Retro

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. We here at 30lives.net is proud to present our new review series, Retro Reviews. Sometimes we all have that itching to play something from the past, something close to our hearts and we are not that different. All of us, right here in 30lives.net, will never let go of our childhood as they were precious to us and to our readers. We start our series with an old indie game: Frank’s Advanture 2.

frank 0

Franks Adventure 2 was released by the now defunct?/retired developer Wiesi-Mausland (Now called Wiesi) back in November 2003. This was a follow-up to the hugely popular Frank’s Adventure released earlier in October. Frank’s adventure 2 vastly improves everything that was great about the first game, while also removing the few negative things that hurt the original. It can be classified as a sandbox adventure game with item-trading as one of its biggest points.

frank6
It’s frank.

 

You play as Frank, just a regular guy who seems to have a talent for entrepreneurship, meeting people and a taste for adventure. Immediately the character relates to the player due to his desire for adventure and fun and love. After the saving the publishing company that he works for in the previous game, his boss asked trusted him to help their main branch in the city to help their financial situation. Frank, being the professional and great businessman that he is, bought a plane to the city to save the publishing company that he loves so much.

frank 3
we should be like Frank and be a professional

 

Immediately after taking control of Frank, you’ll see the difference in graphics from the original. Sharper and clearer outlines and colors, tall buildings and busy streets. The game map is nearly 1.5x the size of the original, and there are more dangers in the city than the countryside in the first game. Crossing the street feels just as dangerous due to the many cars, and other surprises that you encounter during the game that truly challenges anybody who wants to complete the game. Character models are also improved massively with the semi-celshading (remember this was 2003) that produces more realistic looking characters during the time of course.

The catchy music that plays while you move around the city is relazing in contrast to the busy streets. However, because of the limitations of the time and the developer’s own indie cred, no voiceovers were given for the great dialogue in the game. They won’t lose points for this because it also shows how focused Frank must be to block out all the distractions in the city just to finish his goal.

frank2
Characters with great unique personalities and backstories. This was ahead of it’s time.

 

Controls are insanely simple and you can pretty much play this game one-handed, a great feature at the time compared to other games released at the time. This is actually the best and greatest thing about this game. More games need to be playable one handed especially in our more busy lives.

frank 4
Cameos from some popular characters are here

 

 

Franks adventure 2  was released free as well, and still accessible in the internet. This truly is, one of the greatest indie games released in history and was very influential for many games that we enjoy today.

You can play Frank’s Adventure 2 online at Newgrounds. http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/134777

0 1288

Alright trivia fans! What was the last Super NES game ever released in the system’s storied history? If you answered Konami’s Frogger (1998), then you… probably looked it up on Google. As of today, you’re also wrong. The Super Fighter Team, who previously brought us Beggar Prince for the Sega Genesis, has announced that they are shipping out copies of Nichibutsu’s unreleased SNES gem Nightmare Busters to fans who pre-ordered via their official channels and Kickstarter.

I’ve always had a soft spot for obscure prototypes whenever they’re released, and Nightmare Busters definitely qualifies as one. Originally slated for release back in 1994, the game was shelved indefinitely, and at least the SNES version of the game never saw the light of day until 2007, when it was found, traded for and eventually copied released as a reproduction cartridge. Oddly enough, this charming platformer somehow found its way to J2ME-enabled handsets in the cut-down form called Flynn’s Adventures, released by a company called In-Fusio in 2004. Kinda makes you think—how many other unreleased games eventually made their way out through less-glorious channels?

One would be remiss by dismissing Yasumi Matsuno’s (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII) next big project Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians as yet another example of golden-age videogames talent “slumming it” through the usual channels of Kickstarter and mobile gaming. Co-developers Playdek are no slouches—the team was responsible for  Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, in my opinion the premiere trading card game sim out there for mobile devices.

unsung-heroes2The game is scheduled for release on iOS and Android devices sometime next year, however Matsuno and his development teammates over at Playdek have turned to Kickstarter to drum up funds to not only bring it to more platforms (PCs/Macs, as well as the 3DS and Vita handhelds), but also to help bring in fresh, familiar talent to the project. Stretch goals include adding luminaries such as Alexander O. Smith (responsible for localizing many of Square’s great RPGs), as well as vaunted composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. To reiterate, the Kickstarter isn’t meant to hold the game’s release hostage: “Playdek and Yasumi Matsuno will continue to develop Unsung Story regardless of whether or not funding is met. The main focus on the crowd-sourcing isn’t to create the game but rather to bring the game to the platforms requested by our fans and to help further the immersive world being created by Mr. Matsuno.”

Before getting too excited, remember that Matsuno won’t be exactly as hands-on with the game as he was with prior projects. Speaking out on Twitter, Matsuno echoes, “There was some concept art [for the game] that I’d never seen in the article, but I like that it doesn’t have the typical look of my projects. My involvement in the project is limited to providing the original design plan, the story, and the setting, so I have no idea what the actual game will look like and what the UI will look like.”

The project has a fair chance of meeting its funding goal, with $136,549 already raised as of this writing.

The Suikoden games seem to have a very active, loyal fanbase that truly appreciates the series and rewards Konami with fairly modest (not blockbuster) sales. What does Konami do to thank that fanbase? Let the IP sit out the rest of this console generation, never to be mentioned again, of course! In response to the criminal lack of Suikoden games from the publisher, a small group of these fans have formed translation groups, bringing you a few obscure Japan-only entries to the series. It’s a good thing this particular fanbase is a lot more creative than that of other RPGs, otherwise we’d be stuck with crappy fan-made films up the wazoo.

Suikogaiden is a two-part spinoff released only in Japan (obviously) starring Nash Latkje, a former noble from the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia, embarking on a coming-of-age quest of sorts. A group simply calling themselves the “Suikogaiden Translation Project” released Vol. 2 today, which should make a bunch of you crack some smiles. I haven’t had the time to play through Vol. 1 when it was released last March, so being able to blast through both volumes of this epic visual-novel sidestory should be a treat.

Gensō Suikoden Card Stories is a little more interesting, historically: it’s one of the first few games released on the Game Boy Advance and was also released as a physical CCG. The game takes place in some weird non-canon version of the Suikoden II timeline where bloody military battles are deemed passé and glory on the battlefield is decided through the intellectual staple of… card battles.

I know we’re all a little late on this piece of news, but here’s a quick heads up if you are at all interested in Japanese RPGs. Following the imminent release of Falcom’s awesome Ys: Memories of Celceta for the PlayStation Vita (which, by the way, comes with one of the most enticing LE packages I’ve ever seen), XSEED announced yesterday that they will be localizing the second chapter in the Trails in the Sky trilogy (which then follows a more interesting pedigree in the Dragon Slayer series), with help from Carpe Fulgur, who most notably helped bring over Steam indie darling Recettear.

This is definitely good news as I feel that the Legend of Heroes games are the last of a dying breed: Japanese RPGs that aren’t either fronts for pedophilia or complete graphical wankfests. As with all Falcom-produced games, it also features a killer soundtrack. XSEED also announced today that they’ll be localizing the PC port of the first TitS game and distributing it via Steam.

Right after the jump is XSEED’s press release, which includes a pretty good plot synopsis to get you all caught up!

Torrance, Calif., (September 6, 2013) – XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., is pleased to announce a partnership with Carpe Fulgur LLC to bring the much anticipated title, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, digitally to PC and the PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system (including compatibility with the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system) in 2014. The first chapter, previously released for the PSP system as The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, will also be released for PC this winter.

The result of a near endless deluge of fan requests to XSEED Games after the company released the first chapter on the PSP system in 2011, this will mark the debut of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on PC, as well as the first release of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC anywhere. The two chapters will release as two separate, back-to-back installments.

“We are pleased to finally give the fans what they have been requesting so fervently for over two years,” said Ken Berry, Executive Vice President of XSEED Games. “There’s been a constant demand ever since we released the original The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and we are extremely grateful for our partnership with the passionate localizers at Carpe Fulgur to finally make it a reality.”

“This is something we’ve had an interest in doing since practically the formation of the company,” added Andrew Dice, Project Director for Carpe Fulgur. “If you talk about or work with ‘PC gaming from Japan’, as we do, you can’t really ignore Falcom’s huge presence over the past three decades. Trails in the Sky is particularly special, and I’d wanted to work on it ever since the day we started business. I’m thrilled that we will finally be able to bring the game to English-speaking audiences, in partnership with XSEED.”

Developed by legendary RPG specialists Nihon Falcom, the multi-part story told in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky represents an entirely new stand-alone entry in the timeless The Legend of Heroes series. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players venture through the diverse landscape of the Liberl Kingdom, experiencing its unique traditions and cultures along the way and shaping the world itself with their decisions.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky opens in the quaint and peaceful town of Rolent in the Liberl Kingdom. Home to a peacekeeping coalition free of government ties known as the Bracer Guild, the adventure follows two young aspiring bracers known as Estelle and Joshua on their trials to become full-fledged members of this elite organization. As they embark on their quest, their journey will take them across an entire country, unraveling a sinister government conspiracy along the way that’s poised to overtake the throne, threatening the very peace the bracers seek to uphold. Throughout their adventure, players can expect to learn the full depth of these characters’ origins and motivations through dialogue-driven cutscenes and lengthy side-quests.

Trails in the Sky SC, meanwhile, begins immediately after the events in the first game. Following the explosive revelations at the very end of Trails in the Sky, Estelle feels adrift and must find her resolve along with friends both old and new, and face down the true architects of the chaos engulfing Liberl – a force far more powerful and insidious than she could ever have imagined.

Boasting over a hundred hours of gameplay between the two episodes and featuring an engaging narrative that encompasses everything from politics, economics and conspiracies to tourism, traditions and even a cat-speech dictionary, these two titles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky series combine to form an incredibly immersive RPG experience. On top of its meticulously crafted world where all actions and inhabitants are accounted for throughout the story, the game also features a meticulously customizable combat system, a massive cast of characters from all walks of life, a variety of landscapes, an in-game newspaper that publishes new issues as the story progresses, and much more. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players are responsible for shaping the world, and will see direct repercussions from their actions as the game unfolds.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC are developed by Nihon Falcom, and Carpe Fulgur is spearheading the English translation of the second chapter while XSEED Games handles publishing duties. For more information on XSEED Games products, visit http://www.xseedgames.com. Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook at www.facebook.com/XSEEDGames and Twitter at www.twitter.com/XSEEDGames.

0 987

We’ve already established that watching horribly-broken versions of popular videogame and anime characters battle it out in an equally-broken game makes for some compelling viewing. Now, take that same concept, amp it up to eleven by making the match-ups even more ridiculous (seriously, I’m watching Raditz lay the smack down on Barney the dinosaur right now), and add a seedy online gambling component and you get Salty Bet, the latest bit of absurdity the prolific FGC (Fighting Game Community) has spawned. Originally created as a betting site for larger-scale tournament matches (think EVO and the like), the site has found its niche thanks to its “Dream Cast Casino,” a 24/7 stream that features randomly-generated bouts powered by MUGEN, a freeware 2D fighting game engine where you can essentially make your own characters and stages.

No need to soil your pants, random agents of the DTI that happen to be reading this blog: all bets are done with Mickey Mouse money; no real cash is exchanged or gambled away. Users start off with 400 Salty Bucks to gamble away at whatever match is going on at the moment, of which odds are assigned and determined on the fly. If you win, great; if you lose, no biggie, it’s fake money anyway. Lose too much and you end up in the Salt Mines, sadly churning away with the rest of the poor losers, trying to catch a break on an upset. Fascinating stuff, and worth a look even just to gawk and laugh at what kind of weird matchups the virtual bookers put together.

Oh, and they aren’t kidding: always bet on DBZ.

IMG_0027Growing up, a lot of us did not have the privilege of being able to buy games every week. For the most part, I only got games on my birthday and during the Holidays, which might explain why I’m a savant at platforming games but couldn’t cut it in these newfangled vidya experiences.

I still vividly remember receiving Ducktales for my 6th birthday: my “cool” aunt that liked videogames just kind of handed it to me; a stubby purple cart that didn’t quite look like the rest of my monolithic NES cartridges. Looking back at the happy, long-necked yellow goose (which in no way resembled the Scrooge McDuck I’ve been watching on TV) flashing a grin in my general direction as well as its lack of supporting copyright documentation, even at the time it was fairly easy to deduce that this game was a counterfeit. After my initial look of apprehension, I piggy-backed it on my Honey Bee adapter and popped the game into my NES. It was  magical.

Let’s fast-forward some years later: Capcom inexplicably brings out Ducktales Remastered by way of the ever-loving purveyors of all things retro, Wayforward. Kind of an odd choice, really—no Ducktales-related media was released (or reissued) recently to my knowledge, so the timing of this redux is a little suspect. Heck, I’m not complaining; Alan Young (Scrooge) is 96 years old, so if Disney isn’t doing anything with the license soon this may very well be the man’s final gig before he kicks the bucket. Nice to hear ol’ Unca Scrooge for one last time, at least.

Ducktales Remastered (3)

Cel-Shoddy

I really cringe when I chance upon this cliche on any article that I read, but the graphics really are a mixed bag. I understand that meticulously drawing up backgrounds in 2D is a prohibitively expensive venture, but the difference between the low-poly backgrounds and the very well-animated character sprites (can you really call them sprites if they’re vectors, though? This is an important question) is really jarring and oftentimes distracting. Between foreground and background elements, the shading and lighting isn’t even consistent, so what ends up on screen appears amateurish at times.

Still, the amount of love put into the character design more than makes up for this somewhat-annoying distraction. Every character—from Scrooge himself down to the lowliest bats of the African mines—has been meticulously redrawn to look like close approximations of what Disney would draw for their Saturday morning cartoon block. Embarrassingly enough, the one thing a lot of these “HD remasters” miss from the original NES titles they’re supposed to be supplanting is all the “character” behind the sprites: it’s funny when a 16x16px blob of colors can portray more than a meticulously-drawn vector or a well-formed set of polygons. Thankfully Ducktales Remastered avoids that pitfall: every illustration is drawn and animated well; simply top-notch stuff.

I’ve read a lot of people get all uppity about how Wayforward “butchered” the soundtrack, but since I’m not some mealy-mouthed punk that heard the Moon theme the first time on YouTube, I’d say that virt did a bang-up job and found a great balance in modernizing Capcom’s score.

Ducktales Remastered (2)

One Step Backward

The best remakes often take solid ideas and designs from the original source material and seamlessly add new extensions to it. Bionic Commando: Rearmed was a fantastic remake in the sense that you couldn’t even tell which areas Grin (may they rest in peace) added in; the extended areas kept the same old-school sensibilities in its level design. Ducktales Remastered fails in this regard, as its new areas seem dry and functionless in comparison to the original’s streamlined-yet-expansive layouts. Wasn’t quite a fan of the forced backtracking Wayforward tacked on to the stages: the beauty of Capcom’s original Ducktales was that you could blitz through a level using one path and take another once you revisit the stage, so forcing you to go back and revisit these forks in the road doesn’t really jive with me.

Some of the changes are appreciated, however; cordoning-off or completely changing paths I’ve been used to certainly made for a fresher experience, speaking as someone who’s played the original to death. Additionally, Wayforward spiced up the dull boss battles from the original game by making them setpiece battles with a central mechanic/pattern. This is a welcome change from how the original bosses just kind of flew or moved around the screen, stopping every now and then to set up an attack or leave themselves open for a free hit.

Ducktales Remastered (1)

One addition that I really loathe is Wayforward’s needless addition of exposition and story scenes. Apart from giving nostalgialings a chubby from hearing the cartoon’s original cast all over again, I cannot fathom why they wasted their time on making so many drawn-out, soul-sucking cutscenes in between levels. An in-between cutscene here and there wouldn’t have been bad, but the mere fact that almost everything you do merits a nigh-unskippable cutscene and the fact that they hid the “skip” button in the pause menu is an abomination.

Ducktales Remastered (1)

0 1525

So let’s get this straight: the first two Ys games have been chopped up, ported, remade (or re-remade, in this case) more times than I’d care to count over its twenty-four years of existence. What has Chronicles going for it, then? Absolutely nothing, to be blunt. Chronicles won’t impress the uninitiated, quell the fears of people who’ve dabbled with and hated the series, nor give hardened vets anything substantial to chew on. Taken at face value, however, it is a wonderful package: a well-done re-issue of one of the first and greatest action-RPGs.

Ys Chronicles

The plot remains the same: strapping young lad Adol Christin ventures forth in the land of Esteria to discover the books of Ys, containing the history of a vanished kingdom called Ys, which (spoilers!) he actually gets to explore in the second game. What makes Ys special is its brisk, simplistic, yet elegant combat model. Run into enemies, rinse and repeat: the “bump system” doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Ys Chronicles (1)Another thing that defines Ys is its wonderful soundtrack, composed by industry legend Yuzo Koshiro. As expected, Chronicles’ OST is nothing short of incredible. Falcom has thoughtfully included the option to play through the game with either the original PC-88 chiptunes, fully-redone tracks from the (original) 2001 Windows version this game is based off, or wonderfully-arranged tracks first found on Chronicles’ PSP release (which, um, was a remake of an older PC version of the same remake. Confused yet?).

The spritework in Ys is crisp, colorful, and—most importantly—faithful to the source material. I’m really impressed by the spritework—everyone from tiny NPCs down to the humungous bosses is detailed intricately, and everything scales up pretty well even blown up full-screen on my 24″ monitor. The hand-painted backdrops look marvelous as well, and for once the faint polygonal and particle effects enhance rather than detract from the experience (see: Ducktales Remastered, which I’ll have a review on later this week).

Again, I realize this series isn’t for everyone, and anyone who remotely enjoys Ys has already played one of the billion I&II ports out there. But hell, anything Ys-related is worth a look (or two) in my book, and this new Steam version seems to be the easiest entry point for anyone interested in looking into the long-running series.

Ys Chronicles (1)

0 1069

Well this is kind of a nice surprise. Although perfectly playable in its original Japanese format, it appears that a fan translation group has released a patch translating all of the text and lyrics to the Rhythm Tengoku, Nintendo’s late GBA entry that served as the precursor to the Rhythm Heaven games that actually made it across the pond. Best experienced with the Game Boy Micro hardware it almost launched with, the series has been fairly consistent across the years but I consider this first game as the best.

Romhacking.net has the patch hosted, if you know what you’re getting into, although I’m still debating whether or not to replay the game in English myself. There’s something inherently… wrong in seeing “Don-don-pan-pan” translated in a more-discernible language. Half of the game’s charm for me came from not being able to understand Japanese at all; and as I learned a little bit of the language later on in life, appreciating the subtle puns and onomatopoeia of the game’s lyrics. Even Treehouse’s best efforts to carry those over in the later English releases have fallen flat for me, personally.

2 2460

It goes without saying that the Ouya was a terrible disappointment to all of us; most particularly myself who was looking for a silent, tiny box to simply play my stash of retro games, emulated and upscaled on my big screen television. Having the ability to run my media files via XBMC was also a nice, expected bonus — I truly had no desire to mess around with unoptimized Android ports. Three months out, and the thing still doesn’t have a stable branch of XBMC out for it, third-party support is dead, and what emulators exist on it seem unoptimized and rushed.

Finally decided that I had enough and picked up an Intel NUC barebones kit, particularly the unfortunately-named BOXDC3217IYE. From what I understand, NUC is a formfactor standard, so third-party OEMs may also have their own takes on the hardware; I know Gigabyte sells the Brix kit as well, which is pretty similar.

intel nuc 3Though the great unwashed masses of the PC gaming milieu have long harped at HTPCs being the “fourth console,” their relatively prohibitive pricing and difficulty to set up (seriously—even as someone who used to work in IT, I can say with full confidence that those mini-ITX cases will murder your hands) have proven to be quite the proverbial barriers to entry for mass-market adoption. Consoles, for the most part are cheap, plug-and-play set-top boxes that eschew needless functionality for a more streamlined experience. Bridging the gap between HTPCs and consoles (or perhaps even supplanting the former), Intel’s NUC looks to be quite the value proposition for people wanting that extra bit of multimedia flexibility in their living rooms.

I purchased the barebones kit (which consists of a nice glossy black enclosure bundling an i3 3217U chip clocked at 1.8GHz and soldered on to a tiny motherboard) alongside an mSATA SSD drive, a mini-PCIe wireless card, and 8GB of DDR3 SO-DIMM RAM. Though I had some apprehensions about the onboard HD4000 graphics, both the CPU and GPU performed quite admirably in the few jobs I’ve thrown at it so far.

intel nuc2

I loaded the NUC up with Windows 8 Professional; which chugs along just fine with basic multimedia tasks. Windows Media Center worked fine and played every video I threw at it (of course, I didn’t have any of those crazy HD x264 videos handy, but WMV HD checked out fine). XBMC ran like a dream on this little treat, and — having used the software on various pieces of hardware ranging from the original Xbox to a Raspberry Pi — is probably the best platform I’ve ever seen it run on. Will it play your Gwiyomi fan videos? Yes it will; unfortunately for the rest of us it won’t purge every single video of it from the Internet and launch its participants on a catapult straight into the sun.

The NUC is small enough to be clipped on to a monitor or TV's VESA mount.
The NUC is small enough to be clipped on to a monitor or TV’s VESA mount.

But I’m getting too ahead of myself. We are a gaming periodical first and foremost, so I of course had to test how this tiny rig flew, gaming-wise. MAME coupled with the Hyperspin frontend was just gorgeous on the NUC; I had quite a blast just lounging on my couch, clutching my Sega Saturn USB pad whilst Bucky o’ Hare blasted on my big-screen TV. With simple, freely-available hacks, I was able to use my Wii remote as a stand-in air mouse, making adventure games like Monkey Island a breeze to play. Less-intense traditional PC games like Diablo 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Half Life 2 ran admirably on mid-range settings. That’s honestly all I have to say about performance — if you want meaningless charts and numbers to dictate your purchasing experience, head on over to Anandtech; this clearly is not the site for you.

But here’s the kicker: when you actually price out all of the components you’ll need to build out a good NUC rig, you’ll probably end up being really close to the price of a Mac Mini. Understandably, you gain more portability and a little bit more flexibility with Intel’s offering; but Apple’s little box has slightly better hardware and build quality than a fully decked-out NUC.

To cap this review off, you can consider me a fan of the Intel NUC initiative. Let this review serve as an introduction to the fun little form-factor PC, as I’m probably going to write more about my adventures with the little x86 box that could in the next few months.

 

0 1151

While most of the world celebrated the App Store’s fifth year—along with the slew of classic games they gave away—I was happily making my way down the underground levels of Torchlight (you don’t have to judge me… okay, maybe you should). So, having spent nearly two weeks in the mines of ember, it was an incredible surprise to find out that homebrew developers have found a way to distribute GBA emulators to the iOS market without the need of jailbreaking the devices.

Because of Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program, testers, creators, and the media are allowed to download apps without registering UDIDs and other necessary provisions. This very program technically allowed applications like GBA emulators to gleefully run wild on purist, un-jailbroken iDevices. GBA4IOS is downloadable in three easy steps in your Safari web browser. There literally is a big “Install App” button that pushes the app to your device.

9305920234_50c7f7b5c2_c

The interface needs a little more tweaking, but it’s pretty forgivable because you can toggle between orientations without affecting gameplay whatsoever. Also, this emulator can either look like a Gameboy SP or a Nintendo Wii, whichever suits your fancy.

All in all, the GBA4IOS is definitely worth a try, especially for those itching to play with their Pokeymans on their iDevices. Although it isn’t right to pirate ROMs, this particular emulator is another story altogether.

4 1204

Since my exposure to the Atari 2600 only dates back to the latter days of its existence, my personal impression on the platform is that of a console of diminishing returns. (Unfairly) comparing its ports of Donkey Kong Jr., Pac-Man and even Space Invaders to the more arcade-perfect Famicom versions, even as a youngster it was clear that the vintage 1977 unit did not bring enough horsepower to the dance (insert Wii U joke here).

Now let’s all pretend that we live in a parallel universe, one where Nintendo signed an exclusivity deal with Atari to bring Super Mario Bros. stateside; only as an Atari 2600-exclusive. Apart from possibly setting gaming back twenty years, we probably would have a product similar to homebrew effort Princess Rescue. Available at the Atari Age store for a paltry $30, the game actually looks to be a fun, low-rent version of everybody’s favorite platformer. Inspired by a retro “demake” of Mega Man for the same faux wood-trimmed console, animator Chris Spry built the game in a few months using a programming library called Batari BASIC.

It’s a fairly impressive effort given the limitations of the hardware; smooth scrolling was not possible on the 2600 without elaborate software-side tricks, so I’m sure even the simplest of motions were—with zero knowledge of the hardware—quite a chore to perform. Hey, he even managed to use Mario’s sprite from Super Mario Bros. 3. Take that, 1985!

0 1894

Hyperkin’s Retron series of consoles have been a boon to retro gamers who have a hard time maintaining older units. Although more technical enthusiasts have decried the units’ system-on-a-chip designs lending themselves to inaccuracies in playback (sound in particular has been a sticking point on these SoC designs, from what I hear), in my experience they’ve been absolutely fine for 99% of the games that I’ve ran on them. I own the Retron 2 and the only game it’s choked on in my collection was Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

Enter the company’s new Retron 5 console; now boasting compatibility with even more systems than its previous iterations (NES/Famicom, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy/Color and Game Boy Advance games are now supported). It also aims to minimize its predecessors’ compatibility issues while (as previously reported) offering a whole slew of brand-new features including save states, HDMI output and various visual filters; certainly upping the ante and rivaling legal emulation outlets such as compilation discs and Virtual Console-type solutions.

retron2From a mechanical point of view, I was curious to see what sort of chipset/emulation layer trickery the company had to do to pull this off, but the company rep remained coy during this part of the discussion. My best guess based on the console’s short boot cycle when it was that it was running on some sort of ARM hardware paired with a set of cartridge pin-out slots running a highly customized flavor of Android (Engadget’s impressions post mirrors this suspicion) but that’s all conjecture, of course. In an interview published on this month’s Retro Gamer magazine, Hyperkin’s David Yu noted that the Retron 5 is running on a “whole new chipset configuration,” so this probably means at the very least that this new console isn’t using the same SoC design from previous iterations of the hardware.

I was able to secure a brief walkthrough of a near-final version of the Retron 5 a few weeks ago at E3. Games like Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA), Turtles in Time (SNES) and Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition (Genesis) were shown off and looked great blown-up on the LCD screen they were outputting to, thanks to the various upscaling filters applied on-the-fly via an on-screen menu. I’m a little bit of a purist myself so I liked the “chunkier” upscaling as opposed to the sprite interpolation solutions they had; but that’s the beauty of it—whether you like your pixels chunky or smeared with Vaseline, this machine has you covered. All of the games ran at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second without any noticeable hitches. I’d have to see this thing run a copy of Gradius III to see how it handles “real” hardware-side slowdown or perhaps a copy of something far more demanding like Yoshi’s Island or Starfox before I can comment on its full accuracy, but so far it seems like a winner.

The Retron 5 is housed inside a decidedly glossy plastic case, with angled edges adorning each corner of the console. Hyperkin showed off two flavors of the console: one wrapped in full ebony and another variant colored much like the North American variant of the SNES. It’s almost like a Franken-console in essence and by design as every single side of the console either has a port or a slot for something. To be frank, it’s not something you would put as a centerpiece in a home theater setup but function does trump fashion in this case.

retron3I didn’t realize until after the demo was over that they were running all of the games with a pair of SNES controllers; which I thought was odd. As it turns out, the Retron 5 can actually map inputs to any controller you choose to plug in to its myriad of ports. The unit features a pair of ports apiece for NES, SNES and Genesis controllers, as well as a standard USB jack so there’s no shortage of controller options. If that wasn’t enough, the Retron’s actual controllers (which were MIA on the demo for some reason) are actually powered by Bluetooth, which hopefully means that you can also sync a Sixaxis/Dual Shock 3 controller if you’d be inclined to.

If Hyperkin is able to iron out compatibility issues upon release or shortly thereafter (the console’s firmware is fully upgradable via USB), then the Retron 5 is looking more and more like a no-brainer for all sorts of retro gaming enthusiasts—from the dabblers who may just want to play their old copy of Super Mario Kart down to the collector packrats like me. Pricing hasn’t been finalized yet as of press time but I was told that the console would be releasing this year at “under $100.” Personally, I wish I had waited a little bit for this thing to come out before dropping almost twice that on a Game Boy Player and a set of GameCube component cables. Alas, one cannot put a price on being able to pop in my copy of Ninja Five-O on the big screen.

Double_Dragon_NES_NA
The 80s and 90s was also notorious for horrible box art.

One of the games which encompassed the late 80’s and early 90’s of gaming was the Double Dragon series. During this era, home consoles scrambled to bring the arcade experience home and Double Dragon was one of these arcade ports. Part of the experience was also the punishing difficulty where hardcore gamers would attempt to finish arcade games with just one credit/token for bragging rights and a seriously good sense of fulfillment. Among others were obviously the stereotype video game themes back in the day (the damsel in distress), odd depiction of what “tough heroes” and bad guys should look like, and awesomely cheesy music to pump you up for some hardcore twitch brawling.

Double_Dragon_II_boxfront
Here’s box cover art that will surely pop a feminist’s nerve.

The plot of Double Dragon was simple, bad guys kidnapped your girl friend so you (Billy Lee) and player 2: Jimmy Lee (SPOILER: who was the last boss in the original Double Dragon game) go on a rampage to get her back. It screams nothing more than male chauvinistic bravado and gives feminists cause to rally against a video game for repeatedly objectifying women as trophies rather than treat them as people. Not to mention the game’s plot which caters to the traditional male nerd fantasies of being a tough guy who can brawl his way through bullies and be a hero (get the girl too). However, taking all that video game psychology and stereotyping crap aside, what you have in front of you was a game that was challenging and pretty intuitive for a time where games operated on only two input buttons (the A and B button).

In spite of the 8-bit graphics the game play really makes you feel like a martial arts master when you’ve gotten the hang of the controls. Every move in the game can be used to gain a tactical advantage over your foes and there are times where your awareness of your environment pays off in the form of knocking tough mini-bosses off a ledge with only a jump kick. However, games like Double Dragon are also notorious of being cheap when ramping up the difficulty by simply flooding the screen with enemies and introducing foes who move twice as fast as you with really cheap moves. These “traps” will basically kick your ass repeatedly until you change your strategy to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same kind of intestinal fortitude so instead of trying to beat the game with one credit, they end up throwing down countless tokens in an attempt to finish the game. In the event that they do, they are treated with a really lame ending sequence that totally does not justify how much money they spent to finish a game. Pro-tip: You don’t finish an arcade game for the ending, you do it for high scores and bragging rights.

double-dragon-neon-review-screen-2
Yuuuup, still there.

Fast-froward to 2012 with Way Forward‘s take on the Double Dragon series with retro-inspired title: Double Dragon Neon. This game does nothing new and simply reinforces the same stereotypes and plot lines from the old Double Dragon games.  Nothing has changed. The bad hair haircuts are still there along with the damsel in distress theme to the point that the opening sequence of the game is no different from the original Double Dragon game on the NES. You’ve got a bigger cast of female characters you have to beat down from classic Linda, geisha assassins, female ninjas, and even a rocketeer inspired flying female baddie. You will be forced to fight your own girl friend (Marian) towards the end of the game but you won’t need to kill her; only “knock her back to her senses”. They even remixed the cheesy music from the original Double Dragon and added a few songs with lyrics care of kick ass game music composer Jake Kaufman. As for game play, while the controls are still familiar, things have changed quite drastically which may not exactly be a welcome change for fans:

Mission Select:

images
The “over world” of Double Dragon Neon looks pretty much like this.

There are ten (10) missions in this game but instead of having to play through all missions from the start as you would whenever you start your game, you can select any mission you have completed from the “over world” screen and play through that specific mission only. Now this wasn’t a big change or anything, this concept for side scrolling games has been used as early as Super Mario Bros. 3 to my knowledge but I can’t get used to this in a Double Dragon game. This basically screams “casual mode on”, play whenever you feel like it and finish it eventually. There is no real sense of urgency of having to complete the game in one sitting anymore. While I can still do that, the fact that the game isn’t designed that way anymore really takes your motivation away. However, it is understandable to some extent granted that gamers these days want longer hours clocked per game to feel that they got their money’s worth somehow which leads to the next change:

RPG-like Stat Progression :

196701-header
Because sound effects were lame back in the day.

While there are three (3) modes of difficulty, they require you to “level-up your character” or forge your mix-tapes in the game as they call it. These mix-tapes basically boost specific stats like Health, MP (for executing special attacks), Attack, and Defense. You will eventually be able to choose between ten (10) different stances and special moves that can all be upgraded with items you pick-up from defeating bosses.  This explains why you can return to missions at will: so that you can grind for money and upgrading items. Again, I lament the fact that the time sink in Double Dragon Neon became grinding stages repeatedly to power-up instead of mastering the punishing difficulty of the game. But RPG-like progression in a side scrolling brawler back in the days of the NES actually existed in the form of River City Ransom. If you played the Scott Pilgrim Vs the World video game, that would be the most modern comparison you have to that classic RPG/Brawler.

Clearly, there isn’t much left in the tank for the Double Dragon IP and as sad as it may be, I have come to terms with it because I enjoyed Double Dragon Neon more as a trip down memory lane with all the nostalgic sights and sounds (especially the soundtrack) rather than playing it like I had to finish the game without continues. Granted that it’s a solid brawler and somehow feels like Double Dragon, I simply can’t get behind it 100% anymore. As a matter of fact I don’t think there is any point in making another Double Dragon game, reboot , or even spin-offs because  Billy and Jimmy Lee actually suck as pop culture icons without having a constant look about them save for some sort of color coding scheme.

585690_38577_front 586146_87656_front 2439483-1262015840-13349 dd_movie_large

Having said all that, you can opt NOT to buy Double Dragon Neon but if Double Dragon was part of your childhood, you’d probably want to buy the soundtrack. It’s ****in’ awesome!

Double Dragon Neon was released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as a digital download.

gsm_169_double_dragon_neon_ps3_video_review_091212_gs2_960x540
At least we still get a happy ending. :D

Author’s Note: Double Dragon probably wasn’t ported to the NES first but it was the first time I encountered Double Dragon. Also, I’m well aware of multiple Double Dragon games in between the NES versions and the latest Double Dragon Neon. Unfortunately, I was unable to play all these games and spin offs because I didn’t have THAT much money to buy games back in the day. The Double Dragon movie poster was just there to highlight the color coding scheme of Billy and Jimmy Lee, I know it’s not game box art.

 

0 1212

I’m not quite sure if anybody truly longs for the days of collect-a-thon games circa Nintendo 64-era Rare (Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazooie); however if you’re one in this rare breed of nostalgia, then count your lucky stars and get your butt to Kickstarter. A Hat in Time debuted today on the wildly-polarizing crowdfunding service and—from what we’ve seen in the early trailers Danish developers Gears for Breakfast are showing off—this 3D platformer looks mighty impressive.

I’ve always been bothered at Nintendo’s decision of shying away from the flat cel-shading technology they used in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (even opting for a far less impressive look in the upcoming Wind Waker HD), but A Hat in Time proves that a timeless art style will always trump strange corporate hubris/fan bickering. Yes, one can argue that this is straight up cribbing WW’s art direction and character design, but y’know what? I’m okay with this.

A Hat in Time will see a projected release in 2014. PC/Mac only for now, with a possible Wii U release. Back this project at http://hatintime.com/Kickstarter

0 1116

Super Mario Land was my first game on the original monochrome Gameboy and for a long time my only game on the system. I played it over and over again and saved my school lunch money for the next set of 4 AA batteries I will need to rescue Princess Daisy over and over again.

Now after more than two decades artist Arne Niklas Jansson released a patch for the game — replacing all the sprites with more awesome ones.

Applying the patch (to a legally obtained SML rom, of course, lol) can be a bit complicated but is well worth it. Head to the source link for details.

Source: Super Mario Land Graphics Patch

0 1196
faceball027
Totally makes sense with anti-violence Nintendo back in the day.

The 90’s was a truly magical time where as a kid I would gobble up whatever game is placed before me primarily because I didn’t have a job or any source of income but my folks. One of the games I played to death before the abomination of a pirate console, the UFO entered our living room and set the precedent for me to drown in games and eventually aspired to legitimately play original software was Faceball 2000. This game was one of the first first person shooters on the SNES and while FPS games today are generally regarded as violent this game was absolutely child friendly. I mean you shot at smiley faces with round nerf-looking balls and your avatar was a smiley too and if that ain’t enough, when you get fragged in this game, the perpetrator says “Have a nice day” much to my frustration and rage back in the day.

114661-faceball-2000-snes-screenshot-enemy-approachings
If we increased the poly-count of the Gremlin smiloid… it would still look the same

What makes this game so great was the fact that you are roaming in a three dimensional environment, much like how the original StarFox blew my mind in the years to come. Also, in spite of what seemed to be a kiddie-crap-bull-shit game, it’s actually insanely hard especially in the later levels where Smiloids (your smiley opponents) take more hits to kill, move , and shoot faster. I don’t recall whether or not you can actually increase your stats (namely armor, speed, and rate of fire) permanently but I do remember power-ups that can either stop all smiloids from moving, make you invisible to them, or give you invulnerability  for a fixed time period but I do remember whatever perks you have on you will be wiped out after you get fragged (or “tagged” as they are referred to inside Faceball 2000).  The game also allowed two-player split-screen co-op or 1 v 1 head to head combat in the arena mode if you’re sick of your partner hogging all the power-ups.

This ought to be the part where I go all hipster and shit like “oh, I wish games these days would have pushed the boundaries of technology and make something like Faceball 2000 which was sooo mind-blowing at the time of the SNES…” but seriously, a game like this wouldn’t have progressed AT ALL into where games are now. Sure, I had a blast with the game and I would consider it one of the top games for me during the SNES era but now it’s just going to be a piece of video gaming history and a novelty. There is absolutely no value in taking this game “to the next level”… I mean smiley faces were probably used due to technical limitations at the time and it actually turned out great… well not so great. Bullet Proof Software (publisher) and Xanth Software F/X (developer) both sank into obscurity after the SNES era.

Credits to All Video Games TV on Youtube for the  gameplay video.

Screenshots lifted from Moby Games.

0 1153

Seriously. Look at the damn thing. Seems like Deviantart user Zoki64 has been taking orders on custom-painted consoles for a while, and this masterful refurbishing of a Sharp Twin Famicom is his latest masterpiece. For those not in the know, the Twin Famicom is essentially an all-in-one Famicom that takes both standard Famicom carts as well as Disk System floppies. It’s pretty darn desirable on its own, but this paint job takes it into complete hotness territory.

Now if you excuse me, I’ll be headed to the bank to withdraw my life savings. Right after I clean up, of course.

1 1426

Turbo_ControllersOne of the worst parts about having old consoles hooked up is that somehow, someday, someone’s going to trip on a controller cord and send your NES flying across the living room. That experience may be a thing of the past (ha, ironic!) thanks to Innex, Inc.’s Retro-Bit brand. The company just announced their Hypermode line of wireless controllers for retro consoles, a little bit of a godsend to anyone who’s consoles cannot take any more drops to the floor.

The company is expected to show three of their Hypermode controllers come E3—a Nintendo 64 pad, a Sega Genesis version, as well as a hybrid controller that works on both the NES and SNES (sadly, despite its colors this remote won’t work on the Famicom). The controllers use 2.4GHz RF signals and dongles to hook up to your console of choice and are PC/Mac compatible as well.

“We are extremely fortunate to be the exclusive distributor of the Retro-Bit brand of video game products,” says Innex President, Titi Ngoy. “Retro-Bit has played a huge role in rejuvenating public interest in retro games and they continue to develop new and exciting accessories that will further the market demand for nostalgia gaming.”

[show_hide title=”Click here for more details!”]Wireless Hypermode Series Controller for N64 ($29.99)
Compatible with N64 consoles
Classic analog stick, D-pad, and button layout
Program each button to normal, auto fire, or turbo mode
2.4GHZ wireless controller with receiver
Open slot for Rumble or Memory Pak
Trigger buttons
Requires 3 AAA batteries
Launch Date: Summer 2013
High Res image

Wireless Hypermode Series Controller for NES/SNES/PC-MAC ($29.99)
Compatible with NES, SNES, PC & MAC
Similar to the Famicom color scheme
3 connecting ports SNES, NES & PC/MAC via USB®
Program each button to normal, auto fire, or turbo mode
Trigger buttons
2.4GHZ wireless controller with receiver
Built-in rechargeable battery
Launch Date: Fall 2013
High Res image

Wireless Hypermode Series Controller for GENESIS/PC-MAC ($29.99)
Compatible with GENESIS, PC & MAC
Similar to the 6-button Genesis controller scheme
2 connecting ports GENESIS, PC/MAC via USB®
Program each button to normal, auto fire, or turbo mode
2.4GHZ wireless controller with receiver
Trigger buttons
Built-in rechargeable battery
Launch Date: Fall 2013
High Res image[/show_hide]

 

0 1148

I adore pixel art. I came from that generation of gamers (80s-90s), so it has a special place in my cold, black, evil, un-beating heart. So when indie developer Gamesbymo introduced A.N.N.E. (or Anne, if you prefer) to Kickstarter, I ceased my usual suspicious late-night internet activities to read the details and in less than 5 minutes I turned into this:

shutupandtakemymoney

Anne is in gorgeous 16-bit, which is about time since the indie scene has been saturated with 8-bit lately. It’s a true 2D game in 720p, so they advised to make sure our monitors supports 1280X720. The gameplay is a generous granola mix: a Metroidvania-Gradius hybrid with physics elements, and to top it off, it’s open world! So basically it’s Metroidcastlevaniagradiusangrybirdsskyrim, all in one pack.

f224c55ca726b6dce74789fcb462f921_large

What really attracted me to this game like a whore to Tyrion Lannister is that the Kickstarter pledge awards are even sexier. In particular I took a BIG interest in the $100 level pledge, which is the game, complete in an SNES-themed box, cartridge, manual and the best part, a USB controller that resembles the original SNES controller. I mean, why settle for an original golden PS3 controller when I can have an SNES-like one? I hope they won’t screw this one up. Nostalgia may be overrated but I’m allowed to indulge in it once in a while.

The game also lists a lot of very promising stretch goals, and I quote ad verbatim:

  • $90,000 Milestone: Mac and Linux Versions!
  • $100,000 Milestone: Achievements! Gender Swap Mode!
  • $115,000 Milestone: New game+!
  • $130,000 Milestone: OUYA version. Challenge areas: Disapearing blocks? Alternate ending for completing every challenging areas?
  • $145,000 Milestone: PSN Version/Vita Version
  • $160,000 Milestone: Protect the ship two-player local co-op Mode!
  • $180,000 Milestone: WiiU version
  • $350,000 Insanity Milestone: ???

Yes, if enough money gets tossed their way, we can have Anne on OUYA, VITA and WiiU! It’s like Shovel Knight all over again! What more can I ask for?

annepreview

If you’re a very awesome individual, you’ll definitely support sexy indies like this. So zoom to Kickstarter now and pledge! While you’re at it, hop on Steam and make sure to Greenlight this game! You may also find Gamesbymo on their Official Site, Facebook and Twitter pages. The game is expected to be released on early to mid-2014, but you can bet that 30lives will be keeping an eye on it, and so should you! Stay tuned for more details as they unfold!