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HDN

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Blog Entries posted by HDN

  1. HDN
    Whoa! It's been a while since I last blogged! Sorry about that, readers!
    Today is a special day indeed. It's the one-year anniversary of when I first got my Atari 2600s! I thought I'd post a little something here about my systems in particular. I already made a very long status update about this (which I'll archive here at the end of the blog so it doesn't disappear forever), but here in this blog entry I'd like to touch on the history of these systems from what I have heard through the years from my "ancestors".
    There were two "dream systems" that I had always wanted, a Game Boy of some sort (I got a GBA) and an Atari 2600. I got both of them just a couple of months apart. However, once I achieved this lifelong goal of mine a cosmic balance was disturbed and the world imploded on itself (see: pandemic). I'm still happy to have them, though.
    Today is all about Atari, not GBA. Ever since I was a wee lad (almost as long as I can remember, honestly), I have wanted a very specific Atari 2600: my dad's cousin's. Jon (that was his name) still had his childhood Atari 2600 sitting in his parents' basement all these years later, and I wanted it DESPERATELY. For years, I had envied his neglected Atari. When Jon's dad was moving in to a retirement community early last year, Jon and his family were downsizing and moving into his parents' old house. Downsizing meant getting rid of things they didn't use anymore. Downsizing meant I FINALLY GET AN ATARI!
    Anyways, let's talk about these systems' histories. My dad was the first to get a console, a Magnavox Odyssey 2 (which is sadly no more). About a year later, (probably 1981) Jon got his woodgrain Atari VCS. The manufacture date on the system is June 27th 1981 (I hope it doesn't get picked for the lottery), so I'm guessing maybe Christmas of that year. I believe he may have spilled soda or something on this one given the state of the insides when I got it. The switchbox also had a pitchfork missing on it. 
    Later on, he must have gotten the Vader, which I could not find a manufacturing date inside of. This one worked just fine when I got it, and it's the 2600 I like to use. It matches my desk very well. 
    According to my dad, some of their favorite games growing up were Frogger, Pitfall!, Video Pinball, Pac-Man, Keystone Kapers, Donkey Kong, and Carnival. He also says that they thought that Pac-Man was great at the time and didn't really notice much of a difference from the arcade game. As kids, they spent many hours trying to figure out Raiders of the Lost Ark to no avail and played a lot of Air/Sea Battle and Combat together (Tank Pong all the way). And yes, they hated ET. My dad remembers that he and Jon were playing ET one day soon after it came out and another one of their friends came over. He took a look at the TV and asked, "What's the point of this game? To cut ET's mouth?". Jon and my dad started laughing really hard (for some reason), and to this day whenever my dad sees ET (the movie or the game), he'll bring up getting his mouth cut.
    Oh, and the paddle games! My dad hated those. "If you just looked at it funny it would shoot to the other side of the screen," my dad once said regarding Breakout. And when I first played with them, yikes! It was very jittery. I fixed them, and now they work just fine. I've successfully converted my dad to the pro-paddle side.
    I'm happy to have this system. Here's to another year of 2600 goodness!
  2. HDN
    Recently, I have been thinking of my favorite games on the Atari VCS and coming to the realization that I have some pretty unpopular tastes. Pac-Man, the "worst video game ever", in my number two spot? Donkey Kong closely behind at number three? Artillery Duel in the top-ten? Video Chess near the top of my most-wanted list? These are some pretty unpopular, if not downright hated games. What's more, some of the 2600's most beloved games, like Yars' Revenge, Adventure, and Pitfall!, aren't near the top of my list. Not that I dislike these games; quite the contrary. I just have some that I prefer more.
    This also got me thinking of Flag Capture. Ever since the Wii2600 days, I have really liked this game. I'm very fortunate to have people in my life, particularly my dad, who will sit down and play Atari with me. My dad and I like to play video games together sometimes. With some experimentation, I have found that it is most fun to play the older, simpler games together, like 2600 through Super NES. I've also found that it's more fun to play games with direct competition rather than co-op. This game was always a fun one to play on the Wii or Atari Anthology on XBOX.
    Strangely, I've found that this is one of the more hated games on the system. It's not as famous as Pac-Man or ET are as Flag Capture (released by Sears as simply Capture) didn't sell too well. I never understood the hate for this one.
    This is also one of the less common games for the system. Not terribly rare, but I've never found one in the wild. And believe me, I've tried. This one was very elusive. I've found XONOX Double Enders in the wild at my regular used-game store. I saw a JVC X'Eye, a Sega Nomad, and a CIB Jaguar there, too. Motor Psycho, sure! Tengen Tetris, you betcha! But no Flag Capture. I simply couldn't find it in the 2600 rack, and I looked every time. Thankfully, Flag Capture isn't terribly sought-after and still goes for pretty cheap; about the same price as your average 2600 game.
    So where did I get my copy of Flag Capture after all? I never did find it at that store, despite their large 2600 collection. Instead, Atari.io's very own @socrates63 kindly sent it to me. Young was kind enough to send me something from our recent Retro Junk Box, which I was unable to participate in. What I didn't know at the time is that he was going to send SOMETHINGS, plural. Flag Capture was a big surprise for me. Thanks, Young!

    Flag Capture was released in 1978 for the Atari VCS and contains 10 "Video Games". Developed by Jim Huether, Flag Capture was initially designed as an adaptation of Stratego. If you're unfamiliar with Stratego, it's a board game that involves teams of two players traversing across the board attempting to capture the opponent's flag piece. Each of the pieces is assigned a number, one through ten, and the design of the pieces shields what it is from the opponent. If two pieces touch each other, the piece with the lower number is discarded. Along with the numbered pieces are spies, which are the only pieces that can kill the number ten pieces, bombs, which will blow up anyone who comes in contact with it (except 3), and the flag. On each turn, you can move one piece one space (except for twos which behave like rooks in chess) in any cardinal direction. Think of Stratego like Chess with a pecking order and end goal. I'm not very good at the game, but I enjoy it quite a bit.

    Due to the limitations of the VCS and the 2k ROM cartridges of the time, Huether couldn't make a straight port of the game to the lowly 2600. Instead, he took the core element of the game, finding the flag, and ran with it. What we're left with is Flag Capture, which plays like a mix of Stratego and Minesweeper.

    Flag capture is certainly a unique experience on the 2600. For most of the variations, two players go around the 7x9 grid of squares searching for the flag before the other. Each player can press the button while on a square to search underneath it. Several clues aid the player towards the whereabouts of the hidden flag. One could find arrows pointing in the general direction of the flag, numbers indicating how many spaces away the flag is from the player, and devious bombs that send the player back to their corner of origin. The goal of most two-player variations is to find the flag fifteen times before the opponent. Especially in the first variation, games between players can get pretty hectic and fun.
    The variations are where the game really shines. The default mode has both players freely moving around the grid simultaneously. This mode challenges players to not only think faster and smarter than their opponents, but also use their reflexes to get to the right block before the other. If you'd prefer something a bit slower-paced, there is also a mode in which both players take turns moving around and checking spaces, a bit like a board game. There are also modes in which both players solve their own individual flag puzzles and compete to see who can get the flag in the least amount of space-checks, as well as variations where the flag will move after every space checked.
    If you're going solo, Flag Capture has you covered to an extent. The last few variations are one-player time trial modes. You must find the flag as many times as you can within 75 seconds. This game mode is fine, though it's missing a little something without another player. Still, Flag Capture has a much better for a single player than many other 1970's games on the VCS. I'd rather play Flag Capture by myself than Combat or Outlaw.
    Flag Capture, while not a must-have for the system, is a worthwhile pickup if you can find it. Especially if you have another person willing to play Atari 2600 with you, Flag Capture is a spectacular time. I'd say that Flag Capture is one of the better 2600 games of the 1970's.
     
  3. HDN
    I'm not a big comic book fan. I remember reading some DC comics (Detective Comics comics?) that came out of a box of cereal when I was around seven or eight and being too bored to finish it. All of my subsequent efforts to get into comics have more or less ended the same way. Most recently, I got some comic books with my 2600 stuff back in March. Four vintage Superman comics were mixed in with the manuals, from around the same time the movies were coming out (as there were a few advertisements in there for them). I never did finish them, but I did look through the ads. I should give them a second go sometime.
    Also with the 2600 manuals were a few Atari-themed comics. I believe issues 2 through 4 of Atari Force were in there from Berzerk, Star Raiders, and Phoenix if I remember correctly. I don't remember how many Atari Force mini-comics were released. I, as big of an Atari fan as I am, couldn't finish them.
    As far as superhero comics go, the only one I believe I have read to completion in recent years (if you count it as one) was "The Quotile Ultimatum", the mini-comic included with Yars' Revenge. I really enjoyed this one and how creative it was. Atari Force didn't seem to be near as accurate to their source games as this one was, but I should take another look at those. This mini-comic was very creative in expanding the "lore" of Yars' Revenge.
    I'm not saying that I don't like comics as an artform. I actually used to really enjoy reading the Sunday comics as a little kid before realizing how painfully unfunny they were. I also used to read a few "graphic novels", and I even had my own "comic strip" for a while (we'll get to Metroid's Turnover Tops another day). I just don't like superhero comic books. Is it that I'm intimidated by them? A little. I feel like I need to do some serious catching up to do on all the backstories, and I couldn't just jump right in on any issue. Is it because I don't give two craps about the characters? That's a part of it for sure. I feel the biggest reason, however, is that I just found them boring. I never much cared for action scenes in books and movies, even less in my youth. I've always prefer the story-driven segments of movies or books, and action scenes have always been less interesting to me as a whole. That's part of the reason I prefer Star Wars (A New Hope to all you filthy casuals out there) to Empire Strikes Back. Action scenes are even worse in a comic book, as you have to leave something up to the imagination, but it isn't as free and creative as when you're interpreting the words of a book. It's too limited to imagine the scenario for yourself, but just abstract enough to not be like a cool movie spectacle. I don't prefer action scenes in movies and books to story driven scenes, but in comics, it just seems to be all action and not enough story. And the action itself is considerably worse than if it was in a novel or movie.
    Now, with that said, I do enjoy some superhero movies. I think what really introduced me to them (if you don't count Star Wars, which you shouldn't count anyway) was Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. I loved this movie. It was funny, had lots of story elements, and yet still had enough things to make it a superhero movie. Shortly thereafter, we rented and watched (multiple times) its sequel, which was better in every regard. Guardians Volume II was funnier, built on the characters and story, had some emotional and suspenseful moments, and had a killer soundtrack. If you haven't already, watch the Guardians movies and get the soundtracks. But I digress. I later watched some more movies in the MCU, and even saw Endgame in theaters with my friends on opening weekend. I haven't seen all of the MCU movies yet, but all the ones I have seen were excellent films.

    So let's talk Superman for the Atari 2600, one of the first-ever licensed games. Superman was created by John Dunn and released in 1979. While Superman was released a few months before it, Dunn actually built this game off of Warren Robinett's Adventure engine. The reason this game came into being is because Atari's parent company, Warner, already had the rights to the character. Superman was a sort of tie-in game with the recently released movie, though other than the characters the games have nothing alike.
    I had actually never seen Superman until a couple of months ago. I enjoyed it, though it wasn't as good as Superman II, which I had seen years prior. You know those rotating triangle prison things? I think of those all the time, especially when I'm playing Freedom Fighters! on Odyssey 2. As well as "kneel before Zod".
    So, like Adventure, Superman is a multi-screen action-adventure game. You play as Clark Kent at the beginning. Walk to the right, and you'll see Lex Luthor and his henchmen blow up the Metropolis bridge. Make your way to the phone booth and change into Superman! Now your job is to put all the crooks in prison, which are all symbolized by a bar by the timer, and find the three bridge pieces and rebuild the bridge. Once the bridge is fixed, make your way to the phone booth to change back, and make your way to the Daily Planet newspaper building to finish the game. Use the joystick for moving and press the button for X-ray vision. This will let you look ahead one screen in whatever direction the joystick is positioned in, which is useful for finding important items and avoiding upcoming danger.
    Superman isn't all sunshine and roses, however. Though Kal-El can't actually die, he can be inconveniced by the numerous Kryptonite Satellites Luthor has unleashed. If Superman were to touch one, he would lose his ability to fly and carry items and villains. Your powers can return by simply touching Lois Lane, who will kiss you and return your powers. I'm not a big comic book guy, but I don't remember anything like this happening. Is this accurate?
    There are two main variations to the game: one player and two players. The two player option sees both people controlling different axes of Superman's movement. It's not good. The single player option gives one player full control of Superman. Unlike Adventure, there is only one game map, though there is an accurate in-game timer that pushes you to complete the game in as little time as possible, in a way making this one of the first speedrunning games. The difficulty switches determine the speed of the satellites and bad guys, and whether or not Lois will automatically come to your aid if you are hit.
    The graphics, while not great for the system, were leaps and bounds (over tall buildings) over any other game that preceded it on the VCS. Take a look at all the other games from the 1970's Atari VCS catalog. Some of the "better looking" games were Basketball, Human Cannonball, and Sky Diver. Superman had lots of animation, multicolored sprites, and lots of individual assets. John Dunn's art background really shows here, despite his boss telling him to "not get too artsy with it". Despite the nice graphics, Superman suffers from a lot of flicker, which can occasionally make it difficult to pick up items. No biggie, though.

    I never liked this game back in the Wii2600 games. It's much less self-explanatory than its sister game, Adventure. I never knew what I was doing. Why was the city stacked up like it was? What was I supposed to do? What were all these doors and colored rooms? Indeed, Superman is a game where you at least need to know the backstory in order to play. It wasn't fun to play it without it. It also helps to know what the subway station does, and what you need to do once the bridge is rebuilt and all the bad guys are in jail. I'd say this is one of those "manual games", though it isn't as necessary as it is in say, ET. You can explain the goal of Superman in a sentence or two and be able to play the game correctly. You don't need to worry about strange symbols at the top of the screen or energy meters or anything as complex as ET. Or Raiders of the Lost Ark, for that matter!
    When I refreshed my knowledge of what I was supposed and what everything was to do the other day, I booted up Superman on my DSi using an emulator. I can't find a way to get the thing to change the difficulty switches, so I was stuck playing with fast satellites, fast Lex Luthor and henchmen, and most deviously the elusive Lois Lane, who was nowhere to be found when I found myself weakened by a satellite. Most of my time spent playing Superman that first time was spent looking for Lois to heal me and stumbling across Metropolis, as I didn't have a map with me. I ended up beating the game (for the first time ever, I might add) in a whopping twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds. Definitely not faster than a speeding bullet.

    It's easy to compare this game to its sister game Adventure. There are things that Superman does better than Adventure and vice-versa. For one, Superman has much better graphics, animation, and spritework than Adventure does, while it also has a built-in timer and a "task list of sorts". The timer is like a score; beat the game in the lowest time possible. Adventure doesn't have this, which in a way gives the player less incentive to keep replaying it. Superman also has a lot more goals to accomplish, like going to work, building the bridge, and putting everyone in jail. The game also has more human characters and a much more complex story than its fantasy-themed counterpart, and even though its multiplayer mode is less than ideal, at least it has one.
    However, Adventure has a world layout that is, while still not perfect, much more logical than Superman's. With a strictly top-down perspective, moving in four directions works much better and makes more sense here than in Superman's sandwich-like layered city. Adventure's world also has more distinct environments, and the world is generally less confusing as it doesn't wrap around. Metropolis looks nice, but it all looks the same, and while Adventure's world doesn't look as nice, at least they are distinguishable. There are also more items to interact with in Adventure, like keys, swords, and magnets to name a few. These items also serve functional in-game purposes rather than just being a thing that you have to bring to a specific spot on the map. There are also multiple maps and game variations, including a beginner mode, a larger map, and a randomized variant.
    So, which one is better? I'll leave that one up to you. Personally, I think I'm in the Adventure camp on this one, though Superman is really fun too. It's just that Adventure does a much better job of being an adventure game. The world makes more sense to me, and I like the strategy of choosing your item and always being on the lookout for the dragons. There's also a lot less time wasted in Adventure. Not that I don't like Superman, I really do. There are things that it does much better than Adventure, especially the timer and graphics. It's just that if I had to pick only one of them, I'd probably go with Adventure. Or as my damaged label says, Dventure.

    I don't yet have Superman. I recently sent one of our members a PM. @Scott Stilphen has been selling some of his Atari 2600 games for years, and he has this one listed as one of his for sale. I'm waiting for him to respond, but I hope to purchase this game and a few others from him in the future, if he still has them available, of course.
    So, overall, Superman on the Atari 2600 is a great game if you know what you're doing. It is especially fun to compare and contrast both Superman and Adventure, and play them side-by-side. I had a lot of fun researching and writing this blog post, so I hope you enjoyed it. 
    Sadly, due to obvious copyright issues, Superman hasn't been rereleased in modern Atari compilations. So if you want to play it, you'll have to emulate it or pick up a copy someplace. It's much less sought-after than Adventure, and you should have no problem finding it for a decent price. It's well worth it.
    Take care, everyone, and I hope you enjoyed my blog post!
  4. HDN
    So this blog entry is a little special. Today, I will be covering a video game that I got through the I/O on the I/O! I bought this game and a few others from the one and only @chas10e a few weeks back. He's a great guy to deal with.
    When you think of classic arcade titles from the golden age, several come to mind before others. In my mind, there are divided into several tiers based off of popularity. Allow me to go off on a little bit of a tangent, but I feel that I need to list them.
    This is the top tier of popular classic arcade games. Not necessarily my absolute favorites, but I feel they still remain popular all these years later. Some examples from this category are Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Galaga, and Dig Dug. Even non-gamers have heard of or even played these games before. This tier is slightly less popular than the first, though many modern and/or casual gamers have heard of them. Some examples are Galaxian, Xevious, Centipede, Q*Bert, Defender, and Asteroids. In this tier, we have games that were popular in their time, but not so much with the more modern crowd. Berzerk, Phoenix, Vanguard, Venture, Crystal Castles, and Moon Patrol all fall under this category in my eyes. These games are less popular than the third tier. Many gamers at the time when these were new haven't played or heard of these before. These games tend to be pretty obscure in the modern age. Many are hidden gems. The arcade version of the game we're talking about today, Food Fight, falls under this category, as well as Super Pac-Man, Pac & Pal, Bosconian, and GORF. Not that these games are bad, but they just weren't as popular as the others (though not flops on the market). These are the really obscure games, including flops on the market. Many games from the early 1970's fall under this category. Many of these are really obscure, and even serious retro gamers may not have heard of several of them. Examples include Stratovox, Anti-Aircraft, Star Ship One, and Taito's Japan-only Western Gun. I know some of you here have probably heard of most of these. So anyways, let's start talking about Food Fight already! The arcade version was released in 1983. Though the game was published by Atari, it was actually developed by General Computer Corporation. I won't get into their history now (I'll be saving that should I do a blog on Missile Command or Ms. Pac-Man), but do keep in mind that they were also behind the 7800 system itself. The arcade game used an analog joystick for aiming food in more than eight directions. 
    The goal of the game is to make your way over to an ice cream cone on the opposite side of the screen before it melts. On your way, you must avoid the chefs and the food they throw at you. If you walk over a pile of food, you'll be able to pick up a piece of it. Once you throw it, you'll have to pick up another before you can shoot again.
    Food Fight didn't get a lot of home ports; only two to my knowledge. First, there was the 7800 port, which may have launched during the 7800's test launch in 1984, but saw a nationwide release in 1986. Second, there was the XE version which I believe has a 1987 copyright. The XE port is a sad excuse for a game. It is incredibly choppy, and makes 7800 Hat Trick look smooth. It's a shame, too. Sadly, after these two ports we never saw another release of Food Fight in compilations. In order to play it, you'll have to track down a cartridge for the 7800 or XE or just emulate it. It's a real hidden gem worth trying out.
    Well, we did see one rerelease. In fact, it was a completely different port altogether. This version of Food Fight was programmed for the NES for use on the original Atari Flashback in the early 2000's. That version of the Flashback was the only one to use a 7800 design and it even included some of the system's games, Food Fight included. Cool, right? The 7800 needs more love. No, not cool. This is some of the worst "emulation" I have ever seen in my life. The Atari 2600 joystick plug and play from Jakks Pacific a few years earlier also used a similar NES-on-a-chip design, and though it wasn't perfect, it was much better than this. This version of Food Fight was based on the 7800 version rather than the arcade. Kind of reminds me of when the Nintendo arcade games were ported to the 7800 in 1988. Those were based off of their NES counterparts rather than the arcade originals.
    This version of Food Fight is the worst of all. They did almost nothing right. Don't even bother. It's somehow worse than the XE version.
    The 7800 version of Food Fight does what it does really well. It handles a lot of sprites on screen at once and runs much smoother than the XE version. The graphics are a step down from the arcade; Charley Chuck has dots for eyes and the color palette and pixel resolution are drastically reduced. The sound chip is also inferior. But somehow, Food Fight manages to be one of the best games on the system. The gameplay is still there, the instant replays are still there, the music and sound effects are very good for the TIA chip, and you can even choose your difficulty and starting level. The controls are also really good, which is a bit surprising given how the ProLine controller can only let you aim in eight directions.
    If you don't have a 7800, buy it just for this game. It's amazing, and something you won't find in many other places. This is the best version of the game that you can play at home without using emulation. An easy 10/10 game for the system it's on. By far my favorite game on the 7800 so far. Thanks again, @chas10e.
  5. HDN
    So the other night my family and I sat down and watched the hit 1997 film Titanic. My parents always talked about how much they hated it, but last night is when us kids finally got the chance to see it. 
    I will say, parts of the movie are really well done. I have always thought the Titanic disaster was interesting, and my mother has as well. She knew a lot about it, to my surprise, and pointed out a few Easter eggs in the movie that would have gone over my head otherwise. For instance, there was one scene where the ship designer (I believe it was him) was staring into a fireplace or something, which was where he was supposedly last spotted. There was lots of stuff like that scattered throughout the film.
    The set design was also astonishing, and very accurate to the real-life design of the ship. I have seen what the vessel actually looked like from documentaries, pictures, footage of the wreck, et cetera, and the movie did a very good job replicating the original design.
    But the thing that completely ruined the whole movie for me was the horrible main story.
    The story! Jack, the stereotypical "poor boy" love interest character, and Rose, the stereotypical "rich girl loves boy below her social class" character. The whole thing is incredibly cliche. The two are "soulmates" and are so deeply in love, even though they have only known of each other's existence for less than a week. But no, just THROW THE NECKLACE IN THE WATER FOR YOUR DEAD PAL FROM 85 YEARS AGO, ROSE! And when you die, go make out with this dude you knew for like three days almost a century ago. Your husband you were married to for years? Screw him!
    And that stupid song! That song has been "memed" to death, and has been paired with so many stupid things over the years on the internet. I honestly can't take anything with that song in it seriously anymore, and since the story is so bad in the first place, the whole thing seems ironic to me. The song is so overused these days and paired with such stupid things, and the story qualifies as a stupid thing. It's not like it's a bad song or anything, it just doesn't carry the same emotional value that it did 20+ years ago. It is pretty cool that it was recorded in one take.

    You know, not many people know about this (including myself until yesterday), but there was actually a Titanic movie as far back as 1912. Yeah, it came out only 29 days after the tragedy occurred! Imagine someone releasing a 9/11 movie in October of 2001! How insensitive and horrible for the survivors! That's waaaaaay too soon to make a dramatization on such a contemporary and tragic incident.
    "Saved from the Titanic" starred a real Titanic survivor (who sadly experienced many emotional breakdowns on set) and even experienced with color in a few scenes. Unfortunately, all known copies of the film were destroyed in a fire in 1914, though it is rumored that a copy was given to president Taft and that it may still be preserved in his presidential library. A fake copy of the movie is currently on YouTube, though that isn't the original. Only the movie posters and a couple of stills exist today.

    So anyway, what were we talking about again? Oh, yes, our game! 
    When I was watching Titanic, I couldn't stop thinking about a certain Super Nintendo game I used to play back in the day called SOS. I didn't play the game as often as others (like Super Metroid, F-Zero, or Mortal Kombat II), but I had played it a bit and enjoyed it. It was a very hard game, and I never did get too far in it. So I decided to try it out again after watching the movie, as it had been a while and my video gaming skills had improved drastically.
    SOS has a copyright year of 1994 and was published by Vic Tokai here in the USA. The game was developed by Human Entertainment, who is probably best known for the cult classic Clock Tower. SOS is not to be confused with the other SOS game on the Super Nintendo, SOS: Sink or Swim! The two are completely unrelated from what I can see.
    Though this game reminded me of the Titanic disaster, the game's story is actually quite different than the events that occurred in 1912. From research I have done, SOS drew heavy inspiration from the novel and film "The Poseidon Adventure". Rather than an iceberg becoming the ship's undoing, there's a violent storm in which the boat, Lady Crithania, is capsized. The game is also set in the early 1920's rather than the early 1910's.
    So what's the gameplay like? I'm glad you asked. At the beginning of the game, you have a choice of several playable characters, each with their own backstory and in-game goals. For instance, Dr. Jeffery Howell will need to rescue his wife as his main objective. You have one hour in real time to escape the ship with as many survivors as possible. The ship will rotate randomly using some nice Mode Seven techniques, and that can either help or hurt you. The game plays like a Metroidvania, and there is no combat in the game. All you need to do is avoid obsticles such as fires, sparks, and falling from too great a height. If you die in the game, you'll be deducted five minutes from the in-game timer. If you're still in the ship when time is up, your game is over. Because off all of the different characters and endings, the game is very replayable.
    The level design is very much like a ship that's sinking. You have your broken tables, sparks, fires, carcasses, WATER of course. The thing that makes the level design hard is that the ship is constantly rotating and you play most of the game upside-down. The stiff controls also add to the challenge. Some say these controls ruin the game, though I feel they add to it. You're a random dude on a sinking ship, not an athlete. If you had Samus Aran's controls from Super Metroid, this game would be a breeze to complete. I feel the level design fits the controls well, and nothing seems particularly undoable.

    So, what are the problems with the game? It can't all be positive.
    As previously mentioned, the controls can make the game very frustrating at times. I have found myself draining my time very quickly because I kept dying due to the ship's unpredictable rotations. I understand why they made it this way, but that doesn't mean it can't be frustrating. Another thing that can be annoying is the absence of an in-game map. Expect to get lost a lot. Again, the ship's turning also makes it harder than it needs to be, as it can be very disorienting. The A/I of the survivors you rescue is also pretty bad. It isn't obvious at first, but you need to keep hitting a button to get them to follow you around. Just keep hitting "L", and they'll follow you. It's not too big of a problem, but it can get mildly annoying at times.
    Strangely, this game commands quite a high price. When I was cataloging my collection via Pricecharting.com, I was pretty surprised when I found out this game's value. SOS, loose,  goes for about $70 according to the site. Thanks, Dad, for not selling your games!
    This game also got a Japan-only sequel on the PlayStation.
    So would I recommend it? While SOS is a great hidden gem on the system, I simply can't recommend it because of the price. Is it a fun game? Yes. Am I glad I have it? Yes. But it's simply too much to pay for the game. While it's a great game, this is the SNES we're talking about here. This thing has a killer library of classic games like Super Metroid, A Link to the Past, and Super Mario World. So, for the system it's on and what it's up against, I'll have to rate it relatively low. Lower than I would like to otherwise.
    So, for the system it's on, SOS gets a 7/10 from me. If you find this one for a reasonable price in the wild, don't hesitate to pick it up and give it a go. It's a pretty great game, though it's not Super Metroid!
    I will say this: it's leaps and bounds better than the Titanic movie!
  6. HDN
    Disclaimer: At the time of writing this, I have not played Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch. I have, however, played all three games included in this collection. This blog is about my thoughts on the game from things I have seen online. For this blog, I will not be covering the original titles in this collection, rather focusing more on the collection itself.
    So, Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Right off the bat, that's a very misleading title. The original Super Mario All-Stars, for those of you who don't know, was released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993. It included versions of Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 2, and Super Mario Brothers 3, and was the first time we Americans got a chance to play the original Japanese sequel to Super Mario Brothers, dubbed "Super Mario Brothers: The Lost Levels" in this collection. All four titles were remade for the Super NES with updated 16-Bit graphics and sound, as well as a few other things added like save features for all of the games, some glitches patched, continues, and "improved" physics. Later in the SNES's life, a different version of Super Mario All-Stars that included a slightly touched-up version of Super Mario World was packed in with the system. The original SNES ROM (without SM World) was lazily shoved on a Wii disc and sold with some special added goodies for Super Mario Brothers's 25th anniversary back in 2010. I have a personal connection with the original Super Mario All-Stars, so I'm not going to dive that deep into it in order to save it for a future blog.
    Calling this new collection Super Mario 3D All-Stars is deceiving, as it implies to people that played the original collection that these games were remade for the Switch, which they weren't. Nope, the games in this compilation are just, for the most part, the original ROMs slapped on to the Switch for $60. There were minor changes, which I will list now:
    Super Mario 64 is a true classic. This game is great to this day, though it is starting to show its age. Super Mario 64 DS, in my opinion, remedied a lot of these flaws and added a lot more value to the overall package, including four other characters, more levels, sharper and more modern graphics that shine on the tiny DS screen, and thirty extra Power Stars to collect. The one flaw with this package is the lack of an analog control stick, which is a deal-breaker for many. I hoped that Nintendo would base their remake off of this version while 3D All-Stars was still nothing more than a rumor. Unfortunately, Nintendo uses an older version of the game with only Mario, 120 Stars, and worse textures and character designs. At first glance, you might think this is based off of the classic Nintendo 64 game we have all played before, but you'd be mistaken. This version of SM64 is actually based off of the Japan-only Shindou edition, an update of the game we never saw in North America. This edition fixed some bugs in the Japanese release of the game, such as the oft-utilized backwards long jump glitch, as well as adding rumble pak support. Some minor things were changed as well. For instance, when Mario jumps on to a tree or climbable pole, he will swing around to face the camera. The infamous "so long, gay bowser" line was also removed and replaced with just a plain "bye bye", which I believe was also present in the DS version. I don't remember as I'm usually a Luigi player.
    So what about the Switch version? The game appears to be running fine from what I can tell. Sadly, unlike the other two games on this collection, this game still plays in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The game is not near as pixelated as before as it is being upscaled to high definition. Actually, all three games are just upscaled versions of their originals, with widescreen in the case of Sunshine. Same models, same everything. Disappointing.
    Super Mario Sunshine is a very controversial game and one I didn't much care for until recently. I always thought this game would look pretty in HD, which it does. Problem with this game, though: it doesn't support the GameCube controller. I mean, sure, you can use it, but it isn't going to work very well at all. The controls are mapped all differently from what they originally were. Why does it matter, you ask? Well, the GameCube controller has a very special feature that no other Nintendo controller, past or present, has. Analog trigger controls, and Super Mario Sunshine made full use of these in the original release. That's a bit of a problem. I don't know how they accomplished it, but I'm sure it's fine on the Switch, though probably not near as simple and elegant as the original. Why they did this is beyond me. Another problem with Sunshine is that the game is still the same frustrated mess as it was on GameCube, and this "remake" did absolutely nothing to try and help relieve some of the frustration present in this game. Like, just add a blue coin counter. Jeez, Nintendo. They had an oppurtunity to fix this game and they didn't. Sunshine had real potential to be the best 3D Super Mario game, but was held back by these flaws that could have been fixed but just weren't.
    I can't speak much for Super Mario Galaxy. I haven't played the game in years, and don't remember having much fun with it. My sister thoroughly enjoys it, and I know it's a favorite for many others. I just haven't really played it. The game utilizes the different features of the Wii Mote for many things in the game, such as the spin jump and shooting Star Bits with the pointer. I'm glad that the spin jump is finally mapped to a button, though aiming the Star Bit shooter thing looks incredibly cumbersome with the second analog stick (or touch screen in handheld play). I really can't speak much for Galaxy. The graphics looked nice for the Wii, and they look nice here as well
    Super Mario Galaxy 2, for some reason, isn't a part of this collection. What a waste.
    At least two of these games are handheld for the first time, but they are far worse to control from what I can tell. I have also heard that there isn't an inverted camera, which kind of sucks. The collection is a whole $60 for these three barely-modified games. Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon had actually remastered compilations for only $40. Mario's a bigger name, however, and his games are for the most part held in higher regard. If you bought this collection for $60, you'd be getting your money's worth as the games are spectacular masterpieces, but there was still little effort put into this this compilation. Just three upscaled ports. If you have these games already, I don't think this collection is worth it. Especially if you have the DS remake of Super Mario 64, which looks nicer, has more stuff, and is still just as portable if not more so. If you really need to play Galaxy and Sunshine on the go, then buy the game. Otherwise, it's a bit of a ripoff.
    Every modern collection needs some goodies. Kirby's Dream Collection had some minigames based off of Return to Dreamland as well as an in-depth history of the series. Atari Anthology on XBOX had scans of all of the manuals and promotional materials, as well as interviews with Atari folk. They even had little extras thrown in like Trippy Mode and some other graphical hacks and fun modes. What does 3D All-Stars have?
    Three soundtracks with the least amount of effort put in. You can't even rewind them or fast-forward. I normally use my DSi for music, but a Switch seems so bulky and stupid for a music player. It can't fit in your pocket with ease. At least you can turn off the screen and let it play, but still, it's a very bad music player. These are the only extras you get. 
    Let's address the elephant in the room. This is a limited six-month release in both physical and digital forms. After March of 2021, you can't buy a physical cartridge of this game or buy it digitally off the eShop. This is stupid. Why, Nintendo? This is probably like the amiibo and NES classic system where Nintendo is creating the scarcity itself in order to pressure consumers into buying the game right now. This time it's a little different, however. Many people aren't in a good place financially right now and can't afford the game because of the pandemic. It's pretty crappy of Nintendo to do this at the moment. And who could forget about the eBay scalpers?
    My guess is that Nintendo is trying to just get people to buy and aren't actually going to discontinue it. They said they would discontinue the NES classic, and then they started making it again, remember? I'm 95% sure this game isn't going anywhere.
    But, will you buy it? I'm probably not going to. I have better versions of all three games in my collection. Are they as pretty? No. But do they really need to be? I could spend that money on so many other games.
    What do you think of 3D All-Stars? Has anyone here played it?
  7. HDN
    Today's entry of GFBMT is going to be a little different. Today, I will be ranking the Classic 2D Super Mario games from best to worst. I won't be going in-depth here, just listing the games. We'll be ranking the pre-NSMB (New Super Mario Brothers) era Super Mario games that appeared on Nintendo systems (Sorry, Super Mario Brothers Special!). We will also only be talking about the mainseries Super Mario games, not any of the spinoffs. Mainly, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island and Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 won't be included here.
    These are just my opinions. I do plan to review most of these games in-depth in future blog entries, whenever that will be. We are also only looking at the original versions of these games. We will NOT be counting any remakes, such as Super Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Brothers Deluxe, and the Super Mario Advance games.
    Without further ado, my rankings from best to worst!
    Super Mario World This game is simply superb. While there are loads of great things about World, such as the bountiful secrets and fantastic score, the absolute greatest thing about it is the superb physics. Mario handles like a dream. It's impossible to put into words how much better he feels than he did in Super Mario Brothers 3. You'll just have to play it for yourself. Super Mario World is my favorite 2D Super Mario game of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made.
    Super Mario Brothers 2 (USA) (Super Mario USA in Japan) I have always enjoyed this one. The game is short enough so that the lack of a save feature isn't that bad, and the game's 20 levels offer a lot of variety and challenge. The music in this game is phenomenal as well. Four different playable characters add strategy and replay value to the game. Sure, the NES version may not be as forgiving as its SNES and eventually GBA remakes are, but unlike its sequel Super Mario Brothers 3, the NES version still holds up pretty well today. Though this originally was released as a non-Mario game in Japan, this sprite-swapped version of the game still seems to feel like a Super Mario game, and improves on the shortcomings of the original in many ways.
    Super Mario Land Here's one I adore. Super Mario Land may not be as polished as many of the other games on this list, but it has lots of its own feel and character that make it stand out above the rest. Though the gameplay quirks hold it back behind SMB2 and SMW, it still managed to be pretty close to my top spot. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto had no involvement in this game, and it shows! The wacky and foreign atmosphere of Sarasaland hasn't been replicated before or since SML's release in 1989. The physics, while wonky at first, actually work quite well for the game. At a measly twelve levels, Super Mario Land is the shortest game on this list, though the game is challenging and is highly replayable. The game also has a hard mode, which is sorely lacking from so many other games.
    Super Mario Brothers This is the only Super Mario game that I own on the NES. This is a truly fantastic game, with excellent physics that still hold up 35 years later. While I'm very nostalgic for the SNES version, I feel I prefer the NES version for its superior physics. This game was a real game-changer at the time and is often credited for revitalizing the North American console game industry. This game is amazing.
    Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins Another great game, and while I will admit this is a better game than the original Super Mario Land, I don't prefer it. Mario has incredibly floaty physics in this game, though I don't really mind them much here. At least his momentum makes sense, unlike our next game. Super Mario Land 2 has a unique non-linear World Map setup, and it has mostly unique and new enemies and bosses. This was the last-released game on this list, and is a very unique one at that. If only modern 2D Mario games offered the same amount of uniqueness and diversity instead of regurgitating the same generic Mario garbage with every release. I've been using the word "unique" a lot here, and that's the word that best describes this game.
    Super Mario Brothers 3 All of the games mentioned before this point are among my favorites. Super Mario Brothers 3 is not. I just don't like this game, though I've really tried to. Everyone else seems to like it quite a bit. In my opinion, Super Mario Brothers 3 is just OK. Whenever someone says differently, ESPECIALLY when someone likes it better than Super Mario World. The NES version has some flaws that are inexcusable and make the game the worst-aged of the NES SMB releases. There's absolutely no way to continue after turning off the system, not even a password system. Sure, there's the Warp Whistles, but good luck beating the later levels without a stockpile of items. Mario 3 is a long game, several hours in fact. But whatever, I can look past that. The real killer of this game is the horrendous physics. Mario is so freaking floaty here, and his momentum and jumping is unpredictable. I've played this game a lot, and I still mess up all the time. There's a jump in one of the World 5 fortresses I often think of. It looks like you should run and jump to it, but whenever I do that I always overshoot it. Landing on small platforms is always a source of anxiety. Everything about how this game controls is just jarring to me. While I enjoy SMB3 enough, these physics always hold me back and take way too long to get used to. This game just isn't the masterpiece everyone says it is.
    I like the All-Stars version much more, and I can see why some people enjoy that more than World (though I don't agree), but the NES version just kind of sucks.
    Super Mario Brothers: The Lost Levels (Super Mario Brothers 2) (JPN) I was debating whether I should even put this on the list. Obviously, the Famicom Disk System version of SMB2 is the worst of the classic Mario games! Need I say more? While the original version sucks, I think I might like some of the remakes more than the original NES version of SMB3.
     
    Sorry for going off on Super Mario Brothers 3 there! That's always been a source of rage for me. I hope you enjoyed my rankings. What are your thoughts?
  8. HDN
    Thanksgiving was always a holiday you had to wait for. Unlike something like Christmas Day, where the whole day is sort of celebrated, Thanksgiving is a mostly uneventful day until people start coming over, at least for us kids. Mom didn't trust us in the kitchen with Dad (she's a massive germophobe) so for most of the day we helped her clean the house. She suffers from extreme anxiety so everything had to be perfect for the guests or they wouldn't like it, so she thought. At about 4, most of the house was cleaned and Brian came over. She would feel better when someone else was there and she would stop yelling for a bit. Brian would help in the kitchen and my sister and I would quietly slip away until about 6:30 when the rest of the guests came over for dinner. 
    For those few hours, my sister and I would avoid the main floor like the plague where everyone was. Sometimes we would go upstairs in one of our rooms and play on our DS systems or go outside if it was warm enough. On Thanksgiving day of 2016 we tried walking to the park but after a few minutes there neither of us could handle the cold weather and went home. We already got yelled at when we walked in the kitchen door (very stressful before people came) so we just went down into the basement to wait it out. Back in 2016, all of our home systems (except the Wii U) lived in the basement, including the Wii. I had recently set up a coaxial cable splitter so we had the big 27" Orion hooked up on the stand as well as the 12" Hitachi on the floor. Why I did this I do not know. 
    If you didn't know, I didn't have an Atari 2600 system until very recently. I had always envied my dad's cousin who had one he wasn't using. I had known about that system he had for years and he didn't get rid of it until March of this year. Thankfully, I finally have it in my collection. I have been playing 2600 games for years, however, using emulation on my Wii.
    My sister was never a big Atari fan and still isn't, though on this day I was in an Atari mood and was begging her to play it with me. She reluctantly agreed. A few games of Combat and Pac-Man later, she quit out of boredom and started reading one of her stupid graphic novels. Soon, I was also bored with the games, so I was scrolling through the list of abbreviated ROMs looking for a new game to play. There were a few stinkers I didn't much care for in the "T" section. At this point, I was just clicking on the games one after the other, hoping I'd find a good one. And then I stumbled around Tunlrunr.BIN.

    Immediately I was impressed. There was an actual title screen. With many games I had found on my emulator myself, I had no idea what I was playing. I had to guess from the abbreviated names on the list of ROMs. Many of these games I found later on YouTube; sometimes I guessed their titles right, sometimes not. It was weird realizing Megaman.BIN was just Megamania, a game I had previously played on Arcade Zone for the Wii. But with Tunnel Runner I immediately knew what the game was called, who made it, and when it was made. And that music, that haunting theme of eight notes endlessly repeated in that menacing tone, music reminiscent of the theme from Halloween. This game was special, and I knew that right off the bat.
    I pressed + on the Wii Mote, which acted like the Reset switch on the 2600. I was again impressed by the maze being drawn on the screen and the accompanying sound effects, though I had now idea what was happening. Now what I assumed to be a health bar was filling up at the bottom of the screen. What kind of game was this going to be?
    I was thrust into a tunnel with a first-person perspective. "Oh no." I thought. 3D on early consoles like this was not good. I had played Might and Magic 3 on the Super Nintendo before and constantly got lost. The 3D first person perspective was very disorienting and it looked like the same two pictures alternating each time I took a step with an occasional wall or door. I hated that game and I still do. I don't think I ever got past the first area, Fountain Head.
    So when I saw a first person game on the ancient and far less powerful Atari 2600, I thought it would be a train wreck of a game. It was impressive, yes, but I didn't think it would play well at all. But for some reason I didn't turn the game off. I pressed the button and saw the maze that was drawn on the screen seconds earlier, but this time with little dots moving about. There was also this weird triangle and this symbol that weren't moving at all. I had no idea what was going on. So I started running. And running. I was actually shocked; I felt like my character was actually moving around! This game that predated M&M3 by, like, a decade had a better sense of movement than that 16-bit game did!
    After a while I pulled up the map again, looking for something to do. I noticed that the little arrow symbol had moved a bit, so I assumed that was me. I tried making my way over to the triangle thing to see what was up with that, bringing up the map again every couple of steps. I tried running towards the map and...
    Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun...
    Eleven-year-old Harry screamed. I heard the music again, and it was loud. I looked over and saw this diseased, rabid, and incredibly unfriendly Pac-Man inches from my face, chomping its mouth riddled with sharp fangs. By then, it was too late. It came a step closer and...
    Dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dum beep boop!
    The thing ate me! I was incredibly startled by its sudden appearance, and my scream startled my younger sister on the couch. "What did you do that for?" she said, annoyed with me.
    "I'm playing Tunnel Runner."
    "What's that? Is it one of your stupid Atari games?"
    "Yes, and it's not stupid. Just play it."
    "No. I hate Atari."
    "Just do it, you'll like it."
    "No. Shut up."
    "Fine," I said, and continued to play Tunnel Runner. My guess was that that horrible thing was guarding the trapezoid/triangle thing. I checked the map to see where I was relative to the mystery item. I made my way over to it and heard the music again. Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun... I screamed again. The weird things were back. 
    "Stop it," my sister said.
    I grabbed the trapezoid just in time and saw that a little symbol on the bottom of the screen was flashing. I realized it turned when I turned. "Oh, so it's a compass," I thought to myself.
    I stumbled around the maze aimlessly looking around for the exit. I ran through several doors that just teleported me random places I didn't want to go. After a lot of time had past, a few screams, and a few run-ins with the Zots who promptly devoured me whenever they saw our Tunnel Runner, I realized that the blank space on the edge of the map was where the exit was. I finally beat the first run on my last life with little time left on the timer. On the second run I was almost instantly killed.
    "Are you still playing that stupid game?" my sister asks me.
    "Yes." I reply.
    "Stop screaming. I'm trying to read my book."
    "I can't. It's a natural instinct."
    "Stop it. You're such a baby. Who's scared of a stupid Atari game?"
    "You try playing and we'll see if you're scared," I say.
    "Fine." she says.
    After she starts the game I explain to her what you are supposed to do. She was also skeptical of the first person viewpoint. I tell her to just play the game. She starts moving, and seconds later she runs straight into one of the Zots and, guess what? Screams.
    "I told you so!" I taunt.
    "Shut up, Harry," she retorts.
    We play the game for a bit longer. She's doing quite poorly. After she gets a game over it's my turn again, and I do a bit better than last time. When I die, it's her turn again. We both scream at the Zots, and whenever one was near we would start yelling at the other in a high-pitched panicky voice things like "Turn left! Turn left!", "Go, go, go, go, go!", and "It's right behind you! Run!" We laughed and just played Tunnel Runner on the Wii for hours until the Thanksgiving guests came over. At one point when my sister was playing I left to "go to the bathroom". On my way up the basement steps I turned off the lights. I heard from below cries of desperation and panic, "Turn them on! Turn them ooon!" I turned them back on and laughed at my sister who was "scared of a stupid Atari game". I got scolded by my parents for that, rightfully so. We had a blast playing Tunnel Runner that night, and for the next few days would go down in the basement and play that game again together. Happy memories. To this day, it's still our favorite Atari 2600 game.

    When I got my Atari 2600 in March, this was one of the first games I wanted to get. Shortly after I got my system, there was a sale at my local game store. Buy two games, get one free. I looked through their large shelf of Atari 2600 games and couldn't find anything. I also checked their glass case of pricier Atari games in case it was in there, which it wasn't. I was a little put off on how much some of the Atari 2600 games cost. A lot of them were above $5, which I thought a little much for a game that's only a couple of kilobytes. This was shortly before the pandemic hit and I didn't go back to the game store for a couple of months.
    In July I went back to the game store for the first time to pick up some new 2600 games. I picked up Vanguard, Jungle Hunt, Defender, and Q*Bert. My dad had picked up some games before, but this was the first time I personally had been inside the store in months. I paid for all four games and on my way out I thought I'd take a gander at the glass case just for curiosity's sake. I only took a short look at the case, but I saw it. This was the first time I had ever seen a physical copy of Tunnel Runner in person. I was so hyped! I couldn't wait a few more months to get it, I had to get them to hold it for me now. I didn't bring any extra cash with me besides what I brought for those four games, so I couldn't buy it now. How much was Tunnel Runner again?
    $20.00? Oh. Well, what has to be done has to be done.
    As soon as I got home I called them and asked them to hold it for me. The soonest we could possibly get up there was Friday, one week from that day, so I had to ask them to hold it until then. 
    So began the wait. 
    On that Sunday my mom kicked me out of the house. We had a rough day arguing and fighting with each other (we've had a lot of those recently) and she had enough. I don't know exactly what it was that made her so mad at me that she'd kick me out of the house; I didn't think I did anything out of the ordinary. I think we were arguing about cleaning the basement and it evolved into yelling at each other about some other things like how I'm irresponsible and how I don't have any interests besides video games and how she always yells at us and I didn't want to be around her anymore and some other things that came out because of how mad we were at each other. We definitely needed some time apart, so being kicked out of the house wasn't bad. Plus, since I was at my grandparents they were nice and stuff. I apologized profusely to them for being such an inconvenience. Our family currently has some issues.
    But being kicked out of the house wasn't all bad. My grandparents go to bed at like 9:00, MUCH earlier than me. I have said before that they have a 2600 in their basement as well. I brought it over there during COVID to give it some use before it goes to its new home. We haven't been going anywhere, so visiting my grandparents wasn't very unsafe. I still wore a mask for the majority of my stay just to be on the safe side of things. Basically, what my overnight stay amounted to was staying up late in the basement playing Wizard of Wor and drinking Diet Dr. Pepper. It was weird staying over there; on one hand I was thoroughly enjoying it, but on the other it was kind of depressing that my mother kicked me out of the house. It wasn't bad being kicked out of the house, just a little strange.
    I did get to go home the next day. The whole thing was a bit of a mess, but I wouldn't say it was traumatic or anything. But anyways, Tunnel Runner. I did get Tunnel Runner a little early, on the day after I came back, as well as Miniature Golf, which I also blogged about (check it out!). Both games were fun. 
    So why did I get this game? Why did I spend an insane amount of money on this game that I could have used on several other games for the system? Because I love this game and needed it in my collection. Why own an Atari 2600 and not play your favorite game on it? I don't regret my purchase at all. Do I ever plan to spend $20.00 on a game for the system again? No. But it had to be done in this instance. Tunnel Runner means a lot to me and I have a lot of memories with it.
     
    So what about the game itself? Tunnel Runner was released in 1983 from CBS Electronics, though on the label it does say in a smaller print the copyright belongs to CBS Toys. It was one of the games by CBS that used the RAM Plus chip which added a whopping 256 bytes of RAM to the Atari 2600 system. A few other games that used this chip were Mountain King and Omega Race, both of which appeared and originated on other platforms besides the VCS. Tunnel Runner, however, never left.

    The goal of the game is simple: Get the key, get to the exit, don't die. It's in a first person perspective, which might be a little confusing to some at first, but you will get used to it and there's s a helpful compass down in the corner that will help you out. As you clear run after run things will start to change. New Zots will be added, each with different personalities like the ghosts in Pac-Man. The maze on the map will disappear and you'll have to fill out the map yourself. The Zots will eventually stop showing up, the exit will stop showing up, and most deviously, you will stop showing up on the map. Plus everything gradually gets faster and your time limit gets gradually faster. At 5,000 points, you will earn an extra life. Really, the game plays very much like a first person Pac-Man.
    This game is often compared to another similar game on the 2600, Escape from the Mindmaster, which came out the year previously. It is much more complicated than Tunnel Runner, though it isn't a fair comparison as it uses the Starpath Supercharger add-on instead of stock VCS hardware (plus a few extra bytes of RAM). Mindmaster incorporates puzzle solving elements and looks stunning for the time. I haven't had the pleasure of playing it, though it is definitely one I would like to play someday since I love Tunnel Runner so much.
    So what do I think of this game? What do you think I think of this game? I spent $20 on it! I love it! The music and sound effects are the best I've heard coming from the TIA before the 7800 era. The graphics are stunning and most impressive, and during gameplay there is no flicker. There's a bit with the Zots on the map, but its surprisingly absent in the actual game. Flicker was a bit of a CBS Electronics trademark. People complain about it in Pac-Man. Hah! They clearly haven't played Wizard of Wor or Omega Race. And Tunnel Runner's gameplay is exceptional. Do yourself a favor and play this game. Absolutely a perfect score for the system, 10/10.
  9. HDN
    Last week I reviewed my newly-acquired copy of Mario Kart Super Circuit. I had mentioned in that review that I couldn't properly rank it in my Mario Kart series rankings as I had only been playing it a short while, though I thought it would rank high. I had also mentioned that until the DLC came out for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, this game had the most tracks of any game in the series as it included all 20 of the tracks from the initial Mario Kart game on the Super NES. At the time I had written that I had not unlocked any of the Super Nintendo tracks, nor did I know how to unlock them. Since the posting of that blog, I have unlocked the SNES tracks and I will cover them in this annex.

    Finding out how to unlock these tracks by yourself can be confusing, so I'm going to explain how to do it. To my knowledge there is only one right way.
    You need to unlock each cup of the SNES tracks individually in each class (50cc, 100cc, 150cc). What you need to do is first get the gold trophy on a cup of the new tracks in the class you chose. Then, replay that cup again and make sure to collect 100 coins or more total across the four races. If you do that correctly, you will get a cup of four tracks of SNES tracks that corresponds to the cup you completed of the GBA tracks (like if you got 100 coins on 50cc Flower Cup, you would unlock the SNES 50cc Flower Cup). Since there are five cups of GBA cups with four races each, the SNES tracks have been broken off from four cups of five races to five cups of four races each. So  they're a little out of order, but no big deal. If you press the shoulder buttons on the cup selection screen, you will access a menu filled with your unlocked Super Nintendo tracks.
    Unlocking all of the SNES tracks for all of the classes can be tedious and is something that I haven't personally accomplished yet. However, I have unlocked them all in the 50cc class, so I have played all of them.
    I expected a lot more from the SNES tracks. Did I expect they would reuse background elements? Yes. Did I expect they would be full-on remakes of their SNES counterparts? No. But I did expect a basic yet competent port of the tracks. Just a straight rip with some elements reused from the main game to save space. However, these tracks were a bit of a disappointment for me because they don't accurately port the originals.
    I love Super Mario Kart on the SNES regardless of what people say about it. I think it is a great game that still holds up. Compared to the modern-day Mario Karts it's a completely different ride, but a fun game in its own right and it represents a completely different era of Mario Kart that doesn't exist in the modern games. The tracks in SMK are very different than those seen in all Mario Kart games afterwards. They are much shorter and all have a five-lap structure compared to the three-lap standard set in Mario Kart 64. The short and simple courses should be easily ported to the more powerful Game Boy Advance, right?
    The Super Mario Kart tracks are here, yes, but they are hollow shells of their former selves. Many stage elements are missing from the courses. Some are understandably cut as there's no in-game counterpart to some of the hazards in the Super Circuit tracks, such as the Monty Moles in Donut Plains 2 or the pipes in the Mario Circuit tracks. Some, however, in my opinion are inexcusable. For instance, in Mario Circuit 3 there are supposed to be oil slicks on the road. Why not replace them with the puddles seen in Luigi Circuit? I'm not aware of the ins and outs of programming for Game Boy Advance and the limitations they faced, but would it really be impossible to add a few elements to some of the remade courses seen in the main courses? The next year in 2002 Super Monkey Ball Junior managed to fit in 70 polygonal 3D courses in the main game plus some more in the bonus minigames. Is it that much to ask for a puddle of water that is already in the game to be placed in another course?
    A good example I found of this is in Bowser Castle 1. On the Super Nintendo, this course had Thwomps in your way and speed boosts as well. Here are two videos you can watch, one of the SNES version and one of the GBA version. Compare for yourself. Note: I do not own these videos.

     
    And here's the GBA version. See what I mean?
    It might sound that I'm hating on Super Circuit now, but that's not the case. I still like the game quite a bit. I'm just a little... disappointed.
  10. HDN
    Asteroids was a game I had played before on my Wii 2600 emulator, but I didn't really start enjoying it until I got my Jakks Pacific 2600 Joystick Plug 'N' Play. Sometimes when you have less games to choose from it helps you appreciate the ones you have more. Whenever I'm exposed to an emulator or something and I have a folder with hundreds of abbreviated ROMs, I often just play the same two or three games over and over again until I get bored. When I have less games availiable to me, I often enjoy the games I have access to more and appreciate them more for what they are. That's part of the reason I love physical cartridges.
    Like I said, I mostly played it on the Joystick Plug 'N' Play. We had this CD+G karaoke machine that we got in around 2011 or so for Christmas that happened to have some composite ports on the back of it. The machine had maybe a five or six inch monochrome screen. You know how some of those old computer monitors had green phosphor to make it easier to see text? This one had a blue color palate going on. In retrospect, I'm shocked that they were still making tiny CRTs for karaoke machines in the early 2010s, much less monochrome ones. Sometimes I'd sneak that bulky thing in my room and play some Atari games on it. I remember the display being very crisp. Monochrome displays often are. I used that karaoke machine as a psudo-television in my room. I had been begging my parents to let me put up this crappy twelve-inch Hitachi CRT in my room since I was 8 years old. I had this really strict doctor that I hated. He was a good doctor from a parent perspective, but he was so boring and overexplained everything and made each appointment about twelve times longer than it had to be. He convinced my parents to not let me have a television in my room. He said if it was there I would never leave my room and just stay there and watch TV all day. I couldn't get it through to my parents that all I wanted to use it for were my old video game systems.
    Six years. It took until I was fourteen to finally get it through to my parents that I wasn't going to use it to watch TV on it. It took two years after we stopped getting analog TV through coax and needed digital adapters in order to watch TV. All of my friends teased me for having a "stone age" TV in my room and for getting it so late, but I never minded. I have always preferred CRTs to modern displays. I used to have my Wii up here, then switched to Wii U, then added NES (for zapper games) and finally replaced it with my 2600 when I got it. I have put another 12-inch downstairs to play those Zapper games in my main gameroom. Now that I have older systems in my room, I have no intentions of getting a newer TV.

    So, back to Asteroids. I loved this game. One of my favorite 2600 games growing up, along with Pac-Man, Adventure, Space Invaders, Pitfall II, and Keystone Kapers. I didn't discover Tunnel Runner until later. I will have to cover that one soon. Asteroids on the Jakks Pacific Joystick wasn't actually an emulation of the 2600 game, rather it was a recreation of the game using a NOAC (Nintendo [Entertainment System] on a Chip). The game looks the part and sounds the part to a casual gamer who hasn't played Atari in years, but diehard Atari enthusiasts like myself might find the minor sound and graphical alterations to be a deal-breaker, though since I grew up with some of these games on here it doesn't bother me much. The sounds in Asteroids are a bit different than the 2600 version and there is less flicker if I remember correctly.
    But we can't talk about the 2600 version of Asteroids without talking about the original. Asteroids was released for the arcades in 1979. It used a vector display. I assume most people here at the I/O know what a vector display is, but I am just going to explain it anyways. A vector display meant instead of pixels the cathode ray was directly controlled to just draw lines on the screen. Back in the day, this was heavily used in certain arcade titles. On the plus side, vector games had much crisper graphics and could handle 3D games much better with wireframe models. Vector games could also handle scaling effects much better than games that used a raster scan in the early days. On the downside, vector games were rarely in color. Mostly the games that utilized this display method only drew white lines. Many games had overlays over the cabinet screens, like Star Castle. Later on, vector games started appearing in color. Games like Major Havoc and Star Wars Arcade used color vectors for their graphics. The problem with color vectors, however, is that the backgrounds were still all black and there wasn't really a good way to fill in the blank spots in the graphics. Plus, vector games typically flickered more as there was only one line being drawn at a time. Eventually, once video games evolved and pixel based games had more to work with, vector games fell to the wayside. After pixel games started having polygons and whatnot, it was all over for vector graphics. However, vector graphics are still special to this day as there is no way to accurately reproduce them on modern displays. If you want to play a vector game the correct way, you have to find an old arcade system or a Vectrex. There's just no other way to get the real vector experience anymore.

    Unlike its 2600 adaptation, which uses the standard Atari joystick controller, Asteroids' arcade conversion consists entirely of buttons. There are two buttons for rotating the ship, one button for thrust, one for fire, and one for hyperspace. I was fortunate to have played the real arcade cabinet before at an arcade exhibit at a museum. There really is nothing like a real vector display. The owners of the cabinets were there and they were kind enough to give me a bit of a tour after most people left. I was lucky enough to see such great games like Burgertime, Gran Trak 10, Major Havoc, an early prototype of Bubbles, Donkey Kong, and even the elusive Death Race. Only a few cabinets were available to play on as most were roped off for display purposes only. Though I did sneak in a game of prototype Bubbles. SHHHH!
    I really enjoyed the arcade version of Asteroids when I played it. It was on free play, and most people wanted to play Pac-Man, Burgertime, and Frogger, so I mostly had the game to myself.

    So, now that we have gotten some background knowledge on where this game came from, we can talk about the 2600 version in greater detail. Right off the bat, the game is obviously going to be different from the arcades graphically. I know that's very shocking news for you all; "Oh no! The 2600 doesn't have arcade graphics?!?". But here, it's actually impossible to reproduce them. The 2600 hooks up to a television set, and consumer TVs use a raster scan instead of a vector one, hence the title of this review, "Rasteroids". Though it doesn't have the same graphical fidelity of the arcade game, it does add color which the arcade vectors lacked.
    The object of Asteroids is to, well, shoot all of the asteroids without getting hit yourself. When you shoot an asteroid, it will split up into smaller chunks. If you hit one of the medium size space rocks in the coin-op version, it will split in two, though on the 2600 it just grows smaller. Occasionally there are UFOs and satelites that show up in the arcade version and try to shoot you down. I thought for years that they weren't in the 2600 adaptation until I read the manual when I first got my system. That was a completely mind-blowing moment for me. So yeah, they are in the game after all if you flip the difficulty switch into the A position. The 2600 cartridge features 66 game variations, including variations that change the amount of points you need for an extra life (if any at all), variations that swap out your hyperspace function for shields or 180 degree turning, and variations that change the speed of the game. The Asteroids cartridge has a copyright date of 1981 and is notable for being the first 2600 game to use bankswitching. Bankswitching allows for games to have file sizes of over 4 kilobytes. It played a massive role in the long lifespan of the Atari VCS.
    The controls for Asteroids at home are obviously going to be a bit different than in the arcades as it uses a standard joystick controller instead of a button-only layout. Left and right on the stick, as expected, rotate your triangular spaceship, which on an unrelated note is the same spaceship sprite used in the system's adaptation of Spacewar! three years earlier in 1978. Up on the joystick is your thrust, which can be a problem as one could easily thrust by accident right into an oncoming asteroid. Down on the joystick is different depending on which variation it is in, but in the default mode it is the hyperspace function. This will make your ship temporarily disappear and reappear somewhere random on the screen. This could theoretically place you right by an oncoming asteroid that would almost assuredly kill you, but it can help in certain situations if you are lucky enough. And the button, shockingly, fires your missiles. On the default variation you get an extra ship every 5,000 points.
    Now, I was pretty excited to play this game again when I got my 2600. At this point, I hadn't played Asteroids for a while. This was one of the first games I played when I got the 2600 controllers fixed and the system set up. This was actually the first game I wrote down on my high score notebook. I played the game again on the default variation (B/B on the difficulty switches) and really enjoyed it! I got 14,720 and I thought that was pretty good. On my next attempt I got 48,590! I thought that was great! So I stopped playing for a few days and when I picked it up again I rolled the score over and got 114,250. The reason I got only 114,250 is because I quit because my index finger hurt way too much. I normally play Atari games with the joystick resting on the desk in my room and playing it kind of like an arcade game, so I use my left index finger to shoot. I needed a higher difficulty in Asteroids, so I tried with the UFOs. But I still quickly got bored of the game.
    I never found the same enjoyment I did when I was younger with 2600 Asteroids again. The pattern was just too predictable. In the arcade version and most other versions, the asteroid chunks fly off in all directions when you shoot them. But not here. Here, it seems like most of the asteroids fly in the same downward path at a slight diagonal angle. Once you get a pattern down, you can comfortably last for a long time. And soon, for me at least, it just gets boring. 
    I know this game is popular and beloved by fans of the 2600, but I just don't like it that much anymore. It's way too easy and predictable. The arcade version has so much going on at once; all asteroids hurling towards all in different directions, but here on the VCS it's monotonous and machine-like. I want to love this game again, I really do, but I just can't get into it again. I'm sorry, everyone, but I have to rate this game a 5/10. I'd rather play E.T. or Pac-Man again.
    If you don't already have this game (which is honestly hard to believe if you have the system), it goes for about $5 if you get the Black or Sears label varients. The silver label is a bit pricier at a whopping $20. AtariAge gives it a rarity of 1 for the Atari picture label version, 2 for all of the Sears versions, 3 for the silver label variant and a rarity of 5 for the red label cartridge.
    I'm sorry, but this game just doesn't do it for me anymore. I will need to try the 7800 version someday and the homebrew Space Rocks. I have the ROM, but it doesn't seem to work on my emulator. I'm all Asteroided out for now. Now, I'm going to leave and play Super Meteorite-- I mean, Super Metroid.

  11. HDN
    This January I finally completed my North American Nintendo Game Boy launch lineup. I have said in the past that I have been collecting games for the original Game Boy since August of 2015, though that's only half-true. In August 2015 I bought my first DMG Game Boy game on 3DS Virtual Console. Not a physical cartridge, though since I did pay money for it, it sort of counts in my eyes. The first game I got on 3DS was not any of the GB NA launch games, rather it was a very late release, Game and Watch Gallery. Later in September I bought the amazing Metroid II: Return of Samus (Lots of backstory about that game) and Super Mario Land, the latter being a launch game.
    I didn't get a means of playing official Game Boy cartridges until Christmas Eve of 2016 when I got my Super Game Boy. Earlier in August while on vacation at Blue Harbor in Sheboygan, WI we were shopping at the only retro game store I knew of at the time. I believe it was called Freaktoyz or something. Anyways they had an SGB there for $15, the exact amount of money I had brought with me on vacation. I was seriously considering it. My dad used to have an original Game Boy in college that my mom sadly threw out in the early 2000's. I assumed he had some of his original games with him still somewhere in the house. I had been on the lookout for them for years since I have always been fascinated by the original Game Boy. I was pretty sure they were somewhere, but as I had been snooping around for them for years at this point I didn't want to risk it, so I opted for StarTropics on NES instead. I kid you not, two days later we were cleaning the basement and what did I find? A cloth bag thing filled with Game Boy games. I couldn't believe it. I had been looking for these for years, and right after I saw a Super Game Boy I found them! Only one of the games my dad remembered wasn't there, that being Centipede and Millipede. I assumed that one was in the Game Boy when my mom threw it out. But all of the other games were there. Here are all of the ones I remember being there:
    Tetris Baseball Play Action Football Sports Illustrated Golf The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening F-1 Race So right off the bat I had two of the launch lineup. Plus at that point I had Super Mario Land on 3DS.
    I didn't get another physical Game Boy cartridge until last year because I was never around any game stores (or at least I didn't think I was), but I did get a few more games on the VC, including Tennis. When I discovered my new regular game store, Game Trade in DePere, WI, I had recently gotten a Game Boy Advance system and was getting in to collecting for the Game Boy DMG, Color, and Advance, though mostly the OG. I had gotten some money for Christmas to fuel my collecting. Some of the first games I got were games I had loved on the 3DS VC and wanted to play them on somewhat original hardware. In the clearance bin I saw a very beat up copy of Tennis, so I decided to pick that up. I had enjoyed the game quite a bit on the 3DS and since it was so cheap, why not? When I got home I got on the list for a physical cartridge of Super Mario Land. That was the last physical cartridge I picked up, but today's game, Alleyway, was the last of the GB launch lineup I actually played. I picked that up on maybe my second or third Game Store run for five bucks. 
    Anyway, let's actually talk about Alleyway.

    Alleyway was a launch title for the original Game Boy in North America, Europe, and Japan. Here in the states it launched in 1989. Alleyway is a breakout-style game. Note that I did not say Arkanoid style game. Though this game came out several years after Taito's 1986 classic Arkanoid, which heavily expanded upon the format seen in Atari's Breakout and Super Breakout. Arkanoid added things such as powerups, weapons, and enemies to the mix. Alleyway does away with many of these, though it is still obvious that it was inspired by Arkanoid. For instance, each level is distinct in its layout. Super Breakout had some distinction, but that game did it very differently. Super Breakout's level design was much simpler in comparison and a lot less varied. Plus, to my knowledge you couldn't progress from level to level like you could in Arkanoid and Alleyway. I believe if you beat, say, the cavity screen for instance, you didn't transition to the progression or regular Breakout screens. At least I don't think you could. I've never been very good at the arcade version of Super Breakout or on any home system.
    Like Arkanoid and the earlier Breakout games, different shades of blocks earn you different amounts of points. In this case, the darker the shade of puke-green the more points you will get. The darker blocks also increase the speed of your ball, though it is nowhere near as noticeable as it is in some other block-breaking games. Also like the original Breakout, starting on the fifth stage, if your ball hits the top of the screen, your paddle will shrink in size.There are also some indestructible blocks in the game like those seen in Arkanoid. In short, Alleyway is like a midpoint between Super Breakout and Arkanoid.

    The game's progression consists of three stages using the same basic structure followed by a timed bonus stage. The four-level setup is reminiscent of the world layout of the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES. The first level in an Alleyway "world" is a basic level with nothing going on. The blocks stay still for this level. On the second stage they wrap around the screen horizontally. In this mode it is easy to get the ball stuck in a pattern and wipe out many bricks at once. The third stage appears to not move at first, but occasionally the blocks will descend another step towards your paddle. Nothing bad happens if they reach the bottom; they just disappear. This mode is a straight ripoff of the progression mode in Super Breakout. The fourth mode, as I previously mentioned, is a timed bonus stage. These stages feature cameos of Super Mario characters and items in block form. The player has about a minute (in real time; the seconds on the clock move way too fast) to clear out the entire field. This is much easier than it sounds; the blocks disappear in a Breakthrough style. Though it still can be a little challenging at times. The game sessions in Alleyway tend to last pretty long as I can play for quite a while without Game Over-ing.
    The sound and music in this game are quite nice. This early Game Boy title takes full advantage of the stereo headphone jack, providing some great musical ditties. The title theme especially gets stuck in my head. I also enjoy jingles between levels, before the bonus stage, and during the bonus stage. I really dig the music in this game. The sounds are your typical Breakout sounds. The Game Boy tries its best to provide an echo effect on some of the block-breaking sounds. I thoroughly enjoy the music and sound in this game and highly recommend using headphones while playing.
    The packaging of the game is also very cool. I like the behind the paddle perspective and the stellar color palate. It really gives of that intergalactic vibe. I don't know what it was with Breakout games and outer space. Super Breakout was about the interstellar adventures of... was it Captain Jack Chang? I remember it was Captain something Chang. Arkanoid also has a space theme, where you control the spacecraft Vaus jettisoned from the mothership Arkanoid after it was destroyed and caught in a space warp. This game appears to take place in outer space as well, though with a twist. The pilot of the spacecraft is none other than our man Super Mario. Or maybe just Mario, as the opening cutscene of the game shows a sprite of Mario hopping into the paddle that appears to resemble his pre-Super Mario Brothers appearance. He looks like a bootleg version of himself. Oh, early Game Boy graphics with your tiny, creepy little sprites...
    Game Theory time: What if this game was the inspiration for Super Mario Galaxy? I mean, they both take place in space. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch.

    Even when this game was first released in 1989 it was an incredibly basic and simple take on the genre. It didn't have the little nuances that made Arkanoid so great. It didn't even have a single powerup in it. If this game were released at any other time than at the very start of the first mainstream portable game system's life, it would have been laughable. But the Game Boy was a new concept for most people. Sure, the Microvision and Adventurevision predated the Game Boy by several years, and the former predated it by a good decade, but those consoles were for the most part failed attempts at bringing the console and arcade experience on the go. Plus, I feel that Alleyway was a good way at getting more casual non-gamers to play the Game Boy. Compared to the NES, Nintendo's handheld system offered a much more all-inclusive experience with typically easier and simpler game experiences. Tetris sold many systems to the non-gamer crowd, and Alleyway probably had a few copies bought by those Tetris players.
    So why play Alleyway now? This game has nothing to set it apart from the crowd. There are much more complicated and engaging Breakout style games out there nowadays, so why pick this one? I'll tell you why:
    The controls.
    In all of my life, I have never played a better controlling Breakout style game that uses a D-Pad. The controls this game has are second only to the paddle controllers seen on the 2600 and other potentiometer-based knob or dial controller. The control you have over the game's paddle is exceptional. I have played many other Breakout games with digital-style controllers, like Arkanoid on NES, 1001 Blockbusters for DSiWare, and others, but nothing comes close to controlling better than this game. The paddle moves at the absolute perfect speed for the game. It's honestly hard to explain how good it feels; you need to play the game yourself. If the paddle's base speed is too fast or too slow for you, never fear. The face buttons are here! In this game, the A button will "accelerate" the paddle while the B button will "break". That's how I remember their functions. Though I don't often use the face buttons in the game, they can come in handy in the later levels.
    So how would I rate this game out of ten for the system it's on. Sadly, I have to put it pretty low as there are so many better games on the system like Metroid II, Link's Awakening and Super Mario Land 2. If I had to I would probably rate it a 6/10. The game is really good, but there are so many other games on the Game Boy that are better. Though I rated it somewhat low, I still recommend picking it up. It's not in very high demand. The controls are exceptional enough to make the purchase worth it. The controls alone turn this game from yet another boring Breakout clone I played to one of my favorites in the genre. All in all, Alleyway is a game I love to "Breakout" and play a few rounds of from time to time.
  12. HDN
    In today's entry, we won't be going back too far before my time like we did with Miniature Golf, rather we will only go back a single generation. Today we will cover the first Mario Kart you can play on the go, Mario Kart Super Circuit.

    In January of 2013 I got my first handheld console, the almighty Nintendo DSi. Although the successor, the 3DS, was out for nearly two years, I specifically asked for the DSi. I really hated analog sticks and circle pads (I still kind of do), and I didn't want to play any games with it. The game I really wanted for my shiny new DSi was the original New Super Mario Brothers. The game I got with my DSi on my birthday was a used copy of Super Mario 64 DS from my uncle. I was very thankful and courteous, though it wasn't the game I wanted for the system and I wasn't that big of a fan of the Nintendo 64 version I had played previously. It's funny how now that's one of my favorite games of all time, second only to Super Metroid.
    I got a telescope as well from someone, but since I already had a telescope we returned it at the store. The proceeds from that allowed me to purchase two new DS games. I believe the games were on clearance. It was 2013 and some of these games already predated me! A few day after I got my DSi, my mom and I went to Target to pick out a brand-new DS game, though she would only allow me to pick out one at a time. I was dead-set on buying NSMB, when my mom pointed out that they only had one copy of Mario Kart DS left. The day after my birthday, I believe, we rented MKDS from Family Video (which at the time of writing this is sadly selling all of their movies and games and closing up) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So we picked up MKDS and it quickly became my favorite Mario Kart game of all-time. I did get NSMB about a week later, and both games now proudly hang on my bedroom wall.
    Fast forward a couple months. My second grade teacher had a show-and-tell thing every Friday afternoon about a half hour before the school day was over. The kids could bring in things and show them to the class and then play with them until the day was over. Almost every Friday my friends and I would bring in our DS's and play something multiplayer. Sometimes it would be that multiplayer Pac-Man remake on Namco Museum DS, sometimes we would split up and play NSMB battle mode. But nine times out of ten we would play Mario Kart DS.
    When we started doing this, one of my friends said he had the game at home and would bring it in next week. He, to this day, is the only guy I know who had a regular OG DS. It seems that most of them either had the DS Lite or some size of the DSi. There were two kids who had 3DS's as well. But this guy had the OG.
    The next week he came in with a Mario Kart game on his DS. Though it wasn't the one all of us were playing, no. This was Mario Kart Super Circuit. Or has he liked to call it, "Super Mario Circuit". Obviously he couldn't play it with us, though I stayed a few minutes after school was over and tried it out. Before I got this game last week, the only course I had played on it was Luigi Circuit, time trial mode. This game was weird. It didn't feel like the Mario Kart I was used to. This game was strange, flat, pixelated, and foreign. The characters and items didn't look the part. The voices were compressed beyond belief and didn't sound like their respective characters. I left the game hating it and feeling bad for the kid for being stuck with such an abysmal Mario Kart game.

    A few years later I started playing the original Super Mario Kart. I bought it on the 3DS Virtual Console so I could have some racing diversity in my VC collection. I had a blast with it. I have heard lots of negative things about how SMK aged poorly and how the splitscreen was a terrible design choice, but I honestly never had a problem with the game. I loved it. It's a great little game to take on the go with you and offers a much different experience than the more modern Mario Kart games. Maybe two years later my dad's friend was cleaning out the basement and found Mario Kart 64. He didn't have a Nintendo 64 system so he gave it to us. That was a game I didn't much care for after emulating it on my Wii. After I played the physical cart, I realized how bad the emulation for N64 games was on my Wii! Now it's a very close second to Mario Kart DS for my favorite in the series.
    After playing these two games and getting a GBA for Christmas of 2019, this game was high on my list of priorities for the system. I tried to get my previously-mentioned friend to sell it to me, but he couldn't find it. So I had to get on the list for it at my local game store. They had a CIB copy for $30, but I wanted to wait a while for a loose cart. Several months later (last week) they finally called with my game. I was pretty hyped to play it again after all these years.
     
    Mario Kart Super Circuit was released for the Game Boy Advance shortly after its launch in 2001. It was the third game in the Mario Kart series. This game plays like a hybrid of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, though it adheres much more closely to the former than the latter. The game features twenty new and original tracks in the flat "mode seven" style seen on many racing games on the SNES, including F-Zero. Super Circuit also includes all twenty tracks from the SNES original, making it have the highest track count of any Mario Kart game right out of the box until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe released on Switch in 2017 and included all of the DLC tracks from the Wii U version right from the get-go. Though the new tracks are flat like the SNES game, their design is much more complex and they also seem to be substantially longer than their SNES counterparts. The game controls a bit more like the Nintendo 64 version than the SNES game however. Early Mario Kart games aren't known for their great controls, and though still not perfect Super Circuit is noticeably tighter than the Super Nintendo game. Also returning from 64 are most of the items and the character roster. 
    The sound and music in the game are a mixed bag to say the least. The music in the game seems to rely a bit more on 8 bit-esque sounds than the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games that preceded it. I feel this works in the games favor as the Game Boy Advance has notoriously terrible sound and music. Not that Super Circuit doesn't use sampled audio in its music, but typically it is accompanied by the old-sounding music and there are typically only one or two sampled notes playing at a time. I think that this game, given what it has to work with, sounds excellent on the GBA. The music at least. The sounds are somewhat worse. Again, a heavy reliance on retro style sounds here, such as in the item roulette. The engine sounds okay as well. The voices, however, are quite terrible. I can deal with the bit-crunch voice samples; Super Mario Advance pulled this off quite well on the GBA when it launched earlier in 2001. However, my problem with the game is that none of the characters sound like they're supposed to! Bowser, Wario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong sound alright, but the other half of the roster is where the problem lies. Mario is the best of these, though he still sounds a bit like someone trying to do a Mario impression. Luigi sounds godawful, like a higher-pitched bootleg Mario. I know in the early Super Smash Brothers games Luigi's voice is just a pitched-up Mario, but from what I can tell the voice samples are different and not just sped up. Again, in Super Mario Advance Luigi sounded fine, and his voice was also normal in Mario Kart 64 five years earlier, so why is it all whack here? Peach also sounds a bit messed up, but that was typical of Peach in that era. Just look at Mario Kart 64, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Advance, etc. Her voice sounded very different in the early days as a different person played her. Maybe I'm just not used to it, but I never much cared for her voice in these games. I can tolerate her in SM64, Advance and MK64, so with a bit more time put into Super Circuit I will probably get a bit more accustomed to her voice. Toad isn't good either. He doesn't sound quite like he did in Mario Kart 64 or Super Mario Advance, where he sounds for the most part like his modern voice. I'm not too upset about his voice not being accurate to Mario Advance (which I'd also like to cover someday) as both games were in development at around the same time and both by different studios (Super Circuit was Intelligent System's child while SMA was developed by Nintendo EAD). Overall, I don't like the voice samples and some sound effects but the music balances it out for an overall pleasant-sounding game.

    Overall, would I recommend Mario Kart Super Circuit? Well, it depends on who you are. I have heard people talk about how they love this games while others describe it as gingivitis. If you are used to the Mario Kart games from DS onward to 8 Deluxe, you might not enjoy this game. I consider the original Mario Kart trilogy to be a completely different beast than the more modern games. I can't speak for Double Dash as I have never had the pleasure of playing it, but from what I have seen it appears to be a bit of a middle ground. The more modern games typically have much better controls than the older games and more content with the addition of Retro tracks, but the older games (like the one we are talking about today) are typically a bit more arcadey and skill-based. You can't wait in 8th place for a super overpowered item to shoot you right back up to the pole position; you have to actually have a decent level of skill to climb back up the pack. The item balancing in the older games seems to be a bit fairer; don't expect 43 Spiny Shells in a single race. In the modern games, you can finish in 8th place, but if you get below fourth in the older games you will need to retry the track, and in the SNES and GBA games you only have a limited amount of retries. 
    My point is the two eras are very different. I mainly grew up with the early modern era (DS and Wii), and I thoroughly enjoyed these older games. I might sound like I'm trashing Super Circuit with my critiques, but in all honesty I'm having a blast with the game. This might become my new second favorite Mario Kart game and beat out 64. I haven't collected too much for the GBA; I've mostly collected GB and GBC games to play on the system, but of the games I have collected so far this game is close to being my favorite. I'll need to spend a bit more time with it, more than less than a week at least, to form a proper opinion and rank it in my GBA collection, but I can see myself playing this game often. I recommend for the best possible Mario Kart experience, get this game, a DS or DS Lite, and a copy of Mario Kart DS. That way you will get a taste of both eras of Mario Kart and be able to take it on the go. I can't recommend both games enough. I love flat, mode seven-style racing games. If you want another great racing game in this style on the GBA, F-Zero Maximum Velocity is a great game to try out.
    This game, for the system is on, I rate a 9/10. I think it is well worth the $15 I spent on it.
  13. HDN
    I love the sport of Miniature Golf. Well, is it even a sport? Golf is, so Mini Golf is, there. The brightly-colored balls, the sound of the artificial water streams, oldies playing quietly on speakers mounted proudly on tall wooden posts... Each course is filled to the brim with its own personality. I've gone to many places to play and I find the smaller ones to be the best. If a place typically has more than one thing in it besides mini golf (like batting cages or go-karts), I find it to have less character and appeal. Not to say they aren't fun. I just find the fancier places like those to be a bit too fancy for their own good. I like the middling to small places. There's this ice cream place near us called The Chubby Seagull that also has a small mini golf course. It was pretty run down, but a few years ago they renovated the building, and last year I believe they started renovating the golf course. I haven't played on it since it was new, but I had fun on that crappy old run-down place. It still isn't fancy or anything, just a bit tidied up. For three bucks it was pretty fun. I haven't seen the new course since construction; I wonder if they have made any progress on it during COVID-19. Other places I have enjoyed were The Red Putter in Door County (which was also quite reasonable, especially for Door County) and there was another place near Blue Harbor in Sheboygan (name escapes me at the moment).
    So for my inaugural blog, I have decided to review one of my favorite Atari 2600 games, Miniature Golf.
    The game released on the Atari Video Computer System (later renamed the 2600 to differentiate it from the Atari 5200 SuperSystem) in 1978 and was programmed by Tom Reuterdahl. It was supposedly based off of an unreleased Atari arcade game, "Mini-Golf". From what I can tell, you control the power and direction of the ball itself rather than controlling a sentient square and pressing the button to bash into the square and send it flying off at whatever angle you hit it at. I couldn't find much out about the arcade game, nor did I play it for this review. What I could tell about the game is that there are 18 holes in the game and one credit will let you play nine of them, front or back I assume. The holes themselves have much more detail than the 2600 version, with inclines, declines, bunkers, and other background details not present in the home port. One advantage the home version has over the unreleased arcade cabinet is that it is presented in color. Black and White monitors were prevalent in games of the era, and in many cases had colored overlays that added color and sometimes even added graphical elements not programmed into the games, such as the pipes in Atari's Stunt Cycle. These overlays are reminiscent of the ones used on the Magnavox Odyssey. It is unknown if Mini Golf was planned to include an overlay on the arcade cabinet. Though the game's graphics are monochrome, the game graphics themselves are much more detailed than the home port.

     
    The Atari 2600 home version (which will be our main focus for today) isn't terribly realistic, but that was par for the course (pardon the pun) for early Atari sports games. The physics of the nine holes of Miniature Golf (or Arcade Golf for you Sears shoppers) are much more akin to Billiards and Pool than Putt-Putt. The box art (shown below for Atari and Sears varients) looks nice, but is riddled with problems and inconsistencies. For instance, on the Atari version, you can clearly see that one of the holes is marked 18, though there are only nine in the game. Perhaps a remnant from the cancelled arcade game. The hole layouts do little to match their in-game counterparts; just look at hole nine on the Atari box, though hole eight on the Sears box is arguably comparable to the corresponding hole in the game. Overall, I like the packaging and box art.

     
    The cartridge only appears to have a single text-label variant for both the Sears and Atari versions. Sadly, this hidden gem appears to have been discontinued sometime around 1981 as it stopped appearing in the Atari catalogs.
    Miniature Golf has only two game variations: single player or two players. The difficulty switches affect how far the ball will go when hit; in the A position there is much less friction on the ball, making it go farther but also being much harder to get it to stop exactly where you want it to. The object of the game is the same as typical Golf and Miniature Golf: complete the course in as little strokes (or in this case hits of the small square with the bigger square) as possible. Each of the nine holes in this game is assigned a par. The par, for the unfamiliar, is a target for the hole. You want to stay under it or match it. Since this game does not subtract strokes from your total if you get below par or add them if you go above, it is merely superfluous. All the game does is just track your total number of strokes for the course. At the beginning of each hole, the first player score (blue) will be replaced by the hole number, and the second player score (red) will show the par for the hole. Once the ball is hit for the first time on a hole, the par and hole number will revert back to each player's respective stroke count.
    The multiplayer mode is also much different compared to typical golf; instead of the player farthest from the hole having the next turn, each player plays the entire hole before the next player goes in a two-player match. This, in a way, gives the second player an unfair advantage as if the first player does well at a hole, they can try to mimic that to stay on their tails. I haven't found it to be a big deal though and it hasn't seemed to affect any of my multiplayer matches. I am typically the first player, and I typically win the game as well!

    Whoever took this first screenshot I found on Google Image Search is doing horribly! That's only the second hole and he or she already has a whole 20 strokes! Now, whoever took this second picture of their 12-inch Hitachi TV after the ninth hole was a real master! 29 on the whole course--that's a great score! I wonder if anyone can beat it on the scoreboards...
    Control-wise the game is a bit strange. At first I was confused; I kept smacking the ball at only a short distance. I soon found out that you really need to pull WAY back before you hit the ball to send it flying off at a reasonable speed. Sometimes there won't be enough room on the screen to move back, so you will need to ricochet the ball around! All of the walls function like giant pinball bumpers as they bounce the ball about, especially when the difficulty switch is in the A position. The big square cursor you control to hit the ball sometimes randomly slows down when you are moving it, and it can't move diagonally, but those are just nitpicks. It's not a very fast-paced game so it doesn't affect gameplay much, though it does make aiming a little bit harder. This game would really benefit from true trakball controls.
    You may have noticed another slightly-larger square on each hole. The square is shown as red for the first player and blue for the second. That is supposed to be--get this--a windmill! Get your laughter out now, everyone! Hardy har har, Atari 2600 graphics suck. Though that is why I said hole eight on the Sears Arcade Golf box is fairly accurate.
    This "windmill" can either help you our or harm you. For instance, if you get the ball just above the hole in hole eight, the windmill will gladly knock the ball in for you or it will knock it way out of the way. The windmill moves back and forth in eight out of the nine holes, the eighth hole being an exception; it moves down the screen, disappears for a few seconds, and then reappears at the top of the screen.
    The hole design is, as expected for a 1978 release, incredibly basic. Like many early 2600 games, all of the background elements (in this case the walls of the hole) are completely symmetrical. This is less apparent in the 2006 fan made sequel, Miniature Golf Plus, where the background elements appear in a higher resolution. You can currently buy a physical cartridge of this hack on Atari Age, which I plan on doing sometime! 

    Overall, I feel that Miniature Golf is a must-own game for your VCS. Though it looks like it might be an Adventure or Video Olympics spinoff, this game will not disappoint. The game offers a lot of strategy and is not very easy to master. Unless you are me! The game physics are very nuanced and reliable if you know what you are doing. If you have a friend over and you want to play Atari together, Miniature or Arcade Golf is a great game to pull out and play a few rounds of. Games go quickly and the game is very replayable as you learn new ways to improve your score. As soon as you finish the ninth hole, you'll want to push down that reset switch as soon as possible and play another round! This game is my favorite sports game on the system, hands down, and is leaps and bounds superior to the regular Golf game that appeared on the VCS two years later. It's a darn shame this game was only on the market for a few years and is not very well known today.
    If you don't have it in your collection, expect to pay around $5.00 for it. That's what I paid for it. Atari Age gives both Miniature Golf and Arcade Golf a rarity of 3 out of 10, making it a little less common than some other Atari 2600 games. It's not very sought after, so you should be able to pick it up for cheap. The physical cartridge of the sequel Miniature Golf Plus will cost you $25.00.
    Miniature Golf is an easy top-ten game on the system. I highly recommend playing it.
  14. HDN
    Hello all. Here I am again with yet another weird spinoff entry.
    Take a look at this console, the Nintendo 64. Released in 1996, this system helped pave the way for modern 3D gaming with revolutionary titles such as Super Mario 64. It also has an ingenious bit of engineering in it that I have yet to see in any other console. However, on the surface, the thing may not look too terribly well designed, and for the most part that is correct.

    To start, let's look at what is by far the most obvious flaw of the system, the cartridge port. In the mid 1990s, cartridges were going out of style. Disc-based games were becoming popular on systems like the PlayStation as they could hold much more data and were cheaper to make. CD games could house things like full motion video (FMV) and high-fidelity audio that cartridges simply didn't have the space for. With disc drives, systems could expand outside the limits of video games. For example, the PlayStation could not only use its drive to read video game data, but could also be used to play audio CDs; effectively a multimedia device. Additionally, discs were not only cheaper to produce on the manufacturer's side of things, but on the consumer's as well. The average PS1 game at the time the system was on store shelves cost $40 USD. A Nintendo 64 cartridge would cost in the wheelhouse of $60, '90s money. Discs are part of the reason that even though Nintendo's system had twice the bits behind it, the PS1 could have much bigger games and ended up being much more flexible. The N64 ultimately saw a short-lived disc drive in Japan exclusively, but as that thing failed miserably and ultimately nothing limit-pushing was produced for it, it's barely worth a mention.
    Let's move on to the controller. Indeed, this controller was a game-changer in its own time, but in practice it sets itself up for failure. It would only work well with certain types of games as we humans only have two hands at our disposal. The controller works well with certain games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, but at the end of the day the games it could play (and play well, might I add) were quite limited. Let's say we want to make a first person shooter game. A fast, action-packed, all-out FPS. Our character will shoot with the Z trigger and move with the analog stick. Okay, simple enough. To look around, we'll need to use the four C buttons. Not as elegant as if we were using the PS DualShock (which to be fair was released afterward), but fine enough. A will be used to preform actions like opening doors, B will be used for using pickups like healing items, and the R trigger will be used to aim our weapons more precisely. Now, how do we change our weapons? This game is going to be blisteringly fast, so we'll need to be able to change weapons and items on-the-fly and easily. All of our available buttons are used up. Do we make the player move their hand to use the D-Pad to switch items? Now do you guys see what I mean that this controller was limiting? You can't easily access all the buttons at once, in turn making it so that designers have to redesign their game from its original vision a bit.
    Well, this console sure isn't looking great so far design-wise. What's the ingenious part?
    For that, we have to look at the back of the system.

    Now, it may not look like much. It's just a simple power cord, albeit bulky. What makes it so special?
    Nintendo has a horrible track record with bulky AC adapters. They really hate me, I guess. My setup consists of mostly Nintendo consoles, and for a time exclusively them. Sure, I have an XBOX here, but I never use it. When I need to unplug something it's always the first to go. Nowadays I have my 7800 hooked up as well, which also has a big power supply, so it really doesn't help anything. All these bulky plugs fill up all the available outlets quickly, not only by using them but by covering up their neighbors, making them inaccessible for anything else. The NES, SNES, Ataris 2600 and 7800, and Nintendo Switch all have these problem (just to name a few that I own).
    Now the GameCube, Wii, and Wii U have a different solution. Rather than putting the bulky tumor of the AC adapter box on the plug itself, it divides the cord going into the system and the cord going into the wall or power strip. This is an improvement, I guess, but for my setup exclusively it presents a problem. My Wii U sits on a dresser a few feet above the ground. Because of the way that I have this configured, the bulky box ends up being more harm than good. There isn't enough cord so that I can put the box on the floor and still have the rest of the cord reach the Wii U, and if I let it hang its weight will tear down my setup. So I have to let the box sit on the dresser as well, which means I have to use an extension cord to make it have power. This wouldn't effect my regular Wii setup in a vacuum, but as many of you know my Wii has been softmodded and is constantly hooked up to an external hard drive. Said drive has one of those God-forsaken plugs, so it ends up being just as bad.
    So what about the 64 is so clever? Simple. The bulky adapter plug is implemented so that it simply plugs into the back of the system. No suffocated outlets and no dangling boxes threatening to pull down your Wii U. This is just like a regular two-pronged cord until the last few inches as it enters the system. It's genius. Shame that more retro systems didn't do this. Sure, the XBOX and even main competitor PlayStation had even less bulky power solutions, but I really don't care much for those games at all. As far as Nintendo PSU solutions go, this is the best of the best. Though it can't really work on their modern consoles because of not only size limitations but for needing room for various USB and SD ports as well. It's a shame the N64 isn't a particularly strong console in my opinion. Perhaps this AC adatption method would have been possible to an extent on the NES or the SNES.
    Nintendo, get your act together! Stop making consoles that are major outlet hogs!
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