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Retro Game Challenge: Stinger (NES)

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stinger_boxConsole: NES
Released: 1987
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? No
Value: $3.65 (used), ???? (new) (
Other Releases: Yes – as Muero! TwinBee in Japan on the Famicom Disc System and Famicom (cart version)
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console for Wii (Japan only)

Below is the completion of the hybrid horizontal/vertical shmup Stinger, better known in Japan as Muero! TwinBee due to the fact that it is a sequel to the original TwinBee set 100 years after the events of the original.  Since we did not get TwinBee in this country, the title was changed to Stinger and a different back story was given, the title belonging to the given name of the ship you pilot.  It’s clearly a TwinBee title, though, with the distinctive bells that you juggle to gather power-ups and point bonuses.  Other interesting differences between the American and Japanese version were multiple difficulty settings, selectable as medium or hard in Japan and eventually an easy option was added for the Famicom cart release.  In America we only received one default difficulty (medium) but the game immediately starts over upon completion on the hard difficulty, easy does not exist in the US version.  This title was intended to support up to three players and in Japan the cartridge had an extra controller port for the third player.  Since carts loaded out of the top on the Famicom this was possible, however at this point there was only a side load for NES carts and thus the game was forced into a two player only mode.  If you had the optional accessory, the four score, which added four more port to the console, Stinger would still only support two players.  In the video below I complete the entire game although I do not replay the harder difficulty as it does not give more content or a different ending.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Podcast: Asinine Accessories

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Fred is joined by Rob “Trees” and Chip Cella to discuss the world of unnecessary console accessories.  Some good, some bad, and all overpriced.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm

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Review: Darkstalkers Resurrection

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Capcom has continued to make its library as available as possible to the masses, especially when it comes to arcade re-releases from decades passed. This generation marks the first where old school arcade titles can be re-released at low prices, individually, with visual filters, online play, and perform exactly as they did in the arcade. Granted, it’s still a pain to figure out how to find each of these titles – a perfect example being Capcom Arcade Cabinet, which provides several of Capcom’s classic coin-ops that would seem to include Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers – but let’s face it, some games are much more marketable than others. The newest of this tradition is Darkstalkers Resurrection, an HD re-release of sorts, that covers the second and third titles in a series that never quite made a faithful translation to American households.

Night Warriors with smoothing filters on

Night Warriors with smoothing filters on

As for the games themselves, they are not covered in this review so see our Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 coverage respectively, and then continue on. I am aware that a nearly arcade perfect port of Night Warriors did release in the US on the Sega Saturn and Darkstalkers 3 was decent in its US version on the Playstation (and PSOne digital store currently), but I hardly think these platforms, especially if you want both titles, are the best and easiest way to play these games. Furthermore they are not without specific tech-based flaws – mostly visual on the Saturn and gameplay on the Playstation – and Darkstalkers 3 was so updated and altered in the home port that it’s barely the original arcade game. Putting all that aside, with the recent resurgence of the fighter genre, many hardcore fans have fight sticks or specific fighter game pads on their newest consoles that a 360/PS3 version can support. Capcom has also decided to keep this title digital only in the US, which also accounts for the low price point that is much more affordable than the 4,000 yen ($45) disc version in Japan. Now that this game’s presence is thoroughly justified, I must commend Capcom for treating a classic re-release with so much care because Darkstalkers Resurrection is the definitive way to play these games at home.

Darkstalkers Resurrection in the "over the shoulder" cabinet view

Darkstalkers Resurrection in the “over the shoulder” cabinet view

Within each game you have the option to customize your control scheme, which is pre-set to the setup that almost all contemporary fighters use, but it was nice to see you can swap things around. Then it’s time to enter the gameplay options, namely the visual options, where you can get as old school or modern as you like. I was able to turn on smoothing and high textures to make the game look more like a modern cell shaded look and beautifully updated the graphics to something more pleasing to modern day eyes. Those that are hardcore retro enthusiasts can also bring it back to original or even super sharp settings, assuring that every line, sprite, and graphic are isolated like a cartoon drawing. Of course you can adjust the screen to everything from the classic 4:3 arcade cabinet view at the cost of screen real estate, or you can stretch it out to a wide view that fills your large HDTV at the sacrifice of having short, chubby fighters. Couple this with smoothing options, the ability to add scanlines, and just about every other visual filter you’ve come to appreciate in MAME and you can see Darkstalkers in whatever form you feel is best. Capcom also added some interesting perspectives like viewing the game as if you’re looking over the shoulder of another player at an angle; unnecessary but interesting. The emulation is spot on, a crucial feature when dealing with a game as time intensive as a fighter, and you will swear you’re playing the arcade as the game responds with pinpoint accuracy and on par with the smoothest framerates on the market. Even online play benefits from Iron Galaxy’s hit-or-miss track record in this generation with identical fights both online and offline, assuming you both have a solid connection and ping rate. Audio isn’t much of a factor these days unless you’re attempting to mimic complex sound chips that the typical Capcom CP2 title did not have, so the game sounds just as faithful as it looks.

Darkstalkers Resurrection doesn’t just bring these two arcade classics to you without throwing in some bonuses. Like many other arcade fighter re-releases, this title has received the Street Fighter IV treatment with an in-depth tutorial mode that explains the basics, advanced mechanics, and key points to obliterating your foes online. Additionally there are options to spectate online games, a staple at this point, but also a useful mode to upload your in-game replay onto YouTube for fast bragging rights to your best matches, no capture card required. Most significant of these new features is an in-game challenge system that constantly has you performing little in-game tricks to gain XP for unlocking extra content in the game’s vault. These tricks are as simple as “play one match” or “shoot five projectiles” and as long term as winning 50 total rounds. These different challenges have an addictive carrot-on-a-stick methodology to them as they pop up randomly on the sides of the screen – I wasn’t able to find a full list, they just show up in a consistent stream every few seconds – that I was distracted from the overall goal of winning the round or beating the game in the interest of getting my next 5 XP. I’m quite a ways from completing every challenge an unlocking everything, but extras I’ve found so far include concept art, development information, and even videos. It’s just another way to keep you coming back to play this game when you’ve got brief downtime and has an instant satisfaction that the longer termed achievements/trophies don’t provide.


Darkstalkers 3  also with smoothing on

Darkstalkers was a series of games that provided a cartoon gothic aesthetic to the Street Fighter II formula but also functioned as a test platform for unique twists on the genre. If you weren’t an arcade fighting fan in the mid-to-late 90s, it’s quite possible these titles passed you by without so much as an afterthought. Now that they are back hopefully a whole new generation can play and appreciate the genuine appeal of this franchise. While Capcom made the decision not to include the original or the “remixed” versions of the third title (those are covered in our reviews, linked above), these are the two entries in the series that have fans divided as much as the debate over which title is better, Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3. If you are a fan of modern day fighters, especially from Capcom, you need to pick up this amazing collection that documents an experimental period that made way for many of the staples in modern day fighters.

Darkstalkers Resurrection is available on XBLA and PSN for $15/1200 MS points. A review copy was provided to the site and we completed both games multiple times, including online matches, for a total play time of approximately 8 hours.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Darkstalkers 3

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darkstalkers_3_boxAlso Known As: Vampire Savior: Lord of the Vampires in Japan
: Arcade
Released: 1997
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Ports: Playstation 1, Sega Saturn (as Vampire Savior: Lord of the Vampires in Japan only), PS2 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection, released only in Japan), Dreamcast (technically, see below, as Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service in Japan only), PSP (as Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower), PS3 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Resurrection, released to disc only in Japan)
Digital Release? Yes – As a PSOne game on PSN ($5.99) that works for PS3/PSP/Vita, as Darkstalkers: The Chaos Tower for PSP ($10.00), Part of Darkstalkers Resurrection in the US on XBLA or PSN ($15.00)

This is the game where Capcom went nuts.  As the list above suggests, there were several ports of this game and in different forms.  So many, in fact, that a brunt of this article is about the ports and differences themselves than the actual game.  Darkstalkers 3 released to a very crowded arcade in 1997, most fighters at that time were also developed by Capcom might I add, and thus Darkstalkers 3 was almost unnoticed in an arcade in America.  Furthermore, the dwindling US arcade market probably saw it releasing to fewer locations.  Originally titled Darkstalkers: Jedah’s Damnation for the US, this title was dropped – I can think of a few reasons why – and the very generic Darkstalkers 3 replaced the title domestically.  As it stood in 1997 you could walk into an arcade and choose between Street Fighter III, Street Fighter EX Plus, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and that’s just the Capcom fighers.


This title did away with rounds, substituting for a more versatile life bar that could regenerate in certain instances and multiple life bars were used to decide a round winner.  Each time a character depleted a life bar they would separate for a moment and then continue fighting without the other player’s life being regenerated.  The special meter now had a “dark force system” that allowed certain special moves to only be performed during certain meter ranges.  These complexities were interesting but again they were all mixed into plenty of Capcom’s fighters and even for an enthusiast like me it’s hard to focus on any one game for the time.  A new story involving Jedah, a noble being from the demon world that gets resurrected, has decided to rebuild the demon world and use a group of souls to do it.  Wouldn’t you guess, it just so happens to be the Darkstalkers clan.  Characters Donovan, Huitzil, and Pyron are dropped – guess bosses weren’t a good idea – and four new characters Jedah, Lilith, Q-Bee, and Baby Bonnie Hood (who named her?) are added.  Now if you’ve seen characters like Donovan in Darkstalkers 3, bear with me, I’ll explain in a minute.  There’s also a hidden character in the arcade game, Shadow, who takes on the moves and attacks of the character he last defeated.  To play as Shadow, in the character select screen you want to highlight the character you wish to start off as and press Start 3 times (it’ll be random if you skip this), then highlight random fighter, press start 5 times, and finally press any punch or kick button.


Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge

This was a Japan only 1997 arcade release (update) that came out shortly after Vampire Savior and was an interesting experiment in updating the engine of the previous title.  Still, I consider it to be an alteration of Darkstalkers 3 and not Night Warriors.  This game brings back the soundtrack of the previous game, removes all of the new characters and retains the 14 character cast list of the previous title as well.  Aside from the roster and soundtrack, the entire game is brought into the Darkstalkers 3 engine, animation, and style, move lists are based on the new moves and attacks, the game and rounds function as the newest title, and air chain combos are removed.  It basically feels like an experiment that Capcom wanted to do to test if the game’s popularity would change based on retaining the character list of the previous game and I’m guessing omits the new characters due to memory limitations.  Before Darkstalkers 3, no characters had ever been removed from the game, only added.

Vampire Savior 2

This was another 1997 Japan only experiment released alongside Vampire Hunter 2 that switched around the roster at the cost of removing characters to keep it at 15 fighters.  This further suggests that memory limitations are responsible for the shortened list, especially with the integration of all fighters in most home ports.  In this version the roster gets rid of Sasquatch, Rikuo, and John Talbain to bring back Donovan, Huitzil, and Pyron.  As I never much cared for the boss characters and Sasquatch and John Talbain (werewolf guy) are two of my go-to fighters, I find this to be a very poor updated.  As with its simultaneous tweaked brother, this game is identical to Darkstalkers 3 save for the roster tweak.

Home Ports

Fully unlocked Darkstalkers 3 character selection screen (home version)

Fully unlocked Darkstalkers 3 character selection screen (home version)

I don’t know if it was due to the end of the Darkstalkers series – with arcades dying out and a bunch of fighters being cranked every few months by Capcom to both arcades and consoles all while the genre was dying – but Capcom handled releasing home versions of Darkstalkers 3 much like the arcades.  The most abundant version is the Playstation port, which features the entire roster of Darkstalkers characters, totaling 18, as well as playable versions of four secret characters including the aforementioned Shadow, Dark Talbain (color and sprite change, moveset the same), Oboro Bishamon (secret character from Night Warriors now playable), and Marionette (secret mode in Hunter 2 and Savior 2 turned into character, she retains attributes of your current opponent).  This was clearly a throw everything at the wall move that makes for the most complex and full version of the game to date.  Much like Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 there are some who think integrating all characters throws off the balance of the game, although with this series and its many releases I tend to disagree.  The port was decent, most of the animation was smooth, load times were still a bit of a problem, and the graphics were okay.  I’m biased due to the fact I have played and own the Saturn port that was released to Japan only.

Saturn’s version, known as Vampire Savior due to its Japan only status, utilized the cartridge port to add 4MB of RAM and make for near arcade perfect animation and graphics.  It was packaged with the game when it released in Japan, although to play it on an American system required the Pro Action Replay that also acts as a 4MB RAM cart.  This version also compiles a hybrid of all versions of Darkstalkers 3 with all 15 original characters and the three omitted for a total of 18 characters.  Shadow can also be used but Marionette didn’t make it over.  Additionally, as far as I’m aware, Dark Talbain and Oboro Bishamon are not playable, but can still be fought like in the arcade.

In 2000, via Capcom direct, a hybrid of all the Darkstalkers games entitled Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service (sounds better in Japanese) released in Japan only for Dreamcast.  This game took all of the characters, all of the fighting styles, and all of the assets from the three (technically five) games and made one giant game.  Additionally online play was added.  If the Playstation Darkstalkers 3 is like UMK3 then this is the Mortal Kombat Trilogy version.  This title was re-released to all territories on the PSP as Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower in 2004although online play was cut for ad-hoc play.

Finally the Playstation 2 yet again collected all five games, although separated and not fused together like Chronicle, in the Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection in Japan.  With Vampire Savior you literally select which of the three arcade versions you wish to play, but there’s no way to play a hybrid version like on the Playstation or Saturn ports.  Also the XBLA/PSN version of Darkstalkers Resurrection features only the original arcade version of Darkstalkers 3 and does not include the updated versions or any hybrids of such.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge

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Night_Warriors_coverAlso Known As: Vampire Hunter: Darkstalkers’ Revenge in Japan
: Arcade
Released: 1995
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Ports: Sega Saturn, PS2 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection, released only in Japan), PS3 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Resurrection, released to disc only in Japan)
Price: $20.00 (used) $49.99 (new)
Digital Release? Yes – Part of Darkstalkers Resurrection in the US on XBLA or PSN ($15.00)

Not wasting any time, which is something you’ll notice from all popular Capcom franchises, a sequel to the original Darkstalkers was brought out only a short year later in 1995.  It’s important to note that this was common for arcades back then with much shorter development time and a need to ride the coattails of any popular game franchise in coin-op form.  The moment your game didn’t have anything new to offer and hardcore fans stopped playing it, you were dead in the water.  While the original title mixed up the formula for Capcom fighters, Night Warriors was more of a refinement of the unique ideas its predecessor introduced.  This time around Capcom focused more on adapting the “special” bar, now having up to 3 levels of power, and more complex chain combos.  Additionally the animation was so well coded the characters moved on screen like living cartoons, no more awkward mechanical movements or odd frames of animation.  Some say this was one of the first games that frame counting became a more complex and time-intensive activity and with new 3-gauge EX specials and combos, you could make or break your match.  Players also have the option of playing a traditional style of gameplay or the new “auto-block,” which would prove popular to those new to the series and not cause any grief from veterans.  Unfortunately the way Capcom staggered its release schedule of fighters, Night Warriors was the first of three major fighters introduced by the company in 1995 and somewhat fell to the wayside going into summer (this released in March, technically the end of winter).  It’s unfortunate because some fans of the series, like myself, consider it to be the best of the three titles.

New character Hsien-Ko

New character Hsien-Ko

With the success of the original, Capcom ramped up the complexity of both the story and media blitz for the sequel.  While it’s clearly a larger pop culture phenom in Japan, we here in the US also received comics and an animated series.  It also broke into arcades on a larger scale – I started seeing it replace Street Fighter II cabinets in pizza shops and the local arcades that skipped the first title magically had this sequel.  In continuing with that formula, a new story was crafted as it is with all fighters that was probably an excuse to modify the fighter list.  While all 10 original fighters return for the sequel, four new playable characters integrated.  The new story is almost laughable in its simplicity: having revealed himself and his agenda in the first game, Pyron now takes on all of the Darkstalkers who are the last chance for Earth.  An interesting side angle involving new characters Donovan Baine and Hsien-Ko, devout vampire hunters that are trying to eliminate the Darkstalkers as a favor for humanity, come into the game with new fighting styles.  With Donovan and Hsien-Ko added to the roster, Capcom integrated bosses Huitzil and Pyron as playable characters to round out the 14 fighters.  This tactic had proved popular when the bosses of Street Fighter II were made playable for Championship Edition and Turbo provided that they were slightly tweaked for balance.

Final boss Pyron is now a playable character

Final boss Pyron is now a playable character

Home Versions

Night_Warriors_Saturn_CoverAs stated in the article for the original, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge released to the Sega Saturn in 1996 with smooth animation and a quite arcade faithful port.  This gave a negative spin to the Playstation release of the original in the same month, especially with the Saturn port being the better of the two, and to this day Night Warriors is a quintessential part of any true Saturn fighter collection.  Also with the release of Street Fighter Alpha and Marvel Super Heroes to arcades the same year, two other new Capcom fighters with both franchise and pop culture establishment far surpassing Darkstalkers, the home version was where the popularity for this title thrived.  It also helped that the home version of this title was considered a better port than the other two, which also released in 1996 to both Playstation and Saturn, both of which were hindered by chunky animation and poor load times.  There wasn’t much added to the game aside from an Appendix mode that allowed you to use any background with any theme song in any match.  Some web sites state that the Saturn port of this game was limited to Japan only, however on the contrary this title was released in the United States and isn’t all that hard to find.  It is notable that the Sega Saturn had the only port of this title to home consoles and Night Warriors assisted in establishing the Saturn as the ideal console for the semi-niche fighter genre.

As with the original, Night Warriors was part of the Japan only collection Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection.  This version is nothing more than an arcade port, albeit a near perfect port complete with few load times.  It was also featured in a Playstation 3 re-release, Vampire: Darkstalkers Resurrection in Japan that featured the arcade version again, only this time with HD upresed graphics, plenty of visual filters and options (including many that allow you to view the cab from multiple angles), and extras to unlock.  Just last week this was released digitally in the US on both PS3 and Xbox 360, simply named Darkstalkers: Resurrection, and features an identical version of the game now with English localization and names (some names are different in Japan).

Written by Fred Rojas

March 23, 2013 at 11:30 am

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors

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Darkstalkers_boxAlso Known As: Vampire: The Night Warriors in Japan
: Arcade
Released: 1994
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Ports: PS1, PS2 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection, released only in Japan)
Price: $11.18 (used) $455.00 (new)
Digital Release? Yes – PSOne release for PS3/PSP/Vita ($5.99)

It seemed that all classic fighters started life with iterative trilogies. Seriously, it happened with Street Fighter II (original, champion, turbo), Mortal Kombat (1-3), Art of Fighting (1-3), ClayFighter…okay, scrap that last one. Darkstalkers, known as Vampire in Japan, was no exception. The first Capcom fighting game that wasn’t from the Street Fighter series, these games were less about building a new series and more about being a testing ground for new mechanics. That doesn’t make the games any less awesome, nor does it discredit the silky smooth gameplay and beautiful animation that was significantly improved over the Street Fighter graphics that had begun to look dated in 1994. While it may be a true timepiece that you either grew up in the mid 90s playing or missed completely, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors is a great starting point when learning the more hardcore mechanics of today’s fighters.


Since it was an arcade game, there’s not much of a plot to Darkstalkers and I don’t even remember there being a plot screen. Protagonist of the series Demitri Maximoff, a vampire, holds a tournament to determine who is worthy to rule the demon realm. Final boss Pyron, an ancient alien life form, enters the tournament in hopes to win and consume the Earth. There’s a lot of back story, plot, and relationships amidst the characters and fleshed out in Japanese manga, art books, comics, and even referenced in an anime (which did have a US release), but none of that matters to the game per se. Darkstalkers is really about playing a cast of interesting characters – Felicia is a human/cat hybrid, Sasquatch is exactly what he sounds like, and skeleton British rocker Lord Raptor who dawns a chainsaw leg are just a few of the cast of 10 playable fighters.

darkstalkers_2While they don’t seem like anything special, the fluid movements and animations are the result of the new Capcom CP2 arcade hardware that released a year earlier in Super Street Fighter II. Special techniques including air blocking and crouch walking premiered in this title as well as the heavier chain combos that also crept into later Capcom fighters. Additionally the “super combo” meter from SSF II moved over as a “special” meter and allowed for larger combos or charged super moves, another Capcom fighter staple moving forward. The integration of such fighting styles, in addition to the traditional attack/defense/special move setup already established by the Street Fighter II series, drastically changed the pace and technique. When put together with the gothic aesthetic Darkstalkers, whether you made the connection to Street Fighter II developer Capcom or not, was quite the popular breath of fresh air that Street Fighter II fans had been hoping for.

Home Ports

darkstalkers_ps1_boxDarkstalkers: The Night Warriors came home to the original Playstation in 1996, a full two years after its release to arcades. Initially the game was to hit consoles on the Sega 32X in 1995, but the death of that system resulted in a scratching of the project and either Sega or Capcom (or both) opted to bring sequel Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge to the Saturn instead of the original. Oddly enough, both the sequel on Saturn and this original on Playstation came out within weeks of each othe, the Saturn port garnering most of the praise. It’s not that the Playstation port was bad, but Sony’s new console was much better at 3D renders than seemingly outdated 2D sprites, resulting in load times and framerate drops in combat. Conversely the Saturn was originally designed for 2D sprites only, a daughter board being added late in development to allow (poor) 3D renders, so it handled gameplay with near arcade perfection. Unlike future ports, this port was identical in content to the arcade save for a new localized opening theme, Trouble Man by Eikichi Yazawa, due to its use in the US version of the anime.

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors also released on PS2 in Japan only as part of the Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection and featured an arcade perfect port of the game, complete with no load times. Personally I have played this and I must say I’m impressed with the work Capcom was able to do with this and the Street Fighter Collection (which we did get here in the US) to grant flawless arcade ports without pausing to load a match.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Top 5 Shmups on Portable Consoles

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Given the frantic and brief nature of most shmups, the genre is perfect for the portable platform, much like it was perfect for the arcade. For one reason or another, these titles can be rare to find on traditional handhelds and even harder to find actually good ones. On the other hand some of my favorite shmups are exclusive to portables (at least in the United States) so we’ve compiled a list of the portable shmups actually worth playing.

5. Space Invaders Extreme (Nintendo DS)

space_invaders_extremeWhen Taito decided it would re-invent the Space Invaders formula I was skeptical. We were told in previews that the game would feature an upbeat techno soundtrack, plenty of screen tricks and explosions, dual screen integration on DS, and a hybrid between modern game mechanics and the original title. Just in case that sounds tempting to you, it’s almost verbatim what no gamer wants to hear when a beloved franchise is rebooting. Somehow Taito pulled it off and with no updates save for that fearful list Space Invaders Extreme was an addicting masterpiece. It released in a few forms on a few consoles but bar none the Nintendo DS version is the one to get. With non-linear level progression and utilization of dual screen to make the DS function more like a vertical arcade monitor, it’s like having Space Invaders on speed. Bonus rounds, boss battles, and power-ups were simple tweaks to the original formula that switched up gameplay without being a specific reason to play the game. Needless to say if you haven’t played Space Invaders Extreme, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the original, you should give this handheld game that’s easy to learn and brutal to master a try. It will keep you occupied for many a train, plane, or bus ride to come.

4. Halley Wars (Sega Game Gear)

halleywarsWith the small screens of most portable consoles it never ceases to amaze me how many vertical shmups find their way over, but despite that fact Halley Wars is not to be missed. Set in space, this is the sequel to the 1986 arcade game Halley’s Comet entails defeating an alien invasion that is utilizing Haley’s famous comet as cover for an attack on Earth. In Halley Wars you progress through six levels that are not only lengthy but end with great pattern-based boss battles. True, this game did come to home consoles in Japan but in America the only version we received was on the Game Gear. While I can’t think of anyone who had this in their collection growing up, I found it surprising that this title is neither hard to find nor is it expensive locally or on eBay.


3. Solar Striker (Nintendo Gameboy)

solarstrikerGameboy (and Gameboy Color) aren’t really hurting for shmups, but I don’t like many of the home console ports that seem forced into Gameboy’s little screen, especially when I’ve got a much better version I can play in another room. Solar Striker was developed purely for the Gameboy and it’s a vertical shmup that not only follows the Gradius theory of beating the game in one life, but it also takes to the green blurred effects of the portable nicely. Each enemy is larger, taking up real estate on the screen and not making their presence a secret, sub bosses and end stage bosses offer pattern learning that’s sure to aggravate today’s gamers with their initial unfair feel. You get power-ups throughout the game and building up five in a row gives you a primary shot that fills a big portion of the screen, which is why I say the game is best completed in one life. Maybe compared to all shmups that exist it’s nothing special, but for a game that is aware of and works with the limitations of the Gameboy, you can’t do much better.

2. Gradius Gaiden (as part of the Gradius Collection on PSP)

Hosted at Universal Videogame List www.uvlist.netThis is another game that was previously released to a home console, but unfortunately we never saw Gradius Gaiden on the PS1 in the US so your only option is through the collection. It’s really a shame too because Gradius Gaiden is easily the best in the series, utilizing 3D sprites in a 2D background and bringing a nice aesthetic to the Gradius formula. It’s not all smoke and mirrors either, this was the first in the series to feature fully customizable ships and power-up chains – you can literally use any previous Gradius ship and have your power-ups unlock in any order. If you want to have your first power-up be options, fine, you can have 5 options before the brunt of the level even starts. This doesn’t make the game easy by any means; the balance is that attacks and enemies are so varied you will need various power-ups to overcome many of the levels. Not only that but the new graphical tricks allow for some crazy encounters like ice caves crashing to pieces and dropping snow and debris into the play field as you traverse the level or a cube of Moai head statues rotating in all directions around you. While the Gradius Collection is the only of the three Konami collections to release on PSP in the US (there are fantastic Salamander and Parodius collections in Japan), it has become a title that’s a bit hard to come by with no digital version released. Still, I don’t see it for more than about $10-$20 when I do find it and you can always give in to eBay mark-up if you’re desperate, but the fact that you get Gradius Gaiden plus the original three titles (including the super rare Gradius II: Gofer No Yobo arcade version) makes this a must buy for shmup fans on the PSP.

1. Aerial Assault (Sega Game Gear)

aerialassaultI have no specific argument as to why this is my favorite portable shmup, except for the fact that it fulfills the need for catharsis with every move. You play as a simple airplane craft that navigates a horizontal landscape taking down mostly easy to shoot enemies and collecting power-ups along the way. Like the other Game Gear title on this list, the levels are lengthy and offer a decent run for a game designed to be played in short spurts. While I’m sure hardcore shmup fans find the difficulty to be pathetic, I personally appreciate the fact that the game isn’t too hard or requires too much concentration from you. It isn’t enough to make your bored, there is still some fight in the title, but it’s not Ikaruga by any means. I appreciate it because the developers seemed to understand that you will most likely be playing this in public where it’s difficult to offer the concentration of a normal shmup and you probably don’t want to throw a hissy fit in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s for those long days at the office or nervous moments before a dentist appointment when you can bring out your Game Gear, spend 10 minutes feeling like a badass by blowing up a ton of aircraft, then power it off and move on with your day. Thankfully this title is neither rare nor particularly expensive and as it’s the only fighter jet shmup series that’s set in my preferred horizontal perspective. As if this isn’t enough, growing up this was the first portable title that I played at home when I had other consoles at my disposal. I can’t help but love the fact that Aerial Assault exists.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Luck O’ the Irish – Special Edition

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Rob “Trees” O’Connor joins us on the most Irish of days, St. Patrick’s Day.  To celebrate, we are discussing Irish video games of the past and because that only takes 5 minutes we’re also talking special edition consoles.  Yes, those $500 editions typically exclusive to Japan that make our inner fanboy reach for the wallet every time we see a new ridiculous logo on something we already own.

Opening song: The Blood of Cuchulainn by Michael Danna (popularized in the opening credits of the movie The Boondock Saints)

Closing song: Irish Drinking Song by Dropkick Murphys

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

Games You’ve (Probably) Never Played: Tiny Toons Adventures: Defenders of the Universe (PS2)

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If you’re not familiar with this Playstation 2 title it’s probably because it never came out.  On our most recent podcast, we discussed the developer Treasure, responsible for a slew of great and popular titles but the company itself is quite lesser known to those in America.  With a resume that spans almost every console from the 16-bit era on, there are some odd releases that Treasure is also responsible for, namely Tiny Toon Adventures: Defenders of the Universe (which will be referred to as DotU from now on and was also at one point Defenders of the Looniverse).

Conspiracy Games, a somewhat obscure publisher that is responsible for a bunch of licensed and lower budgeted projects on the PS2, Wii, and PSP, must have acquired the Tiny Toons license because it was and has developed a few games for the series.  Conspiracy specifically works with developers that want to make a game but do not have the financial backing to do so.  This title was to be a somewhat large collaboration that had Tetsuhiko Kikuchi (aka HAN), best known for the great Saturn brawler/RPG Guardian Heroes, as director and even its own web site:  Very little is known about the development cycle, struggles, or overall issues about the development of this game, but what started as an early PS2 release in 2001 eventually was delayed 3 years into 2004 (according to IGN) and eventually canceled.  Because deals with publishers and developers often result in delayed processes and forced decisions that the creative team does not like, it’s really anyone’s guess why this game spent so long in development and was eventually sapped.

Somehow, a prototype of the game was recovered and released on the Internet for all to enjoy.  In order to play this “game” you need to either have a PS2 emulator on your computer (that runs marginally well) or burn the game to a disc and play it on a modded PS2.  I have a modded PS2 so I check it out on the latter.  Below is a video of the gameplay and pretty much the entire prototype (I was one or two screens from the end), which appears to be simply a demo.  It’s pretty interesting that the game seems to support up to four players taking on each other in a hybrid co-op/competitive team game to save the Universe.  DotU seems to harken back to the N64 days – at the time of initial development somewhere around 2000 this would make senses until a publisher comes in and explains that the N64 is dead and to release a game is far too great a risk and cost.  I don’t even know if the 4 player multi-tap for the PS2 was out yet, but you can see where Treasure would have made great use of it.  I wish there was more to this game – I’ve heard this is a nearly completed version, which sounds completely wrong since there’s only about half an hour of content on this disc and half of it is cutscene.  Still, had they continued on and increased the dynamic of team play while also adding the challenges of beating the group, I could see this being one of those licensed games we discuss that was “ahead of its time.”  As it stands the title remains unfinished and unreleased, lost to the annuls of history and just another holy grail of people like myself that want to experience as many prototypes as possible.  If you have the capabilities to play it, especially with multiple controllers, you may want to check out this early knock-off of a Mario Party title.  For the majority of you, here’s 18 minutes of a game that never saw the light of day.

Review: Life of Pixel

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pixel_iconRetro “style” has become exponentially popular these days. What started as an amusing aesthetic for Mega Man 9 or upgraded project like Retro City Rampage has spawned a rush of pixelated, sprite-based games that may look like they came from yesteryear but play like anything but. To the untrained eye (or non-technical gamer) these are nothing more than cash-in titles hoping to embrace the nostalgia of gamers like myself and strategically place a casual game in a 1985 wrapping. My only exception to this style probably lies in titles like Retro Game Challenge on the DS, which fully recreated new games that actually play like old games, or titles like Pier Solar on the Genesis, which is an actual title that plays on the console. Life of Pixel rests just in the middle because it plays completely like a game from the past, but also looks like a game of the past as well. The twist: it does this with eight different known consoles/microcomputers.

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

Released on the Playstation Mobile platform, an odd choice at first but completely appropriate in hindsight, you follow a single pixel lost to the annals of history that rediscovers its value visiting a retro game museum. In this museum he discovers that he was quite useful on international consoles Atari 2600, Gameboy, and NES, along with five microcomputers that dominated 80s gaming in the UK. These work as “worlds” for the game, each containing eight levels of pure retro platforming bliss. In truth the levels are nothing special if not for the fact that each level and console looks and acts just like it did in the past, flaws and all. An easy example is that of the Atari 2600, which cannot scroll its screen in any way and thus the levels are contained in what you see. Additionally microcomputers could not scroll at will like the NES could so you have to move screen to screen. These are just a couple of examples of how the particular console you are on relates to the type of tactics you use in each level. This isn’t the only hook, as game design “grows up” as you progress in the consoles, so do the mechanics and gameplay styles. In the end you’re basically playing the same series and concept of game across 8 consoles and more than a decade of hardware and game design. If that doesn’t speak to the retro style I don’t know what does. Life of Pixel is a full retro experience, complete with visual styles that faithfully resemble the aesthetic of that console – you know how each console seemed to have a “look” – and properly credited music that holds as true as the graphics.

An example of a Gameboy level

An example of a Gameboy level

Personally I found no true flaws to the game. It ran smooth, it was fair in its collision detection, and the challenge, while occasionally frustrating, wasn’t being mean. Then again I am a retro gamer and have enjoyed all of these consoles/microcomputers for their positives and negatives. It’s clear from the Super Icon’s web site that a group of gamers do not share my sentiment when it comes to flaws like not seeing where you are going to fall or the behavior of enemies. If you are patient, observant, and don’t mind dying a lot, this title has a very Demons Souls methodology about it; you can learn to get around these obstacles if you just pay attention. On a particular level that had leaps of faith (and I’m not talking about the level “Leap of Faith” either) as you jumped around large pools of water, it looks like you’re just jumping and praying. Not the case, there are specific ledges and areas that will keep you out of harms way if you fall off of them. Admittedly you have to die a few (or a few dozen) times to learn the layout of the level, but it’s a mechanic you can work with nonetheless and it again comes down to skill and puzzle solving rather than pixel counting to overcome. For those that still struggle, complete maps are now available at the developer’s site.

I must say I’m pleasantly surprised by what I assumed to be a barebones title. At a dirt cheap price of $2, I’m getting more game and enjoyment than I have on titles up to five times that price. It’s also clear that developer Super Icon really cares about the product they’re selling and if this much care and development went into a $2 game imagine what they could do with an indie budget or even a large one. Either way those that have a mobile device with the Playstation Mobile platform and every Vita owner should download this title immediately and show support for one of the few mobile developers that takes making a game seriously.

By the NES you're talking high quality visuals

By the NES you’re talking high quality visuals

Editor’s Note:  Since we did not support scores when the original game was released, it was re-evaluated for a score with the re-release on PC, which is posted below.

Review Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

This game was not provided to our site for the purposes of review.  It was purchased by the author, Fred Rojas, in the Playstation Mobile store for $1.99 and completed in 3 hours on a Vita. 

Written by Fred Rojas

March 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm


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