Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Posts Tagged ‘microcomputer

Podcast: Ready (Blinking Cursor)

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This week Fred is joined by two special guests: EZ Mode Unlocked hostess Dana (@canadiandana) and listener Xenocore to discuss the illustrious Commodore 64, the only microcomputer to truly catch on the United States. After a few stories of everyone’s introduction to the C64 they go on to discuss the development, history, and of course mountain of innovative and unique titles available for computer/console hybrid.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

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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

Review: Life of Pixel

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

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

One of the first systems is the Atari 2600

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

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm