Retro/Classic Feed

The Rise And Fall Of Sega's Vectorman

Vectorman 2The one thing I always think of first when I recall the Nintendo versus Sega console wars of the 1990s is that whatever one company did first, the other would follow up with their own version soon after.  Nintendo Super Scope?  Sega Menacer.  Super FX chip in StarfoxSVP chip in Virtua Racing.  Pre-rendered graphical style for Donkey Kong Country?  Pre-rendered graphical style for Vectorman.  While Donkey Kong Country went on to spawn two direct sequels during the 16-bit era, a Game Boy side series, and so much more over the years up through Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U in 2014, Sega's answer to the gorilla in the room went on to star in a single sequel in the Genesis era and then a couple of aborted relaunches.  Hardcore Gaming 101 has the story of Vectorman's rise and fall.

What Vectorman lacks in consistent difficulty and compact level design, it more than makes up for in its presentation, which is where all of BlueSky Studios' offerings shine the brightest. Proclaiming that the SNES is graphically superior to the Genesis may be a tired cliché nowadays, but it's an undeniable fact that most titles of the time looked better on Nintendo's 16-bit console than they did on the competition and that Donkey Kong Country deserves praise for stuffing all of its then-high-tech graphics and timeless soundtrack in a single 32-meg cartridge with no special chips inside despite its bland gameplay (which the sequels greatly improved upon). In comparison, Sega's console had a much paltrier VDP/PPU and less access to large ROM sizes, but its lightning-fast and easy-to-program-for Motorola 68000 processor could easily trump Nintendo's choice of CPU (the unique, yet terribly slow Ricoh 5A22) in every aspect imaginable if in the hands of a talented programmer, and this is what makes Vectorman's unique graphical style look good up to this day.

By the way, do you know Vectorman's dirty little secret?  It doesn't use vector graphics at all.  That doesn't stop it from looking impressive on Sega's 16-bit hardware though.  It was the unique visuals that first drew me into wanting to play the game.  When I was in high school in the mid-to-late 1990s, a friend had the game and we spent too many weekend afternoons trying to clear the second level.  We were absolutely terrible at it; poor Vectorman may as well as been a magnet for incoming enemy fire.

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Power Button - Episode 211: Pokémon Go And New NES Classic Console Bring The Joy

Power ButtonIt's been a big week for Nintendo fans who like excitement thanks to the arrival of the Pokémon Go mobile sensation and the announcement of a new small classic Nintendo Entertainment System packed with HDMI output and thirty of the best games that the NES era had to offer.  We're talk about both of these on this week's Power Button, so join us for a conversation that spans from Pikachu to Punch-Out!!, Meowth to Metroid, and Zubat to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition FAQ

NES Classic Edition

Today's announcement that the Nintendo Entertainment System is coming back to stores as the NES Classic Edition mini-console featuring a wired classic NES controller and thirty games built right into its internal memory has sparked a lot of excitement online as gaming fans cheered and prepared to preorder.  However, I've also seen plenty of questions pop up on social media about the news and while I'm not a Nintendo spokesperson, I am a long-time customer and consumer of the company's products, so perhaps I can be of help when it comes to answering these queries.  Allow me to condense the questions down to the basic generalized sentiments I've seen all day today and respond with my thoughts.

Q: What is this NES Classic thing?  Are they making new NES consoles?  I have all the old cartridges in my attic.

The NES Classic Edition is a small, new version of the Nintendo Entertainment System that physically resembles the old NES from 1985, but sports a smaller form factor.  It features thirty games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 built into its memory, so there isn't a cartridge slot on this console.  It only plays those thirty games, but they are some of the best games in the console's library.

Q: So how do I play Duck Hunt without my old Zapper light gun?

Duck Hunt isn't one of the thirty games, so you won't be playing it at all on a NES Classic Edition.  Besides, the old Zapper and today's modern HDTVs don't work well together at all.  See, when the trigger on the Zapper is pressed, the game causes the entire screen to become black for one frame. Then, on the next frame, all valid targets that are on screen are drawn all white as the rest of the screen remains black. The Zapper detects this change from low light to bright light, and determines if any of the targets are in the zapper's hit zone. If a target is hit, the game determines which one was hit based on the duration of the flash, as each target flashes for a different duration. After all target areas have been illuminated, the game returns to drawing graphics as usual. The whole process is almost imperceptible to the human eye, although one can notice a slight "flashing" of the image. Although the Zapper just detects light, it can only be used on CRT displays. It will not work on LCDs, plasma displays or other flat panel displays due to display lag.  Moreover, the NES Classic Edition uses special controller ports like those found on the Wii remote, so your old Zapper wouldn't plug into it anyway.

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Nintendo Classic Edition Brings Iconic NES Back To Stores

NES ClassicNintendo hit the big time in the home video game console space thirty years ago with the beloved Nintendo Entertainment System and while the company has been re-releasing its greatest hits such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda on the Virtual Console service for the Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS, there's a large startup cost involved if all you really want to do is play Mega Man 2.  Nintendo is cutting through that expense this November with the release of a cute little micro version of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System control deck dubbed the Nintendo Classic Edition.  Priced at $59.99 and packed in with thirty solid, popular games (no Urban Champion here!), the NES is primed to take over living rooms all over again.  The new hardware offers HDMI out and even uses new NES controllers with Wii remote connectors on them so Wii and Wii U owners can use them for the Virtual Console service.  Read the press release for all of the details.  Here's the list of games that are built into the new console.

  • Balloon Fight™
  • BUBBLE BOBBLE
  • Castlevania™
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest™
  • Donkey Kong™
  • Donkey Kong Jr. ™
  • DOUBLE DRAGON II: THE REVENGE
  • Dr. Mario™
  • Excitebike™
  • FINAL FANTASY®
  • Galaga™
  • GHOSTS’N GOBLINS®
  • GRADIUS™
  • Ice Climber™
  • Kid Icarus™
  • Kirby’s Adventure™
  • Mario Bros. ™
  • MEGA MAN® 2
  • Metroid™
  • NINJA GAIDEN
  • PAC-MAN™
  • Punch-Out!! ™ Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics™
  • SUPER C™
  • Super Mario Bros.™
  • Super Mario Bros. ™ 2
  • Super Mario Bros. ™ 3
  • TECMO BOWL
  • The Legend of Zelda™
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link™

This is a phenomenal idea and I'm surprised Nintendo hadn't acted on it sooner.  This product hits every basic type of gamer demographic: casual, lapsed, and core.  It will be a popular gift this holiday season for sure.  Even if you discount the cost of the hardware itself, you're paying $2 per game which is a much better deal than the Virtual Console's $5 per game.  Just imagine all of the modern parents who grew up with the NES buying one of these to both play themselves and to share the fun with their young children.   I still have my original NES from thirty years ago hooked up to my media room television, although the muddy visuals from running an old fashioned signal through coax cables and RF adapters looks horrible on my modern HDTV.  I also own a variety of the built-in games on the Virtual Console for both Wii U and 3DS, but I can't resist the nostalgic draw of this mini console.  I think it's time my bedroom TV had a NES of its own.


The OneUps Bring You Part Seven

Metal ManSomewhere along the line when I wasn't paying attention, my favorite video game music cover band, The OneUps, released a new album.  Entitled Part Seven, this latest release includes songs from Final Fantasy VI, Double Dragon, F-Zero, Donkey Kong Country, EarthBound, and many more each performed in the band's unique jazzy funk style.  Check out this version of Metal Man's famous theme from Capcom's classic Mega Man 2, "Saw VIII", and prepare to be impressed.  You can download the entire album from many of the usual digital storefronts including Amazon. If this is your first exposure to the band, I highly recommend that you check out their complete discography. Fans of video game music from the medium's most beloved franchises will find so much to enjoy.


Come Get Your Super Mario T-Shirts, Cookies, And Phones In This 1990 Nintendo Retailer Catalog

NES boxes

1990 was a hot time for Nintendo and its retail partners.  This was the era when the Nintendo Entertainment System was king, when a third-party licensee could slap Mario on just about any consumer product to earn a healthy profit, and when games like Boomer's Adventure In Asmik World and Wall Street Kid were positioned as the next big thing.  I remember those crazy days, but if you're too young to have been around for them, then you can vicariously experience the thrill of laminated wood displays and cartridge storage kits with the Official 1990 World of Nintendo Buyers Guide provided by Video Game Ephemera.

The Official 1990 World of Nintendo Buyers Guide was a custom-publishing project aimed at Nintendo’s retail partners, which included more than 6,000 locations with special “World of Nintendo” areas reserved for Nintendo-related products. The article on page 6 describes this type of installation as a “store within a store,” a neighborhood mecca for Mario maniacs.

In the pages between the product listings, you’ll find short articles about certain Nintendo licensees as well as paid ads from some of them. The articles are actually labeled as “advertisements,” so they were obviously paid for as well. Many of the ads speak to consumers, but several of them are written for the people who sold the games. It’s fascinating to see the soft-sell tactics employed by game publishers as they tried to convince retailers to carry their products in the early ’90s. Most of them promise “aggressive” advertising campaigns and dealer support while extending friendly invitations to visit their booths at the Consumer Electronics Show.

This guide and others like it are a peek behind the curtain at the layer of middlemen between Nintendo's licensees and your local retailer down the street.  I remember seeing plenty of these Oakcasestore displays in the Kmarts of my youth when I longed to scarf down the licensed cookies and collect the cards and wear the t-shirts bearing Mario's smiling face.  Nintendo was hot, Nintendo was king, nothing could ever possibly knock Nintendo off its pedestal.  Nope, not at all.  The days of officially licensed cartridge storage cases made of oak will last forever!  Actually, those oak cases do look pretty sweet.  I bet they'd look right at home next to my classic oak VCR cassette storage case.  Not all family heirlooms are impressive or valuable.


Power Button - Episode 207: Donkey Kong For Juniors

Power_buttonSince the dawn of the medium, children have gravitated towards video games.  What began with kids grasping that first arcade joystick or Nintendo Entertainment System controller decades ago has led to today's children becoming enraptured with apps and motion controls.  How should a responsible parent encourage a child's burgeoning gaming interests?  On this week's podcast, parent of two Blake Grundman reflects on how he's introducing his kids to video games and outlines his plans to spread the hobby to the next generation.  From Yo Noid! to Just Dance, we have you covered.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 206: Turn The Lights Out When You Leave

Power_buttonVideo Game consoles burst into this world with a collection of highly publicized launch titles, but nobody ever promotes their game as the last title out of the gate before production moves on to the next generation.  Everyone remembers that the Nintendo GameCube debuted with Luigi's Mansion, but what was the final release for the system?  How did the Super NES wrap things up?  Who turned out the lights on the Sega 32X?  On this week's episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman take a walk down the weedy, unkept side of Memory Lane to discuss the final releases for some of the industry's most beloved or infamous consoles.  You know you want to find out how the Atari Jaguar folded.  Join us for an hour and be sure to turn the lights out when you leave.!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Wario's Creators Explain His Purpose

WarioNintendo's villain / anti-hero Wario has gone on to fame and fortune of his own, stepping out of Mario's shadow to star in the Wario Land and WarioWare franchises, and while we all know how he started out in 1992's Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins when he stole control of Mario Land, debate has continued to rage regarding his true origins.  I'm not talking about the fiction here; I'm directly asking: why was Wario created?  A developer interview with SML2's creators originally featured in the game's official strategy guide has been translated and posted at Shmuplations, and it sheds some light on the issue.

—What was the idea behind Wario?

Kiyotake: We imagined Wario as the Bluto to Mario’s Popeye. The truth is, we kind of came up with the idea of the name first, and everything else came after. Since he was a “warui” (bad) guy, he should be Wario. And we had the idea to flip the M upside down. To our surprise, the idea was a big hit with everyone on the team.

—What was your process for creating the character of Wario?

Kiyotake: Whenever I had the idea for a character—not only Wario—the first thing I would do is talk it over with Hosokawa. If he thought it was cool, I’d present it to the rest of the staff. Then, once I thought the idea could work, I’d discuss the details of the sprite animation and movement with Harada. That’s the process I went through for Wario and all the other characters in SML2. Granted, there were a lot of direct rejects, or characters that no one took a liking to.

—Can you tell us about Wario’s past/origins?

Kiyotake: There’s been a rumor going around the Wario was childhood friends with Mario, but it’s just a rumor: I don’t know if it’s true or not. His favorite food is crepes. That much seems true…

There we have it, straight from the source!  Heroes need villains, and while Mario already had Bowser to contend with at this point in history, creating a Bizarro-version of our favorite plumber allows the Super Mario games to play with conventions more directly than Bowser allows.  Consider the end of SML2 when Mario and Wario finally meet face to face and the latter uses the same power-ups that the former has been using all game long against him.  The game's internal logic not only suggests that Wario can use the Fire Flower and Carrot, it demands that we see it happen.  The interview suggests that Mario is fighting for himself for the first time in SML2, but the plot goes deeper than that.  He's not only fighting for himself, he's also fighting a reflection of himself.  Now we jump through a mirror, darkly.

Crepes?


Mortal Kombat Imitators Are Sincerest Form Of Battery

Blood WarriorSuccessful media always spawns imitators, but sometimes the imitators go on to become highly successful entities of their own.  Super Mario led to Sonic the Hedgehog.  Grand Theft Auto inspired Saints RowStreet Fighter II spawned Mortal Kombat.  And what did Mortal Kombat spawn in response?  Mostly trash.  Hardcore Gaming 101 has a listing of Kombat clones each more dismal than the last, most of which use words like Battle, Warrior, Ninja, or Blood in the title.  Here's one that nails two of those words: Blood Warrior.

From Kaneko, the folks who brought you those Chester Cheetah games, Blood Warrior is another Japanese take at a Mortal Kombat style game, even though it's kind of a sequel to the 1992 game Shogun Warriors, which predated Mortal Kombat. When it comes to gameplay, it does all right, even if it's not exceptional. There's nothing particularly unique about its mechanics, although it at least plays well enough. The presentation, however, feels like a particularly low budget sentai show, with characters like a kappa and some kind of Buddhist statue as part of the cast. Despite its goofy look, it's also surprisingly bloody, with characters frequently exploding into piles of organs. The same developer would go on to make the Jackie Chan fighters, which were much better games all around.

The only game on the list with staying power is Killer Instinct.  The rest are forgettable or, worse, doomed to only be remembered as laughingstock fodder for an hungry Internet.  It's interesting to read through the list and be able to tell which games actually had some devoted, talented people behind them and which were just cranked out as quick, cheap cash-ins on the current hot property of the year.  One of the games, Way of the Warrior, was created by Naughty Dog who would later go on to major fame with Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted.  I suppose everyone has to start somewhere.