Tag Archives: nes

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.

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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.

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On NES Works: Third parties continue to grapple with the idea of quality

The NES Works series continues powering through the NES 1986 library in a desperate race to Gradius, aka the one genuinely excellent third-party release from the latter half of the year. I have to say, this project has given me a new appreciation for Black Box games.

I became an NES owner at the end of 1987, by which time there were enough great post-launch-era releases available that the Black Box games had a distinct whiff of the archaic about them. The unified packaging design Nintendo initially used for its own releases worked great as branding in the early days, setting the NES apart from competing platforms, but it became something of an impediment once more sophisticated releases began to arrive from other publishers. Nintendo recognized it, too, and they began to phase out the Black Box format around the time I picked up the console: Zelda shipped in a gorgeous gold set, Metroid and several other 1987 releases came dressed in silver, Punch-Out!! broke the box art boundaries with a full-bleed photo of Mike Tyson, and Ice Hockey used the Black Box style in blue with a photo replacing the pixel art. By the time Super Mario Bros. 2 shipped at the end of 1988, the only remaining vestige of the Black Box style was the skewed typography for the logo and subtitle — and even that would end up abandoned by the wayside with 1989 releases like Dragon Warrior and Faxanadu.

All of this is to say, Black Box games felt like old news by the time I acquired an NES, and I’ve had a hard time giving them a fair shake due to that perception. But despite their simplicity, they demonstrate a lot of interesting and inventive ideas. And nothing has driven that home quite like these early third-party releases for the system.

One of the more famous anecdotes about the NES library is that Howard Philips served as a sort of localization filter to weed out the bad games and make sure only the best Japanese titles were brought into English. I am increasingly curious to know whether that policy and process were in place from the beginning, or if Nintendo asked Philips to begin weeding out the garbage after these first few releases hit the ground with the wet, jarring sound of a million weeping children. I am generally able to find some merit in questionable old games by viewing them through the perspective of their time and place — see last week’s Chubby Cherub video for an example — but I honestly can’t find anything redeeming about Tag Team Wrestling, even if I try to adopt the mindset of an eight-year-old circa 1986. It’s bad now, and every documentarian instinct I have tells me it was also bad then.

On the plus side, it only gets better from here. At least until the opportunistic Western publishers arrive on NES in 1988. But that’s a full year of increasingly good Japan-origin games to look forward to on NES Works. So that’s good!

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Chubby Cherub reconsidered, kinda

The game Chubby Cherub, when it bobs to the surface of the collective conscious at all, tends to be treated as one of those NES games that makes a nice, easy target for a few softball jokes, and little more. I mean, come on: It stars a fat, naked angel eating candy and avoiding dogs. I suppose any concept can make for a great game, but it’s an early third-party release for NES, so the chances of it having turned out well were pretty nil. I don’t remember if Seanbaby ever made fun of Chubby Cherub… but if he didn’t, that just underscores how unremarkable it is. It would have been perfect fodder for his pioneering “let’s insult slipshod NES software” work in the ’90s.

Personally, my only memories of the game involve being annoyed at its omnipresence on that fateful summer of 1988 as I scoured the country in a desperate search for Castlevania, not realizing Castlevania was (1.) temporarily out of print and (2.) about to get a new manufacturing run. When what you really want is gothic horror but all you can find are candy-obsessed flying babies, it’s hard to hold a kind thought in your heart about the flying babies.

Anyway, going into this week’s video project armed with nothing but an awareness of the fact that Chubby Cherub is widely reviled and hails from the same developer/publisher combo as last week’s M.U.S.C.L.E. Tag Team Match, I was pleasantly surprised that it’s merely a mediocre game rather than an aggressively terrible one. The action moves at a sluggish pace and the overall design feels lopsided and unfair, but it’s not without a bit of merit. Like the video says, I could see kids back in the day having an OK time with this one — and indeed, several commenters have confirmed that they did, indeed, have a not-entirely-painful experience playing this game when they were young. Plus, if nothing else, I had an excuse to talk about vintage anime thanks to the game’s origins.

Speaking of which, I considered throwing these snapshots I took in Nakano last week of vintage Obake no Q Taro merchandise into the video:

Those are some hefty prices for a few chunks of painted plastic. They don’t begin to compare to the outlandish premium prices attached to Chubby Cherub, though. The cartridge is trending toward $100, and complete copies have been selling in the $500-1500 range of late. That’s a lot of money to pay for a game that maybe isn’t terrible but definitely isn’t great.

And on that note, thanks once again to Steve Lin for lending me his boxed copy of the game for documentation!

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The sad day that third parties arrived on NES

For the next few weeks, Retronauts Video Chronicles will be mired in October 1986. Although U.S. release dates from the 8- and 16-bit eras have proven to be depressingly vague — we can pin releases to the month, and not always accurately, but precise days are out of the question — whichever day in October 1986 saw the American debut of third-party publishers for NES will live in infamy. Until we somehow can narrow that event down to a specific date, though, I’m afraid we simply have to indict the whole month.

Third parties, of course, have proven through the years to be essential to the success and survival of any platform. With the NES, though, that wasn’t a given. The biggest precedents Nintendo had to go by were the terrible impact unregulated third-party releases had on Atari, and the wildly variable quality of Famicom third-party titles in Japan — not exactly the most encouraging standards to work against. Nevertheless, the company decided not to shut down third-party releases for NES but rather to wrangle absolute control over them. It was a bold and daring concept… not entirely without precedent, but certainly something that had never been attempted at the scale and scope Nintendo aspired to.

Obviously, it worked out pretty well for them. Nintendo is still around today, and the concepts they laid down for third parties continue to serve as the standard for an entire industry. Love it or hate it, licensing under watchful first-party supervision is a fact of video game life these days.

That said, you certainly would not have expected Nintendo and its licensing scheme to have made it this far based on its debut releases. Those first four games to hit the market in the U.S. without the familiar Black Box branding were not good… well, there’s one exception to that, but yeah. Bad times all around. Here’s the first of them, if we’re going by original Japanese release dates: M.U.S.C.L.E. Tag Team Match by TOSE and Bandai. It’s based on the toy line by the same name (and the manga that inspired it), and this game is very much the M.U.S.C.L.E. to Black Box Pro Wrestling‘s G.I. Joe: Simple, primitive, and clumsy. The analogy does break down along the way, I admit. M.U.S.C.L.E. toys possess a certain charm and appeal that the game lacks.

Things would get better from here, but really — not an inspiring proof of concept.

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Don’t let hype happen to you

On July 14, 2016, Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition, a replica NES pre-loaded with thirty games from that system’s library. It was released worldwide throughout November 2016, and then, on April 13, 2017, Nintendo abruptly announced they were ceasing production. For many people, however, this living piece of gaming history might as well never have existed at all.

Fans reacted with immense enthusiasm to Nintendo’s initial reveal. Some were simply eager to revisit some of their favorite games from their childhood—while others, now with children of their own, saw it as a perfect means of weaning the next generation on the classics. Getting decent audiovisual quality from the original hardware is no simple task on a modern display, and emulators and clone consoles, if they’re accurate at all, still lack a certain authenticity. The Classic Edition embodied a more ideal solution: an official product from Nintendo, looking just like a miniaturized version of the real thing, with a curated collection of games built right in. Criticisms such as the lack of expandability for more games were rationalized with assurances that the target demographic wasn’t so much the retro enthusiast but the multitudes of adults who casually experienced the NES back when it was synonymous with video games.

But the Classic Edition never reached such a wide audience. It didn’t even satisfy the ranks of die-hard fans who were ready to open their wallets from the word “go.” Demand was still through the roof when Nintendo pulled the plug last month, and much as been made of whether this was a strategic choice or a blunder and what it means for Nintendo’s fortunes as it moves on. Not much has been said, though, of all the potential customers left in the lurch. To a large extent, their frustration is understood, taken as read—but it warrants some reflection, especially if it can be avoided in the future.

In the weeks leading up to the Classic Edition’s release, retailers warned customers they were expecting shipments in quantities so limited they wouldn’t even be accepting pre-orders. When November came, the situation was perhaps even worse than expected. Stores reported shipments of one or two systems at a time—first come, first serve. Online stores were slammed with activity as they sold out in seconds. It was not unlike Nintendo’s Amiibo, which remained scarce for ages following their release in 2014. This was different, though. This was nostalgia at work. Again, some reasoned they had to do this for their kids. For Christmas! And so they hunted the Classic Edition with all the ferocity their own parents had pursued the red Power Ranger and the Tickle-Me Elmo twenty years prior.

For all but a lucky few, acquiring the Classic Edition required becoming obsessed with it. Determined shoppers had to remain ever vigilant for tips on stores getting stocked, competing not only with fellow hopefuls but also the scalpers looking to flip the hot item for an obscene premium over the sixty-dollar MSRP. Online, they had to try to out-click bots programmed to fill their shopping carts the instant a Classic Edition went up for sale. Maybe they would get lucky enough to Add to Cart and select their shipping address, only to be informed when they tried to pay that it was already gone. Maybe they would show up to Best Buy an hour before opening, only to see the last one go to someone who got there two hours before. If you run in retro circles, you’ve probably heard stories to this effect. This might even have been you.

Christmas came and went, but nothing changed. The mental labor necessary to obtain a simple luxury item wore on people through to April, their acrimony and contempt having long since eclipsed any enjoyment they might have derived from the item itself. Then, without warning, Nintendo closed the book on the NES Classic Edition. Thousands now find themselves at the end of a long journey with nothing to show for it. Cooler heads who decided to wait for demand to die down will probably be waiting forever. Scalper prices will continue to rise (eBay prices this morning hover around two hundred dollars at the lowest, with the more brazen sellers going as high as eight thousand).

Aside from the pundits guessing at the reasoning behind it all, Nintendo themselves have not done much to explain themselves. Company reps have stated in multiple interviews that it was always the plan to discontinue after the holiday season, which—whether it’s true or not—rings awfully false when they never saw fit to mention this before and neglected to follow through until a quarter into 2017. Reggie Fils-Aimé vaguely alluded to Time that “we don’t have unlimited resources,” perhaps corroborating the theory that they killed the Classic Edition to manufacture more Switches. The lack of a reasonable excuse doesn’t help, but for some, no explanation could really make up for the grief they’ve endured.

Some have declared this the “last straw” following any number of perceived boneheaded moves by Nintendo. While these jilted fans may not number enough to affect Nintendo’s bottom line in the future, the evidence certainly shows there are a lot more of them than Nintendo anticipated when they kicked this whole thing off, and they shouldn’t be discounted out of hand. Consider how Capcom is haunted by the negativity surrounding Street Fighter V‘s launch even as they continue to add to the game over a year later, or how Sega came out swinging with the Dreamcast but ultimately couldn’t recover from losing fans’ trust after the mismanaged 32X and Saturn. Bad PR can stick.

After all we’ve been through, though, we shouldn’t come away from this worried for Nintendo’s sake. We would do much better to be concerned for our own mental health as consumers. The sentiment of “shut up and take my money” stems naturally from our love for the medium, and nothing’s wrong with that. But we’re often too quick to buy into and propagate a culture of hype around products that don’t even exist in our hands. “Never again” may in fact be the lesson here, as long as we understand the personal responsibility in learning it. As valid as it is to feel victimized by corporations when our expectations aren’t met, the part we play in sales is, in this case, voluntary, and we can and should fight to resist the siren song of the marketing department. Nintendo is already rumored to unveil a Super NES Classic Edition later this year, and some of the same old marks have vowed to own one by any means necessary. As we’ve just seen, though, “any means necessary” can include a tremendous emotional cost.

So before this happens to you—and especially before this happens to you again—ask yourself if the product really matches the promise. Do you even want the product, or do you just want to be reminded of happier times? Do you really need to own that box with the blue-to-black gradient to enjoy the feeling it inspires? Like Buddha said, suffering stems from desire—especially desiring without receiving. Like Mom said, it’s just stuff.

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A look at that rarest of treats: A classy ROM hack

For this week’s Gintendo stream I finally spent some time with something I’ve been meaning to try out for quite a while, ever since it was released at the beginning of the year: A ROM hack total conversion of the original NES Metroid called Metroid: Rogue Dawn. It turned out to be quite good, with the kind of flow I like in an exploratory game. I don’t know if it was fun to watch, but I spent a lot of time searching for paths forward and accidentally going back the way I had originally come through alternate means before finally stumbling across the proper route. From the hour I’ve played, Rogue Dawn seems designed in a way that almost frustrates but then rewards thoughtful play with a satisfying resolution. I dig it.

I managed to make it just far enough into the hack to finally reach the part that took it beyond a simply facelift and reshuffling of the original game: At the end of the stream, I found an item that adds a new wall-jump mechanic that reminds me a bit of the one in Strider and, natch, Super Metroid. Though it’s much easier to pull off here.

I have been told the final area of the game degenerates into fiddly ROM hack expert-play nonsense, which is a shame, but I’m still intrigued enough by what I’ve played to want to find out for myself. Probably not on a stream, though. As lost as I ended up becoming in this game, I can only assume it’s going to get a lot worse further in, and constantly jabbering about what I’m doing is not really the key to successful concentration in a sprawling video game world. Nevertheless, a pretty solid ROM hack — much better than the innumerable low-quality hacks of yesteryear. Maybe give it a shot for yourself, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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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
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

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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Weirdo shooter Gumshoe represented an end and a beginning for the NES

This week’s Video Chronicles project casts its gaze back to what may well be the most unconventional light gun game ever to appear on NES: Gumshoe.

I really love this game in principle, although I am super terrible at it. It’s such an odd and unusual concept for a Zapper title: An attempt to marry side-scrolling platform game design with a shooting gallery. It almost works, but for its absolutely brutal difficulty level. A little kindness (like, say, removing instant deaths and giving poor Mr. Stevenson a few hit points to soak up unhappy collisions) would have gone a long way. Maybe someday I’ll make it past the first stage… but more likely I’ll go to my grave never having seen level two in the flesh. Alas!

This does bring us, at last, to the end of the NES launch rollout in America, which Nintendo staggered across two phases (October 1985 and June 1986). From here on out, Nintendo will no longer be the only publisher on NES games. And, as denoted by Gumshoe, not every game going forward will necessarily have appeared in Japan first. Unlike the first 25 games for Good Nintentions, Gumshoe never had a Japanese release. Things are a-changin’ in NES land.

But before we get to the arrival of NES third party releases, I think Game Boy World is feeling a little lonely…

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Let’s take on the Plutonium Boss with Gintendo

Blaster Master Zero launched last week for 3DS and Switch, and it’s just lovely. The Retronauts review will be along soon in the form of a lengthy Retronauts Micro episode, but for now let’s mark the occasion by playing the original NES game. Today’s Gintendo stream will happen at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT), and will absolutely not feature me completing this incredibly tough NES game or even making it to the Plutonium Boss.

Heck, I might even run out of continues in the space of an hour. Who knows! So join me on YouTube this afternoon and see what madness transpires.

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