It Came From Netflix: Stranger Things

Happy Halloween! When I was a kid, Halloween was tied with Christmas as my favorite holiday. There’s just something about it that really appealed to me. Even today, I love everything about the holiday. The crisp fall air, pumpkins, spooky costumes, horror movies – it’s just magical. This year, both of my children decided they were too old to go trick-or-treating so we stayed in and watched spooky stuff on TV instead.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, Netflix is certainly what I’d recommend as your first stop. There’s no shortage of great paranormal selections in Netflix’s lineup. But if you’re not sure where to start, allow me to make a recommendation: Stranger Things.

Netflix has been producing it’s own films and serials for quite a while, but Stranger Things is what caused everyone to pause and take notice. In fact, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to discuss the show. Everything about Stranger Things fits right in with the content on this blog; 80’s nostalgia, Dungeon & Dragons – it’s all there. Heck, even the titlecard is modeled in the style of the old-school Stephen King book covers.

At the time of this writing, two seasons of Stranger Things are available to view. But be warned, once you start it is hard to stop. This is the show that made the term “binge-watching” a household term.

The first season takes place in 1983 and it follows a group of young outcasts. These kids are what you would commonly refer to as “nerds”. They are not into sports or other popular activities. Instead, they sit around and geek out over things like D&D and comic books. Early in the show, one of the characters, a boy named Will, goes missing. The remaining friends band together in an attempt to find out the fate of their friend. As it turns out, Will’s disappearance is linked to a nearby secret Federal facility where some rather unorthodox experiments are taking place. During their investigation, the friends come in contact with a strange young girl (an escapee of the previously mentioned facility). After working together, the group learns the shocking truth behind Will’s disappearance and now has to try to convince the adults in their lives that he’s still alive (and part of an unbelievable government conspiracy).

If all that sounds a little over-the-top, that’s because it is. But, the way the story plays out is flawlessly executed. This show takes a number of classic 1980’s tropes and mythology and blends it perfectly into a gripping and unforgettable story. If that wasn’t enough, the second season takes the weird-level and cranks it up even higher. The end result is a fantastic homage to retro-geekdom. I mean that. This show is truly gift to nerds everywhere.

If you’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing this series yet, do yourself a favor and watch it tonight. Take whatever steps you need to to minimize distractions, turn off the lights, make yourself a snack and enjoy. This is one show that I can’t recommend enough. Plus, it is perfect for a rainy Halloween night.

Target Audience: Retro lovers, kids of all ages and paranormal fans. No matter what genre of horror you might enjoy, there’s likely to be something for you in Stranger Things.

Mature Content: YES – Mild language, gruesome imagery, horror & peril

Number of Episodes: 17 (Two seasons)

Score (1 out of 4): 4

Review: Night Trap (25th Anniversary Edition)

You didn’t think I’d let the month of October go by without posting a review for a horror game did you? I know I usually review something spooky and paranormal. But this year, I decided to change things up a bit and go full-on campy with Night Trap.

If you’ve never heard of Night Trap, you’re not alone. It wasn’t exactly a big seller. To start with, it was released on the Sega CD, which was an add-on product that didn’t see very big sales in the first place. Second, it was extremely rare to find on store shelves due to a nearly unprecedented level of controversy. You see, Night Trap was labeled as one of the most morally offensive games of all time. Any parent who allowed their child to be exposed to such filth should be locked up! It was called pornographic and filled with excessive violence. The negative buzz around the game actually got so bad that many retailers pulled the product and refused to sell it. So what was the big deal? Is Night Trap really as disgusting and violent as its critics claim?

The answer is no. Not at all. I’m actually a pretty conservative guy when it comes to what I allow my children to be exposed to, and I’d let either of them play this game. I mean, there’s literally no concern. So what was the big deal? Well, to start with, Night Trap is not your regular video game. Instead, it is made up of actual video footage. It is very much like an interactive movie. I suppose having an interactive game featuring REAL scantily clad women in fictional peril was just too much for some. It stirred up so much hullabaloo that  Night Trap was one of the games directly responsible for the formation of the ESRB.

The gist of the game is simple. There’s been a rash of mysterious disappearances around the house of a very prominent family. It’s been determined that the house is equipped with a slew of traps and security features. To get to the bottom of the mystery, the police have sent in an undercover officer into the home with a group of teens. They’ve also been able to hack their way into the home’s security system, thus giving the police access to all of the traps remotely. Your job is monitor a number of security cameras and use the traps to capture any intruders or suspicious characters that might pose harm to either the undercover office or the teens in the house.

As the story goes on, you learn that the home’s owners are in league with a weird band of vampires called “Augers”. You must capture as many Augers as possible and avoid letting the house become overrun. This is easier said than done, as you will have to switch between a number of live feeds on they fly in attempt to detect any suspicious activity.

The original version of Night Trap was notoriously difficult. Today the game is available in a special 25th Anniversary Edition. This package includes the game in its original form, as well as a handful of alternate UI versions. Some of these new renditions do make the game a bit easier by allowing the players to see previews of all of the camera feeds. This can help save time by not forcing the player to constantly jump from screen to screen when monitoring the house.

The game itself is actually quite a novel idea. In a time when CD ROM drives were still considered to be jaw-dropping technology, making an interactive film was inevitable. Sure, the acting is terrible and the script is even worse. But the whole concept behind the game is both original and brilliant. Playing Night Trap is akin to experiencing an interactive B-grade horror flick. I was surprised at just much fun the game actually is. If you’re a fan of cheesy horror movies and you’re looking for something different this Halloween, Night Trap might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Difficulty: Variable –  Completing this game is no simple feat. This is true even when using the modern UI. If you really want a challenge, the original layout of the game makes things even more difficult. The trick to Night Trap is repetition. The more you fail and start over, the easier it gets. You’ll learn the story and memorize certain cues. But some parts will still require near perfect execution in order to avoid failure.

Story: Despite being exceptionally cheesy, the storyline for this game is well done and entertaining. The way it is presented is also very enthralling. At any given time, there’s a handful of different scenes available to watch. To see everything, you’ll need to play the game multiple times. The more you watch, the more you’ll see how the entire plot twists together. It’s actually quite brilliant.

Originality: At the time Night Trap hit the scene, there was nothing like it. Sure, interactive films were not a new concept. I remember seeing VHS tapes in the 80’s that would have you rewind and fast-forward to achieve a similar result. But never before had anyone taken the “interactive film” concept and made it so easy to use.

Soundtrack: The game features two memorable pieces of music. The first is a little background music that is heard whenever bad guys appear on the screen. The second is a terribly-good bubblegum song performed by one of the characters. Everything about the music in this game is B-grade cheese. But that’s actually part of the charm.

Fun: While there’s not much to the gameplay, it is actually quite fun. There’s a certain satisfaction achieved when you are able to perfectly anticipate and catch a handful of sneaky Augers. I enjoyed this game much more than I expected to.

Graphics: Being a FMV-based game, there are really no “graphics” to score. The game itself is made up of real video. The source material is quite old but holds up surprisingly well in the 25th Anniversary Edition.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game are quite simple. On the PC its point and click with a single keyboard button to tap. On consoles it also just as simple.  The game is very dependent on the player’s reaction time, but offers no playcontrol issues whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Campy violence.

Value:  If you’re going to play this game, your best bet is find a digital copy. The game sells for around $15 digitally and is also frequently on sale. If you’re looking for a physical copy, be ready to spend a upwards of $70-$80, as the game is already out of print.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Night Trap is a strange beast. Most people seek it out simply for the mythology that surrounds it. It’s very much a curiosity for many. But if you actually sit down with it and take the time to learn its charms, you just might find a pretty good game hiding under all the hearsay. I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys 80’s camp. It’s a riot and surprisingly pretty entertaining.

Available on: Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch

Retro Rewind: Nintendo Entertainment System

So far in my Retro Rewind series, I’ve talked a bit about classic coin-op arcade games, as well as some of the earliest home console games made popular by the Atari 2600. But no discussion of retro gaming is complete without mentioning the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the machine that took gaming and changed it from being just a casual pastime, and turned it into a real hobby.

Now, I’ve discussed the NES and many of its classic games in great length on this site in the past, so I’m not going to rehash any of that with this post. Instead, I want to talk a bit about how best to experience these classic games today.

In recent years, a number of NES titles have been available to gamers through both the Wii/Wii U virtual console service and the 3DS eShop. Sadly, the Virtual Console does not exist on Nintendo’s most recent hardware, the Nintendo Switch. Instead, Nintendo has replaced it with a subscription-based online service. This service features a number of classic games already, with new ones rolling out as time goes on. This is great for some. But many gamers, myself included, don’t like to sit and wait on a specific game to become available for play.  So what’s the best option? Well, if you’re asking my opinion on the best way to experience classic NES games today, I’d have to point you to the NES Classic Edition.

Much like the Atari Flashback console I discussed in a prior post, the NES Classic is an all-in-one box. You simply plug it into the TV and go. It’s just that easy. The system comes pre-loaded with thirty games, many of which are fan favorites. Let’s take a look at what’s included:

Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II, Dr. Mario, Excitebite, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghost n’ Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch Out!!, Star Tropics, Super Contra, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, Legend of Zelda, Zelda II.

That’s certainly an impressive list. But one that includes some interesting gaps. For example, the NES Classic features Double Dragon II, but not the original Double Dragon. Same thing with Mega Man. Now, I understand the reasoning behind this. Double Dragon II offers a much better two-player experience, just as Mega Man 2 is a much more iconic game that the original Mega Man. But what if you still want to play these or even other old school NES games? Well, there’s a solution. But, this is where things get a bit shady…

You can put other games on the NES Classic. It is possible, and actually quite easy to load your own ROMs onto the system. In fact, it’s almost as if Nintendo purposely built the unit with this in mind. First off, while the NES Classic only comes with thirty games installed, it actually has enough free space to hold hundreds. Installing other titles is as simple as plugging the system to your PC via USB and moving files over. Of course, actually getting game ROMS is the sketchy part of the whole equation. It’s not illegal to possess, or even use ROM flashes of NES games. But it is illegal to download them without possessing a copy of the same game. Of course, Nintendo ROMS are readily available all over the internet if you know where to look. So, do with this information what you will…

That being said, if you ever wanted to experience rare Japanese-exclusive games like the original 8-bit version of Final Fantasy II or eve the controversial Megami Tensei games without having to resort to setting up emulator software, this is your best solution. No more tinkering with controller settings or setting up the emulator to work with your device. Just drop the ROMs in the directory and go.

For this reason, the NES Classic is what I recommend for everyday 8-bit NES gaming. Now that I’ve taken a moment to discuss this system and its potential, I’ll be using it to fill in some of the gaps in my backlog foir future posts. Thus making Retro Rewind Reviews a recurring feature on this site.

 

D&D: Family Game – Lost Mine of Phandelver (pt 2)

It’s been about two months since I first shared my progress on my family’s D&D adventures. Unlike many D&D players who can clock in whole afternoons or weekend-long marathon sessions, my family typically only has a few hours a week in which to play. So it’s taken us about two months to get about six-eight hours of playtime in. But things are going well!

Since my last post, my wife and children searched the site of the ambush and discovered the trail back to the goblin’s cave lair. When encountering some goblins outside of the cave entrance, they decided to take one of the goblin guards captive. Hence, the character of “Gronk” was born. Despite trying to follow the adventure as detailed in the book, Gronk ended up being a creation all my own, but one that is also likely to be one of the more memorable parts of the story.

Gronk provided the party with various bits of information (and misinformation) regarding the goblin’s hideout. My youngest son actually became quite fond of the character, and as a result was vastly disappointed when Gronk seized the first opportunity to alert the other goblins in the cave to the party’s presence. As the PCs explored the hideout they came across both the goblin’s bugbear leader and his ambitious second-in-command (who was more than willing to trade a human captive in exchange for the bugbear’s head).

The small hideout detailed in this part of the adventure served as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the “dungeon crawl”. By the time my family was ready to exit the cave, they were very careful to check for traps and other unexpected nastiness around every corner. (Experience can be a brutal teacher). So far, this adventure has truly proven to be a fantastic introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Next session (assuming my family doesn’t do something completely unexpected), they should end up in the town of Phandelver itself. So far, any actual roleplaying interactions have limited to conversations with Gronk (who was not much of a conversationalist), so I’m interested to see their interactions with actual NPCs over the next few sessions.

More to come.

FFXIV: The Current State of Final Fantasy XIV

I just completed a post discussing the most recent update to Final Fantasy XIV. But I wanted to take a moment to talk a bit about the current state of the game.

Final Fantasy XIV has been very much an emotional rollercoaster since its release. Like everyone else, I was excited when the game was first announced, only to be be terribly let down by all the bugs and lack of content. Then, we had the announcement of 2.0. I found myself re-invigorated. I soldiered through the bulk of 1.0 and looked forward to the promised land on the horizon. Once 2.0 arrived, it seemed like every promise made to us by SE had been fulfilled. Optimism regarding the game was at an all time high. Frequent updates and ever-changing content kept myself, and other players emotionally invested in the game. This was heightened further with the announcement of FFXIV 3.0. The 3.0 launch came and went. The content was good, but it seemed to lack just a little of whatever magic made A Realm Reborn so great. By now the release/update pattern had become very apparent. Q.o.L patches, followed by content patches, each containing and small chunks of storyline content. Things started to feel pretty routine for me at this point. This pattern continued with 4.0. While I LOVED the new areas, jobs, and music introduced in the Stormblood expansion, I could feel my zest for the game slowly settle into a lull.

If that were simply the only complaint, I think everything would be fine. But, there’s been other issues. The most recent offense for me has been the release of the FFXIV Companion app. For years, SE has promised us an app that will allow us to chat with friends, view our characters, make in-game purchases, etc. While the Companion app does indeed deliver on all of these promises, it has really turned out to be nothing more than a giant cash grab by SE. Nearly all of the good features are locked behind another subscription fee. Once I realize this, I was a bit pissed off (to be blunt). And as it turns out, I wasn’t alone. The vast majority of players share this sentiment. But to date, SE has refused to acknowledge our complaints.

To add insult to injury, SE continues to release more and more emotes, costumes, and other digital content to the real money store. Now, I don’t have a problem with this per se. But in my opinion, a game that requires a monthly subscription, should keep optional purchases to a minimum. Instead, SE seems to have doubled down on their real money transactions adding several every month or so.

To get to the point, there’s very little motivation for my to keep my subscription going. There was a time that I would clock in several hours a day on this game. These days, I barely get several hours a month. I typically only play whenever a new patch is released. I grind through the new storyline and quest content. I run the dungeons a few times, tackle the new raids, etc. Then, I’m  bored and done until the next patch hits.

As I type this, I’m seriously considering taking my first break from FFXIV. Maybe just for a short while or perhaps for good. I really don’t know. If I do quit, I’m sure the next expansion is likely to tempt me. But considering the way I feel today, I’m unsure if I’ll actually take the bait. Of course, I’d still cover any major expansions to the game from an informative standpoint here on the site. But will I continue to invest myself into the game? Time will tell.

FFXIV: Version 4.4 Update

It’s been just shy of a month since the latest Final Fantasy XIV update was released. Historically, I’ve always burned through new content at a rapid pace. However, with some of these more recent releases, things have slowed down for me. To be completely honest, I fear my interest in the game is waning. But, let’s not dwell on that now. Let’s take a peek at patch 4.4; Prelude in Violet.

With this patch, I feel like we’ve reached a transitional period in the storyline. Loose ends are starting to be tied up, yet breadcrumbs for what lies ahead are also beginning to appear. If SE follows tradition, I feel like an announcement for 5.0 is just around the corner. And if I had to place a bet, I’d be willing to guess that the Empire of Garlemald will be the focus of the next expansion.

So, let’s see what’s all included in this update:

  • New main scenario and side quests
  • New dungeons
  • New raids
  • New trials
  • New wedding content
  • New treasure hunt content
  • Squadron/Grand Company updates
  • Mannequins and housing updates
  • Various refinements, balancing changes, items, and Q.o.L tweaks

All in all, 4.4 ends up being a fairly solid update to the game. There’s A LOT of Q.o.L stuff included in this update, as well as a lot of new behind-the-scenes changes that are laying the groundwork for some upcoming enhancements to the game (online settings back-ups, UI skins, etc). Sadly, there’s also very little included in this update to wow players. Most of what we have here is more of the same routine we’ve seen from SE thus far. Some will like that, others (like me) will pine for something different. But, as always the writing and storytelling to second to none.

I give this patch a rating of:  B

 

 

Retro Rewind: Atari 2600

I’ve spent the last two posts talking about some of my favorite golden-age arcade games. This time, I’m going to focus on one of the earliest home video game consoles, the Atari 2600.  Interactive video games had actually been around for a quite some time.But they really hit the mainstream in the late 70’s-early 80’s. Hoping to cash in on what believed to be the “next big thing”, Magnavox developed the Odyssey – the first home video game console. However, it wasn’t until Atari released the Atari 2600 Video Computer System that the public really took notice.

The Atari 2600 was originally released in 1977 and took the market by storm. At last, friends could enjoy two-player video games in their own home. New and unique games were being released for the 2600 at a rapid-fire pace. Famous arcade titles were even being ported to the system (albeit in very poor quality). For several years, it seemed like the sky was the limit for Atari. However, by 1983 interest began to wane for the system. The overall poor quality of many of the games, as well as an over-saturated market ultimately led to the 2600’s downfall.

Many of the best games for the Atari 2600 were actually classic arcade games (Frogger, Pac-Man, Centipede), but these ports are dreadful when compared to the original arcade versions. Regardless, the 2600 still played host to some worthy titles. Four of my favorite 2600 games are as follows:

Adventure

Adventure – This was the first overworld exploration game. The purpose of Adventure is to explore an open environment in search of a magic chalice. Once found, return it the golden castle at the beginning of the game. To say Adventure was ahead of its time is an understatement. Games like The Legend of Zelda likely would not exist if it wasn’t for Adventure. This game invented the concept of free-roaming enemies, “continues”, and even Easter Eggs. Naturally, when compared with modern equivalents, Adventure has not aged well. But it is still worth a look for curious gamers.

Haunted House – If Adventure is considered the first fantasy-action games, then Haunted House might very well be the first survival horror title. In this game, you explore a dark haunted mansion in search of pieces to a broken urn. The gameplay is best described as “bumping around in the dark” while looking for items. To actually find anything, the player must light a match that illuminates a small area around them – but doing so will attract monsters. Haunted House was a favorite of mine as a child. But most everyone I knew refused to read the instruct booklet and therefore did not understand/enjoy the game. This a shame, as the game itself is quite well done.

Pitfall!

Pitfall! – If I had to pick a favorite Atari 2600 title, it would be Pitfall!.  This is a side-scrolling action game in which our hero must jump over rolling logs, swing on vines, and avoid mean little critters as he searches the jungle for rumored treasure. Pitfall! may have been the first side-scrolling game that I ever played. As a result, it kindled my interest in the genre for years to come. If you are going to play any game that the Atari 2600 has to offer, this is the one I recommend.

Swordquest – As an honorable mention, I’m including the Swordquest games in my list. I’m not doing so because they were particularly good games… but rather due to the legacy that follows them. Swordquest was a series that consisted of three released titles (Waterworld,  Earthworld, and Fireworld), and a fourth unreleased title (Airworld). These games were part of a larger real-life contest. Depending on which game you were playing, clues were hidden in the game’s instruction manual as well as in a comic book that was included with each game. Players who uncovered the game’s secrets could then write in and hope to be selected to participate in a special contest. The winner of the contest would be awarded with actual treasures. The rewards included: an 18-karat gold talisman that was littered with various gemstones, a jewel-adorned solid gold crown, a jeweled platinum chalice, and a gem-encrusted jewelry box. Of these rewards, two were distributed. The fate of the remaining two are shrouded in mystery… The gameplay itself is a mixture of various genres. For the most part, the main areas of the game were similar to Adventure. But occasionally, the style would switch to various puzzles and platform challenges.  Since the games themselves were designed around a now defunct contest, and the storyline for the games has been left unfinished, there’s very little reason to play these titles today. But the mythology behind them still fascinates many.

 

So, let’s say you’re curious and want to get your hands on these (and other) classic Atari 2600 games. How to do that? Well, a vast number of Atari 2600 titles are included in a the Atari Vault collection. This collection features one-hundred classic Atari titles (both 2600 and Arcade versions). Classics like Centipede, Crystal Castles, Adventure, Haunted House, etc are all included. Xbox One and PS4 users also have their own collection of classic Atari games. However, if you’re hankering to play some Pitfall! The Atari Vault will disappoint.  Currently, the only modern way to enjoy that game is on the Atari Flashback console (version 8 or newer).

 

For 2600 fans, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold is my currently my official recommendation. But, if you can be patient, the Atari Flashback 9 is just around the corner and will included even more long-forgotten games. These consoles simply plug into your TV using an HDMI port. – Just make sure you’re getting the GOLD version if you decide not to wait for the Atari Flashback 9. The non-gold “8” console does not use HDMI and will likely not be compatible with most modern televisions.

Atari Vault

 

 

Atari Vault is available on Steam,

Atari Flashback Classics (vol 1 and 2) are available on PS4 and Xbox One

 

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 2)

First, I want to start this post with an apology for my absence. When I make multi-part posts like this one, I like to try to have them uploaded no more than a few days apart. In this case it’s been a little over a week since my last entry. This delay was largely due to a recent career change. That’s right, I’m no longer working from home in the banking industry. Instead, I’ve switched gears for something a little more blue-collar. I decided a few months ago that the mental stress caused by my previous job was best abandoned for something a bit simpler. It’s taken me a few weeks to adjust to the new schedule and find my groove. So again, I apologize for the delay. With that out of the way, let’s continue our journey into some of the classic arcade titles of the 1980’s!

Millipede

Millipede – In the same way that Galaga was a re-imagining of Galaxian, Millipede is an update to the classic Centipede. The gameplay is largely the same, with the exception of some new enemies and environmental objects. Millipede was intended to replace its predecessor. But for many players, myself included, it just didn’t have the same magic as the original game. I’m not sure what it is exactly – as both games are very similar. But I just prefer Centipede over this update. Sadly, if you’re curious about Millipede, you’re a bit out of luck. While Millipede has been released on a number of systems over the years, it is currently unavailable on modern consoles.

Donkey Kong Jr. – In my last entry I spoke a bit about the Nintendo arcade classic Donkey Kong. Well, as you might expect, Donkey Kong Jr. is a sequel to that legendary game. The original game ends when Mario captures Donkey Kong and rescues his girlfriend. In this title, you play as the son of Donkey Kong on a quest to rescue his father. Much like the previous game, this is a fast-paced platform title. It’s a fun twist on the original title and one that I actually find it to be a bit more enjoyable than the first. Donkey Kong Jr. is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and coming soon to the Nintendo Switch online service. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Nintendo-style platformers.

Joust – Did you ever want to knock out a friend with a giant lance from the back of a speeding bird? If so, Joust is the game for you. While not the first 2-player co-operative/competitive video game, it was arguably the most popular.  In Joust, you can either work together with a friend to eliminate bad guys from the back of a flying ostrich, or you can simply duke it out head-to-head. Personally, I can tell you that when I was young, the whole point of playing Joust was to compete with someone else. It was very therapeutic. In fact, many disputes of my youth were settled via Joust matches. Today, curious gamers can  experience this title via the Xbox Live Arcade.

Moon Patrol

Moon Patrol – I loved this game when I was a kid. Nothing was better than Moon Patrol. I remember how excited I was to see that the game was finally available on the Atari 2600, only to quickly have that excitement deflated upon seeing just how horrendous the Atari port actually was. It was bad… So, so bad. The arcade was the only way to really experience this classic title when I was a kid. What made Moon Patrol so great? Well, first of all, there was the “moon buggy”. Who didn’t want to drive a funky-looking moon buggy across the lunar surface while blasting aliens and hopping craters? I know I sure did. The game was made even better by the catchy theme song that played throughout the game itself. All of this made Moon Patrol a classic that still withstands the test of time. Moon Patrol is available today on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Pole PositionNeed for Speed, Forza, Gran Turismo – all of these game franchises owe their success to Pole PositionPole Position is the original arcade racing game. There was no joystick on a Pole Position machine. Instead, the game machine was equipped with a steering wheel and gas pedal. There was nothing else like it at the time. I remember sitting down in the arcade driver’s seat for the first time, I was blown away. This game was unlike anything else I had ever seen. For kids like me, Pole Position set a very unrealistic expectation about what driving a car was actually like – but that’s what makes it fun! Today, you can play the original game as part of the NAMCO Museum collection on Xbox Arcade.  However, the only way to relive the original experience is by sitting inside one of the classic Pole Position machines, assuming you can manage to find one.

Q*Bert – Here we have one of the true classic golden-age titles: Q*bert. When I was a kid, Q*Bert blew me away because it was a video game that could actually talk – well, sort of. The game has a very basic synthesizer built into the audio board. This allowed the game to output obscure vocal tones. However, these phonmes don’t actually end up being combined into English words, instead it was gibberish. The result was very unique and quirky. Regardless, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Q*Bert is a game in which each level is comprised of a number of 3D-like cubes. The player controls a funky little orange character that jumps from cube to cube in attempt to change each cube to a uniform color. Once every cube on the stage matches, the levels ends and the game progresses. Of course, there are a handful of bad guys hopping around also. So you must always be aware of your surroundings. This game was a favorite of mine when I was very young. Today, Q*Bert is available on the PS4 and Xbox One as part of Q*Bert Rebooted. This title includes the original classic, as well as a modern re-imagining of the game.

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros. – Most people you will encounter have played Super Mario Bros. But how many are familiar with its predecessor? That’s right, before they were “super”, they were just the “Mario Bros.” This game is a simple platformer, that consists of a number of stages. Mario (or Mario and Luigi – if playing in two-player mode) must defeat a set number of enemies in order to advance to the next stage. Unlike Super Mario Bros., the characters are unable to jump on top of monsters to defeat them. Instead, they must bang on the underside of the platform that the monsters inhabit. This will flip the monster onto its back, thus allowing Mario to kick them into oblivion. Even though Mario Bros. was designed to be a co-operative two-player title, many people enjoyed trying to sabotage the other player in one way or another. When I was a kid, this was only real reason to play the game. Mario Bros. has seen some form of release on almost every system Nintendo has put out over the years. However, each of these ports have paled in comparison to the actual arcade version. Today, the only way way to play the “true” version of Mario Bros. is via the Nintendo Switch. The game is included there as part of the “Arcade Archives” series.

Gauntlet – If you’re a fan of dungeon crawl games, you owe a debt of gratitude to Gauntlet. This is the game that started it all. Gauntlet is a multi-player action game with a fantasy theme. It supports up to four players, each taking the role of a different hero; Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie – each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The object of the game is navigate through the dungeon maze, face hordes of monsters, collect troves of treasure, and ultimately find the exit. In its day, this game was infamous for draining young arcade-goers of countless quarter. Admittedly, I spent a small fortune of my weekly allowance on “continues” for this title. I was completely enthralled with Gauntlet. In fact, this game might very be responsible for my lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre. For a time, the original Gauntlet was once available on Xbox Live Arcade. But today, this classic is currently unavailable on modern platforms. Instead, there is a modern reboot with the same name. But make no mistake, there is only one classic Gauntlet.

Rampage – If you’ve ever wanted to assume the role of a giant monster and destroy entire city blocks, Rampage is the game for you. In this game, you can control one of three kaiju monsters; a giant ape, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf. The goal is to complete demolish various US cities, stage by stage. Of course, military and other hazards await the player.  Rampage was another game that really shined in two-player mode. Sure, it was fun enough on its own, but experiencing it with a friend makes it even that much better. Today, the original game is available in the Midway Arcade Origins collection, which is compatible with the Xbox One. (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not included.)

 

The games detailed in both this, and my last post are simply some of my personal arcade favorites from the golden-age of gaming. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of golden-age classics. Nor should it be considered a complete “best of” list. In fact, there are many more wonderful arcade titles from the 80’s that captured my attention. Classics like Popeye, Bubble Bobble, Dragon Spirit, 1943, and Afterburner just to a name a few – all left major impressions on me.  However, if you are a younger gamer with an interest in retro-gaming, any of the titles mentioned in there two posts are excellent starting points.

Modern games are amazing. But it is always important to remember your roots.

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 1)

Most kids today will never experience the thrill of setting foot into an old-school arcade. The closest they will get is likely someplace like Chuck E -Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Sure, there may be a few retro-style arcade halls still tucked away here and there. But sadly, they are now few and far between.

Visiting an arcade in the 1980’s was quite an experience. Most of them were loud, dimly lit rooms, filled with glowing arcade cabinets. Sometimes there were neon bulbs or blacklights on the walls and ceiling. Occasionally, there would be a jukebox blasting music that struggled to be heard over the din of the digital beeps and bloops emanating from the arcade machines themselves.

It might be hard to imagine, but once upon a time, if you wanted to play really good games you simply had to fill up your pockets with quarters and head down to the local arcade. This was especially true in the days before the NES hit the scene. Sure, you could play games at home on the ATARI 2600, but the computing power of the 2600 paled in comparison to what was packed into most arcade machines.

The games that were popular during the golden age of gaming are simple by today’s standards. But nonetheless, they are classics and certainly worthy of attention. Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about the games themselves, but I do want to take a moment to provide a list of some of more memorable arcade classics that I enjoyed as a kid. I’m also going to provide details on how you can best experience these retro games on today’s platforms. So, without further delay, let’s dive in.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders – This is the original fixed shooter! In this game you control a mobile cannon that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. You aim at rows of descending aliens that attack you with laser fire. Your cannon is protected partially from attacks by a number of bunker-like shields. If the aliens reach the bottom of the screen, or destroy all of the shields, the game is over. Space Invaders took the world by storm. It was a classic that will forever be remembered by older gamers like me. Sadly, there is not a true port of the original game available on modern consoles or for PC. However, a re-imagined version of the game, Space Invaders Extreme is available on Steam and XBOX Live Arcade.

Asteroids – This is a classic game from my youth. My summer camp had an Asteroids table and I wasted countless quarters on this thing. Asteroids in a top-down shooter. In it, you pilot a ship through an asteroid field. You can rotate the ship 360-degrees and thrust forward in whatever direction you are pointed. Asteroids of various size float by and you must shoot them with your laser, breaking them apart or destroying them entirely – without being hit. The best way to experience Asteroids today is through the Asteroid Deluxe title available on Xbox One or Xbox 360. This version of the game includes both to classic 1979 rendition, as well as a modern HD remake.

Galaxian – Many consider this game to be an evolution of Space Invaders. Also a fixed shooter, in Galaxian, you control a starfighter that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. Hordes of alien ships line up across the top and attack. But unlike Space Invaders, these ships will swoop down and dive at the player. When comparing the two games, it is easy to see just how fast the technology behind the video game industry was evolving. The original version of Galaxian has been included as part of various NAMCO collections over the years, but it is not available on modern hardware at the time of this writing.

Pac-Man

Pac-Man – This is a game that needs no introduction. Pac-Man is arguably one of the most recognizable video games of all time. The purpose of the game is to navigate through various mazes and collect little pellets. Once every pellet is collected, you move on to the next level. The danger lies in being chased by four ghosts. Touching one of them will result in a life lost. However, the tides turn whenever Pac-Man eats one of the larger power pellets. Doing so gives him the ability to chomp down on his ghostly attackers for a limited time. I don’t know a single person who lived through the 1980’s that isn’t familiar with Pac-Man.  The name is synonymous with golden-age gaming. This classic title is available today in its original form on a number of systems. It is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch (as part of NAMCO Museum collection).

Donkey Kong – This game was one of the first platform games ever developed. Interestingly enough, it is also the game that introduced the character of Mario (then known as Jump Man) to gamers all over the world. Donkey Kong is a giant gorilla, and he’s kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend! Mario must navigate his way through four levels – dodging whatever Donkey Kong throws his way. It’s a short but sweet classic. It is also responsible for bringing the name “Nintendo” to the attention of the west. If you consider yourself to be a fan of retro classics, this is one game that you should be on your shortlist. Donkey Kong is is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and the Nintendo Switch.

Ms. Pac-Man – At first glance, Ms. Pac-Man might seem to be nothing more than a simple re-skin of the classic Pac-Man. But instead, in many ways it is actually a vastly superior game. The ghost AI is a bit trickier, and the levels are a bit more refined. When it comes to Pac-Man, this is my favorite of the two. It is considered by many, (myself included) to be the definitive Pac-Man experience.  Ms. Pac-Man is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade.

Defender

Defender – Ahh, Defender. This is the game that started the “schmup” craze. Defender is a sidescrolling shoot-em-up style game that’s renown for it’s difficulty and its ability to take quarter after quarter until your pockets were left empty. In this game you pilot a starship. The goal is to defend against an alien invasion force. In many ways, the concept here is similar to what was found in Space Invaders. But this time in an action-based side-scrolling presentation instead of an overhead view. At the time of this writing, the only modern system Defender is available on is the Xbox One via the backwards compatible title; Midway Arcade Origins.

Centipede – For me, this was the game that started it all. Centipede holds of honor of being the first video game I ever got my hands on. Like Space Invaders, you control a little character that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. The goal is to destroy centipedes before they reach the bottom of the stage. To make things difficult, the game-field is littered with little mushrooms that provide cover for the centipedes. Defeating the head of a centipede also leaves a mushroom behind – providing a new obstacle for your next go-round. To make things even more challenging, slugs, spiders and other creep crawlies also get in your way and attack you. All of this makes for a fast paced arcade experience. Today, the original arcade version is available to play on Xbox Live Arcade.

Frogger – Who could forget this little guy? Frogger is a game in which you control a little frog as he tries to hop to his home. Of course, along the way there are many dangers – cars, alligators and even… water? It’s a game of both patience and reflexes. Frogger is another classic from my youth. It is simple, yet charming enough to survive the test of time. This game has been ported across a number of systems over the years. Today, the original arcade version is available on Xbox Live Arcade (although without the classic Frogger theme song)

Galaga – Many people confuse this game with its older cousin Galaxian. The confusion is understandable. Both games are very similar both in terms of gameplay and design. In fact, Galaga is a sequel (or some argue a reimagining) of Galaxian. The design and concept is nearly identical, but at a faster pace and with a few new elements thrown in. For many players, Galaga is the more memorable of the two. Galaga is currently available on the Xbox Arcade, PS4, Steam and the Nintendo Switch (as part of the NAMCO Museum collection).

BurgerTime – I was never a big fan of this game. My father on the other hand, loved it as did many others, so I’m including it in my list. The object of this game is assemble a number of hamburgers. Each ingredient is suspended from various levels of ascending platforms. The player must climb ladders and run across the ingredients to make them fall onto the waiting bun below until the hamburger is complete. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. The player is chased by various bad guys (sausages, fried eggs, and pickle slices)… It’s weird, it’s trippy… but it’s ultimately entertaining.  BurgerTime has been ported to a number of systems over the years, but at the time of this writing, it is not available on modern hardware.

Dig Dug

Dig DugDig Dug is a quirky little game that involves digging tunnels in the ground and inflating pests until they explode… Sounds weird? Well, that’s because it is. But it is also lots of fun. When I was little, Dig Dug was extremely popular at my local arcade. I remember seeing one player (a college kid) actually make it to round 256 in the game. Reaching this final level results in an instant kill, but achieving it was on par with having “conquered” the game. Today, Dig Dug is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade, and the Nintendo Switch (via the NAMCO Museum collection)

I’m going to take a break here and resume my list in a second post sometime within the coming weeks. If you’re a younger player who is curious about golden-age gaming, or if you’re an old nerd like myself, I encourage you to seek out copies of these classics and give them a spin. Better yet, if you can find one nearby, venture out to an actual arcade and try to relive the glorious days or retro gaming. Being there, quarters in hand, was arguably the best part of the experience.

 

Project: Retro Rewind

Now that I’ve completed all the games on my 64-bit Generation playlist, I’m excited to announce a new project. Before I dive into what is, for the lack of a better term, the “128-bit era”, I’m going to take some time to do a bit of a refresher on some of the generations I’ve already covered on this site.

In one of my very first posts, I lamented about my experiences as a child with various arcade games. Having been born in 1978, I grew up in the golden age of video games. The first video game I ever had the pleasure of playing was the arcade version of Centipede. The local Pizza Hut had one and I remember being seduced by the flashing lights and hypnotic sounds. Then, by the time I was in the first or second grade, my parents got tired of all my begging and pleading and finally brought home an Atari 2600 console. And as they say, the rest was history.

As I mentioned above, I briefly touched on this in some of the earliest posts on this site. But instead of discussing the Atari-era at great length, I jumped right into my NES playthroughs. So, what I’m going do is “rewind” the discussion on this site for a bit. I’m going to go back and revisit each of the classic retro consoles. For the systems I didn’t talk about the first time around, I’m going to discuss some of their most iconic titles. This means I’m going to be taking a a closer look at the Atari 2600 and the Sega Genesis, for example. For consoles that I did discuss, I’m going to be digging up some of the more obscure, but still classic titles. I’m going to do the same with some of the classic PC games that neglected to mention.

I’m also going to discuss how players today can best experience these retro classics. I feel that the time is right for this discussion. At the time I started this blog in 2012, retro gaming was still something that only us old grognards seemed to care about. Now, it has reached the mainstream.  Retro console reissues like the NES Classic and the Atari Flashback are flying off the shelves. Collected works like the Mega Man Legacy Collection are seeing the light of day all the time.

I’m going to take a brief pause from the backlog to discuss some of this, before resuming my regular routine. Stay tuned!