Archive for the ‘Features’ Category
Normally we solely talk retro on this blog but with the upcoming PS4 I just can’t help but get everyone acquainted with the story of Killzone. While I’ve been a hardcore fan since the second game (I played the original but didn’t much care for it), most people managed to skip the series due to its long development delays, similar aesthetic to other shooters of the time, and much better marketed titles from both Sony internal (Resistance 2) and competitor Microsoft (Gears of War 2). It really is a shame because Killzone 2 is quite distinct from other shooters of the generation, but I will get into that later in the article. The focus of this is to get you caught up with the story and elements of each game in the series, so that you can jump into the latest iteration, Shadow Fall, at the PS4 launch without having to worry about everything that came before it. Given that Killzone covers three console generations now (PS2-PS4) and almost 10 years, it’s got quite a lineage for a series with three main titles and two portable side stories. Unlike most game franchises, the Killzone series stays mostly progressive with story and each new iteration directly follows its predecessor in the timelineso Shadow Fall takes place at the tail end of the current franchise. I have each game listed below along with a story synopsis and notable gameplay elements and updates to each in the order they take place in the Killzone universe. Without further ado, I give you the Killzone story so far:
It all starts in the distant future where nuclear fallout has all but obliterated Earth and space exploration and colonization has become a lucrative business. Of these colonizing companies is the Helghan Corporation, which reminds me of the ethical compass of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Aliens and the dress code of the Third Reich. The conflict first begins with Helghan discovering Alpha Centauri, a system with two planets: Vekta, an Earth-like planet rife for colonization, and a decayed shell of a planet, Helghan, both named after connections to the company. Conflict breaks out as rivals begin to notice the value of Alpha Centauri, necessitating the formation of armies – the Helghast Army of Helghan and the United Colonial Army (UCA) of the United Colonial Nations (UCN) – and leading to the historical First Extrasolar War. War breaks out when the UCN embargo Helghan from sole colonization of Vekta, which they ignore, and thus get invaded by the UCA. In the end the UCA emerge victorious and colonize Vekta, banishing the Helghast to Helghan. With this dichotomy in place, the UCN create an extraordinary military force known as the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA, think Colonial Marines) to protect Vekta should the Helghast decide to retaliate. Instead of fighting back, Helghan colonizes the harsh industrial planet named after the company and eventually members of the Helghast are born with the ability to breathe the atmosphere of both brutal Helghan air and traditional oxygen. An aggressive leader with all the traits of Adolph Hitler and from the bloodline that can breathe both atmospheres named Scholar Vasari uses a staged assassination attempt and charm to rise above the ranks and take leadership of Helghan, declaring a new world order known as the Helghan Empire. As you can probably tell, this is no longer just a corporate mantra but now an entire people. After preparing a sizable army, Vasari calls for a blitz assault of the ISA on Vekta and starts the Second Extrasolar War.
And that’s just the story before you begin playing. Killzone tells the story of ISA Captain Jan Templar as he fights off the oncoming Helghast forces invading Vekta. After fighting in the outskirts of the main ISA headquarters, Templar is forced to fall back into the base only to find it overrun by Helghast forces. Eventually he will fend off the troops long enough to evacuate alongside fellow soldier Marshal Lugar, who saves his life. During the evacuation another lone solider named Ricardo Velasquez (remember him, he comes back again) assists a platoon from escaping large Helghast resistance, requesting the assistance of Templar and Lugar. It is at this time the two leaders also discover and set out to find traitor General Stuart Adams, a Helghan spy that lowered the alert system and defenses long enough for the Helghast forces to invade. As the game continues you take out strategic points across the various armies and interact with several spies, counter-operatives, and even an unnecessary side plot with another army. In the end, Adams and his troops are subdued, the main station of Vekta is destroyed, and both Templar and Lugar escape.
Relevance: Killzone had great graphics for the PS2 and the HD remake on the PS3 is also no exception. Unfortunately for developer Guerilla, the gameplay kinda sucked, the movement and shooting was complicated and clunky, aside from enemies the environment was sparse, and it just wasn’t that fun to play. It did, however, set up a pretty rock solid storyline and although the main campaign story was recycled and predictable, I will go on record saying I rather enjoyed the overall plot that has nothing to do with actually playing the game. I hate to admit it, but you should probably skip this one, it requires more patience than one really needs to offer an experience like this. Like all HD remakes, the PS3 version may look a lot better, but the gameplay remains mostly identical.
From there the series has two side tangents, both on portable consoles.
As a serviceable third-person shooter for the Playstation Portable (PSP), Killzone Liberation takes place two months after Killzone. You once again control Templar as he seeks out multiple hostages taken by new Helghast leaders General Armin Metrac and right hand Colonial Cobar, both assigned by Vasari to capture key targets in the war on Vekta. As you progress through the game the writing on the wall steers to the Helghast upping tech to attack the ISA and both Lugar and Velaszquez (now known as “Rico” for short) make cameos. At the end of the 4th mission, the final one on the UMD, you discover that upon the defeat of Metrac, Vasari now plans to use nuclear weapons against the ISA and that there is a traitor in Templar’s midst. A fifth mission available as downloadable content epilogues the game with Rico Velasquez being wrongly accused as the traitor and it is discovered that it was instead another solider you worked with throughout most of the game (although he was forgettable).
Relevance: This game was much more gameplay than story, an interesting juxtaposition from the original. I recommend checking it out if you wish – it is compatible with Vita – but going into it with the open mind that it was a dated attempt to utilize Sony’s portable and did it better than most. It will be a lot of work for a storyline I just summed up in a paragraph and requires a piece of paid DLC to fully appreciate. Granted, I give props to Guerilla, who did develop this iteration.
The only jump in development/release dates comes next with the recent Vita release Killzone Mercenary.
It’s kind of a throw away plot that has little to do with the universe. Oh well, here we go. You control mercenary Arran Danner (what is with Guerilla’s names?), a former UCA soldier turned merc that works for whoever has the highest paycheck. During an extraction mission of an ISA diplomat, things go wrong and you end up protecting a little boy as you unfold a plot to use biological warfare on Vekta. You discover that the ISA forces have a way to wipe out the entire Helghast army on Vekta in one fell swoop, but the ethical reality of genocide is too much for this mercenary to bear. He joins forces with the Helghast, eliminating the weapon and extracting the boy, all while keeping their identities safe. At the end it is discovered that Vasari did, in fact, acquire a nuclear weapon in the midst of this conflict.
Relevance: Almost none. The story is throw away, the concepts already revealed in the release of Killzone 2 and it seems this was developer Guerilla’s alternative team showing off their talents at creating an FPS experience on the Vita without damaging the Killzone cannon. While I must admit it adds almost nothing to story or cannon, it is one of the best and most fun games on Sony’s handheld, so just go into it to have fun instead of revealing plot.
Now back to the console trilogy.
After the war on Vekta begins to take a back seat, a full blown invasion of home world Helghan takes shape with the ISA forces hoping that the elimination of leader Vasari will essentially “cut the head” off the army and discontinue the attack of Helghast forces. You now take control of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a special forces operative, as they begin the invasion on Helghan. During an assault on the anti-air measures of the capital city Pyrrhus, Sev discovers that the Helghast have been able to harness the natural Helghan (planet, not army) resource of Petrusite, allowing for arc towers that can basically zap and destroy any solider or armament against them. As they attempt to take out the Tharsis Refinery on the outskirts, Colonel Radac (your nemesis for the game) kidnaps key members of Sev’s group. It’s not all bad news, Sev does discover the details behind Red Dust, the nuclear weapon, and manages to steal the launch codes before breaking out and escaping with his team. Everyone extracts to the New Sun, an invasion ship of the fleet that assaulted Helghan. Radac predictably finds his way on board, kills a key member of Sev’s team (playing the game reveals more background on character Garza) and steals back the codes, however the dying member Garza manages to crash the invaded New Sun into the Tharsis Refinery and ruin most of the arc tower plans. The game wraps with Sev and Rico invading the Helghan capital to capture Vasari, but being somewhat delayed by the triggering of Red Dust on the city. The two continue into the capital, fight a ridiculous boss battle with Radac in the process, and the gloomy words of Vasari convince Sev to kill the Helghast leader instead of taking him into custody. As the sun sets over Pyrrhus a massive Helghan fleet is revealed and ready to take out the ISA.
Relevance: Killzone 2 is a hell of an experience. Relatively long compared to other first-person shooters, roughly 12 hours, and with an enemy AI and “killbox” level design that forces you to play hyper aggressive, it’s unlike most games of its times. Couple that with gorgeous graphics, cool weapons, and a cover system not unlike that in Gears of War and there’s little reason to give this one a try. It was somewhat forgotten with an early 2009 release that put it outside the holiday season, immediately following Resistance 2, and in direct competition with Resident Evil 5 (not to mention Gears of War 2 just went up against Resistance 2 at the end of 2008). Of the games released on the Playstation 3 platform, I still consider Killzone 2 one of the top 5 games to try on the console despite it’s ridiculous final boss battle.
Opening immediately following its predecessor, the goal is now to get Sev, Rico, and the rest of the ISA forces off Helghan and out of the eye of the storm that is retaliation. Next in command of the Helghan forces is Admiral Orlock, a man not unlike Vasari in his ability to use rhetoric and propaganda to get his way from the Helghan senate. Not in his court is Jorhan Stahl, head of Stahl Arms Corporation and responsible for the largest number of military resources on Helghan. It is clear that these two men don’t get along and there may be some competition for the “throne” of leadership. Sev and Rico attempt an extraction and some botched plans and assaults later the two are marooned and separated on Helghan, lasting more than 6 months on the run. In the meantime, the senate grows weary of Orlock’s leadership and the suggestion is made that Stahl take leadership. While it doesn’t happen, Stahl withholds prototype weapons from the Helghan army and decides to use his own private forces to hunt down the lone soldiers in direct competition to Orlock, who has been hunting them for half a year. In the meantime, Sev makes his way to the Helghan jungle (an interesting level), speaks with Vekta leadership, and a cease-fire is negotiated to extract the soldiers. Stahls men find Sev and capture him, resulting in Rico and a few of his men saving him (this is now par for the course).
During the escape, Sev and Rico discover a plot to eliminate all of Earth’s forces from Stahl, using a prototype weapon. As a result they go about infiltrating and destroying Stahl’s forces before attacking the man himself. This entire conflict takes place in space, specifically in the Helghan orbit, and involves some interesting space combat, physics, and an eventual push to Stahl himself. After a brief battle, Sev drops a massive Petrusite nuclear bomb on Stahl’s cruiser to eliminate any chance he will be a threat, resulting in a nuclear fallout that wipes most of Helghan. After some reflecting on killing millions of people all at once, Sev and Rico return to Vekta and a post-credits scene shows two Helghast soldiers investigating an escape pod on Helghan and stating, “Welcome home sir,” implying that Stahl may very well be alive.
Relevance: Killzone 3 was a bit gimmicky. It had 3D, jetpacks, and plenty of crazy weapons on its side, but in the end it just wasn’t as strong as its predecessor. Still, it was quite enjoyable and many liked the new lighter feel of your fighter and his ability to act a bit more like a Call of Duty soldier (which I felt was a step back). Multiplayer continued to thrive and with long battles, massive maps, and rotating objectives, still stands strong today as an exclusive multiplayer shooter.
And that’s the story at this point. With the preview coverage I’ve seen on Killzone Shadow Fall up to this point I think it’s safe to assume that much like the other iterations, it will be a visual masterpiece with the jury still out on gameplay. Here’s hoping it plays as good as it looks.
At first glance Game Vault, located just outside the core downtown area of Omaha, looks like another clone of GameStop. Upon entering, you may still feel that way as most of the walls are lined with modern PS3, 360, and Wii titles along with a large flat screen television that is displaying an endless playlist of gameplay videos. It wasn’t until I began to browse the large glass cases and have a brief chat with owner Scott, who was the only employee in his store on this brisk Saturday morning, that I learned Omaha has quite a great local game store.
His featured glass case contained a few instantly recognizable gems of retro gaming, such as a boxed complete copy of Earthbound on the SNES (he also had a loose cart for the more budget-conscious), as well as other SNES classics like Super Metroid, Super Mario RPG, and Yoshi’s Island, all boxed and complete. Rarely have I entered a store that not only provided such care on these holy grails of gaming, a few of my friends have been searching for boxed complete copies of these games for years, but his prices were reasonable. It’s not just the SNES that he has to offer, I was stunned to find everything from a stack of Atari 2600 games to a batch of decent 3DO titles and even a Jaguar game or two. In fact, I don’t think it was possible to name a system this guy didn’t have at least a few games for (including PC games, new and old). He even had an import game section that had a mint copy of Dino Crisis on the PS1 from Japan, as if resting on the shelf just for me. Often times when you see stores like this, I remember one in particular in downtown Chicago and another in New York, that you expect heavily inflated prices. Not the case in Game Vault, Scott’s prices are fair, easily topping most of GameStop’s and eBay’s prices, and he doesn’t require a game club membership or anything to get the best price. All in all, Game Vault is one of the most diverse and well stocked used game stores around. I’m now saddened I don’t live in Omaha.
His inventory aside, owner Scott O’Dell knows what makes a good store run. I know this because I saw it firsthand. He’s not an elitist gamer, nor is he a socially awkward super nerd; he’s just a regular guy who is proud of his store. From talking with him and his friendly regulars I was able to discern that he had spent at least a little time at GameStop, but as a responsible business owner he had nothing negative to say about the chain. Instead he focuses on informing his customers of the many benefits, including price, that his store offers. Customer service is one thing, but he also knows his stuff. We chatted for a short time about all kinds of topics from the crazy things he sees come through his doors that people want to sell to the attack of popular games. Scott doesn’t care if you’re there for Call of Duty or Panzer Dragoon Zwei, he just wants to make sure you get what you want. We talked about things like the elitist retro gamer, the massive increase in value of 8-bit and 16-bit era Nintendo carts, and of all things his excitement for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. During our entire conversation he never lost sight of the fact that he has a store to run and customers to attend to, politely ducking out of our conversation to help those that came in. That’s good to see because lately I feel that game stores have become the hangout for gamers with no money and lots of time. Employees seem like they would rather chat up nonsense about gaming with non-customers instead of a person like me who is seconds away from dropping $100. It’s the comic shop dilemma, managing your regulars that spend lots of time and little money, with your random customers that could wind up dropping major cash if the circumstance fits. He does the same at the register, chatting up his customers for a brief few moments while the process takes place, then making sure to assist anyone else waiting to check out immediately following. It’s refreshing to meet an owner that is a balanced hybrid between gamer and businessman.
In the end I spent a total of 90 minutes in his store, probably far too long for the amount I spent, and managed to pick up several great items I don’t think I would find anywhere else. Scott recommended Syberia on the Xbox as I discussed my negativity towards retro point-and-click adventures for contemporary players, and I managed to rummage plenty of things I wanted myself. I picked up the aforementioned Japanese Dino Crisis on PS1, an interesting book on the history of Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) for a mere 25 cents, Iron Soldier on the Jaguar, and a copy of Halo: ODST without the multiplayer disc at a heavily discounted price. I noticed he also had tabletop games, which are quickly making a comeback, and after a few minutes of debate as to whether or not to pick up Settlers of Catan, I decided not to on account of the fact I would have to travel with it. Upon checking out Scott mentioned that I had perhaps the most eclectic selection he’s ever seen leave the store, which sums my taste in retro gaming quite nicely. I’m pleased I decided to Google “retro game store omaha” that morning, otherwise I never would have stumbled upon this great brick-and-mortar game store.
This article is my personal impressions of a retro game shop I found while out of town on vacation and is not in any way affiliated with Game Vault or any type of sponsorship. As an avid game collector, I always want to expand my knowledge of game shop locations, especially the ones that get it right, a practice few sites do. If you’re in the Omaha area and want to check out Game Vault, the information on the store is below:
6307 Center St, Suite 102
Omaha, NE 68106
Video game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.
Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.
Backwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.
It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?
Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):
- ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
- Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
- Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
- Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
- Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
- Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
- Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
- Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
- Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.
I can’t explain my love for the light gun. It’s one of the oldest forms of interactive entertainment, dating back to the carnival days where you would fire air rifles at a metal bullseye to make an old man’s hat pop up or a dog bark. Once the gun made the transition to video games it honestly became one of the most lifelike and violent gaming tropes throughout history. Not to get deep with it, but you are pointing a gun at a target, usually alive, and shooting it. There is not other gesture like it, you are shooting a modern device to kill something, virtual or not. At the same time it also doubles as the most simple form of proficiency. I don’t think anyone will claim that being good at Duck Hunt or Lethal Enforcers relates to being a good shot in a shooting range, but it’s got a much higher chance of significance than being able to get a headshot in Call of Duty. Whereas the FPS emulates the concept of aiming and firing a gun with 1:1 responses from a controller, a light gun truly simulates the experience.
Light gun games have been a niche genre, but that doesn’t prevent them from withstanding the test of time and being available on most home consoles and one of the most popular games, even today, in arcades. I guess it’s because despite the maturity implied behind firing a gun, it’s one of the easiest concepts for us to pick up. I’ve been on many adventures thanks to light gun games – whether it’s cleaning up the future in T2: The Arcade Game, battling zombies in a haunted house through House of the Dead, or enjoying some of the worst acting of all time in Mad Dog McCree.
It’s also significant because the light gun is a genre nearly impossible to emulate and doesn’t translate well in today’s technology. While there are exceptions, you will have a hard time playing Crypt Killer properly on a PC running MAME and most HDTV technologies don’t support light guns from the past. Authenticity is as important as the genre itself. This month I’ve decided to dedicate to a timeless style of video game that I always make first priority when buying a new (or old) system: the light gun shooter. Come join me to learn about some of the best, worst, funniest, and definitely weirdest titles to ever grace the hobby of video games. Thanks to my huge CRT television and original hardware, I can even show you videos.
Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.
I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.
Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.
Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.
I originally had no intention of playing the first game again. I own the PC version of the second, but the original Max Payne came with Max Payne 3 as a digital download. Even though I bought Max Payne 3 used, the code was still in the box, unused. I got lucky. I’m so glad I replayed it.
There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line. The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask “why me?” and “what if?”
Max Payne used to be an NYPD cop, but when his family was murdered and he was framed for it, everything went to hell. As he attempted to destroy the people responsible, Payne discovered it wasn’t just a random drug-induced psycho murderer responsible. Forces more sinister, and a story much darker, destroyed Max’s once beautiful suburban ideal.
You probably hear a lot of people say, “Just skip [insert game title] and play the new one because otherwise you’ll get burned out.” This says a lot about a franchise if people think it better to skip entire installments because you might otherwise become bored of the series as a whole. It signifies not a bad game, but one that doesn’t innovate enough, in one way or another, between installments. I hear this sentiment about the Assassin’s Creed franchise a lot. I am now more enthusiastic about the Max Payne series than ever before. I champion for it now, not only for the gameplay and locales, but more for the plot and method of storytelling.
The Max Payne titles follow and adhere to one another as if they were one complete story, with each game referring back to its predecessor, including Max Payne 3. Going back and playing through the first two titles first had a vast impact on my appreciation for the series as a whole – I would not feel the same way had I not gone back.
“Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He was trying to put out my flames with gasoline.”
The man who created Max Payne is Sam Lake. He wrote the script, he created the story, and he was the literal face of Max Payne in the original game. Lake’s studio, Remedy Entertainment, is responsible for developing the game – of which he also assisted in level design – and also created Alan Wake. (Notice their names sound similar: Alan Wake and Sam Lake.)
I have a newfound respect for Remedy, and especially Lake, that I even want to go back and replay Alan Wake. I’ve realized now, how genius Lakes writing talent is. It’s because I’ve grown up (sort of) that I can appreciate a good story, no a great story, when I see it.
Dialogue in Max Payne 1 and 2 is witty, raw, and drenched in noir style. Coupled with the voice of James McCaffrey, Max Payne feels like a living, breathing, and ultimately heart-broken human being. He’s not a caricature, but a real, sad person. I wish I could meet Max Payne and buy him a drin- er, maybe that’s not such a good idea.
Max is a deep character. His interactions with others and the world have weight and consequence. His emotions and attitude have merit. You want him to overcome the death and sadness surrounding him. I felt like I was Max Payne, feeling the stab of every horrible moment he felt, and truly sympathized with him.
All of this is accomplished through Lake’s ability to write, with the necessary help of McCaffrey’s ability to voice act, and McCaffrey’s deep voice to inflect at every opportune moment.
Whoever at Remedy chose to use comic strips as cutscenes had a brilliant idea that lent heavily to the atmosphere. Many of the characters aside from Payne are caricatures by design. This causes a superb effect that brings the entire world of Payne into a surreal comic book existence.
But not all is depressing and dark. Lake also wrote some extremely funny stuff, especially in MP2, that will have you chuckling and shaking your head. This lightens up the mood at the most opportune, sometimes even juxtaposed moments. For instance, there’s Dick Justice. Just saying the title makes me laugh aloud: Dick, Justice. He is a rip-off character, his story is Max’s as a blaxploitation television show seen at certain moments throughout the games on TVs and posters. Another is in reference to video games. At certain points Max’s inner monologue will refer to the HUD interface and feeling like he’s being controlled, like in a video game. Don’t forget about the Captain Baseball Bat Boy TV show, which is continuously referenced throughout the series. At one point in MP2, you go to a someone’s home that is littered with fan items. This guy even has a huge full-body suit of the main character, which he is wearing when you find him. If he takes it off: Kaboom! A bomb is strapped to it, triggered to go off if he ever removes the suit. Lake writes in such a way that approaches the fourth wall but never quite breaks it. It’s hilarious and ultimately damn good writing.
Like Alan Wake’s name is a reference to Alan waking, so is Max Payne’s name a reference to maximum pain. Something I have yet to see anyone talk about, even after many Google searches, is Mona Sax’s name. The first letter of the first name and the last letters of the last name spell out “Max”. On top of this, Mona Sax’s hideout is located at a fun house entitled “Address Unknown”. Yet another almost fourth wall breaking item named after the television show with the same name that mirrors Max’s paranoia throughout the second game. This meta-level is when I officially jumped onboard the “champion Max Payne” train.
Underlying almost every title and name in the game lies something deeper still: Norse mythology. A nightclub entitled Ragna Rock, a drug pivotal to the story is called Valkyr, and the company you storm is named Aesir Corporation. All of these reference mythological entities and locations in Norse Mythology. I had never recognized any of this until this latest playthrough of the games. The scope of the storytelling grew larger during every minute of playtime, as did my amazement of it.
Finally, the theme songs for the series are haunting and excellent to say the least. They raise the hair on my neck and bring me to a state akin to Max’s sad and angry isolation (in a good way).
“The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above. A bit closer to Heaven.”
Games rarely have me feel this way, let alone gush about them with love. I feel this way about the original Halo and Mass Effect 1 to some extent, but Max Payne is now my favorite video game character of all time.
If you have never played Max Payne 1 or 2, or thought about playing Max Payne 3 without playing the previous two installments, you should go back and give the original two installments a try. Even if you’ve played Max Payne 3 but didn’t understand the main characters motivations and liked the gameplay, or only played the original(s) years ago, like myself, you should definitely consider replaying them. The stories are mature (in the true sense, not in terms of content), and the gameplay is also damn fun. You can complete both games in around 12 hours and then hopefully jump enthusiastically into Max Payne 3 like I did. All of the same praise I have for these two titles continues in the third game along with an amazing finish.
“I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive; my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”
If interested, my review of Max Payne 3 will be posted in the blog at EZ Mode Unlocked within the next two weeks.
Happy Halloween to all of our lovely retro readers. All month we’ve been chatting about horror gaming, ominous dark rooms, and I’ve been spending one moment in Silent Hill and the next running from the Slenderman. I thought it might be fun to finally offer some retro Halloween gaming for the timid, nervous, screaming little scaredy cats out there. Yep, you read that correctly, here’s a list of fun Halloween videos games that aren’t intended to scare you.
Maniac Mansion (Commodore 64, NES, PC/MAC, iOS/Android)
Way back in 1987, veterans to the industry Ron Gilbert and Tim Schaefer created a little point-and-click adventure game about a group of teenagers that break into the old mansion of Dr. Fred Edison to get back protagonist Dave Miller’s missing girlfriend. Although set in a haunted house that comes complete with blood on the walls, skeletons in the basement, and a hyper-sexualized nurse Maniac Mansion is all in good fun. There are no actual scares and you’ll be laughing hysterically way before you get an opportunity to be scared. Not only was this late 80s PC title a great game to play, but it also was responsible for the creation of Lucasfilm’s infamous “SCUMM” engine (standing for, say it with me kids, Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) that would be utilized in all Lucasfilm adventure games from then on. With a surprising decent port on the NES, plenty of PC ports, a recent enhanced graphics fan re-release, and full compatibility with SCUMMVM on your iOS/Android device, this is a game not to be missed. Unfortunately it has never been (and probably never will) re-released in any way so almost any way you play this game will have to be found by nefarious means, but even creator Ron Gilbert has said that if that’s the only way to play, he’d rather you pirate it than not play it at all.
7th Guest (PC/MAC, CD-I, iOS)
Okay, now I know that this is a horror tale and I know that it’s slated as scary, but in truth this haunted house puzzler is anything but. Consisting of large amounts of cutscenes that re-tell a tale (and even regarded as a FMV title by some), you basically solve a puzzle and get a movie as a reward for a total of 21 puzzles. In fact, the scariest part of the game is trying to figure out the more complex and asinine puzzles at the end, but don’t you dare consult a FAQ, that ruins the whole point of the game. As a scary game the 7th Guest fails on all fronts, and frankly it’s heavily dated even by my tolerably low standards, but there’s still plenty of game to appreciate here and the game is anything but broken. It has recently been resurrected via OS X’s app store for MAC/iOS and all others can pick up the Win XP/Vista/7 compatible port on Good Old Games for $10.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, Sega Genesis)
I’m going to get a bit controversial here because everyone I talk to proudly claims that the SNES port is the better game. While I have to give it to the SNES for presentation, actual gameplay still rides in the hands of Sega’s double speed “blast processing”. Full disclosure: I was a Genesis kid growing up and I always prefer violent versions of games over pretty ones (Mortal Kombat only had blood on Sega consoles as did this title) so I’m sure there’s bias buried in there one way or another. Either way, the games are identical save for some graphical differences and every version is wonderfully great. The premise is to take a brother and sister combo, drop them into a world that has seen the apocalypse via cartoony versions of horror movie characters, and have them fight through the hordes to rescue their neighbors. You start off with 10 people to rescue in each level, with a total of 50 levels (55 if you count the bonus ones), and any victims lost remain missing on future levels. From there you basically need to survive (you are given limited lives) and prevent all your neighbors from being killed, it’s as simple as that. I like this game because like other LucasArts titles it takes a basic premise from the old arcade and Atari 2600 days and adapts it to 16-bit consoles for a fun and addicting co-op title. No one is going to be scared by this title, but it will make your nerves stand up on end once you enter those last 15 or so levels – oh, and did I mention no continues and only 5 passwords throughout the whole game? Every time I see this game online or at retro shops it’s just around $10-$15 and you Wii owners can nab it on the Virtual Console (SNES version) for $8.
Haunting Starring Polterguy (Sega Genesis, PSP)
In one of the zaniest Electronic Arts releases I’ve ever seen, Haunting is a thought-provoking game that puts you as lead character Polterguy, a “hip” dead teenager not unlike every mascot Sega ever saw on its Genesis console, in charge of scaring the daylights out of the Sardini family. It’s an isometric haunted house simulator except that you are generating the scares. The goal is to scare all of the family members out of the house before your ecto meter (this title’s version of a timer) depletes and without being seen by the family dog (drains ecto meter and removes fear from family members). The two player mode is interesting because you trade off turns with scares and then go into a dungeon level where you compete for ecto and get to a finish line. If either player dies during the dungeon areas the other player will continue the game in single player. Not a title that most will see the end of, but definitely a fun and amusing game that has a surprising level of violent content and for those that make it to the end an amusing twist. This game is a relatively rare but inexpensive ($10-$15) Genesis cart and a re-release on the EA Replay collection for the PSP that’s roughly the same rarity and price.
Night Trap (Sega CD/32X CD, 3DO, PC)
We have done plenty of coverage on this cult favorite, complete with a full game playthrough, so I’ll just revert you to the article here if you haven’t seen it.
And there you have it! Five solid games for you to run out and pick up (or download) for your retro console of choice this Halloween. It’s not all about scares and trick-or-treat, sometimes horror games can be enjoyed by the whole family, even the house wuss. Any you particularly liked that I haven’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.
Okay, I know the Sega CD actually turned 20 exactly one week ago on October 15, but we’ve been very busy over here so we regretfully missed the window. Fortunately we are making up for that with tons of Sega CD coverage for the month of November, check in to see write-ups and gameplay on many of the titles that made Sega’s overpriced add-on a temptation in 1993. Now I know it is popular opinion to crap all over the Sega CD and in full disclosure I’m an avid fanboy of this specific system, but somewhere in between lies its true value. Someone once told me that any console with at least three good games is worth being in existence and under that theory the Sega CD justifies itself at least three times over. In recent days the Sega CD has also dropped in price/value so it’s quite possible to get your hands on a Genesis/CD combo for roughly $50-$75, which isn’t too shabby even by today’s standards.
In truth the Sega CD (Mega CD in Japan and Europe) wasn’t designed for our market. It was developed in Japan to compete with the PC-Engine CD (Turbografx-16 Duo in our country) and hopefully migrate the consumers of the time into the CD generation as an unassuming add-on instead of a full-blown machine. In the end both consoles did make their way stateside (NEC being very conservative with Turbo Duo distribution and Sega liberally releasing any and all hardware in every market) with hefty price tags ($300-$450). Sega CD emerged victorious but many would argue its victory was due more to the fact that almost every game that released in Japan came over here whereas an extremely meager amount of PC-Engine CD titles ever made it stateside. Like the PC-Engine CD, the Sega CD was able to upgrade visuals, considerably upgrade audio quality (especially with straight CD tracks in red and yellow book audio format), and increase capacity of discs to 600 mb when compared to the frail 32 megabit capacity of the Genesis. Sega CD was kept under wraps so tightly that aside from technical specs, many developers of early games had no idea what console they were developing for.
As a result of Sega’s “release everything” policy, the Sega CD has a few versions that can be found in the US market (ignoring importing, of course) and compatibility can be somewhat complicated. All Sega CD games (imports from anywhere else will be labeled Mega CD) are compatible in all Sega CD consoles and the add-on peripheral itself is compatible with the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 consoles, but not the Genesis 3 or Sega Nomad. There are two consoles – the first version locks under a Genesis and has a slide out tray and is prone to mechanical failure these days due to the bands and screws that make up the device and the second being a top loading console that attached to the right of the Genesis, which has much less moving parts and rarely breaks down even today. In addition there is also the Sega CDX, a portable CD player and Genesis/Sega CD combo in one, and the rare JVC X’Eye, a licensed console that is also a Genesis/Sega CD in one. Sega CD adds an additional 12.5 mhz 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor, which is just a higher clocked version of the Genesis, that runs in tandem for CD games (and goes dormant for Genesis cart titles) adding minor video compression capabilities, improved visuals, and rotation/scaling (think Mode 7 for the SNES). As for sound, it added 8 stereo sound channels to the 6 on the Genesis Yamaha chip and additional 4 PGS, which basically means it could make games sound really good. The biggest gripe for the console is that the onboard RAM was extremely small, capable of holding one or two save files for most games (especially big JPRGs) so a tempting hunt for the average collector is the Sega CD RAM cart that adds 16 times the storage space but resells today for high prices starting at around $50. If you don’t mind playing one game at a time with no stores save files, the console is perfectly playable (with saving) on its own.
Quintessential in determining the value of the console is the value of the games. Sega CD was panned by critics back then and today for its seemingly lackluster library, which I have a hard time agreeing with. In fact, thanks to re-releases and the lack of demand for the system, Sega CD games can often times be the best and most inexpensive port of a game in that era. Overall the Sega CD library can be separated in three groups: ports, full motion video (FMV) games, and exclusives.
In the realm of ports, there’s no shortage of Sega CD titles that came from the arcades, the PC, and even the Sega Genesis itself. Most titles that began life on the Genesis have lazy ports that are basically ROMs from the cart placed on the CD. Thankfully Sega included four games (Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Columns, and Revenge of Shinobi) as the pack-in for the Sega CD 1, but Lethal Enforcers and Lethal Enforcers II are famously indistinguishable between the Genesis and Sega CD version. Chuck Rock, Chuck Rock 2, and Brutal: Paws of Fury also suffer similar fates with little changes over the originals and nothing that can be noticed by the unaware player. Arcade ports, on the other hand, received very faithful upgrades over most other versions on the market including Fatal Fury Special, the only decent home port of Final Fight, the only version of Mortal Kombat that was bloody out of the box, and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. There is a great version of Samurai Showdown as well that skates the line between the performance on Genesis and the visuals of SNES, but it had a game breaking bug that would freeze up as it loaded the final boss that you may want to stray from (this version was fixed and ported to the 3DO). On the PC front, plenty of ports made appearances including a fully voiced version of Willy Bemish, a point-and-click adventure that borrows themes from Dennis the Menace, Escape from Monkey Island, Rise of the Dragon, Space Adventure Cobra, Wing Commander, Heart of the Alien, Star Wars Chess, Rebel Assault, and the best version of Snatcher. For those not familiar, Snatcher is a cyberpunk adventure game from Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) that includes many adult themes and interesting pop culture references, the Sega CD version being the most complete and ironically only English version for a smash hit from Japan. Depending on who you ask, this is the one game you have to own on the console, but you will pay dearly for it.
FMV titles basically gained popularity on the Sega CD and make up a decent chunk of its library. Of these games, the most effective to implement the system are Night Trap, pseudo-sequel Double Switch, and Sewer Shark, which all integrate some semblance of gameplay. For many of the others, they seemed to copy the Dragon’s Lair format of meager player interaction to forward a story. These titles are abundant – Dragon’s Lair, Dragon’s Lair 2, Road Avenger, Time Gal, Wirehead, Make my Video Series (Kriss Kross, Marky Mark, INXS, C&C Music Factory), Masked Rider, Space Ace, and Supreme Warrior – but also mixed in are light gun games that fused FMV and the Lethal Enforcers mechanic (poorly) – Mad Dog McCree, Who Shot Johnny Rock, Ground Zero Texas, and Crime Patrol. Basically if you’ve heard negative things about this console it’s most likely in response to these games. I happen to have a soft spot for a handful of them, but even I can’t stand replaying Mad Dog McCree or Masked Rider again. There are also interactive mystery games that made a cameo on the console, which are Dracula Unleashed and Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1 and 2, all taking place coincidentally in about the same time period and location (England) that has you solving crimes and seeing cutscenes for clues and plot progression.
Finally we come to the unique titles, and probably the largest justification for the system. On the top of that list is Sonic CD, which isn’t that great of a game in hindsight, but features a solid soundtrack and unique past/present/future system that was an early attempt to break the Sonic mold. Several large RPGs made their way to the console, including the highly popular Lunar and Lunar 2, which were first released on Sega CD. Due to rarity and popularity, these games still remain more expensive and arguably rougher than the PS1 remakes, but those who have copies of the game cherish them. Panic! is an exploration game starring a young boy who closely resembles Stewie from Family Guy (in looks only) and a canceled game that can be found online today called Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors that featured “fake” minigames to mess with your friends including the cult favorite Desert Bus where you travel for 8 actual hours with almost no activity on a trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas for one point. There is an impressive point-and-click action adventure Jurassic Park title that stands as possibly the only game from that franchise to somewhat capture the feel of being stuck on Isla Nublar. Robo Aleste is a Tengen developed vertical shooter that is a sequel to the highly praised M.U.S.H.A. Aleste title for the Genesis and Silpheed is a decent Starfox clone.
The lists I have provided are in no way a complete collection of the console’s titles, but it begins to give you an idea that Sega put forth a lot of effort to see the Sega CD succeed. Unfortunately its timing and extremely high price tag placed it out of reach for most gamers and the large volume of horrid FMV titles and expensive exclusives make it a timid console to collect. Still, I loved that console and I’m impressed that after nearly 20 years of life, my Sega CD 2 still runs perfectly. It introduced me to load times, limited storage, repetitive gameplay and titles that could be conquered in 12 minutes, but for some reason I can’t help but celebrate the Sega CD.
The following article was written by Derek on the retro gamer and why more should join the cause. For all intents and purposes it seems to demonstrate the mantra of this site – perhaps even moonlighting as a retro gamer manifesto of sorts. Either way it’s a well written and concise explanation of why the retro gamer cannot and should not disappear, even if it isn’t mainstream. Enjoy the read. – Fred – GH101 Executive Editor
Atari, NES, Amiga, and Master System. The grandfathers of modern consoles and the canvasses for which many classics were displayed upon. Whether you’re part of the young generation or you got a late start on gaming there is no better time than now to start playing retro games. Yes I realize the graphics, sound, and some of the game play isn’t up to par with today’s game releases but this by no means makes these titles inferior. So why go retro? It’s quite simple really: affordability, fun, and nostalgia. Gaming is one of few art mediums where the majority of people don’t know or appreciate the roots and genesis of it all. It’s time for that to change!
Let’s face the facts: keeping up with and playing the latest and greatest titles these days is by no means cheap. We gamers spend hundreds of dollars a year to buy games and accessories and PC gamers spend even more to upgrade hardware. Having a fun gaming experience doesn’t need to break the bank though, in-fact, many retro consoles can be purchased for under $100 and most games for these consoles can be found for a couple of bucks if you know where to look. Take the NES for example, On eBay or at a local used game store you can pick up one of these gems including controllers and cables for around $50-$80 and most games for the system won’t set you back more than $2 or $3. Other consoles like the Sega Master System or Atari 2600 are similar in cost and the games are just as cheap. Imagine being able to experience classic titles like Street Fighter II, Alex Kidd, Super Mario, Asteroids, and Pac-Man on their original system’s for cheap. I for one would rather take $100 and buy 20 retro games rather than buying one or two new games.
As the saying goes, quality over quantity. This is evident in video games today with fewer and fewer good titles being released and console makers adding in achievement and trophy incentives to beat games or play them on a harder difficulty. However, back in the early days of gaming no such incentives existed and publishers and developers had to make sure their game was compelling, challenging and fun all the way thru. I never got 25 achievement points for beating Sonic or a gold trophy for playing Mega Man for 10 hours. Back then we played games over and over because they were fun and addictive not because we got some sort of fake digital reward. Because of this most retro games are pure addictive fun. The quality of retro games focused strictly on good game play, innovative platforming, and simple but effective graphics.
Every game play feature and platforming piece has its roots in the early days of NES or Atari games. While modern day innovations like the Gears of War crouching/cover system really have no feasible roots in retro they have been made possible by early innovations like more complex movement and controls in adventure games such as Shinobi. Games like Mario and Sonic laid the foundation for platforming with breaking boxes, collecting coins, and stomping out enemies- all common features in platformers today. Nowadays we talk frame rate and polygons but retro is all about hand painted or hand drawn backdrops, 8 bit design, and of course sprites. For many, Sprites are iconic and represent retro games for their simple style and that is why despite having modern graphics many games like Scott Pilgrim use sprites to convey an unique look. Recent XBLA title Bastion took retro hand drawn backgrounds to a whole new level with brilliant illustration throughout the game.
So even though it may be retro it doesn’t mean its not hip or cool. You know something is good when its still being copied and payed homage too decades later. Playing these older games and reliving our childhood is a nirvana every gamer should experience no matter your age or skill level. It is much easier to critique games and demand more when you have a better sense of how far gaming So head on out and buy up some gaming history. Enjoy it and learn to appreciate a simpler time when blowing on cartridges was a cleaning method and memorizing combos and codes was more important than homework. If you call yourself a true gamer you have to know your roots.
Derek is a freelance writer on several sites in addition to being one of the hosts on the Playground Podcast. He is an occasional guest on our very own podcast and an overall passionate gamer. He can be found on Twitter (@avsrok).
Ask anyone who grew up playing NES games and they will tell you that Super Mario Bros. 2 was somewhat of an anomaly. It is completely unlike the other games in the series, complete with an Arabian theme, veggie-pulling, the option to select one of four protagonists, and Bowser (King Koopa) is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately for Nintendo it blended right in with sequels to various other popular franchises in the console, including the radically different Zelda II: Adventures of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. As a seven-year-old gamer back then I shrugged it off and said, “why not?” It may shock you to discover that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is not actually the intended sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., nor is it in Japan. The true Super Mario Bros. 2 is better known as Lost Levels in America and our Super Mario Bros. 2 began life as the game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! and based on a Saturday morning cartoon in Japan and was later re-worked, improved, and re-released as Super Mario Bros. USA. Both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 are as different as two games can get and thus warrant a head to head.
The “Real” Super Mario Bros. 2
In Japan the Famicom (NES) was released in 1983 as opposed to holiday 1985 here (and only to a select few near FAO Schwartz stores or in New York City). This is why many of the launch games on the NES didn’t seem quite as consistent as Super Mario Bros., which came out in 1985 for both regions. In Japan the Famicom had a more established market whereas Nintendo was still testing the waters in America, so when Super Mario Bros. 2 hit Japan in 1986, there was some hesitation to port it over to our market. First of all the game was solely a Famicom Disk System (FDS) title, so to bring it to the US required re-working and conversion to cartridge form, something titles like Metroid and Legend of Zelda would later do but required more money and work. Additionally the game had an aggressively ramped up difficulty that still challenges longtime platforming fans today and I can personally attest has a brutal difficulty. While Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, creators of the original, were in charge of this game it still feels like a rushed sequel that re-uses assets from the original and creates the ultimate obstacle course. In many circles, the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is considered a rom hack, which is a term used when an individual creates new levels using original assets by hacking an original game’s rom (basically the program). Technically that is exactly what this game is and in screen shots it almost looks like a fake game. When it was tested in America, gamers slammed it for being so difficult it wasn’t fun and Nintendo quickly scrapped all plans to convert Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES, opting instead for an alternative version. In the US we finally got to see what all the fuss was about when the game was renamed to Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels and included in the Super Mario All-Stars collection on SNES. Not surprisingly, it was criticized even then as a frustrating and pointless addition by the general game-playing public. Still, it looks and feels much more like a Mario game than the version we got here.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA)
Since we were already a few years behind Japan, it became necessary to either skip Super Mario Bros. 2 altogether, which was pretty much not an option, or to create an alternative version. Fortunately this was in 1987 just as a licensed Japanese game from Yume Kojo, a popular cartoon series, was releasing on the FDS. Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! was originally to be a game about two cooperative players throwing each other around a world in order to overcome enemies and platforming puzzles. Early conceptual gameplay proved to be unpopular and eventually Miyamoto’s EAD team (Entertainment and Development) received the project and created an action platformer where four different protagonists traversed an Arabian world (as seen in the cartoon) with the ability to pick up and throw everything from projectiles to enemies. As for NOA (Nintendo of America), the fact that the game was created by the same team as Super Mario Bros., complete with composer Koji Kondo, it seemed like an easy translation to America for Super Mario Bros. 2, especially because we wouldn’t recognize the popularized enemies from Yume Kojo.
It’s important to note that Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! is not just a palette swap for Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA). Since it only released on FDS in Japan, both Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic! are difficult games to emulate because they never released on Famicom and thus require special files and emulators. Additionally the sound design and graphics of Doki Doki Panic! are much lower in quality to that of the revamped Super Mario Bros. 2. Since the FDS had built-in memory for saving games, Doki Doki Panic! required that you beat each level with each of the four protagonists in order to complete the game. As each character beats a level, it would get checked off on the main menu until all levels were complete. Imagine trying to tackle some of the more complex levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 with each of the characters, quite a chore.
For the American release Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad replaced the four selectable characters. When you first start playing the fact that jumping on enemies no longer kills them is odd, but once you’re a few levels in it becomes second nature. There are still 8 main worlds, warp zones, and touches like the invincibility star (which was originally in Doki Doki Panic! as well) kept it close enough to a Mario game to sell the transition. Nintendo Power also launched its first issue with coverage on Super Mario Bros. 2 to explain the differences, which were consistent with the drastic changes to most of Nintendo’s sequels. It released in holiday 1988, nearly two years after Nintendo’s initial boom in America so most of us were itching for a Mario sequel. Despite some people claiming the game was too easy, I loved it. It was just different enough and with the four selectable characters had plenty of replay value to keep me happy. It was so popular in the US that it was eventually ported back over to the Famicom, with the now defunct FDS system making Doki Doki Panic! harder to find and play, and released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. USA. Technically if you don’t have an FDS in Japan, this is the only version of Super Mario Bros. 2 to release in a cartridge, so its possible that it’s the only Mario 2 you have.
Imagine if we had only received the original Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US and never even saw Doki Doki Panic! – I’d bet that few gamers would find it to be as essential to a retro collection as the US version is today. Not only that, but the themes and concepts that began in our version continued over into other side story Mario games and even on the portable front. Either way, the story of how Super Mario Bros. 2 was so drastically different is one that every gamer should know about, even if you’re only hearing about it for the first time here. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Lost Levels) and Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) can be found together in any version of Super Mario All-Stars as well as on the Virtual Console so don’t hesitate to pick them both up if you’re curious. Only five minutes with the Japanese version will prove to you that sometimes the import version isn’t always best.