Back again 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… I’ve been away with work this time though, so apologies if it’s not the usual bumper crop!
Electronics industry events in Nuremberg don’t generally trigger a huge amount of retro gaming chat but this time I did come across the world’s largest game of Pac-Man. Allegedly! I’m sure I’ve seen in played on the side of a tower block or something, but who cares… Giant screen, big stand up controller and lots of mazy fun from 1980 was had by all!
Being away and mostly occupied did limit my gaming time this week considerably but I finally got my hands on the Limited Edition Evercade XP! Originally due last December, the whole lot got nicked as they left a warehouse but to Blaze Entertainment’s immense credit they not only got them made again but also took the opportunity to sort out a couple of issues with the non-limited version, such as a few overly tight old cartridges. I should mention, this is the cartridge-based handheld system with dozens of themed compilations, in turn covering a load of old systems, and I’ve got quite the collection already from my Evercade VS, which is the one that plugs into the telly. So far it seems well built with a lovely screen and responsive controls, but the sound is a bit weedy and the TATE mode button that spins the screen vertical is cool but really uncomfortable! Unfortunately I did have problems with a couple of cartridges too, including the new bundled Toaplan collection and my current favourite, full of Gaelco arcade stuff, neither of which worked in the new handheld but have been fine on the VS. However, also to Blaze’s credit, they were on the case immediately and offered replacements so hopefully that will all be sorted shortly one way or another. And as you can see, Battle Chess worked fine!
What I did also get to play a load of, though, was the new Irem cartridge that also comes in the box. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll never cease to be amazed when I play arcade R-Type at home, let alone in my hand! Few games ever blew me away like the original did back in 1987, and I’m so glad I can play it here now too! I do have In The Hunt on PS1, and it’s another stunner, but had never even seen the 1993 arcade version before, so of everything here this is probably the big one for me! It’s a beautiful submarine shoot ‘em up, and maybe more methodical and slower paced than some as a result, but crammed full of colour and detail that will be familiar to any Metal Slug fan, and an impressive amount of variety too. Ten years earlier next, and 10-Yard Fight, which is a primitive American football game and a huge favourite of mine for a long time, which might reflect my own primitive (but enthusiastic!) knowledge of the source material. It’s simple but tactical enough, with you advancing as far as you can towards a touchdown before the clock runs down. It’s not football at its most sophisticated by any means, but it’s not meant to be and the arcade scoring mechanic makes it hard to put down once you’re into it!
I’ve not played a huge amount of the other three games on the Irem cartridge but I’ve started this mini-review so I’ll finish! Battle Chopper is the much cooler name for Mr Heli, as it was known here when it first arrived in 1987! It’s a superb multi-scrolling tunnel-based helicopter cute ‘em up that I’ve actually finished on the ZX Spectrum and also owned by way of a cover disk on Atari ST but it’s my first time playing the arcade version so looking forward to more of this! Lightning Swords is a side-scrolling hack and slash from 1991 set in Feudal Japan that does nothing new but it does it really well! Very polished, some cool mechanics and another I’ll definitely be getting into a bit more later. One more to go, and I’ve never been massively fussed by 1982’s Moon Patrol but I’m glad it’s here to represent the era! Important game too – Irem’s first big hit, and by the geezer who came up with Street Fighter, and one of the first to ever use parallax scrolling! It’s a race across the moon surface (if you want decent scores), shooting aliens and stuff and avoiding hazards in your little buggy. The movement is very impressive for the time and it’s still alright but, as said, never my favourite. The EXP is a winner overall though, despite a couple of issues and a few teething problems, with my ready-made collection of loads of cartridges I can now take with me.
Elsewhere on handheld this week, I played all the way through Sonic the Hedgehog – Pocket Adventure on Neo Geo Pocket Color and it was a surprisingly good time, to the point that having now completed eleven 2D Sonics, I’d only rank it behind the original Sonic Advance on the Game Boy Advance for handheld Sonic fun! It really is fun too, with the pace and excitement of the best of the series all present and correct, even if everything is scaled back a bit. That does include the challenge, but sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the ride, and it does mean that nothing ever outstays its welcome, which can be the case with these. The level designs are fast and intuitive throughout though, with decent sound and very smooth, pacy, recognisable visuals. As said, nice surprise because I knew nothing about this one going in but wasn’t expecting any more than what I’ve now seen on the Game Gear, and this is way more than any of those!
Last up this week, I wasn’t anticipating Call of Cthlulu: Shadow of the Comet to hang on in there for quite so long, but the curse is finally removed and on the whole it was a really enjoyable point-and-click Lovecraftian adventure! Well, as much as it is “point-and-click” because it wasn’t to start with back on 1993 when mouse controls weren’t guaranteed on DOS, and while I don’t really care about that, the eventual translation to mouse here isn’t always so successful, especially in some of the more frantic (and life-threatening) situations you occasionally find yourself in. Apart from that, the graphics are of their time but often gorgeous all the same, the voice-acting is probably the worst you’ll ever hear (and yes, that includes any Silent Hill you care to mention), the puzzles vary in obtuseness and the story is consistently excellent. If you like Lovecraft it’s definitely recommended at 99p on Steam!
As said, not a lot of gaming time this week otherwise, but I’ll be back with more on the new Evercade in particular next week! And in case you missed it last week, check out my deep-dive into my absolute favourite thing on the Sega Mega Drive Mini 2, the Mega-CD (or Sega-CD) version of 3D shooter Night Striker. That’s a lot of Segas and Megas, but so take a look! Then next Wednesday, be sure to look out for a big one as we dig into some sacred ground and my life with one of my absolute all-time favourite games, Elevator Action. See you then!