Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

Retro World Expo 2018 Recap

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It seems like only yesterday I attended Retro World Expo 2017, and here I am talking about the fourth iteration of this convention. RWE 2017 was an absolute blast, and RWE 2018 was also an absolute blast. I made my way to the Hartford Convention Center Saturday morning to find that this year’s entry was different. Instead of going up the center’s escalator, and lining up, this year used the ticket booth section of the lower floor. This was an improvement, as it made figuring out where to go much more seamless. There was however one piece of confusion that a convention center employee had to solve, and that was the front door. Some guests inadvertently cut the line by going right to the booth before it was made clear they had to go to the rear entrance of the lobby to enter a line.

That said, everything moved smoothly, and even though I’d arrived behind a few hundred people, I was getting my bands in less than ten minutes. For whatever reason the QR code did not display on my pre-registration form when printed. But the ticket attendant was easily able to find my info, see I had prepaid, and give me my wristbands for the weekend, and after party. Once inside, I went upstairs to find not one, but two amazing custom vehicles.

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The first was a really cool Jurassic Park themed vehicle. The paint job was right out of the films. Impeccable. The pattern was spot on, and had a nice gloss finish. There was also a plastic triceratops near by to finish off the movie vibe. Great stuff. Next to that vehicle was none other than Russ Lyman’s Super Mario Kart 2.0. Sadly, earlier this year he lost his original Super Mario Kart in an accident. Fortunately he was able to replace his vehicle, and over time modify it. The end result is an even better design than before, sporting a beautiful multicolored design, and a breathtaking Super Mario Bros. pit crew portrait by Tom Ryan Studio. Both vehicles were parked out in front of the convention floor so that attendees could take photos.

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Some of the earliest guests I met were Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez who were character actors in the original three Mortal Kombat games. All of them were super cool, and down to Earth folks. I talked with them about how big a part of my teenage years that the MK games, and Street Fighter were for me. As well as pretty much everybody else. I ended up buying a promotional poster style photo, and all three of them were kind enough to sign it for me. If you ever have the opportunity to see them at a show, you ought to take it.

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As I wandered the floor, I veered into the arcade area where I saw something both wondrous, and disappointing. The KRULL arcade cabinet. Based upon the cult 1983 Sci-Fi Fantasy film; you’re sent through a number of action sequences loosely based on those found in the movie. It uses a twin-stick setup similar to the one in Robotron 2084, and it is a lot of fun to play. Sadly, the machine was out-of-order, so I couldn’t actually play it. I did however get a few photos of it, since actually laying your eyes on one these days is a rarity. Should you find one in working order at a barcade, amusement park, convention, or other situation, do play it. It’s pretty cool.

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Around this time Russ Lyman bumped into me, and we began catching up. Around this time I spotted the Imaginary Monsters booth, so we walked over, and I introduced him to the developers. (Full disclosure, I know two of them personally.) The team is working on a new Metroidvania style game called Abyxsis: The Demon Reborn. They brought a demo version to the show, and what they showed was pretty good! It obviously has a way to go before completion, but I liked what I saw. In it, you appear to play as a winged monster who has to traverse dark labyrinths to find NPCs, power ups, and other items. Like Metroid, there’s a sense of exploration. But at the same time, your character has the ability to do some really fun aerial moves. This looks to be one of the themes of navigation. What they showed was also pretty tough. Enemies take a lot of damage, and can put you down quickly. Again this is all subject to change being a fairly early demo. But the tight controls, wonderful pixel art, and map design are promising.

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Imaginary Monsters wasn’t the only indie studio to attend though! Adjacent to their booth was a studio called Jumpmen Gaming. They had two games they were showing off. The first was Project Myriad, a hexadecimal tower defense game with puzzle elements. I didn’t get much time with it so I certainly can’t review it here. That said, it might be something worth looking into if you’re a fan of the genre. I’m not fond of using the phrase “Fan of the genre” as it tends to be overused. But in this case I think it’s applicable. It clearly looks to do something different with the concept by going with a hex display, something usually geared toward a special niche of war games. The puzzle elements seem to add some flair as well. If any of that sounds like something you would like to try, it was recently released on Steam, and isn’t too expensive.

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The other game they showed was Sentinel Zero. This game was in its very early stages. This upcoming release is a horizontal shoot ’em up game in the vein of R-Type. What sets it apart are its cartoon vector graphics. The presentation reminded me a lot of early Newgrounds games written in Flash. Think Alien Hominid. But the little that was shown was pretty fun. You earn power shots by filling a meter. You fill the meter by shooting everything. The hook seems to be quickly filling the meter, and unleashing charged shots as fast as possible. They also had two bosses to show, one of which was a giant spider. Again, it has a long way to go before being ready for prime time. But it looked like good start for a project by a two-person upstart.

Another interesting looking indie game demo was Depths Of Sanity by a studio called Bomb Shelter Studios. I didn’t get any real footage or screens of this one as I didn’t get the chance to try it myself. But it was intriguing. It appears to be an underwater action, and exploration game where you’ll pilot a submarine, and find all kinds of upgrades for it that allow you into previously inaccessible areas. Like a Metroidvania with elements of Blaster Master thrown in for good measure. Again, another early build. It does have a store page on Steam with a release date of Q4 2019.

Finally, Giant Evil Robot was back with the recently released full version of Mecha-Tokyo Rush. This is a combination of endless runner, and Mega Man clone. Things seemed a bit better than the build I saw last year. I didn’t have time to really play it though, so I can’t really say much in terms of its final state. The game does have a free to play model however, so you really don’t have anything to lose if you want to check it out.

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After taking my initial walk around the floor, I went to the first of the panels I attended. The Connecticut YouTube panel. This panel featured Ryan Alexander (RAXTheGreat1), Mike Levy (Dongled), Sam Hatch (Culture Dog), John Delia (The Video Game Years), Paul Barnas (Retro Gaming Arts), and Russ Lyman (Russ Lyman). For those who don’t know, Retro World Expo has roots in Retroware TV, one of the earliest video hosts before YouTube became the de facto delivery model video content creators use today. Many don’t realize Retroware has its own roots in Connecticut. So it only makes sense to have a panel dedicated to some of the online content creators who are local to the area.

But while the panelists are natives of the State, the information delivered in the panel is applicable to anybody getting into video content on the internet. I would even go onto say a lot of it is applicable to any creative endeavor online or off. A lot of the questions posed to the panelists revealed some insightful answers. When asked about the motivation behind creating content everyone unanimously agreed one has to do it first, and foremost out of a love of it. Few, if many creators of any medium become overnight success stories. One shouldn’t make a video expecting to be the next James Rolfe. If it happens, fine, but going in with that expectation is a recipe for disaster. More than likely, you’re not going to garner a massive flood of views, and subscriptions when you start out. Even the creators who are big names today, often took months or years of work to become those big names.

Continuing from there, Mike Levy brought up the importance of making content you, as a creator want to make. Chasing trends isn’t going to work because it isn’t genuine. Others pointed out that potential fans may be able to sense that as well. When the subject of potential collaborations between creators came up, Mike, and Russ also pointed out the need to have a fleshed out idea to present. It isn’t enough to simply ask another creator to do a crossover project. Especially since they’re often pressed for time for their own projects, jobs, and lives. Instead one has to have a project idea ready to go, ideally with what role the person has in mind for them. The creator may still decline depending on the given situation. But they’ll be more likely to at least listen to what it is you have to propose.

Other panelists also drove home the importance of consistency. Trying to keep content coming out for the audience to experience. At the same time though, they did acknowledge there were times where a legitimate break is needed. Commitments, responsibilities, and other things may eat into time normally allotted toward creative endeavors. Sam, Paul, and John also talked about the guilt creators often feel for missing self-imposed deadlines, but acknowledged sometimes it’s unavoidable. Another topic was the importance of lighting, and audio in videos. Even a high quality camera can’t compensate for a lack of light, or bad audio. If the audience can’t see you, or your audio is too distorted or too light or too loud it can turn them off. Even if the content is good. Russ pointed out an episode he made on this very subject.

There was also a discussion about the recent controversy over former IGN writer Filip Miucin’s theft of YouTuber Boomstick Gaming’s Dead Cells review, which led into a wider discussion of online content theft. While some felt Miucin likely felt pressured by deadlines, everyone agreed that plagiarism was despicable behavior. Some of the panelists were rather shocked when they found their own content re-uploaded by other people without permission.

On the lighter side of things, there were some humorous moments where the panelists discussed changing trends in online video. At one time, many preferred long form content. But these days some viewers complain if it isn’t quick, and digestible in a few moments. One particularly funny point was when the crew talked about the trend of unboxing videos being popular. The joke that stood out centered around an unboxing video where the box would house smaller boxes within boxes like a set of nesting dolls. It was also in this panel that Ryan would point out some new YouTube creators were in the crowd.  Nerdy, and Squirdy are YouTube newcomers, and after checking them out I think Ryan may be onto something. These two have a nice variety of different gaming content you just may want to look into.

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After the panel I walked back down to the main floor, where I got in some arcade gaming in. Every year Retro World Expo has a respectable number of arcade machines set up, as well as console set ups where attendees can play without quarters or tokens. Every machine is set to Free Play mode. Some of the machines I saw this year that I don’t remember seeing last year aside from KRULL, were a Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi machine, The Simpsons Arcade Game, and a Dig Dug cocktail table. Over the course of my time at the show, I played a fair amount of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Final Fight, Shinobi, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Dig Dug. There was also a Ghouls n’ Ghosts machine, but it was always in use. One of the guys in my local trade group managed to find some time on it though, and even cleared it on only a few lives! Impressive.

I also wandered the floor this year looking for some Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 game deals. On the first day, I managed to track down a boxed copy of Gravitar, and a loose copy of Cruise Missile. The latter of which I had never seen before. Apparently it was released in 1987, and is a shmup involving above ground combat, and subterranean combat in the vein of MagMax. I also saw many of the guys from RF Generation were back, as well as Steven Christina Jr, and Karly Kingsley from Super Retro Throwback Reviews. I sat down with them for a short interview they should be airing in the coming weeks. SRTR was also raffling off a bunch of cool PS4 releases, as well as an NES Classic, and a Super NES Classic so I bought a couple of tickets to try my luck.

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At around 4 o’clock or so I attended the Mortal Kombat panel with  Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez. They were joined by Sal Divita. Sal was instrumental in bringing the NBA Jam series, and its spinoffs to arcades, and consoles. But he also had involvement as Nightwolf in Mortal Kombat 3. In addition to that, he still saw a lot of the development process on all of the early Mortal Kombat games. Daniel, Rich, and Anthony brought a lot of insight into the world of game development as they talked about the creation of Mortal Kombat. It was an idea that almost didn’t come to fruition, as Midway was hoping for a licensed project with Jean-Claude Van Damme. But when that fell through, Midway allowed Ed Boon, and John Tobias to move ahead with their ideas.

As it turns out, there was a great deal of painstaking work involved in the original games. Every video taped action the actors made, had to be cut down to 8 frames of animation due to memory constraints. Not only that, but many of the characters’ moves had to be shot multiple times when it was discovered that being even the slightest bit too close or far from the camera would make sprite sizes inconsistent. Midway also had a very low-budget for the early games so the crew had to use make shift lighting using office desk lamps, and some sessions were filmed using a camera owned by John Tobias’ father.

As for the controversy surrounding the game’s violence level, when it came to politicians, Midway’s stance was to ignore it. But the actors were contract players, not official Midway employees, so they were unabashed in defense of their work. All in all, a very informative panel not only for fans of Mortal Kombat, and fighting games, but for anybody interested in video game development, and history.

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After that panel I wandered the floor some more, stopping to talk to friends, and acquaintances whom were either shopping, gaming, or vending. I also finally met The Gamescape Artist in person. My first contact with him was during a fellow blogger, hungrygoriya’s live streams (If you love old school JRPGs, check out her blog, or channel. It’s great!). He’s a friendly guy, and quite the painter! He has a wide range of paintings of iconic video game scenes to choose from, and he also does commissions. They’re high quality, highly detailed pieces, so if you’re looking for something to spruce up your game room consider giving him a shout out.

I also ran into the makers of an independent games’ magazine. Old School Gamer Magazine is just what it sounds like. It’s a new publication with articles covering retro games, as well as modern stuff inspired by retro games. The format is a little bit different from what I’d expected. It reminded me a bit of 1980’s computer magazines like Compute!, Ahoy!, and Commodore RUN, minus the program code you could type in, and save to a floppy for free software. The issue they gave me was the fifth one, and it came with a cool poster of the cover art. The representative informed me that they give away the digital version for free via email, but for a fairly low price you can have the physical magazines mailed to you every month. If you miss the days of getting Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM, and Computer Gaming World at the newsstand, go check it out to see if it’s right for you.

I also met a group of Video bloggers who do VLOG articles, and live streams. The Geeky Panda covers convention cosplays, as well as games, and have an active Twitch page you can check out if so inclined. They play a bunch of stuff including Resident Evil VII, and Fallout IV. If you’re looking for a new variety streaming channel to follow, they may be your ticket.

After the show floor closed I walked over to the adjacent Hartford Marriott’s hotel bar. Normally I would have paid a visit to the City Steam Brewery, but the after party started an hour after the main show ended. I felt I wouldn’t make it back in time. Fortunately the hotel bar did have City Steam Naughty Nurse, so I pre-gamed with the delicious Amber Ale. After that, I went back to the convention center for the after party event which was a lot of fun.

There were a number of things to check out over the course of two hours. You could play arcade cabs that were set up in one of the rooms. Big Bucks Entertainment ran a special edition of Press Your Luck, where contestants who landed on a Whammy had to take a shot. Host Davira Kuy was also doing so in a rather impressive Quan Chi (Mortal Kombat 4) cosplay. The Imaginary Monsters developers were there, so I introduced them to my friends, and acquaintances, as everybody mingled. There was also a fun Drink, and Draw event going on. It was a nice way to end the first part of the convention.

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I commuted back home after that, put away the first day’s pick ups, and got some rest. Day two was a Sunday, so after services, I headed back to Hartford to catch what I could. I did manage to get into Pat Contri’s panel which had some updates on projects he has in the pipeline. He, and his team are working feverishly on the follow-up to his excellent NES collecting guide. This one will be centered on the Super NES, and will be in a similar format. There will also be an alternate cover for the PAL readership. He is also looking into updating the original NES book with some improved screenshots. So future print runs may include these. But the biggest news is that he is working with some other creators on a documentary video about the video game industry’s shift away from physical media. The project will talk about both the pros of such decisions, and the cons of such decisions. The teaser he revealed does look quite promising.

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At the end of the panel he brought back the NES Challenge, and I was able to be a contestant in the second bout! In a cut throat match of Donkey Kong Jr. Math, I barely managed to squeak out a victory! The first round pitted two fans against one another in Balloon Fight, while the third round pitted a couple against one another in an Abobo Vs. Abobo match in Double Dragon. The winners were granted a download key for a digital edition of his NES guide, while the losers were granted shoe string budget games for the Atari 2600, and Sega Genesis. A great panel overall.

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I also got to see Norman Caruso’s Gaming Historian panel again this year. This time he did a live episode centered around a certain Nintendo made boxing franchise. I won’t say anything else about it, but like all of his episodes, you can expect to be amazed as there will be some revelations you won’t believe. This year he also changed game shows. Instead of video game history themed Jeopardy, he did video game history themed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year’s contestant won last year’s Jeopardy game only to discover he won a T-shirt that didn’t fit, so this year he was attempting to win the appropriate size.

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The last panel at the show I caught was a special panel centered around the history of Castlevania, and the Metroidvania formula used in modern independent games. Mike Levy was joined by Marc Duddleson (My Life In Gaming), Mike Desiderio (Rewind Mike), and Pam Dzwonek (Cannot Be Tamed.). Throughout the panel they went over many of the games in the series, and talked about the transition from action platformer to the Metroidvania style most think of today. But they also brought up the fact that there were times where the series hasn’t simply abandoned one style for the other. Marc, brought up the fact that the Nintendo 64’s entries in the series have many similarities to the NES trilogy with a focus on platforming, and combat. Pam, and Mike talked a bit about how even Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest had RPG elements that in some ways can be seen as a forebear to the labyrinthine designs seen in later games.

But they also discussed many newer games like Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and Mystik Belle. Here, Rewind Mike pointed out that some of these games veer more toward Metroid, while others veer more toward Symphony Of The Night in terms of design. He also mentioned Abyxsis after seeing it on the floor earlier in the day, and having liked what he had seen. Things closed out with some Castlevania trivia, with the winning attendee getting a Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Game Pak signed by James Rolfe, and many of the online personalities who attended the show. From Mike Levy’s personal collection no less. And no, I did not win. My Castlevania knowledge is rudimentary. Although I do surprise people when I point out Konami did port the game to many 80’s era computer platforms. Also they’re expensive. If you thought the NES cartridge is steep, try getting the Commodore 64 floppy disk. Anyway, it was a great panel.

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I spent most of my final moments of the show on the floor again. I found a few great deals over that time. The crown jewel was the copy of Bubble Bobble for the Commodore 64 a friend of mine had at his booth. Most people remember the NES release, but the C64 version was pretty much on par, and you don’t see it as often. Another vendor had a slew of boxed, and unboxed games, so I looked through the vast selection where I found a copy of Pengo for the Atari 2600. It’s not a release that you see very often at all. It had no tag on it so I asked for a price. When they replied “It has a ripped label so ten dollars.” I just said “Done.”, and picked it up.

I was demoed a party card game called Cheer Up. It plays similarly to Cards Against Humanity, but with its own twist. It goes through rounds in three steps while also simplifying it with a three-letter system. This opens things up by having three card answer types, but also color coding them to make things easier to follow. It wasn’t something I got into, but that’s probably me not being as drawn to board games as other people. I can see the appeal though for those whom have guests over often. Basically, the person asking a question gets every other player to submit answers from their hand, with the funniest one getting points. If you have people over for regular game nights, you might want to see if it’s for you. They have a free digital download version on their site which is nice, because then you can try it to see if you’ll enjoy it before buying a copy.

I also spotted a booth hosted by another YouTube up, and comer GothamLounge who does Long plays with commentary. If you’re stumped on a game, you may want to see if it’s something he’s played through. He seems like a nice fellow, so I wish him luck on his online endeavors. As I was catching up with friends, and acquaintances before the show closed I was tracked down by the Super Retro Throwback team to discover I had won the Super NES Classic Edition raffle! So I guess this was my “steal” of the show as I ultimately got one of these ridiculously cheap. A special thanks to them for interviewing me, and hosting the raffles. I also nabbed some sweet Splatoon themed stickers, and buttons from the always great Elijah Taylor, and JustM3hStudios booths. If you see them at a con near you check them out sometime.

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All in all, I had another great year seeing some great panels, scoring some deals, and meeting up with friends like The Best Spuds. But there was so much going on it was impossible to get to everything. I didn’t get a chance to talk to a number of guests. I didn’t get to say “Hello” to The Gaming Historian, RGT85, Game Dave, or Bob Backlund. (Yes, the great wrestling legend Bob Backlund was at the show.). There were a ton of interesting people there this year, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some of them. I apologize in advance.

But even if you weren’t interested in any of the guests there were a lot of other things happening. The Arcade games, and console games were set up to go all day. There were pinball machines to play. There were tabletop miniature games to play. There were live musical acts to jam out to. There were several tournaments going on as well. The ever popular Fortnite had a singles, and doubles competition, there was a Mario Kart 64 competition, a Goldeneye tournament, even a Nintendo World Championships tournament.

There was also a cosplay contest going on this year, and the massive auction made a return. Unfortunately for me I missed it. I was told somebody won a complete Commodore 64 setup (including a vintage monitor) for well below value. Some years the auction can actually lead to deals for some con goers. And even if none of that appeals to you, there are always a lot of vendors to check out. You may not get insane deals, but you can almost bet at least someone will have something you never see when you go hunting locally.

Congrats to everyone at the convention for putting on another great show this year. I hope to be able to make it out again next year. And thanks to all readers who made it this far. As you can see, I had a lot of ground to cover, and I still didn’t get to everything. If you’re in New England next year when it rolls around, check it out. It’s well-organized, entertaining, and they squeeze a lot into it.

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Thunder Spirits Review

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Technosoft. Widely known as a tour de force on the Sega Genesis, they built a long running series of shoot ’em ups with Thunder Force. The original Thunder Force was exclusive to the Japanese market on several computers like the Sharp X1, and NEC PC 8801. But fast forward to the launch of Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, and you’ll find its sequel present in the line up of titles. Thunder Force II combined the original game’s top down shooting, with horizontal side scrolling stages. It did well enough to spawn several sequels. Thunder Force III was one of the most popular of these. A game that did well enough to see an arcade version called Thunder Force AC. Thunder Force AC played almost like a director’s cut of sorts. It retained most of TF III’s best features, while replacing some of  the levels. It was later released on Sega’s Saturn console.

PROS: It’s Thunder Force III/AC. On the Super NES! With improved visuals!

CONS: Sound effects are weak. A couple of moments of slow down.

STRANGE: Naming conventions with some of the series’ titles.

But many don’t realize it was also released on the Super NES. And this version was retitled Thunder Spirits. Functionally it’s pretty much the same game as Thunder Force AC. Though it will undoubtedly be compared against the original Sega Genesis version. Much like Super R-Type though, Thunder Force AC/Spirits is again, a lot like a director’s cut. Like the original Sega Genesis version, you’ll be going through seven stages of hardcore shooting action. The first three stages are identical to three of the stages found in Thunder Force III. Most of the other stages are either altered, or completely new.

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One feature Thunder Spirits has lost in the translation from third game to arcade game, and back to console game is the stage select. In Thunder Force III, you can tackle the stages in the order of your choosing before heading off to the final leg of your journey. In Thunder Spirits, you’ll just quickly go from stage to stage in predetermined order. Another change is the number of continues, and how they work. In the original version you’ll be given several continues. When you’re out of lives, you’ll have a few more chances to redo the stage at hand. In Thunder Spirits you’re only given a mere three continues. However you’ll continue where you died, replicating the feel of the arcade cab it’s been ported from.

No matter which version you play however, you’re in for the kind of challenge that will make your palms sweat. Thunder Force games are of course shmups. So you’ll be assaulted from all sides at a constant pace. It isn’t a bullet hell shooter but it still has plenty of things for you to avoid crashing into while trying to blow away a multitude of enemy ships. In many ways it will remind you of R-Type. It moves along at a similar pace, save for a few moments where things intentionally go into warp speed.

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The warp speed moments often lead to maze sections where you quickly have to guess which path to take. Choosing the wrong one means you’re crashing in many instances which leads to a bit of trial, and error. But this sort of thing was also typical in the genre at the time, as you could find moments like this in the Gradius series for instance. Aside from these moments however, the game generally gives you enough advance a warning to avoid incoming projectiles. Still, you likely will have to memorize stages as you play through them in order to eventually beat them. It’s the sort of game where knowing when, and where enemies are about to strike is key.

Of course no shmup worth its salt is going to be fun unless it has cool power ups, and the Thunder Force series delivers them in spades. Thunder Spirits gives you a wide variety of them. You collect them by destroying certain enemies on any given level, then picking them up. You have stock lasers, but then there are a few different laser types from there. There are crescent-shaped lasers that do high damage at short-range. There are long-range laser beams that do medium damage at longer ranges. Another power up will send heat seekers above, and below you where they’ll follow along the floor or ceiling, destroying enemies. There are also the laser orbs. These will lock on to enemies, and go after them automatically. They’re not the most powerful of your beam attacks, but they do make many parts of the game easier to navigate.

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Rounding out the weapons are the satellites you can pick up, that surround your ship firing copies of your current weapon. You can also find temporary force fields, that allow you to take a couple of extra hits before you’re destroyed. Make no mistake, in any version of this one you’ll be destroyed. The Thunder Force games are all pretty tough. But once you begin to remember which obstacles come up at which time things ease. Also making things manageable is the ability to change which laser weapons you’re using on the fly. Over time you’ll learn what weapons work best on different enemies. Kind of like if your ship were Mega Man.

Thunder Spirits looks really cool too. The color palette is different from the one in Thunder Force III, and the HUD position is different. But by, and large it’s almost identical to what you would find on the Genesis. The new stages look awesome, and have a lot of really cool flair all their own. Unfortunately, some of this flair costs some performance. So expect to run into some slowdown against some mini bosses, and bosses. For whatever reason, the Super NES just takes a hit in these sections, resulting in a noticeable drop in frame rate. It doesn’t get to an unplayable level by any means. But things do slow way down.

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Beyond that however, the game seems to run fine in most other instances. Still, this will disappoint some players who have been used to playing Thunder Force III on the Genesis, and might be looking into this one. On the audio front the soundtrack here is outstanding, and can hang with the Genesis games. The fast paced songs are all here in that orchestral synth the Super NES is known for. The sound effects however, leave a lot to be desired. Explosions particularly are an issue. They have no real depth to them, and the boss deaths seem to go to a very fuzzy, low bit rate popping sound. The Super NES has always done much better in this regard in other games. So it is a bit disappointing.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from the fun of the game.

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Overall, I’d still highly recommend Thunder Spirits though. While long time fans of the series might scoff at the idea of a TF III on the Super NES, it is in fact a terrific game. Even for those who may prefer the original cut on the Genesis, it is worth playing for the different stages, and updated ending. Likewise, if you have a Super NES, and a Genesis, playing TF III on the Genesis means experiencing a masterful shmup, and the parts of the game that Thunder Spirits replaced. Really, anybody who owns both 16-bit behemoths ought to check out both versions. For those who only have a Super NES in their collection, Thunder Spirits is still one of the best shmups on the console. It has everything you could want in a shmup. Great mechanics. Great visual design. A rocking soundtrack. Really the only things holding it back from perfection, are a handful of sub par sound effects, and some unfortunate slowdown. Still, it just goes to show how good Thunder Force games are. Even when they’re not at their best, they’re still some of the best shoot ’em up games you’ll ever play.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

WeaponLord Review

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Back in the ’90’s fighting games were in full swing. Easily the most popular genre in arcades, there were countless titles ported to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, as well as other platforms. On top of this, many publishers pumped out fighters hoping to be the next Street Fighter grade success story. As such, a number of games came out for home platforms in lieu of arcade machines. One such game was WeaponLord.

PROS: Beautiful graphics. Deep fighting system. Fun.

CONS: Figuring out the game on your own isn’t intuitive.

NAMCO: Is rumored to have loosely based its Soul Edge & Soul Calibur games off of this.

WeaponLord is both one of the most difficult, and yet rewarding fighting games I’ve ever stumbled upon. I found my copy at this year’s ConnectiCon, and knew basically nothing about it going in. As we did in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s I went into this based on the label/box art. I suppose I could have used my primitive phone’s web browser, but that wouldn’t have been much fun.

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Anyway, WeaponLord focuses on fighting with swords, axes, hammers, and other melee combat weapons rather than martial arts moves. The brainchild of James Goddard, and Dave Winstead, this game is a lot like Barbarian. Except with a better roster, and interesting, complex mechanics. This makes sense when you learn that the Conan mythos, and other fantasy properties were an influence in its creation. Goddard, and Winstead had come from Capcom during the heights of the Street Fighter II phenomenon. Goddard also created the character Dee Jay who first appeared in Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers.

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Around this time the short-lived Xband modem was being hyped up for the Super NES, and the Sega Genesis. These two developers wanted to make a fighter that could take advantage of it, and try to get the lowest lag possible. This was a time when mainly computer games could be played one-on-one over a phone line. The concept, while not new, was very rare on consoles. The one high-profile example of the Xband was the 1v1 Deathmatch mode in the Super NES port of DOOM. Strangely the feature wasn’t even advertised in that game’s manual.

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Anyway, to make their game, Goddard, and Winstead would leave Capcom, and join Visual Concepts to make WeaponLord ar reality. Were they a success? Yes, although not nearly the success of the games their former employer made were. WeaponLord is an ambitious game, and it shows. The graphics, and animation are top-notch. Remember when I said Conan was an influence? The characters, and backgrounds on display will remind you of a Boris Vallejo painting. The pixel art, and sprite work details are nothing short of spectacular. Characters are fairly large, and everything looks breathtaking.

This comes at a high price however. This stuff takes up a lot of storage capacity, and memory. So the game has a small roster. This also means that matches are considerably longer than in other games, because things move along much slower. If you’re used to playing flashy modern fighters at 60 frames per second, you’re not going to get that here. You’re not going to get the standard pace of a 16-bit era Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat port either. However, if you come into WeaponLord with an open mind, and a willingness to learn, you’ll find a deep, and entertaining experience.

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As the game focuses on swords, clubs, and blades it doesn’t share a weak, medium, fierce attack setup, like many other games of the era did. Instead you have backward, and forward swings. There are three of each, and go from fast, but weak to slow, but strong. The basic moves also integrate your movement. So a crouching forward swing works completely different from a standing one, or while in the air. This may seem obvious to veterans of the genre, but it’s going to be a lot more noticeable to newcomers in this game, than some of the more popular fighting games out there.

Special moves don’t generally follow the circular, and charge motions of a lot of popular games. A number of them do, but you’ll find a lot of them if not most of them are similar to Primal Rage. You have to hold an attack button, do a motion while holding the attack button, and then release it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you wrap your head around it, you’ll start learning how to link normal, and special moves together a bit better.

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But the game also has a very good parry feature. Holding a weak swing button, and moving forward, up, and down can perform a deflection if you time it properly. This puts the opponent into a short stun, and allows you to capitalize on it with a combo. But this feature is also risk vs. reward. Because if you do it too early you’re going to get stomped, and if you do it too late you’re already getting stomped. Unfortunately because of the era this game came out in, there isn’t any real tutorial to speak of in the game. You only have whatever information the manual lists, and nothing else. But that shouldn’t stop you from picking up, and enjoying vintage fighting games like this one. Especially when you stumble upon one that is this good.

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The depth continues when you discover that some moves will break weapons if you manage to land them, at just the right time, during the right frame of animation! If you manage to do this, your opponent’s attacks will actually do noticeably less damage! One thing that isn’t as deep, but is a cool Easter Egg is finding that similar conditions can actually damage your opponent’s outfit. Pieces of armor crack, hair gets cut off, textiles get torn. Seeing this stuff is pretty cool even today.

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It also wouldn’t be a 90’s fighter without a finishing move, and WeaponLord has its own take on the idea. Again, this is a part of the game that reminded me a lot of Barbarian, an old Commodore 64 fighting game, that while simple, featured gory dismemberment. WeaponLord doesn’t have the over-the-top fantastical fatalities associated with Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct. Instead, it has long combo strings, that if you can pull off, results in decapitation, missing limbs, and disembowelment. These executions also play a part in the game’s story mode.

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The game has three main modes. First, there’s a story mode, where you take your character through an arcade ladder, and get some lore throughout the process. It plays as you might expect, going along, getting victories, and then fighting a boss character. Beating the boss character gets you an ending, and there you go. Except that WeaponLord’s story campaign changes based on the difficulty level you’re playing on, and whether or not you kill off your opponents. If you don’t kill these characters in your initial two out of three match ups, you have to fight them again later. These conditions also change the ending you’ll get, so it gives you incentive to play it a few times. Apparently the Sega Genesis port doesn’t eschew the rematch upon killing opponents. But the storyline is still a similar experience. If you pay attention to the storyline, you’ll find that the game has two stories. The story in the story mode takes place after the tournament, while the arcade mode tells the story beforehand. Beating the story with each character gives you part of a password you can use to play the story from the boss character’s perspective.

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The second mode is the bog standard arcade mode. Here it’s just a matter of clearing the arcade ladder, but without the additions of the story mode. But, if you want to get into the lore, you’ll want to play it for the prequel content. Finally, you have the Versus mode, which is the meat, and potatoes of any fighting game. If you can get some people over, you’ll have quite the fighting game night for many of the reasons outlined above. In all honesty this is one of the best fighting games on the Super NES in spite of the sluggish movement. On its face it may seem like yet another clunky, mediocre game. There were a lot of them back in the day. But stick with it, and you’ll find WeaponLord is a winner.

 

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WeaponLord was published by Namco, and so the innovations in this game appearing in its later series like Soul Edge, and Soul Calibur won’t go unnoticed. It’s rumored that the developers of those games were inspired by Visual Concepts’ barbarian fighter, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the things these games brought to the forefront of the genre were introduced in this obscure title. Had this game not come out the same year Killer Instinct was ported to the Super NES it might have gotten more attention. As it stands, this is one of those games you should really check out if given the opportunity. It has a steep learning curve, but once you pick up some of the basics you’ll find a very entertaining fighter filled with personality. It isn’t perfect by any means. The game could stand to perform a bit faster, and it should have spelled some of the combat out better. But this should not have its identity mistaken for mediocre stuff like Street Combat.

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It may be rough around the edges, but WeaponLord is awesome.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Time Pilot Review

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Time Travel. It is a widely used theme in fiction, and video games have been no exception. It was a plot device in Chrono Trigger. It was used it Timesplitters. It was used in Time Slip. It has even been used in multiple Final Fantasy games, including the first one. So it should be no surprise that even in the golden age of arcade machines, developers would take a crack at the idea. Today’s game was one of Konami’s efforts. Before Contra, and Castlevania there was Frogger. Somewhere in between these franchises came Time Pilot.

PROS: Tight controls. Nice visual details.

CONS: Cheap A.I.. Home versions missing features.

GREAT SCOTT: There are no DeLorean cars, but there are space ships.

Released in 1982, with ports following a year later, Time Pilot is both original, and derivative. It came at a time when many games were about blowing up ships, for big points, and the high score. However it is also a game where the enemies change vastly between waves. Something that, while simple, seems to add some variety.

So what do you do in Time Pilot? You destroy enemies for points. But there are some nuances about it. Each wave of enemies takes place in a different era. When you first begin the game, you’ll be in the year 1910. So you’ll be smack dab in the middle of early biplanes. Upon seeing you, they’ll swarm you, and do their best to shoot you down. So you’ll go along, blowing up planes. Once you’ve destroyed enough of them, a boss will appear. The first boss is a giant zeppelin. If you can manage to take it down, your ship will flash, and warp ahead in time.

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Wave two takes place in the year 1940. So you’ll be taking down biplanes in the midst of World War II dogfights. These planes also drop bombs in addition to shooting bullets at you. So the game’s difficulty inches upward as a result. If you can survive long enough, and destroy enough planes you’ll be attacked by the boss: a bomber. Manage to shoot it down, and you’ll again warp ahead.

Wave three gets you to 1970, and you’ll be going up against a ton of helicopters. These have much wilder flight patterns than the planes you were going up against, and so you can again expect things to get a bit tougher. You’ll face an even bigger helicopter in a boss fight. If you can defeat the boss you jump ahead again.

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Wave four jumps ahead twelve years to 1982, and so the enemies change to what was contemporary. Fighter jets. The jets are faster than anything you’ve faced at this point, and like the helicopters, have heat seeking missiles! If somehow you can take down enough of these you’ll go up against a B-52 bomber. If by some miracle you survive all of this, you’ll jump ahead.

The final wave takes you to 2001. So naturally you’ll be going up against extraterrestrial U.F.O.s. This stage has so much random craziness in its attack patterns. You’ll fight a mothership of course, and taking it down is quite the challenge. If you manage to do so the game starts over, and each wave the difficulty amps up even more. You can also get big points by rescuing other pilots in each era who can be found parachuting. Just fly over them, and nab the bonuses.

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Time Pilot had a few official ports although there were unofficial clones on home computers like the Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As far as the officially licensed ones go, they appeared on the MSX computer in Japan, and in North America on the Atari 2600, and Colecovision. The 2600, and Colecovision versions were published by Coleco. The game has been included in several compilations, and services for the PlayStation, Xbox 360, Gameboy Advance, and Nintendo DS.

Visually, Time Pilot is pretty nice, and the 8-bit sprites hold up pretty well. the clouds , planes, and bosses all scroll around smoothly, and the performance is pretty good. Every version looks pretty good, with the Colecovision running neck, and neck with the MSX version. The Colecovision includes most of the features found in the arcade version albeit with less detailed sprites, and animation. The paratroopers are there, the erratic patterns of enemy waves, and all of the firepower. However, it is missing the 2001 UFO wave which seems to be a glaring oversight.

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The 2600 version looks better than you might expect, however there aren’t multiple flight paths for the enemies. So every enemy wave member flies in the same pattern. The enemies also don’t have any secondary weapons, and the bosses can be taken out in a single hit, making this the easiest of the home versions. It also doesn’t have the paratroopers. It’s still a pretty solid effort though, and even includes the 2001 wave the Colecovision version omits. It’s also an uncommon game on the Atari 2600 so it’s one of a handful of VCS games you’ll pay more than the usual $5 for.

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The compilation on the PlayStation, and the Xbox 360 probably have the best way to play the original game, as the arcade ROM displays nicely on a TV. The Gameboy Advance port on the Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced , is also worth looking into though. Because although it switches around the orientation for its smaller screen, it also includes a prehistoric stage not seen in any other version of Time Pilot. If you have a way to play it on a TV through a Gamecube GBA player or the Retrobit GBA Adapter cartridge console for the Super NES, you may just want to track it down. The DS Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits compilation is also a nice option if you like to play old school games on the go. The 3DS family also plays the DS games so it’s another option if you have the newer handheld.

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All in all, this is a wonderful game that often gets overlooked in the realm of classics. It’s arguably deeper than other Konami classics like Scramble, or Super Cobra, and yet it doesn’t seem as fondly remembered as either of those classic games. It’s a shame because Time Pilot really is an addictive action game that will please anyone who enjoys high-score challenges, or any form of shoot ’em ups. Whether you play the original arcade version or any of the ports, Time Pilot shouldn’t be missed. It can be short, and one could argue repetitive. But the change in time periods, enemies, and strategies go a long way in keeping things fun, and interesting. Which is probably why the idea was revisited in Time Ace.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Super Monkey Ball 2 Review

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Again I apologize for the delays. The frequent trips to the doctor’s, and the ten-hour work shifts took up a lot of time this month. But I had one day in May free to spend with family, and that surprisingly leads to a game review. When you’re spending time with people who aren’t the rabid video game fans you are you want to make sure there’s something approachable. But something challenging at the same time. It would be easy to choose some Atari 2600 games. Many of them fit the bill. But it’s an hour’s work getting pre-composite systems up, and running on a modern TV. Then you must have a good scaler in the set, if you don’t you need to get your upscaler to bridge the VCR to the set. Your folks don’t have all day. And while there are some great experiences on current consoles, some of the older relatives may find the multiple functions required rather daunting. You need something older in a pinch, but you don’t have to go back to the 1970’s for your indoor picnic. You can break out a Nintendo Gamecube for this one.

PROS: Campaign. Mini games. Visuals. Pretty much everything.

CONS: Some mini games aren’t as memorable as others.

CROSSOVER POTENTIAL: Nintendo, and Sega collaborate a lot. Where’s Super DK Ball?

Following on the heels of Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 is easily one of the best games on the Gamecube. (Admittedly, one can also get Super Monkey Ball Deluxe if one does not own a Gamecube, but does own a PS2 or an Xbox. It’s basically both games in one.) Released in 2002, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a bigger, and better version of the already excellent Super Monkey Ball. It has even better stages, and even more party games than the original, making it the preferred version to play at gatherings. Though the original is still a tremendously wonderful game everyone should check out if given the chance.

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So what do you do in Super Monkey Ball 2? Where does one begin? There are so many cool modes to play here. The obvious meat, and potatoes are the game’s challenge stages. What makes this fun, are not only the well crafted levels. But the fact you can play with three other people. The object of the game is to get your monkey through a goal ribbon. That’s it. Now that may sound easy, but as the old adage goes it’s “Easier said, than done.” When you first begin any of the modes, you’ll choose a monkey. Each of whom has some minor differences in how they control. Aiai is the main character. He’s the most well-rounded of the primates. Then there is MeeMee who is similar in stats to her co-star. Baby is the lightest of the monkeys while Gon Gon is the heaviest.

The challenge stages are broken up into three sets. A ten stage beginner set, a twenty stage intermediate set, and a fifty stage expert set. Everyone alternates turns, and turns end when someone succeeds or fails at a stage. Everyone also gets two lives, and several continues to try their hand at clearing the stage. If you can manage to get through an entire set of stages without using any continues the game will then enter you into a gauntlet of bonus stages, which increase the challenge ten fold. Some of the main stages can get to be quite the challenge. Some of the bonus stages can get almost sadistic as they require pinpoint accuracy, and impeccable timing.

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But through it all, none of it is really all of that infuriating. It’s just something really addictive. When you fail at a stage, you just want to attempt it again, and again until you’re victorious. The mechanics in the game work something like Marble Madness, where you’re pushing your monkey ball or pulling it back as you’re trying to navigate paths. Except it is then combined with mechanics out of a rolling ball sculpture. Some stages feel like you’re moving the stage around, while others feel like you’re in control of the ball. The only thing you’re ever-moving in these stages is the thumb stick. Again, many of the courses on display get pretty elaborate. Combined with the short amount of time you’re given to complete them, you can easily find yourself frantically trying to keep your monkey from falling into an abyss.

Super Monkey Ball 2 also has a story mode in it for those who want a solitary experience. Here, you have to go through 100 stages in a row to stop a mad scientist from taking all of the world’s bananas. Immediately you’ll wonder why Sega, and Nintendo haven’t done a Donkey Kong, and Super Monkey Ball crossover together. Be that as it may, these stages are very much an extension of the challenge stages. Just more of them, and more intricate in the second half.

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But if a massive story mode, and huge number of multiplayer stages isn’t enough for you, there are a plethora of mini games on hand as well. Some of them have to be unlocked by earning points in other modes. But you’ll have the best of them opened up almost immediately. There’s Monkey Race, which tries to combine the main game with elements of Mario Kart. This one is decent, but nowhere near as good as a proper Mario Kart game. There’s a fun brawl mode, as well as a boat racing mode. Then there’s Monkey Golf which is an interesting take on Golf, as well as a really fun Monkey Bowling mode. This one makes our monkeys into the bowling ball, and does all kinds of wacky things with the lanes. So you really have to nail timing to get a good angle, and approach each lane as a puzzle.

There are mini games based on Baseball, Tennis, and Soccer too. These play about as well as the Golf mode does. Monkey Dogfight is a pretty fun mode as well.  It’s basically a combination of one of the other mini games, and the Vs. mode from Star Fox 64. Monkey Shot is an on-rails light gun shooter. It’s a fun concept, but it would have been better if it had a compatible light gun to play it with. Still, you can move the cursor about at a fairly quick pace, so it’s still an entertaining diversion.  Monkey Billiards is a pool mini game where all of the balls are replaced with monkey balls. It’s cutely crafted to say the least.

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Arguably the best of these mini games is Monkey Target. I must admit it takes some getting used to. But once you understand how it works, it’s a phenomenal party game. Each player rolls down a ramp, and after launching off of the half-pipe at the bottom can open their ball. This converts the halves of the ball into a hang glider. From here, each person has to hang glide over an ocean, and try to land on a floating target for huge points. Depending on where you land, you’ll get a different number of them. To make things more interesting you can collect bananas in the sky for points, find stars to double your points, and even items to help you stop on a dime. For your landing to count you have to close the ball before landing. Falling on that 1,000 point spot gets you zero points if you land on your stomach.

But the best part about Monkey Target is just how deep it is, in spite of how simple it is. You have to account for altitude, and wind which are represented in your corner of the screen. If the wind is blowing west, and you try to move east, you’ll get some resistance. Also if you lose momentum your monkey starts to beep that they’re falling. This is where panic mode sets in when first starting out, and people pull back. But you can’t. It is here you want to push into a nosedive, pull back at the last second, and get a nice lift back into the sky.

Of course, in spite of how good you become at the gliding, some of these targets have shapes that make landing on them quite the task at hand. Often if you don’t line up your landing just right, you’ll roll off into the ocean, and sink. And, because this is a party game, your Uncle can employ dirty tricks like crash landing into you, stopping on your coveted point value, and knocking you back to that ten point border. Still, it’s a great time, and one of the reasons you’ll want to fire up the game beyond its primary puzzle stages.

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And it does all of this while looking, and sounding amazing. Character models have some nice little details on them. The bright colors, and lighting effects feel right out of Sega’s 00’s arcade era. It looks like the natural extension of a First-Party Dreamcast game. The soft Electronica soundtrack complements the game nicely. Even today, 16 years after its release Super Monkey Ball 2 holds up well. It’s a beautiful game indeed. It also supports the Gamecube’s Progressive Scan mode. So if you have the costly Gamecube component cable or you’re playing it through a Wii on component cables you can make it look considerably sharper than on the stock composite cables. There are some Third-Party HDMI solutions coming out now as well. Like this one reviewed by RAXTheGreat1. So that’s something you may consider looking into.

Overall, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a must own if you have a Gamecube. Especially if you have company over for events, or holidays. It’s a lot of fun. The original is also a blast, so you may just want to pick up both of them. For those who don’t have a GCN, but do have an old Xbox or PlayStation 2 Super Monkey Ball Deluxe basically contains both games. So be sure to pick it up. The series would continue on newer consoles, and even a phone app. But honestly SMB2 is the apex of the series. Hopefully Sega will revisit the franchise someday. Whether or not that happens however, Super Monkey Ball 2 is still highly recommended.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

River Raid Review

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Released in 1982, River Raid was one of Activision’s earliest hits. Long before being known for controversial business practices, and publishing another Call Of Duty annually they were a fledgling upstart. One that took the unbridled creativity of ex Atari programmers, and gave them credit for producing games. Many of the early Activision names went on to have big successes on the Atari 2600. David Crane, Garry Kitchen, were two of the big names. But River Raid was made by Carol Shaw.

PROS: Tight controls. Game play innovations. One of the 2600’s marvels.

CONS: The complete lack of a soundtrack.

RED ALERT: The panic ensues at higher stages.

She had done other games while working for Atari, like 3D Tic-Tac-Toe which added an awful lot of depth to a simple game. But River Raid was, and still is one of the technical marvels in the Atari 2600 library. It was also one of the earliest games that would publicly acknowledge a woman for creating it. Not only does the River Raid manual include a short bio about her (the way all of the early Activision game manuals credited their games’ respective designers), future ports made her name the marquee.

As for the game itself, it may seem like any other simple arcade style shoot ’em up of the era. But River Raid, does a lot of things that were revolutionary at the time. For starters, when you fire up the game for the first time, you’ll see visual details that many other 2600 games simply did not have at that time. Most of the 2600 shmups up to that point took place on a black background, on a static screen. River Raid also bucked that trend, by being one of the earliest shooting games on the 2600 to scroll vertically. Many other titles would also show up around that time to do vertical scrolling like Data Age’s Journey Escape, or Parker Bros.’ Spider-Man. Players who weren’t around for those early years of console games, may not realize just how big a deal this was.

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That one feature would set it apart from many other games released on the market from 1977 to 1982. But a lot of vertically scrolling games made for the VCS in 1982 onward would now have to meet or beat this standard. Graphically, River Raid is also one of the most visually impressive games on the Atari 2600. The game makes excellent use of color to determine where there is water, where there is land, and even has some pretty cool enemy vehicle designs.

The object of the game of course, is to try to score as many points as possible without touching any land. Or crashing into vehicles or bridges for that matter. You’re flying along a river of no return. As such, you’re basically flying just above the choppy waters trying to shoot down targets. You’ll be blowing up tanker ships, helicopters, and higher altitude fighter planes. The river is broken up into sections. At the end of each of these sections is a bridge that needs to be destroyed in order to advance to the next section.

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All of this might sound pretty easy until you also notice there’s a fuel gauge on the screen. River Raid also utilizes a fuel system. If your plane runs out of gas, at any time you’ll fall into the river, and explode. How do you keep your aircraft fuelled, and airborne? By flying over fuel tanks. But the little touches that add complexity aren’t over yet. You see, you can also accelerate, and decelerate your plane. pushing up on the joystick will speed up your plane, while pulling back will slow it down. What complicates matters is the fact that the faster you fly, the faster you run out of gas, and it becomes harder to maneuver small areas.

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Moreover, the sections of river become more, and more complex the further you go. The game speeds up, and you’ll see branching paths in the river at the last possible second. Then you’ll have to start making split second choices. Do you take the path with more enemies, and try to go for points? Or do you take the path with a lot of twists, and turns? The latter might not have enemies, but it does have a lot of fuel. On the other hand, the paths are narrow. So getting through without crashing into a riverfront house is going to prove difficult. And of course the game’s scoring system gives you some respectable points for blowing up fuel containers. But if you do that, you won’t be able to get all of the fuel out of them. Unless you become a top-tier player who knows exactly when to blow up the container while refueling. One thing that is nice, is that the game sets off a warning when you’re almost out of fuel. You also get extra lives for doing well. Every 10,000 points will give you an extra plane, though you will max out at nine of them.

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Of course, River Raid did so well on the Atari 2600 Activision would port it to most of the popular platforms of the era. There were versions for the Atari 8-bit family of home computers, as well as the Atari 5200. There were also ports for IBM PC compatibles, the MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 computers too. Activision even put out versions for the Intellivision, and ColecoVision.  Nearly all of these versions look much better than the 2600 original, but the 2600 version is arguably a little bit more responsive than some of the others. A few of the ports do add a few arrows to the quiver like tanks that shoot at you from the bridges, and faster attack helicopters. Still, no matter which version of the game you pick up, you’re going to have a great time. River Raid stands the test of time because of the core game design. Every aspect of the game offers you some element of risk versus reward. It also does this with some airtight controls. If you’re collecting for a platform it appeared on, you really ought to pick it up. Especially if that platform is the Atari 2600. The 2600 original is a pioneer on many fronts, and it’s still a blast today. Classic game enthusiasts are still trying to speed run their way to the kill screen of exclamation. Whether you grew up playing shmups in the era of Space Invaders or the era of Ikaruga, chances are you’ll be able to appreciate River Raid, and what it did for the decades of shmups that followed.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Bella 73 Quart Container Review

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No, your eyes do not deceive you. I’m going to talk about a plastic tub. But this is one of the best plastic tubs you can find. A plastic tub that can, and should be used for storing something it was probably never intended to store: Video game collections. Yes really. Read on, and see if it isn’t something you’ll want to look into.

PROS: Stores, many, many games whether on cartridge or optical media.

CONS: Plastic can be cracked if you don’t take proper care of it.

PERFECT: Dimensions for those of us low on space.

Let’s face it. Many of us who collect old games can build quite the collection. What starts out as the 15 NES Game Paks from your childhood, can easily balloon to 200-300 over the course of a few years. There are tag sales, flea markets, pawn shops, retro video game stores, thrift stores, internet dealers, and even conventions to attend. Before long, you have a huge stack of video games on the floor waiting to be catalogued, and placed somewhere ideal.

But for those of us with a small room to devote to our collection, or for those of us who live in a small dorm or apartment we have to be a bit more selective about what we pick up. More importantly, we have to get a bit creative about just how to store our games. Enter the Bella container.  This plastic tub was probably never intended for gaming, but it’s something you’ll probably want to pick up for yourself. Especially if you’re in a situation where space is an issue.

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The container is the perfect width, depth, and height for most cartridges, and it even works nicely for DVD cases, and jewel cases. It can also easily slide underneath a bed thanks to the wheels embedded in each corner. Or you can stack a few of them if you have a storage closet available to place them in. Over the last several months I’ve found they’ve been great for storing my NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and loose 2600 games.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had to spend a big chunk of my time cleaning, and downsizing where possible. These have made that process a lot easier. My aforementioned libraries all exceed 100 games, and being able to fit them conveniently, and neatly is an impressive feat. These may also be something worth looking into if you’re a used games vendor who often sells product at conventions. The blend of low footprint, and large capacity might work wonders for your table.

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The only real issue with this tub is that they’re made of the same acrylic plastics most other storage containers are. This makes them lightweight, but it also means they can’t be slammed around. You’re not going to want to drop the thing carelessly when you’re reorganizing your room, as there’s a good chance you’ll crack the plastic. If you’re fairly gentle with your stuff you should be fine. But it is something to be aware of.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with them though. They can be found fairly affordably at Bed Bath & Beyond, although other retailers, and internet sites likely sell them as well. If you’ve got quite the Nintendo 64 collection, or you’ve come into a massive lot of Colecovision games. But now you have no idea how you’re going to store them, these plastic container bins may be the solution for you.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Boulder Dash XL 3D Review

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Way back in 1984 came an excellent platform puzzle game called Boulder Dash. It was a big hit on home computers of the time. The Atari 400/800 version came first, but the game made its way to the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and some of the consoles like the Colecovision. There was even an NES port. Over the years it has seen newer versions. Some by First Star Software, the company who created it. Others by different developers who were licensed to do so.

PROS: A really great take on Boulder Dash with some refinements.

CONS: Some of the tweaks aren’t intuitive.

ROBOTS: Your quasi-human miners have been replaced by automatons.

In 2012, a small outfit called Catnip made a new version for the Xbox Live service, and computers called Boulder Dash XL. It replaced the main characters with robot interpretations, but it retained the spirit of the original game fairly well. It also added a few new spins on the game which I’ll get to in a bit. Boulder Dash XL 3D is a port of that game to the 3DS. This port was done by the folks at Ludosity who went on to make the well received Princess Remedy games on Steam.

For the uninitiated, Boulder Dash is a series where you collect diamonds while mining. You’re given a few minutes to get a certain number of diamonds, and then make your way to the exit. You do this, by moving around the stages, digging dirt, and picking them up. The challenge of course is trying to get these without getting crushed. Much like the rocks in Dig Dug, digging out the dirt from beneath the boulders will cause them to fall. You can also be crushed by the very diamonds you collect.

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But where Dig Dug focused more on defeating all of the bad guys in the stage to advance, Boulder Dash does a lot more with the boulders (hence the name.). Boulders, and diamonds will shift to the left or the right as they fall on top of one another.  When you first start out, the earliest levels are pretty easy to figure out. You’ll find you can get the required number of diamonds, and get to the exit. There’s a bit of risk/reward too in that you can also try to get all of the diamonds for bonus points rather than just the required number to exit. Of course, getting all of the diamonds requires nearly flawless puzzle solving skills. Often times making a mistake will not only keep you from getting that last diamond, but may get you trapped between boulders, forcing you to restart.

But its a very engrossing formula, and this version adds a host of new mechanics to an already fun game. There are transporters, there are boxes that turn boulders into diamonds, and vice versa. They even added a few power ups on some levels that are used in a number of puzzles. That’s in addition to some of the newer takes on enemy types featured here. There is a large wealth of content here too. There are around 100 stages or more for you to play through. This edition also has several modes in it.

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The primary mode is the Arcade mode, where the game puts you through the 100 stages in a row. This mode works with the traditional Boulder Dash rules. You’re given a time limit, and you have to get the qualifying number of diamonds to make the exit appear so you can escape as quickly as possible for the most time points. Again, getting every diamond is worth a huge bonus, but you risk running out of time, or trapping yourself if you don’t get them just right.

Next up is Puzzle mode, which gives you a 25 stage gauntlet. Every stage you complete can be replayed at any time, but you’ll have to beat them all in a row in order to see them all. This mode eschews the time limit, giving you more time to experiment, and figure out exactly how the level designers wanted you to find your way out of the mazes.

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Zen mode is essentially the Arcade mode but without the time limit. So in a way it feels like a giant practice mode where you can try to fine tune your techniques on each of the stages to minimize the amount of time it takes you to clear them. It’s pretty neat from that particular perspective, but most will likely prefer the Arcade mode over it since it’s a lot more high stakes, which feels more rewarding when you succeed.

 

Score mode features four stages where you can either try to go for the time bonus or you can try to get every last diamond possible. To get the best scores, you’ll likely have to skip a number of diamonds as it’s a balance of knowing how many diamonds, and how many seconds left on the clock will get you in terms of points. It’s an interesting concept some players may enjoy. To me it isn’t as interesting as the Puzzle mode, or as fun as the Arcade mode. But still fun to check out.

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Retro mode is one of the coolest inclusions in this game. It’s a combination of stages from the original game, as well as all new stages specific to this iteration. The interesting thing it does is replace all of the textures with the original 8-bit tile sprites from the Commodore 64 version of the first Boulder Dash. There are 25 stages in this set, and for older people like me who pick this up, the nostalgia it conjures up is great. But for people who never played the original, the newer stages are still a nice challenge. So even if you pick this up having never played the original, this mode gives you more content to enjoy.

 

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Visually, the main game on display here is pretty nice. The blocks, boulders, and diamonds all look pretty good, and the monsters all have pretty interesting takes on their original designs. There’s also a pretty good use of lighting considering the obviously smaller budget when compared to a lot of the big hits on the 3DS. Be that as it may, the change from the humanoid miners to robots is a bit weird. It by no means hampers the game. It isn’t going to make any old timers scream “Sacrilege!” to the heavens. It’s just a small change that doesn’t make any sense. As for the 3D, I couldn’t really test that out, as I own a 2DS which doesn’t have the 3D functionality. But honestly this isn’t the kind of game that requires 3D to enjoy. In terms of performance, I didn’t run into any major issues, though there was some minor slowdown when I caused a slew of boulders to fall at once. Still, it didn’t get in the way of the actual game play.

There isn’t much in the way of good audio here though. The soundtrack doesn’t have the up tempo, frazzled chip tune theme of the original. It has a mostly forgettable set list, with one or two songs that can even annoy a bit. Some of you may disagree, but honestly I think you’ll enjoy it more without the music playing. The sound effects themselves are fine. You can hear the falling boulders, and explosions perfectly well, and they fit the game as intended.

 

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Boulder Dash is one classic game that is perfectly suited to a portable platform. It’s the kind of game you can attempt to clear a map or two in during a lunch break, or commute. But you can also spend a weekend away, putting in a few hours into going for a high score, or solving puzzles. It’s also just a great game in its own right. This version on the 3DS is a pretty fun, and convenient iteration of the game. It’s probably not going to live up to the lofty heights of the original versions for those who grew up with them. But be that as it may this is (as Metal Jesus Rocks might say) a hidden gem in the 3DS library. It’s addictive. It’s fun. It’s Boulder Dash.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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

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