• 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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    Got a game or product you want reviewed? Send me an email! Will review board games, PC games, video games and accessories (Xbox 360 or Wii, but also new releases for classic systems - you know who you are!)
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Christmas ReBlog: The 12 Days of Retro Gaming

12 Days of Retrogaming

I just read a wonderful Christmas-related retrogaming post from 2011 that I hadn’t seen before, all thanks to the magic of google! It’s called 12 Days of Retro Gaming, and it’s worth a read!

In 1994 my father decided that it was high time to replace that old Commodore 64 (which wasn’t even considered a PC anymore) with a brand new Pentium 90 mhz PC.  I remember coming downstairs on Christmas morning and there it was, a beautiful boxy white machine with a VGA monitor, printer, and took up all the space our wide oak desk could spare.  CD-ROM was brand new and this bad boy came equipped with it and a few initial CDs, including Myst and an Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia.  At that time, however, not every game came in the CD version and many PC gamers were selling off their floppy disc versions of games to upgrade.  It was at this time that I became enamoured with PC gaming and began stopping by the used PC game shop near my part-time job and blowing my money on classics.

Read more by clicking the link HERE

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Advertising From Yesteryear…Game Genie

Long before there was an Internet to search for clues and codes to hack your way through a stubbornly difficult game, Codemasters brought a product into the game market which permitted access to your video game’s code, thereby letting you add unearned lives, power-ups, and so forth. The Game Genie was an accessory that you could insert into your game console, and then the game would attach to the Game Genie, allowing the Game Genie to act as an intermediary between the console and the game.

Many gamers found this helpful, and different Game Genies were produced for a variety of game consoles, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Nintendo GameBoy, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis, and the Sega Game Gear. Two different companies distributed the Game Genie over the years it was being manufactured: Galoob and Camerica, one of which (Galoob) was actually sued by Nintendo in an effort to prevent the Game Genie from being sold. Fortunately for many gamers, Nintendo lost their legal battle and had to pay Galoob for damages.

Time marches steadily on, however, and the Game Genie is now in the dustbin of gaming history, while Nintendo continues to be a gaming powerhouse.  All we have left of the Game Genie are the few units that can be found here and there in the retrogaming marketplace, and our memories. Speaking of which, see if the following ad brings back memories of how you salivated over the thought of finally mastering that one irksome game, if only you got a Game Genie. Click on the image below to see an enlarged version, and enjoy the trip into yesteryear!

Full page advertisement for Game Genie

Posting pictures of retrogaming memories…

If you haven’t been following the magisterrex.com Facebook account, you’re missing out on some great pics of classic games being posted every day. Rare board games, classic video games, even old PC games that you may dimly recall…after a decade of selling retrogames, many of the pictures of those oldschool beauties are being posted for all to enjoy. Check out the Facebook page HERE, give it a LIKE, and join the conversation!

Catalog Cavalcade: Avalon Hill Gaming Company

Anyone who has ever played a war game owes a tremendous debt to the Avalon Hill Gaming Company. It was a company that was founded in 1954 with the premise that strategic multi-counter war games would be a profitable product to sell, and proved it by having a commercial success with its very first product, Tactics.  Many, many other war games followed, such as Blitzkrieg!, Panzer Blitz, and Starship Troopers, as well as games in other genres, such as Acquire, Football Strategy, and Outdoor Strategy. Some were instant classics, some…well, not so much.

Of course, Avalon Hill also translated a large volume of their wargame classics to the computer realm, making for some fabulous solo or human-to-human game play without having to leave the comfort of your computer desk.  In honor of those games – and the company that has long since been absorbed by the Borg of the gaming world (Hasbro) – reproduced below is one of Avalon Hill’s original PC game catalogs from 1996.  Simply click on the first page to open the catalog up. One warning: it’s a big file! Enjoy!

Avalon Hill Game Company Catalog

The Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 HuCard Games Part II

The first part of this series was written back in June of 2010, a hard-hitting, pull-no-punches look at the best HuCards that the TurboGrafx-16 console had to offer.  Well, perhaps that’s describing it with a bit too much hyperbole, but in my defense, I have been reading a lot of old magazines lately, and some of the ad copy is beginning to assimilate my mind. Regardless, I thought that the original list was a pretty good one, and was meaning to write the next Top Ten, but…well, it is as it is.  And here it is, a mere two years later. (What’s two years to we retrogamers?) Once again, here are what I consider the next Top 10 HuCard (in no particular order) games for this forgotten system.  Remember (!): no CD games, and only North American releases.

Air Zonk
Once you get past the fact that Hudson Soft used a futuristic Bonk as the pivotal character in this game, you’ll find it a challenging shooter. Humorous sci-fi updates to Bonk’s various power-ups and their effects, such as the glass-encapsulated meat and the ability to call in one of Zonk’s friends to help shoot down the Bosses, keep Zonk’s airborne adventures from becoming just another Bonk’s Adventure game.

Bloody Wolf
Have you ever noticed that the President of the United States gets kidnapped a lot in the video game world? He’s been kidnapped again in Bloody Wolf, along with a truckload of other hostages, all of which you have to rescue. A sound track that drives the action, plenty of enemies to dispatch with a good assortment of weapons, and a variety of level designs make this game a must-have T16 arcade experience!

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon
It’s a D&D RPG on the T16! Based on the Dungeons & Dragons rules – not the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules – this game was designed by Westwood Associates, before they became the gaming giant Westwood Studios. It is very similar to the Gold Box series by SSI: pick a party of four pre-generated characters, and off you go adventuring. Strategic thinking is required to survive the many encounters, as well as while constructing your party. Saving your game frequently is wise!

Final Lap Twin
What’s more fun than racing behind the wheel of a Formula One race car? How about racing your buddy with the screen split in two, one half for each player? And if you don’t have any friends that want to race you, then you could also play in RPG mode, searching for challenges to face in your quest to become a World Champion racer!

Galaga ’90
Colorful animations, jaunty tunes and endless waves of alien ships are just a few of the things I liked about Galaga ’90. The ability to gain a triple ship almost immediately by temporarily sacrificing one of my precious single ships and relying on the alien capture teams and my sharpshooting skills is another. Now that is Galactic Dancing.

Klax
There’s something to be said for Tetris clones that don’t play anything like Tetris. This is a marvelous puzzle game that requires quick-thinking and even quicker reflexes as you attempt to sort the oncoming conveyor belt blocks by color into rows, stacks, and diagonals. The applause from the crowd and the onomatopoeia  from the obviously impressed female announcer make it all worthwhile.

Parasol Stars
There are two things you need to know right away about this game. First, a parasol is a sun umbrella, from the Latin verb “parere” (“to ward off”) and the noun “sol” (“sun” ). They’re often colorful and decorative, and not for heavy rain. Second, this game is part three of the Bubble Bobble trilogy, so you can expect the same kind of colorfully bright graphics and weird gameplay. So when I tell you that you use your parasol to capture and toss objects around to score points and capture power-ups, you won’t immediately re-read the sentence for clarity. Did I mention it’s bright and colorful? Because it is…relentlessly so!

R-Type
There are some people who believe R-Type is the best arcade shooter ever devised, and though I am not one of those people, I can see their case.  The graphics are reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s work, and some of the power-ups are unique, such as the Power Pod, which can be detached to attack enemies or attached to your ship to fend off attackers. The game can be very challenging, even with the robot help, so be prepared to be faced with an equal mixture of joy and frustration when playing R-Type!

Raiden
Another in a long series of arcade shooters that put you at the controls of an advanced fighter facing off against hordes of alien invaders, Raiden distinguished itself from its competition with superb graphics (including a wide variety of background screens), well-thought-out power-ups, and vertical scrolling gameplay that progressively became more difficult until it reached diabolical levels. The game was translated into seven different gaming platforms, but the TurboGrafx version is the best!

Super Star Soldier
Do you want to play a vertical shooter that is relentlessly challenging? One that boasts outstanding graphics and a wide array of weapons, all programmed onto a standard huCard? Well do I have a game for you!  Besides having some of the best weapon choices ever to grace the TurboGrafx-16, this game also does not clip when the enemies fill the screen and the action is at its most intense, making Super Star Soldier one of the best arcade shooters to ever show the T16’s capabilities!

Honorable mention: Legendary Axe II
Now this game should probably be on the first Top Ten list as part of the Legendary Axe series, but since I didn’t remember to put it there, I’m exercising executive authority to put it on this list. Legendary Axe was a fantastic game, but its sequel (imaginatively entitled Legendary Axe II) was even better. More creatures to fight, better levels to navigate, better atmosphere overall…this was and is an amazing game that showcased what the TurboGrafx-16 could offer gamers. It could stand up against many of today’s graphic extravaganzas and easily win on gameplay alone!

Have a different Top Ten TurboGrafx-16 list?  Leave a comment with your favorites – and don’t forget to say why!

Catalog Cavalcade: Commodore Amiga Spec Sheets

Every so often I find a little piece of personal computing history hidden inside a game box that I like to share with others with a like-minded love of retrogaming and memories of computers of yesterday. Up today are three product spec sheets from the Commodore Business Machine Limited product line: a sheet for the Commodore Amiga 500 computer (Commodore order number 0500-999-1), a sheet for the Commodore  1084 monitor (Commodore order number 1084-999-1), and one for the Amiga 1010 disk drive (Commodore order number 1010-999-1).  Note the pen marks on the Amiga 500 sheet; I’ve used the power of the Gimp to remove most of the offending writing, but not all of it.

Each sheet is two-sided, with a description on one side and specifications on the other. I’ve combined them all into a single .pdf file for your enjoyment; simply click on the image below to see what salespeople handed out to prospective computer buyers back in the 1980s. Enjoy!

Click on this image to open the .pdf file!

Review A Bad Game Day: Deathkeep (Windows)

As I prepared for the excruciating experience of preparing my entry into the Review a Bad Game Day worldwide self-flagellation exercise, I realized two key historical gaming themes: first, the rise of the 3D adventure was not without its failures along the way, and second, the history of putrid games released on the PC is an unfortunately long and varied one. My choice, the promisingly-titled first-person AD&D game, Deathkeep, is an evidential exhibit in both.

Box art for Deathkeep (Windows)

To understand Deathkeep we need to journey back in time to 1987, when Strategic Simulations, Incorporated (SSI), was granted the AD&D license from TSR, Inc. The next seven years were wondrous for the PC Dungeons & Dragons player, as the company released many quality RPGs, beginning with the Gold Box series (of which Secret of the Silver Blades remains my all-time favorite), the Eye of the Beholder series, and the later SVGA games such as Menzoberranzan and the Ravenloft games. I can recall many hours of gaming in the AD&D universe thanks to the talented development teams at SSI. Unfortunately, this review is not about one of those games.

If only I was reviewing this game…

The AD&D license expired in 1994, which meant that no new development of games using the AD&D ruleset could be initiated, but games already under production could finish their development cycle. This is how Deathkeep could stay alive and be released on April 30, 1996, a full two years after the license had expired. So between the extra time given to the game and the need to make it the crowning achievement – the legacy, as it were – of the SSI experience with the AD&D universe, you would expect this game to well-nigh pulse with energy while still in the box. You would certainly not expect what appeared to be a very late April Fool’s Day prank from the lads and lasses at SSI.

Speaking of what’s in the box, here are Deathkeep’s contents. Note the special credit card for hints.

The game begins with a brief semi-animated (mostly a slideshow that occasionally animates, similar to the early days of graphic adventures) which sets up the quest: Stop a generic AD&D villain from reacquiring his long-lost power by recovering three special Orbs from his ancient lair – his “Deathkeep” – which he raised amidst a Dwarven fortress, and deliver them to an ancient three-armed skeleton creature’s temple hidden within that same fortress. Well, not every game can have an interesting and creative storyline, and the hope of those starting the game was that perhaps the game itself would rise above the “every DM in the world has run this story” plot. Unfortunately, the opening sequence may have been the highlight of the game.

The first real worry that this game might be broken comes immediately after the opening sequence, when you choose your character. Typically in a RPG, a player selects their gender, race, class, abilities, equipment, and so forth, customizing their character and giving it their own unique stamp. In Deathkeep, the game presents a total of THREE characters to choose from: a male Dwarven Fighter, a female Elven Mage, and a male Half-Elf Fighter/Mage. Astonishingly, that’s it. Not even a choice in gender for each character, so if you’re not into cross-dressing but you do like playing Mages, you’re out of luck. At least you could name your character.

As for the gameplay itself, the control mechanism was efficient enough: you could opt to use your keyboard or your mouse for a full range of motions. Combat was handled by facing the creature you wanted to disappear and clicking on your mouse until it was gone. No real problem, aside from the incredibly chunky graphics, that is. Maps and inventory screens displayed in 640×480, but the game ran in 320×200, resulting in walls with very poor textures, and creatures that looked like they would be right at home in today’s Minecraft but with lower resolution. The whole game was just hard on the eyes, and considering the some of the amazing games that were released that same year, SSI really had no excuse.

Rear box art for Deathkeep (Windows)

So why was Deathkeep such an embarrassment? The answer lies in the timing of the loss of the AD&D license and what system the game was originally designed to play on: the Panasonic 3DO. Deathkeep was first released for the 3DO in 1995, a full year before the Windows release. The 3DO was a 32-bit video game system whose core processor ran at 12.5 MHz, and whose video output was either 640×480 or 320×240 (on 60 MHz North America systems…50 MHz PAL versions ran much better graphics at 768×576 or 384×288). The game was simply ported over to Windows, with less than stellar results.  Of course, the game wasn’t all that good on the 3DO, either.

Here’s a little humorous tidbit of knowledge found in the game’s documentation for anyone wondering why I don’t have any screenshots of gameplay: Deathkeep does not permit Windows multi-tasking. Attempts at doing so exits the game. Not a single screenshot utility works, not the standard PrtScn/Paint combo, not Gadwin, not MWSnap, not Screen Rip32, nothing. Perhaps the developers wanted no visual evidence that might implicate them in this sorry mess of a PC-RPG, perhaps not. Truly this is a bad, bad game.

My favorite Deathkeep screenshot. That’s the menu screen. Thanks for nothing, SSI.

Deathkeep was promoted as a 1st person 3D game set in the AD&D universe, with “…dungeon delving the way you like it – fast, furious and fun!”  I was one of the unfortunates who purchased the game upon its release (and still have it in my collection of AD&D PC games), and after revisiting it for this review, I am reminded of what I thought back in 1996: This game is neither fast, nor furious, nor fun. It’s games like this one that helped spawn the world-wide “Review a Bad Game Day” phenomena which hopefully will help gamers tell other gamers of some of the pitfalls that await them, while simultaneously presenting an opportunity for us to share our pain with sympathetic readers. So my fellow retrogaming enthusiasts, consider this a solemn warning: should you encounter the excrement that is Deathkeep in your travels, run, don’t walk, away from this game before you suffer as I have suffered!

A terrible video of Deathkeep for Windows, including intro and some quick gameplay. A truly awful video for a truly awful game.