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 just about bit off more than I could chew this week, with reviews of both the brand new Gaelco Arcade 2 and Jaleco Arcade 1 collections for Evercade meaning spending enough time with all fourteen games to do them justice! Obviously I’m not going to cover them all again here, but you’ve already spotted the links to both reviews from last Tuesday and Wednesday just now so I’ll mention the two I’ve spent some extended time with since, one from each…

Together with finally owning a legitimate copy of Big Karnak, World Rally 2 was one of the prime reasons for pre-ordering the Gaelco cartridge for my Evercade VS. It’s a 1995 isometric racing game that ramps up the visuals as well as the track complexity from its predecessor, but the format is the same, with just sixty seconds to clear each stage of four increasingly challenging international rallies. I’ve played quite a few of these isometric racers, but being a rally game this series feels more like you’re throwing a Scalextric car around a huge series of stomach-churning bends than ever before! So simple, with just accelerate, left and right, but the feel for the handling and familiarity with the tracks required to even complete the “easy” Portugal rally is immense, not to mention wanting to go back and do it better! Worth the asking price alone! By the way, please excuse the manual shots over screenshots for these, but it’s a nightmare getting them for games like this by taking a crappy photo of the TV with one hand while you’re doing something with the controller in the other!

If World Rally 2 was a main selling-point for the Gaelco cartridge, Saint Dragon over on the Jaleco one was the opposite! It’s not that I’ve actually never liked it, but from the very first screenshots I saw back in 1989 I’ve just never been motivated to even try it, which goes for the mass of conversions too. Not sure why really – just didn’t fancy the look of it I guess, but what a fool I’ve been! The few days (and several hours) since I finished gushing over it in the review have only confirmed what I thought from the very first credit – this is going to end up being one of my favourite horizontal shooters of all time! It’s gorgeous, the soundtrack is equal to some of the genre heavyweights and the gameplay is sublime before you even start mastering its unique cyborg dragon’s tail mechanic! This is absolutely wonderful, and I can’t believe I’m only saying that for the first time in 2022!

Last week I promised I’d go wild and splash some cash on something proper for the new Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium rather than go on about pack-ins and freebies again, so this week I’m proud to present Saturday Night Slam Masters! Just to recap that discussion, because of the big crossover with Capcom Fighting Collection, I decided to pick and choose what to buy instead of getting the lot bundled, and after some very enjoyable research on every game available, I came up with a list of one. This! As much as it looks like an arcade wrestling game, it actually plays more like a one-on-one fighting game in a wrestling skin. It’s fantastic either way though! Simple jump, grab and attack controls mask loads of depth, especially with eight wrestlers (and a couple of extras) on offer, each with their own non-grapple special and finishing move. There’s a solo single match series mode and team battle royale, which is one or two player two-on-two, and to win either its about depleting energy for the pin or submission, or there’s also a count out, which can be a cheap way to win if you’re struggling! I’ve only really dabbled with all the characters so far, but it’s loads of fun already and will be hanging around here for a while yet!

Want to hear about a new wrestling game as well? There was a free trial thing for WWE 2K22 with Xbox Game Pass last weekend. I gave up on these games about ten years ago, which I think was after a LoveFilm game rental of WWE 12 for PS3, but the last one I actually bought was WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 for PSP which I loved. Just like I’d loved pretty much all of them from early arcade versions and ZX Spectrum to the Game Boys and up to the first two PlayStations. I still watch wrestling on TV every week (although I often wonder why) but the regular games just stopped being fun. Too much busywork, too many buttons, too slow and all too serious, and I’ve never seen anything to change my mind since. Maybe this one will though because it’s actually not bad! Seemed really easy to get into, and while there’s way more depth than I ever got to in the trial, I had loads of fun trying out different wrestlers and match types as I gradually picked up on how to play properly. Much more of a fast, closer to arcade experience than I expected too, and the only thing I wasn’t too keen on was the presentation, which maybe bizarrely is too good – it’s polished to the point of being clinical. All the same, great trial and I’ve got my eye on this for a rainy day now!

I know I said I wouldn’t go on about Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium freebies again a couple of games ago, and I won’t, but when I was doing exactly that last week I said I’d discovered an exclusive PC-Engine sequel to the wonderful auto-running and gunning platformer Sonson, and also promised I’d try it out and report back here, so here goes! Sonson II is more of a platforming adventure, with a huge map and RPG elements a bit like one of the Wonder Boy sequels meets Black Tiger in a Sonson monkey boy skin. And that’s literally what it is! The originally planned PC-Engine Black Tiger conversion was redeveloped into this thing (for reasons only know to Capcom!), with a much cuter vibe lifted out of Sonson, a nice bit of music and lower difficulty, although the single life bar with no continues kind of makes up for that! It’s fine but it’s no Wonder Boy unfortunately. Glad I played it though!

Unlike my past indifference to Saint Dragon earlier, I’ve never been a massive fan of Silkworm – I picked it up from somewhere on Atari ST but the whole jeep or helicopter or both thing never really clicked. Needed a second player I guess! Anyway, circumstances this week found me playing this old horizontal shooter solo again, helicopter only because I really don’t like the jeep, starting with the Atari ST version, which I’ve always appreciated over the original and other versions because it lets you fly right down to the ground… The Amiga version delivers more of a punch visually, literally from slightly brighter bright colours, and in the sound department too but they both play much the same, and they’re both good versions, as I discovered trying the original 1988 arcade version for the first time. That ramps things up again, especially the initial difficulty, but it soon settles down. Then the NES version understandably takes things in the other direction, but the simpler colours look great, and combined with the faster and looser gameplay, I think I had the best time with that one, although I think it still needs a player two who doesn’t mind being jeep!

I am still playing Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, or Darkstalkers 3, on the Capcom Fighting Collection on Switch, but I’ve gone on about that here enough recently and I’ve actually just finished a bit of a deep-dive that you’re going to see here the week after next. Depending on when the apparently-shipped Taito Egret II Mini turns up, which I’d also like to review ASAP! However, before that, next Wednesday, we’re definitely going to finally get to that Cotton Fantasy Collector’s Edition unboxing and game review update for Switch I mentioned here last week. Unfortunately those two Evercade game reviews took all my spare time and beyond so I had to delay it from the other day, but what that means is it’s evolved from the originally planned bit of a bonus post into the best unboxing video that isn’t an actual video ever, so I’ll see you then!