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’m well aware that trying to play Puzzle Bobble 2X by exclusively matching the bubble’s symbols rather than colours makes it way more stressful than originally intended, especially on the Taito Egret II Mini’s screen. I’ve also realised its scoring system is fundamentally flawed, where going big is totally reliant on blind luck getting you a decent starting layout each round to fire and match and pop, as opposed to any great skill or the satisfaction of winning a drawn out back and forth against an opponent. But all that said, I can’t leave it alone! This thing is addictive as hell, despite my colourblindness and its own best efforts, as well as not being able to get past the third round against a computer opponent no matter how hard I try, and while extended play has made these issues even more prominent than when I reviewed it here with all the other games on the Mini a few weeks back, bizarrely I’m properly starting to love it!

I’ve been looking for a new (old) tennis game since I had my fill of the last Mario one on Switch, and after a recommendation from a friend ended up going back to Super Tennis for SNES in 1991 on Switch too, which I had one game of and wrote off when it first appeared on its online service. The problem at the time was the switching from playing at the bottom of the screen to the top, in line with the match play, but, of course, most things are possible if you give them enough time, and that’s probably what I should have given this. Apart from a Mode 7 court rotation when you do switch ends, it’s a fairly simple affair all round, but there’s real depth to the play, mapped to just the four face buttons, and real attention to detail. Big world circuit mode too. This is loads of fun and I binned it off way too soon first time around, but might just have been sitting on what I’ve been searching high and low for all along!

While I haven’t moved on from the Darkstalkers games on the Nintendo Switch Capcom Fighting Collection yet, I’ve got nothing new to say this week, but I was doing a bit more research and discovered that my favourite succubus Morrigan is also a playable character in the Sega Dreamcast port of Psikyo-Capcom 1998 vertical shoot ‘em up Gunbird 2. I’ve only ever dabbled with the arcade version before, but always with the intention of coming back more seriously sometime. Its innovations might lie mainly in its scoring systems, but there’s a very fun and often exhilarating shooter behind it, a lot like its more military-fantasy (over steampunk-manga-fantasy) cousin Strikers 1945 – also on my schmup to-do list! The inclusion of the voluptuous Morrigan and her “nice bomb” in this version might have just pushed it forwards for more immediate attention though, and actually I’m close to done with 19xx: The War Against Destiny, so watch this space!

This week’s Nintendo Direct saw a few interesting demos drop, and as our 2021 game of the year, Resident Evil Village Cloud Gameplay Demo is the most interesting by default! I dearly love this game, I know it inside out, and the grand entrance to that wonderfully decadent castle will probably forever be my favourite sight in all of gaming despite two previous countdowns (which we need to update a third time soon!), but there’s a but… The last time I tried streaming a game on Switch (a demo of Control) it turned into a motion-sickness nightmare within seconds, so how does this fare? Well, on day one of release it was an uncontrollable mess with non-stop network congestion messages ruining the vibe way before any motion-sickness could kick in! Things did improve once the novelty had worn off or people got fed up though, and what you’ve got is a five minute demo in the cellars under the castle. It played okay most of the time, but as much of a fan as I am, I really don’t have a justification for dropping forty quid on a version at the whim of Nintendo’s suspect online services when I’ve got the proper Xbox Series X one sitting next to it, also with nearly eighteen months of progress saved. As always with these things, I’m glad it’s there all the same though, and at the very least I’m pleased to report no side-effects!

I have had a couple of side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups on the go for the last couple of weeks too. Firstly, something I first discovered in the excellent new BEST Arcade Action Games (You Never Played) video by my schmup guru Schmup Junkie, and that’s Over Horizon on the NES from 1991. Quite why this is a game you’ve never played is an absolute mystery – it’s a stunner! I’m not just talking the incredible graphics and possibly top ten on the system music either – it oozes creativity and variety too, with new physics and new mechanics constantly being introduced! It’s also very accessible, and generous with the extra lives on top, and while the last couple of levels demand a bit of familiarity with what’s coming, you’ll be seeing the final boss within a few hours. If you’re new to the genre, it’s another great place to start, but even if you’re just a NES fan and have never heard of it, you need to take a look at the sights and sounds at least.

We’ll come back to the second of our horizontal shooters shortly, but we can mix things up a bit with Tinykin, a brand new 3D platformer (and definitely not the Pikmin rip-off I initially suspected it to be) that recently came to Xbox Game Pass. And you can tell it’s no Pikmin because while it’s not quite game of the year good, it’s not far off, and I wouldn’t be saying that for some cute real-time strategy puzzle thing! It is cute though, but don’t let that put you off either because this is the very purest of gaming fun! Every level sees your tiny guy dumped into a huge, impossibly complex multi-level playground, which in reality is just a regular room in a regular house that’s been dressed to perfection, with the sole objective of maximum pleasure. The sheer scale of the platforming ahead might initially seem as daunting as your objectives, but they’re both built to avoid any frustration, organically opening themselves up as you explore, aided by the unique skills of your collectible, even tinier helpers. Some explode, some conduct electricity, some are ladders… There’s a bunch, but they’re all deployed without a second thought thanks to automatic, context-based selection. There’s also loads to do beyond the main objectives, and it’s so much fun you’ll want to. If Super Mario Sunshine played like this it would be the best game ever!

Let’s finish with that other horizontal shoot ‘em up I mentioned before, and after a load of Saint Dragon of late, we’re now mounting another, not dissimilar dragon this week in Dragon Breed, the 1989 Item arcade game that plays a lot like fantasy R-Type… If it had a dragon’s tail you can brute force you way through enemies with, and sometimes even coil around you as a shield, and you could jump off onto horizontal platforms to grab some otherwise inaccessible power-ups! The dragon does have a decent charge shot though, and some really cool abilities to collect, and the way the levels are put together will also feel familiar to anyone who’s played R-Type, which, in reality, is more likely than having played this. This is equally polished though, and I think a little more accessible too – certainly more so than Saint Dragon, even if I still think I have more fun with that one.

That is going to do us for now. In case you missed it earlier this week, we waggled and mashed and rolled our way through the arcade version of Combat School, as well as the ZX Spectrum conversion (though that’s now easier said than done) and a couple more besides! And next Wednesday we’re celebrating the end of summer by rediscovering Winter Sports, also on ZX Spectrum – always the bridesmaid, never the bride? See you then to find out!