Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Weird Sports Games 3 - Dashin' Desperadoes (Genesis, 1993)


Dashin' Desperadoes (Data East, 1993)

Let's get THIS shit out of the way right now:


Okay! Dashin' Desperadoes strains the premise of these "weird sports" posts quite a lot I'll admit. Even though there's a ton of platforming, bomb throwing and enemy-jumping-on, if your goal is to reach the end of the stage before someone else that makes it a racing game, right?

It's the classic story; Cool cowdudes Will and Rick were lifelong pals until Jenny came to town. Will and Rick love Jenny. Jenny loves BLOODSPORT.

With the promise of a kiss their only reward, Will and Rick brutally fight-race each other across the world to be the first to reach Jenny. The rest of the world, knowing a couple of dipshits when they see them, are here to dish out beatings of their own.

Aside from the novelty of a 2-player footracing game, the variety of injury animations are the biggest draw of Dashin' Desperadoes. People will open doors in your face, birds will try to carry you away, dogs will chomp down on your pants, trucks will stop just so they can back over you...the Western (as in, not Japanese) art style really gives the impression that Data East was aiming for a playable cartoon, and I'm here for it.

burning to death AND about to get mauled as your best bud skateboards away

lots of fun animation

The soundtrack is EXTREMELY ROOTIN' AND TOOTIN'; not remarkable but plenty energetic for the mad dash action. The graphics are kind of a mixed bag, though. Compared to its Neo Geo cousin Spin Master, Dashin' Desperadoes' could be way more colorful. The small viewing area (split screen is enabled even in single player mode) is a bummer too because it can be hard to get your bearings and see what's coming up ahead. The higher-res effect used in Sonic 2's split screen race mode would have gone to great use here!

Really--look it up!
Every couple of races, Rick--or maybe Will--will kidnap Jenny and force you to blow his truck up to get her back. However, all is forgiven between Jenny and her kidnapper afterward and the chase begins anew. These three were made for each other!

Pictured: a good screenshot

The two-player mode is st where moof the fun comes from, though! Stage layouts are different and of course screwing over a real life opponent with bombs is much more entertaining than playing against the CPU. Unfortunately, the truck chase stages are replaced with a less interesting minigame.

Dashin' Desperadoes was only released in the US, though a look at the prototype ROM shows that a Japan release was planned under the title Rumble Kids. Maybe this is the reason the game is a little expensive on ebay. If you can find a player two then you should give it a shot, pardner!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Weird Sports Games 2 - Cosmic Smash (Dreamcast, 2000)


Cosmic Smash (Sega Rosso, 2000)

I can only think of a small handful of games that set out with a dead simple purpose and execute it to perfection. Cosmic Smash is one of those games: a single laser-focused idea--What If Rez Was A Sports Game Instead Of A Shooter--polished to a diamond shine that would make any Sega fan proud to have it in their collection.

Who's Sega Rosso? A small internal team at Sega known mostly for their racing games. Before long they were absorbed into another internal developer called Hitmaker, where they continued making badass Dreamcast and arcade games.

If the 1980's was Sega's "Blue Skies" era, defined by such games as Outrun, Fantasy Zone and Afterburner, I think the Naomi/Dreamcast era of the early 2000s will be remembered as their "SUPER CLEAN FUTURE" era (somebody please give me a cooler sounding name than that). This might be a personal view but outside of Sonic and fighting games, Sega in the Dreamcast era means Space Channel 5, Rez, Chu Chu Rocket and of course Cosmic Smash.
 These four superb games all took place in a world presumably a long way from ours, far from the present time. The presentation is particularly striking in all of them, featuring clean lines and large swaths of featureless white and black that pop with bright, punchy colors. They tend to range from fantasy/comedy (Chu Chu Rocket) to narrative-driven games with varying tone (the retro-futuristic mood of Space Channel 5 couldn't be more different than the dark cyber fairytale/creation story of Rez).

On the other hand our boy Cosmic Smash is unique as a tight, straightforward and impersonal arcade action game almost entirely removed from any narrative--quite a bit different than most arcade games that lean hard on character-driven presentation. Let's check it out!

The Disc, as you can see, is Totally Sick
Calling it "Rez but Sports" is actually totally inaccurate outside of the look of the thing; it's more like the real world game of Squash (tennis, but your opponent is a wall) mixed with Breakout or Taito's Arkanoid (destroying all blocks to continue).

Your character/robot/artificial intelligence/whatever finds itself in a series of blank, futuristic rooms with a ball, a paddle and an increasingly complex pattern of translucent bricks to pop any way you can. I say "any way you can", but there are only two ways to do it: regular shots and Trick Smashes. Carefully aiming by tapping the joystick in the desired direction as the character winds up its shot lets you bounce the ball wherever you want once you get the hang of it, and aiming one way then quickly doubling back puts a satisfying curve on your shot that is vital for getting around unblockable obstacle blocks later.



Simple as the game is, Trick Smashes are where the game really opens up in terms of variety. To perform a Trick Smash, press the Y button and a direction. The character will start flashing red and yellow as the ball flies straight toward them. Depending on which direction you held when you pressed Y, you'll do one of a variety of cool and sometimes gravity-defying trick shots that will blow through multiple blocks without bouncing back until the ball strikes a wall.

Powering up a Trick Smash also quickly eats through your time though, so use them only when you're sure to blast a bunch of blocks simultaneously (and to finish the last block off whenever possible...Trick Finishes are where the bulk of your score comes from once you start getting serious!).

For years I thought there were about 6 Trick Smashes. Somehow, THERE ARE 28

Cosmic Crotch--not worth that many points but it's #1 in my heart

I don't even understand how to do some of these, but a big part of it is whether you're on the ground, in the air, or somersaulting off of the wall when you execute the shot. On the one hand it's awesome do do a stylish finish, but on the other hand there are only a couple that will award the maximum 300,000 bonus points so why not only do those? A video of a player showboating would be great though, because I still haven't seen most of these moves.

The presentation is clean and on point, inside and out

Let's look at the packaging some more. Unlike...every other Dreamcast game (?) Cosmic Smash came in a transparent DVD sized case.  Interestingly, the case insert isn't the opaque paper stock you see in every other game--note the visible disc. The insert was printed on translucent white vellum, and that's fucking awesome. Way to be, Cosmic Smash!

So what's the story in this game? You're not liable to get much from just playing it, even though all voice work is presented in English by a strange, monotone narrator (mostly relegated to announcing the name of the stage you're entering and instructing you to "have a blast"). The modular series of neon-lit rooms are laid out on a map similar to a rail line, with each stage designated a name and number.

Not many clues from the main character either...your avatar is definitely human male shaped but also obviously not human. On the other hand, after exerting itself it breathes laboriously, which is strange for a wireframe computer boy. Doubling back when running across the stage makes the sound of tennis shoes squeaking on a hardwood floor too. He's even wearing a ring on the boxart! The juxtaposition of relatable sounds and visual cues against a sterile, alien setting is a definite stylistic choice, but who knows if they were going for something other than stylishness. Honestly I'm not too caught up in the Deepest Lore of Cosmic Smash, but it's interesting to point out the incongruity of its presentation (and I'm trying to write longer blog posts).

That's how you miss a shot like a champion

Trick Smash around the Unbreakable Hyper Pillow for Massive Gamerscore

One last thing to mention: the internet ranking! Like some other Sega games, you'll be given a password and website to enter your results into a worldwide scoreboard. The site is gone now of course, so you'll just have to take my 80000000000 score for granted.

I'm far from the first person to wax poetic about Cosmic Smash, and if you're a regular reader you probably already knew about the game--for a much more eloquent take about the game have a look at Brian Crimmins' article on HardcoreGaming101. I had to use the "Weird Sports Games" series as an excuse to talk about the jewel of my Dreamcast collection, though! Also, I made it through this whole post without using the word minimalist! I should get a trophy.

The game is expensive now; around 70 USD on ebay last time I checked. If you can't get a physical copy, at least give it a few plays on emulator. When the gameplay clicks, trying to reach the end of the many multiple routes is addictive!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Weird Sports Games 1 - RUNNING HIGH (Playstation, 1997)

Running High (1997 System Sacom)

I love weird sports games; particularly weird racing games, because the rules are so much simpler and more, let's say, malleable than your baseballs and footballs. Also, without being constrained to a specific setting like a regulation style playing field, racing games can throw all kinds of oddball ideas around. For this reason I like fantasy golf games a lot too!

Sure the settings are mostly window dressing, but sometimes the window dressing is so goofy it can make a relatively shitty game compelling. Case in point: Running High for the Sony Playstation.

...but the lows are very, very low

Here is the plot synopsis, from what I can gather by the (extremely difficult to read) text on the Options menu:

• In the year 2000 humans developed ALTAMET, a system that allowed the human brain to directly interface with machines.

• This led to the creation of robotic power suits known as Component Muscle. However, use of Component Muscle was deemed too dangerous to be used by just anyone due to the potential for criminal activity.

•Thus, Component Muscle was restricted to military use and in the ultimate Future Sport: RUNNING HIGH.

•None of this will come into play once the game starts.

The stages are few but look quite cool

So, a racing game! Actually, if you've played other foot-racers like Sega's Sonic R you already have a decent picture of how Running High plays. Like conventional racing games you move via an accelerate and brake button, rather than simply pressing up to go forward. However, because turning sharp corners at 300 MPH is hard even for cyborgs, you can initiate a power slide move by tapping accelerate again while leaning into a turn. 95% of the time this will lead to your runner slamming into a wall and pinwheeling their arms comically while your opponents fly by.


The power slide maneuver demonstrated by Mary, a purse-swinging secret character

In addition to the powerslide, players can press L1 or R1 to throw a haymaker to either side when an opponent gets too close. You can get away with ignoring this move, but it can help to slow other racers down to avoid an attack from behind. You also get a nice turbo boost that appears to charge up as you tackle corners during the race.

The most important move in any Runner's repertoire is the jump attack. Get close behind an enemy and a crosshair will appear over them. Press L1 or R1 at this time to vault over them, slowing them down severely and giving you a good boost ahead. This is a super satisfying move to pull off on a foolish CPU opponent.

If I were to tell you one of these guys was named Woody Winger, who would you assume it was?

These super tiny illustrations in the manual add some character to the game

Unfortunately, also like Sonic R, the controls in Running High are not very good. Moving feels weirdly stiff and the heavy speed loss when bumping into walls or getting hit by enemies is frustrating--placing higher than 5th requires some practice, and if you want to take 1st you'll need a measured touch to nail the jankiness of the power slide maneuver. The way you have to let off the run button to initiate the power slide is surprisingly fun though, and adds a welcome touch of depth to the game.

You'll also need some luck; your fellow racers are a bunch of complete assholes who do not hesitate to rubber-band up to you even if you're playing perfectly, and will use the Jump move to handspring right over your head while tossing off a rude comment for good measure. Making proper use of your turbo and jumping over your opponents too is absolutely essential.


Here's a cool trick that videogames use even today: when a character is far enough away from the camera, they become simplified (whether it be losing their textures, becoming low-poly, etc) to save on processor power. Running High does this too, but it kicks in when the other characters are still quite close! I think it looks cute.

The other big issue I have with this game: it's one-player only. Chances are low that you'd be able to find another person willing to play it with you anyway, but the option is always nice in a racing game. There are only three tracks by default (and one unlockable one on  a cool asteroid station) but a decently hefty number of playable characters with their own stats, color scheme and physique. ALSO A BABY




Did you notice that the character select screen for Baby looks different than the Woody Winger screen? If you put in a code on the title screen (DOWN DOWN UP UP LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT) you go straight to what looks like an alternate (possibly beta?) character select menu with several new runners. Wonder why they left that in?

I love this game. The controls are bad, the graphics are goofy, your opponents cheat (and are just plain rude, one of them called me grandma) and it's single player only. However, the soundtrack is great and something about it just stuck with me--it's a weird as hell kusoge and surprisingly fun once you get the hang of the controls.

Oh, and Avex made a fully fucking produced rap song about the game which sometimes plays during races and you need to check it out directly:

If you can find it cheap (you will) give Running High a try! Maybe on emulator first.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Obscure 16-bit character: Grind McRoo (Sega Mega Drive, 1992)

How long has it been since I did a fake game cartridge? How long has it been since I posted regularly on this blog at all? Yikes.

Honestly, I've never considered myself much of a writer and though I do still make content here and there, most of it is consigned to my Twitter. My Twitter is excellent and you should be reading it. Follow my Twitter you cowards.


A n y w a y, your boy is back again with GRIND McROO: SKATE NO BOUKEN! An excellent artist who goes by Grind3h on Twitter posted an adorable drawing of an old character of hers named Grind McRoo:


A rollerblading dragon kangaroo? The first thought that came to mind was "forgotten 16-bit mascot game that never made it out of Japan" so I got down to business.

So we've got a couple issues here, the cartridge is obviously a western Genesis cart instead of a Japanese Mega Drive one. I was also not feeling nearly energetic enough to pixel any mockup screenshots for it (might try one later, though).

Overall though I really like how it turned out, and it was fun and rewarding to do a Japanese style package without the constraints of all the various logos and borders and other things that mess up their western box art!

Check out Allie's work at and thanks for looking, as always. The theme of my next few posts will be "Weird Racing Games" (real games this time)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How to make a lightbox for small photography (for about 9 bucks!)

Because I do most of my blog photography at night, my lighting rig usually consists of a couple of table lamps, a dark room and a sheet. You can certainly get some nice dramatic lighting this way, but sometimes you just need even all-over illumination without all the bullshit. Enter: my super cheap and bright light box!


A copper wire LED light unit. (this one is battery powered, but I went with a plug-in one for my light box) You can either spend $15 on a 10-foot strand at the store, or you can go on ebay and find them as cheap as 6 bucks! I got this one--it's 30 feet long, has an included AC adaptor, and cost me 9 dollars with free shipping.  I went with bright white instead of soft white, to avoid any unwanted yellow cast on your subject.

Waaaahh, I'm'a in a giant nightmare carpet world

-A box. This one was free from the post office!
-White paper/cardstock/whatever
-One larger piece of white paper for the bottom/curved backdrop (posterboard would work well, but I had some big printer paper)

First, tape your white paper on the sides, back and top of your box interior. This has two functions:

-The white will reflect light onto your subject better

-You won't get an orange cast from the plain brown messing up the colors in your photo. Reflected light is a killer sometimes! I've got a room with green walls, and anything I photo in there comes out green.

Now, tape your longer sheet of paper to the back wall of the box and let it curve down and out of the box. You now have a nice white void for your subject to sit in!

Here's the obnoxious part. Tape the LED light strand all about on the side walls and ceiling of your box. As you can see here I went with a series of spirals, snaking any remaining wire out of the box. Let's give it a try!

It may be ugly, but it's bright.

Here's Wario straight out of the camera and onto my computer. I didn't set my white balance to compensate for the lightbox! Do a search for how to do this if you don't know how to--otherwise you'll likely get green or blue tones in your photo. But look at the perfectly featureless background and even lighting!

Here he is with some touchups. My photoshop game is pretty weak though. Make sure to adjust your white balance for the lights you're working with!

Ruh-roh, I've found a problem with my plan. Shiny things get a hellacious glare, but the fix is simple! Just take some tissue, paper towel square, even another sheet of white paper and tape it up over the LEDs on each wall. Instant light diffusion--check it out.

I didn't do a very thorough job putting up the tissue but you get the idea, right?

Why stop there, though? Cut off the bottom of the box and put a piece of black glass (or whatever you want) underneath it and you've got a new setup! Use some non-reflective black fabric or colored paper for a new backdrop if you want, too. Easy to customize.

If you don't have any pro equipment I hope this helps you with your own blogging!