Tag Archives: Nintendo

Freedom Planet Review

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Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s seen a number of ups, and downs over the years. The consensus seems to be his earliest adventures on the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, and Game Gear were his greatest glory days. Fast, frantic, platforming action that involved any number of paths to victory. But after the Dreamcast faded into obscurity Sonic went in all kinds of directions. Many of them terrible. A few of them average, and a few that were pretty good. But I’m not here to talk about Sonic this time.

PROS: Really amazing pixel art, chip tunes, and the game play you remember.

CONS: The shortcomings you remember. Padding.

BIKES: If running fast isn’t enough you can speed around like Chris Pine in Star Trek.

When Sonic The Hedgehog was released it was only a matter of time before the imitators would come about. People dump on Bubsy, but that game was far from the worst clone. Awesome Possum, Aero The Acrobat, even The Road Runner had a Sonic inspired game. So with so many others that didn’t hit the mark, what makes this game stand out in the sea of Sonic contenders?

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For starters, Freedom Planet absolutely nails the feeling of Sonic The Hedgehog. The physics, the sense of speed, all of it. If you’re a big Sonic fan who longs for a return to the 16-bit glory days of yesteryear, buy it. I could end it there. I’m serious. This is bar none, one of the best Sonic clones you can get. But there are a lot of things that set it apart from its biggest inspiration.

Freedom Planet has a deeper, darker, storyline than the Sonic games. Most of the Sonic games feature Dr. Robotnik/Eggman imprisoning animals, stealing emeralds, and holding the world hostage. Freedom Planet instead involves a much more detailed plot. It opens up with a King being killed by a despot in cold blood in front of his son. Who is then taken hostage, and forced to fight for the despot. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this. But it got my attention for sure.  From there you discover that there is an all-powerful stone that three kingdoms on the planet safeguard, and of course the despot wants it for himself.

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From here the game opens up, and you can choose to play either an adventure mode or a standard mode. Playing the adventure mode, will let you experience cut scenes, and the stages are played in different orders depending on which of the three characters you choose. Going with the standard mode eschews the cut scenes, and you play every stage in order. Like a traditional platformer from the era the game pays homage to.

The interesting thing with the adventure mode is that you’ll get a slightly different experience each time you play through it. That’s because the game is played through the eyes of each character. The three characters are: Carol, a green wild cat. Lilac, a purple dragon, and Milla (an unlockable character), a dog. Each of the characters has their own attacks, and abilities making each play through a little bit different. Carol has some speedy punches, and kicks. She can also ride a motorcycle if you find gas can power ups. Lilac has a useful double jump. Milla has a shield, and can throw cubes.

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Once you start playing though you will immediately be reminded of Sega’s most popular mascot platformer. The same sense of speed. The same loops, twirls, and crazy tracks fill the game’s 14 stages. With all of the collectibles, 1-Ups, power ups, and health items in each of them you can opt to try to find everything, or you can try to clear everything as fast as possible. I know I’ve waxed on about how many Sonic influences there are, but the game also has a surprising number of similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man X series too. This becomes apparent in the game’s combat, and enemy designs. Instead of jumping on bad guys to defeat them, you’ll punch, kick, or hit them several times to take them out. Freedom Planet is also a big fan of putting in multipart stages, and mini-bosses. Some of these are really imposing, and lead you to believe you’re at the end of a stage. Only to discover you still have a way to go.

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Boss fights themselves are grandiose in Freedom Planet. These moments feel more like playing an arcade beat ’em up than they do a platformer. Although you’ll discover they have attack patterns, again in the vein of a Mega Man X title. But some of these, especially toward the end of the game can be really impressive in both challenge, and visual flair.

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Freedom Planet also has the courtesy to grant players four different difficulty levels. If you’re absolutely horrible at this sort of platformer, or even platformers in general the Casual setting is for you. It is nearly impossible to lose a life if you’re even remotely good at these kinds of games. But from there you have Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty settings. With the latter going very much into the “Get good!” end of things. Aesthetically, everything in the game is beautiful. Galaxy Trail’s pixel artists should be commended for just how well they’ve recreated the look of games of the early 90’s. As you play through this one, you’ll be constantly reminded of those days on the Genesis, and Super NES. It really is a beautiful game to look at. The soundtrack is just as good, going for the twinge lo-fi synth of the Sega Genesis, and early computer sound cards like the AdLib. The tunes themselves are filled with hooks, and melodies you’ll want to hum along to. If you want a game that will satisfy your nostalgia, while giving you something new, this fits the bill.

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There are also some other small galleries you can visit when not playing the main game. Throughout the main game are cards you can find, and these will unlock sound files, songs from the soundtrack, and concept art in these galleries. Not something that the average player might get into. But for players who become big fans of the story, characters, and lore, it gives an incentive to replay the game a few times.

Of course, I did have a few minor complaints with this one that may be bigger concerns for someone else. First off, because it adheres so closely to many of Sonic The Hedgehog’s rules it has some of the annoyances. There are times you’ll have to make blind jumps, only to land on an enemy or a hazard. This can lead to some moments of trial, and error. While not a major problem that ruins the game, Some might feel it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Another issue is near the end of the game there is a shoot ’em up stage, and it doesn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the game. The bigger issue is there is no checkpoint after completing it. It is considered a part of the following stage, which is a pretty long one. So if you run out of lives, shut off the game, and come back to it later you’ll have to play the entire shmup part again. So unfortunately, instead of feeling like some variety, it ends up feeling like padding. Again, not a problem that makes the game unplayable by any means. But it really could have used a checkpoint at the end.

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Overall though, Freedom Planet is a wonderful platformer. It feels like an homage to Sonic, and Mega Man X while also being unique enough to stand on its own. It has some of those mechanics, but it adds enough of its own original ideas, and tweaks thus avoiding becoming a forgettable wannabe. In fact, the game did well enough when it launched three years ago that a sequel is around the corner. So whether you play it on the Wii U, PC, or the recent release on the PS4 you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mecarobot Golf Review

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At a recent retro game trade event I saw something too peculiar to not pick up. It was a golfing video game. The fact it was a golf game isn’t the odd part. The oddity comes from the giant robot on the artwork. Plus it was published by TOHO. The folks behind Godzilla. At that point, how could I not pick it up on the cheap? The Atari 7800 graced us with a ninja themed golf game. Could the Super NES top it with a killer robot armed with golf clubs? I decided to investigate.

PROS: A pretty good console golf simulator. Great use of the Super NES’ mode 7 effects.

CONS: Single player only. So you’ll REALLY have to like golf to get enjoyment out of it.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The TOHO characters you love are nowhere to be seen.

Originally called Nobuo Serizawa’s Birdy Try in Japan, Mecarobot Golf is a pretty good golf simulator. The original version had a setup where Nobo Serizawa would play 18 holes against stiff competition. This version is mainly the same except the characters were all changed for the North American market. One of the most peculiar being the switch from a famed Japanese golf star to a robot.

To go along with these changes, there was a back story created for the game. Apparently, in the future robots aren’t allowed to play golf. So an eccentric billionaire builds a special course for Eagle. He’s the robot you see on the game’s cover art. You’ll be playing 18 holes against Eagle, and that’s pretty much it.

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Mecarobot Golf is a pretty good golf game though. You have three main modes to choose from. You can practice driving balls to your heart’s content. You can play with tutorials through the game, and you can play the main mode. Which is really the reason to pop this Game Pak in.

When starting the game, you’ll name your golfer, and select a set of clubs. These also act as the difficulty level, as the set you choose determines your handicap. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a character file that keeps tabs on all of your stats. You can also save your current game if you don’t want to play all 18 holes in a single sitting.

Visually, the game is quite nice. Sprites are really colorful, with a lot of smooth golfing animations. The use of mode 7 scaling is great too, making for some nice Outrun feeling drives, as you watch the ball zoom above the course. The golfing sound effects are pretty good too, conveying the feel of hitting the ball, and the sound of the ball rolling into the cup. Musically, there isn’t much to write home about. Some soft tunes to go along with the quiet, solitary golf experience.

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The golfing experience here is pretty good though. You can alter you footing, and the viewing angle of the course. You’ll get important information on your HUD, like the distance, and wind speed. Or the number of strokes for par. The ball physics are even pretty nice, and the game does a good job of simulating the feeling of golfing on different terrain.

Honestly, if you are a big fan of golf games, you’ll probably want to pick this one up. The underlying simulation is a commendable effort. However, there are a few missed opportunities that drag the experience down a bit. First off, the lack of any of TOHO’s major film characters. There’s already a cool robot your golfing against. Being able to play as Godzilla, Mothra, or another giant monster would have been awesome. Weird, but awesome. But the biggest strike against the game is a complete lack of multiplayer. Sports games are always more fun to play with friends. If you’re coming into this for a multiplayer experience, or a monster movie experience, you’re going to be disappointed.

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Nevertheless, if you collect obscure, silly, or just plain absurd games, and you like golf check this one out. It’s not terribly expensive, and it’s a solid game to boot. Golf purists may want to import the Super Famicom version as giant killer robots might not be their specific interest.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

 

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Review

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Well it’s been out for a few days, and you’ve heard everyone tell you to run out, and buy it. Not only the game, but a new Nintendo Switch to play it on. As well as a pro controller, extra joy cons, and maybe a case or screen protector. “It’s a killer app! Totally worth spending over $400 on!”. But with no other major titles coming until the summer, you might feel like I do. Is it really worth spending all of that now?

PROS: Nearly everything about it.

CONS: Pointing out the few things wrong with it almost seems like nitpicking.

WOW: This will impress Zelda, WRPG, JRPG fans, and those who like none of those things.

Well to some, it will absolutely be worth spending the extra money on a new console to play this game. To others it won’t be. But if you happen to own a Wii U, and collect games for it, you will want to buy the latest Legend Of Zelda title. Just like the Twilight Princess, this entry comes on both the platform that is retiring, and the platform taking the other’s place. If you’re waiting on the new system, and have the old one play it on the old one. If you simply have to have a valid excuse to buy a new console no matter the circumstance then play it on the new system.

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I could end things there, telling you to just buy the game. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you just why, all of this hype, praise, and fervor is warranted. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild does something previous Zelda games, including the best ones, haven’t been able to do. This game does something for every type of player. Previous games might have been too RPG for an action fan. Or not RPG enough for an RPG die-hard. There wasn’t anything cerebral enough for the Simulation fan, or maybe competitive enough for someone who rarely touches a single-player game.

Other people like me, are generally casual Zelda fans. We’ve played a couple of the hallmark games, like the original NES game, or A Link To The Past on the Super NES. But haven’t gotten into the 30 plus years of the lore. So this game does a wonderful job of giving lapsed fans, and newcomers a window into just why so many devoted Zelda fans love the series so much.

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Things start closely to the way they did in the original Legend Of Zelda. As Link, you are taken out of a deep magical slumber. Though it eerily resembles the cryogenic machines you see in many a science fiction story. There’s a voice that tells you, you are needed once again. You exit a cave, and see a vast, vast land upon you. When I say vast, I really do mean vast. The world of Hyrule in this iteration is one of the biggest open worlds ever presented in a video game. If you thought any of the Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, or Elder Scrolls games had large worlds you haven’t seen anything.

But more importantly, and equally impressive, is that there is almost always something to do in Hyrule. You can spend tens to hundreds of hours completely ignoring missions. Just spending it wandering around without it getting old. Sure, one can cite driving over people in Saints Row 2 for a couple of hours. But eventually, you get tired of it, and shut the game off. Here, you’ll stumble upon enemy camps. Or you’ll find something out-of-place, investigate it, and get an item from the creature who moved things around. You can go mining for raw materials to have things crafted. You can go fishing, or hunting animals for meat. You can collect wild fruit, and vegetables. You can use all of the stuff you’ve harvested to cook meals.

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Cooking meals is not only something fun to screw around with, it’s an important part of the game. Meals can often net you benefits akin to power ups. Some meals will give you warmth to survive sub-zero temperatures. Others will make you run faster. Some can give you increased attack power, or cause you to take less damage. On top of that, the game implores you to experiment. Try adding unconventional ingredients to meals just to see what happens! Often times you’ll get meals that would make someone projectile vomit, but sometimes it results in something that would even make Gordon Ramsay pleasantly surprised.

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Of course, this is still a Zelda game, so you’ll be doing a lot of the stuff you’d expect from an action RPG, or an adventure game. You’ll find towns, talk to people, and be granted with all kinds of side quests, and errands. Doing these often nets you with rewards that make the main quests you’re given, a bit easier. Which is something for newcomers to keep in mind. You can go anywhere in Hyrule. Not figuratively, literally. You can get to any vista you set your eyes upon. The thing is, some of these areas will be quite hostile, and lethal when you get there. Especially if you’re unprepared.

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But that’s also what makes this version of Zelda so fun, the fact that the game doesn’t hold your hand. A main character may tell you where you need to go. But they’re not going to tell you what route to take, or when to go. Only that you need to. In the interim there are many other things you can choose to do. You can try to find the many shrines in the land for instance. These are dungeons that will force you to solve puzzles or defeat enemies with functions on your Sheikah Slate. (Minor spoiler: You get a magic tablet in the game at some point.)

The storyline is a bit of a departure from previous games. In most of the previous Zelda games, you had to save Zelda from Ganon, and that was the main goal. In this one, you find yourself in a Hyrule Ganon has pretty much held hostage for a century. Zelda isn’t a captive this time, she’s an active combatant. I won’t say much more than that as the game is still new enough that I’m trying not to reveal too much. But there are a ton of characters you’ll meet, and interact with. These conversations, and experiences tell some of the story, but that’s just it, it’s some of the story. A big chunk of this game, again, feels like a Western Role-Playing game, where your game play experience is a bulk of the story. You’re deciding where Link goes, what he’ll level up first, and what weapons he’ll use to fight.

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There are all kinds of weapons in this game too. Even things you wouldn’t think of as weapons, can be used as weapons. You start the adventure with no weapons of any kind. Alone, you have to go into the wilderness, and discover things on your own. Run into a monster unarmed? Better find something, anything to defend yourself with. You can use sticks. Limbs of a defeated skeleton. Farm equipment you stole from a village. There are bows, swords, and spears to be found. If you’re resourceful enough you can find your way out of a situation. Every weapon in the game, intended or improvised, can break too. So you really have to make sure you have something in reserve for a backup.

But you can also play very stealthily, and avoid a lot of combat by trying to sneak your way into shrines, landmarks, or other objectives. This is actually the preferred method when all of your weapons are broken, you’re low on supplies, and the nearest town is a fortnight away. You can climb any surface, save for during the rain, where things become slick. (Because there has to be *some* realism). Though you also have to keep an eye on your stamina. Get too tired, you’ll fall off of that cliff to your doom. Or drown in the pond. Or pant after sprinting, and get shot by a goblin archer. Or gored by a wild bull.

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Which brings me to another point. The difficulty. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is tough. If you’re ill prepared at any time, there’s a good chance you’re going to die. As stated a moment ago, there are a zillion ways to die in Hyrule. On top of the environment killing you, or the wildlife, the enemies are especially brutal. Particularly once you get beyond the initial area. Even when you think you’ve got one of the villains on their last leg, they’ll one shot you, and it’s a Game Over. Bosses in the game are also hidden. You never know when you’ll stumble onto one, and when you do you’ll panic.

The thing is, the sense of wonder, and discovery balances out the trepidation, and frustration really well. It isn’t hard “Just to be hard”. It’s to more or less affirm that in Hyrule, much like life, you have to get out there, and take chances. You have to go fight zombies at night. You have to risk falling to your death to get that treasure. You have to sneak up on that wild horse, and make him your pet. That’s right, this game also has mounts. You’ll want to use them to get you across long distances. Sure, you can fast travel between shrines, but that doesn’t always get you headed in the right direction. You can also fight while on horseback, which is yet another really cool feature. There are stables where you can keep your horses, and there are shops where you can get new clothes, weapons, food items, and other stuff too.

All of this in addition to the campaign’s many missions. It all culminates to make one of the best single-player experiences in a long time. It also supports any Zelda themed Amiibo toys you may have. The Breath Of The Wild figures, aren’t the only ones. If you’ve got the Super Smash Bros. themed Zelda characters those work too. The in-game content varies, some of them clothing items, but most of them random loot drops.

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Visually, the game is pretty stunning. I own the Wii U version, though I’ve seen the Switch version first hand. They’re largely similar, so whatever Nintendo machine you decide to buy the game for, it isn’t too different. That being said, I have noticed the Wii U version has lower texture quality (Think a PC game’s *medium* setting as opposed to *high*). But the physics of the wind blowing grass in the fields, or the little touches like insects flying off of flowers, or tiny birds fluttering about, are all here. Unfortunately the one major issue affecting the game is performance drop off. It isn’t uncommon for open world games to have performance issues, as they’re some of the more demanding games for video cards, and chipsets to render. In the case of Zelda, some of the drops are really rough in some areas. The initial area seems to be the worst since it is so densely populated with objects, and NPCs. Factor in the special effects, and the frame rate begins to take a big hit.

 

Now the good thing is, these still aren’t bad enough to make things unplayable. It’s still responsive enough to do what you need to do. But it will be noticeable, both from a visual standpoint, as well as feeling. Movement becomes sluggish, and frame drops will sometimes make it look choppy. The other saving grace is these usually only last a few seconds, and in the scope of the game world, they’re pretty small areas. Still, for some players it is going to be really annoying.

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The other issue is that at least on the Wii U, you’ll see a significant amount of pop in a few areas, as it looks like the draw distance was adjusted to increase performance. It’s a pretty minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things. Still, seeing wild sheep randomly appearing as your parachute passes over a farm, or seeing details of rocks load in when you get closer to a mountain, are noticeable things. Nothing that ruins the enjoyment, but it is a technical issue that open world games often have, and Zelda is no exception.

 

Be that as it may, the game still looks beautiful, taking the pseudo cel shaded look of Skyward Sword, and merging it with some of the realistic look found in Twilight Princess. The result is pretty great, giving a nice mesh of fantasy, and realism. It can be very vibrant, rich, and colorful when it needs to be. It can also be very grim, frightening, and full on terrifying when it needs to be. This gives an already great game, an amazing sense of atmosphere. The dynamic soundtrack does this as well. In many ways it reminded me of playing one of the Metroid Prime games. A song that fits any situation. When things are bleak, the music reflects that. When things are hopeful it reflects that too. Even when things are calm, it manages to come off with something light, and nurturing. Unless you start thinking things are too quiet. In which case the game probably thinks that too, so the soundtrack begins to change.

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I could probably fit another 8,000 or so words into this review talking about the excellent weather effects, how you’ll freeze to death in the snow without the right clothes. Or how great the animations are for any situation. Or the effective use of day, and night cycles. Or the neat little effects like fire burning grass when you swing a lit torch at a bad guy in the fields. Or about how you need to solve the shrine dungeons to get enough McGuffins to go to another place to extend your life meter (Okay, another spoiler there.). I could talk about the importance of towers, and constant saving (Again, you will be screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” a lot.). But I don’t want to give everything away, nor do I want to prattle on too long. The point is, that yes, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is worth getting, even if you’re not a rabid Zelda fan. The technical hitches keep me from calling it sheer perfection. But if you haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the Gamecube, it makes for a very strong launch title for the Switch. Likewise, if you own Nintendo’s current system, and want to wait until there are more games for the Switch before buying one, this is a terrific sendoff for the Wii U. It’s a huge game with hundreds of hours of content. Not busy work. Not banal tasks. Real stuff. Plus, by the time you do see everything the digital expansion pack they’re working on will be out, which could possibly make a great game even better. Early adopters get some in-game cosmetics, but I recommend waiting, until it arrives. There’s already a ton to do in the initial game.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is excellent, and an early contender for many GOTY lists. Whether you experience it in the flashy new sports coupe or the old jalopy you’re going to be going on one hell of a ride. I’ve still got a long way to go journeying through it. But at 40 hours in, I think it’s safe to say this is one ride worth taking.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Slain: Back From Hell Review

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Generally I don’t do end of year lists, because I simply don’t have the resources to play everything. But sometimes that can be a good thing as this year proved that many games have been, and will be taken out of the oven too early. Slain is one such game. At least it was initially according to most who looked at it.

PROS: Everything you love about Castlevania 1, Golden Axe, and Heavy Metal!

CONS: The insane difficulty of NES Castlevanias.

DIE: Everything will kill you in this game. Usually in horrific, and gory ways.

When Slain was released, the initial reception wasn’t very good. Performance was terrible on many computers, it had bugs, crashes, and other problems. But things didn’t stay that way for very long. Where other developers may have spent eons trickling out patches to try to get things working, made excuses, or worse, given up entirely, these guys didn’t. The people behind Slain put out major overhauls for a few months. Once the game was in the state it should have launched in, it was given a subtitle to reflect it, and relaunched.

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So this revamped version I received for Christmas is really good! It has brisk action. It has a blend of fighting, and puzzles. It has really inventive character designs, and a head banging soundtrack. What it doesn’t have is a ton of exploration, a deep story, or a wide cast of playable characters.

You see, at first glance many people will think Slain is going to be a Castlevania clone, and they would be partially right. But these folks aren’t thinking of the  right Castlevania games. These days a lot of people are wistful for the entries like Symphony Of The Night, or Aria Of Sorrow. Versions of the formula that mixed in the exploration of Metroid into the series. Leading to the term Metroidvania. But Slain follows more closely to the first Castlevania most people who owned an NES played. Castlevania.

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So what you’ll be doing here is going through linear stages. At the end of each stage you’ll fight a horror themed boss, and then move on. After you complete the first stage, you do get to go to a hub level, where you can choose the order you want to play the stages in. Well, partly. Because two of them are locked until the second, and third, are completed. You can also replay any stage you’ve previously beaten. But no matter what order you choose there aren’t any changes. Each of the six stages does give you a pretty wide variety of settings. The entire game is oozing in Heavy Metal. The style of the characters, and even the pixel art itself, is right out of album covers. Old school fans will immediately think of the art on albums by Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Sepultura, Dio, Thor, and Iced Earth.

You’ll be fighting in old burned out towers, desolate plains, ethereal worlds, and blood soaked towers. There are also booby traps everywhere. Trap doors that will have you falling on spikes. Blood puddles that pull you down, and drown you. Background statues that attack you, ceilings that crush you, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The enemies will take you back to times of playing Castlevania. Albeit with a dash of Golden Axe. Instead of fighting one or two enemies at once, you’ll often be swarmed with five or six. All of the enemies look gorgeous. As far as monsters can. The details in the sprites are just as impressive, and imposing as the backgrounds. Plus, every character has a ton of animated detail. If you take five seconds to analyze something as simple as a skeleton walking toward you you’ll notice it instantly. He’ll then hack you to death with a machete because you weren’t paying attention.

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Which brings me to the death animations of your character. Because it goes along with everything else. You’ll see your organs fall out after a monster has you disemboweled. You’ll see the flesh fall off of your bones when you fall in an acid pool. You’ll see your head get severed by an enemy knight. or your character become paste when he gets crushed. The ways you go down in this game can give Mortal Kombat a run for its money.

So how do you survive? Well the game does take a few cues from Castlevania in that you’ll have to plod through areas, avoiding traps, killing enemies, and trying to make jumps without bats or Medusa heads knocking you into pits. The game also has both a health, and power up bar. But the similarities begin to end there. For starters, instead of picking up random secondary weapons from candles, you have a charge attack. The longer you hold the charge, the more powerful a burst of fire you can throw.

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But I can already hear you asking where to find mana to replenish your secondary ammunition. You find it in battle. Slain, has a pretty respectable fighting system. True, you can hack n’ slash your way through via Golden Axe inspired brute force. But you’ll actually have an easier time once you discover that timing is everything. Slain gives you an attack button, a jump button, a secondary attack button, and a block button. Holding the block button can , well, block attacks from enemies. The thing is blocking too many attacks will actually cause you to go into a hit stun, where enemies will finish you off.

However, if you time your block perfectly, the enemy gets hit stunned, allowing you to get off a critical hit. Many enemies will die after one or two of these, and it is here you get mana. But it goes further. Some bad guys will shoot projectiles at you. Instead of blocking these attacks, you can time your primary attack. Hitting the projectile at just the right time will knock it back, like a baseball. This is crucial to master, because for some of the larger enemies, mini bosses, and bosses you can’t survive without it.

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And before you go thinking you can instantly make the game go from difficult to easy by doing this, every enemy type has a different timing requirement. In the case of boss fights, you’ll also need to learn their patterns. Attack at the wrong time, you’re dead. Go on a flurry of hits blindly, and you’ll soon be on the business end of a super move that will one shot you. Even if you have full health at the time.

Still, you’ll need to master every trick at your disposal, because much like the early Konami, and Sega games that inspired it, it is difficult. But difficult in a good way. You’ll die 20 million times. But every time you’ll still want to play again. It gets you hooked on perseverance. That constant feeling of just one more try. You will give it one more try, and another, and another. Because every stage has a hidden piece of a talisman you’ll need to find. There are also elemental versions of standard swords, and axes. But the way they’re implemented is really cool. Again, the amazing sprite work, and animation is on display. These weapons aren’t just recolored, and buffed versions. The wild designs make each of these feel unique. Like the embers of fire trailing off of your flame sword. Or the water, and ice dripping off of your axe. Slain always has some new detail you’ll be discovering.

The soundtrack also takes inspiration from vintage metal, though it has elements of subgenres. There are moments where it feels symphonic, other times there’s a sense of power. Often times it will evoke crunchy, speedy licks, and solos. Curt Victor Bryant (of Celtic Frost) did a wonderful job giving players a soundtrack that matches the imagery in Slain. Again, it will remind you of early metal albums. If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s listening to a lot of the heavier, darker albums, you’re going to love the music in this game.

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Unfortunately, the story we’re given isn’t nearly as interesting as the world it takes place in. You play Bathoryn. An old, expired warrior who is resurrected, and commanded to liberate six realms from monsters. There are some dialogue boxes between Bathoryn, and some of the characters, like the being who wakes you from your slumber. Or the banter with boss characters before, and after fights. But the exposition doesn’t show you the story, it just tells you what is happening. You go tracking down a villain named Vroll. He shows up from time to time to taunt you on your quest, and sometimes just before a boss fight. Throughout the game you also run into a mysterious mystic, who grants you the aforementioned weapons, as well as introduce some of the new enemies. The final confrontation does fill in some of the blanks, and there is an interesting twist at the end. I just wish the narrative could have been as interesting as everything else.

Be that is it may, Slain: Back From Hell is an excellent game overall. It is true, that it has a very high difficulty, but then so do many good games. If you’re someone who is willing to press on, there is a lot to like. Even if you’re not a big fan of Heavy Metal, the game’s horror elements, and atmosphere will still keep you entertained for hours. It isn’t a very long game at just six stages. But the challenge will have most people playing it for a long time. Even if you do become good enough to master it, you’ll likely come back to it for replays, or speed runs.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Shatterhand Review

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The NES was a haven for action platformers by the early 90’s. Castlevania, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden had all become mainstays. So companies were desperately trying to get in on the trend. Some of the games that came out of this trend became system sellers, while others went under the radar. Natsume, who is known mainly for the Harvest Moon games these days, were unsung heroes of action games back then. Known for stuff like Shadow Of The Ninja, and S.C.A.T. But some of their titles didn’t get the fanfare.

PROS: One of the best action platformers you can find for the NES.

CONS: High difficulty.

TUNAGE: This game has some of the memorable chip tunes on the console.

Abadox was one such game. It was a very good shmup that outside of a wild commercial, didn’t get much attention. This game didn’t either. In fact, Shatterhand was given almost no advertising by Jaleco, and I only found out about it back when it was coming out because I frequently read Nintendo Power. But those of us who did get a copy back in the day got a big win.

For those who missed it back then, or those who are into discovering old games, Shatterhand is definitely a game that should be on your radar. In Japan, it was called Super Rescue Solbrain , and based on a show in the Metal Hero series of TV programs there. It centers around a team of police cyborgs that can power up, and fight super criminals.

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The shows weren’t released in any form in North America, or Europe at the time. So when the game was released outside of Japan the story was changed, the game retitled, and one of the stages was replaced with an entirely new one in its place. The game’s intro was also changed, as well as some of the character sprites. But the gameplay itself remains unchanged.

In Shatterhand the hero is renamed to Steve Hermann. The retooled story goes that a group of Military renegades form a terrorist organization called Metal Command. In 2030 they take over the world by unleashing their army of robots, and cyborgs upon the Earth. Streetwise cop Steve Hermann loses both of his arms in a fight with some of these terrorists, and a new agency called the Law, and Order Regulatory Commission (or L.O.R.D.) gives Steve new cybernetic appendages. So he becomes Shatterhand, and goes on a one man army mission to take down Metal Command.

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Right away you’re going to notice how good this game looks. Visually it’s held up very well over the years. Sprites are very detailed, with some really nice animations on everything. Characters, background objects, enemies, everything looks really cool. The tile sets, and parallax scrolling work really well, and every stage oozes with atmosphere.

The stages themselves also have really clever layouts, with power ups placed in great risk/reward positions. Of course sometimes this makes things seem masochistic. Like when you’re going up an elevator with missiles coming at you from the bottom, and the top of the screen while guys in Cobra Flight Pods come gunning for you. You spot that crate you need to get to  in order to build a robot companion only to escape with a single hit point left.

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But there are a wide range of power ups to help you. The main ones are robotic companions. But it isn’t a case of simply picking them up. Peppered throughout the stages are crates. Many of them have two different types of boxes inside, each with one of two letters. Along the top of the screen are three spaces. Each time you collect a letter it takes up one of the spaces. Grab three letters, and then a robot companion will beam in to help you. The robot that shows up depends on which letters you collected. You could get one that throws grenades. You could get one that uses a flamethrower. There are a few different robots. The key is knowing what combination is the best for each stage.

You can also become an invincible super robot if you collect the same sequence twice. This is only temporary, but if you can pull it off at the end of a stage, it will really help out in boss fights. Some of the bosses in the game have an insane amount of health, and so being able to deal high damage, without taking any helps a lot. Of course you can also destroy them by learning their patterns, and moving accordingly.

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Rounding out the power ups are an upgrade for your punches, health, a 1-Up box, and bags of gold. Which you will need because the power up punches, health, and extra lives cost money. You can also get money by beating certain enemies to death. But what adds to the challenge is that aside from the robot companions, you have only your fists. You have to kill everything in this game with your literal bare hands when you have no pick ups.

Shatterhand is a seven stage affair. The game borrows a bit from Mega Man in that after the first introductory level you’ll be able to choose your mission order. The first stage gets you acclimated with how things work. You’ll discover the basics of running, jumping, and punching bad guys, and obstacles. You’ll figure out how the letter combinations for robot assistants work, and you’ll face a pretty easy boss. But from this point on the game becomes brutally difficult.

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The submarine stage for instance has some very annoying enemies in its top-secret mad science lab area. Floating aliens that are hard to hit. Monsters that leap from the chambers you have to destroy have almost as much health as some of the boss characters. The city stage is especially tough because everything is on fire, bombs constantly fall from the sky, and it will easily have you using continues like crazy when you first play it.

These are just two of many insanely difficult moments in the game. After you clear the five stages in whatever order you choose, you’ll go onto a final level. This stage is a medley of the earlier levels’ mechanics. Including a boss rush with three of the bosses you already defeated earlier. Thankfully the last stage is a bit forgiving in that it will let you continue from the middle if you lose all of your lives.

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While on the subject of continues you do get a lot of them. But you have to remember to push the start button after the first few Game Over screens to bring up the option. If you don’t do it before the sad music of failure ends, it just assumes you quit. Also know that if you’re looking to beat the game with any respectable score, you’d better beat the entire game on three lives. Because continuing erases your score. It is possible to beat the game on three lives, but it isn’t easy. Particularly if you get to a boss without a robot, or without the suit of temporary invincibility. Because at that point you have to know the boss patterns to a pixel perfect T. Compounding this is that General Gus Grover is a massively huge cheater. First, he dons a power suit similar to the one you get for getting the same robot satellite twice. Second, he starts to blow up chunks of the floor, causing them to engulf themselves in flames. This makes parts of the floor impossible to walk on. So you have to act fast to kill him before you have nowhere to stand.

As much as it may sound like I’m complaining about the difficulty on display, I’m really not. For the most part the difficulty is still pretty fair. You know it’s your own fault when you die. The game isn’t overly long either, the stages can be cleared pretty quickly once you’ve figured out exactly what you need to do. The thing is, it is also the kind of game that requires a lot of practice, and a lot of patience in order to win. You won’t beat it on your first attempt without using any continues. You may not be able to clear the game on your 500th attempt without continuing either. But you’ll have a lot of fun trying to.

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Shatterhand is awesome. Beating the low-level enemies to death is a blast. Managing to even get to the bosses feels like an accomplishment. Defeating a boss will make you feel like a superhero. And after weeks of practice when you finally kick General Gus Grover’s ass you will want to celebrate with anyone who will listen. What sets the game apart from stuff like other hard games though is that again, doesn’t feel cheap. Except for the final boss setting the floor on fire. But even still, keep playing, and you’ll persevere.

Of course a lot of collector’s have discovered this one over the years, so it isn’t going to be a low-priced Game Pak. But unlike the terrible games that cost a fortune because of their rarity Shatterhand is a really good game. One that you’ll definitely want to keep in your collection once you find it. It’s one of the best action-platformers on the NES.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Retro World Expo 2016 Recap

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Last year’s inaugural Retro World Expo was a rousing success. It gave fans in New England a chance to meet YouTube celebrities, gorge on classic gaming, and mingle with thousands of fans. Not to mention the droves of exhibitors who showed up to sell their products. It was a great time last year.

Well, that success translated into an even better convention this year. This time the event took the course of a weekend, rather than one single day. Again, there were some great guests. Returning from last year, were  many of Retroware’s finest. Creators Lance Cortez, and John Delia were back, along with”Pixel” Dan Eardley, The Gaming Historian (Norman Caruso), and The Game Chasers. But joining them were Pat “The NES Punk” Conti,  the creators of Stop Skeletons From Fighting, and Mortal Kombat’s own Daniel Pesina.  Josh Tsui also made an appearance. He was one of Midway’s Mortal Kombat 4 designers. These days he heads up Robomodo, a small developer known for mobile. But they’ve also done some of the later Tony Hawk games.

But there were even more guests! Nick Mueeler, and Ste Kulou were there. They began HD Retrovision, a company known for component cables for old systems. They returned this year with Robert Neal of RetroRGB fame. They were there educating fans on signal types, cable types, the differences between them, and performance.

Wood Hawker was back again too. You may know him from his show The Game Quest where he travels the world hunting for games. He’s even done a number of crossovers with some of the biggest names on YouTube.

Antoine Clerc Renaud also made an appearance this year. He wrote much of the Complete History of Coleco, a book about the company behind the Colecovision. As well as the Adam, and several memorable toy lines.

Eric Lappe of The Video Game Years fame was also there, as well as cover sensation Banjo Guy Ollie! Rounding things out were RF Generation who have a database archive site where you can pull up information about games for a vast variety of platforms. They also do a solid podcast.

Beyond the guests were a host of bands who played shows throughout the two days in the arcade area. Epic Game Music was the most popular, but Lame Genie, The World Is Square, and You Bred Raptors were also heard during the convention. All of the bands absolutely crushed it, gracing the arcade with driving blends of hard rock, and (in the case of TWIS) folk. On the main show floor, Radlib was playing throughout both days.

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The arcade was bursting with classics this year. Centipede, Missile Command, Asteroids Deluxe, Crystal Castles, and The Star Wars Arcade game were on hand representing classic Atari. Representing Nintendo’s arcade heyday were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. Sega classics were there too. Turbo Outrun, After Burner, Thunder Blade, and Shinobi. There were a lot more games on hand beyond even those! Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt. Konami’s Gyruss, and Frogger. Capcom’s Final Fight, Street Fighter II CE, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Knights Of The Round, and Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Still need more? On the Midway/Williams front NARC, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat III, and Mortal Kombat IV could be seen. Namco’s Ms. Pac-Man was also on free play.

The arcade also had a pretty decent selection of Pinball machines. I couldn’t get them all listed, but the Nightmare On Elm Street machine was especially fun to play. Even though I’m terrible at pinball, I had fun failing miserably. Thanks in part to the great sound effects, challenging design, and fantastic aesthetic.

The console game room also returned, though this time it was given a different area, rather than share the floor space of the arcade with the cabinets. Again, there were a lot of great classic systems set up. Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,  Atari Jaguar, and other old systems were prevalent. Although I didn’t see as many pre NES game consoles this year. A little disappointing for old timers like me, but the plethora of vintage arcade machines more than made up for it.

The console area also had a lot of tournaments run by Game Haven, which is this really cool LAN center in Norwalk, CT. They let you go in with friends, and rent time on computers, and consoles for tournaments, practice, or just to play for fun with friends in a local environment. So having them run the tournament ladders seemed like a good fit. There were tournaments for NHL ’94, and NBA Jam on the Genesis. A Mortal Kombat II tournament, and Super Street Fighter II tournament on the Super NES. For the competitive wrestling fan, there was also a WWF No Mercy tournament on the Nintendo 64. There was even a bonus challenge centered around the infamous E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.

Plus on top of all of these, was a Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament, which drew quite the following at the show. This one was hosted by Legacy Tournaments which specializes in regional Smash Tournaments.

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Of course there were also countless returning vendors. But among them were a couple of indie developers showing off some of their upcoming games. The first of these was a company called Giant Evil Robot. They were showing off a game called Mecha-Tokyo Rush. The version at the show was a nearly final version in a demo mode. Mecha-Tokyo Rush is an endless runner. But to set it apart from the plethora of other endless runners on the market, it implements elements of the Mega Man games. So you’ll be able to select stages, earn items from boss fights, and blast robots. But, being an endless runner you never bother with moving. The game just moves along, and you time your jumps accordingly. But you’ll do so while shooting . Visually, the version at the show didn’t look half bad. It had a decent 16-bit look to it. The full game will let players choose different characters, and items. The keys on the demo laptop weren’t ideal so I asked the representative if it would allow players to use a game pad, and I was told they may add functionality down the line. At launch it won’t. The game will be a F2P game with things you can unlock with game credit. I wasn’t given any specifics about it. The game does look a cut above some other F2P stuff you may have tried, so hopefully the final game turns out well.

The other developer booth was interesting because it was both about a documentary, and an upcoming game. The New 8-Bit Heroes is the documentary. It follows the designer of a new game called Mystic Searches, and the progress of developing the game. That designer’s name is Joe Granato. He found old design documents he made as a kid, and decided to make his childhood dream game. But here’s where things get really engrossing. The game was made to run on an NES. The NES like a lot of platforms in the 1980’s ran on a MOS 6502 processor, or variant. The Atari 2600, NES, Commodore 64, and many other platforms used it. Back then, most programs were written in assembly language, and translated into machine language. Which meant they had to be written in a language like PASCAL  or a complicated Hex system, and pretty much everything had to be coded in. Even the graphics, and sound.

These days, most games run on an engine. Many games share one. Unreal Engine, Unity, and others are used by countless games, which lessens some of the workload as an engine does a lot of background work freeing up programmers, artists, etc. to focus on other things. That’s probably an oversimplification on my part, but the point is, this makes things easier.

Anyway, during the course of making Mystic Searches, the designers quickly realized how long writing a game in  6502 assembly language was going to take. So they wrote their own Graphic User Interfaces for things. Things like placing graphics tiles. Things like attributing properties to objects. Eventually, they had enough GUIs made that they essentially built their own game engine!

So they’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for the engine. Not only will it let end users build a game with the included assets, but advanced users can import their own sprites, music, and content. It’s simple enough that an average person can make something on their own. But deep enough that aspiring developers can make something very involved. The hope is that the final revision will let people do different genres. RPGs, Shmups, Platformers, and more. But the most exciting part of all of this is that the program will allow end users to flash their games to an actual NES Game Pak!

They had a working prototype set up at the convention so that show goers could check it out for themselves. After trying it out, I was very impressed with what I was shown. I grew up typing game programs out of magazines in BASIC, or into Hex address compilers. Suffice it to say, I was pretty terrible at it. Even though technically all of the work (aside from hours typing it in) was already done for the reader.Plus playing a game, is more fun than typing in a game. But here, the tools, while still requiring a bit of learning, and experimenting, were still understandable. You don’t need to know how to code anything in order to use it. It reminded me a lot of using map editors for the original DOOM. Or games like the Shoot ’em up Construction Kit.

I asked a few questions during my time with it, and got a few details in the answers. I asked if there were any plans to have a business level license for other developers, and was told there really wouldn’t be. Anyone can pretty much buy the utility, and do what they want. The license does say however, that anyone who wants to sell a game they make with the utility cannot use any of the utility’s assets. Meaning they have to draw all their own sprites, background art, etc., as well as write their own music. The reason being that the utility was used to make Mystic Searches, and as such the assets are intrinsically tied to that IP.

But they want as many developers, and hobbyists as possible to use the product. So they aren’t looking to have the typical Business, and Consumer licenses many other software utilities do.

I asked if there was a way to import one’s own content, or even piggyback their own code onto the utility, and was told one can definitely do it. They really want the product to be as open as possible while keeping things simplified for beginners.

Another person asked about pricing. Nothing is set in stone, so they didn’t have a finalized price at the time of the show, but they were shooting for a sub $100 mark. This would give the customer the hardware to make their NES Game Pak when they were ready. They also said they may have one SKU for just the software utility, and a separate one for the hardware. They added, that there would be a list of suppliers for the hardware so that if one doesn’t want to buy it all from the developer, they can get the hardware elsewhere if they wanted to. Mystic Searches is shooting for a holiday release, while the utility release isn’t as concrete.

I asked about any plans for retailers, and was told they were discussing ways to possibly have a program with small businesses to print future games on demand. This could take some risk away as a small store wouldn’t have to buy a case of copies of Mystic Searches or future titles. Instead the store could print as few or as many as they needed. This would be an entirely different venture than the utility they were showing off however.

If the final products turn out as well as what I saw during the show, the homebrew community is going to be very pleased. Mystic Searches is looking to be a really good send up of games like The Legend Of Zelda, Ys I+II, and Crystalis. It’s also coming out in three different Game Pak casings. A standard gray color for $40. A black color with custom artwork by Morgan Davidson will set you back $64. Finally, there’s the limited edition wood grain version, which brings a hint of Atari 2600 heavy sixer to the Nintendo Entertainment System. This one is an expensive $128 as it is hand carved. Aside from the special cartridges it seems about in line with what most other homebrew games cost.

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There were a lot of panels this year, and I managed to get into three of them. The first of which was The Gaming Historian panel with Norman Caruso. This year, he did a live entry into The Gaming Historian series where he talked about the making of the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie. He went over many things that happened behind the scenes. Tension between the cast, and the directors. The constant rewrites to the script, some of which even happened during filming, and of course Nintendo’s involvement in the film.

After the history lesson, Norman took volunteers for another game of Video Game History Jeopardy. This year I was actually selected as a contestant! Competition was stiff though, as both of my opponents were very keen. One of them could have been a professor when it came to Sonic The Hedgehog which was one of the categories. After a very exciting game came the final Jeopardy question that nobody got right. But luck shined on me when it turned out my two opponents put everything on the line, and I had put all but one dollar on the line. I suppose watching a lot of Jeopardy as a kid paid off.

After the Jeopardy game, Norman took a quick Q & A session. One of the questions that stood out was when a fan asked what had happened to The Nintendo buyout of the Mariners episode of The Gaming Historian. Apparently it wasn’t Nintendo that had tied things up. It was the MLB. But not all hope for the episode is lost, both parties are trying to work things out.

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The second panel I managed to get into was Pixel Dan’s panel. Dan is the proprietor of a YouTube channel where he reviews toys. He also goes to toy shows all around the country, and interviews toy designers, and toy company representatives about upcoming toys. In the panel he talked about some of the more esoteric toy lines of the 80’s, and 90’s. Some of the stand outs were Food Fighters, a line where food items take the roles of opposing armies. He also brought up the Rock Lords line, a subset of the Go Bots line where robot warriors turned into rocks as opposed to vehicles. He also gave overviews to Army Ants, a line of army themed ant figurines  and Computer Warriors. This was an interesting if failed line of toys that transformed ordinary household items into secret military installations, and vehicles.

Rounding things out were the Stone Protectors, a line that combined the action of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the classic wishing troll dolls. The end product was a group of Troll superheroes who fought aliens. The toys also had flintlock embedded in them so that when you used their action feature you could see sparks light up the gems in their chests!

It was a nostalgic look back at a time when toy companies were a lot more willing to take chances. A time when people designing toys had a lot more creative, and artistic freedom. These days companies are more risk averse since they no longer only have to compete with each other, but with game, and tech companies too. This results in a large reliance on licensed IPs like movies.

After looking at some great toy lines, Dan brought in Norman Caruso to show off the premier episode of From Plastic To Pixels. It’s a new project the two are working on, highlighting video games that have been based on toys. The first episode showcases the M.U.S.C.L.E. NES game.  They mentioned some of the games in future episodes, but you’ll have to watch the show to see what they are.

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The third panel I attended on Saturday was Pat Contri’s. Pat talked a bit about his new book,  Ultimate Nintendo: Guide To The NES Library 1985 – 1995.  In it, you’ll find every commercially produced game ever made for the console. Pat has painstakingly collected, and rated each title as well as given a rarity rating to each title. The titles don’t just end with the games Nintendo licensed. He included unlicensed games, and even the European PAL territory exclusives.

I asked him how long it took to make, because the production values ate amazing. He said it took him three years to do, and it had an impact on his primary projects like Pat The NES Punk episodes. Another person in attendance asked him if he would be doing a Super Nintendo guide. He didn’t rule it out entirely, but it isn’t anything pending right now. He did reveal however that there is a companion app being made for smart phones. The app will have the information in the book, as well as ties to online price guides.

At the end of the panel Pat selected fans to take the Pat The NES Punk challenge. There were three sets of fans put in one on one match ups. My friend Jordan managed to get into the first challenge, where he played Sky Kid against an opponent. There was an issue with the second controller though so instead the challenge was changed to Ghosts N’ Goblins. Whoever got the furthest on one life would be the victor. Jordan won this handily by getting to the first boss.

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The second challenge was a Vs. Excitebike matchup on the Famicom Disk System. The players in this round kept pace with one another going back, and forth a lot in a one lap race. The final challenge was an entertaining bout of two player Donkey Kong Jr. Math. The winners each received a digital version of Pat’s new book, and the losers won a bad game to rip on.

At the end of the first day there was also an auction for some really cool gaming items. A few of the arcade cabinets in the arcade were up for auction. After these were auctioned off, things moved into the panel room, and continued. Some of the items that went for huge money included old storefront Nintendo, Sega, and Sony neon signs. Some of these went for several hundred dollars. The first three Mega Man games were  sold, as well as the very rare Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak NES Game Pak. This game went for $750, which is actually a little bit lower than the current average online price. I was really excited to see a boxed Commodore 128, and 1571 disk drive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to be the winner of said computer. But it was great getting to see one  in such great condition. The winner also won an auction for the Coleco Adam computer.

After that was a karaoke session in the arcade room to close out the day.

Sunday, there were a few other panels including one with the Game Chasers. I unfortunately was unable to make it back in time for that panel. But I was surprised to see pro wrestling legend Tony Atlas walking the floor! He was very cordial, and was willing to make a second attempt at taking a photo when I had an issue with my camera. I bought a signed print from him. Really awesome experience.

I got the opportunity to talk to Pixel Dan, Norman Caruso, and Pat Contri over the course of the show as well. All of them were very kind, and very cool. If you haven’t seen any of their material definitely check it out. They’re very good at what they do. I also picked up Pat’s book, and I can say it is worth every penny. As I said earlier, it is a very impressive guide for anybody who likes to go back, and play or collect NES games.

Speaking of picking things up, there were a lot of excellent vendors at the show this year. Two Nerds returned from last year, selling some awesome screen printed glassware. Last year I’d gotten a great Samus Aran beer stein, which I use all of the time. I introduced one of my friends to their rep, and he immediately bought a Jack Skellington themed glass for his many servings of Pepsi.

Of course, Retro Games Plus was back, and if you’re ever in Connecticut it is always worth visiting their store for old games. They have some of the best selection, and pricing in the area. Level 01 was also present again, as well as one of the area Game Xchange  franchisees. These are also pretty good places to go hunting. Another area small business called 1UP was there as well. Which I can also recommend. It’s run by a husband, and wife duo who try to get out to as many conventions as possible. I’ve gotten things from them before, and it has always been in great condition.

But there were also a TON of new vendors this time around with a lot of great stuff. Some of which has generally been impossible for me to find locally. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of them had a great assortment of Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, and other platforms from the early days many of us grew up in.  My buddy Chris Trentham was there with a booth of his own. I got some nice deals on some Commodore 64 cartridges, as well as a copy of the scarce Frogger II for the Atari 2600.

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From one of the vendors (I feel bad that I can’t remember every one of them) I managed to snag a copy of Tac-Scan, and Jr. Pac-Man for my Atari 2600 collection, and I also found a great deal on the VCS version of Congo Bongo from of all vendors, a graphic design vendor called  DSquared. One of their artists, Doug Chapel was selling some Atari cartridges in addition to his artwork. We talked about VCS collecting, VCS homebrew for a few minutes. He does some nice stuff. If you need some custom art give their site a look.

While on the subject of art, there were a lot of artists among the vendors this year as well. Some of the other standouts were Justm3hStudios, an artist who does a lot of custom buttons, and sketches. A guy named Chris Vales was doing some impressive Overwatch themed work, and Tom Ryan Studios was there. I saw him previously at ConnectiCon. Another fantastic art duo you might want to check out is  East Of Haven. They had some terrific pencil work on display, and were doing commissions.

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Russ Lyman was on the floor getting some footage for his always fun, YouTube channel, and he may have received a few surprise cameos for an upcoming video. I also spent some time talking about games far worse than E.T.  with the terrific guys from RF Generation. Stuff like the Data Design Interactive stuff on the Wii for instance.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see or do everything. There was so much this year. I didn’t even mention the cosplay contest or the Table top gaming.  I really hope this year was more successful than last year, because this convention has the potential to become an annual tradition. It could also become as big as some of the other major conventions in time. It was a blast of a weekend, and with any luck at all I’ll be visiting again in 2017.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior Review

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Last week I looked at a rare, expensive, and weird shmup from Meldac on the NES. Well the Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many oddball ideas. As we get closer to Retro World Expo, I thought I’d dig through my collection for another NES game to showcase. Werewolf: The Last Warrior is not only a little strange. It’s also very cool, and is a game every NES collector, and owner should play.

PROS: Graphics, and sound. Very challenging.

CONS: Some will find it too challenging. This is definitely NES Hard.

RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE: Aside from one similarity it’s nothing like Sega’s Altered Beast.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is awesome. You play a human who collects items, and then gets to turn into a werewolf, and mess people up. I know I’ve just described Altered Beast. But this is nothing like Sega’s arcade cab turned Genesis launch title. Because it isn’t a beat ’em up game. It’s an action platformer.

But many of the best NES Game Paks were action platformers. In fact many of the best video games of the era were action platformers. So what sets Werewolf apart from the pack? (I think I just made a pun.) A number of things. Right away one thinks of the RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE moments. Throughout the game you’ll find power ups that beef you up, grow your attack power, and of course let you be a werewolf.

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As a werewolf, you do a lot more damage to enemies, and you can do cool stuff like climb walls, do awesome backflips, and more. You become the werewolf by collecting enough red *W* symbols you find. They’re often hidden on pedestals you have to punch. You can actually become a super werewolf that the game names Warwolf. You can become Warwolf by finding enough orbs. Giving you an even bigger reminder that Altered Beast is a thing.

When you’re a super werewolf, you’re practically unstoppable. The game instantly feels like a Dolph Lundgren movie. You dispatch enemies quickly. You can super jump into areas you couldn’t before. But there is a kryptonite to your furry Superman. They’re blue colored *W* symbols. If you touch one you’ll go back to being a human.

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You do not want to be a human for very long in Werewolf. Everything, no matter how weak, will ultimately kick your ass. The game throws a ton of stuff at you. The roster of enemies on display is actually pretty large, even if they aren’t necessarily the most original. You’ll run into ninjas, goons reminiscent of the ones found in Rolling Thunder, soldiers, bad guys with jetpacks, and more.

Every one of the game’s five stages are broken up into two parts. Sometimes they’ll be straight forward. Other times they’ll be a maze you have to explore your way out of. At the end of the first part of any given stage you’ll fight a mini boss who kind of resembles Street Fighter’s Zangief. After you defeat him, you’ll move onto the second half. If you can beat the second part of the stage, you’ll go on to fight the boss.

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Each of the five stages also has something kind of archaic about them. The first time you play it you’ll try punching any where a power up may be, and this is how you’ll most often hit a blue power down, and screw yourself over. There are also some holes in the cut scenes you can nitpick. The story is that a mad scientist named Dr. Faryan has assembled a group of super-villains to take over the world, and you have to stop them. It’s the paper-thin B-movie plot you’d expect, but it isn’t air tight. For instance, in one scene you climb up the right side of a building to chase a Juggernaut knock off. The next portion of the stage you move left, and have to jump off of the left side. Yet the following cut scene has you falling off of the same side you climbed!

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Nitpicking  aside, the game is really challenging thanks to the cues it takes from Castlevania. It has the same slow, plodding movement as that game, and a lot of enemies showing up right when you need to make a pivotal jump. Blend that with some of the moments where the game kind of expects you to know to do something when it hasn’t shown you how, and it can get frustrating. That’s really the only major criticism here. Werewolf can be quite cryptic at times, and it will take you many attempts at it to figure things out. Especially if you manage to find the game cartridge, but not a manual.

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And no, it isn’t the biggest deal in an age where you can pretty much run an internet search for instructions, or a walk-through. But it does make one wonder what the thought process was when putting the game together. Still, Werewolf is a really enjoyable game in spite of the difficulty, and being sometimes unclear. The soundtrack isn’t particularly long, but the handful of chip tunes are really thumping speed metal send ups, with catchy melodic hooks. Which goes with stabbing jet pack wearing mercenaries,  countless henchmen, and ninjas very well. Just make sure you’re grabbing not just health, from fallen enemies, and mystery places. Grab any hourglass too. Each stage has a time limit after all, piling even more pressure onto you in this high difficulty contest.

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Between the music, mostly solid platforming, and the detailed sprite work on display it is one of the more engrossing games in the NES library. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more expensive games of its ilk these days. If you’re collecting NES games, and have been eyeing stuff like Power Blade, and Vice: Project Doom, you should have this on your radar. It isn’t quite as polished as V:PD. There are some times where the cryptic nature forces a restart. But it is still a terrific game nonetheless.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Zombie Nation Review

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Over the course of video game history, there have been a number of titles that have fascinated us. Sometimes they gave us something we never experienced before. Other times they tweaked or perfected an existing formula. Some of them pushed the idea of storytelling. But sometimes a game will surprise us with just how bizarre it can be. Zombie Nation is one of those games.

PROS: A fun shmup. Nice graphics.

CONS: Hit detection could be better. Brutal difficulty may turn off some.

A CAR PAYMENT: Is about how much this NES Game Pak will set you back. It isn’t cheap.

Released in 1990 by Meldac, Zombie Nation (or Samurai Zombie Nation as the title screen suggests) is a peculiar shoot ’em up. Instead of a space ship, or a fighter jet you pilot a disembodied head. The original Japanese version was called Abarenbou Tengu, and was released on the Famicom. In that version you play as a disembodied head as well. But in that version, the head is the mask of a Tengu.

In Zombie Nation the story goes, that a meteor crashes somewhere in a Nevada desert, and unleashes an alien creature named Darc Seed. Darc Seed takes over the world using magnetic rays somehow, and everyone is turned into zombies as a result. So the literal head of a samurai named Namakubi flies from its body, and goes on a mission to the USA to kill Darc Seed, and save the world. As well as regain his sword.

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Zombie Nation takes one idea from Capcom’s Mega Man series, by letting you select which stage you want to begin the game on. You can’t choose stages after that, they’ll play sequentially from that point on. So for example if you choose Stage 4, after you clear that stage, you’ll play Stage 1, then 2, and finally 3. If you manage to clear all four of the stages you’ll go to a 5th stage where you fight Darc Seed one on one.

Zombie Nation is a really short game. But what is going to keep you playing it for hours is its high difficulty. Even if you play the game on the easy setting, it is still very unforgiving. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the head of Namakubi is a very large character. Being this is a shmup, that means it is going to be very hard to dodge the enemy firepower, and obstacles. The game doesn’t follow the typical shmup health formula. In many of the most popular shmups like R-Type, getting shot by anything will kill you. No matter how many power ups you have, one hit, you die.

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Zombie Nation opts to give you a health bar instead. So getting shot will slowly reduce your bar until you die. You’ll also get continues when you run out of health, though these are limited. But you’re still going to want to avoid as much as humanly possible. Because not every attack, or projectile damages you equally. Case in point; the lightning. In nearly every stage there is lightning, or an equivalent. During which, cloud to ground lightning will appear. If one of the bolts so much as grazes you, your life bar goes down to one hit. A single hit by anything after that will finish you off.

The saving grace here is that you can try to replenish your health by eating people. The very people you’re trying to save will act as your nourishment. Floating heads are not the strangest part of Zombie Nation. You find this nourishment by destroying the scenery. Not only do you shoot eyes from your eye sockets at enemies, but at backgrounds as well. All while also puking up grenades. Destroy enough of a building? A hostage flies out to be eaten. Blow up enough of a mountainside? A hostage flies out to be eaten. But with the lightning, and hundreds of projectiles headed your way, getting these meals isn’t very easy at all.

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But there is another reason to eat hostages. Eventually you’ll upgrade your shots to be more powerful. Things that took five or six bullets to destroy before may take one or two. After you eat enough people you’ll even get a one-time use smart bomb.  One you use it however the power up shots reset, and you’ll need to feast on more hostages.

The four bosses are pretty zany too. Stage 1 pits you against a Gorgon version of the Statue of Liberty. Stage 2 has you facing Atlas. Stage 3’s boss is part of the scenery. In this level you fly through a sentient power plant, and have to blow up the core. Stage 4 throws you up against two snakes. Beat all of these foes, and you’ll go on to the final battle with Darc Seed. Who is just a giant grey, who just kind of lies there while you avoid marbles. An underwhelming affair to be sure. Especially after so many high stakes battles.

The bosses have difficult enough patterns to memorize, and move through. But what makes them even harder is that there are no health bars or other information on the screen. So you can’t tell how hurt you are, or how close you’ve gotten to victory. When you do defeat a boss it’s always a surprise. Even if you’ve become really good at Zombie Nation.

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But whether you’re good or bad, there is enough to like to recommend the game. It’s hard. But not as hard as a lot of other NES shmups. At least not once you figure out how to effectively avoid some of the more devastating things in it like the lightning. The hit detection could have been a bit better. Sometimes things you don’t think hit you actually did, and the inconsistent damage output of projectiles can get annoying. Still, the experience is mostly pretty fun, and it is worth experiencing the oddity of it all.

Be that as it may, Zombie Nation is also one of the more expensive NES Game Paks these days. It came out near the end of the NES’ life span. While not as rare as something like Power Blade 2, or The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak, it is a scarce game. So expect to pay an exorbitant amount of money to add it to your collection.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson Review

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As a game collector, I occasionally stumble into titles. Games I have no prior knowledge of. Or very little knowledge of. Like some of you this will begin online, and end in a storefront. Earlier this year, Mark Bussler over at Classic Game Room did an episode on Senran Kagura: Estival Versus for the PlayStation 4. A very bizarre, over the top hack n’ slash action game with an emphasis on endowed characters. I like to think I know a bit about esoteric games. But I had no idea that this was actually a series.

Imagine my surprise one day when I saw this sequel for the 3DS sitting on a store shelf. “They put a sequel out, on Nintendo’s handheld?” I thought. Well yes. Except this ISN’T the sequel to the PlayStation 4 game. After some research I discovered that the series oddly enough, started on the 3DS in Japan. So this game is the sequel to THAT game, and the one Mark reviewed on his show is actually a spin-off.

PROS: Great graphics, responsive controls, a simple combo system that isn’t mundane.

CONS: Some of the content isn’t for everybody. Can get a bit lowbrow.

COLLECTIBLE: Apparently the print run for this game wasn’t very high in the USA.

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is an arcade style hack n’ slash game. You’ll go through a variety of stages fighting hordes, and hordes of enemies. There are also, of course, bosses. As you play through the campaign you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of characters. Many of whom you will be able to take control of throughout the game.

The controversial gimmick in this series is where some folks may have some reservations about picking one of these games up. When you’re fighting enemies, you’ll find your attacks will rip their clothes to shreds. When they’re just about dead, they’ll be down to their undergarments. Your characters are subject to these rules as well. Take enough damage from opponents, and your clothes will be ripped to pieces. When you’re completely out of health you’ll be down to your underwear as well.

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The game plays the gimmick more for laughs, and less for eroticism. Even if the camera angles during transformations are peculiar. But like an R Rated B movie comedy on Cinemax in 1995, it can come off as kind of crass. Of course humor is subjective. Some are going to laugh at how over the top it is. Others are going to be totally confused. While some may even feel a little offended. The game is absolutely unabashed in its presentation. So again, this game is most certainly not for everyone.

Fortunately, there are enough good things about Senran Kagura 2 that action game fans may want to check it out. The fighting system isn’t the most technical, it’s actually fairly simple. But not so simple that things feel mundane. It feels a bit like the Rocksteady Batman Arkham games. You mix up attacks with a weak, and strong button which result in some really awesome combos. They aren’t deep, but the animations are brisk, and smooth. There’s also a nice variety of moves during these sequences as well.

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You can also jump, and do air attacks using the jump button with the attack buttons. There’s also a dash you can use. Finally, there’s a transformation sequence you can perform once you earn enough scrolls while playing. These are reminiscent of the transformation scenes from the old Sailor Moon anime. The off-putting difference being where the characters place their scrolls during these sequences. Once transformed you can then perform a super when you have enough of a meter filled. You use these by pressing the L button along with other buttons which do a variety of crazy animations. These are normally the kinds of things you can see in fighting games like Street Fighter V or Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  There are even tag team combos you can do in some levels where you’re forced to toggle between multiple characters.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a couple of camera options when playing. By default the camera will stay fixed, and you can target enemies with the D-pad if you feel more comfortable locking on to them. If you’re playing on a 3DS (Sorry 2DS or 3DS XL owners) you can also use the optional Circle Pad Pro. This lets you run the camera freeform like a mouse, or a second thumb stick. The newest 3DS can also do this with its built-in Circle Pad Pro replacement. As I own the 2DS I really couldn’t test this option out, but I was able to play fine with the fixed camera.

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All of this makes for a hack n’ slash beat ’em up game that feels really good. Again, everything flows smoothly, and quickly. You quickly find yourself going from enemy to enemy seamlessly, and racking up crazy combos. Whether you come from classics like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight or modern games like God Of War, Devil May Cry, or Dynasty Warriors you’ll likely enjoy the fighting system here. Tamsoft were also the developers behind Onechanbara. But where that series can sometimes feel mundane, and repetitive this game doesn’t.

I think a major reason it doesn’t is because there is a wide variety of enemies on display, each with a different set of strategies needed to defeat them. There are various monsters, ninjas, soldiers, other students, and storyline characters to go up against. The vast number of playable characters also helps. Each character plays completely different from the rest of the cast. Some characters are faster, with attacks that do minimal damage, but also stun enemies so you can get in more hits. Others are slower with far more powerful attacks. Then you have others that fall somewhere in between. It can again, feel like a fighting game in that regard. You can try using the entire cast, or you can settle on one character you feel most comfortable with. Of course the campaign will make you play with each character as there are scenes that require particular characters for the storyline.

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The game has a fairly extensive campaign where you’ll follow the adventures of several stables. These are good, and evil students of Shinobi who rival one another. But as the story goes on you’ll discover that they also have common enemies. I don’t really want to give anything away, but it’s a halfway decent romp. It isn’t the most original story, and there are a lot of events you’ve seen dozens of times in other games. But I will give it credit for at least attempting to give each of the characters some personality beyond being simple eye candy. There are actual motivations, cares, fears, and some moments of genuinely funny dialogue. It has its share of common archetypes mind you. There’s the super serious personality, the hyperactive personality, the one that second guesses themselves constantly, the brash personality. But there are some original takes on them here.

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Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to hold up the storytelling in Senran Kagura 2 alongside revered tales told in Portal, Half-Life, Deus EX, or System Shock 2. This is still a very silly, over the top game. But it does at least try to be more than a soft core button masher. That said, some of the extras don’t, like the  game’s costume decorator where you can pick the two outfits for any given character. You get to unlock new ones as you play the game. Some of them are actually pretty cool looking, while others are right out of Bikini Car Wash Company. Rounding out the extra features is the AR photo mode. This mode lets you take any of the player models, and super impose them over a photo you take with the 3DS camera.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a Co-Op mode, where you, and a friend can sync up your 3DS systems, and play the campaign together, or replay individual missions together. Back on the single-player  front, you can go back, and play any previous stage with any character to level them up. At the end of every stage you’re also given a rating. The better you do, the higher your score, and the more unlocks you’ll receive. Senran Kagura 2’s difficulty does start to really ramp up around halfway through the game. So going back, and replaying earlier levels with some of the newer characters you unlock isn’t the worst idea.

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In between levels you can also go back to a hub level, which changes between chapters. There are 5 chapters, each with several missions. Senran Kagura 2 is a pretty long game all things considered. The hub level lets you communicate with the characters for some back story dialogue. You can also choose to enter one room to go on missions, one for each of the various modes, as well as the options menu. Here you can change audio, and visual settings. You can also turn off the clothes tearing sequences if you want. You can also use the sub-menu on the touch screen to jump to any of these rather than walk around the hub.

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All in all, Senran Kagura 2 is actually a pretty fun, and challenging game if you can get past the exploitation B movie vibe of everything. There’s no full frontal nudity or intercourse on display so this doesn’t get into anything overtly pornographic. But it isn’t embarrassed about its suggestive camera angles, or dirty jokes either. Which is why  it still isn’t something for everyone. If, however you can look past the risqué elements you’ll find a pretty good action game, and R rated comedy underneath it all.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Retrobit Super Retro Advance Adapter Review

Last time we took a look at the Retro Gen adapter by Retrobit, a Genesis clone built into a Super NES Game Pak. This week we look at the Game Boy Advance version of this clone in a cartridge. Is it as good as the Genesis one?

PROS: You can play GBA games on your TV!

CONS: Not without some inconvenience.

REPLACEMENT: For your GBA? In some instances yes.

The Super Retro Advance, like the Retro Gen is a clone system in a cartridge. This time around Retrobit made a GBA clone. It has the one major issue the Retro Gen has, and that is it requires its own AV cables. It uses the same one set the Retro Gen includes. So if you own both, you can leave the same cable plugged into the TV. Then plug it into the either cartridge as you need to. Otherwise if you’re out of ports on the TV or your switch box, you’ll have to hot swap the cables with the Super NES cables.

Other than that inconvenience, it’s a pretty cool system. Once again, the system uses the Super NES as a power source. The game performance is pretty good here. Colors are bright, and things look pretty crisp. In most games. The thing to remember is that these games were designed to run at the Game Boy Advance’s screen resolution of 240 x 160. Playing on your TV is going to stretch that out a bit. The system displays the games at the proper aspect ratio, but it doesn’t re-render the games at a higher resolution.

Now before you balk, note that you’ll see a similar thing happens when you buy GBA games on your Wii U. It doesn’t look terrible, but you’re going to notice the pixels a bit more since they’re being up scaled rather than completely re rendered. If you can’t get past that, then you’ll want to stick to an actual GBA, GBA SP, or DS. The other option is the Game Boy Player for the Gamecube, but finding one with a working disc these days can be difficult at times. If you do, they’re often fairly expensive.

When factoring that all in, the Super Retro Advance becomes an attractive option for those who want to play their GBA collection on a TV set legitimately. I threw several games at mine, and they all ran perfectly fine. Performance was pretty good here. I didn’t run into any unexpected slowdown, and nothing crashed. The games stayed in the system nice, and snuggly. Sound was almost identical to what I experienced on the Game Boy Advance. The system also has a GBA link cable port on it. So if you want to run games that support multiple GBA multiplayer you can do so.

If you ever ended up passing on some portable games in the past because you had problems looking at the small screen you might like this. It opens up an entire library of games for you to check out using your Super NES for power. The GBA library is indeed stuffed with many children’s games, and it has its share of shovelware. But, it also has a multitude of wonderful Nintendo games, and a lot of great games that rarely showed up in other places. Stuff like Ninja Five-O, and Iridion II. So if you haven’t played them because you never got into the handhelds, this might be something you want to look into.

In the end it’s a short review this time, but it’s worth checking out the Super Retro Advance. It isn’t going to do it for the purists out there. Sadly, if you just have to have the 1:1 experience on your TV you’ll need to invest in a Game Boy Player with a working disc. But for the rest of us, this is a great option even if you do have a cable swap. If you’ve decided to get yourself a new 3DS, but you want to keep on playing your GBA games, the Super Retro Advance might be your ticket.

Final Score: 8 out of 10