Retro/Classic Feed

Virtual Boy Strikes Back In Luigi's Mansion 3

Luigi's Mansion 3When a Nintendo game really wants to commit to a gag, it goes all out to ride that joke as far as it can go.  Chris Kohler at Kotaku raises the recent example of Luigi's Mansion 3 for the Nintendo Switch following in the footsteps of its predecessor titles by outfitting Luigi not with a Game Boy Horror from the original Mansion or a Dual Scream from the sequel, but with something much more red and failed.

Early on in the game, Professor E. Gadd gives Luigi a way to communicate with him as he trawls the many floors of the hotel. It’s his latest invention… the Virtual Boo.  Nearly 25 years later, the Virtual Boy still fascinates video game likers for its sheer ridiculousness; a “virtual reality” system that projected monochrome red graphics in a headset to create a rudimentary 3D effect. It was pure out-of-left-field Nintendo, but this time it was way over the foul line, and Nintendo had to discontinue Virtual Boy within a year of its release.

I absolutely love this.  The Virtual Boo!  It's perfect and I didn't see it coming.  Using the VB even shades the screen a familiar tint of red and headache and the upgrade cartridges for the device are shaped like the Virtual Boy game paks of days gone by.  It's fantastic when a long-time game developer and publisher isn't afraid to poke a little fun at itself and leave its more recent fans wondering just what the hell is going on.  The Virtual Boo gimmick feels like the culmination of a wonderful twenty-five-year-old in-joke and those of us who remember 1995 are in on the gag.

I Have Exactly One Sega Dreamcast Story And This Is It

Sega DreamcastToday is the twentieth anniversary of Sega's release of its final console (not counting reissued mini hardware), the Dreamcast, in North America.  It seems like everyone in the gaming community has a Dreamcast story to share today, and so do I.  In fact, I have just one Dreamcast story.  Only one.  And this is it.  1999 was the year that I graduated high school and moved away to the big city to start college, so by September of that year I was on a trajectory that took me away from video games for a brief while.  My main console was still the Nintendo 64 and the last game I'd bought for it was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time nearly a year prior.  I wasn't gaming much and even if I had been, I was a Nintendo gamer through and through at this point in my life, so whatever Sega was doing after the bombshell that was the Saturn wasn't really on my radar.  9/9/99 came and went for me without notice or awareness.

Skip ahead almost two years.  By 2001 I was catching up on the last few N64 games I'd missed out on such as Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie with my eye on the upcoming Nintendo GameCube.  One summer weekend I was browsing around at the mall, killing time at FYE, when I saw a Dreamcast kiosk for the first time.  By now Sega had announced it was withdrawing from the console market, so I really don't know why FYE went to the trouble of setting up a demo station for the console, but nevertheless it was there and showcasing the recently released Sonic Adventure 2.  If any game during the Genesis years would have made me cross over to the Sega side of the street, it was Sonic, so I picked up the controller and took the game for a run.  Instead of a speedy Sonic level, my first experience with the game was the Dr. Robotnik mech shooter level at Prison Island.  The game caught me by surprise with its playable villains and emphasis on story in addition to action.  Next up was my introduction to Shadow the Hedgehog, a character that, for me, came out of nowhere and made me wonder just how much I'd missed in the post-Genesis franchise lore, but the sense of motion and twisting level designs had my attention.  This was fun!  It was a shame that this game was tethered to a dead console.  If only it was ported to GameCube, I would be able to enjoy it properly.  That was the end of the demo, so I put the controller down, walked away to the DVD aisles, and didn't really give it a second thought.

Sonic_182I'm sure you know where this story ends.  Sega brought Sonic Adventure 2 to the GameCube less than a year along with, shortly thereafter, the original Sonic Adventure, and eventually both games were made available on  a variety of other consoles and on PC, so there are no shortage of ways to play these games today with a variety of gameplay and visual enhancements compared to the original Dreamcast versions.  Everyone remembers how the Dreamcast was quirky, inventive, and trailblazing in its own way, but my only firsthand exposure to the system is bemused curiosity at a kiosk demo for a dead platform and idly wishing its marquee series would end up on a console I owned.  It seems to me that given all of the other Dreamcast titles that made their way to other platforms means that both legacies are valid.

Super NES Games Come To Nintendo Switch

Nintendo SwitchNintendo seems to have drained the well of worthwhile available Nintendo Entertainment System games to bring to its Nintendo Switch Online service judging by the past few months worth of lackluster releases, so now is a perfect for the company to switch gears and get to the truly good stuff: Super NES games.  Debuting today as part of the paid service, twenty games are available for play including some all-time heavy hitters such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart, and Star Fox along with some obscurities like Stunt Race FX and Demon's Crest.  In fact, this is the first re-release for Stunt Race FX having skipped the previous three Virtual Console services and the Super NES Mini.  Check out the initial release list.

Nintendo Switch SNES games

I know there are the inevitable complaints in the gaming community that Nintendo is just serving up Super Mario World again and that these games should have been added to the service months ago, but they're here now, so let's all enjoy these classics and take the unfamiliar games for a spin.  The best games like these never get old!  Nintendo plans to add more games over time and there are plenty of all-star titles that I'd like to see included such as Super Mario RPG, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Chrono Trigger, EarthBound, and Kirby Super Star.  If you want to get into wishful thinking territory, there's always Star Fox 2 which so far has only appeared on the Super NES Mini and, for a deep cut of similarly unfamiliar proportions, there's Special Tee Shot which is the finished, unreleased game that became Kirby's Dream Course.  So much to play, so little time.

Power Button - Episode 292: Blast Processing Glory Days

Power ButtonThis week on the podcast we're celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive by recapping the evolution of the hardware, sharing our favorite Genesis memories, and looking ahead to the release of the Sega Genesis Mini.  Join us for an hour of discussion.  You'll have a blast (processing)!   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. 

Shareware Memory Lane

EGA TrekIn the days before Steam and the Epic Game Store, PC gamers would encounter new games in the form of shareware passed around for free via BBSs or for a small fee at your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  Gaming classics including Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Commander Keen, and Rise of the Triad all existed as games that offered the first episode for free and then, if you liked what you saw, you could send away for the remaining episodes of the game for a standard price.  Gamers were even encouraged to trade these free introductory episodes with friends; as in, share the software.  Shareware!  What a concept!  Over at ArsTechnica, Samuel Axon remembers some of the great classics from the world of DOS shareware including one of my old favorites that I hadn't thought about in years, EGA Trek, which is basically a Star Trek simulator with all of the Trek elements changed so as to not infringe on copyrights.

As the name suggests, one of EGA Trek's claims to fame was adapting the earlier Star Trek gameplay for the 16-color display format of the time. EGA Trek features a robust interface, a detailed, gridded galaxy map, a whole bunch of commands, and even a view window showing nearby ships, planets, and other objects of interest.

Your goal is to destroy all the invading ships from a rival space empire—a Klingon analog unfortunately called Mongols in this game. You travel between sectors, scan them, stop at starbases and planets for supplies, and battle enemy ships while managing your resources, redirecting power to the ship systems that need it, and conducting repairs.

I first encountered EGA Trek as a shareware download from a local BBS and then I later went on to buy the game on a 3.5" floppy disk from K-Mart.  None of those things exist anymore! All of the great PC games of the 1990s existed as shareware and people like me downloaded them over dial-up connections to try the latest titles from companies like Apogee and independent developers with a PO box and a dream.  The shareware model worked though.  I happily paid money for Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy after playing the shareware version of the game which encompassed basically half of the experience, but for every purchase like that there were also games that, for me, the shareware version was enough.  Duke Nukem 3D was awesome, sure, but I was happy with the three levels that the shareware version offered, so it was many years before I ended up buying the complete version on Steam.  There's still magic in those old shareware games, so check 'em out on modern digital distribution platforms where available or, hell, see if one of those old PO boxes is still open for business.

Pac-Man's Day Out

Pac-Man 2: The New AdventuresNamco and its partners hit it big with Pac-Man in 1980, but how do you take a maze craze and go larger for a new wave of success after the original experience starts to feel stale?  Hardcore Gaming 101 is chronicling all of Pac-Man's oddball sequels and spinoffs such as puzzler Pac-Attack and the educational Professor Pac-Man, but the game that you absolutely need to notice is 1994's Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures for the Super NES and Sega Genesis.  Dumping all of the maze stuff and focusing more on Pac-Man and his family as characters, Pac-Man 2 requires players to indirectly interact with Pac-Man and influence his behavior without directly controlling him.  It looks like a standard 2D platformer, but it's definitely not!

The actual gameplay would be best described as a point and click adventure, with one very important distinction. You don’t have direct control of Pac-Man himself, as he’ll wander around and interact with the world autonomously. You, the player, have control of a slingshot and a floating hand, which you’ll use to guide Pac-Man around the world. The hand is used to point left or right to get Pac-Man to move in that direction. The slingshot is used to get Pac-Man to notice specific objects, knock them over, or if you’re getting bored, to repeatedly pelt Pac-Man in the face with rocks. He doesn’t like that very much.

Indeed, Pac-Man’s mood and current opinion of you is a major gameplay mechanic, and determines how he’ll interact with the world around him. Various things around Pac-Man can occur to shift his mood, and he’ll often shift between several even without your input. Getting yelled at by the local farmer, for example, will sadden him, while having caterpillars fall on him will make him nervous of everything. There’s a variety of different emotions and degrees of which Pac-Man can feel, from ‘grouchy’, to ‘ear-steamingly, foot-stompingly enraged’, to ‘literally insane’, among many others.

Pac-Man lives in a well-defined world in this game and showcases a number of behaviors and animations far ahead of his time compared to other 2D characters of the era.  Sonic the Hedgehog gets a lot of attention for tapping his foot when he's bored, but Pac-Man spends this game swinging back and forth through a range of emotions from smooth confidence to optimistic joy to slightly miffed to downright pissed to shiveringly terrified.  Pac-Man isn't just a character on screen, he's your pixel pal, and working together the two of you are going to to share a grand adventure.  Treat him right (except when you need to make him mad to proceed) and you're in for a good time.

Power Button - Episode 291: Antiques Sideshow

Power ButtonEveryone wants to believe that a worn copy of Super Mario Bros. may be worth big money someday, but as Chris Kohler at Kotaku recently reported, there's actually some value in familiar games as collectors from other markets swoop into the video game world to pay thousands for games that most people would pass over as common.  On this week's podcast, Blake Grundman and I discuss this new influx of interest in retro games and whether or not it's good for the gaming community at large.  Then we see if either of us has any hidden gold in our collections as Blake digs into his bins of old game cartridges and we find out just how much that used copy of Iron Man X-O Manowar Heavy Metal for Game Boy and a sealed copy of WipeOut 64 are really worth.   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. 

Power Button - Episode 290: Now We're Reminiscing About Portable Power

Power ButtonIn celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Nintendo's famous Game Boy, Blake Grundman and I spend this week's podcast discussing the iconic portable gaming system and remembering our favorite handheld memories.  From our own Game Boy origin stories to classic games such as Super Mario Land, Tetris, and Wario Land to underwhelming licensed games including Ren & Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures and Home Alone, we honor the big gray brick and recommend a few games you may have overlooked in the past three decades.  Oh, and of course I'm going to tell you to play Bionic Commando.  You had to know that was coming.  And did someone say Pokémon?   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. 

Nintendo Expands

Super NES expansion portThese days if you find a slot on a piece of Nintendo hardware it's likely that it's a place for a standardized piece of technology such as an SD card or a USB port, but the company used to have a knack for adding proprietary ports and slots to its consoles that were used for increasingly esoteric add-ons and upgrades.  Check out this fun article from the Nintendo World Report archives chronicling the history of Nintendo's various expansion ports from Nintendo Entertainment System to Nintendo 64 to Nintendo GameCube and beyond.  How many of these add-ons did you own?  Hint: likely zero.

First up is the Famicom and NES. Unlike the NES, the Famicom came with hard-wired controllers. Any extra controllers and peripherals could be plugged into Nintendo's first expansion port, which was located at the front of the machine. This port was used to host light guns, 3D shutter glasses, keyboards, extra controllers, and other items. Many system expansions plugged directly into the cartridge slot, such as the Famicom Disk System and the Famicom Modem. The Sharp Twin Famicom, a system that combined the Famicom and Disk System into one machine, added an additional three expansion ports, but these remained unused.

The NES shipped with an expansion port on the bottom of the console. On multiple occasions, modems were planned to be connected there. However, the NES expansion port never received a commercial application. Originally, the port was covered by a snap-in cover, but later model systems actually had a plastic tab covering the port completely. The port was still there, but the plastic actually had to broken off to access the port. The lack of expansion port utilization outside of Japan was an ongoing trend that started with Nintendo's first system.

Nintendo had lofty goals that usually went underwhelming fulfilled with most of the expansion port accessories debuting in Japan to provide niche gameplay experiences with experimental ideas and then appearing nowhere else.  Third parties filled the gap with increasingly obscure hardware that used the ports without achieving much success.  The NES, Super NES, and N64 all featured commonly unused expansion ports overseas and it wasn't until the GameCube era that the ports saw a mainstream use with the Game Boy Player (a pair of networking add-ons which also made use of the ports were offered for sale online in limited quantities and worked with a handful of games).  Hobbyists have long since cracked the mysteries of these ports, too.  While Nintendo didn't get around to doing much with these ports internationally, I'm glad they were there.  Had history unfolded a little differently, we could have been able to experience some of the unique ideas made possible by the expansion hardware and those ports were the gateway to making that happen. 

A Family Guy Salute To GoldenEye 007

Family Guy - GoldenEye 007Family Guy has skewered pop culture for two decades and I always laugh the most when the production team sets their sights on a classic video game.  In Season 17's "Griffin Winter Games", Peter Griffin and his daughter Meg are captured while trespassing in North Korea and must stage a thrilling escape in the style of a nostalgic video game.  Peter suggests they use Rare's famed GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 as their inspiration, and what follows is a loving tribute to the console's most beloved shooters.  From the ammo count in the lower left corner of the screen to the targeting reticule that appears when Meg needs to target bolts to shoot open a grate to the little cinematic cut scenes, Family Guy knows the source material and has fun with it.  Peter even offers fun observations about the gameplay and environment while they make their escape.  It's an unexpected moment that will make GoldenEye fans smile.