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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.

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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.

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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!

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

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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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