Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Retron 5


The Retron 5 is a modern clone console produced by Hyperkin, makers of several other clone consoles based on 8 and 16-bit technology. The console plays actual game cartridges for the NES, Famicom, SNES/Super Famicom, Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance.  If you have a Sega Power Base Convertor, you can play Master System games as well.


While many gamers are purists and would scoff at the notion of using a clone system, the Retron 5 does address some of the issues of trying to play retro games in this day and age.  For one, older consoles look like crap on high definition televisions.  The Retron 5's hdmi output is simple and clean, and looks great. Console purists go to great lengths to get the best video output from their original systems, which may necessitate modifications, extra cables and adapters, and in general, greater additional cost. Not all people are as hardcore to go through all of that, and if that's the case, the Retron is a nice substitute.  
The back of the system is simple

A second benefit is the all-in-one form factor;with the Retron 5 you won't need to clutter up your tv stand or media center with multiple consoles (a plus if you live with others who don't share your retro gaming enthusiasm). Let's face it, retro gamers usually play more than one retro system.  

The system does not actually have the hardware inside for all of these systems like most clone systems.  Instead, it is an android based system, running emulators for its game operation. Once a game is inserted, the rom is dumped into the memory, and the game is playable.  Once the game is removed, the memory is wiped. This would make it seem as if the game were being read in real time, when in fact, the game is not accessed after the original dump.

Upscaling with proper 4:3 ratios
The emulation explains how it can output digital video in high definition, when the original game systems could only output analog systems at 240p. This also means that some games may have minor differences in how they play through emulation, when compared to being played on original hardware. These may include input lag, sound variances, and lack of slowdown (which some actually find nostalgic, depending on the game). The firmware is upgradeable through the SD card slot, which has come in handy already with fixes to bugs and game incompatibilities.

There are lots of options in the menu



Other features that are available are:
save states -  This was new to me as I never was into emulators, and while I don't use them often, there are times when they are really helpful (Ninja Gaiden).

graphic filters - Again, these were foreign to me and still are. I don't think any of them look good; they look as if pertroleum jelly was smeared across the screen.  To each their own, I guess.

scanlines - I love scanlines. Some games just don't look right to me without them.  

built-in cheat codes - These were convenient on really hard games (Contra Hard Corps).

screen shots - This was cool.  I'm not into capturing video footage of gameplay, but being able to take a screen shot during gameplay is pretty nice, and it is a reason to use the console more.
A system-saving move to add original controller compatibility
Perhaps the best feature of all, controller ports for original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers.  The system auto-detects which controller is plugged in, and you have the ability to map buttons however you like. The controller that is packed with the system is serviceable, but barely.  The brick-like shape is oddly un-ergonomic, and instead of a d-pad there is a micro-switched circular disc.  This is an odd choice for a system designed for retro games that only knew d-pads. I find the precision sloppy and the clicking is distracting. I use my 6-button Genesis or SNES controller for nearly all of my gaming on it, regardless of system.    
Do I need a translation for the most famous 16-bit meme ever?

A recent development is the ability to patch games of a different region, so that the text is translated to English.  This is a boon to rpg players, as Japanese rpg games are super cheap to import, whereas many domestic releases are highly coveted and inflated in price, like Chrono Trigger and Earthbound, to name a couple. I have not personally done this, but it seems easy enough to do if you follow tutorials online.  

How exactly the company acquired those emulators is a polarizing point of contention, and can be a big enough deterrent for many potential buyers. The Retron 5 utilizes open source freeware that were meant to for noncommercial use, packaged in a product for sale. Needless to say, there has been quite the backlash in the retro gaming community. It is a shame that the company had to take the route that they did, only to get caught and try to backpedal out of a moral embarrassment.  I found this out after I had purchased one, and had I known this beforehand, I'm not sure I would have bought it. I can't stand on a moral high ground here, as the law on emulators, roms, reproductions, and the like are nebulous, and I do have some repro carts and have used emulation here and there.  Everyone will have their own opinions, and thats perfectly fine.

One thing I find curious about this is system is: who was the intended audience? Hardcore gamers would have found the optimum connections for modern tvs through upscaling solutions.  Maybe some people buy it to reduce the wear and tear on their original systems. Casual gamers would not have enough retro carts on hand to make use of it.  The design choice of having rom dumps that necessitate actual physical carts suggest an authentic gaming aesthetic, yet utilize the most unauthentic technology.  Perhaps it is for the retro gamers that have plenty of old carts, but are not hardcore enough to go all-in with video conversion and upscaling.  Perhaps I fall into that camp, sort of.  I have my retro systems connected via RGB scart, transcoded into component, and displayed on a Sony Wega crt.  My hdtv has my modern systems and the Retron 5.  When I play retro, it is almost always with the crt. I do play the Retron 5 when friends come over, as that room has more seating. So in my case, it has its uses, but I don't need it. It would be interesting to hear other peoples' experiences with it.  Feel free to leave comments below, and thanks for reading.




Saturday, September 17, 2016

Game Compilations for the PS2

The sixth-generation console wars put up quite the fight, and gamers were the winners.  The three-way war led to better exclusives, competitive pricing, and unprecedented choices.  Between the three major players (sorry, Dreamcast), I chose the PS2. At the time, a DVD player was just as expensive as a PS2, and so having two for the price of one was a huge selling point.  Add to that the backwards compatibility with PS1 games, and this was a no-brainer.

The Playstation 2 is the top-selling game console in history, selling over 170 million units worldwide.  This number is unlikely to be topped, but who knows. The number of released games for it is equally impressive: over 3,784 games, according to a prominent online source.  With a PS2 unit entrenched in that many homes, the opportunity to cash in on game compilations was ripe.  Many publishers with revered back catalogs saw the convergence of technological opportunity (capacity on DVD Roms) and nostalgia, and gamers were happy to pony up.

Here are the compilations released for the PS2 in North America that I have.  Disclaimer: I'm sure that I don't have all of the game compilations for the PS2; these are just the ones that I own.


Namco Museum
One of the first on the acrade scene, Namco made its mark with is Marquee franchises: Pac Man, Pole Position, Galaga, and Dig Dug.  There are others, but these are the ones that you remember.  There were a slew of releases for the PS1, over five different volumes, I believe.  They must have really stretched their catalog out to do that. When I look at this collection, what I see is 10 games on a disc, but only four that I want to play.  Don't get me wrong, they are good games, but they are so old school that you feel it.



Capcom Classics Collections 1 and 2
These complilations assemble many of the same games that were included in the Saturn and PS1's Capcom Generations series (Japan, PAL only) and threw in a few more games.  The first installment has some of Capcom's most popular games such as Final Fight, Ghosts n' Goblins series, 194X series, Commando series, and of course, the Street Fighter 2 series. The second treatment offers some deeper cuts of Capcom's catalog, competent games that didn't make as big a splash but beloved all the same. Highlights include 1941: Counter Attack, King of Dragons, Knights of the Round, Magic Sword, and Strider, among others.  Various unlockables are present with each game, and the presentation is pretty good.

I know, I know.  These are the Gamecube versions.  I sold off my PS2 versions a while back.  The game content is the same, so I figured that I would include them.
Midway Arcade Treasures 1, 2, and 3
Midway's pedigree is in the arcades, and so these three volumes offer very nice ports of some big-name games.  Volume 1 includes Defender, Gauntlet, Joust, Paperboy, Rampage, Robotron 2084, Smash TV, and more.  The presentation in the first collection is the best, with an anthropoly-themed menu and hieroglyphics to represent each of the games on the select screen.  They subsequent titles dropped that for a plain menu system.

Volume 2 picks up after the first collection with APB, Arch Rivals, Gauntlet 2, Mortal Kombat 2 and 3, Narc, Pit-Fighter, Total Carnage, and more.  The game play is generally pretty good, considering that some of these arcade titles are not native to consoles.  Playing Smash TV and Total Carnage with dual analog sticks is pure bliss, unlike the awkward methods employed for the 16-bit iterations of those games.

The third collection takes a vehicular racing slant, and offers OffRoad Thunder, Race Drivin', Super Off Road, Hydro Thunder, San Fransico Rush 2049, and more.



Taito Legends 1 and 2
Taito was also a major player in the arcades during the 1980's and 1990's, and it seems that is how they broke up their selections for these two compilations.The first disc contains their earlier efforts like Space Invaders, Elevator Action, Operation Wolf, Rastan, Raibow Islands, Bubble Bobble, and some other lesser-known entries.  The second disc boasts a robust nearly 40 games, with some real gems in Elevator Action Returns, G-Darius, Darius Gaiden, Raystorm, Metal Black, Growl, and others.  Some of these games are cost-prohibitive on the Saturn, so this is a great alternative for Saturn shooter fans.


Mega Man Anniversary Collection
This was one of Capcom's best decisions during the PS2 era.  The first eight original series games on one disc, plus two extras that never saw the light of day in North America (Megaman: The Power Battle and Megaman 2: The Power Fighters).  Some features include the ability to save games, an onscreen directional hint telling you where to go (not that useful), and the Megaman cartoon pilot episode.  Some of the music has been altered slightly; some for better some not, and the control is pretty tight, but depending on how much muscle memory you have from the original NES games, it may feel too different, as in my case.  Nonetheless, a great compilation.

Mega Man X Collection
Here we have the first six entries in the X series, and included here is the previsouly unreleased (in North America) Megaman Battle and Chase racing game.  The X series is not as uniform in quality as the original series, with some big drop-offs in X4 and X5, but still, a collection of some incresingly expensive titles on one disc makes this compilation worth it.  There are not a lot as far as extras, ans some people care more about that stuff than others.


Sonic Mega Collection Plus
This collection has all of the 16-bit Sonic games, plus the lock-on combinations with Sonic and Knuckles, and four more Genesis games: Ristar, Flicky, Comix Zone, and The Ooze (previously unreleased in North America).  As long as you like Sonic, this could be one of the most complete collections that I've seen for a series (I'm ignoring the 3D Sonic titles).

Sega Classics Collection
This is an odd collection.  On the surface, it looks like a collection of Sega arcade classics, but if you dig deeper, these games are not the same as you remember.  They are modernized (I use this term lightly) versions of arcade classics, developed by third parties.  The games are reinvented in 3D, with polygons instead of sprites, yet done so on the cheap.  These titles were released separately in Japan as part of the Simple 2500 series (budget line), and were bundled together for this release in North America.  The new take on the games does not meet expectations when you think of Sega, nor does nostalgia kick in because the games look and play differently from the originals.


Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
This collection contains two games: Hyper Street Fighter 2 and Street Fighter 3 - Third Strike.  Also available is Street Fighter 2, the animated movie.  This is a nice collection, as it is the only way to play these games on the Playstation 2.  I prefer an arcade stick for fighting games, as I find the d-pad on the indigenous controller uncomfortable.

Street Fighter Alpha Anthology
The contents of this collection are no mystery, all three of the SF Alpha games are here, along with a remixed Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold.  The alpha games were all released for the Playstation and Saturn, but this is nice way to get all three.


Gradius III and IV
Gradius III was a near-launch title for the SNES, but here is the arcade port, slowdown and all. Gradius IV has never been released before, and the it makes its debut here as a launch title for the PS2. The graphics are reminiscent of PS1 game, with its early 3D models.  The gameplay is basically the same as what you would expect, but less fun for some reason. Maybe its that the game seems half-baked, or maybe it just doesn't have enough of its own personality.  Either way, its a rare skippable entry in the renowned series.  


SNK had a huge Neo Geo catalog waiting for the right moment to be unleashed for other consoles, and the PS2 was the prime opportunity. The collections include:


Art of Fighting Anthology
The Art of Fighting series is a prequel to the Fatal Fury series.  The compilation includes Art of Fighting, Art of Fighting 2, and Art of Fighting 3: Path of the Warrior. I respect the franchise but my fighting game habits were raised on Street Fighter chops.

King of Fighters Orochi Saga
The KOF series has so many entries, its comical. This compilation includes KOF '94 through '98.  I have played the first three on the Saturn, and they are fun, but I just can't get into them as much as I want to.  Maybe because I suck at fighting games not by Capcom.  Still, a fantastic collection for those who can better appreciate them than me.


Fatal Fury Battle Archives 1 and 2
The first collection contains Fatal Fury, Fatal Fury 2, Fatal Fury Special, and Fatal Fury 3.
The second collection offers Real Bout Fatal Fury, Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, and Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers.


Samurai Shodown Anthology
This compilation includes Samurai Shodown I through VI.  This is on my backlog, so I have yet to play it.

World Heroes Anthology
Bringing together World Heroes, World Heroes 2, World Heroes 2 Jet, and World Heroes Perfect, this fighting game with a time travel back story has the most interesting characters and locales.  Many of the fighters are based on actual historical figures, and the series quietly did well in the arcades.


SNK Arcade Classics 1
Given how many Neo Geo titles were produced, this is a nice sampling of a bit of everything. Metal Slug, Baseball Stars 2, Magician Lord, World Heroes, King of the Monsters, Shock Troopers, Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters '94 and more are offered up as a cornucopia of SNK arcade goodness.  A great place for SNK newbies to start.

Metal Slug Anthology
This is what I am talking about.  Metal Slug has an abundance of character, more so than any other game that I've seen. The action is frenetic, the animations are hilarious, and challenge is commendable.  To have the first six entries plus Metal Slug X on one disc is mind blowing.  If you can't already tell this is my favorite SNK series.

I'm sure there are many more compilations out there, and maybe I'll stumble across those as well.  I am a huge fan of compilations; the value, the exposure to an entire franchise, and the special features are all reasons why.  If I missed any good ones, let me know! I'll be on the lookout for them.



Saturday, September 10, 2016

Game Compilations for the Sega Saturn


If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know that I am a Sega Saturn aficionado.  It may have been the black sheep of the fifth generation of consoles, but it was my favorite.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I just couldn't get into early 3D graphics and gameplay, especially when hand-drawn 2D sprites were looking so good!

Now, the vast majority of the Saturn's best games were not released in North America.  Sega of America had a cooky aversion to 2D gaming, as it gave the appearance of being behind the times. This was unfortunate as we missed out on a plethora of excellent games.  Some of these games could have turned the tide of the console war, or at least balanced it somewhat, especially since there was no language barrier and an action replay cart is all you need to boot them up.

These titles were released as compilations, each containing two or more games.



The Gradius Deluxe Pack
The Gradius series is long known to be one of the forbearers of the shoot' em up genre.  It contains arcade-perfect ports of Gradius and Gradius II.  Even though there were ports released stateside, there's nothing like a pixel-perfect arcade port. Difficulty and other options are available in main menu.  As much as I love the genre, I am no professional and need all the help I can get.  Easy setting it is (which is not so easy)!
Gradius II was never released here.  Many thought that Life Force was the sequel to Gradius, as there was no evidence to the contrary.

Salamander Deluxe Pack
Salamander was a spin-off of Gradius, with many of the same gameplay mechanics, but a twist: power ups were picked up directly, and there was no power meter with selections to choose from. Another thing that makes the Salamander series different is two-palyer cooperative play.  Struggling through the tough as nails levels is more fun with a friend.
It was named Life Force when brought to the NES, and modified to have power meter and red capsules, so its no wonder people thought it was the sequel to Gradius.
Salamander II is awesome and in need of some form of international re-release.

Parodius Deluxe Pack
Parodius is named for the fact that it is a parody of Gradius. Imagine the gameplay of Gradius, but imagine having the option to replace the Vic Viper for a either a penguin, octopus, or Twin Bee.  The stages are outrageous and the enemies bizarre.  Power ups are based on the Gradius system, with Twin Bee bells added for good measure.  The two games included are Parodius Da! and Ultimate Parodius.  Oh, these are still Gradius games at heart, and so they suffer from Gradius syndrome, as expected.  Still fun, though.

Detana Twin Bee Deluxe Pack
This series is one of the earlier "cute'em up" series.  Everything in these games is cute: the protagonist, the enemies, the power-ups, etc.  The games alternate from horizontal to vertical scrolling every other level. The first game, Detana Twinbee, is an earlier title, and it shows its age, but Twinbee Yahho is a much more complete game, with improvements all around.  In keeping with their light-hearted theme, they are not as brutally difficult as Gradius.


Dungeons and Dragons Collection
I never noticed these games in the arcade, but apparently they existed.  Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara are scrolling beat'em ups, with player upgrade features as you continue to play. Lots of fun for fans of Knights of the Round and King of Dragons.  Of course, two-player co-op makes the experience better.

Sonic Jam
Many cite the lack of a true Sonic game as one of the reasons the Saturn failed.  Maybe so, but there were a bunch of subpar tangential efforts like Sonic-R, Sonic 3D blast, and Sonic Jam.  Sonic Jam is a compiling of Sonics 1, 2, 3, and Sonic and Knuckles.  There is a 3D hub world to roam around in as you pick which game to play, but it almost feels like it might have been for a proper 3D game that was scrapped.  There are some extras like advertisement materials, manuals, and other tidbits.  One notable feature is the ability to use the spin dash in Sonic 1, and


Capcom Generations 1 (194X series)
1942, 1943, and 1943 Kai are included in this seminal shooter pack. It was cool to play a version of 1942 other than the crappy NES version. Keep in mind these games are a product of their era, and some have aged better than others.  Despite their technical limitations

Capcom Generations 2 (Ghosts n' Goblins Series)
Ghosts n' Goblins, Ghouls and Ghosts, and Super Ghouls and Ghosts.
These games are still just as hard as you remember.  Well, the first is the most difficult. The emulation is good, not perfect.

Capcom Generations 3 (first 5 titles)
Vulgus, Son Son, Pirate Ship Higemaru, and Exed Exes. Some early Capcom games that are so-so. They're on this collection just for historical evidence.

Capcom Generations 4 (Commando series)
Commando, Gun.Smoke, and Mercs.  Gun.Smoke is a bit of an oddball thematically, but the action is right at home.  There were a lot of early overhead run'n gun games, but Capcom seemed to get the action just right. Later games would surpass these, but for the early games, the action is great.

Capcom Generations 5 (aka Street Fighter Collection 2)
This was known in the west as Street Fighter Collection 2, released on the Playstation. It was not released in the west for the Saturn. It included Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, Street Fighter II': Champion Edition, and Street Fighter II': Turbo Hyper Fighting.  Oddly, as a second compilation of early street fighter games, its contents predate the contents of the first Street Fighter collection

Street Fighter Collection
Known as Street Fighter Collection 1 in North America, this contained Super Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold. This collection should have been called the Super Street Fighter collection, but what do I know?



Thunder Force God Packs 1 and 2
Thunder Force is one of the first shooters you think of when you think of shooters on the Genesis. There were three installments for the Genesis, from II through IV, however IV was oddly renamed: Lightening Force: Quest For The Dark Star.  Why this was done nobody knows. The first collection contains TF2 and TF3, whereas the second collection brings TF AC and TF4.  TF AC was the arcade port of TF3, which did have some stage alterations.  Great collections for die hard Thunder Force fans or if you really want to play TF AC.

So this list is just another reason why I love the misunderstood Saturn.