Tag Archives: Video Games

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.

 

 

10 Sodas that pair well with video games

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Last time we looked at beer. This time it’s all about the soda. As someone who has far too much of it in his short run, I think I can pick out a few good ones. And I have. Just don’t house more than a couple of these. You’ll probably be up all night, long after your marathon of every mainline Super Mario Bros. game has ended.

What makes soda such a great companion to games, is also its greatest curse. The copious amounts of caffeine, and sugar. It’s wonderful while you’re playing. Keeping you alert, and being delicious. But man, the crash. I’ve had jobs where I’m embarrassed to say I’ve put away more than 2 liters by myself on a few shifts. And STILL made a trip to Starbucks on the way home. The lessons? 1.) This will get you through overnight inventory, and any tournament with ease. 2.) You’re not going to wake up on time the next day, and will be draaaaaaaaagging.

So while too many beers, may kill your kidney, liver, and give you alcohol poisoning, too many sodas can kill your kidney, pancreas, and probably activate diabetes. The point is too much of anything is not a good thing for us. Come to think of it, after this is written, I should probably go for a jog to burn off the Venti Vanilla Latte I just gulped down.

With that morbid thought out-of-the-way, here are 10 tasty combinations of carbonated water, and high fructose corn syrup for that next afternoon of Street Fighter II. Again, this is not a *TOP* ten. Just ten that I can highly recommend. All of them are pretty good, and you can probably get most of them. Soda is a little bit less regional. Though there are still some that are.

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10. RC Cola

Forget Pepsi, and Coke for a minute. They’re the Mario, and Sonic of soda. Everybody knows, and adores them. How about rolling with the Alex Kidd of soda? RC is somewhere between the sweet Pepsi, and more bubbly Coke. It’s also a bit cheaper (around here it’s always in 2 liters for 99 cents.), and has a taste a cut above all of the other budget colas. It may have gotten a funny mirage joke in Family Guy, but that doesn’t make it bad at all. It’s nothing crazy, or over the top. But if you want something simple to drink while playing in the Miracle World, this one will suffice.

09. SURGE

Coke recently brought this one back to the States. In their never-ending quest to dethrone Mountain Dew, they’ve tried many formulas. This one is honestly their best attempt. It’s a bit more citrusy than Pepsi’s juggernaut. It also has the edge when it comes to warming up. Let’s face it. As much as we all like Dew, it gets gross if you don’t finish it while it’s cold. That doesn’t make warm Surge good. But it isn’t as bad. Plus it still has all of the 1990’s ad campaign art on the can. Making it go along with any EXTREME game or franchise. NBA Jam, Smash T.V., Mortal Kombat II, and Killer Instinct all pair well with this one. This may be another one of those limited time comebacks though, so get it if you see it.

08. Virgil’s Root Beer

This one is going to seem like it doesn’t belong. It doesn’t have the artificial flavors, and colors of mass market cola. It won’t keep you awake as there isn’t much in the way of anything of caffeine in it. It DOES have a lot of sugar though. So you’ll still get that burst of a sugar high. But it is one of the few craft sodas that nails it in flavor. Forget IBC. Forget A&W. Virgil’s is going to be your go to soda for Tapper. It is really awesome root beer. Definitely not cheap compared to some of the other sodas here. But it is worth the extra couple of bucks if you can swing it. Virgil’s is insanely good at what it does.

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07. Freaky Dog Barkin’ Birch Soda

Freaky Dog is a regional soda, so you may have trouble finding it locally. But if you can find some online, or you visit Connecticut, stock up. Freaky Dog makes a lot of pretty good soda. But the Barkin’ Birch is one of the best. It’s so good, that even an area bar in town serves it to designated drivers. So what makes this one so good? It gets the Birch flavor down perfectly, and balances it with just the right amount of  cane sugar, and carbonation. There is nothing quite like old-school hand crafted soda. Plus Birch beer goes well with anything full of fast action. I find it’s something I roll with during shmups. In fact, if you’re firing up some Giga Wing, Ikaruga, or Deathsmiles, you’re going to break a sweat. Cool down with Barkin’ Birch. You won’t regret it.

06. Mountain Dew Dewshine

Even Pepsi is trying to mix things up with premium soda. So they introduced Dewshine. Honestly, it’s worth the extra money. What you lose in yellow color, you make up for in flavor. Dewshine is sweet. Dewshine is citrusy. Dewshine tastes better than any of the other versions of Mountain Dew, and I’ve had far too many of all of them.  It also goes for pure cane sugar over other sweeteners.  This one goes great with many games, but I’ve probably had it mostly in competitive multiplayer. Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Overwatch matches have been washed down with Pepsi’s moonshine themed soda. Check it out if you haven’t already. It’s pretty great.

07. Mountain Dew DEW S.A.

We all loved Mountain Dew Voltage when it came out. Code Red, some loved. Some were lukewarm on. White Out quickly became the soda for the Smirnoff Ice fan. (Seriously they taste very similar.) So now someone at Pepsi got the bright idea of mixing the three of them. The end result is delicious. One wonders why they didn’t think of this sooner. It kind of tastes like letting your favorite stick of Flavor-Ice melt, and then carbonating it in a Sodastream. Pairs really well with Rocket League. Which just beckons a soda that will make you alert. I’ve been enjoying this one a lot over the past couple of days. I’ll miss it when I go back to drinking water after it’s gone.

06. Flathead Lake Gourmet Green Apple Soda

I hesitate to call this one “Gourmet”. One look at the ingredients made me wonder why on Earth the folks at the grocery store put this in the health food aisle. Really. They did. But the peculiar art still grabbed me, and I gave this stuff a shot. The folks at Flathead Lake, do know confectionery flavor. Because upon sipping this, you will immediately remember what a sour green apple Jolly Rancher tastes like. That’s what this is. Jolly Rancher, as a soda. Which is pretty awesome. I proceeded to drink two bottles during some Toxikk matches. This was after drinking the first two at work. I had a sugar crash. But Flathead Lake is pretty damn delicious.

05. Trader Joe’s Vintage Soda

This is another one for folks that want just a great all around cola when playing through Shovel Knight, or classics like Mega Man II. It’s light, tastes sweet, but not too sweet, and has the body one would expect a standard cola to have. They’re a little bit more expensive than a mass market soda, but they also undercut sodas from healthier alternative brands. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, stop in, and try this one. It’s pretty good.

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04. Red Rain Energy Soda

This is made by an outfit out of Canada. I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the US, I’ve only ever found it in dollar discount stores. But when you only cost a dollar, AND you taste better than Red Bull, AND you’re just as effective, well it’s worth the run-on sentence. It’s got the tartness most energy drinks I’ve tried also have. But where things like Monster feel like a golf ball in my stomach, Red Rain doesn’t. So if you’re going to try to play through a 40 hour JRPG in a couple of sittings, check it out. It’s sure to keep you awake through your favorite Final Fantasy, or your Chrono Trigger speed run.

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03. Shasta Orange Soda

There’s a reason this one was referenced in Futurama. It’s timeless. It’s also inexpensive which is why it’s found seated alongside Red Rain around here. Plus who doesn’t like a good orange soda? This one goes great with all of the classics. Space Invaders, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Asteroids, Centipede, and Berzerk! Just don’t forget that all Rush mix tape.

02. Virgil’s Cream Soda

Virgil’s makes it on the list a second time with its excellent cream soda. Honestly, this one is as enjoyable as their Root Beer. It’s light bodied, has mild sweet notes of vanilla, and is refreshing. When you’re firing up some Forza, Gran Turismo, or Assetto Corsa, it’s a nice way to celebrate your big win.

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01. BAWLS

This stuff is one of the best energy sodas of all time. It’s made with guarana, which has caffeine in it. It’s delicious.  It also doesn’t feel heavy. You can drink a couple of them (though you really shouldn’t), and not feel sick. It has enough of a kick to keep you awake for hours. After having just one of these, it’s easy to see why it was so popular at LAN parties, and tournaments. Ask any veteran of Quake III Arena, or Unreal Tournament, and they’ll attest to how tasty, and effective Bawls is. Within the last decade though, the company behind Bawls has had its ups, and downs. As such, you can’t find it in every 7 Eleven anymore. These days you almost only ever find it online by the case. But if you haven’t had Bawls, it’s worth ordering one for the experience.  Pairs well with just about any competitive arena shooter where reflexes are key. It also goes nicely with any RTS. Warcraft, StarCraft, Dawn Of War II, you name it.

So that’s my soda list! Again, not a top ten, just some really good stuff I’ve had gaming over the years. I hope you’ve enjoyed the list, and my sad attempts at advertisement parody. Is there something from your neck of the woods we should chug down? Talk about it in the comments below! Next time we’ll be back with a proper review!

10 Beers that pair well with video games

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This time around I wanted to do something a little bit different. Every now, and again Mark over at Classic Game Room has reviewed beer in between some of his regular episodes.  This gave me an idea a while ago. Since I work with beer, and I review video games on this blog I’ve thought about the kinds I’ve tried over the years, and which ones really seemed to hit the spot during a gaming session. Don’t worry, I’m not transitioning the blog into a weird Cracked clone, that nobody will read. Rather, this is a part one, of a two-part one-off project. I haven’t abandoned reviews. So you can calm down, and breathe a sigh of relief. After this article, I’ll go down a list of sodas. Because not everybody enjoys beer, and even those who do like to switch it up from time to time. Obviously this entry is geared to those who are over 21, so if you’re underage you should skip this article, and check out the list of sodas when that comes out instead.

Keep in mind this is not a *TOP* ten. These are just ten that I happen to really like. There are a TON of really good ones not on this list that are just as good. Again there are also a ton I’ve never had. Also, not all of these will be available in your area. Many breweries are regional. So unless you’re able to go all over the world all of the time, you won’t see some of them. But hey, the inverse is also true. There are thousands of beers I’ll never see in my lifetime. I also apologize in advance, I don’t have photos for every entry on the list. Be that as it may, I’m going to kick things off.

10. Ballast Point Commodore Stout

Seeing how I’m a big Commodore fan (I mean come on, my blog title is a C64 reference!) The name automatically drew me to the bottle. But the art will show you that the brewery was referencing the Naval rank, as evidenced by the skeleton sailing a ship. Be that as it may, this stout really does go nicely with a play through of The Great Giana Sisters, or a few games of Mail Order Monsters with a friend. It’s got the heft you would expect the texture of a stout to have. Plus it has a delicious roast coffee aftertaste. There are some vanilla notes in there too, but not enough to overpower the flavor of the beer. It’s also around 6.5% ABV, so while it’s above the 5% ABV of a typical beer, you aren’t going to be unable to function after one. It’s not one of the cheaper options here, as Ballast Point tends to command a premium. But it is pretty nice to break out once in a while.

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09. New Holland Hoptronix Double IPA

They should have called this Hop Invaders. Because the first thing you will see on the box is a love letter to Space Invaders. It features some really fun pixel art, with hops replacing the aliens, and an 8-bit beer bottle in lieu of a cannon.  As for the beer itself, this is a Double IPA. As such there will be some bitterness as that is indicative of the style. However, this goes neither the ultra-bitter route nor does it go the dry, yet juicy route. Instead, as the description on the box says, it goes for a dank approach. It has elements of bitterness, and dryness. It stands out for being different. At 9% ABV it’s a bit more potent than some of the other ones in the list. But still complements Atari 2600 night wonderfully. Grab the paddles, and that copy of Warlords!

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08. City Steam Naughty Nurse Amber Ale

Here we go. Sometimes you want a great all around beer. A big cut above the mass market stuff you can have any time. But also not something overly complicated. Naughty Nurse fits that bill perfectly. It’s an amber-colored ale, giving you a rich flavor thanks to the combination of English hops, and crystal malt. It has a very distinct aftertaste, and it is neither too heavy or light feeling. It’s just good. Sometimes good is all you need. And, at 5.5% ABV you can have a couple of them whether you’re going for the high score on Centipede, or exploring the countryside in The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.

07. Lagunitas The Waldos Ale

This one is kind of cheating because you can’t get it all of the time. Lagunitas puts this one out under their One Hitter series which means they make one small run, and then they don’t make it again until the following year. It’s out now of this writing, but since it’s a small run, you may have to check a few places before finding it. Assuming you can find it. If you do though, it’s worth picking up. It has a fruity quality to it, and tastes like nothing else. At least nothing I’ve tried. There is also a very mild burn to it which may sound weird until you realize it has an 11.9% ABV. Suffice it to say, you’ll really only want to have one of these on game night. But you’ll enjoy nursing it along to many rounds of the re-release of Street Fighter II on the Switch on game night in a few weeks. That is if you don’t drink them all before then.

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06. Bear Republic Racer #5 IPA

This is one of the ones Mark Bussler reviewed, and it isn’t something distributed in my area. But luckily for me, going over the State line brings me to an area where it is. Upon having some, I have to say Mark was spot on in his review. It is light, crisp, and delicious. it’s got a nice balance of bitterness, and citrus notes. It isn’t potent. It is a good, reliable Californian IPA that goes very well with a game of Ribbit King against your friends. Distribution for this one is spotty, (unless you’re on the west coast) but if you do see it in your area, check it out.

05. Thomas Hooker #NoFilter IPA

This. This is something you’ll want to check out if you’re in CT, MA, or PA (They’re small, and don’t have a massive distribution right now) but the hashtag beer is splendid. It has a very citrus fruit flavor profile thanks to the fact it isn’t filtered. It’s very cloudy. If you pour it in a pint glass you won’t see through it. It’s really good, and punches you with its juicy flavor. It’s also the perfect thing to break out when you have your next BYOB LAN party for hours of Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 Arena, death matches, and Serious Sam in 16 player co-op. Unfortunately, it’s short packed. So  a store might only get 1 case of the #NoFilter. But if you can find a six-pack, check it out. It’s pretty great.

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04. Alpine Maharaja Double IPA

Here’s another rare one on the list. But it’s one of the few unicorns worthy of the hype. At 10% ABV The King will probably get you drunk pretty fast. But it tastes great doing it. It takes a similar route the Hoptronix does, being neither too bitter or too citrusy. But between the unique blend of hops, and spices it comes off as completely different. The higher ABV does make it a tad hefty. But not enough to ruin it.  This one could potentially be popular with Entropist mains in the upcoming Mirage: Arcane Warfare. Assuming the final game is as fun, and addictive as Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was when it came out.

03. Pipeworks Blood Of The Unicorn Hoppy Red Ale

Pipeworks is a great outfit out of Chicago, and pretty much everything they make is pretty good. This one stands out though because it has elements of both a red amber ale, and an IPA. As such you’ll get some bitterness, as well as some nice malty flavor. it’s also around 6% ABV so this is something you can have a couple of without knocking yourself out or making yourself sick. The package art is also really cool. Perfect beer for a summer day on the deck trying to get that high score in Robot Unicorn Attack.

02. Relic Dreamrise Double IPA

Relic is a very small outfit out of Plainville CT, and not every beer they make is always available. They change-up the line up every few months, presumably to not over produce any one beverage. That said, most of them are pretty good like their Dreamrise Double IPA. It veers more toward the citrus end of IPAs, with a very rich taste without feeling too heavy. At 8% ABV it isn’t overly powerful, allowing you to enjoy it while playing through the classic Mega Man game of your choice.

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01. City Steam Naughty Nurse IPA

This one is my current favorite beer, and has held that title almost as long as it’s been out. It is a terrific IPA. It has just the right amount of bitterness. It has some crystal malt like its amber sister. It has a citrusy aroma, and after taste on the back-end. Similar to the Racer #5, it too, has a light body. It’s a refreshing IPA. It won’t be everyone’s favorite. I’ve shared it with some who feel it’s good, but not great. But I’ve also shared it with many who loved it as much as I do. It’s around 6.5% ABV too, so it strikes a nice balance of profile, and potency. If you come out here for Retro World Expo be sure to visit City Steam’s brewery pub, and have some. It pairs well with everything from Berzerk to Super Mario World to The Wonderful 101. It’s also a nice companion to any party game. Like Dokapon Kingdom or Wario Ware Smooth Moves.

So there you go! Again, half of these you may not be able to find in your area, but if you do see any of these, give them a spin. And if there’s a beer you really enjoy cracking open during a marathon of Overwatch matches, let the world know below! Next time, we’ll go over some really good colas!

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

Some advice from a collector.

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With some out-of-town family visiting, and some heavy work days, I unfortunately won’t have a review this week. So instead I’ve decided to do something a little bit different with commentary. It’s no secret that I love all kinds of games, especially some old ones. Some of you may wonder just how to get your hands on some of the games I’ve reviewed. Here are some small tips I’ve found over the years. Maybe they’ll help you in rounding out your game collections.

Keep everything. (At first)

Well, I should be a bit more specific. That stack of old games in the cellar. That tub of old games in a closet. Don’t just toss those. Carefully go through them, and replay them. Unless you’re in a situation where you honestly have no room of course. Then you’ll want to either research the values, and get some money back, or donate them to a charitable cause. But if you’re going to build a collection, look at what you already own. Keep the stuff you really enjoy, or what you’re intrigued by. You’ll probably even find some stuff you don’t remember buying, or getting. It’s the perfect time to experience them.

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Focus.

When you’re just starting out, don’t try to get every little thing you get your hands on. Rather focus on one or two platforms. There are a few approaches you can take. A lot of people like to start with something they grew up with. For older hobbyists that usually means something like the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 or the NES. Some of the younger blood may shoot for PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 games. Nostalgia makes stuff  more palatable when you start out. Plus buying everything you stumble upon will become a problem if you only have so much room.

Network.

If you find an independent store you like, don’t be afraid to talk up the staff. (When they’re not busy. I cannot stress this enough. If there’s a line, a parent asking them about a game. A lot of stock to put out. Don’t bother them when they have a lot of stuff to do.) When there’s a free moment, on a Tuesday afternoon you can build a rapport. Just by talking about games, or other stuff. Over time they may find out you’re collecting primarily Sega Master System stuff, so when something good gets traded in they may ask you if you want to buy it first. As you’re a regular, who buys a fair amount from them. And likewise, you may discover an employee digs Tiger Handhelds. So when you find one at a yard sale for a few dollars you let them have it. (So long as the store lets them accept gifts.) It’s a nice gesture that lets them know you appreciate their professionalism, and stellar service.

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You can also use social media to find a trade group in your area. Then you can meet other local players, and collectors in your area. There’s a good chance someone will have a game or accessory you’ve been looking for, and they may be willing to give it to you for a bit less than the average online or store price on it. And you’ll want to spread that around. If you’re looking to unload something, give a fair price on it. And be open to trading. Sometimes you’ll get a few really cool pieces for one thing you have that isn’t so easy to come by. More important than your collection, will be all of the friends you make in the process. Real friends who care about you as a person, and vice versa. The hobby isn’t merely about amassing stuff. It’s about having people to share it with. Don’t discount the friends you make online either!

Don’t be a completionist.

This is a huge one for anybody who collects anything. I once mentioned this in an interview with Chasing HappiNES I did last year (Check out his channel, it’s pretty great!) but it bears repeating. Completionism can get really bad, really fast. Because it can become an obsession. It happens in every hobby. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, often times there are variances in collectibles. An example I like to bring up is the 2002 iteration of Mattel’s Masters Of The Universe toy line. Not only did collectors have a vast roster to try to find, but there were several versions of He-Man, and Skeletor released. Battle Sound He-Man, Jungle Attack He-Man, Smash Blade He-Man, to name a few! But it didn’t end there because many of the toys were released on cards that were written in English, as well as on other cards  that were written in multiple languages. But that still isn’t the end, because you had to factor in that there were minor paint differences, and chase versions of most of the characters. To be a completionist in that line meant not only buying each character, but buying them two or three times for the card differences, paint differences, etc. After all, if you wanted to own everything in the line, that meant all of those variants too!

Believe it or not, it’s the same when game collecting. If you look at the Atari 2600 you’ll find several versions of most of its first-party games. Early games were numbered with a text label. Then they were re-published without the numbers. Then they were published again, with the box art on a black background. Then a silver background. Some of them even came out again, on a red background. Even third-party games were often released multiple times, on different labels.

It doesn’t end with the Atari 2600 though. Many NES games, Super NES, and Genesis games came out with alternate boxes, and labels. Add multiple regions, variants of those regions, and you have yourself a ton of clutter. Instead of all of that, focus on getting good games, you know you’ll play.

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Embrace importing.

Let’s face it. Some games are pricey. Insanely pricey. If you want a legitimate copy of Mega Man 7 for the Super NES but don’t have the $170 or more, there is another way. Getting Rock Man 7 for the Super Famicom for $30. It’s the Japanese version. It can be played on an American Super NES with the assistance of a pair of pliers, and five minutes. Truth be told many pricey games are somewhat affordable if you import them from other territories. Now, in some cases running them is pretty easy. In others not so much. So you’ll want to do some research. But another reason to get into importing, is that you’ll be able to play a ton of stuff that was never released Stateside. Really good stuff!

There’s no shame in Digital Distribution.

Some games are not only pricey, they’re impossible to find, and have no international release. Other games have rights issues, that get cleared up, but only temporarily. Also, there’s the fact that some of us have no room to store every platform ever. Thanks to services like Steam, and GoG on PC you can get some of those old games digitally. If you own a Wii the Nintendo Wii Shop Channel is still up for the system. That means you can still buy some TurboGrafx 16, Genesis, Master System, games. The current E-shop on the Wii U, and 3DS is still going too. Of course there are also the Xbox, and PSN stores for those platforms. None of these stores are perfect, and there are some issues that DD doesn’t solve. You can’t download the games again if the stores close, and you can’t resell them if you don’t like them. But it is a convenient, and affordable option for some titles. As with importing, some games are much less expensive digitally. Some can only be purchased digitally.

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Take a risk on mystery games.

Cartridges for some platforms are decades old. While you generally want to have loose games in the best possible condition, sometimes you have no choice but to buy a game with a torn label, video store sticker, or crayon, or marker on it. Sometimes because it’s one of those elusive titles. But sometimes you’ll find a cartridge for your system of choice with no label sitting in a store. Usually insanely cheap because the staff have no idea what game it is. Buy it. When you get it home, and slap it in your 2600 that blank Activision cartridge could be another copy of Pitfall or it could be a rare copy of Double Dragon! It could also wind up being a counterfeit, but if you got it from a reputable store it should be refundable. Which reminds me.

Make sure you’re getting authentic games.

Bring the proper tools with you when you go shopping. A reputable store should let you take apart that Super NES Game Pak if you’re about to drop $100 on Chrono Trigger. There are a wealth of great resources out there on how to spot these ‘Pretend’ games. The YouTube channel Metal Jesus Rocks put together an excellent video about it. You should definitely check out. Handheld games seem to get hit the hardest, but there have been counterfeit cartridges as long as there have been video game consoles.  It’s unfortunate, but you’re going to need to do the research. Especially if a game you want isn’t cheap.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Maybe it’s a series you never bothered to look at. Maybe it’s a genre you never gave a chance. When you go thrift store shopping, pick up that RTS sitting unopened for $3. Try out that obscure game nobody has ever heard of. Many times you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Other times you might be disappointed. But you can say you’ve experienced a wider variety of experiences. You could also discover a developer whose work you enjoy.

Go where nobody else is going.

I live in a small state, where big towns, and cities are surrounded by towns composed of miles of woods. During the spring, and summer when yard sales are most prevalent these are the places I’ll have the most luck. Why? Because most people don’t think to drive an hour away to a town with no major businesses. But they should. Usually these residents are just looking to get rid of things too. They’re not interested in making top dollar. They’re just looking to get it out of the house. They also don’t want to go an hour into town just to recycle things, or donate things. If your area has any passing similarities to mine, it’s a tactic you may want to employ for yourself. These are the places you’ll have a higher chance of finding a bundle of games, or an old console or computer for cheap. Just make sure you max out the gas tank before heading out. Getting stranded in a town on a barely traveled road isn’t fun.

I also have luck on more recent platforms when going to stores nobody expects to have things. Sometimes an office supply store, home care store, or department store (that deals mainly in apparel ) will have games for seasonal impulse items. After that season ends, they’re put on clearance to move. So next time you need a new pair of shorts in the summer, or are in sudden need of glassware, take a look while you’re there.

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Don’t be afraid to go third-party on Amazon.

I’ve gotten a number of good deals from third-party vendors on the site. Commando for the Atari 2600 with the manual being the best one.  But I’ve gotten other stuff too, like a never opened Sega Arcade Smash Hits bundle for IBM/PC (DOS). You almost never see those loose. Let alone new. Now this does require some research on your part. You have to check the customer ratings, and you might have to contact the seller before plunking down the money. Sometimes  you’ll find a particular seller doesn’t primarily deal in games, and may have a detail wrong. Remember to keep all of the sales info, and copies of any conversations in case you have to return it. And take photos if it comes in a vastly different condition than described, or if it’s a counterfeit. There’s some risk involved here, but it can be mitigated with good practices. Of course if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. If you see a $300 game listed for $5 there should definitely be some skepticism on your part.

Don’t lose sight of what’s important.

Partaking in any hobby is fun, and can even be healthy. It keeps your mind working, and gets you out of the house. But if adding that copy of M.U.S.H.A. to your Genesis collection is going to mean being late on a utility bill, or eschewing a financial obligation you should wait on getting the seminal shoot ’em up. This might sound obvious, but if you’re missing rent, or can’t walk through your home without tripping over something you may want to downsize, and re-evaluate a bit. You can replace items. You can’t replace people.

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Don’t think of your collection as an investment.

Sure, some games are rare, and expensive. But not all of them will stay that way. If you happen to have something that is sought after, and pricey good for you. You may be able to find a buyer, and put that cool $300 toward this month’s mortgage. But unless you’re running a business,  don’t look at your heavy hitters as bankable guarantees. Actually, even if you own a business you can’t count on someone waltzing in with $700 to drop on your copy of Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak. Look at your collection for what it is; a fun appreciation for the history of the medium. A bunch of titles you can revisit. Perhaps with friends, family, other players, and younger people interested in what came before.

There will always be some titles that hold value. But in the 1990’s everyone thought their copies of Superman #75, and X-Men #1 were going to be akin to winning the lottery. They weren’t. X-Men #1 had one of the highest print runs of any comic book ever, and only the first print run of The death of Superman was ever worth anything. Plus the poly bag it shipped in wasn’t acid free. So ironically, only the ones people actually took out to read once, are in better condition. Even those, only fetch around $10 these days. So if you bought one in 1993, almost 24 years later, that’s a profit margin of around $8.

Don’t buy new releases expecting them to make you wealthy. Yes, it is true most of the more valuable old games came out in the final years of a given platform’s prominence. But that doesn’t mean in 15 years the average person is going to give you the money they were going to put down on a car for a copy of Pepsi Invaders either. They could. But that shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion in your mind. If you do sell a game out of your vault, don’t cheat yourself. But don’t expect to get top dollar either. Sometimes things happen that throw a wrench into such get rich quick schemes anyway. When Devil’s Third was quietly released in limited quantities scalpers were charging double the MSRP to the tune of $120. Not long after, a second printing happened, and today, a new copy is a mere $40. A fair number of people are stuck with a bunch of extra copies out there. All because they thought it was a guaranteed meal ticket. It wasn’t.

Have fun.

Hobbies, are supposed to be an outlet. A break from the stress, and anxieties of every day life. So have fun. Share photos of that new pick up. Schedule a day to invite people over to play some Colecovision together. Stay up late one night after work in multiplayer with friends. Take the significant other out with you game hunting. Spread the joy around.

Pitfall! Review

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To some, this is going to seem pointless. To others, there may be a bit of intrigue. David Crane was one of the original pioneers at Activision. Long before it was the behemoth it is today. It started life, as one of the original indie studios. Looking to come up with something original on the biggest console of the early 80’s, Pitfall! became one of the biggest hits to ever grace a system of the era.

PROS: A classic that still holds up today.

CONS: Some versions don’t have the most responsive controls.

GATORS: Nearly four decades later, they’re still one of gaming’s most nefarious enemies.

Pitfall! was a smash hit. It spawned numerous product tie-ins, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. When you play it, it is easy to see why. The setting was something different. Instead of a high-action arcade game, Pitfall! is a platformer that takes place in a jungle. You play as Pitfall Harry, and his goal is very simple. You need to find 32 treasures within a half-hour. On three lives.

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The thing is, while your goal can easily be surmised in a sentence, actually doing so is very difficult. There are a lot of traps, and obstacles set up to impede or completely derail your progress. Barrels slow you down, most everything else will kill you. Unattended camp fires, snakes, all add up to the pressure. Two of the game’s key enemies are some of the most iconic. The trademark scorpions, and the alligators. You can cross lakes by jumping on their heads when their mouths are closed. If they’re open, you’re getting eaten, unless you happen to land on their eyes. Scorpions show up in the underground areas, and take a lot of practice jumping over.

Each screen presents you with a challenge to overcome. Some are non-existent, displaying only a couple of holes, and a ladder. Others are the aforementioned lakes, tar pits, and deadly creatures. There are no maps. You have to go out on your own, exploring the jungle screens until you find a treasure. Gold bars, silver bars, rings, bags of money, all waiting to be claimed.You’ll notice that there aren’t any weapons, or attacks in this game. The only thing you’re doing is running, jumping, climbing ladders, and swinging on the occasional vine. Which lets out a chip tune of the Tarzan chant.

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But despite the fact you’re really only given two commands, you’ll find the game has a bit of complexity. Aside from the challenges of the many traps, is the use of the underground tunnel system. Using the underground paths will take you three screens left or right, rather than the usual one. There are also brick walls placed to keep players from abusing this fact. This also brings about an overall puzzle to the game: Finding the proper path. You have only thirty minutes to clear the game. So unless you’re going to look for a walk through online, you’re going to play the game many times to figure it out. Even once you figure it out, it doesn’t make the game easy to complete. You still have to make each jump count.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Because every treasure type you collect gives you its own specific point value. Every mistake you make that doesn’t cost you lives, costs you points. Fall down a pit, lose points. Touch a barrel, lose points. This means to be truly great at Pitfall! Not only must you have a shot at beating the game, you must have a shot at beating it without making any mistakes. Moreover, as quickly as possible. This makes the game one of the earliest speed runnable games in video games. In fact, Activision, Imagic, and others gave out physical rewards to players who could prove themselves contenders. In the case of Pitfall! The best players were sent exclusive iron on patches.  These can fetch a fair amount online when they turn up. In any case, getting a perfect score of 114,000 is easier said than done.

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The Atari 2600 original version of Pitfall! is probably the most impressive due to all of the limitations David Crane worked around to bring the game to life. In his GDC panel six years ago he talked about them, and the 1,000 hours of work it took to make. Even if you’re not technically proficient it is a fascinating story to hear.  The 2600 version also plays spectacularly well, has very responsive controls, and is easily one of the best games on the system.

But there were other versions that came after. The Intellivision port is very similar, with a minor bump in graphical fidelity. It retains nearly everything from the 2600 version, though the Intellivision controller is a bit stiff, making some of those split-second timings a bit more difficult to adhere to. As such the game is among the hardest versions. Though it is entirely possible to complete with enough determination.

The Colecovision version has similar controller issues to the Intellivision version, although the visuals are even bumped up more. This version was also used as a reference for the MSX computer port. The Commodore 64 version also looks similar to the Coleco port. But the C64 version has a different color palette, better sound, and more responsive controls. Mainly because it feels similar to the Atari 2600 original.

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The game also ended up on the Atari 400/800 computers, and the 5200 console. These look almost identical to each other. The game controls better on the former, mainly because of the 5200’s notorious controller problems. Finally, there was also a release on the Apple II computer. But despite the improvements some of the other versions add in the graphics, or sound departments, the 2600 version seems to have the most responsive controls. It’s also the most common version, making it the least expensive version. It has also been re-released several times over the last 30 years. There were a few Activision Atari 2600 game collections that included the game.

Pitfall! is a true classic that everyone who loves video games should play. It’s as important to the hobby as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, or even Super Mario Bros. are. While later games in the franchise may have tarnished its branding, The original remains among some of the best platformers ever made, with its emphasis on treasure hunting, pixel-perfect timing, and inadvertently becoming one of the earliest examples of speed runs. It’s a timeless game for good reason.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Retrobit Super Retro Advance Adapter Review

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

PROS: You can play GBA games on your TV!

CONS: Not without some inconvenience.

REPLACEMENT: For your GBA? In some instances yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

ConnectiCon 2016 Recap

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Ah, ConnectiCon. As a resident of CT, it has become my annual mini-vacation. It isn’t too expensive as long as you buy your passes early. If you’re willing to commute, the cost of gas, and convention center parking is far less than area hotel fare. Plus it always seems to coincide with other fun events in Hartford, so there’s generally enough to do most of the time. There are usually a pretty nice list of celebrities, internet personalities, writers, and artists to meet. There are a lot of panels, cosplayers, rooms devoted to gaming, and tournaments to enter.

This year they had a few changes. First, the convention center changed its hours. In previous years, events the first two days went on to 10pm or later. This year the convention center closed up shop at 9pm. There were after hours events in the area hotels, and restaurants. But attendees used to late night panels would find themselves disappointed. It probably wasn’t the convention’s doing. But they’ll sadly get some of the blame. One thing they could have organized better were the lines during the Friday opening. In my experience, the first few staff members I talked to didn’t explain where the pre-registration line was very well. Both prepaid, and yet-to-pay lines were in the garage. I spent a confusing few moments until someone led a rallying cry that gathered those of us who pre-registered online, into the proper line.

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But beyond that, I really didn’t have too much to complain about over my three days. None of the staff came off as snippy or ornery. Even in that confusion.

I pretty much stick to panels at conventions. They’re typically the most interesting parts of a convention to me. Though I did spend some time getting photos of some of the more impressive cosplays I bumped into. There were a lot of pretty good ones this year. Sadly my camera’s motor decided to start acting up on me this year. So I didn’t get the number of photos I would have liked to.

Still, there were a few pretty good ones I managed to snap. There were also a lot of great panels I managed to get into. I didn’t get into every panel I wanted to due to conflicting schedules. But overall, I did get to see most of what I wanted to. On Friday I  made it into two main panels.

The first was the Channel Awesome panel. This was a lot of fun. Doug Walker reprised his role as the ever popular Nostalgia Critic. This year his brother Rob, and actors Malcolm Ray, and Tamara Chambers came along for a question, and answer panel. A lot of the questions were some you might expect. About their favorite episodes, favorite, and least favorite movies. But there were some unexpected ones, like personal childhood memories. Malcolm, and Tamara loved doing plays early on. While Rob enjoyed a trip where he learned his mastery of impersonating Jeff Goldblum.

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The audience also got to participate in a sight gag for an upcoming episode of The Nostalgia Critic, and the cast was there all three days feverishly meeting with fans, and signing autographs. I didn’t get a chance to speak with any of them this time around, but in previous years I have. They’ve always been appreciative of their audience, and generally very nice folks in person.

I also attended the Uncle Yo standup routine panel which did have most everyone laughing a lot. The material had a couple of funny political barbs. But a lot of the jokes ended up centering around cat ownership when the room was given an option.  He did plenty of gaming jokes too. Mighty No. 9, Pokémon, Zelda, and the Game Boy were all subjects of some funny gags. There was also a lovingly crafted tribute to his family. Really great stuff. If you have the chance to see him in your area, check it out. He has some pretty nice material. Particularly if you dig games.

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The convention also coincided with the Hartford Riverfest event this year. So I followed some friends, and acquaintances over to that event when I began to feel hungry. If you’re ever in the area when this is going on, I highly recommend you check it out. Get this, they have a smorgasbord of interesting, different food trucks. Typically, many of us hear “Food Truck”, and we just think “Carnival food.”. We think about corn dogs, burgers, and ice cream. This event had a bunch of stuff beyond that. There was one truck that was centered around making custom slush drinks. There was a truck centered around Irish themed foods. I bought a corned beef grilled cheese sandwich. It came on grilled rye bread, and it was awesome. There was one truck that served barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs, drumsticks. If it had barbecue in the title, it served it.

Aside from a bad heat headache by that point it was a pretty good day. I spent most of the rest of it mingling with fans, and wandering the dealer room. Next to that was the electronic gaming area, half was made up of console, and PC gaming stations, while the rest was composed of arcade  games, and a tabletop area. Most of the arcade games were rhythm games, though the table flipping game from last year made a return. They also had arcade versions of Pokken Tournament, and Street Fighter V set up.

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In the console area I saw Super Smash Bros Wii U, Street Fighter II HD Remix, Call Of Duty AW, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Ultimate, Ultra Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X, Killer Instinct, Mario Kart 8, and a smattering of other games. On the PC side there were huge set ups for League Of Legends, and Overwatch. There were ongoing tournaments for Super Smash Bros Wii U, and League of Legends which were being live streamed. Over in the adjacent hotel they had one main room devoted to RPGs. Pen, and Paper, and Card games.

 

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Day two started out with a bang. I went to a panel centered around the Atari 2600. It focused on game design, and how the limitations of the VCS forced early game programmers to be even more creative. Creating not only game ideas, but techniques to squeeze those ideas into a very limited amount of memory, and storage space at the time. It served as a lesson to aspiring creators that limitations can be a motivator. It also served as a reminder that one should start small, focusing on a core game play idea to build a game around. Even if you weren’t a budding programmer, it was a great showcase of just what makes the Atari 2600 such a fun console.

 

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After that I made it into two Star Trek panels. The first one was a smaller panel focusing on the future of the franchise. Star Trek is about to become 50 years old. There was a moment of silence for the late Anton Yelchin who tragically passed away in an automobile accident recently. After that discussion moved onto the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, the new series coming to CBS’ streaming service, and the legal battles many of the fan projects are facing. One of them is in the midst of a lawsuit over the money that was raised on Kickstarter to complete it. Even though it was to pay the actors, and supplies to build sets, props, and make costumes. CBS apparently sees this as infringement. So much so that they released a set of guidelines that they want fan projects to abide by. These guidelines are so insanely restrictive, they basically disallow fans to make fan films. One high-profile fan project had to basically retitle the project, and make a laundry list of alterations to keep itself alive. Unfortunately many of the backers jumped in for a Star Trek project, that they’re no longer getting. The entire thing is a mess, but something that could see how fan projects by fandoms are going to be treated going forward.

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There was also some discussion centered around the many changes, and updates to Star Trek Online over the past couple of years. It’s also being ported to the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Even the newest expansion Agents Of Yesterday, which ties the game into the Temporal Cold War storyline that was prevalent in Star Trek Enterprise. Things do seem to have been improved immensely since the game originally came out back in 2010. You can grind for chests that will have crew members, resources, or star ships in them. Since the game became a F2P title, you can try to play through the game without spending money on chests, but it can prove very difficult. The storyline takes place after the events of the 2009 reboot, making the game part of the original TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY time line. You get to see how ships, and races evolved in that time line. There are ways to play classes from every era as well.

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After that panel I got to see another Star Trek panel with Nana Visitor, and Michael Dorn. This was a great panel where the two actors took questions from the room. Discussions about behind the scenes practical jokes, disagreements on the set, the shock of Terry Farrell’s departure from DS9, and other anecdotes. Nana, and Michael both reminded us that Star Trek has always been a show about morality plays. A show that made people think. Sometimes about subjects that can be uncomfortable. One can only hope the upcoming series, and film will retain that quality.

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In between panels I often returned to the dealer’s area. I got to meet artist Tom Ryan while I was there the previous day, where he had some amazing work on display. So I returned the second day when I hadn’t left my cash in my car like an idiot. You should really check out his work at Tom Ryan’s Studio. It’s really amazing stuff. I ended up buying a really cool original ThunderCats print. He does all kinds of  work. Including commercial art commissions for breweries. He’s very kind, and very talented. Definitely check out his booth if he comes to a convention near you.

I also briefly got a chance to speak with Honest Trailers’ own Jon Bailey. He was really friendly, and genuinely enjoyed interacting with people. He also does a ton of voice work for commercials, shows, and video games. Just like the case with Tom Ryan, If he shows up at a convention near you, pay him a visit. He’s pretty swell in person.

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One of the  most entertaining panels I attended was for voice actor, Jess Harnell it opened up when a young fan led the room in an introduction by singing the Animaniacs theme. Around half way through, he forgot a word or two, and faked his way through it but still did a really good job overall. Jess was pretty impressive. He talked a bit about his band Rock Sugar. Unbeknownst to many, he has a music career. He loves hard rock, so his band came up with an idea. “What if a hard rock band thought that the pop rock, and ballads were hard rock?” So their project was born. It’s pretty great stuff. The results are some very fun mash-up covers of pop songs, done in the vein of metal songs.

These mash-up covers are so good in fact, that if you put them on without telling your friends what they are, they’ll be shocked when Enter Sandman turns into Don’t Stop Believin’. He has also been able to open for a lot of hard rock bands like AC/DC. It’s really impressive, and if you have the opportunity check it out. It’s pretty great.

He also talked a bit about how William Shatner once confused him for Gene Simmons, his first time meeting Steven Spielberg, and an odd time helping Pierce Brosnan record lines in Quest For Camelot. He’s also done some roles you may not be aware of, including the voice over on America’s Funniest Home Videos. 

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Another really cool thing happened in the panel, Rob Paulsen ( most known as the voice of Pinky of Pinky, and the Brain) called into the panel to talk to the audience! He, and Tress MacNeille  were originally going to be guests at the con, but unfortunately became ill before the show. So they couldn’t make it. But he did want to thank all of the fans personally, and he hopes to make it to next year’s convention. Rob, and Tress also pre-signed a number of photos so that if you wanted Jess’ autograph, you also got theirs.

After the panel nearly all  in attendance of the panel went to Jess Harnell’s booth. He was very kind to everyone. He went above, and beyond in his interaction with the fandom. I bought a copy of his band’s Reimaginator album, and he was even kind enough to sign it with a personalization. If any of the Animaniacs cast shows up at a con near you, pay them a visit. I got to meet Maurice Lamarche last year, Rob Paulsen the year before that, and they’ve all just been wonderful people.

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After that it was time for our annual trek to City Steam Brewery in Hartford. Not only do they make some of my favorite beers, they also make some of the best pub food in Connecticut. They have a huge restaurant built into the brewery, as well as a comedy club, business meeting rooms, and a bunch of stuff. It coincides with my buddy Dan’s birthday nearly every year, so he tries to get as many friends, and acquaintances as possible to have dinner together there. Dan also helms the Best Spuds channel on YouTube, and all of the spuds were there. I can’t say enough good things about the food, or service there. So often people only want to talk about bad experiences. I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience there. The food is always good. If in a rare instance they’ve gotten an order wrong it’s been promptly fixed.

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Plus there’s nothing quite like getting your favorite beer fresh. It might taste great out of a bottle or can into a frosted glass. But getting it fresh from the brewery is even better. I had some Buffalo chicken nachos, a black bean burger, and thanks to my friends getting full, two fish tacos. All of which was very delicious. I added another City Steam glass to my beer glass collection, as well as a Naughty Nurse IPA T-shirt to my closet full of T-shirts. Speaking of the beer,  Their new Wacked Out Wheat is really good. It has elements of both an India Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen blended with mango, and pineapple. It was spectacular. I also went with a nice glass of Naughty Nurse IPA. It’s light, bitter, yet full of citrus notes. It’s fantastic bottled. Again, it’s even better fresh.

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The final day of ConnectiCon is always shorter, and usually, they put all of the best panels in the schedule for the first two days. Last year they tried to alleviating this by having some stuff on day three. This year, they did a little bit better by once again having some of the bigger guests do panels on the final day.

The first of these was a riveting panel by John Rhys-Davies, where he  talked about some of the challenges the crew faced during the filming of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and how they were able to overcome them. As well as how much one can benefit from optimal management skills, and the effect of scale in many topics. He also talked about some of the debates he had with writers in his time on Sliders, as well as his passion for theatre. Particularly Shakespearean plays. He even spent time talking about how Tolkien’s wartime experiences influenced the Lord of the Rings, as well as some time talking about general world history.

The second was a Q&A session with Michael Dorn. This one differed from the previous panel in that he was the only guest. A lot of similar questions were asked this time around, but he also spent some time talking about his love of tennis, and his love of aviation. He told the crowd about some experiences he had when accepting invitations from branches of the armed forces. He was humbled, and grateful for the opportunity to fly F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, and be a guest pilot with the Blue Angels. But he is especially appreciative of the young men, and women who work in the armed forces, doing dangerous jobs on carriers, and other means. He also talked about how seriously he takes all roles including comedic ones. He also really enjoys watching South Park, and cited how it can be edgy, without doing so just for the sake of doing so. Rather to illustrate a point.

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The final panel I got to see during the con was a panel on level design using Doom builder. This was hosted by aspiring indie developer Zodiacw who not only gave a nice tutorial on some of the basic tools, but gave an in-depth look at the importance of map design. Which also brought about conversations on how map making, and game design are intertwined. A map designer can set up game rules by setting expectations with a simple wall texture. Or easily lose players by not following the rules they’ve set up in previous stages. They also discussed how one can still impress medium, and large studios by pushing the boundaries of an older engine with a keen understanding of map design. As well as carrying the knowledge taken from making maps for Doom into newer, and more complex engines. Even if you aren’t someone who would want to make a career out of making custom content, the panel made even doing so for fun quite palatable.

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Aside from some confusion surrounding the pre-registration line on the first day, I had a pretty great time at ConnectiCon. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten into some of the other panels like Tom Kenny’s (SpongeBob Squarepants), Walter Koenig’s (Star Trek), or Sean Astin’s (Goonies, LOTR) but this is a convention that seems to get a little bit bigger every year when it comes to getting big names. So it simply isn’t possible to see every panel. But what I did get to experience was great, and as in year’s past many of the panels felt inspirational.

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For those who aren’t interested in the celebrity, and internet personality aspect, there was still plenty to do. There were a number of cosplay events, like the always popular masquerade, belly dance off, and death match. The video game area was populated the entire three days, and there were a lot of participants in the League Of Legends, and Smash tournaments. There were the aforementioned tabletop, card, and RPG game areas, and they even had an all day karaoke stage set up. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of other things. The convention center closing earlier this year was a bit of a bummer for the older portion of the crowd. But that was partially made up for with area restaurants, movie theatres, and a brewery to boot. Still, having the late night events moved to one of those places, or eliminated was a little bit disappointing. But overall my complaints are fairly minor. I still had a great three-day weekend leading into a week away from working. ConnectiCon is in many ways an inexpensive vacation for me. If this year’s experience is any indication, this will continue to be.

If you’ve stumbled upon this recap, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’re interested in attending the convention you can get more info at ConnectiCon’s own website.

 

Turbo Pug Review

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I love this time of year. I’m always reminded of the gifts of love, forgiveness, along with the people in my life. I can’t get them out of debt, or solve their complex problems, but I can try to give them a few moments of joy. So seeing how we’re mostly fans of gaming, I nab a bunch of stuff during Valve’s annual sales for my gift giving inventory. Often times I’ll use Steam Wallet cards to do this, since I’m not a big fan of interest fees.

Anyway, often times those cards leave nickels, dimes, and pennies in the wallet at the end. “What to do with forty-one cents?” I ask myself. Usually the answer is to just leave it there, until I want to buy something else. But this year, sorting the game list from cheapest game to highest price game revealed a really fun, and interesting title. One trading card sale later, I had enough coins to dive in.

PROS: Probably the best endless runner this side of Robot Unicorn Attack.

CONS: Intrusive Unity pop ups need to be toggled off.

WHAT?: There is an unlockable penguin who is seemingly useless.

On its surface Turbo Pug is little more than a cobbled together Robot Unicorn Attack clone. Since Adult Swim’s flash game, there have been countless endless runners. Some, like Bit Trip Runner, have been great, adding their own spin to the formula. Others like Meme Run have had mixed reaction to say the least.

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But Turbo Pug is actually one of the best endless runners you’ll probably ever play. Not only is it as addictive as Robot Unicorn Attack. Not only is it as fun as the Bit Trip series. It is oozing with charm. Turbo Pug puts you in the role of a pet pug running through randomized environments for points. There is a jump button, and that is pretty much it. All you need to do is time your jumps accordingly to avoid pits, lava, and more.

The longer you go, the more dangerous the traps become. By the time you get around 2,000 points or more you’ll begin to see spikes, buzz saws, and other nefarious plots to kill you. You can also find spinning pug coins that will give you 50 or 100 points depending on what axis they are on when you land on them.

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But Turbo Pug goes even farther than that. It has a real time, day, and night cycle. Over the course of a few minutes you will see the sun set, the moon rise, and the sun come up again. It also has weather cycles. At any given time the game will decide to rain or snow. When it rains, there is also the odd chance that your pug will be struck by lightning. If this happens you won’t be able to jump for a few seconds. But you also won’t fall from your current height until the sting is over.

“Wow!” you might exclaim.”That sounds pretty deep for what could pass for a cell phone time waster.” But at the risk of sounding like a game show announcer, that isn’t all. Turbo Pug also has a multitude of unlockable characters. Each character has its own properties, that may or may not help you in your quest for a high score. Super pug has a cape, and a double jump. Pumpkin pug has a light that comes on during night cycles. The penguin is slow, and will probably fall to his doom rather quickly.

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Turbo Pug also scratches your retro itch with its Amiga like sprites. The game looks like a 16-bit computer game through, and through. It has a great color palette, and the sprite art has a lot of great detail. The end result is beyond cute, and adorable. The audio really only features two songs, and some small sound effects. But the two songs are very catchy compositions that combine the soft rock sound of lite-FM, and Atari 2600 era chip tunes.

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The only real problems with Turbo Pug, are the intrusive Unity tool tips that come up the first time you play. You’ll want to disable them right away. Aside from that, while the game does engage in Valve’s Steam Trading Card program pretty well, it doesn’t have achievements. It seems like a game that would take advantage of achievements well, but they’re nowhere to be seen. There is a high score leaderboard though to motivate you to keep shooting for the stars.

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I highly recommend Turbo Pug. It could have easily indeed been a quickly churned out piece of shovelware. But it isn’t. There is a lot of effort on display for such a simple game. It’s engaging too. It will easily make you lose an afternoon to its cute protagonist, challenging jumping puzzles, and soft music if you allow it to. Let your actual pug have a well deserved nap, and fire up some Turbo Pug.

Final Score: 8 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)