Time for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…
Something brand new to start with though… Apart from stuff we’re still waiting for (Hollow Knight, I’m looking at you!), there wasn’t much I was more excited about getting my hands on this year than Gunvein, which finally arrived on Steam last week! It’s a vertically scrolling bullet-hell shoot ‘em up, not a million miles from something like DoDonPachi but bringing plenty of its own to the party too. There’s so many modes that you’re going to experience its absolute exhilaration whatever your play level, from entry-level genre tutorials to objective-based missions, a story mode and the relentless arcade mode, where there’s no let up to the destruction – which, by the way, also never ceases to look great! Up there with Crimson Clover as a modern schmup masterpiece.
Also new, kind of, is Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration, though I’ve not had a chance to even scratch the surface of its 100+ games yet! I’d preordered the physical release for Nintendo Switch and it’s a hell of a package – a full-blown interactive museum, no less, before you even get to the games, and it’s all really beautifully presented. The games span arcade, 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx, Jaguar, the, er, Touch Me handheld and a bunch of modern remasters and reimaginings of stuff like Yar’s Revenge and Breakout. The emulation seems to be spot-on throughout, and you’ve got all the mod-cons like save states, some really cool wallpapers, filters and other display options, and there’s full instruction manuals on the pause menu for each game, as well as the ability to remap controls. Yes, there’s doubles of some of the games where your own personal favourite that’s missing (Atari 2600 Seaquest or Lynx California Games, for example) might have been instead, but this really is a tip-top retro compilation in every other respect.
And where to begin with all these games, you might ask? Easy choice – I recommend my old favourite, Miner 2049er on Atari 800! Like a few other titles (particularly its sequel), you’ve actually got a choice of a couple systems to play this one on, but this is the most sophisticated and probably the most approachable too. The year is 1982 and your little miner – also the legendary Bounty Bob – has to make his way around increasingly complex mines, leaving his footprint on every single bit of platform to change its colour, with ladders and slides and often precarious jumps getting you around while you avoid and sometimes attack all kinds of meanies on the way. Such an influential game, and it’s lost nothing playing it today.
Apart from that, I’ve spent most of my time dabbling, but I will quickly mention Basketbrawl, again with both the original 7800 version and the fantastic enhanced Lynx version included, which is my first time playing that one handheld as originally intended! We did go into the game in huge detail here a while back but it’s prison-yard basketball from 1992 in an atmospheric gang-war tournament format. There’s various locations, weapons and strategies to discover, but mostly it’s just a really fun, really simple, really violent game of basketball, and I love it here as much as I did on Evercade VS where I first played it not very long ago!
I also love Yar’s Revenge on Atari 2600, and while the modern take included here is very cool and all that, it’s not a patch on the insane creativity of the 1982 Atari 2600 original, and that was my next major port of call! Take out the alien’s shield, avoid its various attacks, hang out in the neutral zone as required, time a shot with your big cannon, do it again. Timeless! Less so the Jaguar stuff I’ll finish off with on here for now, but we’ll be back with a few more games from the collection over the next couple of weeks. Anyway, never played a Jaguar game before so this was my very first, and it was Ruiner Pinball… I know, I should have gone for Tempest 2000 or even Atari Karts (watch this space!) instead but I can’t resist a pinball game! It’s got two themed, multi-screened tables – one about the Cold War and one about a busty evil sorceress (and now you’re getting a sniff of the real reason I came here first!) and it’s all very 1995, although by then we’d seen way better ball physics and far more enjoyable themes elsewhere; it’s presented well enough but just doesn’t feel like decent pinball unfortunately. I’ll try harder to find something good on there next time!
I’ve also been back to Sonic CD again on the Sega Mega Drive Mini 2. For someone who’s never had any real interest in Sonic, this thing really got its hooks into me when I was taking a tour of everything on my latest Mini the other week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I even read the instructions! I don’t have a huge amount new to say about it though, but I am getting the impression there’s a huge amount to discover here, and I think I’m getting to grips with the time travel feature and its alternative levels too. The more I see the better it looks, and the same goes for the music, and it’s just nice to be developing an appreciation for Sonic the Hedgehog in any form after all this time… Still no desire to watch the movies that keep being shoved down my throat on Sky though!
Also on there, but from the regular Mega Drive selection this time, Elemental Master, an exclusive by Technosoft that originally came out in Japan in 1990 and then America three years later. It’s a top-down, auto-scrolling shooter with a run and gun vibe, set over seven levels explained by some kind of fantasy nonsense and four unique elemental magic weapons to help you put an end to whatever evil is going on. It’s tough but learnable, has a nice up and down shot mechanic and some cool environmental hazards to watch out for, and that music… It’s by the Thunder Force III and IV bloke, Toshiharu Yamanishi, and it’s almost as excellent, backing some very earthy environments with rich detailing and some nice special effects to boot. A lot of one more goes with this!
It’s another Mega-CD (or Sega-CD) game next, but not on the Mini this time, and it’s Android Assault: The Revenge of Bari-Arm, or plain old Bari-Arm in Japan. It’s a horizontal shoot ‘em up by Human Entertainment in 1993 that’s set about two hundred years into the future from then, and from what I can make out is about some kind of scrap between folk who’ve spread their wings to Saturn and Jupiter. Or some such fare – it was all in Japanese, although I’m not sure it would make that much more sense in English either! It’s a very pretty game to look at but is pretty unremarkable everywhere else. There’s a cool weapon charge mechanic that encourages not using the automatic fire non-stop and some interesting power-ups, but while it’s always fun to try something new like this, I did feel I’d seen it all before, even by 1993 standards.
With Return to Monkey Island making a very welcome surprise appearance on Xbox Game Pass last week, I returned to Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge on the Amiga A500 Mini – thank goodness I decided to replay the first two games again before I splashed out on the new one! Less of a reason for self-congratulation was spending two hours getting hold of a single piece of a map you need to put together then forgetting to save it, but it’s amazing how much quicker you can get things done a second time when you’re not trying to work out that you have to saw off a pirate’s wooden leg to send a wood-smith out on an emergency “medical” call so you can steal his hammer and nails, sail to another island and shut a coffin salesman in one of his caskets so you can also steal one of his keys! I was doing alright with the rest of that little quest but that really stumped me for ages. Literally! I’m really keen to finish this now so I can start the new one but this is all uncharted waters and they’re getting rough!
Conversely, I’m kind of glad I didn’t click with Football Manager 2023 Console on Xbox Game Pass. I’ve been in deep there before and I don’t have time for those shenanigans anymore! Anyway, it’s the “console” bit I’m not buying – by all means ask me to click A constantly, but why do I have to move a faux mouse pointer over a little icon with A on it first? The in-game engine looks rough too, and there was genuinely more excitement to be had watching the highlights in the ZX Spectrum original forty years ago. Was a masterpiece though… Anyway, I know I’m in some kind of minority saying such things, but I’m also in the minority of having a son involved in one of the teams included, and what I will say is the attention to detail is staggering to the point of being weird! But in a very impressive way, though a couple of hours was thankfully enough to get my fill again for one more year at least.
And that’s that for this week. Wasn’t a bad selection either! Before we go, in case you missed it, don’t forget to check out this week’s look at the excellent Star Wars-infused 3D fighter Star Gladiator for the original PlayStation. And be sure to check back on Wednesday when we’re going to be discovering the unique, trackball-controlled arcade maze ‘em up Sylvalion, and we’re going to be experiencing its exquisite golden dragon on the Taito Egret II Mini and it’s Paddle & Trackball Expansion Set. See you then!