Tag Archives: Video Game History

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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Super Mario Odyssey Review

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It’s hard to believe Mario has been with us for nearly four decades. It’s even harder to believe, but there isn’t a bad Mario title. Some are objectively better than others. Old timers like me can remember playing as him in Donkey Kong. We have fond memories of going to the arcade with friends, and playing the original Mario Bros. Obviously everyone from 7 to 70 has probably played Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, or Super Mario Galaxy. Again, nary a blemish to be found. The latest adventure continues this trend.

PROS: Pretty much everything. Get this for your Switch if you haven’t already.

CONS: One slight hiccup in performance in the Seaside Kingdom. If you NEED to nitpick.

FROM OUT OF NOWHERE: Rock n’ Roll anthems hit you like an RKO from Randy Orton.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way right away. If you have a Nintendo Switch, and you still don’t have this game it should be your next game purchase. If you don’t have a Switch, it should be one of the first games you get when you get the system. Super Mario Odyssey is not only a wonderfully crafted platformer, it’s one of the most engrossing video games on the console.

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As usual, Bowser has kidnapped Peach again. So Mario heads out to stop his nemesis yet again. This adventure, however is different for a multitude of reasons. This kidnapping attempt Bowser has decided to marry the Princess by force. When the game starts you’re treated to an opening cinematic where Mario is in the process of trying to save Peach. Unfortunately for our hero, Bowser works him over. After suffering a hellacious assault at the hands of the King of the Koopas, Mario is thrown off of an airship to his doom. To add insult to injury, Bowser shreds Mario’s trademark hat to really drive home to the viewer that all is lost.

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Mario is then tended to by a hat named Cappy. It turns out that Bowser devastated an entire kingdom inhabited by sentient hats called the Cap Kingdom. It is also revealed that the bridal tiara Peach was forced to wear is Cappy’s significant other. So Cappy decides to help Mario rescue Princess Toadstool. This is also where you’re introduced to this game’s trademark feature: Possession. Mario can throw Cappy, and if he lands on certain objects, and characters they can be controlled. It’s not something most of us probably think of ever seeing in a Super Mario Bros. title, and yet here it is.

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This makes the game feel very different from previous games in the Super Mario Bros. universe. Yet Super Mario Odyssey also retains all of the things you would expect to see in the long running franchise. This entry leaves the linear design of the two Galaxy games behind. It also abandons the design of the 3D Land, and 3D World games. Instead, Super Mario Odyssey returns to the freedom of Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario 64. This time around Mario can travel between Kingdoms using an airship of his own called the Odyssey.

 

As you might expect, you’ll be going through these Kingdoms looking for coins, and items in order to earn entry to another. In this game the coveted item will be Power moons. You have to collect so many for the Odyssey to be able to continue onward. There are a couple of spots where you can choose which of two places to travel to next. But there’s no major hub the way Peach’s castle in SM64 was. Still, while you’ll open most of the Kingdoms in a set order, the stages themselves are open. So you’ll spend a lot of time tracking down moons.

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A lot of the moons are hidden in plain sight, but there are a lot of them that aren’t. Getting some of them involve going on fetch quests. Others involve beating platforming challenges. Still others will require you to win at a mini game, or explore off of the beaten path. Some of them are purchased in shops, while others require you to buy a specific costume with a Kingdom specific currency so you can go to a specific area. That’s not counting the number times you’ll need to possess a particular enemy. Or the number of times you’ll have to solve a puzzle. Or to have a keen eye in the 2D areas I’ll get to later.  You’ll also have to contend with a lot of different bosses to get many of the moons. The most obvious being the Broodlings. These are a group of evil rabbits who have jobs planning Bowser’s forced wedding ceremony. But they’re also Bowser’s hired mercenaries. You’ll have to defeat each of them. But they’re not the only threats you’ll face. Super Mario Odyssey has many bosses hidden within it. You’re going to see all kinds of massive adversaries. Some of whom are going to come completely out of left field.

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There are 880 Power Moons to be found which means you’ll be playing this long after you’ve experienced the storyline. Those who love to get their Mario games to 100% completion can even buy another 119 on top of those. But along the way you’re going to continually be astonished, and amazed. Super Mario Odyssey has something for fans of every era of the character. There are homages to Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros., and pretty much every game in the series is referenced in one way or another. Some of the most creative moments, are the inclusion of 2D sections that use the sprites, and tiles seen in Donkey Kong, and the NES Super Mario Bros. games. But it even includes the newer enemies, and characters in the mythos in that same style. These sections are often blended into the contemporary look of everything else, and they work seamlessly together. Sometimes the game incorporates puzzles that can only be solved by transitioning between the 2D pixel game play, and the modern 3D space.

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Mario controls as fluidly as ever too. If you fall off of a ledge, get shot by a Bullet Bill, or land a quarter of an inch in front of a Goomba you’ll know it’s your fault. Another thing that might surprise you is the fact that the traditional system of lives is gone. You’ll have unlimited lives in Super Mario Odyssey. Your punishment for getting killed, is the game takes some of your money from you. However, don’t think you’ll be blowing through this one in a day. A lot of players might think that not needing 1-Ups, and Continues makes this game easy. It really doesn’t. In the early goings, things might seem like they’re simple enough. A few easy to nab moons. Running to the beacon of light to progress to the next story mission. Simple, right? While you might be able to get through the first handful of required areas, and claim their moons without too much trouble, later ones aren’t so easy. Some of the later stages require some significant puzzle solving, and a bit of dexterity. This is a Super Mario game after all.

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You’ll need at least 124 Power Moons to be able to get into the final boss showdown. If you’re persistent you can probably get there within a day of non-stop gaming. But with everything there is to do, and see, you’ll probably want to explore for more moons, and secrets in that time instead. Some of the areas can’t even be reached until after you complete the campaign, all but guaranteeing you’ll be playing this long after the big showdown. Another thing that sets this game apart from the other Super Mario Bros. games is the vastly different environments in each of the game’s kingdoms. Not only do they have different themes, each of the themes has a completely different art style. The Luncheon Kingdom has a minimalist look, all rendered in soft neon colors. Take your ship to the Metro Kingdom, and everything goes for a more modern, photorealistic look. Head to the Seaside Kingdom, and things look absolutely beautiful. Plus the inhabitants of each Kingdom are completely different from each other as well, lining up with the aesthetics of the area perfectly. There are also all sorts of little visual touches that you’ll appreciate. Like the rain effects in New Donk City, or the soot that lands on Mario whenever he walks through fire.

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The soundtrack is absolutely spectacular. If there’s one thing this title has over many other games it’s the music. Everyone has likely heard Jump Up Superstar, as it has been in all of the promotional material for the game. The trailer, the spots at conventions, you can even buy the song on iTunes. But everything else on the soundtrack is just as good as that title track. From the orchestral pieces to Big Band Jazz, to Heavy Metal to Power Pop. Even if a certain genre isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll recognize the sheer talent, and greatness of the compositions. All placed in parts of the game that suit themselves best. There is just so much to like here. No matter what you’re doing the music thumps along perfectly. It’s energetic, and light-hearted when it needs to be. It’s ambient, and dark when it needs to be.

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Quite frankly, so much of Super Mario Odyssey is done so well, it can be difficult to find anything all that wrong with it. Controls are spot on. The environments, character design, and sound are all simply brilliant. Some of the mission types repeat here, and there. By the second or third Kingdom you’ll pick up on the general formula. But again, everything is done so superbly, it feels like nitpicking just mentioning it. About the only technical issue I ran into at all, was a very minor hiccup when running along the beach in Seaside Kingdom. Once. Ever.

 

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There are several other things I haven’t mentioned yet, like Amiibo functionality. Pretty much all of Nintendo’s releases utilize them in some way, and Super Mario Odyssey is no exception. If you buy the three figures specifically made for the game they’ll give you different wedding themed costumes you would ordinarily have to get in the game far later. They’ll also give you the bonuses associated with the non-Odyssey themed figures of those characters. Peach gives you a Life Up Heart, Mario gives you a few seconds of protection, while Bowser gives you purple coin locations on your map.

Some of the other figures you have knocking around can also end up giving you some early access to some of the game’s costumes. But generally just about any figure will get you something. You can also show your Amiibo to a machine Toad appears with after you clear a few kingdoms. Then it will bring back rewards at a later time. Another interesting Amiibo piece of trivia has to do with some cross-promotion with Kellogg’s. The cereal vendor has made a promotional Super Mario cereal you’ve no doubt heard about if you live in the United States. The cereal box has an Amiibo NFC chipset glued to the inside so you can actually scan the cereal box for the same rewards most non SMB related figures do. With one exception: There’s a line of dialogue that may bring about a smirk upon seeing the game recognize the cereal box.

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There are a ton of crazy items in the shops. It is worth looking into them for the costumes alone. Which is good, because after finishing the story the game opens up a host of new areas, moons, coins, and other content. Some of the post campaign moons are tied to unlocking items in the shops. So you’ll definitely want to be looking into them. Many of the costumes get pretty wild too. Some of the ones I really like include a clown costume, a samurai costume, and a couple of retro costumes.

If getting to new areas wasn’t enough, some of the kingdoms have super-secret warps hidden in paintings in them. You can even get a glimpse into some of the kingdoms you may not have visited yet when you find one. Some of the game’s moons even require their use in order to be obtained. Beyond that, there are a number of crazy features you’ll just sort of stumble upon. Like the ability to steal a moped, and drive around on it. Or an RC Car mini game, where you get to use an RC Car in attempt to speed run a track from Super Mario Kart.

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The map I mentioned earlier is part of an overall travel guide you can pull up. It has maps for every one of the worlds you visit along with checklists. You can also pull up the little tutorials that explain some of the more advanced techniques. This can be handy for those who haven’t picked up a Mario game in years, or for someone who has honestly never played a Mario game. It’s also a place where you can review things that you might have forgotten how to do during the course of your time with it.

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Another really cool feature is the camera mode. It really enhances the screen capture function in the Switch. Normally, for any game you can press the camera button, and take a screen shot. But in this game you can press the Down C button first, and pull up a camera mode. In this mode you can zoom in or out before taking a shot. You can also tilt the camera, and apply a number of filters to the image. The absolute best of these are the vintage console filters. One of them is supposed to be the NES palette although in some situations it seems closer to something like the Commodore 64. Another is a Super NES palette, and a third is based on the original Game Boy. Plus you can slap the game’s logo in the corner of your photo. Then you can use the social media function on the Switch to post it to your Facebook account, or Twitter account. It might not sound like much, but you can honestly get pretty creative with what you’re given here.

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It’s hard to say if Super Mario Odyssey is the best Mario game of them all, but it’s absolutely in the running. It’s one of those rare games that makes you feel like you’re 8 years old again, experiencing the series for the first time. It’s so full of awe. It’s so full of wonder. Even though you’ve likely been playing Super Mario Bros. games, and spinoffs for most of your gaming life. It’s a celebration of every era of this universe, and its characters. While at the same time making the entire game feel new. Sure, you’ll spend a lot of hours hunting down the items, and MacGuffins to see what comes next. But it rarely, if ever feels like busy work. With the wonderful environments, stellar game play, and absolutely fantastic soundtrack this is one Odyssey you’ll want to embark upon.

Final Score: 10 out of 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SD2EIC Drive Review

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

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

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

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

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

CONS: Not quite everything is compatible.

BUT: Far more than enough is compatible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 out of 10

SiN Retrospective Part 1: SiN Review

Originally released in 1998, Ritual Entertainment developed SiN from humble, literal in-house beginnings. It follows the story of HardCORPS police officer John Blade. As well as hacker JC Armack (A play on id software founder John Carmack’s name), and the nefarious plots by SinTek. A mega pharmaceutical company run by a voluptuous, and sultry mad scientist named Elexis Sinclaire.

PROS: Huge environments. Solid mechanics. Multiple paths.

CONS: Blocky graphics haven’t aged well. Later levels aren’t as interesting.

CHEESE: It has a lot of the fun, direct to video movies of the 1990’s have.

The game runs on id software’s Quake II engine. To go back to it today admittedly will have you wondering how games from the era could have impressed us so much. But if you can allow yourself to get past the blocky, low poly look of the characters, and 16 bit textures you will find a lot to like. Levels are huge, and intricate. There are branching paths ensuring you can complete the stages different ways, and enter following levels in different areas. Character designs are fairly original with only a few fairly generic ones crawling out toward the end. There are a lot of fun weapons, some cool boss fights, and even a vehicle section or two. Bottom line there is a lot to like.

Seeing how I’m doing this review as a retrospective, I’m doing something a little bit different. I’ll be going over the storyline. Broadly mind you, but there will be a number of spoilers. The game is also a retro game at this point so for a lot of people it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Nevertheless, there will be spoilers.

SiN opens up with the main character. Blade on a police chopper flying in to thwart what appears to be your typical bank robbery. As Blade you will have to gun down a bunch of low-level grunts, (Some of whom are dressed like ninjas with machine guns) to infiltrate a bank. It is right out the gate you will see Ritual made great use of the engine to do in-game cut scenes leaving pre-rendered CGI cut scenes for the very beginning, and end of the game. After making short work of these criminals you’ll get out of the chopper, and fight your way through the bank to get to the vault.

When you get to the vault you’ll be introduced to Vincent Mancini. Mancini is behind this elaborate heist, and has drilled under the bank for an escape route. As you pursue him, you’ll find yourself going through abandoned buildings filled with more henchmen. A short time later you will be introduced to Elexis Sinclaire in another in-game cut scene. She meets up with Mancini on the roof of a building, and argues with him. It turns out that all she had hired the mob to do at the bank was steal a safe deposit box, but instead Mancini had gone all out with a full-scale heist. Here we see Mancini is your typical idiot lackey type henchman. Sort of the Beast Man to her Skeletor. Or the Star Scream to her Megatron.

Anyway, Elexis injects him with something before flying off in a chopper because now her corporation can be tied to the robbery. As Blade you’ll follow on through a construction area eventually leading to a Subway. At the end of this subway level you meet up with a huge mutant monster in a battle that will remind you of the final boss of Resident Evil 2. He crashes through the roof of the train, then darts off after being severely damaged. When the train reaches it’s destination, the mutant returns, and you have to gun him down. This boss takes a TON of punishment. But when you finally beat him, the next cut scenes show HardCORPS taking in the body, and discovering the mutant monster was actually Vincent Mancini. The autopsy also shows signs of a lethal new street drug called U4 in his system, and that SinTek labs is known for making components to it.

The next stage will have you infiltrate SinTek’s lab division. This mission is one of the hardest in the game because you have to be very stealthy. There are a bunch of worker characters like scientists, receptionists, and other low-level drones you aren’t allowed to shoot. If you do, someone will hear it, and pull the alarms. If this happens there will be a horde of spider robots with chain guns swarming you. Plus turrets on nearly every ceiling gunning you down. Your only hope of beating this stage is to sneak up on the low-level characters, and punch them in the back so they can’t trip the alarms. You also have to do this away from security cameras, and you have to find hidden paths like one of the air ducts (You jump into off of a ceiling fan in the break room) to do it. At one point you even need to steal a yellow jumpsuit, and key card to advance.

By this point it should also be obvious that the game retains the “Get the key” aspect of games of the time. So expect to find yourself not only shooting down bad guys, but also looking for keys. However, the branching paths of the stages also lessen this, because if you know where to go you can avoid some (Though not all) of the key cards. That said, it never seems to reach the level of the old DOOM games where you needed them constantly. Here it’s much closer to Goldeneye 007 on the N64.

When you do get the key you’ll get on an elevator, to go underneath the lab, and it is here you first learn about their plan with drugs. You have to sneak around the labs until finally you find this one head scientist who has the key to get further. Up until now the only major environmental action you’ve had other than blowing up background objects is one bank vault password on a computer. But here you will have to log into a system, and turn off a fan. Run through the fan tunnel before it comes back on. Turn on another terminal to unlock doors. Turn on another terminal to get a scientists’ password for another terminal. And there is another terminal that opens up a lab so you can grab a U4 sample. After getting that sample there is another computer that controls a U4 scanner that you will have to jack into so that JC can read the data for your case. After all of that you have to escape the lab through an underground sewage pipe, and make your way to a warehouse.

In the warehouse you find out that Elexis is planning to poison the water supply with this U4 which will do to everyone what she did to Mancini. You also find out after going through this warehouse that she has a SECOND lab under the warehouse designing cyborgs much like the Strogg from Quake II. Much like everything else out of B movies in this story she wants to take over the world. (Though one wonders just how much money her company will have left after all of this elaborate spending. When they’re not wondering how she’s managed to keep all of this stuff a secret.)

After a hard-fought battle through these labs fighting off hordes of enemies you do catch up with Elexis who taunts you before unleashing two NEW types of cyborg killers. These are easier to take down than the mutant Mancini boss, but you do have to keep circle strafing, and sidestepping to stay alive.

I should have probably mentioned this earlier in the review but you don’t just walk over things in this game to get them, you actually have to press a button (Default is E) to pick them up. Some of the items you press a second button (Usually ENTER) to use them. In any event hopefully you’ve figured this out by now. In all likelihood you probably have. After you beat these bosses it still isn’t over because you’ll have to get outside to call a chopper to a pad which of course, is guarded.

The next stage will have you doing A SEWER LEVEL. But I have to be honest, the sewer stage in SiN is actually pretty well done, and is fun thanks again to branching paths. Also helping is the fact that it doesn’t sport the usual “Sewer” enemies although there are mice. (Brief tangent, this game has TONS of mice in it if you’re willing to look straight down when you take seemingly random -1 damage)

When you do manage to get through the end of this you’ll find yourself at the Dam where you will have to find your way down to a secret bunker to stop SinTek from poisoning the water supply.

When you do, you will find it was all for naught.

Why is this? Because Elexis Sinclaire has more dough, and parallel plot points than Dr. Wily, and every one of James Bond’s adversaries combined. While you were busy making the water line safe, she was out hijacking nukes, and taking them to her secret uncharted island base.

From this point JC sends you out to an oil rig owned by SinTek. After quietly coming up on a raft, and sniping some guards you begin your next quasi stealth mission. Elexis lands on the top of the rig with her helicopter, and tells everyone to kill you. So of course now you have to sneak to the top, blowing away everyone you see to get to her. Really everyone. Big guys with wrenches, more ninjas with tank guns, even a few of those cyborgs show up. This is one of the most fun stages in SiN due to the variety of enemies, and the various ways to the top you can go. When you get to the top you will actually be going down, because the elevator leads to another shipping area where SinTek is moving cases of stuff to the island. After dispatching guards, and getting a few more key cards, you flood the undersea base, and follow the shipments out to sea. In the sea you will have even more new enemy types like underwater deep-sea divers with harpoons, and giant blue crocodile/fish hybrids. Beating this stage is less about gunning down baddies, and more about finding air bubbles so you don’t drown. Also avoiding falling rocks, and spikes. It seems like there’s always something falling on you.

Finally you get to the end of the stage, and onto Sinclaire’s island. Here you have to fight your way to the top of a mountain. There are not only SinTek mercenaries to worry about, but you also have to re-battle some of the monsters like the one Mancini turned into. Getting up to the top you’ll drive a jeep through a section of enemies to a lab. Sadly this is the one section where the controls are HORRIBLE.

You can’t steer very lightly, it’s mainly hard left or right turns. So to get to the top you’ll be letting off the gas, turning, then gassing again. Thankfully it’s a very small part of the overall game. But it is a nuisance.

When you do make it to the top, and slay the last few bad guys though, Elexis captures you, and injects you with U4. What follows is the most difficult, and strange area of the game.

“Area 57” as Elexis calls it has you in the role of the mutant. Clawing is your only weapon, and you can jump slightly higher. You also have to do things just the right way or you have to start over. For instance, if you kill the mechs you can’t get into the pipes to get to the areas you need to go. Doors permanently close behind you so you have to make sure you did everything properly before going through one. Do the stage properly, and you’ll find the antidote to U4, allowing you to go back to being human. After this trial, and error exercise Blade will find himself in a really bizarre area with guys in sacrificial coats, and doing experiments on mutants, and chunks of flesh. When you finally escape this area you interrupt Elexis who is in the midst of a meeting with villainous characters.

She goes on about how she stole her father’s research, and through these twisted experiments she hopes to use her drugs to create the ultimate being. In doing so she can use them to enslave the world, and rule it. Blade crashes the party, and even stops the nuke from being launched.

Only to have her capture him again.

This time though instead of being turned into a mutant monster, Elexis decides to throw you into a giant feeding ground for what has to be the biggest monster boss since the Cyber Demon from DOOM.

This thing is HUGE, and takes a TON of punishment. Even if you found all of the hidden super weapon parts throughout the game (Yeah I forgot to mention that before) it is still going to be a hard fight.

Where as the Cyber Demon from DOOM merely required you to duck out behind a pillar between lobbing tons of gunfire, this thing has no pillars to speak of. There are boxes of ammo for your various guns to be found on structures around the ring, but getting them takes some luck because of how many missiles he fires at you. Not only that but the monster taunts you, after it takes so much damage, and then increases it’s attacks. When you finally do take it down you’ll be treated to one of the most tongue in cheek CGI cut scenes in gaming history.

Elexis is in a chair as Blade confronts her. Instead of shooting her, he allows himself to be tempted by her assets just long enough for her to press a teleport button on the chair conveniently between her legs.

Blade does pull the trigger, but not in time, and she beams herself onto an escape rocket.

Back at the station, JC taunts Blade, and the credits roll.

SiN was a long game for its type, and the story while not the deepest was better than a lot of the thin stories back then. There was also a lot of stuff I didn’t get into, like the myriad of hidden secrets. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in the game if you want to take the time to seek them out. Other technical aspects in the game are pretty good here. The AI, and graphics supported realistic (For the time) limb damage. So characters acted different, depending on the situation. Sometimes they would hide. Other times call for back up. Textures on the models changed to reflect ongoing shoot outs. Shot a guy in the head? A hole appeared, and they usually died instantly. Hit a limb? the texture turned to a blood soaked ripped one, and they ran away. Point blank shotgun blast into a bank robber? His entire torso would giblet.

The last real games to do any of this sort of thing were the sequel to this one, and the Solider of Fortune series (Which sadly only really offered giblets after first one, and it’s low-budget second sequel didn’t even give that.). Sure a lot of games let you hack terminals, but in SiN they went as far as making everything a true command line OS prompt (At least in the vein of the game). Some of them let you type in commands besides simply unlocking a door, or entering passwords. The branching paths were also novel because not too many games around then or even since outside of RPGs really offered that sort of thing. It keeps the game from feeling too linear, and it’s something I wish games would go back to.

I also didn’t really talk about the multiplayer, which by this point is pretty moot. Not too many people play it due to the age, and while it is a fun death match game, other arena shooters, and modern multiplayer games have upset it. Still, you may want to check it out if you have yet to play through SiN. There is also the expansion pack Wages of SiN which is comparable to a modern-day DLC bonus episode. In it, Blade has to take down a crime boss who has somehow managed to get ahold of SinTek’s mutant drug technology. It isn’t very long, but it does have a few references to the main campaign.

This game would eventually find its way to Steam, and GoG. Oddly enough the Steam version had some censored textures throughout the game. The game also disappeared from the Steam store front. Though its sequel is still there. Fortunately, if my review has piqued your interest, it is still on GoG. You can also track down the original physical CD-ROM. Just know that there are a number of issues you may have running it on a modern PC. The GoG version is probably your best bet at this point in time if you’re a retro gamer. Still, for collectors, the original game isn’t terribly expensive or rare.

Final Score: 8 out of 10 (Still worth playing many years later)

Pigs In Space Review

The Muppets. What children of the 80’s didn’t love them? Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and of course the theatrical films. Even when they weren’t all that great, they weren’t completely lamented. Except for maybe the time they tried to remake The Wizard of Oz. Anyway, Muppets have been plastered on everything for decades. T-shirts, flat ware, a rather excellent toy line from Palisades Toys, the list goes on. Muppets even made their way into video games. Most of them have been simple, edutainment fare. Things for toddlers to learn shapes or colors or numbers from. After all, Sesame Street has been a pre school staple. But now, and again they’ve ventured out into traditional video games. This week I stumbled onto one of the more interesting, and yet disastrous ones.

PROS: Based on one of the best parts of The Muppet Show.

CONS: Inconsistent visuals. Poor controls.

PSYCHIC GAME: Predicted Gonzo was an alien 16 years before Muppets From Space.

Pigs In Space is loosely based off of one of the Muppet Show’s greatest skits. In it Miss Piggy, Captain Hogthrob, and Dr. Strangepork go on adventures in space that parody popular science fiction. One of their most notable skits, featured Mark Hamill reprising his role as Luke Skywalker, even bringing C-3P0, and R2D2 along. It was pretty funny, and something a lot of kids looked forward to back then. The game however shouldn’t really elicit that sort of nostalgia. Because it isn’t very good.

This is probably going to be a fairly short review because there isn’t very much to Pigs In Space. It’s a compilation of three games, two of which are fairly shallow. The game starts out with a title screen with none of the design of the skits’ popular moniker. Upon starting the game, you will see three heads appear underneath, and a scoreboard on the top of the screen. Just below the scoreboard are some X’s. These represent the number of lives you have left. Choosing each of the heads will bring you to a corresponding game. The first of these is Captain Hogthrob’s game. It’s the best game on the cartridge, and the only one that could possibly pass for an actual skit. It’s a parody of Space Invaders. The alien ships have all been replaced by Camila the chicken, and the space station that flies across the top has been replaced by a spinning Gonzo head. The Gonzo head is interesting, because not a lot of Atari 2600 games were doing the rotation effect this does. In any event, you move the Captain along the bottom eliminating chickens for points. Instead of landing on the ground for victory, they just push you below a certain barrier. The other thing they do is shoot at you the way you would expect. If you get shot, you turn into a chicken, and fly away. The game is the only one that doesn’t end until you lose all of your lives.

As a parody of Space Invaders it works, but the clunky movement, and single joke will have you wishing you had just played Space Invaders instead. Next up is Miss Piggy’s game. It’s a really bad Frogger clone. If you can even call it a clone. Floating across the screen are spaghetti, and meatballs. Because “Spaghetti Western” I can only guess. The object is to get Miss Piggy across the fast flying food, and into the ship. Once you do that successfully it’s back to the title screen. The faster you do it the bigger the point bonus. Of course if the ship makes it all the way across without you, you’ll lose a life, and have to try again until you’re out of lives. It’s short, you’ll probably play it once, and forget about it.

Finally there’s the Dr. Strangepork level. Strange doesn’t really begin to describe it. It’s a vertical shooter. You pilot the Swinetrek through what one can only guess is a cave. Gonzo appears on ledges firing laser guns. If one connects or you touch a wall, you have to start over again. You can shoot at the Gonzos but the game has you do so in the most asinine way possible. It shoots in the direction you last steered. Even more baffling is the arc of the shot is odd. It will go left or right, but also fall back. So landing shots requires pixel perfect timing. With enough practice you can clear the stage. There are no bosses, or tougher enemies on replay. It’s the same thing every time. Clearing the cave again, takes you back to the title screen. There isn’t much else to go over here aside from one crucial point. Points aren’t tied to any one game. Your score carries over between them until you run out of lives.

One interesting note about the game is that it is one of the few 2600 games to come out just before the industry crash of 1983. Which makes it one of the rarer games in the library. Although not so rare that you’ll pay a mint for it. It doesn’t have the status of scarcity of other noteworthy 2600 games. Pigs In Space is a morbid curiosity. Something that you may pick up to say you’ve experienced, or to boast it’s in your collection. Outside of those uses though it isn’t a recommended game. You’ll get a competent Space Invaders knock off, a bad Frogger clone, and a really strange vertical shmup. There are far better 2600 games to play. Really, really good 2600 games to play. Get this only if you’re into rarities, and collecting pieces of obscure video game history.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 4

Unreal Tournament III was, and is the game that tried to be all things to the entire fandom. Sadly, the fandom didn’t ever see it.

Pros: Wondrous UE3 visuals, Homogenized movement, Worthy gameplay additions.

Cons: Botched launch. Steep (at the time ) requirements. Gamespy.

What The Poop? It’s rated M so why the watered down announcements, and taunts?

It’s no secret that Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2004 were both major successes for Epic Games. Both games won all kinds of awards from publications, and websites like PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, and Gamespot. Both games were featured in high-profile tournaments for huge prizes. Both games gave other FPS makers like id Software some really stiff competition.

But what the casual observer may not have noticed, was that Unreal Tournament’s player base was fragmented between the two games. Many gamers felt that UT2k4’s adrenaline pills, and required mastery of trick jumping may have been a little too unreal. They preferred to be grounded, and able to dodge firepower. But without looking like Keanu Reeves bouncing around in another Matrix movie.

Meanwhile, others had felt that the new additions 2k4 brought to the table increased the skill level for those who wanted to play seriously. They enjoyed the new Onslaught mode. They relished in the movement system, staying just out of firing range before returning fire, and scoring high frag counts. Going back to standard UT felt backwards.

Still, there were plenty who enjoyed both games enough to go back, and forth.

With UT3 Epic was whetting their appetite for console development. Sure, in the past UT had been ported to the PS2, and Dreamcast. UT2k3 had also been on the Xbox as Unreal Championship, and they had done an exclusive Xbox Unreal Championship 2 which was met with mixed reaction. But those weren’t done entirely in-house, and UE3 was poised to power many console games. So with UT3 Epic had to not only please fans, but also try to make a game they felt console players would give a chance to.

Upon looking at the fragmented fan base, Epic decided to make a bridge game. An Unreal Tournament that would please the diehards who never left the original game, as well as the 2k4 purists. But they also wanted to make something Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 only types would be able to play without giving up in frustration.

UT3 features some stunning visuals. There are some really beautiful environments, and some of the classic UT maps from previous games like the iconic Deck make a triumphant return. Even seven years after it’s release the textures, lighting effects, sounds, and animation will impress. The uninitiated may pick this up, install it on their PC or console, and wonder why this game didn’t take off.

To answer their question the game really did do what was advertised, but not entirely.

UT3’s movement system is indeed a hybrid of UT, and UT2k4. Like UT the gravity is more grounded. Gone are the superhuman double jumps, replaced with a double jump that feels like a jump, and a half. One of the most vocal oppositions was the removal of the dodge jump. In 2k4 a player could tap any direction to dodge. Pressing jump immediately afterwards would allow them to jump very far. In some maps this may have cleared a room. To be fair, UT3’s maps are designed around this new system, but it somehow turned off both the UT, and 2k4 fan bases despite how well it really does homogenize the two systems. For instance, even though dodge jump is gone, wall jumping is still here. It’s still possible to cart-wheel over rockets, goo, and flak balls. Just don’t expect to be halfway down the hall afterwards.

UT3’s weapons also changed to accommodate the rest of the game. In previous games the Bio Rifle would also spray on the floor, or you could fire a single full charged shot for what was often times an instant kill. In UT3 A fully charged shot instead sticks to opponents, and drains their health. Sometimes still leading to an instant kill. The Rocket launcher reverted back to its original UT firing modes, while the Flak Cannon’s arc was changed. The Shock Rifle’s combo attack was also tweaked to slightly reduce the blast radius. Unreal Tournament III also brings back the command to feign your own death. This is really only effective on new players however, as series’ veterans will shoot corpses.

One of the more unpopular changes however was the character designs. Presumably to appeal to the Xbox crowd (Which ironically got the game last), UT3 almost seems to take place in the Gears Of War universe. Gone are the over the top races of 2k4, and standard science fiction designs of the original UT’s races. Instead characters have big bulky Space Marine designs eerily similar to those of GoW. If you are coming into this game late, don’t expect to see the UT1 styled Necris designs, or UT2k4’s Mr.Crow, Egyptian costumes, or other designs. Longtime fans turned up their noses at this. To be fair, the Robots are back (albeit in a new look), and the new Krall models are playable. You can also do some light costume edits on your models, choosing boots, belts, shoulder pads, and visors. But it is a far cry from the variety of earlier games.

Unreal Tournament III brings over the standard Death match, Team Death match, and Capture The Flag. There is also a Vehicular Capture The Flag that introduces vehicles to the mode. One of the most popular modes in UT2k4 was Onslaught which was updated, and called Warfare. In Warfare nodes are still captured, but now there are orbs added into the mix. Orbs can be carried to the nodes to more quickly set them up or buff their defense shields.

Doing so is important because it makes things that much more difficult for the enemy team to take the nodes down. Every node becomes a frantic battle for control. By capturing enough of these areas, your team will lower the force fields around the opposing team’s reactor core. Once the defenses are down you can attack the reactor core until it is destroyed.  Hover boards have also been added to every character in the mode allowing players to get around faster than walking if they can’t get into a vehicle.

 

Also while not an official mode, Death match now had stock maps with vehicles for Vehicular Death match. While some scoffed, and still scoff at this idea, it is actually one that works. Furthermore, it keeps people who simply like to goof around, and wreak havoc with vehicles out of the Warfare mode. This can relieve some of the more team oriented player base. Also other games such as Battlefield Bad Company 2 seem to have taken a cue from UT3, putting vehicles in their DM variants for likely similar reasoning.

Unreal Tournament III also has a campaign, that tells the story of series’ newcomer Reaper. In it the Necris return to destroy an outpost colony by releasing an army of Krall. Reaper’s group; The Ronin, are slain. After being rescued, He trains with Malcolm to get revenge.

 

The campaign isn’t a traditional one either. Instead of an 8 hour single player game you will play through a tournament ladder. This is to get you accustomed to how each of the multiplayer modes work. Some of the ladder stages may throw in an objective to advance the story. But it mainly serves as a tutorial. Along the way, you can complete side challenges to obtain cards. The cards can be cast to make other missions easier. It is possible to play the campaign in Co-op, but most players will likely stick to the other multiplayer modes.

Love or hate these changes UT3 is still a very fun, and very good game. Console players who are intrigued will find something completely different from the umpteenth Call of Duty clone, and open-minded fans of the previous games will still find a lot to like. The console versions of Unreal Tournament III are much better than the ports of UT, and UT2k3 on previous consoles. The Playstation 3 version has all of the content from the initial launch of the PC version. It can also run mods or content PC players make with the editor. It can’t run the editor itself, and the mods have to be specifically made for the PS3 in mind. Still, for fans with both versions, or PS3 owners who have friends who mod on the PC it is a nice feature. The PS3 also received some the updates, and patches over time. The Xbox 360 version came late, and with some exclusive content. However due to Microsoft’s Xbox Live restrictions at the time didn’t get as many updates. It also cannot run mods made by the community on the PC version.

Unfortunately the biggest problem for even the most devoted fan at release was a buggy launch. UT3 had a demo come out shortly before release. Despite feedback from a vocal community, UT3 launched in a state not too different from the demo. There were crashes, instabilities, and performance issues for the first couple of months. Also while it was heavily promoted that the PC version editor would be able to make levels PS3 version buyers could use, there were also complications with this feature. It also used Gamespy for matchmaking which reduced a lot of the ease of server browsing with its account system. Strangely, the salty yet funny award announcements had been changed to substandard PG rated names. Despite the fact the game had about as much gore as ever.

Finally, the system requirements were criticized for being steep at the time of release. Crytek’s Crysis came out around the same time, and was berated for the same reason. This, coupled with a glitchy launch hampered early sales of the game. Also homogenized gameplay seemed to fracture the fan base further rather than bring it together.

Months later Epic was able to get out a comprehensive fix for the PC version with a lot of free bonus content added. Called the Titan Pack, it fixed many of the glitches the original release had. It also cleaned up performance issues, and on top of that added new maps, and weapon balances to the game. Titan pack also added Titan mode. In this fun mode players could turn into a giant if they met certain conditions during a game. It really is a lot of fun, and is definitely worth checking out. The Titan Pack also brought a new UI that PC gamers should have had during launch. Now they could change all of the various visual settings the original release locked them out of.

Unreal Tournament III is a great game that didn’t really get the attention it deserved. Playing it today certainly gives that impression. It runs fast, it has the wild weapons the series is known for. The modes are highly enjoyable, and the PC version still includes the Unreal Editor for free. This a great deal for anybody even remotely interested in-game design as you get to play with the very same utility many games are still being made on. While not as plentiful as previous games, one can still download all kinds of community driven content for PC, and PS3.

If you’re a PC gamer who missed or skipped UT3 when it originally came out in 2007 you may find yourself pleasantly surprised if you play it today. With its beautiful graphics, fast paced gameplay, and hundreds of hours of free content one can’t help but wonder what could have been had there not been so many missteps during its original publishing.

For Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 owners in their teens, and early twenties who have only experienced Epic’s later franchises, UT3 is a great way to see what shooters were like in the days of hyper competitive old, fast paced, difficult, yet fair.

PC gamers can get this underrated entry on Steam, While Console users may be able to find it in bargain bins for a comparable price. Epic is also transitioning away from the Gamespy service so UT3 players can still find games when Gamespy shuts down.

Final Score: 8/10

 

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 2

Unreal Tournament 2003

Some sequels are a wondrous continuation of a glorious first effort. Others turn out to be the biggest train wreck this side of Speed 2.

Unreal Tournament 2003 is thankfully closer to the former.

PROS: Almost everything you loved about UT bulked up.

CONS: Even steeper learning curve. No more Assault mode.

WTF?: Mmmmmiiiiiiiissssstttteeerrrr Crrroooooooooooooooowwwww!

UT2k3 added a lot of revisions to the standards set by UT. The first change was an entirely new run of character classes. Whereas UT featured mostly human characters, and a few Unreal Universe villains like The Skaarj, Nali, and Necris. UT2k3 put a more E-Sports spin on the Tournament story adding a wider cast of races. These included The Juggernauts, who resembled Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines. The Liandri Corporation’s AI Robots. The Nakhti, a group of humans in Ancient Egyptian garb. The Nightmare, a group of mutants, transhumans, and experiments gone awry, and The Gen Mo Kai, a group of reptoids.

Each of these races also had their own attributes. The Juggernauts for example could take a higher number of hits before dying than the other races. They also had a little bit more power behind their hits. But they were the slowest characters in the game. The Nakhti were a lot more acrobatic in their air jump animations making them harder to hit. They were also a little bit faster while sacrificing some resistance to weapons fire. The Liandri bots fell in between extremes, making them a popular choice. As were the Gen Mo Kai. The craziest faction were the Nightmare. To this day, Mr. Crow remains one of the most memorable things about UT2k3, and it’s follow-up UT2k4.

In addition to these attributes, UT2k3 also added a new mechanic called Adrenaline. Throughout a game your character would earn pills either by collecting them on the battlefield, or when killing an opponent. After collecting 100 of them players could tap four directions for super secret power moves:

Booster: This increased your health (So long as you’re not being shot) every second until you ran out of pills

Speed: This made you run faster

Berserk: This made your attacks temporarily more powerful.

Invisible: This made you cloak so that you were a lot harder to see.

The third change UT2k3 made was expanding upon the movement set by the original UT. Now not only could you dodge by double tapping directions, you could do wall dodges. By dodge tapping away from any wall, your character would kick off the wall. Players could also now double jump by pressing jump a second time. They could also combine double jumping with wall dodging for even greater mobility. Finally, there was the dodge jump. This move allowed one to jump after a dodge to do a great leap. Dodge jumping would be an imperative skill when trying to escape enemy shock combos.

Movement was vastly more complex here. Maps were also built a lot around the new system. Where UT used dodges to mix things up, the sequel made these advancements imperative. Because not only did they make players harder to get a bead on, they also allowed players to get around a lot faster.

Some of the movement, and adrenaline changes alienated some UT fans, keeping them playing the old game. There was also one omission that would cement that fact: Assault mode. Assault mode was one of the more popular modes from the original UT, and when gamers saw it had been replaced by Bombing Run ( An object carrying mode in which two teams would try to get said object into the opposing side’s goal) many players stayed with the original Unreal Tournament.

Bombing Run wasn’t a bad mode. It could be fun when played with two evenly matched teams. It was a cross between Football, and Capture The Flag. Some of the community really enjoyed bombing run, and preferred it to many of the other modes.  But ultimately it would prove the least popular mode in the game for die-hard fans of the original.

Other modes were the staple Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch types. Also returning were Capture The Flag, along with Last Man Standing. UT2k3 also had Invasion, a mode that was essentially a horde defense game. In it players worked together against A.I. enemies. Finally there was Mutant, where one player had to fight everyone until he or she died, and his or her killer became the new Mutant.

Grievances aside, UT2k3 carved out a nice niche for itself, as people looking for a game with a lot of depth, and challenge would stick around. Graphically the game was a huge leap over UT, as there were huge environments, higher resolution textures, improved lighting, improved skyboxes, and all kinds of little touches. The changes to movement made the game more aerial, as people learned advanced movement would find, dodges, and jumps allowed for faster navigation along stages. UT2k3 also added rag doll physics, a newer convention at the time. Gone were the canned animation of headless combatants flailing around. Instead, rocket splash damage sent characters flying.

The weapons were also tweaked, and retooled. In addition to this, UT2k3 added a Lightning Gun that replaced the Sniper Rifle from UT. It too had a scope, for headshots. But it would fire a large arc of lightning that could be traced back to the point of origin. Unfortunately the saw blade shooting favorite doesn’t return here.

Customization was still a big part of Unreal Tournament in UT2k3. Players could change the typical resolution, texture, and geometry settings. They could change crosshairs for each weapon, their HUDs, and access console commands. As in Unreal Tournament, the game once again gave players access to all sorts of tools they could use to create their own maps, or mods. There were countless maps, mods, and even total conversions done as the game had gone from Unreal Engine to Unreal Engine 2.

Not only did the engine upgrade make for a very pretty Unreal Tournament game, it also gave its community of fans the ability to create a lot of great content. More than the original game.  Much of this content became so popular on servers, that it caught the eye of game developers everywhere.

Atari, and Epic had hoped this would mark the beginning of an annualized series. They had looked at Electronic Arts’ Madden series, as well as THQ’s wrestling games at the time, and thought they could do for  shooters what those games did with sports, and sports entertainment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s story. UT games tend to put in a single player training ladder to get players used to the various modes. During these tutorials, UT2k3 featured a lot of in-game engine cut scenes. All heavily inspired by pro wrestling. From the Titantron videos, to the custom entrances, to heckling fans you’ll see it all here.

For a host of reasons this idea of annual Unreal Tournament never came to pass.

With it’s improved graphics, physics, and new gameplay conventions UT2003 was an awesome addition to the Unreal Tournament series. however it wasn’t without its flaws. It had dropped a very popular mode fans of the original loved, and it’s requirements at the time were high enough to keep some players from adopting early.  Overall, though the wide variety of characters, the advanced movement, and additions to the gameplay made for an ambitious sequel. However, as good as the game was upon release it’s hard to recommend because of a certain little follow-up. You see Unreal Tournament 2004 would include everything in Unreal Tournament 2003, and more.

Final Rating: Try it out! 6.5/10 (If you can find it.)