later.

Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night – Worth It!

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games on June 28, 2019 by slateman

With all the talk about Metroidvanias, it was strange actually worrying about the return of the true progenitor of the genre. Iga is back, and this is a fine follow-up to Symphony Of The Night – one of my favorite games of all time.

It’s flawed: there are some bugs, it’s crashed on me once or twice and the game stutters at random points. But it excels at all it does well and even after about six hours of playing, I know I have a ton left. Between side missions, countless shards to test out, unique familiars and new (but customary) skills to take command of. I have to make weird recipes for an old lady, hordes of demons to kill to avenge deaths and crops to plant. OK, some of those don’t sound so exciting, but trust me, they’re fun and compelling and they just add to the entire familiar experience of – what may be my favorite type of game of them all – the metroidvania!

Any reservations I had for this game were simply folly. While this is an imperfect title, it’s proof that Iga still has it, and this title was well worth the wait.

Another Move – Another Country

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Personal on June 28, 2019 by slateman

It is with a heavy heart that I abandon my beloved Scandinavia. However, I cannot complain as southern Europe awaits and its 45┬░ weather alongside it! These pages have been curiously quiet and will likely remain that way as my entire life is turned upside down for the second time in three years.

Wish me luck – This is an opportunity of a lifetime in an already-tumultuous 2019.

NeoGeo Pocket Color: SNK Vs. Capcom Captures

Posted in Artwork, Blog, Game Art, Games, Street Fighter on May 14, 2019 by slateman

I’ve been writing for so long that I haven’t really touched anything else. Today, for some reason, I felt compelled to check out SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match Of The Millennium on the NeoGeo Pocket Color. I was always disappointed that I couldn’t capture the bonus characters and I never had the patience to unlock them in any legitimate fashion. Well, thanks to ArtMoney, I didn’t have to! So, I finally captured the standing animations for the four bonus fighters: Bulleta, Vega, Evil Ryu and Gouki! And then why not grab the character portraits, now with the secondary colors as well?!! I’m pretty psyched to have these now.

Because I don’t know how to run web pages properly, you can find these at different sites. The standing animations are at my slateman site with the character art at SFGalleries. Or, why not just post it all right here? Enjoy!





Bonus Characters

As for character art, remember the NGPC’s screen resolution was like 160×152 so it explains why these are so tiny!







Super Mario Odyssey: Another Gem

Posted in Best / Worst, Games, Personal, Screenshots on May 12, 2019 by slateman

It’s no real secret that I love Mario games. But with new hardware not being as high a priority as it was a decade and a half ago, Mario’s Odyssey adventure would have to wait. Two years later and my son asked for a Switch and the game he wanted was Mario! Well, if we must oblige the 8-year-old! And so, we began.

It’s always a friendly, familiar welcome returning to the Mushroom Kingdom and this game plays remarkably well. The new focus on collecting moons is also a welcome change which keeps your sessions going for as long as you’d like and the itch to get ‘just one more moon’ is one that hearkens back to my early days of gaming. The game looks great, controls wonderfully and is the traditional mix of rigorous challenge and lighthearted romp.

Now that my moon-collecting tally grows towards 600, I’m left with some issues. Races suck; I loathe them. That final stage is just brutal, as it should be, I suppose, and I find my interest waning as the elusive 100% is still some 200 moons away. I’ll have to update my listings with this, though I’ll more than likely just stop playing at some point.

I’m hoping we get another Mario adventure on the platform. Games have become so huge making their offerings quite scant compared to the old days. Three Mario games on the NES? Good times, those were! For now, some of the better screenshots from my adventure. Now to go collect a few more moons!