A lost Irem classic finally gets a U.S. release, 29 years later
And it'll take you another 29 to beat the thing. Plus: R-Type!
While the Video Chronicles project has a very specific aim—document with alarming depth the catalogues of vintage consoles in chronological release order—I do occasionally stray from that mandate to tackle shiny new releases from time to time. Because we live in an era in which corporations and indie developers alike continue to produce new physical products based on and compatible with game systems that haven't officially been manufactured in several decades. It's a weird time to be writing about old games, but I'm not complaining.
This week, we have retrogaming-focused manufacturer and distributor Retro-Bit to thank for not one but two incredibly elaborate reissues of classic Irem games: An R-Type III/Super R-Type double cartridge for Super NES and an NES cartridge of Holy Diver. Irem more or less bailed on video games in 2011, so the fact that they (or whoever manages their intellectual property rights) signed off on these collections is pretty interesting. But I have to say that Retro-Bit did these games justice—both carts come in elaborate boxes full of fun (albeit frivolous) swag. Unauthorized repro carts of these games can sell for $40-50 from shifty vendors, so being able to get them for $60 in impressively made boxes full of random knickknacks isn't too shabby a deal, really.
What I find most significant about these releases, though, is simply the fact that they're keeping rare games in circulation. Each set has a production run of nearly 3000 units, which strikes me as a reasonable balance between accessibility and scarcity. They should be reasonably easy for interested parties to track down, while at the same time I doubt they'll end up clogging the Barnes & Noble markdown shelf—which means, I hope, that this becomes a sustainable market niche. I'd be interested in having more hard-to-find classics back in print for a sensible price. Little Samson, anyone?
Best of all, one of these games has never before been released in the U.S. under license. I have no idea why or how someone at Retro-Bit seized on the idea of bringing Holy Diver to the U.S. nearly 30 years after its debut, because it's not exactly a high-profile title. Certainly it has notoriety among importers and Famicom fans, but it's not exactly EarthBound Beginnings in terms of mindshare. The fact that it's made its way over here, officially (or at least with Irem's sanction, if not Nintendo's), all these years later is pretty wild. If this is the sort of insanity that results from the current retrogaming boom, count me the heck in.
I'm not afraid to admit Holy Diver just absolutely destroyed me while I was trying to capture footage. It's crazy hard, even with the hidden easy mode code printed right there in the packaging; the quote-unquote easy mode halves enemy hit points but does nothing to diminish their speed, patterns, or how hard they hit poor protagonist Randy. But hey, now that I have an actual legitimate cartridge of the game (which until now has been a very expensive import cart), I have the rest of my life to try to see what level three looks like.
Both Holy Diver and the R-Type Collection (apparently) release today and are available for purchase on Retro-Bit's website, should that be of interest to you.