Sunday, July 30, 2017

Game Collecting: When is Enough Enough?

After collecting and playing retro games for over a decade, I believe I have now reached the (reasonable) end of my want list. When I started, it was primarily to play games that I played as a kid. I never intended to have entire sets for any console. As I would browse online reviews and lists, I would stumble upon other great games that I missed. I always vetted a game thoroughly before I decided to buy, unless I was presented with a great deal.

While I don't consider myself a collector in the strictest sense of the word, I do have sub-collection goals, which are easier and more reasonable to achieve. Mostly shoot' em up, beat' em up, and run'n gun games for my favorite systems. Having an entire collection never made sense for me, considering how many sub-par games there are on each system. I can easily skip past them. I suppose my collection takes more of a personalized character, instead of a "collection".
The NES Mega Man games were aways a big part of my youth, and I still play them to this day.

This became apparent to me at the Midwest Gaming Classic. As I cruised through the vendors tent, I either did not find any games that I was dying to have, or did not want to pay the stratospheric prices for the few left that I do want (like Image Fight/X-Multiply on Saturn). In a tent of hundreds of game vendors, I came away with only filler games, most of which I could do without. Perhaps I felt obligated to pick up something, as I made the trip up there. I bought them because I got deals on filler titles, not because I was seeking them out. This was telling; my collecting was nearing an end.

I can finally say that my collection is nearly where I want it; a curated collection of the games and genres that I enjoy. From what I can tell my "collection" is fairly modest compared to many of the collection pics I see on social media. Between Facebook groups, Pinterest, Twitter and the like, game room and collection pics are the selfies of the retro gamer community. I see collections that are filled with boxed sets, sealed games, and all the accoutrements that follow.  After all, collections are prized possessions and achievements, so why shouldn't they be displayed for all to see? It's fun to see the enthusiasm for the hobby and the creative ways that games are stored and displayed. Even still, sometimes these can be off-putting as a grotesque "look at me and what I have" sentiment persists. There seems to be some "keeping up with the Joneses".

Capcom 2D fighters on the Sega Saturn are a favorite subcollection

I know that I enjoy playing most every game that I have, and that is good enough for me (granted, I have a backlog of several dozen games to actually get to). After watching "hidden gems" videos on YouTube, I get the sense that those videos are scraping the bottom of the barrel.  There are fewer "hidden gems" and any further lists on the topic are strained. For the most part, we have seen the best of what retro gaming has to offer. Sure, there may be reasons why a game stands out: an interesting gimmick, a reason for rarity, or historical significance, but as far as it being fun? We would have seen it by now. I could actually not buy another game and be perfectly happy with what I have.

This sentiment may be coming at the right time, as game prices seem to be at an all-time high. If I started collecting today, I would probably just use an Everdrive, or Retropie, depending on their situation. When people ask, that's what I tell them anyway. I'm not sure if this means my passion for the hobby will fade. I hope not. I like to think of it as focusing my energy on actually enjoying the games I have, instead of seeking things out. That's really the point, is it not?

My Saturn heavies; worth the price of admission (when I bought them)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Midwest Gaming Classic

The Midwest Gaming Classic is an annual gaming convention held at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin (just outside of Milwaukee). The recent focus is on retrogaming, although I believe it had tabletop gaming in its origins. The event usually takes place the second weekend of April. Advance ticket orderers can attend pre-conference events on Friday night.
This event draws attendees from all over, and hotel rooms fill up, to the point where neighboring hotels open up blocks of rooms as well. This event has grown significantly in size over the last five years. As far as I know, it is the only retro gaming convention in the area. I constant hear of conventions on the west coast in San Diego, Portland, Seattle, and so on, so this is a big draw as it is a rarity in these parts.

The convention offers panel discussions, live podcasts, a history of consoles room, an arcade hall, consoles set up in the hallways, tournaments, club rooms and of course, the giant vendor tent. The first time I attended, it was all quite overwhelming. To truly get to see everything, you need to go both days, otherwise you have to ration your time.

I wasn't quite sure how to write about all of this, as I did not get to see every corner of it, so I'll jsut post all the pics that I took so you can get a feel for what it was like.

This vendor was selling cool 3D Perler bead figures 
A vintage Atari game testing unit, originally displayed in department stores.

lots of barcades and minicabs for sale

I thought this history of American Video game cartridges display was really cool 
Consoles are setup in most of the hallways, and secured to the tables in one way or another

The conference is free for kids 10 and under; a very family friendly event

Certain hallways have themes for the displayed games, like the fight club shown here
Fighting games on display often boasted arcade sticks for an authentic experience

Younger kids were getting into all of these older games

Two friends playing some Goldeneye next to each other, as it should be

Hey, you're way too close to the tv, thats cheating!

Various tournaments are in progress throughout the day, with judges recording scores and times

Most people probably don't know the the original Metal Gear game was first on the obscure MSX computer system

A Neo Geo (arcade version) and an RGB monitor was one of my favorite things to see 
A Pinball merchants room offers parts and repairs.

Always one of my favorite spots

Gradius V was on display - its a lot of fun in 2 player coop

8 player Super Smash Brothers always draws a crowd
The TurboFest room is one example of the club rooms, where a room is rented out and dedicated to a particular system. 

Nearly every version of the Turbo Grafx/PC Engine is available to try out here 
It's hard to see, but here are the PC Engine shuttle, PC-FX, and PC-Engine Duo RX consoles, from left to right. You won't find these in you local pawn shop.

A newly produced PC Engine game is available to play: Henshin Engine on a wall projector. It was fun, it reminded me of Valis.

The vendor tent is ENORMOUS

Valuable games are kept behind glass 

More common games are in bins up front
As a Mega Man junkie, I was heavily tempted

Famicom games have become more popular at the MGC recently
Lots of Japanese Super Famicom games are cheaper than American equivalents. Remember, you can use translation patches on the Retron 5 to save lots of money on RPGs.
So, if you have any interest at all in retro gaming (you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't), check out the Midwest Gaming Classic in Brookfield, WI. I can't compare it to other conventions, as this is the only one that I have attended, but its an awesome experience, and you'll be able to see, play, and buy games that you probably won't find anywhere else!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Even More Saturn Shoot'em Ups! (Part 3)

Ok, so here is my third list of shoot'em ups for the Sega Saturn. Normally, a third list on the same genre for one console would be unnecessary and would seem to be reaching, but this is a testament to the profound riches available on the Saturn (for the Japanese library). Here is what I consider my "third" tier of titles for this genre on the Saturn. Do not interpret "third" tier as not being any good; they are still good, they just didn't make my first two lists. Click here for part one and here for part two. These are not in any particular order.

Capcom Generation 1 (194X series)
It has been said many times, but I reiterate here what an awkward position Capcom has taken with the 194X series. I am referring to the fact that the protagonist is fighting the Japanese empire during WWII. Imagine if you were a programmer here, and you were creating a game where you are invading the U.S. Apparently they weren't too bothered, as there were sequels. This collection offers arcade-perfect ports of 1942, 1943, and 1943 Kai. Whichever version is your favorite of the series, each one offers solid gameplay and control, if a bit vanilla. These were early entries, so the lack of many now-standard shooter conventions may be forgiven. Rapid fire is a welcome addition on the Saturn controller. My only complaint is that 1941 should have been included.

 Layer Section
Also known as Galactic Attack in the west, Layer Section is one of the few notable shooters that was released in the U.S., along with Darius Gaiden. It is also the cheapest option on this list, and perhaps out of all of these lists. Don't be fooled by its budget-friendly price tag, this game stands toe to toe with many of its higher priced brethren. The gameplay divides your attention between two planes. Your regular laser shoots forwards, while your lock-on laser homes in on targets on the lower plane. The longer you hold on the lock-on button, the more enemies you target, and more points are scored. This is not the first game to employ this mechanic, but may be one of the best to utilize it. This lock on aspect is so well done, it is very adictive. You may focus so much on this method of attack that you may forget to pay attention whats in front of you. The graphic design and music are top notch, and you'll lose hours before you know it.

Time travel is a backdrop to this unique shooter, as each stage has you warping to different eras and settings. This is the most unique aspect of this game, as all of the enemies on each stage are era-specific, and thus not repeated. The gameplay is average, if solid. There is some choppy background scaling, but the visuals improve as you progress. The three selectable characters all have different firing patterns, as expected. The music is surprisingly good; very reminiscent of Soukyugurentai. An interesting game in theme, but not much more. Worth playing for sure, just a notch above the average.

Gradius Deluxe Pack
Arcade perfect ports of the two Gradius entries are what you get here. Contrary to American beliefs, Life Force was not the sequel to Gradius. The actual sequel was not released in here in the states. Its a shame, because Gradius II improves upon the first in style and substance. There is now a selectable weapon loadout, for variety. The graphics have improved and some even take on H.R. Giger-inspired designs (a little blatantly, like in stage 3). The game is just as hard, but what was to be expected. Gradius suffers from power-up let down in a big way; that if you die after being fully powered up, it is nearly impossible to advance. Most players have no choice to accept this, and just power off the game at that point. It may be a brief showing for gamers, but it is sweet while it lasts.

I'm sure there is some kind of story being conveyed here, but as it is all in Japanese I have no clue what is happening. The odd assemblage of characters, the happenings in the background, all point to some majestic plot. Since this is a shooter, none of that really matters. This is a solid, straight-forward entry from Psikyo, the makers of the excellent Strikers 1945 series, Sengoku Blade, Zero Gunner 2, and others. This one falls short of its higher profile siblings, but not much. All Psikyo games have the same tight gameplay, charging mechanics, special attacks, etc. The charge attack in this game is a less than useful melee attack that while strong, is limited in range and risky to use as you are defenseless during charging. It's not the first game I'd get, but I would definitely pick it up if I saw it.

Parodius Deluxe Pack
Perhaps one of the original "cute'em ups", parodius is Konami's parody of its own seminal series Gradius. It plays a lot like its forbearer, except that it is wacky and twisted. There's some pretty off-beat design here, from sprites to bosses to weaponry, everything is fair game for parody. There are eight selectable characters (Vic Viper among them, of course) with unique power ups and animations. Don't let the cuteness fool you, this is a Gradius game with Gradius difficulty. If you want a shooter that doesn't take itself seriously at all, try this.

Sonic Wings Special
Sonic Wings first appeared on the Neo Geo, and was a fantastic outing on that machine. It was a series that saw three entries, with minor variation between them. Sonic Wings Special on the Saturn combines characters and stages from the three games, making it...special? A no frills, vertical shooter that does only the basics but does them well.

Metal Black
A seemingly innocuous horizontally scrolling shooter from the start, Metal Black employs a unique beam power up system. You collect floating molecules that when accumulated power up your main shot as well as give you a powerful screen-wide beam shot. In an clever twist, the bosses you face are also vying for the same molecules for the same reason! Each boss scrambles to suck up as many as possible as its a virtual game of Hungry Hippos until one of you collects enough to discharge a menacing beam shot. There's some hilariously fast scrolling text at the start up, which is in English, its just way too fast to catch. The backstory in a shooter doesn't matter much, but it was something I thought was funny. Its a good game.

Twin Bee Deluxe Pack
As far as I know, there was only one North American Twin Bee game released, it was titled "Stinger" for the NES. That game had potential, and was actually quite fun. This compilation includes the arcade titles Detana!! Twin Bee and Twinbee Yahoo. The gameplay consists of regular arial shooting, and tossing bombs at ground targets with your boxing gloves(?). You power up by shooting at clouds, which release bells, which change color colors when shot, and each color provides a different power up. This is a different, and annoying method of powering up as you need to shoot to destroy threats, and incidental shots will change the intended power up. This multitasking can turn some away. You can also find power ups released from destroyed ground targets. A fun game for sure.

Steam Hearts
Originally a PC-Engine Super CD game, the Saturn port is a bit watered down and censored from its Hentai version. Despite its randy cut scenes, the shooting action is fast and frenetic, and controls well. Air and ground attacks are featured here, yet the emphasis on ground attack is not as pronounced as with Layer Section or Twin Bee.  A Health meter is a welcome addition that helps one make it to the boss battle. The sprite design is colorful and pops off the screen. It does make one feel a bit like a creep, when after each boss battle you bear witness to "interactions" between yourself and the boss character. This would never be released these days. Even still, its a good shooter that is marred by questionable extras and story.

So there you have, another ten Sega Saturn Shoot'em Ups to digest. This will probably be my last entry on the topic, as the rest of what I have does not measure up. If you are reading this you may well know that acquiring these games is no small feat, so however you come across your gaming opportunities, good luck.