Retronauts Video Chronicles

The flip side of Midway's U.S.-oriented releases comes with one of the most unique games ever released for Nintendo 64 in Japan: Givro and Enix's Wonder Project J2. A simulation game of sorts, Wonder Project J2 tasks you with helping to rear a naïve robot girl named Josette, teaching her to become self-sufficient—and to integrate naturally into human society, while also helping to undermine the schemes of a military empire. That's a lot to ask for one waif, and her success is entirely up to you. Anyone who followed the N64 around the time of its launch remembers seeing this game plastered all over English-language magazines and websites, making it one of the best-known N64 titles to remain stranded in Japan.

Special thanks to "Ryu", whose excellent fan translation made this video possible! Check it out for yourself at https://www.romhacking.net/translations/1074/

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


A little bit of a sidebar between the genre's foundational works (that is, Castlevania and Metroid) and the major works ahead in 1987. These games are not critical contributors to the genre, but the ideas seen here speak to some solid instincts. We'll see more refined takes on these concepts further along, but for now, here are some noble efforts that don't quite nail it.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


N64 Works shifts into third gear—third-party gear, that is—with a pair of games that I am wholly unsuited to break down. So instead, this episode dives into the history surrounding them: The so-called N64 Dream Team, the checkered relationship between Nintendo and Mortal Kombat, and what this version of Trilogy says about the N64 when held side-by-side against the PlayStation release.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


Finally! The Metroidvania Works series arrives at the games that lent the genre its name... or at least early entries in those games' franchises. Metroid brings us the first real taste of the exploratory action platformer, with a complex world that players unlock and explore by upgrading their hero(ine). Meanwhile, Vampire Killer on MSX adapts the NES classic Castlevania to a PC-style framework with (temporary) item collection and intra-stage exploration. And finally, Milon's Secret Castle applies the "search everywhere for invisible items" philosophy of mid ’80s action games to a contiguous, freely traveled world containing multiple self-contained stages. None of these are quite metroidvania games yet... but we're getting there.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


The metroidvania journey continues with a look at three more games from the mid ’80s that helped pave the way for the genre—none of which, notably, hail from U.S. developers. While the American games industry was reinventing itself in the wake of the Atari crash, British and Japanese developers steamed ahead full throttle with games that combined action, adventure, and exploration all at once, beginning with UK-based Ultimate Play-the-Game's influential isometric classic and ending with a gold-clad game that should require no further introduction to viewers of this channel...

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


Nintendo publishes a football game, and an arcade hit comes to Game Boy after being filtered through the soupy green monochrome of the Amstrad CPC. They're not great! This is not fulfilling video game content! Let's hurry through and get along to the next. OK, thank you, please drive through.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


They say you have to walk before you can run, and in Game Boy Works, we need to slog through some mediocrity before we get to the good stuff. Neither of these games is terrible by any means; Battle Bull feels like an update to Sega's Pengo or Irem's Kickle Cubicle, while Navy Blue 90 is, y'know, Battleship. However, both end up being let down by some questionable creative choices and frustrating technical issues. Neither lives up to its real potential.


I've been taking a different approach to video production while we're all hunkered down for the pandemic. Some people cope with booze or by binge-watching; I cope by making videos about games I love. Case in point: Mega Man Legends for PlayStation, which is well outside the scope of Video Works... but I'm let it kite along in the slipstream of the recent NES Mega Man retrospective. It's an incredible game—a personal favorite. So, please: Just roll with it.


I said we'd be jumping over to N64 Works, and I meant it... it's just happening, uh, gradually. In this case, we're defining the shape of N64 by what N64 was missing: Specifically, one of the biggest and most popular games of the ’90s. One part historic overview of the business politics of the N64 era, one part look back at the compelling introductory design of Final Fantasy VII's opening chapter, you'd better believe this video was basically just an excuse for me to play a classic game from outside the bounds of the Video Works project in an effort to bolster my spirits during the age of social distancing.


This week's sequence break comes to you by a patron request from Joseph Wawzonek and courtesy of Steve Lin of the Video Game History foundation: A look at the highly coveted import-only collector's item Trip World for Game Boy. SunSoft's charming platformer commands a towering reputation for its quality and its unconventional nature, even if it does come off as slight. Here I explore the origins of the game, contemplate the creative aims behind its unique design, and delight in repeatedly pronouncing its protagonist's name. Thanks again to Joseph and Steve!


By patron request of Brian Larsen, here's something a little different: Rather than look at a single game, this episode takes a wider view of NES culture and fandom, and how fans of the platform have kept the NES alive and vibrant 25 years after its retirement. From the rise of emulation to modern clone platforms, NES devotees continue to make NES accessible and surprising, as this cursory overview explains.


NES Works 1987 ends as it began: With a cool game by Capcom. But let's be real. Mega Man is much cooler than Trojan. There's a reason one series had dozens of sequels and spinoffs and the other... didn't. Capcom's first wholly original creation for NES is one of the most inventive and highly polished games on NES to date, period. With a free stage select sequence, alternate special weapons, and imaginative bosses, Mega Man stands out as a brilliant capper to an incredible year for the NES. And just think: The franchise will only get better from here, as we'll see in NES Works 1989. In, uh, a few years.


Two final middling releases for 1987, one of which is based on a licensed property. Yeah, you can definitely see the future of the NES shaping up here. Neither Top Gun or BreakThru is the worst game we've seen, but neither can quite make up its mind as to what it wants to be. Is Top Gun a flight sim or an aerial combat game? Is BreakThru a side-scrolling platformer or a shooter? Rather than feeling like brilliant hybrids, these both just seem a bit muddled...


Following on from Gotcha!, LJN continues plying the same furrow with two more games based on film properties, developed by Atlus. (Or at least someone pretending to be Atlus, anyway.) Two out of LJN's three 1987 releases are pretty decent, if a bit thin in terms of content, and really only The Karate Kid hints at the kind of crap the company would make its stock in trade over the coming years. Jaws might even be considered genuinely good, if only it had been given a little more time in the oven to allow all its concepts to come together...


Data East (finally) serves up a pretty solid game in the form of Irem's Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, but the real story here is Gotcha!: The Sport. Not only is it the debut release from one of the NES's most questionable publishers, it also very much represents a specific moment in popular and political culture. Gotcha! was based on a movie and a toy line, and its publisher's fortunes were impacted by poor toy sales right as the national conversation began to focus on some unfortunate results from America's gun culture and the early days of the the police's move toward militarization. That's quite a lot to tie to a simple NES Zapper game...

Thanks to Steve Lin for lending the Kid Niki packaging to this endeavor!


While the NES was an improvement over previous console generations in most respects, not everything that showed up on Nintendo's system was a clear winner versus what had come before. Case in point, Super Pitfall: An update of sorts to Pitfall! II, except far, far worse. It's an ambitious reworking of an Atari 2600 classic, but "ambition" doesn't necessarily mean "quality." Another fine mess you've gotten us into, Micronics.


After an amazing summer and autumn for 1987, the NES is well into its year-end doldrums. Don't worry, we've got some bangers (as the kids say) lined up for the grand finale a few episodes from now, but for the moment it's all tepid, dated games that pale in comparison to superior takes on these genres that have been showing up of late. But please don't give up on NES Works just yet. Did I mention Mega Man is on the way? Because it is.


Konami's sixth release for 1987 is interesting in a few ways, not least of which is that NES publishers were supposedly limited to five releases per year. But when you're on fire the way Konami was in 1987, I suppose the rules get a little wobbly. The Goonies II bases its action very (very) loosely on the 1985 movie, but rather than just being some crappy licensed title (like we've seen with M.U.S.C.L.E. or Chubby Cherub), it's one of the most ambitious and complex NES titles to date. It's a bit opaque in the adventure scenes, but despite some parts that haven't aged well, it's... aged pretty well.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.

Direct download: 06320The20Goonies20II.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Nintendo's final release for 1987 is one for the ages: A conversion of minor arcade hit Punch-Out!! So how do you port a cutting-edge arcade game to a console that launched a year before the coin-op machine without losing its essence? If you're Nintendo, you create a fancy new microchip specifically for the task; you radically overhaul the game to emphasize precision and readability; and you enlist the support of the most popular athlete in the world. It's a combo that's hard to top—and the results were so strong that it still holds up even without the endorsement of Mike Tyson.

Special thanks once again to Steve Lin and the Video Game History Foundation (http://www.gamehistory.org) this episode!

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


By request of patron Joseph Wawzonek, this Gaiden episode dives into something that is neither game nor peripheral... it is both. And it is the best. It is... the Game Boy Camera. History's greatest video game gadget! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut, and even request your own episode topic! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


By request of patron Joseph Wawzonek, this Gaiden episode dives into something that is neither game nor peripheral... it is both. And it is the best. It is... the Game Boy Camera. History's greatest video game gadget! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut, and even request your own episode topic! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


Squaresoft returns with its second game, and its second game to feature 3D tech. This one's a little different than The 3-D Adventures of WorldRunner, though, even if what we saw in American worked the same. Ah, the rabbit hole of Japan-only Famicom add-ons!

Rad Racer marks the beginning of many things, from the Famicom 3-D System to the career of mad RPG genius Akitoshi Kawazu, but it also brings us to the end of an era. Pour one out for pixellated box art, friends.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


After a few too many humdrum releases rounding out September 1987, October sees the NES back in proper fighting form with a string of games for the ages. First up, we have the dual debut of legendary developer Compile (under the auspices of FCI) with a pair of lesser-known classics that showcase the unique sensibilities and impressive skills for which the studio would become known.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


The first post-launch release for N64 proved to be as strong as its two day-one titles. Wave Race 64 arrived mere days after SingleTrac and Sony's Jet Moto, but it felt like a massive leap forward in terms of tech and fluidity. Nintendo's x-treme water racer maximized its sophisticated water programming, creating a series of physically and aesthetically varied tracks that felt like no other racing game before it—and while its frame rate and HUD haven't aged well, it's still a blast to play.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


SunSoft returns to NES with their first internally developed game for the U.S., though like this episode's back-up feature (Alpha Mission) the game in question (Spy Hunter) actually hails from the arcades. Neither of these vertical shooters offer much in the way of a compelling reason to play them, aside from a pretty good take on the Peter Gunn theme in Spy Hunter. Don't worry, though. SunSoft will get a lot better. And SNK.. will get a little better, at least on NES.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


NES Works continues (properly back in the year 1987 once again) with another pair of sports games. One is quite good, and the other... is not only kinda bad, but it also means lots of people are going to leave tired jokes about blowjobs here, because there's no 20-year-old Seanbaby joke that isn't made even better by being left as a drive-by YouTube comment.

I will say this for Ring King, though: At least it has an exhibition mode, which means I didn't actually have to play it while recording footage. Quite considerate of Data East, really. 

ideo Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


Let's kick off the new year by looking at 2020's hottest NES release: A reissue of Irem classic Metal Storm by Retro-Bit Entertainment (and Castlemania Games, and Limited Run Games, and so on). While Metal Storm came out in U.S. back in the day, this rerelease is actually a new conversion of the Japanese game that shipped a year after America's cart and included some new features, including an introductory story cinematic, new difficulty settings, different color schemes for many graphics, and some handy built-in cheat codes. It's new! And old! It's good.

Special thanks to Retro-Bit for this review copy. Preorders for this new version of the game are still available at https://castlemaniagames.com/collections/frontpage/products/metalstorm-collectors-edition

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


Hmmm... another out-of-sequence video, though this one is vastly moreso than Tower of Druaga. Batman hit the U.S. two and a half years after our current point in NES Works (Feb 1990 vs. Sept. 1987). But this episode is by patron request as a Christmas gift for his wife, so how can ya say no to that? (You, too, can make similarly heartwarming requests as a video patron: http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) Two years clearly made a huge difference in terms of design, tech, and sophistication. Batman is a far cry from the kinds of games we've been looking at on NES Works. In fairness, it's one of the strongest NES releases from 1990, but the design skills and underlying tech boosts required for this game simply didn't exist in 1987.

The 1989 Batman film was a huge media event, and for many kids this detailed, challenging game (bursting as it was with excellent music and quirky but tight controls) was the highlight of that marketing blitz.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.

Direct download: Batman20retrospective-20Wayne20of20terror207C20NES20Works2023168.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

We're briefly jumping one month out of chronological order here in 1990, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 31, to look at a game that keeps showing up in Video Works: Namco's The Tower of Druaga. While admittedly it's the arcade game from 1984 and the Famicom port from 1985 that keep getting mention for their formative impact on Japanese games design, rather than this port from five or six hours later, this is a more or less direct conversion of the original... plus a few quality-of-life tweaks. Anyway, with this episode in the can, I don't have to explain The Tower of Druaga every time I reference it.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


The holiest of NES holy grails arrives this week: Stadium Events by Human Entertainment and Bandai. This game is worth relatively little in its European release, and has almost zero value in its reissued "World Class Track Meet" version. But stumble across the original U.S. release and you've basically paid for your retirement. Special thanks to Steve Lin for allowing me to include actual photography of this rarity here.

For contrast, the backup feature: Winter Games, a complete botch job of the PC sports classic by Epyx. It has no intrinsic value, either as a game or as a collector's item.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


The second and third of Nintendo's first-party releases at the GBA's Japanese launch go under the microscope here as we examine F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (a reversion of the franchise to its original Super NES style) and Napoléon, AKA L'Aigle de Guerre (a real-time strategy game, sort of). By embracing the speediest and deepest of 16-bit genres, they help reinforce just what a big deal GBA was at the time of its launch—a proper home console experience on the go! That you could barely see. But hey. Details.

Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


A quick bit of backpeddling here to catch a launch title I missed: Acclaim's Turok 2, which was only a launch title in Europe (that most poorly documented of regions for console releases). You may think a 64-bit first-person shooter would be a poor fit for the Game Boy Color, but to its creators' credit, the game does its best. Not exactly a timeless classic, but surprisingly playable despite its glaring flaws. Video Works is funded through Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/gamespite) — support the show and get access to every episode up to two weeks in advance of its YouTube debut! And be sure to check out the Retronauts podcast (http://www.retronauts.com), where I (and many others!) tackle a much wider array of classic gaming topics each week.


A double-header from Acclaim this week, which isn't as bad as you might expect given the publisher's track record. Neither of these games are particular standouts, but neither will have you praying for the sweet release of death, either. Tiger-Heli is a decent-ish adaptation of a decent-ish arcade shooter, and Star Voyager... well, it's ambitious, but not especially good. There were far better NES games, but there were certainly much worse as well.


While NES Works normally focuses on contextualizing NES games (especially those from Japan) by defining their place in contemporary video game history, and by explaining the state of the industry at the time of their initial creation (and subsequent release into the U.S., when applicable), sometimes exceptions must be made. Here we have one of those cases. While it's certainly worth understanding the import-only works that inspired Deadly Towers's genesis, a significant portion of this game's legacy came about more than a decade—or even two decades—after its U.S. debut. Here we see that sometimes a game is not nearly so remarkable as the conversation that springs up around it.

Direct download: Deadly20Towers20retrospective-20Myer20lemon207C20NES20Works2023055.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 9:00am EDT

The sequel to Pitfall! gives us an even more expansive world to explore than pioneers like Montezuma's Revenge: A system of underground caverns comprising roughly 250 screens of virtual real estate. Sure, about 50 of those screens amount to columns of empty air, but the underlying concept has merit. Pitfall II downplayed white-knuckle action in favor of unraveling the pathways and interconnections of its subterranean world in order to explore every corner, score points, and complete an objective.


Yep, it's Halloween, and that means it's time for my annual Castlevania retrospective. This time, we jump forward a decade from Super Castlevania IV...

For many long-time fans, the big selling point for Game Boy Advance at launch wasn't a kooky Mario port or a throwback F-Zero sequel—it was Konami's first proper attempt at a Symphony of the Night follow-up in the form of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Circle absolutely blew away anything that had ever been created to that point for a handheld system, with stunning music and great-looking graphics.

Unfortunately, Circle wasn't without its shortcomings—some resulting from questionable game design choices, and others resulting from issues with the GBA hardware itself. This tiny metroidvania juggernaut wasn't quite the grand slam it could and should have been, but don't let its flaws distract from the fact that this was an unparalleled feat in portability back in 2001.


A new series begins here to round out the entirety of the Game Boy family's history. At the very least, we'll explore the early days of Game Boy Advance and how Nintendo and their partners brought more than a decade of handheld gaming experience to bear on a system that was (generally) powerful enough to allow them to realize their grander ambitions. As we can see from this very first release for GBA, it was a transitional process....


Another Konami shooter arrives, and this one encompasses a little bit of every other shooter to have appeared on the system to date. It's also tied to a long-running series, despite having been renamed in the U.S. So why does no one ever talk about this game? Is it because it was unbearably cute? Or is it because it was overshadowed by its own sibling release a year later?


We take a side excursion into a nebulous place in NES history: Tengen's licensed trio of games from 1987. Or is it 1988? It's hard to say, because there's no firm record of when these games originally shipped. It's always tough to pin down exact American release dates for NES games, since Nintendo of America only officially cites release months... but what happens when Nintendo refuses to acknowledge the existence of a game altogether for political reasons? That's the conundrum that surrounds the first three games released by Atari spinoff Tengen under license by Nintendo—before they went rogue.


(That's "The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner" if you're nasty.) Four—count 'em, four!—companies make their NES debut here before going on to become third-party pillars of the platform. 3-D WorldRunner comes to us courtesy of Squaresoft (they of Final Fantasy fame) and Acclaim (they of, uhhh, Bart Vs. The Space Mutants infamy). Sky Kid is a Namco/SunSoft joint. None of these companies should need any sort of intro for anyone who has a decent familiarity with the NES, and this is where they both get their start on the U.S. side of the console. Nothing inspiring here, but these are the seeds for greater things.


Japanese arcade giant Irem makes its NES debut—or at least its debut as a publisher under its own steam. Spelunker and Sqoon make for interesting companion pieces to Lode Runner and Bungeling Bay, one being an Irem PC port published by Brøderbund and the other being a game published by Irem itself. Anyway, both are hilariously difficult.


This series' Nintendo 64 launch retrospective wraps up with a look back at the, uh, second N64 launch title: Pilotwings 64. As with Super Mario 64, it builds on a Super NES launch title by expanding its design into proper 3D space while also making its overall design and progression a bit more bite-sized and approachable. Although it's quite dated all these years later, you can definitely see it as a leap forward from what had come before.

Also this episode: The Japan-exclusive third launch title, Saikyo Habu Shogi.


We have yet another early Game Boy Color release that got its start in monochrome—but this one's a little different. Rather than appearing as a late Game Boy release and hastily being reworked for color, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening debuted back in 1993 and was given a comprehensive overhaul for the new handheld. While largely the same game as the original release, with few visual or mechanical changes outside of a more vivid palette, Link's Awakening DX does add new material to Nintendo's handheld classic: A new bonus dungeon, some new gear, and Game Boy Printer support. It ultimately amounts to a minor upgrade, yes, but the base game was so strong that it didn't need much in the way of an overhaul. Here, as on Game Boy, it's a genuine classic.


We look overseas this week to a notable Japan-only release for Game Boy Color: A chapter of the Intelligent Systems "Wars" series. Though not as sophisticated or charming as Advance Wars, there's still a lot to like about this import title... assuming you don't mind the significant step backward it represents from the later games that actually made their way to the U.S.

Also in this episode: Game Boy Color gets the first of many, many Pokémon clones to come in the fully tolerable but utterly unremarkable Sanrio Time Net, which comes in both Past and Future versions.


Another incremental release for Game Boy Color; like Wario Land II, Game & Watch Gallery 2 began life as a monochrome release in one territory (but not the rest). Quirky history aside, it's a fine recreation and distillation of some formative portable history. While it doesn't offer 100% verisimilitude to the source material, this is a loving recreation packed with tons of extra features and some remarkably involved unlockable content. Not bad for a collection of primitive pocket calculators.


Having explored the span of the Virtual Boy's library, let's now create a little context for its existence. There's more to this curious little system than the fact that it bombed at retail and Nintendo cut its life short. It represents designer Gunpei Yokoi's passion for interesting applications for affordable technology, prefigured some game industry design standards, and presented a remarkably solid library of software. Was Virtual Boy flawed? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean it's not worth experiencing, or remembering.


Virtual Boy Works ended on a slightly downbeat note with Virtual Bowling, a fine take on the 10-pin pastime by Athena that remains inaccessible to normal humans thanks to its alarming rarity and terrifyingly high price. Well, here's the happy twist coda: Pocket Bowling is a direct sequel to Virtual Bowling that carries forward many of the other game's core mechanics and design elements, but costs a LOT less and doesn't require a piece of fragile, hard-to-come-by equipment to enjoy. Sure, Game Boy Color can't support the immersive viewpoint and design of Virtual Bowling, but this captures the enjoyable core of the other game quite neatly. Let's hear it for small victories, eh?

PLUS:
Japan-only release for this episode: Warashi's Honkaku Shougi: Shougi Ou.


For Nintendo's third portable system (allowing for a very loose definition of "portable" where Virtual Boy is concerned), we once again have another platformer in the Super Mario Land family to help kick things off. But while Wario Land II may technically be a sequel to Super Mario Land, it has almost nothing to do with that game besides being a platform game inspired by Super Mario Bros. It drops the "Mario" title altogether, focusing entirely on antagonistic protagonist Wario, who finally distinguishes himself from his do-gooding rival by being completely immortal. There are no health pick-ups here, no 1UPs, none of that frail nonsense. Wario is indestructible, like all cartoon bad guys, and Wario Land II builds on that premise to create an exploratory puzzle-platform experience like nothing before it. It's a masterpiece, and a great launch title for Game Boy Color... even if it technically wasn't, originally.


Game Boy Color's second release is ALSO a portable puzzler, but one with less mass appeal than Tetris. While clearly a passion project by a small team, Hexcite is bogged down by its fidelity to an actual physical board game release and a few too many rules for its own good.


Game Boy Works travels forward in time eight years to the invention of a radical new concept in portable gaming: Color! Well, maybe it wasn't so new for the industry at large, but true color was a first for Nintendo portables. And to kick things off, the Kyoto giant went back to the well to reprise the block puzzler that helped make the original Game Boy a smash hit: Tetris. In addition to a color palette, Tetris DX also tweaked the vintage release with new modes and modified physics. It's not so much a remake as a sequel, but it's a fitting kickoff to the Game Boy Color lineup (even if it wasn't technically the first Game Boy Color release, having been beaten to the punch by Dragon Warrior Monsters).


American publisher makes its NES (and console) debut with conversions of two of its own landmark computer titles: Doug Smith's Lode Runner and Will Wright's Raid on Bungeling Bay. Neither men had any direct involvement with these conversions, which instead were handled by Japanese developer Hudson. The result is a pair of visually overhauled (but generally quite faithful) ports that go a long way toward embodying the overall tone and style that would define NES games. At the same time, these ports speak to America and Japan's shared love of great games while highlighting the stylistic differences between east and west in the 8-bit era. A solid duo of classics... though perhaps a bit slow to reach the U.S. to have true impact here.


This is it! The very final Japanese release for Virtual Boy. The final Virtual Boy game retrospective. And the most expensive Virtual Boy game by far. But you know, it's kind of nice to end this series on a high note. Virtual Bowling is legitimately a fantastic take on the sport, with great mechanics and pleasant visuals. Pity that a boxed copy will set you back as much as a decent used car these days.

One final "thank you" goes out to Chris Kohler for providing this rare gem for coverage.


Japan's next-to-last Virtual Boy release, and the only Japanese title for the platform to be based on a media license. It's SD Gundam, though, and you can bet it lives down to whatever expectations that might instill for you. A brief and unpleasant strategy game in which battles play out through terrible combat sequences, Dimension War is definitely not worth the enormous price it commands on the aftermarket.


The second of Virtual Boy's big-ticket Japan-only rarities, Virtual Lab stands out from the rest by virtue of being the absolute worst. It's a disaster of a puzzle game, riddled with derivative yet ill-conceived mechanics, terrible visuals and sound, and a lack of quality that permeates every aspect of this overpriced cartridge. Do not engage.

Thanks as always to Chris Kohler for lending this game to the project.


We're nearly done with Virtual Boy Works, but before we can put a bow on this venture, we need to tackle the four daunting Japan-only collector's pieces that shipped in the console's final month of existence in that market. First up is Space Invaders: Virtual Collection, a pretty decent recreation of and embellishment on the venerable arcade classics. It's a game that would be a no-brainer pick-up if not for the fact that its value has shot into the stratosphere thanks to its extreme rarity. Oh well.


Venture into the ineffable madness of on of Virtual Boy's most unique creations: A fast-paced first-person shooter based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. This is one of those games whose existence seems completely inexplicable—but it's nevertheless quite welcome. Innsmouth no Yakata (sometimes transcribed as Insmouse no Yakata) is a relentless, challenging shooter that creates an impressive sense of anxiety—which means it's a pity it never made its way outside of Japan.


Next in our look at Virtual Boy's Japan-exclusive lineup is the system's sole foray into the fishing genre: A by-the-numbers take on the format by Locomotive and Pack-In-Video called, creatively, Virtual Fishing. It is... fishing. On Virtual Boy. The end.

Thanks as always to Chris Kohler for lending his copy of the game to this project.


Another Japan-exclusive Virtual Boy release, this one from minor publisher Coconuts Japan. And it's a good, if slight, creation that takes great advantage of the Virtual Boy hardware to present players with a sci-fi rendition of a popular sport. Like a lot of other games on the system, it needed a little more time in the oven to achieve its full potential—but it's both fun and interesting, making it one of the more notable imports for Virtual Boy.


We launch into Virtual Boy's Japan-exclusive line-up by heading back to the other Tetris game at the other end of the system's life: V-Tetris. This game is nothing at all like 3D-Tetris; for one thing, it's actually Tetris. V-Tetris does nothing to really take advantage of the hardware here, so it's a shame that this interpretation of the block-dropping classic has been locked to Virtual Boy—its special mode offers a unique and enjoyable take on the venerable favorite.


Two direct arcade ports hit the NES here, and boy golly are these things not necessarily created equal. About the only thing they have in common is that they're both incredibly difficult to complete. But Athena is a hot mess of a conversion, as is the Micronics way, while Arkanoid is a pretty spectacular adaptation. Of course, to be fair, Arkanoid has an advantage here: It came with its own pack-in controller, designed exclusive for use with this one game. But even without the Vaus paddle, it's still a far sight more fun than Athena. Which isn't to say Athena was necessarily a barebones package; in Japan, it came with a special bonus pack-in that Americans were denied...

If you'd like to hear the full cassette tape, I've ripped the audio into a separate video upload: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koGCAIlGMbE


Super NES Works 1991 limps weakly over the finish line with the third dud in a row. Lagoon makes a pitiful capstone for an otherwise strong opening period for Nintendo's 16-bit beast, a hobbled conversion of a fairly respectable PC game that suffers horribly from a single ill-considered new design choice. Oh well! At least we have 1992 to look forward to...

Direct download: Lagoon_retrospective_Bad_ending__Super_NES_Works_23029.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

And just like that, we've reached the end of the American Virtual Boy library. Does this slim collection of games at least receive a grand sendoff, you may be wondering? Well... eh. Not really. At the very least, they could have given us a REAL Tetris game....

Direct download: 3-D_Tetris_retrospective_Red_rain__Virtual_Boy_Works_2313.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

We return briefly to Game Boy Works to mark the system's 30th anniversary... not that this these games are necessarily glorious celebrations of Game Boy's existence. But then again, maybe they're perfectly apt? Square Deal combines two of the system's most common genres—puzzlers and casino games—and Parasol Henbee is a licensed platformer. Together, these comprise the fundamental Game Boy experience. And while they're not amazing, they're both above average for their genres. So... a concise summary of the Game Boy experience, I guess.


It's the worst game in the world! Ha! Ha. No, not really. Despite being based on a dud of a film and appearing exclusively on a failed game console, Ocean's Waterworld isn't the most atrocious thing ever committed to silicon. Make no mistake, it's not GOOD—but there are certainly worse things you could cram into a game system. It's an interesting (albeit extremely rough) attempt to bring some classic arcade concepts to Virtual Boy.


One of two Virtual Boy bowling sims, this one stands out from its Japanese counterpart by virtue of featuring Nester, the unlikely antagonist of Nintendo Power's "Howard & Nester" comics. And his twin sister Hester, whose existence had never been mentioned prior to this game. Which shipped a couple of years after Nester's comic had been canceled. What a strange and inexplicable game.


Hudson's second (and final) Virtual Boy game sees them visiting comfortable territory with a vertical shooter very much in the Star Soldier vein. A plane-shifting layer effect makes good on a central concept of that franchise, though the realities and limitations of the hardware somewhat gum up the works...

Direct download: Vertical_Force_retrospective_Red_squadron___Virtual_Boy_Works_23101.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

The second half of NES Works' look back at Metroid explores the changes it underwent in coming to the U.S., how both the flow and the music of the game help shape the player's experience, and the greater legacy of Samus Aran.

Direct download: Metroid_retrospective_part_2_Galaxy_brain___NES_Works_23048_Pt._2.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Nintendo wraps its run of summer 1987 console masterpieces with the third entry in its not-quite-Black-Box series: Metroid. Playing like a midpoint between Super Mario and Zelda but with a flavor all its own, Metroid continues the trend of NES action games striving to present players with something more substantial than arcade-style test of twitch reflexes. (Stay tuned for the other half of this retrospective next week.)


The final Nintendo R&D1-developed title for Virtual Boy pulls double-duty as the best of the batch—not just among R&D1's creations, but for the platform as a whole. Playing like a supercharged version of Wario's first solo outing on Game Boy, VB Wario Land is a fairly brief adventure that doesn't offer much in the way of challenge, and it ultimately feels a bit slight compared to other games in the series. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in terms of polish and creativity. It would be a classic on any platform, but being on Virtual Boy makes it a true standout... and annoyingly difficult to play in 2019.


Another perfectly decent game appears on Virtual Boy, this time starring Bomberman. It's not your standard Bomberman fare, but nevertheless it's a pretty solid rendition of Puyo Puyo with a bit of Bomberman flair (or should that be flare?). Fortunately, this game is a little less difficult to track down play nowadays than its VB contemporaries...


It's one of the Virtual Boy's holy grails... or should that be "unholy grails"? Jack Bros. holds an odd place in history, being Atlus's sole release for Virtual Boy, as well as the stealth debut of the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series in the U.S. But this is no RPG—no, it's something far more unique, and equally enjoyable. All of this makes a rare case of a game whose price has soared into the stratosphere but actually has appeal to more than just collectors.


Mario's second (and final) outing on Virtual Boy is a more traditional adventure for him. Exceptionally traditional, in fact, as it reaches back into the early roots of the series, well before the days of Mushroom Kingdoms and Koopa Kings, to present fans with a single-player update to the original Mario Bros. It's a remarkably complex game with a high degree of difficulty, but one that deserves not to be forgotten.


We move into Virtual Boy's post-launch lineup (and slightly out of rigid chronological order) with a sports two-fer: Kemco's Virtual League Baseball and T&E Soft's Golf. One of these is quite good, and one... is not. However, neither does anything new with two sports formats that have already been covered extensively on the Video Works series, so—on to the next!

Thanks to Chris Kohler for lending these games to the war effort.


The first third-party Virtual Boy title (sort of) and the final launch-day release (in the U.S.) attempts to give players a (technically) portable free-roaming 3D space-shooting experience. Developer T&E Soft had big aspirations with this one, but in practice it didn't quite pan out the way they evidently hoped. The result is an interesting game with a lot of promise and a control interface years ahead of its time... but the Virtual Boy hardware simply wasn't up to the task set before it.


The third launch selection for Virtual Boy may remind you of another beloved Nintendo franchise, but that's just a coincidence. A coincidence, I say! This game is NOT Punch-Out!!, even though it does happen to be a comical boxing title with enormous, personality-packed sprites. For one thing, its control scheme and interface are VASTLY more complex than that other series.... (Thanks again to Chris Kohler for the software loan.)


Nintendo's biggest and most consequential release for 1987, and one of the most important games of the year across all platforms, brings a newfound depth and maturity to the NES. Other ’87 releases have been flirting with the idea of merging action and role-playing concepts, but Zelda goes all-in with a sprawling, challenging journey across the land of Hyrule to rescue the princess Zelda and retrieve the Triforce of Power. And in the process, an instant classic is born.

(Note: The Hyrule overworld map image appearing in this video original appeared on nesmaps.com)


While I'd love to wrap Super NES 1991 on a high note, the games actually seem to be getting worse as we approach the end of the year. D-Force is easily the lousiest Super NES game of 1991, and it's a strong contender for worst-of-all-time, too. A dull, clumsy shooter that would have been embarrassing on an 8-bit console, D-Force only throws its awfulness into sharp relief by including a Super NES-specific gimmick that somehow makes the game even less fun to play. Truly, we've punch through the barrel's bottom here.


Our second Virtual Boy Works entry takes us from the tennis courts to the far reaches of the cosmos for the sole contribution to the platform by Nintendo mainstay Intelligent Systems: Galactic Pinball. With four tables and tons of gimmicks, it's a fun and interesting take on a vintage amusement that works beautifully on Virtual Boy.

Special thanks to Chris Kohler for providing the packaged material for the photography here!


Welcome to Virtual Boy Works! This brief journey through the entire worldwide library of Nintendo's least-beloved system begins here, with the Mario crew's first outing on the tennis court. It's a decent game whose flaws are outweighed by its strengths—a perfect example of the Virtual Boy itself, and a great example of this series' central premise: Virtual Boy may not have been a great system, but its library was better than most people realize.

Direct download: Marios_Tennis_retrospective_Doubles_vision___Virtual_Boy_Works_2301.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 11:57am EDT

Japanese publisher Taito makes its NES debut with a pair of games that, in stark contrast to the games that immediately precede them, quite faithfully recreate their arcade predecessors rather than reinvent them. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but given the ambitious design of the games released on either side of this duo, it does cause Taito to feel a bit behind the curve. (They'll sort it out eventually.)


Young Kevin McAllister had it rough being stuck all by himself with a house full of crooks for Christmas, but really that was nothing compared to the suffering experienced by anyone who played his game. Home Alone leads into the final run of 1991 Super NES games, and... they aren't great.


Capcom continues its diligent efforts to overhaul its arcade games for NES with a revamp every bit as admirable as Tecmo's fresh take on Rygar. A liner 1985 corridor shooter becomes a complex space labyrinth demanding patience, persistence, and a willingness to plot out some complicated connections, in effect becoming an all-new game—one diminished in history by its close proximity to Nintendo's Metroid and an unfortunate decision by Capcom USA to remove the save feature present in the Japanese release.

Direct download: Section-Z_retrospective_Tunnel_visionary___NES_Works_23045.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 11:45am EDT

Tecmo delivers its third game almost immediately on the heels of Solomon's Key and Mighty Bomb Jack, and it's a doozy. Rygar kicks off a couple of trends we're going to see a lot of in the coming years on NES: It radically reinvents an arcade game for the console, and it's pretty much a proto-metroidvania action title. Good stuff here that deserves to be enshrined in history.

Category:Video Games -- posted at: 5:21pm EDT

The first of Nintendo's major releases for 1987 arrives, bringing with it some new technical innovations that will play a huge part in allowing U.S. releases for the system to maintain parity with titles that ran on pricey expansion hardware in Japan—and to go even further beyond that in the years to come. Oh, and the game itself is pretty good, too. Just be sure to take care when writing down those passwords...

Direct download: Kid_Icarus_retrospective_A_stygian_Pit___NES_Works_043.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 5:20pm EDT

A new third-party challenger has appeared! Tecmo arrives on NES with two simultaneous launches, both of which more or less fall into the puzzle-platformer genre. Solomon's Key and Mighty Bomb Jack are full of arcane secrets and high difficulty levels. Just the kind of thing a growing video game boy needs in his diet.


Future console first-party SNK makes its NES debut this week, and... well, let's just say there's room for improvement. Ikari Warriors was good and fun in the arcades, and on NES, it exists and doesn't cause your console to self-destruct. So that's something.

Also, a half-look at Bandai's first Power Pad title, Athletic World.


We looked at the original Castlevania for NES; now here is its Super NES remake. Sort of. Super Castlevania IV is kind of like a remix of Castlevania 1 and 3 (which does add up to IV!), but it makes some pretty big changes to the core mechanics of controlling Simon Belmont. On the other hand, it carries over a lot of elements from the NES, too. It's an odd duck in the Castlevania series that doesn't always work but has so much loving detail invested into it that it holds up regardless of its flaws.


Yeah, it's another Konami game... but not just any ol' Konami game. Castlevania is huge for both the publisher and the platform. A compact, challenging, six-stage adventure, Castlevania manages to be one of those rare works that nails its concepts on the first go. It may owe its basic concept to Ghosts ’N Goblins, but this adventure is so much more than its inspiration. The first NES third-party masterpiece.

Direct download: Castlevania_retrospective_Vlad_tidings___NES_Works_040.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 9:58am EDT

Another double-header of sports-themed games, but this time the works under the microscope don't adhere quite so rigidly to genre standards. Instead, both Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball and Super Off-Road take more inventive approaches to their subjects in pursuit of fun... though one of these is definitely more successful in that objective than the other.


A pair of bog-standard sports titles awaits us as the Super NES library makes the transition from November to December 1991. We've already seen takes on these sports (golf and baseball) in very similar formats. What do T&E Soft and Culture Brain have to offer that HAL and Jaleco didn't? If anything!?


Moving on to April and May 1987, three classic arcade games (well, maybe more like two classics and one "whuzzat?") arrive on NES in rapid succession courtesy of Data East and Konami. Konami's two games share a tenuous link in their cold wars roots, while Data East's game is... well, it's weird.


Metroidvania Chronicles gets a new name and look, but it's the same old retrospective journey through the evolution of exploratory action-RPGs and platformers all the same. This time we jump ahead to 1984 and Utopia's treasure-hunting pyramid platformer Montezuma's Revenge. Other games of note this episode: Pharaoh's Curse, Spelunker, Jet Set Willy.


We bid farewell to the Black Box era of Nintendo games even as we welcome an NES powerhouse into the fold. Slalom sees UK developer Rare make its console debut with a high-speed downhill racing game and the most carefully rendered video game man-butts this side of Metal Gear.

Direct download: Slalom_retrospective_Rares_slippery_slope_to_fame___NES_Works_038.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:27am EDT

We're reaching the end of Nintendo's Black Box series of releases, and Pro Wrestling shows why: The NES library evolved beyond the basic experiences contained within the early Black Boxes. In this case, we have a remarkably well-designed wrestling game loaded with personality and memorable characters. Quite a change from all those earlier NES wrestling games... Also in this episode: Brief looks at Soccer and Volleyball.


The NES's third year in America kicks off in fine style with Capcom's Trojan, a fairly faithful (and slightly enhanced) conversion of a Kung-Fu style arcade hack-and-slash brawler. It's an interesting nexus for Capcom's history, and a promising start for NES's 1987 lineup.

Direct download: Trojan_retrospective_Apocalyptic_measures___NES_Works_036.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:21am EDT

The second volume of Game Boy Works comes to a conclusion (look for the book this fall!) with a look at the system's first Zelda-style game. Uhhh… kinda. Rolan's Curse offers a glancing tangent to the top-down action-RPG, but there's not a lot of substance here — just the appearance of the thing.

Direct download: Rolans_Curse_retrospective_Hackneyed_slash___Game_Boy_Works_112.mp4
Category:Video Games -- posted at: 8:19am EDT

Taito arrives on Super NES with a splash. Well, it should be a splash... you know, because of all the fish bosses. But they're actually in outer space? Darius is weird. But that's OK, because this Darius balances its quirkiness with the silkiest, smoothest action yet seen on the console. It's the cure for the common slowdown, and all it took was... not using any of the console's unique hardware features. Oh well!


Another Game Boy follow-up to an NES game appears this week, and it's just as compromised and frustrating as you've come to expect. The Rescue of Princess Blobette consists almost entirely of recycled material from A Boy and His Blob, but it's a much smaller game — and a more limited one. And slower. And more cramped. And it sounds a lot worse. But on the plus side, uh… well, it won't melt down your Game Boy, probably. So that's something.


The Makaimura/Ghosts ’N Goblins series makes its debut on a third Nintendo console, and yeah, it's every bit as harsh as you'd expect. But is the beauty of the game's visuals and the intense satisfaction of finally reaching the next checkpoint enough to make it worth the suffering?


And here at last we reach the end of this retrospective saga with a look at how Final Fantasy's fourth installment reworked the raw materials of its 8-bit predecessor to present a new and completely holistic take on the role-playing genre.