Retro/Classic Feed

New Donkey Kong Development Tales Revealed

Donkey KongYou'd think we'd know all there is to know about Nintendo's smash hit Donkey Kong by now, but the stories keep coming thanks to developer Shigeru Miyamoto and the re-release of the pared-down Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game via the NES Classic MiniChris Kohler at Wired has the translated details of an interview in Japanese from Nintendo's website in which Miyamoto discusses his nude creative process, his devotion to the early days of NES development, and that the arcade version of Donkey Kong was supposed to include voice clips.

“The lady stolen away by Donkey Kong was supposed to yell out, ‘Help, Help!’ And when Mario jumped over a barrel, she was supposed to yell, ‘Nice!,’ complimenting him. But some people within the company said, ‘Doesn’t the pronunciation sound a little weird?’ So we tested it on a native English speaker, a professor. They said it sounded like she was talking about seaweed: ‘Kelp, Kelp!'”

“At that point in development, we couldn’t fix it,” Miyamoto said. “So we took out all of the voices. “Help!” was replaced with Donkey Kong’s growl, and “Nice!” was replaced with the pi-ro-po-pon-pon! sound. It’s really good that we went with pi-ro-po-pon-pon. When you walk past an arcade and hear that sound, it’s really catchy. So even though we took out the voices, it still had great results. From this experience, I learned the importance of having good sound effects.”

I can't say that I miss the voice clips (you can hear them for yourself at The Cutting Room Floor), although my primary exposure to Donkey Kong was the 1994 Game Boy version which built upon the original arcade game.  The Super Game Boy version of that game includes voice clips, but in my mind I always hear the Game Boy version's take on Pauline's screams for help as a tinny soprano warble.  I suppose it all depends on which version you knew first.  On a related note, I am glad that Miyamoto is still telling these kinds of development stories about his earliest creations.  If he's held back new Donkey Kong tales, what are we still missing regarding Super Mario Bros. 3 or Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link?   

Power Button - Episode 219: An Appointment With Disappointment

Power ButtonNot every video game can be a solid, fun experience that lives up to the pre-release hype.  On this week's episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I discuss some of our most glaring gaming disappointments from over the years spanning Mario Is Missing, SimCity (2013), Ren & Stimpy games such as Space Cadet Adventures and Fire Dogs, Destiny, and many more.   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.

The Incompatible Gallery

Donkey Kong CountryChances are that if you're purchasing a game for a particular console, you won't try to jam it into a different console with the expectation that it'll work.  Sometimes backwards compatibility comes into play though, and on occassion you can take a game from an older generation and play it in a newer generation machine.  It doesn't work the other way around.  Nothing good will come of slipping a Wii U disc into a Wii, for instance, nor does playing a PC Engine Super CD game with the wrong system card inserted.  The lines used to be a little blurrier though.  Consider the Game Boy Color, a handheld system that played both classic Game Boy games, fancy Game Boy Color games, and games designed for both pieces of hardware.  It could be confusing to remember which kinds of games worked in which versions of the hardware, so games that only worked on the Color model could be inserted into the original Game Boy despite the fact that those games would not play.  What's a developer to do?  Include an error screen that tells the player to try the game again on a Game Boy Color.  Now there's a full visual catalog of these error screens over at VGMuseum in which you can experience the thrill of incompatibility for yourself for the Game Boy, Neo Geo Pocket, and WonderSwan.  Most of the images are plain text, some include the stylish game logo, and a few go above and beyond with comical little scenes.

Pickin' Colors With Mario Paint

Mario PaintSpend enough time with Mario Paint for the Super NES and the game's title theme song will become lodged in your brain.  It happens so easily since the song is happy, catchy, and toe-tappingly perky.  Video game music site OverClocked Remix strikes again with "Pickin' Colors": Steve Snider's live performance of the Mario Paint theme done in a bluegrass style with actual mandolins, banjo, guitar, and bass.  Here's OCR's David Lloyd commenting on the performance:

The source lends itself surprisingly well to the rhythm & feel of such "old time" music, and while the arrangement repeats itself a bit & judges had some minor recording gripes, the unanimous feeling was that this revised version represents a creative, expressive, and most of all FUN take on the theme.

Power Button - Episode 218: Experience Gaps

Power ButtonWith so many video games out there and more releasing all the time, it's to be expected that nobody can play them all.  We all miss out on titles, sometimes with regret.  On this week's new episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I discuss the games that we've always wanted to play, but for one reason for another just never have.  Join us as we have not played games such as Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts, Mother 3, and Actraiser.  Maybe we'll get around to them some day.   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.

The Astounding Secret Of The Castlevania Fish Men

CastlevaniaThe Fish Men of Konami's beloved Castlevania have been frustrating and irritating players since the franchise's debut in 1986.  One minute you're walking along a rickety platform above one of those bottomless pits of water that Dracula's civil engineer designed in his castle, the next you're knocked backward into the abyss by the arrival of a Fish Man leaping up from the depths.  How do they always seem to know where you are?  Can they be avoided?  Do they have a hidden tell you could use to determine where one may next appear?  As it turns out, the Fish Men completely give away their routine if you know where to look.  Chances are that you've seen it for thirty years now and just never noticed.  JHarris at MetaFilter, as part of an amazing comment on the behavior of some of the original Castlevania's enemies such as Medusa Heads and Bats, explains how you too can learn to safely dodge the Fish Men.

Example 2: The fishmen in Stage 10.

The first stage of this block is the flooded passage level, the one where you have to jump between precarious moving platforms, dealing with ill-timed bats, and sometimes fishmen jumping out terrifyingly close to you.

Like medusa heads, they always come out on a timer, and there is actually nothing random about their behavior. And the first loop through the game, fishmen are actually somewhat courteous, and will never leap into the air directly beneath your location. You still have to deal with their descent, though, and the bats attacking, and fireballs spat by fishmen who have landed on solid ground. Stage 10 is a notorious sticking place for many players.

When you beat the game and come back to Block 4 on the second loop, the difficulty is jacked up quite a bit. Actually, the increased difficulty really only holds for the first four blocks; Blocks 5 and 6 are nearly identical to the first loop. So, Block 4 is really the game's last stand. If you can consistently beat it and everything up to it, you have defeated Castlevania.

Perhaps because of this, the fishmen in Block 4 no longer kindly avoid leaping out of the water if you're directly over them. The only way to avoid dying to them is knowing where they'll leap from, and just not being over that spot at the moment they spawn.

Unfair, right? Having to memorize an obscure series of locations and constantly making sure you're not over one when the fatal leap occurs, right? How is a player supposed to know that?

Well it turns out, there is a tell to the fishmen's spawn locations in this stage. When I first noticed it, I thought to myself, how diabolical. Once you realize it, you'll never forget their spawn locations again. It works in the first loop too, but it's less essential. Here it is. This is a spoiler, but you probably won't notice yourself your first dozen games anyway:

With two exceptions, fishmen can only spawn directly beneath candle locations.

If you whip a candle, fishmen can still spawn there, although if you're wise you've already on the move forward. This is a tremendous aid to getting through Castlevania's most chaotic level. The two exceptions are both at the moving platforms with the low-overhang ceilings, which is important because you have to duck to get through those places because the ceiling is so low, and so, if a fishman leaps beneath you, you take the damage but the ceiling keeps you on the platform!

Now you too know the secret knowledge driving the Fish Men.  Use it wisely.

Nintendo Bringing Famicom Mini To Japan

Famicom MiniNorth America and Europe have buzzed about the upcoming Classic NES Mini from Nintendo featuring thirty of the most beloved games from the 8-bit era, but now Japan is getting in on the fun with the counterpart Famicom Mini.  Releasing November 10 for ¥5980, the little console features the same basic premise as the Classic NES but localized to match its homeland.  Mike Williams at USgamer outlines which of the included thirty games differ from the international release.

Notable new titles include Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Solomon's Key, Final Fantasy III, Mario Club Golf, River City Ransom, Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundoukai, Atlantis no Nazo, and Tsuppari Ozumo. The games that are exclusive to the NES Classic include Bubble Bobble, Castlevania 2, Donkey Kong Jr, Final Fantasy, Kid Icarus, Punch Out, Startropics, and Tecmo Bowl.

Also note that the Famicom Mini's controllers are hard-wired to the console just like the original Famicom's controllers, so there are differences between the two consoles besides just the exterior appearance.  I think that North America and Europe are getting the better selection of games here, although I say that as someone from North America who grew up with games like Punch Out and Bubble Bobble instead of Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundoukai and Atlantis no Nazo.  Either way, I'm happy to see that Japanese Nintendo fans (or international Famicom fans who want to import) won't be left out of the fun.

The True Story Of Jeff Rovin's "How To Win At Nintendo" Book Series

How To Win At Nintendo Games #3Before the Internet, before dedicated video game strategy guides, before even Nintendo Power there was Jeff Rovin's How To Win At Nintendo series of paperback strategy books.  The best-selling series of the late 1980s packed page after page of tips and tricks for the emerging Nintendo Entertainment System game library such as timeless advice for Double Dragon: "Take out the foe on the left with three quick Jump Kicks, then turn to the crumb on the right.  Indeed, for the first four foes-who come in groups of two-stick with the Jump Kick (the A and B buttons) unless your foes get in too close in the early going.  If that happens, go with a Hair Pull Kick-push the pad in your foe's direction, then hit B.  Pick up the Bat and use it to play a little T-ball against the two Lindas who attack next, from the doorway."  It all reads like someone transcribing the progress of another player and, of course, it turns out that it is.  One of author Jeff Rovin's sons, Sam Rovin, has written an autobiographical account of how the series was written with his father watching he and his brother Michael plowed through the NES games of the day just as quickly has humanly possible.  How We Won at Nintendo: The True Story Behind the "How to Win at Nintendo" Series takes you behind the scenes on how the operation worked.

There’s really only one visualization that describes my father during those initial hours and weeks and months. He’d just sit there on the wood floor, legs fully extended and ankles crossed, slippers on and usually a grey sweatshirt and jeans or sweatpants, and he’d be hunched over an over-sized yellow legal pad with a felt tip pen in his right hand, scribbling notes, his thick, boxy glasses dangling right on the bridge of his nose, loosened from looking up and down at the TV. He rarely broke from that mold. Sometimes just to scurry off to his office to answer a phone call. Michael would refortify his gamer will and attempt any kind of major progress in the interim, and then we’d hear the swish of my dad’s slippers coming back through the hall and into the den again where Michael would be the same six feet from the TV, struggling at the same exact stalemate in Rush ‘N Attack.

As the series went on, the crank 'em out nature of the series became increasingly obvious, but with the books selling so well, it didn't seem to matter.  The original volume went into additional printings with expanded entries for "the hottest games" and then branched out from the NES to volumes for the Game Boy (featuring a few pages on Atari Lynx games), Super NES, and Sega Genesis.  By the time of the Genesis book the series was wrapping up as the Rovin brothers drifted away from assisting with their father's writing projects in favor of girls and gaming just for fun.

But the most telling throw-away about the writing of the Genesis book was revealed on the very first page; the page before the title page, before the copyright page, and the “Other St. Martin’s Titles by Jeff Rovin” page. The page that taunts the reader into buying the book in the first place by claiming “the answer is in your hands” and “your friends are already training.” In the middle of that page, written by my dad (as all synopsis’s and interior/ exterior cover details usually are) is a single line that truly lifted the mask on our process and summed it all up fairly well: “After weeks of eye-crossing tests and trials, Jeff Rovin has nailed down the hottest ways to win at today’s most awesome video games.” That entire book was indeed accomplished in only a couple -maybe a few -weeks and we’d finally admitted it. Book in and book out we always had to pretend we were some top notch game factory, like those working at Nintendo (or so we thought), like Men in Black in training, the best of the best, the elite, providing the best secrets like it was easy, when in reality we were always like monkeys at a typewriter with a really good editor to clean up the mess. “Eye-crossing” and “tests and trials” really does perfectly explain our concentrated gaming process. And for once, every single game included our guide (except the ones I played) was completely detailed in the book, from the start of each game to the finish. And I believe it was even the first Genesis book to make it into national bookstores, though without all the notable fanfare of the Nintendo series.

Official publications from the likes of Nintendo and Sega as well as third-party magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro with their glossy, color covers and page after page of screenshots instead of just "go to the right and kick the guy" text took over and that was pretty much that for the series.  A proposed edition focused on the Atari Jaguar never came to be and the advice in the books is fairly dry reading today just as it was then, but at the time these were passable guides.  I eagerly bought the first and third editions plus the Game Boy volume and still have them around here somewhere even though the binding has come apart.  Reading Sam Rovin's remembrances after all these years finally provides a little closure on my linger questions from twenty-five years ago about how this series was written and just how much work went into it.

Video Games Live Goes To Super Mario World

Super Mario WorldVideo Games Live has created dozens of memorable orchestral rock adaptations of favorite video game soundtracks from Sonic the Hedgehog to Chrono Trigger to Street Fighter II, and the group's latest album, Level 5, keeps the hits coming.  Featuring music from games including Metroid, Ico, Phoenix Wright, and Okami, the album is required listening for game soundtrack fans.  My favorite track from Level 5 has to be a medley of music from Nintendo's classic 1991 Super NES hit, Super Mario World.  Take a musical journey through Dinosaur Land with this cut from Level 5 and then head over to check out the other tracks.  I've had the good fortune to attend VGL's live shows several times in the past few years and they never cease to entertain, amaze, and poke the nostalgic sweet spot.  Be sure to see about tickets if and when they tour in your area.  I eagerly await Level 6!

Rockin' Kats Rocks The House

Rockin' KatsWhenever I hear that Atlus has a new video game to announce, I hold out hopes and light a candle for a revival of the company's 1991 Nintendo Entertainment System classic platformer Rockin' Kats, but instead it's all Persona and Shin Megami Tensei all the time.  No matter; I am a patient man.  As for you, if you're unfamiliar with the fun wonder that is Rockin' Kats, then lucky for you that Hardcore Gaming 101 is here to educate you in the ways of kitty protagonist Willy, his girlfriend Jill, and bulldog bully Mugsy.  Part DuckTales and part Bionic Commando, Rockin' Kats truly does rock.  Here's Dylan Cornelius at HG101 describing the mechanics of Willy's signature weapon: the punch gun.

The Punch Gun is the heart of Rockin' Kats. The Punch itself is a large fist that emerges from Willy's gun, and is one part weapon, one part swinging mechanism and one part pogo stick. If you've ever bounced on Scrooge McDuck's cane in Capcom's DuckTales, the pogo stick will seem familiar. Punching little gangster dogs in the face shouldn't be much trouble for anyone that's played a platformer with a weapon. Using the Gun to swing, however, doesn't come as naturally. When you shoot the gun at a platform, the fist attaches itself to the platform. From here, you swing with the 'B' button and press the 'B' button again to detach when ready. It's easy enough to launch Willy forward across chasms or bodies of water, but there are sections where you'll need to swing him backwards to reach an out-of-the-way platform or combine the swing with the pogo ability to move upwards. The more complex maneuevers never feel natural, and often result in trial-and-error deaths if you misjudge the momentum or timing of your swing.

I rented Rockin' Kats many times at the Movie Gallery in 1991 and I was determined to reach the end.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the end wasn't so easy to reach.  Complete the game's four main levels and a fifth level unlocks featuring a boss rush of all of the previously featured enemies and a showdown with Mugsy himself.  Even that was not the end; after all of that, Mugsy challenges Willy to one last lengthy level designed around more intense challenges and remixed encounters.  Moreover, in this final stage, all of Willy's hard-earned weapons and items are disabled.  It takes skill to make it to the true end of Rockin' Kats, but it's well worth the journey.  The soundtrack offers the kind of peppy, energetic charm that was the hallmark of the best NES games.  Willy and friends are nowhere to be found today, sadly, and this game is perfect for a Virtual Console revival on Nintendo platforms.  I really hope that Atlus brings it back.  It's a purrfect perfect game to pick up and play without a major commitment.