I’ve spent a lot of time this past week visiting gaming retail stores, and I’ve seen the difference between big and small when it comes to size… and when it comes to effort. Smaller stores give their customers excellent service in general, while the big stores sometimes don’t give much effort at all. It’s frustrating, to be honest.
Game Depot was new to me, suggested by a family member, and I’m glad I went… because it’s a great store. Well, it’s a great pair of stores.
There are two locations– one is on Main Street in Holyoke, MA and the other is on Center Street in Chicopee, MA (right next to Video Game Castle, believe it or not). Both locations are adequate in size, though the Holyoke one is a bit larger. Both locations carry video games for every major platform released, from the NES on up to the Wii U. The Holyoke store has its cartridges in glass display cases, while the Chicopee store has some in cases and others out on the sales floor. In addition to carts, both locations carry discs for platforms like the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3. Most disc categories are in alphabetical order, making it easy to find a specific game if you’re looking for one. The carts are a little more haphazard in both locations, so you’ll want to spend some extra time looking to see what there is in case you miss something. Both locations also have some boxed and CIB (complete in box) games for NES, SNES, and Genesis. Retro fans locally should definitely take a look to see what’s available.
Service at both locations is excellent. Staff at both stores took time to assist me in looking for certain games and giving me pricing information when prices could not be seen. I inquired about games that I didn’t see displayed at both locations, and both times I was allowed to look through overstock to see if I could find with I was looking for. What struck me was the service at the Holyoke store– which was busy both times I visited– and how I got smiles each time and how I was given a fair amount of attention despite many other things going on at once. My disc-based games were all correct and my pricing was more than fair.
This is in stark contrast to my visit to GameStop in West Springfield, MA this week, where in-store tasks were more important than my business and open complaints about new company policies distracted the employee enough to give me the wrong games instead of the ones I was buying. I don’t understand how customers in the store and spending money or store credit are less important than titles on hand counts and trade calls to random customers (which is blatant cold-calling and rather rude). Instead of playing Lost Odyssey tonight on my Xbox 360, I have a Lost Planet disc in my Lost Odyssey case that I will not play and must return to the store later today. Smaller stores get the service aspect right in most cases. They know that the most important thing is the money that’s in front of them at the time and not shelf maintenance or random phone calls to drum up business. GameStop, if this store is any indication, does not.
One last note about Game Depot is that the staff is flexible at times when it comes to pricing, especially for older games. If you’re buying a lot of games or maybe spending a lot in a single transaction, sometimes they will drop the price on some games by a dollar or two. While it’s not something that they can always do, it’s really nice when it does happen and those price breaks can add up sometimes if you’re out to make a serious haul that day. This is very similar to how Fantasy Realms, a chain that used to be popular in this area, attracted so many customers. You build relationships with people when you cut some breaks here and there. Video Game Castle has done this in the past, as well. It’s a personal touch that corporate-run stores simply cannot match.
I give strong recommendations to both locations, especially for fellow retro fans. There are a few diamonds in the rough to be found, and both stores are great places to build retro libraries on a budget. Lack of visible pricing on carts in display cases is really the only flaw that I encountered during my visits, and that’s lessened by attentive staff who will work with you and spend as much time as you need to look up prices. If you’re interested in checking them out, take a look at their web page or visit their Facebook page.
I know that, the next time I have money to spend on building my retro collection, I’m going back to these stores. They’ve earned a loyal customer.
Retail Review Grade: A-
It’s been a wonderful and fortunate journey that I’ve been undertaking over the last couple of years in terms of building a library of older video games and consoles.
I started in earnest to build my PlayStation 2 library about two years ago, while I was still living in Arizona. I added a few original PlayStation games when I could, but it was easier to build my PS2 library while working at GameStop because the games were so plentiful and my employee discount made it even more affordable to do so. I could buy more PS2 games for $50 than I could buy Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 games, and pulling my GxTV out of storage allowed me to play the games on a CRT for better image quality, rather than the stretched out and blurred imagery that would show up on a high-definition monitor. Before long, my library grew into the triple digits, thanks in no small part to really cheap games for a few dollars each… even though many of them no longer had their cases or manuals.
It wasn’t long after that when I realized something: Although I was collecting games, I wasn’t a collector. I was building a library of games to play for years. Not having cases or manuals didn’t matter as much to me as having access to the games and being able to play them when the idea struck me. As soon as I came to this conclusion, my library count accelerated as I bought any games that looked like they were a decent deal.
As of this writing, my PlayStation 2 library is over 425 discs in size. Some discs are doubles, with one disc complete in case with manual and the other just a standalone disc. Some games are in their original cases, and still others are complete in cases. I have a lot of games without cases, too– more than 185, in fact. I have two small bins that I use to store the games without cases, and two plastic drawer units that I keep the games with cases in. The drawers are full enough that I have to take some out of a drawer at times when I want to get to or play something in the back of the drawer. It’s problematic, but a pleasant problem to have.
My library of original PlayStation games is more than 130 discs in size, not including digital PlayStation games that I’ve purchased from the PlayStation Store over the years for the PlayStation 3. I’d like to expand this library further, but games are harder to find locally and disc-based media is susceptible to scratch and label damage. I get nervous at times buying PlayStation games second-hand; while I’ve had reasonable success with purchases working properly, a few discs do not and just sit in the library. Video Game Castle in nearby Chicopee, MA, has a decent selection of PlayStation games… although their price points are a bit steep. I might try to expand my search this summer south of the Massachusetts border into Connecticut.
Last year, as many of you know, I added several consoles to my library: NES, SNES, Genesis, and Gamecube. My NES library is over 60 games in size, while my SNES and Genesis libraries are over 50 games each. My Gamecube library is still small– less than 20– but I’ve managed to secure many of my favorite games for the platform already. I received a Nintendo 64 as a gift earlier this year, and that library is approaching 20 titles as well. I’m still looking to get NBA Hangtime and NFL Blitz for the N64, but have been holding off until I can secure some memory paks to save game data on.
I’ve been fortunate to have friends who have helped me build this library by donating consoles and games, and I’m extremely grateful for that. It means a lot knowing that they find my undertaking worthy enough to add some items to. My NES, Nintendo 64, and Gamecube were all donations or gifts, as have several games in my library. I can’t put into words what it means to be the benefactor of such generosity, except to say that I’ve spent time playing and enjoying every gift and donation that I’ve received, and I’m very appreciative.
I still have consoles on my radar that I’m hoping to add at some point, though it’s hard to do when unemployed. I’d love to get a SEGA CD to attach to my Genesis and fire up some classic FMV games as well as hit the ice with NHL ’94 on disc. I’d also like to add an original PlayStation to my arsenal; while the PS2 does the job for most titles, I prefer playing PlayStation games on original hardware. Xbox and Dreamcast are on the radar too, but not quite as high on the priority list.
Even as the curtain fully rises on this new generation of consoles, I’m still going to spending a lot of time trying to expand my retro library. I find it very enjoyable to find decent deals or pick up games on the cheap that I’ve never played before. Tag sales, thrift stores, and flea markets can offer surprises and the thrill of discovery that we just can’t have when buying games for new-gen or last-gen platforms. I think those are a couple of reasons why I enjoy this so much, along with reliving different time periods in my life and associating certain memories with certain games.
So… no, I’m not a collector. No case? No instructions? Not sealed? Got a few scratches or scuff marks? No matter. If it plays and can add to my library for future enjoyment and fun, it’s got a place in my library. Yes, even all of the sports games that nobody wants anymore. It’s a library that I’m very proud of, and will probably be my legacy after I’m dead and buried.
I’m more than okay with that, too.
With this console generation coming to a close, and with the strong likelihood that this will mark the end of buying modern consoles for me, I thought I’d look back and rank my top five consoles of all time. These are my rankings, my criteria, and my words. Your mileage can and will certainly vary.
5. Nintendo 64: I recently wrote an entire piece about the Nintendo 64 and why it’s the console that I’m hoping to add to my collection next. Interestingly enough, many of my favorite N64 games were third-party offerings, which is something that I really haven’t been able to say about a Nintendo platform since then. Aside from RPGs, which the PlayStation really dominates, the N64 has a decent variety of games to choose from. Great platformers, solid coin-op conversions, a few quality first-person games, a couple of really good Star Wars games, and more. I have more than a few fond memories of the platform, even though I took it for granted when I had it during the late 1990s.
4. Dreamcast: It was a short but eventful and highly enjoyable run for SEGA’s final hardware platform. My favorite memories of the Dreamcast are of the arcade-perfect coin-op conversions that we saw for it. Midway ported NFL Blitz 2000, Hydro Thunder, and NBA Showtime and it was like having the arcade machines in my apartment. Crazy Taxi and Virtua Tennis were fantastic, too. I can’t forget about SoulCalibur, either; that game still holds up more than 13 years later. Dreamcast original games like Shenmue, Seaman, Metropolis Street Racer, Skies of Arcadia, and others expanded the experience beyond arcade roots and blew my doors off. The 2K sports games were also noteworthy. It’s a shame that the Dreamcast couldn’t hang in there a bit longer, but I’ll always look back on it fondly.
3. Super Nintendo Entertainment System: It was tough to decide between the second and third spots, but the Super Nintendo gets the third spot. The SNES represents a lot of personal firsts: the first console I ever bought on my own, the first RPG I ever played (Final Fantasy II), the first Castlevania game I ever played, and the first time I (irresponsibly) chose buying a game over paying bills (Street Fighter II). The games were (and still are) are generally good to great, the controller was arguably the basis of controllers that would come later, the sound was amazing for the time, and Mode 7 graphics showed us things that we’d never seen before with scaling and rotation. A surprising number of SNES games still hold up well nearly 20 years later, too. The Genesis might have done a few things better in terms of CPU speed and fewer instances of slowdown, but to me, the SNES was the winner of the 16-bit war.
2. PlayStation 2: After being impressed by Sony’s first console, I was prepared to be impressed by the PlayStation 2. The Dreamcast held my interest at first, though… and it wasn’t until the Dreamcast’s demise that I finally jumped on board the PlayStation 2 train. From that point on, in February of 2001, I was hooked and haven’t looked back since. It wasn’t the most powerful of the platforms during its generation, but the variety of games available for the PS2 was unmatched. Arcade ports, quirky titles, RPGs, music/rhythm games, sports games, racing games, action games, compilation discs, and many more genres all found homes on the PS2. It was still the exclusive home for Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken, Ace Combat, and other major IPs while also playing games like Mister Mosquito, Mad Maestro, Katamari Damacy, and several more. Backwards compatibility also means that the also-great library of games for the original PlayStation is largely playable and adds to the huge number of games available. The PlayStation 2 will be awesome for many years to come.
1. Nintendo Entertainment System: To me, the Nintendo Entertainment System really marked the beginning of several things. It was the beginning of the merge into mainstream culture that video games had never seen before. It was the the beginning for series like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and others. It was also the beginning of my genuine fascination with consoles and a gradual move away from arcades to arcade-at-home experiences. The NES controller is a picture of simplicity with its two face buttons and directional pad. Many NES games are highly accessible, although the difficulty curve on some of them can be daunting. Some of my first attempts at writing video game reviews were based on NES games, so the platform has personal significance in that regard, too. Perhaps the most important thing is that I find the games to still be highly enjoyable, even some 25 or more years later. NES games may not be the prettiest-looking games, the passwords may be miles long at times, there may be an inordinate number of princesses that need saving, and the games may not be complex by today’s standards… but I can honestly say that the NES is the one system that I’d take if I was left on a deserted island or if I had to choose one platform to play solely for the rest of my days. To me, that alone earns the NES its #1 spot.
So, there you have them: my top five consoles of all time. For what it’s worth, the Genesis is in the sixth spot, just outside of the rankings and based solely on its sports games. I didn’t include handhelds on this list.
I open the floor to you, if you’d like. What are your top consoles of all time? List as many or as few as you’d like in the comments below. Feel free to cite reasons, too– it makes list entries more fun and I’m certainly interested in your reasoning. Have fun with it… and thanks a lot for reading my own list.
I decided to do a little something different today, and cover several games at once in a genre that I adore: Pinball. The NES was home to several different pinball games and derivatives, and I spent my WedNESday playing five of these. I’m going to rank them from worst to first. (Note: High Speed is not included on this list as I don’t have it in my collection.)
5. Rock ‘N Ball (NTVIC, 1989)
Rock ‘N Ball is less a pure pinball game and more a pinball derivative. In addition to a basic pinball table, variations on gambling, hockey, and soccer themes cover the other three gameplay options. The game is a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of offering, and pinball purists should approach this game with caution. The pinball table is not at all compelling and there aren’t enough features on it to hold interest for very long.
Although the pinball table wasn’t much fun, the soccer and ice hockey sports-themed games were enjoyable for a time. The games feel a bit like foosball, with two flippers a side. One flipper is for defense and the other for offense. There is also a goaltender on each side to block shots and even put an extra kick on the ball to take the opposing team by surprise. These games are best played with a friend, as the computer doesn’t put up much of a fight.
Collectors may want to give Rock ‘N Ball a second look, especially if found with a manual. The game is rated 5 on the Nintendo Age Rarity List, which makes it the most uncommon of the NES pinball games. For everyone else, though, Rock ‘N Ball is forgettable.
Let’s move on to #4:
4. Pinball Quest (Jaleco, 1990)
Pinball Quest thinks outside the box by combining pinball with basic RPG trappings in its RPG Mode, which is this game’s highlight. The story is standard fare: The Pinball Princess has been kidnapped and it’s up to you to save her from evil. Defeating enemies by plowing the ball into them increases the ball’s attack power, but if the ball drains from its current playfield, that accumulated power is lost and must be rebuilt. There are shops that sell helpful items, such as stoppers and extra flippers, but it does take a considerable amount of time and gameplay to build up a bank of funds. While the RPG Mode is a unique concept– something that Zen Studios likely took some inspiration from for its Epic Quest table for Zen Pinball and Pinball FX2– the execution is lacking.
Pinball Quest also offers three more traditional pinball tables for players to enjoy, each with its own theme. Pop! Pop! is a nod to American culture, with bowling, billiards, and lots of stars decorating the table. Viva! Golf takes place on a golf course and has water hazards, sand traps, and mischievous gophers to contend with. Finally, Circus is just as it sounds with clowns, lions, and… a slot machine? These tables are functional and very basic, although Circus has an interesting bonus game to try by lining up the correct shot. The tables are better than what Rock ‘N Ball offers, but are still relatively weak offerings for those looking for more traditional pinball experiences.
Pinball Quest is a relatively common find, and is worth a look for the right price. Your mileage may vary as far as the RPG Mode experience goes, and it’s certainly a departure from the usual pinball fare. It just doesn’t measure up to the other NES pinball games that I played and winds up in the #4 spot.
Now, on to #3:
3. Rollerball (HAL America, 1990)
Rollerball is a very traditional pinball experience. Drop targets, bumpers, rollovers, spinners, and other common traits of a pinball machine are all present here. There is a multiball feature, an opportunity to earn extra balls, and the scoring system is fair. The game also offers a playfield that spans four screens in height. These are all good things… so why is the game only in the third spot?
Well… it’s rather boring.
Rollerball‘s unique identifier is its large playfield, but it’s also the game’s biggest weakness. There just isn’t very good pacing. Playing for 5 minutes feels like playing for for 15 minutes. Perhaps that’s because the playfield is too large, or it could be due to the speed of the ball being a bit slow, but it translates to a lack of excitement or urgency. Rollerball becomes a test of endurance with no real payoff. High scores aren’t saved to the cartridge and there isn’t a sense of accomplishment when all is said and done. It’s fun at first, and stays amusing for awhile, but the experience does degrade over time.
The game’s one redeeming feature comes once multiball comes into play in the top level of the playfield, which occurs after rolling over lit, flashing letters that spell S-K-Y-H-I-G-H and then locking the ball in the upper capture hole. At that point, the race is on to pop a series of bumper balloons before one of the balls drains at the very bottom of the lower screen of the playfield. Multiball keeps you on your toes, but there’s one caveat: If one ball drains from the current level of the playfield, play continues on that one level until the other ball drains. This makes multiball a bit easier to manage if you struggle with tracking two pinballs at once. Unfortunately, activating multiball is a bit more challenging than it should be, thanks to the layout of the playfield’s top level and propensity of the ball to drain through the outlanes.
Rollerball is an average pinball game, with neat features being cancelled out by generally dull gameplay. “Average” puts Rollerball right in the middle of the ranking, at #3.
And now… #2:
2. Pinball (Nintendo, 1985)
The gap between Rollerball and Pinball is slight, but Pinball wins out and gets the better ranking here. Pinball doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but what it does offer is a solid pinball experience that’s engaging and entertaining while throwing in a few surprises. It’s a more exciting game than Rollerball, despite the smaller playfield and lack of multiball. It’s easy to learn the ins and outs of this table, which makes Pinball very accessible to players of all skill levels.
There are two levels on the playfield in Pinball. The top level has several different shots to master, including an orbit on the left side that is worth 2000 points and initiates a neat ball-bouncing animation from the seals on either side of the center bumper. The slot machine just below the seals is started by hitting a shot through the rollover on the right-hand side of the level. Lastly, there’s a target that gradually increases in point value from 100 up to 1000 with successive hits. The center bumper is the big hazard here and its presence forces players to time their flipper shots just right to hit desired targets.
The lower level is more dangerous, in that a drain here means the end of the ball. Five rollover slots comprise a straight flush and neat bonuses if you can hit them all. Drop targets on the far left can reopen the ball entry lane and get players back up to the top level. Rollover symbols between the two side bumpers can activate outlane stoppers, which are important to extend turns. Finally, a bonus game featuring Mario is available by hitting a shot into the hole located in the upper right corner of the level. A trio of bumpers in the middle of the playfield pose a challenge since getting the ball caught in them can wildly affect its trajectory and lead to quick drains down the middle or via the outlanes.
The strategy is simple enough, but the challenge is less obvious until you start playing Pinball for yourself. What comes off as a fairly simple experience gets addictive as your score increases and you start getting the hang of things. For good players who break 100,000 points, the game pulls a nasty trick with the flippers that will surprise you and test your skills more than ever before. Unfortunately, there isn’t a battery backup to keep track of high scores, but that’s what cameras and notepads are for– just as they were more than 20 years ago.
Pinball gets a bit of a bad rap because it does come off as so simple, but sometimes simplicity is better than trying to reinvent the wheel. Don’t overlook this game when putting together a collection. It’s a solid #2, but not quite the best.
So what’s #1, then? I’m glad you asked.
1. Pinbot (Nintendo, 1990)
I suppose that it’s no surprise that a conversion of a real-life pinball machine tops my list of NES pinball games, but that spot is well-deserved. Despite a few wrinkles that RARE put in to differentiate the NES port from the actual table, Pinbot still offers the best traditional pinball experience for the console. Skill shots, ramps, accumulating jackpots, and exciting multiball action are some of this game’s highlights.
The main objective on the Pinbot table is to initiate multiball by completing the set of multicolored lights just below Pinbot’s visor. This is achieved by hitting two banks of targets; one is along Pinbot’s visor and the other is to the right. Once all of the lights are lit, Pinbot’s visor lifts, revealing two capture holes. Locking two balls starts multiball, which challenges players to re-lock one ball and then hit the Solar Ramp located on the upper left of the playfield to earn the Solar Value Jackpot. Once this is achieved, the playfield changes color and the difficulty ramps up… which I’ll get to shortly.
Aside from multiball, Pinbot offers a couple of other challenges and shots that are worth completing to improve your score and earn some extra balls. All nine planets (Yes, there were nine planets back when Pinbot came out) plus the Sun can be lit, starting from Pluto and working towards the Sun. Planets are spotted by either completing a bank of drop targets on the left side of the playfield or by hitting an enclosed target on the right side. The drop targets are easier and pose less of a drain risk to the player if the shot is missed; the enclosed target on the right lies just above the right outlane and, if missed, a rapid drain can occur. Completing all planets and the Sun earns Special, which lights one of the outlanes for an Extra Ball. Aside from the planets, a capture hole just to the left of Pinbot’s visor gradually increases in value from 25,000 points up to 50,000, 75,000, and then lighting one of the outlanes for an Extra Ball. Finally, hitting a lit drop target on the bank of targets to the left lifts the Solar Ramp and reveals an enclosed target that, when hit, awards an Energy Value.
As it stands, Pinbot is an exciting table with lots to do and multiple scoring opportunities. The one downside to RARE’s conversion of this table is the addition of creatures onto the playfield after each completion of Solar Value Jackpot objective. After getting the jackpot for the first time, a blue slime creature gradually makes its way around the Solar System and, when it reaches the Sun, becomes a vacuum that attempts to suck up the ball. If the creature succeeds, it chews up the ball and spits it out, effectively ending that ball. After collecting two jackpots, a winged creature shoots missiles at your flippers. Two hits on a flipper eliminates that flipper until the ball drains. The missiles can be destroyed by the pinball, but if you miss… look out. After three jackpots, a different winged creature flies around and attempts to capture the ball and carry it off the table, ending that ball. These additions are interesting ideas, but they damage the authenticity of the Pinbot experience and arguably sour the experience to the point that collecting jackpots is no longer the best course of action. That’s a bad move.
That complaint aside, Pinbot is the best of the pinball games that I played today for the NES. It was, at the time, as close to having the pinball machine as you could get. Now, of course, you can buy Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection and play a strictly authentic simulation of Pinbot, but this game holds its own as a fun overall experience. I strongly recommend it as an addition to your own NES collection, if you don’t own it already. It’s still relatively common and is very easy to pick up and play.
As you can see, pinball was well-represented on the NES. Six pinball games in total were released for the platform, and High Speed (also developed by RARE and is similar to Pinbot in terms of conversion) is the one of these that I’m missing. These games helped me to carry my love of pinball machines home in a cheap and more convenient fashion, and set the stage for pinball video games that would arrive later. Zen Studios and Farsight Studios have done a great job of keeping pinball alive and relevant in the present day, but it’s been fun to go back in time and relive some of the earlier days for the genre.
Below is a slideshow of pictures that I took during gameplay with my iPhone 4S:
The Nintendo Entertainment System has some memorable baseball games. R.B.I. Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars likely jump to mind when you think NES baseball games, but there’s one title that tends to sneak under the radar when talking about this subject: Bad News Baseball.
Bad News Baseball doesn’t have real baseball players like R.B.I. Baseball does. It doesn’t have the full season mode that Bases Loaded has. It doesn’t have a battery backup to save seasons and stats like Baseball Stars has. Despite missing these things, Bad News Baseball delivers as an accessible baseball experience that’s on the more casual side but still enjoyable for all ages. It’s just fun to play, and that’s the most important thing of all.
Batting, pitching, and fielding are very easy processes in Bad News Baseball. Batting is all about timing, as you swing with the A button. Stats come into play, such as batting average, home runs, and running speed. A batter with a poor average but a high home run count is dangerous at the plate with runners on base, while a batter with a high average and lower home run totals usually hits balls that find holes in the defense. Don’t discount running speed, either. Power hitters tend to be slow, so trying to stretch that single into a double could be a poor decision. Since there isn’t a designated hitter rule in this game, some tough choices may have to be made for the pitcher’s spot. Do you bat him and sacrifice a probable out he’s pitching well, or do you take him out for a pinch hitter and take your chances with the bullpen?
Pitching is also handled with the A button, and strategy is needed to change speeds and locations to keep hitters off balance. Prior to pressing the button to release the pitch, pressing the D-pad up or down will affect the pitch speed. Pressing up will slow the pitch down, while pressing down towards the plate will put some extra heat on the pitch. Once the A button is pressed, the D-pad can be used to select the pitch break. Will it break inside, outside, or perhaps bite downwards? It’s not a lot of depth, but pitching can be surprisingly effective if you take advantage of the changing speeds and breaks to confuse opponents. The one real problem with pitching in Bad News Baseball is that pitchers don’t have a ton of stamina, even though their stats may indicate otherwise. Within two or three innings, pitches lose their pop and bite, leading to advantages for the offense.
Pitching and hitting are fairly straightforward and responsive, but the fielding in Bad News Baseball fares a bit worse. For starters, fielders can be a bit slow and positioning for line drives to the outfield can be frustrating. Some line drives that look to be caught wind up just out of the reach of the fielder and go by, leading to extra bases or worse. There is an option to dive for line drives, but it’s not consistent in execution and sometimes doesn’t work at all. The other big problem is that cutoff men can get in the way of throws to bases, leading to extra time for runners to reach safely. These complaints aren’t meant to say that fielding is broken, because it’s not. It is flawed, however, and there will be at least a couple of defensive plays during each game that will make you wonder what happened.
Bad News Baseball can be played by one or two players. Playing solo charges the player with choosing one team and defeating all of the other teams in the game. Stats aren’t kept, but stamina for starting pitchers is tracked and it usually takes at least two games before depleted stamina recovers. This adds to the strategy element in the solo play mode in terms of determining how hard to work pitchers before going to the bullpen and considering whether to start an ace on short rest because the third or fourth starter is terrible. After defeating each team, a password screen is shown. Like many other NES games, the password consists of various characters, and copying even one character incorrectly can lead to lost progress. If you can run the gauntlet, a neat little victory cutscene airs, with a pretty cool guest star from another popular Tecmo game.
When it comes to visuals, Bad News Baseball isn’t going to blow anyone away. The pitcher-batter matchup screen has the most detail, with decent character models for the batters and less-detailed pitcher models, along with a rear view of the catcher. When the ball is hit into play the screen changes to a zoomed-out view of the field and the players become miniaturized, similar to R.B.I. Baseball in many respects. What sets this game apart from the others in terms of graphics are the cutscenes that are shown after certain events during games. Home runs are followed by one of a random series of cutscenes, ranging from dugout reactions to balls hit so hard that they’re out of this world. Close baserunning plays are also punctuated by cutscenes, and the end of each victory has a montage of team reactions. These cutscenes are fun to watch, especially the first few times you see them, and underscore the lightheartedness of the game’s atmosphere.
The music in Bad News Baseball is fair. Each team has its own background music, which plays during its half-inning at bat. A few of the themes are catchy for a short time, but nothing stands out. The team-specific changes are nice per game, but playing solo and hearing the same music over and over again for your team may get a bit grating before long. There is other incidental music that plays during setup and before and after each game, but it’s generally unremarkable. There is some digitized speech for certain calls in the game, but the rest of the sound is pretty standard stuff.
Despite its flaws, Bad News Baseball is my favorite NES baseball game. It’s easy to play, it’s still fun despite the lack of licensing and the long password system, and everything still holds up well today. Full games can be played in less than 20 minutes and two-player games can be the source of tight competition and maybe even a little bit of trash talk. When playing alone, comebacks are always possible and there’s maybe a bit too much of the longball– but that also makes it a bit more exciting to play. It’s a relatively easy game to find through online resellers and the price is reasonable.
If you haven’t given Bad News Baseball a turn at the NES yet, I recommend giving it a try. It might not have the bells and whistles, but it’s a solid game of baseball that just might surprise you… even if the umpire is a bunny rabbit.
(Credit for gameplay video goes to NESGuide.com, a site that does great work. Be sure to check them out!)
Pro Wrestling is not a bad game. It’s easy to pick up and play. It has a nice variety of wrestlers to learn and to play as. It’s a fun wrestling-lite experience overall.
It’s also a game that’s the beneficiary of a bit of NEStalgia.
I spent a considerable amount of time playing Pro Wrestling recently, and it was interesting to me how my experience went from “Wow, this is a lot of fun!” to “Wow, I’m totally bored. Time to move on.” An unrewarding difficulty curve and general lack of perceived progression became evident after a few matches and Pro Wrestling became more like an Ironman match than a Championship bout. It’s easy enough to keep playing and shoot for what’s considered to be a “high score” in terms of a win-loss record, but it’s more of a battle of stamina than anything else.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Pro Wrestling, because it’s one of the best wrestling games on the NES. Tecmo World Wrestling probably gives it the most competition, and that game came out some three years after Pro Wrestling did. It’s an enjoyable game for a short time, as you work your way up through the rankings and shoot for the #1 Contender spot to challenge for the VWA Championship. From there, a gauntlet of ten title defenses lie ahead before you face the Great Puma, who is the end boss.
Each of the game’s six main wrestlers have his own set of special moves that are in addition to the basics, such as punches, kicks, and body slams. There are moves off of the top rope, whips into the ropes, and fighting that can take place outside of the ring. Considering how old the game is, seeing all of these options is pretty impressive. The fact that all of it is controlled by a D-pad and just two buttons makes it even more impressive. There is attention to detail here as well, like a cameraman that follows the action outside of the ring, lively commentators, and an active referee who patrols the ring during each match.
The problem with Pro Wrestling is that there’s not enough of a hook to keep players interested, especially solo. The challenge isn’t so much getting to the Great Puma and the stiff opposition that he provides, but it’s going through the match progression as each opponent blends into the other. The difficulty curve isn’t sharp enough, and when it does finally challenge players, it boils down to move input timing windows. The computer doesn’t get better; it gets cheaper. If you have a friend to play with, Pro Wrestling fares a bit better. Live competition sharpens the experience a bit. There isn’t a line of jobbers to slog through; it’s you and your opponent, and trash talk is usually an amusing by-product. There isn’t a Championship belt or anything to battle for; the prizes are pride and bragging rights.
Pro Wrestling is a game that’s best played in short bursts. Single-player is fun to a point, and multiplayer is more enjoyable overall. Before long, you’ll establish your favorite wrestler (King Slender is mine) and quickly learn to dominate with him. If you do manage to persevere and meet the Great Puma, be ready for a tough battle… but getting there without giving in to the temptation of moving on to something else might be a bigger accomplishment than beating him and winning the overall title.
It’s been nearly a month since I added anything to my retro collection, but a trip to Stateline Video Games changed that on Monday.
In total, nine NES games, one game each for SNES and Genesis, and two PlayStation games were acquired. I had to make some tough decisions, considering how short on funds I am and with E3 just two weeks away, but here’s what I got:
Baseball (NES): Most people– NES fans and general video game fans– don’t like Baseball. It’s understandable. Players have no control over fielders, there are no stats, each team and player is essentially the same, and it’s a rudimentary game at best. Having said that, it’s also based on Nintendo’s little-known Vs. Baseball coin-op. I have fond memories of playing it in a couple of local arcades back in 1985. The premise of Vs. Baseball was to play as much baseball as you could before the timer ran out. The timer was boosted when players scored runs and lost a certain amount of time when the opponent scored. Unfortunately, the timer mechanic was removed for the home version, so players were left with a basic experience that lost a little something in the conversion process. Ah, well. I still like it.
Bump & Jump (NES): I actually played a port of this coin-op on my Commodore 64 when I was younger and never played the NES port until I picked this up. I either lost a lot of skill or this version is harder. My best effort is still under 30,000 points, so I have a long way to go. I like the mechanic of ramming cars off the road and jumping to clear obstacles is not only a neat idea… but it’s a required skill in spots. I’m a little underwhelmed after a few plays, but am happy that I added Bump & Jump to my collection.
Demon Sword (NES): This game plays a lot like The Legend of Kage, so it’s no surprise that Taito was the publisher. I haven’t spent a lot of time playing this just yet, but have determined that I’ll be reading the instruction manual at some point soon. There are a lot of things about the gameplay that I don’t quite understand, so I need to brush up before giving this game another go. Not sure I made a good buying choice here, based on first impression.
Double Dribble (NES): This is the first of five Konami games that I picked up in this haul. It was cheap ($3), and it’s a very simple game of basketball. This coin-op conversion doesn’t have the epic performance of the National Anthem from the arcade game, but it’s still fun to play in short bursts and no tokens or quarters are required. Obviously video game basketball mechanics improved after Double Dribble, and Konami would later go on to make some really enjoyable arcade-style hoops games including Run ‘N Gun (ARC), NBA Give ‘n Go (SNES), and NBA In The Zone (PlayStation). I like to look back on Double Dribble as one of the better early arcade basketball games, and am glad I found it cheap.
Jackal (NES): This was one of the tough decisions that I was talking about. I chose this over Super C, mostly because it was half the price. I’m happy with my decision here. Jackal is a bit easier to play and still carries shooting and action mechanics that are engaging and enjoyable. My first play was pretty successful, making it to Stage 3 without having lost a life. I think I’m actually better at the game now than I was back in the early 1990s. I know that I have to add some Contra games to my library, but until then, Jackal scratches my war-action itch.
Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition (NES): If you read this entry in my Countdown to 40 series, you’ll probably recognize this game as one of the first NES games that I ever owned. It was part of my big Christmas gift back in 1990, and when I saw it at the store on Monday, I knew I had to have it again. This game was developed by RARE Coin-It, who put together some great arcade and game show conversions for the NES along with some awesome original work. The answers here are a bit dated now, and my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. I’ve since forgotten what the correct questions are, but I used to have quite a few memorized as I played this game often. I’d even forgotten that ringing in to answer a question was done with the D-Pad instead of button input, which cost me some easy money chances early on. For what it’s worth, a Mark Twain question sunk my chances in Final Jeopardy!, which was kind of embarrassing. Anyway, moving on…
Kings of the Beach (NES): While Super Spike V’Ball covered the arcade side of beach volleyball, Kings of the Beach is a somewhat more realistic take on the sport. The characters aren’t as detailed or as large here as in Super Spike V’Ball, but there’s a greater need for strategy in this game than raw power. Rallies can be long, and positioning spikes properly is key to scoring points. There are some neat additions like arguing line calls and kicking sand after bad plays to lend character to Kings of the Beach, but more serious players will enjoy this game than casual fans will.
Rollergames (NES): If I told you that Rollergames was basically Double Dragon on roller skates, you’d probably laugh at the concept… but that’s exactly what this game is. Based on the short-lived roller derby TV series, Rollergames moved the action from the rink to the streets as players had to beat up bad guys and navigate pits and perils. It’s not a bad game, honestly, even if you’re not familiar with the source material… but it’s not unique enough to stand out among other brawlers from the period. The music is pretty good, though.
Tecmo World Wrestling (NES): I have Pat the NES Punk to thank for my decision to grab this. While watching a video of his NES collection, he mentioned Tecmo World Wrestling and cited it– along with Pro Wrestling– as the only wrestling games on the NES worth playing. I hadn’t played this before, and I really missed out. There are plenty of characters to pick from and the controls are pretty easy to learn. Seeing running commentary of the match is unique, and the graphics and sound are quite good. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this soon.
Batman Returns (SNES): When I played this game for the first time back in 1993, I was blown away. Sure, Batman Returns is an obvious Final Fight clone… but this clone has a strong license behind it and is supported by great visuals and a soundtrack that is still very impressive, coming from a cartridge. I can see where the complaints come from; enemies are too similar, the concept isn’t original, and there’s no co-op or multiplayer. At the same time, it’s a blast throwing enemies into benches or windows and breaking them. Grabbing two enemies and ramming their heads together is very satisfying. The boss battles are a bit trying, but Batman Returns makes me smile as much now as it did almost 20 years ago. This was the most expensive purchase of the day, and I ultimately chose this ($10) over the even more expensive Super Castlevania IV ($25). I may kick myself a bit for not grabbing Castlevania, but this has proven to be a worthy decision.
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX (PlayStation): Although I spent a lot of time playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (and its awesome sequel) on the PlayStation, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX was a surprisingly enjoyable alternative. The game’s trick modifier system allows for more possibilities than ever before in an “extreme” type of game. The ragdoll physics engine is amusing for crashes, too. Seeing your rider fold like a cheap tent after a crash or bounce along the top of a train after missing a jump doesn’t get old. A strong list of licensed music tracks complements the experience, and, at $2, it was impossible to pass up.
Demolition Racer (PlayStation): After Reflections left the Destruction Derby license behind, Pitbull Syndicate tried to fill that space with Demolition Racer back in 1999. While there’s some influence from Destruction Derby apparent in this game, certain mechanics were altered to create a different racing experience. A decreasing damage meter, dropping from 100 to 0, replaced Destruction Derby‘s point of impact damage system. In this game, location-specific damage isn’t relevant and the player can focus more on driving and less on where the vehicle can sustain further damage. Vehicle handling takes some getting used to, but the driving mechanics are fairly easy to adapt to after a few races. I wonder what Criterion could do with a Destruction Derby or Demolition Racer license.
There will be more trips back to Stateline Video Games after E3, and I’ll try to share some photos of my next visit. The owner and I actually have some pretty cool ideas that he may implement in the second half of this year, like local retrogaming meetups, possible high score competitions, and more. I think I’ve found my new local home store, and I’ll share a lot more about it once the E3 rush subsides.
I’m shooting for two new Armchair Analysis pieces to hit Popzara Press this week, and then it’s E3 preparation time. If there’s something that you’re interested in having me possibly check out at the show, feel free to drop me a comment. I can’t guarantee that I’ll see it or have access to it, but it’ll be interesting to try. I’ll be meeting with Zen Studios (Pinball FX2 for Xbox 360, Marvel Pinball for Xbox 360 and PS3, Zen Pinball for 3DS and PlayStation 3), to see what the developer is working on and hopefully get a sneak peek at Zen Pinball 2 for the PS3 and Vita while there.
The countdown is on: 2 weeks until E3!
I took a trip down to Video Game Castle on Tuesday with some trade-ins and the last of my birthday money. I was on the lookout for a couple of games in particular: High Speed for the NES and PGA Tour Golf III for the Genesis. I batted .500, but walked away with a lot more than I expected. It’s more than likely going to be my last haul for some time, but it was a dandy.
I did find PGA Tour Golf III for the Genesis. It was a loose cart, but I was happy to find it. This game continued the steady improvement that the series had been making since the original PGA Tour Golf game came out in 1991, offering more courses, gameplay options, and stat tracking than ever before. Want to know what your history on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is? PGA Tour Golf III remembers and updates your average score. The swing mechanic is the familiar three-click system, and the timing is trickier than it appears. If you overswing to increase shot power but fail to stop the meter exactly in the hit zone, look out. Compared to EA’s later years, especially with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf games for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox and the games from this generation, PGA Tour Golf III seems antiquated… but the gameplay really is timeless.
Here’s the full list of Genesis games that I picked up:
- Coach K College Basketball **
- Cyberball **
- Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball **
- John Madden Football
- John Madden Football ’92 **
- Madden NFL ’94
- Madden NFL ’95
- NBA Action ’95 Starring David Robinson **
- NBA Showdown ’94 *
- NHLPA Hockey ’93 **
- NHL ’95
- PGA Tour Golf III
- R.B.I. Baseball 3 **
- R.B.I. Baseball ’93 *
- Super Monaco G.P. (Sega Classics re-release) **
- Virtua Racing *
* – case included. ** – complete with case and manual
It’s funny that Virtua Racing, a game that originally sold at retail for $100, cost me $4. There was also a sealed copy at the store, but at $20, I left it alone.
Sadly, I had no luck tracking down High Speed. I had hoped that there would be a copy available so that I could begin work on a series of reviews comparing all of the NES pinball games… but I struck out. I did, however, find a few gems that I took home. The game that I was thrilled to find, for just $3, was Palamedes. Palamedes is a pretty uncommon find, but it stuck with me as a fun puzzle game during the time that I spent with it. It’s similar to Yahtzee in that you have to create a poker hand, but instead of rolling the dice, you select your hand from descending lines of dice. Depending on how good your created hand is, multiple lines can be eliminated. Once enough lines are eliminated, the stage is cleared and players move on to the next one. NES Guide has some footage of Palamedes and a brief summary, if you want to check it out.
Palamedes was just one of the NES games that I picked up. Here’s the full list of carts I got:
- Life Force
- Little League Baseball Championship Series
- NES Play Action Football
- Rad Racer
- Rad Racer II
- R.B.I. Baseball 2
- The Three Stooges
- Track & Field II
Surprisingly enough, Cabal was the most expensive addition, at $9. I picked it up for a few reasons. First, I used to play the coin-op during my junior year of high school. Second, Game Informer‘s Dan Ryckert has talked about the NES port a couple of times in the past and I knew that I’d have to get it when I owned an NES again. Third, and most importantly, the port is another solid effort from RARE Coin-It, who really dominated NES development. I know that $9 was a bit high for this game, but since I hadn’t seen it at any of my other stops recently, I had to snag it.
As of now, I’m up to 33 NES games, 40 Genesis games, and 45 SNES games. It’s a solid start to my retro collection, and I can now start to narrow down some games to look for. The NES side is where I want to really add some games, but prices are generally more expensive for those games. Aside from High Speed (which is top priority), games like Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, Jackal, Contra, the TMNT series, the Castlevania series, and others tend to hold their value strongly.
That’s it for now. I do have some pretty big news to share, but details are still coming into focus. Stay tuned.
I’ve been trying to land a SEGA Genesis console for some time.
I’m a big sports gaming fan, and the Genesis delivered some of the best sports video game experiences of the 1990s. The definitive versions of Electronic Arts‘ sports games were found on the Genesis in the first half of the decade, but sports fans had plenty of options to choose from. SEGA Sports delivered running commentary by way of Sports Talk technology and the games that featured it were generally pretty good. The Genesis version of NBA Jam had a battery backup instead of the password system that the SNES version used. I’ve been wanting to relive those experiences and memories– and was finally able to land a Genesis after a stop at Stateline Video Games.
Stateline is a smaller independent game store not too far away from where I live. I’ve been in there a few times, and my search for a Genesis was the consistent topic of conversation. Every time I’d visit, the owner would check for a console for me– and we’d come up empty each time. It wasn’t always bad news, though; I’ve purchased many of my Super Nintendo games from there, along with some PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games. The owner is a great guy; very down to earth and he loves video games. That’s a big plus. The store carries just about everything.
When I visited yesterday, things were a little different. A Turtles in Time coin-op had been added to the store since my last visit, and, yes… I did play it. The owner had also added a GxTV, which is the same model I have here at home. After catching up, I figured that I’d try my luck.
“So, do you have any Genesis systems around?”
“Yup. Sure do. You looking for an original model or a Genesis II?”
Holy crap. My luck had changed. I was about to add a Genesis to my collection, which wiped out any disappointment from the dead Xbox that I’d received for my birthday. I now had to start building a game collection. All in all, I picked out 24 games to start with:
- Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf **
- College Football’s National Championship **
- David Robinson’s Supreme Court
- Evander Holyfield’s “Real Deal” Boxing **
- Greatest Heavyweights
- NBA Action ’94
- NBA Jam **
- NBA Jam Tournament Edition **
- NFL Sports Talk Football ’93
- NFL Football ’94 *
- NFL ’95
- NHL ’94
- NHL ’96
- NHL All-Star Hockey ’95
- PGA European Tour Golf
- PGA Tour Golf II
- RBI Baseball 4
- Road Rash II
- Sports Talk Baseball **
- Tecmo Super Baseball *
- Tecmo Super Hockey *
- Tommy Lasorda Baseball
- World Series Baseball **
* – game and case; ** – complete with game, manual, and case
That’s a solid start for me, considering that the most expensive game was $8 (NBA Jam Tournament Edition). Most ranged between $1 and $3. I was surprised at how many games I was able to get complete. I know that sports games are generally pretty worthless, but the point of my collection is to establish a library of games to play. I’m not looking to sell these or make any profit. Collecting these games and expanding my library is part of the fun… the other part, of course, is actually playing these games.
The Genesis I got is the original model, complete with headphone jack. The revised model is sleeker, but I wanted the original. If I can find a SEGA CD (not holding my breath at this point), I’m hoping for the original model as well. I do want to look into getting the three-tail (stereo) component cables for it, but the two-tail cable that I got works fine– especially with the Mono setting on the GxTV, like I use for the NES.
I wasn’t done. I wound up with some NES games as well, and I found some pretty good ones:
- 8 Eyes
- Bad News Baseball
- Blades of Steel
- Cobra Triangle
- John Elway’s Quarterback
- Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf
- Rock ‘n Ball
- Track & Field
I also grabbed PGA Tour Golf ’96 for the SNES for $1, although I’ve since read that it’s pretty awful.
I’m very excited that I now have most of the NES pinball games in my collection. High Speed is the only one that I don’t have right now. Pinbot and Rollerball outclass Pinball and Rock ‘n Ball (ugh). I’m also really happy to be reunited with Bad News Baseball after over 10 years. The NES is home to many fun baseball games– many of which I still need to add to my collection– but Bad News Baseball is my favorite. Cobra Triangle was a nice find, too. It’s a fun companion game to R.C. Pro-Am, which I got for my birthday over the weekend.
As it stands right now, my Genesis collection stands at 24 games and my NES collection is close behind at 21 games. I’m making one more stop today, this time at Video Game Castle in Chicopee. I haven’t been in some time, so I’m hoping to find a few more games before I relax a bit and get to playing. I’m hoping to track down PGA Tour Golf III for Genesis and maybe High Speed for the NES. Anything else will be gravy. I’ll update later this evening with any more acquisitions.
After that, look for some impressions pieces and maybe some reviews on the horizon.
With bad weather expected here in New England today, which is my actual birthday, I was thrown a surprise party yesterday by my family. I got a surprise gift from an online friend late Friday, then hit a flea market with my mother on Saturday afternoon before the party began later.
I was taken aback by how people responded to my love of collecting older video games. I was sent a Nintendo Entertainment System by Chris Poirier, which was a complete shock. It was at the top of my wishlist, and I felt a bit like N64 Kid when I opened the package. Playing Super Mario Bros. on the original NES hardware with an original NES controller is an experience like none other. I had a spare component cable here, so I have a clean picture… and the GxTV has a stereo simulator for Mono sound. It’s fantastic, and I now have a basis for starting a collection of NES games, which I began building the next day.
My mom took me to lunch and the topic of flea markets came up. I had mentioned that I’d recently become a fan of Pat the NES Punk and of his Flea Market Madness video series. We talked about her experiences and some good deals that she had found, and then she offered to take me to an indoor flea market not too far away. I jumped at the chance. Inside, there was a spot for just games. It didn’t take me long to start looking at the NES games. The games were $5 apiece, which is a little high, but I saw lots of games that sparked memories. At the end of the day, here’s what my mom wound up getting for me, as a birthday gift:
- 10-Yard Fight
- Kung Fu
- Pinball Quest
- Pro Wrestling
- R.B.I. Baseball (Nintendo-licensed cartridge)
- R.C. Pro-Am
- Super Spike V’Ball / Nintendo World Cup (combo cart)
- Top Gun
I also got NBA Jam and PGA Tour Golf for SNES, each with dust covers, for $5 total.
It turns out the the trip was a ruse to get me out of the house so that family could gather in my absence and set up the surprise party, which was a lot of fun. One of my gifts was an original Xbox, but, sadly, it didn’t work. It was a hand-me-down and hadn’t been used in awhile, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed when I set it up and got nothing. I also got a couple of hats and a $25 GameStop gift card (more PS2 games?), and it was nice getting everyone together… including a surprise appearance from my cousin Sam, who has played a role in my interest in collecting older games and systems.
It’s been a fun ride and a great lead-in to my 40th birthday, which it is today. I’ve been able to press the pause button on some of life’s troubles over the last couple of days, and I’m hoping to enjoy one more day before my brain goes back to worry mode. I’m thankful for family, for friends (nearby and online), and for you as you’ve accompanied me on this journey over the last few days.