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.

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!

Zillion (Sega Master System)

October 8, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

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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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!

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!

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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Alex Kidd: High Tech World (Sega Master System)

September 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

alexkiddhightech1To the arcade!Alex Kidd: High Tech World -- Ninjas??

Having been a Nintendo kid, I find the Alex Kidd series kind of strange.  If I had to use one word to describe it, I think it would be “disjointed.”  This probably stems from the fact that a couple of entires in the series are actually just rebranded versions of other games.  (In fact, Sega’s other early franchise series, Wonder Boy, has a similar history.)  The series kicked off in a not-so-disjointed fashion with a couple of standard platformers: Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars.  But then it just turned kind of weird after that.  There was an odd Japan-only BMX game, which I know almost nothing about, and then there were Alex Kidd: High Tech World and Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.

Alex Kidd: High Tech world is actually a rebranded version of a Japanese Master System game called “Anmitsu Hime: From Amakara Castle,” a game based off of some anime I’ve never heard of.  Naturally, the US anime-audience being what it was in the 80s, that was not going to sell over here.  So, Sega slapped their mascot onto the game and called it a day.

But, what is it, exactly?  It’s actually a fairly interesting combination of adventure and platforming.  But instead of being an adventure/platformer, it’s literally a set of alternating sections of gameplay.  Sega also managed to throw a few tongue-in-cheek self-references into the mix, too.  In fact, the basic premise is that you’ve just found out from your friend that there’s a new arcade in town and you really want to go play the new Sega arcade games.  And you have to get there before 5:00, with the clock ticking the entire time.

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A Boy and His Blob (NES)

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

A Boy and His Blob - Title ScreenLicorice = LadderBouncing Marshmallows

I like side-scrollers.  I like adventure games.  I like “obscure” games that show up on “hidden gems” lists.  I like quirky games.  So it all stands to reason that I would like A Boy and His Blob, right?  Well, sure enough, I do.  No stylistic twist to get your attention here, I just plain like it.  It’s a good game.  Flawed, but good.

I had never heard of A Boy and His Blob (or, even its full title, “David Crane’s A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia”) back in the day, let alone actually having played it.  In fact, I was only clued into its existence sometime over the last couple of years.  I noticed that as I read a few “hidden gems” and “overlooked games” lists around the web and various retro games forums, this one kept popping up.  I knew it was an NES game, I knew it was an adventure game, and I knew you were a boy with blob that changed shapes when you fed it jellybeans (yes, jellybeans).  Beyond that, I didn’t know much else.

So with a fresh mindset and little in the way of expectations, I dove into A Boy and His Blob.  And then I got stuck.  After about five minutes of playing the game.  So I turned it off, and came back later.  And I got stuck again.  At the same spot.  So I turned it off and came back later.  But this time, I was determined to actually figure the damn game out.  And this is when it all started to click and I “got” the game.  I took notes on what all the different jellybeans did, I started making a map, and I remembered what Metroid taught me: never assume a dead-end is actually a dead-end.

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Metroid (NES)

February 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Metroid - Title ScreenMetroid - The BeginningMetroid - Exploring Zebes

In the hardcore gaming world, there are several series that have been elevated to almost sainthood status.  Series like Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy have fervent fan bases and traditions dating back to the NES.  More recently, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, and (maybe) Halo have started to build the same kinds of traditions.  For me, all of these series have one thing in common.  I’ve never beaten a single game in any of them.

Well, until today, that is… For I have finally done the unthinkable and played through a Metroid game from start to finish!  Back in 2007, I assigned myself a mini-mission of playing through Super Metroid because it’s supposedly one of the greatest games ever, and I hadn’t even played it before.  Well, that didn’t really go very well.  Quite frankly, I found the game extremely frustrating.

So what on Earth compelled me to play the original NES Metroid after not enjoying the SNES version?  After all, even many people that love Super Metroid find the original obscure and tedious.  Well, I didn’t really set out to play it.  I’ve been on an NES collecting kick lately, and Metroid came in a bundle that I got off of Craigslist.  I decided to pop it in and give it a shot, and I was hooked right from the start.

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