Sunday, March 27, 2016

Golden Axe (WonderSwan Color)

Golden Axe
Sega / Bandai (2002)

Today we'll look at one of my favorite gaming franchises on a handheld system that many may not be familiar with, Bandai's WonderSwan. Designed by a former Nintendo developer & Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi this little handheld never caught much steam outside of it's native Japan. Just like the Game Boy, the WonderSwan started off as a simple black & white console before getting a color upgrade model and lastly the Swan Crystal version. I was able to track down both a B&W model as well as a color system for relatively cheap years ago, but English friendly games are hard to come by no matter what model system you have. I remember finding out years ago that one of my favorite gaming franchises was ported over to the WonderSwan Color and I had to track it down. It took me awhile before I was finally able to do so (and afford the game), but I'm happy to share a few thoughts now that I've had a chance to hold the game in my hands and play it.

First off let me say how much I love the artwork for the packaging. I already own the first Golden Axe game in several varieties and I don't think I have seen this art before purchasing this game. All 3 characters are drawn very well and have that edgy look. The back of the box features some very iconic artwork of the game's villain Death Adder along with some standard fare screen shots.

So what does this game look like on a tiny handheld system you may wonder? Take a look at the video below I found on YouTube of the actual gameplay.

I do have to say that the graphics are better than what is shown in the video. I'd say the graphics are on par with your average Game Boy Advance game. I was playing the game on my WonderSwan Color handheld and the colors are very vibrant. What surprised me when playing the game was the sound quality. The system features one small speaker on the upper right hand corner, but it just belted out the iconic Golden Axe theme music when the titled rolled onto the screen. The controls are also pretty good on this system.  It's a little odd getting used to using 4 buttons in the layout of a plus when most of us are used to having a solid plus shaped piece of plastic for movement of the characters and such. The jump and attack buttons are also a tad on the small side, but they were very responsive none the less.

If you love Golden Axe then you should love this port of the game as it stays very faithful to the arcade version. The game can be hard to track down and a tad pricey at times, but it is a great addition to anyone's handheld library.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Nekketsu Oyako (Sony Playstation)

Nekketsi Oyako
Technosoft (1995)

The beat 'em up genre has always been a favorite of mine, but it seems after the 16-bit generation there just weren't as many games to choose from. While researching this genre for new games I ran across Nekketsu Oyako and was instantly interested. The game was never released in the US, but it was released for both the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. Already having an import friendly Saturn I sought out the game, but was turned off by it's high price tag.


Enter the Playstation version. Last year I grabbed a NTSC-JP Playstation for cheap and started to look to build my import PSX library. I ran across this game again and was glad to see it's price was about half of what it still goes for on the Saturn. I've actually noticed several games that were released on both platforms always seem to be cheaper on the Sony side.

Nekketsu Oyako comes packaged in the thicker Playstation cases. It seems this was a common move for many of the PS1 games released outside of the US. Some of the Japanese games have the game title in English on the opposite spine, but this is not one of those. My copy of the game didn't come with the spine card either.

Released in 1994 by Technosoft (of Thunder Force fame), this beat 'em up plays and feels a lot like Capcom's Final Fight or Sega's Streets of Rage. At the start of the game you have animated scenes setting up the story, followed by a player select screen. Each character has their own move set along with rankings for Power, Speed and Skill. 

You've got your typical big muscle guy, strong, but slow. You have your female character that is quick on her feet, but not as powerful and then you have your average Joe type character. I chose to go through my first play through with him.

The game has 5 levels total and while you may think that isn't many levels to traverse through, they are of a good variety and of a decent length. Like many games in the genre, there are items that you can break to reveal items that increase your score, replenish your health or weapons to help you take out the enemies. Right off the bat I found my first weapon, a rifle! I was expecting a bat, or chains or something you usually see. This weapon was brought onto the screen from one of the henchmen in the game and was dropped upon being hit. There aren't many shots in the gun and it didn't seem to do as much damage as I thought it would, but it's a refreshing change of pace from the normal weapons found in a beat 'em up.

The first level has you fighting in a park while the second level has you fighting downtown in some city. At the end of each level you fight a boss. None of them really wowed me, but they did whip my butt! This steroid laced woman approaches you on a bridge at the end of the second level, accompanied by a helicopter. If fighting her wasn't enough you also have to contend with the helicopter hovering in the background laying down cover fire.

The third level is where some of the level design charm really comes into play. After you defeat the boss at the end of the second level, you fall to the sea underneath the bridge and are swallowed by a whale, Jonah style! The first part of the third level takes place in the belly of the whale. I had a picture taken, but I didn't realize it turned out crappy so I had to nix it. Inside the belly of the whale you are introduced to our first new enemy, boxing glove wearing bi-pedal octopus. I'm beginning to see why this game never made it outside of Japan!

Once you fight your way through the belly, the whale swallows some water and you are rushed off the screen only to be blown out the blow hole on a spout of water. You land on back end of the whale and are forced to fight on top of the whale now. As I was making my way across the back of the barnacle laced whale, I found a beverage that would replace my health! However when I pushed the attack button to pick it up, I was treated with this 'Adult Only!' prompt. Upon closer inspection that beverage was actually a can of beer! I guess only the big guy character is able to drink beer.

Once you fight this karate looking boss a top the whale, you end up back on land and at a amusement park for the fourth level. About half way through the level you end up jumping onto a roller coaster and are attacked by a lot of the common boxer grunts. With the roller coaster car is going up and down on the tracks and the number of enemies on the screen, this is the first time I experienced some slow down to the game. It wasn't too bad, but having to fight so many guys in such a small space while it was going up and down and all around, it was a little hard to find my character in all of the chaos. 

The roller coaster ends up going off rail and crashing into a mountain. You end up fighting the last part of the fourth level inside what appears to be a volcano and at the end you face the boss, Hammer. He was the most menacing looking boss yet, but was actually a push over.

The fifth and final level starts off on the first floor of a high rise building. Without knowing this is the last level you can kind of sense you are working your way to the final boss just by the look of the building you're in. You do end up re-fighting the level bosses on each floor, but it seems as if they were much easier to take out this time around. When you finally make it to the top, you find this big bald white dude sitting in a chair watching some monitors. The look of this guy really reminded me of the Kingpen from the Marvel Daredevil comics or even a little of Big Boss from the animated/toy series, C.O.P.S.

In typical fashion, he starts off sitting there and lets others do his dirty work. He whistles in large groups of enemies to dispatch and finally after a few waves he gets up to take you on himself. He was a formidable final boss and I actually ran out of continues by this point. This is where I had to quickly change my controller to player 2 so I could continue. This explains my my character changed in the screen shots.

After you finally take him out and start to have that feeling of accomplishment, the final boss reappears dressed in a very 90's comic book type costume. How that rotund boss reappears as a muscle bound character such as this is pretty comical. This guy was tough too and I ended up continuing several times before I finally was able to widdle his health down to zero.

Apparently the building you were fighting in was on floating island in the sky and after you defeat the final boss you are treated to nice little animated scene of the building collapsing and blowing up.

I'm not sure who I rescued and how I got off a floating island and back down to the ground, but the other two characters thought I was dead by their facial expressions only to be surprised/happy to see me walking up over the horizon. The game ends with several more scenes complete with text, but since I can't read Japanese I really don't know what was going on.

In closing I enjoyed this game. The game play is a little sluggish as your character moves fairly slow. There isn't a lot of variety when it comes to your moves or enemies you fight, however I think the level design helps breath a little life into a slightly above average game. The Playstation didn't get a lot of beat 'em ups like this so for that reason alone it's worth adding to your game library. I like the variety of weapons you can pick up, from knives to guns to grenades; my favorite weapon was this bladed hoop that acted like a boomerang when thrown. As long as you weren't punching when the weapon returned, your character would catch it so you could throw it again. I was able to take out 2 bosses fairly easy with this weapon alone.

I haven't researched to see if the game looks or plays any better on the Saturn, but I do know this Playstation version was ported over to the Saturn in 1995. I also know that the PSX version usually can be had for about half of what the Saturn version sells for. Being that I'm new to the Playstation 1 import scene this was an easy selection for me and it's one that I enjoyed. I do look forward to playing through it again as the girl or seeing if my wife will play with me as it is a two player game, however I can the game will have a low replay ability. If you are fan of the beat 'em up genre I encourage you to check this out.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Arcade Works Blinking Light Win

Sometime last year I remember coming across I believe it was someone's YouTube video of a Kickstarter funded item called Blinking Light Win. What it was in a nutshell was a way to fix your original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and eliminate that dreaded blinking red light on your NES when you tried to play your favorite game.

After doing a little research, I found that the company behind this product were called Arcade Works. After visiting their site, I believe I have stumbled across them before when I was researching some Neo Geo AES vs. MVS things. I took a look at their online store and saw they had pre-orders for the Blinking Light Win so I dropped the $30 they were asking and waited...

...and waited and waited and waited some more. Looking back at my original PayPal transaction receipt, I paid for the item at the end of July 2015. Well finally the package arrived two weeks ago and last weekend I sat down to install it.

The Blinking Light Win comes packaged in a small bag, nothing fancy. Inside the bag you'll find a new 72 pin connector, a new cartridge tray, a sticker and a very basic set of instructions.

To get started, simply flip over your NES and remove the 6 screws with a Phillips head screwdriver. Once you have the lid off, you simply unscrew the 9 Phillips screws to remove the RF shielding and the cartridge tray.

I should have taken more pictures while I was installing this thing, but hey I was in a hurry to play some NES games as my console hasn't worked properly in almost a year.

Once you have the original, spring loaded cartridge tray removed you have to remove the 72 pin connector from the main board. This proved to be fairly tough as it had a very snug attachment. Once I got it off, I set it aside and grabbed the new board/72 pin connector supplied in my package. You simply plug it onto the main board where you just previously removed the old connector. Then the new cartridge tray just slides down over the connector. That's it! Now simply put the RF shielding back and screw everything down. Now you're ready to put the top back on and tighten those screws and you're ready to game once again!

Once you have your NES re-assembled, there is a small gray sticker you can apply to your NES that reminds you to not press down on your cartridge. No longer will you have to press down on your inserted NES game. This process is what bent the original connection pins and would cause the game cartridge and console to not properly make a connection. Now you simply insert your game and power on!

Changing games I did notice it has a good grip on your game, but nothing too bad. I would still recommend you clean all your games before inserting them into your rejuvenated NES, but oh how sweet it was to pop in Powerblade and power on the console and it fired up the game on the first time!

I used to use a clone NES, but I was shamed by someone in the gaming community for not using the original hardware. I went out and picked up an original NES, but it didn't take long before it quit working. I'd take it apart to clean it and clean all the games, yet it still wasn't reliable. I went out and purchased the top loader model NES and was going to have it modded for at least composite since I wasn't sure if my Blinking Light Win order was ever going to be filled. However now that I have it installed and I've been using it now for about a week, I'm very happy w/ this product. It was well worth the $30 it cost me to breath life back into one of the consoles that got me into gaming. Now I just wish I hadn't sold some of my harder to find NES games!

If you are curious and want to order your own Blinking Light Win, you can check out Arcade Works' online store and place your order today!