Retro Re-release Roundup, week of December 1, 2022

Minstrels, mechs and masters.

A quick heads-up, dear readers: the Arcade Archives version of Tetris: The Grand Master, the first 32-bit arcade game to hit the service, has launched with some conspicuous graphical bugs that are especially frequent on Switch — Hamster's already pledged a fix and they can generally be relied upon to deliver fixes in a timely manner, but until then, brace yourself for the occasional detour into Virtual Boy World.


Tetris: The Grand Master

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

What's this? The first entry in Arika's sub-series of high-intensity Tetris games, originally developed for Capcom's PlayStation-based ZN-2 arcade hardware and distributed in Japanese arcades in 1998; a planned PlayStation port was canceled due to licensing restrictions imposed by The Tetris Company, making today's Arcade Archives reissue the first-ever official home version and the first official release outside of Japan. While TGM shares the same basic rules as traditional Tetris games, with specific iterations on the feel of Sega's late-'80s Tetris arcade game, it sets itself apart by focusing not on basic endurance but by challenging the player to attain successive grades for speedy and efficient play within a fixed number of line clears, with the tetrominos' falling speed eventually escalating to frightening speeds. (The game also has a two-player option which defaults to letting two players play solo games simultaneously, but also allows for versus play depending on a certain dipswitch setting, which must be toggled in the options menu.)

Why should I care? I know I'm an increasingly terrible judge of what the average player considers to be unreasonably difficult or arduous but I genuinely believe the original TGM is a game that anyone with a more-than-casual affection for Tetris and a willingness to adjust to the game's non-standard specifications can sink their teeth into — it's an exacting but eminently fair game and one with relatively straightforward conditions for attaining grades that dedicated players will be able to meet through sustained practice, and most of the really obtuse or masochistic requirements you might be aware of via the likes of ADGQ weren't introduced until later games. (This release also represents multiple milestones: Hamster's first 32-bit arcade reissue, TGM's first authentic home release and the first time in decades that The Tetris Company has allowed TGM to exist... and to boot, The Tetris Company has made the possibility of a brand-new TGM game conditional on the sales of this reissue, so that's somethin' to fret about.)

Helpful tip: TGM has several alternate game modes hidden behind specific button commands — a couple of these modes are listed in the manual and pre-configured for the game's hi-score/caravan modes, and while the others are not explicitly mentioned, the codes are still functional and can be entered at your own discretion; you can find a list of the codes here.


Elevator Action Returns

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox, PC via Steam (worldwide)
  • Price: $14.99 or equivalent
  • Publisher: City Connection / Taito

What's this? An emulated reissue of the Sega Saturn port of Taito's hard-edged 1995 arcade reinterpretation of their classic 1983 arcade game Elevator Action; in addition to the usual S-Tribute perks (save states, rewind, slow-mo, screen filters), this version offers up several hidden options by default, including a stage select, life/health recovery values, a toggle for carrying weapons between stages and immediate access to a port of the original Elevator Action, which was originally unlocked after clearing the main game.

Why should I care?  Elevator Action Returns was a standout title among the first wave of '80s arcade revivals that managed to straddle the play mechanics of the original and the play feel and production of a top-tier '90s 2D action game, and while the Saturn version didn't necessarily add much to the package beyond the bonus port of the original game, the accuracy of the conversion is commendable and should remain sufficiently enjoyable even after going through the S-Tribute lag filter. (That said, the sound effects do sound a little off.)

Useless fact: I will never stop being entertained by the fact that Jeremy's personal fondness for Elevator Action Returns, as expressed in his liner notes for a semi-recent Zuntata vinyl soundtrack, made their way back to modern-day Taito and led them to believe that Elevator Action Returns is a broadly popular game outside of Japan, and not merely a cult pick for people who imported Saturn games when they were new, and I hope nobody ever sets them straight.


Front Mission 1st: Remake

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
  • Price: $34.99 or equivalent
  • Publisher: Forever Entertainment / Square-Enix

What's this? A remake of the first entry in G-Craft and Square's gritty sci-fi mecha tactics RPG series Front Mission — more specifically, a remake of the expanded 2003 PlayStation port of the Super Famicom original, which was first introduced to international audiences by way of a DS port in 2007. Developed by recent Panzer Dragoon and House of the Dead remake developers Forever Entertainment, this version reimagines the original visuals in full 3D and offers both a "classic" mode that uses the original music and fixed orthagonal perspective, or a "modern" mode with an overhead perspective and free camera movement, newly-arranged music, slight tweaks to UI, options for faster battles and more.

Why should I care? I'm zero for two on Forever Entertainment remakes right now and I can't bring myself to treat this latest one with anything but extreme skepticism, but after a string of poorly-selling sequels and spin-offs, the future of these series seems to be on a wire, so the Front Mission faithful out there might just have to bite the bullet on this one and hope that the developer's receptive to whatever changes or fixes y'all request they make. (For what it's worth, they've already publicly committed to remakes of both Front Mission 2 and 3, so they have multiple games via which to course-correct.)

Helpful tip: Boutique publisher Forever Limited has just announced several physical options,  due out early next year.

Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered

  • Platform: PlayStation 4+5, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, iOS, Android (worldwide)
  • Price: $24.99 or equivalent
  • Publisher: Square-Enix

What's this? A remaster of the 2005 PlayStation 2 remake of the 1992 Super Famicom RPG Romancing SaGa, the first home console entry in Square's famously open-ended RPG series, SaGa; in addition to the HD-compliant touch-ups to the visuals and UI, this remaster adds several new playable characters and classes (with new VA where appropriate), additional quests and extra bosses and a large assortment of quality-of-life features including auto-save and the ability to save anywhere, turbo settings for battles and the world map, fast travel options, colorblind settings, a guaranteed way to escape from battle, very generous new game plus options and the option to both display and alter the progression speed of the behind-the-scenes stats that dictate the in-world flow of events and encounter scaling.

Why should I care? Minstrel Song was originally intended to serve as a culmination of all the traditional SaGa mechanics up until that point, as well as what might have been the final push to establish SaGa as a commercial force outside of Japan; accordingly, the game is packed with excessive mechanical explanations that seek to lessen the typical inscrutability of a SaGa game, and the remaster further peels back the curtain by giving the player more direct control over the flow of events and sub-quests that might otherwise be seen to emerge or disappear with no rhyme or reason — in other words, the feel of a deeper and more reactive open world that the devs were striving for almost twenty years ago might finally be felt now that players can more directly influence their progression.

Helpful tip: As with other recent SaGa remasters, Minstrel Song's getting a physical, English-compatible Asian release for Switch, should you want to hunt down an import copy.


NES/SNES/Virtual Boy Works re/prints from Press Run Books

  • Price: $34-39.99 each (standard) / $74.99 (collector's edition0
  • Availability: in stock now

In case you missed it, Jeremy's recently-launched book imprint has been actively cranking out new editions of his NES, SNES and Virtual Boy Works books, including just-published standard and collectors' editions of NES Works 1985-86, and if you order a copy now, they may or may not show up in time for [insert appropriate non-denominational end-of-year holiday here].