No Virtual Console for Switch yet, but it’s full of old games anyway

With today’s weekly Nintendo eShop update push, the Switch’s library will pretty much consist of 50% old games by volume. This, despite the fact that Nintendo hasn’t said boo about Virtual Console. (Today’s sole Virtual Console release is Bomberman 64 for Wii U, which costs about 1/5 the price of Bomberman R and is, by all accounts, a lot more fun.)

Branding aside, though, Switch will be receiving a ridiculous number of Neo•Geo classics (and also some less-beloved Neo•Geo games) as part of SNK’s Arcade Classic Archives series. To wit:

  • Nam-1975
  • The King of Fighters ’98
  • Waku Waku 7
  • Metal Slug 3
  • World Heroes Perfect
  • Shock Troopers

Add to the list the not-technically-old-but-sure-as-heck-feels-it Blaster Master Zero by Inti Creates and friends, you have… well, if nothing else, you have some justification for my having mentally adopted Switch as the official current console of Retronauts. (There are plenty of great classics on PlayStation 4, of course, but if you put the two consoles into a centrifuge and spun them out, you’re going to get a much higher proportion of old stuff on Switch.)

There is, of course, the looming question of whether or not the emulation on these Neo•Geo games is any good. I suppose we’ll find out soon, though the images on Nintendo’s press site look a little iffy. The other looming question is, what precisely does the Arcade Classic Archives mean for Virtual Console? Some have speculated that ACA‘s quick launch means Nintendo will be abandoning the Virtual Console concept altogether, though I think it’s more likely a sign that whatever form VC takes on Switch, it’ll be limited again to Nintendo’s own consoles the way it was on Wii U. (Aside from those late TurboGrafx-16 arrivals, that is.) Every indication has been that Nintendo doesn’t exactly fall over itself to accommodate third-party platform holders on VC these days — the salad days of Wii VC long having come to an end — so even if there were a possibility of seeing Neo•Geo games on VC, it’s probably a lot less trouble in the end for SNK to simply handle its own games independently… especially since ACA already exists on PlayStation 4, making for relatively simple conversions, one hopes.

For the moment, my heart is set primarily on Blaster Master Zero, but I gotta say the hastily localized promo copy for the ACA releases on Nintendo’s press site has done much to pique my interest. I mean, look at this:

Beautiful. The true Neo•Geo experience.

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Put on your power tie and Power Blazer for today’s Gintendo

Well hello! It’s been a while since I last streamed a video game while sipping a libation, because I’m afraid I’ve been out of town doing Important Retronauts Things for the past week. Today, however, I’m settled back in, and it’s time to get back on the wagon. Uh, so to speak.

This afternoon I’ll be getting together with Ben and Benj to record another episode of Retronauts East (it’s all about SEGA this time), and once they’re gone I’ll be hitting the digital airwaves to broadcast a classic (cult classic, at least) NES game: Power Blade by Taito. Join me at 5:30 p.m. ET (2:30 PT) for a look back at this cloniest of Mega Man clones, which I’ve always had a soft spot for. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a totally solid 2D platform shooter with some enjoyable upgrade mechanics and that wonderful 8-bit Japanese trend of combining loopy weirdness with sci-fi futurism.

But that’s not all! 

Rather than focusing strictly on Power Blade, I’ll also be looking at its Famicom counterpart, Power Blazer. I’ve heard Power Blazer was wildly different from Power Blade (and generally not as refined), so I picked up a copy in Japan to discover simultaneously with you, my friends. We’ll start with the U.S. game before moving along to the Famicom original, because regression is apparently all the rage these days.

So please join me this fine afternoon for a stream of a fine game and some fine gin (gin optional). I’ll be streaming on YouTube per usual beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET.

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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
Retronauts on iTunes | Retronauts at PodcastOne

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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Spike Chunsoft makes a bid for America with blasts from the past

As the games industry continues its polar drift into blockbuster-chasing goliaths and tiny independent startups, one interesting trend has emerged: Mid-sized Japanese publishers gaining a foothold in the U.S. market through localization partners and eventually gaining the confidence to go out on their own. Nippon Ichi seems to have kicked off the trend more than a decade ago after the Atlus-localized Disgaea proved to be a far greater success than anyone could have expected, giving them the courage to strike out and establish their own U.S. branch, NIS America. NIS America then provided a launch pad for Idea Factory, whose Neptunia games have somehow proved popular enough to inspire the formation of Idea Factory International.

Last night at a press event adjacent to Game Developers Conference 2017 in San Francisco, Spike Chunsoft threw its hat into the ring as the latest entrant into this modest arena — somewhat literally, and the company’s biggest release announcement was the revival of a series that has long been regarded by many as the definitive take on video wrestling, Fire Pro Wrestling.

It’s a fitting nod to history by Spike Chunsoft, a company with plenty of history itself. Its two component entities, Spike and Chunsoft, merged five years ago but had been around for decades before that. Fire Pro comes from the Spike side, which acquired the franchise in 2000 from Human Entertainment. The series helped launch Suda51’s career, but its roots go back even further: Its lead creator was the late Masato Masuda, who at a very young and prodigious age helped design Nintendo’s popular Pro Wrestling for NES. Meanwhile, Chunsoft was founded by another prodigy, Koichi Nakamura, who parlayed his victory with an Enix-sponsored game design contest in the early ’80s into his own development studio, which then went on to do much of the programming and design work on the first five Dragon Quest games and their spinoff franchise Mystery Dungeon. This is a company with history.

Admirably, Spike Chunsoft seems perfectly content to be, well, itself as it makes its entrée into the U.S. Fire Pro Wrestling World definitely has plenty of potential for appeal here, with its rock-solid wrestling action and incredibly deep customization options (its build-a-wrestler mode contains thousands of body parts and moves for players to combine into either highly imaginative or suspiciously familiar grapplers, such as the Donald Trump and Barack Obama proxies the devs demoed with at the press event). At the same time, it’s definitely not pandering to the American obsession with technical proficiency; the screenshot above is from an actual game that will be released here in the Year of Our Lord 2017, and it appears to have been constructed of PlayStation 2 assets with one of those Eagle or SAI filters you see built into most emulators. Cutting-edge this ain’t, but wrestling fans will vouch for the fact that Fire Pro‘s actual game mechanics offer sufficient depth to make up for its visual shortcomings.

Spike Chunsoft also announced a Steam, PlayStation 4, and Vita release of The Nonary Games, which collects of DS visual puzzle novel 9-9-9 (largely rebuilt from the ground up here to work on a single HD screen instead of two low-rez screens) and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward. There’s a bit of baby-stepping in the company’s push toward independence here, as the console versions of The Nonary Games are being published in the U.S. by long-time partner Aksys (who also published last year’s roguelike par excellence Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate). By far the company’s most intriguing announcement, however, was a U.S. localization of a critically beloved Wii sound novel called 428. Going under the name Shibuya Scramble in the U.S. (a reference the famous multi-way crosswalk outside of Shibuya Station in Tokyo, where most of the story takes place), the game earned rave reviews in Japan a decade ago and is in many way could be regarded the inspiration for the Zero Escape games whose international success has emboldened Spike Chunsoft to fly solo in the West.

It’s a fascinating choice for localization, since the game lacks the Saw-inspired fantasy setting of 9-9-9 and its sequels. Instead, it consists largely of live-action footage of Japanese actors and has a look about it redolent of a low-budget film from the ’90s. On the other hand, Shibuya Scramble also offers a multi-branch story for several different characters, with split timelines that allow players to jump around the narrative at will and explore the outcomes of their actions on another character’s take. It sounds incredibly complex and should make for a profound localization challenge, but it also looks equally intriguing. Producer Dave Kracker promises that although some of the playable characters never directly interact, their stories all impact one another’s in surprising ways. Since Shibuya Scramble lacks the puzzle elements of its progeny, the entire effort centers on the storytelling component of the game.

It’s an unusual lineup for a company to lean on for its big push into the U.S. market, but if nothing else it certainly defines Spike Chunsoft as a defiantly unique publisher… and one with pride in its classic heritage. Which of course makes it A-OK in the Retronauts books.

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Blaster Master Zero looks way better than it has any right to

Yesterday, Nintendo hosted an event to show off a bunch of upcoming Switch games from independent studios, and I do mean a bunch. I wasn’t there to see it, since they had to go and show off their lineup before I made my way to Game Developers Conference. It’s a shame, because I kind of feel like this lineup was specifically constructed with my tastes and interests in mind.

One game in particular has especially caught my eye: Blaster Master Zero from Inti Creates. Just gaze upon this majesty:

Zero isn’t news, precisely; it was announced for 3DS and Wii U last year. This is the first time I’ve seen this much footage of it in a single spot, however, and the fact that it’s not only coming to Switch but will be doing so next week definitely qualifies as a Rad Development.

I admit to having been pretty unenthused about Zero until seeing this trailer. There have been quite a few attempts to re-bottle the lightning that was the original Blaster Master, and none of them have ever quite worked out. Inti Creates certainly has the chops to put together a game like this — the name Blaster Master Zero hints at the studio’s breakout title, Mega Man Zero — but the question is, do they get what made Blaster Master work?

It’s hard to say until I actually play the game (which will happen next week apparently!?), but everything in this trailer suggests they’ve sorted all their ducks into proper rows. The only real question is, will the returning top-down sections include the original game’s power-drain mechanic, wherein you lose offensive strength along with health any time you take damage? Honestly, that was one of the must punitive game design choices I’ve ever witnessed and turns the original Blaster Master into a brutal, borderline-unfair slog. It’s one of the very few NES games I owned back in the day but never managed to complete, ultimately sputtering out a couple of times against the second form of the final boss before abandoning all hope for the rest of eternity. Battletoads? Crushed it. Dracula’s Curse? Beat it with all three companions and Trevor solo. Every Mega Man? Cake. Life Force? One-life wins. Ninja Gaiden? Blasted through without a single continue. But Blaster Master… man, screw that game.

Assuming Inti Creates doesn’t go hardcore on this one (the prospects of which don’t fill me with optimism; the original Mega Man Zero‘s cyber-elf and ranking system beats out even Blaster Master‘s power drain mechanic for cruelty), this could be the game to finally give us the Blaster Master follow-up we’ve deserved for nearly 30 years. And I couldn’t be happier about that. Despite my frustration at never finishing the game, I found Blaster Master really fascinating; it even inspired me to create my own trading card series, MUTANTS, which was basically a bunch of weird monsters you’d have fought in the game… and also some dad jokes, decades before my time (incl. “Mario Poppins” and “Rambozo”). Seeing Blaster Master given what appears to be a proper treatment all these years later warms my heart.

Zero seems to take the elements of Blaster Master and recreate them in a bigger, more ridiculously bold fashion without succumbing to aesthetic mismatch. The game looks too good to have run on NES hardware, but Inti are pros and don’t do that awful thing you see in a lot of retro-inspired software in which you have NES-caliber elements combined with out-of-place high-resolution visual components. Instead, they’ve gone with a decidedly PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 look here: Better color depth and sprite detail than NES, but not quite at a Genesis or Super NES level. The color choices and heavy black outlining absolutely nail the PC Engine “look,” and aside from the smoothness of the animation, number of interactive elements being thrown around, and the widescreen layout, this really looks like a Blaster Master game you might have played on TurboGrafx circa 1991 right before NEC gave up on America.

Anyway, you can bet your sweet bippy there’ll be a review of the game here sometime soon. The game debuts on Switch next Thursday, March 9.

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A farewell to Kong

Over the past few weeks, Good Nintentions has featured two different Donkey Kong titles for NES. Well, hold on to your heinie, because this week’s Retronauts Video Chronicles brings us a third installment in the adventures of Donkey Kong. If you can believe it, this one is called Donkey Kong 3. And it is the final Donkey Kong game for NES, aside from a repackaging of the first two games into a single combo cart to keep them in circulation once Nintendo took the Black Box series out of circulation.

That’s right — Donkey Kong 3 didn’t even get crammed into the Kong multicart. That maybe should tell you everything you need to know about where this one exists in corporate canon.

I actually think Donkey Kong 3 is pretty fun. I also recognize that it’s not all that great; besides the inexplicable setting and genre switch, which do nothing for the property, the mechanics are just a shade too complicated for their own good. The game throws a lot of stuff at you all at once, but without enough visual variety to make it work. I’m thinking particularly of the beetles, which are about the same size and color as standard enemies but behave differently, always lurking at the edges of the screen and always in your peripheral vision.

Anyway… it’s a little bit of a mess as video games go, and that speaks to the underlying difficulty of the entire concept of Kong himself (or should that be “kongcept”?). His rival would go on to have the longest and most fruitful career in gaming, but it wouldn’t be until 20 years after the original debut of Donkey Kong 3 that Nintendo would finally figure out what do to with Kong. No, not Donkey Kong Country; those were fine, but they didn’t really suit the character. It was the offbeat GameCube-era stuff like Jungle Climber and Jungle Beat that really spoke to the unconventional nature of Kong, and I’d love to see Nintendo do more like that on Switch. I mean, seriously, the Joy Cons are just begging to be used for a Jungle Beat sequel….

Anyway, enjoy the video. Next week, I bring you abject suffering.

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I’ll be streaming Zelda for tonight’s Gintendo!

Yes, Zelda is this week’s big topic. That and Switch, but at the moment most people only care about Switch because of Zelda. Sadly, though, Nintendo won’t let us stream the new one, so in lieu of Breath of the Wild I will instead be streaming the Zelda that will serve as a subject for this week’s Retronauts recording marathon: Link’s Awakening.

(I was going to stream Power Blade today, but we’ll save that for some other time. There are many more streams to come!)

The magic will happen this afternoon at 5 p.m. ET, which is (rumor has it) 2 p.m. PT. You can enjoy the madness on my YouTube channel, per usual.

Will I reach the Wind Fish? (Spoilers: Not even close.)

This will, of course, be the final Gintendo for February! I’ll be out of town for the following week for Game Developers Conference and the aforementioned Retronauts recording weekend, but I’ll hit the ground running once I return. Thanks as always for your support of Retronauts video endeavors… and don’t forget that there’s a Final Fantasy IV episode of the show online and ready for your enjoyment if you support the podcast, too.

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Retronauts Episode 88: Yoshi Games

Following his debut in 1990’s Super Mario World, Yoshi quickly evolved from a glorified power-up to a star that could carry games with his name alone. And in the character’s nearly 30 years of existence, Yoshi-based experiences have taken many forms–including one that stands as possibly the greatest platformer of all time. On this episode of Retronauts, join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt, and Henry Gilbert as the crew tries to pin down Yoshi’s appeal and whether or not we should worry that he suddenly grew opposable thumbs.

Libsyn (1:38:29 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

Musical Selections

  • 21:11 – “BGM 03” Yoshi
  • 30:16 – “Action Type A” Yoshi’s Cookie
  • 047:30 – “Love is in the Air” Yoshi’s Story
  • 1:01:46 – “Athletic (DS Remic)” Yoshi Touch & Go
  • 1:11:46 – “Wildlands” Yoshi’s Island DS
  • 1:28:37 – “Knotty Knotty Windmill” Yoshi’s Woolly World
  • 1:36:06 – “The End” Yoshi’s Cookie

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