Archive for April 2013
Developer: Midway / Probe Software (console)
Publisher: Midway / Acclaim (console)
Ports: Gameboy, Game Gear, Master System, Genesis, SNES, PC/DOS (all as T2: The Arcade Game)
Digital Release? No (probably due to license issues)
In 1991, the sequel to Jim Cameron’s film Terminator hit theaters and literally launched the careers of Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick as well as ushering in a new generation of computer generated image (CGI) effects. With a monster budget the film was accompanied by a marketing blitz like no other. At that time making an arcade game for the movie was a great and potentially cost-free endeavor (it would make as much in revenue that it cost to produce), which resulted in one of the heaviest cult following of a licensed game I’ve ever experienced. Not only was it a licensed arcade game, but it was also a bolt-on light gun game (which I describe in my Operation Wolf article) that made it significantly more approachable than any other format. For me, it was the “why can’t I beat the damn third level!” game.
It’s quite an expansive experience that takes you through most of the pivotal moments of the movie, including several levels that take place in the post-apocalyptic future and subsequent present day challenges. Like other shooters of its type, you have a primary machine gun weapon and bombs that can be fired off for some of the stronger enemies or to take out clusters. I must admit that at the time it was awesome taking out the original T-800 cyborgs we first saw in the original Terminator and the neo-future setting. Then you hit level three. Most people don’t remember and even fewer talk about the fact that unlike arcade quarter-swallowing titles like Revolution X, level three requires skill to complete and no amount of money in the world will get you past it. This is why most people who have played this game get hung up on or never see beyond the third level. It’s a protection mission where you literally have to memorize the spawn points of the oncoming enemies that seek to destroy the truck John Connor is fighting in. This vehicle is very susceptible to damage and if you can’t intercept the airborne enemies right as they appear you have no chance of completing the level. If John dies, you have to restart with no true penalty. This resulted in long, repetitive, and frustrating replays of an escort mission you never wanted to play. It’s really disappointing too, because the remaining seven levels are both fun and provide much more fan service for those that have seen the movie. These levels are also brutally difficult to the point that I don’t think it’s possible to pass on consoles and requires more than 50 credits on arcades/MAME.
There are plenty of people out there that adore Terminator 2: Judgment Day but as for me the impossible nature of the third level remove all desire to tackle this game. At the same time, all you need is a pencil and paper to record where each ship spawns from and the level should be a breeze (they never change, always the same patterns). Still, even with only three levels played, this is a great shooter in the Terminator universe, but I still can’t let the frustrating third level go.
This title was ported to most home and portable consoles as the retitled T2: The Arcade Game due to the Terminator 2 game that had nothing to do with the arcade. While I don’t see much of a point to the gameplay on the Gameboy or Game Gear, the Master System, Genesis, and SNES ports are faithful recreations. You are forced to use the gamepad on the Master System, but I think that is a better option than trying to rapid fire the Light Phaser at the speed T2 requires. On the Genesis you could use the Menacer, which I didn’t care for, and on the SNES you can use the Super Scope and even the mouse that came with Mario Paint (a great way to play, might I add). Graphically they all look close to the same but the different graphics modes on the SNES (especially Mode 7) allows that port to look and act quite close to the arcade game. Basically if you have a choice, go with the SNES version.
This week Fred and Trees celebrate the release of Injustice: Gods Among Us by discussing old games based on DC comics (which pretty much means Batman and Superman titles). Also remember next week is our game club with Guardian Heroes (Saturn/XBLA).
Title reference: “DC Bullet” is the official logo used by the company from the 80s until recently.
Opening Song: “Superman Theme” from the Famicom title of the same name.
Closing Song: “Boss Theme” from Batman: Return of the Joker on the NES.
Cover Art: “Killing Joke”
This week we have special guest Eli “Sodoom” (@sodoom) from Knuckleballer Radio on to celebrate Nintendo’s world famous plumber. Instead of discussions about the actual games we’ve all played, we delve into the snags in development, cultural significance, and multiple games that never saw the light of day. Mario has a clean release record but plenty of care and scrapping of ideas went into his games.
Developer: Beam Software
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $5.88 (used) $27.47 (complete) $130.00 (new) pricecharting.com
Famicom Version? No, this was Nintendo only
Ports: Gameboy (differences, see below)
Digital Release? No
In probably one of the most doomed to fail ideas, I have to admit that in my childhood The Punisher was my first taste of what would later establish a love for light gun and first-person shooters alike. Ironically, this title is neither. It takes the crosshair light gun motif we first saw in Operation Wolf and adapts it into a third-person shooter (without light gun) that integrated upgrades and even brawler elements to an otherwise rote shooter title. Released in 1990, and despite the common license and title that holds no similarity to other games, The Punisher was a licensed LJN game that proved you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. In short, I loved this flawed, aggressive shooter.
Your task is to take down some of the biggest criminals the city has to offer, including longtime Punisher nemesis Jigsaw, in a series of levels. Interestingly enough, you aren’t forced into linear progression; the game allows you to choose any of the three initial targets to go after. As you take out each one, the remaining two targets become available levels until your final option, Kingpin, becomes the only level and boss. With each target you are given two levels to conquer, each containing power-ups, ammo, and grenades to help build up your arsenal, and a final encounter with the target themself. Unfortunately the power of choice, at least for me, is tarnished by the fact that doing the levels in their obvious order (from left to right) seems to be the only viable way to complete the game. Along the way you will take out a massive army of the game’s three or four enemy types and eventually make your way to a boss. The biggest hurdle is that if you run out of lives, it’s game over. No continues, no second chances. This isn’t really a deal breaker, it just establishes long bouts between attempts to finish the game.
I was quite impressed with the graphical prowess, the amount of enemies on screen, and the apparent depth of an NES game that premiered at the end of the console’s life. Sure, the NES would hang on for several more years, but most of us graduated into the 16-bit generation the year following The Punisher‘s release. You are tasked not only with the point-and-sho0t mentality but also the placement of your character on screen, an interesting addition to the traditional light gun format that I haven’t seen since. There’s also the brawler element, key to completing two of the boss battles, that requires you to have more than crack shot skills. Unfortunately the music is what takes the greatest hit. All of the levels seem eerily quiet and the saxophone player that shows up in the most odd of times and location provides the only break from the action, but his song is neither interesting enough nor is there any incentive to keep him alive. The last battle with Kingpin is also somewhat dis jarring – I promise that the first time you get to him you will lose, and die, and be livid with the nearly 90 minutes trek back to one single battle that stands in the way of completion. Either way, I was impressed back then and I’m equally amused now to play what I consider a gem from the deep archives of Nintendo’s initial console.
Aside from my impressive nods to those that managed to reprogram this title to the dot matrix portable, The Punisher (now renamed with an Ultimate Payback sub-title) is just as good and addicting on the Gameboy. An odd change swapped Jigsaw to the final boss, a more appropriate plot point from any Marvel fan’s perspective, but otherwise the game is entirely the same.
With the recent unfortunate closure of LucasArts by new owners Disney, we reflect this week with Fred, Trees, and Derrick H on the long standing library of titles that included point-and-click adventures, flight sims, platformers, and of course Star Wars games.
Opening Song: Star Wars Theme by John Williams
Closing Song: Maniac Mansion Theme from the NES version
For those not aware of the microcomputer craze in Europe that dominated the late 80s, the name “Giana Sisters” may not mean much. By the time the NES came out in Europe many had already invested in a microcomputer and parents were not eager to purchase a new console, so having games on popular computers like the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 was essential. The Great Giana Sisters was a widespread clone of Super Mario Bros. that provided a great side-scrolling platformer alternative to Nintendo’s classic. Unfortunately due to its highly similar content, including an opening level that literally cloned 1-1 from Super Mario Bros., Nintendo’s legal involvement got the game pulled off store shelves. Since then it has lived on as a rare holy grail for some gamers and having played it myself I must admit that it doesn’t steal as much from Super Mario Bros. as the initial level would suggest. Now the Giana Sisters are reborn in one of the first Kickstarter projects to benefit and release from the crowd-funding program and it is clear that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is anything but a clone. In fact, Super Mario Bros. could learn a thing or two from this gorgeous modern platformer.
Twisted Dreams is a sequel to this controversial original, which did see a legal re-imagining on the DS in 2009, and picks up an original story that thankfully does not require knowledge of the original. Maria, Giana’s sister, has been kidnapped by an evil dragon and it’s up to Giana to enter the dream world and rescue her. Now a teenager, Giana is capable of utilizing the power of her two personalities – an interesting take on the changes one experiences in those awkward teenage years – allowing her to transform between a bright “Cute” persona and a rebellious “Punk” persona at will. Most interesting about this transformation is that it comes not only with new powers, but the entire world changes on the fly along with her. This dichotomy of not only the play style, but also the aesthetic of the entire game, creates a unique formula for each level. It allows the platformer to escape the confines of relying on level design and instead allows small simple spaces to become obstacle courses that will challenge your mind and reflexes. It’s not about dodging the pit and jumping on the enemy anymore, you need to think and think fast to make it in Twisted Dreams.
I can’t explain enough how gorgeous this game is and even after spending more than 10 hours with it I’m still delighted at the feel of each level. Without any knowledge of the technical side of development, I’m guessing the game loads both versions of each level and has transition effects built in that can be accessed at your whim. You control whether you want to be Cute or Punk and you can even do dynamic things like swap personas mid-jump or initiate a special attack with one persona and change to the other instantly, allowing the attack to affect the other persona’s world. It sounds a bit complicated on paper, but trust me it makes perfect sense in-game. As you may expect, Cute persona has a bright and vibrant world, along with her signature spin jump that allows you to float while spinning in the air. Punk’s darker demon-like world includes her signature move of a blast ball that has a ricochet effect, an interesting reflection of another popular platforming franchise, requiring fast-paced movements and twitch reflexes. Each work fine alone, but it isn’t long before you are required not only to master each persona’s movements, but also to mix them on the fly in order to get through the levels. In addition the gem collecting mechanic from the original returns as a secondary objective to completing levels.
This is where the challenge of Twisted Dreams shows its true colors. With each new world, the number of levels increases and the challenge goes from innovative to downright brutal. European games from the microcomputer days are universally known to be aggressive, difficult tests of patience and Twisted Dreams honors those days. It’s not impossible, mind you, and with mid-level checkpoints and unlimited lives you will eventually be able to get through any level albeit at the cost of your score. Upon completion of any level you are scored based on how many gems you found and how many times you died; you can earn up to 3 stars for gems collected and up to 2 stars for minimal lives lost. I was pleased to see that you can get all 5 stars without a perfect run, so feel free to test the waters from time to time or let those impossible gems go. On the flip side, you must get at least half of all possible stars in a world to unlock the boss, so it may be necessary to repeat a level or be more explorative and cautious at times. All of these factors best explain why this game is ideal in the format its downloadable package suggests: small doses. I completed a level here and there some nights, always took a break after each fierce boss battle, and enjoyed the game in stride so as not to give those rushed reviewer impressions. If you make this game a chore it will become just that, so do yourself a favor and take the time to enjoy each dazzling level. For the hardcore that are scoffing at every word I’ve written, fear not, there’s a hardcore mode that removes checkpoints and an über hardcore that makes you start over from the beginning if you die. Just unlocking these modes is a challenge – hardcore’s unlock requires you complete each boss level with at least 4 stars and über hardcore wants 5 stars in all levels in hardcore mode. Needless to say this is a game that has the potential for addicts to play for the rest of their lives. All of these intense modes put a focus on precision that I wasn’t all that pleased with on the awkward Xbox 360 d-pad. Thankfully third-party controllers and the demo of the game on Steam put my concerns at ease as this is a hardware issue and not a programming one.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams and I must admit that the 2D platformer aspect and historical context prepared me for yet another cash-in clone of New Super Mario Bros. What I got was a unique title that was a treat for the eyes, a joy for some of the most intense platforming in years (and I beat BloodRayne Betrayal), and a hybrid soundtrack from original composer Chris Hülsbeck and Swedish heavy metal band Machinae Supremacy that was fantastic. If you are a retro fan or a platforming enthusiast, especially one that’s been disappointed with the recent glut of New Super Mario Bros. games, then Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for.
This title is available on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade for $15 with a PS3/PSN and WiiU version is due out soon. It was provided to our site as a review copy and took approximately 8 hours to complete with a total of 12 hours put in for review purposes.
Ports: NES (1989), Sega Master System (1990), DOS (1991), PC-Engine (Japan Only, 1992), Microcomputers (varies), PS2 (in Taito Legends, arcade version), Xbox (in Taito Legends, arcade version)
Digital Release? Yes – NES Version on Virtual Console (no light gun support, see below)
Operation Wolf is a game I can’t help but associate with Pizza Hut. Taito’s introduction and unique take on the light gun shooter flooded the American franchise so much in the late 80s that I can think of no other place I’ve actually played the game. Of course being a pizza franchise and not an arcade the difficulty was always cranked to the highest and I swear they timed the machine to play approximately half the time it took to cook a pizza so that families with two kids would each play one credit before the food was ready. This title brought more realism to the light gun shooter as you play a member of special forces diving behind enemy lines in Cuba to extract five hostages. Aside from the realistic violence of invading and destroying enemy encampments, this was the first light gun shooter to feature a plot and natural progression as well as a moving, scrolling stage instead of a fixed location. Did I mention it was addicting too?
Mind you, we are still back in 1987, where arcade games were more about providing a specialized challenge with amazing graphics instead of explicitly drinking as many quarters as you’ll offer. The cabinet had a large mounted Uzi machine gun that could only swivel slightly with forced feedback to emulate gunfire kickback, pretty nifty for games of that time. At first glance it seems like a spray & pray title, but as you run out of ammo, die, and get captured you begin to realize you might need a slight bit of strategy. If you die, even if you have another quarter in the machine, you will still need to complete the current level from scratch (although you will now have full ammo and life). Innocent people are thrown into the mix, which you should not shoot, and animals, which you should shoot, for bonus items. Early on there’s not much penalty (as I prove in the video below) for blasting civilians or missing a vulture flying overhead, but by the final levels your screen will have a literal 50/50 spread of civilians and enemies with these animals being mostly your only source of ammo and power. I only do one playthrough in the video, but in truth I replayed this game for a couple of hours of fun. Unlike other light gun shooters before it, this game was less about accuracy and more used the gun as a placeholder for an invisible reticule. This is why most home ports and conversions don’t suffer from controller porting and in truth this type of game has proven to be just as effective, if not more so, with a reticule and controller as opposed to a light gun (which I cover in the home ports below).
Operation Wolf was the next step in interactive game design at the arcades and had everything a kid looked for when plunking down 25-50 cents: a big cabinet with flashy accessories, lots of explosions, and even catchy music that anyone who’s played the game will recognize. It also gave way to a new type of light gun shooter that will later be used with some of my favorites like T2: The Arcade Game, Revolution X, and even the more recent Resident Evil Chronicles series on Wii and PS3.
Operation Wolf was released all over the place, and I mean that from a worldwide perspective as well as the number of consoles that received a port. There was, of course, an NES version that did what it could to bring the action home but aside from a visual downgrade the fact that only three enemies could be on a screen at once made the game feel rather vacant. You can use the Zapper in this version, but with the intended design for single bullets the change to automatic firing meant all you’d hear was the constant clicking of the Zapper’s trigger (although the heavy reduction of enemies seemed to balance this out). It got a little better on the Sega Master System, where this console definitely had more popularity in Europe than America. Graphics were improved slightly, more characters could appear on the screen, and even Light Phaser support, which had a much quieter click to the shooting of the trigger, but as with the NES version there’s a distracting amount of flicker and visual oddities when playing the game with a gun. Mind you, both of these versions improve slightly when you use the controller but in today’s market you can find much better ports for the same price. The US version on NES was ported to the Wii, but for whatever reason you can only use the controller and all light gun (or WiiMote) support is stripped, as with all other ported light gun games on the Virtual Console.
It was also ported to tons of microcomputers, also a European staple of the times, including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, MSX, and even DOS. Aside from the DOS port, all of these versions looked incredibly similar depending on the era (C64/MSX vs. Amiga/ZX Spectrum). I’m sure there’s a European retro gaming site that is battling it out over which version had the better synth sound but I have little access to actual hardware of these titles and even littler interest in comparing the nitty gritty of each. With these versions your biggest problem is the lack of colors and the stuttered scrolling, which claims responsibility for most of my gripes with microcomputer ports. Still, the soundtrack is noticeably better than the 8-bit console ports and graphically the games are on par. You can use Magnum Light Phaser, which to me looked identical to the Master System Phaser, on the ZX Spectrum version with the same issues as any other light gun version of this game, but for the most part it’s all keyboard or controller. The DOS version sounds terrible but looks close enough to the arcade to be notable, I think it also features mouse support, but either way it’s a decent port. Finally there is the PC-Engine (Japanese Turbografx-16) version that stripped two levels, allowed you to select which level you wanted to play, and removed almost all game music. Graphically it looks nearly perfect, the game runs super smooth and seems to have no problem with many large sprites on screen, and with the built-in turbo on the gamepad it’s a great way to enjoy the game. Unfortunately I do feel there’s much lost to the plot and progression aspect of this game when you remove the mission structure and with no background music there are some eerily quiet times.
Operation Wolf was also brought to the Playstation 2 and Xbox in arcade-perfect ports as part of the Taito Legends Vol. 1 collection. Due to a unique form of coding this version is incompatible with the 360 backwards compatibility as well as any software backwards compatible PS3, however it still runs fine on a launch PS3 with actual PS2 hardware. Despite both consoles having light guns, the Guncon 2 on PS2 and whatever that light gun that came with House of the Dead III on Xbox was called, there was no support for them in this collection. I played through the Xbox version for the video below and felt that while there is a reticule on screen, the game is otherwise arcade perfect. I still had a huge smile on my face when I heard the build-up music followed by the very monotone “Operation Wolf!”
Developer: Nintendo R&D 1
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $2.00 (used) $500.00 (new)
Famicom Version? Yes, as Hōganzu Arei
Digital Release? No
There’s more to Hogan’s Alley than it originally seems. If you’re doing a double-take and noticing considerable similarities (especially on the main screen) to Duck Hunt, that’s not a mistake. Considering it was developed by the same studio, in the same year, and a launch title for the initial NES, this was the next logical step for a light gun shooter. I was probably one of the few that picked this title up at its initial release but it impressed the hell out of me. It was a surprising simulation of the FBI training program with cardboard cutouts for new recruits. Basically, if you’ve ever seen a shooting range in a movie, this is the basic design for the program. When Duck Hunt and Wild Gunman were the only competition, Hogan’s Alley (especially in the cityscape “Game B”) was a breath of fresh air and gave way to the more popular Lethal Enforcers and Crime Patrol series.
You have 3 games to choose from: one is a cardboard shooting range, one is a simulated town (complete with amazing music) where you take out the bad guys and spare the innocent, and finally a can shooting game that provides the most compelling gameplay of the mix. The game was apparently named for the FBI training program, which I was unable to validate, but I can confirm it was part of a Special Police training school at Camp Perry pre-World War II and an actual training camp name at the Quantico FBI training camp. While there’s not much else to say about the title, it’s just a fun time that demonstrates what we all love about light gun shooters.
This week Fred flies solo to discuss the shoot-em-up (shmup) series Salamander, better known as Life Force in the United States. He discusses the various games from the arcade titles to the NES/Famicom port, to even the MSX and PC-Engine (Turbografx-16) ports. Additionally the connections to series Gradius are discussed and the various ways to play the games today. He also announces April’s game club title.
Developer: Nintendo R&D 1
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $1.74 (used)
Famicom Version? Yes, as Dakku Hanto
Digital Release? No
Duck Hunt is one of those games that should need no introduction. On the other hand I speak with eager retro gamers every day that didn’t get started until the Playstation or N64 era and especially with modern HDTVs being incompatible with light guns, Duck Hunt is yet again just another classic title lost in the shuffle. Back when the NES released there wasn’t a console out that didn’t have a copy of Duck Hunt, usually in a hybrid cart with Super Mario Bros. This game is a light gun shooter that has you hunting for ducks, just as the name suggests. Additionally there was a skeet shooting alternative to blasting live ducks, which had increased difficulty and was PETA approved. Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that this title gets repetitive, and boring, fast.
Duck Hunt was designed as a launch title for the NES that would release concurrently with a light gun peripheral, the Zapper. While it had different goals and release schedules in Japan, making a light gun peripheral and game for the NES was crucial along with R.O.B. the Robot in convincing the United States that the NES was not a video game, but a toy. This is why Duck Hunt isn’t all that fun, nor is it all that complex, because everyone had it as a pack-in to convince Americans the NES wasn’t a video game. Duck Hunt was developed by Nintendo Research and Development (R&D) 1, a mostly hardware based department responsible for the Zapper as well. The producer on the project was Gunpei Yokoi, notable as the creator of the Game & Watch series and later the Gameboy, which helps to explain Duck Hunt‘s simple but addictive design. Duck Hunt released in 1985 but by 1986 it was packaged with Super Mario Bros. and offered in the holiday release “Action Set” as a staple for almost all NES console sales. It would later be included on the triple game cart Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet when both the Zapper and Power Pad became standard pack-ins for the NES.
More iconic than the game itself is the colorful hunting dog that accompanies you. He has no true name but is often referred to as “hunting dog” or “laughing dog” and he appears in both Game A and Game B mode – Game A has you shooting one duck at a time, Game B you shoot two ducks at a time, and the final mode, Game C has you shooting two skeet at a time. The hunting dog appears at the beginning of every level, sniffing the ground, and jumps into the grass to weed out the ducks. As you shoot down each duck he appears with the dead duck in hand. His nickname of “laughing dog” stems from the annoying laugh and snicker on his face that happens anytime you let a duck get by. I don’t find him that bad, nor do I find doing poorly at Duck Hunt annoying in the least, but large games media outlets have labeled the dog as one of the most annoying game characters of all time. While many claim his annoyance spawns the desire to shoot the dog, I think it’s more about any gamer’s desire to shoot any and everything on screen when playing a light gun shooter. In the NES version you cannot shoot the dog, but it was possible to do in the arcade port, Vs. Duck Hunt, that featured a singed dog as the result of pulling the trigger on him. Additionally this very same dog could be shot in the obscure NES light gun game Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting, named after a 50s television show, where the point of a game is ironically not to shoot the dog. Love him or hate him, the Duck Hunt dog is easily the most memorable part of the game.
Duck Hunt was many gamers’ first experience with a light gun and despite its simple nature and annoying co-star, it holds a special place in the hearts of most retro gamers. While I’m not all that fond of the game, and I have yet to pull off the daunting task of completing Round 99 to see the built-in kill screen, it was the catalyst for my love of light gun games. Although it’s possible, you will have a hard time acquiring a copy of Super Mario Bros. on the NES without a copy of Duck Hunt pre-built into the cartridge, making it a staple of most collections. Sadly with the incompatibility of light guns and Nintendo claiming these titles cannot be brought to Virtual Console (even though custom firmware and emulators allow just that on the Wii), we will probably never see a re-release of this game.