Retro Re-release Roundup, week of December 13, 2018

Finally, Phantasy!

I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong. Almost a year ago to the day, I rued Sega's lack of fanfare for the 30th anniversary of the original Phantasy Star, an important game that warranted commemoration but seemed poised not to receive it. Fast-forward some 350-odd days later and here we are, staring at the ideal version of that very game, released at a reasonable price to an amenable audience. Ya did it, Sega. You caught the last train to dignity, as you so often do. Let's enjoy this game together and never speak of the other Phantasy Star anniversary project ever again.

(Special thanks who sent me info about the ambiguously-released Atari Flashback Classics package for Switch last week — it did indeed ooze onto store shelves at some point, and it's making its way to the eShop today.)



  • Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (worldwide)
  • Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
  • Publisher: Hamster

What's this? An RPG-tinged action game from the so-called golden era of SNK, released in arcades in 1986; players control the bikini-clad goddess Athena as she fights her way out of a dangerous realm she accidentally entered out of sheer boredom, collecting a plethora of weapons and character-enhancing items on the way.

Why should I care? Athena was among the most popular forerunners of both the cute-girl action sub genre and the arcade-action RPG sub genre and while it's a complete chore to play thanks to finicky movement and thoughtless level design, they definitely nailed the cute part.

Helpful tip: The just-released SNK 40th Anniversary Collection contains both the arcade and NES versions of Athena, should you want to double your tedium.


Metal Slug 5

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (worldwide)
  • Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
  • Publisher: Hamster

What's this? The final Neo Geo Metal Slug game, developed by Noise Factory and released in arcades in 2003; this entry offers a relatively grounded campaign against a new enemy force and features the return of MS stalwarts Tarma and Eri as well as some peculiar new slugs, a new, only-for-this-game slide mechanic and an atypically guitar-heavy soundtrack.

Why should I care? Metal Slug 5's leanness borders on incompleteness but even so, it offers a more considered and enthusiastic experience than the previous game's unfocused asset-vomit, and the soundtrack really does rock.

Useless fact: In an effort to stem the tide of piracy, Metal Slug 5 was one of a few SNK Playmore-era Neo Geo games that was distributed in Japan as a JAMMA-compatible PCB rather than the traditional MVS ROM cartridge, a measure they didn't bother to adopt overseas due to perceived low demand.


December NSO update: Adventures of Lolo, Dr. Mario SP, Metroid SP, Ninja Gaiden, Wario's Woods

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
  • Price: available as part of Nintendo Switch Online
  • Publisher: Nintendo, HAL Laboratory, Koei-Tecmo

What's this? 2018's final Nintendo Switch Online update, containing the quintessential 8-bit ninja action game, the first in a series of Sokoban-style grid puzzlers and that one weird attempt at cramming Doki Doki Panic into a falling-block game. (Also present in this month's update: a Dr. Mario save state that put the player extremely close to the game's ending sequence and a Metroid save state that puts a fully-equipped Samus in front of the entrance to the first Ridley battle.)

Why should I care? Ninja Gaiden is a perfect match for the NES Joycons -- which should finally be shipping right around now, if I'm not mistaken -- and the Lolo series' puzzles, unadorned as they are, have weathered the test of time.

Useless fact: Just as the earlier Brain Age games featured clandestine remixes of Dr. Mario, the final Brain Age game for 3DS includes a stylus-controlled reinterpretation of Wario's Woods, now called Blob Blast.


Phantasy Star

Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (worldwide)
Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £5.99
Publisher: Sega

What's this? The first entry in Sega's formative sci-fi RPG series, originally released for the Sega Master System way back in 1987; in addition to the typical Sega Ages enhancements like display settings and save states, this version also includes game-specific enhancements including a rebalanced "Ages Mode", a bestiary, a data chart for items, equipment and magic, an optional auto-mapping feature for the game's first-person dungeons and the ability to play the overseas version of the game with FM audio, an option that was originally exclusive to the Japanese version.

Why should I care? Phantasy Star remains one of the most ambitious and accomplished Japanese RPGs of its era and the crown jewel of the Master System, and this version sands off near every edge to offer the definitive modern experience for both returning players and newcomers alike.

Useless fact: While constructing the new bestiary, Sega Ages developers M2 discovered that the original programmer Yuji Naka had written custom compression routines for every single graphic in the game, which made locating and ripping all the enemy graphics an extremely laborious task; in the end, the animation cycle for the Mad Doctor enemy had to be recreated by hand for the guide as they weren't able to legitimately locate the data before release.


SNK 40th Anniversary Collection content update

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch (North America/Europe)
  • Price: free!
  • Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software America

The promised content update for SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is here, adding another 11 games to the collection — Ozma Wars, Sasuke Vs. Commander, Fantasy, Munch Mobile, Bermuda Triangle, World Wars, Time Soldiers, Chopper I, Paddle Mania, SAR - Search And Rescue and Beast Busters — as well as some small bugfixes and even an additional variant of a previously-included game (the Famicom version of Ikari). While the core package included a lot of the more well-known pre-Neo Geo SNK games, this update delves into some of the weirder cuts that represent the breadth of SNK's output and some of the noteworthy milestones in the company's history. (Due to ratings procedures, Beast Busters and SAR need to be downloaded from the eShop as a standalone update.)


Shantae vinyl from Fangamer

  • Format: vinyl LP
  • Price: $23
  • Availability: ships early January

Capitalizing off the hype that'll undoubtedly be generated by Shantae's brief but conspicuous Smash Ultimate cameo, Fangamer's offering a vinyl version of Jake "virt" Kaufman's prodigal soundtrack from the little-played but massively lauded Game Boy Color game that kicked off the series way back in 2002, complete with sleeve art by GALF enthusiast Nina Matsumoto. virt's reputation as a chiptune virtuoso has been established many times over but if you've yet to hear his first wholly original commercial work and the last amazing Game Boy Color soundtrack, here's an excuse to check it out.

Game Engine Black Book: DOOM by Fabien Sanglard

  • Format: print, epub
  • Price: ~$51 (print version), ~$25 (Google Books digital version), pay-what-you-want (.pdf)
  • Availability: available

Programmer and id software fanatic Fabien Sanglard is back with another low-level technical dissection, this time focused on perhaps the most thoroughly researched and pillaged game and engine of all time, good ol' DOOM. this book provides a fastidious function-by-function analysis of the workings of DOOM's engine and the many official and unofficial ports since and while it's not as inaccessible as one might expect from such a fanatical work, Masters of Doom this is not, so strap yourselfs in for a fascinating but heady read. (The author's cut from the full-color print book is absurdly small, so don't be afraid to throw him a few extra coins if you enjoyed his work.)

Ninja Gaiden Guide & Art Book by Hand Drawn Game Guides

  • Format: .pdf file
  • Price: pay-what-you-want
  • Availability: available

This whole hand-drawn guide thing is really taking off, huh? I bet whoever popularized that idea is rolling in cash right about now.