Gaming History 101

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Video: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Retrospective

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A look back at the origins of the PC-Engine, its Western counterpart the Turbografx-16, and the pack-in title Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.

There is also an accompanying livestream that can be viewed here or by following the link in the card at the end of the video.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Podcast: Are You One of Us?

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tg16_post

This week Fred flies solo to discuss the short live but highly coveted niche console the Turbografx-16.  With an 8-bit processor and a 16-bit graphics card this Japan-centric console by NEC only hung around for 4-5 years but has a cult following almost as intense as Sega.  This episode covers its release, different versions, Japanese counterpart the PC Engine, and of course the expensive CD expansion and games.


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Written by Fred Rojas

August 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Buying Guide: Turbografx-16

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tg16

We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

There was this brief period of time when the store shelves of Toys R Us had Nintendo games, Sega Genesis games, and Turbografx-16 games.  After the Super Nintendo ushered in a whole mess of games in the holiday season of 1992 (the console premiered in 1991 but it had significant presence the following year) and the Turbografx-16 consoles moved to that dreaded area in the middle of the aisle.  Before you knew it they were stacking up boxed consoles at discounted $99.99 price tags (the console originally was either $199.99 or $149.99, although I forget which) and in 1993 it was down to $49.99 with free games and all at once disappeared.  Due to the fact that NEC’s “in between” console only moved at that exremely low price point, most people that owned the console kept it, which makes for a bit of scarcity on today’s market.  Fortunately I have this buying guide here to assist you and aside from games, there really isn’t a lot to the accessories or hook-up of a TG-16.

You will want to make sure your console has:

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 18, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Review: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PC-E CD)

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Console: PC-Engine CD (Japan)
Released: 1993
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Japanese Title: Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo – English Translation: Devil’s Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $83.00(used) Unknown – this usually indicates none have ever been sold (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $90-$120 (used) N/A (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console and remake on Dracula X Chronicles (PSP) – $9.00 (VC), $15.00 (PSP) digitally

Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo is one of those games that you either know about or you don’t.  As a side story to the series, appearing on the PC-Engine CD no less, I don’t think Konami ever intended the game to be popular but what it does for the Castlevania formula is worth noting.  Rondo of Blood (as it is known in English) follows Richter Belmont, a descendent of Simon and Trevor, in a side story where he seeks out Dracula to recover his girlfriend Annette.  It takes place in Germany, I think (I’ve never played the game in English), and the cutscenes even contain German dialogue with Japanese subtitles.  Thanks to the RAM and CD format of this title, it also features amazing sound design and an anime-like style.  Oh yeah, and until recently it was never released outside of Japan.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Darius Series (Taito)

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Of all the shmups I mention this month, the toughest to actually play the way it is intended will be Darius (pronounced “dah-rai-us”).   This title premiered in arcades in 1986 by developer Taito and featured a super wide 3-screen arcade cabinet.  The first monitor would be centered like you’re used to, but the other two would be at slight angles on either side, using mirrors to create one straight wide view.  As a result the way you play the game is completely different because there’s a lot more to see coming and going around you.  Nowadays you could do a decent job emulating it on widescreen televisions, but no one has decided to do it yet.  Because of this visual mode it doesn’t work all that great on MAME and I highly recommend trying one of the home ports or later arcade ports, which were designed around 4:3 televisions.

Sample screen from original arcade format of Darius

Darius isn’t only significant for having a super wide screen resolution, otherwise it would have died in obscurity as a one-off coin-op.  It breaks the mold of the traditional shmup in many ways, including the fact that the player picks which level to play next.  Much like Castlevania III it is impossible to see all 28 levels in one playthrough, in fact you will only see 7 in any one completion, but eventually you can piece together every level.  Seafood haters out there will also note the interesting crustacean look to the enemies in the series.  Your ship, the Silver Hawk, comes equipped with a cannon, bombs/missiles for ground attacks and a force field, all of which are upgraded by, you guessed it, power-up items dropped by destroyed enemies.  Each level ends in a boss battle, although the size of the bosses isn’t quite the scale as I was used to with other shmups.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Magical Chase (Palsoft/Quest)

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To keep the theme of this weekend alive, I decided to go with yet another light and fluffy shmup on this Sunday afternoon.  I’ve chosen to go with one of the most expensive games in my collection, Magical Chase, one of the few Japanese-heavy shmups to find a release on the Turbografx-16 system in the US.  I always thought this game was kind of a throw away title as a child, it didn’t do anything quite as well as Fantasy Zone, Gradius or even R-Type, but of course I had to dig it out when I found out how rare and expensive it was.  I am pleased to say that when I gaze upon this title with learned eyes I am much more aware of some of the great things it does and now that I finally got my hands on an owner’s manual I can play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.  See, back then if we couldn’t understand a game we just assumed that it was too complicated or we were too stupid and just ignored it.  I had no idea how to control the stars before getting my hands on that text document.  Don’t believe I actually have the game?  Well here’s your proof below (yes, this is a cheesy excuse to show it off):

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Converts

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So now you want to import consoles and games, do you?  Well you’ll be happy to know that it is entirely possible on most consoles, however there are some things you’ll have to be aware of before you do it.  This article discusses the different things you have to do to both the electric and video signal of various imported consoles.  It will also briefly discuss how to get foreign games to play on US consoles, if possible.

Electricity Differences
No matter what console you are using, it’s important to know the differences between electricity in the US, Europe and Japan.

Japanese Consoles in the US
As you’ll see plenty of times in this article, Japan is quite similar to the United States in many ways, including power.  We use 120 volts as our standard for power.  Japan doesn’t appear to use a ground (or at least none of the Japanese consoles I’ve ever gotten do, never been to Japan itself), so all plugs from Japanese consoles will be two-pronged and fit in an US outlet.  Also fortunate is the fact that most consoles, especially retro ones, will use AC adaptors that work in the US.  Never interchange US power supplies into Japanese consoles, you could fry the console or worse.  For example, if you import a Famicom, use that console’s AC adaptor and not an US NES one.  For newer consoles like Japanese PS2s and PS3s, you may want to check the back of the console, but I think those are good for AC 100-240 volts for worldwide distribution, but I could be wrong.  Basically if it generates heat, be very careful and do a search for advice from a reputable source (no, Yahoo! Answers is not a reputable source).  Also if you want to be completely safe, there are Japanese voltage converters that allow use of Japanese products here.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Generation Gap: Import Edition

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So you’ve decided you may be interested in this import scene, huh?  You may want to see what the other regions have to offer?  Perhaps you just don’t know what’s out there and you’re just curious.  Well here you go – a wrap-up of some of the most popular consoles overseas that didn’t quite it over here.

Sega SG-1000 – Released in: Japan, Europe – Launch: 1983
Sega and Nintendo have been up against each other since day one, literally.  While we didn’t see the NES over here until at least 1985, Sega’s first console, the SG-1000, released day in date alongside the Famicom (NES) in Japan.  A cartridge based system that had nearly identical hardware to the ColecoVision, Sega’s first outing is most notable for having a solid Donkey Kong clone (Congo Bongo) and some of Sega’s top arcade titles.  I’m fairly certain that Flicky made its first home appearance thanks to the SG-1000 as did Monaco GP.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Generation Gap Pt. 3: 16-Bit

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By 1989 the NES was a powerhouse not to be reckoned with.  Sure, there were other consoles out there, but if you were doing home gaming it was predominantly on the NES.  That is, until Sega introduced the first 16-bit system to the market.  Billed as the Genesis (Mega Drive in other regions, but due to an US copyright it was renamed to the Genesis), Sega hit the ground running bringing near-perfect arcade ports of popular titles like Golden Axe and Altered Beast.  This spawned the popular “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign, the onslaught of the console wars, and the second true generation of consoles since the crash.  For those simply wondering what 16-bit (and other “bits”) means is the type of processor working within the system at a given speed (think “Pentium 4” for a basic comparison).

16-bit Generation (1989 – 1999)

Sega Genesis – Launch Price: $189.99 – Released: 1989
It came literally out of nowhere.  Back then the only place to purchase Nintendo games in the Chicago suburbs was Toys R Us – you’d go see a slew of Nintendo box art in closed plastic sleeves, remove a ticket with a large price on it, and take it up to a booth that was enclosed and caged like a casino redemption.  There wasn’t a “video game” section, just a “Nintendo” section, because at that time Nintendo was synonymous with video game (and for my grandparents, it still is).  On that faithful summer day in August 1989 I walked into the Nintendo section and a slot was missing from the game display, replaced by a big blue logo that read “Sega” and a television that had a commercial playing.  In the commercial games like Golden Axe were getting compared to Bionic Commando, a truly unfair comparison from a graphics standpoint alone, despite hindsight revealing Bionic Commando the better title.  This upbeat guy was chanting “Genesis…” and a bold deep voice finished the sentence “Does!” as the commercial cross-cut the great visuals of Sega’s new console versus Nintendo’s clearly dated NES.  Then my eyes wandered down to the price: $189.99 – available soon!  I immediately forgot about it.

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Halloween Rarities

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I’m really into lucrative titles, especially when they are about Halloween or horror.  For the most part these games are classic titles from the past that you have either never played or never had a chance to play.  On the plus side, thanks to rom¹ hacks and translations, you can easily find any of these games to play on an emulator.  While I don’t condone piracy, nothing in this list was released in the US save for one title so for a single play to see what you’re missing I feel there’s no harm, especially since you have no other option.  I cannot link any of these roms directly, but feel free to search for “(title of game) rom” on Google and you shouldn’t have any problems.  Without further ado, here’s the list of great Halloween games you’ve probably never played.

Sweet Home (Suīto Hōmu) – Famicom – 1989

Considered by some to be the original version of Resident Evil, Sweet Home is actually a licensed game based on a movie of the same name.  It was developed by Capcom and produced by RE producer Shinji Mikami, who later admitted that Resident Evil began as a remake of Sweet Home.  For many modern gamers, RE is a tough sell with its fixed camera angles, blurry graphics and tank² controls.  If this describes you, then Sweet Home may be the outdated choice for you.  Although developed on the Famicom there is a surprising number of similarities with RE on the Playstation.

Even in 8-bit, the mansion holds that eerie feel

When you change rooms the all-too-familiar door opening animation will escort you through.  The inventory system and puzzles will ring extremely familiar for those that explored the mansion as Chris or Jill.  In fact, the big spooky mansion is probably the most distinguishing similarity, although instead of a biological outbreak it’s merely haunted by the ghost of Lady Mamiya.  And even though it’s technically a survival horror title, the game plays much more like a classic Japanese role playing game (JRPG) with random Final Fantasy-like battles.  If you’ve always wanted to explore a haunted house JRPG style, check this one out, especially considering the decent english translation making the rounds.

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