Archives for February 2014

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits

Posted February 22, 2014

In an effort to obtain a legit copy of Robotron and Defender on some damn platform, I picked up Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits for five bucks on eBay for the PS1. Released in 1996, this anthology also emulates Defender II, Sinistar, Joust and Bubbles.

Let’s jump straight to discussing Robotron, which was really the main reason I wanted this. Like a fool I imagined playing like I do in MAME, with the PS3’s DualShock analog sticks mimicking the left and right joysticks of the original arcade version, which actually works rather well. But of course the PS1 controller had no analog controls. This means gamepad presses to move your character and button presses (!) to fire. At first I thought they just left out diagonal firing completely until I pressed two buttons at once. Whatever play-from-your-couch on a big tv win you initially saw for yourself is destroyed by these clunky controls. Nearly unplayable.

Moving on, I have to say that playing Defender is a lot of fun. Someone who’s used to the arcade controls would likely find it as castrated as I found Robotron, but since I’ve become comfortable and enjoy the MAME and DualShock combo, this was an easy transition. It seems to look and play fairly accurately from what I can tell. I’m less familiar with Defender II so I mostly kept returning to the original.

I’ve only played Sinistar and Bubbles a handful of times in the past so I haven’t spent much time with them here, but I could see returning to Sinistar. I’ve never really cared for Joust; I always turn it on for a few minutes for the nostalgic sounds but for some reason find it sort of depressing.

The menus are pretty bad, perhaps to be expected from first generation Playstation. The games don’t retain high scores once they’re reset, which really detracts from the replay value. One gem though are the mid-90s archival videos of Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, creators of Defender and Robotron, discussing the origins of what would become arcade classics earning over $1 billion. Eugene’s face beams everything that Robotron offers — mania, intelligence, a darkness born very much from our world, and the explicit joy of all of them combined.

Parodius Da!

Posted February 15, 2014

It took many hours across several days but I finally made my way through the arcade release* of Parodius Da!, which has become my favorite shmup series. Released in 1990, Konami crafted this absurdist string of games as a parody of Gradius, their celebrated and much more serious scrolling shooter. After 10 minutes with Parodius I’ve found it nearly impossible to go back to Gradius, especially considering the lack of the option to continue (c’mon, it’s a 90s-era game).

With the mechanics of Gradius as a foundation, everything else is pure creative potpourri, from hundreds of flying penguins, cats and pigs working hard to kill you, to blissful mountains (trying to kill you), power-ups made of deadly Japanese phrases, and playful American characters. Watching someone else play allows you to take in all the detailed sprites, beautiful backgrounds, and enormous bosses like pig sumo wrestlers, pirate ships with cat heads, and dancing showgirls with a dangerous pelvic thrust. If you’re playing and you tend to die a lot like me, be prepared to replay several of the later stages repeatedly, particularly the last two which I nearly gave up on. I’m not sure if it truly approaches bullet hell, but the slowdown in many areas proves to be helpful, unintended or not. The sound effects are pure arcade goodness and the music, circus variations on classical compositions by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rossini, certainly adds another textural layer to this phantasmic porno.

For a long time the game crew I most wanted to hang out with were the original SNK creators of Metal Slug. But really, to have worked at Konami in the 1990s is the dream.

* While the Super Famicom port is said to be very true to the arcade version, unfortunately it never had a U.S. release.  In fact none of the Parodius games had a U.S. release.  Bemoaning this fact on Twitter, Konami actually replied with, “Sorry about that.  Apparently late 80s and early 90s America was just not ready for the absurdity that is Parodius.”

Bits, Sticks, and Buttons

Posted February 7, 2014

After hearing it brought up a few times on the Arcade Outsiders podcast, I ordered a copy of Bits, Sticks, and Buttons: The Unofficial Guide to the 50 Greatest Arcade Games. This 80-page, entertainingly assembled book is a fun look back at some of the more popular arcade games of the 1980s and 90s. I have to say at over $50 with tax and shipping, this is probably the most expensive video game book I’ve owned yet. But considering the costs of self-published, color, print-on-demand books, that’s to be expected.

It almost feels like a companion piece for those who actually own some of these cabs. I own zero but still found it enjoyable, despite my indifference to “best of” and “top” lists. Descriptions of the games and clear, colorful photos of the cabinets dot every page, along with quotes and photos of some game owners and KLOV crew looking like either eternal bachelors or family men reliving their youth. That’s the appeal here: you either wish you owned some of these arcade games yourself, or maybe better yet, that you just lived next door to those who do. When I have more space and an elevator door wider than 25″ I hope to join them.

The Ultimate History of Video Games

Posted February 2, 2014

When I became interested again in arcade and home console gaming, I bought several books on the subject last year. The largest of my growing collection is probably The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent. At just over 600 pages, Kent covers a lot of gaming ground, from the pre-Pong 1960s, up to the release of the Xbox, around the time the book was published, in 2001. Which is fine by me considering my attention on the subject doesn’t really reach beyond the PlayStation 2.

I appreciated that a third of the book spanned the arcade, where I knew the least, much of which was devoted to the rise and fall of Atari and Nolan Bushnell. Nintendo of course receives a lot of attention, as do many other Japanese companies, which is great considering their immense contributions, a fact some Western authors tend to gloss over. This leads to the home showdown between Nintendo and Sega, then eventually Sony.

Exhaustedly assembled quotes and anecdotes carry you through the massive amount of information here at a fairly quick pace, reading more like a conversation than a serious historical assemblage, which is really what this is. Highly recommended.

On a side note, I signed up for Amazon Associates so if you happen to buy the book using the link above, I get some tiny portion. Considering the traffic this site generates, I should make enough in a year for a NES-era cup of coffee.