Archive for August, 2019

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)
27 Sep- Opeth (In Cauda Venenum)
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)
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!!!