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September 2016

The Astounding Secret Of The Castlevania Fish Men

CastlevaniaThe Fish Men of Konami's beloved Castlevania have been frustrating and irritating players since the franchise's debut in 1986.  One minute you're walking along a rickety platform above one of those bottomless pits of water that Dracula's civil engineer designed in his castle, the next you're knocked backward into the abyss by the arrival of a Fish Man leaping up from the depths.  How do they always seem to know where you are?  Can they be avoided?  Do they have a hidden tell you could use to determine where one may next appear?  As it turns out, the Fish Men completely give away their routine if you know where to look.  Chances are that you've seen it for thirty years now and just never noticed.  JHarris at MetaFilter, as part of an amazing comment on the behavior of some of the original Castlevania's enemies such as Medusa Heads and Bats, explains how you too can learn to safely dodge the Fish Men.

Example 2: The fishmen in Stage 10.

The first stage of this block is the flooded passage level, the one where you have to jump between precarious moving platforms, dealing with ill-timed bats, and sometimes fishmen jumping out terrifyingly close to you.

Like medusa heads, they always come out on a timer, and there is actually nothing random about their behavior. And the first loop through the game, fishmen are actually somewhat courteous, and will never leap into the air directly beneath your location. You still have to deal with their descent, though, and the bats attacking, and fireballs spat by fishmen who have landed on solid ground. Stage 10 is a notorious sticking place for many players.

When you beat the game and come back to Block 4 on the second loop, the difficulty is jacked up quite a bit. Actually, the increased difficulty really only holds for the first four blocks; Blocks 5 and 6 are nearly identical to the first loop. So, Block 4 is really the game's last stand. If you can consistently beat it and everything up to it, you have defeated Castlevania.

Perhaps because of this, the fishmen in Block 4 no longer kindly avoid leaping out of the water if you're directly over them. The only way to avoid dying to them is knowing where they'll leap from, and just not being over that spot at the moment they spawn.

Unfair, right? Having to memorize an obscure series of locations and constantly making sure you're not over one when the fatal leap occurs, right? How is a player supposed to know that?

Well it turns out, there is a tell to the fishmen's spawn locations in this stage. When I first noticed it, I thought to myself, how diabolical. Once you realize it, you'll never forget their spawn locations again. It works in the first loop too, but it's less essential. Here it is. This is a spoiler, but you probably won't notice yourself your first dozen games anyway:

With two exceptions, fishmen can only spawn directly beneath candle locations.

If you whip a candle, fishmen can still spawn there, although if you're wise you've already on the move forward. This is a tremendous aid to getting through Castlevania's most chaotic level. The two exceptions are both at the moving platforms with the low-overhang ceilings, which is important because you have to duck to get through those places because the ceiling is so low, and so, if a fishman leaps beneath you, you take the damage but the ceiling keeps you on the platform!

Now you too know the secret knowledge driving the Fish Men.  Use it wisely.

Nintendo Bringing Famicom Mini To Japan

Famicom MiniNorth America and Europe have buzzed about the upcoming Classic NES Mini from Nintendo featuring thirty of the most beloved games from the 8-bit era, but now Japan is getting in on the fun with the counterpart Famicom Mini.  Releasing November 10 for ¥5980, the little console features the same basic premise as the Classic NES but localized to match its homeland.  Mike Williams at USgamer outlines which of the included thirty games differ from the international release.

Notable new titles include Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Solomon's Key, Final Fantasy III, Mario Club Golf, River City Ransom, Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundoukai, Atlantis no Nazo, and Tsuppari Ozumo. The games that are exclusive to the NES Classic include Bubble Bobble, Castlevania 2, Donkey Kong Jr, Final Fantasy, Kid Icarus, Punch Out, Startropics, and Tecmo Bowl.

Also note that the Famicom Mini's controllers are hard-wired to the console just like the original Famicom's controllers, so there are differences between the two consoles besides just the exterior appearance.  I think that North America and Europe are getting the better selection of games here, although I say that as someone from North America who grew up with games like Punch Out and Bubble Bobble instead of Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundoukai and Atlantis no Nazo.  Either way, I'm happy to see that Japanese Nintendo fans (or international Famicom fans who want to import) won't be left out of the fun.

And Now, Geckos Eating Like Yoshis

Sometimes when you have a really difficult day, you need something that'll make you smile. Perhaps this clip of geckos eating set against Yoshi sounds will help with that. Pardon the fluff; just for today I think we all need the breather.

Power Button - Episode 217: Let's Go To Virtual Reality (Plus: Blake Meets PlayStation VR)

Power ButtonThe virtual reality revolution is on!  At least, that's what the marketing departments at HTC, Samsung, Oculus, and Sony tell us.  On this week's episode of the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I discuss our journeys into the world of VR as I play around with a Samsung Gear VR and Blake travels to the world of VR to take a PlayStation VR unit for a test drive with early press access to third-party VR experiences.  Pinball, space travel, haunted houses, and fighter jets: VR has it all!   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Check Out The New A-Force Marvel Pinball Table

Marvel Women Of Power: A-ForceZen Studios has another pair of Marvel Pinball tables for us to enjoy.  Due out next week for all major Zen-supported platforms, the Marvel Women Of Power tables feature Black Widow and Madame Masque trapped in an alternate reality in the "A-Force" table while Ms. Marvel and her friends Spider-Gwen and Squirrel Girl team up on the "Chronicles" table.  Zen was kind enough to supply me with early access to the two tables and I've been impressed yet again with their work.  My Marvel knowledge basically extends through the cinematic universe and some simple familiarity with rising stars like Spider-Gwen, so I've learned about some fun characters that are new to me through these tables.  Take a look at one of my early plays through the A-Force table for a taste of what the new release has to offer and be sure to check it out when it's released.

The True Story Of Jeff Rovin's "How To Win At Nintendo" Book Series

How To Win At Nintendo Games #3Before the Internet, before dedicated video game strategy guides, before even Nintendo Power there was Jeff Rovin's How To Win At Nintendo series of paperback strategy books.  The best-selling series of the late 1980s packed page after page of tips and tricks for the emerging Nintendo Entertainment System game library such as timeless advice for Double Dragon: "Take out the foe on the left with three quick Jump Kicks, then turn to the crumb on the right.  Indeed, for the first four foes-who come in groups of two-stick with the Jump Kick (the A and B buttons) unless your foes get in too close in the early going.  If that happens, go with a Hair Pull Kick-push the pad in your foe's direction, then hit B.  Pick up the Bat and use it to play a little T-ball against the two Lindas who attack next, from the doorway."  It all reads like someone transcribing the progress of another player and, of course, it turns out that it is.  One of author Jeff Rovin's sons, Sam Rovin, has written an autobiographical account of how the series was written with his father watching he and his brother Michael plowed through the NES games of the day just as quickly has humanly possible.  How We Won at Nintendo: The True Story Behind the "How to Win at Nintendo" Series takes you behind the scenes on how the operation worked.

There’s really only one visualization that describes my father during those initial hours and weeks and months. He’d just sit there on the wood floor, legs fully extended and ankles crossed, slippers on and usually a grey sweatshirt and jeans or sweatpants, and he’d be hunched over an over-sized yellow legal pad with a felt tip pen in his right hand, scribbling notes, his thick, boxy glasses dangling right on the bridge of his nose, loosened from looking up and down at the TV. He rarely broke from that mold. Sometimes just to scurry off to his office to answer a phone call. Michael would refortify his gamer will and attempt any kind of major progress in the interim, and then we’d hear the swish of my dad’s slippers coming back through the hall and into the den again where Michael would be the same six feet from the TV, struggling at the same exact stalemate in Rush ‘N Attack.

As the series went on, the crank 'em out nature of the series became increasingly obvious, but with the books selling so well, it didn't seem to matter.  The original volume went into additional printings with expanded entries for "the hottest games" and then branched out from the NES to volumes for the Game Boy (featuring a few pages on Atari Lynx games), Super NES, and Sega Genesis.  By the time of the Genesis book the series was wrapping up as the Rovin brothers drifted away from assisting with their father's writing projects in favor of girls and gaming just for fun.

But the most telling throw-away about the writing of the Genesis book was revealed on the very first page; the page before the title page, before the copyright page, and the “Other St. Martin’s Titles by Jeff Rovin” page. The page that taunts the reader into buying the book in the first place by claiming “the answer is in your hands” and “your friends are already training.” In the middle of that page, written by my dad (as all synopsis’s and interior/ exterior cover details usually are) is a single line that truly lifted the mask on our process and summed it all up fairly well: “After weeks of eye-crossing tests and trials, Jeff Rovin has nailed down the hottest ways to win at today’s most awesome video games.” That entire book was indeed accomplished in only a couple -maybe a few -weeks and we’d finally admitted it. Book in and book out we always had to pretend we were some top notch game factory, like those working at Nintendo (or so we thought), like Men in Black in training, the best of the best, the elite, providing the best secrets like it was easy, when in reality we were always like monkeys at a typewriter with a really good editor to clean up the mess. “Eye-crossing” and “tests and trials” really does perfectly explain our concentrated gaming process. And for once, every single game included our guide (except the ones I played) was completely detailed in the book, from the start of each game to the finish. And I believe it was even the first Genesis book to make it into national bookstores, though without all the notable fanfare of the Nintendo series.

Official publications from the likes of Nintendo and Sega as well as third-party magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro with their glossy, color covers and page after page of screenshots instead of just "go to the right and kick the guy" text took over and that was pretty much that for the series.  A proposed edition focused on the Atari Jaguar never came to be and the advice in the books is fairly dry reading today just as it was then, but at the time these were passable guides.  I eagerly bought the first and third editions plus the Game Boy volume and still have them around here somewhere even though the binding has come apart.  Reading Sam Rovin's remembrances after all these years finally provides a little closure on my lingering questions from twenty-five years ago about how this series was written and just how much work went into it.

Power Button - Episode 216: Another Year Of Destiny

Power ButtonWith the next major expansion for Destiny, Rise of Iron, energizing players today, it's only appropriate for Blake Grundman and guest Chris Nitz to take a look back over the past year of Destiny's updates and expansions.  Join us as they explain what they liked and did not like about the second year of Destiny content and look forward to what's coming up in Year 3.  For more on Power Button's coverage of Destiny, check out Episodes 146, 151, and 181.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Look At All These StreetPass Games

StreetPass Mii PlazaSomewhere along the way when we were all going about our daily business, the number of StreetPass Mii Plaza games on the Nintendo 3DS swelled from two up to thirteen.  I knew that Nintendo periodically added new games to the system, but I wasn't keeping an exact count.  Thirteen!  That's certainly an achievement.  Considering that Nintendo charges actual money for the games beyond the base two which come with each 3DS, how is one to know which of those games is worth the time, money, and tags?  The AV Club has taken a look at all thirteen games and ranked them.

Since the launch of the Nintendo 3DS over five years ago, one of its most unique and forward-thinking innovations has been its passive communication system, a feature Nintendo dubbed “StreetPass.” By constantly sending out discreet wireless signals, the handheld shares information with other nearby systems, even while in sleep mode, stuffed in a backpack, and generally ignored for most of the day. Unlike smartphones and the PlayStation Vita, which need to connect to the internet to download information from friends, this passive system is always searching for new data within your immediate vicinity. This means players can come home to find there are suddenly new model homes to explore in Animal Crossing, new guild cards in Monster Hunter, and new ghosts to race in Mario Kart, all from 3DS-carrying friends and strangers they may have walked past at some point.

More than just adding doodads to existing titles, Nintendo has put out an assortment of games over the years that have put StreetPass front and center, directly translating the people you come across into tangible benefits. These are collected in the 3DS’ built-in StreetPass Mii Plaza. Some of these games can be played idly while watching TV or talking on the phone. Others require more focus and attention. With the release of five brand new StreetPass games, I thought this would be a good time to revisit and review all 13 Mii Plaza games.

I was intrigued by the StreetPass games when they were new to me and walking around gaming trade shows and conventions with my 3DS in my pocket is a great way to rack up the tags.  It's very unlikely that I encounter other 3DS owners out "in the wild" on my daily comings and goings, so it's rare that I pick up enough tags to be able to do anything worth while with them at a time.  Find Mii isn't much fun with only one character available and it takes forever to fill in the holes in Puzzle Swap.  I bought the first round of expansions several years ago when I was able to get multiple tags per day on a regular basis, but have held off on the second expansion for now.  I'm glad that the AV Club has offered some commentary on all of the games because it's very easy to forget that they exist.

Power Button - Episode 215: Matthew Bought A New Nintendo 3DS

Power ButtonWith my original Nintendo 3DS starting to fail from overuse, the time has come to replace it with a New Nintendo 3DS.  On this week's new episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I discuss the merits of upgrading to a N3DS, transferring 3DS data from one system to another, Virtual Console necessities, and what's worth playing on the platform that cannot be played on the original 3DS.  There's also some healthy sidequesting regarding which pocket is best for carrying the 3DS and how to cross a river carrying a fox, a chicken, and a bag of grain.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Video Games Live Goes To Super Mario World

Super Mario WorldVideo Games Live has created dozens of memorable orchestral rock adaptations of favorite video game soundtracks from Sonic the Hedgehog to Chrono Trigger to Street Fighter II, and the group's latest album, Level 5, keeps the hits coming.  Featuring music from games including Metroid, Ico, Phoenix Wright, and Okami, the album is required listening for game soundtrack fans.  My favorite track from Level 5 has to be a medley of music from Nintendo's classic 1991 Super NES hit, Super Mario World.  Take a musical journey through Dinosaur Land with this cut from Level 5 and then head over to check out the other tracks.  I've had the good fortune to attend VGL's live shows several times in the past few years and they never cease to entertain, amaze, and poke the nostalgic sweet spot.  Be sure to see about tickets if and when they tour in your area.  I eagerly await Level 6!