Monthly Archives: December 2016

Time for Bob’s Obligatory “Best Games of 2016” List!

Hey, all: Bob here. I’ve been cataloging my favorite games of the year on this very Internet since around 2008 or so, and, because Tumblr isn’t the best place for text-heavy posts, I figured the Retronauts blog would make a good home for 2016’s list. (The other lists have been lost to time and 1UP’s utter disappearance, but you can check out 2014’s here and 2015’s here.)

Now, since I’ve already blurbed about plenty of these for my job at Fandom, I’m going to keep my write-ups somewhat short. If anything, this list exists to remind me how I chose to spend 1000-or-so hours of free time in the waking nightmare we called 2016.

That said, I’m happy to present my favorite 10 games of this year, listed in an extremely loose least-good-to-most-good order that’s tainted with my personal biases. Enjoy!

10. Dragon Quest Builders

On the surface, Dragon Quest Builders looks like the most cynical video game concept on earth. Thankfully, its attempts to fit the anything-goes world of Minecraft into the rewarding restrictions of Japanese game design resulted in a highly addictive and worthwhile experience. Granted, it did let me lose a vital key and essentially made 20 hours of play pointless, but the scars have healed over the past few months and I’m now able to look back on my time with DQB fondly. (And I may even start a new game in 2017.)

9. Dark Souls III

Dark Souls has lost a tiny bit of its luster since it bowled us over way back in 2011, but III isn’t a huge step down for From Software—especially when you consider they’ve been working on massive RPGs back-to-back for nearly a decade. This one may not be my favorite of the series, but it brings a lot of new stuff to the table, and looks absolutely gorgeous after finally breaking free from the restraints of last-gen hardware. Bloodborne kinda spoiled me with its more interesting world and Lovecraftian overtones, but Dark Souls III is still Dark Souls. And I like Dark Souls a whole bunch.

My USgamer review

8. Rhythm Heaven Megamix

Plenty of folks probably missed its digital-only 3DS release, but Rhythm Heaven Megamix amounts to the best take on the series to date. Megamix presents the Rhythm Heaven you know and love, all while eliminating the unnecessary tedium and frustration that made the previous entries less whimsical and welcoming than they aspired to be. Sure, more new songs would have been nice, but it’s still pretty cool to have this ideal version of Rhythm Heaven on my 3DS at all times.

My USgamer review

7. Monster Hunter Generations

Monster Hunter has essentially been tinkering with the same basic formula for over a decade, and Generations makes for the smartest iteration yet. From its big, huge changes, to the countless granular ones only apparent to series veterans, Generations sets out to be the most approachable take on the series yet—all while keeping the impressive complexity that still pushes most folks away. By the end of 2016, I played more Generations than any other Monster Hunter game to date, and that’s really saying something.

My USgamer review

6. Stardew Valley

I used to be a big fan of Harvest Moon, despite the fact that it’s kind of been floundering for the past decade. Instead of sticking with one formula and continually refining it—as Natsume did from the series’ debut to the GBA’s Friends of Mineral Town—every new year brings a reinvention of the Harvest Moon wheel, with the promise of “it’ll be good this time, we swear!” Meanwhile, Stardew Valley came out of nowhere in 2016, greatly expanded on the Friends of Mineral Town experience, and ended up being so addictive I forcibly put it on hold so I could actually play other stuff. Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons still soldier on, but they’re going to have to try a lot harder if they ever want to dethrone this indie upstart.

My USgamer write-up

5. The Last Guardian

We’ve seen a handful of games enter development hell, only to come out the other side a total wreck. *cough*Too Human*cough* But, miraculously, Sony gave The Last Guardian all the time it needed to come into being as a fantastic game. With AAA releases only becoming more homogenized and safe since 2005’s Shadow of the Colossus, director Fumito Ueda’s choices have struck some as more baffling than idiosyncratic in 2016. But if you accept frustration as a natural part of the experience, The Last Guardian does the impossible by getting you to love a collection of polygons and AI routines as if it were a real animal. And yes, it will make you cry—but not for the lousy, manipulative reasons most games do.

My Fandom review (powered by Wikia)

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Phoenix Wright games are basically Bob Mackey catnip, but they’re not all at the same level of quality. But, after 10 years of trying to find its way, Spirit of Justice finally puts the Ace Attorney series on the right track. Really, Spirit of Justice amounts to Apollo Justice Part Two, as it mainly devotes itself to tying up many (but not all) of the loose ends left lingering at the end of his original 2008 game. Still, Spirit of Justice follows the tradition of 2013’s Dual Destinies by being an ensemble piece. Every character gets a chance to shine, and the writers know when to pull back from fan service just before it gets annoying. Legal reasons may prevent us from seeing the Ace Attorney/Phoenix Wright crossovers, but these core sequels put out by the series’ “b team” have finally recaptured the original trilogy’s magic.

My USgamer review
My USgamer review of the DLC

3. Final Fantasy XV

Full disclosure: I never thought I’d end up liking Final Fantasy XV, and I was pretty sure it’d end up being pretty bad. As of this writing, though, I’m currently 70 hours in and only on chapter 3, so you could say I had a change of heart. What really makes Final Fantasy XV sing for me are the smart restrictions placed on its massive open world: unlike most games of this type, you can’t just go anywhere and do everything whenever you want. The result is a highly addictive loop that has you making the absolute most of your in-game day to reap the experience-multiplying rewards by sunset. I can’t tell you much about the characters and story, but my god could I just dick around in this game forever.

2. Overwatch

I’ve been trying to find something to hit that multiplayer sweet spot since I stopped playing Left 4 Dead 2 regularly, and Overwatch has finally done it. (Even though it’s a completely different type of game.) Kudos to Blizzard for bucking conventional wisdom, since their smart choices have made Overwatch the multiplayer game of the year—and for several more to come. There’s no single-player campaign to mess with, and no characters, weapons, or abilities to unlock: Simply start the game, and it gives you a multiplayer toy box, with all the action figures available from the start. Whenever I want some quick, no-bullshit fun, I turn immediately to Overwatch. And I don’t think that’ll change anytime soon.

1. Hitman

I didn’t really play the Hitman series before, so I had no idea this soft reboot would rank up there as my game of the year. But here we are. Though some had reservations about its episodic nature, Hitman’s emphasis on replaying levels made this distribution method ideal. Each scenario provides a fairly large and incredibly dense “murder sandbox” of sorts, with plenty of opportunities to explore, items to find, and increasingly ingenious and absurd assassination methods to discover. Each time you replay a level, you get to know it and the schedules of its residents a little better, making it all the more rewarding—unlocking costumes, weapons, items, and new starting locations certainly helps, too. All in All, Hitman amounts to a rich, rewarding, and hilarious experience that emphasizes experimentation in a way that makes it absurdly replayable. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

My USgamer review of Episode 1
My Usgamer review of Episode 2
My USgamer review of Episode 3
My USgamer review of Episode 4

Games That Didn’t Make the Cut

Since I write about video games for a living, I don’t have time for everything, so I thought I’d mention a few conspicuous omissions below my top ten list. I really wanted to play through Dragon Quest VII after suffering through the PlayStation version 15 years ago, but I only started it literally yesterday. Other RPGs I couldn’t find time to play or finish: Bravely Default, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Darkest Dungeon, and Fire Emblem Fates—thankfully I only purchased two of these! Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also seemed pretty cool, as did Doom and Hyper Light Drifter. Sadly, not many indie games stood out to me this year, but I will always remember how The Witness sent me on a long tour of Puzzle Hell I will remember for the rest of my life. (Despite my best efforts.)

I guess there’s no other place to put this, so I’ll also add that I finally played through The Evil Within and really loved it despite a whole bunch of bullshit difficulty spikes and unfair deaths. Something pushed me to the end, though, and while I enjoyed The Evil Within, it’s not something I could possibly recommend.

That’s all from me this year. Take care of yourselves, and get ready for a whole new year of Retronauts stuff! …We’ve got some work to do.

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Stream complete: G.I. Joe features in the Gintendo test run [Archived]

The next funding goal for the Retronauts Video Chronicles will be weekly live streams — and not just live streams, but the “Gintendo” streams I’ve been threatening to produce for the past few months. You guys thought it was a Twitter joke, but I meant it! The idea should, hopefully, be somewhat self-explanatory: I play a classic game and sip a libation of some sort. (Not necessarily gin, though that’s definitely my preferred substance to abuse.)

We haven’t quite hit that mark yet, but it’s only about $150/mo. away and I feel pretty confident that the rad people of the internet will make it happen. So tonight will be a test run in a number of respects. I’ve never used YouTube for streaming before, nor have I streamed anything since rearranging my office setup last month. I figure the Friday evening of a holiday weekend is probably the best possible time to attempt to try a dry run for something so fraught with technical concerns and learning curves.

The stream is now archived here:

But please be patient, as this will definitely be a “working out the kinks” kind of stream.

  • Tonight’s game of choice will be G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, developed by Kid and published by Taxan for NES.
  • Tonight’s beverage of choice will be a negroni made with Barr Hill honey gin. (Equal parts gin, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Campari, shaken with ice and enjoyed up.)

I will share whatever knowledge I have for both as I enjoy them together. Assuming setup complications don’t get the best of me, that is. Please watch and play along… or drink along… or both… or neither. Really, the choice is yours.

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Virtual Console: The lesser greats

Yesterday Nintendo pushed two pretty major games for Virtual Console — entries in both the Mario Kart and Castlevania series. Franchises popular enough that you kind of have to take a step back and exclaim, “Wait, how were these not already on VC?” Perhaps the answer lies in a curious coincidence: Both of these games have the questionable distinction of hovering down in the lowest rankings of their respective series.

What a fitting way to end 2016. “Wow, new Mario Kart and Castlevania on VC! Awesome …oh, wait.

Now, I wouldn’t put either Mario Kart 64 or Castlevania: Dracula X at the absolute bottom of their franchises. Not when Mario Kart Wii exists. And truth be told, there may actually be no real bottom against which to calibrate the worst of the Castlevania franchise. The series has given us some truly legendary classics, but it turns out that making a good, authentic-feeling Castlevania game is a very difficult task which only a few designers have properly grasped through the years; Dracula X sits more in the middle in terms of actual quality than wallowing in the stygian depths of the series’ worst entries.

Au contraire. There’s actually quite a bit of fun to be had with either of these games, if you can overlook their faults and put yourself in the proper mindset. That being said, it’s not too hard to understand why these two tend to be regarded as lesser entries of their beloved series.

Mario Kart 64 (N64 for Wii U)

I won’t lie, I played a lot of Mario Kart 64 back when it first came out. I was in college, working as editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, and during one particularly grueling period where I struggled to actually leave the newspaper office long enough to go to classes or sleep, Mario Kart 64 kept me and my staff sane. I was pretty impressed by the game’s technical leaps over the original Super Mario Kart, which always felt sort of slow and flat to me. After a fairly mundane starter track, MK64 began throwing in bumpy and sloped surfaces. By the time I reached Wario’s personal course, which appeared to be a muddy, turbulent BMX track that the kart krew had dickishly taken over to ruin with their weighty racers, I was sold. I mastered every track at every speed, and then I raced for the gold on the reverse tracks.

(And once that was done, I sold Mario Kart and my N64 in exchange for a PlayStation, though that wasn’t an issue with the game but rather with the fact that it was the last N64 release I could see ahead for the rest of 1997 that looked particularly interesting to me.)

As much time as I spent with Mario Kart 64, I have a hard time getting back into it these days. The tracks, which seemed so exciting and lively 20 years ago, now stretch on too long and overstay their welcome. Rainbow Road is the worst offender by far, but frankly more courses drag on than not. And of course, there’s the infamous rubberband A.I., a long-running Mario Kart issue that’s never gone away but was very nearly at its absolute worst here. (The absolute worst was, of course, in Mario Kart Wii.) Between its relatively meager selection of racers, lack of kart kustomization, bloated tracks, and cheap CPU tactics, Mario Kart 64 feels like… well, it feels like a lot of games from this era: An awkward first step into 3D that would be overshadowed by subsequent works created by more practiced and confident hands once the training wheels were off.

Castlevania: Dracula X (Super NES for New 3DS)

Dracula X for Super NES has taken flak from the very beginning because of what it’s not: Namely, it’s not Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for PC Engine CD-ROM. I remember magazine articles at the time of its debut (I think EGM, maybe, and almost definitely Game Fan) ripping Dracula X a new one because it wasn’t the “same” as the original. I wouldn’t discover import gaming for another couple of years — I had my PlayStation modded to play the Japanese release of this game’s sequel, as it would happen — so I had no idea what they were talking about.

But I still found myself disappointed by what Dracula X wasn’t: Namely, a proper follow-up to Super Castlevania IV. History has proven Castlevania‘s first 16-bit outing to be little more than an aberration, a creative hiccup in the timestream, but the game had a huge impact on me and I sincerely expected it to be the model for future entries in the Castlevania franchise. So after waiting four years for a follow-up, only to get a game that felt like a throwback to NES-era design, I was bummed.

Neither of these criticisms are, to my mind, entirely fair. It would take more than a decade for Rondo of Blood to come to the U.S., so I can certainly understand the irritation that this mutant variant caused among avid importers, but realistically I don’t think a Super NES cart had the space to handle all the crazy stuff that makes Rondo so amazing. No, the best reason to find Dracula X frustrating is that it is in fact a deeply frustrating game, as I discovered live on the air earlier this year when I made my first serious attempt at playing through it (rather than sort of farting around with it as I’d done over the past god-knows-how-many years).

There’s some real jerk-league stuff in here, with tons of enemies whose placement, patterns, or speed exceed what the player’s controls are equipped to handle without absolute memorization. This, in my opinion, violates a fundamental principle of classic-style Castlevania, which demands that the game world and its hazards be crafted around the protagonist’s limitations — pushing the limits, but never breaking them. When Classicvania violates this rule, as with the falling-block climb in the Alucard route of Dracula’s Curse, it does so at its own peril. Dracula X does this constantly as a matter of routine. And that is why it’s not a particularly great Castlevania entry. Wonderful music, though.

So here I am, rounding out the year by using Retronauts to complain about Virtual Console. No matter how dark 2016 seemed, I hope you can take comfort in the fact that some things will never change.

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The zine’s the thing

As outlined in our “let’s make Retronauts a full-time venture!” post from last week, our next Patreon backer reward mailing (due in a few months) will be dropping posters and stickers as rewards — they’re expensive to produce and I can’t seem to find evidence that anyone likes them — in favor of digital and print editions of a Retronauts fanzine. By “Retronauts fanzine” I do not mean a book created by fans of the show; I just mean an amateur-style hand-crafted mini-magazine. Like they did in the ’90s. It’s retro!

Since the announcement went out, I’ve taken to carrying a spiral-bound drawing book and a few different kinds of pens with me wherever I go, so I can toss together doodles and notes for the first of these ’zines:

So that’s the frontispiece, if it’s not too ludicrous to use the word “frontispiece” in relation to a hand-drawn/written semi-pro booklet. Next up, I need to buy some rubber cement so I can take this project to the next level with lots of sloppy manual paste-ups of xeroxed photos and box art scans…

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Double Dragon IV: Pretty uninspiring, but hardly surprising

Arc System Works has announced its next attempt to make back its investment in the Technos catalog. This time, they’re creating a game that isn’t based on the Kunio-kun series: It’s Double Dragon IV, coming to Steam and PlayStation 4, uh… next month?

It looks OK, I suppose. Honestly, it’s not doing much for me, and that probably has everything to do with the style they’ve adopted for the game:

It seems as though they’ve essentially taken the sprites from Double Dragon II: The Revenge and souped up the whole thing to look like a bastardized Flash-based fake NES game. Some elements look like they could work out, especially the elaborate combat combos (provided the collision detection turns out to be more robust in practice than it appears to be in this trailer). The rest, though — yikes. I’m not much of a fan of the flimsy background visuals, which try to look like NES tech without bothering to behave like NES tech. In fairness, few developers outside of Yacht Club and Inti Creates make any real effort in that respect, but the existence of Mega Man 9 and Shovel Knight have raised the bar and make it a lot harder to get away with things like this. I’m also disappointed that the only new sprite they’ve added to the mix appears to a kunoichi. Who, naturally, runs around with a bare midriff. It’s 2016, baby. Pandering is back in.

The overall creative choice Arc System Works has taken here strikes me as a pretty strange one, if not precisely inexplicable. Double Dragon was more an arcade phenomenon than a console one, but while the NES games were definitely outliers, they probably sold better than any other version of the games. Technos overhauled the games pretty substantially for NES, especially the first one, and the 8-bit console sprites lack the peculiar visual style that helped make the arcade versions so striking. Again, though, this direction shouldn’t come as a complete surprise; Arc System Works acquired the Technos catalog from Million sometime in 2015, and they’ve been mining the Kunio-kun brand with this sort of half-authentic NES style since then. It makes sense from a logistics standpoint that they’d do the same with Double Dragon, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like the ideal representation to take for the franchise. Kunio-kun going faux-NES makes sense in the same way that Mega Man 9 turning back the tides of history to Mega Man 2 did: Crash ’N the Boys and River City Ransom were peak Kunio. But I don’t think many people (at least those with extensive knowledge of the series) would try to advance the idea that Double Dragon hit its pinnacle on NES. All respect to Technos for retooling the games to work within the limits of the NES (and Game Boy), but those adaptations were not the true meaning of Bimmy Lee.

For my money, I’d rather have seen them build on Million’s GBA conversion of the original arcade game. Double Dragon Advance was top-grade material! I’d link to my old 1UP.com review if 1UP.com hadn’t vanished off the face of the internet, taking with it 10 years of my writing. Suffice it to say that Double Dragon Advance managed to capture the style, mechanics, and quirks of the arcade original while adding in plenty of new material and refinements. A new game in that style would be pretty remarkable. I’ve already seen my share of NES ROM hacks called “Double Dragon IV“; just because this one is licensed doesn’t mean it necessarily anything worthwhile to offer.

There are only two saving graces, so far as I can see. First, Arc System Works’ recently released River City Rumble for 3DS is said to be excellent. And secondly, despite it being a popular name for Double Dragon ROM hacks, I respect that they’ve decided to spackle in the gaps here by calling this Double Dragon IV. It’s always been incredibly weird that the franchise skipped from Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone to Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls with no real explanation of what happened to the entry in between. Those who deeply care about series canon (all five of them) have been forced to treat, I dunno, Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team as the series’ fourth entry. Now we can go back to pretending that game never happened. However misbegotten Double Dragon IV may or may not turn out to be, it can’t possibly be as much of a mess as the Battletoads crossover.

Or the live-action movie, for that matter. Come to think of it, Double Dragon III was pretty terrible, too, and Double Dragon V was a below-average Neo•Geo fighting game masquerading as a sequel. I suppose I can see why Arc System Works would return to the well of the second NES game: It was just about the last time Double Dragon was actually any good.

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Thank you + video feed

First, you’ll be downright chuffed to know that this week’s early access episode (wherein Bob and Ray and I discuss the mysteries of Bubble Bobble canon) is now available through Patreon.

Secondly, I’m chuffed to say that, thanks to a surge of Yuletide enthusiasm and generosity, we crossed over our “weekly full episode” tier last night. Over the coming month, leading up to February’s big change, we’ll be developing our new publishing plan, which includes the new monthly chapter of the show, Retronauts East. Tentatively, the East show will feature Benj Edwards of vintagecomputing.com and Ben Elgin, both of whom will bring a welcome dose of knowledge regarding classic computers, Atari games, and other bits of retrogame trivia that Bob and myself (who are largely, though not exclusively, Japanese console-centric in terms of our interests) have typically been a bit weak on. I’m excited about this new addition to the family! I will definitely need to pick some extra recording gear before we can start producing the new show, though.

Of course, this does mean that Retronauts Micro will be vanishing… unless we manage to hit our next funding goal, at which point it will resume its biweekly schedule. So, to recap, we’ve gone from two full and two Micro episodes per month to four full episodes, and our next stop will be four full episodes and two Micro. Hopefully we’ll get there soon.

I’ve also added a new link to the banner across the top of the site: an iTunes feed for Retronauts Chronicles videos. I always post my video projects several days early for video backers, but the iTunes feed also gets updates a day or two ahead of the videos going public via YouTube. This week’s early video on iTunes concerns Pilotwings for Super NES; next week will probably be Mach Rider, or maybe a prototype long-form retrospective on the SEGA Master System (monthly long-form videos being the next video Patreon goal, you see).

Yeah, we’re doing the hard sell here…. but hopefully the content makes it go down smooth.

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Retronauts Holiday Extravaganza 2016: Christmas Comes to Pac-Land


After yet another year of podcasting, it’s time to tie a bow on 2016 with an annual trip to the Retronauts Holiday cabin in Parts Unknown. And this time around, we set our sights on Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, a TV special that gently lulled a generation of chomp-obsessed children to sleep when it premiered way back in 1982. On this very special episode, join Bob Mackey, Henry Gilbert, and Chris Antista as the crew examines this televised lump of Christmas coal in much greater detail than any of its creators ever did.

Libsyn (1:10:34 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

(Psst… here’s a link to Christmas Comes to Pac-Land if you want to watch it yourself.)

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Donkey Kong Jr. Math and the platonic ideal

I’m not sure that anyone has ever used the terms “Donkey Kong Jr. Math” and “platonic ideal” in the same sentence before, but we like to do things differently around here. DK Jr. Math, as I mentioned a few posts down, was the subject of this week’s Good Nintentions video:

…and, while there’s not really all that much to celebrate about the game itself, this coverage really does embody the essence of what I’ve been working toward with projects like Good Nintentions and Game Boy World. By no means is this the first video anyone has ever produced about the game, nor even the first video that consists of more than just ranty swearing about how terrible it is. That part isn’t particularly unique.

Nah, it’s all the other stuff that comes along with the video that makes it (in my opinion) worthwhile: The post at the Good Nintentions site that contains a revised version of the video script, direct feed screenshots, and — happily — lots of photos of the game’s packaging. Since the complete physical edition of DK Jr. Math now sells for as much as $1500 — almost double the $800 it was selling for when I began accumulating material for Good Nintentions two years ago! — this is a pretty hard-to-come by set. Having it documented this way at least provides a decent record of the game and its packaging materials, courtesy of generous collector/friend of Retronauts Steven Lin, who very trustingly lent his copy to me to be photographed. Eventually, high-resolution versions of all of this photography will go into another Good Nintentions book, and there’s something about print that makes material like this real. A permanent record, I suppose.

And that’s really what I’m after with these documentary projects: To get as much material as possible into a single place as comprehensively as I can. I’ve been doing the best I can in my spare time, but now that Retronauts and the documentary video ventures are becoming a primary concern, I’m excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish. I just hope we’ll be able to track down the box to Fish Dude one of these days…

The one down side is that every time I hit a sort of goal or target, I realize there’s even more that can be done. For instance: Since documenting the box for DK Jr. Math, I’ve gotten my hands on a much nicer camera and invested some Patreon money into a rather pricey but incredibly worth-it high-speed macro lens — a combo that does much better justice to these artifacts. But now I feel like I need to do a bunch of reshoots. It never ends.

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The melancholy of Koshiro Yuzo

I’ve been replaying Etrian Odyssey Untold lately. This has come to pass for a few reasons. For starters, I’m impatient to hear a localization announcement for Etrian Odyssey V from Atlus, who tragically appears to have stopped announcing U.S. releases until Persona 5 is out. Sorry, but Persona‘s not the fifth-in-a-series Atlus game I’m personally excited about, so I’ll have to settle for taking what I can get in the meantime. Secondly, I lost the save data to all my Etrian Odyssey digital releases when I made the jump from 3DS to New 3DS (along with a whole lot of other save data) and have slowly been working to reclaim progress in beloved games.

But most of all, the recent Micro episode on FM synthesis got me in the mood to hear some great faux chiptunes. On top of that, I was supposed to be interviewing Yuzo Koshiro during last week’s trip to Tokyo, which I had to scrub at the literal last minute as I unexpectedly rushed my wife to the emergency room a few hours before my flight. She’s fine, thankfully, but I didn’t get to talk to Koshiro, which a letdown… so immersing myself in Etrian Odyssey‘s Koshiro-crafted score, which simulates the FM synthesis sound of the PC9801 computer, seemed like an acceptable alternative.

By default, Etrian Odyssey Untold presents “orchestrated” renditions of its soundtrack, which is all well and good and aesthetically matches the enhanced 3D visuals of the game. But you can set the soundtrack to the alternate retro mode, which may result in a bit of an anachronism — the synth-style soundtrack worked with the original DS games because they seemed like such throwbacks — but I kind of don’t care. FM synthesis may not offer the same kinds of sonic texture and subtlety as live instruments, but it still can set a powerful mood, and for my money everything I love about Etrian Odyssey is summed up in the original chiptune version of its first labyrinth’s background tune.

It feels at once hopeful and adventurous, yet simultaneously somber. You’re striking out into the unknown with green recruits Fight and Heal along with a bunch of other level-one nobodies, just beginning to map out a labyrinth filled with impossible monsters and dire traps. You’ll be able to take it all on eventually, but at the outset, you’re just meat to be chewed up and spit out by the dungeon. All of that comes across marvelously in this composition, which should neatly dispel that myth about FM synthesis music only ever sounding like farting robots.

Koshiro composes most of his music in a tracker application to he’s tuned to replicate (more or less) the sound hardware of the old PC9801 computer, but Etrian Odyssey was one of the few instances where the final game used those vintage-style arrangements rather than being reworked to sound more contemporary. The DS game had to compress the sound to fit onto those tiny cartridges, and the official soundtrack releases for the first three games contained two sets of the tunes: The compressed in-game renditions, and the original FM-style source files. The 3DS remakes, which use more capacious storage media, skip the compressed DS tunes and simply give you pure, unadulterated FM joy for the retro arrangements. Because Atlus loves you. Even if they are holding out on Etrian Odyssey V. Why you gotta hurt me, baby?

You know, it just occurred to me… SEGA owns Atlus, DataDiscs has been churning out vinyl collections of classic SEGA soundtracks, including some by Koshiro. We need to start bugging them to release, like, a 12-disc Etrian Odyssey series FM synth collection. Anyway, in 2017 I hope to put together Retronauts episodes on both Etrian Odyssey (yes, it becomes eligible for our 10-year “retro” designation in a few months) and Yuzo Koshiro, so please put the music embed above on “loop” for the next few months in order to hone your anticipation.

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Good Nintentions: New season, new theme

As foretold by the prophets — or rather, profits — you can expect daily blog postings here at retronauts.com going forward. Let’s go!

The first episode of Good Nintentions 1986 goes live shortly, which is something that merits a mention here now that (1) Good Nintentions falls under the Retronauts banner and (2) we’ve cleared the “daily blog post” Patreon goal. (Please forgive my shameless promotion of this link now that it determines my livelihood.)

Good Nintentions 1986 kicks off with, sadly, a look at the misbegotten Donkey Kong Jr. Math. As usual, I’ve tried to set this season apart from the others with a distinct YouTube thumbnail. (Yes, I realize that for maximum YouTube popularity my thumbnails should feature a photo of myself, screaming with rage or looking otherwise stupefied about the topic in question.)

Since Good Nintentions 1986 will culminate with the release of the NES’s first worthwhile third-party release, I wanted the thumbnail theme to reflect that climactic journey. And since that game in question was Konami’s Gradius, I decided to echo Konami’s iconic NES box art:

And finally, because the heart of a graphic designer still beats within my chest from time to time, I’ve used ITC’s Eras for the thumbnail font, reflecting the typography Konami used inside its NES manuals. No, shut up, you’re a nerd.

Honestly, those boxes still look great. The silver overlay with that distinctive gradient stripe — I’m not really sure how else to describe it! — would work just as well as a branding scheme today as it did in the ’80s (even if the use of actual hand-painted art pegs this as a work of a bygone era). Ah, if only Konami still made video games…

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