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… As well as a not-so-quick-fire review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection!
First up though, not a game at all, but one of two books I received for Christmas by the wonderful Bitmap Books! We’ll cover the other one here in a bit more detail very soon but in the meantime I want to quickly mention Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium. I’ve got a load of books from Bitmap, and they’re also a go-to birthday or Christmas present for a couple of interested relatives, but having been an exclusively Atari ST guy until recently, this one wasn’t really for me. That all changed and then some when the Amiga A500 Mini came along last year, and I just had to have this when a reprint was announced a few months ago!
Over the course of some 420 pages, Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium showcases more than 140 of the biggest titles, bringing them vividly to life with a double-page screen grab or loading page. Each is accompanied by quotes and commentary from renowned Amiga artists, developers and publishers, including R.J. Mical, David Braben, Sid Meier, Ron Gilbert, Julian Eggebrecht, Tobias Richter, Dave Gibbons and many more. Beyond the games themselves, it also covers the origins of the hardware and the vibrant demo scene, and includes interviews with artists and profiles of the most prominent games publishers. And as always with Bitmap Books, this is as premium as it gets and the quality is second to none. Definitely recommended!
I’ve had my eye on Hazelnut Hex since it released on Nintendo Switch last year but had held off on buying it simply because I’ve for a big enough backlog of horizontal shoot ‘em ups as it is, but at £2 in the end of year eShop sale I couldn’t resist! It looks like a very stylised take on an old Cotton game, in a kind of pastel-gothic Dexter’s Laboratory way, and while that witchy vibe also extends to the gameplay to an extent, it’s more of a bullet-hell affair that feels more like Deathsmiles, especially in some very smart boss designs, which all makes it a very well put together schmup behind the cute visuals and nonsense about rescuing magical breakfasts! The scoring and power-up systems are refreshingly straightforward but that shouldn’t be taken for granted as it’s easy to get too cocky as a huge wall of bullets is unleashed by some giant pumpkin, although there is a nice feeling of accessibility that keeps things addictive. There’s also a choice of three shooting styles as well as a big charge-shot, and you can tone down the difficulty (which I found comparable to R-Type) if needed too. There’s an impressive big-band rock soundtrack driving everything along and I guess the only criticism I have is that while very stylish, the visuals aren’t really as impressive, with not much going on in the background. But at £2 I have no right to complain about anything. It’s great!
Back to Christmas presents, I’m still playing a lot of the SNES port of Fighter’s History from the Data East Collection 1 on Evercade VS, but don’t have a huge amount to add on top of what I said here last week, although I have now met up with my old friend Karnov, beaten the game and moved on to other characters! I did also confirm it’s part of the SNES lineup with the Switch Online service too, so I can play on the go until my new Evercade EXP Limited Edition handheld finally arrives in a couple of months hopefully – totally heartbreaking what happened there, with the whole production run getting nicked in transit after they left the warehouse before Christmas. Blaze is one company that doesn’t deserve this, but it’s also one company that will make things right regardless!
As well as that and the Data East Arcade 1 collection, I also got the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection for Christmas, although it turned out to be a duff cartridge, so a quick and painless exchange later, I’m now in possession of a working one! No idea why it took me so long to get to this one in the first place though – I’ve got the second instalment, I reviewed it, it’s great, and this one also has a real arcade favourite of mine on it! Apart from that, which we’ll come back to shortly, we’ve got a total of six Gaelco arcade games presented here… There’s crosshair shooter Alligator hunt, which was new to me but is excellent and works surprisingly well here, as was (and is) the kind of action-puzzler Glass, where you’re stripping away a layer of glass while avoiding various dangers to reveal the secrets beneath. There’s also a couple of decent platformers in Biomechanical Toy and Thunder Hoop, although I do prefer the sequel on the second Gaelco Evercade cartridge, which I think is also marginally the case for the isometric racer World Rally here too, but it’s still loads of fun in its own right and possibly only surpassed in this collection by Snowboard Championship… By the way, the picture above is none of those games – it’s actually another crosshair shooter called Bang! by Gaelco in 1998, and it appears as if by magic if you insert the Gaelco Arcade 1 and 2 cartridges into the Evercade VS at the same time!
The SSX series might be my favourite, but Snowboard Championship from 1996 comes a close second when it comes to snow racers. If we’re not counting Horace Goes Skiing! In which case I guess we’re also not counting Winter Games, (and definitely not Winter Sports) so now my mind is racing about other favourites… Never been fussed about 1080 or Cool Boarders, so maybe MotorStorm: Arctic Edge on PSP is next? Who cares! Snowboard Championship is actually very similar to the aforementioned World Rally games, with you racing down various mountain courses against the clock from a wonderfully detailed and vibrant isometric viewpoint. It’s sort of on-rails, with you just pumping at fire occasionally to build up some speed then letting gravity do its thing while you react to signposted turns and obstacles, as well as bonus stunt features like loop-the-loops and tunnels. Get good and you can take on some much tighter slalom courses too. I love this game and I love finally having a legitimate copy, and attached to the big TV in the living room too!
As well as my new Evercade cartridges, I also got a couple of Switch physicals for Christmas, although I’ve only had a quick go on The House of the Dead Remake so far so we’ll look at that another time – very cool lenticular case though! Where I have spent some time is with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, gathering thirteen arcade and console games that can be played solo, couch co-op or online, and there’s all the mod-cons like save states and rewinds, audio and display options, region swaps, plus an insane amount of bonus material – there’s comics, strategy guides, manuals, adverts, full soundtracks for every game, a huge archive of development documents and loads more. Really incredible! I guess my only complaint is the amount of digging you have to do to actually find out what platform you’re playing on because it doesn’t say in the game menus. Okay, sometimes it’s obvious from the impressive full-motion preview screens, like when it’s a Game Boy game, but if you never owned a NES or SNES or Mega Drive, for example, why would it assume you know or simply don’t care? Okay, maybe no one else does care, but it wouldn’t be hard just to have the original platform name and year of release written somewhere!
I’m kind of done moaning now except for the happier problem of knowing where to begin with this lot! By happy coincidence as I was pondering this, I was watching a YouTube video by Sega Lord X, The Best of the Best on the Sega Genesis, and there in the Best Beat ‘Em Up section was the 1992 remix of sorts of the first two arcade games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, so that made my mind up about what to play first! I have got a bit of history with those arcade games, and some Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games, but never really played any of the proper console Turtles games. This thing is a beauty though! The environments are rich and detailed, and the characters look and move great against some fantastic music, but this one is all about the combat! It nails the feel of the arcade games and then some, like some harbinger of the fluidity of the Batman Arkham games. So much fun, and I’m in full agreement with Sega Lord X that there’s probably only Streets on Rage 2 on the Mega Drive or Genesis to beat it.
At this point I really should have just made this a standalone review of this one! So much cool stuff I want to share though! I have to mention that full-motion preview again because you can also jump from there on the game select screen into a full walkthrough video, then seamlessly just press a button and jump straight into at any point and carry on playing yourself! Also worth noting, even though there’s not much on offer for this game specifically, are enhancements available for each game. For example, here you can turn friendly fire on or off, but for other games you can make bosses playable, remove original slowdown or sprite flicker and all sorts more – and when I say “more” I means another bewildering amount more! Just so much stuff here and so much effort everywhere… Except telling me what version of Tournament Fighters I’m currently looking at!!!
I’d love it if anyone can tell me I’m wrong on that, but otherwise I think we can call it a day for this week! In case you missed them, last Tuesday we had a look ahead to upcoming, mostly retro-interest releases for January, On The Retro Radar, and then on Thursday we looked a bit further ahead to make some 2023 Game of the Year predictions! There’s a ton of stuff to choose from in those, and both include trailers for pretty much everything covered, so at the very least go and check those out all in one place! And next week, be sure to look in on Wednesday again when normal post-Christmas service properly resumes again and we do a proper review of that other book I mentioned earlier, The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games by Bitmap Books. It’s a beast too! See you then!