Archives for November 2013

Golden Age

Posted November 23, 2013

My fixation on 90s home video game consoles has quickly expanded to include a slight obsession with 80s arcade games. While most of my video game memories take place on the floor at home, Zelda maps spread out next to cans of soda and a bag of Cheddar Cheese Combos, I also spent plenty of quarters at cacophonous arcades. From standing on chairs in pizza parlors to play Pac-Man and Frogger to dumping $5 into Moonwalker at Aladdin’s Castle while my mom got a perm on the other side of the mall. Thin carpeted floors with neon triangles, rubbing tokens together between my fingers, BODY BLOW! BODY BLOW! UPPERCUT!

Initially I wanted to play my favorites from the mid-to-late 80s: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Double Dragon, Narc, Smash TV, Punch-Out!!, Golden Axe, The Simpsons, and then bathe in the Neo Geo waters. At the time, I thought of those as the new games of my generation. The older stuff was the older stuff, the staples of arcade play, the games I remember playing much less often, the games with long instructions in small print, the huge, looming cabinets that dotted the walls and slowly disappeared to make room for the fighters. Deceptively simple and brilliantly, fortunately confined to the technologies of their day, this compression delivered highly creative ideas and controls and sounds. Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Joust, Paperboy, Burger Time, Gauntlet – they were delicious. But Defender, Galaga ’88, Frenzy, Major Havoc, Missile Command, Robotron, Tempest, Zoo Keeper, Donkey Kong – these take you to other worlds. These are hard, elusive and painfully addictive games.

Playing Resogun on a PS4 — which tried its best and succeeded in little moments at making my mouth drop — you’re not just reminded of Defender. You want to see Eugene Jarvis get royalties. Things move on, there’s no other way. Games like Resogun pay tribute and yet clearly pave their own path. Galaga Legions DX, on the other hand, just runs in a circle.

Game Art

Posted November 22, 2013

This tidy little collection of 80s/90s video game art is a mix of nostalgia and newness, almost more poster than game box. I miss the silver wrap around Castlevania, but it’s somehow fresher without. Load Runner takes me straight back to those dusty PC/Commodore 64 game stores that were deadly still compared to today’s garish GameStops.

Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (GBA)

Posted November 4, 2013

It’s been 11 years since Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 came out for the Game Boy Advance, and I’ve finally finished it. I’d like to say I abandoned it years ago, about halfway through, simply because of the original dark-ass GBA screen, but the more likely answer is it became a bit too tough and I sat it aside and forgot about it. Which is unfortunate because it’s an amazing little game.

Though in this case little means 6 worlds packed with 8 levels each, not to mention the secret, extra and bonus levels. After logging several hours on top of the time played when I initially bought it, the 48 levels it took to complete the game is where I’ll likely stop for now. After the end credits, a secret level was unlocked across each world; I tried the first and last and couldn’t pass either. Not being a bonafide video game completionist (which is kinda surprising), I didn’t get 100% on each level either. This gives the game a tempting replay value.

Likely landing in many people’s top ten lists for the Game Boy Advance, Yoshi’s Island is an inventive and charmingly creative platformer based on the original SNES release in 1995, which used the noted Super FX 2 chip for sprite scaling and stretching, polygon rendering and multiple parallax layering. The GBA somehow simulates these effects, likely using what Nintendo learned over the five years between the SNES and GBA versions.

Challenging without (generally) tipping the scales to frustrating, the game blends sketchy, hand-drawn graphics with well balanced game play. Yoshi’s maneuverability is fairly easy to pick up and master, which is good since you’ll need it to get through Worlds 5 and 6. And the simulated 3D here brings me far more joy than playing Mario 64; the imaginatively depicted Yoshi’s Island in the opening menu sets the scene. A clever ammunition system, cute sounds, a well paired soundtrack, huge enemies and bosses make Yoshi’s Island an obvious must-have for any of your finer handheld collections. When added to my own collection shortly after its release, it proved to be a fun companion, taking it on trips, playing it on a warm night in Astoria, NY, entertaining me through a cold once back in SF. The battery froze this miniature world, happily waiting for my return, looking, to my eyes, more lively than ever in today’s gaming landscape.