Gorf (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 29 August, 2016

Released: 1981
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Dave Nutting Associates
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Vertical shooter
Played on: MAME emulator, gamepad

The very reason I went to weekly Retro Game of the… entries was because I was unable to produce quality content on a daily basis, and I thought I would be able to produce better, less hurried content with better gameplay on a weekly basis.

Unfortunately, this week isn’t going to be a shining example of what I had hoped would come of this move.

Basically, I’ve been very much under the weather all week, with one ailment or another keeping me down and not being motivated to work towards the goal of creating this week’s Retro Game of the Week.  So like I had to do when I was forcing out daily content, I just had to wing it this week with Gorf.  Sorry.

I absolutely adored Gorf in the arcades.  The game had an actual voice taunting you (a rough one, but still), the game was a combination of several gameplay types, including Space Invaders and Galaxian, and it was just challenging to play.  I basically fell in love with the game instantly.

Of course, many other games over the years have taken Gorf‘s spot in my heart as my favorites, but playing it now, I still hold a great fondness for the thing.  It is a very challenging space shooter without being a freaking bullet hell anti-fun nightmare.  What a concept, modern games.

Hopefully whatever I pick for next week will have a lot more to it.  Sorry, everyone.  But hell, when one day the city I live in decides that something has to spew caustic smoke into the air and absolutely destroy my lungs as only one day of a week of ailments, I think I’m entitled to have an excuse this one time.

 

Star Trek (Arcade) is the Retro Game of the Week for 22 August, 2016

Released: 1983
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Platform: Arcade
Genre: Space combat sim
Played on: MAME emulator, mouse

I just love it when I find a good game that I haven’t thought about or played in decades.

Of course, the early arcade years brought us the wonderful vector graphics game Star Wars, which has, of course, been featured here — but somehow, I had forgotten about another sci-fi vector-based shooter from the same era.  Both Trek and Wars have been the subject of many, many games over the years, but I think when you boil each down to their simplest elements, you get the best results.

The arcade version of Star Trek dispenses with all the talking, diplomacy, skirt-chasing, depictions of aliens that are basically human with a few ridges on their face, and cheesy effects (don’t get me wrong — these are the things that made the original Star Trek TV series great!) and has the Enterprise shooting Klingon scum.  You enter a sector of space (announced by a very Spock-like voice — not sure if it’s digitized or uses voice synthesis, but it’s pretty cool either way) that generally has at least one starbase that will refill some of your resources if you dock with it (basically collide with it) and enemy ships that will attack the Enterprise and/or your starbase (lose the starbase, lose a score bonus at the end of the level).  You can blast them normally or use a large area of effect bomb to destroy the enemies, and it all plays out in a normal perspective view at the bottom and an area map at the top so you know where everything is.  It all starts off pretty simple but gets absolutely frentic and chaotic as you progress, having tons of ships and enemy fire to dodge while hoping you can dock with your starbase for extra shields and resources before they (or you) are destroyed.

All in all, a very solid, fun game, pared down to a very effective simplicity in both gameplay and graphics (thanks to its clean yet awesome vector graphics approach).

So play it and may the Force be with you.  Oh wait, that’s that other thing, isn’t it?  Um… yer a wizard, Spock?  No?  Come with me if you want to live?  Dang, that’s not it either.  Yippie ki yay, motherfu–

Okay, I’ll stop.  Live long and prosper.  And if you don’t, insert more coins.

Metroid Too Much

Metroid II: Return of Samus was released for the original Game Boy handheld system back in 1991 (in the US, anyway).  It was a phenomenal release for the limited system and a worthy sequel to the original NES game.  Sure, the game was limited by its black and white host and didn’t have the enormous scope of the SNES successor, but it was good. I became very addicted to the little game and was able to win the game.  Controls were tight, the game was well designed, and it all just worked beautifuly.

Flash forward to the early 2010s (teens? 10s?  Naming the last couple of decades has sure been awkward), where someone known as “DoctorM64” started a personal project to remake Metroid II using modern graphics and borrowing gameplay elements from versions of Metroid after II.  A couple of weeks ago, the project, known as “AM2R” (Another Metroid II Remake) was released.

Unsurprisingly, it was swiftly struck down by Nintendo’s legal department.

I managed to grab a copy of it before it was taken away from the brighter corners of the internet (the download still lurks out there, in the shadows, if someone wishes to find it; the developer has even privately and quietly released an update fixing a few bugs).  Despite the updates and modernization of Metroid II, using many of the elements that I disliked from the Game Boy Advance versions, I was hoping that at least the spirit of the original remained.

Nope.

Unfortunately, mine is not a popular opinion; gaming press and players seem to be universally praising this remake, finding very little or nothing wrong with any of it.  It makes me feel bad that this remake will now be the “standard” version of Metroid II and will call the old, black and white, less detailed version with fewer features on the Game Boy “inferior”.  This makes me sad.

The original Metroid II had fair bosses that got more challenging over time in a natural progression.  The controls were simple yet effective.  The world was built around such simplicity and didn’t try to be pretentious or tell a story.  AM2R gets none of that right, as its bosses are the typical modern “artificial difficulty” cheap to fight and cheap to defeat variety, the controls paste on the Game Boy Advance moveset and build the world around the use of them (and even though you can disable some of those moves, the game still seems to be designed with them in mind, making movement unnecessarily awkward without them), controls are horribly stiff and feel off, it pastes in some Prime-like attempt at explaining the world around you via logs instead of simply letting the world speak for itself, there are tons of silly little unnecessary “hidden” aspects to the game that were either not hidden or didn’t exist in the original, and the overdone graphics make it difficult to navigate precisely at times.

It is yet another example of how remaking games is generally a bad idea.  You want to play a game?  Play the original.  There are so many ways to play the original copy of a game these days, both legally and otherwise, that there is no excuse not to.  And any remake is just going to pollute and co-opt the original vision of the game for its own, and just because it has “better graphics” means that modern gamers are going to flock to the new one, because they don’t understand a fundamental truth of gaming: graphics do not matter that much. Especially when you add graphical complexity for absolutely no reason.

In my heart, I hoped that Nintendo shut this project down not just because it was infringing on their property, but also for the same reasons I find the game distasteful.  Of course, this is probably not true, but I can hope.  Please, internet.  Go play the original Metroid II and remove this bastardized copy from existence.  We will all be much better off.

 

 

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the Retro Game of the Week for 15 August, 2016

Released: 1997 (!)
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Platform: PlayStation
Genre: Platformer
Played on: Mednafen emulator, Playstation gamepad

Quality gaming didn’t completely dry up by 1995, of course.  While gaming was being bombarded with low-quality, high-polish dreck like Super Mario 64 and Metal Gear Solid, there were still games that knew what gaming was supposed to be like that were being pushed out with the insane amount of crap surrounding it fortunately not tarnishing it.  While the Nintendo 64 brought out a 3d version of Demon Castle Dracula (I’ve come to really dislike the English name Castlevania, even though I’ve titled this blog entry with it for recognizability), the Saturn and PlayStation received a solid 2d title that keeps the classic gameplay and expands on the exploration aspects of the second NES title (Dracula II: Seal of the Curse / Simon’s Quest).

Demon Castle Dracula X: Nocture in the Moonlight (come on, that’s a much cooler title than “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”, isn’t it?) starts at the ending of the PC Engine Super CD (TurboGrafx 16 CD) game Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, with Richter Belmont fighting Dracula, and the player actually gets to control the action (while you can’t really lose the battle, the way you play affects your beginning stats for the main part of the game).  While the English version has the well-known “What is a man?  A miserable little pile of secrets!” dialog at this point, playing the translated version of the original Japanese game gives you a much more palatable and less cringeworthy exchange about the nature of humanity.    After the battle, we are told that only four years after this battle that Richter has disappeared and the castle, crumbled into nothingness afterwards, has returned, and that Maria Renard and Dracula’s half-human son Alucard are moving to the resurrected castle to investigate — Maria, to find Richter, and Alucard, to insure his cursed bloodline stays dead.

You play as Alucard, investigating the castle and fighting a series of enemies and bosses to find out the mystery of the castle, encountering Death (who warns him to turn back and removes all of his worn items), Maria, who asks him to help find out where Richter has disappeared to, and an old man selling magical items (initally unwilling to help because of his allegiance to Dracula, but quickly swayed when Alucard tells him he will pay him a lot of money for them).  Along the way can be found a large variety of equippable and usable items dropped from enemies or found, as well as magical artifacts that help Alucard on his way.  In the end, you will find that exploration is key, or — without spoiling anything — you might think that the game is a lot shorter and a lot less satisfying than it really is.

The controls are fantastic.  The gameplay is fantastic.  The game looks really good by not being a nightmarish early 3d mess like many 3d games of the era, but still using 3d enhancements and effects to further the solid 2d graphics and gameplay.  The sound effects and music are fantastic.  There’s really not much else I need to say; the game is an absolute classic for a reason, and completely devastates pretty much everything else around its time of release.  I have played through the game many, many times in the past, and I can play through it time and again.

Just avoid the horrible English voice acting.  You’ll thank me.

 

Keystone Kapers is the Retro Game of the Week for 8 August, 2016

Released: 1983
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Activision
Platform: Atari 2600
Genre: Platformer
Played on: Stella emulator, Playstation gamepad

So the Olympics in Rio are in full swing, and it is time to put forth an Olympic-themed game, right?  I mean, it’s not like there aren’t any — Summer Games for the Commodore 64, for example, or the arcade game Hyper Sports?  Because the obvious connection of the Summer Olympics and a game about olympic competition would definitely be interesting to people at this point and pull in traffic to read this niche, almost ignored little blog of mine.

You’d think so, but no.  Because I just don’t care about the Olympics, and I’d rather do a game that I’ve actually been interested in over the last week.  So take that, promotional common sense!

Instead, we dip our toes back into the Atari 2600 pool and pull out a game I had nearly forgotten about over the years and rediscovered last week — Keystone Kapers.  Inspired by the slapstick silent films Keystone Cops, Keystone Kapers puts you in the role of a policeman attempting to catch a thief in what is presumably a three-level department store or mall (and its roof, making four levels), with a one-direction escalator connecting each floor to the next one and an elevator that moves between the three main floors.

Scattered around the level are several obstacles such as large old-style radios, bouncing balls, and shopping carts that the policeman must avoid by jumping or ducking; touching them will give the policeman less time to catch the criminal (a timer shows how much time you have before the criminal escapes, and if it runs out, you lose a life).  Later levels include toy airplanes that will kill the player if touched, not just remove time.

As the policeman, you start on the lowest level, farthest from the escalator, and have to catch up to the criminal who starts one floor up in the middle; given that you are much faster than the criminal, this is a fairly easy thing to do if not for the obstacles.  There are also pickups worth extra points, adding to the bonus you already get for time left after catching the criminal on each stage.

In playing the game, I found that on the early stages, it’s easier just to run across each level to the escalator until you catch the criminal, as the number of obstacles aren’t much of a hindrance.  Later levels, however, require a bit of timing to end up just behind the criminal after riding the elevator from the lowest level, since the amount of time spent ducking under the toy planes and the high-bouncing balls eat up a bit too much time to do a direct run to the criminal.  Since the criminal will run away from you if you get to that level ahead of him in the elevator and can go back down to the previous level, you have to either get there just as the criminal is about to reach the elevator to be able to run him down before he reaches the edge or just after he passes the elevator to catch up with him that way.  It’s simple, but it works.

Keystone Kapers is just another example of how very simple gameplay can be put together to make a simple yet fun and sometimes challenging game.  As the levels progress, the obstacles get faster and more numerous, and what seems like a simplistic and easy game at first quickly becomes a true challenge for even the best gamers –it makes you feel comfortable at the beginning, like you are gliding through it easily and feel like there can be really no challenge, but the game is simply preparing you for the nightmare gauntlet that comes later.  The controls are simple and accurate, making the player feel responsible for their own mistakes in play, something many (especially modern) games fail to do.

It’s a gem of a game and an example of how the Atari 2600 wasn’t just a console filled with ugly, poorly done games as is the unfortunate perception of many.

And if you still wish this was an Olympic-themed game, think of it as a strange version of the hurdles event.

 

Retro Game of the… Something

Retro Game posts will resume on 8 August, 2016 (Monday), but I have decided that they will be Retro Games of the Week instead.  Doing it daily means I have to rush out a video and hastily write up something every day when I might not have the time to do so.  Doing it weekly will allow a more comprehensive, in-depth look at a game, and I might not stumble through a game quickly and utterly fail at it.  I considered twice or three times a week, but doing it once a week was more regular and gives me an opportunity to bring the best I have each time.

Well, hopefully.

See you then; play more old games.