Sunday, July 22, 2012


Petit Computer

Petit Computer is a DSiWare application that allows you to program your DSi in a sophisticated form of BASIC. And gosh is there a lot you can do with it.

The lower screen can be used as a software keyboard, or as a second display. In addition to keyboard input, the program allows you to poll the touchscreen and all of the controller buttons (except Select, which is reserved by the system as a Break button). There are simple GUI features, 100 simultaneous sprites, background music, a simple file system -- it's all very limited, but it can be used to very interesting effect.

The instructions leave something to be desired; they're very lengthy, and the translation from Japanese sometimes makes it seem more complicated than it really is. But there are also over a dozen example programs to look at if you can't quite figure things out.

I've always dreamed of having a version of BASIC that's this powerful in a portable device. I've already ported over my Flash Duel app from my graphing calculator, and I'm starting to mull over a port of Melbourne Tatty. Or Pong Kombat. It's like I'm in high school all over again, messing around with my Commodore 64. If you want a simple way to program your DS, this is a no-brainer.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Fix-It Felix Jr.

The most surprising thing about Fix-It Felix Jr. is that it works. Faint praise, I know, but games created for works of fiction are designed to fill some narrative purpose, and they aren't always balanced and playable. Quidditch is a popular example; the Golden Snitch rule makes gameplay heavily lopsided. But that's fine, because it's not something that was meant to be played (though people do try) -- it's just supposed to be an exotic sport for wizards to be interested in.

So Disney wants to make a movie about video game characters. Even though they've signed on some impressively big-name licensed characters to make cameo roles, they naturally want to make sure that they retain property rights to the main characters. So they come up with an idea for a game where a guy is trying to destroy a building, and the player has to fix it.

And it works. The game plays like a Game & Watch, with Felix jumping from window to window and fixing them with his hammer. Wreck-It Ralph moves side to side at the top of the building, throwing bricks to try and hit Felix and smash more windows. Window sills and shutters block your path, ducks fly past to try and hit you, and every now and then, someone sets out a pie which you can collect for an extra life, which makes your hat glow. Different levels have different layouts, and things become steadily faster and more hectic.

You can still tell that this was not designed to be a Major Product. There's still that certain something that major arcade titles have which is missing here. It still feels like a Flash game that someone made to promote a movie rather than a standup arcade attraction designed to extract quarters from you. But it's gotten under my skin this week. It's interesting in a way that's separate from the movie that inspired it. They get an A for effort.

The second most surprising thing is that the game comes with iCade support.

There's no mention of it in the game's description in the App Store. In fact, there are a number of reviews that complain that it needs to be implemented. I only found out about it because I decided, on a whim, to boot the game up and twiddle the joystick to see what would happen. And there was Felix, hopping around happily. The joystick controls suit the game very well, turning it into a fun button-masher. The game is a lot easier to play this way, but still not too easy. And doesn't it just tickle me to think that I've got a desktop Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade machine.

It's kind of an impressive gesture. Not that implementing it is especially difficult -- the iCade is essentially just a very specialized bluetooth keyboard. But considering this is just a freebie given away to promote a movie and that iCade controls would just be another thing to spend time coding and testing, it's surprising, and awfully nice, that they even bothered, especially when you consider that some proper iOS arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man and Dragon's Lair haven't.

Of course, they've announced a big, flashy $60 Wreck-It Ralph game for all of the major consoles this Christmas. But I wonder if they realize that they just gave me the game I was interested in for free.


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