our Twenty-Seventh Issue it is almost unbelievable to think the global
status of the human condition could be even more surreal than it was
just two months ago but that's exactly where we are. I will never
politicize this newsletter. What I will ask is that everyone
please do something today that positively impacts yourself, that
positively impacts your family, and that positively impacts your
community. Then do something again tomorrow. And something again the
day after that. Also remember COVID-19 is still killing
indiscriminately and silently every day, please be as safe as possible.
If you're looking for a brief pause, we have just the issue for
that. Gaming and cultural icon Pac-Man celebrated his 40th
anniversary recently and Merman starts things off with a journey
through his Commodore 64 adventures, both official and otherwise.
The Apple II Incider returns as Donald Lee takes a whack at
rediscovering a game from his past. Sean Robinson recalls a time
when 2D gaming was forced out the door at the insistence of Sony as
part of their international PlayStation release policy. The
TurboGrafx-16 Mini has finally shipped outside of Japan - but is it a second
chance for video stardom outside its home country or a quick cash grab
riding the wave of mini consoles? After much
anticipation and additional delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, this
issue's cover story answers that question and many others. If
you're hungry for even more retrogaming fun in a small package, Todd
Friedman reviews Retro-Bit's Super Retro-Cade and its varied assortment
of games. Additionally Video Game Haiku returns with our
continuing invitation to submit your own for future publication. All that and
more are ahead in this issue of The Retrogaming Times!
again remind our readers if
have comments or questions about anything covered in the newsletter, or
there is something they would like featured in a future issue of The
Times, to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Of course article submissions are also always open. If you have
ready to go, the address is the same, email@example.com. "If
there is something you want to write about, send it in!"
If you're stir crazy at home and are a retrogamer, there has to be
something on your mind - let us know by submitting an article!
NOTICE: Due to the ongoing
COVID-19 pandemic, many shows and events have canceled, postponed, or
modified their dates. For the latest on the events listed below,
please visit their individual websites or contact their relevant
customer support channels as the current situation continues to
unfold. Thank you.
Game Summit, July 11th 2020, Villa
Park, Illinois, USA
The date for
the 2020 Video Game Summit has been set! It will be held on July
11th at The Odeum Expo Center, 1033 North Villa Ave., Villa Park,
Illinois. More information to follow shortly!
KansasFest, July 21st - 26th 2020,
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
2020, the 32nd annual Apple II convention, is scheduled for July 21 -
26 in Kansas City, Missouri. Robert Woodhead of Sir-Tech Software,
well-known as the co-creator of the Wizardry series of computer
role-playing games, will join us as the keynote speaker.
At an early
age, Robert Woodhead, aka Trebor the Mad Overlord, was consumed by two
passions; computer programming and not having to have a real job.
He first achieved this by writing computer games for Sir-Tech Software,
most notoriously co-authoring the first four Wizardry CRPGs, first for
the Apple II, and later for other, lesser computers. In 1989,
deciding that this wasn't nerdy enough, he founded the oldest surviving
anime releasing company, AnimEigo. Other things he's done
include: writing one of the first MMO bots, building a 2-time National
Champion Combat Robot, serving 4 terms on the EVE Online Council of
Stellar Management, and not being "liquidated" by his wife. Yet.
an annual convention offering Apple II users and retrocomputing
enthusiasts the opportunity to engage in beginner and technical
sessions, programming contests, exhibition halls, and camaraderie.
KansasFest was originally hosted by Resource Central and has been
brought to you by the KFest committee since 1995. Any and all Apple II
users, fans, and friends are invited to attend this year’s event.
Registration details will be announced on the KansasFest Web site, and
registration will open on March 31. For photos, videos, and
presentations from past KansasFests, please visit the event’s official
Will you be
among the 2020 attendees? Mark your calendars for July 21 - 26, 2020.
California Extreme 2020, July 25th -
26th 2020, Santa Clara, California, USA
saddened to announce that due to guidance by the State of California
and County of Santa Clara health officials, California Extreme 2020
will not be able to be held in its usual form this year at the Hyatt
instead put on a virtual show on July 25th including speakers,
demonstrations, streaming, remote play, vendor specials, and whatever
we (including you) can come up with. This is new territory for
us, so if you have something you'd like to contribute, please let us
know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We plan to offer t-shirts and badges
to commemorate our 24th annual event, and we can still have a great
weekend while practicing distant socializing.
Those who made
hotel reservations in our block of rooms will have those automatically
cancelled by the hotel in a few weeks (or feel free to cancel on your
Classic Game Fest, July 25th - 26th
2020, Austin, Texas, USA
retro gaming event in Texas is back on July 25 - 26, 2020! Classic Game
Fest returns to the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX on July 25-26,
2020. The annual summer event will feature all the expected attractions
including special guests, live music, free play games, a massive vendor
hall and more. Vendor booth and ticket information will be available
If there is a
show or event you would
like listed here, free of charge, please contact David directly at email@example.com.
Please include a short official blurb about your event along with any
links or contact information and it will be published in the next issue
of The Retrogaming Times. The event listing will remain posted
the issue following the event date. Big or small, we want to
your show in our newsletter.
these great events, shows,
and conventions and let them know you read about them in The
C64! - Pac-Man At 40
May 2020 marks the 40th
anniversary of the original Pac-Man arcade game
from Namco, or at least its original release into Japanese arcades with
the title Puck-Man. How did the Commodore 64 fare when it came to
official conversions of Pac's games, and what were some of the notable
PAC-MAN (Atarisoft, 1983)
At the time of Pac-Man's
release, Namco was distributing its arcade games in America through
Atari. That had the knock-on effect of official conversions being
published through Atarisoft. Unfortunately the C64 incarnation was not
the most accurate conversion. The horizontal "stretch" of the C64's
graphics sees the maze become wider than it is tall and the maze walls
look too bright in the brighter of the C64's two shades of blue. The
ghosts lack "eyes", being a single colour sprite. The AI is not
particularly well programmed either. At least the sounds are pretty
authentic even if Pac-Man's animation is pretty poor.
ready to rock, and the Power Pill turns the ghosts blue.
MS. PAC-MAN (Atarisoft, 1983)
Atari commissioned the
follow-up, based on the General Computer Corporation "mod kit" that
turned Pac-Man into a new game called Crazy Otto. At least the C64
version now features ghosts with eyes, and Ms. Pac-Man herself has the
red bow properly. The extra intermission sequences are also well done.
The title screen also offers a choice of difficulty level, and one or
two players. The gameplay and ghost AI is much better tuned than the
original's Atarisoft conversion. Both Atarisoft games were available on
cartridge at the time and are highly collectible in that format.
title screen options, and getting ready for the first level.
SUPER PAC-MAN (Thunder Mountain, 1988)
This is actually the
official follow-up to Pac-Man from Namco itself, bringing several
twists on the classic maze formula. Now Pac must eat food rather than
pills, but many pieces of food are locked up behind doors. Pac must
grab the keys that open doors, and is even free to wander into the
"ghost box". The power pellets allow Pac to eat the ghosts, but the new
Super Power Pills enlarge him so that he is "flying" above the ghosts
and over the doors to gulp down the food objects. The C64 version has
its score panel on the right of the screen, giving the maze a better
aspect ratio than the Atarisoft conversions. And it plays really well,
having been developed by the Australian company Beam Software. The
Super effect is achieved using the C64's built-in sprite expansion
registers; these can double a sprite's size horizontally or vertically
(or both). The strangest part is the late release date, at a time when
Namco was just starting to make use of its back catalogue. (C64 owners
could also play a couple of earlier Namco titles - Gaplus, Motos and
the "remake" Bosconian '88 - around this time thanks to UK budget label
Mastertronic Added Dimension, and it seems Namco did a similar deal
with US publishers Thunder Mountain for Super Pac-Man).
title screen, and on level 3 our hero has eaten a Super Power Pill to
become super large.
PAC-LAND (1988, Argus Press
The original Pac-Man and
wave of merchandise that followed had included an animated cartoon
introducing other members of the Pac family. It would serve as
inspiration for this horizontally-scrolling platform game from Namco in
the arcades, Pac gaining arms, legs and a jaunty hat. Under the hat he
hides a fairy that must be taken back to Fairyland before making the
long trip home again. The ghosts are back and attack our yellow hero in
a variety of ways, but fortunately the Power Pills can be chomped down
to retaliate. Hidden fruit can be eaten for bonus points. The C64
conversion by the Quicksilva team is very good, with well-made graphics
and sound. Presentation is spot-on, right down to the classic Namco
text font. The real bugbear is the springboards used to cross large
jumps, requiring the player to "waggle" the joystick left and right
rapidly to keep Pac in the air.
The blue ghosts
flee a powered-up Pac-Man in the Village on level 1, while level 4 sees
the first of the tricky springboard jumps over water.
PAC-MANIA (1988, Grandslam)
With Grandslam taking
over Argus Press, the rights to the next game in the Pac franchise
moved with them. The arcade game had been a big hit in 1987, taking the
basic maze format into isometric 3D with original Pac-Man creator Toru
Iwatani overseeing development. There are four different level types -
Pac-Man's Park (resembling the classic neon maze), Block Town (with
LEGO-like brick walls), Sandbox Land and the metallic Jungly Steps. The
level select allows you to start at later levels when reached. Bonus
fruit and power-ups appeared in the centre of the maze periodically.
Another major addition to the gameplay was the Jump button that allowed
Pac to jump over ghosts - but there are new ghosts that could jump as
well. Short intermission sequences also added to the fun. The C64
conversion was very well made, getting all four levels into a single
load, as well as recreating the Day and Night versions of each maze.
The late Ben Daglish did a fantastic job with the music.
To confuse matters,
there was an earlier C64 game called Pacmania - a clone of the original
Pac-Man. For all these official games it is worth checking out the
"jewel cracks" done by the cracking group Remember, as they add the
original documents to read as well as handy cheats.
Let's go to the
Pac-Man Theatre in an intermission, and the eyes of the ghosts still
return to the centre of the maze once eaten.
Here then are some of my
favourite Pac-clones and Pac-Man inspired games.
MAD MIX PEPSI CHALLENGE GAME (1988, US
TopoSoft came up with their variation of Pac-Man and called it Mad Mix.
When US Gold picked it up for wider distribution in Europe, it acquired
this longer name. It refers to a series of "high score" challenges held
by Pepsi during major computer events that year, inspired by the "Pepsi
Challenge" adverts. Mad Mix was one of the games players had to attain
a high score at. The mazes in Mad Mix are much larger than a single
screen, meaning the playing area scrolls. There are one-way doors that
hinder or help you, arrow tiles that push you in a certain direction,
and special "bullet lanes" where the player's sprite becomes a gun that
can shoot enemies for a short time. The Power Pills turn the player red
and "angry" to eat enemies, while they can also transform into a
"Pepsipotamus" that can squash enemies but cannot pick up pills. It did
not get great review scores but is worth a few minutes play.
"bullet lane" on level 2, and starting out between two doors on the
NINJA PACMAN (1991, Electric Boys)
The "cracking" group
Electric Boys did something a little different with this one. The
graphics of the official Pac-Mania conversion were edited to give Pac
and the ghosts ninja-style masks, and the bonus objects that popped up
in the centre of the maze were also altered to look like various ninja
weapons and a scroll. Otherwise it plays and sounds exactly the same as
the original Pac-Mania.
Pac-Man title screen was edited, while the staff can be collected for
RODMÄN (2018, Misfit)
The Finnish developer
Mika Keränen has been prolific in recent years, developing titles
for several 8-bit computers including the C64 and VIC-20. One
particular title stands out. The original Rodmän can be played on
no less than 7 different 8-bit machines, and was available on a limited
edition tape from The Future Was 8-Bit. The basic gameplay is similar
to Pac-Man with a couple of twists. The three levels are made up of
three linked screens, with exits leading between them. The
enemies will try to eat the dots before the hero can, but he can pick
up and drop bombs to blow up the enemies. The C64 version is a lot of
fun, and has been followed by Ms. Rodmän available on C64
cartridge (from The Future Was 8-Bit's new 999 range) and the
forthcoming Baby Rodmän.
The ghosts have
silly names in this game, and the explosion of a bomb shoots across the
PAC-MAN ARCADE (2015) and PAC-IT! (2001)
Sadly these two titles
only exist as previews at the moment. Pac-Man Arcade tried to be more
faithful to the arcade original, restoring the more vertical ratio of
the maze and adding a well-made "surround" based on the arcade game's
side-art. However it was not actually playable. Pac-It has been in
development by Protovision for many years now, with that first preview
nearly twenty years old at the time of writing. With plans for more
detailed maze graphics, switches that alter the wall layout, multiple
players and lots of intermissions, this one has a lot of promise - if
it is ever finished.
surroundings of Pac Man Arcade, and the more complex maze of Pac-It -
both in preview form.
2020 has been an unprecedented time
for everyone. Looking back at the May issue, we were just
catching up on COVID-19 that had taken over the world. Who would
have thought that another issue would knock COVID-19 off the top of the
news hours and dominate the headlines. While I am generally
open to discussing the issues currently in the public eye, the current
issues go well beyond the scope of what I can write in this
article. I've made some personal thoughts on a podcast I started
a while back. If anyone's interested in listening to what I have
to say, just reach out to me and I can direct you to my podcast.
I'm not trying to monetize my podcast but I don't feel like using the
magazine here as free advertising either.
Originally, I had planned to go over
the Atari Flashback Collection that was on the Nintendo Switch.
But due to the release of the 30 for 30 Bruce Lee documentary "Be
Water" on ESPN on June 7th, I decided to revisit an old Apple II game.
Oh and yes, this is probably the first time I've written about an Apple
II game in a while. More on that at the end of the column.
The game is simply titled "Bruce Lee" and it was published by a
company called Datasoft. My initial experience with this game (as
with most of my Apple II reviews) was back in the 1980's when the game
was initially released. What stood out to me about this game?
I had a monochrome monitor back in
the old days with my Apple IIe. Given my experimental ways, I
recall using some kind of connector (perhaps an RF connector?) to a
color TV that was next to my IIe. I remember it was exciting that
I got it working. Now most Apple II games were not all that
colorful due to the limited graphic abilities of the Apple IIe.
But I recalled that the Bruce Lee title screen seemed more colorful
than most. To this day, though I'm not sure I can verify, I think
that the Bruce Lee title screen used double high resolution graphics.
The second thing that caught my
attention was the theme music that played after the title screen had
finished displaying. The game credits noted the music used the
"Electric Duet" player created by Paul Lutus (who wrote Apple Writer as
well). The theme song was relatively short but I liked that the
music has two voices (or tracks) playing at the same time. The
Apple II graphic capabilities were pretty limited, but the music /
sound capabilities were pretty slim pickings but that didn't stop
creative programmers from doing things. Castle Wolfenstein /
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein has voice synthesis. Bruce Lee had some
nice theme music.
So you may ask "what about the game
play?" To be honest, after replaying the game before I wrote
this, there isn't much to write home about. In most games, I
usually remember SOMETHING that stood out about the same. I
couldn't remember anything about the game play when I was young.
After playing it tonight, I thought the game was very limited and
somewhat disappointing. Without reading the manuals or Google, I
started playing the game with no idea of what I was trying to do.
After a while, I realized I had to grab these lanterns (or something)
on each screen before moving on. Now if you're used to most
games, you may get a break when completing each screen right? Not
in this game. As you grab all the items on the screen, another
entrance opens and you move on to try and grab the items again. I
finally did read up on the game and I saw that you had to go through
some 20 screens before facing off against some big boss at the
I'm not sure if the game had
unlimited lives, but I never died in the game. Any time I got
killed, I would get dropped at the same spot and try again. So
that let me keep trying to push as far a I could go. But after a
while, I found things got repetitive and boring. Also, the game
is named for Bruce Lee, so you expect the fighting to be good
right? Not really. You have a couple of enemies chasing you
around. Bruce can punch, jump kick and duck. I usually jump
kicked and it takes a couple of hits to knock out the enemies.
The sound isn't great and there's no Bruce Lee "HIYA" or anything like
that. I even watched a YouTube video of someone playing the game
on a PC Jr to see how they got past a screen and learned that if you
just DUCK, the two enemies can never kill you. You just had to
strategically duck at the right locations where other things can kill
So all in all, if it weren't for the
fact that the Bruce Lee documentary played, I wouldn't have even
thought about this game. It was nice to revisit but I probably
won't be going back to play the game again anytime soon.
Before I wrap for the issue, I will
mention the positive aspect out of this month's writing. I
plunked down some money for a local Apple II (8-bit) emulator called
Virtual II. It did set me back $44 to get the full version.
A few reasons why I did it.
One, the standard online emulator
site (www.virtualapple.org) doesn't seem to be functioning
anymore. The site used old browser based technologies that modern
browsers don't seem to support anymore. Heck I couldn't even get
the Java versions of the game to run anymore.
Two, with the browser based emulation
gone, I downloaded the trial version of Virtual II. It would have
been fine except it stops every few minutes to push for the user to buy
the full license. I was actually ok with it, but I noticed the
full paid version supported a virtual printer that I could use to push
files to PDF. As I learned, there were a few other things I could
do with the emulator, so I decided to plunk the money down and I don't
regret it at all.
So perhaps I will be back on a more
regular basis with Apple II games moving forward. Stay safe
during these crazy times and see you
Sony of America's harmful anti-2D stance that it had during the 1990's
and early 2000's during the heyday of the PlayStation and PlayStation
2? Does anyone know who the executives were at Sony of America
who created and maintained this terrible anti-2D policy that deprived
all of us of many excellent games for PS1 and PS2 back in the
day? I'd sure like to know their names! I've always hated
their policy from back then and I will for the rest of my life!
Thanks to my
personal preferences, I've always found 2D PS1 games (and 2D games in
general) to be nearly always better than the 3D ones. That was my
opinion about games both then and now, especially those from that
32-bit era with its early-ish 3D. It's not that I don't like 3D
games - there are countless three-dimensional games that I find to be
excellent - but if I could choose games to be developed one way or
another, I'd pick 2D or even 2.5D most of the time as I like not just
the appearance of 2D but also two-dimensional gameplay. It is
just so much easier to "know where everything is" that way.
Things were so much more demanding (and thus more fun for an
action-orientated gamer) with the speed, accuracy, and precision that
were required by the gameplay of 2D. There was also an elegant
beauty to be found with high-quality, hand-animated 2D in both games
and cinema, something that is almost totally gone today.
For 3D, a lot
of hand-holding and nanny-ing was added to help players aim weapons or
jump to platforms in 3D, some of which was required, some of which
wasn't, and nearly none of which would be required for 2D gameplay and
graphics. Today the baby hand-holding and aim-assists have gotten
to such an extreme that some games almost play by themselves... and
with certain games, they actually auto-play the game for you, e.g. idle
clickers that really will automatically level-up your stats and
Nintendo's "super helper" power-ups in some Wii, 3DS, Wii U, and Switch
games that actually will complete the level for the player!
numbskull policy also saw very few 2D games released for the PS2.
This means their practice affected an entire hemisphere for two console
generations! Obviously "killing 2D" wasn't required for Sony to
be successful with PS1 nor PS2 in any other territories such as Asia or
Europe, so this bunk policy was not required at all and it was awful to
totally refuse these games or to give companies ultimatums over
them! Think of not just all of the gamers whose lives were less
rich without these gems - think of all of the corporations and their
employees who suffered thanks to this frivolous, arbitrary rule!
reasons, this anti-2D policy was a large contributing factor to the
demise of Working Designs, one of my favorite companies of
yesteryear! Sony basically told them, "Sell $200 worth of games
as a $50 bundle instead of selling each separately for $50 or we will
refuse your approval-to-publish." Without platform-holder
approval it would have been impossible to profit from the sales of
these games. Not only was Sony the platform-holder in this case,
it was also the copyright-holder! Working Designs was trapped
between a rock and a hard place when it wanted to publish Arc the Lad,
Arc the Lad II, Arc the Lad III, and Arc Arena: Monster Tournament in
North America. Ultimately it made the difficult decision to
publish all four as the Arc the Lad Collection for PlayStation, taking
a financial hit on each one sold. After all, it was going to be
an unprofitable venture either way, but at least some revenue was
better than nothing.
In a fairer
universe, "foreign exclusives" such as Gunners Heaven (AKA Rapid
Reload) would have been released here in America alongside countless
other games we "lost" thanks to Sony of America! Sure, you can
import them nowadays if you know how and have the hardware or choose to
emulate them instead. However there is something special about
playing games (or other media) during the time-frame when they are
new... something of which we and countless other North and South
Americans were denied with these "forgotten gems!"
Higher Energy Mini - TurboGrafx-16 Mini Review
retrogaming more popular than ever, mini consoles are all the rage
right now. It makes perfect sense: they offer an instant curated
collection of games, don't require any additional hardware, tuck away
neatly pretty much anywhere, and they offer the notion of physically
owning something over a simple download code. With offerings from
all the big nostalgic companies it was only a matter of time until the
TurboGrafx-16 (known as the PC Engine in Japan) would have a mini
console of its own. After all, the PC Engine was hugely popular
in Japan, carving out a massive slice of the video game market and
settling in comfortably just behind Nintendo. Incredibly Sega's
Mega Drive (later released as the Genesis) never took off in the
region, the total opposite to how things played out in North America,
where it was the TurboGrafx-16 that stalled out of the gate and never
really found its footing. The question is, now decades later, can
the quirky and rather ahead of its time TurboGrafx-16 finally make an
impact outside of Japan?
all-in-one throwback consoles really began in 2004 with the Atari
Flashback. Roughly styled as a miniature Atari 7800, it featured
a collection of classic Atari console games and scaled down controllers
based upon the Atari 7800 design. As the hardware was based
around a "Nintendo on a Chip" architecture (sometimes known as a
Famiclone) its approximation of the included games left something to be
desired but it lit a fire for small reproductions of classic consoles
with built-in games. Revisions of the Atari Flashback would
follow, as would similar offerings based upon other platforms, each
with varying levels of success and performance accuracy. It
wasn't until 2016 when Nintendo stepped into the ring with the NES
Classic Edition / Famicom Mini that the concept of a throwback console
finally matured beyond is plug-and-play roots. Both praised for
its well-designed hardware and despised for its limited production, the
NES Mini brought the concept of a mini retro console into the
mainstream. This new era of mini consoles would lead to further
offerings from Nintendo, Sega, SNK, Sony and more - with mixed results
depending on how the licenses were handled.
styled in the same manner as the original box, the packaging artwork
has been revised on the Mini
delayed by the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini
finally launched in Japan at the beginning of 2020 and began shipping
worldwide in May of the same year. The system is available in
three different styles, each designed to represent a region of release:
a classic white PC Engine with the original non-turbo controller for
Japan, the larger black TurboGrafx-16 with the standard TurboPad
controller for the USA, and a later PC Engine revision known as the PC
Engine Core Grafx with turbo controller for Europe. Although back
in the 1990's Europe received a limited TurboGrafx-16 release based
upon the USA redesign, apparently the Core Grafx was a popular import
among gamers across the pond - at least that's how Konami apparently
sees it. Yes, Konami - that there is why the release of a mini
TurboGrafx-16 surprises me, as the original hardware was co-developed
by classic gaming powerhouse Hudson and the massive electronics giant
NEC. Konami acquired Hudson years ago and outside of an
occasional Bomberman game didn't seem interested in doing much with the
included properties. I can only assume there was some amount of
legal wrangling and licensing with NEC to bring this mini console to
fruition. I can also only assume that licensing issues in part
shaped the included game list, as while it is very diverse there are a
few striking omissions, no matter what flavor of the console you're
The game list
is divided into a Japan-centric PC Engine side and an American-centric
TurboGrafx-16 side. On the TurboGrafx-16 Mini and Core Grafx Mini
there are 57 total games, although some are repeated with the
difference being Japanese or English text. CD games and
SuperGrafx games are also included in addition to titles originally
released on TurboChip / HuCARD.
menu system of the TurboGrafx-16 side displays TG-16 style icons, cover
art, and end labels
Game List (in order of release date by
J.J. & Jeff
Ys Book I
& II (TurboGrafx CD)
The Story of Bubble Bobble III
Thunder (Super CD)
The Kung Fu
(Japanese release of China Warrior)
(Japanese release of Galaga '90)
(Japanese release of Military Madness)
(Japanese release of Bonk's Adventure)
Ys I & II
(PC Engine CD, Japanese release of Ys Book I & II)
(PC Engine CD)
The Genji and
the Heike Clans
The Legend of
Spriggan (PC Engine CD)
2 (Super CD)
Gradius II -
Gofer no Yabo (Super CD)
Dracula X Chi no Rondo (Super CD)
Panic Bomber (Super CD)
Densetsu Sapphire (Arcade CD)
other hand, the menu system of the PC Engine side uses PCE style icons,
cover art, and end labels
the PC Engine game Salamander is not included on the Japanese PC Engine
Mini. Alternatively two games are included exclusively on the
Japanese release of the console - Tengai Makyo II: Manji Maru and
Tokimeki Memorial. Additionally the version of Splatterhouse on
the PC Engine Mini is the uncensored PC Engine release rather than the
slightly tamed TurboGrafx-16 release. Even on the USA and
European versions of the console, PC Engine games that were originally
in Japanese are still in Japanese. That means titles like
Snatcher and Super Momotaro Dentetsu II will have a large language
barrier for most English-speaking players. Some have expressed
frustration with this but I think it adds to the charm and experience
of the platform. That's just how it was when you were importing
PC Engine games back in the day and no one ever seemed to mind that
Dracula X wasn't in English.
popular as Tokimeki Memorial and Tengai Makyo (also known as Far East
of Eden) were in Japan, I think the USA / European release gets a great
consolation prize with Salamander, as the PC Engine release was an
outstanding conversion of the arcade original. Sure there are
some missing titles, most notably The Legendary Axe and Devil's Crush,
but I still consider the included game selection to be very solid and
include a number of high profile games. Just the same, it would
have been really nice to have Dungeon Explorer II included to
complement the first game.
smaller than the original hardware, the TG-16 Mini is still rather
large and substantial
is rather interesting as the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is pretty big as these
mini consoles go. In all honesty it's a little bigger than half
the size of the original hardware. Part of this has to do with
the PC Engine style minis and the TG-16 Mini using the same exact
hardware inside, but the PC Engine was a fairly small console to begin
with. Interestingly this mirrors design concessions of the
original consoles as well, with the TurboGrafx-16 requiring a larger
redesign to comply with FCC regulations. Essentially an original
TG-16 is a PC Engine stretched out, and the TG-16 Mini is essentially a
PC Engine Mini with extra plastic. Truth be told I really like
that it's a larger mini console as it looks great on display and almost
feels like you're using the original hardware - right down to the
oversized rear expansion cover.
included controller feels great and is a wonderful reproduction of a
TurboPad, which was the stock controller included with the
TurboGrafx-16. It uses a USB plug for connectivity, following the
standard set with the NES Mini and most mini consoles that
followed. The turbo switches function just as they did on the
original controller and have a nice tactile feel and satisfying click
as they are moved through their three positions. In all, the
controller feels perfect, from the plastics to the weight. A
welcome change is in the length of the controller cord, to the point
where it's almost too long, a polar opposite to the infamously short
controller cords of the original hardware. Additionally there are
now two controller ports built into the console as standard.
Original hardware featured a unique system of only having a single
controller port that could be expanded to accept up to five controllers
via a TurboTap accessory. With a second controller plugged into
the Mini, all games recognize its function without issue just as if it
were plugged into the second port on a TurboTap. I have read some
reports about third-party USB controllers not working with the system,
possibly due to the turbo switch protocol. In my case I purchased
an official PC Engine Mini extra controller, manufactured by Hori (who
also is manufacturing the console), and have had no problems at
all. A USB based TurboTap is also offered to allow up to five
players on supported games but it along with an additional four
controllers adds a lot of expense to the Mini, especially when I have a
full setup for my original PC Engine.
Just briefly I
want to address the seemingly across the board complaint about the
original hardware only having one controller port. Yeah, that
sucked having to buy not one but two accessories (a TurboTap and
additional TurboPad) to allow a second player. However having
previously worked in retail electronics for over fifteen years, I can
say that the percentage of people who buy a second controller is tiny
in the grand scheme of how many consoles are sold. In fact
pushing for consumers to purchase a second controller (which always
have a far higher margin of profit than the console itself) is a key
part of remaining profitable when selling video games - and also one of
the most difficult sales to make.
being selected, the HuCARD for Neutopia appears and will slide up into
the virtual TG-16 overhead before loading
user interface is absolutely beautiful, presenting each game's original
case cover in a horizontally scrolling menu. Depending on the
hardware side selected (TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine), the menu has a
different color scheme. Upon selecting a TurboChip / HuCARD game
the physical media will be shown as the menu falls away, then the
virtual game card will slide up into a cartridge slot at the top of the
screen with a satisfying click. For the included SuperGrafx
games, the artwork on the HuCARD is upside down for authenticity, as
the SuperGrafx actually loaded games from the top of the system rather
than the bottom. When a CD game is selected, a virtual PC Engine
or TurboGrafx-16 CD drive appears on screen, complete with the sound of
the disc spinning up as it loads. CD System Card artwork and BIOS
screens match both the region of the game as well as the required
compatibility type, and appear briefly after a CD game is
selected. Load times straddle the idea of "there should be a bit
of a delay for authenticity" and "modern hardware can load these
instantly" giving an authentic experience without ever feeling like
you're waiting for a disc to load.
features four save slots and can be accessed at any time by pressing
Run and Select together. These are displayed as Tennokoe 2 units,
a very popular PC Engine save accessory that added battery memory
backup for the games that supported it. This idea was later
expanded upon with the TurboBooster Plus for the TurboGrafx-16. A
nice touch is that the little light on the Tennokoe 2 is shown
illuminated on the icon for slots that have saves in them, although if
I remember correctly an illuminated light on a Tennokoe 2 meant the
batteries needed to be replaced. Additionally games that could
originally make use of internal memory saves (Neutopia or any of the CD
games for instance) can still make use of that function. This is
also one little catch I've found with the system, as there is no way to
get into a memory management screen to delete save data created in this
manner. On original hardware Select could be pressed at the CD
BIOS screen to gain access to a memory manager (or by using a CD System
Card with a TurboBooster Plus) but such an option is not present on the
Mini. Multiple system cards are actually included however, as
holding down Select when loading a CD game will load an earlier version
of the CD System Card (complete with accurate BIOS screen), which will
return various error messages or special features as with the real
hardware. That's a really nice touch and typical of M2, who
handled the emulation programming.
/ loading game states is fast and hassle-free, with four slots per game
Select also unlocks some hidden games, as does pressing Select in
sequence prior to loading Salamander. Three of the games are
special "near arcade" conversions of shooters, while two of them were
unlockable mini games in the original release of Tokimeki Memorial, and
the last is a special competition version of Solder Blade.
(near arcade) - hold Select when loading Fantasy Zone.
arcade) - hold Select when loading Gradius.
(near arcade) - hold Select when loading Salamander.
Force Gear -
press Select twice before loading Salamander.
Returns - press Select three times before loading Salamander.
Special Caravan Stage - hold Select when loading Solider Blade.
Of the three
"near arcade" games, Gradius and Salamander are definite upgrades over
the PC Engine releases, although both of the originals are still very
good. Gradius even does the full bubble memory warm up
sequence. Force Gear and TwinBee Returns are both nice additions
and I was pleased to see them make it onto the TG-16 Mini as it was
assumed they were directly tied to Tokimeki Memorial. Soldier
Blade Special Caravan Stage is the competition HuCARD used in that
year's Caravan tournament - a nice touch but I would have liked the
same done with Blazing Lazers, as the Japanese release (Gunhed) had a
very rare Caravan version as well.
settings are varied but unfortunately cannot be toggled while in-game
As far as
configurable options go the TG-16 Mini features most of what is
expected of a throwback console these days. One of five different
aspect ratios can be selected: 4:3 windowed, 4:3 full screen, 1:1 pixel
perfect, full widescreen, and TurboExpress simulation.
TurboExpress is the odd one as it recreates the passive matrix LCD
screen of the handheld TG-16 system. It's a nice novelty and
honestly looks very accurate but I can't see anyone using it for more
than a few minutes. I generally use 4:3 full screen as it's the
closest approximation to the size of a standard CRT, although there is
slight graphic shimmering due to the aspect ratio difference.
Full widescreen is the only mode that is completely worthless, as it
always looks terrible and I assume it's always included to satisfy that
one person who will complain that it isn't in full screen. It
should be said that neither the included documentation nor display
menus explain what the different video modes are or why you may want to
select them. There are also a few selectable backgrounds that
will fill in the blank space around the selected video dimensions but I
tend to select solid black for minimal distraction.
performance is very nice and I had no trouble dropping right into the
library and enjoying the games immediately. I have seen some
argue that there is extra lag induced with the Mini and it makes some
games unplayable but I noticed no such issues myself. Sure there
is a tiny bit of input lag, but that's just modern HDMI televisions
running CRT era games in any format. Since acquiring the Mini
I've completed Cadash, Neutopia, Salamander, and 100% completion of
Dracula X. No difficulties encountered in any of these games, or
any others I've played on the Mini, stemmed from control lag or any
other software or hardware issues. In my opinion these games all
play as they should, although admittedly I still prefer them on a CRT.
loading a CD game, the appropriate system card (in this case for Ys
Book I & II) is automatically loaded and a virtual CD spins up
My only real
complaint with the hardware is that it's a bit on the light side and
prone to sliding around. Attaching some rubber feet to the bottom
remedies the problem but it's something that shouldn't have to be
added. CD audio levels also seem a bit unbalanced, with the CD
audio playing noticeably quieter than any sound effects (or the system
menu music and sounds for that matter). I know this was the case
with some of the games originally but it would have been nice to have
the option to adjust the mix of the CD audio levels.
I have also
seen reports that raise some concern about the electronic durability of
the system itself. Apparently the Mini is very picky about the
power adapter used with it. While a USB power cord is included,
the power adapter is not, a common occurrence with nearly every retro
mini system. USB power adapters are a common item in modern
society but it seems that the voltage regulator in the Mini is very
sensitive to anything over 5v, even the smallest amount in some
instances. Hori does offer a branded power adapter but it doesn't
look like many of them were manufactured or ordered. For my
system I bought a dedicated USB adapter from a local electronics store,
and it seems to be working fine, but it's unsettling that one day soon
the console simply may not power on. There are also warnings in
the documentation about not plugging in or removing controllers while
the system is powered on. Some reports of power issues causing
the controller ports to become wonky suggest there may be some serious
power sensitivity and narrow voltage tolerances in the design of the
hardware. No official response has been given on these issues and
while many systems are operating trouble-free, it seems a little more
widespread than to be just a few bad boards from the production
yield. Time will tell if this problem becomes more severe but at
the moment it shouldn't deter someone from purchasing the system in my
This is the
only retro mini system that I own, and the most recent I have purchased
since the terrible Colecovision Flashback. While I am familiar
with many of the others that were released between those two mini
consoles, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini has been the only one to really
resonate with me. I play a lot of TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine
games, mainly via a Turbo EverDrive on an AV modded PC Engine connected
to a CRT. Yet, having a system to play these games on a modern
television, with a nice curated games list, and brand new controllers
was something I couldn't wait for. It also allowed me to spend
some money with an actual IP holder for the games, as other than a very
few late Turbo Zone Direct purchases (Exile Wicked Phenomenon and
Cosmic Fantasy 2) all my TurboGrafx-16 stuff was purchased second hand.
The "near arcade"
version of Salamander is an outstanding bonus for the TG-16 / Core
Grafx version of the Mini
Sure the game
list on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini is a little odd, with lots of games a
regular retrogamer in North America may not be able to enjoy due to the
language barrier, but that was part and parcel for being a hardcore
TurboGrafx-16 fan during the heyday. I think the TurboGrafx-16
Mini provides the most authentic experience possible for the hardware
and era of gaming it is attempting to replicate. I'm still a
little bummed that my personal favorite TurboGrafx-16 game, Final Lap
Twin, wasn't included but I'll live. I'm also surprised that
Final Solider wasn't included on the Japanese side as the other games
in the series (Blazing Lazers / Gunhed, Super Star Soldier, Soldier
Blade) are all on board. There are still tons of great games
included, my favorites being Neutopia, Ys, Cadash, Salamander, Dungeon
Explorer, and Dracula X. If there is one failing of the
TurboGrafx-16 Mini it's that it is currently an Amazon.com exclusive in
all regions. While that's not a big deal, it means that it's a
mini console that no one will stumble upon while out shopping or
browsing another retailer online. It's niche enough outside of
Japan but limiting it to one supplier channel will make it only more
so. With all the above said, the TurboGrafx-16 Mini has my
absolute highest recommendation. Take a step out of your comfort
zone and try something different - there's good reason why the PC
Engine was so popular in Japan.
Super Retro-Cade by
Retro-Bit advertises that it is "Packed with
over 90 popular retro games from Capcom, Data East, Technos, and Irem.
The stylish console re-introduces such gems as Mega Man 2, BurgerTime,
Joe and Mac, Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, Strider, Super Dodge Ball, the
Final Fight series and many more."
The two included
gamepads have an angular, wing-like grip design and a SNES controller
button layout. They're white controllers with red A/B/X/Y buttons and a
direction pad on the face, along with black Start and Select buttons,
and red L and R shoulder buttons on the top. The 10-foot cords
attached are a huge perk for a system like this as most wired retro
systems have a two to five foot cord. The one downfall, in my
opinion is using the D-pad to move around the action. Most of the
games in the arcade were designed with a joystick type controller to
move your character. I found some arcade games rather difficult
to move as well as getting a little cramp in my thumb when
playing. The box mentions support for third-party controllers, so
you could find a USB controller that has a joystick to make it easier
if you like.
The Super Retro-Cade
has both standard composite and HDMI. The HDMI cable included
with the system makes the graphics a bit cleaner but not a high
definition as one may expect. The interface is best described as
functional. It shows games in rows of five, enabling you to
scroll to whichever title you desire. You can sort titles by
alphabetical order, by genre, or by which system they're on. If
you want to play fighting games, select fighting. If you want to
see Genesis games, select Genesis. Each title has a brief
description, and you're able to load and save them as well.
Again, the interface isn't flashy, but it gets the job done. One
negative feature is the lack of a reset button. If you want to go
back and play a different game or stop the game, you need to power of
the unit and power it back on. A simple soft reset would have
been an easy option to have built in.
If you're looking
for robust graphical options, you're going to be disappointed. You
can't adjust filters or change the resolution like you can with other
emulator consoles. The only thing you can do is change the image from
Full Screen to Normal Size. In terms of the SD Card, I found that
my 32GB card worked just fine. When you plug it into the device
and it's already on, it will prompt you to either search the SD Card or
the Local Memory.
The Super Retro-Cade
is a worthy home game system for the price and with 90 titles to choose
from, there is plenty of gaming fun to have on this little
system. It's nice to go back and play games of my childhood and
share them with my children who can experience the fun that was gaming
in the 80's and 90's.
Every Friday on The Retrogaming Times
we present a Weekly Retrogaming Trivia question. This
trivia challenge provided each week is an opportunity to test your
and oddball retrogaming knowledge. The answer to the question
the previous week is posted along with a new trivia question every
Below is the recap of all
answers posted between this issue and the previous issue:
05/01/2020 - WEEK 162 Question: Although
sometimes titled Galaga 3, what is the original name of the third game
in the Galaxian series?
- WEEK 163 Question: In
Illusion of Gaia, young Will can transform into what two beings in Dark
- WEEK 164 Question: "Avoid
missing ball for high score" is the objective of what early arcade game?
- WEEK 165 Question: Early PC
Engine title The Kung Fu was released on the TurboGrafx-16 under what
- WEEK 166 Question: In the
influential PC classic Descent, the player is hired as a mercenary of
the PTMC. What does PTMC stand for?
- WEEK 167 Question: Richard
Miller and Rachel MacPherson are characters in what arcade game?
- WEEK 168 Question: What is
the final target in Namco's shooting gallery game Quick & Crash?
The Kung Fu
(left) and China Warrior
(right), the same game in different regions - which looks more enticing
Answers: Week 162 Answer: Gaplus (1984). Week 163 Answer: Freedan, the
dark knight and Shadow, the ultimate warrior.
Week 164 Answer: Pong (1972). Week 165 Answer: China Warrior. Week 166 Answer: Post Terran
Mining Corporation. Week 167 Answer: Time Crisis. Week 168 Answer: A cup, which
"shatters" upon being hit.
Quick & Crash was
a modern take on the classic mechanical shooting gallery game, and one
of this editor's all time favorite arcade games
need your questions! If
you have a trivia question you would like to submit for possible
in the Weekly Retrogaming Trivia question pool, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
If you question is selected to be featured, you will be entered in our
year-end prize drawing!
It's no secret
that I enjoy the Mr. Driller games, especially the
notion that they take place in an expanded universe where Taizo Hori
(of Dig Dug) and Masuyo Tobi (of Baraduke) had a family together before
divorcing and going their separate ways. Heck, my wife and I have
cosplayed as Namco X Capcom derived versions of Taizo and Masuyo since
2014. While a lot of the games in the series have been localized
and released in English, the two most impressive games games in the
series (Mr. Driller G and Mr. Driller Drill Land) have sadly remained
Japanese-only. That all changed on June 25th of this year when
Mr. Driller Drill Land was finally released in English for Nintendo
Switch as a digital release.
Originally released on the GameCube in Japan, Drill Land is often
regarded as the greatest game in the series as it is packed with
content. It's essentially five different takes on the Mr. Driller
formula along with a ton of unlockable content, game modifiers,
and a comedic story featuring the Mr. Driller cast - which was very
large by the time of the original release. Drill Land looked
amazing to begin with but has been given an HD polishing and a
beginner-friendly extra mode for its modern outing. Additionally
the game has been wonderfully translated into English, including all
story sequences. That might not sound like much of an undertaking
for a puzzle game but the game is filled with text - from unlockable
trading cards that detail the series plot, items to buy in shops, an
attraction that is basically a puzzle RPG (a spoof of The Tower of
Druaga none the less), and story scenes that play out like a feature
length animated movie. The game perfectly balances accessible fun
and addictive challenge.
Back in 2015 I was attending the FanimeCon anime convention in San
Jose, California as I usually do and came across a copy of Drill Land
at the swap meet. Swap meet at the convention is exactly what
it sounds like, two nights where regular convention attendees can sell
items in a rummage sale format. Finding import
retrogames at swap meet isn't that uncommon - less common that it was
years ago but still not unheard of. However what struck me about
this particular copy was a small printed label on the outer slipcover
that read "Namco Hometek Localization Department." Looking at the
game it seemed like a regular Japanese retail release otherwise and I
bought it for $10 from the attendee selling it. Once trying the
game out it was sure enough the regular Japanese retail release.
I can only assume it was a copy used during a possible effort to
localize the game for English release on the GameCube, which
unfortunately never happened. If anyone reading this happened to
work for Namco Hometek (now Namco
Bandai Games America) in Santa Clara during this era, and can shed more
light on any intentions to localize the GameCube version, please get in
touch with me!
The PlayStation version of Mr. Driller G (which also really needs an
English release) is still my favorite game in the series due to how
it's structured like a kid's anime but Drill Land is absolutely
the most content-rich game of the entire series. It's a
wonderful place to start if you're new to the series and even more
superb if you're familiar with the characters and concept. I
wanted to also make special mention of this game as it is extremely
positive in tone, something I think we need more of right now.
again for reading The Retrogaming
Times. We'll be back on September 1st with our next issue.
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