Play Blackjack Like A Pro

The basics:

The object of the blackjack game is to accumulate cards with point totals as close to 21 without going over 21. Face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) are worth 10 points. Aces are worth 1 or 11, whichever is preferable. Other cards are represented by their number.

If a player and the House tie, it is called a “push” and no one wins. Ace and 10 (Blackjack) on the first two cards dealt is an automatic player win at 1.5 to 1, unless the house ties. A player may stand at any time.

Playing The Game of Blackjack:

To win you need to beat the dealer without going bust. When your cards total more than 21, you go bust and you automatically lose. The winner is whomever’s cards total closest to 21. You get to 21 by adding up the numbers of the cards.

The blackjack table seats about 6 players. Either six or eight decks of cards are used and are shuffled together by the dealer and placed in a card dispensing box called the ‘Shoe’.

Before receiving any cards players must place a wager. Then the players are dealt two cards face up. The dealer gets one face up, one face down. Each player in turn either stays or takes more cards to try and get closer to 21 without busting. Players who do not bust wait for the dealer’s turn. When all the players are done, the dealer turns up the down card. By rule, on counts of 17 or higher the dealer must stay; on counts of 16 or lower the dealer must draw.

If you make a total of 21 with the first two cards (a 10 or a face and an Ace), you win automatically. This is called ‘Blackjack’. If you have Blackjack, you will win one and one-half times your bet unless the dealer also has Blackjack, in which case it is a Push or a Tie (or a Stand-off) and you get your bet back.

The remaining players with a higher count than the dealer win an amount equal to their bet. Players with a lower count than the dealer lose their bet. If the dealer busts, all the remaining players win. There are other betting options namely Insurance, Surrender, Double Down, Even Money and Split.

Insurance: side bet up to half the initial bet against the dealer having a natural 21 – allowed only when the dealer’s showing card is an Ace. If the dealer has a 10 face down and makes a blackjack, insurance pays at 2-1 odds, but loses if the dealer does not.

Surrender: giving up your hand and losing only half the bet.

Early Surrender: surrender allowed before the dealer checks his cards for blackjack.

Late Surrender: the dealer first checks to see if he has blackjack (21). If he does, surrender is not allowed.

Double Down: you may double your initial bet following the initial two-card deal, but you can hit one card only. A good bet if the player is in a strong position.

Even Money: cashing in your bet immediately at a 1:1 payout ratio when you are dealt a natural blackjack and the dealer’s showing card is an Ace.

Split Hand: split the initial two-card hand into two and play them separately – allowed only when the two first cards are of equal value. Use each card as the start to a separate hand and place a second bet equal to the first.

Hard Hand: A hand without an Ace, or with an Ace valued at 1 is said to be Hard in that it can only be given one value, unlike a Soft Hand. (You can value an Ace 1 or 11 to suit you).

Top Gear – Punching It Down The Blacktop

This is it. The race of your life. Head to head. Nose to nose. Flag to flag for the championship of the world. And only your best friend – or your worst enemy – stands in your way as you chase each other around 32 fiendishly tricky racetracks scattered from Paris to Rio.

Then there was the SNES trilogy known as “Top Gear” (or “Top Racer” as it was known as in Japan). The sequels after the first TG became more advanced as far as options for races, cars, designs, and required “money” to purchase parts and accessories won from high pole places in a race. The original Top Gear is valued for the fact that it was simplistic in nature: chose your name, chose your transmission (auto or manual), and chose your controller layout, and a car, and just race!

You each choose your car carefully for speed. handling and power. Grab the controls, and punch it down the blacktop. This is awesome splitscreen racing at its best, and it takes all your skill, courage and splitsecond timing to stay on the road, day after day, night after night, past roadblocks, barriers and pitstops. So gear up. Get your motor running. And go for the nitro. There’s only room in the winner’s circle for one!

Graphics:

The graphics in this game do their job well a neat opening screen is followed by a well laid out options screen which includes an impressive (by SNES standards) digitized photo behind the text. In the game itself the graphics are pretty good and the cars themselves are well drawn. One effect in top gear I have never seen anywhere else is the way that during some races day changes to night and vice versa which improves or worsens your visibility.

Also back drops are unique to each track, you can see the leaning tower of Pisa in Pisa, the Eiffel tower in Paris etc. The pit lane is also well animated and the speedometer, timer.Are intuitively laid out so you can glance at them quickly without crashing. I also liked the little speech bubbles coming out of the side of the car whenever you crash into another car or use a nitro. For example if you get caught in a group of cars and you keep banging into them the driver will say something like ‘get outta my way’ or ‘are you blind’.

The Controls:

The controls are in a word faultless. you have 4 control options including a left handed option where you hold the SNES pad upside down. Maneuvering your car is simplicity itself as is cornering. overtaking on high speed corners is no problem as you can go full speed round the outside or take a small speed drop and pass on the inside.The brake and nitro buttons are easy to reach requiring just a roll of the thumb to reach. In manual gears mode a simple tap of the R or L buttons will take you up or down a gear.

Music and Sound FX:

I have to say I think Top Gear has the best music in any of the earlier racing games. The title song is a classic (It is also the ending music for lotus1 on the genesis) and the in game tracks are also perfect and always seem perfect for whatever track you are on, high notes seem to coincide with sharp turns and generally the music has a rhythm that manages to get the adrenaline going as you are tearing round hairpin bends. The sound effects of the car (skidding, engine noise etc.) are also perfectly recaptured.

Gameplay:

Top Gear’s Strong point is its thrilling gameplay. The fact that its permanently split screen (like Mario Kart) will always have you competing against another “human” player is it’s trump card. If you are playing in one player mode the second players car is controlled by the SNES and it will have to refuel just like you. In two player mode player 2 will control this car. In each race there are 20 cars and your position on the starting grid is determined by your finishing position in the previous race e.g) if you finished 1st you begin the next race in 20th, 2nd = 19th and so forth.

When you finish first on any given track in a country, you earn 20 points, 2nd place earns 15 points, 3rd place earns 12, 4th place earns 10, and 5th place earns 8. That is the cut off point however, because if you do not finish a given track 5th place or better (out of 20 cars), you will not advance to the next track. In addition, you must finish at least 3rd or better on any given country or continent in order to advance to the next country.

There are 32 tracks over eight areas around the world: the United States, South America (mainly in Brazil, but oddly it includes one track in Mexico), Italy, Germany, Japan, France (including one track in Monaco), The United Kingdom, and Scandinavia (Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark).

In addition, you can choose one of four cars, most of which contrast sharply from one another. The white car is best for fuel consumption but on average it clocks the lowest speed, while the red car is the fastest on average but drinks gasoline like water. The blue and purple cars share a similar speed and gas usage rate, but the blue car handles more soundly around turns then the purple car does.

There are big differences between each car and playing the game with a different car makes each play feel like a different game as depending on your car you could have a very manueverable machine or something that handles like a brick on wheels. (when driving the blue or red car it becomes much more difficult to overtake and avoid objects). Or you could have a vehicle that needs to be refuelled once, twice or not at all on a particular track.

Also acceleration varies which is crucial when you’re starting off or just after a bad crash or pit stop.the nitro power also varies from car to car also which affects the duration and overall speed boost. Also max speed comes into play also some cars ‘hold’ speed better than others and do not seem to slow down as much after a nitro boost or a steep hill.

When your low on fuel you have to pit stop to do this simply steer into the pit lane and when your fuel level is sufficient drive out again. Pit stops require tactics as pitting early in the race will give you more time to catch up. If you do run out of fuel it does not mean you are out of the race as your car drifts forward for a while and if another car hits the back of you will start moving again.

Because of this its possible to do a whole lap with out fuel until you either manage to finish or reach the pits. Although more than likely you will lose a lot of positions waiting to get hit or stop in a lane where no other cars even goes. In 2 player mode you can just get the other guy to give you a push though.

The tracks are all well designed and on the longer courses it is possible to have many different tactics about when to refuel or nitro. Some tracks like the black forest are true to life as this track is full of steep hills just like the real place. The speed in Top Gear is phenomenal, it is not un-playably fast but it’s devastatingly quick and smooth when compared to the likes of F-Zero and Mario Kart which are sluggish and seem slow in comparison.

Challenge Factor:

Top Gear has three difficulty levels the higher levels make the computer cars faster and more aggressive and also add more obstacles to the course. Although completing the game is not too difficult you should try to finish first in every race, as any loser can finish fifth. also you should try and beat the course record which is shown on the pre-race screen.

As well as that you should attempt to complete the game with every car like in the red car you can not afford to crash and you can hit speeds of around 240 mph if you are good. The red car also guzzles fuel like there is no tomorrow but goes a lot faster than the blue and the white car. To sum up the white car is for beginners, the blue and purple cars for intermediary players, while the red is for the pros.

Final Thoughts:

Top Gear does not hold a lot of weight in the history of racing games because it does not have the super deluxe choices, features, and add ons like it’s sequels did, or other games that would follow it on other systems. And that is a shame, because not only is Top Gear simplicity in its most compelling form as far as strictly racing goes, but it also paved the way for other games to copy the system it implemented and make it even better, solely from a gameplay stand point.

If you have an SNES and want to re-live a glorious Pre-whacked out racing Era of games, Top Gear would be one of those you will want to get your hands on. The experience will give you arguably be one of the best racing games ever in your collection.

Game Review – Fire Pro Wrestling Returns

The North America release of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns was November the Thirteenth. That’s a little over two years after the Japanese release. Having spent about two solid weeks with the game in my possession, I think I am able to give a non bias review. I am a long time fan of this series, but I can still recognize it’s faults. How does Fire pro Wrestling Returns stack up against the more popular competition? Where to start…

There are no drastic changes to the core Fire Pro game play. It’s the same solid grappling system long time fans have grown accustomed to. Those who are new to Fire Pro will need to spend some time getting used to the timing. The fighting system punishes button mashers. I would advice newbies to set COM difficulty to 1 and work their way up to a harder level. This is one of those games where appreciation is only gained after learning the ins and outs.

The series’ trademark features are tight game play and a huge roster. FPR boasts a total of 327 real life competitors. To avoid copyright issues, everyone has been given a name modification. Vader is named “Saber”, Kenta Kobashi is “Keiji Togashi”, etc. Feel free to rename everyone accordingly. You also have the option of changing the attire for default characters. You don’t have to sacrifice one of your 500 edit(CAW) slots when your favorite wrestler changes gimmicks.

FPR’s all-star roster features wrestlers, boxers and mixed martial artists from around the world. Puroresu legends like Giant Baba, Satoru Sayama(original Tiger Mask) and Jushin “Thunder” Lyger are selecible. As always the default roster is dominated by Puro wrestlers. Some of the fighters well known to American wrestling/UFC fans include Bret Hart, Sting, Andre the Giant, Petey Williams, Mirco Cro Cop and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

A new addition to the series is a “corner to center” attack. When your opponent is knocked down in the middle of the ring, you can hunker down in the corner to set up a spear, super kick or a few other maneuvers. This adds a bit more drama and accuracy to matches that feature characters who set up these attacks a certain way. Because of this new feature, you can create an accurate Shawn Michaels or Bill Goldberg if you were inclined to do so.

A traditional steel cage match has finally been added. Players can use weapons like barbed wire bats, or the cage it’s self to inflict pain upon others. Other match types include S-1(boxing, punches only), Gruesome( a 12 sided UFC inspired cage) and the Electrified Barbed Wire Exploding Deathmatch. While the has Hell in a Cell, The Japanese hardcore wrestlers hurl each other on electrified boards covered in skin shredding barbed wired. It’s different, but fun none the less

Buzz worthy features include Ref edit, Belt Edit, and Ring/Logo Edit. There is a GM mode called “Match Maker”, but is it very limited. All you do is set up matches between fighters and get graded by the percentage of crowd reaction of the match. There strange special events that happen during match maker do very little to expand beyond it’s limitations. For some inconceivable reason, created wrestlers are barred from use in Match Maker.

Presentation is nothing special. Menus are serviceable, but accessing some features can be a chore at times FPR’s 2D graphics remind me of arcade games like Wrestlefest. Character sprites are not hi resolution, but they are large and detailed. Spike could have easily recycled graphics from Fire Pro Wrestling Z. They instead created new sprites and reanimated some pre existing moves. Some animations seem a bit robotic, but are pretty smooth.

I’m sad to say Spike has once again mapped the pick up weapons button to the run button. Want to get a fluorescent tube from the corner while playing in an exploding barbed wire match? Make sure you are close enough to said tubes. Otherwise you’ll go running into the barbed wire ropes, thus end up looking like a complete fool. It doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but such neglect of the R2 button has me dumbfounded. Overall that is one of my biggest gripes with FPR.

I don’t give numeric scores or grades in my reviews. If I were the type to do that, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns would probably receive a 91. It’s the best in the series, but like any other game it has flaws. Even so called classic games that get perfect scores from other reviewers have a few faults or glitches. I recommend this game to anyone who is into pro wrestling or the UFC. You don’t have to be into Puro to like FPR, the unique game play and customization options are more than enough to peak ones interest.