Retro/Classic Feed

What Is The Mysterious Secret Behind The Classic NES?

NES Classic EditionThe demand for more Classic NES units is real, but as would-be owners of the little nostalgia boxes found late last week when Nintendo announced that it was discontinuing production of the already hard-to-find console, the reasons behind Nintendo's decisions remain a secret to everybody.  Why would the company kill off what was poised to be a runaway success had it only manufactured enough units to meet demand?  There as been lots of speculation in the media as to why Nintendo is moving away from the console; I've heard everything from "Nintendo wants to sell you a Switch instead" to "Nintendo is angry about how easy it is to hack the console and install hundreds of pirated games" to "Shigeru Miyamoto must personally bless each unit as it rolls off the assembly line and he just doesn't have the time for that", but perhaps there's a technical reason behind it all.  What, if any, is the mysterious secret of the Classic NES's technology and how does it impact production?  There's an interesting discussion happening at MetaFilter that focuses on the nature of the hardware inside the cute little console and why it may never have been intended to be an ongoing product.

I do these kinds of systems for a living and I'm boggled as well. It all smells of a quickie design - these parts are literally off a shelf in Shenzen. Do you really need four A7 cores plus a GPU plus a multitasking O/S to emulate a 6502 and a small amount of custom sprite + sound hardware? - JoeZydeco

"There had been some speculation on Reddit that it was a run of near-obsolete hardware proposed by one of their partners. Some teardown (I can't find a source now) found out that it was shipping with already EOL'ed components that weren't available for back-order from the fabs."

Definitely a strong theory - certainly there are lots of low to mid-range chipsets floating around these days that have more than enough horsepower to run old NES games.  This teardown says: Allwinner R16 (4x Cortex A7, Mali400MP2 GPU) Definitely a contender for getting cleared out.  And the board is like four chips and is the plainest looking thing I've ever seen.

It's possible that they got a bunch of CPUs at a good price but it wasn't ANY number of CPUs at that price.  Maybe Allwinner had some yield problems and all the chips in the Classic have a bad core in them which would make them hard to sell but Nintendo got them for a song and they're fine for emulators. - GuyZero

Thanks for finding that teardown, GuyZero. Knowing it's an Allwinner chip doesn't exactly confirm the theory that the CPU was a rare thing going completely obsolete. I mean, there are loads of A7/Mali parts that could have been substituted in place with a board respin. Unless that killed the profit margin on the product. - JoeZydeco

There's lots more at the discussion page.  It's an interesting idea that the Classic NES is running on substandard parts that Nintendo was able to gobble up cheaply for this little quick side project where any imperfections they may have does not matter, and if those cheap parts are now used up, naturally there won't be any more new units produced that can be sold for the attractive $60 price point.  It's certainly just as plausible as the other conspiracy theories floating around.  I never saw a Classic NES for sale in a store around my area, nor could I ever find one in stock online.  Short of amazing luck or the result of the blood oath, it looks like I'm going to miss out on owning one.  Join us on the next new episode of the Power Button podcast, Episode 235, for more on the end of the Classic NES and rare video games.

The Japanese Cultural Significance Of Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros.Much of the lore and visual design out of Super Mario Bros. seems like it was developed during a fever dream or drug trip: a turtle king kidnaps a mushroom princess, leading to a heroic plumber to save the day by jumping on and throwing throwing fireballs at turtles, mushrooms, squid, and beetles.  It's easy to mark this all down as "Games: weird, am I right?", but over at Reddit in the Ask Historians section, the question about whether or not any of the elements from Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 have any Japanese cultural significance.  The answers provide some interesting information that while seemingly common knowledge to the long-time gaming community is written from a more academic stance than your average list of "didja know?" gaming factoids.  Best of all, it cites sources.

Super Mario Bros. features surly traitor-mushrooms, green and blue turtles, black turtles that can't be hurt by fire, hammer-throwing turtles and giant, spiky dinosaur turtles, along with red-and-orange mushrooms that make you grow, green-and-yellow mushrooms that give you a chance to recover from failure and bouncing stars that make you impervious to damage.

SMB2 has a pink, cross-dressing lizard that spits eggs, and is arguably even weirder than SMB1.

How much of these were riffs on Japanese legends (or perhaps something more contemporary?) and how much was just weird videogame stuff?

The answers touch on Mario's Jumpman origins, Bowser's original ox-like design, the ever-assumed link between Super Mushrooms and psychedelic drugs, how level design trains players, the ever-present tale behind the Lost Levels, and other interesting background elements.  It's definitely worth a read even if you know all of this stuff already.

Capcom Relaunching Beloved NES Disney Afternoon Classics

032253078a3e2237563d6a5e9fdb14b0Capcom had a knack for turning the cartoons of the Disney Afternoon into fun video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in the 1990s, and while the company did revive DuckTales for a modern high definition remake a few years ago, this time it's bringing back the original 8-bit versions of games like Darkwing Duck, DuckTales and its sequel, Tale Spin, and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers and its sequel in their classic pixel glory for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, and PC along with some extra modes and bonus features.  It's developed by the team that worked on the Mega Man Legacy Collection, Digital Eclipse.  Capcom Unity has the details.

REWIND! So it’s probably been a while since you’ve played these games, or maybe it’s your first time diving into them. Either way, some of those jumps and surprise enemy attacks can really throw a wrench into an otherwise perfect run. Enter the Rewind feature: just hold down a button, go back in time, and rewrite history by nailing those sick pogo tricks and crate throws.

TIME ATTACK! Race against the clock and use the online leaderboards to compare your best times with other players across the web. Note you cannot use the Rewind feature here, so make sure you practice beforehand!

BOSS RUSH! Just looking for a quick way to challenge your reflexes? Good news: we have some pretty intense boss battles waiting for you. Just like in Time Attack mode, it’s a true test of your skills, so no help from the Rewind feature here either.

But wait, there’s more! On top of these retro classic games and the new game modes, we also dug really deep and found tons of awesome material from when the original games were still being made back in the 80s and 90s! We’ve got concept art, sketches, music, and other fun extras.

Anything that brings Darkwing Duck back for another round is incredibly appreciated.  These were all great games in their prime and they still hold up today.  The original DuckTales is an outright classic, DuckTales 2 and Rescue Rangers 2 were hard to find even when they were new, and Darkwing Duck is basically a Mega Man game thanks to its shared development lineage.  The Rescue Rangers games even include the original co-op two-player modes.  There should be something here for everyone.  The Disney Afternoon Collection releases digitally on April 18, 2017 for $19.99.  Surprisingly, there are no plans for a release on any Nintendo platform at this time.

Meet Bobson Dugnutt And The Other Players Of Fighting Baseball

Bobson DugnuttThe 16-bit glory days offered many sports titles from the world of baseball, some of which licensed the names of actual Major League Baseball players to add realism and authenticity to the experience.   1994's MLBPA Baseball from Electronic Arts, for instance, uses the names of players based on the 1993 season's major league players.  The game's Japanese version, released in 1995 as Fighting Baseball for the Super Famicom, is not one of those games.  You see, the team behind Fighting Baseball did not have any arrangements with the Major League Baseball Players Association or Major League Baseball or pretty much anyone related to baseball at all and had to come up with their own original player names, but it would seem that staff wasn't up to speed on what makes an North American name a proper name and not nonsense that almost sounds like it could be a proper North American name if only you turned it sideways.  And that's how we end up with hilarious names like Bobson Dugnutt taking the field.  Enjoy this little slice of absurdism.

Power Button - Episode 231: No Sir, I Don't Like It

Power ButtonFor as much as we love video games, admittedly there are some very famous and popular franchises that, for one reason or another, just do not appeal to me or Blake Grundman.  On this week's episode of the Power Button podcast, we shine a light on our antipathy for games like Final Fantasy, Tekken, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil.  We want to like them, but they just make it so difficult for us!  Find out why in an hour of conversation.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.

The Bomberman Recap

BombermanIn advance of Bomberman's glorious return to the console world stage later this week in Super Bomberman R for the Nintendo Switch, it's worthwhile to review the bomber king's mighty legacy across the console, handheld, and mobile gaming spaces.  Chris Scullion at Tired Old Hack looks back at Bomberman's many appearances and variations over the years from his early days in Dynablaster to becoming one of the gaming heroes to appear on a high definition television to the rise of sidekick Pommy to the unfortunate misstep that was Act Zero and beyond.  I hope that Super Bomberman R lives up to expectations.  I would love to be able to introduce my girlfriend to the wonders of the traditional Bomberman style of co-op play.  The franchise has been gone for so long and flown under the radar so low that she's never played one.  I really want to fix that!

Blue Bomber Music Break With Knight Man And Mega Man 10

Wp_02_1600x1200You all should know by now how much I love the talented artists at OverClocked ReMix.  Their remixes and rearrangements of classic video game music make up the bulk of my playlist these days, but I'm always looking to add more music to my archive.  The latest addition is a rocking remix that intertwines music from Mega Man 10's Dr. Wily stages with the Knight Man stage theme from Mega Man 6, and the resulting combination sounds like it would be perfectly at home in one of the early Mega Man X game.  Check out "Chivalrous Medicinal Murder" from Liam Charalambous if you day needs a little energy kick.

The Oral History Of Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-Man

Namco's smash arcade hit Pac-Man was all the rage in 1980, but could it be even better?  What if the game featured multiple mazes?  What if the bonus fruit could move?  What if the ghosts could potentially catch our protagonist when he hid in that one corner?  A few enterprising young students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found out in 1983 when they created an add-on kit for Pac-Man that added these elements called, er, Crazy Otto.  It wasn't long before American Pac-Man distributor Midway heard about Otto and made an offer to the team that would change the arcade scene forever as Benj Edwards chronicles in his oral history of Ms. Pac-Man

Macrae: As soon as Midway said, 'Let's make a sequel out of it,' we no longer had to avoid the Pac-Man name. They originally said, 'Let's make it into Super Pac-Man.' I think that was the first game that they suggested.

We looked at the intermissions. Even on Crazy Otto, in the first intermission, a yellow Pac character with legs called Otto meets a red Pac character with legs, which obviously had to be a female Otto, because a heart goes above their head. They chase each other, and eventually a baby is brought to them by the stork.

We were looking and going, 'Wow, we've got a whole storyline here about how a character meets a red character that's female. Why don't we turn this into a male and female Pac character, and build a bit more personality into them?'

It's a fascinating tale full of twists, clever programming, lawsuits, and a walking pretzel.  You should definitely make time to read this one in full.  I had no idea what this team went through to make their vision a commercial product and that they occasionally need to remind Pac-Man owner Namco that they did, in fact, create Ms. Pac-Man and are entitled to a piece of the merchandising pie.  I'm so glad that someone is collecting and telling these kinds of development stories.  Every major cultural milestone video game needs an oral history article like this one.

Streets Of Rage 2 Starring Bubsy The Bobcat

Bubsy in Streets of Rage 2

Time for a quick history lesson!  Sega launched the sequel to its signature side-scrolling beat-'em-up title Streets of Rage in 1992 which went on to become a major seller and a mainstay in many Genesis owners' libraries.  A year later in 1993, publisher Accolade tried to break into the side-scrolling platformer mascot genre with Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind which was a fun enough romp that inspired a few sequels, but was largely buried in the mascot glut of the early 1990s.  You'd never expect these two franchises to cross paths, but now here in our amazing future where former franchise rivals become best of friends, a ROM hacker named Metal64 has signed Bubsy up for a guest appearance in Streets of Rage 2 where he now appears as a fully playable fighter.  I hope this is just the beginning of this sort of thing.  So many out-of-work mascots could find new jobs in brawler games.  Plok in Final Fight!  Aero the Acro-bat in Splatterhouse!  The Battletoads in Double Dragon!  Well, OK, maybe that last one has already been done, but it's still a fun idea.

(via Tiny Cartridge)

Get Screwed With Drill Dozer

Drill Dozer

You'd think that when a video game has "from the makers of Pokémon" as an attribute, it would garner lots of attention, but Nintendo / Game Freak's 2006 Game Boy Advance release Drill Dozer failed to attract as large an audience as Pikachu and company.  Featuring a built-in rumble pak motor in the game cartridge, Drill Dozer follows the adventures of benevolent thief Jill Dozer and big drill mech on her journey to rescue her father from a rival gang of thieves.  Along the way she'll use her drills to tighten and loosen screws in a platformer puzzle adventure that really should have caught on more than it did.  Hardcore Gaming 101 reviews Drill Dozer's case.

The eponymous Drill Dozer is exactly as it sounds: a walking tank with arms that form a huge screw bit. While far from a stealthy vehicle, the simple straightforwardness of its design and mechanics finds a plethora of uses. Sure, it serves as your sole means of offense as well as a great way to reek destruction of walls, but the heavy drill proves its versatility as a means to deflect projectiles, turn cranks, bore through tunnels, and even twist the tumblers in safe locks. The drill arms can spin clockwise or counter-clockwise with the press of the L or R buttons, with many puzzles based on the "righty tighty, lefty loosey" mnemonic; they're even color-coded with blue/red for L/R respectively. This leaves the game rather unique as the B button is placed as a secondary passive role like entering doors or answering messages from your crew. Those shoulder triggers will get quite the workout as every obstacle Jill faces is solved with either jumping, drilling, or the combination of both.

I love a solid platformer so I eagerly bought Drill Dozer when it was released and played it on my Nintendo DS.  It builds a wonderful framework for future titles that never came to be.  There's so much world-building happening in this game that it's impressive that it doesn't derail the actual game experience.  This is a game packed with levels and challenges.  Establishing all of the characters and their motivations complements the entire experience and I was eagerly awaiting a Wii sequel that never came.  Drill Dozer is available now on the Wii U's Virtual Console, so if you overlooked it over a decade ago, I recommend you try it now.  You won't be disappointed.