Pacing the Cage

All about old-school video games. Reviews, lists and more.

R.O.B., My Long-Lost Friend

Posted by ptcgaming on June 9, 2009

R.O.B. could have been great, had Nintendo done more for him. (Photo from Wikipedia)

R.O.B. could have been great, had Nintendo done more for him. (Photo from Wikipedia)

R.O.B., Nintendo’s Robotic Operating Buddy, could have very easily been one of the greatest creations in the history of video gaming, unlike NES flops like the Power Glove and U-Force. But the folks at Nintendo forgot to make more than two games for R.O.B. (“Gyromite” and “Stack-Up”), and it went the way of “E.T.” cartridges from the Atari 2600. Of course, none of this might matter today since R.O.B., as well as the NES Zapper, require a CRT-based television to work. This means R.O.B. can’t be your friend on your fancy plasma screen, either.

R.O.B. was the lonely gamers’ friend before the invention of online gaming. He was your buddy before “World of Warcraft” and “SOCOM.” There was no downloadable content in R.O.B.’s world, just you, he, and the old man from “Gyromite.”

So how exactly did R.O.B. function as your gaming friend? Well, that’s easy. In “Gyromite,” R.O.B. used Controller 2 (really), and with your help using Controller 1, he pushed the A and B buttons to move the pillars on the screen. Pretty cool for 1985, huh?

In “Stack-Up,” well, I never played it, so I’m not sure what R.O.B. did for you. I think he helped you match colored blocks or something like that. This game is a rare find in the U.S., anyway.

Today, you can find many R.O.B.s for sale on eBay. It’s a shame so many people want to part ways with this original gaming friend. It’s also a shame Nintendo didn’t do more with this technology. A real working robot that correctly functioned with a home gaming console sounds like a win-win situation to me. But unfortunately this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Then again, once my CRT television set finally dies it won’t matter.

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Posted in Accessories, Famicom, NES, Retro Gaming | 3 Comments »

Retro Game Review: Super Mario Bros.

Posted by ptcgaming on May 30, 2009

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

It's amazing how well this game has stood up to the test of time. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1986 (in North America)
Developer: Nintendo EAD

Background: For more than 20 years, “Super Mario Bros.” has stood up against the test of time as a pioneer of platform gaming. Although it wasn’t the first platforming game, the sequel to 1983’s “Mario Bros.” catapaulted the genre’s popularity. This side-scroller set the precedent for Mario games to come, eventually evolving from 2D to 3D in the 1990s. In the meantime, Mario’s adventures against Bowser and his band of bad guys spanned the likes of not only the NES, but also the Super NES and Game Boy systems. Though other games, even on the NES itself, eventually surpassed SMB’s graphics and simplistic gameplay, the original remains a classic still enjoyed today. If you own a Wii, it’s definitely worth the $5 download.

Graphics: 3/5
I remember the very first time I set my eyes on this game back in the 1980s. I was still a gamer of the classic Atari age and had never seen a game quite as complex. The NES brought top-notch graphics (for the time) to the home console market, and this was eye-candy for gamers. This game’s visuals surprisingly held up well throughout the NES’ lifespan. This game was greatly detailed for its time.

Sound: 3/5
Aside from the several sound effects throughout Mario and Luigi’s adventure, there are five man songs that play during the game. And when the timer falls below 100, the tempo picks up. The main theme is still popular, so much I know people who have it in their list of cell phone ring tones.

Controls: 4/5
Like I said earlier, I was an Atari gamer until this time. So the concept of a D-pad and two face buttons was quite complex to me. But this dynamic (at the time) control scheme was an awesome discovery. Even today, the NES’ now-simplistic controls make this game easy to enjoy.

Gameplay: 4/5
I’d like to say this game is difficult for me, but it really isn’t. I’ve completed the first quest and others that follow on several occasions. But this game is still fun, and the fact this one can be quickly completed makes it ideal for those times when I only have a small window for gaming. Gameplay is simple: run right, jump on enemies, jump on the flag. Yet somehow it’s still fun.

Overall: 3.5/5
Anyone who has ever played SMB knows why this game’s a classic and why it has stood up for so many years. With its simplistic gameplay but perfect level of difficulty for the casual gamer, SMB remains a staple in the classic gaming world.

Posted in NES, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Retro Game Review: Final Soldier

Posted by ptcgaming on May 12, 2009

If you like scrolling space shooters, I'd certainly give this one a try. Until recently, you couldn't find it in North America.

If you like scrolling space shooters, I'd certainly give this one a try. Until recently, you couldn't find it in North America.

Platform: PC Engine
Released: 1991
Developer: Hudson Soft

Background:“Final Soldier” was the third game in the series that originated with the classic “Star Soldier” but wasn’t the final game in the series. It was only released for the PC Engine, the Japanese version of NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. However, it was released as an “import” title on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console in North America in 2008. It follows the same vertically-scrolling formula other shooters in the series have.

Graphics: 3.75/5
This game looks sharp overall, but the overlapping in-game text looks blurry. Also, your ship doesn’t look nearly as good as some of the larger enemies you confront, as you can see from the screenshot above.

Sound: 2/5
While the in-game music is catchy, it and the common sound effects you hear sound quite generic. You could pretty much lay them on top of any space shooter and not be able to tell the difference.

Controls: 3.5/5
Nothing special to it, really, since the PC Engine controller only featured a D-pad and two fire buttons. If you have this downloaded to your Wii, though, I’d recommend using the Classic Controller. The left analog stick is ideal for games like this and much better than using the D-pad.

Gameplay: 3.5/5
One of the great things about this game is you can customize how your weapon upgrades work. Most upgrades (flame, laser, etc.) have multiple ways they can work, which can be accessed from the title screen. There is nonstop action throughout, and this game is pretty challenging, at least to me. The biggest challenge comes after you’ve been killed and have to upgrade your weapons again. Losing a life can throw you off-track and make it more difficult to complete a level.

Overall: 3.2/5
This game’s score is severely hurt by the sound factor, but overall it’s a decent play. It’s definitely a step above the original “Star Soldier,” even though that one’s still a classic to this day. I don’t think “Final Soldier” will ever be held in that high regard, but it’s good to finally be able to play it on this side of the Pacific.

Posted in Japanese games, PC Engine, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Five quick-hit reviews

Posted by ptcgaming on May 4, 2009

river-raid-atari-26003

“River Raid” (Atari 2600/1982/Activision)
Overall score: 3.5
“River Raid” to this day is one of my favorite Atari 2600 games. The graphics are outstanding for that console, the sound is exceptional and having to worry about refueling adds an extra challenge. Too bad that challenge gets a bit repetitive after awhile.

bases-loaded

“Bases Loaded” (NES/1988/Jaleco-TOSE)
Overall score: 4
“Tecmo Baseball” and “RBI Baseball” might come close, but this was the best baseball franchise on the NES. The TV-camera batter/pitcher screen and great animation (including the “phantom glove” catcher) were great, as was the speech (any spoken dialogue was a gift on the NES). But am I the only one who thought this game was pretty tough?

keith-courage

“Keith Courage in Alpha Zones” (TurboGrafx-16/1989/Hudson Soft)
Overall score: 2

Even fantastic 16-bit graphics couldn’t prevent this from being the worst pack-in game for any console – ever. While the graphics are great, the music on this Mario/Zelda/Gundam hybrid is too repetitive, and the gameplay is boring. There are some really good titles for the unappreciated (in North America) TG-16, but this sure isn’t one of them.

f-zero1

“F-Zero” (Super NES/1991/Nintendo EAD)
Overall score: 3.5
How they get the screen to keep up while racing that fast is beyond me. Nevertheless, “F-Zero” is fun and challenging at the same time. Of course, it’s best when played with a friend. The controls take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of them you’ll enjoy this one a lot.

madden-931

“John Madden Football ’93” (Sega Genesis/1992/Looking Glass Technologies)
Overall score: 4.5

This is by far my favorite “Madden” ever. I remember the days before passing cones and football IQ, when passing windows ruled the world. I recall some intense Thurman Thomas vs. Barry Sanders battles, diving catches and cheesy touchdown dances. This game even looks great, and the players move and act like real football players do. This is the one game I wish I had held on to over the years. Sadly, I did not.

Posted in Atari, Genesis, Madden, NES, Reviews, SNES, TG16 | Leave a Comment »

The Evolution of Donkey Kong

Posted by ptcgaming on May 1, 2009

Clockwise, from top left: "Donkey Kong" (arcade, 1981); "Donkey Kong Junior" (arcade, 1982); "Donkey Kong 64" (N64, 1999); and "Donkey Kong Country" (SNES, 1994)
Clockwise, from top left: “Donkey Kong” (arcade, 1981); “Donkey Kong Junior” (arcade, 1982); “Donkey Kong 64” (N64, 1999); and “Donkey Kong Country” (SNES, 1994)

 

For the man responsible for such series as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Star Fox,” it all started with a carpenter, a damsel in distress and a very large ape. “Donkey Kong” (1981) was Shigeru Miyamoto’s first video game creation, one that has spawned several sequels and remains a Nintendo staple even today.
The premise of the original “Donkey Kong” was simple: Donkey Kong kidnapped a woman (now known as Pauline), and it was up to a carpenter named Jumpman (now known as a plumber named Mario) to save her. Two sequels were spun off the original: 1982’s “Donkey Kong Junior,” still to this day the only video game where Mario plays the villain, and 1983’s “Donkey Kong 3,” a game more practice for the Orkin Man than a platformer (You actually have to spray bugs with bug spray).
There was then a lull in new DK video game production until 1994, when “Donkey Kong Country” was released for the Super NES. DKC was the first game in the series not produced or directed by Miyamoto (it was developed by video game developer Rare), but was still revolutionary in its use of pre-rendered 3D graphics. Also, the series took on a new format by switching from a static-screen design to side-scrolling levels, more along the lines of the “Super Mario Bros.” series.
In 1999, Rare released “Donkey Kong 64” for the Nintendo 64, a full-3D platformer similar to “Super Mario 64.” This was the first game to require the N64’s Expansion Pak, which provided more RAM for enhanced graphics and environments.
In between DKC and DK64, several other titles in the series were released for both consoles and handhelds, including: “Donkey Kong Country 2” (1995); “Donkey Kong Land” (1995); “Donkey Kong Country 3” (1996); “Donkey Kong Land 2” (1996); “Donkey Kong Land 3” (1997); and “Diddy Kong Racing” (1997).

Posted in Arcade, Evolution, Game Boy, N64, SNES | 1 Comment »

Bad camera! Go to your room!

Posted by ptcgaming on April 30, 2009

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level?

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level? (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

I recently purchased and downloaded  a copy of “Super Mario 64” to my Nintendo Wii. I remembered playing the original on an actual Nintendo 64 console, and I even own the updated DS version, which isn’t as fun without an analog stick for control. So I almost immediately booted the game up and began playing, and less than five minutes into it I was reminded of a harsh reality.

The camera on this game is really bad.

That’s right, I’m looking at you, Lakitu Cam. You shifty, unpredictable little turtle, you. While this game originally received high marks overall, this quirky camera style was the one thing many reviewers were critical of. It moves, shifts, zooms and rotates on whim while you’re moving, and there’s no telling what it’s going to do next.

Seriously. I ran up the same ramp 10 times once, and the camera angle was different almost every time. This is great when you’re trying to move across a narrow bridge, jump over an opening or complete one of those linear levels scattered throughout the game. And switching to the first-person “Mario” camera angle doesn’t help either, because even though it stays directly behind you, it zooms in close to, well, Mario’s behind.

Fortunately the camera issue was fixed by the time “Super Mario Galaxy” was released on the Wii.

Now don’t think I’m just picking on “Mario 64,” because this is truly a great game. I don’t know how good or bad the other console versions are, but the camera on the GameCube version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is even worse. In some places where Harry is shimmying across a ledge against a wall, if you recenter the camera for a better view all you see is the back of the wall. And in some places the camera can’t even keep up with Harry, kind of like in those old “Sonic the Hedgehog” games where Sonic would either run or jump out of the screen because he was too fast.

It is true that a bad camera can ruin a game. The Lakitu Cam tends to give me a headache after a while, and it frustrates me when a bad camera angle causes me to fall in a hole or miss a jump. Fortunately, Nintendo seems to have seen the error of its ways and fixed the problem.

Thanks, guys. You saved me from a recurring headache.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a Comment »

Legend of the static arcade screen

Posted by ptcgaming on April 28, 2009

When you played games like "Galaxian," this is what you got: A single screen where all the action takes place. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

When you played games like "Galaxian," this is what you got: A single screen where all the action takes place. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the age of “Pac-Man” or the Atari 2600, the concept of all the action in a video game taking place on a single, static screen might sound strange. But if it weren’t for “Donkey Kong,” you might have never had “Super Mario Bros.” With no “Space Invaders,” “Galaxian” or “Asteroids,” you might have never had “Star Fox.” And without “Frogger” you might have never had, well, a dozen or more ports, copies or clones of “Frogger.”

Truth be told, many of the most famous (and even hardest) video games and franchises ever developed began as a game on a static screen. In “Donkey Kong,” you controlled Jumpman as he attempted to rescue the heroine from the giant ape’s clutches. Jumpman eventually became Mario, with a color palette swap his brother Luigi was born, and the rest is video game history.

“Pac-Man” was a staple in the 1980s, and anyone who watches “Seinfeld” reruns knows the importance of having the highest score in “Frogger.” (Just a side note: You couldn’t actually enter your initials on the high score list, and George’s score was way more than the actual “Frogger” world record.)

Sadly, I think that over the years these games have become less appreciated. High-end graphics, enhanced sound and universal controllers have put these games on the back burner. I do wish today’s gamer could experience the challenge of “Joust” or what Mario was like when he was just a plumber clearing out the sewers of New York City. I stayed up late many nights playing home console versions of static-screen staples such as “Space Invaders,” “Galaxian,”  “Donkey Kong Jr.” and “Centipede,” among others. And it was great, even without the 3D graphics and surround sound.

Posted in Arcade, Retro Gaming | Leave a Comment »

Do you miss the arcade?

Posted by ptcgaming on April 23, 2009

The lines to play "Street Fighter II" at the arcade were usually pretty long. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

The lines to play "Street Fighter II" at the arcade were usually pretty long. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

I remember many moons ago, while growing up, how every shopping mall had an arcade. There was even at one time a standalone arcade in the town I lived in. There was wall-to-wall video games and pinball machines (you know, those things young kids say grandpa played).  I remember lines waiting for turns at machines, and how you put your quarters on the console shelf to proclaim “I got next.”

Sadly, those days are just about gone, at least where I live. While the local movie theater has a few games, the nearest “arcade” is in one of those arcade/pizza party/goofy golf-type places a half-hour away. And I’d have to purchase a movie ticket to even have access to the mini-arcade at the theater!

So my question to you today is “Do you miss the arcade?” Answer the poll below, and leave any additional comments in the “Comments” area.

Posted in Arcade | 1 Comment »

Retro Game Review: Tomb Raider

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released.

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Sony PlayStation
Released: 1996
Developer: Core Design

Background:Ah, Lara Croft with guns, guns and more guns. Lara’s first foray into the “Tomb Raider” series was quite the spectacle when first released, sending the heroine into the depths of massive caves, underwater and of course into tombs. This was also one of the only games to ever care the you-know-what out of me on a few occasions. While “Tomb Raider” looks primitive compared to more recent additions (including a remake of this one), it was indeed something, well, different. Not too many games featured gun-toting women as the main character, which may have been a big draw for, um, male gamers.

Graphics: 3.5/5
As far as the original PlayStation’s capabilities go, there are some games that do indeed look better than this. And while Lara might look a little “square,” many of the enemies, especially the wild animals, look pretty realistic. One complaint, though, would be how many of the wall textures blend together, sometimes making it hard to see whether or not there’s an opening ahead.

Sound: 4/5
The voice acting is clear, but the repeated grunting when you climb something can get old. Most of the voice acting is done during the cutscenes, which is just about the only time Lara comes in contact with humans (the NATLA villains, specifically) other than a few random sequences during gameplay. The music is well-done, but you’re sure to know when trouble is ahead. That’s when the “trouble ahead” music starts.

Controls: 3.5/5
For having to move Lara around with a digital D-pad, the controls work, well,they’re OK. Your thumb might start to hurt after moving her around for more than an hour at a time, because using the D-pad isn’t nearly as fluid as using an analog stick. And the developers at Core made sure you have to use every single button on the controller, since they each do something different.

Gameplay: 4/5
This game is a lot of fun (Play it in the dark. That adds some suspense). Lara automatically aims at her nearest foe, which is great for run-and-gun action. Solving puzzles slows the game down a little, but not nearly as much as you’d think. The story is pretty straightforward, and you’ll figure out what’s going on after just a couple cutscenes. But that’s not what makes the game.

Overall: 3.75/5
You’d be hard up to find anyone who played this game and didn’t like it. I remember there being this argument about whether “Tomb Raider” was in fact better than “Resident Evil.” I’m not sure which is better, especially since they have different game tempos. But one thing’s for sure – this is a game that fired off several more additions and two full-length feature films, the first of which wasn’t all that bad. Now that’s something you don’t hear every day.

Posted in PlayStation, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Star Fox 64

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws.

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws. (Screenshot from neoseeker.com)

Platform: Nintendo 64
Released: 1997
Developer:Nintendo EAD

Background:The original Star Fox for the Super NES pushed the envelope for home console gaming (For more on that. click here). So, Shigeru Miyamoto decided to push the envelope with Star Fox again, this time on the Nintendo 64 console. While the game at its core is a 64-bit remake of the original, it’s just as revolutionary. With outstanding graphics and sound, this is definitely a must-play for N64 console owners and Wii owners willing to drop a bargain bin price of 10 bucks to download it off the Virtual Console.

Graphics: 5/5
If there’s one thing Nintendo’s developers have been good at over the years, it’s being able to take an already great concept and make it even better. Just take a look at the graphical improvements from “Super Mario 64” to “Ocarina of Time” to “Majora’s Mask” and you’ll see what I mean. Star Fox 64 is no different. The graphics are better than even SM64, which has been hailed as one of the greatest games ever. The 3D universe is more vibrant and vivid than ever, and there are not any very noticeable glitches in what you see. Everything is so fluid it’s hard to imagine you’re playing a video game released more than a decade ago.

Sound: 4.75/5
Best voice acting on a cartridge-based game. Ever. And that’s saying a lot since the Neo Geo was pretty good with sound, too. All the voices are extremely clear (A big chunk of space on the cartridge went toward sound). But I knocked a small chunk off the score because after a while the things they repeatedly say get a little annoying.

Controls: 2.5/5
The problem I have isn’t with the buttons. It’s with the analog stick controls that pilot your Arwing. They’re much too sensitive, and quite often I catch myself burying the nose into the ground because of the smallest movement.

Gameplay: 3/5
Part of the drop in points has to do with how the sensitive controls affect gameplay. And I’ve read a lot of reviews that say the game’s very easy and very short, which must mean I’m pretty bad at it. I find it quite difficult. Of course, I only have time to play it for a few minutes at a time, so I haven’t had much practice with it. It is a fun game, though, just tough.

Overall: 3.81/5
Don’t get me wrong, this a great game. It’s a step above the original SNES version, which says a lot. It’s beautiful to look at and hear, but it’s not without its quirks. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in rail shooters, because you won’t be disappointed.

Posted in N64, Reviews | Leave a Comment »