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Review: Mother aka Earthbound Zero (Famicom)

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mother_boxConsole: Famicom
Released: 1989
Developer: Ape
Publisher: Nintendo
Instruction Manual: None released outside of Japan
Difficulty: Difficult
Played it as a child? No
Value: N/A – No official US release, most versions are fan translations and prototype carts have no official price
Other Releases: Yes – This game was updated and re-released in Japan on GBA as Mother 1 + 2
Digital Release? Yes – Although technically not true.  Digital fan translations to English are available but not really legal.

Thanks to a strong and devoted fan community and some odd ambiguity with Nintendo’s releases of this series, Mother (known as Earthbound Zero with most circles that play english translations) has got to be one of the hardest series to cover.  Having never played Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) I did the traditional completionist thing and started with the original game, which is extremely dated by almost all RPG standards.  Mother suffers from everything I dread about going into retro role-playing games: a ton of grinding (or “meat walls”), constant random encounters, no true direction as to where to go next, casual dungeons with incredibly hard boss battles, slow pacing, and a limited inventory system.  Not only that, anytime you try to look up help on this game, everyone who’s written about it has played the game a million times and speaks so condescending of people who get stuck that you feel like an idiot.  That’s because Mother has a small but incredibly devoted community that feels this game and its sequels are the apex of game design.  Despite all these faults, the charm of the writing and what it was doing at the time was enough to keep me invested until the grueling end.

mother_1Mother tells the story of Ninten (I believe some translations name him Ness after the name for the character in Earthbound), a 12-year-old boy living in the late 1980s that discovers he has psychic abilities after a paranormal event occurs at his house.  Subsequently an adventure unfolds where Ninten traverses several towns and dungeons completing several tasks from finding a girl in a graveyard to saving the world as we know it.  Along the way he finds a few friends that join his party and by the end of the game it somewhat emulates the battle structure of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.  Towns are named after holidays (or at least they are in the english version), what we know of as magic is “psi” powers, and careful attention to what is said must be taken to keep track of where to go and what to do next.  Much like other JRPGs of the time period, the map is vast and there’s not much to keep you from exploring so you can get lost easily and die even easier.  Since you can only save in towns, this can be problematic and typically the best solution is to grind like crazy and level yourself up.  This makes continuing in the game’s relatively meager main plot drag as you consistently stop to grind for an hour or two after getting pummeled in a dungeon or new area.  It’s not all bad, though, because just like Dragon Warrior you are simply returned to the place where you last saved and your money is halved, but all progress and items collected remain on your person.  As I said before, this game is chock full of charm because of its non-fantasy setting, which makes for hilarious conversions of role-playing conventions.  Instead of armor, you wear hats and coats.  Instead of swords and shields, you pick up slingshots, baseball bats, and even boards with nails in them.  Instead of traditional enemies you will confront hippies, smoking crows, and even weird alien life forms.  You gain money for battle, like with most games of the genre, but instead of instantly receiving it you have to get it from your father at the ATM, who is a disembodied voice you only interact with on the phone.  All of this ties together to be the ultimate mockery on modern culture: absent working father, mother who lets you risk life and limb to save the world, towns that just shrug off hostile zoo takeovers and zombie-infested graveyards with kidnapped kids. 

mother_2This is only the beginning of Ninten’s larger adventure and once you start throwing in other factors like transdimensional travel, the game gets complicated fast.  I did not play this with a guide, although I wish I had because much like a Sierra adventure game from the nineties, you can get stuck and upon looking up the solution discover that you’ve got a world of backtracking to do for one single item or quest.  This is when the bare inventory system becomes a slog on your progress.  Since Ninten can only hold six items from the start, holding a quest item along with a couple of healing items makes discovering anything new quite the chore.  You will consistently need to store items in boxes scattered around the world (but only in towns, of course) and with the several reasons to be forced back into town (reviving teammates at hospitals, taking/leaving items, saving at the inn) the pace of the game slows to a crawl.  It’s not surprising considering this game was developed by a famous Japanese writer, Shigesato Itoi, because the overall plot and dialogue seems well planned out and is entertaining while the gameplay aspects of this title make it hard to recommend.  If you can, play this on a portable of some kind in smaller 30-60 min doses over the course of a month or so (it took me just over 35 hours to complete the campaign).  I also must admit that I’ve read some things on Earthbound and even listened to a podcast or two discussing the plot and I feel that this game is extremely similar in terms of what happens: you need to find melodies in both, the cast seems to be identical, Gyiyg is the final boss (he’s renamed to Gyiygus in Earthbound).  Knowing all that, I’m betting that Earthbound is just an overall better game that tells a similar story, so unless you’re a fan of the series there’s little need to play the first game.  I’m sure there will be references, but I know for a fact that each game tells a story that’s self-contained.

Mother released in Japan in 1989 and by that time gamers had already experienced a couple of Dragon Quests and a couple of Final Fantasy titles as well, so it’s hard to say that Mother couldn’t have taken the lessons from these games and applied them to a better design here.  This is probably best explained by the fact that Mother didn’t consider itself to have much in common with those games because it’s not taking a fantasy setting and definitely not trying to emulate Dungeons & Dragons.  Additionally it was developed in-house by Nintendo (Shigeru Miyamoto was even the producer on it) and they had little experience creating an RPG so the fact that it turned out as decent as it did is admirably.  Still, the game is a 10 hour experience begrudgingly stretched to nearly four times that size by backtracking, complicated quests, and endless grinding.  Not only that but it feels like you can’t walk more than a few steps in certain areas without being constantly bum-rushed by enemies.  There’s also a major balance issue and the fact that quite a few bosses have a gimmick to beating them that you don’t much time to discover.  An example of this is a Starman, who is an early boss at the zoo: he can deal nearly fatal damage in one attack, doesn’t seem to be remotely concerned with your attack, and simply needs to be tied up with rope to beat.  Unfortunately you may have not discovered the rope on your way to him or not had enough inventory slots to pick it up when you found it.  You may not know to use the rope and you’d have to die a dozen times to figure this out.  You may get killed by an instant critical hit before even getting a chace to tie him up first.  Given the fact that the zoo is in a remote area and to travel to it and reach Starman can take up to 30 minutes each go, this can be an early example of why you would want to quit before too long (and it only gets worse from there).  If you hang in there and eventually save the world, the extended ending from the english translation does nicely wrap the plot and feels quite rewarding.  Oh well, it wasn’t the most productive mass of hours I’ve ever spent, but at least I can check it off of the “games I’m ashamed I haven’t played” list.

mother_3

The Sordid Tale of Earthbound Zero

Mother is one of those anomalies that spawns from several frustrating decisions of Nintendo near the end of the NES console cycle.  Mother was fully translated and localized by Phil Sandhop and slated for release on the NES in 1991.  With the appearance of the Super NES the same year, Mother, which was named Earth Bound for the US, was permanently delayed in the interest of focusing on SNES releases instead.  Similar considerations were made for Final Fantasy II and III, which would be SNES games in America and actually FF IV and IV, so just like Mother we never saw those later Famicom titles.  It was probably a smart business decision too because Enix decided to ignore this precedence and release Dragon Warrior III and IV in the US after the SNES release and both suffered horrible sales.  As a result, we never got Dragon Warrior (Quest) V on the SNES in America.  Instead, Mother 2, which was developed by nearly the same team and talent, was translated and also named Earthbound (obviously with a slight title change) and released in America.  This title was huge and sold with an equally large price tag of up to $100 on release, which is why it released in a huge box and included scratch-and-sniff stickers and a full game guide (which I’m told was definitely necessary).  It also suffered poor sales and along with the comparatively larger fan population in America, the title sells for $200+ for cart only, more than $500 for a complete version and several thousand (as much as $10,000) for a sealed copy. 

During the mid-late 90s when fans tried digging up copies of the original to translate for emulation in english, the prototype of the completed english title was discovered and released on the web.  It was later confirmed that the copies of Earth Bound in english that were found were, in fact, translated by Phil Sandhop and not Demiforce, the hacker group that discovered the game.  This is further backed by the re-release of Mother in Japan on the GBA has all the enhancements and changes from the english version.  To help gamers and anyone who looked for the game from being confused by the same title, Mother has been renamed and is better known these days as Earthbound Zero.  Of all the unreleased and prototype NES titles I’ve seen and researched over the years, Mother/Earthbound Zero is easily the most “ready to ship” title I’ve ever come across.  You have to wonder what the market for this series would be like in America had Earthbound Zero been released.  Perhaps more would have played the game and been turned off by the difficulty ramp and discouraged Nintendo from taking the risk to release the sequel.  The more likely theory is that it would have celebrated success (it sold more than 400,000 copies in Japan) and more people would have purchased Earthbound (or whatever it would be called) and brought down the rarity from America’s $200 price tag to Japan’s much more appropriate $30-$40.

Written by spydersvenom

December 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Podcast: Tis the Season

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santafu

For our holiday show, Fred is joined by Shawn Freeman of Knuckleballer Radio and Rob “Trees” O’Connor from EZ Mode Unlocked to discuss the holiday releases of days passed.  With a plan to cover 20 years of releases we only get through five (1985-1989), but plenty of fond memories are shared.


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Written by spydersvenom

December 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

Review: Christmas Nights Into Dreams (Saturn)

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christmas_nightsConsole: Saturn
Released: December 1996
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: It did not have one – manual of the original game should suffice
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $24.25 (used), $56.00 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – A Japan only PS2 remake of Nights Into Dreams includes the Christmas content
Digital Release? Yes – included in the HD remake of Nights Into Dreams on XBLA and PSN, certain content removed (see below)

Christmas Nights Into Dreams is significant for several reasons, but most of all it’s one of the only Christmas themed games to ever come out.  No, seriously, look through the vaults of retro console history, this is a holiday that is rarely celebrated save for games that focus on certain days (Animal Crossing, for example).  In the winter of 1996 Sega was already in big trouble with the Saturn.  At only about a year and a half old, Sony’s Playstation was killing it in terms of sales and there were few exclusive titles that generated any kind of buzz.  Even Sonic, the faithful hedgehog that always seemed to sweep in and save Sega’s butt, hadn’t released a real game yet.  Not only that, but this was the Christmas release of the Nintendo 64 and Mario 64 was selling out consoles nationwide.  Nights Into Dreams was the only recent release on the Saturn that appealed to the typical gamer and with its colorful aesthetic, roots in platforming, and Sonic Team developer it was Sega’s best bet for the holidays.  Under these circumstances Christmas Nights invaded the market in several forms from being a free pack-in with Christmas console bundles (that already included Nights), inside several magazines, a mail away/in store offer with certain game purchases, and even for rent at Blockbuster Video.  This “sampler” title was everywhere, but only for about 45 days, and now it’s one of the more rare and sought after pieces of a retro gamer’s collection.

xmas_nights_1

When you first boot it up, the game isn’t really much.  You get to play as either of Nights protagonists Elliot and Claris in the Spring Valley level from the original game.  Claris was the only character who could play this dream in the original game, so to be able to play Elliot complete with different item layout was somewhat of a treat.  It’s a short run, only probably 10-20 minutes depending on your familiarity and exploration, which was as much a demo back then as it is now.  The devil is in the details with this game, though, because it has a ton of hidden content to explore.  Depending on the game clock you can get several special versions of Christmas Nights including a heavily adapted Christmas theme if your clock reads December, New Year’s and Halloween also receive special aesthetics, and playing on April Fools will let you play as Reala (Nights’ nemesis) instead of Nights when you change.  You can also unlock a speed mode, sound test, and a few other extras like artwork and visual options.  Probably my favorite unlockable is Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams, which lets you play through the level as Sonic the Hedgehog without the ability to transform into Nights and the boss, Puffy, is instead Dr. Robotnik.

xmas_nights_2Sure, when you tell someone about this title, especially with online prices for this game starting around $35 and getting as high as a $100 asking price, it’s a tough sell.  For those of us who picked it up when it was nothing more than a throw away demo disc, forgotten in the “no case” bin of your local FuncoLand or GameStop that was liquidating Saturn inventory, it was a robust find.  I think I paid $10 for mine and I was surprised to find out about all the extra content years after picking it up.  It’s not like the content is hidden by any means,  I just had no interest back when I brought it home amidst a stack of games.  If you happen to own the HD remake on 360/PS3, the Christmas Nights content does unlock after completing the game, although I’m not sure about the non-Christmas holiday motifs, much of the extra content has been stripped, and Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams is gone as well.  For fans of the original Nights that have about an hour to kill and get all festive in the holiday spirit, it’s a great Christmas Eve game.  Given its high price and frankly unjust amount of content, I’ve created a gameplay video to show you what all the fuss is about.  Merry Christmas!

 

Written by spydersvenom

December 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

Buying Guide: 3DO

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

Historically the 3DO, most commonly associated with Panasonic’s license because it had the largest manufacturing numbers and advertising campaign, is the most expensive video game console of all time.  Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts (EA), formed the 3DO company for software development and developed a hardware spec that could be licensed to companies for manufacturing, much like companies have done with VCRs and DVD players.  Unfortunately since the profit for manufacturers had to come from the sale of the hardware itself – all other consoles were sold at a reduced price for a loss and software sales would close the gap for profits – and the 3DO sold for the staggering price of $700.  As a result, few consoles were actually sold and three companies (Panasonic, Sanyo, and Goldstar) had already manufactured units that weren’t selling.  This balance of supply and demand results in the 3DO being the much more reasonable $100-$150 on the used console market these days, but few know what actually came in the box.  Here’s what you need to get it working:

  • AC cord: Since it was manufactured by multiple companies and doesn’t require an AC adaptor, a simple AC cord with a two-pringed circle end (looks like a figure 8) can be used.  Replacement cables can be found at Walgreens or RadioShack for roughtly $3-$5.
  • A/V composite cables: These cables are just your standard yellow/white/red composite cables that plug directly into the ports on the back of the console.  Again, due to the multiple manufacturers there is no console specific A/V cable.  Replacements can be found everywhere for $2-$10 and I grabbed mine from unused composite cables in DVD players and other HD compatible devices.
  • Controller: Even though the plug port looks like an Atari 2600 or Genesis port, you can only plug actual 3DO controllers into it.  Almost all of the controllers look like a 3-button Genesis controller and each controller has a controller port on it for daisy chaining additional controllers (the 3DO only has one controller port).  Controllers are pretty easy to find still and you can pick one up for about $10-$20 online.  There is a 6-button controller out there, which like so many other consoles was only released because of a Street Fighter II port and isn’t worth the high price due to rarity.

Optionally the only accessory you may want is the light gun peripheral, the “gamegun”, for a handful of FMV shooters (Mad Dog McCree, Who Shot Johnny Rock?) and a mouse for certain PC ports like Myst.  Be warned, rarity makes these peripherals an expensive endeavor that may cost close to or more than the console itself.  I could easily find most of the poor light gun games on the 3DO on the Sega CD as well and they only suffer slight quality loss and are much less expensive.  The one thing you may want to pay attention to is the console type you buy.  Like other CD systems, there are both top loading and slide tray versions of the 3DO and you may want to consider dropping the extra scratch for a top loader for reliability.  Here are the different manufactured types:

  • Panasonic made two models in America, the FZ-1 and the FZ-10, and the FZ-10 is definitely the recommended model with a lighter and slimmer design and a top loading CD tray.  There was also a model, the ROBO, which was only sold in Japan and had a slide loading 5-disc CD tray.
  • Goldstar only had one model in America, the GDO-101M, and it looked almost identical to the FZ-1 and featured a slide loading tray just like that model.  Although reliable, the Goldstar is nearly impossible to find parts for so a broken belt on the tray means a required replacement console.
  • Sanyo only made one model, it was only sold in Japan, and it has a similar design to the FZ-1 and the GDO-101M.  It is probably the most rare of the consoles.

Since the 3DO is region free and will play any 3DO disc, you can really pick up any version you want but the price increase can get out of control.  I don’t trust drive trays of the 90s personally so I’ve only ever owned an FZ-10 and I’ve never had one stop functioning.  A complete console should run you $70-$100 online and hopefully even less than that if you can find a used console in a store or at a convention.  video coming soon – ed.

Written by spydersvenom

December 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Buying Guide: Super Nintendo

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

There’s really no denying the popularity of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES for short).  Despite Sega taking a temporary lead over Nintendo in the early 90s, there’s no denying that the SNES was the champion of the 16-bit console generation.  This simple machine managed to introduce us to hardcore JRPGs, mode 7 graphics, early polygonal 3D (Starfox), and even faked 3D environments (Donkey Kong Country), all without the multiple add-ons and disc-based media of other consoles at the time.  If you’re discouraged in the least by yellowing of the plastic casing for the console, don’t be, it’s a mere chemical reaction with age and actually speaks to the durability of the product.  On that same note it’s pretty doubtful that you would need a buyers guide for the SNES as just like most other Nintendo consoles there are few parts, but all the same here’s what you will definitely need:

  • AC Adaptor: Despite having a common plug port, it differs quite significantly from the NES power adapter so don’t use those specs and with different plug tips there’s no way to actually plug an NES AC adapter up to your SNES.  The official SNES AC adaptor is 10v, 0.85 Amps and should be used only for the SNES. 
  • Video cable: It’s possible to use an RF switch or the provided composite cables with the “av multi-out” port.  It is true that these are compatible with N64 and Gamecube cables as well, although only for the composite video cables, don’t use component cables and I’m unsure if S-Video works or not. 
  • Controller: As with all consoles, it’s best to find official Nintendo SNES controllers and most sellers out there try to have the system come with 2 controllers.  For the most part that’s all you’ll need.  Most 3rd party controllers suck and replacing official SNES controllers can be an expensive endeavor ($15-$20 each).

As far as accessories, I can’t really recommend any because there weren’t really any to concern yourself with.  That’s just another joy with the SNES.  Sure, hardcore light gun fans can pick up the Super Scope 6 (although I am a hardcore fan and I don’t use it), the mouse is only for use with Mario Paint, and Super Gameboy is a welcome addition to certain gamers but it’s certainly not a true SNES accessory.  No, the only accessory the SNES really requires is a great game.  There are 2 models for the SNES, the second and lesser known console being the SNES Jr., and they’re both perfectly fine and have no changes or incompatibility.  Prices are pretty standard as well, around $50-$75 for a good complete console, but I’ve often seen them sold for less in the interest of selling it off.  Note: The video will be posting shortly, hit a temporary snag. – ed.

Written by spydersvenom

December 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Buying Guide: Sega Genesis (plus Sega CD and 32X)

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

We have finally come to the console I started this entire buying guide series for: the Sega Genesis (and its many add-ons).  With a short period of its life having a 55 percent market share over the SNES (the year it launched, mind you), there were plenty of households who had a Sega Genesis.  So many, in fact, that there were five different versions of the console and 3 iterations!  Depending on the console version, your specs will vary but the list of what you need should stay the same so I’m going to run over the list. 

First of all, figure out which model you want, here’s the gallery of what they look like:

Model 1

Model 1

Model 2

Model 2

Model 3

Model 3

Each model has its own set of pros and cons.  Model 1 has a headphone jack with varying audio but only has mono sound, outputs to RF, and requires extra patch cables to hook up to the Sega CD and 32X (that I’m sure you can imagine are hard to find and expensive).  Model 2 is the most compatible with all add-ons and features an “av-out” port that allows you to put RF, composite, and S-Video output cables in it, but it’s also the least impressive visually and has a power and reset button that break somewhat easily.  Model 3 is the smallest, uses the least amount of power, but is incompatible with the Sega CD and 32X.  Depending on your preference, you may go with one or the other, but for making the 3-in-1 Frankenconsole, I recommend the Genesis 2.  Here’s what you’ll want with each one:

  • Power supply: These are somewhat complicated and get mixed up all the time, burning Genesis and SNES consoles to the ground for their interchangability with AC adaptors.  The Genesis 1 needs a 9v, 1.2 Amp adaptor, Genesis 2 uses a 10v, 0.85 Amp adaptor (yellow tip), and Genesis 3 uses a 10v, 0.3 Amp adaptor (usually says Majesco on the adaptor).  None of these tips or adaptors are all that rare and you should be able to assemble most of them at a RadioShack, just be careful to not overpower the amperage, which can burn out the console.
  • Video out cable: As previously stated, the Genesis 1 uses a standard single RCA RF output to a coaxial RF cable that hooks into the back of any TV.  You will need a special cable to use the RF adaptor on the Genesis 2 & 3, but on the first console any will do (even your NES or other console RF adaptors).  Genesis 2 & 3 use the same output cable that is typically composite video (yellow/white/red) but there are RF and S-Video cables that can be found after market.  None of these video cables are hard to find, so don’t worry if you need to get them separate.  They usually run around $10.
  • Controllers: Geniune 3-button and 6-button controllers that actually work can be a little hard to come by because Sega’s controllers aren’t all that durable.  Many times the buttons crap out on the controllers, rendering them all but useless.  Fortunately most aftermarket $10 controllers these days look and respond just like genuine Sega controllers, but it’s always best to get one or two with your console.

As always, there are a few accessories I’d like to headline:

  • Justifier light gun: It came packaged with Lethal Enforcers and with both a Genesis and Sega CD release along with this console version being the popular one, there are plenty to go around.  This gun is compatible with all Genesis/Sega CD light gun games and is almost necessary with titles like Snatcher and Ground Zero Texas on Sega CD.  Make sure it’s blue, the pink one is only for the second controller and requires the first one to work.  If you prefer odd designs instead, go with the Menacer light gun.
  • Power Base Converter: Since the Genesis uses the Z80 processor that was in the Master System as its sound chip, this attachment makes it possible to play Master System games on your Genesis.  With the gaining price of the Master System, this isn’t a bad investment if you can find it for $20-$30.

Most Genesis consoles on the market remain locked in the $20-$40 range, varying slightly with certain accessories or condition.  If someone tries to sell it to you for more, there are plenty on eBay at the reduced price.  Keep in mind the AC adaptor, controller, and video cables, while easy to find, will run you about $10 apiece, which means its smarter to find a complete set rather than doing it piece meal.  The Genesis can be enhanced by two add-ons: the Sega CD and the 32X, which both require a Genesis to work.

Sega CD

There were two models of this console as well, however unlike the Genesis you will definitely want the Model 2 Sega CD because the first model has a sliding tray that burns out easily and the bands are impossible to find and replace. 

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis model 1

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis model 1

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

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

You really only need two accessories if you have a Genesis 2, but here’s the list:

  • AC Adaptor: This one is the same for both models and identical to the Genesis model 1, 9v at 1.2 Amps, and has the same tip as the Genesis 1 AC power supply.  In fact many used consoles come with Genesis 1 AC adaptors because the Sega CD one was lost (it’ll say “for use with Genesis” on the adaptor). 
  • For Genesis 1 models, you will need the mixing cable that hooks into the headphone jack of the Genesis 1 and the back of either Sega CD, both are identical in hook-ups.  Then you will use the stereo AV outputs on a sound receiver while the TV is on mute to generate stereo sound.  Most users don’t much care about adding stereo sound, in which case just using the RF plug will still output the sound in mono to your television.  Given the high price tag (I can’t even put a price on it because I see them so rarely) this cable will most likely not be used and hooking a model 1 to a Sega CD is suggested if you care about stereo sound.  Genesis 1 owners using a Sega CD 2 console may want the extension piece, a plastic widener that evens out the length of the Genesis 1, for aesthetics but its not necessary.
  • Metal shielding plate: This came with the console and is the same no matter which of the two Genesis models or which of the two Sega CD models you have.  It screws into the bottom of the Genesis and hooks into the notches on the Sega CD for a more firm grip.  I am certain the console works fine without it, but I can’t speak to whether or not any damage can occur because I’ve always had one.
  • Backup RAM Cartridge: It may run you $50-$75, but a working RAM cart gives you an additional 2,000 blocks of storage alongside the 200 blocks that are built into the console.  You can freely transfer save games back and forth, but you can only load from the onboard console memory, so be sure to transfer or copy your save game over before starting.  Since the onboard memory only supports 1-3 save games at a time, JRPG fans and those that play titles like Snatcher and Jurassic Park will get frustrated fast deleting a save game right after completing a title.  I consider it a must buy for anyone getting serious about collecting Sega CD games.

    Sega CDX

    Sega CDX

These days a Sega CD is quite a bit cheaper than it was once before, probably about $30-$60, and in many cases you can get a combo console for only a slightly higher $40-$70 tag because a lone Genesis is hard to unload (there really are a ton on the used market).  If you like super rare alternatives, there is a portable CD player combo console known as the CDX that will run you more than $100 but is a nice compact way to have an official Sega product that combines the Genesis and Sega CD with stereo composite output (same AC adaptor as Genesis 2).  JVC also licensed a combo console called the X’Eye, which is even more expensive and rare (usually $150-$200) and uses completely different hook-ups.  I know the AC adaptor is a 9.5v, 1.5 Amp with a common tip but my memory from the short time I owned one is slipping and it either has a proprietary AV cable or just has composite video ports in the back and you just use any old cable, like with a DVD player.  I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, but I haven’t seen one in over a decade.  Note that both the CDX and the X’Eye are incompatible with the final add-on, the 32x.

Sega 32x

Okay, for everyone who’s tired off all the different model numbers and iterations, the 32x is simple: there’s only one model and works with almost any model (incompatible with Genesis 3, CDX, and X’Eye).  On the other hand, the things you need to make it work are important and the net doesn’t have much info on this console so here’s officially what you will need for a working version (and you will see a TON of “console only” auctions on eBay and in used game stores, avoid anything that isn’t complete because it very likely hasn’t been tested):

  • AC Adaptor: This is easy, it’s the same tip and power specs as the Genesis 2, so get a replacement adaptor for like $10 or steal one from any Genesis 2 that isn’t hooked up to your 32x.  The spec is 10v, 0.85 Amp, but I’ve also heard that 9v-10v work fine and around 1 amp is also acceptible.  I wouldn’t really trust that too much for reliability’s sake, but if that console doesn’t burn hot it’s probably safe.  When the 32x gets too little power you’ll see the colors bleed and a weird underwater look to the games, this is due to the lack of power, and it will of course get very hot if overpowered, which is a fire hazard.
  • Patch cable: On the Genesis 2, it’s a simple dual-sided video cable that allows you to take the video out of the Genesis 2 and route it into the 32x for graphical processing.  It is the most common thing not included in a 32x and replacement cables run about $30, the cost of a whole console complete.  I have an example on the video, but just make sure it comes with your 32x.  If you have a Genesis 1, the patch cable needs an additional add-on cable that adapts the video patch cable to the Genesis 1 interface.  This attachment is super rare, almost never inclued in even complete 32x consoles, and will cost you a bunch if you find it.
  • Spacer: For the Genesis 2, this is an optional piece that holds the 32x firmly to the console so it doesn’t wiggle while on.  Almost always on the console because few know it can be removed.
  • Spacer Clamps: This is again for the Genesis 1 and claimed to remove radio frequency and holds the 32x firmly in place like the spacer does with the Genesis 2.  I never got those things to work properly back in 1993, the clamps damaged the plastic casing of my Genesis, and they prevented the console from making a proper connection.  I wouldn’t recommend using them in the rare event they come with your used purchase.

And that’s it, that’s the 32x.  There aren’t many games for it and the few good ones will run you more than $10 apiece, but I use it mostly because there are Sega CD 32x games that require it to work and drastically improve the visual quality of the game (like in Night Trap, Corpse Killer, and Fahrenheit).  Recently the 32x went from being a $50-$80 item and dropped into the $30-$50 range for complete consoles, which isn’t that bad of a deal.  Since any Genesis cart will work attached to the 32x, you can basically just attach it and forget about it.

Written by spydersvenom

December 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Podcast: 4 White Buttons and 2 Joysticks

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neogeo_arcadeneogeo_aes

This week we celebrate the release of the Neo Geo X Gold by celebrating the original Neo Geo hybrid console/arcade.  We discuss the launch, initial pricing, history and iterations of the console, and eventually get to the many games you can enjoy.  As the holy grail of my 16-bit gaming as a child, I always dreamed of (and now currently cherish) my Neo Geo. 

Song in the opening and closing is Keith Apicary’s “Neo Geo Song” (Music by FantomenK) and song info, album info, and music video can be found here.

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For more streaming options, you can also visit our podbean site.

Written by spydersvenom

December 19, 2012 at 11:58 am

Posted in Neo Geo, podcast

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Buying Guide: Turbografx-16

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

There was this brief period of time when the store shelves of Toys R Us had Nintendo games, Sega Genesis games, and Turbografx-16 games.  After the Super Nintendo ushered in a whole mess of games in the holiday season of 1992 (the console premiered in 1991 but it had significant presence the following year) and the Turbografx-16 consoles moved to that dreaded area in the middle of the aisle.  Before you knew it they were stacking up boxed consoles at discounted $99.99 price tags (the console originally was either $199.99 or $149.99, although I forget which) and in 1993 it was down to $49.99 with free games and all at once disappeared.  Due to the fact that NEC’s “in between” console only moved at that exremely low price point, most people that owned the console kept it, which makes for a bit of scarcity on today’s market.  Fortunately I have this buying guide here to assist you and aside from games, there really isn’t a lot to the accessories or hook-up of a TG-16.

You will want to make sure your console has:

  • An AC adaptor that has specifically the following specs: 10.5 Volts at 730 mAh (miliamps).  With such a low amperage you will easily burn your little rare console out putting anything much stronger, not to mention it can affect gameplay and act as a fire hazard.  The plug itself has a tip that is very common, but be sure to get a console that has the official NEC AC Adaptor (shown off in the video) or get a replacement that meets those specs exactly.
  • A TurboPad controller.  Sounds odd but this is often harder to find than the system itself.  I’ve seen the controllers go for as much as $30 at used game stores and even higher online.  Sure, a PC Engine controller will work fine as will a few 3rd party knock-offs and alternative controllers, but it just looks nicer to have the matching gamepad.  If you buy a console without a controller, you had better get a good deal on it.
  • There is an official RF switch for the TG-16 and for some reason it’s the accessory that all consoles seem to have (like the kids of this country held on to that piece because the screw attachment looked important), but it’s the only one of these accessories you can safely buy a console without.  It uses the exact same connection as an NES RF switch, the Genesis 1 RF switch, and several others and because it uses no power, can be interchanged within the consoles no problem.  Just make sure it has a single RCA plug into the console and you’re good to go.  Even if you want an official TG-16 one, it’s only going to run you $5-$10 and it isn’t rare.

Now, like many other consoles you may think it smart to pick up a second controller, which to a certain extent isn’t a bad idea so that you have a replacement, but the Turbografx-16 did not have more than one controller port and for the most part does not have 2-player games.  There are a few exceptions – Bomberman supports up to 5 controllers with the multi-tap accessory – but the Turbografx is mostly for loners because it’s almost solely a single player experience.  You may be interested in some of the following:

  • The TurboStick (also in the video) is basically the Advantage of the TG-16, it is a joystick controller.  It’s quite useful because many games on the this console are arcade ports that benefit from this controller and it’s also quite durable.  Not sure quite what they run, but if you can pick one up for under $20, I say go for it.
  • A PC-Engine adaptor.  This will run you some serious scratch, like $100-$300 serious, but it’s well worth it (and grab anything that costs less than triple digits if it works) because there’s a vast library of games in Japan that we never saw here.  Unlike the PC-Engine, which was region locked only for Japan, the Turbografx-16 can play games of any region but you need the adaptor to adjust the pin connections of the two consoles.  Another subsequent option is just picking up a PC Engine for imports, which most do, and runs you much less ($50-$100).
  • If you’re really into spending tons of money, you can try to hunt down the 6 button controller that only came out in Japan and is solely for the PC Engine version of Street Fighter II, which also was only in Japan.  While the game itself will only cost you about $15-$30 used, the controller is more in the $50-$100 range and the game still doesn’t look as good as the SNES version.  Still, it’s fun to show off (and no, I don’t have the game or the controller).
  • A CD add-on, the Turbografx-16 CD system, is an amazing addition to your console that adds a vast library of JRPGs, FMV titles, and even rare exclusives (including Castlevania: Rondo of Blood) to your collection.  Before you get too excited, the add-on with all the parts you need will usually run you more than $200 and the TurboDuo, a combo system that was only in the US for a short while, will run you upwards of $300-$500.  Not only that, many of the great games are Japan only (again, no region lock) or rare so they will cost you $50-$100+ each, but in most cases this is the only way to play them.  Oh, did I also mention you need several different RAM carts that are required to play many of these games (there were 3 different ones and not all of them are interchangable) that are also a few hundred to collect?  Turbografx-16 CD is not a cheap endeavor, but how else are you going to play Ys IV?  Note: Rondo of Blood was recently re-released on Virtual Console and a port was on Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, but for a long time it was only on TG16 CD and there’s almost no chance other titles will ever get re-released.

I guess the only other question is how much are you looking to spend for the console?  I recommend anyone who can find a tested, working unit that includes my three main items above for $50 or less should take it and be happy.  Depending on location and market this can be as much as double in some areas, but eBay successfully keeps the price under triple digits.  Games will typically be around $10-$30 depending on popularity and rarity, but there are a few heavy hitters (like Magical Chase, which was rare in the US but quite common in Japan).  Before embarking on the TG-16 adventure, you may also want to consider that many of these titles and even a few CD games were re-released on Virtual Console and PSN for the much better price of $6-$8 apiece.  Watch the video below to see what you need to look for in a console.

Written by spydersvenom

December 18, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Buying Guide: Sega Master System

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

Oh the Master System, the red-headed step child of the 8-bit era.  Not only were Sega products unknown to American markets – Japan had seen several iterations of the Sega Mark consoles, the Master System known as the Mark III – but it released alongside the NES in America and had nothing to show for it.  The two biggest problems with the Master System today is that it’s relatively expensive for a working consoles itself, there are ways to play many of these games on the Game Gear or Genesis (with the Power Base Converter), and not too many good games (many arcade games also got ported to Genesis with better quality).  For those that aren’t aware, Nintendo also had developers and publishers locked into license agreements that didn’t allow games to be released on another console and basically had the Master System in checkmate in the US.  Still, I have the console and love some of the games/ports that are available on it (like Ghostbusters) and plenty of collector’s are curious what the console looks like.  Aside from the video provided below, make sure the consoles you get have the following:

  • An AC adaptor that is 9V and 1.0 Amp.  You will be tempted to use a Genesis or a NES AC adaptor, especially because they have the same plug input, but the amperage is larger than the Master System requires and could burn out your console.  With this console selling for $50+ used and the fact that they are somewhat rare, best not chance it.
  • This console requires an RF modulator that has a single RCA output, which is identical to the NES, Turbografx-16, and Genesis 1 RF modulator and unlike the AC adaptor you can use this with your Master System interchangably.  In fact, I use the same modulator for all 3 consoles without issues. 
  • At least one controller.  The controller inputs are identical to the Genesis and Atari 2600/VCS controller ports although the d-pad and 2-button setup will have varying degrees with non-Master System controllers.  I just hunted down a console with two controllers and I was ready t0 go (although there are few 2-player games).

You can expect to pay between $50-$100 for a console depending on accessories, condition, and geographic location.  Since the console is scarce there’s no good way to pinpoint an ideal price point so I revert back to the age old “pay what you think it’s worth” rule. 

Written by spydersvenom

December 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Friday at the Movies: The Hobbit (Xbox)

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hobbit_boxConsole: Xbox
Released: October 24, 2003
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4-$10 (used), $10.49 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – PS2, Gamecube, and PC and a modified version for the Gameboy Advance
Digital Release? No

No, sorry, this is not the ZX Spectrum game from 1983, but rather the more widespread console release from twenty years later, although I’ve never played the original so perhaps it’s garbage and this is the better choice.  Back when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was nearing its end, a slew of video games hoping to cash in on the wild success of Peter Jackson’s movies released.  After sapping all of the film properties, the books themselves became source material for spin-offs and one of the first was based on Tolkien’s prequel book The Hobbit.  As a mild fan of the series I always felt that The Hobbit was the better book and overall story, which explains the tale of how Bilbo Baggins became the first hobbit to embark on an adventure with 12 dwarves and wizard Gandolf the Grey.  Not only that, but it introduces the ring, odd creature Gollum, and probably one of the only dragons in that universe, the unrivaled greedy dragon Smaug.  Despite the semi-decent cartoon version of the book that I had seen in my youth, I was immediately drawn to the playful cartoon re-imagining of Tolkien’s book and despite some major snags in the gameplay department, I was pleasantly surprised.

hobbit_bilboshire

The Hobbit was touted by Sierra as one of its newest “entertainment experiences” but it was really media company Vivendi publishing it for a developer Inevitable Entertainment (which would the following year be purchased by Midway and become Midway Austin for the Area 51 re-hashes).  As a newer developer – Inevitable’s only other title was Tribes: Aerial Assault, which garnered quite positive reviews – and one that had only done a first-person shooter, The Hobbit was an odd choice as a 3D platforming adventure game.  As a result the strengths and weaknesses learned from developing a title like Aerial Assault come through, like the platforming (a large part of the mobility focus of Aerial Assault), but hand-to-hand combat was weak to say the least.  You can also tell this was a game that was planned first by the license and then adapted into gameplay form based on the developer’s ability to craft levels out of the story.  In this regard, and I stress this as one who has read the book countless times, the decisions were quite odd.  There are several levels where you’re jumping around caves and forests fending off creatures and insects while major plot points like an attack on the dwarven camp or a harrowing escape from Gollum get bypassed in cutscene.  There is also an annoying save system that requires you to check into certain spots within a level and every death results in going back to your last save.  Finally the overall campaign is stripped down in most levels to nothing more than a fetch quest or a killbox for a brunt of the adventure.  Couple that with the fact that it’s clearly a licensed product cashing in on the success of another, there’s no reason this game is supposed to be good but to my surprise I like it.

hobbit_smaugMany of the areas in The Hobbit are set pieces we don’t see in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the overall adventure spans fewer years and area, so it was a first glimpse at many of them.  The focus on areas like the watertown or dwarven caves that are thriving (as opposed to the abandoned ones in Lord of the Rings) was also a welcome addition.  I also like that the game is catered to a completely general audience, so there’s absolutely no fear of letting a child play or watching you play resulting in a devastating conversation or learning something inappropriate (unless you count the swearing that would undoubtably come out of my mouth when I die).  It just has a bright atmosphere and charm that allows me to forget the game design is weak, which is a pass few other games (American McGee’s Alice also comes to mind) can get out of me.  It’s a bit nipicky, but I also like that Gollum is the dark, drab cave-dweller that I always remembered him as in the books and cartoons as opposed to the pathetic faux-hobbit he was transformed to in the movies.  I have ready the books many times and I don’t remember Gollum, even when he converted to Smegal, having such a drastic appearance change between the stories.  My favorite level, the cinematic sneak to and battle with Smaug, is one of the best looking set pieces I’ve seen in a game to date (not necessarily from a tech perspective, but from an art design one).

The Hobbit was not well received back when it released.  Although some would argue that a 5-6/10 is an “average” score, most venues of the time considered a 7 or higher to be as such, and from a critical level on simply the elements of the game and not the combination of all these parts I can see where they were coming from.  It was a dark time for the 3D platformer – all games that weren’t Mario were getting sneered before the package was even opened and even Mario Sunshine couldn’t get through unscathed – so it doesn’t shock me that this licensed knock-off so-so platformer was bashed by review staff.  I’m not suggesting that reviewers had pre-conceived notions and I understand how easy it is to look back and attack words from the past, but I remember even back then thinking that reviews and previews were a bit harsh on the title (there was plenty of Internet video game coverage by this time).  Still, I think it holds up as a lighthearted collect-a-thon from the days of modern 3D platforming and I argue that the graphics competed with most games of the era.  Just to make sure I haven’t been too blinded by memory, I replayed the game in its entirety (as I do with all the games covered here) and even captured it with commentary.  I have included those videos below just in case you’re interested and I do warn that since they are “in the moment” gameplay commentary there’s a bit of swearing, but I keep the bad language somewhat to a minimum.  It may not have been what most gamers wanted, but I feel The Hobbit was a great preparation for this week’s release of the film in theaters.

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