Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Contra and Super C for the NES


Contra is a game that needs no introduction. It was released for the NES in 1988. Even though the game was originally released to arcades, this legendary run'n gun franchise peaked on the NES.

The game seems to get everything right for an NES game. The graphics and sprites are detailed and very well designed. It boasts some of the finest 8-bit graphics every created, in my opinion. The characters look proportional and animations/movements are natural and impressive.  The jumping sprite is a bit ridiculous if you understand physics, but aside from that, it is everything an 8-bit game should aspire to achieve graphically. The control is tight and reliable, with jumps being controllable mid-air. The 8-way shooting is responsive. And perhaps best of all, it offered 2-player co-op.

The arcade version was similar in theme and design, but was not as engaging, and thus not a huge hit. A possible reason was that the vertical screen on the arcade meant that side-scrolling games had to be condensed, and the action had to be relatively slow, since environmental hazards and enemy spawns can cramp the play field quickly if moving too fast. The NES version had a 4:3 aspect ratio, which gave players a broader play field, allowing for more on-screen action, and a quicker pace.

The arcade game is displayed in a vertical screen.
The weapons pick ups are a big part of this game's appeal. Such options include:
"R" - rapid fire, which increases the rate of fire of any weapon you are currently holding
"M" - machine gun, which is automatic if you hold down the fire button
"L" - laser, a slow, concentrated beam that is powerful but diliberate, you can't just spam this
"F" - fireball, which shoots spiral patterned shots that actually span the vertical range of your player's height, useful for hard-to-reach enemies
"S" - spread gun, which is the most effective and coveted weapon in the game. It shoots five bullets simultaneously in a web pattern, which diverges the farther the shots travel. It can be fired pretty rapidly, allowing for a wave of destruction. One of the most painful moments in the game is when you die while holding the spread gun: the drop-off in firepower is staggering.
"B" - barrier, is temporary invincibility, which is denoted by your character flashing red and blue while in effect.
"Eagle" - a screen-clearing bomb, obviously more useful when a lot of enemies and bullets are on-screen.
Don't touch the electric fence in the hallway stages.
There are eight stages, with lots of variety. While most are are side-scrolling, stages 2 and 4 are pseudo 3D hallways, and stage 3 is a vertically ascending waterfall stage where you can kill your partner if you leave him behind.
The waterfall stage will test your friendships if playing co-op
The stage themes are inventive, especially stages 6, 7, and 8. Stage 6 has you running through a barrage of timed flames, and only the most patient can master the patterns.

Stage 7 is a gauntlet of spiked walls and drills descending from the ceiling. Stage 8 is the Alien's lair, with some fairly uninhibited homages to the aliens from the popular "Aliens" movie franchise.


The game is clearly a product of the '80's as the cover art is essentially re-painted action poses of Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator, and Sylvester Stallone from Rambo.



The game is renowned for its difficulty, and hence the popularity of the 30-live code: Up, up, down, down, left, right, left right, B, A, start.  Even when you  continue the 30 lives are restocked for whatever stage you are on. This made the game more accessible to a wider audience, and hence boosted its popularity. The code actually appeared in an earlier Konami title, Gradius, and several others. The effect of the code varies from game to game, but in almost all circumstances it is a major benefit.
If only the driver knew to creep up a few more inches...
Of course one of the most memorable aspects of this game is the music. Each stage has a rock'n energetic tune that compliments the action on screen. The music is active, layered, and complex. From the opening title screen to the end credits, the game definitely benefits from the quality of the music score, and I'm sure the game would not be the same without it.

Famicom cart


The Japanese release on the Famicom (the NES equivalent) boasted between stage cut scenes and extra animations. These include leaves blowing in the wind on stage one, falling snow on stage five, and alien guts squirming in stage eight. These extras really enhance the already awesome presentation, and it is worth seeking out for die hard fans of the game. Keep in mind you will need a cartridge adapter, or some means of playing a Famicom cartridge.

inbetween cut scene
inbetween progress map
Snow falling in stage 5 is one of the addition effects the Famicom cart has to offer.

The game was altered for play in PAL regions, as Germany had strict laws regarding depictions of violence towards humans, so the protagonists were changed to robots, and the title was changed to Probotector.

Super C is the sequel to Contra, and also has an original release in the arcade, as well as an NES release. Like the first game, the arcade was fun, but was hampered by the vertical screen format. The NES version, while graphically limited in comparison, offered a more engaging experience, especially with two players. This might also be attributed to the fact that arcades were intended to eat your money, so the difficulty is by design.
Contra sprite
Super C sprite
Super C plays very much like Contra, and some changes were made, most for the better, in my opinion. The pseudo 3D stages were removed, and vertically scrolling overhead stages were added instead. These stages are much more enjoyable that the hallway scenes, and allow for more stage variety.  The game now incorporates sloped platforms, which is also a new concept for the series.
As far as weapons improvements, the spiral fireball from the first game was replaced by a straight shooting fireball that splinters in four directions when it contacts enemies, giving it a shrapnel effect. The default bullets are larger, and even though they cause the same amount of damage as in the first game, they are more satisfying. In the overhead levels, a super shell can be collected and used at your discretion, instead of going off immediately like in the first game.


They music in Super C carries more bass, and that is readily apparent every time you clear a stage. It may not be as melodic or memorable as the first game, but it is still good.

The classic Konami code has been removed, however, and replaced with a different code for ten lives: right, left, down, up, A, B. This helps mediate the challenge, but still holds the player to a standard if they want to finish the game.


All in all, these are are both in my short list of favorite NES games. There was a third game in the series, Contra Force, which is nothing like the first two. It is so different, that it is as if Konami started production on some completely different game, and tweaked it a little by adding similar sound effects, and slapped the Contra name on it in the hopes that it would sell. I choose not to discuss that travesty of game.
You can duck underwater and not be hit (or noticed)
The series continued on through the ensuing generations, unfortunately missing more than they hit. The series got caught with its pants down in between the 2D and 3D generations, and produced some real turds on the Playstation. Early 3D games did not suit previously existing franchises well, and Contra was part of that fallout. The formula was tweaked for the PS2 generation, adopting a 2.5D play mechanic, and gameplay was brought closer to its roots. By this time the franchise was mostly forgotten, a footnote in gaming history that perhaps can be revived again someday.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Thoughts on Emulation and Clone systems


Retro gaming today has evolved a lot in the past ten years. What is considered "retro" is highly subjective to the user's age and experience. I consider anything pre-1999 as retro, because there is a division in time for me personally, as prior to that was education and schooling, and post that was my professional career. My nostalgic memories of gaming stem from when I was a kid, and so that just happens to have that particular timeline, but everyone is different.

The advent of the internet has obviously changed the world, and gaming in particular in a number of ways. Retro game accessibility is nearly unlimited via online shopping/auctions and emulators.
Ebay has made it possible to acquire any game you desire, for a price. You will be paying a premium for a specific game, but consider also the time and difficulty of finding a game in "the wild". Like any commerce, there are fees for convenience.

For those who may not know, emulators make it possible to experience games without having to own them. They are programs that run the software of older games, but on modern computers/devices. The digital files of the games are called roms (read-only memory) and are easily found online for free.  There may be a small amount of technical know-how, but emulator programs can be as easy to install as a typical computer program. Initially, this meant you are playing older games on a computer. This may not sound appealing, as sitting at your computer playing games is not necessarily a common nostalgic experience.

Recently, with products like the Retron 5, Retro Freak, NES Classic, Retropie, and others, you can now play emulated games on your TV instead of a computer, which is a breakthrough for casual players. People who have not gamed since their youth now have modern access to games, and probably have the disposable income to spend on it.

There are varying opinions on what way to play retro games is best, and there are several factors. For one, these games are older and limited in supply. Not many people keep around 25+ year old equipment around, and so much of it has been lost over time to landfills. Whatever remains is now in demand, and since retro gaming is in vogue, the simple law of supply and demand sets in firmly. This is one reason why emulation is popular, the fact that it is free*. Some people don't care if the game is physical, or a rom on a computer, they just want to play it.

Some people with highly attuned gaming aesthetics dislike emulation, as the programs may falter as far as sound or visual accuracy. Younger players would probably not notice, but someone who has spend hundreds of hours playing their favorite games over and over as a kid will most likely find those kind of differences noticeable. So these people may strive for original hardware and games. The problem here, is that older video standards that existed when these systems were produced are no longer observed. High-definition televisions do not play well with a) the older physical video connections, and b) the video signal configuration. I covered this topic in some detail in a prior post a while back. If your television even accepts the signal, it will most likely look like garbage. Since the signal sent by the console is one of a different era, to the television it is almost like a different language. Modern tvs will have upscaling programs to make sense of the outdated picture information, but these are not too great since television manufacturers didn't make this a priority; they don't think too many people will hook up old technology to their tvs. If you don't mind the blurry pictures, then you're all set. However, there are ways to cleanup and improve the picture quality, significantly, if you are willing to invest in some upscaling equipment.
RGB scart is an arduous path to picture clarity, but worth it
For example, the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) outputs a 240p signal, through RF or composite connections. This is a prime example of a system that will look terrible on a modern tv. To clean up the image, the NES can be modded to have a picture processing unit (ppu) that outputs an RGB video signal, which can be sent through a scart cable, which can be upscaled to be properly displayed on a modern tv. Or, as in my case, the signal can be converted into a YPbPr signal, which can be fed into a CRT television that has a component connection. This is more work than most will go through, as the amount of equipment necessary starts to escalate, as does the monetary investment.
The controversial Retron 5 is possible middle of the road solution that balances high definition standards and cost effectiveness. 

Here is where emulation clone systems come in.  The first I'll mention is the Retron 5, made by Hyperkin. It can play NES, Famicom, Genesis/Mega Drive, SNES/Super Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance carts (and Master System, if you have the power base converter). It is an Android based clone, that you need actual game carts to play. I give credit to the developers for this, as it does not condone piracy. Then I take that credit back when I found out that they used open-source code for their emulators when the emulators should not have been used for commercial use. They should have approached the code writers upfront, instead of apologizing after the fact, and that has spurned a hate campaign towards this device. Aside from that, the upscaling to 720p via hdmi looks great, scan lines are offered, as well as the other modern conveniences of emulators (save states, filters, blue tooth controller compatibility). It has controller ports for the original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers, which is a huge selling point, since the included controller is horribly uncomfortable. This is an option for people who want to reduce the number of consoles hooked up to their tv, and upscale the image quality. I like it for those reasons, but also because I can now use save states, especially for hair-pulling games like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and so on. One commonly cited drawback is that the console has a strong grip on the carts, referred to as the "death grip". I didn't find this to be a problem; I just pull my carts out from one side and it slides out easily, but maybe the units are different.
The Retro Freak is ready for all of your carts...except for the NES.  

Another option is the Retro Freak, made by Cyber Gadget. I don't actually have this system, hence the stock photo. It is very similar to the Retron 5 in that it plays original carts upscaled to 720p over hdmi, emulator features are included, and original controllers are supported if you have the additional accessory. If not, you can use the stock controller or any other usb controller. Also, this controller adapter allows for one of each type of controller to be connected, not two, so player two will have to use the included controller, or some other USB controller. It differs from the Retron 5 in that the roms can be loaded from the carts, and stored on an SD card. This also means that roms can be loaded onto the SD card instead of being dumped from the cart, so....no actual cart needed. The law around copyright of roms is hazy at best, and there are people on both sides convinced their interpretation is right. So depending on your view of rom acquisition, let's just say this system gives you options. Another major difference is that the Retro Freak can play Turbo Grafx/PC-Engine and Super Grafx Hu-cards. For many, this fact trumps the Retron 5 outright, as options for Turbo Grafx/PC-Engine are limited. Since this was only released in Japan, there is no cartridge slot for NES games. This is an issue for me, personally. There is a slot for Famicom games, and you can purchase an adapter to convert 72 pin NES games to 60 pin Famicom games. At this point, there seems to be a lot of nickel and diming going on with this system, which is already more expensive than the competitors. So, this system can play more systems than the Retron 5, can play downloaded roms, but you have to by add-ons which raises the cost a lot more. This is not as accessible as the Retron 5, as this has to be imported from Japan, so its definitely not for the casual gamer.

The whole system is the size of a deck of cards.

A third option, and one that has been increasingly popular, is to run Retropie on a Raspberry Pi mini-computer. A Raspberry Pi is a budget computer on a PCB the size of a credit card. There have been several revisions, but as of the time of this writing the current version features hdmi out, 4 usb ports, blue tooth connectivity, and a micro-sd slot. This can be easily bought online, for about $35. After adding controllers, power cord, sd card, protective case, and hdmi cord, your looking at around $85. Retropie is a program that runs emulators for all of the older systems, and roms can be loaded by the user. Its small size introduces a huge convenience factor, as it is very portable. Obviously if you go this route you do not need any original hardware or cartridges. This brings about an interesting conundrum in that it can present all the convenience and value that a casual gamer is looking for, but its setup requires some investigation and know-how. There are social media groups that can help with this, and other resources online as well. It can be intimidating, especially to someone who is not so savvy with coding or programming, but once you get the basics in hand, the possibilities quickly unfold.


NES games in high definition on a big screen are great!
Since the Retropie is pure emluation and not dependant on physical media of cartridges or discs, the number of systems emulated is only limited by the software available. Systems like NeoGeo, which is cost prohibitive, can now be played with relative ease. MAME, or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, is a big draw for me, but its setup is perhaps one of the most complicated due to all the  different arcade system Bios'. You can use any usb controller, but you can also step up your game and use a bluetooth controller. It will have to be configured in the system settings, but again, there are online tutorials to do this. I use an 8Bitdo SNES30 controller, which looks and feels identical to an original SNES controller; highly recommended!

For all of its benefits and positives, the Retropie to me has one flaw, and it is lag. I have looked up how to mediate this, and used the correct tv settings, but for some reason, the lag on the Retropie stands out to me. I hardly notice the lag on the Retron 5; I know that many people complain about it, but to me its worse on the Retropie. This is not an issue for most games, but for game that require twitch movements, like shoot'em ups, Punch-Out, or even Pac-Man, this is a fatal flaw. Shooters are my favorite genre, so this is an issue for me. Hence, my Retropie is relegated to parties and casual gaming.

So all in all, emulators and clone systems are attempts at making retro gaming more convenient with some improvements, with HDMI upscaling chief among them. Not everyone can have multiple game setups in their home with boxy crts taking up space, so clone systems are attractive in this sense. Emulators are the cheapest way for people to play games. The truth is, that everyone has their own preferences and opinions, and it is this very reason that conversations can happen and are interesting. Whichever method of gaming you prefer, remember that you are all drawn to something in common, and that is playing classic games.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Top Ten Genesis Run'n Gun Games

It is well documented that the main advantage that the Sega Genesis held over the Super Nintendo was processor speed. It lagged in almost every other functional category. Depending on the genre of game, this may or may not be an issue. For games that are action-oriented, the processing speed is a boon over graphical or aural prowess. Known for its plethora of shooters, the Genesis actually doesn't have nearly as many run'n gun games as you would think. Nevertheless, the ones it does have are great. Here goes.


Midnight Resistance
Considered by many a Contra clone, Midnight Resistance does show signs of general 1990's "me-too"-ism. It borrows the keys-for-power-ups concept from Heavy Barrel, an earlier Data East entry on the NES. Between stages you trade in keys for a new weapon. The protagonist is head-banded just like Rambo. Having said that, the control scheme is a little unique, by locking your fire at whatever angle it was in when you started firing, or other control schemes that are selectable at the start. The jumping is a little floaty, but once you get used to it you don't notice it anymore. The music is a strong point, and the graphics are sharp, albeit simplistic. A fun entry for sure, just not one of the best.



Target Earth
This game is known as Assault Suit Leynos in Japan. You pilot a mech that is on the front line of defense from an alien invasion, yada yada. Your mech has a vulcan machine gun that needs to be reloaded when it runs out (a nice touch), and other weapons that are useable later. You can jump and hover, and punch enemies for close quarters melee. Even though your avatar is a mech, which would supposedly weigh many tons, the movement and physics feel perfect for a game like this; the sense of inertia and momentum are satisfying and realistic enough. The gameplay varies from ground battles to flying in space. This game is a lot of fun, but it is very difficult. Had the difficulty been toned down a bit, and the box art been made a little closer to the Japanese box art, this probably would have been a more poplar game.  Even so, you can use a Game Genie just to make it to the rest of the game, which is worth seeing. This game had a follow up on the SNES, titles Cybernator, which is also criminally overlooked.


Robocop vs. Terminator
Pure indulgence for sci-fi action movie fans, this title is based on the comic series which is based on the movies. The game plays faster than you expect, for a half-ton cyborg in a platformer-shooter. Seeing Robocop hang from and hand-over-hand climb across powerlines (!) defies all educated physics, but whatever. The graphics and scenery are all gritty and appropriate for the genre with lots of blood. Its a lot of fun, and much better than its SNES counterpart, which doesn't play as fast or as dark. A must have for fans of the movies, series, and genre.


Rambo III
An early release for the Genesis, at first this looks like an 8-bit style game with 16-bit graphics.
You are equipped with a machine gun and knife. Kills with the knife often result in pickups, like explosives, which are necessary to complete certain missions. The hit detection is solid, and overall movement is just right. One thing that sets this game apart from its contemporaries is its behind the back third-person views, for bow and arrow sequences, which works nicely to add gameplay variety. Even though the sprites are somewhat small, the graphics convincingly portray what they are meant to, and everything looks great.


Alien Soldier
Hard.  That's the first thing I thought when I first played this.  Expertly designed, colorful, frenetic, imaginative, and hard. Given that it was devloped by Treasure, it is no surprise that the quality is through the roof. It boasts absolutely gorgeous sprites and backgrounds. The sheer amount of bosses, the ingenuity, and variety are all hallmarks of the famed developer, and its a shame that it did not get a stateside release. The play mechanics of choosing weapons at the start of the stages, dashing, and reversing gravity, all factor in to an intimidating experience. For those willing to put in the time and learn the intricacies and nuances of a game that seems like it could have been an early 5th generation title, you will be rewarded.


Rolling Thunder 3
Taking the classic side-scrolling formula, and adding duck and cover elements is what this series is known for (and was an inspiration for the Shinobi series), this final installment perfected the formula.
You now can take three hits per life, you can jump and shoot at the same time, you respawn on the spot, and can shoot diagonally.  Your choices of firepower are impressive, but you can only use a weapon once, so strategy and experience factor into your decisions. Although easier than the other entries in the series, it is not necessarily a cakewalk. For whatever reason this game and its brethren should get more recognition.


Mercs
A progeny of Capcom's Commando lineage, Mercs plays like its forbearer but a bit more evolved.
It updated the overhead run'n gun formula by adding a health bar, more weapons, and a shop to purchase powerups. Controllable vehicles have been added like tanks, boats, and gun turrets. The game offers an arcade mode and original mode. The former is just what you expect: a close port of the arcade and its sentiments. The original mode adds additional characters that are playable once rescued, adding depth. Unfortunately multiplayer has been removed, which knocks it down a few ticks on this list.


Sunset Riders
The action in Sunset Riders is everything you want in a run'n gun. There's beautiful hand drawn sprites, colorful visuals that pop, spot-on control, power ups, and of course two player co-op. Details are are often what make a game, but here they are the icing on the cake. Being able to go into doorways to get "powered up" by the ladies is a not so subtle nod to the seediness of the old west.
Even though it lacks in some areas compared to its SNES counterpart, it is still a standout title on the Genesis.


Contra Hard Corps
With Contra 3: The Alien Wars getting lots of attention on the SNES, the Genesis got its own Contra, and boy is it a system pusher. If I didn't know better, it would appear that the members of Treasure who left Konami had input on this game because parts of it remind be of Treasure games. Four playable characters, each with four uniques weapons increase replay value, as if you needed another reason to play it over. Being able to switch from shooting while moving or standing is a fantastic addition, and seen again in Contra: Shattered Soldier for the PS2. Branching stages based on decisions you make also add to the variety in what is a nearly a choose your own adventure game.  It is a masterful, energetic, difficult, and over-the-top entry in a renowned franchise. It's a perfect fit for the Genesis, both in terms of attitude and action. This could have been number one. It was a coin toss for me, but the reason it is here is its difficulty. I get it, the "Hard Corps" refers to it being for hard core players, but sheesh. At least enable the Konami code, or have some additional options for help. The



Gunstar Heroes
I'm sure anyone with a working knowledge of the Genesis catalog saw this coming. Universally acclaimed, and not one bit overrated, Gunstar Heroes may be the perfect action game. This was Treasure's first game after being founded by ex-Konami employees, and what a beginning. The playability is varied as you can choose whether you can fire on the run, or change your direction of fire when standing.  Players can combine weapons for hybrid weapons, producing up to 16 varied combinations! You can pick up and body slam enemies, and throw your partner (2 player co-op) across the screen to maul enemies. Besides the gorgeous graphics, insane weapon combinations, and hyper gameplay, the humor that is present in this game was unprecedented for its time. Seeing enemies clinging to the side of a train as the leader throttles down is just one example of how special this game is. You have a life meter, so it is generally more forgiving than its other 16-bit peers, and some may see that as a detriment, but not me. I have yet to see a game quite like this.




Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Top Ten Genesis Beat'em Ups

During the fourth generation of video game consoles, beat' em ups was one of the most popular genres . Well represented on all the major consoles, it was a type of game that anyone could pick up and play, regardless of ability level, and is one of my favorite genres for this very reason.  By this time the genre had solidified its tropes as far as gameplay, and commonalities were abound from one franchise to the next. Ideas such as picking up limited-use weapons, finding food in garbage cans, button combinations for special moves, and so on. Not to be forgotten is the synergy of two-player co-op modes, which more than doubles the fun as you and a pal dish out corporal punishment together, and even sometimes fighting each other. With so many offerings, it is unlikely that any two lists are completely the same, so here are my favorites from my collection.


Splatterhouse III

This entry improves upon the traditional Splatterhouse formula by adding a 3D plane (instead of just moving left/right), choices in route, and deeper levels of gore.  The difficulty is increased by virtue of the choices made, and time pressure is a factor in whether you are successful or not; making the wrong path choices would delay you and not leave enough time to finish a stage. A fine-tuned game at the peak of the series.


Captain America and the Avengers

A port of the arcade hit, Captain America and the Avengers may have lost some in graphical fidelity, but the spirited gameplay and character are all packed into this gem of a game. Teamwork is necessary to make it through this one, as the hordes of enemies can be tough to fight through if you get surrounded. Admittedly, Vision is an odd choice for a selectable character, but that is more of an issue for the Arcade design than this version.  It's lots of fun with a partner, and easy to pick up and lose a few hours in.

The Death and Return of Superman

I'm not really privy to what happened to Superman in the comic book realm, but as a standard beat' em up it doesn't really matter. Superman can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and throw people around like rag dolls. The sprites are large and well designed. The ability to pick up enemies and either punch them, throw them, or slam them into the ground is addictive. Lots of fun here.


Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter

Many of the games on this list are not only excellent in what they do, but also bring something new to table. Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter is a beat' em up through most of the stage, and then morphs into a fighting game for the boss fights. Originally based on a Japanese manga, the origin of this game has no bearing on the playability or enjoyment of the game. The character animations are fluid, the sprites are detailed, and the action is reminiscent of Golden Axe. The boss fights are one on one fighting stages. Your move set still involves sword attacks, but you can now block with your sword, adding a new element of strategy that adds depth.


Mystical Fighter

What makes Mystical Fighter different is its feudal Japanese theme. Most gameplay mechanics are tried and true, but the ability to grab, spin, and fling enemies across the screen into each other is sublime. Seriously, I would do this almost the entire game. The bosses and cronies all fit within the theme, and are aesthetically pleasing as the graohics are well designed. Two-player co-op is available.


Growl

There was an environmental push in the early 90's, for both the environment and wildlife. This is reflected in the existence of Rain Forest Cafe, Captain Planet, and so on. Growl is a beat'em up that takes this notion to the extreme. Basically, you control one of four selectable heroes to take on poachers and animal traders. By whatever means necessary, you dispatch of all those who would profit from the wild animal trade. The action is constant, with a multitude of weapons available, including grenades, assault rifles, and rocket launchers. It's literally a blast. When you shoot rockets at enemies their body parts literally fly everywhere. I like how you can punch people while they are down, and you can slam them on the ground. The only downside is lack of two player co-op, perhaps the collision detection could be a bit more crisp, but other than that, its a great brawler.


Punisher

The Punisher is an example of a licensed game that turned out pretty good.  While it pales in comparison to its arcade counterpart, the graphics still look great for a Genesis title, and if you have never seen the arcade, you would think this was one of the better looking titles on the system. It is a fun and more than competent port. The default attack is punching, and general melee, with the occasional gun-drawn shooting segments, as the dictated by the enemies that you encounter. Weapon picks are plentiful. The sprites and animation look great on the Genesis, and the music sets a dark, street fighting mood. My only complaint is some slightly off hit detection, but the action is spretty swift so its not that noticeable. Two player co-op makes the game better, as player two is Nick Fury, who plays the same, but is still badass.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Hyperstone Heist

TMNT IV made waves on the SNES, and rightly so, but the Genesis version is no slouch. It is not a direct port, as there are enough stage differences to alter the gameplay experience. The action is bit faster on the Genesis, and the colors a bit more vibrant, in my opinion. Konami did a great job working within the framework (limitations) of the Genesis, squeezing as much out of it as possible. The only gripes I have are the fuzzy voice samples, and lack of throwing enemies at the screen, but that is understandable since it was more of a mode-7 SNES effect. Multiplayer is a must for the full experience. Other differences exist, but regardless of how well received the SNES version is, this game is still one of the best on the system.


Streets of Rage II

The Streets of Rage series was Sega's response to Final Fight being a SNES exclusive. While the first game was heralded as an instant classic, the second game fixed what could be fixed and became one of the defining games for the genre and the system. Bigger sprites, more animations, more varied gameplay, another killer soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, and of course two player co-op (which is something that Final Fight left out on the SNES home port) are all reasons why this game is so respected.  The police firebomb attack from the first game has been removed, sadly, and replaced by a 360˚ attack that drains a portion of your lifebar. Fortunately, combo attacks were added to your move set, which do not consume your life. Curious is Axel's penchant for yelling out "Grandpapa!" during his uppercut, but who knows, maybe he learned how to fight from his gramps. This is almost the best beat'em up on the system...


Golden Axe

When I first saw this game, I was instantly sold on the idea that the Genesis was bringing the arcade home. Many conventions of the beat' em up genre were made standard here. The ability to select a character with different sets of traits such as strength, speed, and magic ability adds to the already fantastic replayability. The special attacks that vary in degree based on amount of items (magic) collected, and are unique to each player. The environment can be used to your advantage, such as leading enemies off ledges, or running and knocking them off. The music is excellent, it is a fine example of programming on the Genesis, and fits perfectly with the theme of the game. There are even cut scenes with map progress to describe the journey of our heroes. The game did receive two sequels on the Genesis, but the third was not released stateside for some reason (one of a long list of baffling decisions by Sega). All in all, this is a game that is taken for granted, as it does all that a beat' em up should, and does it all well. If you owned only a few games for the system, this is definitely one of them.


So, there they are. Maybe in a year some of these will slide away, and new entries will emerge. If you have suggestions for the list, by all means let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hori Fighting Stick Multi for PC-Engine, SNES, and Genesis/Mega Drive


While I am a huge fan of the PC-Engine and shooters, I find the default control pads just so-so.  The buttons are fine, but the d-pad is a little stiff and hard on the thumb after a while. Being that there aren't a plethora of choices of controllers for the PC-Engine, I thought I would just go with what I had.
Eventually I stumbled upon this gem of a joystick. It is one of the earliest instances of a joystick with microswitches that I know of. In fact, I can't think of any joystick of the era (early 90's) that sported microswitches.

Shooters are my favorite genre, and the speed of those games requires an agile thumb and better precision than the stock d-pad can manage. Its not that microswitches are absolutely necessary, its the fluid control of the stick that makes it stand out.  Now this is called a fighting stick, and it has six buttons, so anyone with a working knowledge of the PC-Engine would associate this stick with Street Fighter 2' Champion Edition. That's great and all, but I'm just glad I found it to play my shooters on.

It comes with interchangeable cords for the SNES and Genesis, which is just awesome.  Not only is this one of the best sticks for the fourth generation, you can use it for Space Megaforce on the SNES, M.U.S.H.A on the Genesis, and Gate of Thunder on the PC-Engine Duo!

Another reason this stick rises above the rest is its wide, heavy base. Most sticks during the era were smaller, and uncomfortable to hold while playing straddled on the top of your legs. The SNES Super Advantage and Sega Arcade Power stick are both guilty of this. There is considerable heft to the stick, giving it a larger presence and improving handling. Sometimes with smaller sticks you have to hold on to them while controlling the joystick so that it doesn't slide off your lap, but that's not the case here. If there is one complaint that I have, it is that the buttons have spongey rubbery response, but that was typical for consumer sticks at the time. This is nominal, considering the upside.

So, if you are considering investing in a joystick for the PC-Engine family of systems (or Turbo Grafix, as there is a controller adapter available online), I think this is a superb choice.  There could be a better one out there, but it is pretty hard to find a Japanese exclusive joystick from over twenty-five years ago, let alone one of this quality.