Retro Re-release Roundup, week of July 20, 2023
It may not be the Might & Magic remaster you wanted, but it's the Might & Magic remaster you needed.
Whenever one of these roundups coincides with the release of a big AAA game or first-party Nintendo title, my immediate instinct is to lead off with some quip about how you're too busy with [game x] to bother with anything mentioned here... but, in this instance, I don't know that Pikmin 4 is going to be one of those games, and it probably ought to be! Whatever the case, as long as Miyamoto still draws breath, you'll be getting sequels whether you want them or not, while hot in-demand series like Devil World and Radar Mission are condemned to ignominy.
King & Balloon
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
- Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
- Publisher: Hamster / Bandai-Namco
What's this? A fixed-screen vertical shooting game that isn't about blasting space bugs, originally developed by Namco and distributed in Japanese Namco-owned arcades in 1980, with a North American release via distributor GamePlan, with a conversion produced for MSX and later reissues on Namco collections for PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360 and Nintendo WII. The player must move and fire a cannon with the aim of protecting the king, who wanders along the bottom edge of the screen, from the balloons that dive from above; losing the cannon via collision with a balloon or shot incurs only a brief penalty as your cannon respawns, but allowing the king to be carried off-screen by a balloon will cause you to lose a life.
Why should I care? You want to experience the missing link between Galaxian and Galaga, or just hear some really silly (and quite early) voice clips.
Useless fact: The little-known North American distributor GamePlan came up with their own marquee art for King & Balloon and it's very turn-of-the-'80s.
Classics Catalog update, July '23: Twisted Metal (PS), Twisted Metal 2 (PS), Gravity Crush Portable (PSP)
What're these? The first two entries in the only 3D car combat series made by insanely f#$%d-up psychos, for insanely f#%d-up psychos, and a Thrust-ish gravity-negotiating shooting game in the late-'00s faux-vector milieu.
Why should I care? I'm going to level with you: I don't think I"d ever even heard of Gravity Crash until about five minutes ago, but it looks... fine. As for the others, I don't think I harbor the pain nor the depravity required to fully understand the tortured genius of the clown in the ice truck what murders things, but y'all do y'all.
Useless fact: These Twisted Metal reissues are meant to coincide with a live-action Peacock streaming series starring Will Arnett as the clown and Anthony Mackie as I-don't-even-know-who.
TOAPLAN ARCADE GARAGE
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (Japan)
- Price: ¥3,940 (digital) + ¥1,980 (DLC expansion), ¥7,980 (physical, includes DLC content + first-print strategy/interview book)
- Publisher: M2
What's this? A two-pack centred on Toaplan's two 1989 horizontal arcade shooting games, Hellfire and Zero Wing, both of which received conversions to Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and PC Engine and have recently been reissued on Steam and via the likes of the Genesis Mini 2 and Nintendo Switch online; as with M2's other Toaplan Arcade Garage collections, both games are presented with a heavy array of customizable settings, a "Super Easy" mode designed to acclimatise new players, Arcade Challenge modes that function as highly specific training exercises, savestates, replay sharing, online leaderboards and useful on-screen "gadgets" displayed on the screen borders.
Which games are included? The base digital version includes both 1P and 2P arcade versions of Hellfire and Zero Wing, with the full feature suite specifically centred on Hellfire's 1P version and Zero Wing's 2P version, as well as the falling-block arcade puzzle game Teki Paki as a separate free application. The paid DLC expansion, which is included as standard, adds the Mega Drive, Genesis and PC Engine versions of Hellfire, the Japanese Mega Drive, European Mega Drive and PC Engine CD versions of Zero Wing and, as the customary not-a-shooting-game bonus, the auto-scrolling, vaguely Ghostbusters-y horizontal action game Horror Story/Demon's World, available in two different arcade variants and international versions, plus the PC Engine CD version. (The physical Switch version includes the DLC content on the card, whereas the physical PS4 version includes it as a download code.)
Why should I care? Toaplan's short-lived foray into horizontal shooting has, for decades now, been remembered almost solely as a footnote in the legacy of the unkillable All Your Base meme, so I imagine there are quite a few people out there who've never even seen these games in action, let alone played them, and fewer still in the authentic arcade forms — if so, you might be pleasantly surprised by the slightly puzzle-y feels that distinguishes them from Toaplan's traditional vertically-scrolling games, and those who shell out for the complete package might be further surprised by the many changes, both smart and befuddling, made across the various home versions.
Helpful tip: The previous Toaplan Arcade Garage releases have all offered Amazon-exclusive alternate cover sleeves featuring new art based on the bonus game, and this one is no exception: it depicts the characters of Horror Story as drawn by Miho Hayashi, the former Toaplan designer responsible for, among many other things, the original design and art of All Your Base star CATS.
YET ANOTHER SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE VYING FOR YOUR MONEY
Antstream cloud gaming service, now on Xbox
- Price:$29.99 / £29.99 / €29.99 / $42.99CAD (annual sub) / $79.99 / £79.99 / €79.99 / $123.99CAD (lifetime sub)
- Availability: US, Canada, Europe, UK
What's this? A subscription-based classic games service that has existed on PC and smartphones for a few years and has now made the jump to consoles; subscribers get access to cloud-streamed versions of over 1300 classic games spanning arcades, classic computers and consoles, with a variety of online leaderboards and challenges, local co-op and more.
Which games are included? Way too many to list, so lemme run down the numbers by platform: 201 Amiga games, 35 Amstrad games, 293 arcade games, 28 Atari 8-bit games, 28 Atari 2600 games, 11 Atari 7800 games, 358 Commodore 64 games, 5 DOS games, 5 Game Boy games, 5 Lynx games, 57 Sega Mega Drive/Genesis games, 13 MSX games, 33 NES games, 2 PlayStation games, 42 SNES games, 351 ZX Spectrum games, 1 MSX2 game and 1 Atari 5200 game. The available catalogues include all the typical suspects, both global and Japanese (Piko Interactive, SNK, Jaleco, Data East, Taito and more) but also some that are relatively scarce elsewhere, like Midway/Williams and Cave.
Why should I care? My brief time with this service was not especially pleasant — the experience is severely compromised by both the latency and the low video bitrate, and the service doesn't really provide any justification for why the games need to be played via the cloud to begin with — but I mean, that is a big library, so if you're willing to gamble on the service improving over time, or at least surviving long enough to justify the expense of a "lifetime" pass, I can't imagine you wouldn't find something to enjoy in there.
Useless fact: The company behind this service went and bought MobyGames a couple years back.
- Platform: PlayStation 4+5 Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $17.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Dotemu / Gamera Games
What's this? A fresh multi-platform reissue of Capybara Games' versus-puzzler Might & Magic spinoff, originally developed for the Nintendo DS and released by Ubisoft in late 2009, with a high-definition downloadable remake produced for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in 2011; this new version, produced by Dotemu and Gamera Games, is based on the previous HD version (including that version's paid DLC, which is now included in the base package) and adds brand-new character portraits, reworked UI, menus and online functionality, a newly-implemented multiplayer boss character and a complete rebalance of the game with multiplayer in mind, the specifics of which have not been outlined.
Why should I care? If your interest is specifically piqued due to the Might & Magic connection, don't be: this game is only nominally connected to the Ubisoft Heroes of Might & Magic continuity and, even upon its original release, was implicitly promoted by its creators as a game wearing the skin of a popular IP for marketability's sake. What you should be excited for, however, is the chance to play or revisit what was one of the DS' premier original games and remains an addictive and fresh hybrid of Magical Drop-esque match-puzzling and turn-based strategy-RPG battling, and one that can be enjoyed both for its single-player campaign and its online suite that, unlike the previous version, now promises to, like, function.
Helpful tip: The publishers are offering a 40% launch-window discount on Steam for owners of the previous HD version, which stacks on top of the basic launch-window discount — the previous HD version was routinely sold and bundled for pennies, so you may want to check to see if you unknowingly own a copy and therefore qualify for the discount, as the difference in price is quite stark.
HACKS & HOMEBREW
WipeOut Phantom Edition (PC) source port
Based on the recently-leaked source code of the PlayStation original, Psygnosis' classic futuristic racer WipeOut has received a new modern source port for PC that adds a bevy of enhancements and upgrades, including 4K resolution support and an uncapped framerate via interpolation, widescreen/aspect ratio options, new controller configs, optional collision settings based on those from various other entries, lighting systems from later games, enhanced audio, smooth fade-in rather than aggressive pop-in and much more. Note that you will need to source an original copy of the USA version of WipeOut in order to extract the data required to run this port.
LIMITED-EDITION PHYSICAL PRINT RUNS
Telenet Shooting Collection (Nintendo Switch) physical edition from Limited Run Games
- Price: $44.99 (standard) / $69.99 (collectors edition)
- Availability: from July 21, 00:00 to August 20, 23:59 Eastern
Unlike Edia's previous crowdfunded collection, this modest selection of middle-of-the-road shooting games — the PC Engine CD games Psychic Storm and Avenger, and the Mega Drive games Gaiares and Granada — did not meet its goal for a global release, so it seemed this collection may never leave Japan... but as you can see, LRG picked it up, and even their physical version is being sold at a more modest price than even the Japanese digital version, which might make the package a little more appetizing to the shooting diehards out there. The collector's package is missing a lot of the paraphernalia from the Japanese version, but them's the breaks.