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… And this week there’s not a Christmas game in sight!

So much normal stuff to catch up with after last week’s festivities, and although this might not be news if you’ve already seen the Retro Arcadia Game of the Year Top Ten Countdown, Return to Monkey Island did make a last-minute grab for the top spot not long after I mentioned I was was finally playing it here a couple of weeks ago! I saw the end of the “hard” mode, which is the normal way of playing if you know the series of old, in ten or eleven hours, and in all that time I think there were only a couple of occasions where I was reaching for the dynamic hint book in my inventory for a clue about where next. In the main though, there was always a sense of purpose hidden away in the nonsense, and near the end, when you looked back at all the individual adventures that had brought you to achieving that wonderful whole, you suddenly realise that this has been the secret of Monkey Island all along, and it’s an exhilarating feeling. Which you don’t often get with a point and click! Everything, from the vibrant visuals to the perfectly-placed soundtrack, and the outstanding writing to the thrill of being on top of a puzzle, this thing – like a couple of its predecessors – is a masterpiece!

If it hadn’t taken me well over a decade to discover Hypership Out Of Control I reckon it might have given Monkey Island a run for its money in that game of the year thing! First developed for iOS in 2011, over the last couple of weeks I’ve completely fallen for the 2015 Steam release on PC, and is the best £1.59 I’ve spent in a long time! It looks like a regular ancient vertical shooter, and while there are the regular deep space dangers like asteroids, space mines and multicoloured floating blocks to shoot and avoid, as well as tons of stuff to pick up for score, the real danger is your accelerator pedal being stuck to the floor and the brakes are out! What results is an increasingly frantic dodge ‘em up, sometimes made even more so from various “enhancements” to grab, but if you really want frantic you want to choose the Fun Stars option when you’re selecting from any of the five game modes – forget the brakes because you’re eyes will be out way before they are! This thing is really special, and it turns out there’s a sequel too. And even a Flappy version!

As much as I’d love to tell you about the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection for Evercade I got for Christmas, it seemed to contain an Intellivision collection instead, despite everything being correctly labelled, so I’ll report back on that when the replacement arrives! Was desperate for a proper version of Snowboard Championship for my Evercade VS while I was off work too… I was given two Data East collections for Evercade as well though, so having played everything on both to a greater or lesser extent, let me pick out a few highlights from those instead! First though, the pics you see here are of my TV from my iPhone, so apologies in advance if anything’s a bit murky or wonky!

First up, the Data East Collection 1 cartridge brings together a bunch of Data East console games to the Evercade, including NES Karate Champ and Burger Time, Mega Drive Bad Dudes and Midnight Resistance, and what I’m going to home in on now, the SNES version of Fighter’s History. This is a one-on-one fighter from 1994, converted from the previous year’s arcade original, which is not wholly dissimilar to something like, just for example, Street Fighter II, if you’ve heard of that one! Actually, it’s so not wholly dissimilar – particularly a couple of characters and specials – that Capcom took Data East to court over it, unsuccessfully in the end though. Apart from a weak-point system, where each character can be stunned if you hit them right, and an appearance by Karnov at the end, there’s not a huge amount to distinguish this one, whether we’re talking characters, environments or move-sets, but that doesn’t stop it being really competent at all three and a really good time as a result, and I’m properly hooked! Only downside here is having to have strong punch and kick on the shoulder buttons because there aren’t six on the front of the controller, but you soon get used to that, and it’s all very intuitive as a result. I like this one a lot, and now I also believe it’s part of Switch Online too, so I’ll try an arcade stick over there and see how that feels, but I really should give that Street Fighter II a go at some point too!

There is a bit of crossover with the ten games over on the Data East Arcade 1 cartridge, where you’ll also find the original arcade versions of Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja and Burger Time, as well as Sly Spy, Break Thru, Gate of Doom and more. I can never resist the original Burger Time, but of the rest, what’s really grabbed me here is Wizard Fire from 1992. This is a one or two player arcade action-RPG with a Dungeons & Dragons vibe, presented in an impactful, big scale isometric viewpoint. You get to choose from the regular warrior, mage and other such nerds, then you’re off on your high fantasy nonsense quest, defeating monsters, avoiding traps, collecting loot and spells, and taking on some very impressive bosses. This is actually the sequel to the aforementioned Gate of Doom (or Dark Seal and Dark Seal II in Japan) but as well as aesthetic enhancements, it just feels better to move around, which pushes it into very addictive territory as a result. Think we might do a deep-dive here on this sometime!

More dodgy photos of my dodgy old tellies next, I’m afraid! I haven’t pulled the trigger yet but I think after playing loads more Out Run while I’ve been off over Christmas, it’s time for it to breach my top ten games of all time! It sits just outside at the moment, so not such a big jump, but I think my latest all-route clear on the Mega Drive version (on the Mega Drive Mini 2) has pushed it over the edge. I actually moved to it just minutes after a Route D clear on the arcade version, so it was easy to make a comparison, and while it’s missing a bit of polish (especially in the sound effect department), this port is superb! It does do its own thing with some of the environmental colours – and not necessarily in a bad way – and it’s definitely more forgiving, with a bit less traffic and way more traction on the verges, but the exhilaration and the fun of the original is definitely all intact!

It’s also not such a big jump to our next game, although I’ve actually been jumping between the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable versions of OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast this week. Considering how much I love the original, and how much fun this is in its own right, I’m not sure why I’ve overlooked it as much as I have since buying both versions such a long time ago – probably because of how much I love the original! Anyway, while the soundtrack might be familiar, the rest is a mind-blowing set of race modes (based on 2003’s OutRun 2), tracks, cars, characters, careers and more. There’s loads of unlocks and madcap mid-race missions too, although the purist can simply go coast 2 coast, either with the regular Out Run split route format or a continuous set of all the tracks. There’s now huge drifting potential around corners too! The remixed soundtracks sound great, if not wholly authentic as a result (although there are solutions to unlock for that too), the environments are generally varied and very good looking, and it all moves at a crazy pace, whether you’re playing big or small. Just a shame both are missing the bonus tracks from the original – Daytona, etc. – from the Xbox version (which now goes for a crazy price too). Still feels great though. Just not quite original Out Run great!

I was pretty disappointed when I realised we weren’t getting Akai Katana on Switch outside of Japan in December after all, but I’m fairly confident it’s still coming at some point, based on the multiple Western languages also in that version. And there are always other means of playing an arcade game in this day and age! I’m not sure why I never spent much time with this remarkable horizontal bullet-hell shoot ‘em up from 2010 before, given my love of its predecessors Progear and Deathsmiles, as well as most things Cave in general – I think it’s always been one of those I was saving until I could go all-in on, but that can probably now wait until an official release turns up. In the meantime, I’ve had a really good time getting to know it a bit better first, though I’m not really sure that cuts it – literally, in fact, because I still can’t get the titular score-bending katanas to form around my ship and cause screen-filling golden havoc! I did work out most of its other regular and phantom attack and defend mechanics though, and when to trigger each for maximum score, even if that maximum score was still a bit inconsistent! I should know better and stick to surviving insane bullet curtains first, but this thing is really stunning and it’s hard to resist being sucked in to everything from the outset!

There’s been a load of other stuff on the go over Christmas, like Mystic Warriors and Sonic Advance, Operation Wolf and Balloon Fight, Ninja Spirit and, and, and… We’ll leave it there for this week though. Before we do, in case you missed it last Wednesday, don’t forget to check out a look at everything I played and completed last year in The Retro Arcadia Rundown of Games Completed 2022. And next week we’ve got a double-header of looks ahead with our regular monthly roundup of upcoming retro-interest releases On the Retro Radar for January 2023 on Tuesday, then on Thursday we’re predicting potential games of the year for 2023, with a look ahead to what’s to come a bit later. And both mean trailers galore to enjoy at the very least! With that, we’ll flip the Puzzle Bobble 2 X DIP-switches from Christmas to New Year mode, and I’ll wish you a very happy New Year too!