Impressions: Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)

October 12, 2010 by

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!

Zillion (Sega Master System)

October 8, 2010 by

Zillion Title ScreenZillion - Mission DebriefZillion - At your ship

Back when I first decided I wanted a Sega Master System, I didn’t actually know much about it.  I knew there were a few highly regarded games, like Alex Kidd, Phantasy Star, and Wonder Boy, but I didn’t know much else.  I really just wanted it because I love getting new hardware — especially the more obscure, “failed” systems.  Since the SMS was so heavily overshadowed by the NES during its run, it fit the bill perfectly.

Then as I began to explore the platform more, I kept reading about this game called Zillion.  Supposedly, it was the Master System’s answer to Metroid.  That seemed intriguing, so I decided I wanted it.  Then at the Midwest Gaming Classic, I found a complete copy, and the search was over.

So what’s my point here?  Well, my point is that this is a great game, but it’s clearly not at the forefront of the Master System mindset.  Everybody who know knows about the Master System knows about the basics like Alex Kidd and all the arcade ports like Outrun and Space Harrier, but it apparently takes some extra digging to get to the likes of Zillion.  Then if you actually want the game, you have to get past hundreds of unwanted copies of Hang-On/Safari Hunt, Black Belt, and After Burner to get there.  It seems to me that this game was probably overlooked, even in its heyday.  And that’s a shame, because if more people played it, then the system might have received more games like it.  And if it got more games like this, then we might not look at the Master System as such a failure today.

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First Impressions: Cloud Master, Shinobi, Gangster Town

October 8, 2010 by

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.

Latest Haul: Cheap Master System Fun

October 5, 2010 by

Well, it’s been a while since I did a Latest Haul post.  Heck, it’s been a while since I posted, period!  I figured I’d let everyone know I’m still alive and share my latest pickups.  In fact, this is the first retro gaming purchase I’ve made since the Midwest Gaming Classic over six months ago!  When you take a month off and travel Europe, gaming just takes a back seat for a while…

Anyhow, I’m back home and don’t start my new job until next week, so why not blog a bit?  I dropped by my neighborhood used games/movies/music store and saw a few interesting items on the Sega rack:

Shinobi, Cloud Master, and Gangster Town

Shinobi, Cloud Master, and Gangster Town

This shop occasionally gets a few Master System games, but almost always loose carts, and mostly sports games from the “Great” series (which, as any Master System fan knows is really not-so-Great).  This time, though, they had boxed copies of Shinobi, Cloud Master, and Gangster Town!  (But no, they’re not factory sealed — that’s just the store’s shrink-wrap.)  None of them were on my immediate “to-buy” list, but at $1.99, who can resist?  And pleasantly, I discovered that Cloud Master and Gangster Town are in complete, mint condition.  Aside from a bit of dust, they look like they’ve never been played, the manuals have never been read, and the pack-in posters have never been unfolded.  Nice!

Oh, and speaking of the Master System, I’ve been playing through Zillion.  I’m about 80% of the way through, so I may actually have a review to post this week.  Crazy, huh?

Impressions: Cosmic Spacehead (Genesis)

April 1, 2010 by

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!

Midwest Gaming Classic: Trip Report

March 27, 2010 by

Hey all, I hope if you’re anywhere near Milwaukee, WI that you had a chance to check out the Midwest Gaming Classic!  (There’s still time tomorrow, if you haven’t.)  I spent all day there today and figured I’d give a brief rundown.  This year, it was at a new location in Brookfield, WI instead of Oconomowoc.  It was a bigger location, which meant the show was able to expand a bit.  All the old favorites, including the vendor area, the arcade and pinball machines, and the museum were back, but bigger and better.

I spent most of my time browsing the vendors and spending too much money, but I also spent a fair amount of time playing old arcade games that I don’t normally have access to — like Berserk, Battlezone (which is really cool with its scope cabinet), Centipede, Kangaroo, Ms. Pac-Man, and Outrun.  I also tried my hand at the Super Mario Bros. speed run tournament.  The goal was to get through level 1-1 as fast as possible, finishing with Fire Mario.  I played three entries, but I lost the fire power the first two times through, so I had to play conservatively on the last try just to get a qualifying entry.  It wasn’t a bad run, but probably not enough to win it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any final rankings, so I don’t know where I finished.

The highlight of the show for me was definitely meeting Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and Robotron: 2084.  He was a fun guy to hear speak, and was super nice.  I had him sign a couple copies of Retro Gamer for me — specifically, the “Making Of” articles for both Defender and Robotron.  I asked him what he thought of all the twin stick shooters that have been coming out lately, and he said he thinks it’s great and that it’s just a really good play mechanic.  I can’t say I disagree!  Here’s a shot of my signed Retro Gamer mags:

Signed Retro Gamer mags

Signed Retro Gamer mags

My other highlight was a game of Pong that I played in the museum where I pulled off a dramatic come from behind win, 15 to 14!  It was like my own last second NCAA tournament win, or something… I dunno, I think I have an unhealthy love of Pong.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of everything I picked up today:

MGC Haul

MGC Haul

Left to right, top to bottom:

  • Various SNES and NES manuals
  • After Burner (32X)
  • Space Harrier (32X)
  • Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000 (32X)
  • Mutant League Football (Genesis)
  • Outrun 2019 (Genesis)
  • Zero Tolerance (Genesis)
  • Cosmic Spacehead (Genesis)
  • Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
  • Zillion II (Master System)
  • Sonic CD (Sega CD)
  • Plok (SNES)
  • Body Harvest (N64)
  • Comix Zone (Genesis)
  • Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis)
  • Marble Madness (Genesis)
  • Gargoyle’s Quest II (NES)
  • Snake Rattle n Roll (NES)
  • Transfer Pak (N64) (I don’t have any games that would use this, but for just $1, it doesn’t hurt to have on hand!)
  • View Point (Neo Geo CD)
  • Top Hunter (Neo Geo CD)
  • Super Mario Land (Game Boy)
  • Super Mario Land 2 (Game Boy)
  • Alleyway (Game Boy)
  • Tetris (Game Boy)
  • Mario Clash (Virtual Boy)
  • Several spare HuCard and Sega Card sleeves

Phew, that was a hefty list… And to think, I almost went for the Atari Lynx deal that GOAT Store had going — a Lynx plus 7 games for $60.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in a single one of the games, so I figured I’d hold off and get a loose one sometime for cheaper and get games I actually want.

Anyway, that about covers it for now.  I had a lot of fun again, and will start looking forward to next year’s show!  Just one final thought about this year’s show… What’s the deal with the hot sauce?

Getting ready for the Midwest Gaming Classic

March 20, 2010 by

Though work and school have been keeping me pretty busy, I’m going to make time for the Midwest Gaming Classic next weekend.  If you haven’t been to it before, and you’re anywhere near Milwaukee, WI, I highly suggest attending.  It’s a great place to buy and play all sorts of retro video games.  Though the vendors are the main attraction for me, I always look forward to the speakers, museum, free-play arcade and pinball games, and tournaments.

If you see this post and plan to be there, leave a comment and let me know!  I’d love to meet up with a few people to play a few games in the Versus Room (like 10-player Saturn Bomberman).  Or, just keep an eye out for me.  I’ll have a badge with my Digital Press username (Mobius).

Videogames Hardware Handbook

January 30, 2010 by

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…

Excitebike: World Rally

December 20, 2009 by

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

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…

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