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…

Now that I’m officially bored of playing Elden Ring and it’s for sale on eBay, Xbox Game Pass is getting some love again, and specifically recent addition Citizen Sleeper. This one’s a bit special for me because it’s by the same guy as my 2020 game of the year, In Other Waters, but this time we’re replacing xenobiology in alien oceans (and the most immersive submarine experience since Submarine Commander on VIC-20) with synthetic robots on ruined space stations! It’s a stylish, atmospheric cyberpunk narrative RPG that plays out like a visual novel built on a simple balancing act of dice-based survival. The meandering paths you can travel over it’s six hours or so of excellent writing offer more than you can feasibly experience in one play-through, and it’s brilliantly paced one more turn loop will have you struggling for that to not be a single session play-through!

Last week we got a big update from out of nowhere for last year’s masterful remaster, G-Darius HD, and with it being one of my all-time favourite horizontal shoot ‘em ups, there was no hesitation in diving right back in for a bit more. That said, there’s a lot of new features here that don’t really change that much, with G-Darius Ver.2 HD from 1998 being the main event, offering a beginner mode, rapid-fire functions and a few gameplay tweaks. There’s also the 1998 PlayStation version (I assume because it doesn’t spell it out) and a bunch of gadgets, modifiers, training and replay stuff, and I’ve had a great time messing around with it all, even if the best bit will always be the bonkers giant bosses!

I’ve always loved my Atari ST, but it didn’t have that very pretty take on Flying Shark, 1994’s Banshee, and since I got my A500 Mini that’s been a go-to game on there – albeit one originally built for the fancier Amiga models! We’re going to have a more in-depth look at all that nonsense on here in a few weeks, so in preparation I’ve got a bit more serious with it and have actually finished the easiest mode, although the last couple of levels are anything but easy and it takes some real learning to get that far on the first credit to then drag out your last two for the rest, where “drag out” is also an apt term! Once you’re done, it invites you to try the hard mode for the true ending, but I think I’ll stick to YouTube for that, and instead just go back to having fun with that very polished vertical shooter I waited a very long time to play.

I’m now at 80+ hours on Nintendo Switch Online’s NES selection, and about the same on SNES, and I’m always thrilled at the occasional new additions to both, especially when it’s stuff I’ve never played before. And, as much as I love a pinball game, I’ve never played NES Pinball! It’s a real stepping stone between basic old single screen games and something like Alien Crush on PC-Engine, with a two screen, two sets of flippers setup, and a nice depth to the scoring opportunities as well as bonus screens. There’s two game modes, with the second offering a heavier ball for a more realistic and less floaty experience than you’d find on anything right up to something like Pinball Dreams on SNES and elsewhere. Had fun with this!

Back in April 1985, I was totally smitten by a game called Gryphon on Commodore 64, and I still see it as representing the golden age of C64 graphics, where it’s trademark chunky sprites and colourful backgrounds could bring pretty much anything to life! But until this week I’d still never played it! We’re also going to dive into Gryphon in a bit more detail here soon, but for now I have finished this simple but very atmospheric fantastical shoot ‘em up of sorts, and while my joystick hand is probably never going to forgive me for the beating it took doing so, I’m over the moon to have finally properly played it!

Messing around with the arcade version of Shinobi last weekend led to a whistle-stop tour of various home computer ports, although in retrospect that time might have been better spent on practicing the first boss… In the order I played them, the Amiga port is a twitchy, unplayable mess and is without doubt the worst game I’ve played since I had the misfortune Cobra on Commodore 64 the other month. The Atari ST port, on the other hand, actually isn’t that bad, with great music and at least a chance of a bit of enjoyment, but jumping still isn’t too clever. The Spectrum also has great music in 128K, and overall is a very admirable conversion, albeit not massively suited to the platform. Finally, C64 is pretty barebones, with no music and a very basic look, but not terrible either.

I did have a quick look at some console versions of Shinobi too, and the PC-Engine is definitely the best of the ports for me… at least until the aforementioned first boss, where the jump / fire timing is way too binary and imprecise, making it too frustrating to persevere with despite some absolutely outstanding music. NES isn’t bad, although it is like a NES version of the Spectrum port, but possibly Master System for the win, which is a great approximation of pretty much everything!

In a not totally dissimilar vein, my friend Nick Jenkin covered the ZX Spectrum port of The Legend of Kage on his retro gaming YouTube channel last week (where he’s now on the final approach to an amazing one thousand Spectrum games covered!), and I couldn’t resist a return myself! It’s a decent conversion, but once you’re back in the zone with the controls it’s a bit too easy to hack and slash your way through its handful of basic platform levels, retrieve your girlfriend from her evil kidnapper and head back to your romantic walk in the woods, only for her to immediately get nabbed all over again! I think I’d like to do a bit of a tour of the rest of the ports of that, so maybe next week we’ll do what we just did with Shinobi for The Legend of Kage too!

In case you missed it, this week at Retro Arcadia we had a look at Oh Mummy and everything else that came with it in the ZX Spectrum +2 starter bundle… For better or worse, but mostly the latter! And next week we’re jumping over to the Atari ST, and discovering Buggy Boy, via every other platform I had played it on over the years, so see you there!