Retro/Classic Feed

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.


How Did Zelda: Link's Awakening Do That?

The Legend of Zelda: Link's AwakeningNintendo's Game Boy is remembered a simplistic handheld gaming system, but its real legacy is that it could accomplish so many amazing technical feats despite being so simple.  The platform came a long way from the basics of 1989's Super Mario Land.  Even by 1993, for instance, the hardware was running games far more complex than even Nintendo itself imagined.  While a traditional-for-the-time Legend of Zelda adventure was at one time considered off the table, eventually the developers were able to coax such an experience from the Game Boy which led to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.  The game would be updated for the Game Boy Color in 1998 which is where we join this interesting technical analysis behind the game's special effects.  How did the developers squeeze so much out of so little?

The original Game Boy was first released in 1989, and has quite basic capabilities. The graphic primitives are based on tiles, background and sprites. Tiles are 8x8 bitmaps, arranged into the grid of a large scrollable background.  This grid is very rigid: that’s 8x8 for you, and nothing else. Fortunately, sprites are objects that can move with smaller increments, positioned over the background.  Note that there is no “direct drawing” mode of some sort: you can’t draw individual pixels on the Game Boy screen, it has to be part of a 8x8 tile.  This severely limits the drawing possibilities. Any advanced effects will have to use complex workarounds.  To understand, let’s have a look at the introduction sea sequence. We’re going to strip it of all special effects, and only use background scrolling, tiles and sprites.

It's always fascinating to get a look "under the hood" of a video game, especially one as beloved as Link's Awakening.  What we took for granted as fluidly moving a character around a screen or watching a ship crash against stormy waves at sea actually has a lot of work behind it to make it function properly.  There will be more installments in this series at the KZONE website and I encourage you to continue reading along as more are published.  I know I will.


The Ins And Outs (But Mostly Ins) Of Game Boy Cartridges

TetrisThere's something special about holding a Nintendo Game Boy game pak in your hand.  What felt like large square coasters in my childhood hand now feel like small crackers in my adult hand, but they have and still feel like the sensation of fun about to happen.  What's really inside those cartridges?  What does the fun look like in its purest physical form?  Fyrius is engaged in a photography project that catalogs the interior of popular Game Boy cartridges split open for all to see.  Marvel and gawk at the chips, batteries, and circuit boards that combine to bring us beloved favorites like Tetris, Super Mario Land, and Bionic Commando!  It's portable power in the palm of your hand.

Gameboy cartridges

(via Reddit)


How Long Does It Take For Zelda To Begin?

The Legend of ZeldaNintendo's beloved The Legend of Zelda series has a knack for roping players into its ever-expanding mythos of faeries, gorons, moblins, and zoras, but it seems that with each new sequel, players are forced to have their hands held for a prolonged period of time before the adventure actually begins.  What once started out as simply "It's dangerous to go alone!  Take this." before tossing Link to the wolves has turned into a tradition of hour-long tutorials and lots of expository dialogue ending with something along the lines of "Would you like me to repeat all of that?  → Yes No"  Matthew Martin over at Cult Of Whatever has crunched the numbers to determine just how long these tutorials have become and which games are the worst offenders.

Whereas the N64 game transitioned you from tutorial to first dungeon very naturally (you get your sword and shield and then enter the Tree, easy-peasy), Wind Waker’s first action sequence takes place, not in a dungeon, but in a forest, as you attempt to rescue Tetra from Ganon’s minions. That action sequence is first teased, when you look through the telescope your sister gets your for your birthday, but even the tease doesn’t come until after seventeen minutes of running around town “learning the basics.” After you know what you have to do (adventure!) you still have to go to the sword master (tutorial!) and “fight him” (that is, you have to learn how to do all the various sword strikes, even if you’ve played the game fifty times before). Once you’ve done that, finally, you can head off on the adventure. It’s fun the first time, but after a few more times it can be very tiring indeed.

I don't mind going alone, but just let me go!  These increasingly long tutorials are part of the reason why the Zelda games are starting to fall off of my radar.  I want to play them, but I also know that I don't want to sit through a long learning experience to teach me that rupees are worth money and that it's possible to throw pots.  I've known these series conventions for thirty years!  There really should be a way for seasoned players to bypass all of the instruction or, better yet, shape the experience so that all of the up-front training isn't necessary.

I've bought the modern remakes of Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess intent on replaying them all, but whenever I look at the cartridge or disc, I think of that seemingly endless exposition and put it back on the shelf.  I don't have hours upon hours at a time to dedicate to these games anymore.  Often I am looking for a quick hit of action which is why when I get the itch to replay a Zelda game, I turn to the original Nintendo Entertainment System titles or the Game Boy titles which kick Link off on a journey basically right away.  I'm so glad that the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild promises to follow in those old structural footsteps.  I want to swing swords at monsters, not herd goats or go fishing right at the start.

Would you like me to repeat all of that?

→ Yes
     No


Nintendo Power Loved Mario Paint

Mario PaintNintendo Power magazine had a knack for pushing upcoming video games that its mothership company, Nintendo itself, wanted to be overwhelming critical and sales successes.  One of the titles that enjoyed the extra coverage boost was 1992's Mario Paint for the Super NES which took the cover of Volume 39 of the magazine and sported eight pages of coverage which explained the point of the "game" (more a creativity tool than a proper game, really), how to control it with the new mouse controller, the best way to use stamps, the wonders of the Undo Dog, a basic animation primer, introduction to music composition, and much more.  Fan site SuperLuigiBros.com has the Mario Paint coverage from that issue for you to see.  Marvel at the era when video game enthusiasts had to be taught the concepts behind of frames of animation.  Today we see that same target demographic vehemently arguing over how many frames per second a game outputs with such values measured down to the decimal.  These truly were simpler times.


Relive Nintendo History With The Nintendo Power Archive

Nintendo PowerUPDATE: The magazine archive has been deleted.  Lawyers strike again.

Like every Nintendo console-owning kid in the 1980s and 1990s, I had a subscription to Nintendo's in-house review/strategy/propaganda publication, Nintendo Power.  I came onboard the magazine with Issue 5 in March 1989  (Ninja Gaiden on the cover!) and for over ten years I read each issue cover to cover multiple times to  guide me through the games I owned, help me choose the games I wanted, and help me look like a gaming superstar on the playground with secret codes and tips.  I purged my collection when I left home after graduating high school, but the memories live on at Archive.org which earlier this year quietly put up a scanned collection of the first 143 issues which will take you from the days when Super Mario Bros. 2 was taking North America by storm though the launch of Super Mario World past the dawn of Super Mario 64 into the heady days of Super Mario Advance's impending arrival for the Game Boy Advance in 2001.  Seeing each cover again after all these years takes me back to specific moments in my life: laying in the family recliner and tracing a path through the maps for Mega Man 3 in Issue 20, reading Issue 50 while waiting for a haircut, reading Issue 61 in the backseat of the car...  I intended to list a few "greatest hits" issues as recommended reading, but as I browsed the collection I found myself marking down each and every issue, so let me just say to pick a magazine and start reading.  You really can't go wrong.


Mini-Review: Sonic Gems Collection

Sonic Gems Collection

This review was originally published at Kombo.com on September 5, 2005.

Several years ago Sega stuffed the best that Sonic the Hedgehog has to offer into the compilation title Sonic Mega Collection. The title sold well enough on the Nintendo GameCube to prompt the release of a Plus version for other platforms, but one highly demanded title of days-gone-by eluded both iterations: Sonic the Hedgehog CD. Fans clamored long enough and loud enough that Sega has finally brought Sonic CD back to the store shelves along with several other seldom-seen Sonic titles with Sonic Gems Collection.  Considering that Sonic Gems Collection is a compilation disc, it would be inappropriate (and unfair) to review the collection taken as a whole. Instead the parts that make up the sum must be showcased separately, highlighting the bright spots and briefly dwelling on the disappointments.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Sonic Gems Collection" »