Retro Re-Release Wishlist [Part 1]

Gaming is a vast medium with an enormous history, some of it mainstream but much of it niche or obscure. However deep you choose to delve into our hobby however, there will always be great games that never get a modern re-release on the likes of PSN, XBLA or Steam due to licensing issues, a perceived lack of profit potential for the IP owner (often a legitimate reason) or for more bizarre reasons such as Sega claiming to have lost the source code for such classics as Panzer Dragoon Saga and the original House of the Dead (arcade version). Ignoring ALL of these boring, technical explanations for a moment, I’d like to kick off a new series where I look at some retro titles that I’d love to see re-issued for modern platforms. Take my money!

#1 – Outrun and its sequels

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The original 1986 Outrun has been re-released several times and is fairly easy to play. Discounting period conversions that all differed wildly in accuracy, some ‘arcade perfect’ ports eventually appeared including the Sega Ages edition for the Saturn and – more recently – a handheld version for the 3DS under the ‘Sega 3D Classics’ umbrella. Outrun‘s sequels haven’t been shown the same love however and that’s a shame. My personal favourite is Turbo Outrun which swapped the Testarossa for the mighty Ferrari F40, added a turbo boost feature, more hazards (such as oil slicks and wet surfaces) and fantastic music. Japan were lucky enough to receive a 3DS conversion of Turbo Outrun but that’s it as far as accurate arcade conversions go. Then there was the visually-thrilling Outrunners, a further sequel that seems – bizarrely – all but forgotten by Sega despite it channelling the essence of the original game and being a lot more exciting to behold.

To go even further, there were also the console-exclusive sequels like Outrun Europa and the divisive Outrun 2019 but I would be stoked just to have a digital collection containing arcade-perfect conversions of Outrun, Turbo Outrun and Outrunners. If the (long expired) Ferrari license is an issue then Sega could just slightly alter the details on the cars as they have been known to do before.

#2 – Capcom Vs SNK (and other Capcom VS series fighting games

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Capcom VS SNK 2 is a near-universally loved fighting game that brought the curtain down on the 1990’s and a fabulous era for fighting games. The game deserves the love it receives and it is a firm favourite of mine BUT the original Capcom Vs SNK is also a tremendous fighting game that is – in some ways – superior to its lauded follow-up. The stage backdrops for example were among the last to be hand-drawn and animated by Capcom for example (the sequel uses 3D and while perfectly attractive, aren’t as impressive) and the music is superb as well as exclusive to the original game. Sadly, the original CvS only saw period Dreamcast and Playstation conversions with the latter being the only way to play the ‘Pro’ update outside of Japan without resorting to importing the Dreamcast version. Even worse, CVS: Pro on the Playstation suffered (like with many of the VS series) from downgraded animation + audio as well as frequent load times as Sony’s machine struggled to host the game. The PS2 version of the sequel has been re-issued on PSN but the original game is mysteriously forgotten about. As somebody who no longer owns a DC, I’d dearly like for Capcom Vs SNK to get a re-release.

And while on the subject, not many of the Marvel VS series entries have been re-released. Marvel Superheroes and the original MvC had their arcade editions packaged together for an ‘Origins’ digital re-release but the other early entries in the series – X-Men: Children of the Atom, X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter – remain exclusive to the arcade, Playstation or Sega Saturn. Capcom began producing VS games again with MvC3, Ultimate MvC and the recent-ish Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite so the sensible time to whack the older games on PSN/XBLA seems to have been and passed. Add in the poor performance of Infinite and it would seem that the window of opportunity may have disappeared which is a shame. A compilation of all the older games would be an instant purchase as far as I am concerned.

#3 – Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

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The debate over which Golden Axe game is the best is a popular one. Some say that the arcade original is the only answer to the question while others have a fierce, nostalgic sentiment towards its Mega Drive conversion. Golden Axe II floats the boat of others while almost nobody opts for Golden Axe III or the spin-off, Golden Axe: The Duel. And if you try to claim that Beast Rider on the PS3/360 is the best? Get out of here! The tragedy of this once great side-scrolling beat ’em up series is that its best installment remained exclusive to arcades. The Revenge of Death Adder is bigger, brighter and so much more expansive than any of its predecessors with new characters, fantastic effects and more depth than ever before yet it has never been re-issued on anything at all, not even receiving an obscure port in some form on a Japanese-only computer. It’s understandable that Sega would see little merit in watering everything down to cram Revenge onto the Mega Drive or even the 32X but a belated Sega Saturn conversion would have been perfect. A counter argument would be that interest in 2D gaming and beat ’em ups was waning by the time of the Saturn but you only have to look at how revered the likes of Guardian Heroes have become to see that Revenge would have fitted the Saturn like a particularly snug glove. Besides, how many other styles of games that were perceived to be of little consumer interest were nonetheless released for the Saturn and Playstation in the 90’s?

#4 – Snatcher & Policenauts

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It might seem odd now but Konami actually used to make a lot of great games. Even typing that feels wrong but unfortunately, they have lost their way with high-profile stories about poor treatment of employees and severe scaling back on active use of their wealth of enviable IP. Yes, Konami may be a Metal Gear Solid/Pro Evolution creature propped up by pachinko machines and the Yu-Gi-Oh!! card game but in the past, they put their name to such games as Snatcher, a distopian cyberpunk graphic adventure that remains frustratingly difficult to play by conventional means (emulation and bootleg fan translations notwithstanding). The only English-language version of the game was released on Sega’s Mega-CD (Sega-CD in the US) and now commands insane prices due to it’s desirability and notoriety for being a game very much worth playing on a system where the quality of the software library otherwise borders on being schizophrenic. At the time of making this post for example, copies are selling on ebay UK for between £250-£300 with ease. Higher condition copies with the spine card are pushing £500 while even loose discs have been snapped up for close to £100.

Spiritual follow-up, Policenauts, suffers an even harsher fate having never received an official translation of any kind. Both games were released for the Playstation and Saturn in Japan (along with various native home computers and – with regards to Policenauts – the 3DO) and language-patched translations are available for emulation or chipped consoles capable of playing back-ups but wouldn’t a proper, digital release be nice? Translate both games and I wouldn’t be able to hand my money over fast enough for the double pack.

#5 – Violent Storm

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I’m ending part one with another old-school Konami game: 1993’s Violent Storm, an arcade beat ’em up designed (like so many games of the period) to capitalise on the popularity of the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Thing is, Violent Storm is every bit as slick as Final Fight but manages to be a bit more light-hearted despite the main attraction still being smashing in the faces of thugs. The characters are big and bold while the crazy music and questionable enemy designs help Violent Storm stand out from its peers as an amazing beat ’em up in its own right. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t ever converted to a home system and – for some reason – it is quite obscure and unknown today outside of those in the know. Yes, I play it on MAME but I’d still happily pay for an official re-release.

Well, that’s part one done and dusted (with many more still to come no doubt). Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on my choices or for any suggestions for other games that are crying out for a modern-day re-release. We can but hope that some of these wishes may some day become a reality!

DS90 Plays: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation]

…or to be more precise, I’ve been playing Crash on my Vita but before I get into the game itself, I feel a mini rant coming on that needs to be vented and said rant regards the mess that is the Playstation Store. I already have Crash Bandicoot 2 on my Vita and I know that Crash 3 and CTR are also both available to download but the original? I had to find the game on the website version of the store (where it is marked up as only being compatible with the PSP and PS3), pay for it then dump it on my Vita by accessing my download list from the Vita. What a ball ache! So not only does the game not show up on the Vita version of the Store but it also doesn’t list the Vita as a compatible platform (when it is). I had to go through the exact same process to download Medievil to my Vita and it highlights how poorly organised the store is. In fairness, it does serve the PS3, PS4, PSP (through no longer directly) and the Vita but the whole thing needs updating and putting into some kind of order without the need for the daft download methods I have had to endure simply to get hold of an old PS1 game.

The positive side is that the store does at least still have all of these crusty old games to download unlike Nintendo’s versions of their e-shop which eventually get removed from existence once a superceded console is no longer worth supporting in the eyes of its creator. Plus, I have read that US gamers can’t even get the original Crash via the workaround (due to licensing issues) so as a British gamer, I must count myself lucky in that respect.

But anyway: Crash Bandicoot!

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I did of course play this game (as well as the sequels) back in the day so me downloading the original to my Vita was because I fancied a nostalgia trip. I’d already downloaded Crash 2 for convenience’s sake and completed it but I no longer have my original copy of the first game so it was a case of necessity rather than convenience this time. Plus it was £3.99 which is a complete steal versus the price of used physical copies of Crash Bandicoot. I do always prefer an original hard copy (as my physical PS1 collection amassed over the last twenty years affirms) but I’m also no longer so snooty about going digital when I feel like it.

The biggest thing that my modern-day play-through of Crash Bandicoot has revealed however is that this game is tough! I certainly didn’t remember it to be so unforgiving but compared to the sequels, the original Crash is definitely a much crueler game that often demands the sort of platforming skills of a player that 8 and 16-bit games in the genre did. Most of the time though, I would say that losing lives is entirely avoidable and purely the player’s fault. In this respect, I’ve cursed at the screen and gritted my teeth on many occasions but I’ve also known that failures are my fault and not due to cheap game design. This is what the Mario games do so well and we can rage about how demanding old games are/were but this is what we were used to at the time. Games have become – to an extent – very easy and hand-holdy with safety nets everywhere, greater concern being shown to keeping the player happy rather than giving them a challenge. Both approaches to entertaining a gamer are valid (because sometimes I don’t want an aldrenalin-fuelled experience after a long day at work) but I do sometimes lament the loss of actual, fairly-weighted challenge in games.

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The opening jungle levels are perhaps the most iconic in the first two Crash games. General gameplay mechanics are introduced at a reasonable pace.

The most prominent issue relating to the difficulty is the game’s save system. You can only save your progress by reaching the end of the bonus round (which you have to access from within a stage by collecting a set of three pick-ups from crates) or by breaking every crate in a stage and collecting a silver gem as a reward. The game also features a password system because this was an early Playstation release that didn’t demand the ownership of a memory card but even so, you can’t retrieve a password without actually reaching save point in the first place. What this means is that failing on a bonus stage puts a fair bit of pressure on the player to ensure that they reach the next one and don’t screw up a second time. If you are attempting to smash all of the crates within said bonus rounds then plummeting to your doom is easily done and you only have one shot of clearing a bonus round so there is a distinct lack of forgiveness.

As for genuinely unfair game design, it only really rears its head on the warthog stages where Crash leaps stop said beast and you have to steer them through all obstacles in your way. I say that these stages can be unfair because there is some trial-and-error involved with the timing of some of the moving obstacles and it can take a few failed runs before you know in advance whether to move left/right or jump/duck out of the way of something. The stages where Crash must run towards the screen with a giant Indiana Jones-style boulder of doom in hot pursuit are similar but I managed to clear them pretty easily with reflexes alone.

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These levels (with their distinct lack of footing!) will really test your reflexes…

Otherwise this is just pure platforming action that tests reflexes, timing and accuracy. The controls are spot-on so it’s all down to the player to get right. The game does a very good job of introducing new forms of hazards and giving the player a fair chance to see how they work before gradually throwing more and more for them to deal with. For example, you won’t be expected to jump across three flaming torches in a row without first being given one to handle on its own with lenient timing between the flame switching on and off. The same goes for rolling millstones, falling platforms and all manner of hazards. This is why the game is – aside from the few bits I previously picked out – completely fair: it introduces new obstacles and gradually ramps up the quantity that you must deal with in one go or the strictness of any timing involved.

It’s also worth mentioning that Crash’s reportoire of moves is much more limited here than in the sequels so there’s no sliding or belly-slamming – just jumping. This makes for a very pure platforming experience that blended (at the time) the old-school 2D traits that we’d just left behind with a fresh, into-the-screen 3D perspective. There are many 2D stages however which betray the transitional period between the 2D and 3D eras of gaming but the mix of both styles helps keep things varied. The only negative aspect of the 2D sections in my opinion is the fact that Crash isn’t ‘locked’ to the ground so despite being asked to walk left/right, you can still slip on the controls and end up walking over the edges. This is especially frustrating in the bonus stages where you are desperate not to fall! Thankfully (in this specific case) the game doesn’t support analogue control so if you are careful and stick to the left/right buttons on the d-pad then you should be safe.

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Slippery ramps, spikes, elevators…what could possibly go wrong?

What I really enjoy about the original Crash Bandicoot is the sense of achievement (and relief!) upon clearing a stage, especially with all crates smashed which is a pretty smug moment. I also really enjoy the challenge of the later levels where checkpoints are spread out further, one mistake = doom and you feel as if you are being pushed to your limits of endurance and reflexes with some of the stages and what they demand of you. But getting through these stages after many attempts (and much swearing) is what makes that sense of achievement all the sweeter. After all, isn’t it better to really earn something than have it given to you?

It would also be a sin for me to wrap up this review without mentioning another of Crash Bandicoot‘s defining characteristics: the humour. From Crash’s facial expressions to the general cartoon-like vibe of the game, everything feels fun and playful even when the difficulty is up and the stages do their best to appear dark and menacing later on. The audio is simple but classic with funky backing music and charming sound effects that are unmistakably from a Crash game. This is also one of those rare 32-bit games that has clearly aged but done so with grace. Like with the Spyro games, Crash Bandicoot didn’t push for realistic graphics and so the exaggerated cartoon-like approach still looks great today and pretty sharp. Contemporaries from the same period that tried to look “real” can often be shocking to behold in retrospective with jagged edges, awful smudgy textures and laughable (by today’s standards) attempts to get near photo-realism. Not so here.

Overall, I have very much enjoyed returning to Crash Bandicoot. It’s probably my least-played of the original Naughty Dog-developed games so there’s the added bonus of not being overly-familiar with it. It’s also a perfect fit for the Vita so if you are able to get it on there then I highly recommend doing so. PS4 remasters next?

Crystal Dreams

This last week saw me finally polish off the e-shop download of Pokemon Silver Version for 3DS. I ended up spending around 60hrs with the game and in truth, that figure could have easily been shaved by a considerable amount had I not spent ages hunting out my favourite monsters and training them up even though I had no space for them in my final/ideal team. I felt like a bit of a boss taking a Lv60+ team of Lugia, Typhlosion, Tyranitar, Dragonite, Raikou and Gyarados into the final showdown with Red (I would have also taken Ho-Oh but I needed Gyarados as my ‘HM slave’ to navigate Silver Cave) and I managed to beat the toughest trainer in the game on my first attempt. That Snorlax that bothered me so much back in the day? No problem! Typhlosion ended that sucker with a few Dynamic Punches. Yeah!

It was a very nostalgic experience overall and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the classic sound effects, sprites and simpler Pokemon mechanics that I’d been missing with the newer games. Despite the amount of hours I invested into Silver, I’m still keenly waiting for January 26th and the next classic re-release that I’d been hoping for…

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Pokemon Crystal Version was the edition that everybody had really been clamouring for when the Gold/Silver re-releases were initially announced and I can only presume that Nintendo held it back on account of it being so similar to G/S that nobody would buy either of those versions. This way, gamers like me will double-dip and I can’t deny that I have fallen for their nefarious marketing tactics! Yellow Version was re-released alongside Red/Blue but that was likely a different scenario given how Yellow had quite a lot of differences compared to the games it was updating and was changed-up to follow the TV show more closely.

Crystal is more of a subtle update over its direct predecessors but is – in my opinion anyway –  the definitive edition of the second generation of games. When this game was originally released, the introduction of animated sprites was incredibly special for example. The first iteration of the Battle Tower debuted in Crystal too (and boy was it brutal!) and a slightly tweaked storyline put Suicune into a position of prominence, allowing the player to eventually battle the legendary Pokemon without worrying about it fleeing as it, Raikou and Entei would immediately do in Gold/Silver.

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Gotta love those old sprites!

Crystal is – like most of the early Pokemon games – quite nostalgic for me as I clearly remember receiving it for Christmas on the year of release along with a brand spanking new Gameboy Advance. How ironic that the first game I played on a new system was one via the backwards compatibility! The more advanced (see what I did there?) aesthetics of those shiny new GBA titles didn’t deter me from embarking on a second tour of Johto however and in 2018, history is set to repeat itself. I really cannot wait and I’m fortunate enough to have received a £15 e-shop voucher from my sister at Christmas so I’m saving that for the 26th!

It’s also worth mentioning that Nintendo have slightly tweaked this version of Crystal in a rather special way. Aside from Pokemon Bank compatibility, they have also included a way to battle and capture Celebi without the need for any sort of special ‘event’! Wow! Celebi has long been one of those Pokemon that has been impossible to capture without being fortunate enough to attend a special event and outside of said event for Gold/Silver/Crystal (or the Japanese bonus disc for Pokemon Colosseum), I don’t believe Celebi has been made available since.

Roll on the 26th!

Digital: Pokemon Silver Version (3DS e-shop)

Recently I have had serious trouble finding the time to sit down and really get stuck into a home console game. I have various titles on the go for different machines but work and life in general keep getting in way. Enter the saviour that is handheld gaming. So far on this blog, I have talked about the PSP quite a bit but I owe my interest in handheld gaming to the Gameboy Colour which was my very first machine (discounting the Playstation in the house which wasn’t my own console). As with a lot of people my age, I received the GBC as a Christmas gift purely because I wanted to play Pokemon like all of my friends at school were doing. Red Version was where it all began but it would be the follow-ups, Pokemon Gold/Silver, that would really impress…

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This moody title screen was impressive for an 8-Bit handheld…

I can distinctly remember being given some sort of really thick, unofficial Pokemon magazine by my Gran which had loads of information on the upcoming sequels. The magazine mapped out the initial few towns/routes, showed all of the new monsters (with Japanese names) and detailed new features to the series such as berries, the Poke-Gear and the introduction of Dark and Steel types. I absolutely pored over this magazine which was bringing us the latest information straight from Japan and the sequels simply could not come soon enough. I saved money bit by bit (money being difficult to come across as a child!) until I had the required £29.99 put aside in advance and I’ll be completely honest: I miss those days. Being so impressed and excited for a videogame as well as slowly but surely scraping the money together to buy it…so much better than the present day me who thinks “meh” to most game announcements and could afford any new release immediately if I was feeling irresponsible enough to casually drop £40-£50 on a PS4 game (which I very rarely do).

The very best part though was that the game lived up to all the expectations I had and then completely surpassed them. I opted for the Silver version since a) Lugia looked cooler than Ho-oh and b) there was this strange, unspoken sureness that the Gold version would be better because the word ‘Gold’ sounds more impressive than ‘Silver’. This meant that more people at school owned Gold Version and so having the opposite meant that I would be a more attractive trading partner. On a side note, this amusing little quirk also happened with Ruby/Sapphire on the GBA but since then, I think Nintendo haven’t produced a duo of Pokemon games with one version sounding better than the other.

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Colour! This was a huge deal back on release.

Fast forward to 2017 and I have just downloaded the digital re-release of the game from Nintendo’s 3DS e-shop service. Initially I’d been intending to pick up the re-release of Red/Blue that has been available for some time now but I’d completely forgotten that Gold/Silver had also been slated for a re-release so when I saw these little beauties were available…well, I HAD to skip a generation unfortunately because Johto was calling and I didn’t have enough shop credit for both. These games retail for £8.99 by the way which is expensive for a digital download of a retro game but I personally think that the price is extremely fair for the size and depth of the games. Don’t forget that original cartridges have shot up in value over the years and that it is depressingly easy to end up with a bootleg copy or a genuine cart with a dead battery that needs replacing. These 3DS downloads bypass all of that and are so convenient. The 3DS’ rubbish battery life also does a great job of emulating the Gameboy Colour gobbling up those AA batteries!

Understandably, I was a little dubious about returning to one of my all-time favourite games in case I’d been looking back through rose-tinted specs all of these years. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and I am happy to say that I am utterly in love with this game all over again. Going so far backwards in a series that has evolved (get it?) so much over the years takes a bit of getting used to, mind. I’ve ploughed hundreds of hours into the GBA games and first generation of DS games (Diamond/Pearl) for example and so returning to a time where there were no passive Pokemon powers, no animated sprites, no weather effects and no many other things takes some getting used to. I keep expecting to be paralysed when hitting an electric type with a physical attack for instance. I imagine it would be even tougher for anybody who has played the DS remakes or the newer 3DS installments, doubly so if they are a younger gamer who only started playing Pokemon with the latest games.

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Night-time was another “wow” moment in 2001

Maybe I AM blinded by nostalgia but I personally prefer the older games like this. The more primitive sound effects and old-school sprites invoke a warm fuzziness inside – sights and sounds of a simpler time. I find a lot more charm in these things anyway (regardless of the reason) and also happen to enjoy the more stripped-back simplicity of the game with knocking over the game’s gyms, trashing the Elite Four and swiping as many different Pokemon as possible being your only objectives. Obviously there were a few new distractions added to the second generation of Pokemon games and a lot of these relied on the game’s in-built date/time facility which dictated when certain events such as the bug-catching contest would occur. Other nice touches included trainers calling you on the phone (with pretty terrible conversation it has to be said!), being able to use the radio and different Pokemon appearing depending on whether it was day or night. At the time, these additions were incredible despite how trivial they may seem today. I’ve not played any of the 3DS generations of the games so I imagine that there is so much to do in those versions but I’m in no rush to find out. My Pokemon obsession ended with Diamond so while I am interested in catching up, I would still rather go back to a more focused and ‘innocent’ period in the series’ life such as Silver Version.

My current play-through is going very well and I’ve found myself using Pokemon in my team that I would never have previously even considered such as Slowpoke, Exeggcute and Zubat (mostly all evolved and nicely levelled by now of course). Revisiting all of the old towns and hearing that fantastic 8-Bit music again has been a lovely experience so far but I’m only around halfway through what the game has to offer with one final Johto gym standing in my way. Catching Lugia is my first priority however but the initial attempt didn’t go very well! I completely forgot about how Lugia makes the battle so annoying with its ‘Recover’ move as well as how higher level monsters in these older games simply refuse to be captured, even when at the lowest HP point and hit with a status effect. All good fun though!

So would I recommend this download? Whole heartedly. As I said earlier, the price may look steep for a retro download but considering all that you avoid by not trying to buy a working, genuine original copy then it’s fantastic value and having the game on your 3DS memory card with all of your other stuff is just so convenient and perfect for taking on the move – in perfect keeping with the spirit of the original releases and their pocket nature. I really hope that they also offer Crystal at some point since the remixed storyline, introduction of Pokemon animations and other little tweaks made it an update worth playing through all over again way back when and I’d happily do the same again today. Make it happen Nintendo!.