Monday, May 30, 2016

My Reproduction Carts for the NES, SNES, Genesis, and Turbo Grafx-16 / PC-Engine

While I am a retro game player and collector, I don't like to think of myself as a "collector".  I collect games that I know I will like and play, or I don't buy them.  For that reason I don't buy sealed copies of games, because I would rather pay less for a loose cart and be able to play it.  People are different, and some people prefer sealed games and that's cool.  I do prefer playing on actual hardware, and consider emulation only if I am unable to find/afford a copy of a certain game.  The actual task of placing the cart into the machine, hold an original controller, and reading titles off of a shelf to decide what to play next is integral to my enjoyment of playing retro games. I do own a few Everdrives for various systems, and they are great, but personally, I like acquiring carts to play.  I realize there is some sort of inconsistency between being a "purist" gamer and one who buys Everdrives and repros, but oh well.

Here are some of the repro carts that I own for 8 and 16 bit systems, and the stories behind them.

For the NES:
Crisis Force

Crisis Force was a game that I had read about on Retro Sanctuary.  Since my favorite genre is shoot'em ups, this was a game that I had to try for myself.  It was only released in Japan for the Famicom, and prices were sky high.  I stumbled upon Etsy, the website that sells hand made items directly from the makers.  There are a host of reproduction cart merchants, and between them all you can find a reproduction of any high priced game for a less and in some cases, a lot less.  Obviously you have to be ok with settling for a repro instead of the real thing, but once you are, a new world opens up for those who are.  So I purchased a custom repro from RetrogamerRyan.  The game is as good as advertised, and I'm glad that I took a chance.

Summer Carnival '92: Recca

Not only is this game a Japanese exclusive, it is an exceedingly rare one.  It was a small release for Naxat's summer carnival series, which took place near the end of the Famicom's life and most gamers had moved on to more powerful hardware.    The thought of paying over $200 for a game does not even cross my mind, but a funny thing happened.  I knew that repro's of this game were made and available online, but I just never thought too seriously about it.  I was at the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee, and I was in one of the side rooms that a few vendors were setting up in, and I happened by this merchant who had a whole host of NES repros on display, with a top loader setup for testing.  I scanned through the boxes of available games, and immediately recognized the title.  I asked the merchant to pop this in and I gave it a try.  This was without question the fastest game I had ever seen the NES play, and was mesmerized at the programming skill necessary to pull off what I saw.  I asked the merchant if he had sold a lot of these, and he told me no one has ever asked about it.  The games were priced at $30, so I offered him $25 on the spot and he accepted.


For the SNES:
I don't have a Super Everdrive for the SNES, as that scene is a bit muddled with compatibiliy gaps due to the specialty chips for various enhancements.  Some of those chips are difficult to reproduce, and hence, the Super Everdrive is unable to play certain titles, such as Star Fox, Mario Kart, etc. While advancements are taking place, we are not at the point where I am ready to buy an Everdrive for the SNES.

The Adventures of Batman and Robin

Here's a game that ballooned in price over the past five years or so, and while it is pricey, its not as crazy expensive as some other snes heavy hitters.  I purchased this form RetroGamerandBackups on Etsy, and I have to say the level of quality is impressive for a reproduction.  The price was right for the product, and I got to add a game I've been wanting to my collection for about a third of the price.

Earthbound and Chrono Trigger


I have come to accept that owning original cartridges of these games is not going to happen.  They weren't the first games on my list that I would seek out, but they were cheap enough to give it a shot.  I bought them from thecustomcartridge on Etsy.  The repros play just as it should, but they feel a tad light; they lack the heft that SNES carts should have.  A minor gripe, but one that I noticed.  

Megaman and Bass

This game was another Japanese exclusive, and I'm a megaman fan, so this was a game I had to get and play.  Right around the time I decided to seek it out on eBay, I saw an English reproduction for about the same price.  I don't know the origin of the cart, but it is well made.

Metal Warriors

Another game that has gotten stupid expensive lately.  A great game sure, but not one that I want to pay over $200 for.  I ordered this from a South Korean merchant, for $20 plus shipping at http://newtype-game.com/.  The purchase procedure was a little strange: you would place items in a cart, but you would have to wait for an invoice via email to complete the payment transaction, through Paypal.  It worked fine, it just made me leery at first.  I ended up ordering several carts from this site, and I can vouch for it now.  The cart is a super famicom style cart, and its kinda light.  The sticker quality is just ok, but for $20, I can't really complain too much.  The game plays as it should.

Pocky and Rocky 2

Another stupid expensive game, this is a repro that was so cheap ($10 at the time) on eBay I was suspicious that it would even work.  The English description was lacking, and there was only one picture, but I figured it was low risk.  When it came, I was pleasantly surprised that it worked as it should.

Sparkster

I am a fan of Rocket Knight for the Genesis, so when I found out the sequel was released for the SNES, I early looked it up... and then put it on the backburner.  I forgot about it for a few years, and then its over $75 for a loose cart.  I found a repro cart for under $20, and that works for me.

Undercover Cops

I love beat'em ups, it's possibly my second favorite genre.  This game is another Super Famicom exclusive.  I watched a Retro Snow review on it and thought it looked worth seeking out. It's pretty damn expensive.  I bought my repro copy on eBay for under $20.  As with the other overseas repros that I bought, my first impression is that it looks pretty cheap.  The sticker is die-cut, but it seems to be a pretty poor cut job.  The shell is lighter than original carts, and while it plays as it should, I think about that every time I pick it up.  

Wild Guns

This one I was excited to find.  It's my favorite of all the SNES repros that I have, and the quality is top notch.  It seems a bit heavier than a standard cart, and I like that. I can't explain why, I just like that extra weight. The Sticker quality is excellent.  The only downside for me on buying this one is that I paid about $50 for it, but a month after I bought it the seller lowered their prices to $40.  Oh well.  I purchased it from GamesNDecals on Etsy.



For the Genesis:
For whatever reason, almost all repros that I have seen for the Genesis have pcb pin boards that are thicker than on original carts.  This doesn't affect their function, but I wonder if it is slowly moving the contact pins outward in my Genesis.

Panorama Cotton
I liked Space Harrier as a kid, and this game plays just like that.  The graphics are more cutesy than trippy, but still fun.  This was something I had to add in order to get all the shooters on the system.  I bought it from TheCartridgeArcade on Etsy.

Gley Lancer
This was the first repro that I bought, and it was a little pricier than typical repros today, but I'm still glad I bought it.  It was translated into English, and is one of my favorites on the system.  This was an eBay purchase.




Eliminate Down

This was a game I really wanted, and at the time this was one of the most expensive Mega Drive games (no American release).  There is some serious programming on this game, I think it pushes the Genesis as far as it can go.  Awesome game. I bought this off eBay as well.


The following Genesis repros are only $10 from http://newtype-game.com/

Sparkster
I was so happy to see this, and for ten bucks it was a steal.  The original copy is not something I want to shell out a hundred bucks for.  This is game is not the same as the SNES version, for whatever reason.  I wish there were more entries in the series.

Alien Soldier
This game could have made waves were it released in North America.  One of the many puzzling decisions by Sega.  A real copy is cost prohibitive, so repro it is.

Bare Knuckle 3
For those who don't know, the Streets of Rage series was titled "Bare Knuckle" in Japan.  While the first two entries were solid all around, the American version of SOR 3 was botched with unbalanced difficulty and censored graphics.  The Japanese version of the game, Bare Knuckle 3, is superior to the American version as it does not have these issues.  I used to consider this an unplayable game, but now it is almost as good as SOR 2.  Excellent buy, again for only $10.

Slap Fight
Another Japanese exclusive, I bought this when I set out to acquire all the Genesis/Mega Drive shooters.  Its ok, I can take it or leave it.




Contra the Hard Corps
This is the Japanese version of Contra Hard Corps.  While I already have this game, the reason why I bought this was that this version gives you three hits per life, making the game a lot less "Hard Core" and making it a reasonable challenge, instead of an impossible one.  Also, for $10, why not?

Golden Axe 3
I didn't know there was a third entry in the series until I watched a Game Sack episode on YouTube about games that were left in Japan.  I am a huge fan of the first game, and the sequel is ok.

Battle Mania 2
Trouble Shooter was a cool game, and its sequel was even better.  Too bad that the it didn't make its way over here.  Per usual, the Mega Drive version is cost prohibitive, so the repro is quite the bargain.


Splatterhouse 2 and 3
Like I mentioned before I love beat'em ups.  These games are kinda inbetween beat'em ups and hack'n slash games.  I thought they were fun, but not hundreds of dollars fun.  They're rare, expensive, and known mostly for being expensive.


For the PC-Engine (Turbo Grafx-16)
The only repros that I have seen for this system are made by a couple of guys on the Turbo Reproductions Facebook Group.  Shawn Yith and Jodi Whetham are the producers of these Hu-Cards, and they can reproduce any Hu-card game.  All games come with a custom case with artwork. These are a little thicker than the original Hu-cards, and have more weight to them as well.  They play just as they should, but due to the extra thickness, they are gripped tighter by the console than original cards.  I bought three repros from them: Magical Chase, Coryoon, and Tatsujin. All three are slick, and the production values are high.


So, there is a running theme here.  I love cart collecting, and almost exclusively use original hardware.  But as far as cost is concerned, enough is enough.  I know that this can be a polarizing topic, and I'm not trying to change anybody's mind.  This is what I chose, and everyone has their own opinions on the matter.  Either way, I hope you enjoyed reading this.






Friday, May 20, 2016

My Top Ten PC-Engine/Turbo Grafx Shooters

The Turbo Grafx-16 aka PC Engine is definitely in the running for the system with the best shoot'em ups, alongside the Saturn and Genesis.  This post is not to spark that argument, but to cherish the games that best represent the genre on this system.  There are A LOT of candidates for a list like this, and so I'm just going to say that my list is not going to match other peoples' and that's ok.  Also, since the number of shooters for this system is enormous, and I don't have all of them (does anyone?), these choices are limited to games that I actually own.  Also, I do not own a Turbo Grafx-16, I have a PC-Engine Duo, so I have a tendency to refer to the system as that.


10 - 1943 Kai

The venerable classic, 1943 Kai is the a fantastic port of the arcade game, boasting more weapons, a more robust soundtrack, and more on-screen action than the NES version.  Your plane has a lifebar; no more one-hit deaths.  The roll maneuver is still present, but I find it to be an afterthought, as it doesn't damage your enemies.  The enemy sprites are more varied than you would think for a 1943 game, and their some of their attack patterns adapt to your position and follow you around!  There are multiple power ups to acquire after taking out a string of red planes, and they are on a timer.  The power up method adds a layer of strategy as you try to avoid enemy bullets, while shooting the power up icons to change it to a weapon that you like before grabbing it.


9 - Star Parodier


A spoof of their own Star Soldier series, much like Konami did with Parodius and Gradius, Star Parodier is a light hearted shooter.  You can choose to pilot a PC Engine, Paro Caesar (ship from Star Soldier games), or Bomberman.  Your shots are tailored to the ship you choose, for example the PC Engine ship shoots Hu-cards and CDs.  The graphics are bright and colorful, perhaps the most use of color out of any PC Engine game.  It has a pretty mellow difficulty, making a nice entry level game to the genre.  The soundtrack is pretty great too.



8 - Salamander

An iconic title that has been ported many times, the PC-Engine version is one of the best versions. The graphical integrity of the arcade has been fairly well maintained, and the music is just as good.  Since this is a spinoff from the Gradius series, the protagonist is still the Vic Viper, but added here is two player co-op, with the second ship named the Lord British.  Gone is the power meter for upgrades; instead you pick up what is dropped by red enemies.  The picked up weapons can be leveled up if you grab another icon for that same weapon.  Bosses are large and imaginative. Unfortunately, being related to Gradius, the problem of the game being ridiculously hard if you die persists, as the process of powering up is a long and arduous one.  Still, a classic and must have for the system.

7 - R-Type

A seminal entry here, R-Type is to many the standard for paced, horizontal shooters.  The force ball mechanic is one that has been emulated many times, and is really what makes the game so enjoyable. The strategy and execution of placing the force ball on screen can make the difference between annihilating  a stage and being annihilated.  Add to that the ability to charge shots for a stronger burst, secondary weapon pick ups, and you have a nicely balanced array of offense at your disposal.  Sprite design is top notch, perhaps some of the best of all time, and the music is serviceable.  It is a hard game, you will have to earn your way through the game via repetition, but doing so is enjoyable and rewarding.



6 - Gunhed (Blazing Lazers)

An early release for the system, this game has outperformed expectations to ridiculous proportions. The action is constant, yet not overwhelming.  The sound is futuristic and upbeat.  The weapons are basic yet perfectly suited to the gameplay.  You can alter your ship speed at any time, and bosses are not too hard, and not too easy.  There is a variety of weapons to be picked up, and powered up.  the most impressive of which is the field thunder, which is a electric-plasma like wave that snakes its way across the screen.  As it becomes more powerful, the number of strands increases and can nearly fill the entire screen!  When powered up, the game may seem a tad on the easy side, but that is fine by me.  This game is the granddaddy of PC-Engine vertical shooters, since it did everything first and in excellent fashion.


5 - Soldier Blade

The third game in NES's renowned franchise, Soldier blade takes what worked in the series so far and refines it.  Like the other games in the family, you can increase the power of your current weapon, and you loose weapon power as you get hit.  There are three weapon types to choose from, none of which are very unique.  Not the most difficult of shooters, Soldier Blade is a great introduction to newcomers.  The stages are pretty long with varied scenery, but are in some cases, monotonous (what is up with all of these space structures?).  The action is ever-present, and the sprite designs are fantastic, the bosses are huge, and the music rocks.

4 - Air Zonk


Bonk never had the same appeal to me as the mainstream platformers of the time, so I dismissed the franchise entirely.  When it came to shooters, Air Zonk is something altogether different from its related brethren.  This game is refreshing, as its wackiness is way up there, and that give the game its charm.  The weapons are bizarre, but fit the game. The music is peppy, and also matches up well to the action.  The bosses at the end of the stages are hilarious, and you wonder if the game designers were just really creative or under the influence when making this game. There is a lot on screen at once, and things move pretty fast (including lots of background depth with parallax scrolling), so you have to be on your toes.  It eases you in for the first few stages, and the difficulty progression is smooth.  By the end, its not so easy, but that's to be expected.



3 - Winds (Lords) of Thunder


In what is a hybrid of mythological and medieval themes, Winds of Thunder is a roller coaster of a game.  The on-screen action is dense yet crisp.  The stage ambiance is maxed out at 11, and the music is rip-roaring, cheesy, heavy metal, that while you would roll your eyes upon listening to on the radio, is almost essential to the experience of this game as it is a perfect match for the gameplay.  Power ups are purchased inbetween stages using jewels dropped by defeated enemies.  There is a lot to choose from, as each selection offers a different experience and increases replayability.  The bosses are large and entertaining, and the game's difficulty is not over the top.  An excellent demonstration of what the CD unit can do for the PC-Engine.


2 - Seirei Senshi Spriggan


With a pedigree like this game has, it makes sense why this game is on this list.  The Aleste series has several, if not most of its titles on top-ten lists across the web.  Let's start with the weapon system.  As you pick up different colored orbs, your firepower hybridizes the colors you picked up.  You can hold three orbs, so whatever combination of colors you have dictates the characteristics of your firepower.  This allows for more weapon configurations that I can describe.  At anytime you can purge one of the orbs, which goes off like a bomb, to get you out of a trouble spot.  The sprite design is varied and vibrant, as is the music.  Bosses are huge, a trademark of the PC-Engine.  Gameplay is somewhere in between M.U.S.H.A. for the Genesis and Space Megaforce for the SNES; its silky smooth and there seems to be no slowdown anywhere.



1 - Gate of Thunder

This game was originally packed in with the Super CD Rom unit, along with 3 other games.  What an introduction to the new medium for the PC-Engine.  It became the standard for all others to follow.  One the first things you'll notice about this game is the ear-splitting, wailing guitar rock that starts up as the game boots; its truly awesome.  The game is is very colorful, and sprites pop off the screen.  the weapon system is innovative and a lot of fun.  The on-screen action is constant, and piloting through changing environmental hazards is reminiscent of Thunder Force 3 on the Genesis (good thing).  Overall, this is not only the best shooter on the PC-Engine, but possibly the best of its generation.




Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Top Ten Super Nintendo Shooters

The Super Nintendo is considered by many to be the best 16-bit system.  When compared to its main competitor, it had a lot of advantages: and expanded color palate, a more sophisticated sound chip, and lots of third party support.  It is known for its plethora titles of the main game genres (RPGs, platformers, fighting games, adventure games, puzzles games, etc.), except for shooters.  The processor speed of the SNES did not match up well against the Genesis' processor, and thus fast paced action games like shooters were not its forte.  Clever programming will overcome limitations, and every system has instances where this is on display.  These are the games that I consider the very best of the genre on the system. If I left your favorite out, its because I don't have it or it just did not make my list. So, here goes.    


10 - Darius Twin

Leading off at #10, Darius Twin is definitely a Darius game.  Full of fish, staggered power ups, level choice, and more fish, this game has everything that you would expect a 16-bit Darius game to have. There aren't as many levels available as in most Darius games, but you still can make choices and that adds to replay value.  It's pretty early in the series, so there are some rough graphics and just ok music, but gameplay is king and this game score pretty well.  The music is interesting at times.  Its not the hardest game out there, but that is refreshing for a Darius game.


9 - Biometal

The first time I played this game I nearly turned it off due to the cheesy, early '90's dance music that was actually licensed from the artist 2 Unlimited.  I know that upbeat music is integral to the shooter experience, but this music sounds like its straight from the Saturday Night Live skit "Night at the Roxbury".  After getting past the initial cheesiness, there is actually solid gameplay here.  There are secondary weapons to be picked up, all of the usual fare, and there is the shield mechanic, which is unique.  Blue orbs circle your ship, absorbing bullets for you.  It can also be expanded, circling in a wider radius for offensive purposes, and even shot out like a boomerang.  It slowly depletes in power as it is used, and that adds an element of strategy as you can turn it off so that it can charge and be fully powered up when you really need it.  Mastering use of this will allow you to progress further in the game as there can be a lot of bullets in the screen, and you can't dodge them all.  Also, the H.R. Giger inspired visuals are well drawn and very reminiscent of the Alien movies, a welcome addition.


8 - R-Type III: The Third Lightning

Following up Super T-Type, this game ups the ante with refined, crisp graphics, amped up music, and choice of three force balls at the start.  The force ball operates as before, but with a new hyper option.   When selected, the fully powered up beam blasts a spread shot, and your normal fire is super strong for about ten seconds or so.  After than it overheats and reverts to normal shot.  An nice addition to add a layer of strategy.  The one thing I don't like is starting at checkpoints when you die, but that's par for the series.  At least this time around you don't feel underpowered for too long.


7 - U.N. Squadron

A clever horizontal shooter with some rpg elements to it, U.N. Squadron if an addictive game.  At the start you choose from three pilots: the fast one with high firepower but weak defense, the slow but sturdy one, and the well-rounded one.  Points are used as currency between stages to purchase new weapons or a new plane.  Each plane that you obtain can be leveled up with experience, and its attributes increase accordingly.  The sprites are realistically drawn, and even though they can be smaller, the on-screen action gets intense as enemy movements seem grounded in realism, for the most part.  Enemies are both airborne and ground based, so you have to bomb, fly, and shoot.  If you neglect the ground forces the sky will fill up with missiles, making maneuvering difficult.  This game is a ton of fun, and one that you have a hard time putting down.  


6 - Parodius (series)





Parodius, a hybrid of the words parody and Gradius, is a tounge-in-cheek interpretation of the norizontal shooter game genre, molded by Konami gameplay elements.  There were three installments released for the Super Famicom:  Parodius Da! (From Myth to Laughter), Gokujo Parodius (Fantastic Journey), and Jikkyo Oshaberi Parodius (Chatting Parodius Live).
Everything about these games are wacky: the selectable characters, enemy designs, the weapons, the stage designs, the music and sound effects, and the bosses.  There are a variety of ships/animals/beings to choose from, each with a personalized set of weaponry.
The only thing from completely making light of the Gradius series is the resident difficulty.  One would think that such a light hearted theme would allow for some ease of gameplay, but make no mistake, these games are Gradius games at heart.  Still lots of fun, though you may want to slide the difficulty down if you want to see all of the stages.


5 - Aerofighters / Sonic Wings

This game is known in SNES circles as being one of the rarest titles for the system.  Its a shame, because it is a solid shooter, and fans of the Strikers 1945 series may find the game uncannily familiar.  You can choose from four different pilots/planes, each representing a different nationality. The main difference is the firepower/type, each can be powered up as you collect icons.  Special attacks are unique to each plane, and more can be picked up.  While there aren't too many frills or special effects in this game, its just a satisfying straight forward, balanced shooter that is fun to play time and time again.  Another odd feature is the sprite visuals you are presented with if you complete the game: the harder the setting that you complete, the less clothing your character is wearing.  How's that for creepy motivation?  Still a solid game, though.  


4 - Axelay
This game is a a graphical masterpiece, as it boasts large, beautiful sprites that fill the screen.  Mode 7 is in full effect here as is is used to give the appearance of depth to the backgrounds, which scroll quite nicely.  The stages alternate from vertical to horizontal, giving more variety to the visual effects as well as gameplay.  You have the ability to switch between three weapons at the start, and you will need to do so as certain weapons match certain situations; the fun part is figuring out which ones to use when.  If you get hit, you loose that weapon that was armed, and if you get hit three times you are left with a token pea shooter.  When you die you respawn on the spot. The music is great, if fits the action well.  A great entry, and often cited as the best shooter on the system.


3 - Gradius III

As a launch title for the SNES, this game as aged pretty well.  It took what was great about the original Gradius, enhanced it with 16 bit capabilities, and an instant classic is made.  It plays just how you expect a Gradius game to play, including the trademark slowdown.  This bothers a lot of people, but I find myself thankful for it as I need all the help I can get.  Your weapon select progression can be chosen and/or customized, allowing you to reorder the power ups, which adds to replay value.  Thankfully, the Konami code is present, although it is slightly altered.  Instead of entering the code in the traditional manner when paused (this will cause your ship to self-destruct), press the L and R shoulder buttons instead of left and right.


2 - Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie

I grew up a Robotech fan, and I played the disappointing Macross for the Famicom with a cart adapter to play on the NES.  My next console after the NES was a Genesis, and I actually never owned a SNES as a kid.  It wasn't until five years ago when I heard about this game and bought it on eBay.  It seems like it took forever to get here, as do most games from Japan, but when it did, boy did it live up to the hype.  It made up for that crappy NES offering and then some.  One thing that makes this game awesome is the gameplay variety.  You can choose between Hikaru (Rick), Max, or Milia (Myria).   Each of which has their own customized Valkyrie with different firepower.  Of course you can switch between jet, gerwalk, and battloid at any time, as the stages require different strategies at different points.  Each mode can be powered up individually, depending on which form you're in when you pick up the icon.  What's more, if you don't fire for a few seconds, you activate the "Minmei Cannon", which allows you to capture enemies and they will fight alongside you.  That is badass.


1 - Space Megaforce


This may be an obvious choice, but that would make sense, wouldn't it?  Admittedly, I have a slight bias for vertical strolling shooters, but on a different day, its possible that any of these top five could be number 1. Space Megaforce is a showpiece for the SNES.  All the features are here:  variety of weapons (both traditional and creative), the smooth movement, screen clearing bombs, the tough but fair challenge, dynamic backgrounds (even some mode 7!); all of these combined culminate in a uniquely addicting masterpiece.  For me, the weaponry is the most appealing part of the game.  There are eight different weapons available, each upgradeable.  In addition, the mode of fire can be changed for each weapon by pressing R.  For instance, weapon 1, the multiple shot, can shoot in multiple directions four different ways!  This kind of attention to detail makes for lots of replay value.  The Challenge definitely ramps up as the stages progress, but it does so gradually.  There are also additional difficulty settings for the hardcore shooter fanatics.