A Retro Gamer’s Stroll Through 80s Yakuza 0

Before we begin, let’s set the record straight – I have never played a Yakuza game! Yep, you read that right. You may throw out a “WTF?” at this point, and you’d be justified in asking exactly that – what the fudge, dude?

Well, I won’t bore you with why I haven’t played any of the previous Yakuza games (you can blame it all on those retro games I keep playing!), but at least you’ll get a perspective from a player experiencing the franchise for the very first time! I come into the Yakuza universe as a total noob, so go easy on me.

The vibrant lights of Pink Street!

So,”What’s this Yakuza 0 all about anyway?”, I ask myself. Well, first and foremost, I had heard that this prequel Yakuza action game, dubbed Zero, was set in the 80s, my favourite decade! That was enough to pique my interest in the game, so I thought I’d jump in the deep end and have a go!

Sobering up some drunkards, the old fashioned way!

Beating up peeps can work up a thirst

From a noob’s point of view, Yakuza 0 eases the player into the game with great cutscene sequences that set the narrative for the protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, or simply just Kiryu. Obviously the title gives it away, Kiryu is a yakuza, a lowly debt collector for the Dojima Family (of the Tojo Clan). Kiryu is framed for murder and is then used as a pawn by a bent crime family lieutenant who aspires to be top dog. I’ll spare you the rest as I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Visiting the ‘family’!

No mobile phones in 1988, so pay phones were the best way to conduct business on the streets

I’ll be honest, I really wanted to play Yakuza 0 to roam the streets of 1988 Kamurocho, the notorious redlight district of Tokyo – to explore its karaoke bars, dart parlours and of course, its amusement centres – Club Sega and Hi-Tech Land were high on my list so I could play some (well, a lot of) Out Run! I really didn’t care for the story as to why I was setup for murder and the whole Empty Lot business.

Smoking can kill you! So can a bent lieutenant…

But before I could explore Kamurocho, I would have to dispense some good old fashioned beat-downs to street punks and hoodlums that were dumb enough to move in on my turf. Oh yeah, cash is earned the more peeps you beat up. These fight sections definitely reminded me of classic Dreamcast brawling action games, just like Shenmue. And just like Shenmue, it’s fun to explore the vibrant city you find yourself in.

Giving the vocal chords are work out with some karaoke

What I wasn’t counting on was the game’s ability to suck me into its story-line and its fascinating characters. I had to put the idea of exploration and playing Out Run to one side, as I set my sights on finding the people that framed me for murder and then confronting the bent Dojima lieutenant, Kuze. To say that I was now hooked on Yakuza 0 would be a gross understatement. With about 80 hours of gameplay, I have a way to go, and that is before I even touch any sidequests! So if you excuse me, I need to get back to being a yakuza and kick ten shades out of some really bad people.

Behold, the holy grail of arcades!

Damn, it’s closed. Can’t wait to play some Out Run!

image source: Yakuza 0

The Bitmap Brothers: Universe

One thing is a certainty when it comes to Read-Only Memory publications – they are of the highest quality, both in content and presentation! Their new book, The Bitmap Brothers: Universe is certainly no exception to this rule! This high-end book for the historically-minded videogame enthusiast is a comprehensive history of the visionary British software house behind seminal titles such as Xenon 2: MegablastSpeedball 2: Brutal Deluxe and The Chaos EngineThe Bitmap Brothers: Universe tome combines an authoritative inside story by Duncan Harris (Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Edge), thoroughly researched via new, first-hand interviews with The Bitmap Brothers’ key figures – including founder Mike Montgomery and lead artist Dan Malone – with a breathtaking haul of never-before-seen archive material. The cherry on top is the awesome CRT emulation (by Timothy Lottes) and screen capture (by Kerry Brunskill) art which propels this book into the sublime.

As Christmas is fast approaching, The Bitmap Bros: Universe should be at the pointy end of your wish-list! Better still, get this book for yourself and for your fellow nostalgia-minded friends – you will not regret it! Actually, while you are at it, you may also like the Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe Print, which compliments the Universe book perfectly. This high-spec print features a new illustration by original Bitmap Brothers artist and co-designer of Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, Dan Malone. Screen printed in black onto a luxurious grey heavyweight stock, the edition also features the distinctive Bitmap Brothers logo, micro-etched into holographic foil. Each print is signed by the artist and shipped in a durable archival tube.

Make this Christmas a Bitmap Brothers one!

Vital Stats:
Title: The Bitmap Brothers: Universe
Price: £30.00 (plus shipping)
Size: 190mm x 240mm
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 300
Specials: Quarter-Bound

 

 

The Retro Freak: It’s Freakin Awesome

retrofreak_titleWhen we received the Retro Freak console from Play-Asia, we put our thinking cap on to try and find a way to review the unit objectively. Our thinking cap must’ve worked, as we came up with an ingenious idea – take the Retro Freak to the biggest gaming expo in the southern hemisphere, PAX Aus 2016!

By having the Retro Freak available to play at PAX Aus, it gave us the opportunity to observe attendees playing on the console and gauge their unfiltered and objective feedback. With thousands in attendance, we weren’t short of people having a go. There were youngsters and older players, families and couples all having a go. The overwhelming responses from players was, “What is this console?”, “Where can I get one?” and “How much is it?”.

Play your old school carts on the Retro Freak!
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For those that are not aware, this awesome console from Cyber Gadget allows you to play your original game cartridges/cards from your Famicom, SNES/Super Famicom, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, PC Engine, TurboGrafx-16, SuperGrafx, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. By supporting these legacy systems, the Retro Freak ensures that you only need the one console setup in your games room to play all of your favourite classic titles! Hooray, you can finally declutter!

Let’s put on scanlines!
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We love the clean and easy-to-use interface
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The Retro Freak pumps out its audio visuals via HDMI, supporting 720p upscaling, which makes your old school games look great on newer TVs – so no more needing that 20 year old CRT TV! Well, we would suggest that you still hold onto your CRT TV *winks*. The other cool features that will freak you out (in a good way) include; filters, backing up of games from cartridge onto the console (on MicroSD card), instant save states and cheat codes (for certain games).

For control, there is the pack-in SNES-style controller, which does the job well, or if you prefer, modern gamepads such as the DualShock 3 and DualShock 4 can also be used (via USB). The Retro Freak Premium pack ships with a controller adaptor that supports Famicom/NES, Super Famicom/SNES, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16 controllers. If you prefer bluetooth control (perhaps you dislike wires!), you can procure the 8bitdo Retro Receiver, plug it into the controller adaptor and use any one of your PS3, PS4, WiiMote or Wii U controllers you may have lying around. Oh yeah, you can re-map controller buttons to suit your style! We love the flexibility that the Freak provides!

The pack-in controller does the job! At least the USB cable is 1.8M!
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One side of the Controller Adaptor – connect your fave gamepads!
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Other side of the Controller Adaptor reveals more classic controller ports!
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So how does it compare to playing on the real hardware? We threw all kinds of games at the Freak, and it ran them without a hitch. We didn’t encounter any incompatibility issues, which ensured we didn’t rage quit and turn off the console. The transferring of original game cartridge data to MicroSD is as easy as breathing, thanks to the user friendly interface. One niggle we did have was with Cyber Gadget’s support page being in Japanese – it made it difficult to ascertain the firmware and application updates required to ensure the Retro Freak was up to date. Google did came to the rescue here by pointing us to a forum that had the instructions in English on how to upgrade the firmware.

The elephant in the room is the obvious comparison to the RetroN5. With quality issues hampering the RetroN5, we know which system we would prefer to use – if only the Retro Freak was as good looking as the RetroN5! If you want to be able to archive your original game carts and declutter by only having one console to play your classic games on, then you can’t go wrong with the Retro Freak!

If you are keen to check out the Retro Freak console, then head to Play-Asia now.

Play Operation Wolf straight from the PC-Engine HuCard, OR…
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Backup the Operation Wolf HuCard to microSD! It’s the best of both worlds!
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The Retro Freak makes it to PAX Aus!
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Family gaming together!
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The Retro Freak was a hit at PAX Aus 2016! The Sega Mega Drive version of Aladdin was quite popular.
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Super Famicom F-Zero action aplenty!
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Time to SUPER SMASH (some) TV!
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Thanks to Play-Asia.com for supplying the Retro Freak used in this review.

 

SEGA 3D Classics Collection

RELIVE YOUR FAVOURITE SEGA MOMENTS WITH SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION!
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Let’s start this review by saying that we prefer our games on physical media! Nothing beats holding something tangible in your hands. We already downloaded some of the games from the SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION, but having all games bundled on the one cart, some that had never been released outside of Japan, was a temptation too great to pass.

This highly anticipated COLLECTION is available now at all good gaming stores around Australia. The compilation consists of nine classic SEGA titles, all beautifully remastered in stereoscopic 3D with some extra bells and whistles (features) thrown in for good measure.

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The CLASSICS COLLECTION hosts SEGA favourites like Sonic The Hedgehog, Thunder Blade, Galaxy Force II, Altered Beast and never-before-released Nintendo 3DS games including Puyo Puyo 2, Power Drift, Maze Walker and Fantasy Zone II (W and The Tears of Opa-Opa).

The big question now is, how do these SEGA classics play on Nintendo’s 3DS? Well, let’s just say that SEGA has not disappointed. With pretty much every genre covered, from driving, platforming, shoot’em up, to side-scrolling beat’em ups, maze crawlers and head-to-head puzzle games, there is something for everyone. You may have heard or read that Altered Beast and Thunder Blade are the weakest of the 3D remastered SEGA games, but let us assure you, they are faithful arcade conversions, that play, look and sound even better than their arcade counterparts! You’ll be hard pressed to find a weak game in the lineup, with your only problem being, what to play first. With that said, the stand out game of the COLLECTION for us is Power Drift! It is as close to having the real arcade driving experience without having the bulky machine in your living room – and you can play it on the go!

With 9 classic games remastered in 3D, multiplayer (local 2-player) mode on Puyo Puyo 2 and Altered Beast, pack art design by Ken Sugimori (Pokemon Art Director), plus Power Drift (and Puyo Puyo 2) making their Western debuts, there is only one logical conclusion, the SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION is a must get for your Nintendo 3DS!


source: SEGA Europe

Review copy supplied by Five Star Games.

 

NES Classic Mini: Review

nes3Disclaimer: If you were one of the unlucky ones who missed out on getting a NES Mini, then what I’m going to say below will probably not help. Aimed firmly at the nostalgia-fueled retro gaming market, the Mini sets out to recreate Nintendo’s beloved 30 year old console for a modern audience. Yet despite the baffling stock issues, and some odd design choices, they’ve succeeded.

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Nintendo brought the original NES to Australia in 1987, and while it wasn’t an immediate hit like in the US and Japan, come the early 90s, we all knew at least one person who had the console (if not yourself!). A neighbourhood favourite, the NES taught us platforming, how to play with (or against!) friends and introduced us to the likes of Mario, Green Mario, Mega-Man, Simon Belmont and a host of other memorable gaming characters. So when Nintendo announced that they were working on a miniature version of the venerable NES, the reception was (initially) incredibly positive.

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One of the biggest questions prior to the Mini’s release was how Nintendo would handle the hardware side of it. Thankfully, Nintendo opted against utilising a cheap “NES on a chip” setup, and instead built the Mini around a quad-core processor with 256MB of RAM, running a variant of Linux. Sounds pretty hardcore for emulating an 8-bit system right? The extra power is well used though, as the NES Mini offers three different display filters and the ability to output in 1080p, along with room for up to four save states per game!

Older brothers posing with the new arrival!
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The included display filters are Nintendo’s answer to the problem faced by anyone trying to run old hardware on modern TVs, and getting stretched or blurry images. The default mode is 4:3, which sets the display to the aspect ratio the NES displayed in and still manages to look fairly clean and clear. CRT Filter applies a scanline effect to the picture, which gives it a blurrier “old school” look. Lastly, there’s the Pixel Perfect mode. This mode makes every pixel a perfect square, which Nintendo describes as letting you see the games exactly as designed (at the cost of the picture being slightly narrower than the other two modes). When it comes to emulators, I’ve always disliked CRT/Scanline effects and this isn’t an exception, as I found the fake blurry look to be a real turn off. My personal preference is the Pixel Perfect or 4:3 modes, with the former looking much better on larger TVs, while the latter looks better on smaller sets.

Bub helping compare the different display filters
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On the software front, instead of running with existing Virtual Console releases for the games, Nintendo’s NERD (Nintendo European Research & Development) division opted to create a slick new emulator for the Mini to get the feel “just right”. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. on the Wii Virtual Console and being put off by the controls, with the movement feeling laggy or “off”. Here, Mario moves and jumps with pinpoint precision, just like it was when I played it on my full-sized NES. I’m also a big fan of the front-end Nintendo has designed for the Classic Mini, as it’s clean, fast and gives you everything you need straight away (although I would’ve loved to have seen some history for each game!).

Mega-Man 2 still looks and plays brilliantly!
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The attention to detail doesn’t stop with the hardware and front-end either, as the included controller is a near-perfect replica of the original. Picking it up will definitely trigger memories of the last time you used one, and feels like the same uncomfortable grey rectangle we all grew up with. Sadly, the 1.5-2m long lead the original NES controller had didn’t come for a ride, as for some baffling reason Nintendo made the Mini’s controller cords 50-60cm long (at best)! This means you need to get the Mini really close to you, or sit right up against the TV in order to use it comfortably and avoid sitting with your nose against the screen. There are already third party extension leads and wireless controllers available, but this is something that really should have been sorted out before the launch.

Classic controller look and feel, but with an teeny, tiny lead
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As the Reset button on the system is how you return to the main menu or to utilise the Save State feature, it could be why they’ve gone with the shorter leads. Either way, it’s still incredibly inconvenient and really flies in the face of the polish given the rest of the unit. I can understand not building a reset button into the controller in order to be faithful to the original design, but we’re dealing with a modern recreation of a 30 year old system, so “authenticity” has already gone out the window! After using it for the last few days across a number of TVs, I’d suggest getting a longer HDMI lead so you can sit the NES Mini near you – or look into a number of the previously mentioned third party options.

Some of the best games made for the NES in one easy to use menu
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And what about the games? The list of 30 pre-installed games are all worthy of the Nintendo Seal of Quality™, with very few among them that wouldn’t feature in at least one person’s top 10. The single best part though, is that we’ve received the original 60Hz NTSC versions with the Mini. That means not only is everything running at full speed (Bubble Bobble is significantly more playable than its PAL release!), but it also means no more black borders at the top and bottom of the screen.

Double Dragon II in glorious 60hz full-screen is fantastic…
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One minor, but interesting point is the lack of seemingly random graphics above and below the playfield that was present in a number of PAL region games. These were the result of a programming trick that took advantage of “hidden areas” on NTSC televisions to store graphics to be used later in a level, and was invisible to our friends in Japan and the US. For Australia, games like Double Dragon II would frequently show these random sprites due to the smaller display area. It’s a minor thing, but Nintendo’s choice to use NTSC games on the Mini means we’re seeing these games as they were originally intended.

…While this is from the 50Hz PAL version with the “hidden” sprites showing
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There’s a lot to love about what Nintendo’s done with the NES Mini. The included games are arguably a snapshot of some of the best the system had to offer, even if you’re not able to add any extras games to it. The overall presentation from the menu interface and save state support, to the physical design of the Classic makes this a slick little nostalgia machine. While there’s questions around how many extra shipments we’ll see, if you love the NES and the opportunity comes up to get one for the RRP, then it’s well worth it. Just don’t pay hyper-inflated eBay prices!

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Review: Western Press

Taking you back to an era when the duel abided, Western Press is a fast-paced duelling simulator best enjoyed with a bunch of friends, or by people with super-human reflexes.

WesternPress_Front

When I was growing up, one of the Commodore 64 games my circle of friends used to like playing as a group was Law of the West. A single-player only game, you were tasked with attempting to Sheriff a lawless town, but gave you the chance to start a gun duel in order to settle a discussion. We’d often sit there as a group taking turns to insult people, then try to get the draw on them to shoot first, only to suffer through a long load time when we failed for the next person to have their go. That’s probably as close as the similarities go, but for me Western Press’ pixel-art graphics and gun duelling invoked memories of this nearly forgotten retro-title.

WesternPress_pic1

The first release from Melbourne-based indie studio Bandit-1, Western Press calls itself “the most historically accurate frontier duelling game ever (probably)”. And to be honest? While I’m unsure if the gunslingers of the wild west needed to press 10 random buttons in order to shoot, I’m more than happy to accept this claim. Featuring 12 unique characters, several different local and online multiplayer modes for up to 16 players, Steam Workshop support (for creating your own duellists or stages), and a single player Skill Tester mode, there’s a reasonable amount of content on offer here.

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Matches in Western Press play out in a fairly straightforward fashion: pick your character, select what input method you want to use, then get set to reel off 10 commands as fast as humanly possible.  First person to complete their key combination in the fastest time, or with the least amount of mistakes wins. While it sounds deceptively simple, you’ll need insanely good reflexes to beat your opponent – press first, think later! One thing that is surprising is the different variety of controllers Bandit-1 have included support for. Allowing you to choose from keyboard input to XBox or Playstation joypads, and even Dance Mats (but sadly no steering wheels or Power Glove), the game will even automatically change the on-screen icons depending on what you’re using!

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As with similar games in this genre, I found the most fun I had with Western Press was against other people, and not trying to outsmart the AI. My attempts to best the skill tester left me angry and frustrated, as my poor old reflexes just aren’t up to the task of beating a perfect, immortal machine! If you’re someone who digs local co-op competitive multiplayer games and wants something else to add into the catalogue of games to play with mates, you won’t go too far wrong with giving Western Press a shot.


trailer source: Bandit-1

Western Press is available now from Steam for Mac and PC. Review copy provided by Surprise Attack Games.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

 

Film Review: Wizard Mode

WizardMode_DMDThere is something enticing about pinball – the flashing lights, pop bumpers, drop targets and the challenge of playing better in each game seems to draw people from all walks of life. Among the top tier pinball players in North America, there is one name that constantly stands out, Robert Emilio Gagno. Through his dedication to pinball, Robert has won many a tournaments and competitions and now strives for the ultimate pinball reward, Wizard Mode. Oh, and Robert happens to have autism.

Wizard Mode is a candid personal perspective on autism through the life of the current world champion of pinball. The film follows Robert as he seeks to balance his quest to become a world pinball champion and his growing real world responsibilities, culminating in the largest pinball tournament at the world, Pinburgh, in Pittsburgh, PA.

We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we applauded, and most importantly, we were inspired by Robert Gagno’s story to become (spoiler alert), the pinball champion and a champion in life! Robert has definitely achieved Wizard Mode and the filmmakers from Vimeo and Salazar Film have hit the Super Jackpot!

Currently available on Vimeo in the U.S. and Canada. Wizard Mode will be available worldwide later this year.

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Wizard Mode

WizardMode_Postersource: Wizard Mode Film