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Archive for February 2019

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! Review

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Few games thrive to be like the original.  Sure, plenty thrive to be as influential or popular as the original, but in the case of the ToeJam & Earl franchise the goal is to literally be just like the original.  This is a fact that franchise designer Greg Johnson knows all too well as he’s seen any delineation from the formula of the first game fall short.  As you can read in my recent retrospective, Johnson along with various teams has been trying to give the fans what they have consistently asked for: a new version of that unique Genesis roguelike from 1991.  I’m happy to say that if you are one of these fans, or even if you’ve never touched a ToeJam & Earl game before, you’re in for a treat.  Back in the Groove takes the magic of the original title and enhances it in various ways while also knowing when to keep things consistent.

ToeJam and Earl are two funky rapping aliens that “borrowed” the Rapmaster Rocket from their planet of Funkotron to go joyriding.  Along the way the duo, along with friends Latisha and Lewanda, accidentally travel through a black hole and crash land on the mysterious planet of Earth.  In ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! you are tasked with selecting one of the four friends along with the original version of both ToeJam and Earl from the Genesis iterations as you collect all 10 pieces of the Rapmaster Rocket and get home to Funkotron.  In a hybrid exploration and survival isometric action game, you utilize presents with unique abilities to navigate the enemies and traps in multiple levels that are either fixed or randomly generated.  Yes, as I said, ToeJam & Earl is back.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2019 at 9:00 am

Podcast: Re-Release, Remaster, Remake, and Reboot

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Fred and Jam have finally returned for a proper retro episode of Gaming History 101.  This time the topic is all about how to update a game: Re-Release, Remaster, Remake, and Reboot.

Closing Song: Never Return Alive – Streets of Rage Remake Soundtrack


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Written by Fred Rojas

February 27, 2019 at 11:00 am

Jammin’!: The Story of ToeJam & Earl

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In proverbial “man I’m getting old” fashion, I’ve just realized that we’re just two-and-a-half years shy of the 30th Anniversary of ToeJam & Earl.  It’s not like I suddenly woke up and decided to write about this franchise, either, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove will release this Friday, March 1st and while we can’t talk about it yet, tune back into the site on Thursday to get all the details and our thoughts. Permit me to take you back to the halcyon days of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for you players outside North America) and into the team that dared to make a roguelike in 1991 on consoles.

ToeJam & Earl (1991, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Developed by Johnson Voorsanger Productions, Published by Sega)

The story of ToeJam & Earl starts with its creator Greg Johnson and his fanaticism for Rogue while at UCSD.  The link above will provide you background on both Rogue and the now dubbed “roguelike” genre, but back in 1980s there was only one game influencing a slew of young developers.  Johnson would go on to EA working on PC titles, including his most notable releases as designer on Starflight in 1986 and Starflight 2 in 1989, the latter receiving Computer Gaming World’s Roleplaying Game of the Year award in 1990.  The franchise involves space exploration with integrated strategy, combat, and simulation in a non-linear fashion.  It was a starting point and notoriety for Johnson early in his career and allowed him to get more creative as he brainstormed his next project.  It was around this time, according to a Gamasutra’s interview I reference consistently, that Johnson met Mark Voorsanger, a programmer, while mountain climbing with a mutual friend.  The two hit it off so well that Johnson pitched the idea for ToeJam & Earl and immediately set to work on establishing Johnson Voorsanger Productions, the studio that would develop and release the game.

The concept was pretty straightforward, but also unique for the time.  ToeJam & Earl is about two rapping aliens dripping with 90s urban culture who have their ship breakdown on Earth and have to scour randomly generated maps to re-collect all the pieces.  Some may even call it a cartoonish, funky version of Rogue.  According to Johnson, the main concepts that drove design were randomized maps and survival to complete the grand task of rebuilding your ship.  I’m used to hearing about all the struggles that game development faces – in the Gamasutra interview you can read about Johnson’s in his formative years – but oddly enough this wasn’t the case with ToeJam & Earl.  To hear him tell it, the design doc was easily assembled and Johnson pulled old team members into development, including the talented John Baker who was responsible for the soundtrack.  A quick meeting with Sega that spelled out the design on note cards along with their combined experience on major games was enough to get the title published.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Nintendo’s Recent Annoucements In Regards to Retro

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Let’s face it, Nintendo has had a pretty crazy 2019 so far.  Whether you are a fan or not, it’s hard to ignore how much has changed in less than 8 weeks into the new year and despite what you may think a large portion of the topics are retro.  I figured it was high time to discuss them.  Let’s break down what’s been announced and the retro take on these changes.

NES and SNES Classic Editions Going Away

Okay, I know, this one came at the end of last year (announcement on Dec. 14th, implementation and shipments on Dec. 22), but one of the biggest changes this year is the phasing out of the NES and SNES Classic Editions.  It was inevitable Nintendo would stop production on these items and once they were readily available the well for demand dried up very quickly.  I’m so on the fence about the mini console craze because it’s clear that all of these items have had corners cut to a certain extent and I’m not convinced most people actually play these things.  On the other hand, the mini things look so cool when you get them into your hands and thanks to hackers you can easily side load any games you want into them so they are much more versatile.  I think of them now as emulation boxes that have the one thing other emulation solutions – like RetroArch on computers or RetroPie on Raspberry Pis – don’t have: they’re easy to make and operate.  As a person who loves tech and is intrigued by a challenge, it’s aggravating that today emulation requires a lot of knowledge and time to set up.  I get it, these are complex emulators that need complex setup, but that doesn’t help the mainstream.  I’ve already heard from several of you that it’s just so much easier to buy one of these consoles and do the dead easy process of hacking in the roms you want.  Lets also not forget that specifically the SNES Classic Edition contains Star Fox 2 in the only official release ever to come out as well as games that contain special chips like the Super FX and SA-1 that don’t work with a majority of flash carts on the market.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 22, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Fred’s Tech Corner: My Arcade 1up Raspberry Pi Cabinet

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I converted my Arcade 1up Street Fighter cabinet to a Raspberry Pi arcade machine using ETA Prime’s tutorial as a starting point (links at the bottom). I replaced the joystick as per his tutorial, which required very basic drilling, but kept the existing buttons because I liked them. I did buy a kit with replacement buttons in case maintenance was needed. I used the LCD Control Module that ETA prime mentions as well as the USB control modules he has in his videos (came with my joysticks/buttons as part of a $40 complete kit).

I voice displeasure with Arcade 1up’s customer support, which I still stand by, but I am happy to report that this week I did receive a replacement bezel out of nowhere with no notification. With this new replacement bezel all is well, clean, and scratch free. So prepare for a long wait (2 1/2 months in my case) but your replacements *should* hopefully show up.

The settings I use for the Pi are largely covered in my previous setup video. I did figure out Neo Geo, which is working in this demonstration. As I indicate, configuration is a big part of this project and there were far too many tweaks to get into here. My advice: know that setting up the pi, resolutions, sound, and controls are going to be a taxing part of this process that may take a long time. Make sure you have decent knowledge of the Pi if you plan to embark on this venture.  Read on for a price breakdown and links.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 19, 2019 at 11:00 am

Iron Crypticle Review

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Tikipod continues its quest to release all of it’s games to the Switch and I’m sure my whinging at the developer on the internet for a full year had everything to do with it. Iron Crypticle is next up for players and once  again Tikipod has knocked it out of the park, or maybe the crypt in this case.

Set in the land of Cryptonia, the royal treasure consisting of giant golden fruits, vegetables, and the princess have been taken, leaving a large gaping hole in the floor. It’s up to the lazy kings guard (who sort of let this happen in the first place) to jump down the hole and save the day. Iron Crypticle doesn’t take itself too seriously and you will undoubtedly chuckle at various moments including the merchant cat and the games final ending, which of course I won’t spoil here. I highly recommend you check out the “ledger” which is a sort of codex of all the items you collect in the game where the developer has taken the time to give a humorous description for practically everything you see (there may also be an achievement in it for you if you make the effort).

Iron Crypticle is a top down twin stick arcade shooter with roguelike elements that takes influences from a few old arcade favourites including Ghouls’N Ghosts, Smash TV, and even Bubble Bobble.

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Written by jamalais

February 18, 2019 at 11:00 am

Resident Evil 2: Original vs Remake

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Fred and Jam are reunited and ready to kick off more consistent retro content, albeit this one is only half retro.  In this spoileriffic comparison podcast, the two delve into the development and content of the scrapped version of Resident Evil 2, dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 by the Internet, as well as the original full blown release.  Then they move over to comparing the quality and content in this new remake.  It’s a long ride and it’s highly recommended that you play the games first, but sit back and enjoy a horrifying trip through the Raccoon City police department and beyond.


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I’m Done With Mainstream Games Press and Here’s Why

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The first time I engaged with video game media was in the first issue of Nintendo Power back in 1988.  Granted, it was really just a subscription I paid $20 for to get a free copy of Dragon Warrior.  Back then they were filled with screenshots, reader discussions, and just about anything else you’d expect of a web site nowadays only we didn’t have the Internet yet.  It was also run by Nintendo, so the messaging was far from unbiased.  As time went on I would get more balanced reporting from the likes of Electronic Gaming Monthly and DieHard GameFan although many would be right to point out some questionable behavior at these outlets as well.  Eventually games coverage went online and with it came a whole new era of interaction along with the problems that plague the online transition even today.  A problem started eating away at me, perhaps due to my getting older, but regardless of the source I started taking issue trusting the mainstream games media.  That finally came full circle yesterday when I straight up decided I could no longer deal with what is childish, pedantic behavior from a group of individuals who would rather point fingers at each other than try to fix these issues as a team.  You know, the Internet.

What This Piece Is and What Caused It

Anytime you see pieces like this, they are vague and flooded with links that apparently convey a point but ultimately start to look like those yarn patterns detectives use in movies to find a killer.  i’m trying to avoid this, mostly because I don’t think that large issues like this are as complicated as some people would like to believe, but I provide links so you can do the research yourself.  If a situation requires a story that is too long, you start to lose focus on the core issue.  Any parent will tell you that sitting down with two kids to figure out what happened in a fight knows this to be true.  Games media has been in this state for a decade now and I’ve had it.  Let the children have their playground, I’m not interested in hanging around anymore.  For the record, “children” in this case refers to everyone involved in both sides of this discourse regarding trust in games media and has nothing to do with age.  This piece is attempting to be a clear, concise reasoning for why I reject games media in its modern form and to start a discussion here about everyone else’s thoughts.  I’ve edited this piece many times to get it here.  I do suspect, however, that few of you will respond or have a strong opinion.  This is not a challenge by any means, if I want something I’ll ask for it, but rather a concession that many of you don’t care anymore.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 7, 2019 at 12:00 pm

GHX Episode 41: Virtual Insanity

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This week there’s some random Super Bowl talk before delving into sports games, virtual reality nausea, cowboys, 3D Resident Evil 5, and wrapping up with collector’s items.  It’s a wild ride but one worth taking.

Opening Song includes excerpts from DeDeDe (Metal Remix) by Ozzed
Closing Song: So They Say by Stratosphere off the Tetris Effect soundtrack


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Written by Fred Rojas

February 6, 2019 at 11:00 am