Arcade games are unappreciated Halloween decorations. True, they’re harder to arrange than plastic severed zombie feet or cheap, potentially toxic spider webbing, but I maintain that they’re worth the trouble. Whether you run MAME on a laptop or actually have a basement full of original cabinets, nothing sets apart a Halloween gathering or mood table like some appropriate old arcade games.
Why old arcade games? A few reasons. They’re easy to grasp, they’re often visually striking, and they display generous game footage when no one’s playing. That’s the beauty of it: even if they go untouched, these games look great just running in the background, as fitting as Addams Family episodes or every Sleepaway Camp movie.
I picked seven lesser-known examples of Halloween-friendly arcade games. Ghosts ‘N Goblins, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, and Splatterhouse are the first-round choices of just about everyone, so I don’t need to extoll them here. I also left out anything that requires a light gun or other proprietary hardware to truly appreciate. House of the Dead isn’t the same without big plastic Wicked City revolvers, Crypt Killer loses something without a massive shotgun to pump, and a full Golly! Ghost array is probably beyond the price range of the average Halloween shindig. I went after games easy to appreciate in any form.
DARK ADVENTURE Released: 1987 Aka: Devil World
It’s tempting to stick Gauntlet in your arcade lineup and be done with it. After all, Gauntlet is a reliably entertaining race through top-viewed dungeons. Yet there’s a more seasonal alternative available: Dark Adventure, Konami’s unabashed 1989 knock-off of the Gauntlet ideal. Three players control two archeologists and an unlucky reporter in a realm of mazes full of skeletons and minotaurs and…well, evil rats. Yet mundane rodents are forgivable when the first stage has giant mud swordgolems chasing you.
While you’re at it, throw in the Japanese version of the game, Devil World. No mere language swap, it differs a great deal: only two players can join, but the characters get projectile weapons instead of melee attacks, power-ups are more complex, and the expanded arsenal includes a rocket launcher that beautifully demolishes everything. You won’t find that in off-the-shelf Gauntlet.
Last month brought the first trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One movie, based on Ernest Cline’s book about a virtual-reality treasure hunt in a dystopian future. This prompted me to finally read Ready Player One, and it convinced me that the future of profitable literature is all about nostalgia: pure, vacuous, unreflective nostalgia that namechecks as many childhood fascinations as print allows.
Well, I want a piece of that. I’m now at work on a science fiction novel called Mission One Start, and I know it’s bound for the best-seller lists. Here’s a sample.
I always liked Critical Mass Eisley. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of clubs across the OMNIWAY based on the Cantina from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but this one went beyond rote imitation. The layout echoed an alien version of the classic sitcom Cheers, and tonight a Skeksis from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal tended bar, wearing mirrored cyberpunk shades while mixing a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here they knew the difference between a Trandoshan and a Gorn.
Even the patrons were a more eclectic mix. As I grabbed a Romulan Ale, I ducked around a winter-camo Robocop, a gaggle of teenage girls dressed as the Bangles in Voltron pilot outfits, and an impressively well-rendered Destro from G.I. Joe wearing Ghostbuster gear. It was great.
I slipped behind a table styled like the monster checkerboard from the Millennium Falcon and tapped my line open.
“You sure she’ll be here?” I asked.
“Totally,” Rhodel said in my ear. “The Minicons may be weird, but they always follow through. Besides, they need our passcodes, and we need their access.”
“I think I see her.”
She wove through the crowd like a ninja about to kidnap the president. Her avatar was a slim, sharp-featured woman with long red hair and just an adorable hint of anime around the eyes. She wore a Dune stillsuit that glowed with subtle crimson highlights, topped off with a visor and yellow trenchcoat right off Jubilee from the X-Men.
“Quit gawking and talk to her, man!” Rhodel piped up through my ear. I’d forgotten that he had a link to my visuals. “And don’t get caught up talking about that awful Dune movie.” Read more »
I sure like Secret of Mana. That’s why I wrote three separate entries about it a few months ago. And now I’m compelled to write one more, because there’s a remake on the horizon.
Square Enix’s Secret of Mana recast was inevitable. The original Seiken Densetsu (which, of course, we knew here as Final Fantasy Adventure) got a recent Vita and mobile-device remake under the domestic name Adventures of Mana, so the second in the series needs a turn. After a decade or so of Mana games that fell short, Square Enix returned to what worked best. I’d say that it’s craven nostalgia mining, but I’d also have to say that the first two Mana games are the best of the whole line.
This new Secret of Mana envisions the old game with polygon graphics, remixed music, and new gameplay features. The new look is a little primitive by modern 3-D standards, perhaps because the game has to fit on the Vita’s handheld hardware as well as the PlayStation 4 and Steam. Even so, that shot of Randi, Primm, and Popoi riding Flammie is a freeze-frame of adorable perfection.
If you’ve followed this website for a while or merely read the most recent entry, you likely noticed my obsession with an unreleased game called Bounty Arms. Data West announced it for the first round of PlayStation games in 1995, and it brought a novel idea. The game’s two anime heroines wander overhead-view stages, much like the protagonists of Mercs or Outzone or dozens of similar shooters. Instead of standard-issue firearms, however, they wield telescoping Relic Arms that serve as whips, grappling hooks, and all-destroying flamethrowers. Alas, Bounty Arms vanished from sight around the middle of 1995, with Data West moving on to another game and subsequently retreating from the industry.
A scrap of Bounty Arms made its way to the public, though. Demo Demo PlayStation, a Japan-only line of discs meant primarily for kiosks, includes a Bounty Arms preview video on its fourth volume and a playable half-stage on its fifth. The demo’s very limited: protagonists Rei Misazaki and Chris Prenaculutaoraroato (which is how I’ll translate her last name for the time being) don’t take damage at all, and the game reboots once they destroy the mid-stage boss. Yet the graphics for the entire first stage appear to be in the demo, and I always hoped that someone would figure out how to play the entire level.
Well, someone did. Human of Mi-Com Age ran the demo alongside Cheat Engine and tricked the game into letting you play the whole first stage, including a clash with the electricity-spewing robotic serpent boss. I’ll let Human’s brilliant post detail the actual method. It’s a relatively easy hack once you figure out Cheat Engine, and I pulled it off despite having no programming knowledge beyond remembering some passwords for the NES version of Strider.
To sum it up, the mid-boss won’t appear when its value is disabled, and this allows Chris and Rei to march beyond the usual cutoff point. From there, the rest of the Bounty Arms demo is yours to explore.
What was the biggest surprise of E3? Metroid Prime 4 and a Metroid II remake? A PlayStation 4 revamp of Shadow of the Colossus? Microsoft actually calling a system the Xbox One X? All were unexpected, but nothing caught me off guard like Blade Strangers. A PS4/PC/Switch fighting game that nabs its roster from Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase, and Cave Story? I’d sooner have bet on Sony announcing another Hermie Hopperhead.
Blade Strangers isn’t so farfetched a crossover when you look behind the scenes. It’s the work of Studio Saizensen, a developer with a hand in both in the brawler Code of Princess and the puzzle platformer Umihara Kawase, while Cave Story, an indie marvel ever since 2004, has a link through publisher Nicalis. Apparently in an early state, the game could use more animation frames and background detail. Even so, the characters have a vibrant look thanks to a 3-D engine that imitates hand-drawn animation.
As with any fighting game, it’s the cast that intrigues me. Umihara Kawase’s eponymous heroine and Cave Story’s android Curly Brace are unorthodox picks for a fighting game, though they’re both suited to the genre; Kawase has a grappling line and giant fish at her command, while Curly has a machine gun and, presumably, other Cave Story power-ups. However, Blade Strangers leans heavily on Code of Princess. Early footage of the game includes protagonist Solange, thief Alie, and the powerhouse Master T (the mace-packing nun Helga and masked swordsman Liongate are apparently in there as well). That accounts for half of the game’s ten character-selection icons.
There are two reasons for such favoritism. Code of Princess has a wide selection of playable characters, including a magic pharaoh cat and a zombie sorceress, from which a fighting game might choose. Code of Princess also has Solange, who wears more armor on her elbows than she does on her entire torso. Not kidding.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance often rates low among those who canonize the original Final Fantasy Tactics. The Game Boy Advance outing skews much younger, discarding possible stories of doomed nobles and dark secrets in favor of a lighter tale about misfit kids warped to a magical realm full of colorful creatures and too-perfect wish fulfillment. That’s not an unpardonable drawback, but Final Fantasy Tactics Advance doesn’t fill enough of its plotline. For a game that lasts over 30 hours, there’s scant attention to the story. The battles, meanwhile, burden a good combat system with laws that randomly bar the player from using certain commands. It’s a passively fun strategy-RPG that just makes a few bad choices and doesn’t try hard enough.
I really like the look of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, though. The sprite-work is remarkably detailed, giving the creatures of the world of Ivalice charming style. I’m even more impressed by the game’s prologue, which shows hero Marche and his friends Ritz and Mewt having a bad day at school and wandering home through their mundane, semi-modern town.
We see fantasy realms so often in sprite-based RPGs, but rarely do we find realistic worlds rendered in the same fashion. I appreciate all the small and unnecessary touches that Tactics Advance’s developers put into this conventional scene. Instead of a vacant street, we get a snowy boulevard with trash cans, café signs, and a car that might be a classic model or merely a current design in this city of appealingly vague time and place.
Best of all is the room Marche shares with his brother, Doned. It’s worth going over inch by inch, just to pick out everything: the skateboard leaning on the wall, the pop-singer calendar, the pennant and shelved soccer ball by the closet, the steaming kettle on the tiny stove, and what appears to be a trophy above one of the beds. Most of all, I like that television. It sits there like a three-eyed tomato bunny robot.
Of course, there’s a silly personal reason for my praise. These details bring back memories of my family’s late-1980s stay in Germany. I never found myself transported to a mystical realm of lizard mages and Moogle knights, but I’d see all sorts of old and unconventionally shaped European electronics paired with more modern things. Hook up a boxy NES to that TV, and you’d have a good piece of my childhood.
I didn’t intend for this to be a Secret of Mana month, but the series bobbed to the surface with Square Enix’s newly launched Switch collection of the first three titles. It brings back childhood memories of questing through Final Fantasy Adventure (aka Seiken Densetsu) on the Game Boy, sitting entranced by Secret of Mana (aka Seiken Densetsu 2) on the Super NES, and then watching in frustration and despair as Square never translated Seiken Densetsu 3.
Yes, it’s happening again. Seiken Densetsu Collection is Japan-only as far as anyone knows, as Square Enix has announced no plans to localize it. This would be a good opportunity to fatten up the Switch library and finally bring over an English version of Seiken Densetsu 3, but their silence says a lot.
You might contend that Seiken Densetsu 3 isn’t worth the trouble. I disagree. True, its lineup of six selectable characters fragments the story, and the gameplay exacerbates a lot of Secret of Mana’s annoyances: unconvincing hit detection, cheap bosses, and so forth. But it’s a gorgeous game with that undeniable 16-bit Squaresoft grandeur to it. I don’t like it nearly as much as Secret of Mana, but I’d like to play an officially translated version of Seiken Densetsu 3 on the Switch.
So I’ll do what I did back in 1995: I’ll write Square Enix a letter.
Well, that’s my letter. It might be just as ineffective as all my letters were back in 1995, but I like to recall a time when I honestly believed that I’d sway a company into localizing a complex and potentially unprofitable game for the dwindling Super NES market just because I’d put something into an envelope and mailed it.
You were delusional, younger me, but you were earnest. I owe to you to write a letter about Seiken Densetsu 3 once again. And if Square Enix does nothing, I probably owe it to you to play through the fan-translated version that I periodically start and never finish.
The Cutting Room Floor finds many things deleted from games: never-seen animation, unused backgrounds, extended music, and other stuff absent during play but still present in the code. My favorite sort of discovery? Full-fledged characters who were cut from a game. I’m always intrigued by the idea of a hero or villain yanked from a storyline and lurking bitterly in the ones and zeroes. Secret of Mana has a fascinating case.
Secret of Mana lost a great deal of its original outline when it came from the never-released Super NES CD system to the humbler Super NES, and there’s plenty to uncover in the code. Messing around reveals some character poses never glimpsed during gameplay, and there’s one entire villain who doesn’t appear in the game.
Well, the standing theory is that he or she is a villain, at least. The unused character appears among the graphics for Secret of Mana’s familiar antagonists, so it’s fair to assume that this was a servant of the Empire or the sorcerer Thanatos. That, and the obscuring white robes and headdress don’t evoke a good guy. Faceless characters look less human and are therefore less sympathetic, after all.
But where would this deleted figure have appeared? The most logical choice is the ruins south of Pandora, where brainwashed townsfolk and masked cultists gather. The hooded villain would fit right in there, perhaps in a boss battle where it lifted its hands to summon one monster after another.
Of course, this leads to the most likely explanation, and it’s a killjoy: Robesy McHood is just a disguise for Thanatos himself. He first appears to the heroes at the ruins, and while he doesn’t fight them directly, it’s possible that he was to appear in this surreptitious, white-swaddled form before revealing himself. Which means this isn’t a real secret character after all.
Sifting through the Secret of Mana code also reveals the above character, a guard apparently meant for a castle or fort that never came to be. He’s not as interesting as a faceless cult leader, but I do like how he resembles Pete from Disney cartoons not a little.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I like to think that the white-clad villain is a discrete character, and not Thanatos. And if that’s true, the unknown cult leader at least deserves a name. What sort of apt Secret of Mana title fits best? I’d go with something like “Paltus” or “Sidonak,” but I know you’ll all submit better suggestions in the comments!
Why is Secret of Mana such a tough act to follow? It ranks among the best adventures on the Super NES, and no subsequent Mana game matched its reputation; not the aimless, world-building Legend of Mana, not the combat-heavy prequel Dawn of Mana, and not even the directly descended Seiken Densetsu 3 (which would’ve been Secret of Mana 2 over here). Anyone tasked with making a new Mana has a mountain of nostalgic player expectations to climb.
Some contend that Secret of Mana is just a lucky game, not a good one. It arrived in 1993, right when American kids had few options for grand epics on par with The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy, and Secret of Mana mixed together the two. Certain critics point to the game’s limited character arcs, its missing content, and its manifold glitches. They dwell too heavily and too cynically on what Secret of Mana might have been, no matter how little they actually know about a game that never was.
Here’s what we do know: Square intended Secret of Mana for Nintendo and Sony’s Super NES CD-ROM system. When said system failed to appear, the game switched to the plain cartridge-based Super NES and changed accordingly. Director Koichi Ishii stated that it lost about 40 percent of its planned content, and writer/producer Hiromichi Tanaka’s initial storyline switched out “darker” tones for a more lighthearted plot. Cut corners appear throughout the Secret of Mana that Square released to the world. Characters are noticeably shallow in motivations, some later dungeons are far too simple, and programming gaps and slowdown suggest a game crammed onto a system that could barely handle it.
Secret of Mana is slapdash in both scope and story. There’s no question of that. Yet it’s a fabulous meridian of an action-RPG, with a grandiose saga on one side and a fairy tale on the other. And that’s all because it’s a mess.
I try to be picky about the video games I own. This means that I still have over a hundred of them, of course. Most I keep because they’re personal favorites or stuff that I haven’t fully played yet. A few games, however, stick around on thinner justification. And here they are, posed with appropriately disdainful toys.
ALSHARK (Sega CD)
I last went to Japan back in 2007, and I prowled the retro-game stores relentlessly. Nearly all of them were filled with Japanese systems and games, naturally, but I stumbled into a small Akihabara spot that stocked American toys and video games.
If you frequent America’s retro-game stores and convention booths, you’ll notice that they mark up just about anything from Japan. Well, this Akihabara shop did the same for Western games. A Jaguar? That’s about $300. Hey, if you wanted to buy Atari’s little-loved final console and happened to be in Japan, this might have been your best bet.
The store also had a bin of common imported games for ten times what you’d pay at any American flea market. Yes, Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt for the NES can be found in one out of three attics across the United States, but in Japan it’s a $40 rarity.
After seeing this spread, I had to buy something from the store. I wasn’t about to pay import fees on Zero Tolerance or Cybercop, but the shop also sold Japanese games. I fished a copy of Alshark for the Mega CD out of a clearance bin. It’s a space-opera RPG from Right Stuff, and that hit two, perhaps three, of my obsessions at the time. Even if it didn’t have the back insert, I thought it was a good deal for a hundred yen.
The shop owner further won me over by reminding me that Alshark was intended for Japanese systems. I liked that. When I visited Japan on school trips in the late 1990s, almost every store clerk would politely mention that a game was in Japanese or meant to run on a Japanese console, and I would smile and nod, knowing full well how to circumvent region lockouts. By 2007, foreign game collectors were so routine a sight in Akihabara’s stores that no clerk bothered pointing out that a copy of Burning Rangers was the Japanese version.
Whenever I see this battered copy of Alshark, I remember that store, its unnecessary cautions, and its Atari Jaguar.