Tag Archives: nintendo

Celebrate Valentine’s with gaming’s original couple (almost)

This week’s Video Chronicles feature couldn’t have been timed more fittingly, although I admit the scheduling was nothing more than a coincidence: Popeye for NES, wherein a mumbling spinach junkie attempts to rescue his lady love from the burliest of competing suitors. If things had gone as originally intended, though, this game might have been something completely different; Donkey Kong would have been a Popeye game, making Popeye and Olive Oyl gaming’s original romantic couple… and also meaning Mario would never have existed. Now there’s an alternate timeline worth contemplating.

Playing Popeye for this production gave me a better appreciation of the game. I’ve always considered it a lesser work by Nintendo, but it’s better than I’d originally given it credit for. Not a timeless great, certainly, but decently ambitious.

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Donkey Kong Jr. arrives fashionably late to Good Nintentions

Tuesday is normally Video Chronicles Day, but this week I’m on Japan time. Which means… this should have been up on Monday, not Thursday. Well, I’m also on jet lag time, as well as really nasty cold time. So… just forgive me this one scheduling glitch.

My hope is that you’ll find the quality of the content justifies the delay:

We’re just about through the NES debuts of all of Famicom’s launch-day titles, and also just about through the NES Donkey Kong trilogy. While this is all pretty well-trodden territory, you’ll be pining for the delightful excellence of the Donkey Kong series once we hit Urban Champion. Mark my words.

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Virtual Console: (Culture) Brain dump

Today was one of those rare days when Nintendo put not one, not two, but three Wii U Virtual Console games up for download at once. That’s unusual in itself, but what makes this especially strange is that all three were NES games that have never before appeared on Virtual Console. With only a handful of exceptions, such as EarthBound Beginnings, NES Virtual Console games on Wii U have been retreads of games that previously showed up on Wii and/or 3DS. The new Wii U material has largely focused on Game Boy Advance and DS titles, with the vast majority of NES and Super NES games putting in repeat appearances. Getting three never-before-VC’d games at once is pretty wild.

All three titles, as it happens, hail from the same developer and publisher: Culture Brain. You may remember Culture Brain from my having mentioned them in pejorative terms in our look at crummy boom-era Famicom developers. You may also recall that Frank Cifaldi stood up for them. And, in fairness, I was really just salty because my most recent Culture Brain experience had been the absolutely execrable Ninja Boy for Game Boy:

And maybe that wasn’t fair, because there was definitely more to Culture Brain’s output than that one game. You wouldn’t know it from today’s Virtual Console launches, though. Two of today’s three releases are directly related to Ninja Boy. Kung-Fu Heroes, known as Super Chinese in Japan, kicked off the series, and the Game Boy title covered above was practically a low-grade port of that release (Super Chinese Land in Japan). Little Ninja Bros. is its sequel, Super Chinese 2. Now, I’m told that later games in the Super Chinese/Little Ninja Boy franchise were a lot better than the terrible impression its Game Boy entry left me with, but I’m loathe to take the chance. I suppose I must, however… for science.

I’m more fascinated by Culture Brain’s late entry into the Virtual Console scene. The company made its debut last summer, marking the first time a new publisher had pushed out anything for VC in years. Four years, maybe? Virtual Console in the post-Wii era has been a dwindling marketplace occupied entirely by Nintendo and about half a dozen publishers (Capcom, Jaleco, Natsume, Konami, Hamster, and a few others). It’s really weird to see new blood enter the marketplace… especially such a minor blip of a company. When was the last time you even heard Culture Brain mentioned, outside of that Famicom boom episode a few months back? I’ve heard that publishers and games only appear on Virtual Console when Nintendo actively seeks them out, which (if true) means that of all the game makers in the world, Nintendo decided to go after a minor Japanese publisher whose last new releases happened during the Nintendo 64 era. It’s weird, man.

(Today’s third game was Flying Warriors, an ambitious, multi-format, sentai-inspired brawling action game. It’s a little rough in places, but it sure beats Ninja Boy.)

On the plus side, this does mean we’ll probably eventually get to Culture Brain’s crown jewel, the innovative and memorable RPG/adventure/action game Magic of Scheherazade. Well, maybe. There’s a pretty solid chance Virtual Console for Wii U will die instantly once Switch launches a few weeks from now and we’ll have to start over from scratch. Ah, the wonders of Virtual Console.

Speaking of Virtual Console, I have penned a piece for USgamer that lays out what little we know about the service’s plans for the upcoming Switch console, and what we’d ideally like to see. I may have used this week’s games as an example of what not to do, but in fairness, that didn’t have anything to do with Culture Brain; it was all about the gawdawful NES emulation on Wii U.

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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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Retronauts Micro #053: Donkey Kong’s Day in Court

For this week’s Retronauts Micro episode, I’ve formally visited a topic that’s popped up on the show from time to time, but which we’ve never discussed in any real depth. It’s been pretty well documented over the past decade that Donkey Kong — the arcade version, that is — was co-created by a third party, and this knowledge has led to speculation that the original coin-op game never shows up as an archived release due to this legal dispute.

While no new information has actually emerged since the Game Developers Research Institute posted its write-up of the situation about five or six years ago, with this episode I’ve attempted to put together a “what we know” synopsis that contextualizes the few hard facts that have emerged with some valuable context… including Nintendo’s reliance on outside contractors in its early video game days, and the uncertainty of copyright law as concerned game code back at the time of Donkey Kong‘s debut. Hopefully you’ll find it enlightening — and if not, well, you can look forward to next week’s episode, wherein we have an actually listenable conversation about Sonic the Hedgehog. For once.

Episode description: Enjoy this delightful yarn about the legal wrangling over the matter of Donkey Kong’s true parents. Is Shigeru Miyamoto really his dad? And who has custody over this simian tyke, anyway?

Libsyn (14:42 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

Remember that this rad show is made possible by a communal cash infusion through Patreon! (We’re not greedy, we’re just game journalists who can’t afford to create a high-grade cross-country podcast out of pocket.)

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HAL

EPSON MFP image

Oh dog dang it, I knew I forgot something yesterday. Hello! Here is the latest Retronauts, being posted here on the blog. I was so busy trying to get the advance episode prepped I totally overlooked our public-facing side. I am a monster.

Anyway, the nice thing about Retronauts is that it’s not really timely per se, so this episode will be every bit as valid and relevant today as it was yesterday. This week’s show is a follow-up to the PlayStation anniversary episode from last summer… the one where we learned of Satoru Iwata’s passing in the middle of the recording session and promised to circle back to HAL, the studio he helped build, helped save, and which helped him become Nintendo’s president for the company’s most successful and profitable run in its history.

Joining us this week, we have regular contributors Henry Gilbert of the Laser Time Podcast Network and Christian Nutt of Gamasutra. They know stuff.

Download Links

Libsyn (1:26:01) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud

Episode Description

Jeremy, Bob, Henry Gilbert, and Christian Nutt convene to look back at the history of HAL Laboratory in tribute to the late Satoru Iwata.

Enjoy the episode! Even though it’s late!

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EMERGENCY ORDER: Retronauts Vol. IV Episode 56

micro 29 cover

Like the video games industry itself, the Retronauts podcast is in a period in which new content is hard to come by as we instead favor sequels and remakes. Take this episode as case-in-point: We’re revisiting the Metroid series from way, way, way back in the early 1UP days. Our old friend Jose Otero joins us for this journey into the past… which was recorded long in the past, actually. Back before E3. We’re not entirely sure why it’s taken so long to get this show posted, but it’s fine! All that’s happened with Metroid since then is the announcement of a spinoff that made people terribly, terribly angry. And that’s not what this episode is about. This one’s about positivity and happiness. So enjoy, a pray for a true peace in space.

Download Links

Libsyn (1:40:42 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud | Subscribe on iTunes! Support us on Patreon!)

Episode Description

Jeremy, Bob, and IGN’s Jose Otero revisit a subject dear to their hearts: Nintendo’s Metroid series. It’s the only Metroid podcast in 2015 that does’t complain about Federation Force! (Because it was recorded before E3.)

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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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