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I've been asked this on more than one occasion: Why bother buying an NES Classic when you can just play a ROM on the Wii U or the 3DS? I always respond that I need a proper NES controller in my hands, squishy buttons and all.
Recently, a friend of mine dug out her childhood NES, which happily still worked after some 30 years. She set it up with an old CRT television and has been happily working through Super Mario Bros. 3. When I spotted it over the weekend, I was irresistably drawn to it, as if I were eight years old all over again.
After pawing through a handful of cartridges, I eventually settled on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-a terrible game, if we're being honest with one another, but one that I knew well. For the first time in probably 20 years, I slid the cart into the NES and pressed it down with a familiar click. The makeshift look of it all-the old NES, the fact that the TV was on the floor-made it all feel a little more real. Over the years I've played Nintendo games on probably a hundred different setups, many of them much more crude than the one in my friend's apartment.
Turtles was both as good and as bad as I remembered it. I had totally forgotten that the Turtles don't heal between levels, making every pizza crucial in the grueling run to the Technodrome (Konami isn't completely evil: the pizzas at least respawn). The Turtles also have terribly floaty jumps, making actual platforming a serious pain in the neck. In the meantime, Turtles subscribes to the philosophy of difficulty by enemy spam-a common plague in NES platformers. On the flipside, it's faithful to the source material, it has a phenomenal soundtrack, and it's more polished than most licensed NES games, which probably says more about the overall quality of licensed games in that era than anything.
Of course, everyone remembers Turtles for its infamous dam level, where you have to painstakingly swim through a series of traps while disarming a handful of bombs. Like everyone else, I would always hit a snag around this point growing up, as I would inevitably get lost, run out of time, or simply run out of health. In particular, it takes a great deal of practice to get through the fields of electric seaweed without losing your whole team. But with years of practice under my belt and a bit of muscle memory, I was able to persevere.
All in all, it was a fun afternoon worth of memories; and if I had a little bit of extra time, not to mention a little more space in my house, I'd consider picking up an old NES for myself. Of course, there are many ways to play retro games these days. Outside of PSN, Xbox Live, and the eShop, there are a host of retro consoles, as Jeremy Parish wrote about at some length a few years back. Obtaining the "perfect retro experience" has evolved into an artform among collectors who aren't content with just playing on an original.
I'm not deep into the community, but I do know that playing a ROM on the eShop or PSN doesn't excite me as much as it did in, say, 2006. Somehow it just doesn't feel quite right. That's why I find myself drawn to the NES Classic and (hopefully) the SNES Classic—it's definitely not the real thing, but it does feel like a happy medium. At the very least the controller feels right, even if the cord is way too short.
In this post-scarcity era for retro gaming, it's all about what you want out of your old-school experience. For me, if I'm playing on a TV, then I want a controller that at least feels authentic in my hands, which is actually harder than it sounds (a lot of third-party knockoffs are garbage). Over the weekend, I got exactly that. I couldn't be happier.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
This week's obscure RPG is 7th Saga for the Super Nintendo, a game I first learned about in Nintendo Power. I learned about a lot of games that way, though I never I got to play most of them since I (sigh) didn't own a Super Nintendo. 7th Saga was one of those games that I was moved to play many years after the fact owing to how cool it looked on the magazine pages. It stood out to me in part because it let you choose from one of seven characters, each with their own arc and motivations, which I thought was a cool way to tell a story. As I learned much later, though, the English version is substantially harder than the original, which resulted in me getting my ass kicked. These days it's mostly forgotten, but it was a clever (if mostly unknown) RPG in its day, and perhaps worth a look.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Cammy's Theme in Super Street Fighter II Turbo
I hold arcade game music composers in high regard. They slave over their craft even though they know the masterpieces they create will ultimately become another strain of noise in a discord of beeps and boops. Sure, there's a chance the composition will be heard if the game gets a console/PC port ... but alterations are usually necessary before an arcade game can go home.
That was especially true in the '90s. Street Fighter II was incredibly popular, as was its numerous spin-off spawn, and that popularity worked out in the SNES' favor when the games wound up on Nintendo's 16-bit console. The compositions by Capcom arcade music wizards Syun Nishigaki and Isao Abe sound terrific through the SNES's soundchip, but I thought I'd highlight one of Super Street Fighter II [Turbo]'s arcade compositions here since, y'know, you probably haven't had a chance to really listen to it.
Cammy's stage music is on the menu this week. She's one of my favorite Street Fighters (my ornery tortie cat is named after her), and I dig her theme. It starts off with a lot of energy, and it never lets up. The music combines with the colorful visuals of the lonely English countryside to give Cammy (a newcomer to the Street Fighter roster at the time) a touch of mystery.
Granted, that air of mystery doesn't last long; when you finish the game, some of Cammy's blanks are filled in. Depending on which version you're playing, she's either Bison's genetic clone and trained killer, or his former lover. Good times. In any case, dat ending music, eh?
Mike's Media Minute
The summer movie season has officially begun! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finally released in North America on Friday, running up an opening weekend total of $145 million. It was an odd week, given that the next highest film domestically was Fate of the Furious with only $8 million. The take was 54 percent higher than the original, showing the strength of the Marvel Studios brand.
My watching of Guardians Vol. 2 came away conflicted. I think the pacing is a bit spotty in parts and the film sometimes suffers from the sequel-specific "The stuff you liked before but more" problem, but it's a surprisingly emotional film that does earn its best moments. It's also one of the few films where I felt that the entirety of the $200 million budget was actually visible onscreen.
The summer season is here folks! Guardians kicks off a season that includes Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wonder Woman, The Mummy, Transformer: The Last Knight, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, and more. Half of those will probably be bad, so let's strap ourselves in!
Caty's AltGame Corner
Yûrei Station starts with a train ride: a girl's boyfriend has gone missing, and she's been receiving strange text messages on her phone. Little does she know, there are mysterious spirits behind it. The beautifully illustrated Yûrei Station is a point-and-click adventure game inspired by Japanese ghost stories and the developers' own experiences in Japan, specifically of the trains they once took at dawn.
The game's story, music, and coding were done by French duo Atelier Sentô, but beyond that, is a much more collaborative effort than it seems on the surface. Atelier Sentô collaborated with 25 students at La Joliverie high school to create the game entirely using watercolors. Every background and character is hand-painted, scanned into the game and animated frame-by-frame. The students created all the graphics for the game within two days. You can read more about the two-day workshop development of Yûrei Station here, and download the short game for free on itch.io for PC, Mac, and Linux.
This Week's News and Notes
- This week we have a new addition to the USgamer team: Please welcome Matt Kim, who will be handling our news coverage going forward while Mike slides over to reviews. He's already written his first article, and there will be plenty more where that came from. Good news, Soulsborne fans: You have another friend on the site. Follow him on Twitter here.
- I never thought I'd write this, but one of Hearthstone's least appreciated cards is having a bit of a moment right now. The Hungry Crab, an Epic card that most dusted long, long ago, has found its way into a host of decklists of late owing to the current dominance of Murlocs. It's a nice card to have when you're getting overrun by Murlocs, as it will eat one of them and receive a substantial buff; but at 800 dust, it's quite expensive to craft. In that light, I wouldn't exactly recommend going out of your way to get one, but it is a fun curiosity that highlights the many phases a metagame can go through.
- I played a lot of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe over the weekend; and I have to say, the multiplayer options are great. I love that I can play against someone on my Switch while they're racing on the television, which happened more than once. It makes it quite easy to get a whole bunch of people playing at once; which, of course, is when Mario Kart is at its absolute best. Pretty soon I'm going to try and get a bunch of friends playing online, with several of us sharing televisions. Then the mayhem will really begin.
- Meanwhile, someone has already finished Prey... in less than 20 minutes. What the hell? When you're done watching, read our impressions here.
- In the meantime, the raft of Persona 5 takes continue. This blog takes the contrarian position that Persona 5's much-lauded animation is in fact not that great. I... don't know that I agree... but I also don't have the eye of a graphical designer. Regardless, it sure seems popular of late to bash Persona 5.
- For more positive Persona 5 coverage, feel free to take a look at Caty's examination of Persona 5's real-world politics. She covers quite a lot in this piece, speaking with people who live in Japan and contextualizing them with them dungeons. I'm quite proud to have it on our site, so you should take a look.
- Design legend Mark Cerny on Knack: "It is true that with the first Knack that I really viewed it as an opportunity as the lead system architect to understand how what we built could really be used on a day-to-day basis." That goes a long way toward explaining what went wrong with Knack. Happily, Knack 2 seems better.
- A headline from last week: "Retro Game Fans Get Riled Up By Twitter Poll from Hell."
- Mike went and checked out the Nintendo 2DS XL last week, and now I want one in the worst way. If it had a better screen, I might have bitten on my fourth 3DS this generation. Yikes.
- Axe of the Blood God: This week's RPG podcast covers a raft of topics, including Trails in the Sky the 3rd, Morrowind's 15th anniversary, Deep Learning in RPGs, and more. As always, you can subscribe to us on iTunes.
- And we're off to the races in another week! Tell us what you're playing! Prey? Mario Kart? Trails in the Sky? We want to know!