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…

Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

July 2, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

*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

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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…

Out of This World (SNES / 3DO)

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Out of This World - Title Screen (SNES)Out of This World - Tentacles (3DO)Out of This World - Alien Encounter (3DO)

Out of This World was a landmark game when it came out in 1991.  By attempting to bridge the gap between cinema and games, it pushed the medium in new directions, but at the same time, it succumbed to what’s probably the industry’s biggest insecurity — the fact that it’s not film.  How many games have attempted to be “cinematic” throughout the years?  And how many have truly succeeded?  Were all those FMV games in the early days of the CD format really better because they were movie-like?  Is Metal Gear Solid the pinnacle of gaming because of Hideo Kojima’s obvious desire to be a director, rather than a game producer?  How many “cinematic” games are actually made better by the fact that they’re movie-like?  Maybe a more relevant question might be, “do games even need to be cinematic?”

Regardless of the relationship between movies and games, film’s influence in Out of This World is obvious.  But instead of taking the obvious route and filling the game with FMV and D-list actors, Out of This World is a little more subtle.  Instead of being a playable movie, it simply takes many of the themes of cinema and applies them to games — story, the creation of tension, attachment to characters, action, a complementary soundtrack, and so on.  All of these were groundbreaking for the time, and as a result, Out of This World holds a special place in gaming history for many people.

But calling it a “groundbreaking” or “watershed” or “landmark” game doesn’t necessarily tell you what really matters — does it stand the test of time?  That’s a difficult one to answer.  Taken in context of the time it came out, it’s fantastic.  But 18 years later, does it still hold its own?  Frankly, it’s a tough call.  To be sure, I like Out of This World.  I think it’s a very interesting game and well worth a play-through.  But at the same time, it’s definitely showing its age and its flaws are a little more apparent than they may have once been.

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Impressions: The Lion King and F-Zero

January 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The only two classic games I’ve bought in the last several months are The Lion King and F-Zero, so is it any surprise that they’re the two games I have some impressions to report on? Not really… The real question is when I’ll get around to writing the next full review for the site! What game will it be? Nobody knows… Not even me.

  • The Lion King (Genesis): A technical feat for the Genesis, this game is much better than I expected. The graphics and sound are top notch, but the gameplay leaves a bit to be desired. Some of the platforming segments are just frustrating, and it’s overall fairly short (I haven’t managed to beat the last two levels yet, though). Much harder than I expected, as well.
  • F-Zero (SNES): I’m a huge fan of the rest of the series, so it’s only right that I spend some time with the original. The Mode 7 effects aren’t nearly as dazzling as they used to be, but a great sense of speed, smooth controls, and colorful, attractive graphics mean it stands the test of time very well. Overall, it’s a great deal of fun.

So there we have it… I was starting to feel the classic gaming bug again, and after rewiring my game room last night, it’s as strong as ever. Now that I have all my systems hooked up without any need to fiddle around with plugs behind the TV every time I want to play (ugh, that was such a pain), I have no excuse not to play more than I was!

Latest Haul: F-Zero, The Lion King, and More

January 19, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Latest Haul: F-Zero, The Lion King, and MoreWhat’s this?  A post to The Retro Review Project?  I know, I know, I’ve been lax lately (okay, really lax), but sometimes gaming just takes a back seat to life.  But I’m starting to feel the pull of the old consoles again, so here I am.  The last four months have been slow, but I’ve made a couple trips lately to my favorite store in the world (Pre-Played on the west side of Madison, WI… Used games for systems dating back to the Atari, plus used DVDs, CDs, and books.  What more could a geek want?).  Here’s everything I’ve picked up since my last update in September:

  • The Lion King (Genesis): I saw this, along with Aladdin and Mickey’s Castle of Illusion.  I was tempted to get all three, but decided buying all those Disney games at once might seem a little fruity!  Instead, I just went with The Lion King.  This is one of my girlfriend’s old favorites, so I figured we could geek out together and play it.  For $2.99, I couldn’t pass it up.  Unfortunately, Aladdin and Castle of Illusion were gone the last time I went  back to the store.  Oh well, I’ll keep an eye out for them in the future.
  • Dogbone Controller (NES): I’ve been wanting to pick up one of these controllers for a while, but never saw any outside of eBay.  Once I started playing my NES more, I realized how awful the sharp corners on the standard NES pad really are.  The store had a mix of standard, Advantage, and Max controllers, plus this one dogbone.  I quickly snatched it up for $4.99.
  • Nintendo Power Mints (Swag): The one thing on this list that didn’t come from Pre-Played, this is a clever little stocking stuffer my girlfriend got me for Christmas.  It’s a tin of mints in the shape of an NES controller with the Nintendo Power logo.  Apparently, Urban Outfitters carries them.  I may use it as a DS game case once I’m done with the mints.
  • F-Zero (SNES): I had F-Zero X for the N64, F-Zero GX for the GameCube, and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity for the GBA, but never had the orignal SNES launch title.  That’s now rectified, at a reasonable $6.99 (cart-only).
  • The Wizard (DVD): I normally just check out the game section when I go to Pre-Played, but last time, I took a look at the DVDs, as well.  When I saw this on the shelf, my eyes got really wide, and I just said “Oh, woah!”  I couldn’t resist — especially since I’ve been thinking about reviewing some old game-related movies for this site.  I bought it with little hesitation, for $7.99.

I also picked up Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast, but since the DC doesn’t fit my definition of a retro/classic game console (yet), I’m not going to include that in my official list.  This was a replacement for a copy that I lent a friend back in college, which I never got back!  I also bought Final Fantasy (NES) and an FC Twin, but those were Christmas presents for a friend, so they don’t quite count for this list, either.  Anyway, stay tuned… I should have some impressions and reviews on the way.

Super Metroid: No, sir… I don’t like it.

September 4, 2007 by · 10 Comments 

Super Metroid BoxThis is going to be tough.  I assigned myself the mission to complete Super Metroid before playing any other games, and I’m starting to regret it.  I’m about halfway through the game, and I’m not having much fun.  Things started out promising in the first couple hours, as I was making good progress and enjoying the combination of exploration and action.  But now, further into it, it’s hitting on my biggest pet peeve in games — not telling me where the hell I’m supposed to go next.

I’m all for challenge in games, but I like the challenge to come from trying to figure out how to overcome an obstacle, not in how to find that obstacle in the first place.  I feel like I have to re-explore the entire game every time I find a new powerup just to find that one hidden panel that’s now breakable, or that one door that I needed a stronger weapon to open.  That’s not fun, that’s tedious.  And all of this could be avoided if there was simply an indicator on the map screen to show when I had found all the exits in a room.  Oh, that floor is bombable?  Don’t show it as a white line on the map; that looks like every other floor that’s not bombable!  Show it as a dotted line or something.

All this would be a little more acceptable if traversing the world was less frustrating, as well.  The jumping controls are far too imprecise and have me yelling out “Oh, god damn it!” at virtually every precision platforming section.  And don’t even get me started on wall jumping.  That literally had me throwing my controller around the room today.  Ugh.

I guess I can see the appeal of this game to truly hardcore gamers — the kinds of people who can sit and play a game for hours at a time, exploring every inch of a game’s world and patiently trying jumping sections over and over until they get it just right.  But that’s just not me.  Maybe it was when I was 12 or 13, but these days, I need my games to be a little less tedious.  I had a headache when I stopped playing Super Metroid today.  That’s not fun.

Confessions and Impressions (and a mini-Mission)

August 31, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

SNESI’ve been playing video games for something on the order of twenty years now.  While that serves to remind me that I’m getting older, that’s not all it means.  It also means I’ve been around the block a few times and I know what I’m talking about when it comes to games.  Name a classic game, and I’ve probably been-there-done-that, played it to death, right?  Well, no, not necessarily.

If you think about it, how many video games have been released in the last twenty years?  Thousand upon thousands for dozens of different platforms.  And hundreds upon hundreds of those are good games that are worth playing.  So in the end, how likely is it that I’ve played every game that a “true gamer” is supposed to have played?  Apparently, not very.  In fact, I have a confession.  I’ve let several games slip through the cracks, and one of them… Well, one of them is a doozy.  (But I’m making up for it, honest!)

Quick! Name a few of the best SNES games ever.  Or better yet, name some of the best 16-bit games ever.  Or hell, name some of the best video games ever…  Did you include Super Metroid on your lists?  I bet a lot of you did.  But I didn’t.  Why not?  Because as of today, I am playing through Super Metroid for the very first time.  Yes, 13 years after its release, I’m finally playing what many people consider to be the best game of all time.  On top of that, I’m pretty much an all around Metroid newbie.  I’ve played maybe a total of five minutes each of Metroid and Metroid II, as well.  The only game in the series that I have spent any significant time on is Metroid Prime on the GameCube, but I still didn’t even get close to beating it.

Alright, so now that my confessions and rationalizations are out of the way, what does this neophyte think of Super Metroid?  I think that I understand where everyone is coming from when they talk about how great this game is.   I’m only about an hour in so far, but I’m finding the whole experience really gripping and satisfying.  I especially like the fact that it strikes a very nice balance between exploration and action (which is nice, since I generally favor exploration while most games provide action).  There is one thing I haven’t quite made up my mind on yet, and that’s the difficulty.  I actually pretty much suck at the shooting sections.  It’s because I don’t really bother to learn enemy patterns and avoid their attacks.  I just charge right through with guns blazing.  But when I say I’m not sure about the difficulty, it’s not because I think it’s too hard.  I think it might be a little too easy.  Since there are so many missile and energy refills popping up all over, there’s very little challenge, and not much incentive to get better at combat.  What’s the point when you can just charge right in then get the energy refill the enemy drops?  Anyway, maybe that changes as the game moves along.

So there it is, my first impression of Super Metroid, only 13 years late!  But that’s not all.  In the spirit of The Snatcher Mission, I’m assigning myself another mission — one that will be a little shorter term.  This mission is “The Beat Super Metroid Mission.”  It sounds very much like what it is.  I going to make up for the last 13 years of negligence in not playing this game and I’m going to beat it before I allow myself to play anything else.  Once and for all, I’m going to beat one of the games that people toss around as “The Best Ever.”

(P.S.: I’ve also never beaten Super Mario Bros. 3, Chrono Trigger, Zelda 1, A Link to the Past, The Ocarina of Time, or any of the 16-bit Sonic games.  Oh god… At least I’ve played them all for hours on end!  That counts for something, right?)

Impressions: Populous, Killing Time, Landstalker

July 28, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

I mentioned on the About page that I’m something of a lazy gamer.  Or, at the very least, I’m not a very dedicated gamer.  When I was younger, I could dedicate myself to a single game for hours on end, day after day.  I just don’t have the attention span for that anymore.  I think it happened when I started spending more time on the internet.  So either the internet destroyed my attention span, or I just grew up a little, I’m not sure what it is.  But either way, I play a lot of games, and I play a lot of games for a couple hours at a time.

Eventually, I’ll get around to playing each game long enough to properly review it.  (After all, that’s the point of this site.)  But in the meantime, I’m going to post quick impressions of the games that I’ve been playing lately but haven’t spent enough time with to properly review.  So here goes:

  • Populous (SNES): I’m not sure what it says about a game when its tutorial mode provides absolutely no instructions in any way.  I bought the game used, cart-only, and was utterly lost.  Shouldn’t a tutorial at least describe what all the buttons on the screen do?  Once I found a transcription of the manual online, things fell into place.  This is an unusual sim/strategy/god game where your main power is to raise and lower the land so your followers can farm, gain strength, and eradicate the followers of your rival deity.  I’m going to have to spend a lot more time with this one before I really form much of an opinion of it, but I’ve found it intriguing so far.
  • Killing Time (3DO): Another awkward early 3D game for the 3DO.  It’s an FPS that does a few things right and a few other things horribly wrong.  I love the seamless transitions between areas/levels, as if it’s one big environment I’m exploring, rather than segmented levels.  I hate the ugly enemy sprites that repeat ad nauseum (there are only one or two different enemies per area).  I’ve only played through the first few areas, but so far, it seems like a technically sound game with smooth controls being brought down by poor enemy variety and a total lack of ammo.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I have to ditch my current save because I only have one bullet left and about four enemies to kill to advance any further.  Argh.
  • Landstalker (Genesis): Now this game is promising.  It’s a fun action-adventure/RPG with platforming elements, puzzle-solving, and fantastic graphics that manage to look appealing despite the miniscule color palette of the Genesis.  I was a fan of Dark Savior on the Saturn, so it’s no wonder I’m liking this one.  I’m just having some doubts about the controls, though.  It’s an isometric game, so you spend a lot of time moving in diagonals.  I’m not sure yet if the controls are unresponsive or if the six-button pad that comes with the Genesis 3 just doesn’t do diagonals well.  I think I’ll track down a different controller before making my final judgment, but so far so good.

What have you guys been playing lately?  Have any quick impressions of your own to share?  Hit the comments…

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