Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Super R-Type

Ah, Super R-Type - history has not been so kind to you, my friend. Granted, it's not been horrible - you ARE a shooter (and not of the FPS variety) and a lot of folks still remember your series with some admiration, but you, this particular installment, the 2.5 version of the series, you've been largely raked through the mud. "Too Slow. Too hard. Not as fun as the first, or third." Don't worry, Super R-Type, I still remember you. I still remember drooling over your pics in EGM prior to the day they put you up on the shelf in Electronics Boutique (we called it "Electronics Bou-geek," back in the day, clever 17-yr-old's that we were). I remember bringing you home shortly after your release, in 1992, and being so happy to finally have an R-Type of my own.. Me, with no Sega Master System or TurboGrafx-16...

A little interesting note, this game's predecessor was developed by Irem (it's pretty much their flagship title, after all these years) and the original coin-op was distributed in the States by Nintendo. So strange to see it on the Sega Master System, and TG-16, but no Nintendo entry - until now. After playing dozes of Sega Genesis shooters (and not complaining), the world of Super R-Type was popping with color, and after all - they started the whole "floating powerup helper-option thing" craze (well, aside from the ones in Gradius, but those were wimpy compared to the R-9's Force unit!)

As a series, R-Type had some things going for it - it was insanely challenging (but not TOO hard) - it had really gorgeous detailed graphics, they did NOT skimp there - their aliens were cool biomech designs, sci-fi mixed with a bit of Giger here and there - and the music was always funky and cool. Also they always put a "giant spaceship to destroy" level in the middle of their games, these were all notable trademarks of their series. Many other comers tried to step up, but R-Type just blew most of the others away.

Of course R-Type also had the charge shot, the aforementioned Force Unit, and the other little helper bits.. yeah, all that stuff was nice. But whatever - the game looked GOOD, and Super just stepped it up a bit from the previous installments. This stuff was just FUN, man.

Super R-Type had a pretty glaring flaw on the SNES - this machine was built for RPG's, not intense shooters. As this was an early entry into the system's lifespan, it looked great but it came with a cost. When the action got intense, the game would c-r-a-w-l, and this is what it is pretty famous for. Yeah, a drag (literally), but it did help to even the odds out a little. Unless you were one of the wusses who played this bad boy on a baby difficulty (anything less than hard), you were just going to die. A LOT. Slow down, or no.

I am a little ashamed to admit I have never finished an R-Type. I loved my shooters back in the day, and like any good shooter-lover I REALLY enjoyed the R-Type games, but I never had enough patience to stick it through to the end of these games. Too punishing, and I was too proud to try the easy route. I felt guilty/losery enough for cheating my way through Thunder Force II, for crying out loud. Someday I will have my revenge on the Bydo Empire. Someday...

P.S. These guys do a wonderfully rockin' jam rendition of Level 7 from this game. Hopefully they can be persueaded to put a recording of it on their website...

Monday, June 29, 2009

cleaning house!

reformatting the page!

Retro Game of the Day! Jungle Hunt

Jungle Hunt! An oldie but goodie, released to arcades by Taito in 1982, and it made the transition to the home systems of the time as well.

This game was exciting because it had many different scenes - it was an early example of a game that felt like it was made up of several minigames, tied together with a unifying theme. You were basically Tarzan - apparently Taito got into hot water with the likeness (video games were quite a different ballgame back then!) so they modded later versions of the game, which was originally known as Jungle King I believe, into a Sir Walter Raleigh-styled fellow. You know, "the rich Jungle Explorer wearing a Monocle.."

For the time, a good game, not particularly hard, but fair test of skill. Jump on the swinging vines - swim with the deadly crocodiles - run up the hills and avoid the tumbling boulders - then save the girl from being (burp) boiled and eaten by cannibals. All in a day's work, eh? Win, and you get to do it again!

Above you'll notice is a home port of the game - a buncha blocky pixels, but that was to be expected on a home system at the time. If you got a whiff of gameplay similarities from the arcade, you'd be beside yourself - still it was a blast to be playing ANYTHING at home and not having to feed quarters into the coinslot. Hey, these were good days...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Fantasy Zone

Oh my god --- we are in the Fantasy Zone!!! If you've ever wondered what a Japanese 80s acid trip would feel like, look no further - this title blasted into the arcades, courtesy of Sega, in the middle of that decade, and landed promptly on their 8-bit home system, ported to their rival Nintendo (in Japan as well as domestically), and even dd some time on the PC-Engine/Turbografx-16 - I think it might've been a launch title for that system (in the US), or close enough, in 1989..

Sunsoft released an upgrade of it for the 16-Bit Genesis (Japan) - and those with a keen eye were able to find it tucked into a certain Genesis golfing launch title (check it out!) around the same time..

So, yeah, a weird game. Here's the lowdown, for the so-called "cute-'em-up" - you play a living ship, the Opa-Opa, who must destroy all the "bases" in a level, visible on your radar - you kinda fly back and forth, Defender-style, laying out enemies with your Vulcan and your bombs, kill all the bases and go toe-to-toe with a funky boss. The bosses in this game are, well, pretty wacky in their own right - each dripping with character, and all of them PISSED and hell-bent on your destruction. Good stuff.

Kill dudes, collect money, enter shops and buy power-ups, and that's pretty much the order of the day in this pastelly kill-fest. And that's all you really need to know. The graphics are goofy, charming, and definitely "touched" - the music is zany and bouncy (yep, zany is still a word!) and all the character designs are wild and just tweaked. It's a shame Sega was a relative no-name when this was released, the world of Fantasy Zone is one that could have done with some serious exploitation (to the tune of the Mushroom Kingdom) but instead it's just collecting dust on the shelf. Too bad, but then - maybe someone could still pick up the torch..

Fantasy Zone made it's mark and then faded away, it re-emerged in some pseudo-3D form on.. I am too lazy to research, was it PC-Engine CD-Rom or even Sega Saturn? In an unreleased form (I know, I know, here come the torches!) It doesn't matter, the thing never saw a proper release. The Sega Master System saw a Pac-man-ish psuedo sequel as well (on top of a "normal" sequel, if one could call anything Fantasy Zone related "normal"). All of these games are worth checking out. For my money, I am happy to hang with the TG-16 version, personally..

Not an easy game, not one that would be so lovable today, but still quite charming and worth a spot in any retrogamer's memory banks. Have at it!! Bring on the brightly-colored death from above...!! VIVA LE FANTASY ZONE!!!!

The hell with Phantasy Star.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Ranger-X

Ranger-X!!! Yeah, I know, so sad I couldn't find a wikipedia listing for it. The weird thing is that there used to be one, I am sure of it! Those guys have some problems, is all I have to say about that. Anyway, when this released, the Sega Genesis carts started to look like Bubblicious wrappers - which was horrible - so I am inclined to post the slightly better looking Japanese boxcover as well..

Yeah, it's got a little bit of a carny thing going on as well at the top there, but what are ya gonna do. This pic still looks great and it is very remniscient of the early '90s. What else is there to go on about, then.

Enough babbling about the frontends - well I lied, a little more. When you started this game up, it would treat you to some proper scaling FX at the title screen, and then the stage into would give you a TRON-style 3D blueprint of the area you were to infiltrate, "Boxy but good," you usually didn't see such effects in games that weren't emblazoned with a "super FX chip powered" moniker on the front as well as an extra ten bucks on the price tag. No one knew who Gau Entertainment was, but one thing was for sure, they knew their tech..

Yeah and they were not kidding around either. From the get-go, when this was released in 1993, you could tell this was not your ordinary Sega Genesis title. It has the funky title FX, it had a noticeably larger color palette - this was quite the selling point in the days when the SNES, 32,000 palette, or whatever, was smashing the crap out of the Genesis' 512 palette (mind you, neither system could display that many colors on-screen at once, but still - the difference was hardly negligible). Gau had some pro's who knew what they were doing. Moreover, this game took advantage of a special 6-button D-Pad (as they called them "back in the day!"), I actually bought one just to play this game.. otherwise, you'd buy one for SF2, and nothing else supported it really..

And the game itself? Well, the game had some ups and downs. The graphics were there, a few rockin' X68000 tunes powered you through, and there was some craziness parallax to keep you company. But the game itself, it was sort of forgettable. What Gau had in tech, they lacked in interesting level design. I don't mean to say it was boring, certainly not bad - just very run-of-the-mill. Easy to conquer, and once you plowed through, you were done with it.

This game came out around the same time as Gunstar Heroes, if memory serves, and the two were touted as the new breed of Genesis titles - powered-up to rank with the elite SNES games on offer at the time. Well, they both looked good, and Gunstar certainly delivered across the board. This title was sort of a wel-meaning backup, and looking at the screens you can tell it was ambitious and the atmosphere was certainly exciting. I would love to see them resurrect a game like this today and try to bring the world into the current gen, maybe they could do something with the "controlling two objects simultaneously" dynamic - but nah, this was too little, too late. It will forever reside tucked away in the pages of Die Hard Game Fan Magazine, a title which looked, sounded, and felt great - almost in a Sci-Fi Actraiser-ish kinda way - but they let it go a little too early. Or a little too late..

Friday, June 26, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Legendary Axe

Oh, man! Today's Retro Rewind goes out to one of my all-time faves, Legendary Axe - and before we go any further, can I stress that this is the ULTIMATE name for a videogame cover band? Please? Can some one use this? I mean we have "the NESkimo's" but not "The Legendary Axe?" Am I the only brilliant person on this whole godforsaken, empty-hearted planet? It would seem so.

Right! Well, this game still blows me away, to this day. I first saw it prior to it's stateside release at a pre-launch event for the Turbografx-16 in 1989, it had released in Japan a year earlier. Basically it's just another Rastan/Rygar styled spinoff, half-naked Conan dude jumping through the woods killing mosters and trying to save his chick. That's all you need really.

I saw this game and my mind raced. It looked as good as an arcade game, it sounded WAY BETTER than an arcade game, it was difficult, it was fun. It was dripping with character.. I wasn't the sort who usually went for this theme, but when the game developers infused so much love and affection into their product, it was hard to ignore.

Another game that might not look too hot in the dinky screenshots, but I loved it. Videogames and Comptuer Entertainment crowned it Game of the Year over everyone else's favorite Ghouls 'n Ghosts (the Capcom title that launched with the more powerful Sega Genesis) - but hey, it was a close match. Fair enough. And I still haven't beat this game!

Never had a Turbo when I was a kid (sigh, one could only own so many system on a grocery bagger's wages) but I was sure to pick it up, umm, 20 years later. Still get a kick out of it, to this day. When I find some time, I am gonna hand Jagu his ASS.

A side note, I was pretty excited to see a similar title announced for the Genesis - Dando, or Vasum in Japan - it looked like a cross between this and Zelda II:The Adventure of Link. Are you kidding me?? My 15-year-old self was pretty high at that thought. Game never released after all, but geez...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Q-Bert 3

Yup, it's Q*Bert 3. I wonder if I am getting too out-there, too early, with some of these games?


This game was released in late 1992 for the Super Nintendo, based on the obsolete gaming icon of a decade earlier. Q*Bert used to hang with the best of them - Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario - but after the video game crash he sort of fell off the face of the earth (yes, that there's a joke!) For some reason it was deemed necessary to resurrect the Long-Nosed One from the abyss and give him a shot at Next-Gen Glory - NTVIC and Realtime Associates decided to give it a shot, I believe I heard that the original programmer actually put this game together, interestingly enough..

For those in the dark, the original Q*Bert was a truly.. BIZARRE game, in some ways. The weird-looking, but cute protagonist was charged with jumping on each square of a level's pyramid. Jumping on a square changed it's color - change all the colors and you clear a round. You are contsantly being chased by balls, snakes and.. uh.. evil goblin things wearing sunglasses, sometimes. Hey, it was the 80s. Anyway, the best you could do was avoid them, or try to get them to chase you over the edge (you could jump on colored "escape disks" to return to the starting point). It wasn't much, but it was enough.

Several years later, the game re-emerged in sequel form on the SNES - with turbo-charged graphics and a beefed up soundtrack. The gfx looked nice, the backgrounds garish and distracting (thankfully, there's an option to disable them - use this!). The game is liven up considerably, in that you no longer need to jump on cubes every single level. You get suitcases, dice, presents, crates, all sorts of things. More bonuses to pick up, more monsters to avoid.

The game still works. It's a product of a bygone time, but it had some strange charm that would keep coming back to it, and this sequel is no different. It's biggest flaw is likely one of it's biggest draws however - the control is absolutely EFFED. As in the arcade, it's all set on a diagonal so you aren't pushing your character NSEW, but rather at right angles. This is just.. confusing, and requires practice. The default setup on the SNES game feels busted to me, fortunately I can alter that in the options and get it working kinda ok. It'll never be "right," but it would be even worse if they tried to force it to map to a normal config. It's one of those things - you fight it fr awhile and then you get used to it.

Q*Bert will always be an original game, and this sequel - though it can be very rough on the eyes at time - is also quite charming and worth spending some time with. It's still something I can enjoy to this day, and it's also challenging enough that it deserves an honest go-round to get to the higher levels. I like these games where they really test your mettle!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Columns

(Available FREE on iPhone this July 4th weekend, courtesy of your buddies at Sega!)

Yep! Today's Retrogame is Columns - Sega's answer to Nintendo's mammoth question of Tetris. This game launched shortly into the Sega Genesis system's lifespan, to no one's real overall joy or wonderment - at least the game media at the time didn't take much notice of it, and that's a shame.

On the surface, Columns is about as bland-looking as they come - another game with falling lines that must be sorted. Whoopty-freakin'-do. Yeah, looking at screens of this game in advertisements of the day didn't really do much to prop it up against the likes of Toejam and Earl, Super Monaco GP or Revenge of Shinobi. It just sort of showed up there, amidst the huge flurry of similar puzzle games that launched in Tetris' might wake. But hey, at least it looked clean and presentable, if a little dull..

Anyway, one weekend I was bored and they didn't have much else on offer at the local Video Rental so I decided to give it a shot. I never got too sucked in, but somehow.. the hours melted by. I couldn't stop playing! Back in those days, I respected Tetris as much as anyone else but the whole Video Puzzle Bug hadn't quite got hold of my adolescent soul just yet (I am a fairly dedicated puzzle gamer now, by comparison). Anyway, I returned the game after that weekend and never quite looked back. I picked it up on the Turbografx-16 a couple of years ago and got TREMENDOUSLY HOOKED.

Despite it's blandness, Columns is a blast. Here's the mechanic, for those of you unfamiliar - it's a match-three. Vertical columns descend down the screen, hit the action button to shift their order. Match three (or more) like gem colors vertically, horizontally or diagonally, and they will clear, and potentially knock out chains as well (I am not sure if this was the first game to popularize the chain technique). Pile up your gems to the top of the screen and the game ends - very occasionally, a "knockout" gem will land, and whatever it touches will kill all those gems on the entire screen, potentially clearing out a huge chunk of your playfield. If you are tricky enough to land the knockout piece only partly on-screen, you can milk it further (the remnant will sit rested where it landed, and you can use it again, if that makes sense)

Very simple, very basic. The game starts out quite slow and unintersting, but if you stick with it the tension builds and the rhythm grabs you pretty good. It's really one of those dgital crack games, you build up a pretty good set and then get your butt kicked and then "ohh just one more!" Columns kinda faded into the background, I never hear people mention it too much - but it's a game I will alwas come back to now and again. So simple, but so nicely executed, and very satisfying. One of the better puzzlers and still holding!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Space Invaders

Ah, Space Invaders. Good old venerable Space Invaders. Birth of a generation, ported to nearly every console imaginable, and still relevant in many fashions 30 years later. This game appeared on the scene in 1978, a production of the powerhouse Taito Corp, and famously dominated the Atari 2600 systems across America's living rooms as it was lighting up arcades.

Everyone knows this game in some form or other. Space Invaders has gone on to become as much a cultural flashpoint as Pac-Man or Mario (or any of their progeny) in many ways, and immediately lit a fire under the game industry's collective ass as countless knockoffs emerged in it's wake. But - what about the one that started it all?

Sure, everyone has played Space Invaders after all these years, it's a pretty basic setup - monsters are slowly crawling down the screen towards your ship, blast them before they blast you or descend to the surface. Lose all your lives and that's it.. Yup, pretty basic, I feel almost silly even typing "how to play Space Invaders," next up is "how to chew a sandwich"

But then - we take it for granted. Sure everyone and their ma has played it by now, but how many of you have actually "played it?" If you sit down with the game for a minute or two, especially in light of how much faster and glitzier games have become over the decades, the thing just feels like a dinosaur - a yawn-fest. What's the point of even trying to play, isn't tying your shoes more fun then this? Hell no! Sit down with a round of SI and actually see how many rounds you can clear. It's not easy! It's not hard, but a few minutes in and after you get past the "who cares" barrier, you suddenly pass through the "oh crap!" barrier and then, the game has you.. And then you say waitaminute, I am not gonna get killed by Space Invaders that's ridiculous, lemme give it another shot - suddenly, a half hour has passed, and every time your little tank gets pulverized by those slimy pale bastards, you feel it in the pit of your gut. You must.. get even!

Pictured above is the 2600 home version. If the arcade Space Invaders looks like a Triceratops, the 2600 port looks like a paramecium. There's just not much there! But the gameplay is still there, it might not be so serviceable now but back in the day when controlling an image on your TV screen was the bee's knees, this was actually quite amusing... and a fairly acceptable representation of the game we all enjoyed at the bowling alley.

Space Invaders may be a tough pill to swallow for most, but for me, I can still sit down and rifle through a few rounds now and again and get quite a charge out of it - I prefer the Sega Master System version, piped through a Game Boy Micro, personally. There's umpteen sequels (and rip-offs) available for your perusal as well, some worth your time (and others, not so much). We'll get to those another day. For now, give the Grandpa of Videogames a visit and see if you have what it takes to get more than a few screens in - and then tell me if you don't find some of the old magic still lingering in there..!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Vigilante

Today's title is Vigilante by Irem, released to arcades in 1988 and it hit the 8-Bit Sega Master System shortly therrafter - a Turbografx-16 version launched over here with the console in 1989 (though that's the cool Japanese cover you're looking at above - Domestic TG-16 and SMS box art was typically quite atrocious and not worthy of posting!

So then, where does this title leave you? Not a very deep game , you simply walk to the right - punch guys - kick them in the neck - occasionally, pick up a pair of nunchucks Bruce Lee style and lay waste to your foes. This has taken a step-down from titles like Double Dragon/Ninja Turtles as you're simply moving across a single plane, and your move set is extremely limited as noted. Also, it's strictly a one-player affair.

That all being said, the game was infused with a certain charm all the same. A throwback at the time it was released, it still had some nice polish to the graphical style and their was a bit of nodescript character, if such a thing exists, to the game. It managed to look nice and was quite remniscient of Irem's much older effort Kung Fu, though certainly not as enjoyable as that title.

Overall, most would call this a shallow, forgettable game, an I am inclined to agree - yet for some reason, perhaps pure nostalgia, I'll dip into games like this or Robocop and just get into their vibe and just feel like I sympathize with that bad-ass little charater on the screen. I can go a few rounds to help him save his girl! He just wants a little love, that's all..

The more you look at Vigilante, the more it feels like some crazy comic book which time has long forgotten. Buried forever in the past, pretty boring at the end of the day, but still it has that je ne se quois...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Qix

It's Qix! Man, looking at that box up there just makes me think of "Word Up" by Cameo.
This game was shipped to arcades in 1981 - Taito, a JPN company stated by a white fella, bought the game from from another white fella (and his wife?) named Randy Pfieffer - who I have never heard of since, so I hope he made a looooot of money of off Qix.

Pronounced "Kicks," it's a simple game - you control a little dot, you can "draw" across the playfield (fast or slow, depending on which button you hold down - and affecting your score). Close off a section and it will color in, and it is "claimed". Claim more than half of it (depending on your version's settings) and you win the round. Sounds easy, right?

Well.. it ain't THAT easy. The eponymous Qix is a weird swirly group of lines whipping through the open space. One touch and you're history. As well, there's little sparky guys who run up and down the lines you've drawn who can do you in as well - the longer you wait to finish the level, the more of those sparks will come to kill you.

The true challenge comes in seeing how much of the playfield you can claim, the closer to 100 percent you get the higher your bonus will be. Remember, this game released during a time when score was ALL THAT MATTERED! So if you can trap the Qix into a relatively small space, you're doing quite well! In later rounds, you'll get two separate Qix in a level - if you draw a line to separate them (extremely dangerous!), in the Gameboy version at least, you'll split the Qix and forfeit the rest of the level - but gain a bonus multiplier for the next properly completed level. If you can go on a tear and split a few Qix's in a row, you're looking at some serious points..

Anyway, that's really all there is to this game. It doesn't sound like much, it definitely doesn't look like much - and kids today would think you were nuts for even bringing up something that looks like this! But there's a helluva game in there, primitive as it may seem. Qix can be just as addicting now as it was nearly 30 years ago!

Notably, Qix has gone on to inspire a generation of "reveal the naughty picture" games. As you claim the playfield, you'd see the silhouette of a manga chick - clear the level and the silhouette will replace with a scan of a nearly (?) naked girl. Naughty, naughty... I think it was called "Gals Panic" among other things. Not hard to find - but if you want the true experience, the original is the way to go (as mentioned, the B/W Gameboycart is quite good as well). This is a game that will mesmerize you..