Pacing the Cage

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Archive for the ‘Retro Gaming’ Category

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 »

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 »

Why you may not have heard of the original Street Fighter

Posted by ptcgaming on December 27, 2008

If you’ve never played (or even heard of) the original “Street Fighter,” you’re not missing much. And yeah, that’s Ryu vs. Sagat, old-school style.

Capcom’s first foray into what would blossom into the explosion of a gaming genre back in 1987 was, well, clunky. That’s the best way I can describe the original “Street Fighter.” By saying it’s “clunky.”

I mean, the controls are about as responsive as a hibernating bear, movements aren’t all that crisp and it’s only enjoyable for long periods of time unless you have this infatuation to play as Ryu all the time, since he’s the main guy you fight with (unless you’re Player 2, then you get to be Ken all the time. And yes, all his moves are the same.

Now don’t get me wrong, this monstrosity introduced us to some SF staples, such as fireballs and such, as well as some other characters that would show their faces in the later “Alpha” series (Sagat is the main boss in the original, by the way. He gets his chest scar here). But “Karate Champ” on the NES was more responsive and perhaps more fun to play. And the only popular non-computer home console it was available on early in its life was the ill-fated TurboCD, which should tell you something. At least the arcade versions graphics look good (pictured above).

The idea of the game was straightforward: Beat everyone up so you can fight Sagat and finish the game. Yep, that’s it. Just like in just about every 2D fighter ever made. Really.

Most of the quirky elements from this game were fortunately fixed by the time “Street Fighter II: The World Warrior” came out. There were more people to fight with, the graphics and music were even better and the controls were much better. But hey, if you want to see Ryu in his red-headed glory, take this little nugget for a spin and see how far Capcom went between “Street Fighter” and its still-popular sequel.

Posted in Retro Gaming | Leave a Comment »

One Sonic, three consoles

Posted by ptcgaming on November 13, 2008

Most people remember Sonic’s maiden voyage on the 16-bit Sega Genesis (left). But the blue blur also staked his claim on the 8-bit Sega Master System and handheld Sega Game Gear (right). There are several differences between the two, but both are solid in their own right.

The year 1991 could be labeled the “Year of Sonic.” It was that we saw the debut of Sega’s new “spokesperson” on not just one console, not two, but three different Sega consoles. After first dipping his toe in the pool that was the Sega Genesis, Sonic took a step back to the 8-bit era with releases for the Sega Master System and portable Game Gear. Although Sonic lost some power in the process, the 8-bit incarnation is still a solid game to play and doesn’t lose much in translation.
Today, I’m going to give a side-by-side comparison of the Genesis and Master System versions of “Sonic the Hedgehog” (the Game Gear version is very similar to the Master System version with a few exceptions). Before I begin, you have to understand that even though they bear the same name, the two titles are quite different. Other than obvious differences in graphics and sound, level designs and bonus stages are different, creating an all-new Sonic experience.
Graphics: The Genesis version features some of the best graphics of the 16-bit era (Sonic 2 pushed the envelope even farther). The 3D effect of running behind trees and posts, coupled with outstanding surface textures creates a great gaming experience. However, the Master System version features graphics I’d put up against any NES game any day of the week. Though not nearly as detailed as its counterpart, the game moves fluidly, and enemies are easily recognizable from the 16-bit version.
Sound: The music and sound effects on the Genesis are fantastic, some of the most classic in video game history. The Master System version features good sound as well (even though it’s in mono), but the console’s technology produces sounds that are at times tinny.
Gameplay: Sonic on the Genesis is fast, especially in some of the more straightforward zones. He’s pretty fast in 8 bits as well, although the game doesn’t feel it’s moving quite as fast. Eight-bit Sonic does share many of his 16-bit counterpart’s mannerisms, like when he starts staring you down because you haven’t moved in awhile. Also, in the 8-bit version, when you hit an enemy, you can’t retrieve the rings you lost. And though they share names with a few zones from the Genesis version, the entire 8-bit game was retooled so it isn’t a direct port. Bonus stages are different, too, and Chaos Emeralds are found within the zones. There is also a map in the 8-bit version that shows you what zone you’re on, and I think that’s because the text at the beginning and end of the zones isn’t superimposed over the game screen like on the Genesis. Overall control of Sonic is fluid on both consoles, though I think the Master System version of the game is more difficult to complete.
So there you have it, a short but concise comparison of the Sega Genesis and Master System versions of the original “Sonic the Hedgehog.” I could go on and on with more about the two, but you can get the idea by just checking out the screenshots above (By the way, those are two different zones from each of the games). Now don’t be deceived by the 8-bit version, as Sega thought it was good enough to build into some late versions of the Master System console. It’s available on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console for just 500 points ($5), so it’s definitely worth a try if you’re able to get it.

Posted in Retro Gaming, Sega | 1 Comment »

The first video game?

Posted by ptcgaming on October 23, 2008

Check out this story and video about “Tennis For Two,” a video game built 50 years ago. The lab where the original game was built is giving visitors a chance to play the rebuilt version of it.

Posted in Retro Gaming | 1 Comment »

Zeruda no Densetsu and the strange case of when classic gaming meets foreign languages

Posted by ptcgaming on October 17, 2008

Once you hear the music and take a look at the background, there’s no doubt as to what game you’re playing. The numeral “1” was added to the Famicom Mini version to clearly distinguish this was the first Zelda game in the series.

There’s a saying I heard several years ago that if you speak two languages you’re bilingual, if you speak three you’re trilingual and if you speak one you’re American. Now I know there are many people here in the States who speak more than one language, but how many people who were born here speak those other languages well? I mean I’ve learned some French, Italian and Latin in my time, but I’m in no way ready to have an in-depth conversation with the Pope.

And even though I can’t speak or read Japanese, I recently purchased the Famicom Mini version of “Zeruda no Densetsu: The Hyrule Fantasy,” commonly known here as “The Legend of Zelda.” The Mini version is a direct port of the 1990s version of the cartridge-based version for the Japanese Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). It was originally released for the Famicom Disk System peripheral (only available in Japan) in 1986, long before we were introduced to Zelda here in the states. Not only did both have better package and label art than its North American counterpart (a common theme in Nintendo’s 8-bit era), but the FDS version was able to utilize the Disk System’s extra sound channel for better sound effects in some cases. Another reason I ordered this copy as opposed to the NES Classic Series version was price: it was cheaper to order the Japanese version and have it shipped from Hong Kong than it was to order a new or used copy from anywhere stateside.

Now if you’re afraid of playing this version of the game because you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry too much – if you fall into a certain group. Anyone who has played this game on their NES can make it through this version with little or no problem. Many parts of this version are actually in English. However, all of the in-game dialogue is in Japanese, so if you fall into the category of someone playing this for the very first time, you’re better off finding a North American version that’s completely in English. Check out eBay or Amazon for one.

You have to either know or remember what the old man, medicine woman or that bad guy in Level 7 is saying so you can solve some of the puzzles or obtain some of the items. (By the way, all the Japanese text on the menu screen says is “USE B BUTTON FOR THIS)

Checking out the Japanese versions of games such as this also gives you some insight into how games are packaged (as mentioned before) and explained in other countries/languages. As I mentioned before, Famicom games featured better, more artistic packaging and labels than those on the NES (which for Nintendo was rather sad, since many of the company’s early NES releases just showed blown-up screenshots on its covers and labels). I mean, a gold-plated Zelda cartridge is cool and all, but the artist in me would take that glorious Famicom box over “Goldie” any day of the week! The instructions for the Mini version did me no good, being in Japanese and all, so if it included the “invaluable maps and strategic playing tips,” I wouldn’t know (I don’t think the Famicom version had all the hints and cheats the NES version had included with the game anyway).
So if you’re looking to scratch that retro game itch while getting a little Japanese culture at the same time, pick up (or order) a copy of one of the GBA’s Famicom Mini series games. A few are still available in stock at Play-Asia.com, including Zeruda no Densetsu and Super Mario Bros. Playing an overseas version actually made the game feel fresh in my opinion, and having to remember what all the dialogue was in English really made me flex my brain muscles quite a bit. I recently completed the first quest and am now working on the second, which I didn’t remember was so difficult!
Side story: In the North American Zelda instructions, it says Pol’s Voice hates loud noises. However, the flute won’t kill them (only the sword or arrows will). The reason for this confusion is that the Famicom’s second controller featured a microphone in place of the Start and Select buttons. In Japan, in order to kill Pol’s Voice, you had to actually scream into the microphone. This was just never omitted from the English instructions. See, Nintendo was utilizing voice recognition in its games long before the DS!

Posted in Famicom, Japanese games, NES, Retro Gaming | 2 Comments »

Test your retro video game I.Q.

Posted by ptcgaming on October 14, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Pacing the Cage’s first-ever “Retro Video Game Quiz!” Listed below are 10 questions derived from video games of yesteryear, from 16 bits and back. Answers to the questions are listed at the bottom of this post. Good luck, and provide some feedback on subjects you might want to see in the future!

1) In the Nintendo Entertainment System version of “Pro Wrestling,” what real-life professional wrestler is King Slender based on?

2) When Mario made his video game debut in “Donkey Kong,” what was he called?

3) What three fighters appear in both the original “Street Fighter” and “Street Fighter II: The World Warrior?”

4) What is Mega Man known as in Japan?

5) In what video game does Mario play the antagonist (bad guy)?

6) What is the button sequence of the “Konami Code?”

7) What country was the classic puzzle game “Tetris” initially developed in?

8) Gilius Thunderhead originally appears as a character in what video game that debuted at the arcade and was subsequently ported to a home system?

9) “Keith Courage in Alpha Zones” was a title featured on what system, known as the PC Engine in Japan?

10) In what infamous Atari 2600 title did your character have to stay away from a scientist and FBI agent?

Answers:
_______

1) King Slender was said to be modeled after “Nature Boy” Ric Flair – “Whoooooo!”
2) Mario was called Jumpman in the original “Donkey Kong,” and he was a carpenter, not a plumber. He switched trades later on.
3) Ken, Ryu and Sagat were characters in both games. In the original “Street Fighter,” Ryu was Player 1, Ken was Player 2 in a 2-player game and Sagat was the final boss. In “The World Warrior,” Ken and Ryu were playable by anyone from the beginning. Sagat was the second-to-last boss before becoming a playable character in later SFII releases. Some characters from the original game reappeared in later “Street Fighter” games, including the “Alpha” series.
4) Mega Man is known as Rockman in Japan, and you knew that if you read yesterday’s post on Mega Man 9.
5) In “Donkey Kong Jr.,” Mario holds DK captive while Junior tries to rescue him.
6) The “Konami Code” is: up,up, down,down, left, right, left, right,B,A – and it’s not only used for “Contra,” either.
7) Tetris was developed in the former Soviet Union and released in 1985. It’s available today on just about every video game console and computer operating system.
8) Gilius Thunderhead fights using the Golden Axe in, you guessed it, “Golden Axe.”
9) “Keith Courage in Alpha Zones” was the (OK, but nowhere near great) pack-in game for the TurboGrafx-16 system. Believe it or not, the PC Engine was more popular than the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) in Japan. The opposite was true in North America.
10) Though it’s been called the worst video game of all time by many, you probably remember that in the video game version of “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” you’re not supposed to get caught by the scientist or FBI agent. The scientist will take you back to his lab, and the FBI agent will steal away your pieces of the phone.

How did you do? Input how many you got right onto the comments board so you can compare your score with others who took the quiz!

Posted in Retro Gaming, Trivia | 2 Comments »

Mega Man 9: A perfect marriage

Posted by ptcgaming on October 13, 2008

Mega Man 9 returns retro gamers to the style they’ve always loved. (Screenshot from WiiWare World)

It appears video game developers are starting to get it: Many gamers didn’t have their first gaming experience via PlayStation, where many times graphics trumped gameplay and fun. That’s why Capcom’s release Mega Man 9 might seem quite out-of-place for gamers who never picked up an original NES control pad. But for those of us who did, this new release brings back fond memories of the first few Mega Man games released back in the ’80s (while also reminding us of the bad cover art in North America). And actually, this game was said to be designed on the mechanics of Mega Man 2. Early side-scrolling Mega Man titles were punishingly difficult but fun, and early info on this one says it’s more of the same. So in honor of Capcom bringing a little 1989 into 2008, I’m going to break down Mega Man 9, wedding style!
Something old: It’s Mega Man in all its 8-bit glory. That big-headed robo-dude makes a triumphant return with side-scrolling 2D levels. Capcom even intentionally added screen flicker and other imperfections to really drive home that old-school feel.
Something new: A new group of robot masters stands in the way of Mega Man’s quest (There’s even a female robot master this time around). The game also has some challenges you can earn rewards by completing over the course of the game.
Something borrowed: Mega Man 9 is built along the lines of Mega Man 2, which changed a little bit from the original Mega Man. You can run, jump and shoot, and when you defeat a robot master you earn their weapon, just like always.
Something blue: It’s Mega Man – He’s supposed to be blue! (At least at the beginning, anyway) Since I really don’t have any other “blue” points to make, I’ll leave you with this little nugget: In Japan, Mega Man is called “Rockman” and has been featured in TV programs. There are also comics and collectibles that bear his name.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Retro Gaming | Leave a Comment »

The Code

Posted by ptcgaming on August 18, 2008

The Konami Code, as shown by our friends at Wikipedia.

It’s as synonymous with 80s video gaming as Mario and Luigi. It’s probably the biggest reason we love to play Contra so much. Yet, the “Konami Code” stretches far beyond 30 lives.
Oh yes, the code goes far beyond the original NES. Much farther.
In fact, the code is used in games on the NES, Super NES, Sony PlayStation and even mobile phones. And the numerous games that utilize it go far beyond even the realm of Konami. A list of games where the code can be used is found here.
A little bit of video gaming history: The code was created back in 1985 by Kazuhisa Hashimoto while designing the NES port of the game Gradius. Inputting the code gives players all the power-ups, which normally you’d gradually collect during the game.
The rest is history. The code spread like wildfire.
For those of us who became gamers back in the 1980s, the Konami Code was a part of our video game lives and to this day runs through our blood. Lest we never forget “The Code.”

Posted in Retro Gaming | 1 Comment »

Fun and excitin’ ridin’, jumpin’, bobbin’ and weavin’

Posted by ptcgaming on August 14, 2008

Excitebike was, in a word, exciting. Even though the number of tracks was limited, the game was still tons of fun.

Crank up the engine, hit the track and go back to 1985! Excitebike was one of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s oldest original titles, and today the game is still enjoyed by many, myself included.

There is no underlying story or character in Excitebike. You take control of an unnamed rider and race him (or her) to the best time possible, hopefully qualifying for the Excitebike race, a replay of the track you just hammered only more difficult. My friend Kevin was disappointed you couldn’t actually win the super-duper Excitebike in the NES version, which I believe you could at the arcade. If anyone knows any different, let me know.

While tackling the predesigned tracks was fun, I spent lots of time building my own tracks. I don’t know if this was changed in any of the game’s re releases, but you could place a bunch of those little ramps on the track, jump out of the top of the screen and come out at the bottom.

One of my favorite things about the game is the graphics. Even though this game was released in 1985 in North America, the track looks pretty sharp and you can tell it’s actually a guy riding a motorbike. The haystacks and camera guys are a nice touch, too.

If you still have an NES, or own a system that allows you to purchase a release of the game, I highly suggest it. It’s unlockable in Excitebike 64 (GCN) and Animal Crossing (GCN). It’s also available for Game Boy Advance.

Posted in NES, Retro Gaming | 2 Comments »