Tuesday, January 27, 2015

For Sale: Punch-Out!! for Nintendo Wii (2009) - Used - Good Condition

"Mac is Back!"

Today I'm selling my copy of Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii. Punch-Out!! is an action boxing game with rhythm and puzzle elements designed as a successor to the NES classic of the same name. It's rated E10+, meaning it's appropriate for all children ages ten and up. Join Little Mac, most recently known for his appearance in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, as he rises the ranks to become the boxing champion of the world!

The game is complete in the box with all original paperwork. Everything is in awesome shape. The disc is clean and plays like a dream. Case and label look great. Instruction manual and other associated paperworks have been a little dented by the clips which hold them in place. The Club Nintendo flier is included, but the code has been used. Item is from my personal collection and has been well cared for since launch (when it was purchased brand new).


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Game Haul: Professor Layton: Dinosaur Hunter

Note: This was written on Friday, January 23, 2015.

I noticed people seem to be really into "haul" videos (videos where a vlogger showcases what they've recently purchased or acquired). For a long time I thought about why many hundreds of people—and myself—were interested in watching somebody talk about what they bought. The answer still eludes me, for the most part, but after reading and participating in what is essentially a hauls thread on a forum I frequent, I realized a great part of the fun is in listening to a person's opinions of media you're familiar with, or of learning what kind of person they are by looking at what they buy over a period of time, or introducing yourself to new material by studying the things purchased by people whose tastes typically align with yours. I think a certain part of it is primal. An ancient social desire. Everybody wants to feel accepted; knowing that somebody else out there has purchased that awful Howard the Duck miniseries kind of vindicates you. Anyways, I thought I'd give haul blogging a try, since I have absolutely awful microphone-fright.

Let's cut right to the chase.


It's not much to behold, but this here's the entirety of yesterday's "haul". Money is something I'm trying to do a better job holding onto after the spending frenzy Nintendo's Deluxe Digital Promotion had me in for 2014, but as an avid media consumer and collector it's difficult to pass things up. So I set myself a twenty-dollar spending limit when I went out. Only went a single George Washington over.

The first thing I'm going to talk about, and the thing I primarily went out to grab, is the Nintendo eShop card. Originally I wasn't going to include it in the post at all, because gift cards just don't hold quite the same allure as more defined items. Eventually I decided to go ahead and put it in because I went at it with a specific plan. That plan was the Super Indie Connection Sale #2. Make sure you read the fine print if you plan on taking advantage of that sale (which you definitely should) because I didn't and, man, I was pretty bummed out when I got home. You see, my plan was to have about five dollars left in my account after picking up this:


Unfortunately the sale isn't a straight 60% off... you have to purchase a title from the selection of six at full price before the other titles get the discount. I felt a little cheated at first, because I didn't have enough to buy Guacamelee! at its full price ($14.99) and it looked like the other titles were expensive enough that I wouldn't have sufficient funds left over to nab it at the reduced price ($5.99). Even worse: Guacamelee! never impressed me enough to want to spend fifteen dollars on it. Seeing it at e3 definitely put it on my radar, but I've been burned before, and fifteen is a hefty price for a virtual unknown. Basically if I couldn't have it at the sale price, I was just going to hang onto my ten dollars until something more worthwhile came around. That's when I saw...


Swords & Soldiers is a game I remember as having come out for the Nintendo Wii shortly before my Nintendo Power subscription ran dry. At the time it was a game I really wanted to give a go, but my interest absolutely sunk once the gameplay videos started rolling out. It looked so much like a typical Facebook game that I was worried it would be littered with micro-transactions and fluttery physics. Not that Flash games are bad, mind you—I just feel like they belong on Newgrounds with ad-supported revenue. Regardless, it was my $2.99 gateway to the six-dollar Guacamelee!, so I took it. I figured nine dollars to try out two indie titles that always had my attention was a good deal.

At GameStop (which I went to for the eShop card) I dug through their little rack of budget Nintendo DS games. Let me just take a moment to say that the boxes they keep these games in are far too deep to have them stacked. It's almost impossible to flip through them all without nearly knocking the whole display to the ground. Also, it's an awful shame what they do to these poor games—if you're going to deal in used video games, you need to understand the value of the casing, artwork, and paperwork. They have some real balls, disposing of all this stuff and still being the top game retailer in the country. I digress; there were some cheap one and two dollar games that called to me as a collector and a person interested in trying out new games. Adhering to my budget, however, I boldly settled on a somewhat pricier game I was sure would be good.


The Professor Layton franchise is one I've been meaning to get into since it debuted so many years ago. Unfortunately, I never got around to it when I was younger—and now six or seven games into the story, it's always been a more daunting endeavor than I've cared to give time to. For $5.99 I figured it was finally time to give this series a try. Too bad this isn't the first game. That'll teach me to conduct proper research from now on. Made some real dunce moves in that regard, between the Indie sale and the Layton game. Still, I might give this a try even if I can't get my hands on Curious Village. The art and character designs are just too appealing to keep away.

Next stop was an awesome little store called Collec-Tiques. They handle the antiquities of pop culture, chief among their wares being video games. While they have no shortage of the true classics (NES, SNES, Genesis), I always zoom in on the mid-nineties. There's a few reasons for that. Mainly it's about nostalgia—I've spent a lot of time trying to reclaim the video games I lost in my childhood. Things get traded, you know? Traded to friends, lost because you're a crappy six-year-old, "lost" because certain members of your immediate family are technophobes. That's not to say this era is all about pure nostalgia; as a child I grew up on Nintendo's home consoles (NES, SNES, later on the Nintendo 64) with limited access to handhelds and other consoles. I had the Pok√©mon games, sure, and Sonic has always been a big part of my life, but my meager assortment of Game Boy titles was laughable and Sega kind of disappeared as far as I was concerned. And PlayStation? Back in those days the console wars were hot. I wouldn't be caught dead playing with Sony's PieceaShit. That makes me weep for Little Nate, because these days I absolutely adore original PlayStation titles and the Game Boy library is full of magical gems. However, this visit I stuck with trusty ol' N64.


The first game I got was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I've been collecting the N64 Turok games this year as I had the first two when I was young. Finally I've reclaimed this little beauty—and it's in pretty good shape! This one came essentially free as I got it on credit. Traded a handful of memory cards (PS2, PS, GCN) and a few other odds-and-ends, and it's certainly worth it. Too bad I forgot my N64 memory card is corrupt. If it's not one thing it's another... Well, that can come later. For now I'm just glad to have this Jurassic gem back where it belongs.


Wrapping things up (both the post and my Turok N64 collection) is Turok: Rage Wars. This one cost a mere $4.00 as I still had one extra in credit. The only fifth-generation Turok game I'm less familiar with is Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion. What I do know is that Rage Wars is some kind of non-canon with a TimeSplitters-style emphasis on multiplayer competition and making absolutely every programmed organism a playable character. That's the thing that always made me want to play this game. After getting my hands on Turok 2: Seeds of Evil and watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park I was obsessed with compies, which are these little chirping dinosaurs that don't seem like much because they're only ankle-high, but man can they swarm. And you know what?

You can play as them in Rage Wars.

I'm feeling excited all over again. After all these years, after fervently watching my childhood friend tackle this title in a single weekend rental, after gazing at my dwindling (and at long last rekindling) game collection, I can play as compies!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fantasy Smash Bros.: Virus

It might surprise you to know that Mario's second most recurring adversary isn't actually Wario, Donkey Kong, or even Tatanga! No, it's the Virus trio of Dr. Mario! They've been major villains in every Dr. Mario title to date (including Dr. Luigi and the little-known Dr. Wario) and minor opponents in two Mario & Luigi series games--making them the only traditional villains other than Bowser and the Koopa Pack to oppose the plumbers in an RPG. While Wario, Waluigi, and Donkey Kong have all appeared in many more games than these ne'er-feel-wells (and sometimes even as antagonists, as in the introduction to Mario Power Tennis), they haven't taken their vendetta quite as seriously as these vile virii.

With the other villains already scumming up the scene, it's only fitting that the scummiest of scumbags should make their Smash debut--especially with their arch-rival Dr. Mario marking his return!


THE ATTACKS

Up Special: Colonize - What is a virus' most principal power? Proliferation, of course! This ability works fairly similarly to Pac-Man's Power Pellet special, albeit in a terrifying way. The Virus will shake, giving birth to a swarm of smaller viruses which continue to reproduce along whatever path the player commans them to. When at last this colony runs out of reproductive steam, they'll deposit a large Virus at the end of the trail. Better hope you reach a ledge before then, however, or the large virus will simply plummet once more, with no energy left to resist. Enemies caught in the swarm won't necessarily be knocked away (unless the large virus spawns ontop of them, which acts as a launcher) but will succumb to the elemental effects of the swarm's color (more on that in a bit).

Neutral Special: Sneeze - Sneezing has got to be one of the worst parts about catching a cold. Sneeze here, sneeze there, leave your boogers everywhere. Since the viruses are essentially living sneezes it seemed only fitting to give them the one aspect not represented by a specific color. In this limited projectile attack (it has about the same range as the Ice Climbers' down special) the virus simply sneezes at his foe. Gross! The effect is different depending on which color you are: blue sneezes a frosty air, red sneezes a bust of flame, and the yellow's sneeze can cause a random status effect (either flower, sleep, or electrocution).

Side Special: Driver Virus - Mario Kart's little-known arcade equivalent, Mario Kart Arcade GP, introduced a very specific type of virus to the Mario universe: the Driver Virus. This little guy resembles Chill, although he wears a pair of swirling spectacles. In that game he would infect other racers' machines and slow them down. He acts much them same here, being thrown by the primary Virus. If it lands on an opponent, it'll circle around them and bog down their movements. Don't worry, it's not too difficult to eradicate the little pest--any attack will do, and it is possible to simply dodge-roll away. Bumping into another player will also pass the virus along, and it is possible to give it right back to the Virus. I guess it's true what they say: "What goes around comes around".

Down Special: Shake Off - The Virus is known for its trademark dance, and it has no problem with getting down right there on the field of battle! As it dances, small viruses of all colors launch from its body in a slew of different directions. They can protect the larger virus from attacks, or they can make other fighters ill if they come into contact with them. These viruses are a little like Pikmin, able to inflict a small amount of damage as long as they're attached. Fortunately they don't inflict any status ailments (aside from the red virus' burning sting).

Final Smash: Plague - All three viruses appear, performing their trademark dance while a storm of smaller ones rain down upon the stage. Players are given control of the falling swarm in much the same way that Mario manipulates his megavitamins in Dr. Mario. Unlike the little viruses in the down special, these ones will definitely inflict elemental damage when they hit opponents... so it's a good idea to watch your step!

THE STATS

Height: 3/10
Defense: 3/10
Jump: 8/10
Attack: 4/10
Speed: 5/10

Size - Viruses are usually tiny, but these ones come to about Mario's stomach. They're your typical ball-type character.

Defense - These little dudes aren't used to direct confrontation. They're pretty easy to knock away.

Jump - All viruses are great jumpers (how do you think they spread? Poor hygiene?) but these guys hail from the Mushroom Kingdom, where pretty much anybody can jump a mile high from a standstill.

Attack - They don't hit very hard, but don't let that fool you...

Speed - They're of average speed... They can get away from situations if they need to, but they won't be winning any footraces, that's for sure!

A Closer Look - It can be difficult to define the Virus stats because of they're gimmick. What? I haven't told you about their gimmick? Well let me fix that!

I know, I know, "Transforming Characters aren't in Smash anymore". While these guys technically are transformation characters, their method of transformation and the result of that transformation are pretty different from what we've seen in the past. Nothing as drastic as Zelda to Sheik or swapping between Pokemon, that's for sure. Also, this is Fantasy Smash Bros. I can do whatever I want. Originally the plan was to have them rotate in an out of battle like the Pokemon, but I thought: "No, they can be more unique than that!" For a while I went back and forth about making them a trio of clone characters or even alts. in the vein of Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings. Eventually I settled on a gimmick they exhibit in the Mario & Luigi franchise: damage-induced transformation. Because of this they are simply referred to as "Virus" on the select screens and victory menus (although they do actually have names--Fever, Chill, and Weird).

Whenever Virus takes a hit, even one as meager as 1% damage, it's forced to transform into another virus. The order is always Chill to Weird to Fever. Each virus has its own animations demonstrating their personality: Chill is cool, confident, and collected, Fever is jittery and craving to cause chaos, and Weird is timid. These personalities also give them slightly different stats, with Chill being the basic set posted above. Fever has a higher attack stat and can launch the farthest (the other two actually aren't very good for killing) while Weird is slower and has a bit of lag in its movements. The colors also feature different elemental attributes to some of their attacks. Chill can encase enemies in ice, Fever can engulf them in flames, and Weird... well, he's a little weird. Weird can induce flowering, sleep, paralysis, or electrocution entirely at random. This makes him the best at building up damage, even though he has the weakest launching potential.

Remember, the transformation is triggered by taking damage--it's impossible for the player to force a transformation. This can make it more challenging to find a winning strategy, but it also creates a conundrum for the opponent: they can attack the Virus, but this risks making it more powerful. The attack could also make it generally weaker, but also able to inflict more damage. Decisions, decisions.

Like any cold, it's best to take Virus out as quickly as possible!

THE COLORS


Things got a little hairy when choosing the colors for this terrible trio. Since there's three of them, they used up the primary colors pretty quickly... but I had to fill out at least eight (as per the new rules of Super Smash Bros. 4. I guess I have to revise some of the older Fantasy Smash characters...). There also isn't a whole lot of material to draw from--the Viruses have been largely unchanged throughout their history. As such, this is going to be a lot less broken down than other palette entries have been...

Basic Colors - These are the primary colors for the trio, as of Dr. Mario 64.

Second Color - Yellow, cyan, and magenta are the colors of the new viruses (Drowsy, magenta, and Dizzy) in Dr. Luigi. I tried to match the colors with personalities. Drowsy is relaxed, basically, so yellow went to Chill. The magenta virus looks afraid, so I gave it to the timid Weird. Dizzy looked to embrace the chaotic nature Fever has, so obviously cyan went to her (oh yeah, Fever's a girl if you didn't know).


Third and Fourth Palette - Green, Orange, Purple and Black, Gray, and White palettes are just fillers. I finished the rainbow colors, and added the extreme ends of the light spectrum.

Fifth Palette - The fifth palette (first on the left, second row) is the basic NES colors. There's only a slight variation in tone and the colors for gloves and boots are different enough to the standard colors that I figure it should be okay.

Last Three Palettes - I really had to reach for inspiration with these last few. Eventually I decided to pull some influence from the other monster-driven Mario puzzler: Wario's Woods. These colors are all based on these weird little dudes that I thought looked suspiciously similar to the Viruses...


THE VICTORY


THE EMBLEM


Monday, January 19, 2015

Thoughts on Smash Tour

Smash Tour is the primary exclusive mode in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. It's the counterpart to Melee's Adventure Mode, Brawl's Subspace Emissary, and most certainly ... for 3DS' Smash Run, but it doesn't quite fill the same gameplay niche as any of those. Instead it operates as a sort of Mario Party equivalent, allowing players to run around three fairly small, fantasy-inspired boards while collecting characters, competing in various Smashes, and sabotaging each other's victory. Ultimately this culminates in a final battle where the fighters you've been collecting thoughout the round serve as your stocks (lives). Victory goes to whoever can complete this final Smash with the highest score. Sounds pretty cool right?

Too bad its held back by a plethora of bizarre creative decisions. Most people will cite the randomness of the mode as its biggest downfall, but that's actually only a small part of the problem. Smash Tour comes across doughey cinnamon bun with no icing: half-baked. That's really disheartening for something which is supposed to be the main draw of the game. Smash Tour and Event Matches really are the only things keeping SSBfWU from being a full-priced HD upscale of SSBf3DS. More attention should have been given to it on that basis alone. The sad thing is how easily Smash Tour could have been made great.

Right off the bat you have the maps, which don't represent any specific game world. Kind of a huge step back for a franchise built to celebrate Nintendo's IPs. I get that every iteration of the franchise has had some unique content, and that's fine. These generic Smash Bros. maps are cool as being just that. Would It really have hurt to include a few more boards, though? Even if we only got... let's say nine so they could be presented at twelve (that is, the number of characters in the original Super Smash Bros.). A Super Mario Bros. board, a Legend of Zelda board, Kirby and Pokemon, why not an F-Zero board? That would be neat.

The developers wouldn't even have needed to do that to make Smash Tour a worthwhile mode. All they had to do was look at the kinds of options they already have in the other modes and maybe look at what made the early Mario Party titles fun and successful. First off is the clarity. In Mario Party the spaces are large, larger than the characters walking on them. This helps players to identify at a glance what each space will do to them or to the board. Blue spaces will give them money, red spaces will take their money, green spaces will trigger an "event". In Smash Tour the spaces do things, they have symbols... but those symbols are far too small to discern. Players are expected to study the board while traveling, while all sorts of nonsense is happening around them. This is really difficult to do, even moreso because the spaces are constantly changing the effect they'll have on players and some spaces have a random effect on player's stats that can be either good or bad at the whim of the game. Something here needs to be changed. Either the spaces need to consistently perform the same function or they need to be easier to identify. How would I have done it? Well...

In Smash Tour the primary objective is to collect power-ups which will enhance your stats in battle. There are six categories each with their own identifying symbol and color: a green boot for speed, a yellow wing for jumping ability, an orange boxing glove for attack strength, a red comic book explosion for special attacks, a purple hammer for "arms" which (I think) enhances the weapons you use, and a blue shield for defense. These icons all float on the spaces of the board, making everything look really busy and cluttered. It probably would have been a better idea to just make the space's color reflect the stat it would enhance. Step on a red space? Get better special attack. This would have really cleaned up the board and made the play area much easier to take in. Character icons and trophies (which serve as items) could still float on their spaces as those are actual collectibles, but there's no reason for all these stat boosts to be hanging around.

The biggest pain in the neck when it comes to Smash Tour also happens to be one of the most fun aspects under the right conditions: enemy encounters. Nabbit, Ridley, Banzai Bill—all of these and more will sometimes walk onto the map. They each serve a different function and it can be fun adjusting your tactics to their appearance. The problem is, their appearance is completely random. Sometimes players can find themselves inundated with chance encounters, other times they'll go weeks without seeing that damn Metroid. This is a problem, and one the Mario Party franchise managed to avoid in its very first outing. All that had to be done was to include a color representing, instead of stats, an "event". Stepping on spaces of this color (let's use black) would trigger Metal Face somewhere on the map, would cause Kamek to change the checkpoint locations, etc. The specific event triggered could be random, but allowing players to know when one will be triggered and allowing them to actively have a go at this trigger would have made the game (and its associated Challenges...) a much more bearable experience.

Last, but not least, in this poorly planned playmode: the lack of customization and the extreme monotany of the mini-games included. I suppose these are two separate issues, but I feel like they tie into each other pretty well. Tackling customization first, Smash Tour should be subject to the same customization options available to the standard Smash mode. Players should be allowed to designate what items can appear in Smash matches, the frequency with which they appear, the stages which the game is allowed to randomly thrust players into, and the duration of each mini-game. As it stands now, mini-games have a very short time limit, which really hinders the experience. Smash Tour also features enough unique gameplay to have its own list of customizable functions. For starters, players should be permitted longer runs. Currently the maximum number of turns any single game can be played for is twenty-five. There is no reason this should not be able to go up through infinity (I can see drawing a limit at nine-hundred ninety-nine) with the players able to (in infinity games only) launch the final Smash at any point they choose. Players should also be able to designate what kind of mini-games can appear throughout the round, and what rules the final bout should follow. Should it be point-based as it currently is? Should it be all about collecting the most characters and see who's the last-man-standing in a stock match? Well, that should be up to the player.

Mini-games, as I've been calling them (although there's only three actual "games"), are triggered when one or more players bump into each other during a turn. This is fine. Awesome even. It's a really cool mechanic, and it works as a way to differentiate itself from the end-of-turn mini-game formula common of the genre. However, the mini-games offered are severely limited. Really, there's only three types: a Home-Run Contest where players compete to bat poor Sandbag the farthest, a single round of Target Blast where players compete for the highest score, and a handful of Special Smash battles that pretty much dominate the mini-game selection. The concept of using Special Smashes for mini-games is great, it's excellent... There's more they could have done with it (everyone is metal, everyone invisible, etc.), but the selection that exists now is generally fine. However, there should have been more non-Smash mini-games, particularly in a game which is full of that stuff already. Some of the Event Matches could have been adapted into great mini-games. Seeing which player can survive the longest while preventing a swarm of Mr. Game & Watches from boarding the Great Fox, competing to complete 10-Man Smash in the shortest time, battling hordes of minions (the likes of which were already programmed for Smash Run) for the highest score, Smash Run itself would have been an exceptional mini-game. On that note, it would have been a cool excuse to bring back the more creative levels of Super Smash Bros. Melee's Adventure Mode as footraces of some sort. There was that Mushroom Kingdom level, and the maze in the Temple of Time, that one level where you have to outrun the F-Zero racers? Those would have all made great mini-games for Smash Tour and would have been an excellent way to prevent the game from being flooded with pretty typical Smash matches. I mean, this is a distinct mode for a reason. It should feel like one. While I'm thinking about bringing back past elements, why not the boss battles? Even the Stage Bosses from SSB4 itself. Bring back the Petey Piranha battle from Brawl. Just... who can kill the boss first? That would have been awesome!

That's probably the best way to sum up my thoughts about Smash Tour. It could have been awesome.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Chew-Chew, Baby" by Anonymous/Unknown

Chew-Chew, Baby
Anonymous/Unknown

If Fats Press looked like a squash, and he did, then Art Stretch was a stringbean from the same garden. To see them sitting at the little round table in the Violet Hour Club, you might have guessed that they were a comedy team instead of the Daily Boom's ace photographer and reporter. Fats spread out over two-thirds of the table area instead of his fair share, while Art took up little or no room except in a straight line between the floor and the ceiling. But appearance was not the only difference between them.

"Chewing-gum!" Art said in tones of disgust, watching Fats shift a wad from one cheek to the other. "And look at that suit — anybody could read your dinner menu for the last week from the spots. It's a wonder they ever let you in a fancy dive like this."

"Musta been because I was with you," Fats grinned. "'Cause boy, you're sharp as a tack."

"Okay," Art spluttered. "Okay, make fun of me — you wolf in cheap clothing!"

Fats continued to smile and to chew his ubiquitous gum. The thing that really burned Art was, a guy just couldn't get a rise out of Fats. Insult him up and down and the guy went right on smiling. And worry? It would take an instrument sensitive as a geiger-counter to register a rise in Fats' blood pressure, no matter what was at stake; whereas Art gnawed his fingernails to the elbow over every little thing.

Now Art was drumming his fingers on the table and sitting on the edge of his chair as he stared at the merrymakers. "Suppose she doesn't show?" he worried. "No story ... no picture ... and you can bet Barnes' won't stand for this on the expense account if we've nothing to show for it."

"Relax, boy," Fats soothed him. "She'll come. Matter of fact here she is now, dripping her jewels behind her."

A buzz of voices announced that something special was happening, and Art's head was not the only one to swing around. Joane LeMoane, latest and most mysterious of foreign film stars to make a transfer to Hollywood, was entering the Violet Hour in a blaze of golden hair, white satin, and rubies. The LeMoane legend, a fire fanned by the strenuous exertions of her press agent, had flamed over the country: "Miss LeMoane never appears in public ... Miss LeMoane permits photographs of herself to appear in print ... Miss LeMoane's beauty so dazzled the Tscha of Irabo that he presented her with the most valuable rubies in the world, just for the privilege of looking at her."

It was a good build-up. It had captured the imagination of the public but now the time was ripe for splashing Joane LeMoane's features and rubies across the country's frontpages. That's why Fats and Art had received a tip to visit the Violet Hour tonight. And somehow Fats felt certain that after he'd made a sufficient number of shots of Joane's pretty face, she wasn't going to insist that the films be destroyed.

Fats reached under the table for his camera — then looked up in surprise as he felt the iron grip of Art's fingers on his arm. A woman screamed hysterically, the band broke off its music with a harsh squawk from a trumpet, and the normal sounds of mid-evening in a night spot faded into silence. Five men with guns had appeared from nowhere to cover the crowd, just like a movie — only there was something cold about the eyes of these men that made a person realize this wasn't make-believe.

"Okay," one of them said, moving forward. "Just act like you had a little sense and nobody'll get hurt. Start moving around, and somebody's trigger finger might slip." Walking silently, he threaded his way between the tables. He ignored the women shrinking away on each side and made straight for the spot where Joane LeMoane's rubies gleamed. Evidently these gangsters didn't intend to bother with minor stuff. Well, why should they? The LeMoane rubies were worth enough to keep five men like kings for years to come.

"What a story!" Art side-lipped to Fats, his eyes on the bandit. "This is my lucky night. Too bad you can't carry pictures in your head." Then, at the sound of a click, he jerked his head around. There was Fats, his candid camera lifted, calmly snapping shots of the lifting of the LeMoane rubies.

"Fats!" he gasped. "Are you crazy? Get that thing outa sight! Do you wanta get shot?"

"Huh-uh," replied Fats. He set his camera down long enough to cram two more sticks of gum into his mouth; then picked it up and clamly aimed it at the four bandits who were standing guard.

Art shuddered. "You'll get us both shot — but it'd be the sensation of the year if you could get the negatives out of here."

"I've got fifty bucks says I will," Fats answered.

"Sold!" Art whispered. "It'll be the easiest fifty I ever made." Then he shook his head. "You're making me as crazy as you are, you dope! This is no time to be making bets!"

It wasn't. Joan LeMoane, was living up to her name, leaning white-faced on a table with tears rolling down her cheeks and nothing but space where the rubies had gleamed. The bandit, jewels stowed in his pocket, was covering space toward the table where Fats and Art sat.

"All right, wise guy," he said, pointing the gun at Fats. "Let's have those films."

Fats looked blank for a minute. Then his hands came out from under the table holding his camera. "Anything you say, Mister."

Under the gunman's direction Fats opened the camera, took out the film, and ruined the roll. But that didn't satisfy the robber. He called one of his pals over, and Fats and Art were thoroughly searched. So was the floor around them, until the men had assured themselves that Fats hadn't pulled a sleight-of-hand with another roll.

Art shook his head. He was really sorry. It would have been worth fifty dollars to see Fats get away with it, but the guy'd never had a chance. Art looked at him and blinked. Fats' jaws weren't moving. For goshsakes, the poor guy must have been so disappointed he'd swallowed his chewing gum!

The bandits had planned this affair carefully. They had herded all the employees into the main room and locked all the exits. It wasn't until some late customers arrived that the alarm could be given and the police called. The robbers had plenty of time to get out of town.

"No wonder those thugs didn't bother to wear masks," the police captain in charge said angrily as he took down descriptions from the patrons. "Medium height, medium weight, medium coloring ... they could be anybody!"

"Would some pictures help?"

The captain spun around to stare at Fats, still sitting at his table. Art stared too. But Fats just grinned calmly and reached under the table. "Sorta messy," he apologized. He pulled out a carefully wrapped roll of film, covered with a mass of chewing gum. "Gum's pretty useful stuff," he explained. "That was a blank roll they made me take out of the camera. I stuck the exposed one underneath the table with chewing gum."

The captain grabbed the film and began shouting directions. Art's jaw dropped until it nearly dislocated itself.

"Sharp as a tack, aren't you, boy?" Fats said with a wink. "... and thanks for the fifty bucks — that'll buy a lot of chewing gum!"

"The Horror of the Haunted Castle" by Ellen Lynn

The Horror of the Haunted Castle
Ellen Lynn

Witches, ghosts, haunted castles! Do they belong only to ages long past. Are they only tales told by tellers of fairy tales. To Alice Martin such things were nonsense. She said she couldn't believe them.

Alice was a typical, fun-loving, American college girl—and besides, she was studying sciences. A scientist knows that every phenomenon, no matter how strange, has its own physical cause and effect. Eerie creatures, apparitions arise from the frightened minds of superstitious people. Science clears away the mists and fog surrounding weird beliefs. So Alice, with her pretty face and charming figure, was quite sure of herself and could venture where most people might tread cautiously. That is until Grinling Castle came into her life.

A group of exceptional students of science were going abroad to spend a year studying at an ancient University near Paris. Alice was elated when she was chosen to join the group and she won the permission of her indulgent parents to accompany the selected party under the supervision of two of the instructors. They were a gay and happy group as they set sail for Europe.

In ancient Europe, Alice found studying most stimulating. In addition, she was very popular with all the male students, French, Italian, German, English. Hans Karel, a young assistant instructor was particularly smitten with her and she had had a few dates with him. He was not unattractive with his blond hair and teutonic stiffness. But there was something—she couldn't quite put her finger on it—that made her feel not quite comfortable with him. Perhaps it was his eyes: they were steel blue, cold and penetrating. She felt that his eyes saw through her and knew—knew—that it was Professor Loring, head professor in mythology, that she couldn't dismiss from her real thoughts, and her heart.

Prof. Loring had requested her to assist him with the manuscript of his book on the Origins and Causes of Legends and Superstitions. She had felt not only proud and honored by his selection of her—but her heart fluttered strangely when his deep, brown eyes looked into hers, and taking his pipe from his mouth, he asked, "Miss Martin, would you care to spend some of your evening hours assisting me with my manuscript?" Hans Karel, the science instructor, was standing nearby at the time, and she noticed how strained he was as he listened to them.

"It would be an honor," she had answered. "I'm on the edge of a great discovery in the supernatural but I need a live assistant to scare the ghosts." They both laughed. He was quite young for a professor and very handsome. And then she had noticed again how hostile Hans had looked, his lips drawn into a thin line and his eyes shooting cold sparks. Suddenly she wished she could break her date with him for that evening. He was such an intense young man. Well, she'd keep it this time—but no more dates after that with Hans Karel.

It was wonderful working with Matthew Loring; but he had been right—it was hard work searching old tomes for proofs of ancient ghosts and like phenomena. "Alice," he once said, "I'll have to give you credit when my book goes into publication. Rather, I should say, it will be a pleasure to give you credit." They were standing close together and she looked into his eyes, flushing at his words. Suddenly, he took hold of her hands, then drew her to him and kissed her lips. A cough broke the silence. They had not heard Hans come into the room. The professor calmly released Alice, said, "I'll be back in a little while, dear. I'm going to my office now." And he left the room. Alice turned to Hans. He was glaring at her and his face was scarlet.

"So," he spluttered, "It's 'dear', is it? And sneaking kisses instead of working. So that's why he picked you to assist him? He makes believe his only interest is ghosts and then he steals my full of life girl."

"Your girl!" Alice exclaimed in astonishment. "Why, Hans, what right have you to make such a claim? And as for the kisses—I'll have you know this is the first time he ever kissed me, and he did so because I wanted him to. I'm in love with him."

"Bah! He loves only ghosts. That's where he should be—with them. The fool, believing in such silly things."

For the first time in her memory, Alice felt a sense of fear as she watched Hans's reaction to her words. From bright red, his face turned pale as ivory. His breath came in short spasms and his fingers were clenching and unclenching rapidly.

When the book was nearing completion, Alice became thoroughly fascinated with the mounting proofs of those who had returned from the graves to haunt the land of the living. But now she and Professor Loring realized they needed personal proof to complete their manuscript and crown it with real success. They believed that the old forbidding and forbidden ghostly Grinling Castle would give the proof they needed.

Then one day the Professor barged in with an open letter in his hand. In a voice filled with elation he said, "Alice, at last I've got permission to visit the Grinling Castle. At last I've gotten through the taboos and red tape. I truly believe that even the government officials believe that the castle is haunted, and know that ghosts must inhabit those musty, decayed walls. They warned me not to go—but finally granted permission. Then will my manuscript be complete."

Alice rejoiced with the professor. Then he turned and grasped both her arms. "My only regret is it is so dangerous that I have to leave you behind, Alice—just when I've found you—fallen in love with you." Happily, Alice returned his kiss as the thought of the strange Hans flitted through her mind when she heard, "and Karel has offered to come along to confirm my findings."

Matthew Loring and Hans Karel departed the next morning for the distant Grinling Castle. Hans sat grimly at the wheel as Matthew chatted gaily about his anticipation of their findings.

"I know, Hans, we can arouse at least one of the famous ghosts of the castle. A personal encounter would show our disbelieving world that the dead do come back at the right time and place."

Hans stared straight ahead as he spoke, "You're in an unusual mood, professor. One would almost think you're in love."

"You've guessed it, Hans," was the quick reply. "I'm sure you know I'm in love with Alice Martin, my pretty little American assistant. When my manuscript is complete, after Grinling, we will marry."

The car shot ahead at a sudden increase of speed. Prof. Loring turned to stare at the man at the wheel. Hans' face was ashen grey and he leaned forward as he stepped on the accelerator. The needle pointed to 80!

The two men remained silent the rest of the trip. When they reached the castle grounds a heavy mist had settled over the thick trees and wild hedges. The grounds had not been tended for many years and a thick maze of branches and vines made it difficult to penetrate to the building. But they finally got through and Prof. Loring started to jot down notes as he mounted the cracked and crumbling steps of the house.

Inside, from the high-vaulted ceiling hung draperies and cobwebs, and huge flying creatures darted about in the dim light. Suddenly a long, thin, scream assailed their ears.

Prof. Loring turned to Hans and whispered, "Hans, I know it. That was the voice of a ghost! The Grinling ghost. Europe's most famous ghost."

"Not quite, Loring," Hans answered. "My reason still tells me it was the sound of the wind through the cracks. And that's how ghost stories arise—from just such sounds in a ruined building."

As the Professor answered, a wild thought darted through Hans's burning mind. Here was his chance for revenge—and for Alice Martin. Yes, he would do it—and have a wonderful alibi to cover himself! That balcony running around two walls, high up toward the ceiling, and the rickety railing...! Hans quickly mounted the steps and called to Loring down below. "Come up, Professor, look recent shadowy foot prints—without weight—inhuman." Eagerly, Loring took the steps two at a time. "Yes, where are they?" he asked Hans. "There, look down there," said Hans. Surprised, Loring leaned over and Hans carried out his plan; with two hands he pushed hard—and Loring crashed through the rotting rail, his body somersaulting in air as he gave one awful scream. It landed with a loud thud on the stone floor below and a cloud of dust mounted high, high up to the gloating face of Hans.

"Now, Professor, you can be a ghost along with the rest of the company here. Perhaps you can let us know from the next world all about ghosts and such. Maybe there you can finish your foolish manuscript." Then Hans left the castle feeling like a conqueror.

Everyone was shocked at the terrible accident that had befallen the popular Prof. Loring. Alice couldn't believe that he was dead. "But Hans," she asked over and over again, "Surely he knew the railing was rotted. Why did he lean against it at such a height? What was he looking for?"

For months Hans tried to win Alice's interest, but she could not get over the tragic event, and she avoided him. Every night she dreamed of Professor Loring—Matthew—and his unfinished manuscript and imagined him falling, falling, over the creaking railing of the balcony at Grinling Castle. Then, one night, in a dream, the dead Loring came back, he spoke to her: "Alice—beloved—make Hans go back to the Castle, and have him bring my unfinished manuscript. Hurry, hurry! Now it can be finished—now I know!" She woke with a start from this vivid dream. Three nights in a row the same thing occurred. The fourth day, Hans phoned her and she told him to come to see her. She decided to obey the instructions of her dream—Matthew's voice was so clear to her.

"Hans," she said, "I want to visit Grinling Castle. Will you meet me there? After I see the place of his death I will be able to forget him. Please take his unfinished manuscript with you. Let us leave it there. Please, for my sake."

"I am not permitted to take you there, Alice, but if you wish it I shall go to the castle and leave the manuscript there. Would that please you?" Hans offered quickly.

Alice felt that would fulfill the orders of her dream. The next day Hans left with the manuscript in his brief case. He said he would return the following day.

A week later, Hans had not returned. Alarmed, Alice notified the police. She accompanied them to the famous old haunted Castle. They found the remains of a new body—Hans, apparently dead six days. On the ground were the scattered pages of the unfinished manuscript. The police permitted Alice to pick them up. To her amazement, there were additional pages—a new chapter written in Matthew's handwriting. But she knew no one would believe her. The manuscript had been finished! And the last paragraph read:

"Yes people have avenging ghosts after all Hans hurled me to my death, but I couldn't die till I was avenged. It was my own ghost that really brought him back to the castle and made him jump from the balcony from which he hurled me. Now the world can know the truth."

"Horror of the Drowned" by Ellen Lynn

Horror of the Drowned
Ellen Lynn

The news of Tom's death came to Arlene as a terrible shock.

I loved my niece Arlene as a daughter and tried to take her mother's place when my sister Grace died; I was with Arlene when the tragic news about Tom reached her.

When Arlene fell in love with Tom Bradley she was only sixteen, but she gave her whole romantic heart to the quiet, handsome young man the moment she met him—and he knew he had become equally smitten with her. Their love was a beautiful thing to see—a charming idyll. And I felt sure my dead sister would have been pleased with Arlene's choice of a husband. But, perhaps because she was so very young and romantic, Arlene's love was so intense it worried me. She seemed only to live for the moment when she could be with Tom, and everything else became subordinate to their meetings. Just because she sensed my worry, she grew pale and thin, and I was deciding in my own mind that an early marriage might restore the normal balance of her life. Then Tom came with the news that he was to leave almost at once for—KOREA—with his regiment.

For Tom's sake Arlene knew she had to take this blow calmly; she did not even suggest that they be married before Tom left for Korea. When they said goodbye she was pale and her eyes were red-rimmed, but no tears were shed. Only a soft promise from Tom that he would come back soon and claim his bride.

She waited for Tom's letters as she had previously waited for him. She retreated into herself living only for Tom's return and finally I took her away to my little place in the country where I thought she might better adjust herself to Tom's absence. The long quiet lake on which my house was situated proved a strong attraction for her and every possible day she was out in her canoe or small outboard motorboat, mostly thinking of Tom.

Then the day arrived when the fatal telegram about Tom reached her. His boat had been hit and he had been drowned while they were trying to make a landing near Seoul. I'll never forget how Arlene looked reading that wire. She was very still—then she looked up at me, wild-eyed, frightened, the sheet fluttering from her fingers. A piercing, shrill scream came from her lips, and she rushed from the house. I started after her but could not catch up with that fleet-footed creature as she sped to the lake front and got into the small motorboat floating at the little pier. Quickly she got the motor started and the chug-chug-chug faded into the distance as she rounded a bend.

I was terrified of what she might do and phoned a few neighbors around the lake to keep an eye out for Arlene. I told them the tragic news about Tom's drowning and they understood my anxiety for Arlene.

But toward dusk I could hear the chug-chug-chug once more and rushed out to the terrace to see my niece pulling the boat beside our dock. She walked up to the house slowly but soon I could see she had quieted down. I took her in my arms and kissed her with relief.

The next few days, Arlene behaved very well. In fact after her daily boat ride she'd return in rather cheerful spirits—for her. I knew that somehow she felt closer to Tom, alone on that silent lake.

Then one day she came running up from the lake, breathless, eyes shining. "Oh, Aunt Betty—Aunt Betty! I've seen him! I've seen Tom!"

My heart stopped beating. Had her mind snapped? My poor, poor, little girl! "But darling," I soothed, "how could you? Poor Tom's body is still in Korea..."

"No—no! He's on the bottom of the lake—over in the cove. I saw him, I saw him. He was smiling at me with that crooked little smile I love so much..."

I was heavy-hearted but I tried to divert Arlene as well as I could and one day I suggested we drive over to the state's fine, if small, art gallery where a loan collection was being shown, donated by local townsfolk. Arlene agreed and I was delighted that she would be willing to do anything that would take her "out of herself."

At the gallery I found the borrowed collection fascinating but Arlene wandered about by herself. Finally, just as I wished, I found her staring intently at the oil which I had donated to the exhibit. The artist, Sloan Farraday, was not first rate—but in this particular work he had risen to unsuspected heights of talent and it had actually won the coveted Beardsley Award. The subject was somewhat poetic and nebulous—an exquisite girl with alabaster face and enormous black eyes, flowing black hair, was floating gracefully in the arms of a creature half-man, half sea nymph; he seemed to be drawing her down, down through the jade green waters. Both of them wore ambiguous smiles of great tenderness. There was a disturbing, haunting quality in the picture which had brought Farraday unexpected acclaim.

"Aunt—Aunt Betty. Tell me about this painting, please," Arlene asked, not taking her eyes away from it.

Then suddenly it dawned on me that Arlene may have heard some time the story of the picture and was transferring it to her own experience. Perhaps if I told her the legend behind it she'd realize what a fantasy she was building up in her mind, about Tom.

"Had you never heard the story of your great-great-great Aunt Annalee?" I asked her. "The artist of this picture, Sloan Farraday, had been in love with her and after her—her tragedy, he was inspired to paint this picture."

"I don't remember," Arlene answered, her eyes still glued to the canvas. "Tell me about it, Aunt Betty!" And this time her words were almost a command. A feeling of helplessness came over me and I proceeded to tell her the story.

"When our ancestor, Annalee, was a young girl she was betrothed to Sloan Farraday. Our house was the very house in which she lived and he lived with his family a short distance away. He had always been in love with her but she kept putting off a date of marriage. One day she came crying to her mother—that she would never marry Sloan, that she loved another man. She looked dreamily into her mother's eyes saying, 'Mother, you'll think me mad—but there's a beautiful man—at the bottom—of our lake. He's the most handsome creature I've ever seen and I love him with all my heart. He speaks to me and I know he loves me, too.' Her mother did indeed think her mad and tried to keep her protected from the world, hoping no one would find out. But some of the villagers in town had found out about Annalee's visions at the bottom of the lake. A strange fever spread in the community. People began to accuse Annalee of being a witch. A number of sudden tragedies, inexplicable, hit hard in the Maine village. With no previous illness, a baby suddenly screamed in the night and the next morning died. Cows and sheep were barren—without apparent cause! Fires started up out of nowhere. The superstitious townsfolk became panicky and looked for a scapegoat on which to pin all these terrible incidents. It was the age of witches. Rumor having gotten around about Annalee and her man at the bottom of the lake, the cry of Witch! Witch! began to be heard. Annalee's poor mother trembled for the safety of her daughter and one day a furious crowd, inflamed by a new onset of tragic occurrences, came to this house and tore Annalee from her mother's arms. They tried her. She protested her own innocence, the poor girl begged them to go see for themselves that the man she loved who was at the bottom of the lake, but paying no attention to the ravings of a sick girl they tied her to a stake in the village and threw faggots around the base. Matches were struck and a crackling fire started to roar upward when suddenly a silence fell on the angry crowd and Annalee's lips parted in a joyful smile. A handsome young man, his green silk clothes dripping water, came through as the people, horrified, stepped aside. He loosened the cords binding Annalee, put out the fire with the constantly streaming water and carried the lovely, smiling girl away. Some who had followed them said he walked straight into the lake with Annalee in his arms—until they both disappeared under the water.

"So, dear Arlene," I ended the tale, "that's the fairy-tale legend of our ancestor, which they say, inspired her lovesick sweetheart, Sloan Farraday, to paint this charming poem in oils."

Arlene had listened to the whole story intently. Obviously just as I intended, she was thinking about the strange similarity between her vision—seeing Tom at the bottom of the lake—and that of our ancestor Annalee. I was sure that her mother, or someone, had told her the same legend, perhaps in her childhood, and by some quirk of the mind she imagined seeing Tom in the same way. I had hoped the story would cure her. I found it difficult to tear her away from her preoccupation with the picture. Something else must be done, I decided. We'll go back to the city and see if a psychiatrist can unravel the strange knots in my niece's mind. When I told her we were leaving, I saw her tremble violently.

When the packing was finished I looked about for Arlene, ready to start back to the city. My hand leaped to my mouth in an impulse of fear as I saw her in her hat and coat running wildly down to the boat, saying, "I am coming, Tom." I let out a scream, calling her to come back—but she got in the boat. Just as it was rounding the bend, I saw—I saw—my niece stand up—wave back at me and jump. Her body was not recovered.

The next morning, grieving and wretched, I walked down to the dock to gaze into the watery grave Arlene had chosen when I saw something, bright-colored, drifting in toward me. It was a scarf. Fascinated, I picked up a long twig and pulled it in. I gasped when I recognized the scarf. It was the one Arlene had given Tom before he sailed for Korea!