Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part II

Yes, after a bit too long here it is, part two of my new, three-part Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries series. I’ve only got eight summaries this time, but some of them are fairly long so while this is shorter than the first update, it’s still a good-sized article. Next time, the last six games. Several of the part three games are among my favorite games made in the 1980s. None of these eight are quite on that level, but they’re all interesting in some way or another regardless.


Titles covered in this update:

 

Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid

Rankings

The Summaries

 

Mario Bros. – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Nintendo.

Mario Bros. is a port of Nintendo’s arcade game of the same name. Coleco stole home console rights for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. away from Atari in the early ’80s, but Atari did manage to get the console rights to Popeye and Mario Bros. and they released those games on their consoles, the 2600 and 5200. This was the first American home console release of Mario Bros. Unfortunately for Atari, Mario Bros., while popular, was nowhere near the hit that Donkey Kong before it and Super Mario Bros. after it would be. This is a single-screen arcade game and while it is good, it has always been overshadowed by the games before and after it.

Despite that, Atari did a good job with this port. While it is not arcade perfect and doesn’t quite match up to the NES version, much like Popeye, which I covered previously, Mario Bros. is a great version of an early Nintendo classic. This game and its characters look a little funny, but I think the look works. The game plays well too. As in the arcade game, Mario Bros. takes place in a sewer. This is a single-screen platformer and you walk and jump around the four-level sewer. The game has digital controls and only one button, for jumping. Jumping is limited, in that you cannot control yourself in the air at all. What jump you do is determined before you leave the ground. That’s not like later Mario controls at all, but that is how this game plays. It certainly makes things tougher. Additionally, the digital controls make no use of the 5200 controller’s additional features. This game would surely be easier with a digital controller as you would get quicker response times, useful for avoiding the many enemies. I only have regular 5200 controllers and the Trak-Ball, though. The game plays okay, it just can take you a little longer to stop moving than you’d like.

In that sewer, your goal in each screen is to defeat all of the enemies. You need to beat all of them to proceed. Your enemies are Koopas, crabs, fireballs, and various other foes. They start at pipes on the top level of the screen and move towards the bottom. Once they reach pipes on the bottom, they warp back up to the top. Very much unlike almost every game in the series since, you CANNOT jump on your foes here! Instead, you need to hit the platform an enemy is walking on from underneath to stun them. Then you can defeat them with a touch. As in Joust though, wait too long after stunning a foe and it will get back up. Some enemies need to be hit from underneath more than once to knock them out so you can defeat them. There is also a POW block on the screen you can hit from below three times. It will stun enemies. Use this power wisely though, for once you use it up it’s gone. The game gets hard quickly as your foes pile up and faster and tougher to beat enemies get added into the mix. Things may be a bit easier in the two player co-op mode, though. That’s a great feature to have.

Mario Bros. is an addicting classic game. This game is challenging, but it’s easy to see why it was successful. Its sequel would be one of the greatest and most important games ever made. This game is not that, but it is a good game certainly worth playing. Is this version in specific a must-play, though? Probably not, considering how many versions of Mario Bros. are out there, many more arcade-perfect than this. But it is a good version well worth getting if you already have a 5200.

Arcade port. This version is also on Atari 8-bit computers. This game is on many formats, including the NES, Commodore 64 (two different versions), Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NEC PC88, Sinclair XZ Spectrum, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy Advance, and in arcade-perfect form on the Nintendo Switch. The game has only one sequel of sorts, Mario Clash for Virtual Boy. That is a pretty good game.


Moon Patrol – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Williams, the original American publisher. The original arcade game was developed by Irem.

Moon Patrol is another port of an arcade classic. Moon Patrol, one of the early Japanese scrolling shooting games, is a side-scrolling platform shooter where you drive to the right while jumping over obstacles and shooting enemies coming your way. The arcade game is simple, but plays well and was apparently one of the first with parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game has background music too, unlike many early arcade titles. This 5200 version is a lower resolution but very accurate port. Just like the arcade game, this version has parallax scrolling backgrounds and music in addition to the sound effects! The backgrounds are really nicely done. Your tank here is a somewhat funny-looking blob thing, but that’s alright. Having music is particularly great, this system can do music but often games don’t have it. The music is a simple loop but is catchy.

In the game you control a moon tank. This is kind of an early auto-runner or shmup-on-wheels game, as you can’t stop moving, only go a little faster or slower. This version both looks and plays great. It has nice graphics for the system with parallax scrolling, the controls are responsive, and it contains all the content from the arcade game. The controls are digital and not analog, but work well — forward and backward on the stick make you go a little faster or slower to move your tank forwards or back, while one button shoots and the other jumps. Yes, jump is on a button. Take note, James Bond 007… but anyway. When you shoot, one bullet goes upwards to the top of the screen, while the other goes only a short distance forwards. Jumping, meanwhile, gives you good control of your jump. Your tank’s hitbox is large though, so some later jumps are tricky. This is close to the arcade game and is worlds better than the extremely tricky, tight jumping of the Atari 2600 version. Nearly impossible jumps there are easy in this version. To make things even easier, this game has something very rare for an early ’80s console port of an arcade game: continues! And infinite ones, at that. That’s right, when you get game over you can start right off from close to where you died. Your score does reset when you continue, though. When you get a game over your time does NOT reset, however, and if you finish a level with a fast time you get a point bonus. The game rewards not dying.

This game has two difficulty options, Beginning and Championship. Beginning is a single, easier run through the game. After you beat it you move on to the Championship course. Championship is harder and endlessly loops, so each time you finish a Championship course you start again. Every loop is very similar, though. Each loop of the game is broken up into five areas. You start at letter A. After you get to letters E, J, O, T, and Z, you get a screen showing how you did for that part of the game. In the game, you go to the right through 26 sections, each noted with one letter from the alphabet. In some waves flying enemy ships attack you from the skies, and you’ve got to shoot them down or avoid them until you get through to the next letter point. Some drop bombs that can blow holes in the ground you will need to jump over. In other waves, your main obstacles are rocks and pits. You need to jump over the pits and shoot or jump over the rocks. Because of your short forward shot distance, you need to really watch out for those rocks on the ground. Enemies in the air can be deadly, but it’s the rocks and pits that often are the greater threat here. Eventually you will face more threats and some variation on the formula. The game starts out easy, and finishing Beginning mode won’t take long. Championship is more challenging, but with the continue system it’s beatable fairly quickly if you don’t care about your score. Of course the game loops infinitely so you can always play for more points, though each letter’s stage is always fairly similar.

This is a simple but fun game. It’s a game of quick reactions, as you try to avoid the obstacles coming at you while shooting down your enemies. It does not have the depth of a newer shooting game of course, but this is a very fun classic that is well worth playing. The game has very good graphics for the time, good music, and well designed and balanced enemies and obstacles to work your way past. Really my only issue with Moon Patrol is that it won’t last all that long unless you get into playing for score. The game has quite a bit of variety, but with the static stage structure, between the good controls and continue system, unless you want to play this game for score it probably won’t last all that long. Still, however long you play it for some version of Moon Patrol is a must-play for classic game fans and this is a great version of it. You can see how Irem would become one of the ’80s better arcade game developers.

Arcade port. This same version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports are available on Atari 2600 (with very tough jumping controls), Apple II, Commodore 64, PC (DOS), Sord M5, Commodore VIC-20, TI99/4A, MSX, Atari ST, Game Boy / Game Boy Color (packed with a port of the NES version of Spy Hunter), and in perfect arcade port form on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. There are likely more versions of this game out there than that as well. There is also an improved homebrew hack / remake of this 5200 version of the game called Moon Patrol Redux. I haven’t played that one.

 

Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns – 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.

Pitfall II is a very ambitious game.  A groundbreaking platformer when it released in 1984, Pitfall II has a huge interconnected world to explore and a very modern-feeling continue system with infinite lives that send you back to the last checkpoint.  It also is very open-ended and, I would say, extremely frustrating.  This game was first released on the Atari 2600 and this is a port of that version with moderately upgraded graphics.  The 2600 version used an added chip in the cart to get more out of the system, but nothing like that is needed here.  The graphics have more detail, but it is clearly the same game.  Controls are identical, so this is a digital-control game with one jump button and that’s it.  It would control much better with a digital controller than the standard analog pad I have, control in this game can be frustrating with the regular controller.  As with the Atari 8-bit computer version of this game and only that version, though, Pitfall II for the 5200 has one major advantage over all other versions: it has a second quest!  If you manage to get to what is the end of this game on any other platform, there is a whole second half of the game, full of more treasures to find and obstacles to avoid, that is just as big as the first half of the game, waiting for you. That is a very cool addition which makes this almost certainly the best console version of this game, if you have a good controller for this kind of game.

As for the game itself though, Pitfall II is a nonviolent exploration platformer. The world is a rectangular maze of connected screens, and you move around as Pitfall Harry, running, jumping, climbing, and swimming as you try to avoid all of the many enemies, save several people you need to rescue, and collect as much of the gold as you can find.  Oddly, the game scrolls as you fall downwards, but flips from screen to screen when you go between screens horizontally.  Huh.   Your goal is to get all of the gold and then reach a specific point in the dungeon where the end of the maze is.  At that point, you continue on to the second quest where you do this again in a new map.  After that the game ends.  As with the first Pitfall, this game is set in a jungle. The map is dramatically more complex than before, though; where before the game was made of something like 256 nearly identical screens, this time there are fewer screens but each is totally unique, and they are, again, in a rectangle instead of a line. The water areas you can swim in add some variety to the game as well.  There are also many ladders to climb up and down.  These are very frustrating to use though, as you need to walk up to them while holding UP and forward to grab on to the ladder; if you just press forward you will fall into the hole the ladder is in, falling straight down until you hit a floor, water, or, frequently, an enemy who of course kills you instantly.  The ladder controls are finicky stuff.

The ambition is obvious here, and a lot is accomplished. However, I don’t like playing this game anywhere near as much as I was hoping.   First, I mentioned the controls already.  Those digital and one button-only controls are limiting and are not a great fit for the 5200 controller.  I badly wish you could duck, also; that would make this game much better, I think.   Also, this game is sometimes considered to be a proto-Metroidvania game.  It does not have items which unlock areas, but it does have a lot of exploration.  For me, though, that’s as much or more a negative than it is a positive.  I want to know where to go in a game, not explore around randomly until I find all the stuff.  To beat the main game and go to the second quest, you need to rescue two people and find the diamond in the final center area. There are also 28 gold bars and several other things to find if you want.  There is no map or anything here, though, you’ve just got to explore around until you find everything.  That will be challenging, as the game doesn’t even tell you how many treasures you have. Figure it out.  It does have a score on screen, which increases each time you get a treasure, but this score will also go down so it’s not a great measure of progress unless you aren’t dying.

Yes, it will take a lot of practice to figure out the best routes through this games’ nonlinear, open-world design. I know a lot of people like open world games, but as I said I strongly prefer knowing where to go in a game. This game gives you no hints about that, and the route is not obvious.  Still, the world isn’t so large that it feels overwhelming, and parts of it are linear. It is often fun to explore and try to find the gold. I wish that you could save your progress as well, but unfortunately no console games of this time support that so that was not to be. The only saving here is the infinite lives you have.

But even when I am starting to have fun exploring, the constant deaths get in the way.  The first issue here is that the checkpoints are quite far apart and getting from one to the next will take a lot of practice.  Going way back to the last checkpoint every time you get hit gets very frustrating.  Trying to avoid the enemies and not die on the ladders or such can be really tough.  All you can do is walk or jump, no ducking, no fighting back, and enemies are placed to run into you unless you do the exact right movements at just the right spots.  Bats fly just at head level, edging just barely higher at certain points so if you stand at the right spots you won’t die, and such.  Many enemies were placed in order to make getting past them frustratingly hard.  And every time you get hit it’s all the way back to the last checkpoint for you.  While you watch Pitfall Harry float back to the checkpoint, a sad song plays while your points reduce down until you get back.  I often wish I could just fight them to get them out of my way to get to some of the gold, but you can’t. All you can do is just memorize where to jump that gets you over them. It can be very difficult and annoying.  When you do finally work your way to a hard-to-get-to gold bar or person it is quite satisfying and may be worth the hassle, but this game has some definite drawbacks.

Overall, Pitfall II is a classic, but you will need a great deal of patience and memorization to get very far in this game.  I recognize the games’ ambition and innovation, but find this game much more frustrating than fun most of the time.  This is a game of exploration and avoidance, and is both simple and yet complex as you try to find out where to jump from and where to go in order to find all of the gold. So far I have not been dedicated enough to it to finish the game, but it is certainly well worth trying.  Objectively, Pitfall II probably is a very good to borderline great classic.  Subjectively, it’s a very frustrating game I don’t know that I want to play much of.

Expanded Atari 2600 port. Also on Atari 8-bit computers. Remember, only the 5200 and A8 versions of the game continue on with a second half after finishing the original game. Unexpanded ports of the 2600 version are also available on other platforms, including the Colecovision.

 

Ratcatcher [Homebrew] – 1-3 player simultaneous. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (now Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2016.

Ratcatcher is the first original 5200 game from Average Software’s Ryan Whitmer, and I think it could be said that his inexperience shows here. His newer title Magical Fairy Force, which I covered last time, is a mostly pretty good game. This game, however, I find much more, well, average. Ratcatcher is a single-screen arcade style game, though this game is far too complex to have made a good arcade game; until reading the manual I didn’t have a good sense of what was going on. Once you figure it out the game is alright, but has some design issues. First, though, I should mention that control here is entirely digital. Other than using two buttons this game does nothing with the 5200 controller. You could play the game with one button, but it would make an already hard game even harder. I should also say, perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is its three player simultaneous play. You will, of course, need a model 1 5200 to play with three players, but if you have one this is one of the few games to take advantage of those additional controller ports. As a solo game it definitely loses something, versus having other people on screen; this game feels better balanced for multiple people working together than for a solo player. You can play a single player game, though it will be harder.

Anyway, in this game you play as one of three ratcatchers in a sewer. The graphics are sevicably decent and audio is basic. This game is about gameplay, not flash, though it looks alright. You need to avoid deadly obstacles, most notably a massive plague of sewer alligators, while doing as the games’ name suggests and grabbing as many rats as you can. Each level has ten rats in it, and you get only one chance at each one. You must grab five rats before the level ends or you lose a life. Getting all ten sends you to a bonus stage full of points to collect before the next regular level returns to normal. You also lose a life if you touch a deadly obstacle such as a live alligator, a cloud of sewer gas, or electrified water. You get rats simply by touching them, unlike in reality they cannot hurt or attack you. They will run away from you when you walk towards them, though, so some strategy will be required.

Indeed, strategy is the name of the game here. Ratcatcher takes place on a five-floor screen. Enemies will fill the lower three levels, while the top level is generally safe, at least at first. You can move left and right, but cannot jump; your only interaction is to turn some switches. There are several sets of these, water-wave switches in the center and gate-selection ones along the sides. For those side switches, if you stand in front of the switch by the sewer gates on either side of the screen, the two buttons will move selection lights up and down. One button moves the indicator up, and the other down, for quick selection of any of the four floors. If you walk through that gate, you will come through onto the selected floor. Walking in again will only send you back out that same gate, though, so you’ll need to move the indicator again to go back to the floor you came from. You can have different floors selected on each side of the screen though, of course, and doing so is important. You can only change the selected floor at the correct side’s gate switches, though, so thinking ahead is important. This can be frustrating though, as enemies will ambush you right after you go through a gate and there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way you’ll be able to change floors and get through before that enemy gets to you.

You do have some defenses against the hordes of alligators and other threats, however. First, there also is a water meter which rises over time. Two switches on the center of the top level will, once the water meter is full enough, send a wall of water across the screen, one switch for each direction. This wall of water will go out of the floor you have selected with the gate switches on the side and push anything on that floor as far over as it can. If you let the water meter overflow, it will set off a wall of water in one of the directions even if you don’t hit a switch, also. The water will wash away all foes, though washed-away rats are lost and not captured so watch out for that. And last, there are six gates on the lower three levels that you can move up and down with switches on levels two and four. The gates are always there, you can only choose which floors they are on. For both the waves of water and the gates, your ratcatchers are affected; the water will wash you to the side of the screen, and you can’t walk through those gates any more than the enemies can. So you need to plan ahead, though with the random nature of the way enemies appear from the sides of the levels this is difficult. You start with “only” having to deal with rats and alligators, but once sewer gas, electrified rats, and more, are added in this game gets tough.

And really, that complexity is this games’ downfall, I think. This kind of game is best when it is easy to understand and play, but while somewhat interesting, this game is definitely not easy to understand or play. You need to consider which floors to block with gates, when to use the walls of water, and most importantly which floors to set each sides’ portals to, while trying to grab those rats and avoid everything else. And if you miss too many rats, you lose a life, and three lives lost and that’s Game Over. Ratcatcher is a decent game once you learn how to play it and it certainly presents a good challenge, but it is probably a bit overly complicated and frustrating. It is far too easy to die without feeling like you did anything wrong simply because of unfair enemy spawns in a game where you can’t always easily get away from foes. Due to its complexity and challenge Ratcatcher makes a poor first impression. You will lose, quickly, for some time. If you keep going and learn how to play it gets better, though, so if it sounds interesting it may be worth putting some time into, particularly if you have interested other players you can work with, so, say, one person can flip a gate switch while someone else gets the rat without being killed by an alligator right behind it as you would be in single player. As a single player game it is too hard and frustrating. Ratcatcher is, overall, an average game that may be worth a look if it sounds interesting.

Atari 5200 homebrew game. This was first made for the 5200. An Atari 8-bit computer version also exists, I believe. The developer also made a PC version.

 

RealSports Baseball – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

In the early ’80s, Atari started up a new line of sports games and called it the RealSports series. These games try to be more realistic than the early Atari 2600 sports games. There are RealSports games on the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, but of the games in the franchise this one, RealSports Baseball for the 5200, might have the overall best reputation. And after playing it, I get why! RealSports Baseball for 5200 is a great game, and is easily the best pre-crash sports game I own that isn’t a tennis/pong game. This game has some flaws, most notably in how hard it is to score runs, but it is very good and holds up great. Baseball is my favorite sport, and this is a good baseball game.

For reasons why, first, most early sports games were two player only. This game, however, has AI opposition to play against. The game has four difficulty levels too, to cover many skill levels. Even on the easiest setting beating the computer is difficult because of how hard scoring runs is, but there is still a nice skill gradient here. The game even allows an AI to play against an AI, if you want. Fun stuff. The game has a voiced umpire calling the balls, strikes, and outs, too, for a very nice touch. Voiced speech was rare in games at this point and it’s a fantastic inclusion here. Now, this title does only have single games and not a season mode or such, but for this era that is to be expected. There also aren’t named players or teams, just a red team and a blue team, and there is just one stadium. That’s fine, the game has what it needs. For the time, AI and voice make for a pretty good feature set.

As with most baseball games of the pre-crash era, RealSports Baseball for the 5200 is a single-screen game. Later on, baseball games would zoom in and have you basically field on a mini-map, while the zoomed in main screen showed just a part of the field. In this game, though, as with earlier titles, everything is on one screen. This means that the outfield is dramatically condensed down in size; outfielders look like they are standing right behind infielders. The game accounts for this by having the ball take a lot longer to be thrown from an outfielder to an infielder than from one infielder to another, so the real distance is taken into account even if visually it doesn’t look that way. There are plusses and minuses to this approach. On the positive side, I have never liked the zoomed-in-field style of baseball games; I want to be able to see on the main screen where the ball is going. My favorite baseball game is Hardball III, which uses a single screen to show the whole vertical distance of the field. That game is newer and higher resolution and has a much more accurately-scaled field than this one, though, so the distances appear correct on screen in a way they don’t here. So I kind of like this, but on the negative side, the small outfield makes getting balls to drop for hits much harder than it probably should be! Batting is one of the hardest things in sports, and this game makes successfully hitting the ball pretty hard since fielders almost always seem to be standing right where you hit the ball to. The small outfield here gets frustrating. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

For batting, there is not a separate batting screen. Instead, the pitcher simply throws the ball towards the batter, who tries to hit it. You pitch by hitting the upper button to throw the ball. You then can control its motion with the stick while the ball flies towards the plate, though only along the horizontal axis; there isn’t a vertical axis here for the ball. This makes things a little easier, but batting is still hard. The lower button throws the ball to a base, to try to pick off a runner. If the ball is hit the game automatically selects the closest player. You can change players with the lower button and throw with the upper one once you pick up the ball. The game automatically targets throws to the farthest base that a runner is running towards, which can be annoying at times when you want to go to a much closer base for the out, but you can change your target base with the lower button. Defense works well here and after a few games I wasn’t giving up many runs against the easiest AI.

When batting, you swing the bat by moving the stick on your controller horizontally from left to right. You need to have the stick start fully on the left side in order to properly swing, then move the stick at the right time to hit the ball. Your stick movement is fully analog, as you would expect on the 5200, for good control. This control scheme is kind of strange, but it works well once you get used to it. Atari would use this same control scheme in other RealSports baseball games, but it works much less well on a console with digital-only controls like the 7800 than it does here. Once you get the timing down for batting this game is fun, even if it is frustratingly hard to actually get enough hits to score many runs against the AI.

Overall, RealSports Baseball is a great game. Games against the AI do tend to be low-scoring and victory is difficult, but the effort is rewarding and the controls and gameplay very good and well thought through. With two button and analog both supported here, this game makes good use of the 5200’s controller. The voiced speech lines calling balls and strikes are also great and add a lot. This very much is an early title features-wise, but if you don’t mind that RealSports Baseball is definitely recommended. This is great for its time and still is a lot of fun today. It’s even better in multiplayer, of course.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There are games on the Atari 2600 and 7800 with the same name as this game, but they are different games, neither one as good as this one. I covered the 7800 game years ago and did not have good things to say about it. Reading that summary again, I notice that that game shares a lot with this one, they just did everything worse there.

 

RealSports Soccer – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

RealSports Soccer works much less well than the baseball game above, unfortunately. I do not have nearly as much experience playing soccer games as I do baseball games, though I like the sport well enough, but this one… this is not very good. I haven’t played many other pre-crash soccer games to compare this one to so perhaps it is fine for the time, but still, after a match or two of this I didn’t want to go back. RealSports Soccer is just below average, not awful, but there is little reason to play it today.

As you might expect, features-wise this game has one or two player play with four AI difficulty levels. As in RealSports Baseball, player one is the blue team and player two the red one. It has only single matches and no seasons, as with all sports games of its day. The game scrolls on a three screens long field. It’s not large, but with how slow the characters move, that size is more than enough. The game does have isometric perspective for a more realistic field angle than most older games had and some nice player animation as they run around. The audio, however, is very simple and basic. You won’t find any of Baseball’s speech here! Each of the players, either human or AI, starts by controlling one of the two players at the kickoff. The two controlled players have different shirt colors from their teammates, to distinguish them. The ball and the two human or AI-controlled players are always on screen, along with three other AI-controlled players per team that you can switch to. Movement controls are analog, as you would hope for on the 5200, but I don’t think that’s enough to save this game.

For the controls, when you have the ball, one button attempts a pass, and the other other a shot on goal. You can also aim shots high, medium, or low with the 1, 2, or 3 keys on the keypad. When your team has the ball, you always control the player with the ball. When you don’t have the ball, you can switch between players with the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 keys on the keypad. Goalies are automatic and are always AI-controlled, you can only play as the other players. The thing is though, while visually this game is three on three, with, again, the ball and the two controlled players always on screen, as for the four AI-controlled players, when they go off screen they immediately come back on at some random location on the edge of the screen. This gives the sense that there are more team members here, but the game isn’t actually keeping track of their locations; it’s just randomly having people appear when one leaves. When one leaves on the right, the next one to enter will often be on the left. And of course the ball and the two controlled players never leave the screen. This results in a very stripped-down-feeling soccer game.

Worse, this game is slow. The pace of play here is very sluggish and cannot be sped up. This makes the game somewhat boring to play. The game is easy, too. If RealSports Baseball is hard, RealSports Soccer is easy. Scoring goals is easy, and stopping the AI’s team from scoring is maybe even easier. Beating the AI takes little effort on any difficulty. Maybe this is a bit better against a human opponent, but it’s not very fun against the AI. The game does play okay — you can run around, pass to your other players, and shoot on goal — and apart from the slow speed the game looks nice, but with gameplay this slow and easy I don’t really want to. Atari tried for some new things here, with the AI opponent, multiple shot angles ayou can shoot at, and such, throw-ins when the ball goes out of bounds, and more, so it may be a decent effort for the time, but the sluggish pace, lacking simulation, and very easy AI hold it back a lot. RealSports Soccer is a tedious, below average game not really worth playing.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s different.

RealSports Tennis – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

Tennis was the first sport made into an electronic game. At first you had games like Odyssey Tennis and Pong, simple ball-and-paddle games inspired by tennis, but by the early ’80s things had progressed into a somewhat more realistic simulation of the sport. And that is where this game gets a definitely mixed reception. RealSports Tennis has somewhat bland graphics, with a decent but unexciting isometric court and nicely animated players. As usual in the series, one player is blue and the other red. Yes, this game is singles tennis only, not doubles. You can actually give human players three-letter initials if you want, like in an Odyssey 2 game. Nice. There are no courtside graphics, just the green court on a dark red background. It has challenging AI to play against and allows you to play a full, five-game match of tennis. That’s all okay, though visually and aurally average at best.

The controversy here is about the controls. Well, and also the AI. First, controls. In this game, you don’t just automatically hit the ball like you would in Pong Sports / Video Olympics on the 2600. Instead, you move around with full analog controls. You also need to hit buttons to hit the ball, and you need to time your hit well. Additionally this game uses the keypad heavily. You need to press the upper side button to serve, though. Serving here is easy and you’ll pretty much always hit it in bounds on the serve. This button will also hit the ball back the way it came on a similar angle. You can also hit a lob with the lower side button. However, if you press one of the buttons on the keypad instead during a volley, you will hit the ball towards that part of the opponent’s side of the court. Think of the nine numbers as aiming at the nine sections. With this you can control where the ball is going to a much greater extent than you can in older tennis games. That makes this game feel much more modern than its 1983 vintage. However, the way you do it is somewhat clumsy, with those keypad keys, and the controls take some definite getting used to thanks to how many buttons the game uses. I like having the ability to aim my shot, though. I think it adds to the game. The game was certainly designed around it, you will need to aim carefully to get the ball past the AI.

And on that note, the AI in this game is crushingly difficult! While winning games is possible, the AI gets to the ball almost all of the time. You really need to learn the game to be able to actually win sets. Just hitting the side buttons to hit the ball back the way it came won’t be good enough, aimed shots with the keypad are pretty much required. Some luck would help, as well. This is a somewhat slow-paced game, as the ball often feels like it’s moving slowly, but it does pick up at times. The game can get intense as volleys continue. I wish the AI was fairer but I’m sure that is very hard to do well on a machine from the early ’80s. On the whole I think this game is alright, but flawed. I like the greater control you get from being able to aim your shots, but beating the AI is frustrating and this isn’t the most exciting game. It’s a decent game maybe worth a look. The controls will take getting used to though.

Released on Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer. That version looks similar, minus the analog character movement of course. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s different.

River Raid – 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1983.

River Raid is a port of the very popular and successful Atari 2600 game of the same name. One of Activision’s biggest hits this side of Pitfall, River Raid was naturally ported to many formats and the 5200 is no exception. This port is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers port, largely identical to the original 2600 game except for improved graphical detail.  The graphics are much sharper and clearer, this is a nice next-gen enhancement of the game.  However, that’s not all.  Activision did an interesting thing here — not only did they improve the graphics, they also made the controls fully analog. It’s a really nice change which has a very noticeable impact on the game. Or at least, movement left and right is now fully proportional and analog. Speed control feels more digital, as each press changes your speed one notch faster or slower.

Other than that, though, this is River Raid. River Raid is an early vertically-scrolling shmup. You fly a plane in narrow canyons over a river, shooting down enemy ships and tanks and destroying bridges at regular intervals. It was inspired by a famous bridge-attack raid from World War II. This is a simple game, with enemies that only sometimes attack you and relatively simple graphics and gameplay, but it is quite challenging and can be addictive. It is very easy to mess up and hit the walls, and that loses you a life just as fast as enemy bullets do. The game also has a fuel system. Your fuel meter steadily decreases as you go, and flying over fuel tanks refills it. Unlike Konami’s Scramble, you cannot refill fuel by shooting fuel tanks; you need to fly over them without shooting them, instead. Running out of fuel is initially rare, but the farther you get the easier it is to run low. You also will face some more aggressive foes as you get deeper into the game.

As mentioned previously, with many 5200 games, this game is a last-gen port, from the 2600.  Everything looks better and higher resolution here, with jagged coastlines with cliff faces along the edges of them and more detailed enemies to shoot, but it does not push the hardware as much as an exclusive would.  River Raid is no match for the best shmups of the later ’80s, since the game is simple and lacks the depth of a Gradius or R-Type.  In this game you just fly up and shoot the somewhat randomly laid out enemies the game throws at you while avoiding the walls.  Still, River Raid is an addictive classic that still holds up fairly well. This game is not as complex as a next-gen exclusive like The Dreadnaught Factor, but that’s fine, enhanced last-gen ports have a place as well. The shooting and dodging gameplay of River Raid is timeless fun.

Overall, River Raid is a good enhanced last-gen port.  The game is simple, has held up well, and still is a lot of fun to play.  I do find it a bit too simple to keep me going for longer play sessions, but it’s a good game to play here and there.  I’m not sure if the analog controls make this game better than the 2600 version or not, but they do at least make it distinctly different and certainly are better than the game would feel with digital controls on this system’s analog control stick. I think the results are good and make this version of the game well worth a try, thanks to the controls it’s a bit different from other versions of River Raid. Other than that though this version plays the same as the original. I’m sure more could have been done than they do here.  Some of Activision’s games on the 5200 are more impressive than others, and this one is in the middle on that.  Oh well, it’s still a good version of a great game.

Atari 2600 port.  Other ports were released on the Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, PC, and, as far as I know always in its Atari 2600 form, on numerous Activision collections for newer consoles from the last 25 years.

Rankings

These rankings are not absolute, but here’s what I am thinking at the moment.

RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > RealSports Soccer

Including the games from part one, The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Magical Fairy Force > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > Blaster > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > Decathlon > Frogger > Buck Rogers > James Bond 007

Of these, the game I ranked highest that I like playing the least is Pitfall II. I’m giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt for its ambition, clearly.  Based purely on how fun I find it, Pitfall II would probably go below Ratcatcher.

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Four More Summaries of my Latest Mario Maker 2 Levels

Yes, I’m back to another one of those. I may be the only one who cares about my descriptions of my Mario Maker 2 levels, but I still think this is one of the greatest games ever made and don’t plan on ever entirely stopping playing it so long as it is supported. I did take a break from it last month, as I played several modern games one of which I will review, but I’m back to Mario Maker again and made another level.

Before I begin though, I AM playing Atari 5200 games and am working on the next update for that summary list. I was too busy with those modern games to get this written this month, but it will happen soon. I played several games today for it, in fact.  I had forgotten about the fully analog controls in 5200 River Raid… interesting.

But on to Mario Maker 2 level descriptions. As I said in the title, I have four. They are from June, July, August, and October.

In June I made The Climb – Versus. Code 124-T1P-XNG (Theme: Mario 1)

This level is a second take on my level The Climb from a bit ago. I thought that the level’s ‘climb as you jump up around dropping ice blocks and donuts’ concept would work great with multiplayer, so I made this level that does exactly that. It’s the same basic idea, but with four sections for multiplayer versus play and more variety as you climb — each of the four routes up the level is broken into several sections, each a bit different. First you climb with static icicles, then with donut blocks, then finally with dropping icicles. There are powerups to give you extra chances, though I put more at the bottom of each path than the top. The level has eight plays and no hearts, though it does have two clears. Disappointingly, it hasn’t been played in multiplayer versus even once. I know it’s hard by multiplayer versus standards, but still, it’d be nice if it was. I think this level is probably overall better than the original version of The Climb because of the added variety as you go up, but with way fewer plays and no hearts I guess players disagree?

Oh — for design reasons, two of the four paths are jumping along the right side of the shafts, the other two on the left side. I wonder which way people find easier… I found it easy either way, though — while working on and clearing this level I played through all four paths, to make sure they worked, and didn’t die even one single time. I’ve clearly played my ‘the climb’ concept enough that I find it easier than most.

In July I made my next level. This one finally continues my super world, at long last! 2-2: Bombardment Hills. Code 43Q-GC6-5JG. (Theme: Mario 3)

For the few of you who played The Castle, don’t worry too much; while challenging, this level is short, not long, and is nowhere near as hard as that level is. This is a one minute long speedrun of sorts. Basically, you’re running to the right mostly at full speed, jumping over spikes as you go, while a whole armada of Lakitus try to kill you from above. If you stop for more than an instant, they’ll get you. So yeah, the level is frustrating and can seem unfair based on Lakitu ‘where are they throwing the spikes’ RNG, but with practice I figured out how to fairly consistently get through. Most of the level is done without a powerup, as I couldn’t think of a way to give you one that wouldn’t make it possible to probably damage boost up and take one of the Lakitu clouds, something that I don’t want to happen until the end of the stage. There also isn’t a checkpoint because I can’t think of a way to have the Lakitu cloud chase work from halfway; I’d need a second Lakitu cloud, and that would hit the enemy limit and then they wouldn’t throw many spineys if the first cloud was still on screen. The level is short enough that it’s very beatable in one shot, though; it is only a minute long, again, and that includes the boss fight at the end. As for that boss, I thought of several things, but ended up going with something that I think works pretty well — it’s a fight in a clown car against a Koopa Kid. Take out the Lakitus as well for some lives, and then relieve yourself of their attack. The fight can be a bit tricky but hit those question mark blocks, they have mushrooms in them!

The other thing I did not do in this level is put a coin trail along the way telling the player what jump heights they should be using. Perhaps I should do that, to save the significant amount of trial and error it takes to get the jumps down since they are NOT all max height, but I chose to leave it up to the player; I don’t like too-heavily-indicated levels really, unless the indicator is necessary. And that’s why there is a coin trail at one point in the level, for one truly blind fall. I had to indicate that, so I did. Otherwise though, learning those jumps is the point of the stage. You either like this kind of level or you don’t. I’d say I’m on both sides of that one; I mean, I like this type of level so long as it isn’t too too hard (I’m no Team Precision player to say the least!), but it certainly can be frustrating, particularly if certain spinies keep killing you. For a small hint, small hops on the uphill slopes are a very good idea. That’s the only way I found to survive one particularly annoying spinie on a steep uphill early in the level, for instance.

Overall I think this level turned out well, it fairly accurately reflects the original design I drew back in the early ’90s — remember the eight numbered Super World levels (of which this is level six) are based on paper designs of mine from my childhood. This level was a ‘run and jump over the spikes while a cloud chases you shooting lighting bolts at you’ concept. I think a bunch of Lakitus stand in well for an angry cloud.

The third level, from July, is a 3D World level about walljumps.  Appropriately, I titled it Walljump Land.  As the name suggests, this level is all about jumping from wall to wall.  Specifically, this level is about walljumps in narrow vertical shafts.  This is all about quickly jumping back and forth between two sides of a vertical path, avoiding spikes along the walls by jumping to the other side as necessary.  The level only took me about a minute and a half to clear so by my levels’ standards it’s on the shorter side, but it’s a fairly intense stage due to how I mix up the jumps.  I change the distances between safe spots on the walls frequently through the level, and have a section late with timed switching block walls as well.  It’s fun stuff, but I found it difficulty. I eventually decided that it was too hard, so I caved and added powerups to the level; I’m not good enough to do this without them, or with only one at the start or such.   I am sure anyone else playing it will also appreciate the powerups.  At the bottom and middle of the subworld I even put in pipes giving out infinite powerups, if you want to drop back down to get a powerup again. As a result, the level is a good challenge but not TOO hard.  I think this is a good level, and there are a few bits which show off why 3D World is unique, including a section where you have to spin jump for extra height; I know this is only my second 3D World level, but I love the 3D World style!  I think this level works well and hopefully is fun.  The level code for Walljump Land is WDC-7N2-0SG.  Oh, yes, this is another level of mine with no regular enemies.  You certainly can die though, it’s filled with spikes to avoid with your wall jumps.

After that aforementioned break, I came back to Mario Maker 2 recently and over the last few days made a new level.  It is the seventh level in the super world numbered levels series, and is titled 2-3 – Ocean Crossing.  This level finally adapts the seventh level of that childhood game concept of mine to Mario Maker.  This one was always going to be the hardest level to make, because the level concept and map are not nearly as polished as levels 1 to 4 are since I didn’t redo it later as I did with those stages.  Additionally, the basic concept of this level is something that you can’t do in Mario Maker 2, so I basically had to make a new level with few connections to my original idea apart from the basic concept of “you’re crossing over water while avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies”.  The original idea was that your characters would be in little boats, perhaps a bit like the Ninja Turtles in Turtles in Time with their little hoverboards in the Neon Night Riders bonus level, fighting against enemies in their own boats and jumping over rocks and whirlpools that would get in your way.  Well, you can’t do a whirlpool in Mario Maker really, there are no water currents in this game.  The original Super Mario Bros. in 1985 has water currents, but this game does not!  It’s one of the things they really should have put in at some point, but never did.  Unfortunate.  You also can’t make little boats that track the player.  However, I can make a level vaguely thematically similar, as there is a level theme with a water surface available at least, the Forest theme, so I can make SOMETHING set on top of the water.  It just won’t be the level I imagined.  This level is the least like its source material of all seven so far, and I’m sure level 8 will not be this different either.  And yeah, I don’t like that; while I do think I made an interesting level, I kind of want to try again sometime at making something more like the original concept, though I have no idea how, with Mario Maker 2’s limitations, you would reproduce it.

Basically, while thinking about what to do for this stage over the course of this year, I had two ideas for this level: either a frog suit level about challenging jumps, or a poison water night forest level about jumping from boat-like platform to boat-like platform and rock to rock.  The poison water concept makes sense because the original idea would not have had you swimming in the water, but considering that my Super World’s numbered levels are all Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, and the frog suit is pretty great, going for the frog suit option was an easy call.  So, this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is a frog suit level.  There are two parts to this level, challenging jumps on the water’s surface as you try to get over various barriers, and fights on a pair of enemy ships.  I tried to have obstacles appear at roughly the spots I drew whirlpools or rocks on the original level map, but otherwise this is all new.  Having the enemies have some large ships is a new idea too, actually. That seems like an idea I should have had back then, but didn’t.  This level took me about 2 minutes 20 seconds to beat, so it’s decent length.  It has two checkpoints and is pretty tough; it took me a few days of trying to finally complete the stage.  I did edit it as I went though, mostly to make some things easier where I was really having trouble, so it’s not quite as hard as that suggests; I greatly reduced the difficulty of most of the most frustrating jumps.  If you know your frog suit jumping distances, this level should be fun, I think. If you don’t, well, here’s a good time to learn them!  You can take damage in many areas and keep going, damage-boosting your way past some obstacles, but there are a few points, mostly in the second half of the level, where I require you to keep your frogsuit.  This level is all about learning the jumps, and given the very controlled way the frog suit moves and jumps, that is quite doable.  I do not put indicators in the level and I would like to know if people think I really should use them, but… I had to learn these jumps through practice.  Isn’t learning that what a level like this is all about?  Everything is visible, there are no blind jumps here.  It’s just about positioning.  (Yes, I know I’ve been a bit inconsistent with how I indicate jumps sometimes and not other times, but I do put thought into when I use indicator coins and when I don’t.  I just don’t really know whether other people think I should use more or not.)

As for the two ship battles and the boss, I did put a lot of difficult enemies on them, most notably a bunch of Hammer Brothers, but hey, you’re nearing the end of the game, I wanted it to be harder.  I did ease up a bit, though — the final ship now has two good powerups, while at first there was only one regular mushroom.  That was not enough, so I improved the powerups and removed some enemies.  I tried a lot of things for the final battle against Morton (since I used Ludwig in level six, 2-2), and ended up going with a partially submerged one, appropriate to the level.  I strongly recommend killing all enemies above before trying to fight him.  Oh, and story-wise, while making this level I thought up the idea that these two enemy ships are filled with treasure looted from your castle, which you will soon return to.  It’s a nice idea which fits the game well I think.  And yes, there are plenty of coins to get in both ship holds.  Overall, what do I think of this level? I like it.  It’s not my favorite level of mine, but I like the challenge and the frog suit.  The level code for this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is VCW-1D6-NYF.

On a somewhat unrelated note, here’s a secret… what is the level of mine that I go back and play the most often?  It’s …

Bombardment Hills.  Yes, really.  Despite all of its semi-random nonsense, I keep going back and playing this level over and over… heh.  I’m not sure why but I really like it.

 

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Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part I, and the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

Yes, after far far too long, it’s an actual update on this website that people might want to read. (Yes, I have kept making Mario Maker levels, and will have more posts on my levels in the future. But that is for another time.) This is the first of what will probably be three parts of this Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries update, covering nine titles and also the 5200 Trak-Ball trackball controller.

Series Table of Contents

In Update One, This Post

Table of Contents
Introduction
The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

Game Opinion Summaries:

Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game]
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew]
Countermeasure
Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon)
The Dreadnaught Factor
Frogger
James Bond 007 [1983]
Magical Fairy Force [PD Homebrew]

Rankings

In Future Updates

Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid
Space Dungeon
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]
Wizard of Wor
Vanguard
Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]

Introduction

In this article, I will cover the 23 Atari 5200 games I have bought between September 2015 and the present day in August of 2021. I quite like this system, so I have gotten a fair number of titles considering the small library. Some of these, as noted, are modern homebrew titles from AtariAge, while others are from the original 1982-1985 library. I have also gotten the system’s main controller accessories, the Trak-Ball controller and the joystick coupler. I got another 5200 as well; I now use a model one 5200, instead of the model 2 I used to use, because I like the auto switching RF box, it is very convenient. And yeah, as I said in my first article about the 5200 years ago, I still like the 5200 quite a bit; it is the pre-crash console I use the most. The controller isn’t nearly as bad as people say and has some pretty cool features, the graphics are good for the time, its game library makes up for with quality what it lacks in quantity, and I like the console’s design and style a lot as well.

Given the number of titles to cover, I will break this up into parts. These games are fairly simple so it won’t take long to get through all of them though. In this article I will cover the first 9. It’s a good mix of titles, covering both new homebrews and titles from the system’s original run.

The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball Controller

The Atari 5200 had a short life, and most software was designed around its standard controller. Atari considered a paddle controller, but did not end up releasing it. No digital controller was offered either, though third-party options do exist, working well with games that are not analog. I like the 5200 controller, but it does not work equally well for all games. A controller perfect for digital games might have been nice, but instead, Atari released a trackball. A trackball is basically an upside-down analog mouse. Instead of moving a mouse around that rolls a ball to represent movement, you roll the ball itself to move something around the screen. Trackballs were popular in early arcade games for titles that needed analog control, and while the 5200 controller is analog, its analog stick is not nearly as good as a trackball is for games designed for this kind of controller. Atari realized this and answered with the 5200’s only first-party controller accessory, the Trak-Ball. It released early in the system’s life, so they are relatively common. I got one complete in box a couple of years ago.

This very large controller, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball, is perhaps best known for being big, but it’s also amazing. Indeed, of the classic trackballs I have, this one is easily my favorite! It works very well, has decent buttons, and makes the games that support it significantly better. The 5200 trackball may be as large or larger than your average console, but the ball rolls very well and it feels great to use. That heft helps the controller’s feel, I would say.

The Atari 5200 Trak-Ball works by basically emulating a joystick. As great as it is, this is its one fault — it’s not a “real” trackball, acting like a mouse. It’s really pretending to be a 5200 analog stick, which gives control a slightly floaty feel. See this Atari-Age thread for more. I don’t mind this at all, as there may be better trackballs out there for computers, but of the console trackballs of the ’70s or ’80s this is by a very wide margin the best one in my experience.

Despite the way it works, the 5200 trackball’s only other fault is that it only works with games designed to support it. It may be emulating a joystick inside, but the bounds the trackball uses are very different from those used by a stick, and games not designed around the trackball rarely work well, or at all, with it. Atari did not put in a mode that fully emulates the regular controller’s analog stick. The other console trackballs that I have for older consoles work not only with games designed for analog, but also can emulate a standard joystick if you wish to play any other game with a trackball instead of a regular controller. The Colecovision trackball even has indentations in it for you to put controllers in, so you can use the buttons on the trackball base and the stick on a controller, to make a pretty nice arcade stick. That’s really cool. The Sega Master System trackball similarly has both analog and digital-emulation modes. I wish that the 5200 trackball had had something similar, it’d have been nice considering how few games support this controller.

However, what’s not as good about those other trackballs i how well they work, or rather, don’t work. Having multiple modes and more support is all well and good, but that’s only helpful if you actually want to use the trackball as a trackball! And with those other old trackballs I have, I don’t. The SMS trackball is absolutely horrible, with extremely slow movement regardless of game or mode. The Colecovision one has slightly better movement than that, but it’s still not very good. It’s a nice arcade stick but not a good trackball. The 5200 one, however, is outstanding! I love using this controller, and absolutely have bought some games, and some homebrew games, because they support the Trak-Ball controller. I would highly recommend a Trak-Ball to anyone with a 5200, they are fantastic, well-made, great looking controllers well worth the price. Every supported game is made significantly better.

And on that note, from my previous article, Super Breakout, Space Invaders, Centipede, Defender, Missile Command, and Pole Position support the trackball. Of them, Centipede and Missile Command are exceptional. Both are great with the regular controller, but are better with the trackball. These are far better versions of these games than any version relying on a d-pad or analog joystick for controls! Centipede alone might make the trackball worth getting, and there is more. Super Breakout is also better with the trackball than the regular controller, though I still find the game slow and kind of boring. The others work less well, though. Space Invaders and Galaxian are playable, but not better, the loss of precision of knowing where your stick is, as compared to a rolling ball, makes the games harder overall. Pole Position and Defender struggle even more, as you have to constantly spin the ball in an uncomfortable way. Defender is not fun to play this way with how that game controls, and Pole Position is just somewhat odd to control this way, I couldn’t get used to it and kept crashing. I’m sure there are some out there who like it, though. I will cover more trackball games in this series, two in this update. Fortunately both go in the good category of trackball games.

Overall, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller is fantastic. Buy one. This is the best trackball for a classic console.

Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries 2021 Update, Part I

Please note: all games use the regular Atari 5200 controller unless otherwise noted.

Blaster [Modern Rerelease of Cancelled Game] – 1 player. Developed by Vid Kidz / Williams in about 1983. Was to be published by Atari, but was cancelled due to the crash. Released by AtariAge in the 2000s.

Blaster is a rail shooter from Williams. It was developed by their star programmer Eugene Jarvis at his short-lived Vidz company. After making Defender for Williams, Jarvis left in 1981 to make his own company, though all four Vid Kidz titles were published by Williams so he didn’t go far. This game was their last one, before being taken out by the video game crash of 1984. While an arcade version of the game was released in 1983, even though this Atari 5200 version was actually completed first, Williams’ arcade-first priority led to the home version eventually getting cancelled because of the crash. Fortunately completed prototype copies exist and are now available from AtariAge, complete with box if you want. Now, Jarvis is one of arcade gaming’s legends, but Blaster is by far the least well known and least popular of his four pre-crash arcade games. When your first three games are Defender, Defender II/Stargate, and Robotron 2084, though, that isn’t hard to understand; those three are some of the greatest classics ever. Blaster? It’s fun and I definitely like it, but it’s no Defender.

But what is Blaster? It is, again, a first-person rail shooter… on the Atari 5200. This game is a technical marvel and easily has some of the very best graphics this system has ever done! The graphical style may look like a strange mess at first glance, but play it a bit and everything is identifiable and looks great. Everything “scales” into and out of the screen extremely impressively. It’s probably very well done fake scaling of some kind, but regardless it looks amazing. However, the game has very simple gameplay, without the depth or challenge of Defender or Robotron. While fun, this game is more of a tech showcase than an amazing game. Even so, between its outstanding graphics and good gameplay I quite like Blaster overall.

The game has four stages, and after going through all four it loops back to the beginning but with slightly higher difficulty. After you complete each level, you go to the next one. The game shows your current stage on screen in a status bar along the to, along with your score, number of lives, and energy. Yes, you have a health bar in this game, you don’t die in one hit. It is essential considering how chaotic things get. The controls are good, sometimes slow framerate aside, and work well on the 5200 controller.

The first stage has you flying along a planet shooting enemies and avoiding walls, while flying through gates if you want. Everything on this level is made up of open rectangles. Enemies explode once you shoot them, which is a cool effect. It works once you get used to it and runs fairly well; there definitely is slowdown, but with how much this game is doing I don’t blame the game for it. It’s just impressive this system can pull off pretty good scaling at all! But it can, as Blaster proves. The second stage is essentially a bonus stage. There are no enemies here. It’s a warp zone with a cool ‘warp’ effect in the background where you try to pick up stranded astronauts in a warp tunnel for bonus points. I don’t understand why the bonus stage is the second segment of each level and not the last one, I think it would have been better at the end. Oh well. The third stage is a space battle. This returns to the enemies made of rectangles, except now you’rej ust fighting them in space, no land or gates. It’s a good level. The fourth and last stage in each level is an asteroid field. Shoot all of the asteroids coming at you before they hit you! This time the objects are rock sprites, not objects made up of those open rectangles. There are also some enemies who shoot at you here, and some stranded astronauts to try to pick up. It’s kind of like first person Asteroids.

On the whole, Blaster is a must-see title for its visuals. It really is amazing that the 5200 can do this, even if it slows down so much the screens full of what sure look like scaling sprites look incredible for the early ’80s! As for the gameplay, again, this is a simple game. You can move around a little, but only a little to avoid obstacles and such; you are mostly locked to your route, hopefully shooting anything that gets in your way as you go. The game starts out easy but does slowly get more difficult as you complete more levels, so there is a solid difficulty curve here, but some hits can feel unfair with how hard things are to make out sometimes. The health bar helps with this, though. Blaster is definitely worth playing, but is it worth buying considering the cost of buying a copy from AtariAge? For me, yes, no question. For others, though? Well, definitely play it, at least. While definitely not Eugene Jarvis’s best Atari 5200 game, Blaster is a solidly good game that is impressive to see.

Also released in arcades. This is the original version, though that one is enhanced over this release. This Atari 5200 version is exclusive, though the arcade version is available in Midway Presents Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (PC / PlayStation) and Midway Arcade Treasures [1] (GameCube / PlayStation 2 / Xbox / PC). Unfortunately it is not in the newer Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.


Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom – 1 player. Developed and published by Sega in 1983.

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, or Zoom 909 as its original Japanese arcade game was titled before they added the Buck Rogers license to the Western release, was one of Sega’s first super-scaler style games. This game is a behind-the-ship rail shooter, and in arcades and on Colecovision it has many different stage types along the way through each loop of the game. It’s a good title and I like the various ways enemies come at you in the different ‘stages’, though determining 3d depth can be hard, you will often miss enemy ships you think you are lined up with. This flaw applies to all versions of the game except for one, the Atari 2600 version.

However, this is not the Colecovision version, or the 2600 version. It is the Atari 5200 version, and as with all versions other than the Colecovision, the game is dramatically reduced in stage count. As with most non-Colecovision ports, this version of Buck Rogers has “five” stages per level: first three parts on the planet, as you go through gates and fight enemies. The game calls this multiple rounds but it’s basically one, you just go through gates in the start then fight one type of enemy and then several before you leave the planet. Once you leave, first you fight a formation of enemies and then a boss before you move on to the next level. It’s a decent formula, but it is hard to forget that the Coleco version has something like twice as much stage variety, or to get over both versions’ common flaw, how hard hitting enemies can be with the 3d perspective. The audio is also extremely basic, with no music and only simple sound effects for your gun and engine noise. The analog controls help slightly, compared to other home versions of Buck Rogers, but not enough to make me want to play this.

Worse, I also can’t help but to compare this game to the outstanding Atari 2600 version of the game, which I covered in a summary years ago. I absolutely love that game, it’s one of my favorite 2600 games! While the key design is mostly the same as this 5200 version in terms of it stage layout, the 2600 makes one major change, probably due to lesser hardware power it makes the game play on a flat plane. Removing the ‘where is the enemy actually?’ problem is a huge help, and as a result the 2600 has easily my favorite version of Planet of Zoom. It has the best audio by far as well, with some really cool sounds that you won’t find in this 5200 game. Yes, the 2600 both plays and sounds better than the 5200 version of this game. This is probably the only time I will say that, but it’s true here. Overall, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom is an average game at best, and is deeply disappointing compared to the Atari 2600 version. Probably don’t buy this, get the 2600 version for the best version or the Colecovision one for the one that is the most faithful to the arcade game. I got this game knowing it wasn’t the best but wanting it anyway because I like this system, but it probably wasn’t really worth it.

Arcade port. Many versions of this game were released, most notably on the Colecovision, but also on Atari 2600, Sega SG-1000 (note, this is NOT the same as the Colecovision version despite near-identical hardware!), PC, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Commodore VIC-20, Atari 8-bit computer, Commodore 64, Apple II, MSX, and Coleco Adam. The arcade version is pretty good, but of what I have played I think I actually like the simple, 2d Atari 2600 version the best.

Castle Crisis [PD Homebrew] – 1 to 4 player simultaneous. You can use the regular controller, but the game also supports a paddle controller if you have a prototype or homebrew one. Homebrew title published by AtariAge in 2004.

This game is a Warlords clone for the 5200. If you know the Atari classic Warlords, you know this game; it is Warlords, with a few additions. Warlords is one of my favorite games on the 2600 and the 5200’s analog controller is a great fit for controlling a paddle, so it’s fantastic that a fan decided to do waht Atari didn’t and make a 5200 version of this classic. This game is based on the arcade version more so than the Atari 2600 game.

Warlords, on the 2600 or arcade, is a four player block-breaking game. Instead of just breaking a wall like Breakout, here there are four forts made of blocks in the corners of the screen, with a paddle protecting each one. The game starts with one ball, or fireball rather. You must protect the warlord inside your fort. One of the buttons holds the ball, so you can launch it off from the point you choose. You defend your fort while trying to bounce the ball around the enemy paddles and destroy the warlords in the three other forts. Each time one of the four players is knocked out, another fireball is added to the field. The game will also add a second fireball early on if nobody hits anything for a while. It’s a fantastic game with great controls, a paddle might be neat but the analog stick works extremely well here. This is a challenging, fast-paced, and frenetic game that can be incredibly fun. The game has absolutely no slowdown and gets the feel of the arcade game down exceptionally.

For game modes, there aren’t many. The single player has only a single difficulty level, and it’s tough. The game keeps a score in this mode if you want to write down best scores, and if you win a game you go right into a new one until you lose. One loss and it’s game over. The two player mode is like the single player, but with two people. It’s co-op basically, and you don’t get game over until both players lose in the same level. Three and four player games are single-round versus only matches which don’t have a score or progression. All of these modes are just like arcade Warlords. In any mode, all non-human players are filled with some pretty tough AIs. More options might be nice, but they aren’t really needed. Really, the only negative is that this is an extremely faithful unlicensed clone of an Atari game, but at least they changed the name, most homebrew conversions like this don’t even do that. AtariAge and Atari may have some kind of deal anyway, AtariAge uses Atari’s logo and such without issue.

There is one issue however. On the 2600 four player play is easy, since 2600 paddles come two to a cable. On the 5200 it is trickier however, as controllers are one to a cable and only the first model of the console has four controller ports, the second model dropped to two since Atari released basically nothing using more than two controllers, Super Breakout excepted, but it’s just an alternating mode there anyway. Had they released games like this back then perhaps the model two would have kept four controller ports, because this is a fantastic time! I wouldn’t call the controls better than the 2600, since paddles are a really good fit for this kind of game, but the analog joystick works just about as well.

Overall, Castle Crisis is great. This is a fantastic conversion of one of the best pre-crash games. Whether it’s worth the money or not is up to you, as it’s a full-price game on AtariAge and as great as the single player is the multiplayer is a huge part of the fun and you’ll need a 4-port system to get the most of it, but even just for single player play it’s a great, great game which I definitely recommend. That it isn’t an original idea, but a homebrew port, is really my only criticism here.

This game is only released on the Atari 8-bit computer and Atari 5200, but it is a very faithful port of the arcade game Warlords, which has been released on many formats, most notably the Atari 2600. Warlords has modern remakes as well.

Countermeasure – 1 or 2 player alternating. Released by Atari in 1982.

Countermeasure is an early 5200 game from Atari, and it is their only released 5200 game that is exclusive to this system, this game wasn’t released on arcades, 2600, or Atari 8-bit computer. Control here is not analog, but it does have eight-direction shooting and aiming. The game does make full use of both action buttons and has some complexity to it. Reading the manual is highly recommended before playing this game.

Countermeasure is a decent, but perhaps overly difficult, overhead tank action game with some complexity to it. The game scrolls upwards vertically, infinitely so I believe, though each level has a timer and you move slowly so you will usually only get a few screens up if you are playing well. Along the way you will find enemy turrets that rotate and shoot at you when you are in their line of fire, towers that contain clues to the code you need for this level, rocket silos to touch if you know the code and wish to end the level, and terrain obstacles which slow you down and block your fire. You slowly drive upwards in your tank, shooting enemies and trying to save the world.

For controls, you move with the stick. One button shoots, and the other, when held down, will rotate the turret to the direction you press. So, turning your turret is easy here, which is pretty nice. The very slow movement speed can make the game frustrating, though. The controls are responsive, but while this game is solid it often feels unfair, the enemies often seem to be able to shoot farther than you and hit you when you can’t hit them. Again, your slow movement speed also makes avoidance tricky. Staying alive in the main levels is hard, those towers are merciless! Still, the way that your movement speed and fire distance vary depending on terrain is pretty cool, and advanced for 1982. The graphics are alright, with solid sprite art and recognizable terrain. The sounds are good, though there is no music, a far too common issue on this console.

As I suggested in the previous paragraph, your main goal here isn’t just to get to the end of each level. Instead, as the game’s name suggests, you need to find the countermeasure code to stop an oncoming enemy nuclear attack. You need to find the three letters of the launch code that will save America from the enemy nukes! Each launch code is three letters long, and there are three letters that can go in each spot, O, L, or E. Letters can repeat in multiple spots though so you do want to find the clues and not just guess. Each clue tower will tell you one of the three letters of the code.

Once you get the code, or enough of it, or are running out of time and have no choice, go to a tower. The enemy helpfully waits to launch their nukes until you get into the tower to stop them. Once you touch a tower you CANNOT leave and must enter the code before the tower’s countdown ends. Note, this is a separate timer from the one in the level before. If you fail to input the code, it is Game Over and a skull appears over the world map on the screen. Ouch. If you succeed, it’s on to the next level, where the colors may change to give the game some variety. As with most games of the time the game never ends, every time you save the world you just start again on the next, slightly harder, stage until you eventually run out of lives. Each level is short, and the game starts out easy. There are ten difficulty levels available, which adds some replay value. The launch code on each stage also randomize so you can’t just memorize them.

Overall Countermeasure is okay. This game can be fun and definitely is a tense and challenging experience, but the frustrating difficulty and slow gameplay hold it back. I like overhead vehicular action games and was hoping for something great for one of Atari’s only 5200 exclusives, but this game is a slow and bland game that is above average, but not one of the system’s best. Atari’s best 5200 exclusives were never released, unfortunately. Still, with a low price and decent gameplay Countermeasure is probably worth picking up if it sounds interesting.

This game is officially a Atari 5200 exclusive, though I believe that a homebrew Atari 8-bit port exists.


Decathlon (aka The Activision Decathlon) – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.

Decathalon is a port of the Atari 2600 game of the same name. As with many of Activision’s 5200 ports of 2600 games, it is a graphically enhanced version of the game that changes almost nothing in terms of gameplay other than making the game harder to control. The audio isn’t much improved either, expect only very basic sound effects and minimal start and end music. So, there is very little reason to get this game on the 5200 specifically versus the 2600 version unless you really like this system. That said, Decathalon is a decently fun olympic sports game that can be fun, so for cheap enough it’s worth a thought despite how similar it is to the original version.

As with the original version, this game has only one mode, the decathlon, and you don’t really have AI opposition, only one or two humans. You do get points based on your performance, though. There is an AI racer running on screen with you in the track running events, but their times are not recorded anywhere after the races and they do not compete in the jumping or throwing events, so this really is just a score or multiplayer-only game. I wish it had more full AI opposition, that would add to the game.

As with most Olympic sports games, Decathlon is, at its core, a button-masher, or stick-twister in this case. Konami’s Track & Field used two alternating buttons to run, but this one uses alternating between left and right movements on the stick to run. You have a meter on the screen for each player showing your current pace, and can affect it with proper stick-movement rhythm. You will also use a button for jumping or throwing in those events. As you might expect, the 5200 controller’s loose analog stick makes running a bit trickier than it is on the 2600 with its tight digital stick. This game is playable, but the constant stick-waggle gameplay is tiring and gets old fast. Playing this a lot would be bad for your hands, I would say.

As the name suggests, there are ten events in this title as you go through the ten parts of a decathlon track and field event. You’ll run the 100, 400, and 1500 meter track races and a hurdles race, jump the longjump and high jump, throw the discus, javelin, and such. Most events are simple to control, but getting the timing right for the jumping events can be challenging and will definitely require practice and perhaps a read of the manual. The graphics are nice and are enhanced over the 2600 version. This game is far from essential even on the 2600 but is an amusing enough game once in a while. The controls on this version do hold it back a bit, but it’s alright. This game has definitely aged, with its very short runtime and lack of AI opposition, but even so is an above average game on the edge of good. This game could have been a lot better but is okay.

Atari 2600 port. Also released on Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports of the game were released on Commodore 64, MSX, and Colecovision.


The Dreadnaught Factor – 1 player. Released by Activision in 1983.

The Dreadnaught Factor is one of Activision’s few console games of the early ’80s that isn’t a port of an Atari 2600 games. This game is an early scrolling shmup. The game was only released on the Intellivision and 5200, and the two versions are quite different — this one is vertical scrolling, while the Intellivision version, as you might expect, has worse graphics and is horizontal scrolling. This game is one of those titles which shows what the Atari 5200 can do, and it is impressive. The graphics here are really good, with nicely-drawn sprites and some cool effects as the enemy ships approach you. Audio work is also great. This is the kind of thing this system can do when it wasn’t just getting last-gen ports!

The Dreadnaught Factor is a shmup where you fight against a finite fleet of enemy battleships. Yes, finite — this is one of those rare pre-crash games that you can actually beat and last more than a few minutes! The game has different difficulty levels, each with more battleships than the last. The easy modes are quite simple to complete, but the 100-dreadnaught hardest mode will be much more of a challenge; this game does have limited lives and no continues. In the game you fly upwards, facing off against the dreadnaught one at a time. This game has full analog control, so your side-to-side and forward speed are proportionally controllable. You cannot stop or turn around however, only slow down to a crawl. One action buttons shoots lasers that hit turrets, fighters, or bridges, and the other drops bombs that go in exhaust ports or engines. Yes, this game makes good use of the 5200 controller’s strengths.

Your main objective is to blow up all of the exhaust ports on each ship. Destroy those and you will blow up the ship. In order to do that though, you will need to destroy many turrets, bridges, and engines on the ship in order to slow the ships down and make them shoot at you less. The game has some nice strategy to it as you consider what to attack. Now, I mentioned speed control, but you can’t stop, so each time you fly over the dreadnaught without dying you will automatically fly back around for another pass. Dreadnaughts advance after every pass however, and if you take too many passes and a dreadnaught reaches your base, it’s Game Over. You can get shot down many times and keep going as you have many lives, but the game ends if they reach the base. The game doesn’t have a lot of variety, but makes up for it with its quality. Sure, you just fly up, avoid enemy fire, and shoot targets on the various types of dreadnaughts, but with good graphics, good controls, and well designed, high quality action that pushes its genre forward in ways rarely seen at the time, The Dreadnaught Factor is a pretty impressive game for the pre-crash era.

How great is this compared to the top shmups of the NES, though? Well, it’s no Gradius and it is a more limited game in some respects, with less graphical variety and a slow difficulty curve, but it makes up for it with great gameplay. There is challenge eventually, there are different styles of dreadnaughts with different designs so you aren’t just shooting the exact same ship every time, and challenge the loop is a lot of fun, though, so I don’t mind the pretty minor flaws much at all. I also really like that you can actually beat this game. This is a standout game for the 5200 and one of the best shooters of the pre-crash era.

Also released on Atari 8-bit computers, without the analog controls there of course. The game was also released on the Intellivision, though that version is fairly different; it is a side-scroller instead of vertical.

Frogger – 1-2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1983 (licensed from Konami).

Frogger is one of the early arcade hits and it has been ported to dozens of platforms, past and present. The Atari 5200 version is a solid port, but this game is a very poor fit for the Atari 5200 controller. I mostly like the 5200 controller, but certain types of games don’t work well with that analog stick and a precise digital-control game like Pac-Man or, here, Frogger is at the top of that list.

I imagine most people know how Frogger plays, but I should describe it. This is a single-screen arcade game. You are a frog and need to get across a road and a river in order to get to the other side and score points. You move space-by-space, trying to avoid the oncoming cars in the first half and then trying to stay on the logs and alligators in the second half so as to not fall in the water. For some reason this frog can’t swim, which is quite silly. The game has nice graphics that well respresent the arcade game. It is a simple but addictive arcade game.

The game looks and sounds nice and plays correctly, just as Frogger should. the issue is the controller. You have two control options here: either you can use the stick and a fire button, or the keypad. For the stick option, you use the stick to choose which direction you want to move, and a fire button to jump. The stick is more comfortable to use, but its drawback is how much you have to move it to make Frogger change directions. This delay makes quick reactions very difficult, and it is the controller’s fault and not the game. The keypad option is simpler, hit # to go into keypad mode and then you just push the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys on the keypad to move in the four directions. A complete copy of the game comes with an overlay that leaves the 2, 4, 6, and 8 digits exposed, though it is quite unnecessary once you remember that those are the directions. The keypad is a quicker and more reliable way to move, but these sunken-in rubbery keys were not meant to be main action buttons, just supplimentary ones, so I find this less comfortable. I’d almost rather use the stick honestly, even if it makes the game harder. The four buttons are also far apart from eachother.

So, both control options have good and bad points. Parker Bros. did the best they could with the controls in this game, but as good as the 5200 is its controller is not equally suited for all kinds of games. As I have said before, this issue is why modern controllers have both a d-pad and an analog stick on them, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of game being played. The 5200 controller was highly innovative and I like it, but this game shows that it is better for some kinds of games than others.

Arcade port. This version was also released on Atari 8-bit computers, there with simpler digital controls. Other versions of Frogger have been released on dozens of platforms. Frogger is surely one of the most-ported games ever.


James Bond 007 [1983] – 1 or 2 player alternating. By Parker Bros., 1984.

This is one of the many Atari 2600 to 5200 ports on this platform. This game is generally unpopular on the 2600, and unfortunately this is an accurate port. Parker Bros. made some great 5200 games, but while this game has improved graphics and sound over the original 2600 version, the gameplay is the same and that is the main problem here. While not bad, this is, unfortunately, a below average game.

What is the game, though? Well, James Bond 007 is a side-scrolling vehicular action game. Each of the three levels is loosely themed after scenes from different James Bond movies, but they all involve you driving in a car, car-boat, or such. The game tells you the movie name and your number of lives before your car takes off and the next stage starts. This game kind of plays like a much worse, more complex take on Moon Patrol with mission objectives that it doesn’t tell you except in the manual. You can move forward and back a bit with the stick. You jump by pushing the stick up, which is awful and very hard to control. If you hold the stick up you will keep jumping as soon as you hit the ground, so watch out. The game uses one fire button, which fires your two kinds of shots, anti-air missiles and bombs/depth charges, to hit enemies above or below you. Both attacks go diagonally forwards and you cannot turn around so if you miss an enemy it can be a problem, some will shoot you from behind. The game badly needed either separate fire buttons for the two attacks or a jump button, but no, it’s just a lazy 2600 port controls-wise. Oh well.

For graphics and sound it’s a mixed bag. While there are some nice graphical details here, particularly in the animated Bond waving and getting into his car in each level’s intro, this game both looks and plays worse than Moon Patrol on the 5200. The game does scroll smoothly, as expected on the 5200, but don’t expect any parallax here. There is a nice rendition of the James Bond theme on the main menu, but as sadly usual on the 5200 there is no in-game music.

Anyway, in each stage, you drive to the right. You cannot stop so you will need some good reflexes to survive. You need to jump over pits and shoot enemies as you try to accomplish the objective in each level, which generally means reaching the end of the stage. You do need to know what to do in order to complete each mission though, so read the manual. You should try to shoot the diamonds in the sky in the Diamonds are Forever level, for instance, and must jump onto and land on a specific oil platform in another level. You will do a lot of jumping here but cannot control your car in the air, so if you’re shot midair there isn’t much you can do, you lose a life. Similarly, you can also dive under the water in some areas, but only in a jump-style automatic dive which you cannot really control while underway. This game gets very frustrating far too often, as dodging enemy far is a huge pain. Practice pays off, but is it really worth the hassle? There are also three difficulty levels, with the easiest as the default.

And that’s the game. The graphical differences and moderate complexity of each mission is interesting, but the flawed, slow controls and sometimes very frustrating gameplay make this game much harder than it should be. Like most people, I haven’t finished all three levels yet and don’t know if I will. It probably loops afterwards, though. This is a below-average game that probably isn’t worth playing. If you do, get ready to memorize everything and die constantly. I don’t regret getting it, but can’t recommend this one to anyone other than serious James Bond diehards or 5200 collectors.

Released on Atari 2600 first, then also Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer (this version), Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, and Commodore 64.

Magical Fairy Force [Homebrew] – 1-2 player simultaneous. Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller or a regular 5200 joystick. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (aka Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2021. The game was completed and released digitally in 2020, but due to production delays the physical cart was not released until 2021.

Magical Fairy Force is an original homebrew title, something quite rare for the Atari 5200. I was looking forward to this game for some time before its release and it’s awesome to finally have a copy! It is from the same developer as Ratcatcher, which I will cover later. The game was loosely inspired by the versus Neo-Geo shmup Twinkle Star Sprites, but is its own, entirely original game. It isn’t as good as Twinkle Star Sprites, but it’s a 2KB game for much older hardware, it does what it can.

The primary influence Magical Fairy Force takes from Twinkle Star Sprites is that it is a two player splitscreen versus shmup. Unlike that game though, probably for technical reasons the split here is horizontal instead of vertical, so one player is on the top half of the screen and the other the bottom. Both players shoot towards the center of the screen, so they face eachother but cannot hit eachother due to a status bar between them. The game has two modes and no difficulty options, either one player versus a computer or two people against eachother. The game was mostly designed as a two player versus game. The single player vs. AI side of the game fortunately exists, but was not the focus. Sadly, I have no one to play against so I can only judge the single player here. The single player mode is a story mode where you fight against all of the other characters and then get an ending text screen for that character. It’s cool that each character gets an ending, that adds some replay value. The two player mode is a basic versus mode, it does not keep track of wins and losses. The game is fun but there are no difficulty options and the game is mostly somewhat easy, though this does vary depending on which character you play as and whether you use controller or trackball.

The core gameplay here is to move around your side of the screen, charging your super meter by shooting enemies and then using those super attacks once the meter fills. This game has fully analog movement. The joystick works well, but if you have a Trak-Ball controller as I do it is highly recommended! With the trackball, control is basically perfect. Anyone with a 5200 trackball really should get this game. Anyway, one button shoots your normal shots, and the other uses a special attack. Each match ends when one player runs out of health. Each match is one round long, and the single player game has eight matches, against the eight characters. Multiplayer is strictly a single-match affair.

On screen, on each player’s end of the screen a status bar has a character portrait, health which is made up of four blocks, and the super meter. In the middle of the screen in a black bar are two timer bars, if one runs out that player loses. Also in the black section along a bar on the top or bottom edge of each player’s half of the screen, small wisps appear. These wisps are your main targets as shooting them fills your super meter. They will shoot bullets at you sometimes, shooting straight at you, but can’t move and only appear in this bar. Below/above that is the blue area you can move around in. Here you have your character sprite, and each of the eight characters has a custom sprite, and a few obstacles, most notably clouds and fairy dust, along with wisp bullets and enemy super attacks. Touching clouds drains your timer quickly, so shoot them if they are getting in your way. I have almost never run out of time though, so the threat of the timer is rarely an issue so long as you shoot the clouds in your way. The graphics are pretty good for this system and have an impressive amount of detail. Audio is extremely minimal, however; there are only very basic sound effects and that’s it, there is no music.

My other criticism is of the core gameplay loop, that is, of shooting those small, immobile wisps. The gameplay, as you move mostly left and right trying to hit those wisps while shooting or dodging lightning bolts, bullets, and super moves, is fun and rewarding when you do well, but it lacks the excitement of its inspiration. Twinkle Star Sprites is a dynamic game full of enemies attacking in wave-based patterns. You don’t really have any of that here, you just shoot the wisps while dodging or shooting any other obstacles or enemy supers in your way. For the 5200 this is a fairly complex game, but I can’t help but wish for more dynamic action than this target-shooting-focused title. I would never expect the equal of Neo-Geo gameplay complexity on the 5200 of course, but it’s too bad that something more like the pattern-based waves of Twinkle Star Sprites aren’t here. I know you couldn’t do too many patterns in a playfield this horizontally wide and vertically narrow, but maybe something could have been done. On the other hand though, while a bit dry the game is fun. It requires good skill, and matches get tense as health dwindles. The game also shows off the Trak-Ball well.

Bullets can be dangerous, but most damage in this game is done by special attacks you charge by shooting those wisps. You have two abilities, a weaker one for about half of your super meter which sends a couple of lightning bolts at your enemy, and a character-specific super attack for a full, blinking meter. Enemy lightning bolts are easy to shoot down and fill up your super meter a nice amount if you shoot them, but if you miss one and it gets past you that player does take a hit. Still, I think they’re probably too easy to dispose of, taking damage to lightning is rare as far as I’ve seen in this game so far. They add some tension as you have to get over to them to shoot them down, but I almost always make it. The full-bar supers are another story though, they are definitely dangerous. I like how each character has a custom move, that’s impressive for such a small game. I don’t think all eight are equally balanced, though; some are MUCH easier to hit enemies with than others, and while the different characters’ meters do charge at different speeds, still I get the strong sense that this game isn’t balanced. At least against the AI, I think some characters are significantly better than others. It all depends on how easy it is to hit the AI with your supers. Oddly, the final boss’s super is not the best one, I would say. I know balance is hard, but this is one of my main issues with the game. Things may be quite different against a human, but I haven’t been able to play that way so far.

It may sound like I am criticizing this game a lot, but I do like this game and enjoy playing it. It is simple and yet has depth, the graphics are good, and the controls are spot-on. I do wish it had more polish and balance, and more features such as music, difficulty options for single player, and a win-loss record for multiplayer, but I know the game creator said that they couldn’t fit more features in this cartridge size, the largest the system natively supports. Unfortunately, while having a larger cartridge with bank switching is possible on the 5200, it is not currently available much at all. I hope that that changes, this game could use the space. What’s here is good but a few more features would be great and the balance is questionable. When I first played this game, I lost my first match, won my second, lost my third, and then went back to read the manual more thoroughly. After that I easily beat the game without losing a single round. Yeah. I seem to have happened to select a character with one of the best supers, and got lucky in that few full-bar supers were used against me during the game; the AI sometimes uses full-bar super attacks and other times just throws that mostly useless lighting at you for long stretches, for some reason. When that happens you win easily. I had fun despite how easy it was, though, so I decided to play again with a different character. I found it much harder with them, I died many times. Overall, the difficulty is a little easy but is balanced reasonably, most of the time I do get a few game overs before winning. Fortunately you have infinite continues in this game, so you will win so long as you keep trying. That’s good design.

Overall, Magical Fairy Force is a good game. It doesn’t quite reach greatness, at least in single player, but it is good and can be a lot of fun to play. The graphics are great, challenge reasonable, and the action fast and a good mix of skill and luck. I also love that it’s an original game and not just another conversion or port! It is also great to see another Trak-Ball game, the 5200 trackball is an amazing controller and needs more games. The core ‘shoot the little wisps in a line on top of your half of the screen’ gameplay isn’t as exciting as I wish it was, audio is minimal, and the super attacks seem quite unbalanced, but the game is much more good than bad. If I had another human to play against, instead of the sometimes iffy AI, I probably would like the game more, too; again, it was designed first and foremost for multiplayer that I can’t often try these days. I can imagine multiplayer matches being pretty tense at times, as you go back and forth. This indie game has some issues, but it’s pretty good overall and absolutely is worth buying.

This game is a 5200 exclusive so far, though the developer is working on a PC (Steam digital download) port/remake with added features.

Rankings

If I was ranking these games against eachother, I would put them in this order:

The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > Magical Fairy Force >> Blaster > Countermeasure > Decathlon >>> Frogger > Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom > James Bond 007

The top three of these are very good games I definitely recommend, and the fourth is at least worth a look for sure. Overall none of these games quite match Defender, Centipedeo, or Galaxian, games I covered in my original 5200 list, but The Dreadnaught Factor is close. As for those last two, though… well, James Bond and Buck Rogers are, currently, my two least favorite games of the now over 40 titles I have for the 5200. Ah well. If that’s the worst a system has, we’re talking about a pretty solid console.

Posted in Atari 5200, Classic Games, Game Opinion Summaries, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

On My Super Mario Maker Levels – For Both Mario Maker 1 and 2

What, it’s an actual… update on the site?  Why yes it is.  Once I started not updating the site for a while, I started worrying more about it and that led me to do what I usually do in such situations, ignore the issue.  Of course this doesn’t solve most problems, but I do it anyway.  For pretty much the whole last year and a half I have been meaning to make a bunch more posts about Mario Maker on this site — one about the “final update” when Nintendo abandoned the game less than a year after its release, one about my levels once I started making them for MM2 in mid 2020, and more.  And today I finally wrote one of those updates, about my levels.

Before I begin, I will be using a lot of Super Mario Maker terminology in this article.  Sorry about that, for those not familiar with the terms.  I will try to describe what things mean.  Please also read my previous Mario Maker 1 and 2 articles on this site for more on how these games work.

And well, I’ve finally gotten to making that second one, about my levels.  I started making levels for Mario Maker 2 in June 2020, right as Nintendo abandoned the game with the “final update”, and have made nine levels in the eleven months since then.  Additionally, I made three Mario Maker 1 levels in the month before uploading to that game was shut down in March.  They aren’t entirely original — I took a VERY long MM2 level I made (that remains uncleared) and broke it up into three reasonable-length levels for the first game — but I had a lot of fun making those stages and they aren’t the exact same as the MM2 original, so they certainly count.

My levels come in two types, the numbered levels for my Super World, and other one-off stages I make.  So far I have five super world levels and four other stages.  The numbered super world stages are all Super Mario Bros. 3-themed, while the others have a variety of themes — two are SMB1, one SM3DW, and one SMW.   The Super World is basically a series recreating the levels from one of the games I designed on paper as a kid but never had been able to actually play before.  It’s a really cool project that I will complete; there are three more levels to go to make the full eight of the original design.  I went with the SMB3 theme for them because it seemed the most appropriate given what Mario I’d played the most back when I thought up those levels in the early ’90s, and it was definitely the NES games, I had limited access to the SNES that decade.  For my other levels I use other themes.  The themes are different in looks but also in gameplay, as each one has different features that only exist in that theme, so it’s nice to make levels in a variety of themes since they definitely play differently.  The most recent level I just uploaded today.

How good are these levels?  I won’t say that they are the best levels ever, but I like them.  I think most of them are good, and I hope others do as well.  Whether you like them or not depends entirely on what kind of Mario levels you like to play.  I’m only moderately decent at the game, but like to challenge myself by making levels that I find hard.  My goal was to make Expert-difficulty levels, but I guess most of the levels ended up above that because they have low clear rates.  I can’t do the tricky techs like shell jumps and such, though; they’re challenging but normal levels anyone should be able to clear with enough patience.  For context, in the Ninji Speedrun competition levels that Nintendo made themselves, I usually ended up either at the top end of the two-star times or the bottom of the three-star time.  The three star time is Nintendo’s top rewards bracket, but the best players got times far better than that.  As in, I’m okay at the game but no match at all for the top players. I’m fine with that as this game is great for Mario players of any skill level.

Lastly for the introduction part, all 12 levels I will mention in this article still are up and playable.  My first MM1 level got quickly deleted because not enough people played it, but I have not had this problem in MM2 or with my three late MM1 levels; between more people playing MM2 and that I advertised the stages slightly more, they thankfully have stayed up.  I hope it stays that way.

With that said, my first Mario Maker 2 level, in June 2020, was a port of my old Mario Maker 1 level that I wrote an article about several years ago on this site.  Yes, I made a Mario Maker 2 version of Airship Attack.

Game: SMM2. Level: Airship Attack. Code: VMG-62B-9XG. This SMB1-theme level is an adaptation of my one 3DS/Wii U Mario Maker stage, with some improvements based on a few comments I got from when the SMM1 version was available. I really like the stage, other than that I messed up the screenshot that shows with the stage… bah, that bugs me every time I see it! The level is a Mario Maker level for sure, I made it challenging and kind of annoying in that classic Super Mario Maker way.  It’s not a troll level or such though, this is a legit platforming stage with a series of setups to get past.  I think it’s a pretty good and well-balanced stage overall.  The hardest part of the level is about halfway through, where you have to use a moving platform to get through a small hole in a wall of spikes.  This part is tricky due to numerous fireballs to avoid on top of the spikes, but I like it quite a bit anyway.  I like all of the changes I made to this stage versus its original version; I made a few rookie mistakes in the SMM1 version that are fixed here.  If I ever remake this level yet AGAIN, someday, in addition to fixing the screenshot location, I’d also add a second checkpoint right near the end.  If you die at the end you go back a long, long way, and I should have put in that second checkpoint.  But it’s a good level as it is, and I’ve had fun with it each of the three or four times I’ve remade the level now across different versions of the game.  This version of the level has clears and likes, which was great to see.  This is still overall maybe my favorite Mario Maker level that I have made, probably due to it being my first one.

Game: SMM2. My Super World Code: 2D4-L46-SJG This incomplete Super World has five main levels now, consisting of the first five of the eight levels of that game I mentioned earlier that I “made” as a kid, plus several of my other levels added in as optional stages.  Each level has a bossfight against a Koopa Kid at the end. All numbered levels use the SMB3 tileset.  The basic story here is as follows.  The original game as I said above, was called “Castle Siege: Knights of the Golden Sword”.  It has eight levels and gameplay-wise is a cross between Mario and a beat ’em up like Golden Axe with an ’80s to early ’90s Castle Lego-inspired set of weapons and such.  Which would it have ended up as back then I’m not sure, but elements of both are clearly present.  These Mario Maker levels obviously are all Mario and no Golden Axe, since this isn’t a  beat ’em up.  It changes the gameplay but that’s fine, my goal with this Super World is to make a Mario version of Castle Siege. It fits well, and I’m glad I started this after the “final update” because the Koopa Kids and Bowser are a perfect fit as bosses of the eight levels, much more so than just the three bosses of the base SMM2 game would have been or some creations of my own or such.

Super World Stages:

Game: SMM2. Level 1-1: Volcano – 7N5-3JC-V2G – This is my easiest stage by a lot, it’s fairly short and straightforward: go up, then go down. That’s not to say that the level is easy because there are a lot of enemies here who are trying to kill you, but your task is straightforward and the level is not especially long.  Apart from the boss, which is the first of the Koopa Kids, this is quite faithful to the original design.  Just make sure to dodge the hammers at the start… heh. A decent number of people have cleared this level and it has some hearts.  If I made more level of this difficulty maybe my levels would be more popular, but no, my other stages are mostly quite a bit tougher than this one and you can see the results in clear percentages and number of plays.  This one is the highest in both counts.  This level may be Normal difficulty, I’m not sure where the dividing line is in terms of completion percentage.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-2: The Mine – VD5-Y7T-6XF – This level is a simple maze in an underground mine. I made this harder than the original concept by requiring that you get three coins in various corners of the stage. I can see why some people would find that annoying, but I like the change because the “maze” is pretty simple, the level needed something to make it more interesting and substantial. This is supposed to be an eight-level adventure, and that requires trickier stages than it was on paper.  There’s a reset door at the end if you didn’t get all three that goes back to the beginning. The three coins are in some corners of the map. You CAN get all three in one pass through the level if you take the correct route, the reset door is not required. Here’s a hint to the sequence if you want it:  The first coin is in the first pit, and the other two on the upper route. Avoid the lower route where the screen in the level-image screenshot is.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-3: The Lake – M0Y-WKB-SJG – This is an underwater frogsuit level. It’s kind of long I guess and is mostly a ‘keep moving and dodge the stuff’ stage, but the frog suit is so much fun to use that I liked making it for sure. Just try not to lose that frogsuit.   Versus my original design this level has the same basic layout, but I made the later two thirds of the stage have spikes for walls in order to increase the challenge a bit.  The boss fight at the end is also original, and I like it.  However, other than my very long level The Castle, this level has the fewest clears and the fewest likes of any of the levels I have made, which… really, is wrong!  Sure, the level is a bit long and you do mostly just hold right or left while avoiding oncoming enemies, but I really like the challenge of trying to not get hit.  The frog suit is a fantastic powerup which makes for some fun avoidance-based gameplay and that is what you do here.  I think this really show the bias people have against water levels, but come on, with the frog suit they can be pretty good!  I would honestly rank this as one of my favorites of my levels.

Game: SMM2. Level 1-4: Enemy Camp – FWD-PNJ-84G –  In this stage you come down out of the mountains, fight your way through an enemy camp, break through their siege lines, and enter a captured castle at the end.   Yes, it’s a key part of your journey! So, back in the mid ’90s, I redrew the first four levels of this game to add specific enemy counts to the stages, make everything look better, and such. I did not redraw the later four levels, though, so adapting them will require a lot more new content than these do. So, this is a perfect stopping point for world one. Of course a lot is new due to Mario Maker 2’s mechanics and stuff I added to make the levels a bit tougher and more interesting — there are new machinery parts mid-level for instance, more enemies, and such — but still it’s much more faithful than the later ones, levels six and seven particularly, will be; those will need a lot of work. The level is rough around the edges and some of the machinery parts could be refined for sure, but it’s good enough for a one-day Mario Maker project so I’m publishing it. Once made, I had to clear check it, though, and that was the hard part, this level took me a couple of hours to clear. Other players won’t have as many problems of course because you get to use that checkpoint. The level has some clear and likes, and that’s great, I really like the end moment of the stage particularly as you reach the castle, so it’s nice that some people have experienced it.

After that level in about November, for a December level I took a break from the Super World to make a new level that isn’t one of the Castle Siege remake stages.

Game: SMM2.  Level: Piranha Castle. Code: XS5-V6R-WKF  What did I make?  After some thought, I decided to make a challenging but short platforming level with a more intense pace than most of my stages.  This is a short level, but every bit of it requires precise commands to get through as you avoid lava, piranha plants, and fireballs.  This is no elite precision level, it is approachable, but it’ll definitely take practice to complete!  It uses the 3D World theme, which might be my favorite theme in the game. You’ve got to get through a fireball and piranha plant-infested castle, good luck! This is another level that’d be much easier if you could use the checkpoint than when I had to clear it from the start, that requirement is kind of cruel. But anyway, the level’s a fun challenge. There is a coin trail to help, follow it! I have just one note to help players,  you need to walljump immediately at the exit of all clear pipes so hold back in the pipe then jump. Make full jumps after each clear pipe, cutting the second one off slightly early so as to avoid the spike wall. In a creation note, the fireballs after clear pipes can’t kill you if you make a full, correct jump; if they could it would be random chance and I thought that would be unfair. I put thought into this.   One interesting thing about this level is that it has dramatically more attempts than any of my other stages, but has a similar number of footprints, likes, and clears.  This shows that some people really got into it and died a lot but kept coming back.  The mark of a good difficult level indeed.

My next level after that, completed in late January 2021, is one anyone other than me clearly considers much less good.  Well, I at least like it, sorry about that.

Game: SMM2. Level: 2-1: The Castle. Code H19-G58-WQG.  Som in the original Castle Siege “game”, level five was the longest and most challenging looking level of the eight. I put off starting work on it for a while because I knew it would be that, but in mid January finally got started.  It really probably should be the last level of the Super World, but I put it at level five so here it is, surely the longest and hardest level of my Super World in the middle of the world.  Oh well; I want to stick to the order and layouts of the original designs, and I’m doing that.  This level took a lot of work — I spent several weeks in January working on and tweaking this level.  Unfortunately, with how long it is very few people have seen almost any of that.  It wasn’t deleted, but only got eleven footprints and no hearts or clears.  I’m not surprised by that but it is kind of too bad, there’s some cool stuff in this level if you get far enough… and some pretty challenging stuff, but hey this is Mario so that should be expected.

Anyway, after a lot of tweaking I finally managed to make the level something I could upload.  Versus my first design, essentially I left most of the section up to the first checkpoint unchanged (apart from some alterations to make the first screen a lot easier), but kept adding in powerups and such to the later two third of the level. So, really the hardest part of this stage is the first third. Once you get to that first checkpoint it gets a lot easier, I think. There are definitely hard parts later on, but a few things are cheesable and there are regular powerups so with a bit of practice it’s not too bad. After finally clearing from the start last night, I cleared from both checkpoints pretty quickly.

I am thinking about making a harder remake of this stage without the compromises — fix the things I know you can cheese, put back in that one really annoying enemy at the beginning, make some of the jumps later one harder that I eased up on, maybe get rid of the checkpoints, and such. Perhaps. That would take forever for me to upload though so I’m not sure if I will.  So far I have not.  I did do something else, though — I made three levels that break this level into parts, with a full level for each of its three checkpoints.  I made those three levels in Super Mario Maker 1, though, and have not ported them back to SMM2 yet.  I will probably do that eventually.  More on these levels soon.

I also broke one part of this level out into a dedicated stage — after coming up with a pretty cool idea for how to do a tower0climbing section that’d be a lot more interesting than ‘just go up a vine or platform’, I decided to  make a full level dedicated to just that idea.  More on that below.  I quite like that part. of this stage and I’m glad I thought to make a much more accessible version of it.

But yes, this level is hardest in its first third. I know that having a level be hard at the end is best in a normal game, but honestly for Mario Maker this way is a lot more tolerable for the creator — after all, it’s easy to restart a clear attempt when you keep dying at the beginning. But if you keep dying at the END of a hard level, over and over and over again? That would be incredibly frustrating in a much worse way. If they make a Mario Maker 3 I’d love to see them come up with a solution to fix the “levels are way way harder for the creator than anyone else” issue, if indeed it can be solved.

As for the level, the first third is somewhat precise platforming, as you jump over enemies and between vines over spikes.  The second third has you traveling through the great hall, kitchen, and first tower of the castle.  The kitchen and each tower room has a little puzzle in it for you to solve in order to proceed.   Two parts in his section gave people trouble, so while I changed them in the SMM1 remakes, so far I have chosen to not re-upload this stage so instead I should put a few hints here.  First, one of the tower rooms has an off-screen thwomp.  Pay attention to the arrow made of coins over a switch on the floor you need to hit at the end of a room, it is a warning.  And second, in the kitchen, keep moving!  If you stop in the middle of the meat grinder — that is, underneath the munchers only being kept away from you by P-switch blocks — Boom-Boom may hit one of those P-switches.  You are supposed to keep moving here, that’s what I always did while uploading, so do so and make that second jump.  With that done, it’s on to the last third of the level.  Here, in probably the easiest third of the stage, you travel over the top of the castle, up the second tower, and then down into it to fight the boss.  You can cheese some of this section of the level.  I think I came up with a great room for a battle against Roy Koopa; this is one my best boss fights for sure. My clear check time was 5 minutes and 31 seconds, and you could finish it faster than that but it’s going to take a long time regardless.  I hope there is someone out there takes on the challenge of clearing this stage in full; the parts are cleared, all three of those SMM1 levels have clears, but not the whole thing here!

In February I made a shorter level.

Game: SMM2. Level: The Climb.  Code: NPV-G19-V5G.    This is that level that breaks off the wall-climb portion of The Castle into its own level.  This version is longer than the equivalent portion of The Castle, as you have a full-height vertical sub-world to climb up instead of just three or four screens as it is in the original.  This is a simple and focused stage — you learn the tech, and then repeat until you reach the top. The tech in question is going up a vertical wall using alternating alternating donut blocks and falling icicles. It’s a neat trick.

I think it is a good level, though it’s not as thematically interesting as my past stages, I think, except for some theoretical existential meaninglessness if you want to read way too much into a Mario level. While making this level, I was thinking about the journey you take in the stage.  You see, you basically just go up this wall until you hit a pipe which spits you out near where you started, making the whole thing pointless except for the knowledge you got past this wall, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Maybe I’ll made a third version of this idea where you go up a wall like this then reach the top and jump down off the other side, but for now it’s a somewhat pointless, if entertaining, endeavor…

Anyway, the level is only a bit over a minute long and is pretty easy once you get the rhythm of the jumps down. I think it’s fun, if unchanging, as the spacing stays the same throughout. Versus the version in The Castle, this version is kind of harder and kind of easier. One the one hand, it’s longer — The Castle’s version is four screens of climbing, while this one is twelve screens. There also isn’t the blooper that The Castle has, so you can’t skip a jump by hitting it instead. There are no regular enemies this time, unlike the one of the Castle’s version. However, this version is also easier because there is a midway checkpoint and I put the Link powerup in at the last minute, which gives you an extra hit; in The Castle you just have regular powerups which make you larger, and I find it impossible to not get hit when large when climbing these walls. Plus you don’t need to deal with the sometimes tricky jump at the top of the tower in The Castle, much less the rest of that stage.

So, this level, The Climb, should be fairly simple, as I said, once you get the jumping rhythm down. Hopefully it’s fun, though.  The level has four comments, which is more than most of my stages, so a few people found it interesting at least.

How to play hint: I find you can make two small hops on a donut, most of the time, before the next icicle respawns.  Hop-hop-jump.  One of the comments on this level is someone pointing out this technique.
After that, in March 2021 I made three levels, the three Super Mario Maker 1 versions of the three thirds of The Castle.
The Castle Trilogy for Mario Maker 1

So, one way to tweak The Castle would be to put a few fixes into the stage. It would still be a very long level with only two checkpoints, though, so I decided to take a second path — make three levels based off of each third of the level.  However, since I only have one Switch I can’t really do that easily, I need something to recreate it from after all. I guess I could film the screen or something but haven’t done that.

Instead, I started remaking it in three pieces in Mario Maker 1 on the Wii U. I have now completed and uploaded the first two parts, and I would very much appreciate it if people gave them a try.  I’ve had fun with this and challenged myself with tweaking levels, and hope others can experience them as well.

My main takeaway is that I hadn’t played MM1 in a while, and this effort has reminded me of how much better MM2 is than the first game. I mean, making these levels is fun, but I keep running into ‘I wish I had that in this one…’ moments. Sure, creation is a lot better on the Wii U Gamepad than it is on the Switch, but the vast number of things you can put in your levels in the second game that don’t exist in the first one much more than outweigh that. I had to change a lot of things in these levels, this second one particularly, because of all the things MM1 doesn’t have. I made it work, but overall I like the experience better in MM2. The biggest loss are on/off blocks and P-switch blocks, I think, not having those really makes a lot of things harder. I miss Boom-Boom way more than I would have thought, though, along with Spike, slopes, vertical levels, and more.  Hammer Bros. are also MUCH more aggressive in the first game than the second, which makes getting past them much much harder in these stages than in the original SMM2 version.  Despite how tedious making levels with a controller can be, overall SMM2 is a better game even for creation because of how many more items are available to you.

Remember, these are both Mario Maker 1 levels, not 2.

Game: SMM1.  Level: The Castle, Part One – 28C1-0000-0424-6ACF

This level gets to the first checkpoint of the Switch stage. This is a stage full of somewhat precise jumps. In parts you move quickly and in others slowly, but either way it’s all about learning the jumps. It’s mostly the same as the original version, apart from slopes being replaced with stepped blocks and a Spike having to be replaced with a second Hammer Bros. I uploaded this stage quite quickly and definitely had fun with it, without the rest of the level this part’s a fun level, I would say!

The one thing I didn’t do is make the boss at the end mandatory, you can still run right by him. In a standalone stage maybe it should be required though, I’m not sure… oh well.

This makes a good standalone stage I hope people like.  I should have put a midway checkpoint in this level, and if/when I make a SMM2 port of this level I will do so, but it’s a challenging but doable stage as it is, you just need to learn the jumps.  It will probably take a while because this level demands some precision, but you can do it!  At least one person has finished this stage, maybe more.  Naturally a lot fewer people play Mario Maker 1 in 2021 than Mario Maker 2, but at least a few people went back to the game in its closing weeks to play the many new levels like mine that released before the shutdown.

Game: SMM1.    Level: The Castle, Part Two – 8C47-0000-0424-940C

As in the original level, this one is a stiff challenge. You go through the great hall and kitchens and then up and down a tower. It took me a while to upload this one, but it’s up now. I had to make a LOT of changes to this level, as anyone who’s played the Switch version would understand — replacing missing enemies with other ones, figuring out how to make all of the on/off and p-block sections at least kind of work without those things, deciding what to do about the vertical sections without a game that allows vertical levels. The on/off and p-block sections have been replaced with various things – key doors, P-switches, and a spring, specifically. I had to mix things up in order to keep the level flow mostly the same, where in the second half of the stage you have to go across each tower room, activate something, and then return back to where you started to proceed. It works now, though it’s not quite as smooth as it is in MM2 on Switch due to having to use P-switches and what that does to the coins. The vertical fall section’s not as good now of course, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. There are now two two-screens-down jumps instead of one four screen one. It’s probably even easier than it was in the Switch version though, just jump over and you’ll be fine.

I did make one change to this level that players will like — I added a midway checkpoint. I can’t do this in the full MM2 level since you can only have two checkpoints per stage, but here it’s separate levels, so I put one in at the halfway point. Clearing the level from the checkpoint is challenging because you have to fight a Hammer Bros. as small Mario, and yes that killed me a lot while uploading the stage, but still I think it’s a great addition which definitely makes the level a little bit easier; sure that enemy is tough, but that’s less frustrating than having to start over every time!  Maybe I should have put in two checkpoints, but one works well I think for a level this length.  The level did get a completion eventually, though I think it was the last of the three to be finished.

Game: SMM1. level: The Castle, Part Three: Final – E186-0000-0424-F18D

This level had to be fairly heavily modified from the original final third of The Castle, but I made it mostly work. I did a few things to make this harder than the original, but more to make it easier so overall this is probably easier than the SMM2 version. On the harder side, you can’t skip the first section of this level anymore; you’ve got to work your way over the battlements. This is challenging, but with practice I figured out how to get through well. On the easier side though, I put two checkpoints into this level. And yeah, that sure makes this level a lot easier! This one shouldn’t be too tough to clear really, there is a Bowser fight at the end but it’s fairly straightforward. I put a message at the end before the goal congratulating the victorious.

As for changes I had to make because of parts that aren’t in the first game, they are pretty significant. The largest changes are that vertical levels aren’t in SMM1, and there are no icicles either. Both of these things really hurt this stage, but I think the solutions I came up with work. It’s not quite as good a level as it is in SMM2, but this is still a solid level I think.

This level almost immediately got three footprints and one completion. No star then, but a quick completion was a surprise, that’s nice to see. It’s obvious a lot fewer people play SMM1 than the first game, which is understandable.  A few more people have played it since.

Then, I didn’t make any Mario Maker levels for a few months.  I kept meaning to but just didn’t get around to it.  Yesterday however I changed that and made a new level for Mario Maker 2 for the Switch.  It’s not the long-delayed sixth Super World level though, it’s an original one based on an idea I was thinking about.
Game: SMM2.  Level:  The Desert of Regret. Code: Q77-LXD-7MF 

It’s been a few months, but yes I finally made another Mario Maker 2 level. It’s a pretty tough level but definitely beatable, just learn and make the jumps and you’ll be fine!  My original concept was ‘a super annoying troll-ey level full of softlocks where you can’t die but will have a hard time winning’ but I didn’t follow through, fortunately for anyone who plays the level.  Well, I did follow through, except not for the “softlocks” or “troll-ey” parts.  “You can’t easily die but may have a hard time winning”, though?  Yes, that describes this level well.

What I made is a fairly precise platformer level with small platforms to jump between, including note blocks, donut blocks, timed P-switch sections, and lots of required use of momentum to make jumps.   There is also one puzzle near the end, and there are two checkpoints.  Below you is not death pits, but ground that lead to reset doors or paths that send you back to the last checkpoint.  At first the level didn’t have the reset doors but while working on the level today I changed course and added them in order to have a much more fun and playable stage, instead of an intentionally bad one.  I had some fun with the level once I added the reset doors, it’s frustrating but in that good ‘I want to learn this jump’ way that Mario’s controls make so special.  There are three or four jumps in this level that gave me more trouble than the rest of the stage, but it didn’t take too long to upload really, you can just keep trying so long as time remains after all.

As with many of my levels I think getting to the first checkpoint is one of the harder things in the level, though what I would call the hardest jump is late in the second checkpoint’s section.  I used coin trails to show where to go for a few off-screen jumps, so if you miss them first try lining them up without the coins can be hard.  It’s definitely possible though, I’ve done it without the coins for all of them.

There are no enemies in the level other than a couple of tornado things which cannot hurt you because the concept was ‘you shouldn’t be able to die’.  However, I did have to add a spike in the sub-world to let you die because of one puzzle near the end that irreparably breaks if you get certain coins.  I decided on keeping the puzzle over keeping the total no-die thing.  On that note, the levels’ description text is “Live. Jump. Repeat.” which is a reference some may some may recognize.   I think it’s fitting.

You can definitely do better than my clear check time, I got through the first section really quickly but did fall down a bunch in the middle section.  You can also do worse, though — I had less time left on the clock in the time I cleared the level from the first checkpoint than the time I cleared it from the start.  Heh.  The level only was uploaded hours ago and it already has a like and clear!  Pretty cool. It took the person quite a while, almost 24 minutes (versus my clear check time a bit over 3 minutes), but that’s the kind of level this is so that is to be expected, the level took hours to make and upload.  It’s really cool to see a quick like and clear, I wasn’t expecting that so soon.

Conclusion
That is all of my Mario Maker levels so far, though I will certainly be uploading more as time passes.  I am far from done with this exceptional game and series, that’s for sure!  With the best controls and gameplay of maybe any game ever and endless variety, Super Mario Maker 2 is one of the very best games of all time.  It’s also a frustrating mess, but that’s one of the reasons I love it.  Both the good and bad of Mario Maker is reflected in my levels, I will admit, but whether it is my levels or others Super Mario Maker is a compelling, engrossing game I continue playing frequently, making levels for on a regular basis, and watching people better than me play daily.
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On My Setup – Classic and Modern Gaming on both Old and New TVs with Good Image Quality

I would say I am sorry for not having posted anything for so many months, but… it’s been a very bad year for this world, I haven’t been able to get myself to write a post in a while.  I have been spending a lot of time upgrading my setup, though, and as a result decided to finally get back to the site with this, an article explaining how my setup works, and some basics of running consoles on modern TVs with good image quality.  This is not a full explanation of how to do that, other sites and Youtube channels do that well, but I felt I should cover the fundamentals at least.

INTRODUCTION

For the last several years, my main television was a 46″ Sony rear-projection CRT set from 2003 which I got for free. It’s a great TV for anything up to the ’00s, but that 720p (actually 480p somehow)/1080i set doesn’t cut it for current-gen systems, the image quality is noticeably lower particularly on the Xbox One. Still, for its good quality with older systems I was very happy with it. Sadly, in spring 2020 it broke and I had to make a choice for what to replace it with. My SD CRT still works, but that is only for classic systems.

I chose to get something nice for myself, and got a 55″ LG C9, a somewhat high-end 4K TV set. With that I had to upgrade my setup, because a modern TV requires upscaling for classic systems to look decent. So, I spent a bunch more money on switches and cables. Soon after I spent even more on the cables needed to upgrade the systems I easily could to component cables for better RGB image quality.

These all added up to some pretty major upgrades, and while I am not entirely done — I need another upscaler, so I don’t have to switch cables to output stuff on the 4K TV and also need a new cable for my Xbox because the thing isn’t working at all on the 4K TV with component output for some odd reason — but it’s close enough to make this article explaining how my setup works now. I’m sure it may interest someone. This is not the best way to do a setup, but it mostly works.

My primary goals with my setup are threefold: to allow me to use any console simply by turning it on and going to the correct input; to have all classic consoles output to both my 4K TV and my CRT without cable switching required; and to have as good video output as each system natively supports, if the cables are available. I only have one console modified (modded) for better video output than it natively supports; otherwise I stick with what they support out of the box, which is usually sufficient.

With that said, here is how my setup works.

So as I said I have two televisions in my living room. They are in the same room but in different parts of the room, with the SD CRT above my classic consoles, and the 4K TV in front of the modern ones. With my previous setup, only the classic consoles area systems output to the SDTV. However, my PS2, which I also use for PS1 games, and original Xbox are in the modern area, which means that I can’t use my lightguns for those consoles, or play the games on a CRT, which for the PS1 and PS2 definitely looks better than a HDTV will. I decided to solve this problem by adding some more switches to the setup and sending all of the signals to the modern area before they go to both TVs, so my NES, for example, goes through a whole lot of cable before it reaches the TV just above it, probably up to as much as 50 feet of cable depending on the system. That is not great in some ways, for potential impedance, interference, and lag issues, but it works and gets everything to both screens so for now it’s what I am doing.

VIDEO GAME CONSOLE OUTPUT TYPES

I am going to break the rest of this down by which switch each system is connected to, organized by which type of connection(s) the box uses. The video output types that my systems use are as follows:

– RF: This analog input is the lowest-end option, which I only use for old consoles that only support it. It sends the whole signal, audio and video, on one cord. The output is on a coax cable line cord also known as an F connector, or, alternately, a single RCA plug also known as a phono jack; generally the cord from a console uses the phono cord, which connects via an adapter to your cable or antenna line input. This may look like a regular composite input cable, but it is not; in most cases you need a compatible switchbox for your system or a phono to F adapter and need to connect it to a cable (F connector) port somewhere, most easily on a VCR. A few systems use required external RF units instead.  For lower-end CRT TVs cable-line RF is the only graphical option you have, too, but I don’t use one of those TVs anymore. [NTSC] Resolutions supported: 480i (interlaced, drawing every other line) or 240p (progressive scan, drawing every line but with half as many total).  These are the output resolutions of standard television and remained the same for decades.  A TV screen is 640×480, but the image must either alternate lines — interlaced — or have half the resolution in progressive scan mode.  Game consoles may use resolutions other than these two, but the actual TV output scales that to these.

– Composite – The most common input in the US through the ’90s and ’00s, this form of analog input is one step above RF since it separates audio and video. This is also known as AV, A/V, or RCA; it is the once-omnipresent red, white, and yellow phono plugs. The image from composite is decent but not great, with plenty of blurring and image quality issues like wavy lines and such. It was designed for CRT televisions and looks significantly better on a CRT than it does on a flatscreen television.  With a flatscreen TV, an upscaler such as the Retrotink or OSSC is VERY highly recommended if you want your systems to look close to how they would on a CRT.  I used composite on CRTs for a long time — I only started upgrading to anything better than this for classic consoles last year, really — and it looks fine for consoles of the day, but since I can get better options now I decided to. I am not a serious videophile though, so I have no problem with using composite for any classic system today, on a CRT or with an upscaler… except for the Sega Genesis, that one badly needs RGB. Anything else looks fine on composite though. Composite’s blurrier output is how most classic games were intended to be viewed, after all. Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– S-Video – A definite step above composite, S-Video is noticeably sharper than composite since its video cable has four small wires in it instead of only one. It also uses the same two-plug RCA audio leads as composite. S-Video never was commonly used in the US, but some TVs and a lot of systems and equipment do support it and it’s a great option for those that do but would be hard to get full RGB out of. S-Video graphics are quite a bit sharper than composite, but still have some of that analog blur that was how graphics looked to most people in the ’00s and before. Modern flatscreen TVs do not have s-video ports on them anymore, so you will need an upscaler to use this type of cable on recent TVs.  Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– VGA – While almost always used exclusively for computer video output – this was the standard PC video cable of the ’90s – a few consoles do support VGA, most notably the Dreamcast.  The DC released before component became popular, so in order to get progressive scan for a video output option above regular television, they decided to go with VGA.  A few other consoles also have VGA cables, such as the Xbox 360.  VGA supports a lot of resolutions, but on console it goes up to 480p.  Adapters exist to use VGA on modern televisions.

– RGB  Output Types: RGB Cable, Component, SCART – RGB is the best form of analog video output for classic consoles from the ’80s and ’90s. Some systems natively support it and others require modification to use RGB, but either way, RGB will get you an extremely clean and sharp signal, with none of the blur that was the way we all saw images on TVs back then. That is both a good and a bad thing, as some systems such as the Genesis rely on that blur, both from the cable and a CRT TV, putting colors right next to eachother to make something appear to be a different color, but the sharpness is impressive and usually an improvement. As for cables, there are several ways to get RGB signals — via component cables, the five-cable phono RCA cable system with red, green, and blue video cords and white and red audio ones. I got HD Retrovision’s component cables for four of my classic consoles. Alternately, people in Europe or other PAL territories, or people willing to import all of their hardware to the US, can use SCART for this. I have never used SCART and it has some complexities, so look up tutorials for how to do that before just buying cables. In Japan only there is a plug called JP21 which looks like SCART but has a different (and VERY incompatible) pinout, and also a smaller, more VGA-looking RGB cable, which some things use. And lastly, there are modern homebrew cables which adapt classic console outputs to HDMI available for many systems.  The results should be similar no matter which way you get your RGB to the screen though, which one you use just depends on what systems support easily and how you have done your setup. Modern flatscreen TVs do not have any of these types of ports on them anymore (unless there is something in Europe with a SCART port still on it? I don’t know), so you will need an upscaler to use this type of cable on recent TVs.  Most modern TVs also do not support 240p RGB as a resolution, so an upscaler really is required to see anything on screen;  a cheap component to HDMI adapter will only work with 480p consoles such as the  PS2 or newer, not older systems.  And even with the PS2, a cheap component to HDMI adapter will only work with PS2 games and not PS1 games, which output in 240p when using a component cable.  Unfortunately a more expensive option is required to even see anything on your TV.  There are many now, for many consoles, and the list grows all the time; I will not try to list them all.  Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– Component –  I know I just covered component above, but running RGB over component is only one use of this cable, it has others.  This is the best form of analog video cabling used. Modern component cables exist for RGB usage for some classic systems, as covered in the above category, but this five-plug cable was originally popularized for higher resolutions such as 480p, once TVs that supported that resolution were released.  But while component was mostly used for EDTVs and HDTVs and systems which support 480p or better, SD CRTs that support component, for sharp RGB 240p output, were also sold; I should know, my SD CRT is one of those. Having to deal with five separate cables can be a pain, since they can be hard to tell apart and it’s a lot of cables to keep track of and keep plugged in correctly, but when set up correctly you get great results, if everything works.  I use component both for RGB on some classic consoles, and for progressive-scan 480p or better output on some modern ones for the ’00s that do not natively support HDMI. Recent TVs don’t have component outputs.  Also see above for more on how most modern TVs do not support 240p RGB so an upscaler and not just an adapter will be required for classic systems on component cables, or to play PS1 games on a PS2 using component.  So, an upscaler is unfortunately required if you want better than composite.  Resolutions supported: 480i, 240p, 480p, 720p, 1080i.

– HDMI – HDMI is a much simpler standard than any of the above — you simply plug in the cord and go, it carries both audio and video, is fully digital, and supports up to 1440p resolutions I believe. After dealing with the many, many issues regular RCA analog cables have given me, going to the simplicity of HDMI is very nice. HDMI supports all resolutions component cables do, as well as 1080p.  It is simple and works well.

– Ultra HDMI, aka 4K Ultra HDMI This high-speed variant of HDMI looks the same as regular HDMI, but carries a lot more data. It is required for resolutions over 1080p, such as the “4K” resolutions the newest consoles support, or 8K for people who have one of those very high-end sets.

MY SETUP

So with that out of the way, it’s finally to the main event here, the list of how my stuff is actually laid out. I will start from the top, with the RF systems.

RF SYSTEMS

Archer Video Selector Switch, model 15-1261:

For RF systems, I use an Archer manual switch. This early ’80s switch does not number the inputs but instead names them. The first four inputs are phono (cable line) plugs, and the last an RCA (F-connector) plug instead. So, for classic consoles, you won’t need a phono to F adapter for that last input, which is nice.

I recently got this early ’80s Archer manual switchbox to solve my ‘I need to regularly swap cables behind my VCR to use some of these systems on the HDTV’ problem, and it’s a great answer! Any RF switchbox you get will be from the ’80s, but fortunately the tech in these is very simple and should still work fine. This switch from Archer, an ’80s Radio Shack brand, has two dials on the front to set which input you want to go to each output, and is not powered. It has five input and two outputs, and in a design you will see often from Radio Shack products, locks out one of the inputs from going to one of the outputs, so if you’re recording from a VCR that is also connected to the unit you can’t create a feedback loop. This limitation frustrates me at times, but oh well, that’s how it is. Amusingly this box uses the early term”VTR” instead of the later standard “VCR”, but they mean the same thing.

My RF switchbox is sitting on top of my VCR, which it connects to. The easiest way to get RF consoles onto a modern TV is to use a VCR. Mine is a VCR/DVD combo unit, which are great.

Inputs: 4 RF coax F-connectors, 1 phono plug.

– ANT – Texas Instruments TI 99/4A (first silver model) (when on RF; I also have AV cables for thie system). This system uses a manual RF switchbox which is required to output RF, so it outputs on a cable line plug.

Connected to the output line on the TI99/4A’s switchbox is my Atari 2600, which I rarely use since I have a modded 7800 I will get to later, but I keep the 2600 plugged in for compatibility reasons; some games do not support the 7800. I need to slide the switch on the box to change these inputs but that is easy enough. The 2600 requires a manual rf box or phono to F adapter and a dedicated connection. I use the latter for image quality reasons.

– CABLE – Magnavox Odyssey 2. This uses a phono-to-F adapter. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter.

– VTR – Mattel Intellivision (Sears Super Video Arcade model). This uses a phono-to-F adapter. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter. If I had a second output from this box, which I do not, this wouldn’t go to output 2 (see below for why).

– AUX-1 – Atari 5200 (model 1). I have both models of 5200, but use a model 1 5200 as my regular console. Its unique, and first-of-its-kind, automatic switchbox still works perfectly, so it connects to the F-connector directly.

Connected to this is an automatic switch I connect to my NES 2, the small NES. I usually use my original-model NES since it has AV output, but also have this one that I now only really use for large-sized Famicom carts. I use a NEC-branded auto switch that came with my TurboGrafx-16 since it is the best-made auto RF switch I own.

Finally, connected to that is a line from a splitter for my cable TV signal, for if I want to view TV on my SD CRT. I do not often use this but the input was free, so why not?

– AUX-2 – Coleco Colecovision. This input is the phono plug, so the system connects directly to the switch. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter, or native phono jack of course.

Outputs:  2 RF coax.

1 – Connected to VCR/DVD Combo unit.

2 – Not used.  Input 3 (VTR) won’t go to this.

COMPOSITE SYSTEMS

Philips VCR/DVD Combo:

The Archer RF switch outputs to my ’00s Philips VCR/DVD combo unit, as I said above. So, I will cover this next. This is a VCR/DVD combo unit from the ’00s, and I do have the remote for it thankfully. One of these is an extremely handy thing to have! I rarely watch DVDs on this since I rarely watch DVDs and I don’t have this hooked up with component outputs for the DVD side so the image quality is quite a bit worse than it would be on my consoles, but it’s nice to have the option available. Note that in all VCR/DVD combo units, component output is ONLY for the DVD player; VCRs are designed for composite and only output that signal. Naturally, both A/V inputs on this player are also composite.

Inputs: 2 composite AV, 1 RF coax.

– AV 1 (Rear) – Texas Instruments TI 99/4A Computer (when using composite, which is usually the better choice for clearer picture). Composite is the best signal a TI99 natively outputs so use it.

– AV 2 (Front) – Currently unused. A front AV jack is convenient sometimes though, it’s much easier to get to than all the rest of the inputs I have.

– RF 1 – Archer model 15-1261 RF switch listed above.

Outputs: 1 composite AV, one RF coax.

– RF – Not Used. I used to use this for a rotated TV but now do not.

– AV – This is connected to S-Video / Composite Switch 1.

Composite / S-Video Switch 1 – Philips Master Video Switching Center, model PH61153

This automatic switch has four inputs and one output, and supports S-Video or composite. This thing has a bunch of features, though many have limited use. This is an automatic switch wit hthree modes, auto, manual, and scan. Yes, you have a scan function to scan for inputs to automatically switch between; I am not sure why this is required, my Radio Shack switches and component switches don’t need this. It also has an RF phono cable port and apparently will output anything over cable as well, for older SDTV support, though I haven’t tested this. It has a stand to put it vertical, though I am not using it. Additionally there is a single RF cable input jack, but it won’t upscale that to composite or s-video, it only outputs it in the cable output port, so this is a largely pointless, 1-in-1-out thing. It’s just an extender. On a more positive note, in addition to being an auto switch it claims to support generic remotes, if you want to change inputs from a distance. This is a decent switch with some features.

As far as inputs go, from the instructions I got the impression that this switch will not upscale composite to s-video. I have not tried that myself so I can’t say for sure, though. I decided to use this for some composite systems, so that’s not a major issue since my other switches do convert between them.Unfortunately however, even though I got this switch new old stock earlier this year, sadly both audio ports on input 1 are totally broken, so I have to use it as a 3-in-1-out switch.

Inputs: 4 AV / S-VIdeo, 1 RF.  The RF input will only output to the RF output, NOT the composite/s-video output, so it is not very useful.  The other four inputs support composite AV or S-Video, though I am only using composite in this box currently.

– AV/SV 1 – Not Used since both audio ports for this input are broken. 🙁

– AV/SV 2 – NES (composite). The NES does not support above composite without an internal mod. It looks good on composite.

– AV/SV 3 – VCR/DVD Combo Unit (composite). VCRs only output composite.

– AV/SV 4 – TurboGrafx-16 CD (composite). This is the best output a Turbo CD natively outputs and it looks very good.  This system has very dark RF but great looking composite.

– RF – Not Used. This will only output to RF.

Outputs: 1 composite or s-video, 1 RF coax.

– AV/S-Video – To S-Video/Composite Switch 2 (S-Video)

– RF – Not Used.  The RF input will only output here.

S-VIDEO AND COMPOSITE SYSTEMS

Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314 – three in sequence

Next in my setup, the automatic switches continue with three more chained automatic S-Video/composite switches. All three of these are from Radio Shack. Radio Shack made this 5-in 2-out auto AV/S-Video switch in the ’90s and ’00s, and I mostly love these things, which is why I have so many. I should mention the downsides first, though. I have heard that these slightly degrade image quality, and while I can’t say I have noticed that it may well be true. Worse, I have had ports on these fail or become much touchier. Everything works on the three of these I’m using, but a few ports, most notably the audio output jacks on one of them, are really touchy. I also have a fourth one of these I can’t use because its audio output has totally failed. I am sure this is fixable with some soldering, but it’s still unfortunate.

Still, I love this model of switch for its ease of use and features; there are not many options for automatic AV/S-Video switches and of them I like this the most, issues and all. The Phillips above is the only other one I know of, but it supports one less input and one less output.  That ones’ additional features are not things I use, either, and it has more distracting lights on the front.  This just has one on top per input, plus one on top if auto mode is on.  A switch on the back disables auto mode if you are having issues with it with an input.  Unlike the Philips there is no option to use a remote with these, but I’ve never needed one, the automatic switching works very well.  Additionally, the Radio Shack one will internally convert between S-Video and composite, so you can take in composite and send out S-Video, and vice versa. This is quite useful; sure, it may affect image quality slightly, but it’s more than worth it in my opinion for what I get. S-video definitely looks better through these switches than composite, it is not just turning s-video into composite or such.  Oh, and like the Archer RF switch above, one input won’t go to one output so as to not let you create feedback looks while connecting it to a VCR for recording.  This limitation is annoying for how I use them, but oh well.

Two of these switches are in my classic consoles area. They then connect with a long 15′ cable to the modern area, where one last one of these takes in several more inputs and then outputs to both TVs, via another 15′ cable to the SDTV and with a much shorter cord via the Retrotink 2X Pro to the 4KTV. These boxes take a second to recognize that a signal has been turned on, so it takes a few seconds for the image to appear on the screen after turning on a console with these, but it’s worth it for me.

Note, these switches only have text labels on the front, but numbers for the inputs on the back. They also come with various alternate labels and cable labels when you buy one of these new, but I just use the defaults since they don’t have ones actually named for consoles. Below I list each input with both its number and the default name on the front. Oddly the numbers go backwards here, so 1 is the input on the right.

Composite/S-Video Switch 2, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) – N64 [standard black model] (S-Video). This is the best output you get out of an N64 without an internal modification.

– 2 ( GAME) – 3DO [FZ-1 model] (S-Video). The 3DO FZ1 has composite and S-Video ports on the back.

– 3 (DVD) – Input From S-Video/Composite Switch 1 (the Philips switch above). (composite)

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Atari 7800 (S-Video). This is my one and only system modded for better video output, and it makes a huge difference! The 7800 by default requires a manual switchbox and has poor image output quality, but this modded system fully fixes those issues. I’d recommend a modded one if you get this system.

– 5 (VCR) – Laserdisc player (Pioneer model). (S-Video). The player has composite and s-video ports on the back. This is a movie player, not a game machine. Oddly laserdisc players only send out an image, unlike a VCR they can’t be used for inputs. Too bad. This input will not go to output 2 (which I’m not using anyway here).

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To S-Video / Composite Switch 3 (S-Video)

– 2 – Not Used. Input 5 won’t go to this output.

Composite/S-Video Switch 3, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) –NEC PC-FX (S-Video). The PC-FX has composite and s-video ports on the back.

– 2 ( GAME) – Atari Jaguar (S-Video). The Jaguar supports RF, composite, s-video, and RGB via SCART. A homebrew adapter to use component cables exists but are very hard to find and sadly I do not have one. There are also adapters to use an RGB cable with that VGA-ish port, but I’d have no way to use that in my current setup so for now it’ll be on s-video. The image output is pretty good.

– 3 (DVD) – Not Used. Yes, it’s a free input!

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Input from S-Video/Composite Switch 2 (the first Radio Shack switch above) (S-Video)

– 5 (VCR) – Philips CD-i (composite). The CD-i model I have, the DVS VE-200, is great in some ways (no battery-in-a-chip design for the saving!), but only has composite outputs on the back so that is what I use. Some other CD-i models have S-Video output but you will need a save chip solution for them ASAP. This input will not go to output 2 (which I’m not using anyway here).

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To S-Video / Composite Switch 4

– 2 – Not Used. Input 5 won’t go to this output.

Composite/S-Video Switch 4, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

This switch is in my modern consoles side of the room, instead of the classic one. Modern consoles for me are ones from the sixth generation and beyond, so it’s systems Dreamcast and newer – systems designed for progressive scan most of the time and higher resolutions.

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) – Input from S-Video/Composite Switch 3 (the second Radio Shack switch above) (S-Video)

– 2 ( GAME) – Sega Gamecube (S-Video). I usually play Gamecube games on my Wii, which has a component cable, but I set this up as well because I can so why not? This is also my only way of playing GBC and GBA games on a TV since the GC does have a Game Boy Player attached. The Gamecube supports component output for 480p in many games, but while I may get that sometime for ease of use (not having to use a Wiimote to get into the GC game, etc.), this s-video output also looks pretty nice. It’s not progressive scan but is sharp. It’s a great output choice for the SD CRT, with component or HDMI cables it’d be quite a hassle to disable progressive scan for one TV and enable it for the other one…

– 3 (DVD) – Sega Dreamcast (composite). I mostly use my Behar Bros. DC to HDMI adapter box with the system, but for games that do not support VGA and thus won’t work with the HDMI adapter I need this option. For the DC I could get s-video cables, but so far I have not. This HDMI adapter is good, but I may get HD Retrovision’s Dreamcast cable once they release it; the HD Retrovision cable will have an easy ‘switch to composite’ switch, saving the cable switching this method requires with games not VGA compatible.  Additionally, when I want to play original Xbox games in composite, on my SD CRT, which is a good option for certain titles, I plug it in to this port since neither is used much.

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Sony PlayStation 2 (composite) As with the GC, DC and Xbox above, this is a system I mostly use component with, but I have two PS2s, one American fat one and one Japanese slim one, and chose to connect one with composite and the other with component. Many PS2 games look less bad with composite than with any other output option because of how the system was designed. Right now the Japanese PS2 Slim is the one on composite but this changes depending on what I am playing.

– 5 (VCR) – Not Used. This input will not go to output 2, my SD CRT, so nothing is attached to it.

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To Retrotink 2X Pro (S-Video) which then outputs to the 4K TV (via HDMI).

– 2 – To SD CRT TV (S-Video) Input 5 won’t go to this output.

COMPONENT INPUTS

That completes the RF, Composite, and S-Video chain — from this last box finally everything goes to a TV. Next is the component chain, which is newly greatly expanded and caused me a whole lot of problems in the last few days. Other than the aforementioned issue of the Xbox not working at all on component, though, I’ve diagnosed and solved all other problems.  Some of them were compatibility issues, others issues with me plugging things into the wrong places or cables coming out; with so many cords, remember every connection here has five separate plugs everywhere other than on the consoles themselves, there are a LOT of cords to keep track of. So, here goes!

Component Switch 1, a Philips PH61150 HD Automatic Video Switcher (in Classic Consoles Area)

The Philips automatic component switches are similar to their composite one, and also are 4-in-1-out switches, but are a bit simpler than that one. These has only two modes, auto or manual, first. That’s all that is needed anyway. They also do not come with a stand if you want to put the switch vertical like the composite/s-video one does, so I guess they are for horizontal use only. Fine with me. The box supports component or composite, but I only am using component with it. The Philips HD switch also doesn’t have the RF passthrough or RF output. No big loss there. All inputs work correctly on both of these boxes, which is great.  These are quite nice, other than their output being seriously incompatible with distribution amplifiers; see below for more on that annoying problem.

Inputs: 4, all with component, composite, or s-video.  I am using component with everything below.

– 1 – Sega Saturn [model 2] (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable, with Saturn adapter) I also have composite and s-video cables for the Saturn, but RGB does look slightly sharper.

– 2 – Sega Genesis 2, with Sega CD 2 and 32X (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable) The Genesis has infamously horrible RF and composite v ideo output quality, and does not support s-video, so SCART or this HD Retrovision cable are the only ways to get nice-looking video output out of a Genesis. This system is the reason why I went for this classic component upgrade, it’s expensive but worth it to finally for the first time see Genesis games actually looking sharp and clear on a television. The Genesis has the worst composite and RF output of any console I own, hands down. Get RGB out of it if it is at all possible to do so!

– 3 – Sega Master System (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable, with SMS/Genesis 1 adapter). The SMS is surely the first console with RGB output support, nice work Sega! (As with most American SMSes, mine is just a console, it does not have a built-in game.)

– 4 – Super Nintendo / SNES (via HD Retrovision SNES component cable). How good SNES RGB looks depends on the internals of your Super Nintendo, they vary, but it does look better than composite or s-video, at least, on mine.  It’s an earlier model 1 system I believe.

Output: 1, with composite, component, or s-video.

– 1 – To Component Switch 2 (Component)

Component Switch 2, a Philips PH61150 HD Automatic Video Switcher (in Modern Consoles Area)

Inputs: 4, all with component, composite, or s-video.  I am using component with everything below.

– 1 – Microsoft Xbox (component).  This is the original Xbox.  There are some games that look better on a SD CRT and I can switch the system over to that (see above), but for the vast majority of titles on this console component is the way to go, it has a lot of games with progressive scan support.

– 2 – Sony PlayStation 2 (component) I use this for both PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 games, and the results look great for PS1 games, which output over component in 240p RGB. With the PS2 it varies depending on game though, most look pretty much the same as composite while a few do support 480p. PS2s are known as the last console designed for CRT screens first and foremost. Right now my US PS2 is connected here but I sometimes swap the cables with the composite cable now on the Japanese one. The two systems are placed one on top of the other so it’s not hard.

– 3 – From Component Switch 1

– 4 – Nintendo Wii [black model] (component) This is the best output a Wii outputs natively. HDMI adapters exist now I believe but I don’t have one, yet at least. I also have used this for Gamecube games a lot. It is best for the ones that support progressive scan 480p, since I don’t have a component or HDMI cable for my GC.

Output: 1, with composite, component, or s-video.

– 1 – To Radio Shack component switch model 15-316, a manual with remote component switch, and from there to a Ce labs AV400COMP distribution amplifier, and from there to the three destinations. So, this gets complicated.

From this component switch, I need to send the image to three places, one for 240p systems – a Retrotink; one for 480p or higher – a cheap HDMI adapter; and one for the CRT TV.  So, to split the signal, I need to send the image to a component distribution amplifier. This device takes in an input and sends out multiple copies of it at full quality, without any degradation in image quality that you would get otherwise with things such as cable splitters. The amplifier then outputs to the three sources listed below. So I tried this but had a problem: when I directly connect the Philips switches to a distribution amplifier, it badly messes up their colors! All shades of color vanish, and only red, blue, and green colors appear on screen for everything. It’s a crazy glitch to say the least, and it’s an issue with the Phillips switch, not the amplifier.

After testing a lot of things I eventually found a workaround — I hooked up my old Radio Shack 4-in-1-out manual component switchbox, model 15-316, again. I got the Philips switches because the Radio Shakck is a manual switch and you need to put it line of sight with the remote in order to change inputs, which is a problem. setup location-wise.  It only has one input used on it now though, from the second Philips component switch, and then sends its output to the distribution amplifier. It’s too bad this is required since it wastes more of my very limited power outlet spots, but at least it works! … Well, for everything other than the Xbox, but that’s some other issue.

Outputs: from the CeLabs AV400COMP distribution amplifier: (all component):

– 1 – To Retrotink 2X Pro (which then outputs to the 4K TV over HDMI). This is for systems that output at 240p or lower, so it will NOT work with the original Xbox or Wii unless you set them to SD output. As I described in the outputs section above, this will work with the PS2, but not with games that natively support 480p progressive scan, only for PS1 games and the large majority of the PS2 library that do not support progressive scan.

– 2 – To SDTV (via component, 240p only this is not a 480p TV)

– 3 – To a cheap, no-name Component to HDMI adapter that I have (via component), and from there (via HDMI) to my 5-input HDMI switch, which output to my 4K HDTV. This is for progressive scan systems that support 480p or better, so the Xbox (if working), Wii, and PS2 (the few supported titles).

To simplify this setup, I could get an OSSC instead of the Retrotink for component inputs and use the Retrotink only for the S-Video chain. (The OSSC only natively supports component, RGB, or SCART. There is also an addon for the OSSC called the Kouryu that adds s-video support to it, but as I have a Retrotink I don’t know that I will buy one.) This would have the benefit of supporting SCART for systems which support it but I can’t really get component inputs for, eg the Jaguar, and the Neo-Geo if I get one someday. The OSSC also supports 480p inputs, so I could drop the need to use two HDMI inputs for one chain of devices, which would be nice. OSSCs are expensive though so I have not done this yet after spending so much.  I will probably get one eventually, or the upcoming OSSC Pro.

HDMI INPUTS

5-in-1-out Automatic/Remote HDMI Switch 1: – this thing says IIIP on it so maybe that is the brand name?  It says 5×1 Enhanced HDMI Switch and 4Kx2K on it, as its model name / features list.  There are a lot of generic HDMI switches out there and this is one of them.

This switch is nice — it’s small, has five inputs, will automatically switch to devices when they turn on, and has a remote extender so if you need to use the remote you can put the sensor in a visible spot; this is key, you want to put a switch like this hidden well behind stuff, not visible in range of the IR remote.

Inputs: 5, all regular HDMI.  This thing claims some form of 4K Ultra HDMI support but I think it is limited.

– 1 – Nintendo Switch (original model)

– 2 – Nintendo Wii U (black 32GB model)

– 3 – From HDMI Switch 2 (below)

– 4 – Sega Dreamcast (via Behar Bros. HDMI adapter box; most games support this, but some do not and need the composite cable instead.)

– 5 – Microsoft Xbox 360 (Slim)

Output: 1 HDMI.

– 1 – To 4K TV

HDMI Switch 2, a NewBEP 4-in-1-out Manual/Remote HDMI Switch:

This basically noname but NewBEP-branded switch says 4K ARC HDR HDMI 2.0 and 4 IN 1 OUT Switch on it, so it should support all those things in some form, though 4K support is probably limited.  This second switch works well, but it doesn’t have the nice features of the other one.  Sure, it makes more claims about HDMI 2.09 and 4K, but I wouldn’t want to attach a 4K console to this, it’s probably 30fps only or such.  The downsides are much more significant – there is one less input, and no automatic switching switch here so you need the remote or button on the device to change inputs. And there is no remote extender either, so you’d better find somewhere to put it where it will have a direct line of sight to its little IR remote.  So, I have it on the top of the back of my Xbox One S.

Inputs: 4, all regular HDMI with some 4K support which I am not using.

– 1 – Sony PlayStation 3 (HDMI)

– 2 – Steam Link (HDMI)

– 3 – Not Used

– 4 – Not Used

Output:

– 1 – To HDMI Switch 1

The TVS THEMSELVES

So, the result is this, the inputs on the TVs themselves:

LG C9 4K TV (55″)

Inputs: 4 HDMI, all fully Ultra HDMI 2.1 compatible, and 1 composite AV via adapter.  There are also four USB ports, though those are mostly for powering devices.

– HDMI 1 – XBox One S (with 4K-compatible Ultra HDMI cable)

– HDMI 2 – Retrotink 2X Pro (HDMI)

– HDMI 3 – HDMI Switch 1 (HDMI)

– HDMI 4 – the cheap Component-to-HDMI Adapter (HDMI) Again, this is mostly for PS2 and Wii games now that the Xbox has an issue and isn’t working on the 4K TV. PS1 games will NOT work here, my TV does not natively support 240p; for PS1 games an upscaler like the Retrotink is required.

– [Composite] AV 1 – Not Used  I have tried this input and as expected it makes everything look horrible.  An upscaler is pretty much required on a TV like this, unfortunately.

Output: Audio output only. Boo!  It is optical at least.

PHILIPS CRT TV (from the early ’00s)

I am have had this TV since the mid ’00s, but am not sure what model it is exactly because unfortunately before I was given it the label on the back was mostly torn off.  It has better image quality for older consoles than anything you can get on a modern television.  The audio is mediocre, far behind a modern flatscreen, though.  Oh well.

Inputs: 1 RF coax, 1 AV or s-video, 1 AV or component.

– [Composite] AV 1 / S-Video – From S-Video/Composite Switch 4

– [Composite] AV 2 / Component [aka CVB as it says onscreen] From Component Switch 2. Remember not to output 480p here, it will NOT look good to say the least; this is a SDTV.  This TV looks great with 240p component, though!

– RF 1 – Not Used

Outputs: 1 composite AV.

– Composite AV – Not Used

INTERNET SETUP

Older consoles were not online. Modern systems, however, require the internet. Wi-fi is not reliable however and I have a bunch of systems, so I use a mixture of wi-fi for some systems I use online less often for anything other than downloads, and wired internet for ones that I use online more.

Wired Internet via Ethernet: I have two wired internet lines going to my console area from my router.

– 1 – One goes directly to the Steam Link, for the best possible speeds while streaming PC games to the TV.

– 2 – The other one goes to a Linksys ethernet switch. This is not a wi-fi router as my main router is, but is only a 1-in-4-out ethernet splitter, effectively. So, it’s perfect for what I am using it for. Its output are as follows:

– 2-A – Nintendo Wii U (via a third party Wii LAN Adapter) This system works on my wi-fi, but it drops sometimes so online play can be bad. The switch to wired is well worth it.

Note that if I want to use the Wii online for whatever reason, I just need to move the USB cable with the LAN adapter on it from the Wii U to the Wii. They are on top of eachother so this is easy.

– 2-B – Nintendo Switch (via official Switch LAN Adapter) – This system drops wi-fi CONSTANTLY and is pretty much unusable on wi-fi, so wired internet is essential. It’s too bad the dock cdoesn’t have a built in ethernet port! Of course, the same goes for the Wii and Wii U.

– 2-C – Microsoft Xbox One S (via ethernet) – This system hates my wi-fi and pretty much can’t see it at all, so I have no choice other than to use wired internet for this system. I would anyway, but it is annoying.

– 2-D – LG C9 4K TV. Wired ethernet is key here for the best possible streaming video speeds.

Wireless Internet via my wi-fi router:

Xbox 360 Slim – The X360 doesn’t work perfectly with my wi-fi as it drops sometimes and rarely connects correctly when you turn the system on, but it does function well enough for downloads and such. I used to use wired internet on it but have less need for this online since I got an Xbox One so this works.

PlayStation 3 – The PS3 seems to work just fine with my wi-fi. Nice.

Additionally, my Sony PlayStation Vita and Nintendo New 3DS XL handhelds connect to my wi-fi, both with no issues at all. My Windows 8 tablet also connects via wi-fi, again with no problems.  The original DS, Wii, and PSP support wi-fi- but only with very basic security that I do not use, I use better security than that.  There is no reason today to have a DS or PSP online, anyway, and with the Wii the LAN adapter works.

As for other systems, the Dreamcast, original Xbox, and PS2 have modems, a phone modem for the DC, phone or ethernet for PS2, and ethernet for Xbox, but I’ve never used them. I may get a DreamPi sometime to be able to play Dreamcast games online though, that would be interesting.

POWER

For powering all of this stuff I use surge protectors from the brand APC.  I wanted quality power supplies and got them.  There are five of them, each directly plugged into a different outlet, in different parts of the room — two in the modern area, two in the classic area, and one near the wall behind the chairs.  Three are ones with 11 inputs, 6 transformer size and five regular plug, and two USB ports.  One has the same inputs, but has cable line protection instead of USB ports and a cord one foot longer.  And the last is a smaller one with only five regular and four transformer inputs, and two USB.  These all work well, you don’t want to overload circuits.  On that note, helpfully, the modern-console area surge protectors are on a different circuit from the other three.  I am running very low on outlets, though ; in the modern area I think I have only one free transformer plug,. In the classic area, everything is full plus two things are directly plugged into wall outlets even though I do keep a few system’ power supplies not plugged in, such as the Colecovision and its giant and notoriously unreliable power supply.  I do not turn everything off when I’m not using them, but do turn off the surge protectors sometimes, it’s not good to leave things running all the time.

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Consoles Opinion Summaries: The Fourth Generation

Yes, it’s finally here, my long-delayed fourth generation console opinion summaries article! I’m sorry I had nothing last month, but it has been a somewhat anxious time. That is only getting worse with the virus outbreak, but I finally spent a day finishing this article, so here it is. Enjoy.

Note for sources: Most of this is written from memory, though for getting correct release dates and sales numbers I did check Wikipedia’s articles for the systems, Gamasutra’s Stalled Engine article about the Turbografx https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/225466/stalled_engine_the_turbografx16_.php?page=6 , and the NeoGAF Retro Sales Age Thread https://www.neogaf.com/threads/retro-sales-age-thread.981407/ . I wish I didn’t have to link GAF considering what kind of awful far-right site it has become, years after that thread mostly ran its course, but unfortunately I do not know of a better source on the internet for all of that information there.  ResetEra or Retro Game Boards do not have similarly comprehensive classic sales threads and neither do anywhere else I know of.

Note: as always, this list is in release order.

Fourth Generation: Table of Contents

Fourth Generation Overview
TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)
Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)
TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon)
Game Boy, GB – 1989
Phillips CD-i, CDI – 1991 US (1992 JP/EU)
Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)
Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)
Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon)
Sega 32X, 32X and Sega 32X CD, 32X CD – 1994 (Sega Genesis addon)
Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

 

Fourth Generation Overview

The NES changed the world with its success. Establishing Japan as the leader in video game console development, and resurrecting the console market in the US, the system is probably the most important system ever released. As with all consoles, though, it aged. In 1987, four years after the Famicom (NES) released in Japan, Hudson and NEC partnered together to compete against it with a new, more powerful system, the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16). A year later, Sega made its third attempt at releasing a console, this time to much greater success in America. Nintendo, however, decided to wait, as the NES continued to sell extremely well into 1990. As the system slowed down in sales, though, Nintendo finally got in to the fourth generation in late 1990 with the Super Famicom. The generation also saw the first successful handheld video game systems, a major advance indeed. Handheld gaming technology had come a long way. This generation also saw the first CD-based gaming platforms, another major advance. It took a while for games to figure out what to do with all of that space, but early CD gaming experimentation led to some fascinating results, both good and bad.

Each console is different, but what all of these systems have in common is that they are all systems are Japanese. Indeed, all systems in the fourth generation, excepting only the Atari Lynx handheld and some minor, extremely unsuccessful handhelds I do not have and will not be listing here, were Japanese. This was a time of Japanese dominance in the console industry. At the time this generation began, most major American developers focused on making computer games instead of console ones. This, however, would change. Several American home consoles would release in the fifth generation, and while they would not succeed, Microsoft’s entry to the console market the generation after would finally break the Japanese lock on hardware. In software, American developers did not switch en masse to consoles until Microsoft, and the need for greater revenues as production costs increased, encouraged studios to move over to consoles in the ’00s. However, the fourth generation saw the beginning of that change. Where the NES and Master System had very Japanese-dominant libraries except for a very small number of studios, the fourth generation’s systems saw many more Western console games. Electronic Arts, particularly, would rise to prominence on the strength of its console game library, but there were many more. Important changes indeed.

In terms of hardware, the fourth generation was a time of refinement and experimentation. Where the third generation started inventing new genres and dramatically changing the way games were designed and played, the fourth generation refined 2d gaming, as developers used the more powerful hardware, larger game storage sizes that were now available, and more to make more complex and, often, better games. After a new technology is introduced it is often later systems which best shows its advances, and that was the case here. And it was very much the case for 3d gaming as well, as while 3d took some steps forward during the fourth generation, particularly in arcades, a field I mostly do not discuss here, it was not until the next generation that polygonal 3d games would dramatically improve at home.

Overall the fourth generation is many classic gamers’ favorite, and I can absolutely understand why. It certainly is a generation I have a great deal of nostalgia for, as I was a kid during this generation and, unlike with the NES, was old enough to remember the generation from the beginning. My parents would not get me any of the TV consoles during that generation, but we did get a IBM-compatible PC in early 1992 and I got a Game Boy for Christmas that year, so I was finally able to really play games at home from then on, instead of only at friends’ or the very rare times I could go to an arcade. So, those two systems, plus the Genesis which is the system I had the most experience with outside of home during the ’90s, are the ones I have the most nostalgia for. The Super Nintendo looked amazing and I read Nintendo Power magazine almost every month, but I was only rarely able to actually play one before the ’00s, when it was the first classic console that I would buy. But now I have all of the major fourth-gen systems apart from the Lynx, and I will try to cover them all fairly. Most of these systems are all-time greats that rank very high on my list, as anyone who looks at my ‘how much I like my consoles’ list should know! And they should be high on anyone’s list also, really. So, on to the summaries.

 

TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)

Release and Sales Info: Designed by Hudson and released by NEC, released December 1987 in Japan (where it is known as the PC Engine) and August 1989 in the US. Last cartridge (HuCard) games released in 1993 in the US and 1994 in Japan. CD Games for the CD addon unit released until early 1994 in the US and in 1999 in Japan, with 1997 seeing the last year of real support there. 7 million sold total, though it’s complicated due to many models and revisions of the hardware. Cart-only systems sold 3.92 million in Japan; in the US, 750,000 cart-only systems were manufactured for the US market, but not all sold, though many were eventually resold in Korea. Dual cart plus CD “Duo”-line systems sold a further million systems in Japan, but only a few tens of thousands in the US. CD addon systems which require a cart system to play games sold 900,000 systems in Japan, but only ~20,000 in the US. So the sales figures are complex, but add up to 6.67 million worldwide as a starting estimate, though real totals for all revisions are unknowable. I purchased a TG16 in February 2009, a broken CD unit later that year, and finally got the CD system repaired in summer 2013.

History: Hudson Soft was an early third party supporter of the Famicom. After a while, though, they decided to try designing their own console to compete with it, while also supporting Nintendo’s. They eventually convinced Japanese electronics giant NEC to manufacture and support the system. Inspired by the small credit card sized games Sega released for their Card Catcher addon for the SG-1000 and Master System, NEC and Hudson decided to use similar small cards for PC Engine games. These games, called HuCards in Japan and later Turbo Chips in the US, are pretty cool looking really, with painted labels and an impressively small size for console cartridges of the ’80s. The system shell was made similarly small for a console, much smaller than any other home TV console for a long time.

The PC Engine released in Japan in late 1987, and ushered in a new generation of consoles. The system was a response to the NES (Famicom), as its hardware design and library makes clear. With a powerful 8-bit CPU and a 16-bit graphics chip, the PC Engine was much more powerful than the Famicom and, with its CD and RAM addons, can mostly hold its own graphically against the later consoles of the generation. The biggest exception to that is that it does not have hardware parallax scrolling support, but some games do pull it off in software. The system got off to a good start and outsold the Famicom in Japan for several years in the late ’80s, taking advantage of Nintendo’s choice to not release a next-gen system until 1990. The system amassed a good game library, particularly of space shooter (“shmup”) games.

One year after its release, NEC and Hudson released the very first consumer CD-ROM gaming platform, the PC Engine/TurboGrafx CD, in late 1988 in Japan and somewhere between late ’89 and mid ’90 in the US, the date is inconclusive. It was an amazing hardware accomplishment for the time and has quite a few great games. It did moderately well in Japan, but failed disastrously in the US.

The problems started when it came time to release the system overseas. NEC started making mistake after mistake, starting with a decision to redesign the tiny little PC Engine in favor of a case twice as large, based on the theory that Americans like things large so they should make the system bigger. Because of this and other delays, the renamed TurboGrafx-16 did not release in the US until the aforementioned mid 1989 date, shortly after the cheaper and in some ways more powerful Sega Genesis, a system which under its Japanese name Mega Drive had released in Japan in late 1988. Letting tiny Sega get ahead of them on both price and date was a big mistake, and Sega capitalized. They also capitalized on NEC’s choice to put “16” in their console name while the CPU is only 8-bit, resulting in the TG16 being maligned for not being “really 16-bit”.

Meanwhile, in Japan, NEC and Hudson released an upgraded console called the SuperGrafx in late 1989.  It is fully backwards compatible with PC Engine games and is essentially a PCE but with additional memory and a second video chip so that it can do native parallax scrolling.  This system looks cool but has only five games which released over its nearly two-0-year life.  Yes, five.  It was a disastrous failure and they quickly went back to the base TG16/PCE.  The SuperGrafx did not release in the West.

Here in America, NEC fell behind from launch, but the TG16 was somewhat competitive for its first year thanks to its great early game library.  However, the long release delay hurt badly, and the system never got off the ground here because the NES continued to dominate the US market until 1990 in a way it was not doing anymore in Japan. The hole the system had filled in Japan, being a new system at a time when people wanted one and the market leader wasn’t releasing one, did not exist for long here.  And worse, Sega’s Genesis quickly started outpacing the TG16 in sales despite NEC having the better 1989 game library, a gap that would turn into a rout after 1991 and the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, a title Hudson couldn’t match.  And some genres the system was best at in Japan were not quite as popular here as there, such as shmups.  Before its release NEC produced 750,000 TurboGrafx-16 systems for the US, but did not sell all of them during its life.  At some point probably in 1993 or so, the last hundred thousand plus were rebuilt for sale in South Korea as a Korea-only model which actually plays American games. Sega, meanwhile, sold over 20 million Genesis systems in the US, a stunning result compared to initial expectations and the TG16’s better early library.

And then, in late 1990 in Japan and mid 1991 in the US, the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) released, and almost immediately destroyed all comers in Japan. The PC Engine managed to hold on to second place, but it was a second place at like a ten-to-one margin behind the leader.  In the West the SNES and Genesis split the market, while the TG16 and Turbo CD, despite surviving until 1993 and 1994 respectively, were largely forgotten.  In Japan NEC leaned heavily into often anime-focused CD software after this in order to try to hold on to some niche in a market mostly controlled by Nintendo, and they had some success in this niche, as software continued steadily until the end of 1995, with a few releases after that.  HuCard releases in Japan stopped in 1994, though; after that it was only CDs.  Hudson, meanwhile, gradually moved their more popular franchises such as Bonk and Bomberman to the Super Nintendo, after a gap of several years focusing mostly on PCE, followed by other platforms after that, while focusing more anime enthusiast-focused stuff on the PCE and its successor.  On that note, NEC and Hudson’s last system, the PC-FX, was very anime FMV-focused, and failed as the market turned to 3d instead. Hudson survived on making games on other formats, until being bought and later shut down by Konami.

Aesthetics and Design: I have only ever seen TurboGrafxes in person and not the PC Engine, but regardless I like the look of the TG16, and I’m sure I’d like the look of the tiny little PCE as well. The PCE and TG16 are extremely ’80s in design, but it’s a charming kind f ’80s to me. When it comes to the addons, the Japanese CD addon is a “briefcase” unit, with a CD drive the same size as the PCE itself and a base unit that holds them both next to eachother. In the US, however, we got a larger unit which puts the TG16 below, and then has the CD drive on a pedestal behind the TG16. It looks kind of ridiculous, but I like it anyway and this is the Turbo CD setup I use. The later Duo line of consoles have sleeker, more ’90s stylings and I can understand why many people prefer to use them, and based on pictures they do look nice, but I like my TG16+CD setup great.

NEC additionally had many other models in Japan and a few in the US, including one that looks like a space shuttle, a handheld portable model we did get here, recolors of the base system which add more modern video output options, and more. NEC released a LOT of models of PCE hardware, both in terms of consoles, addons, and accessories. Trying to make sense of it all is confusing and I have made multiple articles about this before. Still, in terms of design stylings NEC always did a good job. In terms of marketing they did fine in Japan but horribly badly elsewhere, though, of course.

In terms of reliability, TG16/PCE models are a mixed bag. Base TG16 and PC Engine systems are mostly quite reliable. However, the Super CD addon drive (only released in Japan), the portable TurboExpress (PC Engine GT) and the first PC Engine/Turbo Duo (but not the later, Japan-only Duo R and RX) systems have bad capacitors and usually need capacitor replacements in order to work correctly. Additionally, the original CD addon drive has a gear which usually strips some teeth, so those need repair as well, both for the gear and often also the laser. The parts to repair Turbo CD drives are fortunately available. Duo line systems have fewer disc drive issues, but they still can break down after so long. The HuCards themselves are reliable, so long as you keep the contacts clean. Fortunately, except for one memory card cart, they do not have sealed batteries in them; instead systems or addons with saving save to a capacitor. Those so far are mostly holding up. Keeping stuff for these systems working can require some effort, but once repaired systems should be reliable for a long time.

Game Library: The PC Engine/TurboGrafx HuCard library is heavy on very NES-styled games in its early, more successful years. As previously mentioned, this systems’ standout genre is shmups. Indeed, the TG16 with its addon and Japanese games is my choice for the very best console shmup library ever! Between HuCards and CDs the platform has at least a hundred shmups, many of them among the all-time greats. And even looking only at the HuCards, the system is one of the best of all time in the genre no question. In other genres the system doesn’t quite match up to the SNES and Genesis, which is a lot of why I do rank the TG16 a little bit behind those two systems, but it is still pretty good. The platformer library is mostly more NES-styled than those two systems, for example, while I prefer more SNES or Genesis-styled platformers overall. Bonk’s Adventure is the TG16’s showcase platformer, and while quite good, it is a much more NES-ish game than Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog. The later CD title Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on CD is exceptional, but that is the system’s one all-time-great platformer, while the other two have many more, and that requires an expensive addon not everyone got. Still, with a large library of games, the TurboGrafx-16, just as a cartridge system, is a fantastic system that places high on my list of the all-time best consoles. Many of its games are Japan-only to be sure, but this is a system well worth getting a lot of imports for. Playing the many Japanese adventure games, strategy games, RPGs, anime games, and such will require Japanese knowledge, but the plethora of shooters and solid variety of titles in other genres make this a system that really is a must-own for anyone who likes classic games and can afford the now somewhat substantial costs related to it, both for hardware and games.  The US library includes a lot of great games, too.  Prices are high, but many of the games are good.

As for CD versus HuCard, the CD addon is more important to the TurboGrafx than addons are for most consoles. You absolutely can have a lot of fun with only a base TG16 or PC Engine, though! The HuCard library is large and contains many, many fantastic games. Later CD titles are often more famous and flashier, but a lot of HuCard games deserve just as much attention.

 

Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in October 1988 in Japan (as the Mega Drive) and August 1989 in the US. Games officially released until 1995 in Japan, 1997 in Europe, 1998 in the US, and 2002 in Brazil, with unlicensed homebrew games releasing for it in over the past decade. The total number of Genesis systems sold is controversial given all of the different models involved, but Sega reported 30.75 million sales of their Genesis/MD systems in the ’90s. Additionally, 1.5 million Majesco systems probably sold, plus as much as 3 million in Brazil by the early ’00s. I would not count newer clone systems towards this total myself, but they surely add up in the millions by now, there are many officially licensed Genesis clones available. Because of its great success in the US, even though the system is called Genesis only in North America and Megadrive everywhere else, Genesis systems outsold Megadrives overall. I got a Genesis in May 2006, though this is a system I spent a good amount of time playing during its life as I had several friends and relatives who had one so it is a system I knew well during its life.

History: Sega was founded in the 1940s by an American living in Japan who started a business to import what we would call arcade games to Japan during the post-war American occupation. It eventually became a Japanese-run company, making arcade and pinball games. Through the ’80s and ’90s, Sega was an arcade game developer first, and console game developer second. Despite this, in 1983 they got in to the console business, and though that first system, the SG-1000, had only limited success it was enough for Sega to keep trying. Their second system was the Mark III, aka the Master System in the West. It did quite well in Europe and Brazil, but struggled badly in Japan and the US. Sega didn’t give up, though, and in 1988 they tried a third time. This system, the Sega Mega Drive or Genesis here, was Sega’s one breakout hit, a system that would end up selling several times better than any other Sega console. Here in the US, the Genesis is by far Sega’s best-known and most popular console, and I entirely agree with that assessment. The Genesis is a fantastic system which places near the very top of my list of my favorite video game systems ever!

The Genesis hardware is powerful for the time, with a fast 16-bit CPU and good graphics. Hardware-wise, it builds on the SG-1000 and Master System’s TI-based graphics and sound chips by once again adding another graphics mode, like the Master System did before it. The system is backwards compatible with the Master System with cartridge adapters, though not with the SG-1000 as it is missing some hardware needed for those games. Despite that, the Genesis is kind of the final evolution of the TI99/Colecovision graphics and sound chipset. The fast-for-the-time CPU is one of the Genesis’s best points compared to other consoles of the generation, and helps it do things the others can’t. The new audio chip is also fantastic when programmed for well. Genesis audio is not as consistently good as SNES audio, but the best sounding games are just as good or better than anything on SNES. I particularly love the soundtrack to The Adventures of Batman & Robin, it is one of the generation’s technical masterpieces!

While mostly great for the time, the Genesis does have two hardware issues I want to discuss. Sadly the system does not support hardware scaling and rotation. This is entirely understandable as it would have been far too expensive for a home console in 1988, but is a real issue because many Sega arcade games heavily use scaling; indeed, Sega was famous for their “Super Scaler” games like Outrun and Space Harrier. This made for some rough ports to the Genesis. Otherwise, though, the only other hardware issue the Genesis has is its color limit. While the TurboGrafx and Genesis both have a 512 color palette, the TG16 can put most of those colors on screen at once, while the Genesis is limited to just 64 at a time. The system does have a shadow function which sort of doubles the colors, but even so colors are limited on the Genesis and developers often had to come up with clever ways of dealing with this issue. The color limit is unfortunate, but with a powerful CPU, good parallax and sprite support, and more, the Genesis is a powerful system for its time.

Good hardware doesn’t necessarily sell, though, and in Japan once again Sega failed to sell much. The MD was yet another failure in Sega’s home market, unfortunately, as the PCE (TG16) won early on and then the SFC (SNES) crushed all comers later. In America, however, Sega scored a surprise upset win early on, as NEC badly stumbled out of the gate while Sega made some (sadly rare) good decisions. With strong marketing pushed by their “Sega Does what Nintendon’t” ad campaign, ports of popular arcade games, and licensed sports titles, the Genesis took an early lead. And while the 1991 release of the Super Nintendo was a big deal that threatened Sega’s place in the 4th-generation market, Sega released its own killer app that year in Sonic the Hedgehog, and the new Sega of America head Tom Kalinske convinced Japan to let him bundle the game with the console. This decision sold a great many Genesis systems! Additionally, Electronic Arts’ decision to get into console game development with the Genesis would prove to be a very important move indeed. The first Genesis version of John Madden Football helped change the whole industry, really. Combining all that, the Genesis had several very good years in the early ’90s in the US. By ’93 Sega had half of the overall US console game market, which was the largest console market in the world at the time.

Unfortunately, Sega’s propensity to make stupid decisions started springing up immediately afterwards. The Sega CD, a CD addon to the Genesis, came first. It did okay, particularly in the US, but did not sell up to expectations. After that, though, Sega really fell apart; the second Genesis addon, the 32X, was an infamous failure, as was Sega’s next console the Saturn, as Sega of Japan and Sega of America started having more and more difficulties working together. The rumor is that Sega of Japan was jealous of how successful Sega had been in the US, and was determined to make their next console one that would succeed in Japan, no matter what the US thought. So, over many objections from Sega of America staff, Sega designed a far too expensive and hard to program for box in the Saturn, and also approved that second Genesis addon to release at about the same time in late 1994. It did not go well. And at the same time, they started winding down first party Japanese game support for the Genesis, a very foolish move given that in the US the 4th-gen market still had several more good years to go. Sega would release over 125 games in 1995 across many platforms, and it was too much; between the massive hit title Donkey Kong Country and Sega’s mistakes, the SNES closed a lot of the gap in ’95-’96. Sega of America did what they could to keep the Genesis supplied with new games into fall ’97, but their early lead had fallen into an effective tie. Both systems would see successful late ’90s bargain-priced re-releases, and the Genesis one from Majesco probably outsold the SNES one, though, so the Genesis did go out on a good note sales-wise. It is a fantastic system that well deserved its success here.

Aesthetics and Design: There are three official models of Sega Genesis. The first is a relatively large, and very 1980s, design. It looks great, and the very first revision has some minor advantages in graphics over later models. The second model Genesis is the one I know best, though, and it probably sold the most. This is the model I have, and I thnk it strikes a good balance of design and size. This time the design is much more ’90s, with some nice curves and a smaller size. The plastic is not quite as sturdy-feeling as a NES or SNES feels, but the Genesis is fairly reliable. Genesis systems do fail, but most are still working. Sega CD systems have many more reliability issues, thanks to its disc drive and a few other often-failing parts, but I have been lucky; mine still works flawlessly. The Sega CD adds nicely to the Genesis, too, and also has two models. The first model goes below the system and fits the first model Genesis well, and the second goes beside it and looks better with the second. I have a model two Sega CD, and I think it completes the look of the Genesis. The 32X, unfortunately, is a bit more awkward-looking; it has been compared to a mushroom growing out of the top of your Genesis, and that’s probably an accurate comparison. A full Genesis+CD+32X combo unit looks good enough, and I keep my 32X always plugged in so I can play its games when I want, but just on looks I’d probably go for Genesis 2 + SCD 2 only, with no 32X, as the best-looking unit. I know model 1 Genesis fans would disagree here and that system does also look great, but I do really like the model 2.

Game Library: The Sega Genesis has a large and diverse game library. It is particularly strong in platformers, sports games, and shmups, though its in genres such as RPG, strategy, and more are quite good as well. With a library this large, any fan of classic-style games should find plenty of games to love here. The Genesis does have many very difficult games, though; Genesis games are less likely to support saving than Super Nintendo games do, as Sega’s arcade sensibilities carried over to the home, and are more likely to be hard. There are Genesis games for everyone, but there is a lot here for the tough-games fan, that is for sure. The system’s premiere series is one of its more approachable, though, as the Sonic the Hedgehog games are a perfect balance of challenge and fun that anyone can enjoy. All of the Genesis Sonic games are titles which still place high on my list of the best platformers ever. The Genesis has a whole lot of great games, but I have to agree with the consensus that the Sonic games are best. The Genesis has one of the best game libraries ever. Many titles have been re-released in various re-release collections and such, but it’s often just the same games re-released over and over, lots of fantastic classics are only on the Genesis.

As for the addons, I like the Sega CD quite a bit and enjoy 32X games, but neither addon is anywhere near as essential as the TurboGrafx CD is. I didn’t know anyone with either addon back in the ’90s, and as much as I like them, anyone now who has only a Genesis can play most of the format’s best games. Still, both addons, the Sega CD particularly, are well worth it if you like the system.  The 32X is a bit less worth it, but still is an interesting thing to have if you really like Sega.

 

TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989)
(TurboGrafx-16 addon)

Release and Sales Info: From NEC, released in December 1988 in Japan and sometime between the end of 1989 and mid 1990 in the US, a precise date is unknown. The Turbo CD lasted from 1988 to 1999 in Japan (though no games released in 1998 and only one in ’99, so ’97 was the last full year), and 1989 to 1994 in the US. In Japan stand-alone CD addon drives sold 0.9+ million systems, and then combined “Duo” HuCard + CD systems sold about a million, for a combined CD sales base of 1.92 million there. That is a good attach rate compared to 3.92 million HuCard-only, plus those 1 million Duos for a total HuCard base of 4.92 million. It was the leading CD game format in Japan for years. In the US, however, while NEC claimed to sell, or at least produce, a hundred thousand CD and Duo systems combined, a better guess (as per Working Designs CEO Victor Ireland, who as one of the few Western third party developers on the platform would be in a position to know) is more around 20,000, plus another 20,000 for the Turbo Duo. I would probably believe Victor Ireland over NEC on this one because they also wildly overestimate overseas PC Engine/Turobografx sales.  The Japanese sales figures are more likely to be credible from NEC, it’s the overseas ones which are questionable.

History: The PC Engine CD was the very first CD-ROM-based home gaming platform to be released. Crazy-advanced technology for 1988, Hudson had a hard time even running games in development at the time, as hard drives were smaller than the amount of data they could fit on a CD and CD-Rs had not really been developed yet. Burning a disc to test was thus extremely expensive. The system thus is just a CD drive attached to your PCE or Turbografx, with a small amount of RAM and no other hardware. It does not have dedicated FMV and enhanced graphics chip hardware like the later Sega CD would. In Japan the system did decently well, selling to a solid percentage of PC Engine users. A majority of PCE owners did not upgrade, but the PCECD has a higher attach rate than most other addons. The system was expensive, but sold well enough to catch on and its sales slowly grew. Once the Super Famicom (SNES) released several years later, HuCard game sales collapsed as people moved over to that system. NEC coped by focusing more on CD games. This is when they started releasing the RAM expansion cards, and moved most game support over to CDs. Indeed, HuCard game releases ended in late 1994, three years before CD releases dried up. The PC Engine CD has a large game library full of classics. It can be a confusing format because of the sheer number of hardware versions and addons NEC released — see some of my old articles on my site on that mess for example — but it’s a great one. NEC eventually messed things up badly with their two failed attempts at successors to the PC Engine, but what they had on this system is worth remembering, and going back to.

However, while the TurboGrafx-16 had done badly in the US, it did at least sell somewhat decently in certain parts of the US, such as in NEC America’s home base of Chicago, for its first year or so, and sold somewhere over 500,000 systems (and under 750,000). The Turbo CD was not so lucky and, as I detailed above, sold abysmally. With a $400 price at launch and very few games NEC knew it wouldn’t sell well, and it did not. The problem was, the Turbo CD’s strengths, in action games with partially-animated cutscenes with voices, digital novel adventure games, and such, were often games that weren’t well suited for the American market. Looking at what sold best on the Sega CD it was not that kind of thing, it was the FMV, which this system didn’t have nearly as much ability to do well, as the Turbo CD can’t just stream video off of a disc like the Sega CD can. Late in its life, after a lot of work, Hudson would show off a few games with “HuVideo” actual anime FMV on the PCECD, but it was not above Sega CD levels of video quality, and released years later. And because of the need to pay for English voice actors, porting over Japanese games was much more expensive than it would be for a cartridge game. The system sadly struggled here, and NEC responded by releasing very few games for it. This cycle spiraled down.

In 1992, NEC gave up on the Turbografx in America and sold it off to a new company called TTI. In late ’92, TTI released a system called the Turbo Duo, an American revision of the PC Engine Duo system. TTI put a big ad campaign behind the Duo using the infamous Johnny Turbo comic-ad series and more, and released quite a few games over the next year and a half, doubling the Turbo CD’s library versus what had released over the first three years. Even so, NEC Japan was still very stingy with approvals, and many titles TTI wanted to release here never happened because of that. It was not enough, unfortunately, and sales were as I said earlier — in the low tens of thousands, just as bad as they had been for the Turbo CD. The Duo got more market attention than the Turbo CD had and I remember its advertising, but very few people actually bought one. That some of the best games stayed in Japan did not help, but many released late anyway; Rondo of Blood is exceptional, but as a late 1993 release in Japan it probably would not have released here before spring ’94, and TTI was heading towards bankruptcy at that point. TTI managed to release three games sometime in early to mid ’94 before shutting down. After that, one more game released to mail order only late that year from a company which bought up TTI’s backstock, and the system was dead in the US outside of importers buying Japanese games.

Aesthetics and Design: There are quite a few different PCECD and Turbo CD designs, as I mentioned previously in the TurboGrafx-16 section. There may be less than there are PCE systems, but there are still quite a few. As I said before, I have the original TurboGrafx-16 with CD addon drive, modified to play either US or Japanese HuCard games. My CD drive broke and had to be repaired as is common with those drives, as they have a worm gear that is a common failure point, but it has worked fine since. As I said the TG16+CD is a somewhat ridiculous, extremely ’80s unit, but I love it for that. Sure, the PCE Duo R or RX is a sleeker, early ’90s system which looks pretty nice, but I like my system a lot and wouldn’t swap it for one of those. Both styles exist and look great for the time, though, depending on what you prefer. Not so good is the SuperGrafx + Super CD addon drive combination, but oh well; no SuperGrafx games are on CD anyway.

For reliability, the Duo R and RX are certainly the best. They can have laser failures, but that is their only major failure point so far. Original PCE/Turbo CD drives usually have a broken worm gear and maybe also the laser; these are repairable, but get a fixed one if you buy one. The first PCE/TG16 Duo has bad capacitors, as does the addon Super CD drive, so make sure you get one with replaced capacitors if you get that model. Considering we are talking about old moving-parts systems here, reliability is okay overall.  There are problems but they all can be fixed.  Replacement lasers for these systems are available easily on the internet today.

Game Library: Despite selling slightly fewer systems overall, the Turbo CD has many more total game releases than the Sega CD. It has particular strengths in the shmup, RPG, and adventure game/digital comic genres, but has a pretty good library regardless. It does have some weaknesses, such as platformers apart from the all-time classic Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but it’s a good library with great game variety. With its large library loaded with traditional games in genres people like, and not FMV like most of the best-selling Sega CD games are, the Turbo CD is a highly regarded system now and I would agree with that. Indeed, I would say that the Turbo CD has probably the best library ever for a console add-on. In terms of sales the Sega CD did edge it out worldwide because of its FMV-fueled success in the US, but the PCECD has a better overall library and as much as I like the Sega CD for its fantastic traditional games, which it very much has, since I got a Turbo CD I haven’t gone back to it nearly as often as I did before. I like both addons a lot, but this is better. Rondo, Ys, and shmups are the highlights for English-speaking gamers, but there is a lot more out there, particularly if you’re willing to deal with some Japanese.

 

Game Boy, GB – 1989

Release and Sales Info:  Nintendo’s first cartridge-based handheld console, the Game Boy, released in 1989, in April in Japan and July in the US.  It released in Europe in 1990. The Game Boy had exclusive releases until 1999 in the West and 2001 in Japan, and “black cart” (aka “dual mode” as I have often called them) games that support both the black & white Game Boy and the color Game Boy Color until 2001 in the West and 2002 in Japan. There are some modern homebrew releases for it since as well. The Game Boy and GB Color combined sold 118.69 million systems, though it had a big dip in between its early success between 1989-1992 and the later, Pokemon-fueled years of 1997-2001. As of fiscal ’97, the original GB had sold 64.42 million systems. Thanks to Pokemon and the GBC, that number would end up almost doubling. I got an original Game Boy for Christmas in 1992; it was my first console. I looked at both the Game Boy and Game Gear, and chose the Game Boy because it was cheaper and seemed to have better games.

History: The Game Boy was designed by Nintendo’s R&D1 team, led by famous Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi. This handheld was designed with a balance of portability and power, and an emphasis on one of the most important things for a handheld, battery life. With a Z80 CPU, four-shade black and white graphics, and some pretty good audio, the Game Boy has more than enough power for games of the day and also gets very good battery life, 20 or 30-plus hours for later models. The Game Boy gets many times better battery life per battery than any of the major competing handhelds from the late ’80s to mid ’90s; only in the late ’90s did other handhelds that are as battery-efficient finally release. Some people dislike the black and white graphics this console uses, but this has never bothered me; you can do some nice visuals with four shades of grey, and it was a compromise necessary for the good battery life. The original Game Boy’s screen does have a lot of motion blur, as with all handhelds of the time, but some other handhelds are worse and later models improve on this, each better than the last.

Three things led to the great success that the Game Boy would see. One was the good hardware, again designed for portability in a way the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx were not. Nintendo also had a lot of market presence because of their NES console, which dominated the console gaming industry by far in the US and Japan. This meant that a lot of people would pay attention to Nintendo’s next console project. It also helped with the Game Boy’s third success point, its game library. When it first released the Game Boy was packed in with Tetris, an all-time classic puzzle game hit which sold many a million systems. And with a Mario platformer and games from top NES third party publishers on top of that, the Game Boy’s success was assured.

And for several years the Game Boy rapidly shot up in success. However, after about 1992, the system slowed down. Sales declined, and particularly in Japan the number of releases did as well. Nintendo kept supporting the Game Boy, but for several years most Japanese third parties gave up on the system for a while, in favor of focusing mostly just on home consoles. American third parties did continue to support the Game Boy with titles for the mostly-young audience who owned the system, but several years after I got it I could tell that the Game Boy had seen better days. Nintendo kept selling the system and waited a long time on a replacement, to not help matters. The turnaround was just around the corner, though: in late 1996 in Japan, a game, developed by small studio Game Freak after a long time in development and published by Nintendo, called Pocket Monsters released in Japan. It soon caught on, and led to a handheld renaissance soon after. The game finally got a Western release in 1998 as Pokemon and the rest was history. I’m no Pokemon fan, but I was, and remain, a fan of the wealth of new handheld games that released in the sales boom that followed.

Later in 1998, Nintendo finally released a new handheld, the Game Boy Color, which is kind of a Game Boy times two power-wise, with color support but the same screen resolution and audio. Nintendo considers it to be a revision of the Game Boy and counts both together for sales, but as it allows for incompatible new color-only games, I’ve always thought that it really is a new console, though certainly one closely related to this one. Regardless, since the Game Boy Color allows for games that run in both black & white or color things are a bit messy as far as categorization goes, but it did mean that the original Game Boy kept getting game releases for some time into its successors’ life. For the first year of the GBC’s short life, most games are black-cart games which support btoh platforms. After that most games went color only, but until ’01 in the US and ’02 in Japan a few games here and there continued to support the original model. As a result, the Game Boy had a thirteen-year lifespan, making it one of the industry’s most successful systems. Many people discount handhelds but I very much do not, and the Game Boy ranks high on my list of the best consoles ever.

Aesthetics and Design: The original Game Boy has been likened to a grey brick, and it is not an unfair comparison, as it is a rectangular system of medium size. The system uses four AA batteries. It is a good-looking for its time and comfortable system which is, for the most part, very durable and well-made. There is one exception to this, and that is the screen, which is liable to have its screen’s connecting cable start to come loose and cause lines on the screen to fail. Mine is no exception and has a pair of dead horizontal lines near the bottom of the screen. This is a fixable issue though and rarely ruins the image, and otherwise this system is legendarily durable. When I was a kid I remember dropping my Game Boy onto a dirt road while it was running, and it didn’t even reset! With just about any other handheld that would never have happened, it would have at least reset and might have broken. The Game Boy’s buttons are among the best in any handheld, as well, as its larger size allows for larger and better-feeling buttons and d-pad than those that you find in any following models.

On that note, the second model of the Game Boy, called the Game Boy Pocket, released many years later, in 1996. This model uses AAA batteries and has much worse battery life than the original, but is a lot smaller and has a better, much less blurry screen. The smaller buttons and d-pad are not quite as comfortable, though. With the same-sized screen as the original in a much smaller case the screen is the focus of this system, and it’s pretty nice apart from the battery life. I already had a Game Boy so I did not get one of these until 2019, but it’s a solid system if you find one. There was a third version only released in Japan with a backlight called the Game Boy Light, but they are expensive and rare so I don’t have one. Then, the GB Color I mentioned previously released in late ’98. All of the Game Boy systems are nice looking systems with good designs. Which I think is the best depends on what I prefer, though – do you want better buttons? A better screen? One system which can play games from all of the Game Boy systems? Each of these questions has a different answer, from the original Game Boy, to the GB Pocket, to the Game Boy Advance or Advance SP. My overall favorite in terms of looks is probably the original, but when it comes to playing, I often use the SP for its compatibility and backlight. Regardless of what system you play them on, though, each one is different enough to be worth a look, both from design and features standpoints.

Game Library: As I have mentioned, the Game Boy has a very large and diverse game library which I rank highly compared to home consoles. Game Boy games are often smaller-scale than home console titles, as budgets were lower, cart sizes smaller, and games often made easier because of an assumed younger audience, but I think the library is fantastic regardless. The Game Boy has one of the best games ever made in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; some of the all-time great platformers in titles like Wario Land, Donkey Kong [’94], and Kirby’s Dream Land 2; some of the best puzzle games ever such as the aforementioned Tetris, and many more. The Game Boy’s library is not perfect as its RPGs and strategy games are mostly not my favorite kinds of games in those genres and it does have a lot of half-baked licensed games, but the library’s strengths much outweigh its weaknesses. I know I have a lot of nostalgia for the Game Boy, but this is one of the best game libraries for any console.  See my Game Opinion Summaries list on the system for more.

Also in 1989, Atari released their powerful Lynx handheld. I do not have one so it will not be covered here, yet at least.

Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in October 1990 in Japan and 1991 in the West. Games released steadily until 1997, with one more game releasing with a short-lived rerelease of the platform in 2000 from Majesco. 10.62 million systems sold, probably not including however not too many Majesco made. I got a Game Gear in 2009.

History: Sega’s first handheld, the Game Gear was Sega’s answer to the Game Boy. Larger than a Game Boy, and with color graphics and a backlit screen, the Game Gear makes a good first impression. As a kid I had a Game Boy, but kind of wished I had a GG, that backlight would have been great; you can’t play a Game Boy in the dark anywhere near as easily. However, those features come at a major cost in battery life. Where a Game Boy gets 20-40 hours depending, a Game Gear will get like 3-8 hours, with that later number for the last model only. This is a very serious limitation from a time when systems did not have built-in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; instead you had to use AA batteries, and replacing sets of six AA batteries as the GG requires every few hours got very expensive. So, everybody I knew with a GG got some combination of its car adapter and wall power adapter, and maybe also the rechargeable battery pack. The Game Boy has one as well and I got one back then, but the GG one was even more essential. Battery life is a key component of any handheld platform and the Game Boy got this right and the GG wrong.  The Game Gear and its games also cost more than the Game Boy and its games, even though the games were not better.

Anyway, inside, the Game Gear is essentially a portable Sega Master System. The hardware is nearly identical to the SMS/Mark III, except with a much lower resolution but a much larger color palette. So, the hardware is somewhat analogous to a Game Boy, but with color. Like all handhelds of the day the screen blurs easily, but later models do improve on this, the Majesco one particularly. The Game Gear doesn’t come even close to the power of the Atari Lynx, despite having almost as bad battery life, though. The resolution is actually the same as a Game Boy’s, but the GG has a rectangular, close to widescreen, aspect ratio, quite different from the nearly square GB one, thanks to using rectangular pixels on its screen. The GG can, with a cartridge adapter, play Master System games, though how playable they are at the GG’s scaled-down resolution is a mixed bag. A TV Tuner addon also allowed for over-the-air analog TV broadcast listening, though this won’t work since TV went digital. It is still amusing since it has an input jack allowing you, with adapters, to play any modern system on a GG screen.

The Game Gear presented the Game Boy with a competitor, and it did okay at that, but it sold less than the Game Boy and clearly had a lower-quality library. Looking at the games on each system it appears like Sega invested less in their handheld, as almost all Sega-published GG games are outsourced, often made by shadow developers on the cheap, not made internally like Nintendo did with many of its Game Boy releases. You can see this difference in quality if you compare, say, the GB Mario games to the GG Sonics. It is a much wider gap than the small-to-most gap between SNES Mario and Genesis Sonic, I would say!

Like the Game Boy the Game Gear slowly faded as the years passed, but unlike the Game Boy it did not get a late-in-life boost. Instead, as Sega started to have issues in the mid ’90s and the system faltered the Game Gear had its support cut back, as Japanese game development mostly stopped in mid ’95 and Western in ’97. Majesco would re-release the Game Gear in 2000, but the success of its Genesis re-release from ’98 would not be repeated; the GG relaunch was a failure and dissuaded Majesco from continuing on with any more classic system relaunches. Overall, I am a definite critic of the Game Gear, as its battery life is bad and game library questionable in quality. I will admit that the color graphics were nice for the time, though, and it certainly has more than a few good games.

Aesthetics and Design: The Game Gear has a very early ’90s Sega look, and apart from its large size looks decently good, I think. It’s just too big and bulky to be comfortable or easy to hold, particularly with batteries in it. The build quality is alright, but not up to Game Boy standards; you wouldn’t want to drop one of these. Game Gears are infamously unreliable as well, as most use bad capacitors which will inevitably destroy their sound and graphics unless replaced. The Majesco systems have better capacitors than earlier GGs, which is part of why I got one, but even they can go bad. Additionally, almost all games which save use soldered batteries in the carts. The carts themselves are a bit large, being larger than Game Boy games for no good reason. I do like using GG game cases to hold DS and 3DS games, though; they fit eight DS games quite well!

Game Library: The Game Gear has a large game library with some solid variety. The system shines in puzzle and strategy games, I would say, and is clearly better than the GB for games such as Bust-A-Move thanks to the color. The strategy games are better than most anything on GB, as well. But for the top genre of the day, platformers, it is entirely the other way around — Sega went for quality over quantity, releasing a great many games of questionable quality for this system, and I at least much prefer Nintendo’s choice to release fewer but better games. Many third-party games were released for both systems and often are better on the GG thanks to color graphics, but not always; some titles are better on the GB, such as Faceball 2000 which runs a lot worse on the GG. I know the GG library includes many quality titles, but I just can’t get over how disappointing and mediocre I find most of the Sega first-party library, from its numerous subpar Aspect-developed Sonic games to piles of not-very-good licensed games from Sega itself. I don’t know if the GG is really worth collecting for today unless you have nothing else to buy. Watch out for those capacitors, too.

 

Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)

Release and Sales Info: From Nintendo, released in December 1990 in Japan as the Super Famicom or SFC, August 1991 in the US as the Super Nintendo or SNES, and in 1992 in Europe. Games released until 1998 in the US and 2000 in Japan, with modern unlicensed homebrew titles releasing in the past decade as well. 49.1 million systems sold, meaning this was the best-selling TV console of the generation. I bought a SNES in August 2005. It was my first classic console and got me into the classic console collecting thing. I played a little SNES during its life since I knew a few people who had one, but I didn’t have anywhere near as much experience with the SNES than I did the Genesis in the ’90s. I did read Nintendo Power almost every month that decade, though, so I learned about it that way.

History: Many peoples’ favorite console, the Super Nintendo was Nintendo’s long-awaited followup to the NES. Releasing seven years after the Famicom in Japan and after all other TV consoles of its generation, the SNES may have been late but it made up for it in features. Unlike the Genesis or Turbografx, the SNES has real hardware transparencies, a color palette in the millions even if it can only display 256 on screen at once, a hardware scaling and rotation layer even if it is only a background layer and not sprites, and more. SNES graphics have a color depth and variety the other systems here can’t match, CD-i and 32X excepted. And unlike the CD-i, the SNES can do great sprite animation as well. The SNES has an advanced audio chip designed by Sony, as well, with a sample-based design much more modern than the classic chiptunes of previous systems. It is easier to make good SNES audio than good Genesis audio, as many games show. It also was designed for add-on chips in the carts, many of which enhance its power further with fast CPUs and such.

However, the power came at a price, and that is CPU speed. The SNES can do great graphics and sound, but the CPU is at most half the speed of the Genesis’s, and the difference really shows in many games. Unless highly optimized or using a powerful addon chip, SNES games often run slowly. Additionally, the standard SNES screen resolution is pretty much the same as the NES or Turbografx, 256×224, which is lower than the Genesis’s standard resolution of 320×240. As a result SNES games often have less forward viewing distance in platformers and such than Genesis games do, which is sometimes an issue.

Additionally, despite two of them getting deep into development, Nintendo never released a CD addon drive for the SNES, unlike their competitors. There was a satellite streaming addon in Japan only, but that only allowed for voiced audio during certain broadcast times. Almost all games are just carts. This situation, with highly different consoles each with their own strengths and weaknesses, made for an interesting time quite unlike that which we have now.

On the other hand, with its new controller innovation of shoulder buttons and four face buttons, the eight buttons on a SNES controller allow for more complex game controls than you can fit onto the four buttons of prior systems’ controllers. Shoulder buttons would be something almost every system afterwards would use, and for good reason, it adds to control options. Shoulder buttons are not my favorite thing, but in games that make good use of them such as F-Zero they show their worth.

Anyway, in Japan, the Super Famicom almost immediately took off into the stratosphere. Absolutely crushing Sega and NEC, the SFC won the generation by a wide margin. NEC hung on to a distant second-place finish on the strength of their CD addon being something Nintendo did not have, but it wasn’t much of a competition. Here in the West, however, it was a very different situation, as the SNES and Genesis/Megadrive fought to a draw. First, Sega took an early lead, with its earlier release date, sports games, Sonic, and better version of Mortal Kombat 1. Over time the SNES caught up, though, as Nintendo made good decisions while Sega was messing up, and got key titles such as the first home version of Street Fighter II. Most important, though, the massive, industry-changing hit Donkey Kong Country in late ’94 brought the SNES to the top. The SNES was the clear leader in the later years of the generation here. After that things got closer, as the Genesis had a successful budget re-release in ’98. Overall, which one sold more in the US is a mystery, it was too close. Things were close in Europe as well, depending on territory, though neither console sold anywhere near as well per capita as in the US or Japan, as most people played games on computers there and not consoles; it was the Playstation that brought console gaming to prominence in Europe. Meanwhile, while the SFC faded sooner in Japan than the West as the next generation started earlier there, it had a longer tail as games released until ’00. There Nintendo had kiosks in stores where you could buy a game and download it onto a flash cart, a quite new idea for the time.

Overall the SNES had a long and very successful life, and remains extremely popular today. It is one of my favorite systems as well, it’s in my top five for sure. Indeed, if I have a complaint about the SNES, it is that it is too popular! I like to try to like less popular games and such, so that SNES fandom is so omnipresent among the retro-gaming community has caused me to often want to look to other systems instead. As much as I like the SNES I have probably spent more time online discussing the other systems that gen instead, which I am fine with. Regardless, that, overall, I like the SNES and Genesis equally frustrates some people, but it is my honest opinion.

Aesthetics and Design: There are two basic SNES designs, the Japanese/European one and the American one. I have never seen a Japanese SFC in person, but many people strongly prefer it over the US system, as it is a bit smaller and has curves, instead of the very boxy American design. I will say I like the look of the US SNES, it isn’t one of the best-looking consoles but it definitely looks good. And what I can definitely say is that American SNES cartridges are a lot better than the Japanese ones! Japanese SFC carts are rounded on top like the system, which means they do not stack well at all. This makes storage inconvenient to say the least in many situations. Additionally they do not have end labels, which means that you won’t know which game is which unless you add them yourself or such. The American carts, with their rectangular shapes and end labels, are a much better design. US SNES controllers have two concave and two convex buttons, too, which is better than the all-the-same buttons of the Japanese one. Also it is easy to play Japanese games on a US SNES with a minor modification, but harder to play US ones on a Japanese system since the cart port is too small; you need a cart adapter to do that with a SFC. Now, PAL systems are the worst of all here, as they are region-locked and won’t play any other games easily, and Europe got fewer releases overall.

When it comes to durability and reliability, the SNES is mostly quite reliable. With no common points of failure other than maybe the power port connection on the US console, SNESes are durable systems made to last. The carts are similar, though those batteries in many games are a problem. Also, the SNES has a bad habit of occasionally erasing a cart’s saves even when the battery is okay, which is not great. For the most part though the SNES is a very well-made console. The controllers are also quite durable and last for a long time.

Game Library: The large SNES/SFC library includes many of the industry’s most popular games of the early ’90s, so there is definitely something here for everyone. I don’t think I even need to go down the list, people reading this probably know it. If you don’t, see my Game Opinion Summaries list(s) for the system for more, but it certainly is one of the best ever. I love that a lot of Super Nintendo games save, that’s a major big deal game feature that you did not see anywhere near as regularly in console games before the SNES, or on the other consoles of its generation. SNES games are often easier to finish than games on other systems and I often like that. Anyway, there are also plenty of hard SNES games out there if you look for them. Really the only “issue” with the SNES library is how popular it remains. I love the SNES and its game library, and my two favorite console games of the generation are on SNES, but perhaps because of my love for the less popular but also good thing, these days I don’t think about the SNES as often as I do its main competition. That popularity also has led to high game prices. Anyway, beyond that, for negatives in the actual games, there’s really only one major one, that slowdown. It is a problem sometimes, but in most cases isn’t too bad. Those soon-needing-replacement batteries welded down inside the carts are a pain, though. Regardless, the SNES library is strong in almost every genre. As with most of the consoles on this list many SNES games are available digitally as well, which is great for those with carts with dead batteries.

 

Philips CD-i, CDI – 1991 (1992 EU/JP)

Release and Sales Info: From Philips, released in December 1991 in the US and in 1992 elsewhere. Commercial software released until 1995 or ’96 in the US, and 1998 in Europe. Sales are unclear due to the numerous models released from different companies, but they were poor; Philips claimed a million worldwide in October 1994, but in ’96 the Wall Street Journal said only 400,000 had sold in the US, and another article said only 60,000 sold in Philips home nation of the Netherlands (both of those as linked from the CD-i Wikipedia article). Sales may have been better among corporate users but how many sales that added up to is unclear, but that it was a financial failure for Philips is. I bought a CD-i in late 2018-early 2019.

History: Philips’ CD-i is a fascinating system with quite a history. Philips, the Dutch corporate parent of American Magnavox, had gotten into the videogame industry when they bought Magnavox and released their Odyssey consoles in Europe in the early ’80s. After that they stopped making games for some years. In the interim, Philips is one of the original creators of the CD format, along with Sony. In the late ’80s Philips started a program to develop an interactive CD format. This format was originally designed for interactive media, such as informative discs, image collection discs with audio, store kiosk stations, and more. It was designed with a mouse for a controller, so all CD-i controllers are, to the system, actually emulating a mouse. That it was originally meant for displaying images, and not playing games, is evident when you look at the titles released for this system. The CD-i is extremely impressive hardware for 1990 in terms of displaying static images and such! And with its Digital Video Cartridge MPEG video CD addon, it is fully capable of playing most Video CD movies, and CD-i-exclusive format movies as well. Needless to say, the other CD formats of the late ’80s to early ’90s, such as the Sega CD and Turbo CD, don’t come even CLOSE to this. Where Sega CD video uses 16 colors, even without the DVC, CD-i video is in fully color! Now, without the DVC it will be in a window just like a SCD game, but with the DVC you get full-screen, at least VHS-quality, video and still images. Again, nothing else at the time comes even remotely close, apart from far more expensive high-end home computers.

However, the CD-i has two major weaknesses. First, that mouse-based controller is a limitation, as the CD-i has only two buttons and was designed for analog movement, so even if you get a real gamepad for it it needs a speed switch in order to change cursor speed movement and such. Two buttons, with no Start button for menus and such, is not enough – a NES has four buttons by that standard, and all other systems of the day have at least three, including the pause buttons on the consoles of the Master System and Atari 7800. And second, while the CD-i is fantastic at playing video and still images, it is not very good at the kinds of animation that videogames require. Philips turned to games several years into the CD-i’s life in order to try to prop up the failing format, but you can tell that the CD-i was not designed with games in mind beyond quite basic ones. Some later titles, some of which require the DVC, do manage to pull off sprite-based graphics and animations on par with other console of the generation, but even there framerates are often far below those of SNES or Genesis games.

So in summary, the CD-i is a system which is very good at some things and fairly bad at others. Unfortunately for it, most gamers want more than just great FMV and static pictures. And even among people who did want FMV games and educational discs, since they were very popular for a while in the early ’90s, the CD-i’s high price and weak marketing were limiting factors which caused it to be less successful than the Sega CD, despite the Sega having far worse looking FMV. Later on, by ’95 the growth of PC CD drive purchases drove out most of the CD-i’s remaining market. The CD-i was successful in one market, though, and that is for kiosk and training installations for companies and government agencies. The CD-i was one of the more successful platforms for this field though the ’90s. Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to enough sales to save the system, which was a huge financial loss for Philips. The CD-i was more successful in Philips’ home nation of the Netherlands than anywhere else, but here it was an also-ran.

Aesthetics and Design: Philips, and several other companies who they licensed to release their own CD-i systems such as Sony, LG, DVS, and many more, released many different CD-i models. Most of them are large units which look a lot like a home CD player or VCR, though there are also smaller portable models and one which looks much more like a home console, with a smaller size, flip-lid top, and such. Some later models include the Digital Video Cartridge built in, but all earlier models can have one of two different revisions of the DVC added to them if they don’t have it built in. So in terms of aesthetics, the CD-i is fairly utilitarian, with very VCR-like looks. Still, from what I’ve seen they look fine, if quite different from model to model. I have the last model of CD-i, the DVS VE-2000, a model which apparently re-used unsold LG CD-i boards but in a new shell. This model was sold starting in 1998, meant for corporate use for companies still using them. It’s a nice looking VCR-ish system, if large.

For the most part, the CD-i is a fairly standard CD console for its time in terms of durability – the drive lasers can fail, but many are built fairly well. Most CD-is have one major design flaw, however: their infamous “timekeeper” chip which saves your game saves. Almost all Phillips-model CD-i systems have a chip which has a battery INSIDE of a chip! Now, videogame consoles putting batteries in consoles and carts to save games is normal, but putting the battery inside of a CHIP is very much not; this is the only console I know of which does that, and it makes replacing the battery much harder in these models than in most other consoles, once that battery dies. There are only two solutions to this: very carefully cut apart the chip, remove the battery, and attach in a new one connected to the contacts within; or buy the one or two portable CD-i models which have user-replaceable batteries, or the LG (their large “VCR-ish” one, not the small Goldstar rebadge of the console-style Philips system) and DVS models which have a standard battery visible on the board, with normal welded tabs like most any other console has. This is a big part of why I got the DVS, replacing its battery will be much easier than anything other than those portable ones, for less money than those very expensive systems cost. The DVS is not cheap, but those cost a lot more.

Game Library: The CD-i has a very weird library. Early on, the CD-i’s library is loaded with informative educational discs, discs for kids, simple games like Battleship and jigsaw puzzles, discs with nice high-color images and voice descriptions of things like Mozart’s times or the American national parks, and such. Later on the system moved on to a focus more on videogames, including the infamous Mario and Zelda games, some European puzzle and action titles often with iffy framerates and design issues, and such, and the DVC cart and its movies and FMV games. I find the educational and image discs pretty interesting time capsules which are well worth a look.  They aren’t games but are fun stuff to look at. The games are mix of good and bad. I don’t think the CD-i deserves the extremely bad reputation that it gets, so long as you spend the $100 it will cost to get a real gamepad for the thing and also however much a mouse or trackball will cost as you’ll want both. I honestly enjoy the sidescrolling CD-i Zelda games, but I will admit that it is a flawed system with somewhat limited appeal; you need to like the kinds of games the CD-i has in order to enjoy this. I do not like FMV games, so its main appeal doesn’t hit well with me, but despite this I think the CD-i is an okay platform overall. Sure, it doesn’t have the quality of games the best systems do, which is tough when so many other consoles of its day are so amazing. But even so this is a neat system to have, particularly for the collector or FMV game fan, but also for the fan of weird unique stuff, as I am. The CD-i has many true exclusives as well; most CD-i releases are not available anywhere else. Just like with the Magnavox Odyssey 2, Philips has not re-released anything from this platform on any newer format. Additionally, I don’t have any of them, but the stuff companies made for the CD-i for kiosks and such is surely quite interesting for the collector who can find them.

 

Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992)
(Sega Genesis addon)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in December 1991 in Japan as the Mega CD, in October 1992 in the US as the Sega CD, and 1993 in Europe as the Mega CD. Games released until late 1995 in the West and February ’96 in Japan. 2.24 million systems sold worldwide, mostly in the US — only 400,000 Mega CD systems sold in Japan, and it did not sell well at all in Europe. I bought a Sega CD in August 2006, only a few months after I got a Genesis. I had had much less experience with it than the Genesis before then, as I didn’t know anyone with addons for their Genesis during its life, though I remember its advertising for sure.

History: Following their very successful, in America anyway, Genesis, Sega decided to get on the CD-addon bandwagon and make a CD drive for their system. This addon released several years later, and adds much more than just a CD drive! Indeed, in addition to that disc drive, this addon also has new chips in it which gives it hardware scaling and rotation, most notably. While not perfect this was a significant advance, and some SCD games show this off with much improved scaling over the software efforts in Genesis games. The system has hardware built in to make FMV playback easy as well, so you see a lot more full-motion video on the Sega CD than you do on Turbo CD. Unfortunately they could not get around the 64-color limit, and in FMV palettes are restricted even more so a lot of FMV runs with VERY few colors on screen, but it runs, and at the time was a pretty amazing thing. The system has one more drawback, too — the side port which connects it to the Genesis has limited bandwidth when compared to the cart port on top. As a result, some Sega CD ports of Genesis games have to cut back on animation and such, as there isn’t enough bandwidth in that connection to get all the animation and such through. The Turbo CD does not have this issue, but in this respect Sega didn’t plan quite as well when designing the Genesis. Oh well.

But for good or ill, the Sega CD is best known for being the system which, more than any other, brought the FMV craze home. Expensive and showy arcade games like Dragon’s Lair and Mad Dog McCree were one thing, but now you could play that game, and more like it, at home! Sega marketed the Sega CD heavily, but between its high price tag and relatively limited library compared to the Genesis, it didn’t sell as well as they hoped. The SCD did sell over two million systems and was the best-selling console addon that generation, narrowly edging out the Turbo CD, so I would not call it a failure, but it could have been more. The cost of CD drives during its life really limited its appeal, as did its relatively short life of only about three years in the US. Many people call the SCD one of Sega’s mistakes, but I don’t agree; while it has some issues, including the gameplay limitations of FMV, how low-color SCD FMV is, and its price and reliability, the Sega CD did something new and, at least for a moment, seemed to change the industry; FMV was HUGE for a couple of years in the early-mid ’90s! Before polygons took over everybody thought that FMV was the future, as how can you get more real than real life? The very limited gameplay options available to streaming video would destroy this genre within a few years, but some amusing stuff released in the interim, and a lot of it is on this system. Most infamously, the very well known SCD game Night Trap caused enough of a controversy to be prominently featured in a US Senate hearing on sex and violence in videogames, alongside Mortal Kombat.

The Sega CD is more than just FMV, though, fortunately for people like me who have never thought all that much of FMV beyond that initial ‘wow, that’s real video!’ factor. The graphics may be great, but the extremely limited gameplay of a Night Trap, Dragon’s Lair, or Mad Dog McCree more than outweigh the positives for me. However, the Sega CD also has many other games I like a lot more, including some of the best Japanese RPGs ever made in the Lunar series, several shmups as good or better than anything on the Genesis, a fantastic Sonic game, and more. The Sega CD’s library is not as essential as the Turbo CD, sure, but it still has a good library with more than a few memorable classics. Unfortunately many of the better non-FMV Sega CD games are extremely expensive, since FMV sold better by far back then, but they are there and are great. Back then though, apart from people rich enough to shell out the money for playing FMV games at home, the SCD had somewhat limited appeal. The advertising was good, but CD drives were expensive!

Aesthetics and Design: As I mentioned earlier in the Genesis article, there are two models of Sega CD, a first tray-loading model which goes underneath your Genesis and matches the model 1 Genesis in size, and a second top-loading model which goes next to your Genesis and fits the Genesis 2 perfectly. You can use either SCD model with either model of Genesis, but the sizes will look a little silly if you do. So, I use a Genesis 2 + SCD 2 setup. It’s the better setup anyway, as the top-loading drive is much more reliable than that tray of the first model – there is no tray to break in a toploader! Either way the Sega CD systems are nice-looking units with a great early ’90s aesthetic that I quite like. The Genesis 2 + SCD 2 combination is a great looking system.  Its controller is also my favorite gamepad ever that doesn’t have an analog stick on it, or rather the 6 button controller is; the original 3 button pad is good, but Sega’s 6 button pad is the best, both in form and function.

As for its design and reliability, the SCD is known for having reliability issues, but not more so than any other disc drive-based system from its time; the main issue is just that disc drives have moving parts, so they are less reliable over time than a comparable solid-state-cartridge system is. And that is very true here. I am one of the lucky ones, as my SCD works flawlessly to this day and has needed no work, but between the laser, tray mechanism in a model 1 system, a fuse which often blows, and a rechargeable cell battery which saves any game savegames, the Sega CD has plenty of failure points within it. On that last point there is also a memory cart available, but it also has a battery in it. Some homebrew flash cartridges give the system a welcome longer-lasting memory backup function, but even so that rechargeable battery in the system will need replacing at some point. Even so, the Sega CD is a good-looking and mostly well engineered system, any CD console of its age has issues long term.

Game Library: As mentioned above, the Sega CD is most famous for its games full of either animated or, more often, live video. These are known as FMV games. Indeed, the Sega CD brought the FMV craze home. Arcade games like Mad Dog McCree were one thing, but now you could play that game and more like it at home! FMV was HUGE for a couple of years in the early-mid ’90s! Before polygons took over everybody thought that FMV was the future, as how can you get more real than real life? The very limited gameplay options available to streaming video would destroy this genre within a few years, but some amusing stuff released in the interim, and a lot of it is on this system. Most infamously, the very well known SCD game Night Trap caused enough of a controversy to be prominently featured in a US Senate hearing on sex and violence in videogames, alongside Mortal Kombat.

The Sega CD is more than just FMV, though, fortunately for people like me who have never thought all that much of FMV beyond that initial ‘wow, that’s real video!’ factor. The graphics may be great, but the extremely limited gameplay of a Night Trap, Dragon’s Lair, or Mad Dog McCree more than outweigh the positives for me. However, the Sega CD also has many other games I like a lot more, including some of the best Japanese RPGs ever made in the Lunar series, several shmups as good or better than anything on the Genesis, a fantastic Sonic game, and more. The Sega CD’s library is not as essential as the Turbo CD, sure, but it still has a good library with more than a few memorable classics. I would say that overall the SCD has a good game library. It does not have the breadth and depth of the Genesis library, but there are more than enough hits to make this system worth having, if you can get a working one for a reasonable price.

 

Interlude

In 1993, the first next generation — that is, 5th gen — consoles released, in the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO, along with several consolized older computers in the Amiga CD32 (Europe/Canada only) and Fujitsu FM Towns Marty (Japan only). A year after that, more new consoles released, the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and NEC PC-FX (Japan only), along with the SNK Neo-Geo CD. In addition to those, though, one new addon for the last generation of consoles released as well…

Sega 32X, 32X – 1994
and
Sega 32X CD, 32XCD – 1994

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in 1994. Games for the 32X were only released from late ’94 to early ’96. About 800,000 consoles were sold, mostly in the US where it sold well in Christmas ’94. I bought a 32X in October 2009.  Note that the 32X, when attached to a Genesis by itself, can use cartridges only; in order to play 32X CD games, you need a Sega CD attached to your Genesis as well.

History: The 32X was Sega’s last project where their Japanese and American branches worked together well. The project started out as an idea from Sega of Japan for a new model of Genesis with more color support built in, as they were frustrated with how limited colors are on the system when compared to the SNES. Sega of America heard about this and said no, what we should do instead is a more powerful addon which would add more colors and also better graphics. Sega head Hayao Nakayama okayed the idea, and engineers from both sides worked together to design the 32X. It was designed with two CPUs, in order to help developers get used to the twin-processor layout that the Saturn also uses. Parallel processing was brand new then so programmers had a really hard time dealing with that. The system doesn’t do polygons and such in hardware either, it’s all just what you can do in software with its reasonably powerful pair of CPUs. It can do a lot of colors, transparencies, full, 60fps scaling and rotation, and more, though, and push a fair number of polygons for the time. Compared to the systems of 1993, such as the Atari Jaguar and 3DO, the 32X is somewhat close in power. It has limitations, as the system has two graphics layers, one made by the Genesis and one by the 32X, and then just displays both at once, something which causes issues in some games when the two do not run at the same framerate, and can be tricky to program for, but the hardware can do some pretty nice things. It also can play either cartridge games, or 32X-exclusive CD titles, as it connects through the cart port to the Sega CD. There are only six 32X CD games and all are visually enhanced Sega CD FMV games, but still it was nice, the colors look great compared to regular SCD games.

The problem was, the Saturn was in development at the same time and released in Japan at the same time that the 32X was releasing in the US. The Playstation released in Japan at around the same time as well, and both the Saturn and PS1 are far more powerful than the 32X. The 32X then released in Japan the next month. The PS1 and Saturn cost more, but not so much more that people wanted to buy this instead of just saving up, or just waiting a year or two before joining the new generation. The system did well in the US in late ’94, selling hundreds of thousands that Christmas thanks to people wanting the new Genesis addon, and two games in particular, Doom and Star Wars Arcade. 665,000 of the 800,000 32Xes produced sold by early ’95. Sega thought they needed something big for holiday ’94, and for a moment the 32X seemed like a good idea. Releasing two new platforms, one an addon to their last system and one a new console, at the same time was a very bad idea though, and after the good start things went predictably terribly. Sega somehow didn’t realize that trying to support six-plus platforms at the same time would be a bad idea, but it was.

Indeed, the initially good sales and press reception changed soon afterwards, and sales plummeted. In the middle of releasing more than 150 games in the calendar year 1995, Sega of Japan decided to almost entirely stop developing new games for all consoles other than the Saturn. They did develop several new Virtua Fighter games after that date, one each for the Game Gear, Genesis, and 32X, and a few Genesis and GG games in Japan in the second half of ’95, but that was it; otherwise, the only games after then on those systems were Western. They also finally discontinued the Master System in Europe, and the Pico in Japan. The 32X would see a few Western games after this, the last in early ’96, and then it was dead. Some of these moves were needed, but mostly abandoning the 32X only maybe seven months after its release was a major mistake; you can’t support a system for that unacceptably short an amount of time and not expect consequences. And Sega had consequences, as their bet on the Saturn was a terrible one for the West, where few people had any interest in that troubled system. Sega probably should have focused more on the Genesis itself, since as the SNES showed the ’94 to ’96 period was still pretty good for 4th-gen cart systems in the US. By focusing on addon after addon then abandoning the system early, Sega hurt their profits. But then again, making questionable choices which hurt their profits was the Sega way, so major mistakes were probably inevitable. Oh well…

Aesthetics and Design: The 32X is a blob-like “mushroom” which sits on top of your Genesis. It requires its own power supply, making for a total of THREE needed for the full Genesis CD 32X unit, and also a video passthrough, as the Genesis needs to pass its video through the 32X through an exterior cable for merging, then from the 32X to the TV. Sadly there was no other way to add more colors to the system than this somewhat awkward solution. The system also doesn’t look great; you get used to the full combined system’s look, but that large blob on top of a Genesis kind of messes up the nice look of the Genesis + Sega CD combination. In terms of reliability though, the 32X is a reliable system which usually works fine, so long as you have all of the required cables and parts; there are many, I did not mention all of them here.

Game Library: The 32X has a small 40 game library, including 34 carts and six CD games. The exclusive library is small, but does include some pretty good games. Some of those are ports of games also available on other systems, to be sure, but the 32X versions often have unique features you won’t find elsewhere. A common criticism of this console is that it has very few exclusive games worth playing and there is some truth to that, but I do like the 32X regardless. Shadow Squadron is a fantastic game, and other titles such as Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000 and the outstanding, enhanced 32X version of Virtua Racer Deluxe are well worth it! I don’t regret getting a 32X at all, and if you can find one for cheap and like the Genesis it’s probably worth getting. The 32X should not have been released, as it divided the Genesis’s userbase too much, but enough of its small game library are good for me to kind of like it regardless. The high prices 32X games and hardware sell for these days are unfortunate, though. This system is very interesting, but it is a much better sell for cheap than for expensive. Ah well.

After this the generation was not done, because that aforementioned Super Famicom Satellaview satellite addon did not release until April 1995, in Japan only. I don’t have one.

And with that, finally this update is done! That was long. It might be a while until I do the next one, I’ll see; it will also be long so I kind of want to do something else first, but I haven’t decided yet.


Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

A ranking again? Why not, though I do have an all-systems ranking from a few years ago elsewhere on my site.

1. (tie) Super NES, SNES 1990 (1991) – It may be boring to say that the SNES deserves its place high on the list of the best consoles ever, but it is true.
1. (tie) Genesis, Gen 1988 (1989) – Just as great as the SNES, I am also a big fan of the Genesis! And yes, I still don’t want to choose between them, no matter how much that annoys some fans of both systems. Heh.
2. Game Boy, GB 1989 – My first video game console, I have a lot of nostalgia for the GB and think it still holds up very well.
3. TurboGrafx-16, TG16 1987 (1989) – Some might put the CD addon above the base system, but though the CD games are flashier, the larger HuCard library, overall, probably edges out the CDs.
4. TurboGrafx-CD, TCD 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon) – The Turbo CD is fantastic but doesn’t have the game variety of the base TG16 so it ranks a little lower.
5. Sega CD, SCD 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon) – Not quite as good as the Turbo CD but also pretty good, this is a little below it but certainly, for me, better than the GG.
6. Game Gear, GG 1990 (1991) – The Game Gear’s hardware and library are quite flawed and I am a longtime critic of some things about this system, but even I have to admit that it does have some good games.
7. Phillips CD-i, CDI 1991 – The CD-i has better hardware than the Game Gear, but the GG probably has more high-quality games, so I guess I reluctantly have to give the GG the edge here. I kind of like the CD-i, but I can’t put it over any of these systems.
8. Sega 32X, 32X 1994 (Sega Genesis addon) – Releasing the 32X was a big mistake, but I quite like some of its small library regardless! I like a few 32X games more than anything I have for the CD-i, but the overall library… I can’t put it above it, there are just too many issues with this system.
9. Sega 32X CD, 32XCD 1994 – If we count this separately, it’s in last by a longshot! Yes, it’s nice to see FMV games with actual decent colors on the Genesis, but then you have to actually play the games…

Posted in 32X, Classic Games, Game Boy, Game Gear, Game Opinion Summaries, Genesis, Reviews, Sega CD, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite Games of 2019, and of the Decade of the 2010s

I usually do not do Game of the Year lists and have not for some time, and for good reason — it is impossible for any one person to play all of the great games released in a year, and I am no exception.  More games release now than ever before, so it is impossible for even a team of people to keep up with all of the games releasing, much less any one individual, no matter how much they follow this industry!

However, partially because I played more recent games this past year than I had in quite some time and partially just because I wanted to, I decided to try to make a ‘my favorite games’ list this year.  It is in several parts:

Table of Contents
——————-

  1. My Favorite Games of 2019
  2. The Best Classic Re-releases/Enhanced Ports of 2019
  3. Special Awards
  4. My Favorite Older Games I Bought in 2019
    1. Pre-Current Gen Games (ie no 3DS/Vita/X1/modern PC/NS)
    2. Modern Consoles, games from before 2019
  5. Worst Classic Games I Bought in 2019
  6. My Favorite Games of the Decade of the 2010s
    1. My Favorite Games of Each Year of the 2010s
    2. Overall Top 10 of the Decade

My Favorite Games of 2019

 

Key: NS: Nintendo Switch; X1: Xbox One; 3DS: Nintendo 3DS; PS4: Sony PlayStation 4. Key: (DD Only) means that the game has no physical release on this platform.

The Best Games Newly Released in 2019

1. Super Mario Maker 2 (NS)
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus (3DS)
3. They Are Billions (PC) (DD Only)  (final release was 2019)
4. Tetris 99 (NS)
5. Ding Dong XL (NS) (DD Only)
6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (NS)
7.Samurai Shodown (2019) (X1; also on PS4)
8. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (X1; also on PS4, NS, PC)
9. Shalnor Legends: Sacred Lands (NS; also on PC) (DD Only)
10. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (NS; also on PS4, X1, PC)
11. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (X1; also on PC, PS4)

Honorable Mentions: Dragon: Marked for Death (NS), Anthem (NS), Dead or Alive 6 (X1), Golf Peaks (NS) (DD Only), Puyo Puyo Champions (NS) (DD Only), Daemon X Machina (NS)


The Best Classic Re-releases/Enhanced Ports of 2019


1. Collection of Mana (NS) – (one game first US release in ’19)
2. Gunlord X (NS) (DD Only) – (first licensed release in ’19)
3. Sega Ages: Virtua Racing (NS) (DD Only) – (heavily enhanced classic port)
4. Commander Keen in Keen Dreams (NS) (DD Only) – (first console release in ’19)
5. Arcade Archives Moon Cresta (NS) (DD Only)  – (first official console release in ’19)

Honorable Mentions: Croixleur Sigma (NS) (DD Only) first US release in ’19), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Joe & Mac Returns (NS) (DD Only) (first official console release in ’19)

Special Awards

Best Graphics: Anthem  – Sure, this game has its problems, but it looks absolutely incredible!  It’s not as terrible to play as people say, either.
Best Music: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair – The Donkey Kong Country composers return, and are still incredible.
Most Addictive: Mario Maker 2 – This game, and its predecessor, is a game that I have played for years, and will play for years to come.  Tetris 99 and They are Billions are very close behind in this category.
Most Fun to Watch Others Play Online: Mario Maker 2 – I’ll probably never be as good at this game as streamers are, but maybe that is part of why I so enjoy watching them play the game…

Game of the Year: Super Mario Maker 2 – This was an easy one, it’s been my likely Game of the Year since its release and nothing since has changed my mind on that.

My Favorite Older Games I Bought in 2019

Key: SAT: Saturn; NES: Nintendo Entertainment System; JAG: Atari Jaguar; TCD: TurboGrafx =-16 CD (aka PC Engine CD); TG16: TurboGrafx-16 (aka PC Engine); 5200: Atari 5200; INTV: Mattel Intellivision; CVIS: Colecovision; GBA: Game Boy Advance; DS: Nintendo DS; DSi – Nintendo DSi (Digital Download games for eShop for the 3DS, now); GEN: Sega Genesis; N64: Nintendo 64; PSV: PlayStation Vita; CD-i: Phillips CD-i.

Pre-Current Gen Games (ie no 3DS/Vita/X1/modern PC/NS)

1. Tempest 2000 (JAG)
2. Jeff Minter Classics (JAG) (modern homebrew title)
3. Saturn Bomberman (SAT)
3. Mega Man 3 (NES)
5. Thunder Force III (GEN)
6. Seirei Senki Spriggan (TCD)
7. Monster Tale (DS)
8. SteamWorld Tower Defense (DSiWare on 3DS eShop)
9. Tempest (5200) (modern homebrew title)
10. Snafu (INTV)
11. Nova Blast (CVIS)

Honorable Mentions: Super Monkey Ball Jr. (GBA), Pepper II (CVIS), Iron Soldier (JAG), Space Fury (CVIS), Sonic & Sega Allstars Racing (DS), Zoop (JAG), Strikers 1945 (SAT)

Also Noteworthy:
BurgerTime (INTV), Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands (JCD), Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon (CD-i), Link: The Faces of Evil (CD-i), Super Space Invaders (GG), TI Invaders (TI99), Stunt Racer 64 (N64), Gateway to Apshai (CVIS), Demon Attack (INTV), Atlantis (INTV), Marchen Maze (TG16), Donald Duck: The Lucky Dime Caper (SMS), Accelerator (CD-i), Loco-Motion (INTV), Lady Bug (CVIS), Dick Tracy (GEN), I-War (JAG), Moon (DS), Sengoku Blade (SAT), Moto Roader MC (TCD)

Modern Consoles, games from before 2019

  1. 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (3DS) (DD Only)
  2. SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog (NS) (DD Only)
  3. 3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS) (DD Only)
  4. Super Mario Advance 4 – Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA – Wii U VC) (DD Only)
  5. 3D Space Harrier (3DS) (DD Only)
  6. 3D Streets of Rage (3DS) (DD Only)
  7. Rune Factory 4 (3DS)
  8. Summon Night 6 (PSV)
  9. ACA NeoGeo: Aero Fighters 2 (NS) (DD Only)
  10. Monster Hunter Stories (3DS)

Honorable Mentions: 3D After Burner II (3DS)(DD Only), The Legend of Legacy (3DS), The Alliance Alive (3DS)

Also Noteworthy: Obduction (PC) (DD Only), Kamiko (NS) (DD Only), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Gate of Doom (NS) (DD Only), Stranger of Sword City (PSV), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Wizard Fire (NS) (DD Only), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Joe & Mac Returns (NS)(DD Only), Hive Jump (Wii U), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Super Burger Time (NS) (DD Only)

Worst Classic Games I Bought in 2019

  1. Video Speedway (CD-i) – While far from the worst game ever, this game is very boring and bizarrely difficult.
  2. Wizard Defenders (DSiWare on 3DS eShop) – This tries to be good but fails miserably.  It gets unplayably hard quickly.
  3. Airlock (2600) – Lives down to its reputation, sadly.
  4. Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Carnival (CD-i) – Bad minigames.
  5. Medal of Honor: Underground (GBA) – The GBA is not a good platform for 3D_!
  6. Towers: Lord Baniff’s Deceit (GBC) – It is unforgivable to not have an ingame map in a game like this, released when it did, on a handheld.

My Favorite Games of the Decade of the 2010s

Note: American release dates are used here, as always in this article.  Additionally,  I usually do not count re-releases of old games for this list and won’t be listing classic-console re-releases here, such as Sega’s 3D Classics line and such.  However, I ignore this rule for a few titles I really like.

My Favorite Games of Each Year of the 2010s:

2010
——
1. Picross 3D (Nintendo DS)
2. Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)
3. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (Nintendo DS)
Honorable Mentions: Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Xbox 360), Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC), Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) (mentioned here for the addition of motion controls), 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

2011:
——
1. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (Wii)
2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
3. Professor Layton and the Last Spectre (Nintendo DS)
Honorable Mention: Driver San Francisco (PC) (also on Xbox 360, PS3), Monster Tale (DS)

2012:
——
1. Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time (PSP)
2. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
3. Gunlord (Dreamcast)
Honorable Mentions: Super Hexagon (PC), Hotline Miami (PC)

2013:
——
1. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
2. Fire Emblem Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
3. The King of Fighters XIII (PC) (also on PS3 and Xbox 360 previously)
Honorable Mention: Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (Nintendo 3DS)

2014:
——
1. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (Xbox 360) (also have for PC and Xbox One; also on PS3 and PS4)
2. Terrian Saga: KR-17 (PC)
3. TxK (Playstation Vita)
Honorable Mention: Under Defeat HD (XBox 360) (also on PS3; up-port of an older, Japan-only Dreamcast game)

2015:
——
1. Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
2. Splatoon (Wii U)
3. Pillars of Eternity (PC)
Honorable Mentions: The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match (PC) (previously released on other platforms), Rocket League (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch)

2016:
——
1. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) (if you count an HD remaster)
2. Overwatch (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (GOTY if you don’t count the above)
3. Picross 3D: Round 2 (Nintendo 3DS)
Honorable Mention: Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo 3DS)

2017:
——
1. Starcraft Remastered (PC) (yes, it’s a remake. I’m listing it anyway. The new graphics are great!)
2. Yooka-Laylee (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
3. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Honorable Mentions: Splatoon 2 (Switch), Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Playstation Vita) (later ported to PS4, PC, Switch)

2018:
——
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
2. Tempest 4000 (Xbox One) (also on PC, PS4)
3. WarioWare Gold (Nintendo 3DS)
Honorable Mentions: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption (PC), Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Xbox One; also on PS4, PC)

2019:
——
1. Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus (Nintendo 3DS)
3. They are Billions (PC)
Honorable Mentions: Collection of Mana (Switch) [particularly for the first US release of Mana 3, previously Japan-only], Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch), Ding Dong XL (Switch)

Overall Top 10 of the Decade

  1. Super Mario Maker (Wii U) (2015) – This game redefines platformers in a truly special way.
  2. Starcraft Remastered (PC) (2017) – The best game ever, redone with better visuals.
  3. Picross 3D (Nintendo DS) (2010) – A puzzle game classic still to be topped.
  4. Splatoon (Wii U) (2015) – Easily one of the best shooters ever made!
  5. Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch) (2019) – Mostly better than the original, this game only suffers for the worse creation of the Switch’s capacitive touchscreen versus the Wii U’s reactive one.
  6. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) (2013) – A highly under-rated game, I hope it gets a Switch port soon!
  7. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (Xbox 360) (also have for PC and Xbox One; also on PS3 and PS4) (2014) – This game was ignored by most, but I was totally addicted and played it regularly for a year.
  8. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (Wii) (2010) – Kirby returned with a vengeance!
  9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) (if you count an HD remaster) (2016) – The HD version of one of Nintendo’s best games ever is probably the definitive version.
  10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) (2011) – This game was slightly disappointing for a major Zelda game, but that still ranks it as exceptional.

Honorable Mention: Yooka-Laylee (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (2017) – Everybody is wrong about this game, Yooka-Laylee is amazing and one of the best games of the decade!  I have played more of this game than Mario Odyssey and don’t regret that.

So, for me 2012, 2016, and 2018 were the weaker years of the decade for games, while 2010, 2015, and 2019 stand out for the greatness of their libraries.  2017 is was a fantastic year as well.  Overall though, 2015 has to win because Mario Maker and Splatoon are two of my favorite games ever.  Quantity matters, and 2019 has that, but quality matters even more.  (They Are Billions, by the way, does not make the top 10 because the random luck of level generation and unfair nature of defeats make it incredibly frustrating, and not always for fair reasons. Maybe it should be on the list despite that, it’s close.)

Posted in Atari 5200, Atari Jaguar, Classic Games, Colecovision, Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, Genesis, Intellivision, Lists, Modern Games, NES, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PC, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, Playstation Portable, PS Vita, Saturn, Sega Master System, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Console Opinion Summaries, Part 2: The Third Generation – Atari 5200 and 7800, NES, Master System, and Colecovision

That’s right, it’s not a mirage, it’s an actual update to my ‘Console Opinion Summaries’ list!  This took way too long, so for future entries I probably should cut back on the history portions that are done much more completely elsewhere on the internet, but at least this is done and I mostly like the results.  Here, I cover the five consoles I own that I consider third generation — that is, consoles released between 1982 and 1985.

Table of Contents

Third Generation Overview
Colecovision, CVIS – 1982
Atari 5200, 5200 – 1982
NES (Famicom) – 1983 (1985 US)
Atari 7800, 7800 – 1984 (1986 full release)
Sega Master System, SMS – 1985 (1986 US)
Overall Ranking – a ranking of how much I comparatively like each of these systems.


 

Third Generation Overview

 

Now, as I have said before, most people would start the third generation with the release of the NES. I think that is wrong, however, so for reasons I have explained before, I am starting it with the first post-Atari 2600 “next-gen” consoles, the new systems of 1982. After several years of no hardware releases, a bunch of systems released in 1982, from Atari, Coleco, and others. I have the two major ones, the Atari 5200 and Colecovision. However, as this whole video games thing was still very new, nobody knew how to handle a generation transition. So, market leader Atari, at this point owned by Warner Bros., decided to continue supporting the 2600 strongly, while also releasing a new system. Most of their games would release on both formats or would be only on 2600, with only a few games only on 5200. And the 5200, at least at first, was not backwards compatible. Combined with a controller few liked and other mistakes, the 5200 struggled from the beginning. The Colecovision did better, as with better marketing and ports of popular arcade games Coleco made an impact. Third party studios proliferated as well, as no systems at this point had licensing models or could lock out third party software, and people had figured out this fact. Sure, there were issues, but things seemed to be going well overall.

Meanwhile, the computer gaming industry was growing greatly, as computer platforms such as the Commodore VIC-20, Tandy Color Computer, Radio Shack TRS-80, IBM PC, Apple II, and Texas Instruments TI 99/4 and 99/4A sold into more and more schools and homes. Millions would buy these computers, and everyone thought that computer-console convergence was the goal — consoles often started including more computer features, and computers console features like cartridge-based games and console-style joysticks.

Even so, in 1983, the console industry in the US seemed to be going great. Sales had been up incredibly the previous year, as countless games released for the many formats available. However, that year everything fell apart. Sales started falling, suddenly, and they did not stop. Thus began what would be known as the Video Game Crash. This incident, focused primarily on the United States but affecting the world because of how dominant America was in the technology field, destroyed our nascent console industry. What survived were the computers, and surviving developers in the industry mostly moved over to computers for a decade or two. Many people did not buy a computer, though, so the total number of people playing games at home surely went down. I won’t go in detail here about the crash though, I have covered it elsewhere, and will mention it below as well in the summaries.

That same year, however, two new consoles had released in Japan. One of them, the Nintendo Famicom, would become the industry’s most important and legendary console when it finally released in the US two years later as the NES. With that release in 1985, everything started to change here. Computers would remain the primary format for most Western game developers, to be sure, but many gamers such as myself had some of their first gaming experiences on the Nintendo, as we called it; the specific name of the system was unnecessary. The third generation would continue the rest of the decade, finally starting to be supplanted by newer systems by the end of the ’80s but the NES was still selling well into the early ’90s.

In terms of games, the two parts of this generation are contrasting — earlier on, and continuing through the decade at a lower level, you see refinements of the games seen on the second generation systems. These newer systems could do more complex things, so you see second-generation-style games, but with better graphics and perhaps also more content. But as the decade progressed and systems advanced, games started to try new things. The development of the 2d platformer, overhead action-adventure game, and various takes on role playing games all changed dramatically over the first half of the ’80s, as developers experimented with what they could do. This kind of experimentation is fascinating from a modern perspective, as games do not always do what we “expect” them to. Hardware and game data size limitations can be a frustration, however, from sprite flicker, choppy scrolling in some systems, and other technical limits like those to the omnipresent use of incredibly cryptic “puzzles” that pretty much are just massive exercises in trial and error in a way much less often seen since. Fourth-gen consoles have aged better in these respects than the third has.

As a result of game design elements like those, and of the rise of a generation of gamers who did not grow up playing or reading about the NES like I did, the NES today does not have as dominant a place today in classic gaming culture as it did fifteen years ago; times change, and as younger generations grow up the consoles of THEIR childhood gain prominence. Now, it is the N64 which particularly seems to be benefiting from this, with the Gamecube and PS2 on the rise. But despite being dated in many ways — and nostalgia or no, I very much agree that some elements of 3rd-gen game design are very frustrating — this era is a fascinating and, today, under-valued one. The pre-crash part of the generation is home to a lot of great arcade-style games that most people probably have not played, and the post-crash part has more than enough games which hold up to still be full of must-play experiences.

With that said, on to the summaries!


Colecovision, CVIS

Release and Sales Info – From Coleco, released in 1982. Game support 1982-1984 plus third party only support 1985-1987, plus scattered modern homebrew releases. Two million sold, not including a clone system from the ’80s, a modern Flashback system release, and an upcoming Colecovision clone system. I bought a Colecovision in August 2018.

History: The Colecovision released in summer 1982, and brought in a new generation of videogames. With significantly better graphics than the previous consoles and a library full of reasonably good conversions of arcade games, Coleco made a big splash in 1982-1983 before falling off because of the crash. Coleco, originally the Connecticut Leather Company, was a major toy manufacturer in the ’70s and ’80s, and had been successful in videogames with their line of home Pong clones in the late ’70s. They also made one extremely obscure and rare cart-based console in the late ’70s called the Coleco Telstar Arcade. In ’82, Coleco finally made a more direct competitor for the Atari 2600 with the more powerful Colecovision. The system has some hardware similarities to the TI 99/4A computer, as it uses the same TI graphics and sound chips as the TI99, except it has a different CPU: the popular Zilog Z80, instead of TI’s CPU. The resulting graphics are sprite-based, something of a revolution at the time for consoles, and look very much like TI99 graphics. Basing consoles on computer parts from several years earlier has ever since been a common practice, and here we see one of its first occurrances. Consoles are almost always cheaper than computers, so this makes sense. It uses controllers inspired by the Intellivision’s, slightly more comfortable than those but also not very good, and also with the horrible idea of having the main fire buttons be on the sides of the controller. The console itself is also, in my opinion, unbelievably ugly. But anyway.

Again, the Colecovision sold well at first, pushed by its relatively powerful hardware and popular arcade games like Donkey Kong, a game they got through a deal they managed to make with Nintendo, beating out Atari for DK’s Western home console rights, before fading as the market fell apart. Coleco did not help matters though, because their big Colecovision addon, the Coleco Adam computer, was something of a disaster; it was repeatedly delayed and has issues. The Adam debacle helped push Coleco out of the industry, as while home computers did continue to sell in the mid ’80s people wanted ones like Commodore’s on the lower priced end or the IBM PC and Apple II on the more expensive end, not the Adam. Still, as the crash progressed Coleco tried to hold out and released more Colecovision games in 1984 than Atari did for all their systems combined, but by the end of the year it was clear that it was over. Coleco stopped making new games for their system in late ’84, before discontinuing it in mid ’85, ironically right about at the time that the NES released in the US to resurrect the console market.

Meanwhile, overseas the Colecovision made a big impact in the market at least in mindshare, if not in sales. In Japan, Sega was impressed enough that in mid 1983 they released a console that is nearly identical to the Colecovision, the first Sega console, the Sega SG-1000. The differences between the two are extremely minor, and games are extremely easy to port between the two systems, a fact homebrew developers have taken advantage of. At the same time, however, Nintendo looked at the Colecovision and had a different reaction: they decided to make a console that could beat the Coleco in graphical power. This project resulted in the Famicom, also known as the NES, and even if you look only at early Famicom/NES titles like Donkey Kong, it is easy to see how much better the NES is than the Coleco; there is only a year between the two systems in time, but the power gap is significant. However, I do not think that it is a generational power gap, not even close; it’s probably less than the gap from Dreamcast to Xbox, Wii to Xbox 360, or such. Particularly with a homebrew addon to give it more RAM the Colecovision can do some nice graphics, and I don’t think that just because it died off before the NES released it should be dumped in the same generation as consoles released five years before it; the Colecovision was clearly next-gen when it released, and just like my article from some years ago I still consider this system, and the Atari 5200 which released a few months after it, third-gen and not second.

But anyway, after its discontinuation, in the West, third party Tele-Games released a Colecovision clone called the Dina 2-in-1, and released a few new games for it between ’85 and ’87. After that, the system died out. As for the SG-1000, it only lasted from ’83 to ’87 itself. It was crushed by the Famicom, but did apparently do better than Sega’s low expectations, so they decided to continue making consoles. The SG-1000 and its computer counterpart the SC-3000 were only released in Japan and a few other nations, including France, Australia, and Italy.

Aesthetics and Design: The Colecovision may be reasonably powerful and with a surprisingly large library for a mostly short-lived system, but as I said earlier I find its design somewhat shockingly horrible. The early ’80s was able to make some nice looking electronics, but for me this is on the opposite end of the spectrum! With ugly ridges, holes for the controllers which may have been common then but look bad with controllers in them and horrible when empty, an overly large shell filled with air, and one of the largest and more unreliable power supplies ever seen on a classic home console, the Colecovision is, for me, aesthetically quite bad. The controllers are not great looking either, and feel mediocre to bad to hold. “They’re better than Intellivision” is true but is not saying all that much, unfortunately.

And unfortunately, its design has a lot of problems as well, particularly in build quality. Colecovisions are infamous for failing, and finding one in good working order, like mine fortunately is, is a rare occurrence. The power supplies handle multiple voltages and fail all the time; the video output, RF only like all systems of the time; can break; chips can fail; and more. All classic systems can die on you of course, but by all accounts the Colecovision is worse than most in build quality and reliability. Coleco cut corners anywhere they could when making these things and it shows. The controllers are no better; my console may be fortunately working perfectly, but my controllers are mostly half-broken, as both of my regular controllers have failed main fire buttons and both of my Super Action controllers have bad buttons, as is common. Other consoles of the era are also known for controller buttons failing over time, so this is not only a Coleco problem, but it can be frustrating to deal with. I mostly use my Coleco Roller Controller, a trackball which you can put controllers into and use like an arcade stick, using the stick on the controller and buttons on the trackball. It’s a good solution, but I do wish the system had a better controller. I hope upcoming homebrew projects finally bring us one.

Game Library: The Colecovision has several hundred games, with a solid library of ports of arcade games from the early ’80s and a bunch of third-party software, some ported from computers or consoles of the day and a few here and there exclusive. A paucity of exclusives is an issue on this console, however — as Coleco mostly made licensed arcade ports and third parties mostly ported games from other systems, this system has a very small exclusive library. Colecovision versions of games are often the best home versions of those games on early ’80s consoles, but when they are all downgraded from the arcade games and in this 21st century playing old arcade games is easy, this means a lot less than it did back then. Still, the Colecovision has some interesting stuff, and I do like games like Pepper II, Mr. Do, and more. It has a few interesting true exclusives as well, such as the fascinating, if highly dated, Fortune Builder. Overall I put the Colecovision in the lower tier of my consoles in that list I published recently, but part of that is because of the build quality, controllers, and paucity of exclusives; the games it does have are often pretty fun, and I do somewhat like this system. (Plus, this is the only console released in the month I was born, and that counts for something for sure.)


Atari 5200, 5200

Release and Sales Info – From Atari, released in late 1982. Game support 1982-1984 and 1986, plus scattered modern homebrew titles since the early ’00s. One million sold. I bought a 5200 in 2013.

History: The infamous Atari 5200 is the system often mentioned as one of the causes of the great videogame crash of 1983, along with other Atari moves such as their awful E.T. game. Atari was hardly blameless, as they released the 5200 with games far too similar to their 2600 games, continued to release most games on both consoles, had a pack-in title nearly identical to the 2600 version of the same game, and never really seemed to know what they wanted to do with the system before abandoning it barely over a year later. Indeed, the 5200 released in late ’82, and Atari was done in early ’84 and released only one solitary game for the console that year, with the rest of the ’84 library coming from third parties. Its sales were highly disappointing as well, as its final sales number shows — the 5200 sold a thirtieth of what the 2600 had, in the end, and was beaten out by the Odyssey 2, Colecovision, and Intellivision. The 5200 is overly large and is filled with air, has yet another vertical, Intellivision-styled controller with side fire buttons, and has a small game library. It has less homebrew support than those four other pre-crash consoles as well, excepting ports from Atari’s 8-bit computer line. And the system’s analog joysticks are a real mixed bag, with great control in games that make good use of it like Pole Position, and bad control in games which rely on digital precision, like Pac-Man.

However, despite all of its faults, I like the 5200. I admit to often looking at disliked gaming things and trying to find something to like in them, but it doesn’t always happen… but very much did here. So, the Atari 5200 released in late 1982. It is a consolized version of an Atari 400 computer, the lower end of their popular Atari 8-bit computer line that they sold for at least a decade. However, where Atari 8-bit computers use Atari 2600 joysticks, the 5200 has an all-new controller with an analog joystick, two fire buttons on each side, a keypad in that Intellivision style, and, innovatively, for the first time, a Pause button. On the controller. There are Start and Reset buttons right on the controller too. This is the first console with pausing standard in all games, and that, for me, is a big deal! That all buttons are on the gamepad and not on the system is really nice as well. With controller extension cables you can put your 5200 across the room from you with no issues; this is not the case for most consoles before it.  The first model 5200 has four controller ports as well, though no games really made use of it, and the first ever automatic RF switch; before this all consoles require you to go manually flip a switch on a box attached to the back of your TV to switch between watching TV and playing the game, but the 5200 has the first attempt at doing this automatically.  5200 auto switches are failure-prone as the tech was clearly not all there yet, so they removed it from the second model of the system in favor of a simple manual switch, but it’s a really cool thing if you have a working one, as I do.  I love not having to flip that switch to play 5200, it feels much more modern for it.

But yes, the Atari 5200 sold badly, and was badly mismanaged by Atari. Their corporate parent Warner Bros. did not understand generation transitions yet, as there hadn’t really been one yet, so they didn’t make the differences between the two systems as clear as they could have, and continued to put more focus on the 2600 than their new system. Perhaps with better marketing and choices it could have been more successful, though the controller was a barrier. I like the 5200 controller overall, but I do think that it shows why all modern controllers still have both a d-pad and an analog stick — having only the analog option does not work for all games. The 5200’s analog joystick was a great step forward compared to the digital gamepads all prior consoles had as their main control options, but having both analog and digital options probably would have been better.

But anyway, for reasons outside for Atari’s control, the crash was probably inevitable. For the crash did not only happen because of Atari, but because of the market as a whole. The absence of a licensing model for third-party games is a key component of the crash, and that model would not develop until the mid ’80s, in response to the crash. The flood of low-quality third-party software was a major driver towards the crash. Atari did not help matters by sticking to the then five or six year old 2600 for probably too long as their main focus, but even with better decisions, a correction was probably looming. The arcade game market in the US crashed at the same time as the console market, after all; the whole gaming industry dropped significantly in sales. Computer sales increased, but not by enough to make up for the whole drop.

So, when I look at the Atari 5200’s history, I think more of the things it does right, than wrong — the reasonably nice pixel graphics that have a distinct Atari style, very different from the sprite-based visuals of the TI/Coleco but just as good overall; the interesting controller which makes as many games better as worse; the system’s good looking design and style; the introduction of the standard pause button; and the games, which I quite like many of. Unlike its rival the Colecovision the Atari 5200 did not make anywhere near as much of an impact on the industry and has far fewer games, but on a subjective level I like it more all the same.

Aesthetics and Design: The Atari 5200 is big. That is everyone’s first reaction to it, and they are right: this thing is huge! The Atari 5200 has a very large, and mostly empty, case. However, design-wise I think it looks pretty good. The box is a sleekly designed wedge with some nice styling on it. The system is durable and well built as well, they can fail but are mostly reliable. I have never had an issue with Atari 5200 hardware, and I have two of them, one of each model. The cartridges are similarly absurdly oversized, maybe four or five times bigger than the otherwise identical tiny little Atari 8-bit carts that they are often ports from, but look nice. I do wish they had end-labels, but that is now a solvable problem. And thanks to its black plastic cover on the back, even if you choose not to store you controllers in the controller holder which takes up maybe a third of the unit, it still looks great, quite unlike the Intellivision or Colecovision. That cover for the controller bay was a good idea indeed. The controllers similarly look nice, and I find them a bit less uncomfortable than Intellivision controllers are; sure, they do hurt your hand after a while and these vertically-oriented controllers were a mistake, but it’s a definite improvement over the Intellivision and Colecovision. Those added Pause, Reset, and Start buttons are fantastic as well. I wish that the Sega Master System and Atari 7800 had done that, instead of putting their pause buttons on the console itself! Overall I think the controllers look nice and work alright, so long as you can find a working one with a good rubber ring around the stick — it does not center itself, so you need that to help push the stick back to the middle after you let go. I got used to this quickly, myself. You will almost certainly need to get a repaired controller, as while Atari 5200 consoles are quite durable the controllers are infamous for failing, but with a fixed up pad it’s a fun system to use, particularly for games which make use of analog well.

The Atari 5200 only has one add-on controller, but it’s a really nice one, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball. Where the Coleco Roller Controller (trackball) is a pretty bad, slow-to-respond ball I do not like using, this one is impressively responsive. Indeed, of the old trackballs I have, for Sega Master System, Atari 2600, Colecovision, and 5200, this one is by FAR the best! Unfortunately it only works with compatible games, which are a definite subset of the already-small 5200 library, but with most Trak-Ball compatible titles, you want to play them on trackball. Games like Centipede and Missile Command are great fun with the regular controller, but are even better on trackball. The trackball is not cheap, but it’s worth the expense. It looks really nice, too, with the same stylings as the 5200 itself. The Trak-Ball is quite large, larger than some consoles in fact, but that makes for a good, comfortable platform to use the ball on.

Game Library: The Atari 5200 library of actual released titles is tiny. With its lack of success and quick abandonment, Atari did not release many games for the system and dropped the system barely a year after its release. Third parties did support the 5200 and released some pretty good games for it, but this system definitely does not have the most quantity of releases. I do, however, think that the games it does have are often high quality. Defender, Centipede with the trackball, Galaxian, Pole Position, and more are among the best games of the time! And while, due to its market failure there are not many original homebrew titles for the 5200, the 5200 does have a vast quantity of homebrew ports of Atari 8-bit computer games, and a whole bunch of cancelled prototypes and finished titles that were in the works when the console was abandoned in ’84. The three titles Atari released in ’86, to clear some produced games out of their warehouse, are good as well. The 5200 is a system where you really need more than the original library to get the most out of the console. Now, those 8-bit ports are very much a mixed bag, as the games were designed for a digital joystick so unless the person making the port changes the code they will often control somewhat awkwardly on the 5200’s analog joystick, but games which do adjust for that end up well.

On the whole, I’m sure it’s partially just being contrarian, but the 5200 is my second-favorite pre-crash console, after the Odyssey 2, and my favorite Atari console. I really do find it fun to play and collect for. However, as I said earlier, this console shows why no modern console has done away with the d-pad — you end up with this, digital controls awkwardly mapped to an analog stick not designed for that kind of game at all. Oh well. At least Atari tried something different, that’s much more interesting than just doing the safe thing every time! And it worked at least as much as it didn’t.


Nintendo Entertainment System, NES
(aka Family Computer, or Famicom / FC, in Japan)

Release and Sales Info – From Nintendo, released in mid 1983 in Japan and fall 1985 in the US (Europe later). Games released between 1983-1994, with homebrew games following. 61.91 million sold. I bought one in early 2008.

History: Japanese card and toy company Nintendo got into the videogame business in the late ’70s when they made a series of home Pong clones. After that, they started making arcade games, most notably the massive smash-hit game Donkey Kong. Nintendo then licensed their games to several American companies for home system release, including Atari for home versions of Mario Bros. and home computer versions of Donkey Kong, Coleco for home console versions of Donkey Kong and DK Jr., and others for games such as Sky Skipper on the Atari 2600. In 1982, as mentioned in the Coleco section above, Coleco convinced Nintendo to give them the license for home console versions of some of their games. After that Nintendo employees looked at the Colecovision, and as I described earlier they were impressed, but in response they decided to make something better.

And thus, the Famicom was born. It uses off-the-shelf parts, which means it does not us any custom chips, but even so was easily the most powerful console available at the time of its release, easily beating out the Colecovision and 5200. It has limitations, but with its easy expandability with mapper chips and powerful, sprite-based graphical hardware, it was an impressive technical feat at the time and its graphics and gameplay design sensibilities are very highly regarded for many good reasons. Where the Coleco has a fatal flaw in struggling to draw scrolling screens well, the NES can do so easily, particularly with those mapper chips. Where Coleco Donkey Kong clearly looks worse than the arcade game, the NES version is a very close approximation. And where Coleco, Sega, and Atari were all using late ’70s sound chips, Nintendo used something newer and better.

At first, the Famicom did well in Japan but did not overwhelm the SG-1000, its main competition. In the first year Famicom graphics were barely better than Coleco/SG-1000, and Nintendo had to recall all early systems because of a design problem. By ’84, however, things turned decisively in Nintendo’s favor, and from that point on there was no looking back. Japaense third parties started supporting the Famicom in ’84, and it quickly became the dominant gaming platform. Then, Nintendo started looking into a Western release. It finally happened in mid ’85, two years after the original release in Japan. Nintendo redesigned the case, gave it a new name, and bundled in a robot, ROB, to try to con people into thinking that the NES was a new kind of electronic toy and not another one of those discredited consoles like the Atari. They also packed in their new hit, 1985’s Super Mario Bros. It worked, and the system came to dominate the American market just like it did in Japan, just a few years behind — where in Japan the FC peaked in maybe ’85-’86, in the US it only started hitting its stride in ’87-’88. Nintendo would not see nearly as much success in Europe, however. Still, the NES would go on to sell twice what the Atari 2600 had worldwide and redefined gaming, creating some of the industry’s most enduring franchises and mascots and making it clear that Japan was one of the most important places in the world for videogame development. Indeed, while Western developers did make some NES games, almost all of the top titles are from Japan, a very different situation from consoles prior. Popular Japanese arcade games were released on consoles before, to be sure, and some, such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong were huge hits, but at that time there were also hit Western arcade games, while on the NES Japan dominated. The remaining Western game developers mostly were making home computer games at this point, not console. That situation, with Japan being dominant in console game development and the West in computer game development, would last into the ’00s.

The Famicom also had one addon, a floppy drive called the Famicom Disk System which allowed for games to save and for cheap production costs. After initially being considered for Western release, that was cancelled; instead, Nintendo introduced the concept of password and battery saving, relying on batteries welded into the cartridge instead of floppy disks. Both ways have their downsides, in terms of long-term durability, but it would be an important move, as most other consoles afterwards would start putting batteries in carts to save data, before battery-free flash memory would slowly be phased in in the ’90s and ’00s. The Famicom also had an unpopular, early computer addon only a couple of games supported, and that robot with its two games. Seven years after its release Nintendo finally released a new console, the Super NES, in 1990 (1991 in the West, six years after the US NES). The NES/FC would continue to get game support for years after that, though, with new officially licensed games for over a decade, a mark only the most successful consoles meet. Now, just selling well does not make something objectively good, but the importance and impact of the NES is impossible to deny.

Aesthetics and Design: I have never seen a Japanese Famicom in person, but it looks … okay, if very toy-like. It has hard-wired controllers and is small. In comparison, the US version, the NES, is a true classic! Designed to look like a VCR, the NES, with its front-loading cartridge slot and high-end-electronics look, made a statement at the time and still looks great today. The cart port does have durability problems, but fortunately they are fairly easy to repair or replace, and otherwise NESes are quite reliable. NES controllers are good, but not the most comfortable things; they are rectangular, with Nintendo’s innovative d-pad and buttons layout that would totally change gamepads for the better, but have very sharp corners I have always found uncomfortable. Fortunately many other NES controller options exist that are more comfortable, including the NES Max, various arcade sticks, the NES 2 controller, and more. In Japan there is also a shutter-glasses 3D headset addon, but unfortunately that wasn’t released here; it’s too bad, I’m sure it works well. All of the official accessories look good, from the light gun to the Max to the small, second-model NES 2 console, and they all work well, that first model cart port aside.

Game Library: The NES game library is huge and is one of gaming’s most popular. I loved this console as a kid, though I did not own one, and many of its games are still fantastic today. However, some things about the NES have definitely aged, including games’ propensity to be incredibly obtuse and frustrating with way too much of the “go find the thing randomly hidden in some random tile or block which there are no clues for” school of puzzle design, and the “go grind” school of RPG design. I have never liked either of those design styles much at all. Sadly few games save, either, apart from RPGs. So, while I still like the NES, I do not unreservedly love it, and it isn’t at the top of my personal all-systems list. It is in the upper part of the list, but isn’t in the top five. The NES is still great, and has a lot of outstanding games, but while some of its games are among my all-time favorites, many others have been surpassed.  Still, the best NES games are timeless classics.


Atari 7800, 7800

Release and Sales Info – From Atari, released in 1986 (after a limited test market in 1984). Games released in 1984 (test market) and 1986 to 1990 (maybe 1991 in some areas), with some modern homebrew titles in the last decade or two. About 3.77 million systems sold. I bought a 7800 in 2013.

In 1984, as the videogame market crashed, Warner Bros. gave up on their failing Atari 5200 console. The 5200 was barely over a year old, but they effectively abandoned it in early ’84, though they did not publicly say so for some months. Instead, they looked around and decided to make a new console, one designed by a company called GCC. GCC is more famous for making the very popular hit game Ms. Pac-Man for Bally Midway, the American licensor for Namco’s Pac-Man at the time, but they also designed the Atari 7800 and made its first few games. This console’s name refers to “2600 backward compatibility plus 5200 power”, though it is a quite different console from the 5200 — this system is not 5200 or Atari 8-bit computer compatible. In terms of power, the 7800 has slightly better graphical capabilities than the 5200, with full sprite support in the modern style and more, plus better support for hardware-enhancing addons. However, the 7800 also has significantly worse sound, as the audio chip is sadly identical to the Atari 2600’s. It does support sound-enhancing chips in game carts, namely the same audio chip that the Atari 5200 uses, but only two games used them so most are limited to 2600-level audio. Additionally, its two-button digital joystick has no analog option apart from a light gun that a few games use, making some games worse and others better versus the 5200, which of course is the opposite in terms of analog versus digital.

Warner Atari test marketed the 7800 in 1984 and started production, but instead of going forward, they decided to give up on the failing American console industry and sold off Atari to Jack Tramiel, previously owner of the computer company Commodore. Tramiel sold Commodore and bought Atari’s computer and console development side. At first, he mostly wanted it for their computers, but he eventually decided to get into the console business as well. Atari’s arcade game division and game developers, however, went to a separate spun-off company, Atari Games, which stayed more closely connected to Warner. This split would be crucial, as it meant that Tramiel’s Atari could not benefit from the arcade games being made by Atari Games, such as, perhaps most notably during this era, Gauntlet, Super Sprint, Vindicators, NARC, and such. Jack Tramiel had the rights to arcade games published by Atari before the split, such as Centipede, Missile Command, and such, but not those new games. After the split Atari Games would make its own home console division under the name Tengen, since Tramiel’s Atari had exclusive rights for the name outside of arcades, and vice versa in arcades. Tengen, however, during this generation exclusively supported Nintendo; Atari home and Atari arcade would not start working together again until the early ’90s.

And on top of that, Jack Tramiel was, while well off, not as wealthy as the top companies he was competing against. Tramiel’s Atari never had the kind of money of an NEC, or the reach of Nintendo. Tramiel Atari struggled with limited budgets and many, many features unrealized because they would cost too much. And of course, Tramiel was often more focused on Atari’s computer business, including the successful Atari 8-bit line and the computer he released afterwards, the Atari ST. So, the Atari 7800 had a relatively small game library, heavy on re-releases of pre-crash classics early on, followed by a thin scattering of new, albeit clearly very low-budget, games. Atari 7800 games never have battery save, or even password save, and have much smaller max cart sizes than their later NES or Master System counterparts.

However, despite all of those limitations, the Atari 7800 was a moderate success in the US and Japan, and in the US it outsold the Sega Master System by a sizable margin to finish in second place. Sure, the NES sold like fifteen times more systems, but Atari did well enough to turn a profit; the low-budget, low-investment approach worked well in the days of 8-bit consoles, and the Atari name still had some cache. Looking at its library now it is often hard to see why it did so well, but seeing it as a newer way to play peoples’ existing Atari 2600 libraries, with a few 7800 games here and there, it does make sense. People knew the Atari name, and there may be only sixty games, but plenty of them are well-made, quality titles. After initial success in its first few years, though, 7800 sales dropped in the later ’80s. Ironically, the sales declined as the system’s game library got more new games and not only old ports, so most of the more interesting 7800 games are somewhat uncommon. Oh well. Atari stopped releasing new 7800 games in 1991, and discontinued it officially on Jan. 1, 1992. Unfortunately for Jack Tramiel the low-buget approach would work much less well in the ’90s than it did in the ’80s, but that is another story.

Aesthetics and Design: The Atari 7800 is an okay-looking console, but I don’t think it has the style or beauty of the 5200. Still, it is a reasonably average box with a clasically Atari angled wedge shape, is fully backwards compatible with the 2600, and has decent, if not great, controllers. The standard 7800 controller is vertically oriented, like the Intellivision, Colecovision, and 5200, and has side fire buttons. However, with only two large fire buttons, one on each side, and no keypad, this controller is simpler than those three. The loss of the start and pause buttons on the controller than the 5200 has is quite unfortunate, though; instead this system has a pause button on the console itself. This very obnoxious design element is also seen in Sega’s console that generation, the Master System. It was likely done for controller port wiring reasons, but it is unfortunate and makes both systems worse than they should be, having to go over to your console just to pause is not good.

As for build quality, the Atari 7800 is reasonably durable, with one exception: those buttons on the console itself. The on/off and Atari 2600 control buttons on the system are sadly prone to failure, and my 7800 is among the many which have stopped working because of button failure. This is a fixable problem if you desolder the old buttons and solder in replacements, but it is annoying. The controllers seem to be durable, however. They are mushy, unprecise, and not especially comfortable, but at least the things seem to keep working.

Atari 7800 cartridges look exactly like 2600 games, just with different labels. As a result they can be easy to mistake for 2600 games until you know what you are looking for. The shape is classic, though, so it works fine.

Game Library: Because of the somewhat unique circumstances of this console, I decided to cover the game library section above, in History. But to recap, the Atari 7800 has a small, about 60-game library. This is about the same number of games that the 5200 got, but spread out over more years. The library is heavy on pre-crash ports for its first year or two, or games inspired by that kind of game. Later on it got more variety of games, but it rarely ventured beyond early-ish NES design. Additionally, since the controller is digital-only, the 5200’s analog advantage/disadvantage is lost; it’s really too bad that Atari and GCC did not think of having both analog AND digital control options available here, it would have been the better way! After all, some games benefit from each.

The games run well and plenty of the games are good, but with many multiplatform ports, not all of which are better than previous versions of the same games — Centipede suffers significantly versus the 5200 version due to its controls, for example — and exclusives which I often do not find as exciting as games on other formats, the 7800 ranks somewhat low on my list. The Atari 7800 is a decent console possibly worth owning for the right price, and it does have some interesting modern homebrew software though I do not have any of those, but I find it somewhat disappointing. Atari went for something safe with this design and it worked out reasonably well for them, but I find the bolder concept of the 5200 more interesting.


Sega Master System, SMS
(aka Mark III in Japan)

Release and Sales Info – From Sega, released in 1985 in Japan, 1986 in the US, later in Europe. Games released from 1985 to 1995 and even later in Brazil, though not in any one region; it lasted 1985-1989 in Japan, 1986-1991 in the US, and 1987-1995 in Europe, where it saw its greatest success outside of Brazil. 10-13 million sold, not including modern Brazilian clone systems, though in the US the system sold only a million systems and finished in third place in a three-way race.

History: Arcade game developer Sega’s first home console was the aforementioned, Colecovision-based SG-1000, which only released in Japan and a few Western nations but not the US. Despite eventually being absolutely crushed by the NES, the SG-1000 apparently did better than Sega’s initial low expectations, so once it faded they decided to release a successor. Called the Mark III in Japan, this console is fully backwards compatible with the SG-1000 and uses the same shape of Atari 2600-style, vertically-oriented cartridges. Before releasing the console in the rest of the world, however, Sega decided to give it a name and design change, and the Sega Master System was born. The Master System is effectively the same thing as the Mark III, it just looks different. Both have very ’80s-cool hardware designs. Master System carts are turned on end, going from vertical rectangles to horizontal ones. And the SG-1000 compatibility is gone even in nations which recieved it, since those carts are a different shape.

The Mark III is the last console of its generation, and graphically you can tell. Releasing three years after the Colecovision and two years before the PC Engine (TurboGrafx), the Mark III / Master System, as you should expect, has the best graphical capabilities of any console of its generation. Master System graphics can look pretty good. Effectively the Master System is just adding a new, powerful graphics layer on top of the core SG-1000 (Colecovision) hardware, but it works. Unfortunately, aurally the Master System uses the same TI sound chip as the SG-1000 and Colecovision before it, and it is no match for NES/Famicom audio, not even close. Sega realized this and released an FM sound addon which gives usually much better music in games which support it, but sadly the FM addon only released in Japan. Sega also released a model in Japan called the “Master System”, a Mark III in the Western-style MS shell with a built-in FM addon and 3d glasses hookup.

Despite this, facing stiff competition from the trancendant Famicom (NES), the Mark III sold poorly in Japan, failing to provide Nintendo with much competition. In America the situation was little different, and Sega’s first console here sold poorly. It did just well enough to get five years of support, but the NES outsold it thirty to one and even the Atari 7800 probably doubled its sales here. In Europe and Brazil, however, Sega found a more receptive audience, as Nintendo was much less adept at reaching those markets. In Europe they fought Nintendo to a draw, and Brazilian company TecToy managed to make the SMS one of the most popular consoles ever there. TecToy made a few games for the system as well, later on.

After the Mark III/Master System’s discontinuation in Japan, in 1990 Sega decided to release a handheld to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy. Called the Game Gear, the system is a handheld version of the Master System, with a lower screen resolution and more colors supported on screen but otherwise identical hardware. From this point on, many games released on both GG and SMS, albeit usually on SMS only in Europe and perhaps Brazil. In 1995 Sega finally decided to discontinue the SMS in Europe, as 8-bit hardware sales there were finally fading. The system had a much longer and more successful run internationally than its failure in the US and Japan would suggest, overall.

Aesthetics and Design: The Mark III and Master System are both pretty nice looking systems, with extremely ’80s, but pretty cool, looks to them. The SMS is a nice looking system for the time. However, in terms of design it has one major flaw: just like the Atari 7800 above, the pause button is on the console! Even if this is done for button-wiring reasons, it really is unacceptable, particularly here; on the 7800, at least, all that button does is pause games, but here some games require you to pause in order to access options menus and such. So, you’ll need to be sitting right in front of your SMS in order to play games like Golvellius. It’s pretty annoying stuff.

Master System controllers are not too well thought of, and I agree with that assessment. With a somewhat mushy d-pad and buttons, Sega may have copied Nintendo’s revolutionary controller on this console, but they did not match its level of function either in button feel, responsiveness, or that missing pause button. Still, SMS controllers are decent, and do the job okay. Additionally, most SMS games support the fantastic Sega Genesis controller as well. Unfortuantely, some games, including the aforementioned Golvellius, require you to use a real SMS controller or a modified Genesis controller to play, but for the rest of the games any Genesis cotnroller will work and is highly recommended. Sega’s third console’s controller would be a dramatic improvement over their previous ones.

The Master System has multiple accessories, though they are quite mixed in quality. On the good side, the SMS light gun, the Light Phaser, is quite good, with a nice futuristic design and much better accuracy than a NES Zapper. The SMS 3-D Glasses, 3-d shutter glasses, work great as well; the 3-d imagery is surprisingly convincing. However, the Sega Sports Pad trackball is both horribly slow to move and, mystifingly, only works in analog mode with two sports games and not any of the games you’d expect a trackball to work with. It’s a pretty bad trackball. The Sega flight stick controller is strange as well; it looks like an arcade stick but backwards, wit hthe stick on the right and buttons on the left. It’s very strange as a result. Having the stick on the right works in a regular flightstick, but this isn’t one, it has no buttons on it and is not analog, so it really does not work very well here. There is also a paddle controller in Japan only; I don’t have that one.

Oh, and the Sega Master System is also somewhat infamous for its Western box-art; most of the ’80s SMS titles, including most games released in the US, have absurdly simplistic, verging on horrible, box art. It’s really in “so bad it’s good” territory a lot of the time, but seriously, Sega could have done a whole lot better than this!

Game Library: The Sega Master System library pales in comparison to the NES’s, but is solid otherwise, with a good selection of quality titles and plenty of exclusives as well as ports of many Sega arcade games. However, the early-life titles, the ones we got in the US, don’t match Nintendo quality in my opinion most of the time — though the light gun games are better than Nintendo’s for sure, and some others — and the later games only released in Europe are often cheap, simplistic licensed cash-ins. Indeed, the SMS has something of a split personality. Where its early games are usually super-hard games in that classic style, a lot of the later SMS/GG titles are easy and slight titles most people will get though without much trouble. There are exceptions to this of course, but it is often true. I am a critic of the quality of the Game Gear’s library; I think a lof its games just are not very good. These games are often much better on the SMS than they are on Game Gear, as the greater screen visibility of its higher resolution means a lot in platformers for example, but the core games are still often lower-quality licensed cash-in titles from second-rate external teams such as Aspect. Sega made many fewer of its handheld games in-house than Nintendo did, and I think that you can tell the difference. So, overall I think that the SMS has an alright library and it certainly has plenty of good games, but as someone without any nostalgia for the system since like most Americans everyone I knew with a console that generation had a NES, it’s still in the (upper part of the) lower third of my list. I know this is a subjective thing, though.


My Personal Overall Ranking Of These Systems:

1. NES – This is no contest, the NES is one of the all-time greats. With a massive library of some of the best and most influential games ever made, the NES had an impact on this industry few systems get even close to and while some of its games have aged, many are as fun today as they ever were.

2. Atari 5200 – I know most people would not agree with this one, but there’s something about this system that I really like. The analog controller is interesting and makes as many games better as it makes worse, and that trackball is probably the best one I’ve ever used! It’s a nice-looking system too, and having the first automatic RF switch (finicky as it is) and pause button on the controller are appreciated as well.

3. Sega Master System – With a reasonably large library of games and plenty of interesting hardware features, the Master System easily comes in third. I don’t love this system like the NES, but it can be pretty good.

4. Colecovision – While the Colecovision is arguably the most important system on this list in terms of industry impact, and its libary includes plenty of good games, between the awful controllers, incredibly ugly console, dearth of exclusives, and that signature lack of smooth scrolling seen in all of the systems with this TI graphics chip, while I have definitely had fun with the Colecovision I can’t put it any higher on this list than this.

5. Atari 7800 – The Atari 7800 was a financial success for Atari and has some pretty good games. Beyond that, though, between its awful audio, limited controller, and small, often unimpressive game library, for me this system takes up the rear here. Sure, if my 7800 worked better that would be great, but I doubt it would move it up this list any; the competition is too strong.

Posted in Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Classic Games, Colecovision, Game Opinion Summaries, NES, Reviews, Sega Master System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pendulous review update – 16-bit emulator and full game release

I wrote a review of Pendulous in August 2015.  In February 2017, the games’ original creator found my review and decided to release the full game for free in response.  That was a very nice thing to do and I have been enjoying the full game ever since, but I never made a post about it, I only mentioned it in that article.  Now, however, I have made anther find related to this game, one which makes this little update quite valuable: there’s now a way to play Pendulous, with no problems, in 64-bit Windows 10!  Yes, it’s true, and it’s because of an emulator called OTVDM.  So, I went back to my Pendulous review and lightly edited it to add in mentions of these two important items, mention of the release of the full game, and to cover that emulator I learned about recently that runs 16-bit Windows applications. A few spelling errors were also corrected. The rest of the review has been left as it is.

The review is here: https://blackfalcongames.net/?p=225

The links to OTVDM and the full game are in the links section at the end of the article.

Posted in Classic Games, PC, Updates | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Opinion List: Update to the Consoles Ranking List and new Platform Favorite Games Lists ‘new’ platforms

In 2015, I made a list of how much I like all of the consoles I had at the time. Additionally, that list also includes lists of my favorite games for every console I own.  I did not attempt to make an overall-favorites list because that would be too hard, so this will have to do because this new update is the same way.

In the four years since,  I have gotten quite a few more platforms, so I thought that while I work on my ongoing game opinion summaries lists, the time has come for an update to that article. There are things to like about every console and ranking them is a somewhat silly enterprise, but it’s fun to do anyway so here a list is.

Now, while I have bought games, in some cases many games, for all but a few of the consoles I had as of 2015, I am not going to redo the ‘my favorite games’ lists for most of the consoles I covered in the first article. Instead, for now I will just make lists for the new platforms. I could add games to the old lists, but for the most part they still stand as good summations of what I think of most of those consoles. The only exception is the 3DS, whose list has changed so much that I need a new one, so that is below.

The other platforms that I have bought over the last four years and will make ‘my favorite games’ lists below for are: 3DO, Atari Jaguar, Colecovision, Mattel Intellivision, Nintendo Switch, Nokia N-Gage, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Tiger R-Zone, Wii U, and Xbox One.

Console Ranking List

1. Nintendo 64, N64
2. (tie) Super Nintendo, SNES
2. (tie) Sega Genesis, Gen (with Sega CD, SCD & Sega 32X, 32X)
3. Nintendo DS, DS
4. Game Boy, GB
5. TurboGrafx-16, TG16 (with Turbo CD, TCD)
6. Gamecube, GC
7. Dreamcast, DC
8. Nintendo 3DS, 3DS
9. NES
10. Wii U
11. Wii
12. Odyssey 2, O2
13. Nintendo Switch, NS
14. Game Boy Advance, GBA
15. Atari 5200, 5200
17. Atari 2600, 2600
18. Xbox 360, X360
16. Saturn, SS
19. Xbox
20. Neo Geo Pocket Color
21. Virtual Boy, VB
22. Game Boy Color, GBC
23. Xbox One, XONE
24. 3DO
25. Atari Jaguar, JAG
26. PlayStation Portable, PSP
27. Sega Master System, SMS
28. PlayStation, PSX, PS1
29. Colecovision, CVIS
30. PlayStation Vita, PSV
31. Game Gear, GG
32. Atari 7800, 7800
33. Mattel Intellivision, INTV
34. Philips CD-i, CDI
35. PlayStation 3, PS3
36. Nokia N-Gage, NNG
37. PlayStation 2, PS2
38. Tiger R-Zone (if you count this as a console)

If you compare this to the old list, you will see that most systems stay in the same places they were before with only a few exceptions. Those are, first, I moved the 3DS way up the list. While the 3DS is not quite the equal of the DS or Game Boy, it is a fantastic system I still use every day. The system is now fading out, but lasted into 2019 and has a larger and better library than it did four years ago, and also I have played more of the games.
Second, I moved the Atari 2600 up a few spots, above the Saturn and Xbox 360. Those systems are both pretty good, but while I really do prefer the 5200 to the 2600, the 2600 has a lot of games which are still very fun. All systems age over time, but today the 2600 is well under-rated and deserves to be remembered.

Otherwise, it is mostly the same as the old list. I’d like to make some comments on where the new systems fall on the list, though. A few of these were tough choices, and I’m far from certain about the best order of a few parts. Most notably, I’m torn between the Wii and Wii U, and also I’m not entirely sure about the order in the new Xbox One, 3DO, and Jaguar block. I went with the Wii U over the Wii, despite the Wii’s far larger library, because in the last few years since I got it I have played a lot more Wii U than Wii, and while the Wii absolutely has a vastly larger and better game library, if you compare only the top games the Wii U is right there with it, or better; nothing on the Wii has addicted me like Mario Maker.

As for the Xbox One’s placement, it’s a very good system in a lot of ways, but the game library holds it back; with very few exclusives and often underwhelming first-party offerings, it has to go lower than the other Xboxes. I decided to put it over the 3DO and Jaguar, despite it probably having fewer exclusive games than either of them, because on the whole, including the games and services, it’s an impressive system. As for the 3DO and Jag, as per my 3DO-Jaguar-32X list from a bit ago the 3DO probably has to go above the Jaguar, though I do find the Jag’s oddness quite charming, and can definitely make a case or the Jag being better, based on that I value games I really like over having the largest library and the Jag has an all-time classic in Tempest 2000.  The 3DO has other factors in its favor, though, so it is very close between the two of them. Either way on that, the two are pretty close so I put them next to eachother, at the right point in the list. There are things I like about the Jaguar, but it’s too flawed to finish higher on the list than it is, unfortunately.

Lastly, I was somewhat torn between the Intellivision and CD-i for fifth worst. Putting the PS3, N-Gage, and R-Zone in the bottom five were easy calls, but deciding between those two for numbers 33 and 34 was much harder. I ended up deciding that the Intellivision edged out the CD-i because even though the CD-i has better controllers and far better framerates in most of its games, I rarely enjoy the kind of games the CD-i is best at, video-heavy titles, so I find the Intellivision’s best games to be better than anything I have played on CD-i. Thus the Intellivision narrowly avoids being in the bottom group.

As for the Colecovision, I could understand why some people would put it much higher on the list, but while I like some things on it for sure and it was definitely a very important system for the industry, for now I think it’s in the right place. If I get a better controller for it someday and some more games it could move up, though.

It’s hard to rank consoles. I like most of the systems on this list in some way or another, after all; only the bottom four are systems I really all-around dislike. For quite a few of these systems I look at their placement and think ‘this should go higher’, but you can’t move everything higher all of the time, so I guess this will have to do.

Platform Specific Lists for Consoles Not in the Old List Or Significantly Changed

Note, this list is alphabetical by platform.

3DO

1. Star Control II
2. StarFighter
3. Samurai Shodown
4. Return Fire
5. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Slayer
6. BattleSport
7. Super Street Fighter II Turbo
8. The Incredible Machine
9. Blade Force
10. Shockwave 2: Beyond the Gate

Honorable Mentions: Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, D, Gex, Shanghai: Triple Threat, The Need for Speed, Road Rash, Soccer Kid, Myst, PO’ed. Not on my list, but noteworthy: Out of this World, Flashback, Alone in the Dark 1 and 2.

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD

1. Tempest 2000
2. Jeff Minter Classics (Homebrew Release)
3. Iron Soldier
4. Zoop
5. Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands (CD)
6. I-War
7. Cybermorph
8. Club Drive
9. Val D’Isere Skiing and Snowboarding
10. Blue Lightning (CD)

Colecovision

1. Mr. Do!
2. Nova Blast
3. Pepper II
4. Linking Logic
5. Omega Race
6. Space Fury
7. Gateway to Apshai
8. Zaxxon
9. Defender
10. Venture
11. Miner 2049er

Honorable Mentions: Time Pilot, Space Panic, Fortune Builder, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Looping.

Mattel Intellivision

1. Snafu
2. BurgerTime
3. Demon Attack
4. Atlantis
5. Space Spartans
6. Microsurgeon
7. B-17 Bomber
8. Loco-Motion
9. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
10. Pinball
11. Bomb Squad

Honorable Mentions: Vectron, Tennis, Lock ‘n Chase, Dragonfire, Bowling, Venture.

Nintendo Switch

For this system I’m going to list new games and classic ports or remakes seprately. First, new games.

1. Super Mario Maker 2
2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
3. Super Mario Odyssey
4. Splatoon 2
5. Tetris 99
6. Collection of Mana (for the first English version of Mana 3!)
7. Gunlord X (DC homebrew port but I’ll count it)
8. Puyo Puyo Tetris
9. Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
10. Kirby Star Allies
11. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
12. Blossom Tales
13. Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Honorable Mentions: Nine Parchments, Super Bomberman R, Fire Emblem Warriors, Shining Resonance Refrain, Kamiko, Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Two Houses, Dragon Quest Builders, Octopath Traveler, Mega Man 11, Mutant Mudds Collection, Golf Peaks, Party Crashers, Sweet Witches, Jumping Joe & Friends

Nintendo Switch classic remakes, re-releases, or enhanced re-releases:

1. SEGA AGES: Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
2. ACA NeoGeo: The Last Blade 2
3. Collection of Mana (for Final Fantasy Adventure)
4. SEGA AGES: Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar
5. ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star
6. SEGA AGES: Virtua Racing
7. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
8. ACA NeoGeo: Aero Fighters 2
9. SEGA AGES: Phantasy Star
10. Johnny Turbo’s Arcade – Gate of Doom & Johnny Turbo’s Arcade – Wizard Fire
11. Wild Guns Reloaded

And many more!

Nokia N-Gage

1. Pathway to Glory
2. System Rush
3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Honorable Mentions: The games probably worth playing are mostly games I don’t have — Civilization, Rifts, Pathway to Glory 2, and such. Of the other games I have, I guess Super Monkey Ball is vaguely of note.

Philips CD-i

1. Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon
2. Link: The Faces of Evil
3. Laser Lords
4. Accelerator
5. Inca
6. The Apprentice
7. Lucky Luke

Honorable Mentions: Jigsaw, Defender of the Crown, Lords of the Rising Sun, Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace; non-games or edutainment: A National Parks Tour, Treasures of the Smithsonian, Time-Life Presents 35mm Photography, Mother Goose: Hidden Pictures, Richard Scarry’s Busiest Neighborhood Disc Ever, etc…

PlayStation 3

1. Wipeout HD
2. 3D Dot Game Heroes
3. Dragon’s Crown
4. Thexder Neo
5. R-Type Dimensions
6. MotorStorm: Apocalypse
7. Trails of Cold Steel
8. MotorStorm
9. Disgaea 3
10. After Burner Climax

Honorable Mentions: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, Deception IV: Blood Ties, Nitroplus Blasterz, Battle Princess of Arcadias, Mamorukun Curse!, Resogun, Warhawk, Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Aegis of Earth, Mugen Souls Z, Lair, Tales of Xilia, Demon’s Souls, White Knight Chronicles II, Sports Champions; PS Minis: Trailblazer, Fortix, Echoes. There are many more JRPGs on this system I haven’t played that are potentially worthy of note as well, though quite a few are also on PC now.

PlayStation Vita

1. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
2. TxK
3. Wipeout 2048
4. Summon Night 6: Lost Borders
5. Ys: Memories of Celceta
6. BlazBlue: ChronoPhantasma Extend
7. Grand Kingdom
8. ClaDun: This Is Sengoku
9. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky
10. Utuwarerumono: Mask of Deception

Honorable Mentions: Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy, Utuwarerumono: Mask of Truth, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, Persona 4 Golden, Touhou Double Focus, StarDrone Extreme, Stranger of Sword City.

Tiger R-Zone

1. Batman & Robin

I only have one game for this system, still, so it is simultaneously its best and worst game! (I’m sure it’s not the worst though, this game’s got a little more to it than some R-Zone games seem to.)

Wii U

The top five on this system are so amazing they vault it high on the list of best systems ever (plus, for most but not me, Zelda: Breath of the Wild).

1. Super Mario Maker
2. Super Mario 3D World
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
4. Splatoon
5. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
6. Xenoblade Chronicles X
7. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
8. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
9. Sonic: Lost World
10. RUSH

Honorable Mentions: Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (a fantastic game now crippled by its online level trading being shut down), DuckTales Remastered, Rayman Legends, Art of Balance, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Star Fox Guard, Hyrule Warriors, Skylanders Swap Force, Skylanders Giants, Axiom Verge, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (also on 3DS).

Xbox One

1. Rare Replay
2. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions
3. Tempest 4000
4. Samurai Shodown (2019)
5. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
6. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
7. Goat Simulator
8. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round
9. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
10. Cuphead

Honorable Mentions: Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 3, For Honor, Destiny, Destiny 2, Dead or Alive 6, Inside, Moto Racer 4, ReCore, ONRUSH, TrackMania Turbo, Race the Sun, Crimson Dragon, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (also on Switch, PC), Anthem.

Nintendo 3DS (Updated List)

I will really, really miss dedicated handhelds, the Switch is not the same at all compared to this amazing system!

1. Fire Emblem Awakening
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus
3. Picross 3D Round 2
4. Fire Emblem Fates
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
6. Super Mario Maker for 3DS
7. WarioWare Gold
8. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
9. Picross e [series]
10. Ever Oasis
11. Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition
12. SubaraCity
13. Kid Icarus Uprising
14. Color Zen
15. Metroid: Samus Returns
16. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
17. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth

Honorable Mentions: Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Mario & Luigi: Tipping Stars, SEGA 3D Classics: OutRun, Parascientific Escape: Cruise on the Distant Seas, Crashmo, Chicken Wiggle, BoxBoy! and its sequels, more Sega 3D Classics titles (Super Hang-On, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Space Harrier, Streets of Rage 2, etc…), Luxor, The Legend of Legacy, Mario Kart 7, Tetris Axis, 7th Dragon: Code VFD, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Super Mario 3D Land, Sonic Lost World, Hyrule Warriors Legends, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Mutant Mudds, and lots more.

Posted in 3DO, Articles, Atari Jaguar, Classic Games, Colecovision, Intellivision, Modern Games, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nokia N-Gage, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, Tiger R-Zone, Wii U | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment