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…

Apart from a game first released in 1996 that I’m not allowed to talk about due to a review embargo, it’s nearly all been handheld something or other this week, starting with Neo Turf Masters on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 on PSP! This is a 1996 arcade golf game (on a compilation from 2008) by Nazca, which they released around the same time as their other, maybe better-known pre-SNK acquisition hit, Metal Slug. It controls with a familiar two-press gauge, albeit slightly simpler than usual with the first for power then the second for a high, middle or low shot, where hook and slice are on separate buttons beforehand. Any simplicity here is countered by some crazy course designs though – the four courses in single-player stroke play get fiendish quick! Presentation is top-notch, especially the music, and the “on the gween” speech sample never gets old! One to lose yourself for hours in, and I certainly did!

I’m kind of glad I played Kirby’s Dream Land and its sequel in reverse order after they both arrived with the new Game Boy library on Switch Online because I think I’d have been a bit disappointed if I hadn’t. I’ve finished the first one now too, and while it’s far more straightforward than the second, I think I had more fun with it! It’s a great-looking game, with the series’ inherent simplicity really suited to the clever monochrome environments here, but it’s the soundtrack that’s the biggest winner, with some of the boss themes real standouts on the system. It’s no frills but otherwise regular Kirby platforming to play, and I think that’s another success – limited challenge throughout but always fun, and certainly never unfairly designed like its sequel sometimes was at the business end. And while there’s not much to it, there is a full extra game (that’s far more challenging) once you’re done with the main one. I think I’m starting to get this Kirby thing after all!

1942 from 1984 currently sits at number 33 in my big list of favourite games, and while it doesn’t quite top my list of favourite vertical shoot ‘em ups, it’s certainly the one that ignited my passion for them when I first encountered it a year or so later on a ferry to Ireland! And who’d have believed I’d ever be playing that exact game in the palm of my hand one day? Well, I guess it’s been believable for a while now but at the time it was science fiction, and I’m just over the moon that I can play it on my new Limited Edition Evercade EXP! I’m still not convinced by this spinning ninety-degrees into TATE mode though. If I’m playing in the car (stationary!) I can relieve the wrist strain on the steering wheel but it’s still too small to play that way, even with my girly hands! All the same, 1942 in your hands!

No such problems with Speedball on there, which is gloriously landscape and feels really at home handheld – more so than its undoubtedly superior sequel, and probably because of its relative simplicity. Anyway, both are on the Bitmap Brothers Evercade cartridge, and I wanted to spend some time with this one because once I start on Speedball 2 I’ll never look back all over again, just like on my Atari ST in 1990! I think this one’s the Master System version though, but it’s still such a joy to play even if a bit less so to look at, with all the brutality of this futuristic football / handball / ice hockey thing mapped to a very clever single button. There’s only five games on this cartridge, with three takes on Speedball plus The Chaos Engine and Xenon 2, but you can’t argue with quality over quantity for this lot!

Let’s move to something only marginally bigger but actually connected to a big telly (as you can tell from the dodgy photos), complete with an old-school joystick attached now, and we’re talking Trailblazer on THEC64 Mini! Quite the trailblazer it was back in 1986 too, with ball-based races against the clock or a second player (computer in my case) across treacherous 3D checkerboard tracks floating in space. There’s different coloured tiles that speed you up, make you jump, slow you down and so on, as well as a limited number of your own jumps per race – which usually lasts around thirty seconds – and it’s as brutal as it is addictive. And smooth! Speaking of smooth, shoutout to my friend Nick Jenkin and his recent video review of Trailblazer over on YouTube, which prompted me to play it again this week! While I had the Mini connected, I also had a lovely old time with Uridium on there. Another stunner from the same year, and everything I just said about Trailblazer also applies here, except now we’re talking horizontal shooter scrolling in both directions as you take down huge dreadnought spaceships. This one’s timeless and the Commodore 64 is where you want to be playing it. Such a showcase for the machine!

Last up this week, Seirei Senshi Spriggan for PC Engine CD-ROM, although I’m playing on PC-Engine Mini, and it’s a really enjoyable (originally) Japan-only vertical shoot ‘em up by Compile in 1991. Very reminiscent of their M.U.S.H.A. game, actually, especially visually, although it’s a bit more science-fantasy than science-fiction. What really differentiates it, though, are the elemental power-ups, which you can combine three or four of at a time, totalling up to twenty-nine different weapon variations. It’s really nice to come up with a new favourite, and you’ll be doing that constantly, but most of them feel good and the game is so well-balanced that it suits most, although certain variations do make some bosses easier than others. It gets tough mid-way through the second stage but it’s all learnable and is so much fun that you’ll be happy doing so! Really vibrant, well-animated environments and enemies, some of which are very imaginative, and great soundtrack too. Great game overall!

I’m still plugging away at Alien: Isolation on Xbox but I’ve got nothing much new to say yet so we’ll call it a day for this week! In case you missed it the other day, don’t forget to check out our journey through the weird and sometimes wonderful Lovecraftian point and click adventure Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet on PC / MS-DOS. And next Thursday rather than our regular Wednesday – due to the aforementioned embargo – we’ll have a review of Cannon Dancer, or Osman if you prefer, the unofficial arcade follow-up to Strider from 1996 that not only went unconverted but has never been available outside of the arcades until now. See you then!