Retrogaming Times
Issue #35 - April 2007

Table of Contents
01. Attract Mode
02. The Many Faces of Millipede
03. Video Game Rock
04. NEScade -- Marble Madness
05. Apple II Incider
06. Nintendo Realm
07. Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware
08. Game Over

Attract Mode

My apologies to all faithful readers for the lateness of the issue.  I got the fever, and by fever, I don't mean Pac-Man Fever, I mean the flu.  I made it all the way through the winter without a single illness only to be hit by the Super Mario version of a mini-Mario cold.  (Bare with me here, I'm trying to see how many pointless video game references I can stuff into this paragraph.)  So when I needed to shoot for the Pole Position, I was almost too sick to qualify...  OK, that one was pretty lame.

But my time stuck in bed made me think about something.  It made me remember a time when being sick meant lying in bed, getting to miss school, being waited on by a doting mother, and of course, an all day pass to play video games in your pajamas.  Unfortunately, I wasn't quite able to recapture that magical feeling.  Getting sick as an adult just doesn't have the same "appeal."  I was lucky if I felt well enough to take care of the other responsibilities that I had around the house, like taking care of the pets, who never really care if you're sick or healthy, as long as their bowl is full of food, or doing the laundry so that when I finally do go back to work, I'm not wearing something tacky or smelly.  It made me miss those good old days.

During my down time, I had a chance to do some research for a wiki page that I was working on.  The subject matter was an early Namco game known as The Tower of Druaga.  I don't expect the title to ring a bell for many of our American readers, or even our European readers.  You might have heard about it through it's many inclusions to the Namco Museum titles over the years, but it was only truly popular in Japan.  And I sought to understand why that was.  I can't say that I've succeeded in that mission yet, but I became intrigued with the notion of games that were only considered classics in one region, but not in any others.  

For example, I am aware of the game known as Jet Set Willy, which followed Manic Miner.  I know that both were extremely popular in the UK, but I've never once played them.  Those titles weren't branded about in the schoolyards of New York City when I was growing up.  I've only come to learn of them through my exposure to this hobby.  And I'm sure that America has it's share of classic titles that were only ever popular here and no where else, although I don't know what specific title could qualify.  It made me realize that we do a lot to make our readers aware of classic titles that are worth playing, but I would love to know more about titles that only gained popularity in one particular region, and try to understand why that occurred.  Did I not play Jet Set Willy or Manic Miner simply because the Spectrum wasn't a popular platform in the U.S.?  Did Druaga not succeed in the U.S. because of it's concept, or was it its complexity?  All potential issues worthy of examination in a future issue.  But for now, I'm going to blow my nose, and save these thoughts for a day when I can think about them more coherantly. Enjoy the issue!

The Many Faces of... Millipede

As promised, we continue our string of honoring titles that are now 25 years old - in the Many Faces of Millipede.  The original working title of this arcade sequel to Centipede, was "Centipede Deluxe".  OK, we call it a sequel, it's more like an upgrade, alteration, or enhancement to Centipede.  I've not played Millipede at the arcade much, nor on MAME, so this review is pretty much from my home version experience.  But . . . I have filled in much information and details about the arcade game found online.  For a look back at the details of Centipede, please consider reading the Many Faces of Centipede in RTM issue #08.
Millipede plays just like Centipede, on the same sized grid (31 x 30 mushroom field), where your trackball moves you about the screen, over the entire width, but only within the bottom 30% of the screen, called the player zone.  The fire button releases an unlimited supply of high speed arrows, firing upwards, but you only get one at a time - until it hits something or clears the screen - then the next shot can be fired.  Thus holding the fire button down will give you nearly rapid fire capability.  Your Gnome is now an Archer, the Flea is now a Bee, the Scorpion now an Earwig, and now as many as 4 Spiders can dance about at the same time.  The main target is the Millipede, and any of its segments, which the Earwig's poison mushrooms will still drive them mad, coming straight downward.  Two new elements (to player's delight) are DDT and Inchworms.  The DDT (pesticide) when hit explodes into a cloud of lethal gas, lasting only a few seconds, but clears the area and earns you triple points for all pests eliminated by it.  The Inchworm is harmless, but you'll want to hit it as you'll see and hear everything but your Archer slows down for about 10 seconds.  The new pests, having different hazards and attacks include the Beetles, Mosquitos, Dragonflies and then swarms of each of these - alone, and also in a three-way combination.  Beetles, (up to 2 simultaneously) enter the screen edge above the player field, move straight downwards, then across the bottom of the screen (at least half way) before they move straight upwards to the same entry height, then move horizontally towards that other (near) edge, turning any mushrooms touched into indestructible Flowers.  Like poisoned mushrooms, these Flowers can also be cleared by Spiders, and are converted back to regular mushrooms when you lose a life.  Hitting a Beetle moves the screen downward, advancing it 1 row, introducing the next row of mushrooms (from off screen) which may include some new DDT canisters.  Mosquitos moves swiftly downward diagonally, and change directions when reaching the edges of the screen.  Hitting a Mosquito makes the mushroom field move upward one row.  Dragonflies are similar to the Bees, in that they can deploy mushrooms as they move downwards but they also sway laterally (like a Sine wave left and right) as they descend.  On occasion, swarms of each of these 3 pests will be seen and last for around 15 seconds.  Pests shot during the swarm start at 100 points and increase by 100 points each time one is hit up to a max of 1000, and remaining at 1000 for the rest of the swarm.  Another new element (to arcade owners delight) is the mushroom field undergoes a period of growth and decay every so often, defeating player's efforts to maintain their arrangement.  But unlike Centipede's Fleas, all pests require only one shot to kill them, no speeding up and no second hit required - at least on the home version.   To learn even more about Millipede, read:
black night pinball
Millipede marquis, courtesy of
Arcade 1982 Atari Ed Logg with Dave Snyder
Atari 2600 by Atari 1984 - Dave Staugas (Programmer), Jerome Domurat (Graphics), Robert Vieira & Andrew Fuchs (Sound)
Atari 8 bit computers by Atari 1984 - Stephan R. Crandall (Programmer), Gary Johnson (Graphics), Brad Fuller (Audio)
Atari 5200 by Atari 84 - ported from 800 prototype only (same credits)
Unreleased - Atari 2600 second version by GCC 1984.
Rumor Mill - Atari 7800 was planned
Arcade Prequel:  Centipede by Atari 1980
black night pinball
Meager collage of Millipede Faces
Several home version screenshots and their captions can be found at.
Home Version Similarities - except those in < >, all home versions have: a demo or attract mode; the mushroom field is only 2/3rds <800 & 5200 (half)> of the size of the arcade; the action/difficultly gradually progresses as your score/waves increases; a choice of one or two players, but not simultaneously; choice of 7 <2600 (3)> initial start levels/scores; choice of continuing the next game at any start level up to that last level reached, minus one, but not beyond a maximum starting level/score of 300k>; use of a joystick or trackball for 1 or 2 players; a pause <2600>; the scores and displays are easy to read; a bonus life every 15k <800 & 5200 (10k)>; a total number of 15 <2600 (9)> Millipede segments; and more will come out to reinforce if any segment reaches the bottom of the screen; in later levels, the Millipede will arrive already split into segmented heads <2600 (always only 1 Millipede)> ; but the Millipede will never completely de-segment like on Centipede; after all segments are eliminated, the next wave begins; each new wave brings a highly visible color change to all mushrooms and the next Millipede; all arcade pests are present with 10 or more simultaneous pests (not counting all the Millipede segments);  the Earwig will poison any Mushrooms it touches; up to 4 DDT canisters can be on the screen; the Inchworm earns you about 10 seconds of slowed action to nab other pests; up to 2 Beetles can be present and turn any contacted Mushrooms into indestructible Flowers; up to 4 Spiders will dance about, clearing away any objects in their way; any hit on a Beetle (or Mosquito) scrolls the Mushroom field down (or up) 1 row; when hit, points are displayed on-screen for Spiders and for any of the three swarming type pests; later levels can have simultaneous swarms of all 3 insects <(not confirmed on) 800 & 5200>;  after each death, you are treated to the arcade's very familiar visual display and audio tallying of all partially hit mushrooms;  not to mention when you earn another life, you'll be treated to the ever popular extra life charge! - jingle; there are unique and impressive sound effects for each of the pests and events, such as the Inchworm's slowdown; when too few mushrooms are in player area, Bees or Mosquitos arrive to add more mushrooms; every few waves there is a break in all action while a large number of mushroom's are randomly added or subtracted from the field.

black night pinball
Atari2600 screen shot courtesy of Digital Press CD
Bronze Medal: Atari 2600 (43)
My first reaction was: to agree it is clearly better than 2600 Centipede, and impressed that the 31 x 20 playfield is larger than the Atari computer version 20 x 21.  Gameplay is all there (8) from the arcade, save a slightly smaller playfield and only 9 segments to the Millipede.  There are not quite as many total on-screen enemies, but not much drop-off in excitement.  The Addictiveness is fantastic (9) with everything going for it, save a pause.  There is a minor collision detection problem on the 2600, which is exactly the same as found on the other home versions - where your shot may zip right through the pests without incident.  Argh!  There is also some slowing down in the action when too many objects are on-screen.  Despite mostly blocks, the Graphics are very good (7) and allow for plenty of smooth, high speed action.  You can easily distinguish every pest and element of the game.  There is no multi-color, and not much detail or variety and only limited animation, but a nice variety of color and flashing effects.  Sound is outstanding (9) with all the background and individual effects and jingles done really well.  There are some dropouts in effects since not all of them can be heard simultaneously, but the more critical effects are given priority.  Controls are perfect (10) with either a joystick or track ball.  Besides the in-house designed and released cart, Atari also contracted GCC to make one as well, but the other one was scrapped.  Read some of the details and discussion at:
I didn't make time to play the GCC alternate ROM.  I'll consider that for a Lost Faces review, or you can check it out as an exercise for the reader - and then email me and tell me what is better or worse about it.
black night pinball
Atari 8 bit and 5200 screenshot courtesy of
Gold Medal: Atari 8 bit computer & 5200 (46)
My first reaction was:  these 2 are the same, but if I disqualified the 5200 (since it was not officially released), then we would not have enough participants to hold a Many Faces review. No need to be upset . . . as the ROM is readily available for play via emulation or on a 5200 multi-cart.  The 5200 looks to be an exact port of the Atari home computer - except for the uniqueness of the controllers (5200 has its own track ball).  Therefore, these comments and scores apply to both versions.  The Gameplay is almost all there (8), with all pests and every element of the arcade, plus it has the full range of start options.  Unfortunately, it loses something by having a smaller playfield (only half the area of the mushroom field) than the arcade - downsized to 20 x 21.  Addictiveness is awesome (10) with so much action and the chance to keep playing to get to a higher start level every game (up to 300 k) really makes this fun.  The pause in the action can be toggled by the <Space Bar> (or 5200 <Pause>).  The score at which your next free life will be awarded is always displayed.  This version is harder (almost no time to kill the Beetle on its descent) than the 2600, but also gives you the extra life sooner - every 10 k.  Graphics are great (9) with lots of high speed action, details, smooth scrolling, color variety, multi-color, and lots of animation.  Some of the animation is not easily observed as the action is too intense to focus on the animation alone.  You'll see it all too often, each and every time your Archer is vanquished by a pest.  The increased graphic details do come at the expense of the smaller grid size, reducing the gameplay value.  The Sound is outstanding (9) with all the effects in place and sounding great.  Controls are perfect (10) with your choice of joystick or track ball.  The 5200 multi-cart version is susceptible to locking up, but I did not penalize.
Acknowledgements, Updates and Errata since last month.
I found on that the Atari 8 bit diskette version of "Serpentine" (covered in RTM #33) contains the complete release of the game whereas the cartridge version was a bit limited.  Thus there are now two entrees in our Many Faces of spreadsheet and scores were adjusted as follows:  The full diskette version has an additional title/loading screen, and a high score table, plus, what really mattered to me, more (all the?) mazes.  I'm assuming that all of the mazes from the Apple ][ were included on the Atari home computer diskette, which would then bump up that Addictiveness score to an "8" and gives the Atari full possession of the Silver Medal.  The Apple ][ drops to the Bronze.
Come back next month:  for another 1982 release, one that I've not played much, the Many Faces of  "Fast Eddie" on the Atari 2600, 8 bit computer, Vic 20 and C64.  Contact Alan at: or visit the Many Faces of site:

rock games
Video Game Rock

Back in the 1980's, history was made in the video game industry. A rock n roll group was featured in a video game. Not as a guest appearance but as the stars of the video game. The year was 1983 and the group was Journey in all their digitized glory. The game was not very good, but it was the start of a love affair between rock n roll and video games. While it may be hard for people to understand how a group like Journey was the first, you had to have been a teenager during the early 1980's to understand just how popular the group was. But more surprising than Journey being the first group to be featured in a video game is how long it took for another band to appear. Not until Michael Jackson's Moonwalker in 1990 was a rock group (or in this case, a solo artist) again the main character of a video game. Why the large gap? Weren't there bands that could have done well? We at RTM are here to not answer the question but to instead give our suggestions for some possible marriages of video games and rock n roll. Here are a list of some popular video games from the classic era that may have been improved or at least vastly altered by the inclusion of a rock group. With this in mind, we offer you....

Crazy Rock Video Games That Just Might Have Worked!

1. Imagic - Grateful Dead's Truckin - Having a game where you drive a truck across the country is alright, but make it a tour bus for the Grateful Dead and you have a long strange trip! Besides having to get the band to the concert on time, you have to watch out for the police, rabid fans and more.

2. Atari - Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon Patrol - Driving a moon buggy on the surface of the moon is fun, but put that same buggy in the mind of a disturbed person and the experience is greatly enhanced. And what a killer soundtrack.

3. Atari - Donovan's Sunshine Superman - Yeah, Superman was a good game for the Atari (and possibly the best rendition of the man of steel in video games), but make it a hippy trippy Sunshine Superman and you have a whole new game. Goodbye Metropolis, Hello San Francisco. Lois Lane is a flower girl. The possibilities are endless. (I know you are thinking that I should have gone with Imagic's Atlantis, but that was too obvious.)

4. Atari - Crosby, Still and Nash's Our Haunted House - With the sappy lyrics "Our Haunted House is a very, very, very fine Haunted House. With two ghosts in the yard..." Think about it, what is scarier than a haunted house? One that is haunted by Crosby, Still and Nash who fly around and sing that very sappy song over and over. I know they are not really dead, but who cares, enough of their brain cells are.

There you have a few strange ideas that Just Might Have Worked. Now it's your turn! Send in your wildest, craziest, most outrageous ideas and we will publish them in an upcoming issue of RTM. So until the next article, keep those joysticks firing and remember that an unplayed video game is a sad video game.

Tom Zjaba (Whose twisted mind is always coming up with strange ideas like this. Want further proof? Check out the video game comic strips at Arcade After Dark (, the prose stories at KZ Comics ( or the previous issues of Retrogaming Times at Tomorrow's Heroes ( Trust me, you will never call me sane again.)

NEScade -- Marble Madness

Over the years there have been a few games that don't fit into a preexisting genre.  This is either because they are made up of various types of gameplay or they involve a new form all together.  Marble Madness is the latter.  Released in 1984 and designed by future industry legend Mark Cerny, Marble Madness carved out a niche for itself in the hearts of arcade patrons with its unique concept.  Via a trackball, the player controls the movement of a marble as it sails through a series of labyrinths, each more treacherous than the last.  Up to two players may play at the same time, racing their marbles to the finish of each stage before time runs out.  Although there are a few enemies that aim to stall progress of your marble, the courses themselves are the real challenge.  They feature increasingly complex pathways and mechanisms that must be successfully navigated and exploited to reach the finish on time.  Not the longest or deepest game by any means but it sure is fun and frustrating at the same time - the perfect balance.  Five years after rolling into the arcade, Marble Madness crashed into living rooms when Rare ported it onto the NES.

While the move onto the NES seems like a logical one in terms of popularity, it is also met with uncertainty.  After all, a core part of the Marble Madness experience was the use of a trackball for control.  Obviously the directional pad on the NES controller is a poor substitute for the arcade control surface, so Rare did the best that they could.  At the start of the game the player is asked to select the control method they are most comfortable with.  90 degree mode is the standard, the controller is held in the usual way - up is up, down is down, and so forth.  45 degree mode requires the controller to be turned 1/8th clockwise, using the directions on the directional pad as diagonals - up is up-right, down is down-left, and so forth.  Since the labyrinths are drawn from an isometric perspective this works out well, however the gameplay is exactly the same regardless of the control mode used.  Another challenge of replicating the trackball control is ball acceleration.  The faster one would roll the trackball, the faster their marble would roll.  This is critical for getting up hills, over bumps, and around obstacles contained in the game.  Pressing the A Button on the NES control pad gives your ball a little push of acceleration, replicating ball acceleration from the arcade as well as possible.  Amazingly, good control can be obtained using the NES controller with a bit of practice.  Rare did an excellent job at getting over this ultimate hurdle and made a trackball game playable with a digital directional pad.

Marble Madness

Rare did an equally excellent job at recreating the look and feel of the original stages.  They're nowhere as cleanly detailed as they were in the arcade but for the NES hardware things look very accurate - each stage is recreated near perfectly with the same paths and perils.  Enemies look and behave the same, as do the traps and mechanisms.  While it's all there, it does play just a hair slower than it did in the arcade but this doesn't detract from the overall experience one bit.  Audio is impressive as the graphics and control.  This is important as Marble Madness is well known for its unique soundtrack and it was actually the first video game with stereo sound.  Of course the NES hardware isn't up to reproducing the music perfectly but it does a fine job none the less.  Sound effects aren't as well done but considering the high marks the game gets in every other category it is quite excusable.

Marble Madness on the NES is as close to the arcade as you could ever possibly expect to get on the hardware.  Rare were indeed masters of the isometric perspective on the NES with other hit games such as the Pro-Am series, Battletoads, and Snake Rattle And Roll which all used similar graphic styles.  While they would go on to greater success after the eight bit age, this era is still my favorite in their history.  Anyone looking for a quality home version of this arcade masterpiece needs look no further.  Even nicer is the fact that the game is dirt common and can be had for just a couple bucks.  Rare did a top notch job start to finish and NES owners should take a look at the work they did here, it really is quite impressive.

"InsaneDavid" also runs a slowly growing gaming site at

Apple II Incider
Welcome to RTM 35 and the April 2007 edition of Apple II Incider. For this month, I will return to talking about some classic games from the 1980's. These three games were part action and part strategy. However, beyond those aspects, the games had huge replay value that made me play these games over and over again back in the 80's. Even today, in the year 2007, I occasionally get an urge to play these games. These three games have definitely stood the test of time.

AZTEC by Datamost

Like Apple Panic, this game is a purely keyboard driven game. Just like Apple Panic, it took me a while to figure this out when I first played the game. As far as game play, this game has it all. Your character can walk, run, and jump. He has machetes, guns and explosives at his disposal. You're up against all sorts of creatures like spiders, alligators and dinosaurs. I remember that I was frustrated initially with this game. It can take some time to get used to the keyboard controls and you will get killed many times. However, the game keeps drawing you back into it over and over again just to see if you can go a little further.

ARCHON by Electronic Arts

For the life of it, I don't remember why I asked my mom to buy this game when I was a kid. Maybe it was the cool cover that was on the Electronic Arts packaging? Now that I think of it, weren't most Electronic Arts covers pretty cool back then?

Back to the game, Archon was a combination strategy and action game featuring two sides: The Light and The Dark. Imagine if you were playing a game of chess (or even checkers) where instead of just "taking over a square", you fought your opponent for it? The object was for one side to either kill off all the opponents characters of the opposing side or take over five power points that were on the board. Sounds simple?

The catch was that each and every character on each side had it's own strengths and weaknesses. Some were slow and had hand weapons that could only be used in close quarters. Some characters were fast and had long range weapons. The game board also played a factor. There were squares representing light or dark only. There were other squares that cycled from one color or another. Depending on what square you fight on and what cycle the board was in, your character might have a lot of energy or very little at all.

The preceding description doesn't even cover half of the strategy involved. However, to me, the best part of the game was just the battle between characters. I played the game a lot as a kid and don't remember winning the overall battle much. Thanks to emulators, I played the game recently and had a great time. Despite being nearly 25 years old, the character battles still captivated me, even if the computer beats me in the overall battle.

Most people probably know of Wolfenstein 3-D or even one of the sequels, Return to Castle Wolfenstein on the newer generation of PC's and game systems. For a old timer like me, it was good to see homage being paid to two of the more well known and classic games of the 80's: Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.

I was actually introduced to Beyond Castle Wolfenstein first. For those who don't recall, you were a special agent infiltrating a castle when Adolf Hitler was located. Using a combination of money, passes, guns and a dagger, you wandered down through three levels of the castle. Your mission? PIck up a bomb that is located somewhere in the castle and drop it off where Hitler is located. Dropping the bomb off won't quite suffice. You'll need to get out of the castle before the bomb explodes to complete the mission. Once you completed the mission, you got promoted and get a chance to do the same thing over again. The game play is terrific and there is tension around every corner. You never know if and when one of the guards will try to arrest you. It's something that many games lacked over the years.

The Apple II version of the game has pretty sparse black and white graphics. Everyone knows the Apple II also didn't have great audio equipment. While the graphics weren't anything to write home about, the voice synthesis was outstanding. Some have complained the voices weren't that clear. Considering the limitations of the Apple II, programmer Silas Warner did a good job.

That will do it for this month. See you all next month!

Nintendo Realm - Mid April to Mid May 1986
We're getting in to some awesome territory now.  For those of you who were getting a little tired of seeing one obscure Japanese Famicom game after another, and wanted to see more games that remind them of their childhood days, you're in luck.  So pop in that copy of Def Leppard's Greatest Hits, or the Essential Journey (you know you have one of them...) and enjoy.

The Legend of Kage released by Taito on April 18th, 1986.  Released in the US by August 1987
"It's the Legend of Cage!"  "No, it's Ka-Gi." "No way, that says Cage." "I'm pretty sure it's Ka-Gi.  It's Japanese." "No way man, you're crazy, who would pronounce it Ka-Gi?" "Well, the Japanese would." "Why would they do that?  It says Cage."
That is a conversation that I had with a kid down at the arcade one day, nearly word for word.  But no matter how you pronounced it, this game kicked serious butt for it's time.  What other game cast you in the role of a ninja that could effortlessly jump higher than tree tops, all the while flinging ninja stars with deadly accuracy at an infinite army of ninjas that included fire breathing monks?  NO OTHER GAME!  This was it, and when it came out, it assailed your senses like few games had ever done before.  Between the flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder, and the rock influenced Asian back ground music, you didn't care if you were winning or losing; it was just fun to jump wildly around the screen flinging ninja stars all over the place.  When you finally realized that the game had an actually point and an objective (rescue the kidnapped maiden, of course), it almost took the fun out of the game because now you had to actually try to succeed at something instead of being a mindless whirlwind dealer of death.  The Famicom conversion of this game comes very close to capturing that spirit, but falls just short of it's goal.  Primarily due to the limited processing power, the game doesn't have the same "freedom through the air" feel as the arcade game.  Instead, this version feels a little more floaty and slow, but aside from the speed, it's a rather accurate port, and highly recommended.

Dig Dug II released by Namco on April 18th, 1986.  Released in the US by Bandai on December 1989 with the subtitle "Trouble in Paradise"
If you haven't visited a Namco Museum anytime recently (say, at your local PlayStation or Xbox), then you might be scratching your head.  "Dig Dug had a sequel?"  It did in fact.  But it just wasn't quite as fun to play.  Rather than rehash the original formula of digging tunnels under the earth and dropping rocks on enemies' heads, the same cast of characters return on the surface of land.  Land surrounded by a lot of water.  Dig Dug II's stages take place on little islands with their own collection of fault lines.  The idea is to cut off a section of land so that as many enemies tumble into the ocean with the land as possible.  Sure, Dig Dug still has his trusty pump, and can pump his enemies full of air until they burst, but it's a riskier gamble with a playfield that's much more wide open, making Dig Dug more susceptible to attack from any direction.  Despite the first games popularity over the second, it was this version that Bandai chose to convert and release in the United States.  The gameplay from both versions made a simultaneous return in the Nintendo DS title "Dig Dug: Digging Strike" where Dig Dug (who has been officially named as Mr. Driller's father) appears both above and below the surface.

Legend of KageDig Dug 2
Legend of Kage Dig Dug 2

Mighty Bomb Jack released by Tecmo on April 24th, 1986.  Released in the US on July, 1987
When the original Bomb Jack was released in the arcades, I loved it.  So when I saw this game, I was a little puzzled.  Scrolling levels?  Secret rooms in a pyramid?  What's going on?  Mighty Bomb Jack is more of an evolution of the original game than a sequel.  Case in point, it contains the levels of the original game as bonus screen between pyramid sections.  So what does Mighty Bomb Jack bring to the table?  Well, Jack can still jump extremely high, usually the height of the screen, and he is still collecting bombs from mid-air (although with no real apparent purpose, they're not lit or anything), and enemies still appear out of thin air in some lesser mummy form until they transform into something more deadly.  What the game introduces into the mix are coins.  Coins, and greed.  Because if you happen to take too many coins (more than 9), you are sent to the Greed room for punishment where you must try to survive while jumping frequently enough to serve your penance.  OK, fine, but what do the coins do?  They power you up, at four different levels, which may be activated anytime you choose.  At the highest level, all of the enemies will turn to gold.  So by now you're probably thinking that this game is a light-hearted side scrolling romp through a pyramid.  But I haven't told you about the evil side of the game.  In order to truly beat the game, and see the real ending, you have to find and collect these incredibly well hidden crystal balls and S coins.  And figure out the bizarre method to trigger the royal families appearance when you reach the correct room.  And there are no continues.  Ultimately this game feels fun to play at first, but breaks down with the incredible amount of information needed to successfully beat the game.  Find a FAQ.

Gradius released by Konami on April 25th, 1986.  Released in the US on December, 1986
Shmup fans around the world hold the name Konami in high esteem.  The Gradius series has always served as a shining example of a shooter honed to perfection.  It's remarkable playability combined with it's occasionally blistering difficulty has lead to large amounts of lost time as players attempt to beat Gradius over and over again.  This game, the one that started it all, has resulted in four official sequels and no less than five other spinoff titles.  What's remarkable to me about this title, is that I believe that most American players are more familiar with this version of the game than the original arcade version from which it was ported.  Konami had to make quite a few sacrifices in order to implement the game properly on the Famicom, and yet so many players that I know think of this as the defacto version,  they hardly notice that it's a port.  It only becomes obvious when you look at the later titles in the series and see how much the Famicom version strayed from the original formula.  Nevertheless, Gradius has it all: great controls, well animated graphics, and that unique (often imitated, but rarely successfully) power up system that you control.  Want more speed?  Collect a power up and select it.  Want lasers or double shots?  Take your pick, or even alternate between the two.  Need more defense?  Save your power ups for the Shield.  If you've got a Wii and 5 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, pick it up for the Virtual Console.

Mighty Bomb JackGradius
Mighty Bomb Jack Gradius

Spy vs. Spy released by Kemco on April 26th, 1986.  Released in the US on October, 1988
The truth of the matter is, I am more familiar with this game through the Atari 800 version than the NES version, but from what I've seen, everything is the same except for some control schemes.  This early 80s attempt to capture the charm and humor of the macabre black and white duo from the pages of MAD magazine is well remembered in its own right.  The game design was so strong for it's time, that it does not  rely on it's licensed star power in order to be fun.  Nearly any duo would work just as well, but the cut-throat life long enemy angst that the two titular spies share make them all the more fitting subjects for the game.  The goal is collect a satchel and all of the pieces of a plan from the building, and make it out to the escape airplane before your opponent does.  In a more eventful game, players will run into one another and constantly stab one another until one croaks and the other walks away with the collected goods.  That is until the dead player comes back to life and starts the cycle all over again.  However, players can be just as deadly to one another from far away, as they can be up close, by laying any one of six traps on a door or piece of furniture that you suspect your opponent might unwittingly check.  But be careful.  Once the trap is set, you better remember where it was or you will be the victim of your own misdeeds.  Since both players' views are visible on the screen, you can literally spy on your opponent, and find tools that can undo the traps laid by your opponent.  But you will often find yourself so absorbed with your own mayhem that you might not be paying attention when your opponent is setting that gun trap up on the door your about to open.  The game's computer A.I. can be set from mind numbingly dumb, to mind blowingly devious.  If you've never tried this game out, give it a shot, not just on the NES, but on any platform you can find it for.

Seicross released by Nihon Bussan on May 15th, 1986.  Released in the U.S. by FCI on August, 1988.
Seicross is well remembered by some, but I was never able to get to into it.  Seicross was ably reviewed by RTM's own David Lundin Jr. last August, and much more favorably, so I defer to his fantastic review of the game, along with his comparison of the NES and arcade versions.  I don't think it's a bad game, it's just not my cup of tea.  So... here's my one short entry for the month ;)

Spy vs. SpySeicross
Spy vs. Spy Seicross

Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware

This month's game is another Playstation compilation, Intellivision Classic Games. This was published by Activision in 1999, one of the first of a long series of re-releases of classic Intellivision games for various platforms. The Digital Press guide gives it a rarity of R2.

The collection includes 30 emulated games. Almost all of the non-licensed titles created by Mattel Electronics are included. Not surprisingly, it skews very heavily towards sports games (11 of the titles). Like the Activision collection reviewed last month, no licensed titles are included; even the sports games all have "generic" titles (e.g. PGA Golf has become Golf, NHL Hockey has become Hockey), presumably because the licenses have long expired.

It also includes several less action-oriented games such as Checkers, Chess, Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, and (very oddly) the children's game Sharp Shot. The most obvious exclusion is the early release Utopia; while it lacks a two-player mode, it is (arguably) much more fun than Checkers.

A nice bonus is the set of approximately ten video clips of interviews with the original programmers. Each clip is only about thirty-seconds long, but they provide some historical context to the games.

One serious weakness is inherent in the Playstation controller: it lacks the keypad present on the original Intellivision controller. This is only partially remedied by an on-screen keypad. Unfortunately, the overlays are not incorporated into the game graphics, nor can they be found in the minimalist manual. This makes games that make heavy use of the keypad (e.g. Golf, Chess) rather more difficult. Fortunately, both the original manuals and overlays can be downloaded from the Official Intellivision website:

Next month, we will look at another Classic game collection.

Feedback on this column is most welcome. Please send e-mail to

Game Over
I'm back on the road to recovery, and if everything works out as planned, I may have a special segment related to a title I spoke of earlier, the Tower of Druaga, ready for next months issue.  See you there!

Copyright © 2007 Alan Hewston & Scott Jacobi. All related copyrights and trademarks are acknowledged.