Sometimes the best way to look forward is to look backward. This week on the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I discuss some of our favorite new games that take deliberate cues from the games of yesterday and analyze why some of those old games are so timeless. Sonic the Hedgehog 4, DuckTales Remastered, Mega Man 9, Shovel Knight, and Bionic Commando Rearmed are all invoked as we reach back to their 8-bit and 16-bit ancestors to crack the code of great game design. As an added treat, Blake guides us through time spent with his new RetroN 5 all-in-wonder retro console and answers my overly techie questions about whether beloved games with custom enhancement chips work on it or not. 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.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Nintendo Game Boy and to celebrate in a musical style, OverClocked ReMix has prepared a new album of music featuring remixes of classic tunes from handheld games such as Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, Mega Man II, Donkey Kong Land, Batman, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening among other deeper cuts such as Solarstriker. It's more great free video game music from the top community in rearranging the soundtrack of our people and comes highly recommended based on what I've heard of the album so far. It's darn near impossible to go with a OC ReMix release, after all.
Last year I directed you to an interesting article about how to rescue your valuable save data before aging video game cartridges succumb to dead batteries. Once a cartridge's battery dies, your long hours of leveling up characters, collecting the best weapons, and unlocking all the secrets die with it. Thanks to the wonders of aftermarket homebrew technology, it's possible to copy that data off of the cartridge to store on a PC. Platypus Comix outlined a few ways to do it previously, but now site proprietor Peter Paltridge has acquired a rare and expensive Retrode device in order to show us all how to use it with Super NES and Sega Genesis cartridges. Here's a piece of his report:
Like a modern PC plug-in should, the Retrode does not need a CD to install or anything else annoying to bother with. You plug it in, it grabs the firmware (the "RETRODE.CFG" on the left) and your games appear as files. From here, preserving your game saves is as easy as drag-and-drop. You can also dump the ROMs with this, of course, but....why? Next came the most important test....downloading emulators and testing out the saves I'd copied. Would it really work? Was the Retrode worth all the hype and expense? I was so relieved to see my Chrono Trigger save had at last escaped its cart. You can play Chrono Trigger as many times as you want and keep all your experience from the previous game you played (in fact, the game expects you to do this, as challenging the final boss before it's time will get you many different endings throughout). Building that save back up on another device would require a horrendous amount of time I no longer have.
Paltridge goes on to discuss the process and challenges of rescuing save data from Game Boy, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 64 cartridges with the use of special add-on adapters. I love enthusiast utilitarian toys like this and I looked into trying to track down one of the last Retrode's on the open market (they're going fast now that the creator has a steady job and no longer produces them). It's sad that the Retrode is out of production, but it is a product for a niche market and can't be that profitable a venture. It seems cheaper and easier to pick up a RetroN 5 retro console that can play those old cartridges and store save game data to conventional SD cards as a part of its standard operation, but that wouldn't be nearly as awesome as using a kludgy device that requires a little luck and magic to make it work. It just feels like this whole process should not be so simple. Rescuing save data ought to be a quest unto itself. Of course, considering how difficult it is to find a RetroN 5 in stock right now, buying one of those is an entirely different challenge.
According to official Capcom sources (e.g., the character bio from the Super NES version of Street Fighter II), today is Street Fighter protagonist Ryu's birthday. Born July 21, 1964, today marks the World Warrior's fiftieth birthday. He's in pretty good shape for a fifty-year-old considering his prowess with Hadokens and Shoryukens, but what really makes me wonder about the realism of the Street Fighter series is that his weight as of Street Fighter II was 150 lbs. 150?! Earlier this year at my absolute weakest and sickest, I dropped down to 160 lbs. and I was very skeletal. I can buy into the franchise's crazy martial arts antics and supernatural attacks, but I just cannot believe that Ryu weighs a mere 150 lbs. Pixels must be less dense than actual muscle, or perhaps Ryu lied on a registration form he filled out when entering the tournament.
Funny; my tweet of this image went super viral and picked up over 9,000 retweets. My podcast pal Blake Grundman warned me that I'd probably never achieve this level of Internet fame again. If I have to be known as "the Ryu birthday guy" when the history of Twitter is written, then I can live with that.
Happy 50th birthday, Ryu! pic.twitter.com/zkhy9BYAJy— Matthew Green (@PressTheButtons) July 21, 2014
I feel like I link to USgamer a lot these days, but the team over there has been producing so much quality work that it seems negligent to me if I don't point out some of their best material. Today's story highlights five instances in which Nintendo bluffed when it had a bad hand and struck back after making critical errors in the marketplace. It's interesting reading and you probably know pieces of these stories already, but you can never read enough of how Nintendo and Rare wowed the world with a slick marketing campaign for Donkey Kong Country at a time when the Super NES was aging quickly as new 32-bit CD-based consoles were on the horizon. Here's a piece of that tale:
Of course, it was simply an illusion, a trick of clever graphical design. But what a trick! Rare fostered the perception that DKC was a game running on an advanced, 3D-capable system, despite the fact that under the hood DKC was arguably a step behind launch titles like Super Mario World and Super Castlevania IV. It eschewed the Super NES's built-in graphical modes, foregoing the platform's standard bag of gimmicks (rotation, transparencies, etc.) in favor of a game that impressed strictly with its basic visual design.
But that design really was impressive. Quibbles about the main character's radical '90s redesign aside, DKC banked on the public's general inexperience with 3D graphics to wow the masses with a game whose technological advancements happened entirely on the development side. There was nothing special under the hood of the DKC cart or the Super NES. Instead, Rare put cutting-edge computer techniques to use in the crafting of the game.
DKC takes a lot of criticism even today about how it's a lesser game compared to the other competition of the day, but it's a solid game and deserving of its place in history. Any rough edges in the design of the first entry in the series were ironed out quickly for sequels Diddy's Kong Quest and Dixie Kong's Double Trouble and I was glad to continue to playing them long after I acquired my Nintendo 64 in 1996. Christmas Day that year was spent with equal time of Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong Country 3, and while it felt strange to dip back into the Super NES when the brand new future was sitting next to it, it was clear that DKC3 was something special. It may all have been a bluff, but it wasn't like Nintendo and Rare held no worthwhile cards in that hand.
Starting with the Saturday Supercade collection of cartoons based on Donkey Kong and Q*bert, video games have been provided inspiration for animated productions for decades. On this episode of the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I are joined by David Oxford of Poison Mushroom, Mario's Hat, and the Mega Man: Robot Master Field Guide to discuss some of our favorite gaming cartoons from over the years. We cover The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man, Captain N: The Game Master, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Video Power, and more. Plus, listen as Blake keeps accidentally insulting our guest. It's quite a packed episode. 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.
Several years ago I pointed out that the bosses of the Nintendo Entertainment System game Monster Party are downright bizarre. Where else can you find a game that pits the protagonist against a talking plant, dancing zombies, bouncing fried shrimp, and a spider that's already dead? As it turns out, the original plan for Monster Party was even stranger than the finished product. A beta version of the game surfaced online recently and the hardworking fans at The Cutting Room Floor have dissected it to see what changed during the development process. Among other things, the bosses are different. In their original forms, they were copyright infringing terrors such as the eponymous Alien, killer mogwai from Gremlins, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, an ape on horseback from Planet of the Apes, and more.
The Pumpkin-Ghost boss fight was originally a blatant parody of the film Planet of the Apes, complete with an ape riding horseback and a very cartoony version of the famous Statue of Liberty scene in the background. Graphical differences aside, the two bosses behave identically to each other, though you can crawl underneath the Pumpkin-Ghost boss without taking damage. The background graphics were completely erased in the US version.
I'm reminded of Sega's The Revenge of Shinobi that included Batman, Godzilla, and Spider-Man has antagonists without the permission of their respective owners. Japanese copyright laws with respect to international infringement must have been very lax in the late 1980s. There's no way this would work out today. It didn't really work out then, either, as obviously the Monster Party prototype changed to excise the infringing material and Shinobi had to be re-released with different, distinct bosses. One thing we can all agree on though: legalities aside, Monster Party was crazy and awesome in all its forms.
One of the classic sports games of the Nintendo Entertainment System era, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, is notorious for being extremely difficult to master. Those who work their way through the boxing roster of oddballs like King Hippo and Bald Bull will eventually encounter the game's final boss, Mike Tyson himself. Facing him is a nightmare. He's the toughest of the tough and the baddest of the bad. At least, he is in video game form. How does the real Mike Tyson handle the Punch-Out!! experience. Has he ever defeated his digital doppelganger? During a Q&A session at Reddit, the champ came clean: not even close.
No wonder Nintendo replaced him with Mr. Dream for the re-released versions of the game. I can't beat Mike Tyson, but I can certainly beat Glass Joe.
One of the greatest stories in the genre of Sega Genesis lore involves the theft of an early unfinished version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from a toy fair in 1992. That stolen cartridge went on to be illegally distributed in Asia as the finished version of the game featuring fragments of levels that did not make the cut for the final product such as the Wood Zone and the mysterious Hidden Palace Zone. The latter zone was hyped in the gaming magazines of the day, leaving many fans confused when the finished Sonic 2 did not include it. Jump ahead several years and you'll find this version of the game circulating the Internet in smokey backrooms where devoted Sonic fans dig through its code like archaeologists excavating a tomb. Heidi Kemps wondered if Yuji Naka (formerly of Sonic Team) had any idea that all of this was happening, so she went straight to the source to find out. Did Naka know that fans were digging through his team's old work and exploring unfinished, cut content?
The Hidden Palace Zone was well-known among the Sonic faithful, but did Naka know the extent of what fans had already dug up?
“Actually,” I replied, “that ROM’s data is out there. Online.”
Naka seemed pleasantly surprised. “What? You're kidding! Tell me more. I had no idea.”
Was this really happening?
“I have it here with me,” I continued. “On my laptop.”
“Do you, now?” He smiled again. “Somehow, I’m not surprised. You’re truly quite the fan.”
I turned on my laptop, booted up my Genesis emulator, and clicked on the file. It didn’t occur to me at first that I would be showing a top Sega executive my copy of an illegally duplicated development ROM on my PC. The thought didn’t even cross my mind until the title screen, the one different from what we all saw in 1992, appeared.
“Ahhhhh, yes,” said Naka, recognizing the early image.
How wonderful to reunite Naka with his older work in this manner. I wonder if other developers would be so gracious. As for the Hidden Palace Zone itself, after becoming a curiosity and a conversation topic amongst the Sega faithful, it finally showed up in the iOS and Android remakes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as a proper, completed level. Even the company itself is in on propagating the legend. I absolutely love stories like this one. I've watched this story unfold over the past twenty years, following it from those original mock-up screenshots in Electronic Gaming Monthly to the online dissemination of the unfinished ROM all the way to the end. I feel like I have closure at last.
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