Archive for the ‘Blog Post’ Category

Make your own budget Retro Handheld for $110

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

As a retro game fan, we all enjoy taking time from our day to enjoy classics of yesteryear.  However, many of us also have families and full time jobs, and much of the time this means we are always on the go and don’t always have the convenience of using our original systems.  Open sourced handhelds usually run a couple hundred dollars and have older hardware inside.  Building your own such as Adafruits PiGrrl is a fun project, but not all of us have access to a 3-D printer or have the skills required to assemble a unit.  Even if you have both, the cost for all the parts involved are still more expensive than a pre-made open source handheld like the GCW Zero.  Thankfully, there is another option.

Cell Phone emulators in the Google Play market are getting better and better all the time.  As of right now, the free option is RetroArch, a capable front end system that uses multiple emulator cores in order to support multiple different systems.  Using this in conjunction with the Gamesome front end on Android creates the core operating environment for our handheld.

As far as the phone goes, the best budget choice is the Blu R1 HD.  It runs Android 6, with a guarenteed upgrade to 7 in the future.  Sporting a quad core CPU, Micro SD expansion for more storage, and 2 GB of RAM, this is a front runner since the cost is only $59.99 for Amazon Prime members.  Be sure to choose the 16 GB storage, 2 GB RAM version for 59.99, as there is a 8 GB storage, 1 GB RAM for 49.99 that is simply not worth it when for just ten dollars more you double your storage and RAM.


A handheld is only as good as its controls.  For the controller we are running the 8BitDo NES30 Pro controller.  Visually it looks like an NES controller with thumbsticks, shoulder buttons, and extra face buttons added on, but its design is closer to the SNES controller or the Wii Classic controller.  The expanded thumbsticks and shoulder buttons allow us to play up to PS1 and N64 games on our unit with no problem whatsoever.  The controller can be purchased in a bundle with the “Xtander” phone clamp, which is recommended.  Of course, both can be purchased seperately, so if you already have an NES30 Pro, the Xtander will only set you back ten bucks.  The controller has a great classic feel, with solid construction.  Some may be tempted to go with a Moga Hero Power instead, but the Moga controller lacks the quality construction the 8BitDo offering contains.  Spend the extra money for a better gaming experience.


Once you have all the parts, simply install Gamesome and RetroArch, and download the cores for Retroarch for the platforms you wish to play.  The Gamesome frontend will detect your game ROMS after you select the proper folder they are in on the phone, and will even download artwork for them.  If you wish to expand on this idea, you can purchase a 64 GB Micro SD card for storage, or the case for the R1 HD to give it some more protection.  The best part is that this setup is upgradeable.  In a few years, if there’s a more powerful phone you wish to add to the setup, it’s a quick swap-out.  If you have a current powerhouse of a phone, all you have to do is install Gamesome, Retroarch, and pick up an NES30 Pro with Xtander to get in on the action.

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As you can tell from the above screenshots, the frontend makes the setup look quite smooth.  The entire interface can be driven either by controller or touchscreen, so you can choose which suits your needs best.  Below is a video showing the setup in motion (albeit with a different phone).

While this setup is a tad clunkier than an open sourced handheld or Adafruits GameGrrl, it also is able to be made by someone with no soldering or construction skills, is upgradeable, has a lower price, and features a more powerful CPU/GPU combo allowing it to emulate more powerful systems at faster speeds.


What does the NES Classic Mini mean for gamers?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

For those who don’t know, Nintendo has announced this fall that they are releasing the NES Mini, which contains thirty original NES games and is modeled after the original US model Nintendo Entertainment System.  It is built much as a plug-and-play unit with detachable controllers, and will retail for $59.99 USD.


This release is a change for Nintendo, who usually only re-sells their retro titles via their e-shops on their consoles.  While priced significantly higher than your typical plug and play considering the lack of cartridge slot (the At-Games Sega Genesis console retailed for $49.99, and included a cart slot for Genesis titles), the system still holds considerably more value than purchasing the games separately on the e-shop.  Purchasing the e-shop versions will set you back over $100.  This is not only cheaper, but is also hardware based, and with more authentic controllers than what you would use if playing these retro titles on a new console.  Also, if you still have your old console and all the games in the list that this unit contains, it’s still worth a purchase considering the fact the NES Classic Mini has HDMI output, which will give the games sharper detail.


However, there are also a few faults.  Being a typical plug and play style system, there is no way to add additional games to the console.  No cart slot means you can’t enjoy your original NES titles on this system.  The game selection is incredibly strong, but also has some gaping holes.  For example, Ninja Gaiden 2 and Mega Man 2 are included, but not the previous or later games in the respective series.  This leaves the door wide open for a second version of the system, but fans would enjoy being able to play the entirety of classic game series on the unit instead of only experiencing parts of it.  Also, no games that required accessories other than an NES controller are available.  The NES Zapper had a great life on the original system, and a follow-up to this unit that featured a Zapper and at least five or ten of the best Zapper supported games would likely be a system seller.  Being able to play those zapper games on your HDTV (something that can’t be done using your original Nintendo hardware) would be spectacular.

Overall, this is a unit that, even though there are flaws, is still worth purchasing.  It looks to be a quality release, and if it sells well enough, Nintendo may release a follow up with more features for the retro NES fan that clamors for new hardware.


The Dangers of Crowdfunding part 2: Mighty No. 9

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Mighty No. 9 is mighty disappointing.


I could end it right there, but then I wouldn’t be saying anything different from what you have already seen all over the internet, all over YouTube, and all over social media.  But that’s not the root of the problem.   Mighty No. 9 is an example of one of the dangers of Kickstarter, but also makes people forget about the success stories of Kickstarter as well.  Put together this makes a dangerous situation for anyone else wishing to kickstart a game.

Like everyone else, I was initially excited by the original crowdfunding campaign.  The idea of a next-generation Mega Man styled game, made by its creator and no longer shackled by higher ups at Capcom, was very exciting.  The original videos and artwork looked very nice as well, and the end result was four million dollars of support to see this title brought to life.  However, most of the gaming community missed the first warning sign:  why is a developer who already has funding asking for more money for the game?  Many overlooked this as Comcept had not released a game at this point, but just a little research would show they had already come up with the money to make a proper game studio.  The funds to make this game should have already been there.

The second problem arose after the Kickstarter.  They hired a Community Manager that was very vocal, highly controversial, and in the end did a lot of harm to the games image.  At a time where the focus should have been on Inafune and the development on the game, instead the focus was on a community manager and the waves she was making in the gaming studio.

Another issue arose when Comcept decided to “go back to the well”, and attempt to get even more from Kickstarter in attempts to fund other games (before they even released their first game), and to add more money for voice acting.  At this point, people began speaking up, as even after fees 2 million should have been a plenty large budget for Mighty No. 9.  Of course, when the game was delayed over and over, fans awaiting the game became worried.


Finally, this summer the game was released.  Unfortunately, the game didn’t look anything like the proof of concept.  The game was actually a step down in graphic quality.  The leve design is uninspired.  The English voice acting (remember, this voice acting required a second Kickstarter) was atrocious.  Even the gameplay didn’t come to par with any game in the Mega Man series.  It became obvious that Capcom acted as a safety net for Inafune, and with that net removed, all we have is the shell of a good idea.  The part that hurts the most is that looking back in retrospective, the warning signs were all there.

Not all games released via Kickstarter have been bad.  A recent success story is Undertale, which is a fantastic RPG with a unique battle system and great story.  But Mighty No. 9 was the game that got the most media attention, and with the damage it has done, future games wishing to be crowdfunded now have an uphill battle.


Obscure Shooter Flashback – Abadox on the NES

Friday, June 17th, 2016

The NES had a plethora of different styles of games available for it.  Platformers had their strongest showing on the system, but it also had its fair share of RPGs, adventures, racers, puzzlers, and even shooters.  Many look back fondly at Gradius as one of the greatest shooters on the system.  However, there is another title that is grossly overlooked, which got away with a lot of things on the NES that were usually censored.


Just imagine going into your local video game rental store in 1986 and seeing this cover art.  It’s got it all!  Blood dripping off a chrome logo, how often did you even see blood in an NES title?  And yes, you can say the space man looks generic, until you look over at that googly eyed creature he’s desperately trying to take on!  How could you pass this up in a rental store?  I know I couldn’t.  And what’s that in the corner?  This game has the Milton Bradley logo?  I thought they only made board games, but it turns out they produced a few NES games as well!  But this is no Candyland.

While reading the manual (yes, I was one of THOSE people), we learned that Abadox was the name of a planet consumed by a giant beast called Parasitis.  The Princess (it’s the NES, there’s gotta be a Princess) has been consumed as well, so those that are left send their greatest warrior “Nazal” to go inside the beast and rescue the princess.


How many times does an NES game start with gore?  What this article can’t relate is the explosion that sounds right when this title pops up with no warning.  A great start for this game.  But whats a title screen with no gameplay?  Well, gameplay is hard.  This game lives up to the “NES hard” saying.  You have a large sprite, and all it takes is one hit to kill you.  You can pick up small orb powerups that spin around you that can block bullets, but if an enemy bullet (or body) slips through, you’re toast/  Thankfully, there’s an assortment of weapon upgrades as well, so your pea-shooter starter gun can be upgraded to a 3 way spread, laser, or 5 way spread.  You can also get a secondary weapon with either dumb or homing missles.  So whats our first look of Parasitis like in the opening stage?


Something totally unexpected for the NES in 1986, that’s for sure.  Flying eyeballs, giant mouthed creatures, all small attackers on a giant being made of dessicated flesh and flaying tendrils.  A disturbing image, to be sure.  And remember kids…..we’re going INSIDE this beast.  Right through the mouth!


You go in, teeth trying to impale you, tongue spewing aciding saliva at you.  You continue fighting your way in, until you reach the back of the throat, to get a face full of a surprise!


Remember the googly eyed beast from the box art?  He’s the first stages boss.  This thing pops out of the wall, eyeballs flailing away spewing bullets at your spaceman.   But there is a sweet spot you can sit in without much moving too much, to get another huge surprise.


This game features two different play modes, side scrolling AND top-down shooting!  This is something hardly any games did during this time, and it was a huge shock.  Combined with the graphic elements of the game, and the Sci-Fi aspects as well, and this game is a sleeper that I am amazed wasn’t talked about more back then, and doesn’t get the love it deserves now either.  So drop what you are doing, grab a copy of Abadox for your NES, and discover a new undiscovered classic.



A Brief History of the Mega Man series on the NES

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016


In 1987, Capcom brought us Mega Man, a game that blossomed into a long running series lasting decades.  It was the game that had the most sequels on the NES, with six different titles appearing on Nintendos 8-bit platform.  He is known as Rockman in the Japanese market, which is a fitting term, as the music in all the games is very much a style of 8-bit rock and roll.  Today, we are going to take a short journey through these six games.


The first game in the series, Mega Man, introduced us into the run and gun mechanics the series is known for.  Mega Man himself got his “blue bomber” moniker due to the fact that the NES has many more blues in its color palette than any other color, allowing the designers to give him more detail if they made him blue.  It also had the unique feature of allowing you to choose which stage to take on first, featuring six bosses to select from.  The gameplay also had a “rock, paper, scissors” system.  When you defeat a robot boss, you gain its weapon that you can use at any time, at the expense of using the weapon energy of that particular weapon.  Different bosses are weak to different weapons.  This gives the game a tactical feel in the middle and late game.  However, the first boss you don’t have any special weapon, and have to take it out with your standard buster cannon.  While all bosses can be beat with the standard cannon, it requires memorization of boss movement and fire patterns.  Certain bosses can take you out in as little as two hits.  After you defeat the six inital bosses (and picked up a special hidden weapon in one stage that will be required later), you move on to the Wily Castle levels, where you re-fight the six bosses as well as some new bosses.  The Yellow Devil is also fought here, considered the hardest boss in any Mega Man game to beat normally.  However, there is a cheat you can use to tear through him if you find him too hard.  While the original title wasn’t wildly popular, it did sell well enough for Capcom to make a sequel.

And what a sequel it was.  Mega Man 2, while significantly easier than the first game, also tightened up the controls just a tad and featuring a jump in graphics and stage design.  The robot bosses have been boosted from 6 to 8, and the music quality and composition is absolutely outstanding.  Instead of having a skippable special item, Mega Man 2 features three different items you collect in addition to the standard boss weapon when you beat certain bosses.  The weapons are also a lot more varied than in the original game, however there is a flaw where the Metal Blade weapon is incredibly overpowered.  Wily Tower is greatly expanded, and you fight an odd enemy at the end only to find Wily behind him as well in a lackluster final boss fight, although the journey is amazing.

The third game is another huge expansion in the series.  Mega Man is given a slide ability, and the new stages are built to take advantage of this new ability.  Also, the game has more flavor than the older games.  Instead of the generic 3 items in the second game, you are given a robotic companion that transforms into three new items for you to use.  You are also given a mysterious antagonist in Proto Man, who becomes more of a companion as the story goes on.  However, even this early in the series, some of the bosses and boss weapons begin to feel weak.  Top Mans special ability in particular, which Mega Man uses to ram his spinning body into foes (and take damage in the process!) is particularly strange.  However, the games pros more than outweigh its flaws.  After you beat the 8 new robot masters, you don’t go to Wily castle.  Instead you go through 4 remade levels of the 8 original ones, having to fight two robot masters from Mega Man 2 in each stage.  This was an awesome moment that greatly expanded the game and was also a great throwback to the second game.  Than you get to Wily Tower and fight some unique bosses that in some cases take up the whole screen.  Of course, Wily is behind it all and is defeated at the end.

The fourth game is where things start to feel very stagnant.  Mega Man gets a new ability, now able to charge his primary cannon.  This ability is overpowered, and you can do better damage to many bosses with your cannon than with enemy weapons.  However, they also bring back the ability to re-enter beaten levels that was only previously in Mega Man 1, which is a plus.  The plot tries to give us a new villain in Dr. Cossack, but of course Wily is again behind it all.  While still a fun romp, this game felt weak compared to other titles in the Mega Man series.  That being said, it is still one of the best games on the NES, only weak when compared to its peers.

Than we have the fifth game.  This game was surprisingly released on the NES, which seemed like a strange choice at the time considering the SNES had been on the market for a bit at this point.  The new special ability in this game was hidden letters in each stage, which when collected, gives you the robot bird Beat.  Beat was overpowered, doing massive damage to anything it targeted.  However, the Mega Buster was powered down, which needed to happen as the overpowered buster made the game far too easy.  The game attempts to paint Proto Man as the new villain, but yet again Wily is actually the main antagonist.  The robot masters were improved over the previous game, however, at this point fans were clamoring for a 16 bit release for Mega Man.

That’s not what they got though.  Six was also released on the NES instead of the SNES.  However, Capcom did not want to bring the game to the United States.  Instead the game was brought here by Nintendo of America.  The game was another leap forward, with a great new ability allowing Mega Man and Rush to fuse into one of three different forms.  These forms were all very useful and allowed you to go through each stage in new ways, sometimes opening up branching paths, another first for Mega Man.  Two of the bosses in this game were actually designed in a fan contest via Nintendo Power.  Unfortunately, Capcom tried to give us a new bait and switch antagonist, with “Mister X” being in the forefront before revealing, guess who?  That’s right, Wily again behind the scenes.

That concludes the original six NES games.  Capcom finally brought Mega Man to the SNES with Mega Man 7, and even started a new generation of titles with Mega Man X, but the original six games on the NES live on as a great legacy.  While I may have been critical of certain aspects, all six games are a blast to play today, and are leaps and bounds ahead of much of the other games available on the NES.  They are a challenge, but rewarding.  If you haven’t taken it upon yourself to play one of these games, load up Mega Man 2 and start with Wood Man, or Mega Man 3 and start with Top Man, and learn why this series became the legacy it is today.