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Great Retro Halloween Games That Aren’t Scary

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Happy Halloween to all of our lovely retro readers.  All month we’ve been chatting about horror gaming, ominous dark rooms, and I’ve been spending one moment in Silent Hill and the next running from the Slenderman.  I thought it might be fun to finally offer some retro Halloween gaming for the timid, nervous, screaming little scaredy cats out there.  Yep, you read that correctly, here’s a list of fun Halloween videos games that aren’t intended to scare you.

Maniac Mansion (Commodore 64, NES, PC/MAC, iOS/Android)
Way back in 1987, veterans to the industry Ron Gilbert and Tim Schaefer created a little point-and-click adventure game about a group of teenagers that break into the old mansion of Dr. Fred Edison to get back protagonist Dave Miller’s missing girlfriend.  Although set in a haunted house that comes complete with blood on the walls, skeletons in the basement, and a hyper-sexualized nurse Maniac Mansion is all in good fun.  There are no actual scares and you’ll be laughing hysterically way before you get an opportunity to be scared.  Not only was this late 80s PC title a great game to play, but it also was responsible for the creation of Lucasfilm’s infamous “SCUMM” engine (standing for, say it with me kids, Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) that would be utilized in all Lucasfilm adventure games from then on.  With a surprising decent port on the NES, plenty of PC ports, a recent enhanced graphics fan re-release, and full compatibility with SCUMMVM on your iOS/Android device, this is a game not to be missed.  Unfortunately it has never been (and probably never will) re-released in any way so almost any way you play this game will have to be found by nefarious means, but even creator Ron Gilbert has said that if that’s the only way to play, he’d rather you pirate it than not play it at all.

7th Guest (PC/MAC, CD-I, iOS)
Okay, now I know that this is a horror tale and I know that it’s slated as scary, but in truth this haunted house puzzler is anything but.  Consisting of large amounts of cutscenes that re-tell a tale (and even regarded as a FMV title by some), you basically solve a puzzle and get a movie as a reward for a total of 21 puzzles.  In fact, the scariest part of the game is trying to figure out the more complex and asinine puzzles at the end, but don’t you dare consult a FAQ, that ruins the whole point of the game.  As a scary game the 7th Guest fails on all fronts, and frankly it’s heavily dated even by my tolerably low standards, but there’s still plenty of game to appreciate here and the game is anything but broken.  It has recently been resurrected via OS X’s app store for MAC/iOS and all others can pick up the Win XP/Vista/7 compatible port on Good Old Games for $10.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, Sega Genesis)

Which version is this?

I’m going to get a bit controversial here because everyone I talk to proudly claims that the SNES port is the better game.  While I have to give it to the SNES for presentation, actual gameplay still rides in the hands of Sega’s double speed “blast processing”.  Full disclosure: I was a Genesis kid growing up and I always prefer violent versions of games over pretty ones (Mortal Kombat only had blood on Sega consoles as did this title) so I’m sure there’s bias buried in there one way or another.  Either way, the games are identical save for some graphical differences and every version is wonderfully great.  The premise is to take a brother and sister combo, drop them into a world that has seen the apocalypse via cartoony versions of horror movie characters, and have them fight through the hordes to rescue their neighbors.  You start off with 10 people to rescue in each level, with a total of 50 levels (55 if you count the bonus ones), and any victims lost remain missing on future levels.  From there you basically need to survive (you are given limited lives) and prevent all your neighbors from being killed, it’s as simple as that.  I like this game because like other LucasArts titles it takes a basic premise from the old arcade and Atari 2600 days and adapts it to 16-bit consoles for a fun and addicting co-op title.  No one is going to be scared by this title, but it will make your nerves stand up on end once you enter those last 15 or so levels – oh, and did I mention no continues and only 5 passwords throughout the whole game?  Every time I see this game online or at retro shops it’s just around $10-$15 and you Wii owners can nab it on the Virtual Console (SNES version) for $8.

Haunting Starring Polterguy (Sega Genesis, PSP)
In one of the zaniest Electronic Arts releases I’ve ever seen, Haunting is a thought-provoking game that puts you as lead character Polterguy, a “hip” dead teenager not unlike every mascot Sega ever saw on its Genesis console, in charge of scaring the daylights out of the Sardini family.  It’s an isometric haunted house simulator except that you are generating the scares.  The goal is to scare all of the family members out of the house before your ecto meter (this title’s version of a timer) depletes and without being seen by the family dog (drains ecto meter and removes fear from family members).  The two player mode is interesting because you trade off turns with scares and then go into a dungeon level where you compete for ecto and get to a finish line.  If either player dies during the dungeon areas the other player will continue the game in single player.  Not a title that most will see the end of, but definitely a fun and amusing game that has a surprising level of violent content and for those that make it to the end an amusing twist.  This game is a relatively rare but inexpensive ($10-$15) Genesis cart and a re-release on the EA Replay collection for the PSP that’s roughly the same rarity and price.

Night Trap (Sega CD/32X CD, 3DO, PC)
We have done plenty of coverage on this cult favorite, complete with a full game playthrough, so I’ll just revert you to the article here if you haven’t seen it.

And there you have it!  Five solid games for you to run out and pick up (or download) for your retro console of choice this Halloween.  It’s not all about scares and trick-or-treat, sometimes horror games can be enjoyed by the whole family, even the house wuss.  Any you particularly liked that I haven’t mentioned here?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Grand Theft Auto Vice City Turns 10 (PS2/Xbox/PC)

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Console: Playstation 2, Xbox, PC
Released: 10/29/2002 (US, PS2)
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar
Difficulty: Moderate
Value: $0.88 (used) $8.25 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Prices for PS2 Version
Price: $5.00-$10.00 (used) $10-$20 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Not Yet – ESRB suggests a PS3 and possibly Xbox 360 release and iOS/Android app should be out any day

When Grand Theft Auto III hit the Playstation 2, Rockstar North single-handedly proved that it could make a clearly defined, open world that players could explore in a fully rendered 3D city.  It wasn’t until the follow-up, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, that the studio gave this concept personality.  Some think of it as a sequel, but in retrospect Vice City was merely an update to the engine that allowed to tell a side tale, which would be made available nowadays as a large DLC add-on.  It basically retells the story of Scarface within the GTA III engine, but adds enough detail and flair to the mix to place it among one of the top rated games of last generation – and even garnered it a sequel that started life on PSP and moved to the more prevalent PS2.  Personally, this is my favorite game in the series because it’s clever storytelling promotes completion of the campaign while the familiar 80s soundtrack brings me back to the early days of my youth.

Grand Theft Auto III was a technical achievement, but the silent protagonist without even a name was difficult to connect with because few of us have inclinations for the atrocities that character commits.  In Vice City we are given a lead, Tommy Vercetti, that has just broken out of prison after 15 years for the murder of eleven men.  With that information alone we have context for the type of person we are controlling and subsequently feel more comfortable being a sociopath.  Tommy has a past, a goal, and even some well phrased quips for anyone that gets in his way.  Furthermore he has established relationships, finds new friends and business partners, and is more than a goon for hire with a bunch of faceless mafia types on his way to the top, which makes him dynamic when compared to the previous title’s lead. 

Tommy isn’t the only welcome addition – the world has changed too.  A previously drab re-creation of “Anycity, USA” has been rediscovered in a crystal clear adaptation of Miami, Florida and the neon excitement of 1980s pop culture along with it.  Signs glow, outfits are outrageous, and hits from the era performed by the actual artists loudly emit from your car stereo with more than two hours of continuous content – I have the soundtrack, it’s a whopping 8 discs long.  There are plenty of original touches as well: an Atari 2600-like game console you can actually play, K-Chat Radio’s hilarious banter on fictitious subjects, and a slew of user-controlled vehicles with everything from a 70s heap to military grade weapons at your disposal.  This is 1986 Rockstar style.

Aside from these tune-ups, the game still follows the basic GTA formula of going to a person for a mission, completing it, and moving on to the next.  By this point cheat codes with insane results were well-known and many fans of GTA III were screwing around in the city instead of “playing” the game.  It was a free time for video games, where everyone from the most casual to the most hardcore could have a good time and the 80s spin on things assisted even further in painting a fun light on a series plagued by negative press due to violence.  Of course it couldn’t skate controversy completely, there were plenty of repeat news articles claiming the violence was deconstructing American society.  Jack Thompson, a devout anti-video game lawyer that has since been disbarred, fought for video game bans and censorship, a 17-year-old blamed the title for why he opened fire during an auto theft, and Wal-Mart contemplated removing the fast selling title from its shelves.  Even the hot topic of racism was brought under the spotlight with the title’s gang war between Cubans and Haitians, but in the end Vice City moved more than 17 million copies and stands as the fourth best-selling title on the Playstation 2.  If you like GTA games and haven’t tried Vice City, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Podcast: (Re)Visiting Silent Hill 2

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This week Fred reflects back on survival horror favorite Silent Hill 2.  This is his first time playing the game and he discusses the atmosphere, gameplay, and plot of Konami’s unnerving title.

Feel free to discuss this game now in our forums provided by EZ Mode Unlocked!

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Happy 20th to the Sega CD

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Sega CD Model 2 with Genesis Model 2, the most common setup

Okay, I know the Sega CD actually turned 20 exactly one week ago on October 15, but we’ve been very busy over here so we regretfully missed the window.  Fortunately we are making up for that with tons of Sega CD coverage for the month of November, check in to see write-ups and gameplay on many of the titles that made Sega’s overpriced add-on a temptation in 1993.  Now I know it is popular opinion to crap all over the Sega CD and in full disclosure I’m an avid fanboy of this specific system, but somewhere in between lies its true value.  Someone once told me that any console with at least three good games is worth being in existence and under that theory the Sega CD justifies itself at least three times over.  In recent days the Sega CD has also dropped in price/value so it’s quite possible to get your hands on a Genesis/CD combo for roughly $50-$75, which isn’t too shabby even by today’s standards.

In truth the Sega CD (Mega CD in Japan and Europe) wasn’t designed for our market.  It was developed in Japan to compete with the PC-Engine CD (Turbografx-16 Duo in our country) and hopefully migrate the consumers of the time into the CD generation as an unassuming add-on instead of a full-blown machine.  In the end both consoles did make their way stateside (NEC being very conservative with Turbo Duo distribution and Sega liberally releasing any and all hardware in every market) with hefty price tags ($300-$450).  Sega CD emerged victorious but many would argue its victory was due more to the fact that almost every game that released in Japan came over here whereas an extremely meager amount of PC-Engine CD titles ever made it stateside.  Like the PC-Engine CD, the Sega CD was able to upgrade visuals, considerably upgrade audio quality (especially with straight CD tracks in red and yellow book audio format), and increase capacity of discs to 600 mb when compared to the frail 32 megabit capacity of the Genesis.  Sega CD was kept under wraps so tightly that aside from technical specs, many developers of early games had no idea what console they were developing for.

Getting Technical

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis Model 1

As a result of Sega’s “release everything” policy, the Sega CD has a few versions that can be found in the US market (ignoring importing, of course) and compatibility can be somewhat complicated.  All Sega CD games (imports from anywhere else will be labeled Mega CD) are compatible in all Sega CD consoles and the add-on peripheral itself is compatible with the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 consoles, but not the Genesis 3 or Sega Nomad.  There are two consoles – the first version locks under a Genesis and has a slide out tray and is prone to mechanical failure these days due to the bands and screws that make up the device and the second being a top loading console that attached to the right of the Genesis, which has much less moving parts and rarely breaks down even today.  In addition there is also the Sega CDX, a portable CD player and Genesis/Sega CD combo in one, and the rare JVC X’Eye, a licensed console that is also a Genesis/Sega CD in one.  Sega CD adds an additional 12.5 mhz 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor, which is just a higher clocked version of the Genesis, that runs in tandem for CD games (and goes dormant for Genesis cart titles) adding minor video compression capabilities, improved visuals, and rotation/scaling (think Mode 7 for the SNES).  As for sound, it added 8 stereo sound channels to the 6 on the Genesis Yamaha chip and additional 4 PGS, which basically means it could make games sound really good.  The biggest gripe for the console is that the onboard RAM was extremely small, capable of holding one or two save files for most games (especially big JPRGs) so a tempting hunt for the average collector is the Sega CD RAM cart that adds 16 times the storage space but resells today for high prices starting at around $50.  If you don’t mind playing one game at a time with no stores save files, the console is perfectly playable (with saving) on its own.

Games

Quintessential in determining the value of the console is the value of the games.  Sega CD was panned by critics back then and today for its seemingly lackluster library, which I have a hard time agreeing with.  In fact, thanks to re-releases and the lack of demand for the system, Sega CD games can often times be the best and most inexpensive port of a game in that era.  Overall the Sega CD library can be separated in three groups: ports, full motion video (FMV) games, and exclusives.

In the realm of ports, there’s no shortage of Sega CD titles that came from the arcades, the PC, and even the Sega Genesis itself.  Most titles that began life on the Genesis have lazy ports that are basically ROMs from the cart placed on the CD.  Thankfully Sega included four games (Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Columns, and Revenge of Shinobi) as the pack-in for the Sega CD 1, but Lethal Enforcers and Lethal Enforcers II are famously indistinguishable between the Genesis and Sega CD version.  Chuck Rock, Chuck Rock 2, and Brutal: Paws of Fury also suffer similar fates with little changes over the originals and nothing that can be noticed by the unaware player.  Arcade ports, on the other hand, received very faithful upgrades over most other versions on the market including Fatal Fury Special, the only decent home port of Final Fight, the only version of Mortal Kombat that was bloody out of the box, and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.  There is a great version of Samurai Showdown as well that skates the line between the performance on Genesis and the visuals of SNES, but it had a game breaking bug that would freeze up as it loaded the final boss that you may want to stray from (this version was fixed and ported to the 3DO).  On the PC front, plenty of ports made appearances including a fully voiced version of Willy Bemish, a point-and-click adventure that borrows themes from Dennis the Menace, Escape from Monkey Island, Rise of the Dragon, Space Adventure Cobra, Wing Commander, Heart of the Alien, Star Wars Chess, Rebel Assault, and the best version of Snatcher.  For those not familiar, Snatcher is a cyberpunk adventure game from Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) that includes many adult themes and interesting pop culture references, the Sega CD version being the most complete and ironically only English version for a smash hit from Japan.  Depending on who you ask, this is the one game you have to own on the console, but you will pay dearly for it.

FMV titles basically gained popularity on the Sega CD and make up a decent chunk of its library.  Of these games, the most effective to implement the system are Night Trap, pseudo-sequel Double Switch, and Sewer Shark, which all integrate some semblance of gameplay.  For many of the others, they seemed to copy the Dragon’s Lair format of meager player interaction to forward a story.  These titles are abundant – Dragon’s Lair, Dragon’s Lair 2, Road Avenger, Time Gal, Wirehead, Make my Video Series (Kriss Kross, Marky Mark, INXS, C&C Music Factory), Masked Rider, Space Ace, and Supreme Warrior – but also mixed in are light gun games that fused FMV and the Lethal Enforcers mechanic (poorly) – Mad Dog McCree, Who Shot Johnny Rock, Ground Zero Texas, and Crime Patrol.  Basically if you’ve heard negative things about this console it’s most likely in response to these games.  I happen to have a soft spot for a handful of them, but even I can’t stand replaying Mad Dog McCree or Masked Rider again.  There are also interactive mystery games that made a cameo on the console, which are Dracula Unleashed and Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1 and 2, all taking place coincidentally in about the same time period and location (England) that has you solving crimes and seeing cutscenes for clues and plot progression.

Finally we come to the unique titles, and probably the largest justification for the system.  On the top of that list is Sonic CD, which isn’t that great of a game in hindsight, but features a solid soundtrack and unique past/present/future system that was an early attempt to break the Sonic mold.  Several large RPGs made their way to the console, including the highly popular Lunar and Lunar 2, which were first released on Sega CD.  Due to rarity and popularity, these games still remain more expensive and arguably rougher than the PS1 remakes, but those who have copies of the game cherish them.  Panic! is an exploration game starring a young boy who closely resembles Stewie from Family Guy (in looks only) and a canceled game that can be found online today called Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors that featured “fake” minigames to mess with your friends including the cult favorite Desert Bus where you travel for 8 actual hours with almost no activity on a trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas for one point.  There is an impressive point-and-click action adventure Jurassic Park title that stands as possibly the only game from that franchise to somewhat capture the feel of being stuck on Isla Nublar.  Robo Aleste is a Tengen developed vertical shooter that is a sequel to the highly praised M.U.S.H.A. Aleste title for the Genesis and Silpheed is a decent Starfox clone.

The lists I have provided are in no way a complete collection of the console’s titles, but it begins to give you an idea that Sega put forth a lot of effort to see the Sega CD succeed.  Unfortunately its timing and extremely high price tag placed it out of reach for most gamers and the large volume of horrid FMV titles and expensive exclusives make it a timid console to collect.  Still, I loved that console and I’m impressed that after nearly 20 years of life, my Sega CD 2 still runs perfectly.  It introduced me to load times, limited storage, repetitive gameplay and titles that could be conquered in 12 minutes, but for some reason I can’t help but celebrate the Sega CD.

Ghost from Sewer Shark says, “The Sega CD ain’t half bad!”

Written by Fred Rojas

October 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Review: Retro City Rampage

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Every now and again a video game comes out that completely embraces the culture of growing up with gaming, most of these developers being in their 30s and were kids in the 80s during the so-called “Nintendo Generation”.  These games borrow commonalities with their aged ancestors, but refine the years of innovation and can generate an even better title than was possible back then.  Retro City Rampage (RCR) doesn’t really do that.  Instead, this game packs itself to the brim with 80s pop culture references while walking, talking, and acting just like a classic 8-bit Nintendo game.  While the nostalgia factor, especially for a gamer like me and readers like you, is always a welcome addition, it does cloud the focus of the developers to the point that the gameplay is a jack of all trades and expert of none.

Retro City Rampage actually started life back on the original NES as a homebrew project.  Designer Brian Provinciano began the project in 2002, building his own NES dev kit and trying to “demake” – a term used for modern games remade on classic consoles – his favorite titles, one of which was Grand Theft Auto III.  For years he was creating technical breakthroughs on Nintendo’s old gray box and possibly pulled off a faithful demake entitled Grand Theftendo before deciding to scrap the NES limitations and continue in PC development.  By 2007 he decided to integrate some classic game references (leading to pop culture references as well) and eventually creating the original title Retro City Rampage.  If this hasn’t already become abundantly clear, those that didn’t grow up playing Nintendo games will likely be lost on the (sometimes obscure) references.  That doesn’t stop this GTA clone from still being an amusing romp and shouldn’t discourage anyone who would like to check out what is ultimately a decent-sized game that doesn’t lose pace, even at the end.

I think the hardest thing to get over is the fact that this title does work off of the GTA template: get a mission, attempt as many times as you need to complete it, move on to the next mission.  As expected, interaction with side quests, shops, pedestrians, and the good ole five-o give a chaotic spin to the otherwise mundane task of moving from place to place.  Where RCR diverges from its inspiration is the missions themselves.  Sure, there are plenty of missions that regretfully (I don’t care much for GTA campaigns) come right from the source, but those are scattered in among a generous offering of crazy mini-game style throwbacks to everything from sneaking into Shadow Moses as Solid Snake to participating in a game show a la Smash TV.  It all comes with an incredibly convincing recreation of a Nintendo title with 8-bit graphics that have me fooled if they aren’t confined by those hardware limitations and a chiptune soundtrack that has more than two hours of continuous music. 

With a title like this that borrows so heavily from everyone else’s work – the parody excuse holds strong in free flash titles like Abobo’s Big Adventure but I have more criticism in commercial enterprises such as this – the devil is definitely in the details.  In this category, Retro City Rampage definitely stands above and beyond the most comprehensive experience one can find in games of this type.  From the first time you boot the game there are plenty of options at your disposal including a myriad of background choices, color schemes that range from the neon pastels of 80s microcomputers to the greenish hues of the Gameboy, and enough resolution options to keep anal videophiles pleased.  For me, I was amused that my experience, while having the same activities, could be completely different from someone else’s based purely on the fact that I played the whole game in Game Gear-like tones instead of the original vibrant color pattern.  A majority of the buildings in the game can be entered and serve to be everything from mission locations to customization areas to even arcades with several different games to choose from.  These are not Pong or Galaga thrown into a loading screen, these are fully fleshed out titles from developers like Twisted Pixel that look and feel just like their big brothers.  I was pleasantly surprised that the Team Meat game, a Virtual Boy-esque running game starring none other than Super Meatboy, had its own visual options to view the game in the vibrant red hues we know or to switch to an actual blue/red 3D that anyone with the paper glasses can use for a “3D experience”.  These are the options we’ve always joked about wanting in a game and never expect to actually receive, which is appreciated.

With all the love and praise I’m spreading for this title, it’s disheartening to reveal that this title’s melting pot of love for the past is not without a few missteps.  I can’t really attack the plot, which is a scatterbrain retelling of Back to the Future mixed with almost every 80s icon I can think of from the Ghostbusters to Zack Morris, but I think the developers were a bit too caught up in the wild story that they forgot to focus on how well these events actually play.  As a result the scenarios sound great and hilarious when you retell them but are frustrating or boring to play through.  A good example comes about halfway through the game when your character has to drive a truck five laps in three minutes.  As expected the first lap is nothing but the second lap has you randomly being forced to grab drive thru mid-lap and by the final lap you’re pushing a parked vehicle into water before rushing to the finish line.  I didn’t want to spoil much about that isolated event, but it’s quite frantic and as I think back on the mission a smile crosses my face due to its absurdity.  That wasn’t how it felt playing it, though.  It felt cheap, annoyingly repetitive, and by the fifth time replaying it I was both bored and contemplating switching games.  These missions aren’t consistent, until the endgame I couldn’t think of any that are back-to-back, but I just want to question why the weakest parts of Grand Theft Auto were selected to be the only copied missions in RCR.  Many of the missions recreate scenarios from the NES titles I grew up with, but the controls aren’t quite as tight as they need to be when attempting some of these old school titles and as a result simple tasks can become daunting and specific.  I also wish RCR had more of a personalized spin on the resurrected titles instead of just popping the main character, aptly named “Player”, into exact versions of the other game.  There’s also the factor of the difficulty, which ramps up in the final two hours of the eight-hour campaign to more traditional 8-bit challenge, also known by me as a crash course in masochism.  It’s not unbeatable, but I’m fairly certain that for the less persistent gamer this title will join the likes of most Nintendo games as remaining unfinished for the end of time.  While it may be one of the weaker game design areas, the final missions demonstrate some of the more unique and well-integrated nostalgic moments of RCR, so hanging on to the end is recommended.  I know it’s a nitpick, but I also didn’t like the extreme focus on the 8-bit era that tossed in modern pop culture like Epic Meal Time and the Microsoft/Apple treatment of modern consumers and independent development studios.  While these references were amusing, they seemed out of place alongside Bill & Ted and the quest for a 72-pin connector.

In the end I think that Retro City Rampage will follow the same track as the title that inspired it.  Most players will get a taste for it, screw around in the world for a few hours, complete a few missions and probably move on when things get rough.  As a person who strongly believes there’s no wrong way to play a game and as long as you’re having fun then the title has merit, I see no problem in this save that it’s not an experience I care for.  Unlike GTA the missions and gameplay that accompany this difficulty ramp are scenarios that I as a retro gamer have come to know and love, which keeps me hanging on when I usually would have abandoned it.  I do think this title is best enjoyed in small doses, but with the Vita version being the only portable outing, you may need to exert some self-control and try to tidbit this game until its eventual conclusion.  There’s a lot to appreciate with Retro City Rampage, but don’t mistake it for an easy or throw away love fest for the games of old.  It packs a punch and shows you that it can stand tall amongst the games it emulates, albeit at the cost of some design flaws.

Retro City Rampage was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review and took roughly eight hours to complete the main campaign with an additional three hours of gameplay dedicated to other features and replay.  It is currently available on PC via Good Old Games and Steam as well as on Wii (WiiWare), Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and Playstation Vita (PSN) for $15 across all platforms.  Please note that purchasing this title on PSN will give you a copy of the game for both the PS3 and Vita. 

Written by Fred Rojas

October 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Podcast: Neo Retro Revolution

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This week Fred and Derek from the Playground Podcast (and contributing writer on GH101) discuss the concept of “neo retro” titles.  We define neo retro as any game that looks like, plays like, or collects games from the past and releases them today.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 17, 2012 at 11:49 am

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The Value (and Necessity) of Retro Gaming

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The following article was written by Derek on the retro gamer and why more should join the cause.  For all intents and purposes it seems to demonstrate the mantra of this site – perhaps even moonlighting as a retro gamer manifesto of sorts.  Either way it’s a well written and concise explanation of why the retro gamer cannot and should not disappear, even if it isn’t mainstream.  Enjoy the read. – Fred – GH101 Executive Editor

Atari, NES, Amiga, and Master System. The grandfathers of modern consoles and the canvasses for which many classics were displayed upon. Whether you’re part of the young generation or you got a late start on gaming there is no better time than now to start playing retro games. Yes I realize the graphics, sound, and some of the game play isn’t up to par with today’s game releases but this by no means makes these titles inferior. So why go retro? It’s quite simple really: affordability, fun, and nostalgia. Gaming is one of few art mediums where the majority of people don’t know or appreciate the roots and genesis of it all. It’s time for that to change!

Galaga by Midway

Let’s face the facts: keeping up with and playing the latest and greatest titles these days is by no means cheap. We gamers spend hundreds of dollars a year to buy games and accessories and PC gamers spend even more to upgrade hardware. Having a fun gaming experience doesn’t need to break the bank though, in-fact, many retro consoles can be purchased for under $100 and most games for these consoles can be found for a couple of bucks if you know where to look. Take the NES for example, On eBay or at a local used game store you can pick up one of these gems including controllers and cables for around $50-$80 and most games for the system won’t set you back more than $2 or $3. Other consoles like the Sega Master System or Atari 2600 are similar in cost and the games are just as cheap. Imagine being able to experience classic titles like Street Fighter II, Alex Kidd, Super Mario, Asteroids, and Pac-Man on their original system’s for cheap. I for one would rather take $100 and buy 20 retro games rather than buying one or two new games.

As the saying goes, quality over quantity. This is evident in video games today with fewer and fewer good titles being released and console makers adding in achievement and trophy incentives to beat games or play them on a harder difficulty. However, back in the early days of gaming no such incentives existed and publishers and developers had to make sure their game was compelling, challenging and fun all the way thru. I never got 25 achievement points for beating Sonic or a gold trophy for playing Mega Man for 10 hours. Back then we played games over and over because they were fun and addictive not because we got some sort of fake digital reward. Because of this most retro games are pure addictive fun. The quality of retro games focused strictly on good game play, innovative platforming, and simple but effective graphics.

Vectorman by Sega

Every game play feature and platforming piece has its roots in the early days of NES or Atari games. While modern day innovations like the Gears of War crouching/cover system really have no feasible roots in retro they have been made possible by early innovations like more complex movement and controls in adventure games such as Shinobi. Games like Mario and Sonic laid the foundation for platforming with breaking boxes, collecting coins, and stomping out enemies- all common features in platformers today. Nowadays we talk frame rate and polygons but retro is all about hand painted or hand drawn backdrops, 8 bit design, and of course sprites. For many, Sprites are iconic and represent retro games for their simple style and that is why despite having modern graphics many games like Scott Pilgrim use sprites to convey an unique look. Recent XBLA title Bastion took retro hand drawn backgrounds to a whole new level with brilliant illustration throughout the game.

So even though it may be retro it doesn’t mean its not hip or cool. You know something is good when its still being copied and payed homage too decades later. Playing these older games and reliving our childhood is a nirvana every gamer should experience no matter your age or skill level. It is much easier to critique games and demand more when you have a better sense of how far gaming So head on out and buy up some gaming history. Enjoy it and learn to appreciate a simpler time when blowing on cartridges was a cleaning method and memorizing combos and codes was more important than homework. If you call yourself a true gamer you have to know your roots.

Derek is a freelance writer on several sites in addition to being one of the hosts on the Playground Podcast.  He is an occasional guest on our very own podcast and an overall passionate gamer.  He can be found on Twitter (@avsrok).

Written by Fred Rojas

October 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Features

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Podcast: NES Business Practices

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It’s been a very busy week, but we at Gaming History 101 will never disappoint or miss a week.  In this Fred Rojas solocast we discuss the various practices that Nintendo imposed on the US NES market to basically secure profit on every game and control competition to remain the only game in town.  Stories abound and a partial introduction to the company Tengen and why they are one of the only companies with unique NES carts.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 11, 2012 at 11:41 am

Guilty Pleasure: Night Trap (Sega CD/32X CD/3DO/PC)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD, 32X CD, 3DO, PC
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD, 32X CD), Virgin (3DO), Digital Pictures (PC)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $25.00-$50.00 (used) $50.00 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Prices for various platforms
Price: $25-$50 (used) N/A (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Oh Night Trap, your reputation precedes you.  In actuality this game has received far too much press than it’s probably worth and constitutes an odd sense of rarity about the title.  It’s too bad because had this title fallen into the $5-$10 category that its brethren Sewer Shark, Corpse Killer, and Double Switch dwell, more people would probably appreciate the title.  Unfortunately due to some senate hearings and the fact that this game was alongside Mortal Kombat and Lethal Enforcers for why the ESRB ratings needed to exist in the first place, people think they are going to see some explicit content.  That, friends, is simply not true.  Putting all that publicity aside, there is a meaty cult-style game here that perhaps suffers less than other full motion video (FMV) games.  It’s not great, but it sure is fun to watch at least once.

The story of how Night Trap came to be is just as entertaining as its fame after release.  It started life as a part of a title known as Scene of the Crime, which was slated for release in 1987 and was never released.  Given the time period, it was probably one of those board games that was accompanied by a VHS tape but I’m hard pressed to see how in the world this would integrate into anything but a cd-based video game.  Either way, the cancellation saw the footage shelved until it was utilized in a new form for the planned Hasbro (another indication of a board game) console known as the NEMO that was going to use VHS tapes instead of cd-roms.  This explains why Dana Plato, the only actor even resembling notability, looks different and younger in the footage than she did upon the game’s release and why everything just looks a lot more mid-80s than early-90s.  As development proceeded with the NEMO, the footage was reprioritized to be called Night Trap and the building blocks of the game that released were put into place. Can you imagine how brutal this game would have been on both gamers and hardware/VHS tapes had it required you to jump to random moments on the tape with each decision made?  Horrid.

Through various considerations, most likely logic and practicality, the NEMO was scrapped and Sega convinced Hasbro to migrate the game to cd-rom and it became a launch title for the Sega CD in 1992.  I had a friend who got a launch Sega CD and at that time there were only like 3 games available, which meant anyone dropping $400 on a Genesis add-on had no issues shelling another $120 to have every launch title.  Night Trap was unlike anything we had seen before and our 11-year-old minds were blown by the manipulation of full video and the campy “vampires in the woods” plotline.  In short, I loved this game from the date of release.  As time passed and the Sega CD quickly dropped to clearance status and Night Trap along with it, the game would have probably fizzled into even greater obscurity had a particular scene not been called into question (see link above for that story).  While I must admit that I can’t even accidentally mistake what happens for rape, it brought new attention to the game and probably explains why it was later ported to various other platforms and can be found with little effort.

Night Trap on Sega CD

The original Sega CD game was slightly different from the other versions, especially with the opening scene where your commander, Simms, makes the events of the game sound like a covert SWAT (or shall I say SCAT) mission that’s going full force.  The footage of the house, little icons and animations, and even the video quality are dull and grainy.  It was the first time a project like this had ever existed, so I can definitely excuse the game especially when the only competition was Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia, which shrank a scene from Star Wars so small and pixellated that you can barely tell what’s happening.  Everything is Sega specific as well, from SCAT standing for Sega Control Attack Team to the Genesis controller in the tutorial.  After the publicity, the game was re-released with a Mature rating from the ESRB and came out on the Sega/Mega-CD (again), a port for the 32X CD, the PC, and finally the 3DO.  Despite the new rating and rumors that the “Director’s Cut” marketing on the new box was actually a ruse for the controversial scenes being cut, the game is identical to the original release save for a few enhancements.  In the re-release SCAT now stands for Special Control Attack Team, the Genesis controller is replaced by a “Night Trap” remote, Simms sounds like he took a sedative and is speaking to people with learning disabilities, and all icons/fonts and footage are updated and improved (except for the Sega CD version).  The footage below is from the 3DO version as it has the biggest footage resolution, sharpest resolution, and fastest response time when swapping rooms (thanks to the x2 speed cd-rom). 

Night Trap on 3DO

Night Trap is fun if only because it has a voyeuristic nature where all you seem to do is help people in peril.  Normally the basic plot would be boring and repetitive, but because you’re only capturing bits and pieces at a time (you won’t get very far if you hang around to see what’s going on with the main characters).  The strength of that is also the greatest fault, though, because you leave all the interesting moments (especially at the end) to go capture another enemy in a replayed scene you’ve already watched a dozen times.  In addition there are small moments where you have to pay attention to what the characters are saying in order to change the “code color”, but additional variables involving when the colors go into effect and exactly when they are mentioned is something you can only learn from playing the game a lot.  There’s also this total dick move where you can get a game over by trying to initiate a trap as the main character Kelly screams at you to do so – it’s the only time in the game that this happens and with no indication.  In short, all of these steps are there to trick you into a game over so you can write down the time (all events happen exactly the same in all scenarios, although colors do change each playthrough) and make sure not to make the same mistake twice.  Yep, replays of movies, screwing you over, and pen & paper, just another day at the office with the early cd-rom FMV titles.  Fortunately for everyone reading this I have captured a playthrough from start to finish for your viewing pleasure.  I have done my best to capture all of the interesting plot points and little nods to the player, but because the game requires you to leave those moments for arbitrary work it’s tough to get everything.  Also excuse the frantic nature of the gameplay, it’s what you have to do to get a perfect run solely from memory.  Either way, have fun and enjoy, and be sure to look for my favorite part: two enemies high-five each other after sneaking past Kelly while she speaks to you in the camera, classic.

Night Trap is still one of my favorite games of all time and I waste an hour every six months or so going through it again and again.  What about you guys?  Anyone else a fan or is this game really just a horrible mess that doesn’t even have cult value?  Let us know in the comments below and enjoy the gameplay video!

Written by Fred Rojas

October 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Games You’ve (probably) Never Played: Zombie Nation (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1991
Developer: KAZe
Publisher: Meldac
Famicom? Yes (as Abarenbou Tengu Translation: Hooligan Tengu)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? No
Value: $187.49 (used) $127.61 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $109-$180 (used) $400-$1,995.00 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Aside from the steep price tag, there are few games on the NES that are like Zombie Nation.  Not only is it it an original horizontal scrolling shmup, but it does many technical tricks not often seen on the console.  Starting with the title screen, which has a line effect that resembles many arcade shmups of the time period, there is a lot happening onscreen at any given time.  The NES would often suffer stuttering or slowdown when the screen was flooded with only a few enemies – heck, Double Dragon couldn’t have more than three characters on screen at once!  Zombie Nation has far more than that with little slowdown and even background effects with everything from burning buildings to guiding lasers.  Additionally the boss battles and frantic later levels would dowse the screen in bulletfire, making it a precursor to the popular “danmaku” genre of shmups that emerged in the mid 90s.    Did I also mention it’s fun as hell?

Screenshot from Abarenbou Tengu, the Japanese version of Zombie Nation

I had seen this game for the first time on an episode of Game Center CX, where they play the Japanese version.  In that episode they note that the Famicom version was edited by making the protagonist a Tengu mask (mythological Japanese spirit that had dog-like characteristics) instead of the original design: a severed Samurai head.  Later in the episode they reveal that the US and UK versions of the game (renamed from Hooligan Tengu to Zombie Nation) contained the original severed head.  This sets Zombie Nation apart because it has rather violent content you rarely saw in licensed NES games.  It also features a long scrolling opening scene that sets up the plot – you are a dead samurai that resurrects when a meteorite hits Earth and the alien inside, Darc Seed, and his minions zombify all humans (it could happen!).  I had never seen this game on store shelves and the other day I was in a local mom & pop store and saw a beaten cart only version for $39.99.  Normally I’m reluctant (thanks to the Internet stores like this can be guilty of over-pricing or under-pricing depending on Gamestop and eBay prices), but I really wanted to play this game and could part ways with the cash.  Naturally I was shocked when some research into this game last night revealed a much higher value, although I find it extremely difficult to recommend this game to the traditional non-collector, even at $40.  As it stands, you may want to use “alternative means” to give this title a test drive.

Zombie Nation was a cult hit worldwide, known famously as a Japanese “kuso-ge” (literally translated “sh**ty game”), which are technically terrible titles that are a blast to play in retrospect.  I don’t know that this title belongs with the likes of Beat Takeshi’s Challenge or Atlantis No Nazo because there’s a strong sense of quality and decent level/game design, but I can see how this falls into the cult following of NES titles – until that episode of GC CX I didn’t even know it existed.  I played it for roughly an hour yesterday and did a capture on my second play (which spans quite a few deaths and even a start over), but I managed to play all four levels and show off the bosses.  Did I complete it?  Find out in the gameplay below.  Have you ever heard of or played Zombie Nation?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

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