Category Archives: Retronauts

Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

For this week’s Retronauts — Retronauts East — I invited the internet’s greatest Batman expert onto this show to discuss, well, Batman. Or rather, Batman games. Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB (and the upcoming SwordQuest comic) stopped by for this episode to help shed some light on a corner of video games that Retronauts has touched on in passing, but never with quite this much depth.

The original plan for this episode was to cover the entire span of Batman-based classic games from 1986-2005, but we ended up going into so much detail on the context surrounding the games — especially the character’s pop culture resurgence and rehabilitation throughout the ’80s — that we barely made it past Batman Returns. And that is OK! I do wish I had known we’d only be covering half the games I assembled notes for; I’d have gone for depth rather than breadth and really drilled down into the titles we did end up discussing. But there’s a lot of great and informative conversation about the Batman franchise (thanks to Chris) that helps to better define the games. It’s a good mix.

The games we tackle in particular this time around are: Batman (ZX Spectrum), The Caped Crusader, Batman (the movie games), Return of the Joker, Batman Returns (move games, again), and Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode description: Renowned Batmanologist and comics scribe Chris Sims joins Jeremy and Benj to explore the lore of early Batman games and how they fit into the evolution of the character’s franchise.

MP3, 48.8 MB | 1:45:28
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This episode’s music comes from a variety of Batman games: SunSoft’s NES and Game Boy movie adaptations, Return of the Joker for NES, and the SEGA CD game — whose soundtrack, I fear, I unfairly maligned. After giving the SEGA CD soundtrack a closer listen, I owe Spencer Nilsen an apology. There’s some corny butt-rock at work there for sure, yeah, but also some pretty great composition (if decidedly of a ’90s vintage, soundwise).

Finally, a big thanks to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

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Retronauts Episode 94: Classics new and old on Retronauts Radio

Another week, another episode about Castlevania. I guess I lied last week when I said I’d be limiting Retronauts to a single Castlevania episode per year!

Of course, this isn’t really a Castlevania episode. It’s Retronauts Radio number four, and it just so happens that this month’s musical highlight comes in the form of a Castlevania III double-LP album. I cannot tell you how much I adore this new release — it’s a far cry in terms of quality from Mondo’s disappointing first Castlevania vinyl release. Each disc contains a different version of the music (one NES, one Famicom), and the source files are not the existing CD issue of the Japanese soundtrack… which is to say, no sound effects and weird foley elements. I highly recommend it.

The other selections for this month include:

Everything we covered with this month’s Radio installment is stellar, so I hope you’ll forgive the indulgent length of this episode. In addition to highlighting great recent music releases by way of tune samples, the fourth Retronauts Radio involves a lot of back-and-forth conversation about the games and soundtracks between myself and this episode’s guest: Jack Menhorn of Boss Key Productions. Jack works with video game audio for a living, so he brings a genuine expert perspective to the discussion.

Everything this month is also a vinyl release, something I prefer to avoid with Retronauts Radio. I know that only a minority of listeners collect game vinyl, and I don’t want anyone to feel like this show has a high buy-in cost. It just so happened that this month involved a huge amount of great classic game music arriving on vinyl. Don’t worry, though: Next month will include only one LP-exclusive selection, along with a couple of new CD releases, a new (!) Famicom cartridge release, and BraveWave’s upcoming Ninja Gaiden remaster (which will arrive in multiple formats)

Episode description: Boss Key Studios audio expert Jack Menhorn joins Jeremy for an in-depth discussion of the latest new releases of retro- and retro-style game soundtracks: Mondo’s Contra III and Castlevania III, Brave Wave’s Shovel Knight, and DataDiscs’ Galaxy Force II!

MP3, 52.0 MB | 1:53:17
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This week’s music selections are… well, I kind of feel like this one kind of speaks for itself. If you’re interested in picking up any of the soundtracks from this month, the links are all above. And if you’re curious to play the games from which the music comes, you can pick up: Castlevania III and Contra III on Virtual Console, Shovel Knight on any current platform you can name, and both Galaxy Force II and Thunder Blade as excellent 3D Classics remakes on Nintendo 3DS.

Finally, thanks again to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

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Retronauts Episode 93: Castlevania goes portable (Igavania edition)

Another week, another episode about Castlevania.

(Nah, just kidding, I’m limiting myself to one per year. But I will be resuming my Gintendo Castlevania marathon soon…)

This episode sees our favorite Castlevania fanatic (Shane Bettenhausen) return to the Retronauts flock to share the good news of portable Castlevania games. In summary, this episode touches on six games:

  • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA, 2001)
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA, 2002)
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA, 2003)
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS, 2005)
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS, 2006)
  • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Nintendo DS, 2008)

Though honestly I could easily manage a full episode deep-dive on at least half of them.

Did you notice the depressing part of this episode? That’s right: Only one of these games fails to pass our 10-year cutoff mark for being deemed “retro.” When Bloodstained arrives next year (presumably), it’s gonna be a one-decade celebration since the last good and proper Castlevania release. Man.

These games are synonymous for me with an incredibly important period of my life. I imported Circle of the Moon and a GBA right before I moved away from the place I’d lived for more than 20 years to attempt to start a new life. I imported Harmony of Dissonance with the negligible cash I had after that attempt failed. When I picked up Aria of Sorrow, it became a much-needed ray of light in a dark time in my life, right before I landed a job in the games press. And the DS trilogy became landmark moments in my advancement in the press: Importing Dawn of Sorrow gave my wild-eyed claims that the DS wasn’t all bad some heft; Portrait of Ruin gave me a thrilling opportunity to get my hands on a game months before its release thanks to my insider connections; and Order of Ecclesia arrived at the point at which I’d been around long enough that I was happy to defer reviews of games in beloved series to other people because I’d already had my say about those franchises and didn’t want to crowd out alternate perspectives.

I love these games, and it has taken an act of will for me to power through editing and posting this episode instead of just nipping off to play through them some more.

Episode description: Castlevania superfan Shane Bettenhausen joins Bob and Jeremy to discuss the next set of vampire-slaying classics to go under the retrospective lens: The series’ six “Igavania” entries for Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS.

MP3, 52.0 MB | 1:48:28
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This week’s music selections come, naturally, from the games in question. Each discussion of individual titles is accompanied by some of that’s game’s best tunes. Composers include Michiru Yamane, Yuzo Koshiro, and more.

Finally, the big change for the show this week is the addition of in-show advertisements. It’s a new experience for us, but we’re big fans of paying our bills! So a big thank-you to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, and Casper Mattresses.

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Retronauts Episode 92: Celebrity Games

Episode description:
Though video games were considered the domain of nerds until fairly recently, this stigma certainly didn’t stop celebrities from attaching their names to all manner of misguided interactive experiences. On this episode of Retronauts, join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Henry Gilbert, and Chris Antista as the crew takes a tour of the many celebrity-based that baffled them over the past three decades. If you’ve been waiting decades for someone–anyone–to talk about Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, this is the podcast for you.

MP3, 48.9 MB | 1:46:48
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Retronauts Episode 91: A survey of SEGA’s arcade work, 1980-85

It’s Monday morning, and you know what that means. Yeah, it’s time for another Retronauts episode.

Specifically, it’s time for another Retronauts East episode. Ben and Benj join me once again in my still-in-development home studio to sit and jaw for a couple of hours about a rarely explored video game topic: SEGA’s arcade games.

“But wait,” you say. “SEGA is a beloved arcade game creator and always has been! Its arcade hits are a known quantity!” And that is true indeed. However, we’re not really looking to the company’s hits; we’re digging further into its past, to the coin-op titles SEGA produced before the ones you know and love. Specifically, we’re focused on their 1980-85 lineup.

 

As you can see from the art above, we certainly do touch on some fairly famous games: Congo Bongo, Zaxxon, Pengo, and of course Space Harrier. They’re the exceptions. For the most part, SEGA’s output in the first half of the ’80s remains fairly obscure; their work from 1986 and on is far better known here in the U.S. SEGA does a better job of preserving and republishing its later games, allowing the likes of Flashgal and Super Locomotive to vanish into the realms of the unknown and unavailable-through-legitimate-means.

This unfortunately makes for a slightly dicey episode at the beginning. We’ve all played some of these games, but certainly not all of them, and a lot of what defines them is the arcade experience. Sure, you can emulate Pro Monaco GP or Zoom 909, but an emulator doesn’t include the funky LED readouts and gauges next to the screen. Stick with it, though, and you’ll find that the conversation comes into focus as we move into SEGA’s prime days. (We also concoct some pretty decent on-the-fly theories about why SEGA’s arcade output improved so significantly around 1985 or so.)

Despite some audio bugs we’re still trying to iron out of the Retronauts East setup, and the fact that we’re taking the Retronauts name seriously by exploring somewhat unfamiliar territory here, it’s a pretty solid episode overall. And a long one, coming in at more than two hours in length! We had actually planned to take this conversation up through 1987 but literally ran out of time. But that’s OK. That just gives us an excuse to reconvene again in a few months and explore SEGA’s work in the latter half of the ’80s.

Episode description: Ben Elgin and Benj Edwards reconvene with Jeremy to explore the first half of SEGA’s arcade output. Like the games we’re discussing, the episode starts off a bit shaky, but everything is awesome by 1985. Pengo! Zaxxon! Space Harrier! Hang On! And more!

MP3, 56.8 MB | 2:03:59
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Music in this episode comes from Space Harrier (except where noted in the show), because honestly there wasn’t really all that much music worth noting in SEGA’s output from this era. That’s just a sign of the times, though. Once arcade games got to 1985 or so, their soundtracks improved exponentially. Our next SEGA arcade episode will have the opposite problem: There’ll be so much incredible music to pick from we won’t know where to begin…

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We want YOU to write for US

Retronauts is growing, and soon this very website will become something more than a mere blog. It’ll be a real website. That’s going to demand more work and upkeep than Bob and I can manage on our own, though — between all the podcasts, videos, business development work (for me), and having-a-full-time-job (for Bob) we need to deal with each day, it can be tough to find time to post much material here. And yet… nearly every day we see some sort of classic gaming-related news pop up on the wire, whether it’s the arrival of a boutique retrogaming device (a la the Analogue Nt Mini and its weekly stream of new console cores) or the announcement of highly anticipated classic game collections (a la Capcom’s newly announced compilation of NES “Disney Afternoon” games). Alas: We can’t capture them all by ourselves.

That’s where you come in.

We are looking to take on two part-time writers to help out with daily news and, in times of little news, other Retronauts-appropriate writing. These are, again, part-time freelance roles, with the pay to match. But we’re not asking for a massive commitment! An hour per weekday, basically. We just need a couple of people to help mop up classic gaming news and pen the occasional modest retrospective, should the desire and opportunity arise. In return, we will pay you a modest monthly stipend of $500 (which, at an hour of work per weekday, averages out to around $20/hour — pretty fair, we hope).

Requirements:

  • A solid writer who knows classic gaming (but isn’t ashamed to do a little research to bolster their knowledge when needed);
  • The ability to commit up to an hour each weekday to writing/posting for Retronauts;
  • Someone capable of working with a CMS backend and doing some basic-level image editing or processing as needed;
  • Access to Slack for coordinating plans with me and your fellow writer;
  • Familiarity with topics Retronauts has traditionally been weak on (which is to say, non-Nintendo matters like SEGA, PC Engine, U.S./UK/Japanese 8-bit computers, etc.) is a very big plus.

And this isn’t a requirement and won’t determine our picks, but: Bringing a perspective/background that’s different from mine and Bob’s — we’re both straight, white, American men who were born in Midwestern cities about 200 miles apart, and we cut our gaming teeth in the ’80s and ’90s —would definitely be quite welcome. Classic gaming is for everyone, and we’re glad to promote different perspectives on gaming at Retronauts, whether those differences amount to age, nationality, gender, or… well, anything, really. This call is open to everyone. (OK, everyone except racist YouTubers.)

If this sounds like a thing you would like to do, please submit an email to freelance@retronauts.com by March 24 with a brief (like, 100 words maximum) introduction/explanation of your bona fides, along with links (or scans, if you somehow only work in print) to three pieces of writing you’d like to show off as examples. And that’s it! Just follow these simple directions, and we’ll hopefully be able to sort through applications by the end of the month to get you started straightaway in April. Thanks!

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Retronauts Episode 90: Yeah, it’s about music again

Things have changed with the podcast of late (NOTE: The back catalog pay wall is now down, hooray), but what hasn’t changed is that we keep putting out rad stuff every Monday. Such as this third Retronauts Radio entry, which takes on a different form than the previous two episodes:

Namely, it’s a conversation between myself and Bob on only two topics. One is the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: 30th Anniversary Concert CD (that link leads to CDJapan, as it appears to have sold out on Amazon). The second is more of a music-themed Retronauts topic discussion; rather than tackling a recent music release, we’ve instead delved into the history of Nintendo’s incidental music.

The second topic was inspired by Bob’s recent Wii retrospective and all the fantastic music that appeared in the system’s channels, as well as my “Nintendo Power” Game Boy flash ROM Gintendo stream. Both reminded me just how much love and care Nintendo invests into menu and system music, which is an area most developers and publishers put very little effort into. So we go hunting through the history of Nintendo incidental music, including some exotic imports, and come up with our best findings. As with all of our music-themed episodes, I hope you enjoy it!

Episode description: Bob joins in for a slightly different episode of Retronauts Radio! We discuss the recent CD release of the 30th anniversary Zelda concert series and look at the history of incredible incidental music in Nintendo’s non-game apps.

MP3, 41.9 MB | 1:25:23
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Music in this episode comes from precisely where we say it does, basically. The Zelda CD, Game Boy Camera, Mario Paint, etc. etc. The one mystery track is the outro, which is the “Elegance” Hanafuda 3DS theme’s music. Which is rad, and whoever suggested it (sorry, I lost your name!) is also rad.

And be sure to save the artwork above to add to your download, since (once again) PC1 weirdly doesn’t retain individual episode artwork when we upload the files.

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Still a few bugs in the system

Hey there, loyal readers and listeners, just a quick follow-up on Monday’s announcement about our move to PodcastOne. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been a completely smooth transition — well, unsurprisingly for anyone who’s ever dealt with podcasts, that is.

1. The feed

The decentralized nature of podcast distribution makes things like this a major pain. Our change in hosts means a change in our RSS feed. iTunes, our most popular delivery system, is run by a cranky and unresponsive corporation that is slow to make such updates, and other people have added our old feed to many other services for which we have no access (and in some cases, awareness!).

We are working to update our iTunes feed at the source rather than use the current redirect, which means that the current two-day delay on new episodes showing up with Apple should be mitigated soon. I’ve also contacted Downcast and Stitcher and have asked them to update the feed on their apps, which… hopefully happens.

If you use a different service to download Retronauts, please let us know so we can contact them! It feels weird and annoying to have our primary product so far out of our control. Podcasts, man. In the meantime, you can update your own Retronauts information to point to the following feed: http://www.podcastone.com/podcast?categoryID2=1060

2. The pay wall

As I mentioned on Monday, our older episodes on the feed have been gated behind a paywall. We were told this was optional, and I asked PodcastOne not to do it straightaway so we could give everyone several months of warning… but their system defaulted to an active paywall anyway. We requested they disable it as soon as it went up, but that still hasn’t happened. You’re not happy about this, I know, but neither are we.

We haven’t decided for certain that we’ll be using the paywall at all — that’s certainly PodcastOne’s preference, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a show like this, and it’s certainly a change from the way things have been over the past decade. Hopefully they’ll get that sorted out on their end soon.

In the meantime, our old Libsyn page still has all our episodes dating back to July 2013, so you can grab anything you want to listen to that way for now. I don’t know how long we’ll keep the Libsyn feed up, but it’ll be there for several months, at least. New episodes won’t appear there, but the old ones will remain.

3. Patreon

The show will continue to be supported through Patreon — I mean, PodcastOne hasn’t even started putting ads in the show, so we’re not making any money at all there just yet. The idea is to have a few different forms of income propping up the show, as I’ve been part of far too many media properties that rely on a single revenue stream and crumble when that stream dries up. So your patronage (patreonage?) is vital! And appreciated! Patrons will continue to receive:

  • Early show access
  • Higher-quality versions (in terms of bitrate) of the show
  • Full access to the entire catalog of episodes that have been posted to Patreon
  • The various goodies we send out twice a year
  • Occasional random bonuses

Which, hopefully, you’ll agree is worth your $3 per month.

4. More

This site will be launching into a proper website soon, e.g. not a blog. Please look forward to it.

The Good Nintentions and Game Boy World books I’ve been publishing on the side are also part of Retronauts now (as one of the revenue streams, you see). I’m hoping to have a new book ready in May— probably Good Nintentions 1986.

5. More?

If you have any questions about any of this, don’t be shy about asking. Things are a little bumpy at the moment, but that’s pretty much always the case when it comes to massive changes like this… give us a week or two and it should all be smooth sailing again. Thanks for bearing with us!

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Episode 89: Final Fantasy IV, plus some big news

Hello! Welcome to a new week… and, as it happens, something of a new beginning here at Retronauts. What I mean is, Retronauts is now part of the PodcastOne network. Yes: As part of our move toward making this show and site proper and profitable, I’m afraid we’ve gone legit.

This does mean you’ll soon be hearing ads in your podcasts, but the tradeoff is that the show will have much greater visibility and reach. We’ll also have more resources available to us as we go forward — financially, of course, but also in terms of facilities on occasion. This is a huge step for the show, and both Bob and I are excited (and a bit nervous) about it, but we definitely agree the benefits will make up for any hiccups we encounter along the way.

And yes, there’ll be hiccups. Since we’ve switched to a new backend and a new feed, it make take a little while longer than usual for iTunes to refresh the show this week. Thankfully you can download the episode directly from PodcastOne if you’re experiencing any troubles, or simply listen to the embedded version in this post. My hope is that any service interruptions prove to be strictly temporary.

Also, PodCastOne places back catalog episodes of their shows behind a paywall. That’s not how we’ve traditionally operated, so we’ve asked them to make the full back catalog free for a couple of months so listeners aren’t suddenly cut off from our older episodes. Those will eventually be pay-gated as is our host’s standard policy, but we’d like to ease into that and give you advance warning.

It’s also worth mentioning that this move doesn’t affect anything with Patreon! Retronauts supporters will continue to enjoy episodes a week ahead of the public feed, along with the usual plethora of goodies.

So that’s the logistical stuff, but what about the fun stuff? Namely, what’s the deal with this week’s episode?

Well, friends, this week’s episode happens to be the second in our ongoing Final Fantasy game-by-game deep dive. We kinda skipped over Final Fantasy II and III, because they’re a bit tough to love these days, and today dig right into the series’ first 16-bit outing: Final Fantasy IV for Super NES.

You know FFIV; you love FFIV; you probably don’t need much preamble about FFIV. Besides, this episode spans nearly two full hours of conversation about FFIV, so I can just let it do the heavy lifting here.

Description: We continue our Final Fantasy deep-dive series by… doing like Square did back in the day and jumping ahead from FFI to FFIV. Chris Kohler and Kat Bailey join to share their thoughts on this most influential of 16-bit role-playing games.

MP3, 56.3 MB | 1:57:19 | Direct download
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Music in this episode naturally comes from Final Fantasy IV for Super NES, but also from the game’s arranged album Celtic Moon. (You can buy both albums on iTunes, and presumably on other download services as well.)

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Bonus listener mail call: Nintendo menu music

This month’s Retronauts Radio will be a little different than the past two episodes, as new-old music releases this month have been a bit thin. Instead of covering a bunch of new LPs and fan remixes, we’ll be tackling a topic inspired by a few recent episodes — our Wii retrospective, and the Game Boy “Nintendo Power” flash cart episode Gintendo.

What these two things have in common, as do quite a number of other things*, is the fact that they feature completely fantastic incidental music as accompaniment to their system menus. Bob and I will be digging through the Nintendo archives to highlight and discuss the best of these old tunes this weekend. As usual, I’d like to include your thoughts on the topic, time allowing! So please drop me a line at jparish [at] retronauts.com before Sunday. What’s your favorite Nintendo system or menu tune? Who’s your favorite composer when it comes to such things? We want to know!

*Things that aren’t Switch.

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