Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library



When people get into retro gaming, they want to seek out reviews and lists for the best games to play. There are a plethora of these sources online, but not so many in print form. Perhaps it is indicative of the age range of the primary retro gaming audience that many want a physical product. While there may be books written of about gaming in general, there are not too many on the topic of retro gaming, and even less focusing on the breadth of games available for retro systems.

This is starting to change. Brett Weiss was one of the first to specifically write about the game libraries with his Classic Home Video Game Series (2007-) of books. Jeffrey Wittenhagen chronicled the NES library in his The Complete NES: Officially Licensed US Releases (2015). This review is on the the newest entry in this young genre of video game compendiums, Pat Contri's Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library.

Pat Contri is most well known for his YouTube channel: Pat the NES Punk. His videos include reviews, skits, podcast discussions, and other gaming related topics. He started his channel in 2007, and is widely credited as a major influence in the retro gaming boom, along with other early YouTubers such as The Angry Video Game Nerd, and Classic Game Room.

Pat has channeled his knowledge of the NES games into an exhaustive guide book, where every game is reviewed, reflected upon, and rated. The reviews are written by Pat himself, as are many of the reflections, with help from other contributors.


My first impression of the book was that it was very substantial, in every way. The weight, the paper quality, the sheer amount of content bursting off of the pages signifies a labor of love, and an obvious level of dedication. Some might even say that it has too much information, as pages may seem a bit cramped, with text riding up very close to the edge of every page. It could easily be mistaken for a college textbook from afar.


Each page reviews one or two games, depending on how influential the game is. Every review provides at least four screen shots, which is awesome. I have always felt that one screen shot does not convey enough information about a game, but having four provides a sense of continuity that may pervade through a game, giving better insight into how the visuals hold up throughout the game, how the gameplay may vary, instead just one moment.

Other information provided includes genre, developer, publisher, release date, number of players, rarity, and Pat's rating out of five stars. The main review take up the bulk of the text section, and reflections are about a third of the section. I like the idea of a reflection after the review, as it offers another persons slant on the game, and perhaps discusses the impact of a game or other interesting tidbits that would not be proper to include in the review itself.


Even the lowliest of games is given proper treatment, with primarily objective reporting. While I do disagree with some of the ratings here or there, that is to be expected, and nothing was wildly off.

Visually, as I mentioned earlier, there is so much information that the pages seem busy. Behind the white test section is a background pic from the game being reviewed, and this may be the little extra that was not needed. With four screen shots from each game, having the extra layer of color behind everything ends up distracting. This is a minor gripe, as I appreciate the amount of content what was included.

Beyond the reviews themselves, the book has extras that are excellent inclusions. Articles from other names in the field, scans of promotional materials, descriptions of peripherals, unlicensed games, and many more extras are included.


So, out of the other game library books out there, this one stands up above the rest. At $60, it is a bargain in my opinion, I can easily see this asking for up to $100 with no drop off in sales. Strongly recommended for any retro game enthusiast.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Blast Wind for the Sega Saturn


Blast Wind is a 2D, vertical scrolling shoot'em up for the Sega Saturn, developed by Tecnosoft (of Thunder Force fame). It was only released in Japan, as were nearly all of the good shooters (exceptions being Galactic Attack and Darius Gaiden). If you're reading this, you may be aware of the seemingly endless ascent of prices for games like this. Since the Saturn is one of the few retro systems left that have yet to be emulated with any degree of success, physical copies are in high demand. This game is no exception. Some Saturn shooters are worth the coin, let's see if this one is.


Right out of the gate the game has sharp, clean visuals. The sprite designs are not quite as inspired as other Tecnosoft offerings, but there is lots of color. The sound mixing is unbalanced, as the sound effects of enemies being destroyed drown out the music completely. From what I can hear of the music, it sounds like it would have been good, but I can't be sure. This was a missed opportunity, as Tecnosoft is renowned for is music composition.

The gameplay is pretty vanilla in that the enemy patterns are too straightforward/predictable. It seems like they were programed by their "B" team. At least your craft controls well, and your sense of speed is spot on.  You have a main shot which fires straight, and can hug walls when. Your secondary shot is a less powerful homing shot, which can also be powered up. After a few power ups you become equipped with missiles. These are not that helpful, as they seem to drop out of your ship first, before firing off towards enemies, and this delay is not helpful when in a pinch. Bombs are typical screen-clearing affairs. An interesting mechanic is that every time you pick up a power up icon, you shoot this electrical beam out laterally across the screen, for what seems to be some significant damage dealt. This can be used strategically, if timed right.


The game is known for its branching paths, determined by whether you hit switches as they appear. This adds some replay value, but I think you end up at the same boss either way, so what was the point? There are other switches thorughout levels, some which offer power ups and some which cause some sequence of events (?) - not too sure what the effects are.


Another thing to notice is that throughout the game there are "gorn" markings all over the place. I thought back to where that sounded familiar, and I realized the in the Thunder Force series, "Orn" was the enemy race. So perhaps this game was initially created as a Thunder Force game, but they changed concepts late, and slapped a "g" infront of the "orn" signage? It just seems like more than a coincidence.


The background graphical detail is cool, with little people walking around on cat walks in the base. They're not even ducking for cover, they're just out for a stroll. Later on they are called upon to enter the giant ship to combat you. There are also horses grazing in pastures. This reminded me of the cows in Raiden. The borders on the side are ridiculously obtrusive, it almost seems like the game started out as an arcade, so a vertical aspect ratio was needed, and then when produced for the Saturn, the borders were added to fill space instead of stretch the screen.

The game is pretty short, clocking in at six stages, with no 2nd loop. Personally, I don't mind short games, my life affords gaming is short stints anyway, but many hardcore shoot'em up fans want that 2nd, extra hard loop in their games.

So, in the end, its good, not great. Its definitely not worth the current asking price of $300+ dollars. The shooter market for the Saturn has gotten a lot of notoriety, and collectors are scouring the ranks, so nearly all Saturn shooters are expensive now, whether the game is worthy or not. I'm just glad that I'm not looking for these any more.