When we were recording our podcast this week, Blake Grundman described our grab bag of topics as a hodge podge. That phrase knocked loose an old childhood memory of a Commodore 64 game called, fittingly enough, Hodge Podge. A quick Internet search found that it's been archived and you can play it online in a browser. Hodge Podge is a primitive educational vocabulary game created by Leonard Bertoni & Rich Scocchera for preschool children that maps each key on the keyboard to a specific related animation and, sometimes, music. Press H and you'll be greeted with art of a horse. Press Q to see the quick worm scootch across the screen. E, as it turns out, is for Empty. Press J to see the word JUMP literally jump across the screen. Hodge Podge is one of the first games I remember playing for the Commodore 64 in 1985 along with another word-based edutainment title, Sea Speller. Goodness, games were so simple back then. Soon the Mario brothers would show up and then nothing would ever be the same again.
We have a hodge podge of smaller topics for you on this week's podcast as we touch on the recent Nintendo Direct, Microsoft taking select Xbox games to other platforms, retrogaming emulation made easy, the Borderlands movie trailer, and much more. Join us for another reach into the grab bag! Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, subscribe via iTunes, Amazon Music Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.
Nintendo released a batch of unexpected classic video games from developer Rare this morning for the suite of Nintendo Switch Online apps in North America. Subscribers can now enjoy Snake, Rattle, & Roll and R.C. Pro-Am for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Killer Instinct and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs for the Super NES, and the underrated Blast Corps for the Nintendo 64. This is the first time many of these games have been re-released at all. I'm happy to see them back, particularly Blast Corps which I sank a lot of time into back in the late 1990s but could never fully unlock everything. Looks like it's time to get moving. My wife, on the other hand, is excited for Snake, as it was one of her favorite games from her childhood. She even has a framed in-box copy hanging on her game room wall! I know she'll appreciate being able to play it without having to open up the frame.
I'm not a fan of video gaming rumors anymore. A product is released when it's released, and I have enough going on in my life that I can wait for it. Do I want to play the next Super Mario game? Absolutely. Do I have other things to do in the meantime? Also yes. That's why I'm not that disappointed when I read a report from Kyle Orland at Ars Technica indicating that Nintendo is now targeting the first quarter of 2025 as a release window for its successor to the Switch. He cites a number of sources backing this up and he is a trusted name, so I figured it was worth bringing this up.
Brazilian journalist Pedro Henrique Lutti Lippe was among the first to report on the new planned release window on Friday, and Video Games Chronicle expanded on that report the same day. The outlet cited its own sources in reporting that "third-party game companies were recently briefed on an internal delay in Nintendo’s next-gen launch timing, from late 2024 to early the following year."
By late Friday, those reports had been corroborated by Eurogamer, which said the launch would slip past the 2024 calendar year "but still [be] within the coming financial year" (ending in March 2025). Over the weekend, Bloomberg cited unnamed "people with knowledge of the matter" in reporting that some publishers have been told "not to expect the console until March 2025 at the earliest."
Orland goes on to mention that Nintendo so far as three major Switch titles announced for release this year which we know includes a remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and the original Princess Peach: Showtime. Mario vs Donkey Kong, a remake of the Game Boy Advance game from 2004, just released last week.
I admit I don't play my Switch as much as I used to, and I would say that I exclusively play, well, Nintendo's first-party exclusives. I'm sitting on a backlog pile that you wouldn't believe over on the Sony PlayStation 5 which is where most of my gaming time goes these days. There are a few Switch titles I need to make time to play sitting on my shelf, but I figure I have all the time in the world to get to those. Meanwhile, when the next Switch or whatever they call it comes out, I'll have to start all over again with fresh purchases of hardware, games, and accessories. That can get expensive quickly, and suddenly that backlog of already paid for games on the shelf looks pretty good. I'm too much of a Nintendo fan to say I won't be there on release day though (especially if a new Super Mario game is involved), so I will make those purchases, but I know in my heart it's not the most responsible thing to do. With all of that in mind, I say for Nintendo to take its time and do this right. I'm not in a hurry.
Of all of the Nintendo Game Boy Advance games that could be remade for Switch, I really didn't expect 2004's Mario vs. Donkey Kong, but here we are twenty years later and the game is due out at the end of the week. Previews so far have focused on the new levels and the two-player mode, but I'm excited about the soundtrack. The GBA version sported some fun music that was held back by hardware limitations, but now, on the Switch, the orchestra can run wild. Consider the game's title theme, for instance. On the GBA you can recognize snippets of the Super Mario Bros. overworld theme and Donkey Kong Country's "Jungle Hijinx" theme bouncing off one another, but the Switch version takes the song to another level and features both characters' themes dancing and interweaving among each other to produce a unique take on familiar music. Check out both versions and, as they used to say in high school classes, compare and contrast.
It's time for a brief history lesson. Back in 1994, Nintendo began creating video gaming content for the BS-X Satellaview satellite modem add-on for the Super Famicom. This device connected to the console's AUX port and allowed players to download games and other content via satellite. Much of the content was recycled from retail Super NES releases, though some of it (such as an Excitebike sequel featuring Mario or a remake of the original The Legend of Zelda) was brand new. Curiously, some of the new content took the form of expansions of retail games. Consider F-Zero, for instance. The Sattelaview service offered a semi-sequel to the game that went unreleased on cartridge. While considered for international release on a cartridge, ultimately nothing more came of the project and when the Sattelaview service shut down for good in 2000, those new tracks were lost.
F-Zero fans are a committed bunch though and have never let a little something like "lost to time" stop them, and so after six years of work and offering a $5,000 bounty for the lost data, the F-Zero hacking community has created what it calls BS F-Zero Deluxe. Containing all ten of the new BS-X tracks split over two cups, four new cars, and a mode where you race against a course ghost, the Deluxe content is seamlessly added to the retail F-Zero cartridge data to create the ultimate Super NES F-Zero experience. You can download the patch files from Archive.org and load the resulting ROM into the emulator or original hardware of your choice. I've been talking with project programmer Guy Perfect about the effort that went into recovering the lost tracks and adding them to the base F-Zero game. You may remember him from such previous F-Zero hacks such as adding the 64DD tracks exclusive to the F-Zero X Construction Kit to F-Zero X and adding the lost e-Reader courses to F-Zero GP Legend. I'm going to turn things over to him because he can explain it much better than I can.
Capcom took Mega Man back to his 8-bit roots for Mega Man 9, structuring the game based on the features and abilities seen in Mega Man 2. By the time Mega Man 10 was in development, the team at Inti Creates had a little more freedom to experiment and iterate upon some interesting concepts. While the finished game has some new material including adding Bass as a playable character, a series of recently recovered early versions of the game for Microsoft Xbox 360 shows that there was a lot more planned for the game that was cut from the final release. Most interestingly, a co-op mode allowed two players to team up and tackle the game together! Rockman Corner has the full breakdown on the abandoned mode and several other cut features.
Each prototype build includes demonstration videos featuring the "Assist Co-Op Mode" and a set of "How to Play" instruction screens. From the footage and instructions, it appears that players had the option to assume the role of either Mega Man or Proto Man to tackle stages together and face obstacles not seen in the final game.
For example, in Commando Man and Pump Man's stage, as well as the first screen following the Weapons Archive fight in Wily stage 1, players encounter a blockade that impedes their progress. To dismantle it, both players must "Sync Up" to unleash a powerful Buster Shot. Players enter a "sync" state when they are in close proximity to each other, marked by a sparkling effect.
It's interesting to think that for all of the Mega Man sequels that aren't unusual novelty titles like racing or sports games, only two games included any sort of co-op mode, and those were the two arcade games, Mega Man: The Power Battle and Mega Man: The Power Fighters. Being able to tackle an entire traditional Mega Man game with a friend is one of those things I never knew I wanted, but now really need. I wonder why it along with the other abilities and modes seen in these prototypes were removed. They seem to work just fine. While the Mega Man franchise is now under the administration of a different studio within Capcom, maybe someday the new team will revisit some of these ideas. There's interesting potential here and I'd like to see it explored. Want to try the prototypes for yourself? Hidden Palace has them available for download.
The original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis has to be one of the most ported games of all time alongside arcade hits like Pac-Man. For what was meant at one time to be a console exclusive, Sega has sent Sonic out to as many devices as it can. Over at Fanbyte, De'Angelo Epps has chronicled many of those ports (the list stops short of appearances over the last decade; the article is dated December 1969 so I do not know when it was written) and denotes the little technical details that make them all different in their own unique way. There's versions without sound effects, versions split into multiple parts, versions with broken physics... something for everyone! Here's a bit on the Mega Play Arcade version (which is also now available on Nintendo Switch):
I bet a lot of you had no clue that Sonic the Hedgehog appeared in arcades. Well, back in 1991, Sega developed an arcade board capable of running Genesis/Mega Drive games in an odd attempt to bring the home console experience to arcades. Of course, Sega’s mascot had to make an appearance on such an artifact.
Mega Play Arcade Sonic the Hedgehog is just about the same exact game as its home console father. Besides the removing the continue system in favor of credits, the biggest change was the complete omission of Marble Zone and Special Stages, along with the removal of Act 3 from Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zone’s . Funnily enough, these stages are some of the least-liked portions of the original game. Depending on how much of a purist you are, this might be the best version of Sonic the Hedgehog yet!
Notably missing from the list is Sonic's inclusion in the Sony PlayStation 3 version of Sonic Generations where the game is a bonus unlockable, Sonic Classic Collection for the Nintendo DS which takes a common ROM file and corrupts it just enough to work in the DS's weird little Genesis emulator, and of course Sonic Origins which includes the iOS version from Christian Whitehead with additional features. For a totally complete list of all of the platforms on which you can play the game, check out Sonic Retro. This game gets around! You can get Sonic the Hedgehog just about everywhere and I'm sure we haven't seen the last of it.
One of my very first computer games was Ghostbusters for the Commodore 64, and being a fan of the animated The Real Ghostbusters (at age six, I hadn't seen nor did I even know there was a movie yet!), I eagerly played the game to completion many times over the years until my parents sold the C64 in favor of a Windows 3.1 PC from Gateway 2000. It's a tightly structured game that allows players to start their own Ghostbusters franchise and is just as much about money management and inventory than it is about zapping and trapping ghosts. There's even sections devoted to driving the Ecto-1 around New York City while vacuuming up ghosts. Here's a video of the game from start to finish to check out if you're unfamiliar with it.
Back in 2007, developer David Crane discussed the making of the game in an interview with Next Generation, although that article has since been lost to time. I even covered it here on PTB. I happened to come across it again via the Wayback Machine and thought it was worth bringing back around now that there have been several new Ghostbusters games produced since it was published.
But a team wasn’t enough on its own – it also required a head start. Happily, at the time the licence came his way, Crane had been hard at work on a game called Car Wars. It was this title that would help Crane crystallise the unusual design concept for Ghostbusters.
“In Car Wars you customised a car with weapons that you would use while driving around the city. Sound at all familiar?” says Crane. “There was no hope of finishing a new game in time without using work already in progress, so I had to tie the driving sequence to the Ghostbusters concept. And what better way than to change the weaponry on the car to ghost-catching tools? Of course, at no point in the film do the actors drive through the city vacuuming up ghosts, but why not? Let’s add a ‘ghost vacuum’ to the car and suck up wandering ghosts.”
I think the reason this game works so well is that it mirrors what the original film did. The game is essentially a business simulator with some shooter elements, and even director Ivan Reitman said that the movie is more of a "going into business" story than it is a straight sci-fi horror tale. It's a relatable touchstone that brings players in more than just shooting at ghosts and calling it a day. It's not enough to stop Gozer; you need to watch out for the bottom line, too. Crane didn't work on the many ports of the game to other computers and game consoles, and it definitely shows. The Nintendo Entertainment System version added more ghostbusting tools, but also tried to fix what wasn't broken and created a lesser experience. The Sega Master System version sticks closer to the source material and looks better, but is still just an imitation. There's some definite magic in that C64 version that wasn't duplicated anywhere else.
Another year done, so it's time for us to look back for our annual Game Of The Year episode. There are some surprises on this year's list as we each have a Top 6 that we're counting down, plus there's honorable mentions and a separate list for best remastered releases of the year. Join us for a supersized show! Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, subscribe via iTunes, Amazon Music Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.