Time for our regular quick-fire reviews and impressions of what’s been under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…

I can’t tell you about the upcoming collection it’s on due to a review embargo (yes, I know!), so let’s say instead that to make a nice change from only ever playing Road Rash II and Super Fantasy Zone on my Sega Mega Drive Mini, I decided to try something else on there with Monster Land IV! This is the 1994 Wonder Boy game that ditched the Wonder Boy name after it ditched pretty much any semblance of Wonder Boy whatsoever, but for all of that, and for all of the RPG shenanigans I’ve never liked since they were introduced after the original arcade game, this thing is incredible and I can’t leave it alone! While not the most challenging or sizeable of the Wonder Boy games, the series never looked or sounded better, and it might not feel like the old platformer I love in the slightest, but it does feel really, really good! So much fun, and we might see it pop up again here very soon…

I’d only ever played the Japanese version of Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara before this week, which probably explains never having any idea what was going on until now! Turns out the English version opens up a whole new world of fantasy nonsense in this RPG-infused arcade beat ‘em up by Capcom in 1996. It’s certainly more enjoyable, although I didn’t really delve much into the nerdy stuff tucked away in menus, opting just to hit everything instead. Behind some very detailed graphics with a few lovely flourishes there’s loads of characters, loads of monsters, multiple routes to take and some decent bosses, including Man Scorpion, which is exactly as far as I ever got!

I’ve not been much into fighting games since IK+ on the Atari ST, but while getting up to speed on all things Amiga since getting The A500 Mini, I came across the CD32 version of Fightin’ Spirit, and it feels pretty good – especially with my new 8BitDo arcade stick, which I’ve now successfully connected to the Mini with a wireless dongle. Pretty good looking too, with each of the ten characters coming with their own absolutely stunning locations, as well as their own fighting styles and special moves. Decent story mode too, which might be the regular tournament format, but is a great way to experience everything. Think I might be adding this to the list of stuff to cover in more detail here sometime!

Quick shoutout to my friend Nick Jenkin, who’s recently covered MIG-29 Soviet Fighter, also on the Amiga, on his YouTube channel, and while he quite justifiably wasn’t very enamoured, for some reason I can’t leave it alone! Okay, it’s way too difficult, and coming off the back of even the regular Amiga version of Fightin’ Spirit it’s not going to win any awards for how it looks, but there’s something about its more tactical take on Afterburner that’s properly hooked me. If anyone ever asks me about a guilty gaming pleasure in future, I think I’ve got an answer. Even if I still can’t get off the first level… Even with a nuclear bomb!

Rounding out on the Amiga, and then elsewhere too, is Mercs, Capcom’s 1990 run and gun follow up to the almighty Commando. This is one of those games I’ve enjoyed when I’ve played it, but it’s never really been a regular go-to like its predecessor. That said, I’d never played the Amiga version before, and while it’s not the best of the conversions, you certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed by it, with some great music and a pretty faithful rendition of everything else from the arcade game. It’s just missing a bit of polish in how it controls that’s probably only really noticeable coming off the back of the arcade version, or, indeed, the wonderful Sega Mega Drive port that I’ve also been enjoying over the last few days. I am getting stuck at the second stage boss whatever the version though, so there can’t be a lot in it!

On a very similar note, I also played the Toaplan’s 1990 arcade run and gun meets shoot ‘em up Out Zone for the very first time the other day, and it’s a real winner! I really should just go through a list of Toaplan’s games and try the lot because exactly the same thing happened with their Rally Bike a while back, but I don’t know, there’s something about an organic sense of discovery that I really enjoy! Anyway, this is another one that’s in the same mould as Mercs, but also with a healthy dose of Guwange from Cave, which it actually predates by almost a decade so maybe the other way around! It’s cyborg sci-fi mercenary action, it gets very frantic very fast, and it looks and sounds almost as good as its subtly mashed-up but independently stylish gameplay feels!

And then, in total contrast, we have Dick Turpin on the ZX Spectrum but was similarly another real find this week! It’s a text adventure with a handful of primitive graphics created in The Quill adventure creation system in 1985, but behind the homemade facade there’s an intuitive text input system supporting a familiar but well-retold tale that has a few thrilling surprises up its sleeves over the course of the 3-4 hours it takes to complete its two parts following the highwayman’s escape out of Epping Forest and then his ride to York. The legend it’s all based on might stray very far from the sordid truth of Dick Turpin, but it works great here and we’ll take a deeper dive into it at Retro Arcadia in a few weeks!

Before we go, a quick preview of what’s coming at Retro Arcadia next week, and relatively speaking it’s loads of stuff! First up, on Tuesday we’ll take a look at what’s on the Retro Arcadia radar for release in June that might be of interest to any fellow retro gaming enthusiasts out there. Then on Wednesday we’ve got the the first of two new game reviews this week with sci-fi horror horizontal shoot ‘em up Remote Life on Switch, followed by the upcoming Wonder Boy Collection, also on Switch, on Thursday, right before its release on Friday. Hopefully see you there somewhere!