Retro/Classic Feed

Hallmark NES Ornament Is The Real Deal

NES ornamentHallmark has done it again with its recently released Keepsake ornament of a classic Nintendo Entertainment System.  I ordered mine last week when it became available and happily received it yesterday.  Sculpted by Rodney Gentry, the little NES is incredibly detailed and includes tiny little video and audio ports plus antenna connector, channel switch, and power input.  The control deck door even flips open to reveal a Super Mario Bros. game pak inside.  Underneath the ornament is a small compartment for batteries (representing the infamous unused expansion port on the real console).  Press the Power button and the red LED lights up and the ornament plays the overworld theme from Super Mario complete with flagpole tune and end-of-level fireworks.  It's a must-own ornament for all NES fans.  I'm not even saving it for a Christmas tree.  It's taking a place of honor on my game room shelf.  Check out the embedded video below to see and hear it in action.

Street Fighter Begins

Street FighterCapcom's Street Fighter II and its various upgrades tend to get most of the attention in the gaming world, but when telling the story of the game that revived the arcade market in the early 1990s, it's important to go back to the very beginning.  While the original Street Fighter hasn't aged well and doesn't have much replay value today, at the time it was the start of something big.  Polygon is on a mission to chronicle all of the Street Fighter history over the next several months starting with the first game in the series that was greatly overshadowed by its successors.  Here's a piece of the detailed oral history that describes the game's original control method that involved pneumatic sensors that players would physically pound with fists instead of the traditional buttons.

Takashi Nishiyama (Street Fighter director, Capcom Japan): The problem was, during location tests, we realized that it was very tiring to hit the sensor over and over. It was basically like exercising. The whole point of monetizing this business was to get people to become repeat customers, where they would put in 100 yen coins over and over again so we could make money. And when you're getting tired from playing the game, that's not going to happen.

Todd Cravens (son of Bill Cravens, Street Fighter vice president of sales and marketing, Capcom USA): You had to beat the hell out of it. I remember playing it for the first time and being absolutely exhausted. Everyone was kind of like, "Oh my goodness. It's gonna be hard to get the second and third quarter on this." [...] They were doing a big unveiling of this at a gym in Philadelphia for the U.S. distributors, and they had boxers there who [played the game], and even those guys were tired afterwards.

Street Fighter was ported to the TurboGrafx-CD and a handful of computer platforms of the time, but an easily accessible console version was never produced (the game was apparently slotted for the Nintendo Entertainment System once upon a time, but was never released). The easiest way to play Street Fighter today is the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection which includes it and all of its sequels through the II, Alpha, and III branches.  I played through it once for the experience but see no need to go back to it.  Unlike the depth of II or the dazzle of the Alpha games, there's just not much going for it.  Animation frames are limited and the playable characters (Ryu and Ken) are identical, but there's definitely the seed of an idea in there.  It's important to play from a historical perspective of understanding how the series began.  Such importance, but don't forget there are many games like these all over the world!

Official Mario Paint VHS Teaches Digital Artistry

Mario Paint VHSNintendo's 1992 release Mario Paint for the Super NES sought to turn the console's audience into artists and musicians with its suite of creative tools, and while the game came with an instructional manual, the learning curve could be steep if you didn't have a basic grasp on the concepts behind digital art and music.  Nintendo published an official player's guide packed with stamp templates and basic tips to get you started on your creative adventure, but in Japan you could also get an official Mario Paint instructional videotape.  Released by Ape Inc., this thirty-minute video explains how to use the tools in far more detail than any printed page could ever hope and shows off some of the creations developed by the video team.  James Eldred at Mostly Retro bought the VHS and ripped it into a YouTube video for posterity. He also has some of the promotional inserts for other guides that came packed in with it, so be sure to go to his site for the full story.

I really wish I would’ve had something like this when I was a kid and playing with Mario Paint. There are some really fantastic tips in here. Using stamps to make ultra-fine lines, for instance, I don’t know if I ever thought of that. I only used stamps to make pixel art.

I enjoyed messing around with Mario Paint as a kid, but never accomplished much beyond recreating sprites from my favorite games with the stamp tool (more pixel art!) and tinkering with the music editor.  Nintendo Power would occasionally run images from Mario Paint animation videos sent in by very talented artists that blew away anything I could ever hope to create.  It was intimidating stuff and helped drive me back over to Super Mario Kart when the inspiration ran out.

Zelda 3 Lives On

Electronic Gaming MonthlyThose of us who grew up with gaming in the 1990s relied on magazines such as Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly for our news on new titles, and often those titles were teased in print before they had official titles.  Everyone was talking about Zelda 3 before it was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and, and before we bought The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time we knew it as Zelda 64.  The thing is, these shorthand titles tend to stick.  Clyde Mandelin discusses the staying power of temporary titles over at Legends of Localization.

I’m not alone, actually – many other gamers my age still refer to A Link to the Past as “Zelda III” out of habit. A large part of it is that magazines at the time called it “Zelda III” even though it had a subtitle. This led everyone to call it that on playgrounds, in homes, at workplaces, etc. Basically, for a short period, “Zelda III” was what almost everyone called it, at least for short.

A similar thing happened with “Link’s Awakening” and “Zelda IV”. My recollection is that this numerated title didn’t stick around nearly as long, so it’s rarer to hear anyone refer it to as “Zelda IV” these days.

While this kind of thing isn't exclusive to the Zelda franchise (Super Mario World was colloquially called Super Mario Bros. 4 before its debut and the game even carries that subtitle in Japan), the wordy titles of the franchise tend to make the numerical shorthand something of a necessity.  Somehow I expect that if the third Sonic the Hedgehog game was entitled Sonic the Hedgehog and the Floating Island, we'd still refer to it in passing as Sonic 3.  There are too many Zelda games today to count them off in sequential order, but for a while there it was a handy tool. 

Power Button - Episode 307: Favored Endings

Power ButtonWe're looking at some of our favorite video game endings on this week's new podcast episode with a trip through our dreams with Super Mario Bros. 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, a long game of endings spanning the Mega Man X series into the Mega Man Zero series, Halo Reach's unhappy ending, Mass Effect 2's suicidal ending, Portal 2 ending with a song, and much more.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's TV And Movie Ventures Recapped

The Super Mario Bros. Super ShowDepending on which generation's members you ask you would think that Nintendo's only forays into the world of movies and television shows were either 1993's Super Mario Bros.: The Movie which is notorious for being... let's just say something else, or of course the juggernaut that is Pokémon.  The company has licensed several other of its properties to film and animation studios over the years, and rather than let those slip through the cracks, Matt Paprocki writing for Polygon has put together a detailed recap of all of those productions spanning The Super Mario Bros. Super Show in 1989 up through 2019's Pokémon Detective Pikachu with stops at Donkey Kong Country, Kirby, and F-Zero along the way.  Here's a piece of the article detailing an early problem facing the Super Show producers:

Work on Super Show ran into an early problem. Nintendo was new to this, but DIC’s team sought to closely mirror the in-game content — things like the sounds of Mario grabbing a coin or sliding down a pipe — to capture the authentic Mushroom Kingdom aesthetic. The issue?

Super Show creators couldn’t use the game’s direct audio because Nintendo provided it in a digital form meant for the NES. “[The sound effects] were not compatible with any other format, so we couldn’t play them,” says John Grusd, a producer at DIC Entertainment.

The Super Show team went on to tape some sound effects while playing the games, and cleaned them up afterward. Others came from musical instruments or techniques such as foley, in an effort to best match the distinctive 8-bit tones; either way, it required more work for DIC.

Based on Nintendo's working relationship with the animation studio DIC as showcased in this article, it's a wonder the producers were able to accomplish anything considering how Nintendo wanted to be hands-off and yet exert some control.  I wonder how many questions and concerns were lost in translation along the way.  Today I'd imagine that the studio would be able to use digital files or, failing that, would call their counterparts at Nintendo to ask for the sounds in another format.  This history makes it sound like Nintendo sent a box to the studio filled with limited elements to use in making the show and then that was the last of the cooperation.  I'm glad that Nintendo has taken more of an interest in adapting their properties today and is more interested in what they and their partners can accomplish by working together.

Sega Announces Game Gear Micro

Game Gear MicroSega is prepping another mini console to follow up its successful Sega Genesis Mini, and while many fans have clamored for a Dreamcast Mini or Saturn Mini, the company is instead going even more niche with a tiny Game Gear.  Coming in October exclusively to Japan (as of this announcement) is Game Gear Micro, an impractically small version of the company's Game Boy competitor that measures only three inches wide with a one inch screen.  While that is adorably cute, it's much too small to play as anything more than a quick gimmick.  Four colors will be available, each color model will have four different games built into it, and each model costs ¥4980 (approximately $45 USD).  Luke Plunkett at Kotaku has more.

The handheld is only 80mm wide, while the screen is a tiny 1.15 inches across, though it’ll be a little easier to see if you preorder all four handhelds at once, as you’ll get a free replica of the original Game Gear’s “Big Window” magnifying accessory.

Now for some bullshit: each of the four different colours comes with four different games installed on it.

The black one comes with Sonic, Out Run, Royal Stone and Puyo Puyo Tsu. Blue comes with Sonic & Tails, Gunstar Heroes, Sylvan Tale and Baku Baku Animal. Red includes Game Gear Shinobi, Columns and the two Megami Tensei Gaiden games, while yellow has Shining Force, Shining Force II, Shining Force: Final Conflict and Nazo Puyo Aruru no Ru.

There's no way this would fly outside of Japan.  The Game Gear just doesn't have enough nostalgia cache in places like the United States, especially if the meager game library is split across four different hardware models that one can barely see to play.  An international version would only catch my interest if it were a larger device and had many more worthwhile games built it.  The problem with that is there aren't very many worthwhile Game Gear games to begin with that would appeal to an American audience.  You'd have to include all of the Sonic the Hedgehog games (some of which are downright dismal, such as Sonic Blast) and favorite fare like Streets of Rage, Ristar, and more Shinobi.  Hell, there was even a decent enough little Mega Man port for Game Gear, so throw that in too.  Come back with at least twenty fun games built into this thing, Sega, and we'll talk. 

Lost Samurai Shodown Sequel Shows Up

Samurai Shodown V PerfectSomewhere in the middle of the major Street Fighter versus Mortal Kombat fighting game wars of the 1990s was SNK with its fighting favorites such as Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown.  Each of these title led to several sequels and revisions in the arcade and home console markets.  Samurai Shodown is set for a compilation re-release in June from the developers / archivists at Digital Eclipse, and in the process of working on the project they were able to snag a lost, unreleased version of Samurai Shodown V to include in the collection.  Ian Walker at Kotaku chronicles how this all came about and why the inclusion of Samurai Shodown V Perfect is such a lucky happening.

After being tapped by SNK to develop Samurai Shodown V and its Special follow-up in the early 2000s, development studio Yuki Enterprise and director Kouji Takaya soon set about working on a third and final update. Samurai Shodown V Perfect was meant to fix some of the gameplay issues still present in Special as well as introduce new stories for every character. The only problem was that no one told SNK, who only found out about the game when Yuki installed it in a single local arcade for testing. As work had already begun on Samurai Shodown VI, SNK quickly shut down the Perfect project, relegating its legacy to a handful of blurry photos from the test site.

Sheffield later told Kotaku via email that, despite it being generally “frowned upon” to hang onto company data, SNK was actually ecstatic to learn that Takaya still had a copy of Samurai Shodown V Perfect on hand. He credits SNK employee Adam Laatz with making sure the proper channels were notified and permissions were granted within the company to allow Perfect into the collection. Getting the game accepted took work, but thanks to a group effort, players will finally be able to experience this unreleased fighter.

I love when this kind of thing happens.  Absolutely love it.  Here we have a final revision of a game that was unceremoniously dumped by the publisher that, years later, is finally being released so the fans can experience and enjoy it.  What's to be gained by leaving it in a metaphorical vault to gather dust and be otherwise lost to time?  We've seen other publishers dig up their buried titles in the past few years.  Nintendo is starting to build a reputation for mining its vaults for finished-but-unreleased games such as EarthBound Beginnings (originally meant for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991, but held back for the Wii U's Virtual Console in 2015) and Star Fox 2 (planned for the Super NES in 1996, but missing in action until it was part of the Super NES Classic console in 2017).  What other finished-but-cancelled games would you like to see given another chance?

Lost "Puc-Man Fever" Variant Challenges Everything You Think You Know About "Pac-Man Fever"

Puc-Man FeverI know that you know all about Buckner & Garcia's famous "Pac-Man Fever" hit single from the 1981 album of the same name (seriously; it hit number nine on the Billboard Top 100 chart that year).  After all, you have the original vinyl album, the cassette release, and even the 2002 re-recorded CD version and 2015 remix inspired by the Adam Sandler film Pixels.  The poster is hanging on your wall right now, I bet.  What you, the "Pac-Man Fever" superfan, are missing is an exclusive Japanese variant of the song that was re-recorded as "Puc-Man Fever" to match the famed video game character's original Japanese name.  Lost Turntable has a look and a listen at this missing piece of gaming music history.

When the time came to release the song in Japan, Buckner & Garcia apparently went back into the studio to re-record the chorus of the song, changing every instance of “Pac” to “Puck.” If you ever wanted proof that record companies just had fucking millions to burn in the early 80s, there you go.

I highly doubt this version of the song ever got any other official release aside from the Japanese 7″ single. The album itself was never issued in Japan. Hell, the original version of “Pac-Man Fever” has never been re-issued on a proper Buckner & Garcia CD or digitally (any CD or iTunes version is a re-recorded take from the 90s). So I feel safe in assuming that this is a proper rarity.

Happy fortieth anniversary to you, Pac-Man, and thank you for everything you've done for the world of video games including, yes, "Pac-Man Fever".  Next time: the horrifying secret behind "Do The Donkey Kong".

The Rise And Fall Of Perfect Dark

Perfect DarkWhen you develop a first-person shooter for a console that isn't expected to sell many copies but then becomes a colossal hit and redefines how the genre is treated on consoles, what do you do for an encore?  That's the question asked of Rare's developers in the late 1990s after the company's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 became one of the best games on the console and one that is still remembered and revered today for its multiplayer mode.  The easy answer is to follow it up with a direct sequel and make Tomorrow Never Dies, but the better answer is to drop the James Bond license to create something original, refine the ideas that came about too late in the process to benefit GoldenEye, and push the limits of the console so hard that a hardware upgrade is required to make the most of the experience.  Over at Nintendo Life, James Batchelor has the story behind Rare's Perfect Dark on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

The team didn’t want to abandon everything it had accomplished with GoldenEye 007, of course. For most of them, the James Bond shooter was the first game they had ever made. They had developed a brand new engine, so it made sense to build upon that and create a new title in the same vein, with similar gameplay and the same “weapon centricity,” as Hollis put it.

From the very beginning, Perfect Dark was planned as a spiritual successor to GoldenEye, with the aim to have the game finished within just one year. In theory, the main effort would go into building new levels that ran on the previous game’s tech. But the team’s ambition expanded throughout the course of the project, and many of GoldenEye’s systems were improved and overhauled.

Perfect Dark was like the semi-sequel to GoldenEye, and it’s always difficult making a sequel,” recalls Mark Edmonds, who led development by the end. “Can you make it better than the first one? That should be easy, but generally, it isn’t. So everyone was in the mindset of ‘What can we do to make this better than GoldenEye?’ There were a lot of ideas for new features and everyone had thoughts about what could have gone into that game but didn’t.”

There's lots to unpack here including the creation of the game's protagonist, Joanna Dark, and how she fits into the storyline that aimed to surprise players with AI briefcases and an alien invasion.  All of the action required the N64 Expansion Pak add-on to play anything besides the basic multiplayer mode.  N64 development kits were equipped with more memory than retail N64 console, so it was very easy for the development team to pack in too many things that worked fine on the development kit but wouldn't work on a home console.  The Expansion Pak solved that problem.

The issue, Edmonds says, was the N64 developer kits had more memory than the home models, which made it all too easy to add in more features. The challenge of bringing the game’s size down to something that would fit in a single cartridge and run on a standard console became impossible, so he was relieved to see both the Donkey Kong and Zelda teams using the expansion. “It happened to be around the same sort of time we found we didn’t have enough memory either,” he recalls. “So we were lucky because if they weren’t doing that, we would have been stuck.”

Chesluk adds: “We did a load of work trying to get it down, spent a few months on it, but the best we could manage was the version you got without the Expansion Pak, where it’s a bit of multiplayer but it’s more of a taster. There was talk of bundling with the Expansion Pak at one point, but Donkey Kong 64 had already done that – although I’m not sure how much demographic crossover there was between people buying both Donkey Kong and Perfect Dark.”

I was a GoldenEye fan, although I'd only rented it a few times throughout my high school years, and by 2000 I was in college and was drifting away from video games for a while.  I had Donkey Kong 64 which came packed with the Expansion Pak, so I had everything I needed to play the game, and although I rented it a time or two, I never felt the need to buy it.  GoldenEye felt revolutionary in 1997, but Perfect Dark in 2000 felt outdated even with that Expansion Pak boost.  I figured I'd pass on this first installment and try again with the inevitable GameCube sequel, and we all know how that went instead.  I should revisit Perfect Dark sometime and give it a fair shake on its own merits.  It's one of those games that I may not have liked, but I definitely respect.