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 I played twenty-one versions of Wonder Boy. The end! Actually, although I did genuinely do that for a review of the new Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection, about half of them were the same game, for example Japanese and English versions of Monster Land for the Master System, or no less than four identical versions of the original on Master System and Game Gear! Can’t beat a bit of Wonder Boy though, and there’s all kinds of masterpieces (and a couple of real turds) to be found among the detritus of the six base games represented, so be sure to check out the review from the other day here. Because it took me ages! Because I’m too cheap to buy a copy!

Something really special arrived in the post this week! While it’s not been one of my eBay holy grails like BMX Flyer or bringing my beloved Lego Space Transport back home was, I have been after Grandstand’s Scramble in decent condition for some time. I finally got lucky with a boxed version, complete with manuals and so on and just a few minor scuffs but a perfect play area and like-new working order. Beautiful machine! This is a tabletop electronic game from 1982, based on the Konami arcade game, with you flying left to right using a proper joystick, dropping bombs and firing missiles (on separate buttons) across five unique phases of gameplay. The vacuum fluorescent display is great, with loads of colours and a surprising amount going on, and all its really missing is the wild scenery of the original, which is represented on a laminated area below the action. Okay, the gameplay itself is only vaguely Scramble, but it’s fantastic in its own right, pretty much a technical marvel for the time, and is still very hard to put down today. Worth the wait!

We didn’t have to wait for Hi-Fi RUSH, which surprise-dropped onto Xbox Game Pass after the Microsoft showcase thing a couple of weeks ago! This is from Shinji Mikami and The Evil Within people at Tango Gameworks, and published by Bethesda, so we’re talking very slick and very high production values, and it’s a rhythm-combat game with some pretty casual but big-scale platforming as your cyborg rockstar-wannabe tries to take down the evil corporation that messed up his robot arm to suit their own purposes – which was a life of collecting their rubbish in this case. The gloriously vibrant cel-shaded world you’re gadding about in syncs with the soundtrack, which features the likes of Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy in its big set pieces, and the more you tune in to music’s rhythms with your button presses, the more damage you’ll do. It’s such a stylish affair, coming across like Bayonetta meets Jet Set Radio, but while it’s been fun I’m not sure I can stick the annoying main character for what’s apparently another five hours or so, and I seem to have seen most of what’s on offer already so I might just call it a day here before it starts properly dragging. Nice surprise and a nice ride for a few hours all the same though.

Let them eat feet! I’ve been back to Fighter’s History again, which I discovered a while back on one of the Data East Evercade collections but have been playing on the go a whole lot of late on Switch. This is the SNES version from 1993, care of Switch Online, and while it’s exactly the Street Fighter II rip-off the arcade original was, it’s a really good one! I’ve been making my way through the regular campaign with another character, Feilin, and while getting to fight the mighty Karnov at the end will always be a treat, the highlight at the moment is Survival mode! This is like a winner stays on tag team mode, where you choose five fighters to compete against five computer ones. Whoever wins takes on the opponent’s next fighter until one side or the other has none left, and it’s great fun! Not only does it expose you to more of the roster all at once, but there’s some really exciting swings each way as it progresses. Enjoying this one way more than I ever expected, and I think I’ll jump back to the Evercade version again next to get this new mode up on the big telly!

It’s hard to keep track but I’m not sure I’ve ever played much Strikers 1945 Plus before! Either way, hell of a lot of fun! It’s a vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up from Psikyo and published by SNK on the Neo Geo MVS in 1999, and is actually a remake of the second game in the Strikers 1945 series from two years earlier. You’ve got a choice of six World War II planes, each with different super-shots, which charge up over time and can be stored, the number of which differs for each. As done the bomb, which is my only gripe with the game – I like a bomb that serves as a screen-wiping panic button when I’m desperate, but that then really restricts your choice of plane. And that’s a shame because your play style should be defining that choice. Apart from that, it’s eight stages (with the first four selected randomly) of increasingly brutal but always exhilarating bullet chaos, and I’m really glad I either finally got to it or at least made a return!

If I had a list of games I’ve played a lot of but will never be great at, it would certainly include several Metal Slugs, and this week I’ve had a bit of a tour of some of the pioneering run and gun series… I’ve always thought Metal Slug 3 on Xbox 360 from 2004 is the best-looking of them (see pic at the top here) but once you’re past the first stage and all the cool killer crabs, I think is the least fun too – the zombies are just too hard! Having re-established that for the umpteenth time, I remembered there were a bunch of old SNK games given away on Amazon Prime Gaming recently, and found the Neo Geo original from 1996 on there waiting to be installed on my PC. I’ve never played much of this one but what a game! Iconic visuals, simple controls and frantic gameplay that’s also challenging but never unfair and always rewarding. Think I need to spend a bit of time on this – maybe a Retro Arcadia deep-dive brewing! From there, I jumped to 1999’s Neo Geo Metal Slug X, which, bizarrely, is the one I’ve played the most but on iOS of all places! This one is a remake of Metal Slug 2 and had always been my favourite – another looker (and sounder), great sense of humour and painfully addictive, chaotic gameplay. Lastly, quick shoutout to the two Neo Geo Pocket Color versions from 1999 and 2000 respectively. Metal Slug First Mission is a bit like a crap Mega Man but Second Mission is not bad at all, with much tighter controls and far more familiar gameplay.

Really good time jumping around a few Metal Slug games this week, and while I did play loads more Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet and first 2023 game of the year contender Graze Counter GM (see last week’s post), I think that’s a decent place to finish for now. Just in case you missed it, as well as that Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection review last Thursday, we also had our regular look ahead to what retro-interest stuff is coming in the upcoming month, On the Retro Radar, last Tuesday. Be sure to check those out, and next week you should also be sure to come back and discover MotorPsycho on Atari 7800 with me, and that’s coming on Wednesday. See you then!