Retro Re-release Roundup, week of February 16, 2023
Tales fans, explain something to me: why does Namco continue to hate you so? Like, these games sell, and are selling better now than ever... so, why does every release seem to come with a million caveats, and why do they seem specifically disinterested in putting any effort into Symphonia in particular, the entry who cache outside of Japan is arguably bigger than any other? Is it because y'all didn't buy Soulcalibur Legends?
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
- Publisher: Hamster / Namco
What's this? A multidirectional tank-esque shooting game starring a popcorn enemy from the inescapable Xevious, originally developed and distributed in arcades by Namco in late 1984 and converted for various Japanese microcomputers, will later home reissues seen on various Namco Museum compilations for PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360 and Wii. Players are tasked with defeating all the enemies on each of the game's 99 fixed-screen stages, via the employ of a turret-style eight-way shot and a shield, both of which deplete an energy bar that refills most reliably when stationary; one also must take heed of the explosions caused by defeated enemies, which can be utilized to trigger chain explosions for big points but are also a threat to the player.
Why should I care? Grobda differs from recent, nominally-similar ACA releases like Tank Force inasmuch as it's an extremely tough game that demands precise, routed strategies from the very beginning, to the degree that one might almost consider it more of a puzzle game than a shooting game, and the fact that it hit arcades with an open stage select feature indicates that it was probably better suited for home players all along.
Useless fact: To offer some context for just how difficult this game is, the first recorded no-continue clear on default settings was not achieved until 2015, and even clears on easier settings were extremely uncommon.
Classic catalog update, February '23: Harvest Moon: Back to Nature (PS), Legend of Dragoon (PS), Wild Arms 2 (PS)
What're these? The PlayStation's first entry in the archetypal slow-life farming series, Sony Japan Studio's four-disc JRPG behemoth and the second entry in Media Vision's RPG series that sits somewhere between steampunk, wild west and tokusatsu,
Why should I care? Wild Arms 2 is a fan-favorite in a once-lauded series that seemed doomed to never return, and this particular Harvest Moon game is part of the same lineage as Harvest Moon 64 and Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, games considered to be the peak of the franchise, even now. Legend of Dragoon looks kinda nice, that's all I got.
Useless fact: This particular Harvest Moon game adds an extra wrinkle to the Harvest Moon/Bokujou Monogatari naming kerfuffle, as the Japanese version is titled Bokujou Monogatari: Harvest Moon.
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (Japan)
- Price: $19.99
- Publisher: Kure Software
What's this? The latest version of a remake of the influential Japanese real-time strategy-RPG First Queen, originally released for the PC-98 and Sharp X68000 computers in 1988 and later ported to the Super Famicom, with several sequels and remakes produced for multiple platforms over the next decade or so; this Switch port is based on a remake for smartphones and PC released a few years ago and promises retuned character balance and a more console-friendly UI, among other tweaks. (This release also includes an English localization.)
Why should I care? First Queen is the most acclaimed and prominent exemplar of the chaotic "gocha-chara" battle system that remains Kure Software's stock-in-trade, and even now, its unique horde-based combat sits in an area somewhere between action-RPG, SRPG and what we now know as RTS that few games outside of Kure's oeuvre even attempt to itch.
Useless fact: Creator Kure Eiji's still working on the front lines, directly programming and producing this recent family of remakes despite being in his seventies.
Montezuma's Revenge: 8-Bit Edition
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $11.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Second Dimension / Nami Tentou
What's this? An emulated console port of a recent NES port of the classic exploratory platformer Montezuma's Revenge, originally developed for the Atari 800 in 1984, published by Parker Bros., and subsequently ported to several contemporaneous Atari and non-Atari computers, with a Master System remixes and some ill-fated sequels and remakes released thereafter; this new port was crowdfunded with and co-produced by original creator Robert Jaeger, and the Switch version throws in some little extras like an in-game manual and map.
Why should I care? You want to exerience one of the seminal evolutionary links in the action-platformer subgenre commonly referred to by Jeremy Parish as "castleroids", and you're able to shake off any confusion about why they didn't just port the original version. (I suspect they feel they can double-dip with a crowdfunding run for the Atari 800 version, and I think they're probably right.)
Useless fact: I'm almost positive that the Atari 800 was "8-bit" hardware and that any software originally written for it was already "8-bit", but I'm just some dude.
Spy Bros. (Pipi & Bibi's DX / Whoopee! DX)
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $7.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: RAWR Lab
What's this? A remake of an Elevator Action-esque fixed-screen action game originally developed and distributed in arcades by Toaplan in 1991 that was never ported or reissued on home platforms, almost assuredly due to the abundance of erotic imagery displayed between stages; this new version by Spanish dev RAWRLAB Games removes all the lewd content and adds the option for original or upscaled graphics, more responsive controls and versus modes for up to 4 players, as well as a pair of unlockable female characters with their own play mechanics.
Why should I care? You're one of the many people who would and perhaps did dismiss this game offhand the moment you caught a whiff of eroge — this developer genuinely believed there was a well-crafted and challenging game here that deserved reappraisal, and while that's very rarely true of games of this ilk, they weren't wrong.
Helpfup tip: The new title, Spy Bros., seems to be a conscious overture to Toaplan's more well-known and traditionally well-regarded fixed-screen action game Snow Bros., but given the middling response to that game's recent remake, one has to wonder whether it'll do much good.
Tales of Symphonai: Remastered
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox (worldwide)
- Price: $49.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Bandai-Namco
What's this? A current(/last?)-gen port of one of the more high-profile entries in Namco's anime-infused action-RPG Tales of... series, originally released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2003; strictly speaking, this isn't a new remaster so much as a console port of the existing 2016 PC port, itself a port of a 2013 HD version originally produced for PlayStation 3, which itself was rooted in a slightly expanded, Japan-only PlayStation 2 port released in 2004.
Why should I care? I mean, Namco themselves don't seem to care: the PS3 port was uglier than the originals, introduced its own bugs and issues and inexplicably maintained the PS2's version's lower framerate cap over the original, and early reports suggest this new version fixes nothing and introduces many more issues, so maybe just go play Tales of Vesperia or whichever alternative option is most attainable.
Helpfup tip: Are you one of the Nintendo faithful with fond memories of the original Gamecube release that wants to jump back in on Switch after twenty years? You're in luck: the Switch version seems to be significantly more issue-prone than the other versions, to the point where even completely new players are going to be hard-pressed to not notice any of the visual discrepancies. Will it get patched? Who knows!
- Platform: PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $7.99 (each), $19.99 (bundle)
- Publisher: Bitwave Games / Tatsujin
What're these? The first four games in a series of emulated PC reissues of arcade games from the library of defunct Japanese developer Toaplan, now owned by Embracer Group and managed by the games' original creators at successor company Tatsujin; programmed by Bitwave Games, these initial four releases — the vertical helicopter shooter Twin Cobra, the vertical sci-fi shooter Truxton, the meme'd-to-death horizontal shooter Zero Wing and the vertically-scrolling overhead run-and-gun Out Zone — offer a wealth of features including save states, replay sharing, easy modes, support for various monitor refresh rates, minimal input latency, online leaderboards, practice modes and more (including experiment full-screen, no-horizontal-scrolling modes for Twin Cobra and Truxton).
Why should I care? You perhaps shouldn't, at least not right now — these games have launched with wildly inaccurate audio, broken/inaccurate menus and settings and other issues — but the developers are talking a big game and seem willing and able to promptly offer fixes, so in the event that they eventually deliver, they should ideally offer a competent official alternative to the many hardcore players who've been playing these games on PC for the last two decades, as well as a globally-available and more affordable counterpart to the more boutique, Japan-only Toaplan ports trickling out on consoles.
Helpful tip: If you're wondering about the precise overlap with M2's current output, here's the quick rundown: they've already released Twin Cobra (aka Kyukyoku Tiger) on PS4/Switch via the Kyukyoku Tiger Heli compilation for PS4/Switch, and they just announced a Hellfire/Zero Wing collection for release later this year; beyond that, they've announced vague plans to port Out Zone, as well as the sequel to Truxton which will probably be bundled with the OG, so while you may have to wait years for them to get around to these games, they are coming. (If you literally just want to read AYB one time and never touch Zero Wing again, check out the NSO app on Switch: Zero Wing's on there, and that opening crawl's not in the original arcade version.)
HACKS & HOMEBREW
BootFriend for WonderSwan by asie
Those of you with access to a WonderSwan flash cartridge may want to check out BootFriend, a bootROM-style utility that not only greatly facilitates loading custom software via serial port, flashing carts, managing data and more but also lets you add a very simple custom splash screen, like so. Ain't it cute?
LIMITED-EDITION PHYSICAL PRINT RUNS
Maniac Mansion (NES, PC) physical editions from Limited Run Games
- Price: $59.99 (NES standard edition) / $74.99 (PC collectors edition) / $99.99 (NES premium edition)
- Availability: orders end April 2
LRG's run of LucasArts reprints has finally made it to the LucasArts adventure game for people who haven't and possibly won't ever play a second LucasArts adventure game: Maniac Mansion, in both its authentic computer version and less-authentic but still widely-played and widely-loved NES version. Check the bulletin board poster in the PC box!