Tag Archives: jeremy parish

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

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

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

MP3, 53.7 MB | 1:51:24
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In other words, some great stuff this month, and some acquired tastes. Next month, I’ll look at some actual Zuntata arcade jams, another Konami adventure, and… who knows what else?

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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.

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Retronauts Episode 98: Mac Gaming in the ’80s

The very first episode of Retronauts East explored the PC gaming side of things with a look at the platform that kicked off computer games in earnest: The Apple II. This week, Ben and Benj and I have reconvened for a follow-up. That’s right, we’re talking about the next major Apple gaming platform, the Mac.

Although most people think of Mac gaming as a contradiction in terms, there were enough unique games — and enough games that introduced revolutionary play concepts — that we had to break this study of the Mac platform into two halves! This time around, we spend nearly two hours examining Mac games of the ’80s; at some point in the future, we’ll hit the ’90s. And there really is a critical and meaning distinction between the two. Up until the launch of System 7 in 1991, almost all Mac games were designed to be compatible with the basic Mac platform: High-resolution (for the time) black-and-white screens. Color was a nicety, and usually not even an option, throughout the ’80s. The arrival of universal color systems and CD-ROM systems would bring massive change to the Mac in its second decade of existence. This episode, however, centers entirely on the unique gaming ecosystem that existed on Mac from 1984-1990.

Episode description: Retronauts East’s journey through the history of Apple-based gaming continues with an in-depth look at the unique world of monochrome Mac gaming. Ben Elgin, Benj Edwards, and Jeremy Parish discuss the miracle of the mouse and the hotness of HyperCard.

MP3, 53.7 MB | 1:51:24
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Notes on music: There wasn’t really any music to speak of in the Mac games we covered this time around, so I jumped ahead to the ’90s and pulled some incidental tunes from one of the future works we mentioned a couple of times in passing: Myst. And for the cover art, I decided to eschew my usual watercolors because, well, Mac was monochrome — and not just monochrome, but one-bit black-and-white. I managed to hit most of the big games we discussed this episode: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Scarab of Ra, Stunt Copter, Shadowgate, Shufflepuck Cafe, Shanghai, and even Dark Castle.

Supplemental links: I want to throw out links to two works worth checking out for further reading. First is The Digital Antiquarian’s retrospective on Cliff Johnson’s The Fool’s Errand, which covers the game with depth we couldn’t even begin to approach in podcast first. Second, I highly recommend Revolution in the Valley by Andy Herzfield, a fascinating first-person account of the creation of the Macintosh. I’d really hoped to re-read the book to refresh my memory on some of the finer points of the system’s birth before the show, but I ended up sinking all my time into exploring the games themselves… which are the more important consideration for this particular podcast, yeah?

Finally, big thanks to Benj for his wonderfully ridiculous mailbag theme. I thought he was joking, but nope…

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Game Boy Works: A (side) pocket full of miracles

I have to admit, the past few episodes of Game Boy Works were not quite as painful as I had expected. I don’t like sports, sports don’t like me… and yet, tackling games about skateboarding, baseball, wrestling, and now pool all in a row somehow didn’t destroy me. It helps that there was just enough weirdness in there to keep things interesting — I mean, that Skate or Die game was downright bizarre. I can’t say I’m sad to be moving along to other subjects now, however. I think there’s maybe a single sports release among the next dozen Game Boy Works titles, and honestly I could go for a few mundane puzzlers right about now.

That said, Side Pocket was a pretty decent way to wrap this blitz of jocularity. It’s a nice, low-key game with chill music and probably the best physics programming I’ve seen on Game Boy.

Honestly, playing this just a few months after reviewing Yakuza 0 shows how little billiards games have evolved over the decades. Of course, pool in Yakuza 0 was a minigame, not the entire work (as it is here) — but even so, those modern-day gambling side contests really demonstrate what a great job Data East did of translating pool into video form way back in 1986. There’s not really that much more you can do with pool beyond what Side Pocket presents. Also, the conjunction of Yakuza 0 and Side Pocket in my life demonstrates that I am just as lousy at the 1986 version of the sport as I am its 2017 rendition, but that’s neither here nor there.

Reviewing Side Pocket for Game Boy makes me pine for a modern portable update to the series. I know Data East doesn’t really exist anymore, its properties having been absorbed by G-Mode, and all those classic Data East franchises exist now as nothing more than archival material to be churned through and reissued with no real thought to evolution. But still… a modern Side Pocket for, say, Switch would be pretty great. Especially since you could set up impromptu multiplayer contests as demonstrated by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Ah well; at least you can download this version of the game for 3DS Virtual Console. That’s not quite the dream fulfilled, but it’ll do the trick in a pinch.

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Retronauts episode 97: BRO-totypes

So, here’s a different kind of episode than usual. I’ve been worried about this one since we recorded it; I planned this topic specifically around some casual conversations I remember having with Frank Cifaldi back when we both worked at 1UP, lo those many years ago, and he was to be our guest of honor here. Unfortunately, some last-minute scheduling complications prevented him from making the session, which means we had to wing it. The outcome wasn’t quite what I had in mind… but nevertheless, it turned out quite well with just myself, Bob, and returning guest Steve Lin. Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this episode as I assembled it.

The title of this episode, I realize, probably seems a bit opaque. (I debated between “BRO-totypes” and “Intoxicating Masculinity.”) But the point really is quite straightforward: A discussion of the trend of musclebound, macho characters in video games throughout the ’80s, and the influence those early era game aesthetics and sensibilities continue to exert on the medium today. This episode is less about the games themselves and more about the cultural and historical trends that shaped them — and our own conclusions seems to be in accordance with the comments submitted in our mailbag section. So if nothing else, at least we’re all on the same page here.

Episode description: Steve Lin joins Jeremy and Bob to discuss that most primal of video game forces: Manly video games about manly men. We explore the pop social forces behind the rise of rugged 8-bit heroes, and how those beefy classics shaped modern game sensibilities.

MP3, 48.2 MB | 1:40:08
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A note on this episode’s music: This week’s tunes come from several games we mentioned during the show: Rygar, Rastan Saga, Shatterhand, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, and VICE: Project Doom.

As for this week’s cover art — a stunning portrait of Conan — that comes to us courtesy of listener Billy Norrby, who actually studied under one of the influential painters we mentioned here: None other than Boris Vallejo himself. Check out Billy’s site (be warned that it’s a tiny bit NSFW) and, I dunno, maybe commission him to paint the cover of your next novel.

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: The Retronauts review

I didn’t really play much of Mario Kart 8 in its first run on Wii U. Much as I liked the Wii U console — that poor, benighted thing — sandwiching the joyless mundanity of Mario Kart Wii between the excellence of Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 helped turn the series irrevocably into a portable experience for me. And while Mario Kart 8 proved to be every bit the equal of its immediate predecessor, if not better, its being on Wii U meant I had to play it on a television. Alas, Nintendo, I just can’t go back.

As it turns out, my reticence worked out for the best: I was, it turns out, simply saving myself for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Not only does the Switch’s “remastered” version compile the entirety of the Wii U’s original release and downloadable updates into a single package (along with some new content), it does so in that all-important portable format.

Yes, I know: Technically, Switch isn’t a “handheld” system. Nintendo has gone to great pains to present Switch as the Wii U’s successor to the console market, leaving ample room for 3DS as its portable offering — not surprisingly, given the remarkable 3DS lineup they’ve laid out for the remainder of 2017. And Switch’s on-the-go fluidity remains its strongest feature. It feels capable if somewhat underpowered as a console, but its makes for an extraordinary portable device.

I’m not sure if you could reasonably call Mario Kart 8 Deluxe the Switch’s killer app when (1.) Switch also has Breath of the Wild and (2.) MK8D is ultimately a marginally tweaked version of a game that launched four years ago. Technicalities aside, though, what MK8D offers is an intoxicating glimpse of the play experiences capable with Nintendo’s new handheld. Console. Handheld-console hybrid. Whatever.

Docked, MK8D doesn’t really do much to sell itself. That’s how I first experienced it at Nintendo’s pre-launch event back in January, and it didn’t do much for me then. If you skipped owning a Wii U, sure, you finally have a chance to play the excellent latest entry in this long-running racing series. And if, like me, you never bothered with the Wii U version’s extensive DLC offerings, it’s pretty nice to have all those extras available and unlocked from the start.

The moment you launch the game, it offers four dozen tracks, each playable in five different difficulty levels (including mirror mode), with enough characters to choose among to inspire envy among Capcom’s “Vs.” fighters. The DLC material included here contains some reused vintage content, of course; about half the tracks you can play on are legacy remasters from older games, spanning from the Super NES original to the dreaded Mario Kart Wii. (Turns out the Wii tracks are pretty fun when divorced from the game itself.) And you could easily cull about half the character lineup and never miss them. Does anybody really want to play as Metal Mario or Pink Gold Peach? But, on the other hand, you can also choose from a decent selection of non-Mario characters, which breathes some new life into the lineup. Some are new to this version — Splatoon‘s Inklings, for example — while others showed up as DLC add-ons to MK8. Of them all, I think Isabelle from Animal Crossing may be my new favorite Mario Kart racer, if only because she spouts her in-race taunts entirely in Animal Crossing gibberish.

The new, non-Mario material goes a long way toward freshening up the MK8D package, especially when it comes to courses. We’ve been racing through Ghost Houses, Bowser’s Castles, Luigi Speedways, and Rainbow Roads for 25 years now. And while it’s amusing to have a Yoshi-themed race track in which the speedway is shaped in the outline of the baby-voiced dino itself, I find myself drawn far more to the opportunity to cruise through, say, Hyrule (at least on something faster that a grumpy pony). It helps that these excursions beyond the Mushroom Kingdom demonstrate some of the liveliest attention-to-detail MK8D offers, such as the way the F-Zero course’s “damage zones” create drag on your kart or the fact that your coin indicator icon is temporarily replaced by a bag of bells for the duration of the Animal Crossing track.

Great as all of these details may be, though, none of this really gets to the heart of what makes MK8D so momentous: Its flexibility. It’s the first major release for Switch that takes full advantage of the system’s dynamic nature. Bomberman was fine, Snipperclips was amusing, and 1-2-Switch made for a decent icebreaker, but with MK8D we have a Switch title with near-universal appeal, a ridiculous amount of content, and substantial mechanics — and it’s been heavily revamped to allow players to enjoy competitive racing under an enormous variety of circumstances.

Fundamentally, Mario Kart games haven’t changed all that much since the Super NES original. Still, a few key moments in the series’ history stand out. Mario Kart 64‘s addition of proper 3D geometry to course designs allowed for more complex track designs and the wild unpredictability that comes in uneven race surfaces. Mario Kart DS added proper online multiplayer. And now, this: The freedom to play with others, anywhere, at a moment’s notice.

MK8D shines brightest when you play with others, and Nintendo has added in a huge number of multiplayer format options. That’s true in terms of content — the Battle Mode this time around is excellent — but more importantly, it affects how you play as well. Console-based Mario Karts have always allowed split-screen multiplayer and, more recently, online racing as well; portable Mario Kart games have always included local competitive play, along with online support beginning with Mario Kart DS. MK8D incorporates all of those options, too. But then it ups the ante. In addition to both handheld and docked wireless play, splitscreen docked play, and multi-system local wireless play, you can also play splitscreen on the handheld itself by disconnecting the controllers and using them for impromptu head-to-head racing.

Of course, this has been Switch’s sales pitch all along. But it’s one thing to watch stylish 20-somethings grinning through a manicured promotional video and quite something else to prop up a Switch on a kitchen counter, hand the Joycons to a couple of kids, and let them get to racing against one another with a single, self-contained game system. And while it’s not the 100% frictionless experience Nintendo’s demo reel would suggest, it’s nevertheless quick, easy, and completely engrossing.

I could play MK8D and weigh in on it with the perspective of a seasoned adult, but I found far more value in putting it to the test by letting my young nephews and cousins give it a go over the weekend. What I found was that, yes, the game and system both were instant hits with a gaggle of kids who until then had been aware of Switch but had little real interest in it.

The impromptu multiplayer setup isn’t without its minor snags, of course. The Joycons don’t slide as freely off the system’s core as Nintendo would like them to, and the wrist strap attachments are always a hassle to attach and remove. And even with the attachments, the Joycons are much too cramped for extended play sessions for all but the youngest of players. On top of that, the Switch’s screen itself seems pretty tiny when you’re playing at a distance greater than holding the screen directly in front of your face; arguments nearly broke out every time one of the kids tried to surreptitiously nudge the screen closer to them. But after the initial two minutes of setup (and once I laid down the law about placing the screen in between players, to be fair to everyone), MK8D remained in active use for the rest of the night. We started off with standard races, but once the younger kids with the shorter attention spans wandered off to find other amusements, the two older teens switched over to battle mode for the remainder of the evening.

It’s not difficult to imagine extending this use case to dozens of other games on Switch. Instant-match fighting games? Infuriating New Super Mario Switch multiplayer sessions? Cooperative Contra III on Virtual Console? Sign me up, for all the above.

Due to its necessary technological restrictions, handheld gaming has always felt like a format that lags a generation behind the cutting edge of console play. Switch doesn’t change that — while Microsoft and Sony are delving into 4K visuals in an attempt to remain competitive with personal computers, Nintendo’s new system doesn’t even output 1080p on a consistent basis. In handheld mode, though, MK8D‘s small-screen 720p resolution looks sharper than the game did on Wii U. And above all, MK8D delivers an experience you can enjoy anywhere, anytime, with anyone. For perhaps the first time, handheld gaming (even if the company’s marketing doesn’t refer to it necessarily as such) doesn’t feel so far behind consoles. Switch may not have the horsepower of PS4 Pro, but it breaks handheld gaming away from the one-to-one system-to-player ratio that’s always been one of the format’s greatest drawbacks and allows for an impromptu session of console-caliber gaming with almost no friction.

Granted, this potential has always been there, ever since Nintendo first showed off the Switch. It’s just that MK8D is the first release to feel like it truly makes good on it. Zelda may have been the system-seller, but MK8D demonstrates why Switch might actually live up to all those Wii-sized sales aspirations and predictions. If the kids’ reactions to my weekend play sessions are any indication, a head-to-head countertop Mario Kart race is the kind of game experience that makes true believers out of skeptics. As a game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe perfects a long-running series; as an experience, it defines a new standard for how multiplayer portable games should work.

Not bad for warmed-over material.

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Retronauts Episode 96: Ghostbusters

Episode description: ’80s kids couldn’t help but grow up with a Ghostbusters fixation, even if the games based on this popular property were often as fun as drowning in a river of slime. On this episode of Retronauts, join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Kat Bailey, and Mikel Reparaz as the crew digs into every Ghostbusters game to see how well each one captures that essential ghostbusting spirit. And if you think all of these games are good, we’re not ready to believe you!

MP3, 42.3 MB | 1:32:20
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A note on this episode’s music: All of the music used in this episode comes from the Famicom version of New Ghosbusters 2, except for the last song, which comes from the Genesis game.

And, as with all of the episodes I produce, this week’s cover art is by Nick Daniel. Check out his Twitter, or patronize his Patreon!

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Retronauts Micro 59: The return of Atari’s SwordQuest

Confession time: I had a dual motive in mind when I invited Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB to join us for the most recent episode of Retronauts. One, he knows a lot about Batman, making him a perfect foil for our Batman-centric episode. But also, he’s the cowriter of Dynamite Comics’ upcoming SwordQuest series. With issue Zero due out in a couple of weeks, now seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating game stories of the Atari 2600 era.

I don’t want to spoil the plot of this episode, but Atari intended for SwordQuest to comprise four separate games — episode gaming in the Bronze Age of the medium! — with incredibly valuable prizes attached to a complex set of puzzles tied to each game and its accompanying comic book. But, as has been the case with pretty much all episodic games not published by Telltale, the SwordQuest saga didn’t quite come to fruition… though in this case I’m gonna go ahead and say that wasn’t Atari’s fault. Or at the very least, that it was their fault for fomenting the circumstances that led to SwordQuest fizzling out, but that they really did have admirable intentions with this project.

In any case, the four-game SwordQuest series ultimately pooped out at three entries, and no one really knows what happened to the fabulous prizes that were created and promoted but never handed out. And that, in fact, is the real SwordQuest saga now; Chris’ comic project isn’t a continuation of the in-game story, but an exploration of the story around the games. It definitely sounds worth looking at, and I’m not just saying that because one of the writers was cool enough to join us for this episode.

Episode description: Jeremy and Benj discuss the history of Atari’s fascinating, extravagant, and incomplete SwordQuest series with (literally!) one of the authors of the game’s new comeback: Comics scribe Chris Sims.

MP3, 24.9 MB | 50:27
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As for music this time around… well, SwordQuest (being at Atari 2600 release) didn’t really have music to speak of, so I couldn’t pillage the game for interstitial tunes. But a chronicle is kind of like a quest, right? So I threw in some spacey jams from Hawkwind’s Chronicles of the Black Sword (which is about a totally different fantasy saga, namely Elric of Melnibone — but who’s counting?). Ah well, whatever. Enjoy.

Note: Sorry about the lack of an embedded stream in this post. Our host changed the layout of their pages sometime in the past few days and their embed option appears to have vanished! We’re looking into it.

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Retronauts Episode 93: Castlevania goes portable (Igavania edition)

Another week, another episode about Castlevania.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Retronauts Micro 57: A Blaster Master retrospective and Blaster Master Zero review

A game review? On Retronauts? It’s more likely than you think. In fact, there’s one right here.

But this is not your typical game review — it’s a game review that takes the form of a podcast, and the review itself has in turn been commingled with a retrospective. My hope is that it’s a review format you could only experience here in the one, the only… Retronauts.

Is it a good review format, though? Or one that you only find here because it’s a ridiculous concept and no one else would ever bother. I leave that as an exercise to you, the listener, to determine.

So, yes. Episode 57 of Retronauts Micro is a two-part affair: First, a retrospective of the original Blaster Master, including some handy context to help explain why the game had such impact and remains so well-liked, and a loose rundown of its sequels. The second part (after the obligatory ad break) delves specifically into the new Inti Creates remake, Blaster Master Zero. My goal here was to create a chunk of game commentary that upholds the Retronauts goal of tying present to past, while also taking advantage of the fact that this venture is, ultimately, about the podcast.

It’s about 30 minutes long in total, so it goes into pretty considerable detail without (hopefully) wearing thin its welcome with your ears. So please have a listen!

Episode description: It’s a different application for the Retronauts Micro format this week as Jeremy uses the show to present a review of the newly released Blaster Master Zero alongside a series retrospective.

MP3, 14.6 MB | 31:46
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And that wraps it up for me for a little while. You’ll be glad to know Bob’s back on duty next week with a look at celebrity video games, and he’ll be handling the next Micro as well (two weeks from now). So you can enjoy a bit of a respite from my monotone drone…

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