Retro Re-release Roundup, week of February 22, 2018

Age of Empires, wololover again.

I don't know why it took Microsoft shutting down Ensemble Studios to realize the demand for Age of Empires but the recent speight of updates, ports, expansion packs and now high-definition remasters are more than welcome, both in and of themselves and as obvious groundwork for a new, authentic Age of Empires game... or a cash-shop MOBA, it's honestly a coin toss right now.


Heroic Episode (Youjyuuden)

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

What's this? A fantastical vertically-priented shooter from Irem's post-Moon Patrol, pre-R-Type days, originally released in Japanese arcades in 1986; the game alternates between free-scrolling ground-based stages (think Capcom's Commando or Taito's Kiki Kaikai) and more traditional vertically-scrolling stages.

Why should I care? It's an little-known title from an oft-forgotten era of Irem history and one that's never been re-released or released outside of Japan. (It may also suck, but we all gotta roll the dice sometimes, right?)

Useless fact: The "Heroic Episode" title used for the Arcade Archives release seems to have been completely invented by Hamster — it's not a translation of the Japanese title, nor does it look to have ever been used by Irem. It also kinda sucks.


Magical Drop III

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One (worldwide)
  • Price: $7.99 / 6.99 / £6.29
  • Publisher: Hamster / G-Mode

What's this? The third entry in Data East's uncharacteristically cutesy tarot-themed colour-matching versus puzzle game series, released for Neo Geo hardware in 1997; among other changes, this version allows players to manually summon more colours into their playfield, as well as adding unique garbage patterns for each character and a new board game-style single player mode.

Why should I care? Magical Drop III represents the pinnacle of the series and the game's lightning-fast pace and easy-to-grasp chaining system made it one of the most enduring versus puzzle games of its era, dwarfed only by Puyo Puyo and Tetris. (It also happens to be the last arcade game Data East ever released, so pour one out for an OG.)

Helpful tip: There are six additional characters that can be unlocked by highlighting a specific character on the character select screen, waiting for a specific second on the timer and pressing the C button three times within that second; the exact time differs depending on which character you choose to highlight but for the sake of convencince, highlight the Devil and press the C button three times once the timer reaches 15.


Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

  • Platform: PC via Windows Store (worldwide)
  • Price: $19.99 / €19.99 / £14.99
  • Publisher: Microsoft

What's this? Forgotten Empires' high-definition remaster of Microsoft and Ensemble Studios' beloved 1997 historical real-time strategy game and the Age of Kings expansion pack, now sporting 4K-friendly pre-rendered sprites, a new arranged soundtrack, newly-recorded unit voices and campaign narration, eight-player online and LAN play via Xbox Live, an enhanced stage editor that allows for full creation and sharing of custom campaigns and a few quality-of-life mechanical improvements such as higher population limits. (Despite the prominence of both Xbox and Play Anywhere branding, the game is currently exclusive to the Windows Store; a Steam release will probably happen in the not-too-distant future, but don't be so sure about Xbox.) 

Why should I care? You want to revisit a seminal RTS game and have a decades-old tolerance for awful unit pathfinding, or you're a completionist who needs to prepare for the announced Age of Empires 2 & 3 remasters.

Helpful tip: If you have a soft spot for the original AoE and would like something to put on your shelf, you may want to consider importing the code-in-a-box steelbook that's being released exclusively in Germany.


Zuntata on Spotify

  • Platform: streaming via Spotify
  • Publisher: Taito

Taito's house band Zuntata has been pushing the boundaries of Japanese game music for 30 years and as part of their anniversary celebrations, they've made some 100+ of their albums available on Spotify, totalling over 3000 tracks spanning game soundtracks, remixes and arranges, deep cuts and live performances. (I'd recommend Zuntata Live 1994 as a primer on the band's classic stand-by tunes as well as a kickass performance, but I'm struggling to recall a single bad Taito soundtrack, so feel free to skip around.)


New SNK swag from Fangamer

  • Price: starts from $10USD
  • Publisher: Fangamer

GET SERIOUS! with the latest range of apparel from Fangamer's popular SNK line, including King of Fighters keychains and pins, new shirts featuring the erstwhile Neo Geo mascot G-Mantle, Garou favourite Rock Howard and the KOF Ladies Team and a seven-panel embroidered cap modeled after the favourite headwear of everybody's favourite hungry wolf, Terry Bogard.