Archive for January, 2011

Megaman: Dr. Wily’s Revenge Review (GB)

Posted in Gameboy, Megaman Classic, Retro Gaming, Reviews on January 28, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Dr. Wily’s Revenge (Mega World 1)

Enter Megaman’s World and save it from Wily’s Revenge

By the early 1990s, the Nintendo Entertainment System was beginning to decline while the popularity of the Gameboy was on the raise. Many developers were quick to port over their NES properties to the new handheld as in many cases, assets could be reused and new games could be developed on the cheap.

Capcom, famous (or notorious, depending on your position) for reusing assets already on the NES, jumped onto the Gameboy with the first Megaman game being little more than a handheld version of the NES Megaman 1. They were able to excite gamers at the time with promises that this new version would include many elements from the much beloved Megaman 2 and even though somethings would be familiar, the game would offer a new experience.

So all these years later, let’s see how much truth was behind that statement.

Story

No story.  What, were you expecting Shakespeare?

Graphics

Dr. Wily’s Revenge is rather impressive on the Gameboy, reusing the same large and detailed sprites used in the NES versions of Megaman 1 and 2. Even in grayscale, the Rockman 1 graphics engine still manages to impress and many of the new sprites fit in nicely and are fun to spot for long time fans of the series. Effects look good and there’s a fair bit of detail in the stages, especially compared to other Gameboy games of its age.

On a technical side, the game suffers from a lot of flicker, but not much slowdown. This is probably the weakest graphically of the five Gameboy games, but understandably so as it was indeed the first effort.

Audio

There’s an unwritten law that all Megaman games must have amazing music, and Wily’s Revenge is no exception. The game features stereo remixes of many of the best tunes from Megaman 1 (NES) and offers a good number of terrific new chiptunes as well.

Among the more memorable original tracks was the theme used for the first Dr. Wily Castle level. The theme would many many years later be reused for Enker’s theme in Megaman 10 for current gen systems. The original version is simpler but there are yet some remixes of the orginal as well. Here’s one of the better Wily remixes from Wily’s Revenge.

Gameplay

Megaman: Dr. Wily’s revenge is a repackaged game featuring new levels for bosses from the NES Megaman 1 and 2. That means all the run and gun action from the pioneering Megaman games can be found here. The best way to think of the first four Megaman games on Gameboy is to think of them as “Remixes” or “What ifs” since they allow players to use weapons from one game on bosses from another. Kinda a neat concept.

The game plays exactly as the NES games do with is a very good thing. It just feels like a Megaman game, especially since it retreads Megaman 1 so much. Once again, Megaman has to trash Cutman, Fireman, Elecman, and Iceman. After that, he goes after Flashman, Bubbleman, Heatman, and Quickman. The formula is the same: face one boss and defeat them to gain their power. Use that robot’s power on the next one and continue until all that’s left between you and the credits is Wily’s Fortress.

Although the bosses are recycled, the levels themselves are brand new and offer some unique challenges, but I have to point out there’s not as many levels as you might expect. After you defeat the Megaman 1 boss set you then fight four from Megaman 2, but these are only just boss fights – they don’t have any stages. This means there are basically only five levels in the whole game. This was probably due to storage capacity restrictions of early Gameboy games, but its still rather jarring. Luckily, this was the only game to pull this out of the Gameboy Megaman line.

Despite being a rehash, starting here with Dr. Wily’s Revenge the Gameboy games set themselves apart by offering players a new boss never before featured in any other game. In this game’s case the boss is Enker, who uses a weapon called the Mirror Buster which absorbs weapon fire and reflects it back with twice the force. Cooler still, once you beat Enker you gain his power as well, allowing you to use the Mirror Buster on Wily.

It should also be noted that Dr. Wily’s Revenge adds a password feature not found in the original NES Megaman 1, but given the game’s sort length I never used it and found it to be completely redundant.

Control

Thankfully, Megaman: Dr. Wily’s Revenge controls precisely like the NES games. You won’t have any problem.

D-pad: Movement
B: Fire
A: Jump
Select: No Function
Start: Pause/Menu

Frustration

Megaman Dr. Wily’s Revenge manages to convert the Megaman experience down to the Gameboy’s more limited screensize quite well by completely redesigning levels rather than just porting over the same level designs used in the NES games, eliminating blind jumps that were constantly a problem in Gameboy platformers.

However, it should be noted that this game takes much more after Megaman 1 than it does Megaman 2. This means there are no Energy Tanks, some enemies are brutally tough without the right weapon and the game is shorter than all others to follow. One could even argue that in some ways, its harder than Megaman 1. Yikes.

Availability & Price

Of all the Gameboy Megaman games, this one should be the easiest to find and the cheapest. Don’t pay more than $10 for it. I’ve seen it for as low as $4. Check your local used game stores first, but ebay is always a good alternative if you just can’t find it. The game was popular enough to be re-released as the Player’s Choice series as well, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding the first GameBoy Megaman.

History

Megaman: Dr. Wily’s Revenge was known in Japan as Rockman World. The sequels were simply called Rockman World 2, World 3, World 4 and World 5 to help tell them apart from the Famicom games which simply numbered them. Defying sense though, the North American versions change in the naming of the GB games to roman numerals exactly as the NES games used, which made telling the NES from GB versions apart by name impossible, an idiotic move in my opinion.

Rockman World 1 was made to cash in on the popularily of the Megaman series as by then Megaman 2 and 3 were selling outrageous numbers and even moving on to the Gameboy Capcom played it safe offering the same experience as the console versions.

In 2004 a colorized port of Dr. Wily’s Revenge along with the other four Gameboy Megaman games was in the works for a Gameboy Advance compilation called Megaman Mania. The project was delayed and delayed until it was finally canceled when it came to light that Capcom had lost the original game’s source codes making the project too difficult to finish. This was a game I was really looking forward to and was utterly crushed when I found out it was canceled. I hope that someday it might become a reality but for now we can only dream of what could have been.

Original Advertising

Here’s an original ad that appeared in gaming mags in the early 90s. Capcom ads were kind of terrible.

Overall

Good

  • It’s Megaman on the go!
  • Some excellent chiptunes in stereo
  • Doesn’t suffer from the typical blind jumps a lot of gameboy platformers do
  • Password system

Bad

  • The level design leaves a lot to be desired. Most areas are quite boring to travel through with very little of the magic from the NES versions intact.
  • The game is arguably harder than the original NES games they’re based off
  • The second half of the game seems compressed; the second set of Robot Masters don’t even have their own stages!

Conclusion

As a Megaman purist, it pains me to see how sloppy the first effort was on the Gameboy. It’s by no means a bad game, but it just doesn’t compare to any of the other games. Still, its clear with the games to follow that Capcom would learn valuable lessons and continue to improve each game as the series continued on the Gameboy. Only recommended for collectors and hardcore Megaman nuts.

Data

Platform: Original Gameboy

Genre: Action Platformer

Release Date: December 1991

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Also from the developer: Megaman 1, Bionic Commando, Darkwing Duck, etc

Game Length: ~50 minutes

ESRB: K.A

Buy/Skip: Skip

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Top 25 Powerpak Killer Apps (NES)

Posted in Editorials, Hidden gems, NES, Retro Gaming on January 21, 2011 by satoshimatrix

The powerpak is a pretty amazing device. Not only can it single handedly backup nearly every NES game you might have, but it also run plenty of games your NES can’t without the benefit of expensive reproductions.

To that end, I have compiled a list of the top 25 games every Powerpak owner should have. As I wanted to specifically separate this list from a generic NES top 25, this list does not include any commercially available NES games. Instead it includes new homebrew games, unique hacks/enhancements, fan translations and abandonware.

These picks are in no order as each is just as good as the others in their respective ways. In case you were wondering yes, I plan on reviewing all of these over the next few months. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy my picks for the Top 25 Powerpak Killer Apps!

Huge Insect
Category: Homebrew
Genre: Shmup

Huge Insect is clone of Namco’s Galaga. You control what looks like a can of bug spray and shoot down swarms of insects that despite the title, are not really huge at all.

Huge Insect was developed by Sachen, notorious for their incredibly shitty unlicensed games that were mostly bad copies of established games that only the most hardcore of collectors have any interest in. As the story goes, Huge Insect was finished in 1993 but remained unreleased until  2006, when an NES collector by the alias of “NES-God” contacted what remained of Sachen about the game. After being told in wonderful broken English “no produce”, NES-God managed to send Sachen enough money to cover the costs of an extremely limited production run, estimated at between ten to twenty copies. As such, Huge Insect has the honor of being one of the rarest NES games as well as Sachen’s final game.

Why you should play it:

You mean besides the simple fact that you can play it? Well, Huge Insect is a humorous story of the final Sachen NES game and its obscurity alone makes it notable. More than that though, the game is actually fairly good! The A button doesn’t seem to do anything and it looks and plays like a second generation Intellivision game rather than a late produced NES game, but it’s got the gameplay to overcome it’s flaws. Huge Insect call for you to play it.

download: http://qbob.free.fr/releases/huge/Huge_Insect_(Unreleased).rar

 

Kart Fighter
Category: Pirate
Genre: Fighting

Kart Fighter is a ridiculous pirate that pits the cast of the original Super Mario Kart in a one-on-one fighting game. Choose from Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser, Koopa-troopa, DK Jr, Toad or Princess Toadstool and prepare to beat up the others. Pirates. Gotta love ’em.

Why you should play it:

Again, other than the novelty factor? Well, Kart Fighter is a fairly decent fighting game, especially for a pirate on the Famicom. While the title is somewhat misleading as there are no actual Go-Karts involved, each character has their own move sets and there’s very little graphical glitches normally associated with this type of pirate. It won’t hold your interest for long, but Kart Fighter is a fun game to play every now and then.

Download: email me for a copy.

 

Rockman no Constancy
Category: Hack
Genre: Action Platformer

Think you know Megaman 2? Think again! Rockman no Constancy is such an extensive hack of the original I’m not sure even Keiji Inafune himself would recognize it. Nearly everything has been altered. There’s now completely new graphics, level designs, weapons, boss behaviors and best of all, new music taken from other games including Rockman Zero 4, Namco X Capcom, Megamari and the King of Fighters just to name a few.

Why you should play it:

This is quite possibly one of the most impressive rom hacks ever made and it works within the limitations of the real hardware, allowing it to be played on the Powerpak. Make no mistake: this game is hard as hell, but it’s also one of the richest, most rewarding rom hacks out there rather than a test to see how long you can refrain unleashing your inner rage and breaking your controller like many other Megaman hacks.

Download: Remember to patch Rockman 2, not Megaman 2. http://www.romhacking.net/hacks/321/

Castlevania Remix
Category: Hack
Genre: Action Platformer

If you’ve played the NES chances are high that you’ve played Castlevania; now it’s time to play it in style. Journey back to 1691 as Simon Belmont first scales the ancient fortress known as Castlevania on his way to vanquish the evil Count Dracula and his minions and free the people of Europe from their terror.

Why you should play it:

Castlevania Remix slightly changes the level layouts of the original gothic quest, but it’s most notable for it’s super minimalist approach to color. All color has been removed except for black, white, a cinnabar red and a dark yellow. Using only these colors, the game becomes much more moody and invokes feelings of classic 1960s early color Halloween horror flicks. The effect works so well that you’ll wonder why the concept wasn’t used sooner. Beware however, as the change in pallet results in enemies, powerups and even some platforms becoming very difficult to spot, and Castlevania wasn’t an easy game to begin with. Nevertheless, Castlevania Remix is awesome and warrants your attention.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/hacks/8/

Final Fantasy III
Category: Translation
Genre: RPG

Final Fantasy III was released in Japan for the Famicom in 1990, the same year the US saw Final Fantasy 1. A year later, Final Fantasy IV was made and when that game was localized, it was decided that it would be renamed Final Fantasy II and the original Final Fantasy II as well as Final Fantasy III would be glossed over and forgotten. Final Fantasy II is arguably a poor game and the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series, but Final Fantasy III however is one of the best RPGs made for an 8-bit console. Thanks to rom hacking, in 2000 we got a wonderful English translation of the original, and it’s fully playable on the Powerpak.

Why you should play it:

Yes, Final Fantasy III was remade for the Nintendo DS in 2006. As a modern game, I feel Final Fantasy III falls flat on its face and the remake isn’t as enjoyable as the original. The charm of the tile-based graphics and 26 pixel tall sprites, not to mention some killer chiptunes make this one a worthy choice.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/141/

Also available:

In case you were wondering, the skipped over Final Fantasy II was also fully fan translated years ago and was the first version to be playable in English. I’m not particularly a fan of Final Fantasy II in any language, but different strokes. If you want it you can easily find it on romhacking.net.

 

 

 

Rockman 2 Endless
Category: Hack
Genre: Action Platformer

Rockman 2 Endless is a romp through classic Megaman 2 using the same “endless” mode established in Megaman 9 and continued in Megaman 10. The game is an endurance mode that challenges the player to see how long they can survive in a Megaman game given only one life and no energy tanks. Guide Megaman through over 40 random areas in a never ending assault on Wily’s robots. Every thirty screens you clear presents you with a random boss ranging from Airman or Flashman to even the good Dr. himself. You’ll start off armed with every weapon in the game, so go out there and trash some metal!

Why you should play it:

Megaman 2 is undeniably one of the greatest videogames ever made and Rockman 2 Endless offers a new way to experience the classic game. It pulls interesting tricks to keep players who’ve memorized the level layouts of each stage on their toes, such as spikes in areas you don’t expect. All challenges posed are fair and beatable to the average player. Like the ladies will tell ya, it’s all about how long you can last.

Download: Remember to patch Rockman 2 (J) and not Mega Man 2 (U). http://www.geocities.jp/misty_earn/RM2endless.zip

Also available:
Rockman 3 Endless

Pretty much the same as Rockman 2 Endless, but with the Rockman 3 treatment. This one restores some of unused tiles seem only in the beta of the game. Again, it mixes original areas and brand new challenges to keep players on their toes.

Download: Patch Rockman 3 only. http://www.geocities.jp/rock5easily/archive/rock3endless.zip

Rockman 4 Endless

Rockman 4 Endless mixes things up by offering different modes where Megaman must first collect the weapons to use them as well as a near-death mode that gives him only one HP at all times! Of course you can play it normally like a sane person as well. The game was a pain to find, but luckily for you I’ve already tracked it down.

Download: http://www40.atwiki.jp/fcrockmanhackdoc?cmd=upload&act=open&pageid=31&file=rock4endless.zip

Rockman 5 Endless

Rockman 5 Endless comes in two flavors: with death lasers (from 2) or without. Either way, to spice things up once again there are plenty of new areas not featured in the original to keep you on your toes once again, including a set of particularly nasty auto scrolling segments which can kill you if you aren’t quick enough.

Download: Remember to patch Rockman 5 only. http://www.geocities.jp/rock5easily/archive/rock5endless.zip

 

Adventure Island 4
Category: translation
Genre: platformer

Adventure Island 4 was among the final few Famicom games produced by big companies in 1994. Hudson, a supporter of the Famicom since the beginning, poured everything they had into this one and it really shows. Translated at last for the internet era, AI4 is a beautiful example of what a skilled rom hacker can accomplish.

Why you should play it: While the first three Adventure Island games were fairly basic platformers, Adventure Island 4 mixes things up with non-linear stages, cool bosses and most obvious of all, wonderful graphics. This is the peak of perfection on the Famicom and deserves a playthrough every few years.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/86/

 

Super Mario Bros VS Airman
Category: Hack
Genre: Action Platformer

After defeating Megaman, the Mario Bros. are all that stand against the evil DWN-010. This is an extensive hack of Super Mario Bros. that pits the red clad plumber against the nefarious Airman. The game even changes the background music to a chiptune of Airman ga Taosenai!

Why you should play it:

This is such an original concept that it demands your attention. It’s difficult, requiring precise jumping and major skill at Super Mario Bros. It also looks good. Fight the good fight and stop that evil Airman!

Download: http://www.dessgeega.com/vsairman.zip

 

Famicom Wars
Category: Fan Translation
Genre: Turn Based Strategy

Famicom Wars is is the first in the long running Nintendo Wars series of strategy games by Intelligent Systems, best known outside Japan as Advance Wars after the GBA entry. I’ve reviewed it both in text and in video and I consider this a must for Powerpak owners because you can play it in English.

Why you should play it:

This game is awesome. Without a doubt the best strategy game on the Famicom, the core concepts established here are constant throughout the entire series and continue into the modern games as well. If you like the newer ones, the original Famicom Wars is a no-brainer.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/911/

 

Donkey Kong Arcade
Category: Improvement
Genre: Arcade style action

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo of Europe included the NES version of Donkey Kong in the 25th Anniversary Wii package sold in Europe. This version finally fills in the missing pie/cement factory stage not seen in any version of Donkey Kong except for the original arcade. This addition finally makes the NES version rightfully the best home version of Donkey Kong.

Why you should play it:

Donkey Kong was an immensely important game to Nintendo not only from a financial standpoint but also a historical one. With this you can finally play the version that should have been the original release 1984 Famicom release!

I don’t feel comfortable giving a download link for this one, so send me an email if you want it.

 


Ganbare Goemon 2
Category: Translation
Genre: Action Beat ’em up/Adventure

Note: I goofed up. the previous entry for this spot, Mickey Mania 7, actually doesn’t work with the Powerpak, but here’s a worth game to take it’s place.

Goemon is a long running Konami series dating back to the Famicom. A few of the titles were released in thw west under the name “Mystical Ninja”. Ganbare Goemon (usually traslated as “Go for it! Goemon”) is the story of a Goemon, a poor ninja-theif that steals from the rich of the Tokugawa shogunate and gives to the poor where ever he travels. The first Ganbare Goemon for the Famicom is rather formulaic and ultimately not worth much more than a glace, but the follow-up is one of the best games the Famicom has to offer.

Ganbare Goemon 2 is basically a beat ’em up, but focuses heavily on exploration as you guide Goemon through each city of old Japan. There are shops everywhere selling useful items, power-ups galore and some pretty amusing humor that the English translation picks up on very well. Try walking into a onsen and then going into the women’s bath. Oh like you wouldn’t.

Why you should play it:

Unlike its Famicom peers, Ganbare Goemon 2 is neither boring and slow nor an RPG. Instead its a simple to understand, fun and unique experience that was only recently translated, making it one of the best undiscovered Famicom games. It can also be played in two player co-op, giving audiences even more reason to play it. It’s not overly difficult and it’s now completely in English! You gotta try this one.

Download: http://yojimbo.eludevisibility.org/Stardust_Crusaders_Files/complete/NES/ganbaregoemon2files/ganbaregoemon2.zip

 

Moon Crystal
Category: Translation
Genre: Platformer

Moon Crystal was a Famicom-only platformer remarkable for its beautiful cutscenes and smooth animated sprites. An English translation brings the story of the game to the world and the Powerpak allows a whole new generation to experience the game. The story revolves around the mysterious Moon Crystal and a group of people who want it. After everyone in his village is mysteriously abducted, a young boy named Ricky journeys to discover the truth behind what happened.

Why you should play it:
Moon Crystal is a beautiful game with a well-crafted storyline. The game isn’t especially difficult but some areas are tricky. The fan translation is really rather remarkable and demands much respect. You really can’t go wrong with this game, considering how good it truly is.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/189/

 

Aladdin (Unl) By Yoko
Category: Hong Kong Original
Genre: Action Platformer

Aladdin is based on Capcom’s SNES classic. The original SNES version was a brilliant game proving the Capcom-Disney relationship still a fruitful one. The Famicom pirate so closely mirrors its source material it makes you wonder how the hell this wasn’t programmed by Capcom.

Why you should play it:

Aladdin is a fun, original game that shows even those darn pirates can do right every now and then.  I wouldn’t have thought the Powerpak would be able to emulate the pirate mapper, but apparently it can. It leads me to wonder just what mapper the game uses. If anyone knows please message me. There is also a pirate of the Genesis version where Aladdin has a sword, but that version isn’t nearly as impressive or playable for that matter.

Send me an email if you want Aladdin.

 

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Gradius 1 & 2 Arcade
Category: Improvement
Genre: Shooter

I recently covered why Gradius is awesome, especially when you consider the enhanced graphics hack that restores sprites to more closely match the arcade version. The hack is perfect for the Powerpak, though I still do encourage readers buy the original cartridge. Owning Gradius just makes you feel good about yourself.

As with Gradius, Gradius II is an excellent shmup for the Famicom and became even better with a special enhanced graphics hack, which corrects coloring errors and enhances some of the sprites. The game uses Konami’s Japan-only VRC4 mapper, making it impossible to reproduce on the NES outside of the Powerpak.

Why you should play these awesome games:

Because this I command.

 

 

Megaman Ultra
Category: Hack
Genre: Action Platformer

Like Rockman No Constancy, Megaman Ultra is an extensive hack of Megaman 2, adding in new stages, new weapons, new music, new graphics and new boss behavior. Unlike Rockman No Constancy, it is based on the easier US Megaman 2, making it slightly more approachable than Rockman no Constancy.

Why you should play it:

Megaman Ultra was one of the first major Megaman hacks and still stands as one of the best. Not only does it remix the game we all love but also adds in some elements of other games, such as this familiar locale. Megaman Ultra also features a chiptune cover of the US Megaman cartoon theme “Super Fighting Robot Megaman”.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/hacks/132/

 

 

Earthbound Zero
Category: Abandonware
Genre: RPG

From Starman.net:

In 1989, strange things begin happening to a boy named Ninten, who realizes he and his family are more involved in what appears to be an alien invasion than he could possibly have realized.  What follows is a cross-country adventure through the desert, the big city, ominous Mt. Itoi, and a dream world called Magicant. Ninten learns about friendship, love, and—well, singing, while also uncovering the true story of the mysterious disappearance of his grandparents and the strange vendetta of the alien Giegue.

The unreleased prequel to the cult classic EarthBound, this is a fully playable, fully English game that was finished by Nintendo, but never released. Since Nintendo outside Japan seems to utterly hate Mother fans, I have no problem fully encouraging anyone who reads this to download the game and play through it yourself. It will never show up on the Wii Virtual Console to all of my woes.

Why you should play it:

Earthbound Zero is offers a complex and engrossing story with brilliant dialogue and even better music. Some aspects such as the constant need to level grind make it sometimes a chore to experience, but thanks to the built-in game-genie support on the Powerpak, even these gripes can be easily addressed.

Download: email me for it, or just google it.

 

Somari
Category: Pirate
Genre: Platformer

Somari is just fucking weird. It’s Sonic the Hedgehog 1 ported from the Genesis to the Famicom and then has the Sonic sprite replaced with…Mario? Yup, Mario. Guide Mario through Green Hill Zone, Star Light Zone and more on your quest to defeat the evil Dr. Robotnik and save the planet. Fucking pirates.

Why you should play it:

Somari is the quintessential Famicom pirate; it takes a well established game designed for much more powerful hardware and then slaps Mario on it and calls it a day. The game is somewhat poorly programmed and full of bugs, but when it works Somari is actually a fairly fun experience and is a game that will turn a few heads.

Download: email me for a copy.

Also Available:

There’s also a completely different Sonic pirate that does include Sonic and was evidently made by Somari team. This game starts you off in Spring Yard Zone and moves from there. Although this one is slightly more visually appealing than Somari, it seems Somari is overall the better playing game. If you’d like a copy, email me.

 

 

Sweet Home
Category: Fan Translation
Genre: Survival Horror RPG

Sweet Home is a Famicom RPG based on a Japanese film of the same name. It was released by Capcom in 1989 and is generally referred to as the first survival horror game ever made.  The game follows a five member investigation team who venture into the deserted mansion of the deceased Ichirō Mamiya to photograph and restore his frescoes. Upon entering the house, the door locks behind them and the group discovers that the mansion is haunted by a ghost named Mamiya, among other creatures. The game pits enemies and puzzles against the player as they try to guide the team to safety.

The game was fully translated in 2000 by a two man team who spent over a year on the project. Sweet Home has never been even hinted at that Capcom will ever localize it, so I feel it is justifiable to call it abandonware and the fan translation open domain.

Why you should play it:

Sweet Home is a historically important game and also a fun one. It uses many survival horror standbys and is for all intents and purposes a Resident Evil prototype. It even has the RE loading door! If you’ve ever enjoyed a game in Capcom’s legandary RE series you owe it to yourself to step into Ichirō Mamiya’s mansion and get your game on. Also one of the character’s names is Auska, and anime fans know that Auska is awesome.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/222/

 

Super Mario 256 Worlds
Category: Assembly hack
Genre: Action Platformer

Even though Super Mario Bros. has 32 levels, it’s level structure is based on hexadecimal, meaning it has level addresses for 256 stages! These stages can be accessed through emulator disassemblers. Somewhere along the line, pirates got the idea to allow end users to play these random areas, thus, Mario 256W.

Since you are forcibly accessing data, some of the more interesting stages such as T-1 are impossible to play without game genie codes to further screw with it. Since the Powerpak has built in game genie support for up to five codes, it’s the perfect springboard for exploring the depths of one of the world’s best games.

Download: there’s several versions out there and all but one don’t work on the Powerpak. email me for the correct version.

Real Bout Fatal Fury Special
Category: Pirate
Genre: Fighting

As fighting games came into popularity only in the 1990s, the genre is not well represented on the NES, and most of the efforts were ill suited for the hardware limitations, and let’s face it, all of the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II pirates are pretty bad. That’s where Real Bout Fatal Fury Special comes in. Just as how the SNK fighters tried to be leaps and bounds more impressive than their counterparts, so were all SNK pirates for the Famicom. The King of Fighters pirates offer full screen, fully color animated cutscenes you would associate with high budget later NES games, not low budget pirates.

Real Bout Fatal Fury Special is based on the Neo-Geo AES game of the same name and crammed much of what made the  24-bit game so good onto the 8-bit Nintendo. The gameplay is smooth, graphics are clear and sprites are well detailed. The game manages to even avoid most of the super annoying audio pirates usually have.

Why you should play it:

For SNK fans, seeing one of the better fighters ported to the Famicom and preforming just so well will result in many smiles. If you aren’t an SNK fan already, the game will probably make you reconsider just what the company was all about and maybe,  just maybe, a Neo-Geo should be in your gaming future.

Download: email me for a copy.

 

Joy Mecha Fight
Category: Translation
Genre: Fighting

Speaking of fighting games, here’s one that was officially released, but never translated. Joy Mech Fight tells the story of two robotic scientist who work together building several powerful robots, but then one scientist turns out to be evil, steals and reprograms all but one of the robots and tries to take over the world. The remaining robot is reprogrammed into a battle machine and is the one hope for the world. Gee, I wonder where I’ve heard this story before…?

Joy Mech Fight pits each robot in a battle royale to the finish. When you play, you can pick any boss in any order. Once you defeat a boss, you can play as that boss. Each boss has a strength and weakness making the whole game pretty much a Megaman fighting game in all but name, and the game wasn’t even made by Capcom!

Why you should play it:
Joy Mech Fight uses Rayman-like characters, presumably due to technical limitations; the small sprites that make up each character are far less taxing on the hardware than two large detailed and well animated sprites otherwise required. Joy Mech Fight is fast, fun and offers a lot of moves for each of the eight characters. This is a true Famicom gem made all the better for the wonderful English translation.

Download: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/162/

 

MDbtroid by Infinity’s End
Category: Graphics hack
Genre: Action Platformer

This is a very cool graphics hack that improves the original Metroid to make it look more like what a sequel for the NES could have looked like later in its life. None of the levels have been changed, just the main Samus sprite and a few of the key enemies. Even the suitless Samus sprite was changed. It’s a simple yet effective hack that makes the Powerpak play with power.

Why you should play it:

The original Metroid can be a daunting game to dedicate to seeing all the way through. It uses an elaborate password system somewhat dated designs, and even for NES standards, dated graphics. If you fall into the camp that skipped Metroid the first time around, give this enhancement a try. It only makes the game look better, but that alone is probably all you need to get started on this fantastic classic.

Download: http://www.metroid-database.com/fanapps/MDbtroid.zip

 

Battle Kid Demo

Category: Homebrew
Genre: Action Platformer

Ah, Battle Kid. It’s probably the biggest homebrew game ever made for the NES from scratch and also probably one of the best. It’s inspiration from the infuriatingly difficult I Wanna Be the Guy is obvious, but Battle Kid never throws random obstacles at you the same was IWBTG does.

Why you should play it:

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is extremely hard, but minimally frustrating and infinitely rewarding once you surmount the odds against you. The demo is free and gives players a good taste of the first and easiest area of the game. Once it’s mastered, the full game can be purchased from RetroZone for $30. Considering the quality and length of the game, the asking price is just about right.

Download: http://www.nintendoage.com/media/_usermedia/attachments/BK%2Ddemo1%2Ezip

 

D-Pad Hero 1 & 2
Category: Homebrew
Genre: Rhythm

D-Pad Hero 1 and 2 are homebrew games that try to bring all the fun and exciting of the Guitar Hero games to the lowly NES. They are about as fun as playing Dance Dance Revolution with a controller, but I applaud the effort considering everything had to be made from scratch, the game preforms admirably well. Had this game actually been made and released during the hayday of the NES, I could well imagine it would have sold well.

The first game was received well enough to warrant a sequel, which improves nearly everything from the quality of the chiptunes to the core graphics as well as offering multiple difficulties for casual fans of this genre of game. It’s well worth a look for fans of rhythm games and NESaholics alike. You can download it from the D-pad Hero website at http://dpadhero.com/

 

 

Blade Buster
Category: Homebrew
Genre: Shmup

Blade Buster is a homebrew shmup game that oozes with such quality you will be dying for more when the timer runs out. Blade Buster is a great reminder of why the shmup genre was so well represented on the flagship Nintendo hardware. Here’s hoping a full, non timed Blade Buster sequel will be produced in the future.

Why you should play it:

It seems strange, but very few homebrewers on the NES work on shmups, but this one changes all that. Blade Buster is as fast as Summer Carnival ’92 Recca but thankfully not as unforgiving by sheer difficulty. Blade Buster is fast and smooth, but I still wish it wasn’t timed.

Download: http://www.2shared.com/file/blbS7s7U/BladeBuster.html

So there you have it. Twenty five games that I think everyone who owns a Powerpak should have listed in a special directory of killer apps. Let me know what you guys think and feel free to drop any further recommendations in the comments below.

If you want to email me regarding any of the games I’ve listed, email satoshimatrix@hotmail.com. I will remove this option if I get a lot of spam mail, fair warning.

VVVVVV Review (Mac/PC)

Posted in Downloadable games, Hidden gems, Mac OSX, Retro Gaming, Windows on January 18, 2011 by satoshimatrix

VVVVVVery Good

Despite every advancement in gaming over the past twenty years, 2D is still not dead – and if programmers like Terry Cavanagh have anything to say about it, 2D shall never die. The rise of downloadable games has greatly aided the once declining retro gaming scene. It breaks down barriers from programmers to customers like never before possible. Not only do downloadable services totally eliminate the lengthy and costly manufacturing and distributing process, they make it possible for any programmer to design videogames that would have been impossible just a decade ago.

Take last year’s VVVVVV. No, I didn’t leave my hand on the keyboard too long, I just named one of the best damn indie games I’ve ever played. Not only does the game perfectly capture everything that makes retro gaming great, it also manages to avoid many of the common pitfalls of retro gaming in the same stroke of brilliance. Should you get this game a shot? Yes. Why? Read on.

Story

VVVVVV tells the story of a spaceship that finds itself trapped in a gravity weld, warping space and sending the ship to another dimension where suddenly gravity can be manipulated on the fly. Captain Viridian is tasked with finding his five missing crew members if he hopes to escape the field.

Graphics

VVVVVV was designed to mimic the look and feel of a Commodore 64 game made with modern computer specs. The game has extremely basic, one color sprites and at most has eight colors on the whole screen at once.

However, even considering the low tech graphics, it looks brilliant on a modern computer. Backgrounds are lively and animated and give the game a sense of flare and sophistication, reminding the player that no, they’re not playing an old game but merely one that’s meant to appear as such.

Audio

2010 was a very good year for chiptune fans. Not only did we get the fucking fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs the World soundtrack by Anamanaguchi, but also the indescribably awesome VVVVVV soundtrack from musician Magnus Pålsson, who goes by the artist name Souleye.

The music in VVVVVV is all fast, frantic and upbeat, almost dance music with chiptune elements. In fact, I could very well imagine hearing this played at a night club and hundreds of people jamming out to it. I know I sure would. The tracks are much more involved than could be done on actual 8-bit hardware as they employ I would guess around 8-10 sound channels instead of four and have the benefit of 21st century audio editing to further enhance it with echoing, fading a few voice samples and other effects not possible in true l0-fi sound.

Here’s Pressure Cooker, one of my favorite chipstunes I’ve heard in a good while. Enjoy some delicious win.

Gameplay

VVVVVV is a platformer with the unique distinction that you cannot preform any sort of attack or even jump! Instead, Viridian can invert his gravity at will and walk on ceilings. The game is built around the sole ability. You’ll find that to complete rooms, you will be flipping Viridian constantly. Although there is no jumping ability, you have complete access over Virdian’s movement when he’s falling in either direction. By slightly nudging left or right you control where Virdian goes.

Control

The controls in VVVVVV are so dead simple that the game can be played entirely with one hand on just the arrow keys with an occasional thumb on the spacebar. It’s simple use of the arrow keys makes it so well suited for a classic DB-9 joystick with a single fire button it’s a shame the game doesn’t support gamepads! This is one game that would be perfect for a USB modded Atari 2600 controller. I suppose you could use a program like joy2key, but it’s annoying and I wish I didn’t have to bother doing that.

Here’s a complete list of all the commands in the game:

Left/Right Arrow Keys: Move Viridian left or right
Up/Down Arrow Keys: Invert Veridian’s gravity. Also can preformed with the Spacebar or W keys
M Key: Mute Audio
LT: Enchant film
Enter/Return: Open menu
Escape: Open quit menu

Frustration

VVVVVV is by design, a game where you will die. A lot.  Like every few seconds a lot. For all that dying, you’ll be surprisingly calm. See, there are respawn points on almost every screen so you’ll rarely be frustrated by the constant retracing your steps that other games might pull.

All the challenges are possible and the solutions will come to you after a good deal of study. For all that VVVVVV manages to avoid frustrating the player though, I found the segment where you have to guide and protect Veronica to be by far the worst aspect of the game.

She can’t invert her gravity and seems to be so scared she will always try to stay within a few feet from Viridian, even if that means walking into a death trap. When she dies you have to retry as if you died. For such an otherwise challenging but fair game without the frustration normally associated, the Veronica rescue is an obvious flaw that I just can’t overlook no matter how much I like the game.

Availability & Price
VVVVVV is available for both Windows and Mac OSX. It costs $5. You can download it from http://thelettervsixtim.es/. You have no excuse not to go at least try the demo. If you like it, it’s $5 well spent, but even if you don’t like it, it’s still $5 well spent.

History

VVVVVV is heavily based on the kind of gaming seen during the second generation on systems such as the Atari 2600, Intellivision or Commodore 64. In fact, a skilled homebrewer by the alias Paulko64 has built a beta of VVVVVV for the C64! It’s still in the early stages, but once finished, I can’t wait to get it a shot.

Overall

Good

  • It’s 2D and captures not only the style but the pick-up-and-play nature of the best oldschool Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 games
  • Quite possibly one of the best soundtracks for any game
  • It’s five bucks
  • Even though you die constantly, its frustration is kept at a minimum thanks to numerous respawn points
  • Did I mention it’s 2D?

Bad

  • The game requires trial and error, which may put some off from the onset
  • Using a keyboard is no substitute for a gamepad. It’s too bad VVVVVV doesn’t have a control configuration menu
  • It’s not on any of the current consoles, limiting it’s reach
  • Victoria escort challenge sucks balls. Blue women always mean trouble.

Conclusion

VVVVVV is really quite outstanding. It strikes a complex balance between opposite ideas. It’s dead simple in design yet offers an amazingly complex world. It’s frustrating; you will die at least once on most screens. Nevertheless, you will keep coming back for more. It has primitive graphics and an amazingly elaborate soundtrack.  The main character Viridian is little more than a stick figure yet is one of the most likable characters in recent memory. I could go on, but suffice it to say that VVVVVV is a masterpiece.

You owe it to yourself to at the very least download the free demo.

Data

Platform: Windows PCs and Mac OSX

Genre: Action Platformer

Release Date: January 11, 2010

Developer: Terry Cavanagh

Publisher: N/A

Also from the developer: Don’t Look Back, Pathways, Judith and Bullet Time

Game Length: ~5-8 hours

ESRB: N/A

Buy/Skip: Buy

Time Gal Review (Sega CD)

Posted in Hidden gems, Retro Gaming, Reviews, Sega CD on January 14, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Chronologically Silly

These days, most of the big budget action titles out there often feature many quick-time events. They were used so much in last year’s hit PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain that many people jokingly renamed it Quick Time Events: The Game. Yet, what about the games that were were quick time event based games? One of the genres of arcade games born in the 1980s were the FMV game with Dragon’s Lair. Since most people are already well familiar with Dragon’s Lair and since I have no personal attachment to it, this review will be focused on another game in the genre that I do have experience with – Time Gal. I first played this at a friend’s house on his Sega CD in the mid 90s and recently went back to give it another look. How does it hold up? Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Story

The year is 4001. The evil Luda has stolen a time machine and plans to use it to take over the world. The heroine, Reika Kirishima, the “Time Gal” of the title, is a skillful and pretty scientist on a mission to chase Luda through different time periods, and stop him from assuming control of all history. In this globe-trotting FMV adventure, she must cross 16 stages that take her from prehistoric times to future realms and even to historical events such as World War II. She must get the time machine back, and save the world!

Graphics

Time Gal is essentially a slightly interactive anime from the mid 80’s. It will appeal to anime fans and oldschool gamers alike. Time Gal is one of the better looking FMV games on the Sega CD due not only to it’s large video window with excellent video quality but also to the sheer quality of the animation itself.

All of Time Gal’s animation was produced by anime giant Toei Animation, best known in the west for anime such as Dragonball Z, Yu-gi-oh and Sailor Moon. Time Gal was a Laserdisc arcade game that made excellent use of the medium to showcase outstanding smooth animation. Even on the much more limited Sega CD hardware, Time Gal retains it’s vibrant, clean look and the animation is still smooth as silk. Compared to many other examples, Time Gal stands out as one of the best games of its type on the Sega CD.

Audio

There really isn’t much in the way of audio in the entire game. There is no background music during gameplay, but the game does have a few nice tunes that play during the opening and ending sequences. Of course, the English Sega CD version features a symphy pop tune whereas the Japanese uses a fully voiced j-pop theme that fits the game perfectly.

Reika has several dozen voice samples that are clear and “funny”, but they sound like they’re preformed by a ten year old girl. Not that the Japanese version fared much better in this matter, but it is a shame the voice acting wasn’t slightly higher quality. With only one voice needed, it’s a shame Taito couldn’t have found someone with a little less squeaky voice.

Gameplay

Time Gal is a pre-recorded animation which players’ only interaction is by pressing a button when prompted to progress the animation. It’s extremely basic, arcade fun. The game is broken up into 16 stages of different time periods. Some of these sequences last less than a minute while others drag on for upwards of 5-8 minutes.

When a gladiator swings his sword at your head, press down and Reika will duck and the animation will continue. If you either don’t press the right button or don’t press the right button within the time limit, Reika will die and you will need to restart the animation sequence you are at.

Other times, all four directions will flash which means it is time for Reika to either fire her laser pistol or freeze time to get out of a dangerous predicament. Time Gal is a blast to play through once every few years or so. It’s a little bit of a shame the game doesn’t have more replay value, but I suppose the same could be said of any FMV game.

Controls

The controls are very basic and straightforward. When one of the four blue orbs flashes red, press the d-pad in that direction. When all four flash red, press either A, B, or C. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

Frustration

The difficulty options in Time Gal are misleading. The game requires quick reflexes, not any gaming skill per say. The more difficult options simply reduce the amount of time you have to press a button before you die, and even on easy die you will. Amusingly though, Time Gal features a unique death animation for pretty much every different danger Reika encounters. During these death sequences, the animation style changes to that of the super deformed cutesy “chibi” look to downplay the horrible ways Reika meets her doom. These funny animations, coupled by the fact that the button presses don’t change per continue keeps the frustration of this FMV game to a minimum.

A little more frustrating are the points where Reika stops time and three options appear. During these segments, the player will have to choose that Reika does, with only one of the three options being correct and the others leading to her demise. The problem is, with only a few obvious exceptions, any one of the three could be right with the only way of knowing being trail and error. It’s rather unfair to die after making a decision when your given nothing to go on.

Still, I can’t be made at this game for all it gets right. The Sega CD, with its single speed CD drive, was notorious for legnthy load times. Despite that Time Gal features constant high quality animation running at a smooth 30 FPS, it’s surprisingly light on load times, with the longest lasting only a few seconds.

Availability & Price

The Sega CD version of Time Gal can be found rather cheaply for around $15 complete. I wouldn’t pay more than that unless you are a collector looking for a new copy. The Japanese Playstation and Saturn ports usually hover around $40-50 and quite honestly are overpriced compared to the Sega CD original, even if those versions do offer higher quality visuals and a greater color depth.

History

Time Gal was released on Laswedisc in Japanese arcades in 1985, representing Taito’s Eastern version of the Western Dragon’s Lair. The unconventional choice of featuring one of the world’s first female lead characters in Reiko wasn’t made to better represent women in gaming as some had said over the years. Rather, Taito hoped the sex appeal of the heroine Reika, who was heavily based on the extremely popular character of Lum from Urusei Yatsura, would help the game become yet another smash hit for the company.

Unfortunately, the game met with only moderate success in Japan and never came close to the sales figures Taito had hoped. To make matters worse, Laserdisc driven arcade games was starting to become a fad worldwide and the the expensive of the medium added to the cost of translation and localization prevented any western release of the game, ensuring an even quicker death to the format.

Several years later, the Laserdisc game was ported to the Sega Mega-CD in Japan, and finally deemed cost effective for a western release. The Sega CD version of the game sold fairly well but received mixed reviews with some feeling it was a brilliant showcase of what the Sega CD could do over cartridge-based games while others felt it was a complete waste of the CD format. Even today, opinions on the Sega CD version are rather mixed.

In a retro throwback to Time Gal, Alfa System’s 2006 shmup Castle of Shikigami III featured Reika Kirishima in the roster of playable Characters. Reiki is still as goofy as ever with some brilliant one-liners. Reika’s Shikigami power is the Time Freeze, yet another reference to the 1985 arcade classic.

Original Advertising

As usual, the best videos for the game are in Japanese. Here’s the Japanese opening for Time Gal on Sega MegaCD.

Overall

Good

  • Beautiful, fluid animation
  • Large window of animation for Sega CD standards
  • The situations Reika finds herself in are priceless
  • Simple, easy to understand controls in comparison to other FMV games such as Dragon’s Lair
  • Can be found for Cheap

Bad

  • There’s very little replay value. You beat it once and don’t need to return for at least a few years
  • Reika’s English voice makes her sound like a ten year old
  • No music during gameplay at all
  • Some sections are overly difficult

Conclusion

Time Gal may seem like any other FMV game, but its sheer quality blows most out of the water. Even now it is just as unique and charming as it was twenty five years ago. It’s a shame the game hasn’t been ported to new systems as Dragon’s Lair has, because Time Gal may just be the best laserdisc classic out there.

Data

Platform: Laserdisc Arcade, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, Playstation 1 (Both Japan only)

Genre: FMV

Release Date: 1985 (original), 1993 (Sega CD)

Developer: Taito

Publisher: Wolf Team

Also from the developer: Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, most of the late era NES classics, etc.

Game Length: ~1 hour

ESRB: N/A, but would be “E”

Buy/Skip: Buy

Fatal Frame 1 Review (Xbox/PS2)

Posted in Hidden gems, PS2, Reviews, Xbox on January 13, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Killer Photography

I don’t really enjoy western horror films. I seldom find such movies entertaining as they’re usually predictable and downright boring. Most of them achieve their scares with shock value alone. While the “boo” factor works to an extent, the most effective means of delivering fright are psychological – what you can see can be scary, sure, but the best scares come from that which you can’t see. This is the basis for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series.

Out of the dozens of choices for survival horror video games, Fatal Frame stands out from the rest with a unique outlook on what’s scary while avoiding many of the common trappings of the genre. Still, Fatal Frame still fetches a pretty penny. Is it worth the cash and more importantly, your time? Let’s find out.

Story

It is September 24, 1986. Sixteen year old Miku Hinasaki travels to the supposedly haunted Himuro Mansion on the outskirts of Tokyo to search for her older brother Mafuyu, who had been missing for a week after visiting his novelist mentor, Junsei Takamine at the Himuro Mansion.

Junsei Takamine as Miku discovered, had also gone missing in the mansion, together with his assistant and editor, whilst conducting research for a new novel.

With so many people missing in one old, decrypted manner and its smaller surrounding buildings, Miku is sure the task of finding her brother will be easy. Soon after she arrives though, she quickly realizes all is not right with the Himuro Mansion. After finding a mysterious camera able to banish evil spirits, young Miku ventures into the darkness, where both her fate and the true secret horrors that the mansion hides await her.

Graphics

Fatal Frame is a genuinely creepy looking game. The visuals haven’t aged quite as well as other survival horror games of its day such as the Resident Evil remake, but Fatal Frame does still catch they eye more so than other examples like Silent Hill 2 or The Thing.

Character models are well animated and rather realistic looking rather than cartoonish or stylized. One could argue that Miku looks out of place in her school uniform, but hey, at least she isn’t wearing a Sailor Fuku. Actually, from a technical standpoint, her white uniform greatly helps the player locate her position on screen under even the worst lighting conditions.

As one would expect, the game looks significantly better on the Xbox. The PS2 build looks a lot blurrier, muddier, and there are fewer ghost verities and unlockable costumes for Miku. For these reasons, I strongly recommend the Xbox version over the PS2 build. The Xbox version also supports 480p and is fully backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 with no known issues.

The Himuro Mansion and surrounding property is huge, but you are often restricted to narrow paths and only be able to access some areas per chapter. This is likely due to the limitations of the PS2 rather than the Xbox.

When you leave the game running for a little while, a built-in screensaver appears smearing bloody hand prints all over the screen. It’s both creepy and cool.

Audio

Fatal Frame is light on musical compositions and instead focuses on guttural, moody, and atmospheric pieces that greatly amplify the horror theme factor. You’ll usually find that the music is nothing that is memorable, but is loud and present enough that it can’t be ignored either. It’s a delicate balance to build a soundtrack that’s sole purpose is to enhance mood, and Fatal Frame does this very well.

The game’s voice acting is in English with no option to switch to the Japanese. This is a shame, as the English voice acting is all pretty poor. The voice actress for Miku does an acceptable job in most cases, but Mafuyu and a few others have such horrible delivery that it breaks the fourth wall. Of course, no matter had it gets, nobody ever points out that the dangerous situations Miku finds herself in almost resulted in a Miku sandwich.

Here’s an example of the voice acting from the game’s opening sequence.

Gameplay

As the name suggests, Fatal Frame is a survival horror game that revolves around photography. As you progress, Miku will be constantly attacked by malevolent ghosts and lost souls, all earthbound due to the horrific ways they died on the Himuro property.

To battle these spirits, Miku is armed with the Camera Obscura,  an antique camera and family heirloom passed down from her mother. This camera has the unique ability to damage and capture spirits. However, the camera also relies on “ammunition” – film. There are different types of films scattered throughout the mansion, and each type of film possesses a different strength. The camera also contains several special abilities, which must be unlocked using spirit points, which can be gained by capturing ghosts. More spirit points are rewarded for photographs that capture ghosts at close range, often just prior to them attacking.

Special abilities range from wider lenses to abilities such as paralyzing and vision to see ghosts through soild objects, making it easier to deal with the tougher ghosts Miku encounters throughout the game.

As mentioned, the game is broken up into several chapters called “nights”, even though the game takes place over the course of just one single night. The chapters progress as Miku reaches particular locations, usually after completing a puzzle or fighting a boss ghost.

As seems to be the general rule for survival horror, Fatal Frame has its share of logic puzzles that must be completed to progress though the game. I personally found the puzzles to be either mind numbingly easy or frustratingly difficult and just no fun. Your mileage will vary depending on where you fall on puzzles in your non-puzzle gaming.

Occationally, one of the porblems with the game is the camera. Fatal Frame is a third person survival horror game that doesn’t rely on fixed camera angles like Resident Evil does, but it nevertheless does not allow for manual camera control. The Right stick instead of moving the camera, only slightly adjusts Miku’s flashlight, allowing her to scan the area. The degree of movement is less than 15 degrees and it’s a wonder why Tecmo even bothered to include this ability at all.

Control

One of the many ways Fatal Frame is comparable to Capcom’s Resident Evil are the “tank” controls. While They aren’t as awfully slow as in RE, you’ll still find yourself getting into situations where you can’t see well due to fixed the camera angles and ridged controls.  The controls themselves are as follows:

Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus, adjust camera aim
D-pad: Scroll through menus, adjust camera aim
Right Stick: slightly move flashlight Movement in camera mode
LT: Enchant film
RT: Shoot
A: Confirm menu choices, open doors, interact with objects, Shoot
B: Cancel menu choices, Change to first person camera view
X: Run in direction you are facing
Y: Third person view: Options/First Person View: 180 degree turn
White: Zoom In (higher difficulties only)
Black: Zoom Out (higher difficulties only)
Start: Pause
Back: View Map

Considering they were designed with that awful controller F Xbox pad in mind, the controls do function rather well. The PS2 controls are nearly identical, in case you are wondering.

Frustration

Fatal Frame isn’t a particularity difficult game, but it can be frustrating because the game never tells you where to go or what to do next, which more often than not can be rather unclear. Some of the game’s puzzles are rather involved mind games that are just no fun for me personally. You can look up solutions on gamefaqs but the mathematical puzzles just have no place in a horror game in my opinion. There are also occasional issues with the the way the fixed camera and the controls respond when under attack by ghosts. Truly, this is the most horrific aspect of the whole game!

Availability & Price

Fatal Frame was released in 2001 for the Playstation 2 and a year later for the Xbox. Both versions were produced in limited numbers, resulting in much higher prices than most other games of their generation. For either version, except to pay $30 for a used copy. The price varies a little, with the PS2 version usually selling for a few dollars less due solely to its inferiority to the Xbox build.

History

Fatal Frame was released in Japan under the title 零 (Zero) and in Europe as Project Zero. Much of the game’s creepfest impact was due to the cover of the North American Fatal Frame which claims it is based on a true story. As it turns it out, the game is instead based on a Japanese urban legend.

According to the urban legend, just beyond the city of Tokyo is one of the most haunted locations in all of Japan. The rocky region is said to be location of where the Himuro Mansion (or Himikyru Mansion as it is sometimes known) once stood.

The Himuro Mansion was the scene of some of the most gruesome murders in modern Japanese history. Local lore has it that for generations, the Himuro family had participated in a strange, twisted Shinto ritual known as “The Strangling Ritual” in order to seal off bad karma from within the Earth, every half century or so.

The most popular version of the tale states that bad karma would emerge each December (other versions simply say “toward the end of the year”) from a portal on the Mansions grounds. In order to prevent this, a maiden was chosen at birth by the master of the household and isolated from the outside world in order to prevent her from developing any ties to the outside world, which would in turn, jeopardize the effect of the ritual.

On the day of the Strangling Ritual, the maiden was bound by ropes on her ankles, wrists, and neck. The ropes were attached to teams of oxen or horses to rip her limbs from her body, quartering her. The ropes used to bind her appendages would then be soaked in her blood and laid over the gateway of the portal. They believed that this would seal off the portal for another half century until the ritual had to be repeated.

During the last recorded Strangling Ritual it is said that the maiden had fallen in love with a man who tried to save her from the ritual. This “tie” to Earth tainted her blood and spirit and ruined the ritual altogether. Upon learning of the maidens love, the master took up his sword and brutally murdered all of his family members, before finally, in fear of what would soon happen, fell upon his own blade.

This is the basis of the “haunting” of the Himuro Mansion. Local legend has it that these souls of the murdered family wander the mansion attempting to repeat the failed ritual using whomever enters the abandoned building. Blood splashes on the walls are reportedly seen, as if they were flicked from the blade of a sword that had recently sliced through flesh. Many had reported seeing spirits and apparitions dressed completely in white, rinsing cloths and preparing the grounds for the ritual.

When asked about the basis of Zero, Chief Producer Makoto Shibata had the following to say:

“In an area outside Tokyo, there lies a mansion in which it’s said seven people were murdered in a grisly manner. On the same property, there lie three detached residences that surround the mansion, all of which are rumored to have ties to the mansion’s troubled past. It’s said there is an underground network of tunnels that lay beneath the premises, but nobody knows who made these tunnels or what purpose they served. Many inexplicable phenomenons have been reported occurring on the property. Bloody handprints have been found splattered all over the walls. Spirits have been spotted on the premises… even in broad daylight. A narrow stairway leads to an attic where a spirit-sealed talisman is rumored to be locked away. Men have sought this talisman, only to be found later with their bodies broken and rope marks around their wrists. There’s a crumbling old statue of a woman in a kimono, but its head is missing. If you take a photo of a certain window, a young girl can be seen in the developed picture. These incidents have provoked fear in the people of Tokyo, and many believe that those who live near this area will become cursed. The deaths of those seven people are unexplained to this day.”
However, the true validity of the urban legend remains largely unfounded. Assuming the horrific events took place even one hundred years ago, it is highly unlikely that no public records of this mass murder exist, especially so close to Tokyo. The “real” Himuro mansion no longer exists, but Tecmo based the location seen in the game on very traditional Japanese architecture of buildings that would have been built from in the 18th century or earlier.

Original Advertising

As usual, I couldn’t find an English trailer, but here’s the original Japanese version to scare the pantsu off you. 恐いです !!

Also, proof that j-pop can be applied to anything and still work:

Overall

Good

  • Great Graphics
  • Cute main character
  • Some genuinely scary moments
  • Japanese to a fault

Bad

  • Occasionally, your goal can be unclear
  • Lots of backtracking
  • Controls take a bit of getting used to
  • Expensive to buy even just second hand

Conclusion

Fatal Frame is an unusual survival horror game that few have had the chance to experience. It goes for a pretty penny on both the PS2 and Xbox, but it’s well worth a look if you’ve got slightly deep pockets and are looking for an experience that is every bit as enjoyable as other survival horror games you’ve probably already played like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. If you can, pick the game up for Xbox rather than the PS2 for the benefit of having better controls, cleaner graphics, fewer bugs, shorter loading times, more ghosts. and unlockable costumes to put Miku in a veriety of kimonos.

Data

Platform: Sony Playstation 2 & Microsoft Xbox (works with backwards compatible PS3s and Xbox  360s)

Genre: Survival Horror

Release Date: November 22, 2002

Developer: Tecmo

Publisher: Tecmo

Also from the developer: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden Black, etc.

Game Length: ~10-12 hours

ESRB: M

Buy/Skip: Buy

Gradius Review (NES)

Posted in NES, Retro Gaming, Reviews on January 8, 2011 by satoshimatrix

Destroy the core!

Gradius. It may be one of the granddaddies of all classic shooters, but the name alone is enough to conjure up an array of emotions for anyone who has ever played it. I recently asked retro gamers across many communities about Gradius and heard the same words over and over to describe the game like how it’s “difficult”, “addictive”, “rewarding” “frustrating” and above all, “memorable”. Smartasses also said “option” and “destroy the core.” Damn kids.

If you’ve ever played a Gradius game, you already know that the series is one of the best shoot ’em up (shmup) series out there and also one of the most difficult. The original Gradius was ported to systems that could handle it very well such as the PC Engine and also to systems’ that couldn’t such as the X68000 or even the MSX and Commodore 64, but for now, I’ll be reviewing the version that most of us probably would associate with, the Famicom/NES release.

Story

The peaceful people of the planet Gradius are suddenly threatened by the invasion force of the evil Bacterian Empire. When war is inevitable, the top Gradian scientists design the Vic Viper – a adaptable state-of-the-art hyperspace fighter with energy absorbing abilities to boost its own power. You are the best pilot the people of Gradius have and have been chosen to pilot the Vic Viper and end the war. Can the Vic Viper save the planet Gradius?

Graphics

Gradius was among the earlier Konami arcade shooters and when it was ported to the Famicom in 1986. The Famicom version, while obviously more basic than the arcade, is surprisingly faithful and is a very good port.

While Gradius may not look like much by today’s standards, when it was released it was an amazing step forward for the shooter genre and arcade games as a whole. Enemies are colorful and uniquely shaped. Due to the blackness of space, the colorful bullets, missiles, lasers, obstacles and enemies are clearly vivid and show a level of detail that was very impressive for its time and still looks good today. Bosses often take up half the screen!

The rather bizarre backgrounds and locations lean toward the surreal, but this is part of the charm of Gradius. What other game has you navigating a space cavern where volcanoes erupt below you or has you flying through a field of intergalatic Easter Island Moai heads that blast oval lasers at you?

Audio

Much of what transforms Gradius from being just another shooter is it’s legendary soundtrack. It is not an exaggeration to say Gradius has one of the best scores ever produced for a videogame. From the heroic and inspiring main theme of the Vic Viper, the adventurous and uplifting melody of the first stage, the urgent and frantic boss battle music to the moody and plotting theme that plays in the final stage, every peice of music is lively and perfectly captures the imagination and embodies the very soul of what shooter games are all about.

Take for example the theme from the fourth stage.As you spray lasers and missiles on your enemies and are under constant counter fire, this undeniably uplifting song screams “go for it!” like no other shooter game does.  The theme itself is simple, memorable, and just downright awesome, and is just one of many themes that play to the same effect. Check it out below.

So where did this awesome music come from? Gradius was composed by a young miss Miki Higashino, who would go on to become one of Konami’s most prolific composers they’ve ever had. Amazingly, Higashino composed Gradius at the very start of her career as a part0time composer at the young age of just 17. (I don’t know about you, but I think that’s incredible)

Higashino’s work on Gradius and the game’s subsequent overnight success would promote her from obscurity into the spotlight as she would later go on to compose the music for nearly every Gradius sequel and spinoff as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and the entire Suikoden series. Sadly, she left Konami in 2002 and now produces very few new scores, but a true legacy was left in her wake that forever remain on the hearts of gamers the world over. Higashino-san, we solute you.

Obviously, such prolific music that Gradius gave us has been remixed and arranged endlessly over the years. Among the more interesting takes on the game’s soundtrack is the Gradius in Classic album produced by Konami’s Kukeiha Club in 1993. This album reproduces all the music from Gradius with a real, live orchestra and the results are simply amazing. Here’s just a taste of that incredible album.

Gameplay

Gradius is an auto-scrolling horizontal shooter that makes heavy use of a power-up system. By itself, the Vic Viper is a rather basic spacecraft with sluggish movement, limited firepower and no defensive shielding. To even the odds, the Vic Viper can absorb enemy power capsules to increase it’s overall status. This is where the now-famous Gradius power up system comes into play.

Essentially, the power capsules enemy fighters drop are a forum of currency to buy upgrades with. Different kinds of upgrades require varied amounts of power capsules. The more power capsules you stockpile, the better the payoff is when you finally do spend them.

Whenever you absorb your first power capsule, you have the option to speed up one level. Speeding up makes your ship faster and easier to control, but if you speed up too many times the Vic Viper will go from being sluggish to dashing across the screen with the slightest press on the d-pad, often resulting in collision and death. It’s best to only speed up 2-3 times in any game that employs the Gradius power up system.

When you absorb two power capsules, you can drop missiles. Missiles fall below your ship at a 45 degree angle downward.  You have unlimited missiles so don’t be too concerned with firing them with abandon. Missiles have a limited guidance system. When they reach a flat surface, they travel along the ground before detonating on the first enemy they run into. Options, which I will soon get into, also drop missiles in addition to your regular shot.

Three power capsules gives you the ability to fire a double shot. The double shot is exactly like the default shot with the addition of another bullet stream that fires at a 45 degree angle above your ship, the exact opposite of missiles. Although you hae the ability to fire in two directions at once and pick off enemies that cling to ceilings easily, the Double Shot is best skipped over in favor for the next, more powerful ability, the piercing laser.

Four power capsules nets you the piercing laser, which is easily the best weapon in the game. This weapon fires straight from your craft and travels the entire length of the screen, regardless of what might be in its way. It can pass through whole streams of enemies, objects, even some solid objects. Best of all, options can fire it too, making the Vic Viper with several options and the laser capable of raining a devastating blue lightshow on your enemies.

With five capsules you can set off an option, also known as a multiple. An option/multiple is an indestructible orange drone that appears close to your ship. An option fires the same weapons the Vic Viper does, and moves in an inverted mirror fashion to your own movements. In the arcade original, you can have up to four options at once, but in the Famicom version you can have just two.

Finally, with six power capsules you can acquire the question mark, which is actually the shield. the shield in the original Gradius is two rotating energy discs that appear above and below the nose of the Vic Viper. They can absorb direct enemy fire and collisions, ensuring that frontal attacks will not result in the instant destruction of your ship. The shield can take a few hits before overloading, but it still does nothing to protect against enemies that shoot at you from behind. Regardless of the sheild, the Vic Viper will still be destroyed instantly if hit from behind. This flaw would be later be corrected in the sequels to follow.

If you pick up a seventh power capsule, the cycle repeats back to Speed Up, then Missile, then Double Shot, etc. The only major downside of the gameplay in Gradius is whenever you die, you looose all the upgrades you gained.

To make matters worse, if you die in the middle of a stage, it can be extremely difficult to proceed in your default weak and sluggish state with little hope of powering back up as most of the capsule giving enemies appear towards the start of each stage. If this happens, keep in mind there is always the Konami code, but even with the aid of the code you still will not have any speed or fire power bonuses and the code can only be entered once per game.

Each stage of Gradius begins with a swarm of weak enemies with plenty of power up opportunities, followed by a mid section of increased difficulty, a mid-boss, and then a boss. In the first game one of the main bosses that makes several appearances is a large carrier with a prominent blue core. To defeat this enemy you shoot at a series of hatches until you can fire directly at this core until you destroy it, hence the now infamous line “destroy the core!”

Control

Gradius controls just as you would expect from a classic Konami shooter. It’s flawless. Due to the Famicom/NES only having two action buttons, both fire and missiles are mapped to the B button, but is is actually better than having another whole button just for missiles as was the case in the arcade version.

D-pad: Movement
B: Fire
A: Upgrade your current power up selection
Select: No Function
Start: Pause/Menu

Frustration

Gradius is probably renown for being one of the most notoriously difficult shooters outside of the titular bullethell subgenre of shoot ’em ups. This is just one of those games where contact with anything other than the power capsules enemies drop means instant death. Worse, once you die, you loose all said power ups and revert back to your most basic, useless form that can barely deal with the weakest enemies in the game, let along anything else.

What this amounts to is the fact that once you die in the later levels, you’re pretty much fucked for the rest of the game. While this might not be true of all situations, it’s definitely enough to turn some gamers off from Gradius. Despite the constant frustration, Gradius is still one of the best classics worth playing again and again. Not too many frustrating games can make that claim.

Availability & Price

The Famicom version of Gradius is one of the more common and easy to find shooters out there and will usually set you back between $5-15 depending on level of completeness. Likewise, the NES version should also be around the same price range. Copies of both are usually readily available on ebay.

History

Gradius was original realsed by Konami in 1985 as a coin-0p arcade title, where it quickly grew in popularity. Soon, Gradius was the number one smash hit shooter in Japan and around the world. Around this time the budding home console market was beginning to be very profitable and Konami came on board with one of their first Famicom projects being a port of Gradius.

The success of Gradius in the arcades meant that the Famicom home console version quickly sold it’s first million copies, a huge milestone for a console game at the time. This fact would later be used as a selling point on the US NES version of the same game.

Original Advertising

Here’s the original commercial for the Famicom release.

Overall

Good

  • Incredibly accurate to the arcade version despite much less advanced hardware
  • Easily available
  • Perfect play control
  • Distinctive, large and detailed bosses
  • Legendary soundtrack

Bad

  • Rather difficult
  • Occasional cheap level design or enemy placement
  • No instant respawns upon death
  • The standard Famicom/NES version only allows you to use two options at once

Conclusion

Games come and go, but the appeal of Gradius is timeless, making it truly one of the best classic shoot ’em ups. The listen to the music is to love the music and one way or another, every shmup to follow owes a tip of the hat to what Gradius accomplished. If it’s been a while since you took the Vic Viper for a spin or even if you’ve never done so before period, I highly suggest you give this one a try. It will be frustrating to learn, but once you get the hang of it there’s so many sequels to follow you’ll never be board. Gradius is as one retro gamer I asked put it, rewarding, hard, addictive, insane, radical, excellent and most of all, classic.

Data

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System, Famicom, (ported from the Arcade and ported to numerous other consoles including the MSX, Commodore 64 and PCE to name a few)

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up

Release Date: April 25 1986 (Famicom, Japan)

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Also from the developer: Lifeforce, Gradius II, Gradius III, etc

Game Length: ~40 minutes

ESRB: N/A, but would be E

Buy/Skip: Buy

Bonus

Savvy retro gamers might have noticed in the screenshots that the game seems to look bettere than the standard version. That’s because it does – I  used a special rom hack that makes the game more closely mirror the arcade original. Since I don’t want to face any legal issues, I’d rather not publicly host the rom, but if you’d like it send me a private email and I’ll see about getting you a copy.