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’ve been putting the finishing touches to the Atari ST collection I couldn’t afford at the time for a while; we’re exclusively in the realms of nice-to-haves now though, such as Road Runner, Time Scanner and P-47, but not Enduro Racer anymore! I never really fancied this conversion at the time, which was strange because I’d count the Spectrum one among my top twenty games of all time, on the back of some great experiences sitting-on-the-bike version of the 1986 arcade original. The thing is, despite the lack of colour, that port looked and played like the real thing, where the ST one really never looked quite as gritty, and certainly never seemed anywhere near as impressive as its Super Hang-On. So I stuck with that until last week! Definitely 99p well spent on eBay though, and while it’s not exactly the adrenaline fix you might have wanted, it is more forgiving than the other versions and if you try and forget about them then it’s a really good time in its own right. By the way, excuse the crappy photo of my crappy TV from my not-crappy phone!

Speaking of all-timers, apart from Gauntlet, Elite on Atari ST is the last of my top ten games of all time that we’ve not covered in detail here yet. I originally got sucked in by Elite on a friend’s BBC B, but after what must have been thousands of hours on the fancy 16-bit version, I’ve never been back… Until I noticed Elite Dangerous was on the Xbox Game Pass leaving soon list, then decided to finally have a go two days before! I knew it was there all along but as much as I fancied it, I was always intimidated by both the learning curve and the commitment. Turns out the tutorials are excellent, and while there is bewildering depth lurking in the background, they work and have you doing your own thing perfectly happily within a couple of hours, and that’s all it takes to get completely hooked, so we’ll have to see about that commitment thing now too!

I have played Soldier Blade on the PC-Engine Mini in passing before, but never really in earnest. It’s a very pretty vertical shoot ‘em up with an equally pretty soundtrack developed by Hudson Soft in 1992, and is the fourth entry in the Star Soldier series, where I do have a bit more form with its predecessor Super Star Soldier, and a lot more with its cute spin-off Star Parodier. Nothing cute here though – this is serious sci-fi, with you you putting a stop to some alien race or another trying to conquer Earth over seven stages. Its sights and sounds (and some cool power-ups) are all that keep you interested in the first couple after just a few goes though, with little in the way of challenge, but stage three gets exciting and stage four is downright brutal by the end, and is as far as I can get without continues or a lot more work needed. Just not sure I want to put it in with having to get that far over and over first though. Maybe something to save state to learn on a rainy day…

A few updates now on a few games we’ve covered here a few times previously… I mentioned before that I was having difficulty with specials and finishers in wrestler-meets-fighter Saturday Night Slam Masters on Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium on Switch. I knew what I was doing, but couldn’t do it reliably or regularly and wondered if an arcade stick might help, and it did! Still don’t know if it was me and my clumsy fingers on the Joy-Cons, or some kind of optimisation problem, but I don’t care anymore either!

Despite being a bit distracted by that Soldier Blade earlier, I’m also still playing a lot of vertically scrolling shooter 194xx: The War Against Destiny, which is also benefitting from an arcade stick on Switch! Still needs a lot of work, especially on the last couple of bosses, but the number of credits to see the end is getting more respectable, and some of the mid-levels are starting to feeling more exhilarating than tense. And while we’re talking shooters, we can spin around by 90 degrees, quite literally, thanks to that ingenious screen rotation mechanism, and just mention similar slow improvement with Darius Gaiden on the Taito Egret II Mini, and also The Legend of Kage on there, both of which we also covered here last time.

These few updates were only meant to be a short sentence on each, so a quick and dirty last one now. Also quite literally. Sorry in advance! As regular listeners will know, I’ve been playing loads of the Darkstalkers games on the Capcom Fighting Collection on Switch, and in Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of Vampire in particular, I’ve noticed my favourite part-vampire Morrigan losing her clothes quite regularly, and there’s even a couple of variants. It all happens in a flash, but just in the interest of completeness I’ve painstakingly captured some screenshots from some videos and shared some examples here!

When we reviewed that Taito Egret II Mini a couple of weeks ago, we once again encountered Qix, where I once again found my colourblindness to be a fundamental problem with this 1981 puzzler. That said, the concept of guiding your line to cover 75% of the screen while avoiding various nasties remains fantastic in principle, assuming you can see them and you! And then a friend suggested I try the Game Boy version – monochrome, you see, and you know what? It’s not just the concept that’s fantastic! Finding this version was a literal game-changer, and I’ve been playing on my Pocket Go whenever I get a spare minute. I’m still not forgiving the original for excluding me and my kind from its fun, but I have at least finally found it elsewhere!

Pinball Wizard was the very first game I wrote about here, back in April 2017, and while things have naturally evolved a bit on all fronts since then, it’s still way more fun than it has any right to be in 2022! Yes, there’s virtually nothing to do on the table, there’s now-standard features missing and the flippers always move together, but the ball physics aren’t bad at all, and as long as that’s the case pinball is pinball! Demon’s Tilt and many others might have replaced it in today”s pinball pecking order, but this one was my first, and it was a thriller at the time, and it’s actually hard to put down again now!

I was actually on the VIC-20 for Q*bert, having been dabbling with the arcade version and realising I’d never actually played it on there, or, indeed, on the Atari 2600, which is the version you can see at the top of the page here. They might not quite have the looks, but they’ve definitely got the one more go appeal of the original, with both versions adapting the gameplay slightly within their own limitations, while impressively still feeling like Q*bert. The VIC version is a bit more methodical while the 2600 goes faster paced and higher scoring as a result. I’m not the biggest fan of the game but discovering both of these really made my day!

In case you missed it, last Thursday we reviewed the Paddle & Trackball Expansion Set and all ten games that come with it for the Taito Egret II Mini (as mentioned before, also reviewed here the previous week with all forty of its games). On Tuesday there was also a look at loads of upcoming retro-related releases for the month ahead, complete with trailers for each, on our Retro Radar for September. And next Wednesday we’re going to be looking in detail at our very first Amiga game here, when we’ll be discovering the very impressive vertical shoot ‘em up Banshee. See you then!