Tag Archives | Gaming Nostalgia

ZX Nostalgia: Another iPhone Game Emulator

The iPhone has given life to another set of old games. This time it’s ZX Nostalgia, an emulator of Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum personal computer.

ZX Nostalgia costs $1 and includes 14 games, including Manic Miner, Fantastic Voyage and a shameless Star Wars clone called Starstrike 3D. All the games were released between 1982 and 1984.

I gave the app a whirl, and although I don’t regret spending the buck, there are a few things that need improvement. The interface is not nearly as slick as Manomio’s Commodore 64 emulator, and it lacks extra features such as high scores or online achievements. ZX Nostalgia could also use some more detailed instructions for each game — some games are just impossible to figure out — and more customization in its controls.

But overall, I’m pleased that there’s another bundle of emulated classic video games in the App Store, and it makes me wonder what we’ll see next. I still think a Nintendo emulator is out of the question, because the company is now competing with Apple in the handheld gaming market, even though an official emulator app would be awesome and a huge money maker for both parties.

In January, Gizmodo reported that a “Sega Genesis Ultimate Collection” app would arrive the following month, but it never did. Perhaps Sega found more success selling standalone classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe. Also, Manomio has put together Atari 2600 and Amiga emulators as tech demos, but an app would require rights to the games, or permission from rights holders, and I’m guessing that hasn’t happened.

There’s still room for other consoles, such as Intellivision (Update: Intellivision is available, and it’s free), Sega Master System or Turbo Grafx 16, but I don’t know what has to happen to make them a reality on the iPhone. I just know I’m enough of a sucker for retro video games on new devices that I’d pay for all of them.


E3's Video Game Remakes: Faithful or Not?

With the games industry in a downturn, the time is right for publishers to bring back forgotten games or return long-running franchises to simpler roots. Indeed, the lure of the reboot was strong at E3, with classics such as NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat making comebacks.

But how true do these games stick to their 8-bit, 16-bit and 64-bit roots? Do they preserve the feel of their ancestors, or merely capitalize off name recognition and cheap nostalgia? Here are my impressions:

NBA Jam: The game felt a little funky with the Wii remote and Nunchuk combination, but once I flipped the remote on its side and used it as a classic controller, I was back in the 90s. Bonus points for bringing back Tim Kitzrow, voice of the original game’s signature boomshakalakas. Faithful.

Goldeneye 007: Better referred to as Call of Goldeneye. Activision’s Wii remake looks like the Nintendo 64 classic, but feels a lot like the Call of Duty series, with twitchy instant kills instead of drawn out gunfights. On that note, the original GoldenEye’s distinctive red health and blue armor indicators are gone — who needs them with action this fast? — and the demonstrator had no idea what I was talking about when I asked whether they’d appear in the final game. Unfaithful.

Mortal Kombat: The gory fighter went astray in recent years with 3D arenas and a tedious system of lengthy combos to memorize. The new Mortal Kombat returns to 2D with sky-high jumps, crazy uppercuts and sone truly gruesome fatalities. the addition of a power meter for extra special moves doesn’t sit well, but otherwise this is the MK you remember politicians screaming about. Faithful.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Sega’s been churning out Sonic games for years; the number 4 signifies that we’re picking up from the last old Sega Genesis platformer. The physics are way off — there’s a jarring lack of momentum when you turn Sonic around in mid-air — and a new ability ball up and home in on enemies when falling takes some the danger out of moving too fast. But it looks like old Sonic games, and I’m told physics are subject to change. Somewhat Faithful.

Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot: Why Konami is rebooting this forgettable platformer as a downloadable Xbox 360/PSN game is a mystery to me. The old game was like Contra with knives, and the new one is more of a stealth game in 2D. There are some homages, like the occasional blaring siren and gun pickup with limited ammo, but otherwise the game feels nothing like the original. Unfaithful, but probably for the best.


Oh No, Not RollerCoaster Tycoon: The Movie

Hollywood continues to find inspiration in plotless video games, with Sony Pictures Animation picking up the film rights to RollerCoaster Tycoon.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film will be a mix of CGI and live action. What the storyline will entail is unknown, because the game itself has none. Like many simulation games, RollerCoaster Tycoon is about building and maintaining the best infrastructure possible — in this case, amusement parks — not interacting with characters.

So let’s count off game-based movies whose plots are a mystery. I previously wrote about Universal’s plans to make a movie based on the arcade classic Asteroids. Since then, Warner has negotiated with Taito to make a Space Invaders film and is working on a Spy Hunter movie, and Fox is trying to get the rights to Missile Command. None of these games have more than one line of narrative or any iconic characters.

Ostensibly, the studios are interested in these movies because they’re low-risk. The utter lack of plot affords a blank canvas for generic spy drama, space opera or family fun, and the recognizable video game franchises automatically raise the profile of the films (Case in point: I wouldn’t be writing about any of them if they had nothing to do with video games).

But maybe these films are risky business after all. There’s no past experience to draw on here, as these are not traditional game-to-movie adaptations where the narrative is set and fan interest is a given. The studios are seeking production rights and starting development with no guarantee that people are going to buy the concept. It’s entirely possible that people will recognize these films as hollow attempts to capitalize on nostalgia and brand recognition, but no one knows, because no one’s tried.

So the question is, who goes first? I’m sure all the studios are anxious to see whether plundering plotless video games was a good idea after all.


No More Xbox 360, PS3 Manuals for Ubisoft

It’s an old joke in video game culture — or perhaps culture in general — that nobody reads the instruction manuals. Realizing this, Ubisoft announced that it will stop including printed manuals with its games for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

The move is ostensibly an attempt to go green while reducing production costs. Along with scrapping the manuals, Ubisoft says it’ll start shipping games in polypropylene cases made only of recycled materials, reports CNet.

I don’t care much about any of that. To me, the move is more of an acknowledgement that the way we learn to play video games has drastically changed since the advent of home gaming consoles.

As a kid, I relished reading those little staple-bound booklets. You never knew what you’d find in there. The Super Mario Bros. manual revealed “secret tricks” — basically, chain-stomping Goombas and using Koopa shells to take out surrounding foes — and the Double Dragon manual had stylized illustrations of all the characters, which somehow made the 8-bit game seem so much cooler. And because old-school games were never very good at exposition, the manuals provided otherwise non-existent plots to Atari classics such as Berzerk.

None of that is necessary anymore. Games are considered a failure if they don’t teach you how to play within the game. If you need help, you’re more likely to consult GameFAQs than the instruction booklet. Fancy illustrations and written plot summaries aren’t necessary when the games themselves are spectacles of light and sound, with professional voice acting.

So, knowing things will never be the same as in childhood, I welcome Ubisoft’s decision. And yeah, I suppose it’s nice that the environment’s getting some love, too.

(By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic, Vimm.net has a growing archive of old video game instruction manuals, which is where I got the above image.)


The Ups and Downs of Microsoft Game Room

Microsoft Game Room launched yesterday for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. At its core, the Game Room is a fancy menu for playing classic arcade games such as Combat, Centipede and Lunar Lander, but with a few extra features that Microsoft hopes will get you to stick around and spend lots of money. After playing around in the arcade last night, I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be an arcade junkie once again.

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NBA Jam, Then and Now

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, but EA Sports has announced that it will revive NBA Jam, the classic two-on-two basketball game from the mid-1990s, as a Wii exclusive. Very little is known about the game, but as I pondered the possibilities, it struck me how the hallmarks of NBA Jam are no longer anything special. They’re either taken for granted or relics of a bygone gaming era. Is it really possible to re-capture the magic of NBA Jam when so much has changed? You be the judge:

Voice Acting: Part of NBA Jam’s novelty was its color commentary. Voices in video games were still rare in the mid-1990s, especially on home consoles, and part of NBA Jam’s charm was just how lo-fi everything sounded. It’s hard to envision “boomshakalaka!” in crystal clear audio.

Cheat Codes and Easter Eggs: Back in the day, cheat codes had a mythical status — the 30 lives code in Contra, the blood code in Mortal Kombat for Sega Genesis — and NBA Jam was chock full of them. My favorites? Big Head Mode and the unlockable character of George Clinton, a.k.a. P-Funk. Nowadays, cheats are earned and unlocked through in-game accomplishments, if they’re in the game at all.

Saved Games: The ability to record your stats on a game cartridge came into fashion during the 16-bit era, but plenty of cartridges still lacked this feature. Nonetheless, I won’t lament the ubiquity of saved games now.

Licensing: According to this fascinating ESPN interview with NBA Jam creator Mark Turmell, Midway had to plead with the NBA to license actual basketball players, teams and logos because the league was wary about associating with arcades. Back then, it was rare to see a game with both players and teams, but a sports game wouldn’t be caught dead without both now.

Sports Fantasy: The genius of NBA Jam is the way it stripped down and pumped up basketball’s bare essentials, but I think it also came along at the right time, when a realistic depiction of sports wasn’t entirely possible yet. Can NBA Jam still capture the hearts of people who’ve become spoiled by NBA Live and NBA 2K?

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Happy (Almost) 10th Birthday, Sega Dreamcast!

sega-dreamcastNext Wednesday will mark the Sega Dreamcast’s 10th birthday, having launched on September 9, 1999. Less than a year and a half later, Sega discontinued the console, facing competition from Sony’s Playstation 2, the looming threat of Microsoft’s Xbox and some friction within the company.

1UP editor Jeremy Parish is celebrating a little early with a retrospective. He does a good job of looking back on Sega the Console Maker, explaining why the Dreamcast was an important product — it had great games, mostly — and what led to its demise. But what really struck me while reading was how much the game console business has changed and solidified over the last 10 years.

Ever since Microsoft launched the Xbox in November 2001, we’ve been playing consoles from the same three manufacturers, with virtually no outside competition. That was unheard of in the 90s, which saw a handful of console makers come and go. The 3DO, Atari Jaguar, TurboGrafx-16 and Neo Geo all took a stab at the home console market, but either failed miserably or didn’t produce any progeny.

Sega was a different case because, as Parish points out, it had been around. Even before the Genesis fiercely competed with the Super Nintendo, there was the Sega Master System, and before the Dreamcast came the Sega Saturn. Sega’s exit from the console market was significant because it made room for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to dominate.

I don’t see any of those three manufacturers bowing out any time soon. If the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the Wii all stick to their goals of a 10-year life cycle, we’ll be looking at 15 years with the same three brands. The only competitors I see on the horizon are cloud gaming services such as OnLive and Gaikai.

That’s not a bad thing as long as everyone’s innovating. It just underscores how console gaming is no longer a wild and unpredictable industry. By dropping the Dreamcast, Sega made the transformation possible.


LucasArts Dusts Off Classic Games

tiefightercdIf you’re like me, your fondest memories of LucasArts are rooted in the 1990s, with classic computer games like X-Wing, The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max Hit the Road and Star Wars: Dark Forces.

With any luck, those games will soon be available for purchase again through Valve’s Steam download service. Tomorrow, LucasArts will bring 10 classic games to the service, but none of the ones I mentioned above are among them. Included in the list are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Dig, LOOM and Star Wars Battlefront II, plus six others. But, the company’s Twitter feed says this is “just the beginning” of plans for the publisher’s back catalog.

Even if you have old CD-ROMs of these games kicking around the house, you may have trouble getting them up and running on today’s machines. Assuming that you can still make it through LucasArts’ authentication hoops — I recall a Star Wars alphabet matching system for X-Wing — you’ll likely need extra software and a bit of technical know-how to experience the games as they were (check out DosBox for your pre-Windows titles).

Indeed, a hassle-free experience might be worth the cost of admission, though it’s worth noting that some of these re-releases will carry paper-form copy protection, but in printable digital files.

It looks like LucasArts doesn’t intend to stop with Steam, either. Apple policy discourages discussion of pre-release App plans, but LucasArts CEO Darrell Rodriguez literally said “wink wink, nod nod” to Joystiq after saying “it would make sense” for the company to release its old adventure games for the iPhone.

I see only good coming from LucasArts’ decision to dip into its back catalog and pushing it on new platforms. It just brings me that much closer to my dream of a multiplayer adaptation of X-Wing or Tie Fighter for one of the three gaming consoles.


Happy Birthday, Game Boy. You're Weird!

Game Boy OdditiesYou think the iPod’s iconic and enduring? Let’s talk come 2021, when it’ll have been around as long as Nintendo’s Game Boy, which turns twenty next Tuesday. To mark the occasion, Benj Edwards found an array of peculiar variations, offshoots, add-ons, and tributes. Never has one pocketable plaything been so many things to so many people.

Click here to view Game Boy Oddities slideshow.

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