Tag Archives: nes

The leader of the Kong bunch: A Donkey Kong retrospective

In the course of my chronological console library video projects, there are certain Big Ones: Games that carry considerable weight, whether that’s historic or merely psychological. This week’s Good Nintentions tackles a game that possesses both kinds of weight: The original Donkey Kong.

This video is ostensibly about the NES version of the game, but in practice I barely even touch on that adaptation. There’s a great deal to be said about Donkey Kong, and I tried to say as much as I could here. The NES version analysis will have to wait until next week’s episode, I’m afraid.

I’ve written quite a lot about Donkey Kong over the years, and I’m perfectly happy to make this video retrospective a sort of final statement on the subject. It probably won’t be, but it could be, is what I’m saying. Anyway, please enjoy.

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Go go go! It’s… Mach Rider

Today’s a Tuesday, which means it’s (1) the day Bison visits Chun-Li’s village and (2) the day a new episode of Good Nintentions Retronauts Video Chronicles goes live. This time around, it’s a look at Mach Rider for NES:

Like Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Mach Rider exists in a state of quantum actual-release-date flux. Nintendo says it launched one date (Oct. 1985); every other source from the time says it launched considerably later (anywhere from March to August 1986). So, I’ve grouped it with Math as a provisional 1986 release and called it a day.

For the most part, this video focuses on the game’s design and how its racing tech (and uncredited development staff) appears to tie it to an older Famicom game that never shipped in the U.S.: F1 Race, which like Mach Rider was co-developed by HAL. Everything I’ve come up with is, unfortunately, speculative, but it’s not difficult to connect the dots and see how one game might have served as the foundation for the other, given the common staff, similar tech, and seemingly U.S.-oriented aesthetics and design of this game.

As for Mach Rider itself, it’s decent enough. I’ve never been able to find much to love about it myself, but I came into it later. I imagine it was probably a heck of a showcase for the console’s capabilities back in 1986. The game moves fast when you’re in 4th gear… maybe too fast. The lack of any actual scaling technology in the NES hardware means that obstacles on the road become extremely hazardous due to positional ambiguity. It becomes difficult to judge how far away objects are from you and where on the road they actually lie, laterally speaking. It feels kind of shabby to criticize the game, though — this was an early NES game running on bare hardware with no cartridge enhancements, and while it’s certainly no Out Run, it’s an impressive example of what the most accomplished NES programmers could achieve without add-on aids. That it’s ultimately only so-so as a game puts it in good company with far less spectacular-looking releases of the era; at least this one has visual pizzazz going for it.

And a brazen Rush reference. That counts for a lot, in my book.

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Donkey Kong Jr. Math and the platonic ideal

I’m not sure that anyone has ever used the terms “Donkey Kong Jr. Math” and “platonic ideal” in the same sentence before, but we like to do things differently around here. DK Jr. Math, as I mentioned a few posts down, was the subject of this week’s Good Nintentions video:

…and, while there’s not really all that much to celebrate about the game itself, this coverage really does embody the essence of what I’ve been working toward with projects like Good Nintentions and Game Boy World. By no means is this the first video anyone has ever produced about the game, nor even the first video that consists of more than just ranty swearing about how terrible it is. That part isn’t particularly unique.

Nah, it’s all the other stuff that comes along with the video that makes it (in my opinion) worthwhile: The post at the Good Nintentions site that contains a revised version of the video script, direct feed screenshots, and — happily — lots of photos of the game’s packaging. Since the complete physical edition of DK Jr. Math now sells for as much as $1500 — almost double the $800 it was selling for when I began accumulating material for Good Nintentions two years ago! — this is a pretty hard-to-come by set. Having it documented this way at least provides a decent record of the game and its packaging materials, courtesy of generous collector/friend of Retronauts Steven Lin, who very trustingly lent his copy to me to be photographed. Eventually, high-resolution versions of all of this photography will go into another Good Nintentions book, and there’s something about print that makes material like this real. A permanent record, I suppose.

And that’s really what I’m after with these documentary projects: To get as much material as possible into a single place as comprehensively as I can. I’ve been doing the best I can in my spare time, but now that Retronauts and the documentary video ventures are becoming a primary concern, I’m excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish. I just hope we’ll be able to track down the box to Fish Dude one of these days…

The one down side is that every time I hit a sort of goal or target, I realize there’s even more that can be done. For instance: Since documenting the box for DK Jr. Math, I’ve gotten my hands on a much nicer camera and invested some Patreon money into a rather pricey but incredibly worth-it high-speed macro lens — a combo that does much better justice to these artifacts. But now I feel like I need to do a bunch of reshoots. It never ends.

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Good Nintentions: New season, new theme

As foretold by the prophets — or rather, profits — you can expect daily blog postings here at retronauts.com going forward. Let’s go!

The first episode of Good Nintentions 1986 goes live shortly, which is something that merits a mention here now that (1) Good Nintentions falls under the Retronauts banner and (2) we’ve cleared the “daily blog post” Patreon goal. (Please forgive my shameless promotion of this link now that it determines my livelihood.)

Good Nintentions 1986 kicks off with, sadly, a look at the misbegotten Donkey Kong Jr. Math. As usual, I’ve tried to set this season apart from the others with a distinct YouTube thumbnail. (Yes, I realize that for maximum YouTube popularity my thumbnails should feature a photo of myself, screaming with rage or looking otherwise stupefied about the topic in question.)

Since Good Nintentions 1986 will culminate with the release of the NES’s first worthwhile third-party release, I wanted the thumbnail theme to reflect that climactic journey. And since that game in question was Konami’s Gradius, I decided to echo Konami’s iconic NES box art:

And finally, because the heart of a graphic designer still beats within my chest from time to time, I’ve used ITC’s Eras for the thumbnail font, reflecting the typography Konami used inside its NES manuals. No, shut up, you’re a nerd.

Honestly, those boxes still look great. The silver overlay with that distinctive gradient stripe — I’m not really sure how else to describe it! — would work just as well as a branding scheme today as it did in the ’80s (even if the use of actual hand-painted art pegs this as a work of a bygone era). Ah, if only Konami still made video games…

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Gravity is rad, and reversed, in the latest Retronauts Micro

Heigh ho everybody, and welcome once again to the Retronauts show! We’ve got a real corker this wee— aw, OK, it’s just another off-week Micro episode. On the plus side, I’ve decided to ditch my boring one-man-show approach to Micros and bring other people into the conversation, which should be a relief to everyone. To kick things off this week, we have Sam Claiborn from IGN in the studio to enthuse over classic NES mech platformer Metal Storm for a few minutes with me.

Metal Storm is one of those games that plays better in person than it does via audio — it’s a brief and fairly simple game, and its appeal comes from the way it pushes the NES hardware, and from the way its mechanics turn a straightforward five-stage platform shooter into a dense, nail-biting challenge. The game’s central premise (you can invert gravity while in mid-air) demands a higher standard of level design than the usual NES fare, and every screen of Metal Storm stands out as a sort of inventive action puzzle… without being an actual puzzle game. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of those in my Game Boy adventures, and this ain’t one.

The biggest downside to Metal Storm is that you’re not going to be able to find a cartridge-only copy of the game for less than $100 unless you get really lucky. It’ll never show up on a download service, either, because publisher Irem ditched gaming altogether and, last I’d read, had delisted all its games from PSN and Virtual Console. This is why classic video game is so darned stupid most of the time.

Download Links

Libsyn (13:02, 9.4 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud

Thanks to Sam for dropping by, and I’ll be playing the game on a live stream later this week via USgamer. So you can check it out that way if you’re curious about Metal Storm but too lazy (or scrupulous!) to emulate it.

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Episode 51: An oral history of the NES

episode 51 cover

Hi kids, sorry this episode is a day late going up here on the ol’ blog. I ended up folding this Retronauts into a not-so-coincidentally timed USgamer cover story, because it dovetailed so well with that feature. But of course, you cool people are all subscribed to our podcast feed or back us on Patreon, right? So you’ve already listened to this episode and the post here is a mere formality, I’m sure.

Anyway! This episode covers a topic near and dear to everyone’s heart, I have no doubt: The U.S. launch of the NES. Yeah, we talked about the system’s Japanese debut waaaay back in Season III Episode 1, but this is (1) a different facet of the console’s life, and (2) this episode features and entirely different cast of expert opinions. And I do mean expert! Guests this time around:

  • Frank Cifaldi, now of Digital Eclipse and once and former Retronauts co-host (returning at long last to the show, although we actually have already recorded an episode with him that simply has yet to be published);
  • Steve Lin, who does work in the media but has a remarkable collection not just of classic games but also of the sort of valuable historical ephemera that no one else really keeps up with—flyers, ads, and even more esoteric and cool stuff (as you’ll hear in this episode);
  • Gary Butterfield of Watch Out for Fireballs, returning guest with lots of brilliant insights into classic NES games;
  • and Bob Mackey, obviously. I mean, come on.

Sadly I wasn’t able to wrangle everyone into a single room, because this was recorded guerrilla style at Portland Retro Gaming Expo last weekend. Instead, the episode features a series of one-on-one conversations between myself and each guest. I think this format works a little better for Micros, but it’s still a pretty good episode, with lots of great insights and anecdotes from each participant. I apologize for the occasional overlap in my own remarks… kind of hard to avoid that given the nature of the show. But if you can bear with the occasional rehashed remark, I think you’ll find lots to enjoy here. So, please do enjoy.

Download Links

Libsyn (1:34:26 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud )

Episode Description

Live at Portland Retro Gaming Expo, Jeremy speaks one-on-one with podcast friends Frank Cifaldi, Gary Butterfield, Steve Lin, and of course our own Bob Mackey about the weekend’s big commemorative event: The NES’s 30th anniversary.

And please, for the love of all that’s good, be sure to check out my Masayuki Uemura profile/NES retrospective/expanded oral history cover story at USgamer. As I said on Twitter, I’ve written a lot about the NES over the years (A LOT), but this is by far the single best piece I’ve ever put together. If this thing doesn’t get 100,000 views, it’s because the world is a cold and empty shell of bitter regrets that deserves to explode. So be sure to share the link with your friends, for the benefit of all life on this planet.

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By request, we explore the Chrongaming mini-craze

So, I feel that it’s really important to preface this post with the disclaimer that this episode is a Kickstarter backer request (one of the last in the slushpile). I mention this because otherwise this episode will seem almost offensive self-indulgent and navel-gazing. While many Kickstarter backers requested we tackle one of a variety of episode topics, Sean Clements had but one demands: Talk about chrongaming.

Chrongaming, of course, would be the practice of exploring a console’s entire library in chronological order; the best-known venture out there is Dr. Sparkle‘s Chrontendo, which catalogs the history of Nintendo’s NES/Famicom in exhaustive detail. So of course we asked the good doctor to join us again, following on from his appearance in our very first Kickstarted episode. (Although as we learn here, Dr. Sparkle calls it “chronogaming,” not “chrongaming.” Live and learn, Sean!) Less famous, but rather closer to home, is my very own Game Boy World project, which aims to do the same thing as Chrontendo, except for the Game Boy platform, which is much less popular as a retrogaming topic than the NES. Even Dr. Sparkle wanted nothing to do with it!

So, needless to say, it’s the two of us and Bob jabbering about our own work for 80 minutes. Or airing out our sick personal obsessions, if you prefer. My apologies to all, but the people demanded it. Or at least one person. The tyranny of crowdfunding, eh?

Can a podcast be self-indulgent if the topic was provided by someone else? The famous Dr. Sparkle joins us to fulfill Sean Clements’ Kickstarter topic request: Chrongaming. Join us as we psychoanalyze our own obsessive-compulsive behavior!

Listen or download here:

Libsyn (1:52:00 | MP3 Download) | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes | RSS | Support the show on Patreon

Music in the episode comes from NES “brototype” game Shatterhand, which I’ve never really played… but damn does that soundtrack rock.

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Retronauts Micro 009, the Kuros for What Ails Ya

EPSON MFP image

Greetings and welcome to a thrilling new week… oh, wait, it’s Wednesday. Never mind.

Sorry for the delay on this episode, but the first version I recorded for this one didn’t turn out very well — my audio setup hadn’t been fine-tuned yet to my new office. So I made the executive decision to delay it and re-record it with a proper setup. Hopefully it was worth the wait.

Just kidding, it wasn’t worth the wait. This is a Micro episode, so no one’s really champing at the bit for it. But this is pretty much the definitive sort of Micro episode — it follows up on last week’s full episode to look with a bit more depth at a game we brushed on in passing, but which deserves more attention. Wizards & Warriors isn’t one of Rare’s most beloved classics, but the games hold a sort of unique place in the company’s history: They were among their first attempts to get their bearings on both NES and Game Boy, where they stood as pioneers leading other Western developers onto the promised land of Nintendo licensing. That makes these games pretty noteworthy, in my book.

This week’s show description:

After last week’s in-depth blowout on Rare, Jeremy pauses to look briefly at one of the company’s most significant yet underappreciated creations: 1987’s Wizards & Warriors for NES.

Listen to or grab it here:

Libsyn (1:49:23 | MP3 Download) | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes | RSS | Support the show on Patreon

Next week, we’ll be back with a standard full-length episode. Probably on time, too!

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What a horrible night to have Retronauts Pocket Episode 25

Our current run of Retronauts is winding down, and this marks my last stint in the hosting chair for this season. After venturing out into the terrifying world of unfamiliar UK games from the ’80s last week, I felt compelled to scurry back to the comforting embrace of the familiar this time around. Yes, it’s a return to that most abused and tired of classic Retronauts topics, Castlevania.

Pocket 25 cover

Since all those old episodes have long since vanished into the ether, we figured, “Why not?” We’ll almost certainly be revisiting topics from the older, now-missing seasons of Retronauts in the next phase of the show. Consider this a sort of warning shot, I suppose.

Not really much to say here except that the music is from the Akumajou Dracula MIDI Collection album, and also thanks! It’s been an interesting and sometimes challenging run fielding your various topic requests, and I hope you’ve enjoyed what we’ve put together over the past year. Thank you for your support, and I’m sure you’ll hear me stambling my way through hosting duties again in the not-too-distant future.

A buffet of download options awaits you!

Direct download (MP3) | SoundCloud | RSS
Please subscribe to and review us on the iTunes Store because, eh, why not.
You can also listen right here on this very blog post if you prefer:

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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.

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