Video Games New York–Love at First Sight

When I was in NY for New York Comic Con this past October, I visited an amazing game store that I’ve been meaning to post about for some time now. Video Games New York is a store in the East Village that is exactly the type of place that every gamer wishes they had in their own neighborhood.

From the Mario statue out front, to the shelves full of cartridges, to the console-filled display cabinets, Video Games New York feels like a shop and a museum at the same time. Not only do they have every console known to man, but they have tons of imports, rare collectibles, old store displays, standups and everything else you could imagine.

Check out the pics below, and if you’re ever in the East Village, you have to stop by Video Games New York.


Gaming Stories: Awesome Games Done Quick 2013

I can’t remember the last time I turned on my Xbox 360 to play video games. The backlog remains, but I haven’t made any attempts in months to clear it. Most of my play takes place on my iPad these days, and the actual experience of gaming feels very disposable these days. More than anything else, though, I seem to be spending a lot of time watching other people play. Whether it’s archived Let’s Play videos, Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream, or various videos on GiantBomb, my gaming experience these days seems to be composed of vicarious thrills lately.

For me, the original and purest source of vicarious gaming thrills is still the Speed Demos Archive, the repository of speedrun videos since 2004. In my previous post about the New Game Masters, I stated that the participants in the Penny Arcade Expo’s Omegathon and players like Ray “Stallion83” Cox carry the spirit of masterful play, adaptability, and comfort with all kinds of games and systems that players on Video Power and in the Nintendo World Championship Series had, but I neglected to talk about speedrunners who conquer games as quickly as possible. Their speedruns show old games like Jackal and Metroid in new ways that I would not have considered. Without speedrunners, I wouldn’t have thought about sequence-breaking in games like Super Metroid, where Power Bombs could be collected before the Grapple Beam, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where items from all temples can be collected before finishing the first temple.

Speedrunners are perfectionists, players who patiently explore every facet of the games that they play to discover any secret that might lower their playtimes by seconds. In my experience, this can be done either through relentless experimentation achieved through playing the same game over and over or by browsing into the game’s actual code. They approach games like they’re puzzles waiting to be deconstructed, and like the players who post Let’s Play videos, they speedrun through games because they love them.

Speedrunning records confuse my eyes every time I read them, even though I’ve watched enough speedrunning videos at this point that I could understand on a basic level how they can be done. As with many other things in life, context is everything. For example, I have the achievement for completing the XBLA version of Contra in under 12 minutes. I played through the game often enough to memorize enemy placements and platform patterns. I knew when I could pick up the Spread Gun power-up and which enemies had to be fought and which could be avoided. So when I watched David Heidman, Jr.’s run of the NES version of Contra in 10 minutes and 11 seconds, I can understand on a fundamental level how he did it, which adds to my admiration of his skill and respect for his accomplishment.

From January 6 to January 12, the speedrunning community will be participating in Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, Speed Demos Archive’s charity marathon to raise funds for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Certain scheduled speedruns, such as Aftermath’s attempt to complete Darksiders in 1 hour and 50 minutes and TheEnglishMan’s attempt to complete God of War 2 in 1 hour and 40 minutes, stand out because I devoted dozens of hours to each game, and the idea of beating either game so quickly is astounding. Other scheduled speedruns, such as Mike Uyama’s attempt to complete Earnest Evans in 20 minutes, intrigue me because I haven’t played those games, and I’m willing to dedicate some time to watch others navigate through them masterfully.

So, please visit Speed Demos Archive’s site for Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, join me and watch some of the new game masters apply their craft, and donate to the Prevent Cancer Foundation.


Gaming Stories: Streets of Rage 2

Pounding electronica is playing. Enter stage left, but I’m facing right. Turn around and walk left. Pick up the hidden extra life behind the mailbox. Punk in blue jeans and blue vest approaches. Jab-jab-vertical kick. Three more punks approach. Jab-jab-Grand Uppercut/Bare Knuckle. Two more punks approach from behind. Backfist. Punk with mohawk and a yellow jacket approaches. Knee press-jab-jab-Grand Uppercut/Bare Knuckle. The punks have now gathered into a tight group. Knee press-jab-jab-grapple-knee flurry 1-knee flurry 2-back throw. Knee press-jab-jab-grapple-knee flurry 1-knee flurry 2-vault over opponent-body slam. Surrounded by punks. Dragon Wing. Go straight.

When all else fails, spam Grand Uppercut/Bare Knuckle.

That might seem like gibberish to you, but that’s how I think of the very beginning of Streets of Rage 2. When I close my eyes, I can see the first punk in blue approach. I can play out exactly how I would attack him and remember how long I had before his comrades joined him. I know the exact timing window for each attack sequence and how each enemy would react to my attacks. Don’t jump against the bald, shirtless enemies because they’ll uppercut me unless they’re holding lead pipes. Don’t get in too close against the enemies with the mohawk and the brightly colored jackets because they’ll find an opening to throw me.

Every time I play Streets of Rage 2, I react to the same sequence of enemies with the same moves. It’s like our actions are scripted for us. I walk left to pick up the hidden extra life. The first group of punks try to ambush me from the right. I turn around and hit B-B-C-B on the Genesis controller to chain jab-jab-vertical kick. I press the advantage and hit B-B-double tap right on the directional pad-B to chain jab-jab-Grand Uppercut. The second group of punks try to ambush me from the left this time. Hit C-B simultaneously to use the backfist. The punk in the yellow jacket is here, so I hit C-down-B to make Axel yell something incoherent and jump into the punk in the yellow jacket to start the combo. Time passes, but the attack sequence at the beginning of Streets of Rage 2 is eternal.

This box survived multiple moves.

In the grand 16-bit console war, I was on the Sega Genesis side. One Christmas, my parents unveiled a brand new Sega Genesis Fighting System, which had Streets of Rage 2 as the pack-in game. I delicately removed every piece from the box (for a while, I still had the exterior cardboard box, the interior Styrofoam casing, and all the twist ties and plastic bags that came in the package) and hooked it up to the TV. I would get a few other games over the years (Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Columns and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for my mother), but Streets of Rage 2 was my faithful companion for years.

There are four playable characters in Streets of Rage 2, but my memory is only attached to Axel, and it’s probably for an almost trivial reason: the first player’s selection defaults to Axel in the character selection screen.

There are multiple ports of Streets of Rage 2, but my muscle memory needs the original three-button Genesis gamepad to realize its full potential. The round directional pad would click in just right, and the B-button was ground into just the right groove from my presses. I’ve tried the XBLA version and the version included in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, but they don’t feel right to me. Maybe it’s controller latency or how the directional pad on the Xbox 360 controller feels. Or maybe my muscle memory is so strongly tied to the Genesis controller that my hands refuse to recognize any other way of interacting with Streets of Rage 2.

One final thought: Streets of Rage 2 rules, Final Fight drools. Only one of the two games allows the player to build combos like the ones I described above, and it’s not the game by Capcom.