Kickstarter Look 40 Winks

After all these years, the Nintendo 64 is getting a new game: 40 Winks. Piko Interactive blew the dust off this abandoned GT Interactive project and put it up on Kickstarter. At the time of this writing, 40 Winks reached its first goal of $20,000, so it’s going to happen. Here’s a video about the beta by Glenn Plant (6 and a half minutes long):

Analysis

The Kickstarter description has a brief history of the game IP and GT Interactive’s woes, which I’ve come to be acquainted with during my journeys through game dev. But more on that in another entry. The press kit includes a Dreamcast stretch goal at $250,000, which I didn’t see on the Kickstarter page. The page says this is Piko’s first Kickstarter, but company head Eleazar Galindo Navarro has experience doing these. See the 4-in-1 SNES cart from 2014, for example. In any case, Piko is doing something right, since 40 Winks project already cleared +60% of its initial goal.

I have no idea what the costs will be for them to manufacture and distribute boxed N64 games. But they’ve been around for a while, so I’m assuming that they know what they’re doing. From a cost perspective, anyway. That said, I’m not overly enthused about going back to the n64 era in a 3D action platformer adventure. “Move over Mario…” is quite a high bar to clear. We shouldn’t discount the novelty of a brand new Nintendo 64 game though. Without knowing more about the dev team I can’t say if they’ll improve on the limitations of the system. Even if 40 Winks would have been a late stage release.

This New Year’s blog post lists an impressive array of abandoned catalogs, including Hasbro, Accolade, and Microprose. That’s quite a starter pack to get a niche publishing house going. I would love to see an updated Fields of Glory, if that IP is included in their acquisition.

Links to Piko Interactive and other stories are below, if you’re interested. Hat tip to NintendoLife for the original story.

Happy 20th Anniversary Resident Evil 2

Today marks 20 years since that horrific outbreak in Raccoon City, as documented in Resident Evil 2. An extraordinary achievement in the survival horror genre, it got bucketloads of ports after it hit the PlayStation 20 years ago today in North America.

Capcom upped its game with RE2, and was rewarded by the marketplace for its efforts. If you’ve been following along on the blog, you know I’ve been playing through the Leon disc all week. I’ve managed to beat the scenario, but I haven’t managed to find the time to update those posts in the proper Read From Memory style.

A lot has been said about Resident Evil 2, by people more knowledgeable than me. But I am interested in the many versions of the game, of which I own three. Here’s a good comparison video, from the Lotus Prince:

And, of course, we’re waiting to hear news of the RE2 remake. Hideki Kamiya, the original director of the game, has voiced his complete confidence in the new team’s ability to make the update even better than his masterpiece.

Whether they can do so remains to be seen. Small teaser photos have been posted on some official Capcom social media accounts. I just have a feeling though that some news is imminent.

Or maybe, that sort of timing would be too easy to guess.

 

Going Retro

Given all my whining when my childhood was stretched beyond all recognition on a modern TV a few days ago, I thought it would be a good time to actually look into retrogaming set ups. A cursory google search doesn’t reveal much but a few dated forums and tech sites. But when you type in a few specific queries, like, “RGB Playstation” we finally get some pay dirt. RETRORGB.com in particular has been very good, although after reading the section on modded N64s, I realize I’ve been down this road before.

Cracking open a n64 to get RGB mode out of it is far from the top of my priorities right now. That said, what about the PlayStation, which has a number of old games that I’d like to play again? Including a certain landmark survival horror game this week? Is it worth to try getting those games back onto the my living room TV?

It may not be necessary, it turns out. Apparently the PS Vita is good platform for PSOne classics. Though I still may try to see what I can do with the original hardware. Check out this video from My Life in Gaming for a lot of pertinent information about PS1 gaming.

 

Hard Landing on the Nintendo 64

If you’ve been following along on the blog for the last couple of days, you’ve seen me excavate various artifacts from the distant past. One such artifact happened to be my Nintendo 64. Surprisingly enough, the console was in working order. An additional surprise: many of my original games still worked, and some of them even maintained their battery saves. Since I had some downtime last evening, I decided, what the hey. I got my composite cable out, hooked the system up to the 55in TV, and grabbed the ol’ claw controller. The first game I played was NBA Hangtime. After some fussing and cart wiggling, the Midway Games boot up screen greeted me.

Now, a buddy of mine and I used to play NBA Hangtime religiously after school every day. We got quite good at it, as you can imagine. I’ve always been fond of these 2 on 2 arcade basketball games, going back to NBA Jam. So it was fun to have a friend to help beat up on the CPU regularly. I didn’t expect to be as excellent as I was then, so 19 years ago.

But man, the sprites moved so…fast! Faster than I remembered, in fact. I found the controls clunky, even a bit unresponsive. The GUI seemed incomprehensible to me, with few indicators of where my player was or who had possession of the ball.

Beyond that, I was plain terrible at the game. Terrible. After a few minutes, I just turned it off. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Not the retro goodness I had hoped for. But next up, I would try an old favorite I just recently had played on PC.

Rogue Squadron Redux

First, here’s a screen, lest you think I was fibbin’ about my prowess in Rogue Squadron 64 back in the day:

Author photo of the game select screen in Rogue Squadron 64
Save file in Rogue Squadron 64 – before I was Usual

Rogue Squadron 64 and Rogue Squadron 3D (PC version) are basically the same save for a few cosmetic differences on the load screens. At least, that’s what I thought. I knew that the Nintendo 64 version was not as good as the PC version graphically. Having recently played the higher res port from GOG, I could expect to notice some degradation.

Turned out, that was putting it lightly. I booted up the first level and flew out in with the X-Wing. The voicework definitely sounds thinner on the 64. Probably not the correct term there. Anyway, the low res models were blurry, and the animation was choppy. In fact, this is how it looked: imagine playing Rogue Squadron 3D while blinking continuously.

The controls were awkward to me (though to be fair, the n64 controller is an awkward beast…) but eventually, that came back to me. In fact, after I got reacquainted to the 64 controls, they felt better than the 360 pad for PC.  The graphics were a different matter though. I just couldn’t handle the low res models and the chop and drop frame rate. After completing the Mos Eisley mission (with one continue left…) I hit the power switch on the Nintendo 64.

I mean, I don’t have anything left to prove there, do I?

Thus far I had been very disappointed by my trip down retro avenue.  But Goldeneye, of all games, had to be a better homecoming, right?

Dam Goldeneye

I was shocked at how poorly Goldeneye aged. If I had to guess I would say I last played this game almost 15 years ago, if not longer. Needless to say, my memories of the game are more pristine than the actual game itself. Booting up the cart, my save file was in good order, the “007” folder still present. I went to the Dam level, set on the lowest difficulty.

The first thing I noticed was how flat everything looks, and how the camera swept in at a very slow pace. That seems to be a recurrent theme with these games. I suppose this was to be expected. Many of the guards, especially the guys wearing overcoats, are like blurry blobs against a similarly colored background. The controls are imprecise, inelegant. Not Bond-like at all, come to think of it. I sort of “wave” my way, taking a ton of damage in the process but killing off most of the enemies. No jumping, no crouching (I think?), just two strafe buttons and a weirdly fickle aiming reticle. Wow, I used to be pretty good at this game; have I been that spoiled by modern shooters?

I manage to make it to the third guard outpost, where the truck parks. Somebody sounds an alarm, and a few soldiers come running out. Including that officer with the OP DD8 pistol. I don’t make it out of here alive. I turned the 64 off, and realized I’ll probably never see Goldeneye again. It was unplayable to me.

Last Chance at Mercy

My time was running short, and I wanted to try one of the old AKi wrestling games before putting the old box away. Though I have pretty much all of them, including the various WCW branded games, I figured I’d have the best luck with WWF No Mercy. It was one of the last games released for the system, ironically enough.

I did not remember much of the opening, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of voices THQ managed to squeeze onto the cart. It brought me back, seeing all those late Attitude era storylines getting recreated on the 64, as best they could. Just wanting a quick one on one match, I went with a young looking Chris Jericho vs. Mick “Mankind” Foley.

One of the cool things about these WWF games: the developers sort of recreated the entrance videos for the wrestlers. Short, compressed clips of their ring music would play, but the Titantron video packages were also recreated, more or less faithfully, using very pixelated stills from the actual videos. Think of these are primitive animated gifs.

I think memories of Wrestlemania 2000 are bleeding in here. I thought the walk-ins were longer. As for the game, all my muscle memory (if I had any…) is long gone. Actually, No Mercy was a pretty hard game, even in my prime. The CPU is quite cheap. I fought against Mick gamely for two matches, getting to draws both times. Here, the graphics were not as terrible as the last few games. But that’s not much to write home about.

Nintendo 64’s Graphics

Don’t quote me on this, as I haven’t looked at the write-ups in quite a while. As I recall, the Nintendo 64’s native resolution is quite low, especially with a composite cable. S-Video gets us to 640×480, but since I didn’t have an S-Video port on this TV, I didn’t use it. I’m not up to speed on all of the arcanum with regards to scanlines and interlacing. But check out this video from Perfect Dark, another late-stage Nintendo 64 game. Read the author’s lengthy description to get a sense of the limitations of the system.

The point is, even if I wanted to go back and play through a few n64 games, for the Read From Memory series or the Back Catalog project, I might be stymied by the real limitations of the system. If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said I was just being soft. That I couldn’t appreciate “classics” the way they were meant to be played.

Maybe that’s true. But with so many games now – better designed, as well as designed for better hardware – I’ll have a hard time justifying playing native n64 games. Really, many of the games on that system worth playing – Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, etc – exist in updated form on newer consoles.

Longplay: Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

As some of you might be aware, a new Star Wars movie is out today, so I figured I would post a longplay of Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. (I’ve seen The Last Jedi, and my fears that it would be a soft reboot of Empire Strikes Back were unfounded. That’s all I’ll say about it on this site.) Anyway, back to the longplay. This is played by Tsunao, and clocks in at about 1 hour 44 minutes.

Super Empire Strikes Back came out in 1993, exactly a year after Super Star Wars. If you played it you probably remember it for its good production values and difficult gameplay. It’s one of those kinds of run-and-gun platformers that features a lot of unavoidable hits. I wonder if that design choice was an artifact of arcade influence. Sculptured Software did have a reputation in the coin-ops after all; before it was absorbed into the aegis of Acclaim.  But at the time it was an impressive game. Most impressive.

If you don’t have a working Super Nintendo and cart, you can get it on the Virtual Console for Wii/Wii U. Super Star Wars was recently released on PSN, but it doesn’t seem like anybody’s got around to SESB yet. Perhaps they never will.

Sega Dreamcast 18 years later

Earlier today Peter Moore tweeted out a birthday message to the Sega Dreamcast, a sombre reminder of that storied console. Hard to believe 18 years have gone by since 9.9.99 drop date, which changed console gaming. The Dreamcast was ahead of its time, as my friend – an early Dreamcast adopter and advocate – would always remark.

That in mind, I took a few minutes out to read up on Sega’s last console. There are so many sites and fan shrines out there now. Some of it is quite good. I heard the rumors and legends of Dreamcast’s troubled development, but I had no idea how convoluted it was. From SegaRetro.org, we learn about partnerships with Lockheed Martin (really?), Yamaha, Panasonic, Nvidia, and Hitachi. That’s just the base chipset.

I can imagine what the rest of the engineering looked like.

I dug my Dreamcast out of mothballs earlier in the year but never got a chance to set it up. I’m interested in the homebrew community, which is still considerable after all these years. I suppose we can hold out hope that Sega will return to the hardware market one of these days, but it’s probably never going to happen. Besides, with Sega Forever now, who needs them in that expensive arena?

Still, let’s peek into the abyss of nostalgia one last time, when there was more competition in the console world.

 

 

SNES Classic Edition Announced for September 2017

Nintendo created quite a stir yesterday when the company announced the SNES Classic Edition, the long rumored follow-up to last year’s NES Classic. The SNES Classic will launch on September 29 of this year with 21 games and two SNES pads. The unit will retail for $79.99. It should go without saying this will be a rare holiday gift this year. If you plan to get one (or several), you should bump it up on your priority list. While Nintendo says they’re ramping up production to meet anticipated demand, they don’t plan to continue making them after this year. So if you don’t manage to get one on the 29th, it’s likely you’ll have to deal with scalpers on the River and the Bay. If you’re in the US, you can sign-up for an email notice from Amazon now.

Enough of that. Here’s the breakdown of the games:

SNES Classic Games (First Party)

  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario Kart
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • F-Zero
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • StarFox
  • Yoshi’s Island
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Earthbound

And, of course, StarFox 2 – the finished-but-unreleased sequel to StarFox – will be included on the roster.

If you were to take a survey of all the Nintendo games that anybody owned in the SNES era, you would probably see all of those listed. This is a sampling of the golden age of the Big N’s game development prowess. Two Kirby games seem excessive; I would have rather have seen Pilotwings (yes really), but that’s a small quibble. There’s only one glaring omission to my eyes: SimCity.

SNES Classic Games (Third Party)

    • Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom)
    • Super Castlevania IV (Konami)
    • Donkey Kong Country (Rare)
    • Mega Man X (Capcom)
    • Contra III The Alien Wars (Konami)
    • Secret of Mana (Squaresoft)
    • Final Fantasy III (Squaresoft)
    • Super Ghouls & Ghosts (Capcom)

The Third party list happens to include three of my favorite games ever. In fact, astute readers of this blog will remember my posts about SFII Turbo from earlier this year. (And didn’t I just write something about Contra?) Again, I challenge you to find somebody who lived through the SNES years and didn’t play, own or hear of any of these games. I’m a little disappointed that Chrono Trigger wasn’t included, but if I’m being honest, I’d take Secret of Mana over that title any day. I had my fingers crossed that Mortal Kombat II would make the list, important as it was to the history of the console, but I’m not surprised it’s not here. That game doesn’t fit in with the tenor of the library anyway.

There are some other third party titles that would have been nice to have: Turtles in Time and Final Fight come to mind immediately. But these are minor, entitled complaints. There’s hundreds of hours of gameplay here. Many of these games appear high on everybody’s “Best of all Time/Greatest of all Time” lists, year after year.

StarFox 2

Game Informer was nice enough to repost a video that breaks down StarFox and StarFox 2. I’ve embedded this video below (about 7 minutes long).

Super Shortage

We’ll close this with a few words about the SNES Classic’s life cycle. Several outlets have noted that Nintendo will produce “significantly more” than the 2.3 million units that ultimately got shipped for the NES Classic. According to the company, it will only ship the system from September 29 until the end of the year. So again, if you’re keen on owning this novelty item, you better plan ahead and set aside significantly more cash than 80 bucks plus tax. I was able to get an NES Classic thanks to my wife, and she admitted she paid “a few times” more than its list price. Frankly it sucks, but this is par for course for the console maker and the aftermarket guys.

From Nintendo’s mouth:

“Our long-term efforts are focused on delivering great games for the Nintendo Switch system and continuing to build momentum for that platform, as well as serving the more than 63 million owners of Nintendo 3DS family systems,” reads the statement. “We are offering Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition in special recognition of the fans who show tremendous interest our classic content.”

Consider that your fair warning. This is truly a limited edition thing. Of course, if all you care about is the games, most of them are already available on the Virtual Console…and other ways. And if you really want to own the authentic article, you can shell out cash for the originals and any of the Retro consoles out there, or even an original SNES.

I wonder if they’re planning to do this for the Nintendo64.

Sega Forever revealed as free mobile games

Sega Forever, on your phone.

SEGA!

I saw a Sega fan site was abuzz when the company revealed a brand redesign to the other. Now, I don’t know if Sega Forever is a part of that push. But it may well be. As you can see from the tweet above, this morning Sega revealed the series of games that will be going “live in the next 24 hours”:

  • Sonic The Hedgehog
  • Altered Beast
  • Phantasy Star II
  • Kid Chameleon
  • Comix Zone

From Sega’s website:

FREE CLASSIC GAMES ON MOBILE
SEGA® Forever™ is a free and growing classic games collection of nearly every SEGA game ever released from every console era – Master System, Genesis/MegaDrive, Dreamcast, and more. Available on iOS and Android mobile devices.

When I have a chance I’ll give these games a whirl and see how the ports handle. For me, this is coming on the heels of the equally mysterious “Atari Box” announcement last week. Sure, Sega hasn’t returned to the hardware business – they would be insane to in my opinion, but stranger things have happened – but this is a good start. I don’t know why more companies don’t leverage their back catalogs in this fashion. I know there’s an incredible amount of conversion work involved to modernize a lot of these titles. It would seem to me that the costs would be outweighed by the nostalgia buyers, though.

Of course, I don’t think Sega (or anybody else) would be willing to port the weird games I like to play and watch. A man can dream though. A man can dream.

Contra NES Longplay

Contra for the NES, as played by RavenLord. Satisfy your nostalgia cravings below. The video is about 23 minutes long. You can consider yourself a hero if you watch the whole thing.

Contra Analysis

I’m sure there are other run-and-gun games I’m forgetting about, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a more memorable series than Contra. Like a lot of early third party NES games, Konami ported this one from the arcades. A perennial rental for me in the 80s, I remember this game frustrating the hell out of me. If only I had known about the Konami Code back then. Anyway, to list Contra’s particulars: it’s an action platformer, two players simultaneous, ten levels, a power ups system, lots of projectile shooting (and dodging) and many graphical nods to a certain movie franchise.

The perspective changes are an interesting aspect. I had forgotten about the pseudo-3D levels that are sprinkled here and there. Usually, these culminate with a boss fight. It’s a nice break in the action without radically altering the structure of the game. The graphics and sound are still surprisingly good for a 1988 NES game. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the ample sampling of HR Giger. The last boss is essentially the giant head of a Xenomorph. Even face huggers get a cameo.

Contra's final boss
Contra’s final boss, a Xenomorph knock off

Apparently, there’s a whole tortured history behind the console ports and regionalization of the game. Germany got a censored version, while the development team dumbed down the sprites for player characters Bill and Lance on the NES. If you’re interested in this, I recommend checking out Contra Encyclopedia. The site has a huge amount of information and trivia about all the games in the franchise, and some cool concept artwork too.

And yes, for the trivia buffs, the Iran-Contra affair may have inspired the name.

Development

A quick Google search reveals surprisingly little about Contra’s development history. There’s not even any sort of post-mortem on Gamasutra. I figured there would be something around, considering it’s the 30 year anniversary of the arcade game. So, perhaps Konami is letting the franchise lay fallow for a while. On Mobygames none of the team members listed in the credits have any bios or trivia sections. No linked media for interviews or things of that nature. The only thing of note is that the majority of these guys worked on basically every game I played in my youth, from the Ninja Turtle games to Castlevania, and even oddball titles like Blades of Steel. I wasn’t surprised to see one programmer also worked on Snakes’ Revenge. You know, the unofficial-official US sequel to Metal Gear. The games feel similar.

I suppose it’s not uncommon, especially for these 80s arcade games, that the developers had little to say about their work. We can rely on others to give us some insight though. A recent article on Gamasutra talks briefly about the power-up system and clever strategizing it forces on the player. And of course, there’s the Konami code. Technically Gradius was the first game to include it on the NES, but Contra is the more famous example. I also didn’t know that the game gets harder with each playthrough, a tidbit I gleaned from one of the fan sites.

Critical Reaction

Folks liked Contra quite a bit, as indicated by the number of sequels that it spawned. Here’s what Retro Game Reviews has to say about it, circa 2014:

The smooth controls, impressive level design and variety are key to what makes Contra such an amazing game. The addition of co-op play is a huge plus for an NES title and Konami should be applauded for making a game that is practically flawless in all areas.

Ok, maybe “practically flawless in all areas” is a tad too fawning, but we get the point. For what it is, Contra is a great game. But here’s a more critical review, from Mean Machines, circa 1991:

The problem with this is that it’s not particularly challenging. It takes a few goes to get used to the slightly ropey control method, and after that it’s simply a case of blasting your way through the pretty weak alien defences. It’s fun at first, due to the fact that you can get pretty far into the game, but once you’ve completed it, it all gets rather predictable. Gryzor fans might enjoy the action, but really you’d get far more out of something like Snake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll or Megaman 2.

This reviewer must have been a much more skilled gamer than I was in my elementary school years. Just from watching the longplay, I think what he’s getting at here is that gameplay is repetitive. That’s a fair criticism. Repetitive doesn’t necessarily equal easy, but it can.

Legacy

How about 11 sequels and a Vampire Weekend album as a legacy? Infogalactic notes that:

Contra was followed by Super Contra a year later. It was the only Contra sequel for the arcades developed in-house by Konami. Following the success of the NES adaptations of both, the original and its sequel (which was retitled Super C in its American release), subsequent sequels would be produced specifically for the home console market such as Contra III: The Alien Wars for the Super NES and Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, becoming one of Konami’s landmark series.

Indeed, Contra remains one of Konami’s landmark series, even if they’re just making PES and casino games these days. Where would you rank Contra among powerhouse franchises like Castlevania, Silent Hill, and Metal Gear? Perhaps it doesn’t quite hit those levels in gamer culture today. But I recall that Hard Corps was considered a coup for Sega in the midst of the Console Wars. So, Contra was quite significant in the 90s. And I challenge you to find somebody who’s familiar with the Konami Code and doesn’t think of Contra.

Up Next

Next week I’ll take a different tack and venture to the PC world for an extended longplay look. Not to give too much away now, but it’s a Sierra game. Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me.