My Shadowrun Story

December 6, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

Image result for shadowrun snes logo

Sometimes a game just calls to you.  For me, Shadowrun on the SNES was one of those.  For years, it’s been an old friend patiently and repeatedly calling me up to spend time together, but for some reason, I was distracted and always just let it go to voicemail.  I’d hear it calling and I’d think “Ah, right, I need to get back to Shadowrun.  We have so much to talk about!  Soon, I promise.  We’ll do lunch!”  For nearly twenty years, it would try to get my attention.  Sometimes more loudly than others, sometimes more frequently than others.  And always the neglectful friend that I was, I would think “later.”

I first encountered Shadowrun for the SNES as a teenager, tinkering with emulators and trying out random ROMs.  I have no idea what inspired me to load it up, but I still remember playing it for the first time. I was immediately intrigued.  It just checked my boxes.  Maybe I tried it because I’m a sucker for cyberpunk–movies like Blade Runner, books like Snow Crash and Neuromancer and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Something about grungy, dystopian, techno-thrillers about shadowy, anti-authoritarian hackers and corporate corruption just appeals to my aesthetics.  Or maybe I tried it because I love point-and-click adventure games.  I grew up on the likes of Sierra and LucasArts classics like Kings Quest, Space Quest, Monkey Island, Sam & Max, and Maniac Mansion.  Or maybe I tried it because I enjoy games with light RPG elements.  I love a bit of story and character development, but want to show me a 20-minute cut-scene and make me manage 10 different sub-systems, collect random items to craft my armor, and run fetch-quests for 100 hours?  No, fuck off.  Or maybe I just tried it because I have an odd soft spot for isometric-styled games, likely dating back to formative years playing Marble Madness and R.C. Pro-Am.

Whatever it was, I tried it.  I liked it.  And then I always thought “I’ll really dig into this later.”  Years went by.  I went to college, I graduated, I got a job, I bought a home, and I became a retro game collector.  I don’t remember what inspired it, but one day, I finally told myself “I’m going to do it.  I’m going to play Shadowrun.”  And since I was already a collector by that time, I had to play it for real.  I went on eBay and bought myself a boxed copy.  But there was just one problem – the manual was missing.  No biggie, right?  Well, when the game came, I loaded it up and immediately got destroyed.  Simply walking around the first city got me killed because snipers and hit men would shoot me and I had no weapons or armor to defend myself.  The memories of my initial emulator-based encounter with the game were hazy and I couldn’t remember what to do first.  “Alright, I need to come back to this later,” I told myself.  “And I want to do it right, with the real manual like a proper retro gamer does!”

Unbeknownst to me, it would be years more before my saved eBay search for “Shadowrun manual” would bear fruit.  By then, I would have quit my job, moved, started work on a PhD, and largely gotten away from collecting because of the combination of skyrocketing prices and drastically reduced income.  But that moment finally came last month.  Several years and $11 later, I now had a truly complete copy of Shadowrun for the SNES.  And with that, I also no longer had any excuses.  It was time to finally play the game.

And play it, I did.  I escaped from my slab at the morgue where I was left for dead.  I tracked down a pistol from a dead body in the sewers.  I survived being kidnapped and I defeated all challengers in arena combat.  I met my spirit guide.  (A dog, no less!)  I joined forces with a shape-shifting fox woman.  I killed a vampire.  I killed a dragon.  I hacked computers.  I made deals in seedy bars.  I invaded corporate skyscrapers and dank sewers and gang hideouts.  Ultimately, I prevailed.  I conquered not only the men who wanted me dead, but also my own neglect.  Shadowrun, I heard you calling.  I finally answered.  And it was good.

Latest Haul and Impressions: Firestriker (SNES)

August 13, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

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…

Impressions: Super Mario Land (Game Boy)

December 10, 2010 by · 6 Comments 

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 · Leave a Comment 

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!

Impressions: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)

October 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingom

This post will be a spot for me to record my thoughts as I play through Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom.  The game is a graphical/text adventure in the same style as Deja Vu, Shadowgate, etc.  Keep checking back to follow my progress!  (Beware some minor spoilers, though!)

Day 1: I briefly gave Princess Tomato a try back when I bought it (a year and a half, or so, ago?) and I decided it’s time to dig in further.  The game so far is a pretty charming adventure game.  Its cheery fruits and vegetables theme makes it seem like it might be meant for kids, but there’s some weird stuff going on here.  A visit to a cabaret where you can buy a sexy Apricot and Lemon a round of drinks?  A drunken drifter passed out on a park bench who needs your help to cure what is clearly a hangover?  An underground network of resistance fighters trying to overthrow an evil pumpkin invader?  And I’ve only played the first two levels…

Day 2: Levels 3 and 4.  After playing through Zillion, I’m crazy happy this game has passwords to continue.  I’m getting into the meat of the game now.  The gameplay has been shaken up a bit with a couple unusual sections — some Rock/Paper/Scissors matches and a maze to explore.  I’m attempting to reach the Resistance base, but keep running into obstacles and puzzles. (In an adventure game!?  Imagine that!)  Some of them are a little too obtuse, though.  I don’t like how some destinations and objects don’t appear until you do otherwise obscure/totally unrelated actions.  But on the plus side, the game doesn’t seem to let you do anything to really screw yourself over.  It’s more of the LucasArts style of adventure, rather than Sierra, in that you can’t die or lose.  It’s nice to know you can experiment without fear of having to start over.  By the way, what’s with the “DUMP” action?  Why didn’t they call it “DROP”?  “DUMP” has… other… connotations.

Day 3: Level 5.  I breezed through this level.  I think I’m getting the flow of the game down — I’m getting used to retrying actions that previously failed after I trigger plot points.  Oh, that door was locked before, but now that I’ve talked to this seemingly entirely unrelated person, it’s still locked, but now I can break in even though I couldn’t before?  Okay, sure, why not…  But I am left with a couple questions.  Why are the numbers and letters on the password input screen ordered from top to bottom, right to left?  Is this some leftover from the Japanese release?  That screen was confusing until I realized what was up… Also, why is Princess Tomato’s sister human?  I don’t trust her. (Yeah, I’ll trust the talking Watermelon… But not the pretty human lady!)

Day 4: Level 6.  Another maze.  More Paper/Rock/Scissors battles. (PROTIP: The enemies have patterns in the battles.  They’re very easy if you pay attention).  Level 6 was harder than level 5, though.  Also, I’m not sure if the game’s puzzles are getting more logical or if I’m just getting better at the game.  I’m not getting completely stuck as often.  Realizing I can safely try anything without worrying that it will ruin my game has been a big help.  It’s also removed some of the challege.  At this point, most of the difficulty just comes from trying to figure out what will trigger the next conversation change/plot point.  It’s almost like I’m playing against the game’s internal programming logic and not the puzzles!  Interestingly, I think the fact that I’m a programmer is helping me “get” how the game behaves.

Day 5: Level 7 and some of 8.  I infiltrated a town, disguised as a Farmie but armed with my Resistance Crest to identify me to allies.  Nothing much of note here, except that I enjoyed some of the low-key humor you get when you check out all the stuff in the shop.  The level finishes with a simple maze (well, simple if you talk to the right people).  I actually got stuck in Level 8, making my way through the castle.  I must have missed something, but I thought I tried every single action and every single item on every single screen and couldn’t figure out how to get past the guard.  I will have to come back to this.

Day 6: Levels 8 and 9.  I managed to get through Level 8 this time.  I have to say, the flaws of this game really rear their ugly heads in the last couple of levels.  There’s a super long maze, several rock/paper/scissors battles, and LOTS and LOTS of cases where you have to repeat mundane actions for items and plot points to appear.  But still, not all of the game’s charm was lost.  They even snuck in a Milon’s Secret Castle reference!  But anyway, I’m all finished now.  The game was fun, but not without its flaws.  Look for a proper review in the future!

First Impressions: Cloud Master, Shinobi, Gangster Town

October 8, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

First impressions are important.  If you meet someone for the first time and they make a bad first impression, it takes something like four positive experiences to reverse that opinion.  I think things work similarly with first impressions of a new game, too.  The first few minutes can completely shape your opinions.

With that in mind, I played each of my three new games for about 15 minutes.  I don’t necessarily intend to dig into each of them much further in the near future, but I think this post will be interesting to come back to when I do.  Once I play the whole game, will my opinions differ from my first impressions?

  • Cloud Master: In general, this seems like a solid little side-scrolling shooter.  At first, there was nothing remarkable about it, but then I started to pick up a bit more of the power-up system and discovered a secret door that led to a magic shop.  I think there could be some hidden depth here.
  • Shinobi: Stiff.  Wooden.  Ugly.  One dimensional.  I’m not really feeling the love for this game, despite its good reputation.  Perhaps there’s more to it that I haven’t seen yet?  The first level did make an interesting switch into a first-person view point and changed up the game mechanics, so maybe there’s more going on.  Or maybe people were just blinded by the arcade version?
  • Gangster Town: Holy cow, I wasn’t expecting this!  It’s an 8-bit light gun game, so I expected something with about the level of depth of Hogan’s Alley.  But no, there’s a lot more going on here.  There’s a surprising amount of interactivity — you can shoot the hats off of the enemies’ heads, then shoot the hat again while it’s in the air for bonus points.  You can shoot the tires off of cars.  You can shoot down signs.  I’m impressed, and am looking forward to playing more of this one.

Impressions: Cosmic Spacehead (Genesis)

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Cosmic Spacehead

Cosmic Spacehead boxart

Well, how about this… I’ve already beaten a game I got on Saturday at the Midwest Gaming Classic!  I was giving all my new games a quick test run and wasn’t planning on spending much time with them yet, but this one managed to grab me enough to keep playing.  A full review will come later, but for now, I thought I’d share some initial thoughts.

Cosmic Spacehead is a nice little game.  It’s a hybrid point-and-click adventure/platformer (kind of like Alex Kidd: High Tech World….. but not as bad). The story is that you’re playing as Cosmic, and you’ve just discovered planet Earth. The problem is that, when you return home to tell everyone, nobody believes you.  Now, you’re off to set the record straight.  You have to find a way back to Earth to take pictures and return home with proof so you can get the hero’s welcome you deserve.

Overall, the game is pretty easy and pretty short, but generally well-made.  I really love the colorful, cartoony graphics (it’s one of the few Genesis games with a great color palette) and the general tongue-in-cheek style.  Basically, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s always a plus in my book.  That’s all for now, stay tuned for a full review!

Excitebike: World Rally

December 20, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

This week, I was fully expecting to follow up on my previous post with more impressions of Metal Gear and Castelian on the NES, but that didn’t happen.  Why not?  Excitebike: World Rally happened.

I want to take a minute to give a quick shout out to this game.  It was released the same week as New Super Mario Bros. Wii, so I think it got somewhat overlooked.  I know  I was interested in it, but forgot all about it in the wake of Mario.  Now that I’ve finally downloaded it, I’m hooked!

This is a fantastic little update to the original Excitebike.  It’s got 16 different courses spread across four different cups, a great online component (with a very active playerbase, it seems), a track editor, and lots of new bikes to unlock.  The single player experience goes by pretty quickly if you don’t try to get S-ratings on each race, so take your time and savor it.

Any retro gamer who’s a fan of the original Excitebike (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) should get this game for WiiWare.  You’ll be hooked (oh, and don’t fall for the temptation to revert to classic NES-style controls — the tilt controls really work well and are a lot of fun).

Impressions: Castelian (NES)

December 10, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Castelian originally caught my eye when I read about its Commodore 64 incarnation: Nebulus.  Namely, it’s the interesting graphical effect it uses during almost all of the gameplay that drew me to it.  The game is a puzzle platformer where you’re some strange pig/frog creature and you’re hopping around platforms on the outside of a series of cylindrical towers in an effort to tear them down.  The effect used to display the rotation of the tower as you move around it is really convincing, and quite impressive for an 8-bit game.

I left it at that, though.  I don’t own a C64, so I wasn’t going to make much of an effort to play it.  But then I noticed this game called Castelian on the NES that looked really similar.  As it turns out, it’s actually the same game, just under a different name.  Why?  I dunno.  But I’ll take it.  It was a pleasant surprise to see I could play Nebulus after all!

So now that I have it, how does it fare?  Pretty well, so far.  My first impression of the game was that it was pretty damn hard.  I couldn’t even beat the first level.  Your pig/frog is not very mobile, doesn’t jump very well, and there are lots of awkwardly placed ledges to fall down and enemies to run into.  Then I remembered what Metroid and Metal Gear taught me: Be patient!  It’s not about busting through the game on a single life, it’s about exploring and learning the best way through the level.  Once I took that approach, I started to make some good progress.

So now I’m up to the fourth level (of eight) and the level design is really starting to come alive.  Stage 3 had some clever tricks to it, and stage 4 is even more intricate.  I’m really starting to like it, and I’m eager to see what’s in store for later levels.

I still suck at the bonus stages, though…

Impressions: Metal Gear (NES)

October 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

I’m going to try something a little different… Instead of just posting reviews after I’ve completed a game, I’m going to post a sort of “gameplay diary” to record my thoughts as the game progresses. I’ve noticed my opinion of a game can change a lot as I go through various parts of it, so it might be fun to jot those thoughts down. So here we go!

After finishing Top Gear 2 and Wario Land, I needed a new game to play. So I asked my girlfriend to pick one out for me — of course, she had no idea what she was looking at, so it was essentially “pick a game from my game room at random.” It worked out pretty well, though, since Metal Gear was one game I’d been thinking I need to try out.

Anyhow, my first impression of the game is that everyone is right about the god-awful translation. I’d heard about it so many times that it had become cliché — just one of those things that everyone has to poke fun of because it’s the thing to do. Well, it’s not just a cliché. It’s genuinely bad. “First, attempt to contact missing our ‘Grey Fox.'” (?) “I feel asleep!” (??) “Uh-oh the truck have started to move!” (???) Ugh.

My second impression was how damn hard the game is. You start out virtually defenseless, with no weapon but your fists, and all kinds of enemies (including dogs) will kill you in no time. Frankly, it’s frustrating. But once I got into the right mindset, I started to “get” it. I started treating the game less as an action/adventure and more as a puzzle game. I stopped worrying about dying and just set the goal to find the best possible path through each section. If I died, no big deal, I just tried a different way. Thankfully, you keep all your items when you continue.

So at this point, I’m starting to actually like the game. I found the instruction book online and learned what some of the items do, I’ve found a virtually flawless path through the opening sections, I have some new items at my disposal, and I’m infiltrating the enemy base, so things are starting to pick up. I just hope I get a weapon soon…

Anyway, off to play it a bit more. I will keep updating this post as I get further along, so check back!

Update 1: Okay, this game is terrible.  Really, seriously, terrible… Infinitely respawning (and seriously retarded) enemies; tedious gameplay that forces you to restart completely each time you die (or even when you use your password to continue); glitches galore (the game flat out hung on me three times so far).  And yet, I’m hooked.  For some reason, I just want to keep playing.  I want to see what’s through the next door and around the next corner.  I want to find that perfect path through each room that sneaks me past every obstacle without a scratch.  I’m, somehow, enjoying all this??  I’m just wondering when the hell I’m gonna get a gun, though.  I found explosives, remote-controlled missiles, and even a silencer, but no gun?  I think I must have missed it.  But at the same time, I’m not so sure I want to find it.  I’m enjoying the pure-stealth approach.  Well, maybe I’ll find the gun next time, since I have to restart from the beginning when I continue, anyway.

Update 2: Oh for crying out loud.  I just finished a session of this game where I was really starting to get into it.  It turns out I did, in fact, miss a handgun in my earlier playthroughs, so I finally found that — along with mines, a grenade launcher, a machine gun, and lots of other fun stuff.  I even made it far enough that now I don’t have to start over from the beginning when I continue!  But of course, just as I’m leaning towards “You know, this game’s not so bad… I actually rather like it,” it decides to just crash on me.  After finding Grey Fox, finding all my supplies again, and taking down (what I’m assuming is) the first boss, I do something as simple as try to go to the next screen, and it just hangs.  Fun!  I wonder how much QA this game actually got.  I’m leaning towards “None.”  The best part?  I’ll be crawling back for more tomorrow…

Update 3: Making good progress — No crashes or anything like that to report today!  I suspect I’m just about halfway through, about to rescue Pettrovich.  I found a whole bunch of POWs that I missed before, so I’ve reached the 3-star level and am pretty much unstoppable.  Also, I decided to check out the original MSX version of the game, so I got the fan translations up and running on an emulator.  Boy, is it better!  The graphics and sound are way different.  I’m noticing that the NES version is actually pretty faithful once you get past the awful opening jungle sequence, which doesn’t even exist in the MSX version.  I’m thinking about doing an in-depth article to compare the Western version of the series (Metal Gear and Snake’s Revenge on NES) to the Japanese series (Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake on MSX).  That could be fun, but I’d have to play through all four games first!

Update 4: Oh, Kojima… You got me.  You got me good.  I thought I was about to rescue Pettrovich, but nope… Plot twist!  Anyway, onto Building 2.  I’m a 4-star rank and making good progress.  There’s much less stealth involved at this point, though — there’s no real point in avoiding enemies anymore, considering how much health, how many rations, how much ammo, and the body armor I have.  The game is now more about exploration, finding the items you need to progress, and taking down big boss-type enemies.  The password system is really getting on my nerves.  Why would anyone design a 25-character password where you can’t back up and correct mistakes?  One typo, and you have to actually finish filling out your (incorrect) code, then start all over again.  Ugh!

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