Videogames Hardware Handbook

January 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Videogames Hardware HandbookI’m a big fan of Retro Gamer magazine, despite how expensive it is to get here in the US (it’s a UK import).  It’s a fantastic classic gaming mag, jam packed with lots of great content in every issue (the typical issue is 114 pages, with virtually no ads).

One of my favorite parts of the magazine is their recurring “Retroinspection” feature.  With this feature, they give an overview of a particular gaming platform. They go into its history, its strenghts and weaknesses, relevance in the marketplace at the time, and oftentimes even interview key players involved with the platform in some way.  These articles are a great introduction to the different platforms that are out there, and the “Perfect Ten” portions where they recommend 10 games everyone should play are a great way to figure out where to start when exploring a new system.

So, when Retro Gamer released a compliation of past Retroinspections over the holidays, I knew I had to have it — especially considering how interested I am in collecting hardware.  Videogames Hardware Handbook: The Game Machine Collector’s Manual covers a 22 year timespan from 1977 to 1999 and covers everything from consoles to handhelds to odd British 8-bit computers that we never saw over here (but are crazy popular over there).  You get info on all the platforms you’d expect, like the Atari 2600, NES, Genesis (or the Mega Drive, as they call it), plus some of the more obscure, like the 3DO, Jaguar, NEC PC-FX, and 8-bits like the ZX Spectrum and Dragon 32.  Basically, it’s 256 pages of pure content covering 35 different platforms.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not comprehensive.  Since this is a compliation of past articles instead of fresh content, anything that wasn’t already covered in a Retroinspection isn’t included.  So, no Colecovision, no 32X, no Neo-Geo, and no PlayStation.  Nevertheless, if you’re into retro game collecting, I’m finding it a fascinating compliation and a great value.

Note that I’m in no way affiliated with Imagine Publishing and this isn’t a paid ad or anything.  I just really like Retro Gamer magazine and this special edition.  I want everyone to know about it!  And I want it to sell well enough that they make a second volume covering all the platforms that weren’t included in this edition…

Impressions: 3DO Edition (plus some Saturn and Neo-Geo)

February 12, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

I got a handful of new games with my new 3DO testing station.  After taking them for a quick spin, I have a few thoughts to share on each.  Here goes:

  • Alone in the Dark: I played and beat this game for the PC back in the day.  Good stuff all around.  I’m kinda looking forward to digging into this game again and reliving it.
  • Ballz: What the hell is going on here?  It’s some sort of proto 3D fighter, but it basically sucks.  I dunno, whatever.  It’s a little more interesting than most of the “me too” fighters from the 90s, but its gimmick falls flat.
  • Battle Chess: Another PC classic ported to the 3DO.  It’s chess, and it has fun animations to show the pieces doing battle as you play.  Play 2-player or against the computer, play in 3D or 2D… That about covers it.  It’s Battle Chess, so it can’t be too bad, but it moves along a little slowly.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Technically impressive and with an improved soundtrack, it’s likely the best home port of the time.  But it’s virtually unplayable with a regular 3DO control pad.  I’m supposed to hit the Play button as part of normal gameplay?  Seriously?  No thanks…
  • Way of the Warrior:  Mortal Kombat rip-off.  It’s another one of those dime-a-dozen 2D fighters from the 90s that had digitized characters.  This one also happens to pretty much be a crapfest, much like the rest.  It’s games like this that give the 3DO a bad name.

And some bonus coverage of non-3DO games I’ve also been playing:

  • Super Baseball 2020 (Neo-Geo CD): Generally, the only time I will like a sports game is if it’s arcade-style and over the top.  And if Super Baseball 2020 is anything, it’s arcade-style and over the top!  Basically, it’s fast-paced futuristic baseball with robots and mines scattered throughout the field.  Keep your robots in good mechanical condition and swing for the fences.  Bright, colorful, and fun — I’m looking forward to playing more of this one.
  • Virtua Cop 2 (Saturn):  Virtua Cop 2 is like the original, but better in every way.  More enemies to shoot, more civilians to save, better level design, branching paths, and more interactive bits to the environment.  I’m liking it quite a bit, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nice review in the near future.

Latest Haul: 3DO Testing Station and more!

February 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Latest Haul: 3DO Testing Station and more!Alright, I admit it… I splurged.  Last year, I started dabbling in homebrew for the 3DO, and while I did make some progress, I hit a wall pretty fast.  I managed to get a couple simple demos written and created a nice development environment with the official SDK and a Mac emulator, but not much more.

The thing about the 3DO is that software has to be encrypted to run on it, and the problem is that the encryption tools are not part of the SDK — any software had to be sent off to The 3DO Company to be approved and encrypted before release.  But now The 3DO Company doesn’t exist.  D’oh.  Without a way of actually running the demos I’d written on real hardware, there wasn’t much progress to be made.  That is, unless I could get my hands on a 3DO Testing Station.

The 3DO Testing Station is a version of the hardware that was sent to developers for testing and is capable of running unencrypted software — there’s a small switch on the back to go back and forth between Encrypted and Unencrypted.  So, if I wanted to write my own programs, I’d either have to crack the encryption (yeah, right) or get myself a Testing Station.  I kept my eye on eBay for quite some time with an automatic search, and not much came up.  Finally, last week, another one appeared (along with a handful of games) and I decided to pull the trigger.  I paid a little more than I would have liked, but now I can stop searching and get started on some real projects.  Hey, it’ll be a learning experience.  It’s worth it, right?

On top of eBay, I also did a little shopping at another local game store I just discovered, Play N Trade Video Games.  It turned out to be a pretty small store, and their classic selection was nothing compared to my favorite local store (see me gush about PrePlayed here) but it was still worth making the trip — I managed to snag a complete Virtua Cop 2 for the Saturn for a nice price.  They also had Bubble Bobble for the Saturn, but it was $23.99, disc-only.  I’ve been wanting that game for years, but not disc-only.  I also got to overhear an amusing conversation between the clerk and a middle-aged man inquiring about the Atari Jaguar.  The customer mentioned something about the Jaguar being “really rare” and about $100 on eBay.  I almost felt like butting in to mention I had one, and that I got it brand new in the box for $25 several years ago, but decided that it’d be kinda… nerdy… for me to jump in with that tidbit.

And, finally, I also got issue #9 of Video Game Collector.  This is a magazine I’ve considered subscribing to in the past, but never did.  Luckily for me, the publisher was offering free issues over at the Digital Press forums several weeks ago, so I decided to take advantage of that.  Can’t go wrong with free!  Maybe I’ll pick up the back catalog…

In summary, here’s the rundown of everything I got in the last few days:

  • 3DO Testing Station and games: This is the Testing Station hardware along with a nice, revised Panasonic control-pad.  The controller is smaller, more comfortable, and has a much more responsive D-Pad.  This one gives the Logitech controller a run for its money.  Also in the package were disc-only copies of Alone in the Dark, Ballz, Battle Chess, Gex, Killing Time, Space Hulk, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Way of the Warrior, and Sampler #2 (with the much-needed memory manager).  I already had Gex, Killing Time, and Space Hulk, and Sampler #2 is a demo, so that’s five new games to add to my “to review” list.  $173 (+$25 shipping) on eBay.
  • Virtua Cop 2: I really like the original, so I’ve been casually keeping an eye out for Virtua Cop 2.  I wasn’t actively looking to get it, but when I saw it at Play N Trade for $4.99, I couldn’t say no!  The case could use some cleanup, but it’s otherwise complete.
  • Video Game Collector Issue #9: Ah, a whole magazine to indulge my video game nerdery!  This issue even had a feature on one of my favorite topics — obscure consoles.  The magazine could use some polish overall in terms of editing and layout, but it’s good fun for hobbyists.  I’m considering getting the full back catalog + subscription bundle now. Free, via the Digital Press forums.

Virtua Cop (Sega Saturn)

July 15, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

Virtua Cop - Title ScreenVirtua Cop - Beginner LevelVirtua Cop - Medium Level

Light gun games have something of a linear history.  Virtua Cop may have shaken up the genre by bringing into the 3D era, but its gameplay is not nearly as revolutionary as its graphics were.  In fact, you can trace the gameplay straight back to one of the earliest NES games — Hogan’s Alley.  In Hogan’s Alley, you were a cop, wandering through a seedy area, shooting down thugs while trying to hold back your itchy trigger finger when an innocent appears.  In Virtua Cop, you’re a cop, wandering through a seedy area, shooting down thugs while trying to hold back your itchy trigger finger when an innocent appears.  16-bit light gun games were much the same (see Lethal Enforcers) as are modern ones (see the Time Crisis and House of the Dead series).

But saying Virtua Cop sucks because light gun games are all the same would be unfair.  It’d be like saying Soul Calibur sucks just because it’s a 3D fighter, or Streets of Rage sucks just because it’s a side scrolling beat-’em-up.  The real question is whether or not I have fun playing it.  And, quite simply, I do.  It’s certainly not worth playing with the controller, but get yourself a Stunner, and you’ll be mowing down baddies left and right.

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Latest Haul: Sega Saturn Stunner

June 28, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Sega Saturn StunnerThis was a busy week for new retro game stuff.  As I mentioned in one of my Sunday posts, I picked up a couple NES games and a Genesis game.  On top of that, a recent eBay purchase arrived — a Sega Saturn Stunner ($9.99 plus shipping, brand new).  That, in and of itself, does not make for a very interesting post.  More importantly, it gives me a chance to tell a story and share some trivia.  And that is what blog posts are all about…

What it comes down to is that I finally dropped the dough on an accessory that I should have bought about 10 years ago.  I’m one of the many that adopted the Saturn when Sega was running its “Three Free Games” promotion.  If you’re not familiar with it, Sega packed in three free games with each Saturn sold during the 1996 holiday season: Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona USA, and Virtua Cop.  This was a fantastic deal and led to such good sales numbers that they ended up running the promotion for about six months when they originally planned six weeks!

Strangely, the box that the free games came in had a label promoting the deal which stated that the three games were a “$189” value.  $189?  Where the hell did that number come from?  Regardless of how it was promoted, it was very difficult to pass up a Saturn and three of its best games for $199.  So that’s how they hooked me.

But like I said, one of the free games was Virtua Cop.  Unfortunately, the package did not include the light gun that really makes the game what it is.  For one reason or another, I never decided to get one, so the few times that I did play Virtua Cop, I played it with the controller.  I actually got surprisingly good at the game like that, but really, it’s not the way it was meant to be played.

With my decision to start The Retro Review Project, I had the perfect excuse to finally break down and get the Stunner.  After all, how could I possibly give Virtua Cop a proper review without it?  Of course, now that I have the Stunner, that gives me the perfect excuse to get Virtua Cop 2 and House of the Dead… Collecting is a vicious cycle.

Sonic R (Sega Saturn)

June 24, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Sonic R - Title ScreenSonic R - Resort IslandSonic R - Radical City

I debated for a while over which Saturn game I would review first. The Sega Saturn is one of my favorite platforms of all time, and I felt like it needed a worthy introduction. Would I pick one of its well known classics for a glowing review? Or one of my favorite lesser-known titles? Or something absolutely terrible so I could have a little fun with the review? In the end, I decided I’d take a look at a fairly well-known game where I might have a different view than most.

Most of the time, when people talk about Sonic R, (or Sonic 3D Blast or Sonic Jam) they start off by lamenting a bit about how the Saturn never got a true 3D Sonic adventure, and how, if it had, things could have been so much different. Well, I don’t want to talk about that. For one, it’s cliché and been done to death. On top of that, we’ve seen how the 3D Sonic games have turned out since then, and frankly, I don’t think we missed much. And most of all, I think taking all that into consideration taints the view of the game itself. How could you possibly enjoy a Sonic racing game if you’re harboring resentment that it’s not a platformer the entire time?

With that viewpoint explained, I feel confident enough to say that, quite simply, I like this game. If you strip away all the baggage that came with its release, (especially the fact that the Saturn was really struggling at the time) you’ll find an entertaining game underneath. It’s a simple but engaging game — bright and cheerful almost to a fault — and a nice technical demo of the kind of horsepower the Saturn actually had.

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New “classic” games for 3DO, C64, Saturn, and more

June 14, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Nothing warms my heart quite like seeing old game consoles get new releases.  There’s just something uplifting about knowing there are other people out there that remember and are recapturing the same good times I had with my old games.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to finally see “what almost was” back in the day.

With all that said, I’m happy to say that has blown away the (admittedly small) 3DO community with the announcement that they’re not releasing just one, but four new games!  And not only that, but they’re releasing new Saturn content, a new Commodore 64 game, a new classic PC game, and a DVD of classic game commercials, too!  Here’s the list:

3DO: Icebreaker 2, Decathlon, Onside Soccer, Powerslide
Commodore 64: Silo 64
Saturn: Lost & Found 2
PC: Pathquest
DVD: Video Game Archives

They’re now accepting pre-orders and will officially release the games at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on July 28-29.  Check out their announcement for more details.

It looks like Icebreaker 2 will really be the gem of the bunch.  It’s essentially a complete game that has sat, unpublished, for about 13 years!  The game’s creator gives a great demonstration of it in the video below:

Update: OlderGames has now posted trailers for Powerslide, Decathlon, and Onside Soccer.