Thursday, June 27, 2019

Super Retro Recharge

If at first you don't succeed, make your customers eat the cost of your mistake. That seems to be the mantra of Nintendo, whose Wii U was a clumsy dress rehearsal for the more popular Switch, and Retro-Bit, which addressed the issues of its Super Retrocade with a revised firmware... that you could only get by purchasing the system all over again. Admittedly, the Super Retrocade was one of the better off-brand mini consoles available, and included dozens of obscure games from long-dead companies; the kind of goodies that draw in nerds like flies to sweet tupelo honey. (What the heck is a "tupelo," anyway? Ask Van Morrison.) 

It's not perfect, but good luck getting a copy
of Holy Diver for the same price.
(image from NewEgg)
The Super Retrocade was good value for the money, but it wasn't so nice I'd buy it twice. That's less money in my pocket that could be invested in the upcoming Sega Genesis Mini, and it's less space in my already cluttered computer room. Yet breaking out the wallet seemed to be my only option if I wanted to get the improved performance and the clean graphics that should have been on the system from the start. What to do, what to do?

My first instinct was to drop kick the miserable thing into the closet and go back to my Raspberry Pi. Luckily, there was a solution without the risk of property damage and a sprained big toe. Enter GBATemp, the console hacking forum which previously rescued my AtGames Genesis HD from a long dusty life in the corner of my collection. Member Kuwanger found a way to install the new firmware on old Super Retrocades... you just had to find it, because Retro-Bit sure isn't going to give it to you*, then get your hands dirty with some old-school Linux commands. Also, set your eyes to maximum squint, because that ancient PC font isn't easy to read on a television set.

Back, accursed bilinear filtering!
Back to the depths with you!
It's not quite as simple as writing a file to an SD card, popping it into the Super Retrocade, and switching it on, but the results are worth the extra work. An SRC running firmware 1.1 supports games for more consoles, is compatible with more controllers, and gives players the option to switch off graphics smoothing for console games, making them more attractive than when the system was launched in late 2017. It's not quite good enough to dissuade me from getting that Genesis Mini, but it should keep me busy until the system hits stores in November.

* I'm not gonna give it to you either. Do some detective work.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Apple for the Kvetcher

Yes, that's Yiddish for "complainer." No, I'm not the slightest bit Jewish, but it's a fun language. You'd think the community that gave us Yiddish and Albert Einstein and Einstein Brothers bagels and The Three Stooges would get a little more respect from the rest of us, but nope, you still hear about synagogue shootings every couple of months. Frankly, it kind of blows.

That's off topic, though. A few days ago, I bought a fourth generation iPod Touch from Goodwill's auction site. It's supposed to arrive in the afternoon, and while it's grossly outclassed by my current Android phone, I'm still looking forward to getting it. Why? Well, I originally owned the first iPod Touch, and there was a lot of software that just wouldn't work with that system. Android casts a fairly wide net with its own cross-device compatibility, but things work differently on iOS. Once a new generation of iPods is released, the previous generation is forsaken by developers.

That would include the fourth generation iPod Touch, of course... it's nine years old, and was disowned by Apple six years ago. However, there were a lot of games that I owned in 2011 that either didn't run well on my first iPod Touch, or didn't run at all. Pretty much everything I purchased on iTunes up to when I switched to an Android device in 2012 should function. That includes both games that never made the jump to Android (Street Fighter IV Volt) and ones that look and play better on iOS (Forget-Me-Not).

Even if I can't get my old library of games on this iPod Touch (I don't know if I remember my iTunes password or even what E-mail address I used; it's been a really, REALLY long time), I can still use it as a music player. Even the crusty first model was pretty good at music playback, and I imagine the experience will be that much better with a built in speaker and a high resolution display. Also, since it's an earlier model, I don't have to futz around with a Lightning cable or worry about iCloud locking me out of my own system. The Apple Store won't unlock it unless you've got a receipt, and somehow I doubt they're going to accept a proof of purchase from Goodwill.

Not shown: hundreds of deer eager to be
crushed by your station wagon.
Speaking of mobile technology, I managed to get Playstation Mobile working again on my Vita, granting me access to its modest library of simple but creative games. Games like Oh, Deer! Alpha, which combines OutRun with the distinctly Midwestern experience of flattening a white tail that was too stupid to wait for your car to pass. Hermit Crab in Space, where you blast cuboid ships and add their weapons and thrusters to your own craft. Rock Boshers DX, which tries very hard to convince you that you're playing it on a ZX Spectrum. And Chaos Rings, which is... over six hundred megabytes in size. So much for keeping things simple.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Shift into Turbo

(ignore the "to Wii U" part)
Welp, that's the end of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. However, it left us with an earth-shaking, jaw-dropping, pants-soiling revelation... Konami is planning a mini console that plays games from the Turbografx-16 library. Why Konami? They bought Hudson Soft, the previous owner of the console and its library, fifteen years ago. Why a mini Turbografx? It's the current fad... bite-sized consoles are easy to manufacture and a quick way to cash in on the nostalgia of gamers. What games will be included? Konami is being coy about this... they've revealed just six so far, but we do know that it'll play both Turbochip and CD-ROM games. Games like R-Type!

And Ninja Spirit!

And Dungeon Explorer, which, uh...

I don't know what to say about that one. We don't know what else we'll be getting, beyond the six games Konami mentioned in the press release. Hopefully they'll pass on duds like Vigilante.

And for that matter, China Warrior, which launched with the PC Engine in 1987.

If we're lucky, perhaps we'll get Hudson's Zeld-a-like Neutopia.

Uh, Clyde, that was Neutopia. If Konami is feeling really generous, maybe they'll put their differences with Capcom aside and give us Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.

You know, because Guile says "Ru-Paul" when he's knocked out in one of the later games. Now you made me explain the joke! I hope you're happy!

Will the Turbografx-16 Mini be one of the better mini consoles available, or just another AtGames-caliber dud? Who cares... it gave me an excuse to recycle all these old Miiverse drawings.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bring Out Your Dead

Honestly, I don't care much about what's been revealed at E3 so far. However, one announcement resonated with me, for all the wrong reasons. Microsoft has declared that after four years and entirely too damn many Call of Duty games, backward compatibility for the Xbox One is over. Done. Kaput. Pushing up daisies, sleeping with the fishes, taking a dirt nap six feet under while biting the dust... feel free to choose your own crass death metaphor.

Yes, I understand that Microsoft's next game console will pick up where the Xbox One left off, and yes, I realize there are six hundred Xbox and Xbox 360 titles available. Nevertheless, there could have been more of them, and better choices. It got a little aggravating waiting week after week with an empty cup, waiting to be served something nourishing, only to end up with another bowl full of Hitman. 

You wanna know how many Splinter Cell games were made backward compatible? Seven, counting four for the original Xbox. Guess how many Call of Duty games we got? Ten. How many Darkstalkers games did we get? Not Darksiders; Darkstalkers, the fighting game with monsters in it. That'd be zero. What about Mortal Kombat 9, the game that revived the series after several failed attempts by Midway to take it into the third dimension? Nope, didn't get that either.

Maybe I should be grateful for what we did get. King of Fighters XIII was released eventually, just a few months short of the cut-off point, and there were several other fighting games and retro compilations made available through the magic of backward compatibility. I'm relieved that Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, the first two Soul Caliburs, and Midway Arcade Origins squeezed through the gate before it slammed shut. 

Nevertheless, I resent Microsoft's "slow drip" method of backward compatibility. How many games will be offered this week? Will there be anything you'd actually want to play? Will you get anything at all, or will Microsoft skip a week? It's better than having to shell out sixty dollars for a "remaster" of a game you already own, but it nevertheless feels manipulative. It's a carrot and stick situation, where you keep coming back week after week for the vague promise of a game you may never actually get to play on the latest hardware.

Backward compatibility wasn't always like this. In the 2000s, if you bought a next generation system, be it a Game Boy Advance or a Nintendo Wii or a Playstation 2, playing your old games was as simple as popping them into the new system. You didn't have to cross your fingers and hope that your favorite game would work someday... it just did, whether it was a mainstream title like Splinter Cell or something obscure, like Chibi-Robo or Intelligent Qube.

But hey, why give the consumer the power to make their own choices when you can string them along for a few years, using games they already own as bait? Now if you'll excuse me, I need to dust off my Xbox 360 so I can play some Mortal Kombat 9. It's obviously not going to happen any other way.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Deluxe Treatment

And here I was thinking I wouldn't get a chance to post this picture again! Anyway, Microsoft is offering a new "Ultimate Game Pass" subscription, which combines their Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass services. At $14.99 per month, it costs more than either Gold or Game Pass, but is less expensive than the two of them together. If you really want to save some money, Cheap Ass Gamer has your hook-up... one of its members discovered that when you sign up for Ultimate, your remaining months of Gold and Game Pass are transferred there, effectively doubling their value. 

Say you just bought one year of Gold and one year of Game Pass. Switching to the premium service gives you two years of Ultimate, so you'll have both online gaming and a small pool of free Xbox games for twice as long as you otherwise would have. You can get up to three years of Ultimate using this trick... some CAG members were able to stretch out their subscriptions to 2021 by purchasing a couple years of Gold, then switching to Ultimate. There's no telling if this was an unintentional goof on Microsoft's part, so you'd better get in on this deal quickly!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Well Played

E3 is almost here, and as promised, Sega has revealed all of the games for its upcoming Genesis Mini. Here's what's on tap for America, courtesy of the official Sega Genesis Mini web site:

Ecco the Dolphin
Castlevania: Bloodlines
Space Harrier II
Shining Force
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Toejam & Earl
Comix Zone
Sonic the Hedgehog
Altered Beast
Gunstar Heroes
Castle of Illusion
World of Illusion
Thunder Force III
Super Fantasy Zone
Shinobi III
Streets of Rage II
Earthworm Jim
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Contra: Hard Corps
Beyond Oasis
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Golden Axe
Phantasy Star IV
Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Sonic Spinball
Wonderboy in Monster World
Virtua Fighter 2
Alisia Dragoon
Dynamite Headdy
Kid Chameleon
Light Crusader
Monster World IV
Eternal Champions

and here's a couple of extra surprises for good measure:

Sega Tetris

It's an excellent selection overall, barring a few questionable choices like the doomed to fail port of Virtua Fighter 2 and Sonic Spinball, which helped get the ball rolling on the infamous "Sonic Cycle" of hopefulness followed immediately by crushing disappointment. About two thirds of the titles are repeated in the Japanese version of the console, with the more Western games replaced with Genesis ports of Snow Bros. and Slap Fight, among others. 

Personally, I find the Japanese selection more appealing... they're getting Rent-A-Hero, Assault Suits Leynos, and Yu Yu Hakusho, and we're not. However, several under the radar Genesis games are coming to both territories, including Gunstar Heroes and Alisia Dragoon, one of my favorites from the early 1990s. It's nice to see that game finally getting some love after all this time, even if it's not quite as good as I thought it was back in 1992.

But let's talk for a minute about the two games released exclusively for the Genesis Mini. Sega Tetris is a retooled version of the Mega Drive game that was nearly blotted out of existence by Nintendo and its exclusivity agreement with ELORG, the technology branch of the Russian government. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexey Pazhitnov is free to license his game to whoever he pleases, giving Sega a chance to release Sega Tetris without interference from its rival. 

However, that wasn't good enough for M2. Word on the street is that they're going to rewrite the code to make it more faithful to the Tetris arcade game. No, not the one Atari did, but Sega's own version, released in Japanese arcades and full of digitized backgrounds that look like Windows 3.11 wallpapers now, but must have been impressive thirty years ago.

Darius is an even bigger surprise. Sega could just as easily have given us the Genesis port of Sagaia, which was finished a quarter of a century ago and given straight eights by EGM's review crew. However, they decided to give us the original game instead, most likely due to its popularity in Japan. M2 is taking the credit for the port, but a recent Kotaku report suggests that they just bought the code from a hobbyist programmer named AC Hidecade, who was already finished with a Genesis port of Darius. The icing on this already strange cake is that Hidecade wasn't the only one working on a Genesis version of Darius... RaelX16 had posted an early work in progress of his OWN port on YouTube years ago! Curiouser and curiouser...

Anyway, the Sega Genesis Mini is scheduled to be released on September 19th, roughly a month after the thirtieth anniversary of its US launch. It'll cost eighty dollars, and just like the original, you can accessorize it with useless plastic junk that just takes up space. (No, I'm still not over that whole 32X mess. I don't care that it was twenty-five years ago.)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Matter of Restraint

I went down to Sierra Vista yesterday, and grabbed a buttload of stuff while I was down there. Here, have a look!

From left to right, we have a bootleg copy of Mega Turrican for the Genesis, the original Die Hard Trilogy, The Great Mouse Detective, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Super Mario Bros., The Last Starfighter, Galaxy Quest...

(draws a deep breath)

...the Sergeant Bilko TV series, two seasons of Adventure Time, five seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a pair of Turtle Beach headphones, which can be used with an Xbox 360 if you've got the engineering degree to figure out the connection schematic. Not shown is an air fryer, procured for ten dollars. It's how all the cool kids are cooking these days. (Just don't use it around your pet birds if you happen to have them.)

You'll probably notice a distinct lack of video games in this haul. It wasn't necessarily by design, but it's probably for the best, because I think I've got way too much crap already, and what I wanted to buy was going to add a lot of bulk to that manure pile. 

Take for instance the Arcade1Up cabinets currently sold at Wal-Mart. The price of these kits has been sharply reduced from a "no way in hell" three hundred dollars to a "I don't need it, but..." seventy five. The id of my collector's brain would love to have one of these. The superego is sticking with "no way in hell," and the ego concurs. They're not well made- the spinner on the Asteroids unit is atrocious, judging from the demo unit I tried- and beyond that, I just don't have the room in this trailer for it. I'm not even sure I have room for what crap I already have, so clearance priced or not, the cabinet remains on the shelf.

I gave more serious consideration to the Playstation Classic, which had its price slashed to a little over twenty five dollars in a sale at Target. Again, it's not a great product, but this lackluster mini console gets a whole lot better when you put RetroArch on a flash drive and stick it into the system's USB port. Again, I don't need this, considering that I already own a Raspberry Pi, a Super Retro-Cade, and that AtGames Sega Genesis from a couple years back. Nevertheless, my id would have won this battle if it hadn't been for the fact that the Sierra Vista Target had already run out of stock days before I got there. I was mildly disappointed, but just as relieved that I didn't waste my space and money on a system I already bought three times before with a different shell.

There's an internet celebrity named Marie Kondo... I haven't done much research on her, but from what I can tell, she's kind of an interior decorator, and kind of a life coach. She advocates paring down your physical possessions to lighten your emotional burden, and while I'm usually suspicious of people who claim that giving away what you own is a path to spiritual enlightenment, I'm starting to wonder if I may be toeing the line between collecting and hoarding. I'm reluctant to get rid of what I already own- even the stuff I don't really need- but I certainly don't need more of it.

I have a friend who had to sell most of his own sizable collection fifteen years ago to move to California. He's now a successful game journalist, so that decision, as painful as it must have been at the time, clearly worked out for him. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if there was a fringe benefit in throwing all that ballast overboard. Now it's someone else's problem.