Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

Super Double Dragon Review

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Every so often a series will take a different direction, and as a result it will get a lot of flack for it. Sometimes this can seem justified, being so different it may as well be something else entirely. In these cases sometimes that may be a creative decision, or it may be a business decision. In the world of games, sometimes it may even be technical as new hardware isn’t necessarily built off of the previous standard. But sometimes these changes aren’t all bad. In the case of Super Double Dragon we have a mixed bag of changes.

PROS: Countering system. Soundtrack. Animations. Fun.

CONS: Slower movement. Sluggish platforming. Missing characters. Nonexistent story.

CHARGE: The meter comes in handier than you think.

Super Double Dragon was released in 1992 Stateside ahead of the Japanese version. As with the NES versions of the previous three Double Dragon games, Tradewest would publish the game in North America. You’ll find upon popping the game into your Super NES, and turning it on that there is nothing in the way of options. You’re given a single player option, and two player option with or without friendly fire. That’s it. Unless you count choosing stereo or monaural music. No options. No difficulty settings. Nothing.

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Starting the game doesn’t even set the pace with a cinema screen or an animation the way the older entries did. No Marion getting punched in the ribs, or getting killed by Black Shadow Warriors. No old lady sending you around the globe. You’re just going to start the game. Upon starting the game, you’ll find things do look a cut above the NES games as you’d expect. However your characters don’t move as briskly as they did in the NES Trilogy, or the arcade games they were based upon. Super Double Dragon does feel a bit slower than what you may be used to.

And the other major issue you’ll often hear brought up is that not every member of the Black Shadow Warriors makes an appearance here. Linda, who is basically the Evil-Lyn to the Shadow Boss’ Skeletor is notably absent, as is he. Also missing are major baddies like Burnov, and fan favorite henchman Abobo. But there are a number of fresh faces joining the Williams, and Ropers as they come out of the woodwork to kick your ass.

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This is where things start to improve. The soundtrack is definitely one of the strongest points in the game. While you’re not going to hold the melodies in the same regard as the first game, they are all quite good. All of the tracks make full use of the Super Nintendo’s sound chip, and you’ll hear a lot of that familiar orchestrated sound. The bass in many of the songs really accent things with some funk-inspired licks.

The sound effects are pretty good too with the crashes, thuds, and cries of pain. Though often times bad guys will sound like they’re vomiting when they finally go down for the count. It does a great job of enhancing the action. The action, while at a slower pace is pretty good as far as beat ’em ups go. New to the series is a new counter system. So in addition to the punch, and kick button you get a jump button, and a block button. If you time your button presses right, the block button will let you do reversals, and counter into combos. You can catch a fist, then launch a flurry of elbows into your attacker’s face, and send them flying.

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Of course being a Double Dragon game, you can also grab people, throw them into each other, or pits. There is even a charge attack you can use by holding down the right or left shoulder button. On the HUD it will show this grow the longer you hold it down. You can press the punch or kick during this process to do a powered up attack that does a lot of damage. Unfortunately a lot of these additions come at a cost. Unlike the older games, you can’t climb on people after you’ve knocked them down to slam their heads into the pavement, or punch them to death. These guys will be getting up again to come after you. But there are also a wealth of weapons that can be picked up again. Oil drums, Bo staffs, bats, nunchaku, and boulders are some of the more common ones you’ll find.

But again, changes bring good along with the bad. While you won’t be seeing certain enemies, some of the newer bad guys are pretty nuts. There’s an obese clown who has a flaming spin attack that is reminiscent of Blanka’s roll in Street Fighter II. There are guys in suits that give the game an almost Scarface flair. There’s even a guy wearing a pleather trench coat with Magnum P.I. mustache, and shades. Many of the enemy designs are still decidedly late 80’s even though this is a 1992 release. So it still manages to feel like part of the series even though so many elements feel like a departure from the norm.

 

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The stages aren’t quite as exotic as they were in the second or third game. You’re not going to fight any evil doppelgänger, modern magic warlords, or ancient Egyptians. Things feel a bit more grounded like the original game did. And by original I mean the arcade version. Stages nearly run into each other. Nearly. You’ll still have a brief cut between them, but you won’t have those entrance title cards like in the NES games either. And you’ll have bad guys swarming you this time out.  You’ll start out in what appears to be a Vegas strip fighting in front of casinos. But after making your way through one such casino, you’ll fight through an airport, city streets, the top of a moving truck, rooftops, a secret base, and an evil lair. There isn’t much of that tricky, sluggish platforming here either, although there is one pesky section near the end.

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The Japanese version (called Return Of Double Dragon) does address some of the shortcomings. The songs are all arranged to play on different levels than they do in Super Double Dragon, and it has an options menu. So you’ll be able to choose a difficulty setting, as well as the number of continues allowed. It doesn’t do much to resolve the lack of a story though. Which is a weird complaint to have considering how little of a story was in previous games. But that said, the first two games had a simple, if over the top storyline. This one has basically nothing. You’ll see the final boss without even realizing that they’re the final boss. When you manage to finally take him out, the game just abruptly ends. Things go to black, and you’ll be rewarded with a brief paragraph telling you that the Lee brothers disappear after finishing off the Black Shadow Warriors. Then the credits roll. It isn’t much of a spoiler because there isn’t any real story to spoil.

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Despite the issues, this is one of the best Double Dragon games you can find. Arguably the NES version of the second game could be considered the best one for its variety, and expanded story context. Or the first one for kick starting the series, and getting the spotlight on the beat ’em up genre. But the good parts that are here, are quite fun. In fact, I have an absolute blast playing through it every time I revisit it. The music is great, the animations are terrific, and the added mechanics keep things from getting monotonous. As great as Final Fight, Turtles In Time, and other beat ’em ups on the Super Nintendo are, a lot of the more generic ones can boil down to trapping bad guys off-screen. Then punching them in groups until you can move forward. Those games may have larger sprites, with more details, but this still looks pretty good. The new features set it apart, and make it worth looking into. It really can be a lot of fun.

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Really if this had more cinema screens, Abobo, Linda, and a faster walk speed, there wouldn’t be much to complain about. And according to an interview on a Double Dragon fan site, some of these things may have been included. But the game had a locked down release date, and so things had to be cut. As such, this is why some folks may consider this one merely average. Personally, I think it’s one of the more underrated games in the series. It isn’t one of the cheaper Game Paks on the system these days, but is still worth looking into if you enjoy a good beat ’em up. If you can find the Japanese version, you’ll get a couple of extra perks to boot. If you want a vintage game that will bring back the feelings of your favorite classic B action movies, pick this one up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Pac-Attack Review

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Back at RetroWorld Expo I managed to snag up a number of Super NES, Atari 2600, and NES games for the collection. Among the mix of games was a Pac-Man game that I never saw once when it was new. Of course I grew up playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, and Super Pac-Man during visits to the arcade as a little kid. The earliest games have been on pretty much everything. But by the early 90’s, Namco did try to put the character in some other genres. Pac-Man 2 was noted for blending puzzle elements with point, and click elements. Years later, the Pac-Man World series would put the yellow icon in platformers. But there in my pile was Pac-Attack, a game I heard about, but never experienced. Until now.

PROS: An excellent combination of block dropping, and route planning.

CONS: Difficulty settings can be manipulated to boost your score.

PASSWORDS: Mercifully short.

Released in 1993, Pac-Attack is actually a retooled version of one of Namco’s other games, Cosmo Gang; The Puzzle. The original game was released a year prior, exclusively to the Japanese market. So essentially what we end up with is the same game with all new sprites, and backgrounds. But don’t assume that Namco swapped out characters to dupe the rest of the world into buying a mediocre game. Pac-Attack is actually, a lot of fun, and probably would have done exceptionally well as an arcade machine too.

But this was not to be. That said, Namco did bring it over to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and Sega Game Gear. Where a lot of us likely missed it since we were obsessed with home ports of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat,  or Sonic The Hedgehog, Super Mario World, or any other high-profile game of the time. But if you did have this one back in the day, you had a treat on your hands. And if you didn’t, but love discovering oldies you missed out on, you’ll probably want to read on.

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So what do you do in Pac-Attack? At a first glance, you’d swear it was just another Tetris clone. The idea is of course to clear lines for points. However, that isn’t the main goal. The blocks drop down in similar fashion, but you’ll find they aren’t arranged in Tetris shapes. They’re in different formations, and they’re composed of bricks, and ghosts. Your initial instinct might be to group all of the ghosts together, to create some super ghost rectangles. Like the blocks in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.

But this isn’t what you do at all. Eventually, you’ll get a Pac-Man block who of course, eats ghosts. But he will always travel whatever direction he faces. So you don’t want to group all of the ghosts together, as he won’t eat all of them this way. So you’ll actually want to create pathways with the ghosts, while simultaneously trying to create lines with the brick pieces that fall.

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The results are an addictive, and captivating puzzle game that you can easily sink hours into playing. Not only does the main objective of the game create an engrossing experience, eating ghosts fills a meter. When the meter gets filled, the fairy from Pac-Land shows up to clear up to eight rows worth of ghosts. This causes the blocks above them to fall, and if they create whole rows, you’ll get a huge point bonus.

But like any good arcade game, this one eases you in. In the early goings, the blocks will fall slowly. This allows you plenty of time to arrange the pieces how you want. The first few rounds you’ll get your rows of ghosts set up nicely. You’ll create rows of blocks pretty easily too. However, before long, the blocks will fall faster, and faster, until you can’t line things up anymore. Then like Tetris, things will stack to the top, and the game will end.

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As I said though, it’s executed so well, you can spend an entire day just trying to get your best possible score. But it doesn’t end there. Because Pac-Attack also has a second puzzle mode. This time there are 100 puzzles, each giving you only five attempts to have Pac-Man clear the board of ghosts. As with the main mode, the puzzles start out simple enough. But they quickly start throwing in some complexity. By around the tenth puzzle you’ll have to start predicting chain reactions at an almost Rube Goldberg level. Not to the degree of dominoes landing on dials just so, but there is a complexity there.

Fortunately you don’t have to solve all 100 puzzles in a single sitting. You do get to retry every time you fail, but you’ll also get a three character password. So it’s pretty easy to continue where you left off.  The one complaint I have with the game is that you start out with a bunch of points in advance should you choose to start the main mode on a higher difficulty setting. If you’re not the only one playing the game, this makes it easy to be cheap as you can get your name on the scoreboard just by doing so. Starting at zero, and listing the difficulty would have been a better solution for competitive roommates.

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But thankfully, this is mitigated with the inclusion of a versus mode. This is a two-player variation of the main game, where doing well will make things tougher for the other player, and vice-versa. A mechanic used in many head-to-head puzzle games, but it works well here. And this mode, like the main mode, is a lot of fun. Battles usually go quickly, but they’re a blast. Consider breaking out Pac-Attack when entertaining guests who come over for a party.

Overall, I’d say even if puzzle games aren’t your first choice when adding a title to your collection to consider this one. Pac-Attack is excellent. The base game may have origins in a different title, but Pac-Man almost seems born for it. It may not be as iconic as the maze games Pac-Man popularized. Nor as remembered as the third-person platformers he’s starred in since the original PlayStation was king of the hill. But Pac-Attack is easily one of the more attractive puzzle games to put in your rotation. And if you don’t have an old Super NES, Genesis, or Game Gear knocking around, it was in the Namco Museum compilation for the original Xbox, Gamecube, and PlayStation 2.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Fighter’s History Review

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It’s been said many times that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While there is some truth to that old adage, sometimes it isn’t the motivation. In video games a popular idea being copied is nothing new. But sometimes a copied idea will still go in a different direction, and become transformative. Often times this has gone on to create genres. Street Fighter II was one game that had its idea taken, and tweaked time, and time again. Many times, good things came out of this. Mortal Kombat is an obvious example. But there were a number of great fighting games from SNK. World Heroes, Fatal Fury, Art Of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, and King Of Fighters. To name a few.

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But one could also argue Street Fighter built from the basics early karate games like Karate Champ, and World Karate Championship (Known as International Karate in Europe). The point is, that a lot of great games came out of experimenting with Street Fighter II’s rules. Two characters go one on one, until time runs out, or one player knocks the other unconscious. First to do it twice wins. Some did a lot of new things with that setup. Data East on the other hand, did not.

PROS: Graphics. Sound. Play control.

CONS: Not much to stand out from other games in the genre.

CLONES: Ryu, Chun Li, and Zangief doppelgänger fighters unite!

Fighter’s History is one of the more interesting video game clones in history. Because of just how close to Street Fighter II it truly is. The backgrounds may look different, and the soundtrack may be different. But that’s about it.  Nearly everything else in the game is almost identical to Street Fighter II. A couple of the characters are even a stone’s throw from being indiscernible from their Capcom counterparts.

In fact Capcom took Data East to court over the game’s similarities.  Which were acknowledged in the case. But Capcom would eventually lose on the grounds that the core tenants are those of the fighting genre, more so than those of Street Fighter II exclusively. Still, it was an interesting case that I’m sure one with a law degree would be much better adept at writing about.

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Anyway, the game was first released to arcades in 1993, and a year later to the Super NES. Again, the concept is the same as Street Fighter II. Nine fighters enter a tournament to see who will be crowned the best. So you’ll choose your fighter, and go into two out of three round match ups, and hopefully win your way to the top. Once you defeat the other eight characters, you’ll go on to face bosses who are behind the tournament. In Street Fighter games that usually means a mysterious dictator running Shadowloo or some other criminal empire. In King Of Fighters it’s many times Geese Howard. In Mortal Kombat it’s usually a demonic force led by Shao Khan or some other evil bad guy. In this game the mysterious K is Karnov. Yep! The fire-breathing guy with the beer belly you took on an action platforming adventure, or beat up in Bad Dudes is the boss. But before you fight him, you have to beat up a generic clown. A clown so generic, he’s just called Clown. With the other borderline infringement characters here, you’d think they would have attempted Not Joker, or Not Ronald McDonald. But no, you just beat up a clown.

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Be that as it may, Fighter’s History is also one of the better SF II clones of the day because it hearkens so close to the Capcom formula. Hit detection is pretty good, and the move sets work about as well as they do in the actual Street Fighter II games. I’ll give Data East credit in the graphics, and sound department too. Because even though a lot of stuff came blatantly from SF II, there are still moments of originality in it. Namely, the backgrounds. The details in the stages are quite nice. They could have just re-made versions of iconic Street Fighter II locations the way they did with some of the character design. But they didn’t. They made their own, with some of their own original background animations. It’s worth seeing them in action. The characters themselves are animated well, and when the game does give us a character that isn’t cribbed from a competitor, it works nicely. As much, as I harped on fighting a generic clown, and Karnov earlier, they do look pretty cool.

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Fighter’s History also does one thing few other fighters did back then, and that is it adds location damage. If you keep attacking one spot on your opponent, eventually that spot will change, and reward you with more damage. For instance, if you keep hitting the Ryu stand-in in the head, eventually he’ll lose his bandana. At which point subsequent hits will do more damage than they did earlier in the match. This does add a tiny layer of strategy to the basic fighting game rules set out by Street Fighter II. You can also play as the clown, and Karnov through the use of a code.

However, the game still pales in comparison when it comes to balance. Obviously no fighter can ever be 100% even across every one of its characters. But in Street Fighter there are enough pros, and cons to each to make them viable options for different kinds of players. Ryu is a good all around character. Zangief is all about powerful moves at the expense of speed, and energy. Dhalsim is a hit, and run strategists possible choice. Other games in the genre took that aspect of the game to heart more than this game did. Some characters may look the part, but weren’t given the same level of care. As such you have some characters that will dominate most of the roster once they’re placed in an above average player’s hands.

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Still, the game did well enough to get two sequels. The first of which was Fighter’s History Dynamite on the Neo Geo. This game continues the storyline from the original, as Karnov wants to essentially re-match everyone after his loss. The third game was exclusive to the Super Famicom, and came out in 1995. Over the years, the series has been briefly thrust back into the limelight, as SNK Playmore worked out deals to put some of the characters in some of the King Of Fighters entries.

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If you’re a die-hard fighting game fan, or you love curious titles with some historical significance Fighter’s History is worth looking into. It’s a cut above some of the other stuff you’ll find on the Super Nintendo like the awful Street Combat. (Oddly enough, another fighting game curiosity.). But if you’re not, there isn’t a lot of stuff here that will make you choose playing it over the ports of Street Fighter games, Fatal Fury games, or the World Heroes games. Those games offer more balanced rosters, and enough unique things to make you keep coming back. It doesn’t make Fighter’s History a bad game, and collectors may want to find a copy. But as far as its competition goes, a lot of it is superior or different enough to choose over this one. There aren’t even many modes. There’s the arcade ladder, a survival mode, and the quintessential versus mode.  It’s a good curiosity, and preferable to many a bad fighter. But unless fighters are your genre of choice, you’re better off playing the staples from Capcom, SNK, and Midway on the Super NES.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Desert Falcon Review

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As someone who buys, and replays old games it’s unsurprising to see shmups for classic consoles skyrocketing in price these days. A recent trip to Retro Games Plus reminded me of that fact. But sometimes you find surprises in your travels. I picked up Shinobi III as it was priced at a bargain, and I found a late release VCS shmup die-hard fans, and collectors may want to look into.

PROS: Considering the limitations of the Television Interface Adapter, it’s impressive.

CONS: These limitations also hinder some of the play control.

HOLY CRAP: This game has quite the imposing boss. At least on the 2600.

Now before I start, I also have to point out that this one actually came out for two of Atari’s 8-bit consoles. The 7800, as well as the 2600. This review will focus mostly on the 2600 version, as I don’t presently have the 7800 cartridge.  I have however played it on the original Atari Flashback console, so I can comment a little bit on the differences.

Desert Falcon is played through an isometric view. Not a lot of classic shoot ’em ups beyond Sega’s Zaxxon have done this. But aside from that one similarity, it’s its own unique take on the genre. The game takes place in Egypt where you pilot a giant bird. You can move left or right, but you can also move yourself up or down as you fly. Going all the way to the ground will land the bird.

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Of course being a shooter, you’ll be shooting at enemies. These include enemy birds, fireballs, and more. But that’s not what makes this game unique. Throughout the game are hieroglyphs that you can land upon, and claim for yourself. Not only do these give you large point bonuses, landing the right combinations of them can give you power ups. It’s something that gives the game a way to set itself apart other than the setting. These power ups can warp you to the boss, give you invulnerability, or even impede the boss.

The game has one lone boss who appears at the end of every stage, the Howling Sphinx. You have to shoot him in a very specific spot in the face to defeat him, and he summons waves of enemy birds, while spitting fire at you. All the while, making a noise you wouldn’t think the 2600/7800 sound chip could make possible. If you defeat the boss, you get to fly through a bonus stage grabbing treasure before going onto the next stage.

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Desert Falcon isn’t a terrible game, but it is hobbled by some issues with its graphics. This is especially the case with the 2600 version of the game. It simply cannot produce the detailed sprites seen in the 7800 version. So while you can get a rough idea of what you’re flying over, like monuments, pyramids, and lakes you don’t get the level of depth perception it requires. It can be hard to tell if your too low, or not over left or right enough to avoid things. Touching anything in the game will knock you out, and you can only get knocked out a handful of times before seeing a Game Over.

You’ll also have to pay really close attention to where the bird’s shadow is on the ground. Because again, it isn’t always obvious if you’re on the same plane as enemies. The Atari 7800 version looks much more detailed, with a better sense of where everything is. As such if you have a 7800 this is the preferred version to go with. That being said, again the 2600 version isn’t bad. It’s one of the games worth looking into as it does push the graphics hardware even though other games may still look better.

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If you still don’t have a 2600, or 7800 there are legitimate re-releases of the game you can find. The 2600 version can be found on several of the Atari Flashback consoles, the compilations on the PS4/XB1, and Atari Vault on Steam (Which is a great compilation.). The 7800 version also appeared on the inaugural edition of the Flashback line of all-in-one consoles. If you do own either original system however, it isn’t a wallet buster at the time of this writing. It’s an uncommon game, but unlike some of the other obscure games out there it can be had fairly inexpensively. If you have the option go for the 7800 version. But if you love some of the more curious releases, the 2600 version isn’t a bad game to have in your collection.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Fantasy Zone II Review

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Not too long ago I finally managed to snatch up a gem. It’s probably no surprise that this is a gem. In fact, if you have a means to play this one, you should probably stop reading, and go buy this right now. It really is all of the good things you’ve heard. It will please Golden Age fans. It will please shmup fans. It will please hardcore SEGA fans. If you dig video games at all, period. You’ll probably dig this game.

PROS: Colorful graphics. Great characters. Wonderful music. Pure joy.

CONS: Very difficult. But don’t let that stop you.

CONTROL STICK: You’ll want to use this (Or a Genesis Arcade Stick) over the stock pad.

Fantasy Zone II is the sequel to Fantasy Zone, a game I have yet to acquire on the mighty Sega Master System. It’s regarded as one of the earliest examples of a cute ’em up. A shoot ’em up where everything is bright, cheery, colorful, and cartoonish in aesthetics. You’ll notice this the second you see the title screen. Your ship, the Opa-Opa is a cute little pod with bird wings on it. Enemies are everything from flowers to flying turtles.

The game is a mixture of both Golden Age arcade shooter conventions, and the side scrolling shooter arcade games that followed. Every level sees you going along a backdrop that continually circles around itself. Basically, you’ll spend a ton of time blasting enemies with your lasers, and bombs. One button shoots the laser guns, the other drops the bombs. So you’ll cycle along the play field killing enemies, and then collecting the money they drop upon their deaths. Before long, you’ll discover some of the larger stationary enemies will open warp doors. These doors will take you to new sub-levels that basically work the same way. Every level has a store hidden within it too. Here you can upgrade your ship with new weapons, and abilities with the money you’ve collected.

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Once you’ve defeated every stationary enemy in the level, the door to the boss room opens up to you. Ideally, you’ll want to enter these encounters fully beefed up with extra power ups, and weapons. Because the boss encounters are where the game gets very challenging, very quickly. That isn’t to say the levels themselves don’t get difficult. They do. In a lot of ways they feel like an even harder version of Defender. Defender is a notoriously difficult arcade game. As every board just throws more, and more at you as you play. Fantasy Zone II, also does this. But on top of that, every enemy has its own attack pattern, and often times you’ll find yourself going after three or four enemy types at the exact same time.

The other major element of difficulty is in the power up system. Many of the upgraded lasers, and other items are timed, or give you a limited number of shots. So if you don’t hurry up, or you waste them on low-level grunts, you won’t have the extra might for the boss encounter. Moreover, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose any powers you purchased from the shop. Which means you’d better spend another ten minutes grinding money out of grunts so you can re-buy those power ups before fighting the boss.

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Here’s the crazy thing though. While all of this sounds like the kind of thing that would make you rip your hair out, and smash your Master System, it won’t. This game is quite honestly one of the hardest games you’ll ever play. Well unless you happen to eat, sleep, and breathe shmups. Then it may not crack your top ten. But for the rest of us, this game can be downright brutal. But it’s also downright compelling. Just like Defender did for so many of us growing up, Fantasy Zone II can be very addicting. Quite frankly, it is one of the most fun games ever. True, you’ll die, over, and over again. But you’ll probably play it fifteen times before giving up, and playing something else. Considering you’ll get better the more you play, that can add up to a couple of hours a session.

And as you improve, you’ll get to see more of the aforementioned boss encounters. Which just seem to add more craziness to the stew with every reveal. You’ll fight a killer space log in the first stage. Later in the game you’ll see the dragon boss from Space Harrier. There’s also a Mega Man styled boss rush for you to contend with at the end.

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As tough as this all sounds, things can be mitigated if you have the right tools for the job. Namely, a better option than the Master System’s stock game pad. I recommend using either a Genesis game pad, the Sega Control stick, or one of the arcade stick controllers that came out for the Genesis. It makes things much easier to play, as the stock pad’s D-pad just doesn’t have the precision required. Beyond control issues with the stock controller, I really don’t have much to complain about. Again, there is a high difficulty on display, but it’s also fair. When you die, you’ll know it was a lack of talent on your part nine times out of ten. It’s very rare, I’ve felt a death was cheap, or a fluke. I don’t think I ever ran into severe slowdown the way I have in some other games on the console either.

One of the other really great things about Fantasy Zone II is the soundtrack. These are some of the addictive chip tunes ever played back on the Sega Master System. If you have a modified console with the FM Sound Unit, or the Japanese Mark III with the FM Sound Unit accessory the soundtrack is even better.

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Fantasy Zone II isn’t the cheapest game you can find for your Master System these days, but it’s worth tracking down a copy. It isn’t anywhere near the cost of something like Power Strike (Aleste). But it’s going to cost you more than something common like Out Run, or After Burner will. If you don’t own a Master System, or a Mark III, or a Power Base Converter for your Genesis, there are alternatives. The game was ported to the Famicom, MSX Computer, and was also re-released on the Wii Virtual Console. If you have a PlayStation 2, there was a remake as part of the Sega Ages line. Sega also updated the game, and released it to the Arcades. Subsequently there is a version based loosely on that version for the 3DS. Fantasy Zone II comes highly recommended.  If you’re building a vintage Sega collection, or you just love old school arcade games this should be on your radar.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Time Soldiers Review

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While the world was getting hyped about E3 last week (and yeah, there are some cool looking games coming down the pike. I’ve been peeking in on conferences when I can.) I was hunting for some additions to my collection. I stumbled upon a Master System cartridge I’ve rarely seen outside of conventions, and it was pretty cheap so I thought “Why not?” The box art alone was worth the price of admission. But I got a fairly compelling action title in the process.

PROS: A really cool take on the classic top down run n’ gun.

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

WOAH: Giant dinosaurs with laser guns. What’s not to love?

Originally a twin-stick arcade shooter by ADK (The folks who gave us World Heroes), Time soldiers was ported by Sega to the Master System.  Before you even open the box to put the game in you’ll marvel at the artwork. It has everything a child of the 80’s was into. Dinosaurs, rocket launchers, and tanks. Once you start playing, you’ll see it lives up to the lofty promises the box advertises.

The setup is that in the distant future, a despotic, intergalactic Warlord decides to conquer the Earth. To do this, he traps many of the world’s best soldiers in different time periods throughout history. The guy basically looks like the Anti-Monitor from The Crisis On Infinite Earths, and probably has a lot of the same powers. So “Why couldn’t he just destroy the world with antimatter?” seems like a good question to ask.

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Anyway, you have to go on a quest to rescue each of these warriors from their cells throughout history. On paper, this seems pretty straightforward. Go kill bad guys, and blow up stuff in a sequential order, and roll the end credits. Time Soldiers takes inspiration from earlier run n’ guns like Ikari Warriors, and Commando. You play from a top down perspective, and do just that. Kill hundreds of enemies who come charging at you guns blazing.

But what makes this game stand out from almost every other game of its ilk, is the fact that it is never the same game twice. Time Soldiers, places each of these hostages in a different place every time, and you have to kill a boss in order to proceed. Often times, the game will not place you in the proper time period from the get go. So you’ll play the first stage, and then be sent to a new era.

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Each of the eras has a few different versions, and these will vary depending on when you’re sent to that era. So if you get sent to the Prehistoric era on stage two, it will have one version. But get sent there again a few stages later, and it will be a variant. The game will also make you fight a mini boss if you’re in the wrong era for the current hostage you’re tracking down. Defeating the mini boss will then either open another time machine (which look suspiciously like the portals from Stargate) where you’ll have to go to another time period or it will summon the actual boss.

The bosses are pretty cool. They’re not nearly as difficult as the stages are. But they’re large, and interesting sprites. They remind me a lot of the encounters of Alien Syndrome, though the patterns are much easier to learn than in that classic. But don’t be fooled by a lower difficulty. Time Soldiers only affords you two continues  on the Master System. Since you die if ANYTHING touches you, this game still isn’t an easy one. Especially since the game may send you on longer paths during certain rescues. The saving grace are some boss warps that can skip you ahead to a boss fight. On the other hand, if you aren’t powered up, taking them down with a pea shooter makes things more intimidating.

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Time Soldiers does offer a wide variety of weapons. In that respect it can feel like Contra. The thing is, these armaments aren’t permanent. After so many shots, or so many seconds they run out of ammo. So often times you’ll want to conserve them for taking down bosses, or mini bosses. You get these, power ups, and boss warps by shooting specific enemies in any given level. Basically, you’ll want to shoot as many targets as possible, because as the game goes on things will only get tougher.

Time Soldiers has a really nice look to it, and embraces the absurdity of everything. Dinosaurs shoot lasers. Ancient Romans have shields that can take a ton of bullets before going down. The mini bosses continue the weirdness, with cutesy, pink helicopters just being the tip of the iceberg. Everything is colorful, and some of the backgrounds are interactive in a sense. Going over tall grass or mud will slow you down. There are a few catchy chip tunes to thump along with the action, and the sound effects stand out against some of the other titles in the genre.

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Overall, it’s a really good action game for the Master System, and easy to recommend you add to your collection. It’s also one of the more affordable obscure games out there. It was also available on some computer formats, but as I don’t have any of those versions, I can’t really comment on them. Still, if you have a chance to check one of them out, you just may want to. If I had any major issues with this Master System version, it would be the occasionally weird collision detection. Most of the time things go the way they’re supposed to, but I did notice a few occasions where I passed through enemies I shouldn’t have, or got stuck on a piece of scenery in one game, but not on a repeat attempt. It isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it is something holding it back a little bit. Otherwise, it’s a solid addition to any collector’s library.

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

 

Commodore 64 mini-guide, and a concert I went to.

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Sorry for being a little bit late this week. I was able to see a fantastic concert for the first time in many moons. I had to take full advantage of that fact. I got to see The Dollyrots for the second time ever (They don’t get out to New England very often), and it was awesome. An area band, Chaser Eight opened for them, and had an absolute killer set. Then the Dollyrots got on stage, and crushed it too. If you’ve never heard either band, and you like rock n’ roll, do check them out. Chaser Eight is pretty great, with elements of Alt-Rock, Glam, and straight up rock. It just works. The Dollyrots on the other hand, are an amazing Pop Punk trio led by Kelly Ogden, and Luis Cabezas. They have a really great blend of the sound of the early Rock groups like The Ronettes, and 1970’s Punk bands like The Ramones. Over the years they’ve grown as musicians but the roots are still apparent. It was a great show. Both bands were very approachable, and kind. They hung out with everyone at the bar after playing for a bit, and visited with fans like family you love, but don’t get to see all of the time. It was awesome. If either comes to your area, go see them. If they’re in your town as you’re reading this, just stop reading, and go see them. What are you waiting around for? Go!

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Okay, you’re back? Good. I hope you had as great a time as I did. Anyway, lately I’ve talked a lot about the mighty Commodore 64, its library, and a great C64 peripheral. It’s one of the best platforms of all time. It was sold more than any other computer in its day, and there are a plethora of great games on it. With those, the demo scene, and even a few great bands using its sound chip, you may have thought about getting one. As a lifelong fan of the computer, I can point to some facts, and information you’ll need to know if you’re going to collect for the C64. Now this isn’t going to be the most in-depth look at the platform. There are books that go into the detailed information over the course of several hundred pages for that sort of thing. But these are some key things to look for, and some things to be aware of. There may even be a few things that intrigue a casual reader. So feel free to read on.

First of all, there were a few models. The first version is often called the bread bin model. This came in a couple of variants. The silver label variant is the earliest version, and is sought after by the most devoted Commodore fans. These have the logo in a silver style paint. The drawback with this variant is it has a 5 pin DIN connector for video, where the later models (which had a rainbow of colors next to the logo) used an 8 pin DIN connector for video. Later models also added support for S-Video which is a major jump over the stock RF cable, and switch box that all models can use. The image will be much cleaner, and clearer. Provided of course you track down one of the cables.  After the bread bin model, Commodore released the C64c, which has many of the same updates as the rainbow variant of the bread bin. It also has a couple of chip refinements, and a redesigned bezel.  It should also be noted that while you gain the S-Video, and slightly better power connector in later models, you lose the ceramics for heat reduction on chips. To remedy this, later models have a metal shield inside to draw some heat, but this still isn’t always an effective solution. In Europe some later models didn’t have a metal shield, but a metal coated cardboard one, which trapped heat in some cases.

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Aside from the revisions to the standard Commodore 64, there were alternate versions altogether. The SX-64 was one of the earliest portable computers, as it had a built-in screen, and floppy drive. These things weigh a good 20 lbs. though, so they’re not portable in the sense you’re used to.  In Japan, there was a short-lived version of the C64 called the Commodore MAX. But this cut some functionality. So it didn’t compete on the games or business end, and quickly disappeared. There was also the C64 Game System. But this cut out all of the computer aspects of the computer to play cartridge games. Unfortunately this also broke compatibility with most of the game library as by 1990, the best titles were on tape or diskette.  All three of these variants are considered collector’s items. But unless you just have to have a conversation piece in your collection, I would focus on a regular C64 instead. These alternate versions can also be expensive.

The one noteworthy alternate Commodore 64 is the Commodore 128. This doubled the amount of memory in the computer, and could run all of the C64 software. The catch is it has to be run in C64 mode, as some of the revisions to the hardware led to some incompatibility in 128 mode. But the 128 did well with business, and productivity users, as there were applications that did take advantage of the extra memory. There were two versions, the standard C128, and the C128D. The latter made the keyboard an external peripheral, and included a built-in 1571 floppy diskette drive. The C128D can get expensive as a result, as finding one with a working drive is getting harder.

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There are a couple of risks involved when getting into the platform. But these can be mitigated if you’re wise enough to do a couple of simple things. First, when you find a potential C64 purchase, confirm it is working. If it’s a store, they should be willing to hook it up, and confirm it’s operational. Second, make certain the Power Supply Unit not only works, but is in great shape. The PSU actually has two rails inside. One powers the motherboard, and most of the system, while the other powers the sound chip. As a means to control costs, it is encased in a resin material. However there’s a chance even a working PSU can overheat. Depending on the problem, a bad PSU can fry components inside the computer. That’s why it’s imperative you get a plug-in as pristine condition as possible. You’ll want to make sure it sits out in the open where heat can escape, and if you’re paranoid, you can always have a small desk fan blowing on it. Also keep in mind some of the later bread bin releases may have heat issues from the cost reduced RF shield. These are mostly in PAL territory releases. But again, keeping things cool can help mitigate a problem.

With that out-of-the-way, you’ll want to start gaming. But what else will you need? This depends a bit on what territory you’re in, and whether or not you plan to do any importing. Since I’m in the US, I’ll focus on that, but I’ll touch a bit on other parts of the world in a bit. When the C64 arrived on the scene, games for it started out on cartridge. They had about as much space as the ones found on consoles that were out at the time. Not every user had an external drive right away either, so it made sense for publishers to put games on cartridges. Some of the earliest software also came on cartridges, and this even includes diagnostic software, which may or may not work depending on the hardware issue. If applicable you can turn on the computer with a diagnostic cartridge, and it will let you run simple tests to determine if a chip has gone bad.  But this isn’t always a sure thing, since some hardware failures won’t give you anything other than the blackness of space on your screen. More on that later.

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So a lot of the earliest stuff was out on cartridge. Activision ported many of its console games to the C64 including H.E.R.O., Beamrider, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, and River Raid. But there were a number of great games on cartridge. Eventually however, publishers found alternatives that gave developers more space at a lower cost. The first of these were cassette tapes. Games, and other programs could be published on audio cassettes. These were also cheap, and so many titles started being released on cassette.

In order to run these programs you’ll need a datasette drive. These are basically old school cassette decks. If you want an in-depth look at how these worked, I highly recommend this video from the 8-Bit Guy. In European territories this is the format nearly all of the biggest titles came on, due to the lower production costs. There is one thing for newcomers to be aware of though, and that’s long load times. A lot of larger games on tape can take minutes to load. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big a deal. Even today’s console games can take eons to load if you’re playing them off disc, rather than installing them. Still, if you’re short on patience, you’ll need to learn to gather some if you need to run a game off of cassette.

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In North America, prices of writable media began to fall after a while though, and so many games began the move to 5.25″ Floppy Diskettes. these eliminated the storage concerns for a long time. When they cropped up again, many developers simply made games that took multiple disks to get through. To play these games you’ll need a 1541 or a 1541-II floppy diskette drive. There were a few aftermarket drives as well like The Enhancer 2000. In the USA, nearly every notable game came on floppy diskette. Even games that were previously released on cartridge or cassette tape. Most games released on floppy take a lot less time to load over cassette releases. However they’re not quite as fast as one would hope due to a slow port speed. To help with this, there are a number of Fast Loader cartridges you can get. These take some of the load off, and do shave some time off of loading. Again, 8-Bit Guy has a great video on the specifics of how this worked that I won’t go into here. Just know, that an Epyx Fast Load cartridge, or equivalent is something you want if you’re going to play games on Floppy Diskettes.

Once you have all of those in order, you’ll probably want to look into controllers. Most games took advantage of joysticks, though many also had keyboard binds. Almost any controller with a DB9 connector will fit the ports. Atari 2600 joysticks, Sega Genesis pads, and so on. However, it is NOT recommended you use a Sega Genesis pad, because the Sega Genesis pad draws more power than the controller ports need, so there is the chance you can blow a controller port in the process. So it’s best to stick to controllers built with either the C64, or Atari 2600 in mind. My controller of choice is the Slik Stik by Suncom. But there are no shortage of joystick options. Note that some games still utilized two button schemes, at a time when nearly all controllers were one button controllers. The work around most developers went with, was using the space bar.  Depending on the title it may take a little getting used to. In slower paced games it’s rarely a problem, in action games, you’ll want the joystick right in front of the computer so you can easily press the space bar when you need to.

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Now the thing to remember is, this is still a computer platform. So you can do more than game on it. In fact if you’re willing to learn the Commodore variant of BASIC, you can code your own homebrew games for the machine. Which a lot of people did. So you may even have fun tracking down old, defunct Commodore 64 themed magazines. Some of them have been archived like the entire run of Ahoy!. Not only do you get the sensation you feel when looking at an old Nintendo Power, you get programs. Long before the advent of getting a CD full of demos with your game magazine, computer magazines had program articles. You could type in these programs, save them to a diskette, and run them whenever you wanted. Many of them were written entirely in BASIC, although some were written in machine language, and you typed them into a HEX editor program. But you could save them to diskette! Some of these were really good too, like Mystery At Mycroft Mews, where you had to go around a town as detectives, solve murders, and bring the right suspect to trial.

Aside from gaming, there are a wealth of old productivity, and business programs you can find, but honestly, they’re not really going to be much value beyond the history. It is nice to see the original Print Shop in action, or some of the word processors of the time. But you’re probably not going to send your masterpiece novel to a literary agent on a 5.25″ Floppy these days. Still, you can still find old dot matrix printers, and the ribbons though they’re getting scarce.

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But in the more interesting range you can find things like the Koala pad, which is one of the earliest graphics tablets. You could draw with a stylus, and save your art to diskette. There were a bunch of clones that came afterward. But if you draw on a modern Wacom graphics tablet, and wonder where the earliest versions of the tech came from, their infancy took place on 8-bit home computers. You can also find the original 300 baud modems, that let users connect to services like Quantum Link back then (LazyGameReviews did a wonderful video on that service.) But these days, there are homebrew network cards, and browsers tinkerers can invest in.

One of the craziest things I have in my collection is the Hearsay 1000. A cartridge, and software combo that reads whatever you type, back to you. In a kind of creepy robot voice. The software is far from perfect, it doesn’t account for pronunciation, so it can only read things as they are spelled. So if you type in the name “Barbara” it will say it back as “Bar-Bar-A”. But this is where stuff like Dragon Naturally Speaking got its start. Building off of this early tech, or properly doing what it was trying to. If you find a Hearsay 1000, don’t use it while playing games with voice samples. It will yell “HEARSAY ONE THOUSAND!”, and then crash the computer. Then you’ll have to turn it off, disconnect the module, and turn it back on. Then load your game again. Considering you’re going to wait a while for Ghostbusters to load again, best to know that up front.

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Of course not too long ago, I reviewed the SD2EIC. This is a must own peripheral because you can make disk images, or download images of stuff you own to an SD Card. It’s also great if you do happen to have old disks with personal files on them, and want to save those along with your other programs. Plus the load times, are dramatically cut down.

One also needs to take into account the difference between PAL, and NTSC territories If they plan on importing. A lot of really great games including some of the best were exclusive to Europe. While most of these are playable on a North American C64, the speed differences can often lead to all kinds of glitches. Random characters popping up, graphics showing up in grayscale rather than in color, some extreme cases will involve lock ups, and crashes. One can convert their computer via modifying it, but this isn’t recommended if you don’t know your way around altering a circuit board. My advice is to either deal with the glitches if you import a game or follow the purist. Purists will import a PAL C64, peripherals, and either a PAL monitor or else using a scaler with their HDTV to run a native 50 hz signal from the computer. You’ll also want a power converter as the electrical outlets, and standards are different. If you’re in a PAL territory, and you want some of the NTSC exclusives, you’ll see similar issues. So again, purists will want to import an NTSC setup, and use a power converter.

While some of this may get a little complicated, it is worth the plunge. Once you have a fully functional C64 setup, there really isn’t anything else like it.  The unique sound of its sound chip (known as the SID) is popular to this day. The wide, and varied library gets you a large variety of original games, multi platform games, and arcade ports. As is the case with every platform you’ll find a lot of good games, some truly great games, and a fair number of bad ones. I highly recommend visiting Lemon64 for its wealth of information, and its game archive. Plus they have a very helpful community if you do run into issues. Thanks to them I discovered a wonderful hobbyist who does repairs, and builds a lot of high quality homebrew accessories, and power supplies. When my C64c gave me a dreaded Black Screen Of Death last month I got in contact with Ray Carlsen, After some back, and forth messaging I ended up sending him the machine. Having some background in PC repairs, and upgrades I had taken it apart, checked the motherboard, found no bad capacitors. The fuse was intact, and working. I didn’t see any corrosion on chips. But I had no way to test them, and I was stumped. Well he was able to determine I had a minor issue with my power connector, and that my PSU was on its way out. He installed a breaker to prevent the components from frying from a bad PSU. I also ordered one of his homebrew PSUs. When the computer came back, not only was everything working the way it is supposed to, but he somehow got it looking much newer than when I had sent it in. Now he isn’t a traditional business, so he doesn’t do bulk jobs. Don’t go looking to send him 50 broken C64 computers. That isn’t what he is about. But he’ll charge you a fair price to fix a single machine, and take a look at some of his PSU models. With the originals drying up, it can’t hurt to have a spare.

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The Commodore 64 may have been a home computer, but it was one of the most important platforms in video game history. It’s where many games went after the infamous crash in North America, and even after the rise of the NES it still retained a viable market share. In Europe it was also a major contender throughout the 80’s, and 90’s. Although there are some things to be aware of if you want to begin collecting for one, it can be a rewarding experience. Prices fluctuate constantly, but expect to spend between $50 – $150 for a working model with a good PSU. With that alone, you’ll be set for any cartridge games. But chances are you’ll want some of the higher profile releases. A 1541 Floppy drive will set you back about $50. There are deals out there to be had, but many of the cheap ones aren’t tested, so you may be buying a worn out drive. On the budget end though, Datasette drives are fairly inexpensive. So keep an eye out for one of those.

Then, you’ll be ready to pick up some C64 games! Just like on retro consoles, some games are cheap, and common. Some are rare, and expensive. A lot of times you can make out well, by buying lots. A lot of games don’t require anything beyond a floppy diskette, cartridge or cassette. But there are games that have manual protection. So do some research on a title before you buy it. For example, you’ll want to look for complete copies of certain RPGs as they require a code wheel, or manual as a means of copy protection. (IE: Type in the first word in the third paragraph on page 13.) Plus it’s nice to have the manuals, and keyboard overlays for flight sims, RPGs, or point, and click adventure games. Action genres usually didn’t have these vast control schemes requiring hot keys. But a handful did use manual protection so make sure the game you’re interested in isn’t one of them if you’re looking at a loose copy.

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Also be sure to keep your disk based games in sleeves when you’re not using them, and don’t let them get too hot or cold. Definitely keep them away from magnets, as that will corrupt the disk, and destroy your game. It was a lesson we children learned quickly back when home computers were first gaining prominence.  Finally, the Commodore 64, and other computers of the era were powered by variants of Microsoft BASIC. So you’ll need to know a few basic (Ha, ha!) commands. The most important being LOAD”*”,8,1 which for all intents, and purposes tells the disk drive to load the first file on a disk (Usually the executable) into memory. Then when the computer says ‘READY” you can simply type “RUN”, press RETURN, and fire up your game.

That should about do it this time. But keep in mind how many great things the retro games, and computing scene keeps pumping out for the mighty C64. Here’s hoping the new motherboards, network cards, card readers, and even homebrew games continue preserving one of gaming’s most iconic platforms.

 

 

Jumpman Review

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You wouldn’t know it at face value, but you’re on a mission to defuse bombs on another world. A world of bombs, killer robots, and a lethal pixel. In addition to a host of other horrific adversaries. It all sounds like a side scrolling action platformer or run ‘n gun. But you’d be wrong. Jumpman is one of the strangest, yet greatest puzzle games ever made. Debuting on the Atari 8-bit family of computers, it appeared on the Commodore 64 soon after, along with the IBM PC, and Apple II.

PROS: Excellent gameplay. Fun animation. Great musical numbers.

CONS: Bland graphics.

APOGEE: The Duke Nukem publisher felt the ire of Epyx.

Jumpman may seem a bit esoteric today, but there was a time when he was almost as popular as Bomberman. That’s because he starred in two of the most fun arcade puzzle games to ever grace a computer screen. As I mentioned at the start, the storyline of the game doesn’t accurately describe what is going on at face value. You really have to start playing the game before you realize that it does.

The goal of Jumpman is easy to grasp. Defuse all of the bombs in the level before losing all of your lives for big points. If you manage to do this, you’ll move onto the next level. You’ll also get bonus points for having more Jumpmen in reserve. So a high performance level is key. Created by Randy Glover, and released by Epyx, there is a wonderful use of the easy to learn, lifetime to master principles behind many great games.

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The game eases you in, with a couple of pretty simple to understand levels. You’ll go about your goal of defusing bombs, and slowly notice changes to a given stage. Pieces of scenery disappear, creating new gaps to jump over. A floating pixel will chase you down, and kill you if you get in its line of sight. But the obstacles only increase as you complete levels. It isn’t long before you see killer robots that change position every time you defuse a bomb. Or a plethora of bombs falling from the sky. Or flying saucers. Or rabid bats. Sometimes the challenges aren’t adversaries. Sometimes they’re things like moving ladders or other scenery.

Every one of these attempts to impede you can be overcome with enough practice. Over time, you begin to recognize patterns, and figure out what you’re supposed to do. But it doesn’t become a cakewalk, because actually doing what you’re supposed to still requires dexterity. When you clear a level, you’ll hear one of a multitude of cheery carnival tunes. These go along with the circus-like feel of the game’s introduction animation.

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Jumpman gives you nine lives to get through the stages. You can choose from several difficulty settings which will start at a stage where the appropriate difficulty jump occurs. You can also select Grand Loop which does all 30 levels in a row. Or you can choose the Randomizer, which plays the levels in a random order. Beyond that, you can also choose a game speed. The center value of 4 will run the game at the standard speed. The max speed of 8 is probably too fast for all but the most devoted player, and the minimum speed of 1 makes the game exceptionally slow. The speed setting is a nice option though because it can make the game a bit more interesting. The game can also be played by up to four players alternating turns.

Visually, Jumpman isn’t much to look at.  stages are made of simple shapes, and a handful of colors. Jumpman himself, is little more than a stick figure. But the gameplay in Jumpman is amazing. Moving about the levels is very smooth, and the controls are tight. One interesting thing the game does is allow Jumpman to climb anything he touches. If you go for a jump, and your hand nabs part of the scenery, you’ll climb it! There are also some cool navigational variables thrown in, in the form of ropes. Green ropes can only be climbed up, while blue ropes can only be climbed down. Between this, and the other mechanics introduced through enemy character types Jumpman becomes surprisingly deep for such a simple game.

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There are a few minor differences between the different versions of Jumpman. The original Atari 400/800 version features some really slick transition animations between levels as you clear them. It also has a pretty cool stage destruction sequence when you run out of lives, and get a Game Over.  The Commodore 64 version has a little bit more detail in the graphics department. It gives our hero a shirt, and pants through some simple colors. The music sounds a tiny bit better too. It is missing the stage transitions, and if you lose you don’t see the level explode. Instead, you get a harmonious musical number as the backgrounds, and characters slowly become the same color.

Over on the Apple II, you won’t see the transitions. Visually, it’s somewhere between the Atari, and Commodore computers. It has the Commodore’s background colors, but the Atari’s blank Jumpman. The IBM PC port was outsourced to another developer. It pretty much plays the same as the other versions although the terrible PC speaker sound, and CGA color scheme make it the worst in terms of visuals, and sound.

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Jumpman was also followed up by Jumpman Junior, which is really a companion version of the game. It was made for Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit users who didn’t have a 5.25″ Floppy drive. Being a cartridge game makes it one of the more sought after games for collectors. It’s pretty much exactly the same game as Jumpman, except it has only 12 stages. At the time cartridges didn’t have as much storage capacity as the floppies, and cassettes did. Still, for many retro fans,  it isn’t the full Jumpman experience unless you have both games. It was never available for other computer formats, although it was ported to the Colecovision.

Long after Randy Glover left the game industry, A programmer named Dave Sharpless ported the game, and it’s expandalone to MS-DOS under the title Jumpman Lives! The game was published by Apogee in 1991. The thing is, that while Epyx had long been a shell of its former self, it was still around. The remake caught the ire of Epyx, and Apogee would cease selling it immediately. Epyx wouldn’t be around much longer though, after getting out of bankruptcy, and focusing on Atari Lynx development the company was sold off, and dissolved.  Jumpman Lives! Is a fairly rare computer game as a result.

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In the end, Jumpman, and Jumpman Jr. are games that really deserve more recognition than they get. At least when compared with other retro games. Things may look more like a carnival than a space station, and the bombs may look more like flowers. But once you get past the rudimentary look of everything you’ll be engrossed in one of the most addictive puzzlers of all time. If you can find the original floppy disk, the cartridge based companion edition, or even the unlicensed, unofficial, Apogee remake, give it a go. Jumpman Junior was also included in the C64 DTV, as well as the recent Colecovision Flashback by AtGames. So if you don’t have one of these old computers or consoles, there are other legitimate ways to add this masterful game to your collection in some capacity.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

SD2EIC Drive Review

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It’s no secret I’m a huge Commodore fan. As a child in the 80’s, I started gaming on the seminal Atari 2600. It’s a timeless system for many reasons, and I still fire it up a lot today. But when my father came home with a Commodore 64 bread bin it quickly became the de facto platform in our household. When the company redesigned the computer, and sold a cheaper junior model, my father bought one, and donated the old one to relatives. But from the moment I saw Forbidden Forest running off a cassette tape the first time, I was hooked.

Through the years I played tons of awesome games on it. It wasn’t until I was a Junior in High School that we would move to a modern MS-DOS X86 PC. Because that is how versatile the King of 8-bit computers was. The C64 launched in 1983, and wasn’t discontinued until 1994 when the company went out of business. It’s fondly remembered as a games machine, because it’s where many companies went during the console market crash, and where many indies that became today’s majors got their start.

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It was a big deal here in North America, but it was even bigger in Europe. There are countless games that never officially made it Stateside.  So the platform is also an importer’s dream. Provided of course you’re willing to wade through the landmine of PAL Vs. NTSC concerns.

But whether you’re a North American or European Commodore 64 owner, there’s no denying that over time some of our floppies, and cassettes are slowly wearing out. A lot of our disk drives, and datasette drives are going kaput. With only so many in the wild, it’s going to get harder, and harder to rebuild our beloved collections. But fear not! Thanks to The Future Was 8-bit there is a way to keep the memory alive, on the original hardware.

PROS: An SD Card reader that emulates Floppy, and Cassette drives exceptionally well!

CONS: Not quite everything is compatible.

BUT: Far more than enough is compatible.

At first glance, the SD2EIC just looks like an SD card reader in a cute 1541 floppy drive shaped casing. But it’s no ordinary SD card reader!  This device emulates an actual 1541, and datasette environment. It plugs into either the tape drive slot or the floppy drive slot (depending on the version you order), and the serial DB port.  From here you can put in an SD card with your Commodore 64 program files , and run them natively on the computer!

This can be done a few ways, you can download images (assuming you own the programs in question), or if you have the means, you can back up your files to a computer, and then transfer them to a card.  You can also migrate disk images from the 1541 floppy drive to the SD2EIC. This is a little bit more involved, since you’ll need a couple of extra cables, and you’ll need to find a Compression software that works with the platform. Once you’re set up though, you will be so glad you have one of these.

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The device utilizes a file browser software file you can download which lets you go through a DOS like directory system. This makes it easy for you to organize files, and set them up in an order you feel most comfortable with. The documentation included with the SD2EIC gives you a pretty detailed set of instructions on using it. For basic file browsing though, it is pretty straight forward. You can navigate using either the CRSR Up/Down key, or a joystick in port two. If you don’t feel comfortable configuring the software, you can order a preconfigured card with it. The card has the file browser, and a bunch of programs on it.

If that weren’t enough, the device also has three buttons on it which are used when using programs that require multiple disks. This is handy when running a game or other program, that would normally involve flipping a diskette over, or putting in the next diskette when prompted. Here you have forward, backward, and reset buttons which you can press in these situations. Two of the buttons also act as the power, and load/save LEDs on the 1541 floppy drive. It’s really cool, and a nice touch to an already great experience.

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The SD2EIC can read all kinds of C64 file images. It can run D64, T64 files as well as PRG files. Again, it can also run them sequentially. But the device can also save files. This makes the unit very attractive to budding BASIC programmers. If you know your way around code, you can use this in lieu of a floppy diskette drive. This is a great way to save your projects without fear of a 1541 drive dying, or your diskette wearing out, and your data going with it. Plus even a relatively small SD card can house thousands of programs, and files due to the small file sizes on a typical 5.25″ Floppy Diskette. It’s compatible with both NTSC, and PAL machines too, though if you put PAL files on your card, and run it on an NTSC machine you’ll likely experience the same random glitches, video issues, or occasional crashes you would if you were to run an imported game on floppy.

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One of the things that really impressed me was the build quality. Most commercial SD card readers, even ones made by big industry names can be flimsy. The SD2EIC I received is superb. It’s built with plastic made by recycling broken Commodore 64, and 128 computer cases. It’s sturdy, and even the cabling feels secure. It isn’t something you can be careless with, but it can withstand shuffling around your set up.

There are a handful of minor issues with the drive. The first is that you do not want to accidentally grab the wrong controller if you have two of them plugged in. Doing so will exit you out of the program, and drop you back to the BASIC prompt. The second is that the SD2EIC doesn’t emulate a 1541 drive at 100%. That’s because the 1541 floppy drive is powered by another MOS 6502 CPU just like the stock Commodore 64 computer. So there are a handful of programs that won’t work due to being written in a way that utilizes the 1541 floppy drive in a specific way.

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Nevertheless, I can still tell you that the SD2EIC is a must own peripheral for any Commodore 64 collector. The wealth of pros outweigh the cons of a few incompatible programs out there. Especially when you consider just how versatile it is. The ability to run backup images alone, is something that should put this on your radar. With 5.25″ diskettes drying up, breaking down, and working 1541 drives dying from old age, this is a very welcome peripheral for preservation. Plus, budding indie developers have a means for their BASIC, and Assembly language projects to be stored on a modern format.

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It’s amazing how many wonderful homebrew products keep coming out for this legendary machine. Over the last three decades there have been Ethernet cards, a web browser, and even a new motherboard! But this drive is going to be more, and more sought after as time goes on. And, as these are made from recycled Commodore computers, you may want to get one before they dry up. It is truly a must own peripheral for anyone interested in Commodore.

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Now it should be noted there are other ways to get the SD2EIC. You can buy the circuit board, and daughter board from NKC Electronics. It’s nice if you’re good at assembling your own casings, and doing your own electronics assembly, or repair. But going with this specific one makes things very convenient. Plus the use of recycled computers to make the attractive casing is a nice touch that keeps them out of the landfill. I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s true. TheFutureWas8Bit has really outdone themselves with this one. Whether you’re a long time fan, or new to Commodore. Get yourself an SD2EIC from them. You won’t be sorry. Even the care put into the shipping packaging will astound you.

Final Score: 9 out of 10