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Archive for April 2013

Friday at the Movies: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Arcade)

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T2TheArcadeGamepromoConsole: Arcade
Released: 1991
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.

Hosted at Universal Videogame List www.uvlist.netIt’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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

Podcast: DC Bullet

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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”


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

Podcast: It’s-a Me!

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sm_post

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.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

Review: The Punisher (NES)

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punisher_nes_boxConsole: NES
Released: 1990
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: LJN
Difficulty: Moderate
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.

punisher_2Your 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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Posted in NES, Reviews, Videos

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Podcast: There is no Try

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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


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Review: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (XBLA)

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GS_origFor 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.

gsis_4Twisted 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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Operation Wolf (Arcade)

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Operation_Wolf_posterConsole: Arcade
Released: 1987
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
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?

Operation_Wolf_cabinetMind 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).

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 6, 2013 at 11:14 am

Hogan’s Alley (NES)

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Hogan's_Alley_CoverConsole: NES
Released: 1985
Developer: Nintendo R&D 1
Publisher: Nintendo
Difficulty: Easy
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

HogansAlley_1There’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.

HogansAlley_2You 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.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Arcade, NES, Reviews, Videos

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Podcast: Game Club – Salamander/Life Force

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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.


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Supplemental Videos:

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

Duck Hunt (NES)

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duckhunt_boxConsole: NES
Released: 1985
Developer: Nintendo R&D 1
Publisher: Nintendo
Difficulty: Easy
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played as a child? Yes
Price: $1.74 (used)
Famicom Version? Yes, as Dakku Hanto
Digital Release? No

duckhunt_1Duck 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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Posted in NES, Reviews

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