8-bit Pale Ale… My new favorite retro gaming themed beer!

August 14, 2012 by

You’ll notice that the tagline for this site says it covers not just retro game reviews, but culture, too.  There are lots of things that I originally hoped to cover, like books, movies, and music that relate to classic video games.  I never seemed to get around to that part of it, though… But now it’s time, because I want to share something cool.  This last weekend, I was browsing the beer selection at the grocery store, when this caught my eye:

8-bit Pale Ale – Tallgrass Brewing

Now, I like retro games (obviously), and I like beer (duh), so I figured I just had to give it a try.  I thought I might be falling for a gimmick and that it would be mediocre, but much to my delight, it was excellent!  So, now I’m doing my duty to retro gamers and beer lovers everywhere and spreading the word.  If you like your beers a bit hoppy (or at least aren’t afraid of some hops), give it a try.  You won’t regret it.  Personally?  I’ll be buying it regularly!

Check out the beer’s product page, see if it’s distributed in your state, or just enjoy the goofy YouTube promo:

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Latest Haul and Impressions: Firestriker (SNES)

August 13, 2012 by

I’ve said it several times before (including in my last review) — I’m a fan of bouncing ball games, for whatever reason.  Pong?  Breakout?  Arkanoid?  Sign me up!  So, when I caught wind of Firestriker on SNES, I knew I had to have it.  And as of last week, I do have it.  But this isn’t any old Breakout clone – it’s a Breakout clone with a twist.  It’s a really bizarre Breakout/Pinball/RPG hybrid, mixing elements of lots of different genres in a way that, as far as I know, has never been done before or since.  Check out the video below for an idea of how it works (thanks, SNESguide!)

Interestingly enough, I actually beat the game the day after I got it.  It’s not a long game, or an especially difficult one, but it’s definitely unique.  I enjoyed it, and I plan to play through it again.  The reason I’m only doing an Impressions post instead of a Review, though, is that there’s a neat two-player mode that I want to try before I make my final evaluation.  The 2-player mode is actually completely different than the main game, in that it’s a competitive mode.  It even has multi-tap support so four people can play!  Too bad I don’t have a multi-tap and three more people who would be interested to try it…

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Robo-Squash (Atari Lynx)

August 10, 2012 by

  

How many other sites on the internet have not one, but TWO different reviews of futuristic squash-based video games?  Not many, I’ll tell you that.  So, I’m feeling pretty special right about now.  (Heck, how many squash video games are there, anyway?)

When I bought Space Squash, it instantly became my favorite Virtual Boy game, so I had high hopes for Robo-Squash on my new Atari Lynx.  The concept of Robo-Squash is almost identical.  It’s the future and war is being fought in the form of a game loosely based on squash.  Your objective is to defeat the enemy by getting as many shots past them as possible in what is essentially a game of 3D Pong.  Get three shots past your opponent, and you win the round.  But unlike Space Squash, where you’re facing off against a succession of different opponents (and even some boss battles), Robo-Squash has you facing the same computer opponent in a 16-round match.  Accrue the most points over all 16 rounds, and you win the war.

Unfortunately, Robo-Squash lacks the same charm and tight controls that made Space Squash so engaging.  The Lynx lacks the dual d-pad setup, so properly angling your shots is much more difficult.  The direction your ball will bounce depends on where on your paddle you make contact with it.  If you hit it on the left side, the ball will careen off to the right.  Hit it on the top of your paddle, and it will shoot downward.  That wouldn’t be a big deal if the Lynx II had a better D-Pad.  But as it stands, it feels a little bit mushy, which means you never feel 100% in control of where your paddle ends up.  It’s hard to get pixel-perfect placement, so you won’t always be able to hit the ball in the direction you want.

On top of the less-than-perfect controls, the game also lacks variety.  You don’t face off against a series of different opponents with different strategies, like in Space Squash.  Instead, you’re battling the same generic looking opponent paddle 16 times in a row.  On top of that, every stage is the same size and configuration.  All that changes is the layout of the power-ups and point tiles.

But maybe I’m sounding too harsh.  I didn’t really mean this to be a 100% comparison to Space Squash, and it’s important to remember that it’s on a different platform from a different era.  Robo-Squash is for the Atari Lynx, an 8-bit, color handheld that came out in 1989.  The game itself came out in 1990.  Space Squash came out on a 32-bit tabletop console in 1995.  (There I go comparing the two again… Why can’t I get away from this?)  Differences and limitations are a given.

With that in mind, is Robo-Squash a good game on its own?  Well, maybe.  I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of bouncing ball games like Pong and Breakout, so this game inherently appeals to me.  If you have a similar affection for the genre, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of it, too.  I like the power-ups, like the ability to shoot explosives, catch the ball, enlarge your paddle, or preview where the ball is going to bounce.  They add a nice bit of strategy.  The game’s point-based gameplay adds strategy, too.  The objective is about more than just getting three shots past your opponent.  You have to collect bonus points along the way.  Additionally, the levels are laid out in a grid pattern, and you get even more bonus points if you win multiple levels in a row or column.  Going for the corner piece that will complete both a row and a column, knowing huge bonus points are on the line, adds a nice bit of tension to the action.

One recommendation: play the game on “Insane” difficulty.  It’s not really that insane, and the lower difficulties are slow enough paced that it can get dull.  “Insane,” despite the name, is actually just right.

Final Thoughts:  There’s a reason Robo-Squash didn’t take the world by storm.  (Well, yeah, it’s on the Lynx, but other than that…) It’s a pretty simple game, and maybe even a bit monotonous at times, but you may get some enjoyment out of it if you like the genre.  It won’t hurt to give it a try.  I’d love the chance to play two-player via link-up, too.  I think it could be a lot more fun against a human opponent than the computer.

YouTube Pick (via GameVideoOnline):

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Latest Haul: Instant Atari Lynx Collection

August 4, 2012 by

For the first time ever, I now own a non-Nintendo handheld system.  I’ve owned a Game Boy, a Game Boy Pocket, a Game Boy Color, a Game Boy Advance, a Game Boy Advance SP, a DS and a 3DS.  But somehow, I’ve never owned any of the competitors.  I think that’s probably a testament to how dominant Nintendo has been in this space.  But nonetheless, I’ve broken the streak and added to my collection.

If you follow me on Backloggery (and you all follow me on Backloggery, right??) you would have seen several new Lynx games added to my library.  I’d been thinking about buying the system for a couple of years, but finally just said “what am I waiting for?” and bought an insta-collection from The GOAT Store.  They sell pristine (but used) Lynxes, along with seven brand-new, sealed games for $50.  (Or, at least, they did.  The packages are gone from the site now, so maybe I got one of the last ones!)  I couldn’t stop there, though.  I added a carrying case, an AC adaptor (the Lynx has notoriously awful battery life), a ComLynx cable (for all those times I’ve randomly met people and thought “gosh, I wish I had a Lynx with ComLynx so we could play two-player”), Paperboy, and Robo-Squash.  All in all, I ended up with the system, nine brand new games, and a few accessories for about $100.  Not half bad.  There are several more games I plan to add to the collection, too.  There seem to be plenty of brand new games available on eBay for reasonable prices.

So far, I’ve only played Robo-Squash and Super Skweek.  I’m impressed with the system, considering it came out the same year as the Game Boy, and I’m looking forward to exploring its library.

Here’s a breakdown of all I got:

  • Lynx II system (used, but I can’t even tell)
  • AC Adaptor
  • Carrying case
  • ComLynx link-up cable
  • Crystal Mines II
  • Kung Food
  • Paperboy
  • Qix
  • Robo-Squash
  • Steel Talons
  • Super Skweek
  • Tournament Cyberball
  • Xybots

Sigh… More stuff to add to the backlog.

Blue’s Journey / Raguy (Neo Geo CD)

July 31, 2012 by

  

The Neo Geo isn’t exactly known for its platformers.  When you think of the Neo Geo, you usually think of the likes of King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug.  Or, if your tastes lean that way, shooters or great arcade-style sports games.  But platformers?  Really, it only has a handful that could even theoretically fall under that banner.  There’s Top Hunter, Magician Lord, Spinmaster, Cyber-Lip, and maybe a few others that aren’t coming to mind at the moment (appropriately enough).  But ultimately, those all fall under the general “side-scrolling action” category, sharing more in common with run-n-gun games like Metal Slug or 8- and 16-bit action games like Shinobi than they do with good old-fashioned hop-n-bop platformers like Mario and Sonic.

So, can you even say that the Neo has a single true platformer?  I think you could make the argument that it doesn’t.  Or, you can make the argument that it does!  (How’s that for a literary twist!)  And if you were to make the argument that it does have a true platformer, Blue’s Journey (known as Raguy in Japan) is Exhibit A.

I guess all that pontificating was to say that Neo Geo has bupkis for platformers.  So if you’re looking for one, your “choice” is Blue’s Journey, and you better like it.  Thankfully, it’s not a bad game.  In fact, it’s a pretty decent little game.  I’m sitting here trying to think of good phrases to sum it up, and all I can come up with are slightly condescending compliments like “not a bad game,” “a pretty decent little game,” and “a light-hearted little romp” (seriously, I almost used that one).  I think that says something about the game.  It’s good, but not inspiring.  It’s entertaining, but not amazing.  I look at it the way I look at a weiner dog.  “Aw, cute… *smiles and pats it on the head*”  Ultimately, I like it, and it makes me smile, but I think I also pity it a bit.

In fact, I think that sums it up perfectly.  Blue’s Journey is actually a pretty good game, but I feel a little sorry for it.  Good as it is, it will never hold a candle to the last platformer I reviewed.  On top of that, there are a few technical issues that make it seem like even the developers didn’t really respect it.  I mean, really?  You put important HUD information in the overscan area where 99% of CRT TVs will cut it off?  Really?  That’s amateur hour.  And that translation… Oh, god, the translation.  It’s as if they found the one guy on staff who had taken a couple years of English in high school and had him write the script.  Then they used the first draft of it.  I seriously began to wonder if it was intentionally bad and was some sort of parody of itself, but given the fact that nothing else in the game would imply that it’s supposed to be funny, I’m just left with the conclusion that it’s bad.  Thankfully, it’s gone way past the awkward zone and into the so-bad-it’s-good zone.  But that might be the pity talking.

Alright, so we’ve established that Blue’s Journey is a platformer on the Neo Geo, but what about specifics?  You’re Blue, a little fairy insect thing, and you’re out to save your home and your girlfriend from the evil empire that has moved in and is polluting everything to death.  You’ll hop through several brightly colored worlds along the way, with several different upgradeable weapons to aid you.  There’s a leaf, exploding acorns, and a boomerang.  The leaf stuns enemies so that you can pick them up and throw them at each other, while the exploding acorns and boomerangs both destroy the enemy outright, with various ranges and explosive powers.  On top of all that, you also have the ability to shrink yourself to an even smaller size to fit into special paths and secret areas.  It’s also a little easier to dodge enemies when shrunk, and I think you can jump just slightly better, but you’re also completely defenseless because you can’t use any weapons in that state.

The game always starts off in the same world, but after beating the first boss, your path will branch, and you’ll play through two of the next four worlds.  After that, you’ll end up in the evil empire for the final world.  Along the way, there are several secret areas to find, shops to visit, bosses to fight, and characters to meet.  The branching paths combined with multiple endings and secret areas/characters add some replay value to what would otherwise be a very short game.  You can easily complete it in a single sitting (since it’s an arcade game, after all), so most of the challenge will come from seeing all the endings or attempting to complete the game on a single credit.  But if you don’t want to finish it in a single sitting, you can also let the timer run out on the Game Over screen to get the option to save your progress.  You will then be able to load your progress the next time you start a new game.  There’s also a two player mode if you want to conquer the empire with a friend.

The graphics are brilliantly colorful, with lots of rich greens and blues.  It’s a very appealing looking game.  The controls are simple, so they work just fine.  The sound is appropriately upbeat and bouncy, though nothing that will stick with you for a long time.

Final Thoughts: Ultimately, I think the good parts of Blue’s Journey outweigh the bad (and some of the bad swings all the way back around to be good), so I can safely recommend you give the game a try.  As far as Neo Geo games go, it’s on the cheaper end, so you won’t necessarily feel cheated by its flaws.  And it’s actually not hard to look past the flaws in the first place.  So if you do, there’s an enjoyable light-hearted little romp to be had. (Sorry, I just had to say it.)

YouTube Pick (via cubex55):

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How to Build an Atari Jaguar S-Video/Composite AV Cable

July 18, 2012 by

Official S-Video cables exist for the Atari Jaguar, but they’re frustratingly difficult to find for a reasonable price.  They’re certainly not as bad as GameCube component cables, which can fetch over $100, but there’s really no good reason to pay more than a few bucks for any cable.  There are a few homebrew solutions scattered about, but reliably finding a seller that will quickly get you a cable is still harder than it should be.  What makes this even worse is that the Jaguar only comes with an RF connection by default, and it’s an especially AWFUL RF connection, too!

The solution?  Build your own cable!  If you already have the basic tools on hand (a soldering iron and solder is all you really need, though spare wire and electrical tape are nice to have, too), then all you really need is a few bucks for the right parts and some time.

So, let’s get started.  Here’s what I recommend you have on hand:

Tools:

  • A basic, 30ish-watt soldering iron (easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Solder, appropriate for high-tech devices (also easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Desoldering braid, for fixing mistakes (again, easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Black electrical tape, for making temporary connections and insulating wires (you probably already have this laying around)
  • Spare electrical wire (optional)

Parts:

  • A flat, 24-pin, dual-edge connector, .100 DIP. (This one from DigiKey works perfectly. Other people have used connectors from ribbon cables and blocked or cut off the extra connectors.  That’s janky, but works.)
  • A combo S-Video/Audio cable (or S-Video/Audio/Composite, if you want the yellow video connector, too.  I used this one from Monoprice and cut it in half to make two cables.)

That’s it!  Now, let’s get to work.  Get out your Jaguar and take a look at it from the back.  You see the connector on the right?  The wider one labeled A/V?  Yeah, that connector already has all the signals we need running through it.  We just need something that will pass that information on to the TV!  There’s even an RGB signal on there, if you’re so inclined (I’m not).

Here’s a handy pinout reference that shows what information each pin on the conector carries.  Imagine you’re still looking directly at the back of the Jaguar, then you can read what each pin is for.  The connector you bought from DigiKey?  That just provides a nice solder point for each pin.

Now, get out your cable and slice the connectors off of one end (or cut the whole cord in half, if you intend to use it for two cables).  You’ll see a number of wires inside, each responsible for carrying a different signal.  Additionally, each wire will actually have two components: a core signal wire, and a shielding/ground wire.  The ground wire will be wrapped around the core signal wire.

Strip a half-inch to inch of the covering off of each wire. Be careful!  This step was actually harder than I expected. Some of the signal wires are pretty thin and delicate, so I kept breaking them.  In the end, here’s what you should see:

  • Audio (Right) – Red + Ground
  • Audio (Left) – White + Ground
  • S-video (Chroma) – Color varies (mine was white) + Ground
  • S-video (Luma) – Color varies (mine was black) + Ground
  • (Optional) Composite video – Yellow + Ground

I needed some trial and error in a later step to figure out which wire was Chroma and which was Luma, but there are only two possibilities, so it’s not hard to figure out.

This is really all the information you need.  From here on out, it’s just a matter of soldering the right wire to the right connector pin.  Here’s how they end up connecting, based on the above pinout:

  • Right audio: 1B
  • Right audio ground: 2B
  • Left audio: 1A
  • Left audio ground: 1B
  • S-video chroma: 8A
  • S-video chroma ground: 4A
  • S-video luma: 8B
  • S-video luma ground: 7B
  • (Optional) Composite video: 11B
  • (Optional) Composite video ground: 10B

Now, it’s all about technique and just making the connections.  Thankfully, it’s not difficult.  This was only my second soldering project, so anyone can do it!

I found it simplest to solder about two inches of wire to each of the necessary pins on back of the connector.  This was much easier to handle than trying to solder the bulky cable directly.  You can use spare wire if you have it, but I just used a couple inches of stripped wire that I cut out of the cable itself.

Make a connection between the wires in your cable and the wires on the connector by simply twisting the appropriate ones together.  For now, secure each connection with a bit of electrical tape.

Believe it or not, you now have a functioning S-Video cable!  Go test it in your Jaguar.  Make sure to note which side is the top of the connector!  It will fit upside-down, but obviously won’t work like that.  You should see a beautiful, clear picture with stereo sound the moment you turn the system on.  If you don’t see (or hear) that, then make sure your connections are all secure and to the right pins.  Also make sure there are no exposed wires crossing each other. I accidentally mixed a few connections up the first time, so give yourself a little time for trial and error.

Once you have a working cable, go back to your workbench (or dining room table, in my case) and melt some solder on each of the twisted connection points to make them more permanent.  Wrap all the exposed wires in electrical tape to prevent signal crossing.  Finally, wrap the whole thing in even more electrical tape to create a makeshift housing that will protect the wires from general wear and tear.  Don’t be shy with how much tape you use here — the more the better!  Some of the connections are very delicate, so you’ll want to protect them.

The end result?  Well, the device itself is ugly, but the picture it supplies sure is beautiful!

Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

July 2, 2012 by

*96 Autumn on Yoshi's Island

Despite the fact that this site has lain dormant for a good year and a half, I feel compelled to share my thoughts today.  Just a few nights ago, I was reading about someone’s experience with replacing batteries in old game cartridges.  That made me feel a little bit paranoid about my own games, so I decided to take out a couple and check to make sure they were still holding my saves.  One of the games I decided to check was Super Mario World, since it’s one of my older battery-backed games.  Thankfully, I found that it was in perfect working order and still had my saves from when I beat the game back in the early nineties.

But this post isn’t about rediscovering old saved games.  As fun as that can be, the topic has been covered.  Instead, this post is about how absolutely wonderful of a game Super Mario World is.

When I went to test the cartridge and discovered it was still holding my saves, I thought to myself… “You know, it’s been a really long time.  I think I’ll play a few levels.”  Then “a few levels” turned into “a few more levels.”  Before I knew it, I was on a mission.  I was going to complete the whole game.  As a kid, I beat it, but I used the Star Road to almost entirely skip the last couple of worlds.  In fact, my winning save shows only 53 of 96 goals completed.  There was so much more to see!

As I made my way through the first world, and then the second, and then the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh, all along I kept thinking to myself how amazing the whole experience was.  The game is charming, it’s challenging, it’s beautiful, it’s bold, it’s expansive, it’s enigmatic, it’s satisfying, it’s… well… special.

I enjoyed this game when I was younger.  I have fond memories of friends coming over after school to play it.  I remember the final Bowser fight and how excited we were to beat him.  I remember the sense of discovery every time we found a secret exit.  I remember finding the brutally difficult Special levels and gleefully taking turns, playing them over and over and over to see who could finish them.  But for some reason, on this playthrough (some 18 years later), something clicked.

It’s like I was playing the game again for the first time.  I was noticing details that I never noticed before.  I was finding secrets that I never found before.  I was playing levels that I never played before.  I was noticing the beautiful use of color, the clever level design, and a sense of depth and attention to detail that I never noticed before.  At the risk of sounding cliche, I think I was discovering the true artistry of the game for the first time.

And that is why I still play old games.

Final Thoughts: Super Mario World is now one of my favorite games of all time.  It deserves not just a Retro Star Award, but an extra big one…

Retro Star Award

YouTube Pick (via SNESguide.com):

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Impressions: Super Mario Land (Game Boy)

December 10, 2010 by

I decided earlier tonight that it was about time I sat down and played through a Game Boy game.  After all, it’s been ages, and I haven’t really given my Super Game Boy a good run, so let’s do this!  I figured I’d start off with Super Mario Land, which I bought at the last Midwest Gaming Classic.  Actually, my real motivation here is that I want to play Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, but figured I ought to play through the first before that.  So here we go…

Day 1: The first thing I told myself was “There’s something wrong here.  Is this really a Mario game?  It feels so… Wrong.  Well, whatever, I’ll stick with it and give it a chance.”  Really, no kidding, there’s just something “off” about this game.  But either way, in my first sitting, I played through level 4-1 before calling it a night.  That must be about half way through, right?  Right?  Imagine my surprise when I checked online to see how long the game is and discovered there are only four worlds!  And with only three levels per world, this is an especially short game.  I get the feeling I’ll be beating this one pretty quickly.  I guess I should get to work on that Princess Tomato review, or I’ll have another post to add to the “to-do” list before I know it…

Day 2: Well, yep… Beat it.  Frankly, I’m kind of glad it wasn’t really any longer than it was.  I started playing through the game again after completing it (a harder mode with more enemies unlocks), but didn’t really find it compelling enough to keep going. One more to check off my Backloggery, though!

Princess Tomato Completed!

November 10, 2010 by

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been (gradually) playing through Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom and recording my thoughts in an impressions post.  I just completed the game tonight, so if you haven’t been following along (who am I kidding, who would really be checking in every day to see if I’ve updated it?), then be sure to check out my full impressions here while I work on getting the full review up!

Sitegeist: New poll may be the hardest ever

October 13, 2010 by

At long last, I’ve decided to update the poll that’s running in the right-hand sidebar.  (It says it’s over three years old, but it’s not really… I promise!)  I’m happy to see several things from the results:

  1. My own pick, Nintendo, just barely edged out a close win against Sega!  Booya!
  2. The race was really really close, so it looks like we have a nice split of fans here.  Good to know!
  3. The TurboGrafx-16 fared much better than I expected it to.  Go Turbo!

But yeah, I think the new poll might be the hardest one ever.  At the very least, this is a question I’ve been struggling to answer for years!  I mean, really, is it possible to choose the superior game when the choices are Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World?  And no, there’s no opt-out, cop-out option on this one.  You HAVE to choose!

As for myself, I still can’t decide… Maybe I’ll withhold my own vote.  That also means you might just get to be the lucky first voter!

And by the way, the Polls Archive page works now, if you want to check out the results of the last poll.

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