• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Advertising From Yesteryear…Captain America and the Avengers (SNES)

What’s better than a comic book with a full-page spread advertising a hot new video game title? How about TWO full-pages, one in glossy paper stock!   Fresh from the arcade and straight into the Super Nintendo system came Captain America and The Avengers, a 1993 action-packed game from Mindscape, Inc.  “Fresh” is relative, considering the Sega Genesis release date for the same game was in 1992…but advertising is rarely about complete honesty.  (The game also wasn’t that good, but it did feature the Marvel Comics superhero group The Avengers, a topical group, even all those years ago.) Still, back in the day I wouldn’t have turned down the arcade game offered as the grand prize, even if it meant cutting out the entry form from the comic book cover.

As always, click on the images to see enlarged versions, and enjoy the trip into yesteryear!

Bundle in a Box Has Launched!

From time to time I look up from my stack of retro gaming treasures to explore the world of the now, leaving behind my classic gaming consoles and vintage computers, focusing instead on more modern machines, such as the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, or something for my desktop or laptop computers – or even on my Android phone.  Many of these excursions of late have been to immerse myself in the world of indie gaming, a place where the corporate beancounters and stock-vested management team do not have any sway over the final product and therefore cannot dilute the gaming experience and dim their creators’ visions.  Indie gaming is the place where imagination still trumps profit margin, and where a gamer can find something unique to counter the ennui caused by too many Call of Duty clones and the endless repetition of sequel after sequel.

It is in this spirit that I was excited to discover Kytarro Games’ upcoming release, Bundle in a Box – Adventure Bundle, which contains not one, but SEVEN adventure games, all DRM-free, and is being sold under what is described as a “pay-what-you-want” payment model. The games included are The Sea Will Claim EverythingGemini RueBen There, Dan That! Special EditionTime Gentlemen, Please!1893: A World’s Fair MysteryThe Shivah, and Metal Dead.  Seems like a decent return for a minimal investment to me!

However, the most interesting aspect of the Bundle in a Box release is that a part of the proceeds are paid into the Indie Dev Grant, a fund created by Kyttaro Games to help Indie game developers by providing them with a little extra cash. It’s actually a brilliant concept, and one that every indie dev should embrace in the interest of keeping the community healthy.  In this case, for every 15,000 units sold, $2,000 will be added into the Indie Dev Grant, and the cumulative total will be handed with no strings attached to a lucky developer.

Where do you find this amazing gaming package? Look no further than the Bundle in a Box website, located HERE.  Take a moment to support indie game development and play some great games for the price of a good cup of coffee and a tasty donut – purchase a good and tasty game pack today!

Yearly Update: Where is Google Checkout for Canada?

Around six months ago (on October 16, 2011, to be precise), I posted an update on the status of Google Checkout in Canada.  Actually, this update was an update on the original article (from January 27, 2010), in which I asked the question “Where’s Our Google Checkout?“, and today I am here to give you the answer:

Nowhere.

For whatever reason, Google has clearly chosen to ignore Canada and its strong and growing economy, and our country’s high penetration rate of Internet users.  For some reason Google Checkout will accept payments from Canadian credit cards, but Canadian sellers cannot offer it.  Even more interesting, Canadian app developers using the Android platform can accept payment through Google Checkout.

But not Canadian online retailers.

No Google Checkout for YOU, Mr. Harper!

I’m not certain which is more irritating, the lack of a Google Checkout product in Canada or the utter lack of updates or explanations from Google’s corporate offices.  Some people have been upset enough to contact the Canadian Competition Bureau, urging others to do the same!

My advice to my fellow Canadians? Don’t hold your breath waiting for Google. If they didn’t bother with expanding into Canada by now, they won’t be coming at all.

Bah.

When Video Games Become Board Games Part I: 1981-1982

The 1980s saw a sudden increase in board games that were based upon classic video game cartridges or the quarter-devouring arcade machines.  Leading the charge was the powerhouse board game company Milton Bradley with an astounding array of video-to-board game titles, but were soon joined by competing gaming companies such as Ideal, Entex, and Parker Brothers.  It was a glorious time for board game enthusiasts!

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of articles listing and describing the various video game to board game properties that provided hours of family fun for a generation of gamers.  Just a quick note of definition: to be included on this list a game must fulfill a number of requirements: have its origin in a video game property, be for at least two players, and be an actual board or card game (not a handheld or tabletop electronic game).

Milton Bradley’s FROGGER

Frogger (Milton Bradley, 1981) While the fun of hopping across the road, avoiding certain death from a wide variety of sources was a hit as a video game, the translation – authentic as it was – did not have the same charm as a two-player board game, which, really, should not have been a surprise.   More interesting is that this may have been the very first board game to be based on a video game property!

The PAC-MAN Game by Milton Bradley

Pac-Man Game. (Milton Bradley, 1981) One of the best conversions of the arcade experience to table top board game play by using a game board in the design of the Pac-Man screen, with marbles taking the place of all the dots (the marbles are held in place by holes in the game board).  Four competing Pac-Man player tokens with the ability to capture and store marbles travel the board, avoiding ghosts and eating their way to success.  A brilliant translation!

Defender board game by Entex

Defender (Entex, 1982) Entex had introduced electronic handheld versions of several popular video games, including Defender in 1981.  Board games were still a hot market, and so they also experimented with a board game version. Up to four players could attempt to turn back the invasion of various aliens, their directions shifting using a spinner to simulate the mobility of the arcade version. An ambitious, difficult to find game.

Milton Bradley’s Donkey Kong Game

Donkey Kong Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Players moved their Mario tokens on a game board reproduction of the classic game screen, dodging barrels and fireballs when necessary, climbing up the girders to defeat Donkey Kong and rescue the “fair maiden.” The game was actually a pretty decent conversion from the video game, and a lot of fun to play.

Invader board game by Entex

Invader (Entex, 1982) As previously mentioned, Entex produced many electronic handheld games, and some based on video game properties such as Defender and Space Invaders. However, the licencing was a bit of an adventure for this California-based company, and in this case, their agreement did not extend to making a board game based on the Space Invaders video game. Their solution? Rename it “Invader” and remove all mention of the game it was based upon!

Milton Bradley’s Ms. Pac-Man Game

Ms. Pac-Man Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Although this game is based on the original arcade game and uses its elements, Milton Bradley ensured that the game play is completely different to prevent Ms. Pac-Man from becoming a duplicate of their original 1981 Pac-Man Game. The game board is divided into four quadrants, and players take turns moving the Ms. Pac-Man token attempting collect as many plastic dots as possible from their quadrant. Each player also controls one Ghost token, which he or she can use to intercept and regain control of Ms. Pac-Man. It may not be completely true to the original, but Ms. Pac-Man is still an enjoyable game to play!

Milton Bradley’s Pac-Man Card Game

Pac-Man Card Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Pac-Man enters the world of educational card games, albeit with very little of the addictive charm that made the franchise so enduring. The mechanic is a bit labored with players attempting to fill lines of three spaces with Pac-Man cards to complete equations and score points.  To enjoy this game you either have to be a complete math or Pac-Man geek. Not much here for anyone else!

Turtles board game by Entex

Turtles (Entex, 1982) This game for 2 to 4 players was based on the Konami arcade game Turtles by Stern, and was another of Entex’s handheld games to board games series.  Just like the arcade game, players needed to rescue little turtles, and whoever rescued the most, won. Important to note that this game has NOTHING to do with any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly the most obscure video-to-board game entry on this list.

Milton Bradley’s Zaxxon Game

Zaxxon (Milton Bradley, 1982) Translating the faux three-dimensional Zaxxon video game with its altitude-shifting airships into a two-dimensional board game was a challenge that was met in full by Milton Bradley by using a few standard 3-D tokens in conjunction with ingeniously designed fighter tokens that could be raised or lowered on their stands as needed. Game play was very similar to the original Zaxxon game, but with two to four players attempting to reach and shoot Zaxxon with BOTH their fighters and win the game.

A Footnote
It is important to remember that board games are not video games and neither should be expected to match the other’s total gaming experience.  Video games of this era were all about constant motion, quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.  Board games, however, are about measured decisions, random die rolls or card draws, and ever-changing strategies based on the play of your opponents.  In addition, board games often have suggested ages for players. I have read several reviews over the years from adults who were unable to understand that a game meant for children would have limited appeal to adults (and who scored them based on their own experience of playing them as an adult), or from reviewers who also expected a board game to be a video game.  These kinds of reviews do a tremendous disservice to the board game genre and to those who are searching for more information on one of these classic games.  To those game reviewers – and you know who you are – STOP IT! Let the game be judged on its actual merits, not on standards that it was never intended to fulfill.

Book Review: The History of Nintendo Volume 2 (1980-1991)

I recently acquired a new book on game history entitled, The History of Nintendo Volume 2: 1980-1991 The Game & Watch games, an amazing invention. (That’s a mouthful, and for the purpose of this review, I will use THONV2 as an acronym that saves my typing fingers from undue wear and tear.)  The book was written by Florent Gorges, with collaboration from Isao Yamazaki, and published through Pix’n Love Publishing. It is devoted to the lineup of Nintendo’s handheld games that predated their groundbreaking GameBoy video game system, the LCD-screened wonders of 1980s technology called the Game & Watch series.

Prior to Nintendo’s launch of their Game & Watch product, the potential of LCD technology was relatively untapped, and was the providence of the big calculator manufacturers, such as Sharp and Casio. There were handheld games on the market, such as Mattel’s 1976 Auto Race game, but they used LED technology, which led to design limitations and a less-than-crisp graphic presentation. The jump to LCD technology for handheld game devices was a huge advance in the history of gaming, deserving more attention from game historians, and was one of the chief reasons I was so interested in securing a copy of THONV2 for my library.

So what are my thoughts after reading this book?

The History of Nintendo Volume 2: 1980-1991 The Game & Watch games, an amazing invention

First the bad news: the translation is terrible. The book was originally written in French, and has been translated into English for publication. The idioms have not been correctly translated, and the translator, Benjamin Daniel, has made some very odd word choices. The result is a translation that is often stilted, with sometimes archaic wording, and sporadically unreadable in places.  The odd spelling error only compounds matters. My advice to the publishers is to NOT use the same translator for future editions, but to seek out someone familiar with both English and French beyond what can be accomplished by the judicious use of Google Translate.

Now the good news: this book is a complete treasure DESPITE the translation.  This is an amazing piece of work: the sheer breadth of information contained within these pages ensures that it will hold a special place on my reference work bookshelf.  Each of the various handheld electronic games produced by Nintendo throughout the 80s is examined in detail, including screen shots, origin, release dates, variant editions, and interesting trivia. And when I say “each” I mean all 59 models of the Silver, Gold, Wide Screen, New Wide Screen, Multi Screen, Color Screen Table Top, Panorama Screen, Super Color, Micro vs. System, and Crystal Screen series are represented!

Picture sample for The History of Nintendo Volume 2

As an aside, the color photographs included within THONV2 are absolutely stunning, made especially so by the high-quality paper on which the book is printed.  A clue to the quality of paper comes as soon as you pick it up: you notice it feels heavier than a 194-page book should!  The quality of presentation simply overwhelms the limitations of the translation, like a crashing wave of artistic quality against a tiny sand cube of inadequacy.  But I digress!

Although the main focus of the book is on Nintendo’s Game & Watch series of games, Gorges heads off onto related trails, giving detailed information on rare premium versions given by a variety of corporations as gifts to valued clients or employees; a discussion on the counterfeit versions of the Game & Watch series, as well as some of the more interesting “knock-offs” found for sale; details on the licensed Mini Classics series that was not actually produced by Nintendo; the differences in releases found in different nations, such as France’s J.I21, Germany’s Tricotronic, Australia’s Futuretronics, and Great Britain’s CGL lineups; photographs and pictorials of advertisements and television commercials for the Game & Watch products; and even a section on which games that were released after the end of the Game & Watch era contain hidden (or not so hidden) Game & Watch game play.

Sample page from The History of Nintendo Volume 2

As wonderful as all the detailed descriptions are, my favorite part of this book is the historical essay on the origins of the Game & Watch, complete with quotes and anecdotes from the major players involved, but especially those from and about Gunpei Yoki and his serendipitous rise to the top of Nintendo’s game design food chain.  Truly, the stars aligned for this man, giving him the opportunity to seize the day when the opportunity arose; to rise from the lowly position of technical maintenance to head the division that brought Nintendo from a company on the brink of financial ruin to complete domination of the gaming market.  This is inspirational stuff, and a reminder to everyone that being in the right place at the right time is all very well and good, but you also have to be prepared to shout, “Carpe Diem!” to succeed.

All in all, The History of Nintendo Volume 2: 1980-1991 The Game & Watch games, an amazing invention is a good investment for anyone interested in either video game or electronic handheld game history.  It is clearly the definitive work on the subject, and will be referenced by others for years to come.  I highly recommend visiting Pix ‘n Love Publishing’s website, located HERE, to make this purchase, as you will be very pleased with your acquisition!  In other words, this is a MUST HAVE for any game history collection, and it will make a great gift for that retrogaming enthusiast on your shopping list! Final word: buy it today!

1983 American Game & Watch Commercial!

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