Category Archives: Retrogaming News

I require your missives once again! It’s mailbag time

Tomorrow, I will hop onto a bus bound for Narita International airport. Then I will commence to travel backward in time to land in San Francisco about eight hours before I left Japan, whereupon I will sleep a lot before powering through a weekend of recording Retronauts episodes with Bob and a motley host of guests. I’ve already gathered listener correspondences on the topics of Secret of Mana and Breath of the Wild; now I ask your help for one final endeavor. The third of my topics for the coming weekend, I’m afraid, is the most niche of the three (which is by design, you know — Bob and I always try to balance topics that have broad appeal with more esoteric matters every time we record, for diversity). And that topic is…

– drumroll –

…the Dig Dug and Mr. Driller expanded universe. Yes, Namco’s classic arcade game somehow blossomed into a multi-series interconnected world that spans decades and appears to have a reasonable amount of continuity. It’s probably just a matter of time before someone tries to create a “cinematic universe” out of the properties, but in the meantime, we’d like to discuss the ins and outs of the series.

And yes, we know about Dig Dug‘s bizarre, Bomberman Act Zero-esque turn in Namco X Capcom.

As usual, please drop me a line with your thoughts on the games at jparish -at- retronauts – dot- com. Please try to keep the word count to around 200 or so! And keep on diggin’.

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While you were hunting vampires, IGA studied the blade

After Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night broke crowd-funding records in 2015, developer ArtPlay updated its Kickstarter page roughly once a month with new information, artwork, and reports on the game’s progress. That comforting drip feed of news now appears to have dried up, with nearly two months gone by without a word. While it may be safe to say Bloodstained‘s staff are playing their cards close to their chest in preparation for E3 in June, producer Koji Igarashi also put in an appearance at BitSummit this past weekend. Combining his trademark cowboy hat with traditional Japanese dress—even replacing his trusty whip with a sheathed katana on his hip—he took the stage to introduce Zangetsu, Bloodstained‘s second playable character. While Zangetsu had technically been revealed in artwork shortly after the Kickstarter campaign ended, Igarashi was now prepared to show off the character’s polygon model. More than that, though, he wanted to specifically address his Japanese audience and—emphasizing his multicultural attire—explain what such an overtly Japanese character is doing in a game with Gothic horror trappings.

When development on Bloodstained began, Igarashi felt the need to include a supporting character who would ultimately fall on the same side as the protagonist but give them no end of grief along the way. (This trope should sound very familiar if you’ve played just about any of his Castlevania games.) Since Bloodstained is set in eighteenth century England, the role was originally planned for a strait-laced warrior evoking the image of the Knights Templar. (Never mind that the Templars were more tenth to twelfth century. Europe is Europe, right?) But then Igarashi asked his staff to redesign the character as a samurai.

He looks kind of familiar…but we don’t talk about Lords of Shadow in polite company.

He met resistance at first, of course: The idea of a samurai fighting Judeo-Christian demons atop European architecture doesn’t seem like the most natural fit. But his request came as the result of reflecting on the many games he’s made over his long career—particularly the Castlevania series, which shared Bloodstained‘s general aesthetic—and realizing he never made one starring a culturally Japanese character. Hearing this, the game’s staff relented and allowed him his wish. Zangetsu is a one-eyed, dual-wielding rōnin with a wooden arm animated by Shinto ofuda charms. He wears Western clothing, but his coat is tossed off one shoulder in a rugged samurai fashion (think Auron from Final Fantasy X), with nothing under it but a sarashi binding around his abdomen. Overall, his design is a relatively measured melding of cultural essences—just what he needs not to feel too far out of place in the world of Bloodstained.

Despite his simplistic reasoning for making Zangetsu the way he is, Igarashi said the character ended up fitting into the game so well that it gave him goosebumps. But the fact that he sees this as a big moment comes as no surprise if you recall his later years at Konami, when he arbitrarily inserted characters and imagery from Getsu Fūma Den, a forgotten Famicom game with a Japanese folk setting, into every game he could, from Castlevania: Harmony of Despair to Otomedius Excellent. At the time, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was trying to subtly reintroduce that game to the collective consciousness to justify a proper comeback down the line, but of course that and any other plans he might have had went to waste when he and Konami parted ways. Since announcing Bloodstained, he’s been nothing but open about approaching it as a continuation of his work on the Castlevania series, and now it appears he’s also used the opportunity to satisfy his lingering urge to shine the spotlight on a two-handed heretic of the sword. Honestly, I’m happy for him.

Igarashi photograph courtesy of GAME Watch. Zangetsu image courtesy of 4Gamer

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Artdink celebrate 30+ years of A-Train with a game that goes back to the past

While a lot of long-running video game series tend to be fairly high profile for most of their existence, some of them can creep up on you. In the case of A-Train (A Ressha de Ikou), Japanese company Artdink’s railway simulation game, you might be shocked to find that the series has been going since 1985 — 32 years of building a city off the back of the rails. While immensely popular in Japan, the series has rarely risen above cult status in the West — its highest profile outing was back in 1992 when the third game in the series was published in America by Maxis (and Ocean in Europe) as, simply, A-Train. A lot of its other outings in the West have weirdly been on consoles — the PlayStation got the fourth game, AIV: Evolution, as a launch title, there was a very poorly received version of A-Train HX for the Xbox 360, and there’s been a couple of handheld releases in recent times. However, the series has returned once again with Artdink announcing A-Train PC Classic for release on the Steam platform in roughly two weeks’ time.

The new A-Train is notable for having considerably older aesthetics than more recent installments such as A-Train HX that have usually gone with full 3D (often resulting in them being panned for substandard 3D graphics).. Instead, railway building in the new game is done in the classic isometric style, with a look that’s reminiscent of the earlier games in the series as well as the likes of SimCity 2000. You can choose to view your city in 3D by taking a tour of your rail track, but most of the game will be played in good ol’ 2D — this is a decision that may well help the series as it takes it away from competing with the successful and graphically intensive likes of Cities: Skylines.

The look of the new A-Train is closer to the modern handheld installments — probably wiser than trying to imitate ol’ Skylines.

Of course, A-Train isn’t just your average city building sim — it is very much based around mass transit, particularly the rail. As you build an ever more complex and efficient railway system and develop the land around your stations, your city will gradually grow with the help of the computer as important resources such as coal, iron and people are funneled in — slowly turning your area from a wet patch of grass with a railway line through it into a sprawling modern cityscape. The game can be tricky to get at first, and the actual aim of the game hasn’t always been communicated too well by Artdink — which in many ways has contributed to A-Train games often getting rather poor receptions in the West. If the game is approached as a more traditional city building sim, people are likelier to be confused and annoyed by the game — instead, the focus is on combining rails, roads and trams in a way that makes sense and helps your city to grow in terms of size and population.

The first A-Train game in the West, with glorious high-rise buildings all over. Often misunderstood then, but hopefully not now.

The new A-Train promises to do what the series has largely always been known for: There will be multiple scenarios introducing competitors who will build their own networks, the chance to develop both an overground and an underground transport system, the ability to play through various different ages from the modern era to the days of steam locomotion, the sort of intensive tutorial that hasn’t always featured in these games, integrated Steam Workshop support so you can share your creations with others, and of course — lots and lots of trains. More trains than Sabin can physically suplex, in fact. If you fancy yourself as a capable Fat Controller then barring the presence of any leaves on the line, A-Train PC Classic will hit the virtual shelves on June 8th — and who knows? Maybe people will actually get the game this time and not immediately dismiss it as just another city builder.

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Mighty Gunvolt: The quest for identity

The fifth annual BitSummit was held in Kyoto over the weekend, and just one announcement to arise from the Japanese indie game festival was a new game from the 2D action veterans at Inti Creates. Mighty Gunvolt Burst is the sequel to Mighty Gunvolt, the quasi-8-bit counterpart to 2014’s Azure Striker Gunvolt.

The original Mighty Gunvolt was revealed just a week ahead of Azure Striker Gunvolt‘s release, not as a stand-alone game but as a free download bundled with the latter game during its first month out. At the time, Inti Creates advertised it as a “thank you gift” to supporters of Gunvolt. Giving away an all-new game in its entirety—even a brief one with lo-fi graphics—seemed tremendously, even suspiciously generous, and a few months later, Inti Creates announced that it would receive both a major update and a second release as a paid product unto itself, plus new stages and bosses in the form of DLC. In retrospect, it adds up that Mighty Gunvolt was always headed for this state and Inti Creates simply saw an opportunity to push out an early, incomplete version as an incentive to boost Azure Striker Gunvolt‘s day one sales.

That would explain why Mighty Gunvolt came out in the manner it did, but why the game exists remains a bit unclear. Featuring the titular Gunvolt, Beck from Comcept’s Mighty No. 9, and Eroko from the Japan-exclusive Gal☆Gun series, it appears to be a celebration of all things Inti Creates—an indulgence rarely afforded by contract developers with a catalogue scattered across various self-interested publishers. Then again, Beck’s presence and the “Mighty” name framed it more specifically as an early promotion for Mighty No. 9, which was believed at the time to be a few months from release. Azure Striker Gunvolt and Mighty No. 9 share a common ancestor in Capcom’s Mega Man games—some of which Inti Creates also developed—so they combine well in what plays out like an obvious pastiche of that series. But since Eroko is co-starring, you can’t simply sum this up as a Mega Man/Gunvolt/Mighty No. 9 mash-up—nor is there quite enough of Inti Creates’ history on display to really qualify Mighty Gunvolt as all-inclusive crossover on the order of Super Smash Bros. or Project X Zone. (You certainly can’t have an Inti Creates tribute without so much as a shout out to Speed Power Gunbike.) What we end up with is two things that go together and one that doesn’t. It just feels like a smattering of stuff.

Perhaps it’s telling, then, that Eroko is off the team for Mighty Gunvolt Burst. Reducing the lineup to Gunvolt and Beck may seem like a step backward, but it’s a move that’s sure to lend Burst a tighter focus and a clearer reason for being. Now it just has to contend with the new problem that arises from giving Beck a greater share of the spotlight: the catastrophic amounts of anti-hype emanating from Mighty No. 9.

Mighty No. 9 followed Mighty Gunvolt not by a few months but, after multiple delays, the better part of two years. It is probably safe to say it is not well-liked on the whole. The missteps made by developer Comcept were so numerous I couldn’t even recount them all here—nor do I probably need to, as the whole fiasco has welcomed no shortage of hot takes and postmortems examining what went wrong. Suffice to say Comcept explored the full range of public opinion over the course of three years, parlaying a wildly successful crowd-funding campaign into a slow-motion train wreck leading up to release. Their reputation was so thoroughly tarnished by the end that it probably didn’t even matter much what the final product was like: Everyone was poised to hate it. Some went in still clinging to hopes that the promised game would be worth the PR nightmare, but even they found it in need of an extra layer of polish at best and a ground-up reinvention at worst.

Less than a year out, the bitterness surrounding Mighty No. 9 is still fresh in the public’s memory, and although most of the blame was laid on Comcept, Inti Creates has caught flak as well. Even having served as a secondary co-developer has diminished their standing in the eyes of some once-ardent fans, so at first glance, it’s baffling that they’re associating Mighty No. 9‘s setting and characters so strongly with Mighty Gunvolt Burst. While the first Mighty Gunvolt borrowed various concepts from Azure Striker Gunvolt, Burst looks for all the world like a reimagining of Mighty No. 9, including all eight of its main bosses. Surely no one involved with Comcept’s game has been lucky enough not to know how poorly it was received, so why risk rekindling that negativity? Perhaps this is Inti Creates looking to clear its name—to go all-in with Mighty No. 9, give it that ground-up reinvention it needs, and show how much better it could have been if only they had been at the wheel. Comcept, for their part, reportedly licensed the use of its characters free of charge, so maybe they think they’ll benefit as well if Inti Creates can get people thinking fondly of Beck and his world again. It’s definitely one tall order, so it’ll be exciting to see if they can pull it off.

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Fans continue to make Mega Man for those who cannot

This Saturday, a massive, months-long collaboration between Mega Man fans will culminate in the reveal of Make a Good Mega Man Level 2, a fan game where each stage has been contributed by a different creator. At this point, it’s safe to call such projects a tradition in fan game circles, stretching back at least to 2010’s Super RMN Bros., which saw the RPG Maker community stabbing at the framework of Mario’s 2D outings in a prescient precursor to Nintendo’s own Super Mario Maker. By now, fans are no stranger to the twin joys of enjoying our friends’ work and sharing our own as we collectively explore our creative potential. Capcom showed some interest in the concept even earlier, with the level editor included in Mega Man: Powered Up and the cancelled Mega Man Universe, although fans drew more inspiration from their own previous efforts than any official outreach when they came together for the first Make a Good Mega Man Level.

Barely released a year ago, MaGMML was developed piece by piece by members of Sprites INC and Talkhaus from January to May of 2016, ultimately boasting twenty stages from twenty amateur level designers. Rather than modifying the ROMs of the official Mega Man games, the stages were created using a fan-made engine compatible with YoYo Games’ popular GameMaker software, tailored with a robust suite of tools to recreate the appearance and overall feel of an authentic Mega Man game. Of course, it also has the capacity to add custom graphics and music, so the results are sure to range from faithful iterations on the source material to willfully detached flights of indie fancy. The definition of a “good Mega Man level” is, after all, completely subjective, so contributors are free to approach the project as a challenge to measure up to the series’ most carefully crafted level design or an opportunity to run amok with someone else’s toys—or anything in between.

Although MaGMML is poised as a contest with each stage submitted for review by a panel of judges, the organizer, SnoruntPyro, has emphasized there is no quality control imposed on people’s contributions. Every single stage, good or bad, makes it into the compiled game, where they’re sorted into tiers: The judging just determines where they land in the hierarchy. Like Super RMN Bros. and its ilk, the game features a hub world from which each stage is accessed, tying the disparate stages into a (nominally) coherent experience that can be played from start to finish. The Mega Man series has enough bosses to its name that every stage could be punctuated with a duel against one of the Blue Bomber’s classic foes, but boss fights are instead reserved for the end of sets of stages—and while they may feature some familiar faces, they come as heavily remixed as the stages themselves.

Only your weapons are truly recycled, having been democratically selected from the official games by the community. All eight of them (plus mobility tools like Rush Jet) are available from the beginning of the game—a dramatic break from tradition to be sure, as a major part of Mega Man‘s focus has always lay with building your arsenal as you conquer each stage. On the other hand, this decision grants the player even greater freedom to tackle the game in the order they choose, lending an easygoing sensibility to what is ultimately a knowingly overwrought tribute rather than a serious attempt at blending in with Capcom’s NES canon.

Make a Good Mega Man Level 2 entered planning last September, only a few months after the first one wrapped, and is now ready to be revealed to the world. The concept is unchanged, but the scope has increased dramatically, comprising no fewer than eighty-one submissions—more than four times what the original contest received. Even Stephen DiDuro, designer of indie darling Freedom Planet, has gotten in on the action. The idea clearly has legs, and we can only hope it doesn’t get so big that Capcom slaps it with a cease-and-desist order. Then again, there is precedent for Capcom treating fan games with unusual clemency—even going so far as to publish Seow Zong Hui’s Street Fighter X Mega Man as a legitimate release back in 2012—so hopefully these eighty-one labors of love will remain free to be shared with the world.

As with last year’s installment, Make a Good Mega Man Level 2 will be formally revealed by way of a pre-release livestream on Twitch. The date is set for May 20—again, this Saturday—so even if it’s not of professional quality across the board, enjoy this feeling of looking forward to a new Mega Man game. Goodness knows it’s a rare pleasure these days.

GameMaker screenshot courtesy of ACESpark

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The ZX Spectrum Next meddles with the primal forces of nature and cooks an egg

No.

 

This isn’t right.

 

Not at all.

 

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Olifiers. And you will atone.

What we have here is the ZX Spectrum Next (which has been talked about previously at Retronauts towers) showing off the benefits of its new, larger FPGA — which it reached thanks to achieving its first stretch goal. Because of this, they’ve been able to add some more functionality to the system…part of that being the ability to play with (or emulate accurately) a SID music chip. The SID is, of course, the chip that was used in the Commodore 64 to make some of the best game music of the decade — created by Robert Yannes, it was a technical marvel that still baffles people somewhat today, considering that most other computers at the time (including the Spectrum 48k) possessed little more than a single-channel beeper in terms of sound. The Spectrum 128k upgraded its sound to an AY chip — the same sort of thing you get in a Game Boy — but still, the SID was the undisputed champion in the world of ’80s computer sound.

Even though I myself belong more to the Spectrum crowd than the C64 crowd, hearing a ZX Spectrum playing SID tunes so effectively is almost wrong, as if the streams have just been crossed. Of course, it is just a cool little bit of functionality and emulation — the Spectrum Next folk are not busy cannibalising old C64’s and cutting out their SID chips in order to stick them into the Spectrum Next (something that actually can happen to C64’s that you buy on Ebay due to the chip’s value as a synthesizer), but the feeling this brings is strange, as if someone managed to get a Mega Drive cartridge to run on a Super Nintendo. We truly are in an odd dimension.

In other Speccy Next-related news, the system has already managed to secure itself a big name character — one that may be familiar to anyone who grew up in the era. Dizzy is an egg with hands and feet, and the ability to roll around all over the place collecting objects, solving puzzles and saving his kinfolk from evil wizards — he was one of the most popular characters around back in the UK computer days with several big games under his belt, although there’s a chance that Americans may know him from Fantastic Dizzy, which did come out for both the NES and the Mega Drive/Genesis. It has been announced by the creators of the series, Philip and Andrew Oliver (better known as The Oliver Twins), that a brand new Dizzy game directed by themselves and made by a team that remade Crystal Kingdom Dizzy — one of the more maligned entries in the Dizzy canon — will be released onto the ZX Spectrum Next, not for two pounds nor for three pounds, but for free as a way of commemorating the success of the project. After several false starts and failed Kickstarters, said new game will be the first official Dizzy title in 25 years, ending a pretty long wait.  Speaking of the project, there are four days left to run on the Next’s Kickstarter, and it stands at over half a million pounds — if you fancy sticking your two’pennorth in, then don’t hesitate to do so.

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Amiga classic “It Came From The Desert” comes full circle as trailer released for film version

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Cinemaware were one of the more visible game developers out there, and often one of the first ports of call for anyone who wanted to show off just what you could do on the Amiga. They made games that wore a heavy cinematic influence on their sleeve and were usually pretty high on plot and cutscenes. The games didn’t always work out — the less said about their attempt at making a cinematic basketball game, the better — but games such as The Three Stooges, The King of Chicago, Defender of the Crown and their final WWI-based title Wings all certainly have their place and are loved by many. Perhaps no Cinemaware game is as loved as It Came From The Desert is, mind you — and thanks to the efforts of Finnish director Marko Mäkilaakso, a film adaptation of the game is going to be coming out soon, with a trailer released a couple of days back.

The original game sure loved to put you in a tight spot. Both ants and shadows are confirmed to be in the film.

The original It Came From The Desert is loved for being a heartfelt tribute to classic ’50s/’60s B-movies where you play as Dr. Greg Bradley and attempt to contain an infestation of giant ants — in particular, it takes a big dollop of inspiration from the 1954 film Them. All the while, you try and find evidence for the sudden appearance of these monstrous insects by way of scanning the town for evidence and conversing with the local yokels — some of whom aren’t exactly kindly predisposed towards your investigation. There’s certainly plenty of material there for a good film, although you’d expect that from Cinemaware.

Work started on the film adaptation of the game in 2015 courtesy of Finnish studio Roger! Pictures and producer Teemu Virta, with principal photography taking place in Almeria, Spain around the Autumn of 2016. It has been clear from the outset that the film takes a rather loose approach to the source material — if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the game’s plot and setting, forget it. This has been pitched more as a horror comedy based around hordes of ants attacking groups of younger people that presumably will have more than the odd callback to the source, but is quite in line with modern B-movies — the likes of Sharknado, Sharktopus, Dino Shark and about 1,000 other movies that also involve sharks. This movie is different from those ones because it doesn’t feature sharks, it features ants.

While it’s not fair to judge the piece from a minute-long trailer, it doesn’t look particularly hot – and if you’re looking for a film that’s faithful to the game, you’re probably not going to find it here. It appears to be rather action-oriented and set in the present day, with motocross bikers running from ants that, considering the quality of the CGI on display, should probably not have been shown in the trailer. The acting is in keeping with typical B-movie standards in that it’s stilted, wooden and generally very bad indeed, and I don’t know about you but I had a really strong urge to buy Nissan after the trailer was done. Fans of the original game, needless to say, are not best pleased by what they’ve seen in this trailer.

It is worth keeping in mind though that this film is in itself a B-movie. It Came From the Desert is unlikely to see the inside of a theatre — that sort of quality just isn’t there, and it’s more likely going to be found on an on-demand service near you sometime later this year, or perhaps even on the SyFy channel at some point. If cheesily acted, comedy tinged modern horror B-movies are your bag, then perhaps this will be suited for you — especially if you don’t have any ties to the original game, as this film appears to be connected to that by virtue of name and setting only. Of course, the worst case scenario is that we end up with an Uwe Boll-style disasterpiece on our hands, in which case those who are tasked with covering the thing will probably be hoping that the director of this film doesn’t share Uwe’s penchant for punching up critics in the ring.

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Retronauts Episode 99: More game music. More! More!

This week brings another episode of Retronauts Radio. You should know the drill by now. Lots of music, lots of musing about that music. With this latest episode, I’ve highlighted four different works.

  • Snatcher (LP, Ship to Shore): Definitely the highlight of this episode — it comprises about half the total running time.
  • BRA*BRA | Final Fantasy Brass de Bravo 3 (CD or MP3, iTunes): A collection of Final Fantasy soundtrack covers, loosely affiliated by the inclusion of brass instruments across a huge variety of styles. Not that the world needs yet another Final Fantasy cover set, but some of these are pretty fresh.
  • HuCard Disc in Taito Vol. 1 (CD, CDJapan): A collection of classic Taito music… but not the original Zuntata arcade performances. Instead, these are taken from the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 ports of the games. Some of it is quite good, some… less good.
  • Switched On: A Link to the Past (MP3, Bandcamp): Another entry in the expanding field of retro analog synthesizer covers of beloved classic game music.

MP3, 53.7 MB | 1:51:24
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

In other words, some great stuff this month, and some acquired tastes. Next month, I’ll look at some actual Zuntata arcade jams, another Konami adventure, and… who knows what else?

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TecToy’s newest authentic looking Mega Drive clone is out…with some potential extras

The new adventures of TecToy’s brand spanking, old looking Mega Drive.

News has generally been pretty good for Sega recently — not only did they announce that their earnings are on the rise, but they’ve also announced that cult classic VANQUISH is heading to PC’s later this month following the success of Bayonetta’s arrival on Steam. That’s all well and good, but there’s something else on the retro side of things — their partnership with Brazilian electronics company TecToy has been going for 30 years, and that anniversary has been marked with the official release of TecToy’s new Limited Edition Mega Drive for the Brazilian market — yours directly from the company for the price of R$449 (or roughly $140).

This particular Mega Drive generated something of a stir when it was announced due to its highly authentic look — all of the packaging is based around the classic Mega Drive that TecToy would make back in the 90’s, and the exterior of the console itself is basically a Mega Drive 1, using the same molds that TecToy used in the past for the console and its joysticks. This is in direct contrast to previous, less authentic clones that TecToy have made such as, for example, Mega Drive 4 Guitar Idol — where Mega Drive games were packed in with more modern mobile titles and a Brazilian-focused take on Guitar Hero. The new Mega Drive also features a cartridge slot for any old games you might have, and is compatible with most games — the SVP-laden Virtua Racing naturally won’t play, and neither will the Sonic 3 & Knuckles combo, Eternal Champions, Super Street Fighter II or — weirdly — Truxton. I’m not sure why Truxton, of all the older games, is incompatible, and can only deduce that it’s because they’re not fans of Classic Game Room. Sorry, Mark.

This typical TecToy clone comes with a Guitar Hero clone that’s not as good as Rock Revolution, but it has a death pact with Guitar Praise.

Mind you, anyone looking to import the machine should be aware that it is still pretty much a console on a chip, like most MD clones, with 22 built-in games that come on a mini-SD card. This selection includes classics such as Shinobi III and Comix Zone, along with…um, Crystal’s Pony Tale and Last Battle – although apparently updates to the game list will be available, and it’s not clear whether you could just bung that SD Card full of ROMs and stick it in there. This Mega Drive is also composite video only using Brazil’s PAL-M video format, and naturally it’s designed with Brazil’s rather exotic power system in mind — so you’re going to have a whale of a time getting the machine to power up without frying it, let alone getting it to display a picture. In the end, if you do manage to not blow it up and get a picture out of it then you’ll be greeted with a quite low-quality clone system, with the usual poor sound and graphics you’d expect from such a thing — this is still an ATGames machine on the inside distributed by TecToy, therefore it’s not a recommended purchase by any means. For anyone outside of Brazil, it’s a commemoration of the country’s status as a market where Sega has continued to sell for 30 years now…of course, there are a myriad of different reasons for that — the incredible taxation that Brazil puts on imported goods, political corruption and general poverty being just a few — although that’s all a subject for another day.

What is potentially of interest, however, is that the company have announced that they will be reprinting several of their own classic Mega Drive games in cartridge form to go along with the release of the console. The first of these is Turma da Mônica na Terra dos Monstros (Monica in the Land of Monsters), which is a 1994 reskin of Wonder Boy in Monster World based on the popular Brazilian comic strip and cartoon “Monica’s Gang”. There are two other Monica games by TecToy, both of which are based on Wonder Boy titles — perhaps they’ll get released too, along with the likes of Férias Frustradas do Pica-Pau (Woody Woodpecker’s Frustrated Vacations) or Show do Milhão (The Million Show – basically Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?). TecToy president Stefano Arnhold also mentioned that they wanted to reprint Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II, the classic Mega Drive racing title that TecToy actually had a large hand in through introducing the late great F1 driver to Sega in Japan, but licensing issues thwarted it.

Monica in action. Instead of a sword, she beats the shit out of people with a bunny rabbit doll. She’s pretty cool.

The general hype and interest worldwide has certainly shown one thing — there is surely an interest out there for Sega to produce an authentic clone in the same vein as the NES Classic Edition. If some people are willing to import a TecToy system from Brazil just because it looks like a Mega Drive, then surely they’d buy something more globally produced. Of course, Sega have licensed their old systems out for cheap and cheerful clones for some time now — ATGames make them, and companies like TecToy, Hyperkin in the US and Blaze in the UK distribute them. But if Sega were to commission something more authentic looking and with, one would hope, better production values than the typical ATGames clone – including things like HDMI Output, or a neat little menu, or even some cool little fake scanlines? They could be onto a very nice little earner.

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Columbus Circle rescues a lost soul from digital Purgatory

Japan-based Columbus Circle is mostly a seller of clone consoles and accessories for ancient hardware, but their greatest claim to keeping gaming’s history alive is the trio of brand-new Famicom games they’ve released over the last year. Yesterday, they announced their intention to continue on this track by publishing NCS’s Kaizō Chōjin Shubibinman Zero (sometimes spelled Schbibinman Zero). But unlike 8Bit Music Power and its ilk, this isn’t an all-new game: NCS, under their Masaya brand, originally released it for the Super Famicom in 1997. But it’s not a reproduction of the game’s initial print run, either. In fact, Shubibinman Zero has never had a physical release at all until now, originally debuting as a download title for Nintendo’s Satellaview service.

If you’re reading this, your knowledge of the Satellaview is probably passing at best; it did, after all, comprise a lot of moving parts and never see release outside Japan. The heart of it was a Super Famicom peripheral supported from 1995 to 2000 in a joint venture between Nintendo and radio company St.GIGA. St.GIGA would broadcast data for games and even digital magazines from their satellite servers, which the Satellaview unit would then download into a Memory Pack slotted into a custom Super Famicom cartridge, not unlike the Super Game Boy. The distribution model was comparable to Sega’s Sega Channel and also recalled the Disk Writer kiosks Nintendo had previously placed in stores throughout Japan, where players could download Famicom Disk System games to rewritable media. But the crucial difference with the Satellaview was that you could pull games out of thin air from the comfort of your own home… Just imagine!

Some Satellaview games were designed around a concept called SoundLink, where a game could only be played during a specific time slot each week, throughout which it would be accompanied by music and voice acting streamed live over satellite radio. The logistics of this made for a bit of a disjointed experience, with the player’s time limited by the length of the performance, but it was a fascinating experiment in relating the medium of games to the shared experience of tuning in to a weekly TV show.

In addition to the main Satellaview interface cartridge, some Satellaview-compatible games were released as slotted cartridges unto themselves, using the Memory Pack to download additional content such as new stages and modes. Nintendo is known for staying behind the curve technologically, but here they were doing DLC in 1995!

As you might begin to suspect, though, all these extra features have since made the Satellaview a game preservationist’s nightmare. All the modern anxieties surrounding the lifespan of digital games locked down to proprietary systems have already come to pass here, and then some. Many games survive in emulation thanks to their ROMs being dumped, but this still leaves out the content that was never in the ROM in the first place. More ephemeral aspects of the experience, such as the broadcast music and voice acting, only endure if someone in Japan thought to make a VHS recording back in the ’90s.

Shubibinman Zero, for better or worse, didn’t explore the Satellaview’s more esoteric possibilities. But like many downloadable games, it did come built-in with a limited number of uses, similar to demos on Wii U and 3DS. Once these games were booted up a certain number of times, they would be rendered inoperable until the player re-downloaded them, and Shubibinman Zero was only available in four scattered months between 1997 and ’98. After that, any Memory Pack loaded with it had its days numbered, effectively making emulation the only sound solution…until now.

As for the game itself? It’s a two-player co-op beat-’em-up platformer, the culmination of a series that steadily evolved from the late ’80s through the mid-’90s. (The second game was localized as Shockman for the TurboGrafx-16.) It’s a bit tonally ambiguous, never quite deciding if it’s a parody of the outlandish costumes and plots of the tokusatsu genre (even the title is a joke: Chōjin sounds like the Japanese word for “superhuman” but is written with the kanji for feudal Japan’s merchant class) or merely a cute but straightforward example of it. But the confusion seems to be part of the joke to some extent, as the cutesy aesthetic occasionally gets juxtaposed with the kind of gruesome visuals found in more hardcore NCS games like Gynoug. Zero, for its part, tends toward the more lighthearted side.

Shubibinman Zero bears a copyright date of 1994 on its title screen, implying it was initially slated for a cartridge release before getting cancelled and resurrected years later for a limited run on Satellaview. No one could ever have guessed it would circle back to its original format after so many years, but that’s precisely the miracle Columbus Circle is working here. Come June 30, anyone will be able to own an official hard copy with its own cartridge, box, and all. Even if it’s unlikely to change anyone’s life, it’s nice to know it’s finally come home—no strings attached.

Satellaview image courtesy of Muband

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