Tag Archives: capcom

Capcom enters the ring on NES Works, falls flat on face

E3 kicks off properly today in Los Angeles, but the inevitable grind of video game hype can’t stop Retronauts Video Works from maintaining its steady schedule. In addition to the daily livestreams I’m hosting this week, I’ve also posted a slightly extended-length NES Works that explores a fairly momentous occasion in the NES’s life: The arrival of Capcom on the platform.

Would that their debut were a little more inspiring.

Ah, but Capcom would find its way in time. Sometimes it just takes a while to get on the right track, and Capcom definitely had a rocky beginning here with 1942. Still, despite the mediocrity of this particular conversion, the underlying quality of the original arcade game still comes through. By the time Capcom had a year of NES publishing under its belt, they’d have sorted out the secret of expressing that high standard of excellence on humble home console hardware.

In the meantime, brace your years and shield your eyes for… this.

4 Comments

Filed under Video Chronicles

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, it turns out, is an internal Capcom joint

One of the most curious revelations about the freshly announced Mega Man Legacy Collection 2? Its developer… or rather, who is not its developer. The original Legacy Collection and its follow-up, The Disney Afternoon Collection, were developed by Digital Eclipse on their purpose-built Eclipse Engine. While those games all originally appeared on Nintendo Entertainment System, my understanding was that the Eclipse Engine was meant to encompass and reproduce a number of additional game platforms — meaning, in theory, it could potentially handle the wide variety of hardware encompassed by Legacy Collection 2. However, according to Digital Eclipse’s Frank Cifaldi, the new anthology will be produced by someone else.

This revelation, of course, raises two big questions. First, if not Digital Eclipse, then who? And second, will this other developer’s work be up to snuff? While the first Legacy Collection had some notable flaws, especially on 3DS, it still presented the first six Mega Man games with remarkable clarity. It’s pretty hard to find retro compilations treated with the same care and respect lavished upon the Legacy Collection. Japanese powerhouse M2 (best known for their incredible SEGA 3D Ages projects) has always been reliable, and Rare did a pretty solid job with Rare Replay a couple of years ago. Beyond that, though, the quality of retro reissues plunges quickly on the other side of Digital Eclipse’s projects, typically relying on shaky emulation and sometimes even stolen code. Unless it was farmed out to M2, how could Legacy Collection 2 begin to hope to match (let alone exceed) the quality of its predecessor?

As it turns out, that may not be an issue after all. I reached out to Capcom to learn more about the origins of the upcoming collection, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Capcom is handling it themselves.

“The original collection was developed using the Eclipse Engine which specialized in faithfully reproducing NES games,” said a company representative. “Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 includes games that span several generations and a number of original platforms, adding to the complexity and scope of the project. This collection is being developed internally at Capcom Japan. Fans can expect a similar approach to the original MMLC, with both collections celebrating the original gameplay experiences in a faithful way.”

While this doesn’t absolutely guarantee quality, the fact that this compilation marks a shift (however temporary) to internal development for retrospective packages seems like good news on several fronts:

  • Internal developers are likely to maintain a high standard of quality. If nothing else, they’ll presumably have access to better resources than an external studio would.
  • Capcom has a fairly proven track record when it comes to dusting off old code, as with the recent (by all accounts internally produced) Ultra Street Fighter II for Switch.
  • In the event of errors, an internally developed product seems more likely to be patched. The minor troubles that affect the original Legacy Collection could have been fixed up after launch, but evidently the logistics and finances of outsourcing material to an external studio prevented that from ever happening.
  • And finally, it suggests that Digital Eclipse’s projects proved successful enough to entice Capcom into bringing compilation projects in-house — which would hint at the prospect of these collections becoming a more significant element of the company’s business as a whole.

Of course, this doesn’t resolve all of our concerns with Legacy Collection 2. For example, regarding the absence of various other Mega Man titles that would have made perfect sense for inclusion in this compilation, Capcom will only say, “Mega Man Legacy Collection and MMLC2 focus on collecting the classic numbered games in the series.” In other words, no Mega Man & Bass for you, despite it falling very much into the core games lineup.

And no, there’ll be no Switch version for you, either… at least, not yet, according to Capcom: “There are no plans for a Nintendo Switch version at this time. Right now we’re focusing on developing the game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.”

And finally, those hoping for a chance to play the bonus material exclusive to Mega Man 8‘s insanely expensive Saturn version (two extra battles against returning bosses from the original Mega Man) are out of luck. “For Mega Man 8, the team felt it important to use the initial release version of the game,” Capcom’s representative says, “so the PS1 version is included in this collection.”

Oh well. On the plus side, the company confirms that all downloadable content from both Mega Man 9 and 10 will be accounted for. So no, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 won’t quite hit all the points Mega Man enthusiasts are hoping for… but at the same time, the project still appears to be in good hands.

4 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News

Disney Afternoon Collection: The Retronauts review

The announcement of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 yesterday reminded that I’ve never quite understood the enormous amount of hate gamers directed at the first Legacy Collection a couple of years ago. Featuring six games for a tidy price — a fact specifically highlighted by the 3DS version, whose physical release clocked in at $10 less than buying the six included titles a la carte on Virtual Console — it made for a pretty respectable deal. On top of that, the Legacy Collection offered hands-down the best and most faithful rendition of those six games that has been available in a commercial product since the original carts; the only productions that even came close were those PlayStation remakes in Japan, which sold for $30 apiece and were reprogrammed rather than emulated. Despite a few small glitches here and there, the Legacy Collection absolutely blew away previous offerings, from the deeply flawed Mega Man Anniversary Collection to Nintendo’s own Virtual Console. Given the historic stature of those games and their glaring lack of a proper reissue for so many years, the Legacy Collection should have been embraced with open arms. Instead, it was greeted with anger, intense criticism, and general hatred.As far as I can tell, all that rage had very little to do with the Legacy Collection itself, or with the quality of the product. Instead, it appears to have resulted from resentment at Capcom’s apparent abandonment of the Mega Man franchise in the wake of Keiji Inafune’s departure from the company, combined with a desire for games not already available via Virtual Console. The Legacy Collection‘s announcement was greeted with anger, with every minor flaw in the collection inflated by the internet collective to crisis-level disaster.

My suspicions about hangups surrounding the Legacy Collection look to have been corroborated by its new follow-up, The Disney Afternoon Collection. Featuring the same technology (interpreted NES games) from the same developer (Digital Eclipse) and publisher (Capcom), the Afternoon Collection has been received with almost universal enthusiasm. The biggest complaint I’ve seen directed toward it has been a lot of perfectly understandable confusion about the collection’s failure to appear on a single Nintendo platform despite having its roots on Nintendo Entertainment System. Otherwise, though, it’s been more or less glowing reviews all the way down.

And rightly so. The Afternoon Collection is an excellent compilation of some pretty good games. The games feel spot-on, with no significant visual or audio errors that I can spot. The action has a crisp, lag-free sensation. You also get a pretty healthy little museum of archival art and trivia as part of the deal. (My favorite nugget: The unused DuckTales illustration that was clearly penned by Inafune, who got his start in the biz creating the packaging and manual illustrations for the Famicom Mega Man games.)

The Afternoon Collection includes a few improvements over the Legacy Collection. Digital Eclipse appears to have cleaned up the handful of glitches that showed up in the previous anthology. You also get a handful of presentation options, including borders, true-pixel scaling, and even fake scanlines (which can help break up the chunky-pixel visuals on a huge screen). Even more welcome: They’ve integrated a brilliant rewind feature that comes in handy during some of the games’ more hateful sequences. I mean, yes, these are Disney creations and are entirely kid friendly, but they’re still 8-bit action games… so you do occasionally come across moments that make you feel like the designers had some sort of deep grudge against you personally. The mine cart sequences in DuckTales in particular benefit from this emulator-like rewind option, as do the bosses in Darkwing Duck. But I stress the word option; if you hold to a purist perspective (or are one of those snobs who uses the phrase git good without irony), you don’t have to make use of the rewind.

Other than these tweaks, though, the only thing the Afternoon Collection really offers over Legacy Collection is the fact that you can’t otherwise buy the six games compiled here without shelling out for the original NES carts… the cheapest of which costs about as much as the entire Afternoon Collection, and the most expensive of which runs several hundred dollars. The Disney connection has prevented these NES games from appearing on archival releases or services until now, due to rights issues and licensing costs; this release amends that. It’s pretty unusual to see vintage games based on major licenses reissued years later, and the Afternoon Collection is genuinely special in that regard.

This new collection is on par, quality-wise, with the Mega Man anthology — a good thing, despite some internet grumbling that would suggest otherwise. And on a personal level, The Disney Afternoon Collection has provided me an opportunity for me to become acquainted with games I have only passing familiarity with. The only one of the titles gathered here that I played during the NES era was the original Rescue Rangers, which did a reasonable job of providing cooperative action filler for me and my best NES-loving friend until the next Contra sequel arrived. Since I lack a personal connection to the material here, it became more of a historical artifact for me (as opposed to the warm journey into nostalgia that the Mega Man set was).

For fans who cut their teeth on these classics, the Afternoon Collection does them justice. For others like me, who who never played some of the deeper cuts in Capcom’s Disney/NES library, it’s instead a great opportunity to get to know them better. These games have a certain universal quality to them; despite being the products of different development teams, they all hail from Capcom during the company’s time at the top of the NES third-party heap. Visually, musically, and mechanically, NES owners could bank on the certainty that the Capcom name guaranteed a certain unflagging standard of production excellence. These games bear that out… well, mostly.

DuckTales is by far the best-known title on this compilation. Not only was it tied to the biggest of Disney’s afternoon cartoons — big enough to inspire its own motion picture adaptation! — it’s also the one game here to ever have been remade beyond the 8-bit era (courtesy of WayForward Technologies). While DuckTales Remastered demonstrated an enormous amount of love and respect for the source material and its property, it always felt like WayForward got a little lost in their own fandom for the originals. Remastered wandered into the weeds to become bogged down with entirely too many intrusive cut scenes. Yes, it’s marvelous that the original cartoon cast recorded new dialogue for the game, but all that mandatory voiced text disrupted the flow of what should be a zippy, fast-paced platformer. Revisiting the no-frills NES version serves as a gentle reminder that a snappy vintage action game definitely works best when the pacing isn’t all jacked up by excessive conversation.

Another reason people love DuckTales for NES so much: Its unique play mechanics. It wouldn’t make sense for elderly Scrooge McDuck to be the violent brawling type or to run around with a gun, so instead the game turns his cane into a sort of pogo stick to allow him to take out enemies by hopping on their heads. Sure, there’s a bit of Super Mario Bros. to that concept, but the inherent springiness of Scrooge’s cane gives DuckTales a personality all its own; you bound around the screen, bopping enemies, safely passing over dangerous surfaces, revealing hidden treasures, and extending the range of Scrooge’s leaps with strategic bounces off bad guys. And while Scrooge does have the ability to swing his cane like a golf club, this has no use as a direct attack against monsters; it’s strictly used for whacking inanimate objects… though some of those objects can be smacked into projectile status in a pinch.

It’s a fun if sometimes unforgiving game, filled with fan service and classic cartoon and comic references. The game’s structure is unique, too: You can freely select from a number of different stages in any order, with only a handful of gates to progression within, and your ultimate goal is not simply to beat the game but rather to do so with the greatest possible amount of treasure in Scrooge’s vault. After all, it wouldn’t do for Scrooge to save the world. No, he’s all about avarice and grasping wealth, and DuckTales holds true to that characterization.

Its sequel — 1992’s DuckTales 2 — offers more of the same in general, but it also includes some improvements. It looks nicer, as you’d expect for a game produced several years later, but at the same time it simplifies the original’s slightly clunky pogo-cane control scheme. This makes for an even breezier play experience, elevating memorable action game design to near-perfection. Unlike the first DuckTales, the sequel has never been remade, and its late release and relative scarcity versus the original (which launched at the NES’s peak rather than in its twilight era) make it an awfully pricey pick-up nowadays. Having it available on an inexpensive collection like this is a real boon for NES and Disney fans alike.

The Rescue Rangers duology demonstrates a similar relationship between the two games: The second one refines the ideas and presentation of the first, but it doesn’t really change up the concept. Which is fine, really. Nintendo pretty much nailed it right out of the gate.

Based on the cartoon by the same name, Rescue Rangers and it sequel star Disney’s two chipmunk characters (Chip and Dale, no relationship to the exotic dancers) in an adventure scaled to their diminutive height. As always, there’s a certain charm about playing as little characters in a gigantic world; the platforming hazards here involve things like water taps, kitchen range burners, science lab flasks, and library books. Sure, you’re doing the same things you would in any platformer — running, jumping over obstacles, chucking projectiles at enemies — but the change in visual context adds a welcome twist of novelty.

However, what really sells the Rescue Rangers titles, both then and now, is their cooperative play. As a solo experience, the games are perfectly decent; play with a friend, however, and the games gain far more substance and depth. Everything about the game (including managing on-screen space, sharing the limited number of projectile weapons on a given screen, and strategizing the acquisition of collectibles) becomes either a point of collaboration or a point of contention between the two players. Playing Rescue Rangers cooperatively is by far the best thing the Afternoon Collection has to offer… which, again, makes Capcom’s decision not to bring the compilation to Switch all the more baffling, given the fundamental nature of the platform.

Then there’s Darkwing Duck, the one game on this collection I really need to spend more time with. It’s probably the most substantially Capcom-like title compiled here, sending out major Bionic Commando and Mega Man vibes. It looks and sounds better than any other Disney Afternoon title, and it has a compact platform-shooter feel. Unfortunately, it also has a really off-putting mechanic that causes the protagonist to cling to any horizontal surface he comes into contact with when he jumps — it’s like the overhead bars in Contra III, except that you have no control over when and how you stick to them. It happens automatically.  As with the pogo mechanic in DuckTales, it forces players to rethink their expectations and reset their gaming instincts. I still haven’t quite made the adjustment… but, since I own the game now thanks to this compilation, I can certainly afford to take the time to do so.

The one genuine dud on this collection comes in the form of TailSpin, a shoot-em-up based on an odd cartoon spinoff of The Jungle Book, which saw Baloo the Bear trade in his Mother Nature’s recipes in favor of a cargo plane. Capcom built its business on shooters, but this one badly misses the mark thanks to its reliance on a strange and cumbersome central mechanic: Though the action scrolls forward (generally either to the right or downward) automatically, you can reverse it by performing a 180º and turning your plane upside down.

The concept of a horizontal shooter with specifically directional controls was very much a Capcom concept in the ’80s. See Section Z, Forgotten Worlds, or even certain sequences in U.N. Squadron. TailSpin feels very much like an attempt to build on that legacy, but the gimmick in place here (which often sees Baloo flying upside-down) combined with the slightly awkward shooting controls which see you firing at an angle which you change altitude (think Time Pilot rather than Gradius) and you have the formula for failure. I’d like to call this a misunderstood classic, but in fact it’s simply a mess.

I can’t really hold this one misstep against the Afternoon Collection, though; despite its mediocrity, TailSpin feels like a required inclusion in order to fulfill the package’s mandate of collecting all the Capcom-developed games based on Disney’s afternoon cartoon lineup from the ’80s. It’s no fault of this particular omnibus that one of those games didn’t turn out well. And you’re still left with five other games ranging from good to excellent, all reproduced with great accuracy and a respectable number of features and bonuses.

Arriving with the Mega Man Legacy Collection fresh in memory, Capcom’s Disney Afternoon Collection genuinely feels like at least one corporation is starting to get this whole “preserving game history” thing right. Pulling together multiple high-quality games that aren’t otherwise easily available to purchase or play into a single, thoughtfully curated release supplemented with archival material and some welcome quality-of-life features like scanlines and rewinding… it hits a sweet spot of quality versus value, in my opinion. Hopefully this is simply the beginning of a much larger initiative to treat classic games as though they have actual value and merit… though the news that the upcoming second Mega Man collection won’t be developed by Digital Eclipse does raise cause for concern. Capcom perfectly lined up its pieces and players in place here; hopefully the change in developers doesn’t mean they’re starting over from zero again. But even if it turns out to be a fluke, a mere flirtation with a better way of looking at gaming’s past, at least we have the Afternoon Collection.

8 Comments

Filed under Retronauts

With Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, Capcom has some oversize robot boots to fill

This morning, Capcom announced Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 after a listing by South Korea’s Game Rating and Administration Committee leaked its existence back in April. Following 2015’s Mega Man Legacy Collection, which comprised the first six Mega Man games, Legacy Collection 2 will make up the remainder of the original series’ ten core games, from 1995’s Mega Man 7 to 2010’s Mega Man 10.

These games represent a time when the Mega Man series was at loose ends: After sticking with the NES to the bitter end, with Mega Man 6 releasing extremely late in the system’s life (so late that Capcom wouldn’t even publish it outside Japan, leaving Nintendo to pick up the slack), it struggled to find a place to call home. Mega Man 7 came to the Super NES, as one would expect, but then Mega Man 8 jumped to the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Capcom backpedaled a bit with Rockman & Forte,  a Super Famicom release as late as Mega Man 6 had been on NES; internally labeled “Rockman 8.5,” Capcom intended it as a consolation prize for fans who hadn’t yet graduated to 32-bit consoles. Unfortunately, no one would save this one from a  Japan-only release (at least not until ), and the main series went quiet for a decade while Capcom focused on spin-offs like Mega Man XLegends, Zero, and Battle Network. It finally resurfaced to great acclaim with Mega Man 9 and 10, both of which were released for Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. All told, the post-NES series produced fewer games in more than twice the time, on six different platforms.

Even limiting Mega Man 8, 9, and 10 to just one platform, Legacy Collection 2 still promises games from three disparate sources. This comes as a surprise considering developer Digital Eclipse intentionally limited the original Legacy Collection to the Blue Bomber’s NES outings in order to ensure accurate reproductions of how each game looked, sounded, and behaved on the original hardware. That should be a familiar line if you followed that release at the time, as they had to repeat it constantly as fans decried the exclusion of this or that other Mega Man game. And the final product was indeed the archive-quality production they promised, so their narrow focus evidently paid off. Legacy Collection 2, then, appears to be a case of Capcom giving fans what they’ve demanded even if it runs counter to Digital Eclipse’s philosophy, as evinced by Frank Cifaldi revealing that they’re not involved with this one.

The official Digital Eclipse Twitter later stated that Capcom is developing Legacy Collection 2 themselves, raising the question of whether they’ll be as painstakingly authentic in their presentation as Digital Eclipse has been. Their announcement promises similar features, including art galleries and music players for each game, as well as a Challenge Mode remixing sections of the original games, but that’s just one piece of the picture. One of the brief glimpses at Mega Man 8 shown in the trailer depicts an underwater scene without a wavy filter over the background—one of the tell-tale differences between the PlayStation and Saturn versions. Other differences include include run-ins with Cut Man and Wood Man and a gallery of boss submissions from fans in the Saturn version, as well as FMV scenes with superior compression in the PlayStation version. A true archival release would include both, but that seems sadly unlikely as getting the Saturn version running could require as much effort as adding another game entirely. We can at least hope the Japanese versions of the games will be included, as they were added to the first Legacy Collection in an update and the 3DS release. I just gotta have my Electrical Communication.

Authenticity concerns are less of a factor for Mega Man 9 and 10, which were originally released on post-HD hardware and hardly differed at all from one platform to the next. While the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One lack universal backwards compatibility, many titles from the last generation have made the leap to this one, so it’s a relief to see this pair join the crowd—especially Mega Man 9, which is arguably the best game in the whole series. (And those who found it too tough the first time around may appreciate it better thanks to Legacy Collection 2‘s Extra Armor feature, which reduces damage by half.) Legacy Collection 2 also includes all the DLC for both games, adding up to a thirty-six dollar value; this compilation will sell for twenty, making it a great deal for 9 and 10 alone.

Capcom has Digital Eclipse to thank for laying such solid groundwork for this venture, but at the same time, Legacy Collection 2 will inevitably be judged by the precedent they’ve set. Cifaldi and company not only brought technical know-how to the table but also a burning passion for game preservation , and I won’t be surprised if an absence of the latter is felt one way or another in the final product. Then again, that’s not to say Legacy Collection 2 will necessarily disappoint: Digital Eclipse is one part of an ongoing trend toward high fidelity in rereleases of classic games, as opposed to the focus on sheer quantity found in past compilations like Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection or 2004’s Mega Man Anniversary Collection. As Capcom producer Rey Jimenez admitted in a 2015 interview with USgamer, “While it wasn’t just a cash-in . . . the idea was to give more content.” As times change, more and more classic games are receiving the individual care they deserve—and while limiting Legacy Collection 2 to just four games may be disappointing to some, it might also be a sign that Capcom have taken Digital Eclipse’s standards to heart. If so, we need only hope their internal developers have what it takes to follow the opening act.

6 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News

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

1 Comment

Filed under Retrogaming News

Yo Capcom, bring on the “Disney Afternoon for Game Boy Collection”

I’ve been working on a review of The Disney Afternoon Collection. It should be up sometime this week; I’d been wanting to hold off on posting until I’d had a chance to put this video together:

And now that I have, I feel like a hold a slightly more informed perspective with which to judge the Collection. Well, OK, not really. This is a mere footnote, not some essential magnifying lens.

DuckTales for Game Boy is, in broad strokes, the same game as the NES release that serves as the crown jewel of the Collection. Look at the details, however, and it’s more of a remix: Same overall goals, same control scheme, same enemies and challenges and general flow, but with all the individual pieces of each stage shuffled around. The game moves a little more slowly and its physical locales are somewhat more compact, and weirdly enough this all works in its favor. DuckTales on Game Boy works (at least, aside from the awful mine cart physics, which are bad on NES and intolerable on GB to the point of nearly breaking the game), and it offers a rare example of an NES game adapted to the diminutive handheld without needless compromise. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right that many, many other developers fumbled back in the day.

It’s a different enough game, and bodes well for Capcom’s other NES-to-Game Boy Disney conversions, that I’d really like to see a follow-up Afternoon Collection focused strictly on those ports. I doubt Capcom would ever go to the trouble of licensing those releases for reissue; we’re far more likely to see a compilation of their other Disney titles. But a boy can dream, right?

Anyway, DuckTales was a welcome point of light in my efforts to chronicle the Game Boy library. I’ll be taking a break from Game Boy Works for a couple of months in order to wrap up NES Works 1986 and put together the corresponding print edition compilation, but there are some interesting releases on tap once we get back to handhelds.

6 Comments

Filed under Video Chronicles

We can play this any way you want

Capcom and Digital Eclipse’s Disney Afternoon Collection has been out for a couple of weeks now. This rerelease of five beloved NES games (plus TaleSpin) has given players plenty to talk about, but a large part of the discussion has focused not on the games themselves but on a feature added in for the collection: the ability to rewind gameplay, undoing mistakes large and small at the push of a button. The concept is nothing new, having been incorporated into some emulators and even previous retro compilations like 2015’s Rare Replay, but Capcom shined the spotlight on it here, making sure to showcase it in the trailer that revealed Afternoon Collection to the world scarcely a month before release.

Over the last few years, quality-of-life perks such as this have become standard in rereleases of old games, from Nintendo implementing “restore points” in the post-Wii Virtual Console to M2 offering no fewer than thirty save slots in their PlayStation 4 rendition of classic shoot-’em-up Battle Garegga. But the inclusion of such permissive features has given rise to an ongoing debate as to whether such quality-of-life perks detract from games of yore. Players who experienced these games in their original form often question a tool they “know” isn’t necessary added after the fact. After all, they managed to go without, so why should anyone else need it? Similarly, those who have gone to great lengths to master games over weeks or months chafe at the thought of neophytes tapping an inexhaustible stack of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards to blunder to the end in a single session. For them, these games’ defining experience consists of overcoming tremendous hardships to eventually bask in an equally rewarding sense of accomplishment. But they’re not worried that fellow players will miss out so much as they’re concerned that this aspect won’t be counted in the collective consciousness’s appraisal moving forward. The fear is that games they’ve come to appreciate on a profound level will be dismissed as nothing more than the sum of their parts—that their reputation will suffer. Fans of shoot-’em-ups regularly wince at reviews chiding their supposed lack of content, knowing that every shmup can be as long and as deep as you want if you strive to see how far you can reach on one credit. “If only they knew,” they mourn. “If only…they didn’t credit-feed!”

At its ugliest, this sentiment ties in to fans’ elitism and existential yearning for validation—the reason reviews that fail to properly adulate are met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I’m not here to decry the purists, and if I seem to speak from authority about what runs through their minds, it’s because I’m one of them. I get it. For a variety of reasons, old games do tend to be quite a bit harder than newer ones; at the same time, new players tend not to be as patient with them. Judging with modern eyes, they expect their time investment to correlate to “content” as it consists of concrete assets, divorced from more intangible factors like player improvement and replay value. Lacking a personal history with a game comprising five or six short stages, they’re likely to approach it as something to blitz through and quickly scratch off their backlog.

Without even getting into cheats intentionally included in games by their developers, the means to cheat “externally” have existed forever, going back to emulator save states and even devices like the Game Genie that coexisted with these games in their heyday. For those means to not only be implemented but advertised in official rereleases now lends them a certain sense of legitimacy, as well. But with so many years gone by since these games’ original release, this raises the question: “Is this how these games were meant to be played?”

I admit, when I saw that rewind feature placed front and center in the Afternoon Collection trailer, it gave me pause. I flashed back to YouTubers petulantly swatting the Load State key as they repeatedly missed the same jump in Super Mario World. I anticipated the provocative hot takes of unwashed content tourists asking, “Were these games really ever any good?” Surely this was not the way they were meant to be played.

But then I took a moment to step outside myself. As thrilling at it is for me to narrowly seize a victory after hours upon hours of “putting in the work,” it’s just as comforting for someone else to breeze through a game and enjoy its inherent qualities with no constraints. It’s not that some people are less patient; everyone just has different priorities—what they think is important, what they find fun, and what they get out of any given game. Likewise, games ultimately exist for us to enjoy them, and that means doing so any and every way we can. There is no True Way. Maybe some players will overuse the rewind feature and miss out on what made Rescue Rangers great, but others might give up on it entirely if they didn’t have something to provide a leg up. We’re not looking at some moral choice between depravity and enlightenment but an opportunity for some to spare frustration for their own enjoyment.

And for all practical purposes, the individual’s enjoyment is all that’s at stake. One player’s rewind-assisted run of Darkwing Duck doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of another player’s one-life clear, and DuckTales will probably still have fans after thousands have made a mockery of its difficulty. It might not be much fun to watch someone else rewind over and over, but most people are playing for themselves, not performing for an audience on YouTube. …And for those who are, rewinding does at least provide some visual continuity setting the player back where they were. Beats loading a two-second-old state any day.

5 Comments

Filed under Game Analysis

April 18 will be an aging gamer’s smorgasbord of delight

It really sucks about tax day being April 17th this year, but apparently the games industry is determined to heal those IRS-inflicted sorrows by giving all of us old video game types a lot to look forward to the following day. April 18th is now confirmed to include no less than three excellent-looking reworkings of classic games. It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches, if we’re being completely honest here.

Here’s what we aging nerds can look forward to:

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

We’ve known about this one for a while, to the point that we produced an entire episode about the series last year. I finally had a chance to go hands-on with The Dragon’s Trap at Game Developers Conference a couple of weeks ago, and the only word I can really think to use to describe it is “legit.” You hear the term “labor of love” tossed around a lot; this game truly embodies the concept. It came into being because programmer Omar Cornut invested years into deconstructing the code for the original SEGA Master System game as a hobbyist, and eventually that evolved into a proper top-to-bottom remake.

The truly remarkable thing about The Dragon’s Trap is that it plays exactly like the original version. Everything from the physics to the semi-open world layout are completely identical to the Master System version, to the point that you can toggle between the new graphics and old at the press of a button… not unlike with the Halo anniversary remakes. Make no mistake, though, it’s not simply the old version running under emulation, because toggling to original 8-bit graphics still allows you to play with widescreen visuals rather than constraining the action to 4:3 proportions. Cornut has rebuilt the original game code for modern platforms (including Switch, which you’d better believe will be my platform of choice for this one), transplanting an 8-bit classic into a new format with absolute fidelity.

I’m equally impressed by the new visuals, which have a fluid European art style and really bring the world and characters to life. If you’re like me, you tend to be wary when the terms “European art style” and “challenging platformer” collide, because the former element tends to wreak havoc on the integrity of the latter. Think games like Rayman which, while lovely, prioritize animation cycles over responsiveness. That’s fine in a meticulous Prince of Persia-style game, but Wonder Boy is vintage SEGA: Fast, unforgiving, and already tremendously challenging by default. Happily, The Dragon’s Trap manages to balance its lovely visuals and its unrelenting-but-fair difficulty level by causing animation to act as a secondary consideration to controls. Actions cancel character movements here, whereas many platformers featuring lush animation force you to sit through a movement cycle before responding to player inputs. And hit boxes are tuned to be forgiving where the new illustrations don’t perfectly line up with the original sprites; for example, Wonder Boy’s lion-man transformation now drags his massive claymore behind him rather than holding it upright ahead of him, but the greatly expanded character sprite is no more vulnerable than the original bitmap version, and he swings the blade with the same effective speed and arc as before.

On top of all that, Cornut made use of some unused dummy data in the original code to add in a few new challenges. You can generate a password for your progress in the remake, input it into the Master System version, advance the game, then bring an updated code from the Master System game back into the remake. And since the reward item for discovering the new secrets is tied to data that was tracked by but unused in the original game, you won’t lose the remake’s bonus item even if you play for a while in the 8-bit game. It’s a minor detail, sure, but it really speaks to the lengths that Cornut and LizardCube have explored in order to preserve the integrity of the original game while making it more palatable to contemporary audiences.

Full Throttle Remastered

I admit I don’t know this one as well as Wonder Boy; Full Throttle was one of the last hand-animated LucasArts point-and-click adventure games, and I picked it up back in the day. Alas, I never made much progress; the burly biker theme didn’t do much for me, despite the quality of the writing. I definitely will give the game a second chance now that it’s been prettified (and moved to consoles), though. Full Throttle Remastered foregoes the obvious remake approach by not converting the original game’s lovely, low-rez, Disney-esque drawings into clunky 3D but rather recreating them in high-resolution 2D. The use of bold, varied line weights keeps the newly reworked animation from looking like Flash animation — think Archer versus Homestar Runner. Pretty classy! As much as a game about a heavy metal biker dude can be classy, anyway.

The Disney Afternoon Collection

And finally, one that’s not a remake at all but rather a compilation. Bringing together six Capcom NES games — DuckTales 1 & 2, Rescue Rangers 1 & 2, Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin — the Disney Afternoon Collection comes from Digital Eclipse and occasional Retronauts guest Frank Cifaldi. This is the same combination that brought us the excellent Mega Man Legacy Collection a couple of years ago, and one would assume it runs on the same NES interpreter engine as the previous compilation. I think it’s safe to expect the minor hiccups that affected the Legacy Collection to have been sorted out for this new release.

I know this compilation was something everyone involved in the Legacy Collection had hinted at wanting to create, but given the precious attitude Disney has towards its properties I really didn’t expect it to happen. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see a whopping six Disney classics contained in a single package. This, of course, is not the full catalog of Capcom/Disney games for NES, but as the title indicates, these six come from television properties rather than films or Disney real estate concepts. (And, let’s be realistic: These were the good Capcom/Disney games.) In any case, it very helpfully contains the two most ridiculously overpriced Capcom/Disney collector’s pieces, DuckTales 2 and Rescue Rangers 2, both of which command eBay prices that will make your toes curl and wallet shrivel… even as bare cartridges.

As with the Legacy Collection, the Afternoon Collection will contain a huge array of supplemental materials, such as promotional art and development sketches. It’ll also include some custom-made challenges for the more obsessive fans to tackle. About the only downside to the collection I see is the widely lamented lack of a Switch version, which isn’t terribly surprising. I can’t imagine the Disney license came cheap or easy, and Nintendo systems are very much in a transitional state right now; Capcom probably didn’t want to risk committing to a new console. Now that Switch has seemingly proved its appeal (having already moved 1.5 million units worldwide, which has prompted Nintendo to double its production numbers for the coming year; there’ll be more Switches produced in the next year than Wii U systems that were ever made), I would be pretty shocked if Capcom didn’t announce a belated version for that system as well. I mean, it just makes sense… which I realize isn’t always quite how business works, but I suppose we’ll see.

6 Comments

Filed under Retrogaming News

Retronauts on USgamer: The tale of Capcom

Hey, everyone. I’d like to chime in and thank everyone who has signed up for our podcast Patreon campaign already — a mere two days in and we’re already to the second tier of funding (biweekly episodes, mini episodes on the off weeks, and streams aplenty) and about a third of the way to the next! That’s really fantastic, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support.

While that ticks along, Bob and I have already started to plan Retronauts content for USgamer… and by “plan” I mean “publish.” Today I’ve posted a Kickstarter backer-requested article on USG. The original plan was to put it here on the blog, but it makes more sense to put it on a site where it’ll get more eyeballs, right?

capcom-header

This particular piece comes to us at the behest of Greg Spenser, who wanted us to write about Capcom’s 8- and 16-bit eras. And that’s exactly what has happened — so please, enjoy this brief look back at the evolution of Capcom during the NES and 16-bit days. And, of course, please continue reading USG and our Twitter feed for more Retronauts-related content to fill your brain with old things as we build up toward the new season of podcasts that kicks off December 1!

2 Comments

Filed under Kickstarter, Retronauts

This week in Retronauts, we go (Captain) Commando

We’ve had a string of NES-themed episodes based on backer requests lately, but this will be the last of them (at least for a while): A look into the NES years of Capcom.

retronauts pocket 19 cover

I have more to say about this topic (courtesy of a separate backer request), so I won’t belabor the details now. But basically, Capcom started out as an arcade developer with an internal division dedicated to creating Famicom/NES ports of their coin-op titles. In time, though, the home console division took on a life of its own, creating some of the finest original (and semi-original) titles of the 8-bit era.

Or at the official episode description says:

By our powers combined! (With the backing of Larry Froncek.) We delve into Capcom’s NES years, also known as the point at which a fledgling arcade developer became a world-class console powerhouse.

Direct Download | SoundCloud | RSS
We earnestly request the courtesy of an iTunes Review

The music this episode all comes from various Mega Man games, because, hey.

10 Comments

Filed under Retronauts, Retronauts Pocket