Tag Archives: konami

A piece of Castlevania apocrypha jams from beyond the grave

Longtime Castlevania fans may vaguely recall a mobile game called Castlevania: Order of Shadows. I say “vaguely” because Order predated the era of smartphones and the thriving ecosystem of mobile games that’s come with it, being bound to now-archaic feature phones. Even today, mobile devices struggle in adapting traditional game experiences to touch-based controls, but the phones of yesteryear were an even worse fit, suffering from single-digit frame rates, screens with worse ghosting than the original Game Boy, and a numeric keypad for an interface. Nevertheless, big-name publishers like Sega and Capcom saw fit to dabbled in this nascent mobile space—as did Konami, who published itty-bitty versions of Gradius, Frogger, and even the original Castlevania as early as 2002.

Above: Konami Net versions of Gradius, Silent Scope, Castlevania, and Frogger, as well as a Quarth spin-off called Block Quarth. Also, I object in the strongest possible terms to the fact I can’t get a watch app with Pop’n Music characters on Android.

Order of Shadows came near the end of this generation, releasing in September 2007—months after Apple signalled the changing times with the very first iPhone. At the time, Castlevania was five games deep into a portable Renaissance on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, and Order stuck out like a sore thumb, not only for its platform but also the fact that it was developed by Konami’s mobile division in California rather than series producer Kōji Igarashi’s team in Tokyo. Despite assurances that the game bore Igarashi’s blessing, the difference was visible at a glance, with amateurish graphics and a throwaway story even by series standards, all on top of the general clunkiness typical of phone games. Order‘s team probably did the best they could with the means available to them, but their ambition in trying to bring an original Castlevania title to phones only made their shortcomings more glaring.

Expectation is everything. For example, a Castlevania where you play as Weird Science-era Danny Elfman should have been amazing.

But like many lackluster games, Order of Shadows is at least partially redeemed by a single saving grace: its music. Compared to its Metroidvania contemporaries, Order hewed closer to the linear, stage-based design of earlier Castlevania titles; this might lead you to expect a score packed front to back with nothing but rousing action tunes, but the soundtrack actually evokes a surprising range of moods, hearkening to the atmospheric variance of Symphony of the Night. Better yet, Rey, creator of VGMuseum.com and friend to Retronauts everywhere, has alerted us to the fact that composer Vincent Diamante has put the whole thing up on SoundCloud, using the original sound source before it was scaled down to a form that would fit on phones.

While none of Diamante’s brief loops worm into the brain the way immortal classics like “Wicked Child” or “Bloody Tears” do, you can tell he had chops. From tracks like “The Encounter” and “Resting Again,” which feature the orchestral rock sensibilities kicked off by Symphony, to mellow drum-and-bass jams like “Covering” and “Not Where You Think,” which recall the low-key tension of Super Castlevania IV, Diamante clearly crafted his score both with skill and an appreciation for the multifaceted yet unmistakable sound of Castlevania. Looking back now, it’s unsurprising he’s since moved on to write and produce music for games like Flower and Skullgirls. And thanks to his preserving his work on Order of Shadows, our historical record of the Castlevania series—even the most obscure corners of it—is now just a little more complete than it was before.

Images courtesy of K-tai Watch, MrP’s Castlevania Realm, and Rey

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Music, Retronauts

Hard Corps: Uprising: Resurgence: The Revenge

This morning, Microsoft announced that Hard Corps: Uprising has been added to Xbox One Backward Compatibility. First released on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011, this run-and-gunner was met with equal parts enthusiasm and confusion. And it is, in fairness, quite an odd duck. For one thing…that’s Contra, right? Two-player co-op, spread gun, jungle stage… It’s even published by Konami, so you know it’s not just some knock-off. It reprises the anime aesthetic of 1994’s Contra: Hard Corps (courtesy of Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works) and even directly recalls that title—just not, you know, the “Contra” part.

It seems that in an early example of the inexplicable corporate decisions that have come to define them, Konami insisted on disassociating this game from the time-honored series for which it was clearly created. Not that they were fooling anyone—reps struggled to hold the company line when the press grilled them with the obvious questions at trade shows. But the game certainly attracted much less attention than it might have had it borne the familiar brand.

In addition to its art style, Contra: Hard Corps distinguished itself from the rest of the series with a colorful cast of playable characters, each with their own unique weapons. The move set expanded with a slide move, allowing the player to escape damage if they found themselves cornered, and one character could even perform a double-jump. By far, though, the greatest departure from series convention was the three-hit life gauge, such that it only featured in the game’s Japanese version. Subsequent Contra titles shied away from all this ambitious complexity, but after seventeen years, Hard Corps: Uprising not only went back to the well but jumped in feet-first.

You’ll notice right away that the life gauge is back. Characters generally differ by their agility and the length of their gauges while sharing weapons and abilities, but some offer entirely unique play styles. Leviathan can moonsault across the screen while pelting everything below with bombs, and Sayuri eschews guns in favor of a katana that lacks range but deals unparalleled damage if she can close the distance. Every character has access to a staggering array of acrobatic moves, including a double-jump, an air dash, and a slick maneuver where you slip past an enemy with an opportunity to immediately shoot them in the back. You can vault over obstacles close to the ground, send pieces of the environment flying into enemies, and even reflect bullets.

The breadth of options is downright overwhelming at first, especially compounded with all the over-the-top chaos unfolding in any standard Contra stage. But just as true to form, Uprising is designed to be played again and again. As your skills improve and you grow more accustomed to your surroundings, you can begin to identify the best places to employ each move, until you find yourself speed-running stages with the grace of a ninja commando. If that seems like a bridge too far, replay value also abounds in Rising Mode, where you can upgrade your mobility, weapons, and life gauge to ridiculous excess. Is being able to take three hits not enough? How about eight? Not loving that double-jump? How about a triple-jump?

Despite its ambiguous title, Hard Corps: Uprising is without a doubt a bold evolution of the Contra series, more than worthy of the name. A PlayStation 4 port is probably too much to hope for, so if you own an Xbox One, don’t miss this opportunity to give it a go—whether it’s your first time or you’re still saving up for that seven-way spread gun.

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It’s Skate or Die on Game Boy… Works?

With this week’s video chronicles installment, we begin our transition from the wild west frontier days of similarly inspired but dissimilarly treated video projects to the grand unifying vision of… WORKS. In case you missed my explanation last week (and clearly quite people did, if YouTube comments are anything to go by), here’s the deal: As part of the general movement of Retronauts into something respectable (nay, viable), we’re rebranding these video projects and their accompanying books from the hodgepodge of “Good Nintentions,” “Game Boy World,” “Mode Seven” and so on to a single multi-facet venture: Works. Game Boy Works, NES Works, etc. It has no impact on the content of these videos, just the intro/outro, the title typography, and the naming.

See? Ultimately, it’s business as usual.

I have to say, though, Skate or Die: Bad ’N Rad was not at all what I was expecting. I fiddled around with the original Skate or Die as a kid and expected more of the same: A sort of freeform skateboard simulator. This was not the case at all. Rather than presenting a portable adaptation of Electronic Arts’ popular skating game, Konami created something entirely new from the ground up, with the only real connection between the two being the top-down stages (which bear a loose resemblance to the stage select portion of EA’s game — but even then, the stage select in Skate or Die used absolute “tank” controls whereas the top-down portions here use relative inputs).

It’s a strange creative choice, to be honest. Surely there would have been less work involved in, and more money to be gleaned from, a faithful adaptation? And yet, here’s this. There’s a vague, hard-to-pin-down element of New Orleans aesthetic here that makes this feel like some bizarre hybrid of skateboard and The Adventures of Bayou Billy, and it makes me wonder whether Konami already had a kooky skateboarding platformer in the works and decided to take take advantage of the Skate or Die license by slapping it on an unrelated game? But then again, they held the Skate or Die licensed for a couple of years before Bad ’N Rad arrived, and the development on this game couldn’t possibly have taken more than nine or 10 months to complete. So, man, I don’t know what the story is here. I just know it’s a strange and interesting game, and I wish it had turned out better than it ultimately did.

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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
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

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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Join me and Simon Belmont this afternoon for a Gintendo stream

Hi everyone, once you’ve savored this week’s super cool episode of the podcast, be sure to tune in for a brand new Gintendo stream. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stream daily this week, but I’ll do my best! Today I’d like to continue with my promise to celebrate Castlevania’s 30th anniversary by taking on the second Castlevania game: Simon’s Quest for NES. Or, possibly, I may try and slug my way through the Japanese version of the game, which appeared on the Famicom Disk System. As I demonstrated in last week’s Retronauts Radio episode, the Japanese “Dracula II” was essentially the same game as Simon’s Quest, all the way down to the infamous lying villagers, but it used the Disk System’s hardware for its soundtrack. It also included really annoying load times. So, if my increasingly cranky Disk System will behave long enough to keep the stream up and running, I will attempt to show off this slightly weird rendition of an old familiar favorite this afternoon… and if not, well, I’ll just play plain ol’ Simon’s Quest. In English.

Either way, the stream begins at 4:30 E.T. this afternoon (that’s 1:30 P.T.), so set some time aside and join me as I try to remember where the heck I’m supposed to go in this open-ended non-linear adventure. I may need your help for advice on where to go next, actually. And I’ll try not to slow down the adventure by grinding out levels in the mansions….

You can view the stream on my YouTube channel, or catch it here on the site once it’s archived.

“I will drink your blood like cherry pop gin and tonic!”

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Filed under Gintendo, Video

Oops, an unannounced Gintendo

Yesterday afternoon we recorded the first episode of Retronauts East, which I desperately hope turns out well — there’s a lot of fine-tuning that needs to happen with our recording setup, so the sound quality could turn out to be kind of awful. I guess we’ll find out! Once we wrapped the recording session, I decided to celebrate the show’s eastward expansion by launching an impromptu and unannounced Gintendo live stream of Castlevania:

Incredibly enough, it went remarkably well. Shockingly well, actually. I aced the two big sticking-point battles on my first go (skip ahead to 16:30 if you want to see the most impressive showing I’ve ever put up versus Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor). Then… the second half of the stream consists of my nerve breaking and me failing abysmally against Dracula’s stage and the final battle, over and over again. It was a pretty solid first half, though! I guess you could blame the gin (Reisetbauer Blue, if you’re curious).

Anyway, it’s here if you’d like to watch it.

I head out of town for a week on Sunday, so I won’t be able to host a normal Gintendo while I’m abroad. Although… I guess there’s technically nothing stopping me from taking along, say, the Retro USB AVS? And an Elgato device? And maybe picking up some random retro Famicom games and playing them? Hmm. If nothing else, I might try and stream a stroll through Akihabara or something, assuming it won’t devastate my international data plan. And I definitely will be posting all throughout next week on my game-shopping and developer-interviewing exploits in Tokyo, so you can at least look forward to that.

(Promo art by Rusty Shackles)

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Filed under Gintendo, Retronauts, Video

This week: Ninja Five-O. Next week: Samurai CHiPs

micro 033 cover

This video took much longer to put together than I had intended or hoped, so I’m far too tired to write about it. I will let this episode speak for itself:

And you old-fashioned types can do the usual audio-only thing, I guess:

Download Links

Libsyn (11:09 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes! Support us on Patreon!)

Episode Description

Jeremy dives into Game Boy Advance classic (and overpriced rarity) Ninja Five-O, a game that probably should never have existed. But isn’t it nice that it does?

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Filed under Retronauts, Retronauts Micro

What is a podcast? A miserable pile of nostalgia!

Hello, friends, and welcome to another Retronauts Micro episode. Seems like we’ve had a lot of them, eh? Well, we’re trying to get the schedule back on track after the disruption caused by the unexpected passing of Satoru Iwata — as of next week, we’ll be back on our usual routine. Sorry for the slightly jumbled order! As something of a Type A personality, I’m pretty sure it bothers me more than it does you.

Anyway, this week concerns another personal favorite and a game I’m looking forward to spending more time with in the near-ish future: Super Castlevania IV. You may recall last season’s Castlevania NES trilogy episode, and this is the sequel to that. Like all Micro episodes, it’s a brief soliloquy about a classic, featuring lots of great music to help distract you from the droning monotony of my voice. Enjoy…?

Download Links

Libsyn (12:38 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud )

Episode Description

Last year we looked at the Castlevania NES trilogy; now we explore its weird but wonderful follow-up, Super Castlevania IV for Super NES.

This week’s music come from Super Castlevania IV, because it has one of the greatest game soundtracks ever recorded (programmed?) and you better bet your sweet bippy I wanted to use it in an episode focused entirely on the game itself.

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