Retro Re-release Roundup, week of December 7, 2023
M2 permits you to die, and live, and die again.
Seriously, do Japanese shooting game publishers conspire to dump all their games at the same time a few times a year? Space 'em out some, y'know?
Pole Position II
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
- Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
- Publisher: Hamster / Namco
What's this? A sequel to Namco's popular wheel-controlled F1 racing game, originally released in arcades in 1983 and converted to the likes of Atari 7800 and Epoch Super Cassette Vision, with more authentic reissues via various Namco Museum anthologies from the original PlayStation to Xbox 360; this sequel builds on the original by adding three new tracks, each themed around a famous international raceway. (The Arcade Archives releases offers a drive-assist function, as well as various controller settings to configure steering and pedals/gear shifting, including configs for racing controllers.)
Why should I care? Pole Position might strike one as a relic of the early days of faux-3D racing but, putting aside the fact that it was a pioneer of this specific subgenre, it boasted more thoughtful and nuanced steering than many of the games that followed in its wake, and Pole Position II expands both the game's skill ceiling (via more advanced tracks and speed boosts for efficient driving) and its floor (via the test track that's just a big oval). Also, those cars explode real good.
Useless fact: Pole Position II's real-world tracks have been subject to various license-related edits across their many ports, both with regards to the names of the tracks and also their layouts, but Hamster has once again shelled out for the license for the Suzuka track, meaning all the game's tracks have returned in ther original, unedited forms for the first time since the '80s. (The real-world billboard ads have not been retained, however.)
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (Japan)
- Price: ¥800
- Publisher: G-MODE
What's this? A minigame collection themed around hosting an office function, originally released on Japanese feature phones in 2010; players are challenged to excel at nine different party activities, including pouring drinks and spinning plates, with higher scores allowing for the opportunity to win bingo prizes and attain new titles.
Why should I care? You've never been tasked with organizing an office party in real life and are therefore still able to conceive of a reality where organizing an office party is in any way fun.
Useless fact: There's allegedly a whole series of games in this series, but this is apparently the only one that's any good.
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Japan)
- Price: ¥4950 (digital) / ¥7480 (physical) / ¥10780 (limited edition)
- Publisher: M2 / Cave
What's this? A deluxe emulated reissue of the third mainline entry in Cave's venerated danmaku arcade shooting game series, DoDonPachi, originally released in Japanese arcades in 2002 and subsequently ported (very well!) to PlayStation 2 and (very poorly, and also illegally!) to Xbox 360; this M2STG release include the original "white label" version, the black label revision and the little-played "grey label" overseas version titled Dodonpachi III and augments them with on-screen gadgets that display useful or otherwise-hidden info, multiple new alternate soundtrack options, the option to use newly-drawn high-resolution art for the in-game character scenes, a very granular training mode, a "super-easy" mode and multiple new character-specific arrange modes, online leaderboards, replays and more. (The limited-edition version includes a soundtrack CD, interview/materials book, reproduction arcade cards and pin badge, and all first-run versions of the physical game come with a strategy guide written by known superplayers, titled DODONPACHI DAIJOUBU.)
Why should I care? Over the past two decades, the reputation of Dai-Ou-Jou has evolved from "too hard for its own good" to "maybe the best game Cave ever made", and yet the previous home versions have never quite done it justice: the otherwise-excellent PS2 version does not include the black label revision, and the X360 version was plagued with technical issues and eventually removed from sale due to being based on stolen code from the PS2 version. It's great, then, that we've finally been delivered a high-quality, full-fat version of the game that also includes a multitude of new modes to help on-ramp people to a game that comes out swinging almost immediately... and, of course, a little frustrating that many of the training features don't apply to the black label version, but maybe they'll patch it, iunno.
- Platform: PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $19.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Slipgate Ironworks / 3D Realms
What's this? A remaster of Xatrix Entertainment's gangster-themed FPS, Kingpin: Life of Crime, originally published on PC in 1999; this remaster was announced by Slipgate Ironworks in 2020 and surprise-released this week, and presents a version of the game within a new Unity wrapper that facilitates higher-resolution textures, a new and more modern HUD, tweaks to game balance, quality-of-life features like a weapon wheel and auto-looting enemies, modern lighting, arbitrary resolution support and more. (The original multiplayer mode is completely missing; this remaster's single-player only.)
Why should I care? My one remaining memory of the original Kingpin is that it represented the absolute pinnacle of the Quake 2 engine's peculiar and excessive vertex wobble on character models, so when I look at footage of the remaster and see those dudes jigglin', my presumption is that the devs on the remaster knew exactly what they were doing. Unfortunately, a quick look at the Steam reviews suggests the remaster is broken in just about every way, but the last few years in particular have played host to a bunch of poorly-received FPS revivals that managed to turn around, so here's hoping this remaster can join their ranks.
Useless speculation: It has been suggested that this port was dumped, unfinished, onto Steam as a direct reaction to the current large-scale "downsizing" sweeping Slipgate Ironworks' parent company, the ever-so-ominous Embracer Group: in other words, they may have pushed the game out the door for the simple sake of putting it out into the world before Embracer remembers they own the studio and shuts them down.
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $15.00 or equivalent
- Publisher: Triangle Service
What's this? Aport of an vertically-scrolling shooting game with a distinctive stick-wobbling side-shot gimmick, originally developed by independent developer Triangle Service and distributed in Japanese arcades by Taito in 2002 as XII Stag, with a PlayStation 2 port released in Japan and Europe, a Japan-only Xbox 360 port as part of the Shooting Love 10th Anniversary two-pack in 2013 (as XIIZEAL) and a standalone PC port in 2015; this new Switch version conforms to the Steam/X360 versions, save for the major addition of a subtitled developer commentary feature a la the recent DELTAZEAL Switch port.
Why should I care? First off, there's an option to use a button in place of rapidly waggling directions from side to side, so you can play the game without ruining your stick/joycon/whatever. More generally, XIIZEAL offers a more novel experience than its Raiden-esque visuals might imply, and the dev commentary feature is one that more reissues across all genres ought to steal.
Useless fact: As it happens, XII Stag's only competition in Japanese arcades in 2002 was a little Cave shooting game named DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou...
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, maybe also Xbox (worldwide)
- Price: $14.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: Softstar / Eastasiasoft
What's this? An enhanced port of the fourth mainline entry in the decades-old and extremely popular Chinese-language fantasy RPG series Xuan-Yuan Jian, originally developed and published in Chinese-speaking teritories by Taiwanese developer Softstar in 1999; based on the recent Steam release, this console version offers a first-ever English localization and some other modest quality-of-life enhancements which include widescreen support, a new UI with higher-res assets, modern controller support and the implentation of extra scenario content and balance adjustments derived from a recent smartphone version.
Why should I care? The Steam version of this game is essentially the mobile version, which itself was the ancient PC build haphazardly crammed into a modern wrapper, with a shoddy localization slapped on top, and I do wonder how much, if anything, has changed for these console versions, and whether console players will excuse something so shoddy... but, let's presume the port's fine, in which case, I'd recommend it as the ideal starting point to this series: it's the most popular entry in the series and one that casts the longest shadow over later entries, and the globetrotting theme makes it particularly friendly to those who are unfamiliar with the basic themes and tropes of Chinese fantasy fiction.
Helpful tip: Microsoft's given this game an Xbox listing but that might just be a screw-up with the Windows Store version, so if you can't find it on your 'box, don't look at me.
ONCE TOGETHER, NOW APART
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $15.00 or equivalent each
- Publisher: Edia
Recently released as part of a slightly-too-expensive compilation, these FOUR Telenet-published shooting games are now available individually... and the collective price of these games exceeds that of the collection. Hmm.
ININ XBOX BLOWOUT
One of the sad realities for Xbox owners is that, due to Microsoft's stricter policies around publishing physical games, their platform tends to be neglected by the boutique collector-centric publishers that currently handle most reissues of niche or under-the-radar vintage games. Even so, ININ Games, the not-so-limited sister to Strictly Limited Games, seems to have realized that money's money and has therefore dumped a whole bunch of their games on Xbox, with more to come, both from their existing catalog and as day-and-date releases for upcoming titles. Of particular note is Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, a sequel to the original 1993 SNES game by a small group of Natsume-Atari veterans who worked on all your favorite NES/SNES Natsume action games, and who originally made their return as a unit via the 2008 XBLA-exclusive shooting game Omega Five. Full circle, baby.
ROM HACKS & TRANSLATIONS
Getter Love (Nintendo 64) translation patch by ozidual & co.
25 years ago this year, Hudson attempted to apply their party game knowhow to the bubbling dating sim genre with Getter Love, a competitive 4-player dating sim resplendent with infuriating, Mario Party-esque nonsense, and now you and your pals can fight over digital partners in full English. You can also play against CPU opponents, if you'd rather not murder alll your friends!
Tengai Makyou ZIRIA (PC Engine CD) translation patch by TheMajinZenki & co.
Hudson and Red Company's Japan-as-seen-by-foreigners RPG Tengai Makyou ZIRIA not only kicked off one of the PC Engine's library-defining series but remains significant as the first-ever RPG developed for CD-ROM, and yet the game and the broader franchise have virtually no presence outside of Japan... but maybe this translation patch will change things. Then again, this game's kinda basic, so maybe not, but a start's a start.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE
Atari 50 Holiday Update (12 extra games, for free)
Homebrew, prototypes and more abound in this free Atari 50 update — note that you're only getting games, not extra documentary content, but it's hard to beat free.