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2014 Top Five ScrewAttack Gaming Convention Experiences

Last year we posted the “Top Five ScrewAttack Gaming Convention Experiences” in anticipation of the sprawling DFW area gaming show.  This year we’re treating you to some scheduling tips once more.  Here re the slightly hidden gems amongst the broad panel schedule for 2014’s SGC.

 

5. Electronic vs Tabletop Gaming

Roll 2 Play’s Tiffany Franzoni floats an interesting query to her panel… Is electronic gaming is better than tabletop gaming?  The Retro Gamers Society has fans of both sides of the debate – but will this be the discussion that converts some to one side or the other?  Probably not.  But will it be probably the most intellectually stimulating conversation of the weekend?  I’m betting on it.  Drop into Panel Room 3 Friday at 6:30PM to be a part of it.

4. ProJared’s Box of Mystery

I’m not sure what it is ProJared keeps in his box – but what I do know is this guy is passionate about gaming culture and shows it both in his online coverage and his interactions with his adoring fans.   The dude is a stand-up guy, we loved having him at SUPER! BitCon and we definitely love his panels.  While ProJared’s candor alone should be enough of a draw to this panel, which takes place at 2PM in Panel Room 2 Friday afternoon, we have to wonder… what’s in the box?

3. Youtube Hell

There’s that old balding guy in your office who smells like beets and insists you watch the latest video about the chemtrails commercial airplanes are leaving behind – spraying us like big crop-dusters full GMO gluten dust to keep us subservient to the federal government.  Well take that video, slow it down by 60%, set it to Eurotrash death metal and sandwich it between a Middle Eastern parody of the Mickey Mouse Club and a video of a guy drinking three liters of olive oil and you have what SGC calls “Youtube Hell”.  Starting at 11:30 Saturday night in Panel Room 3, this evening romp through the depths of subversive viral video will not disappoint your most curious of tendencies.

2. Q&A with Smooth McGroove

The current description for this panel on the SGC schedule simply says “Video game talk. BE THERE!”  And that’s a startling disservice.  Smooth McGroove may be new to the YouTube personality scene, but his a cappella game theme covers are not only bafflingly impressive insofar as production quality and rhythmic precision – he has a cat co-star too!  The internet loves cats.  Check out this phenomenal Q&A opportunity at 6PM Saturday on the Main Stage.

1. Powerfest – The Champ Looks Back At The Nintendo World Championships

Very similar in nature and tone to the “Nintendo World Champion” panel we facilitated at SUPER! BitCon in March, this extraordinary experience brings together two of RGS’s favorite people – video game journalist Patrick Scott Patterson and winner of Nintendo World Championships and Tetris world master Thor Aackerlund.  Thor and PSP will revisit the glory days of the 8-bit uber competition mirrored only in length and depth by 1990’s Fred Savage cult-classic The Wizard.  Check it out Saturday night at 10pm in Panel Room 2.

 

Checkout the show schedule on the SGC site for more fun and festivities – and keep a look out for fellow RGS members roaming the convention halls.  An RGS meet-up can happen pretty much anywhere at these cons – and last year it certainly did.  I’ll see you guys there. ♦

BCP

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#NotRetroBut: Tomb Raider

notretro

I recently sat down and played through the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. The game was released in 2013, published by Square Enix after the purchase of Eidos Montreal (think Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the recent Thief…abomination), and designed by Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider: Legends, Gex, Pandemonium!, Soul Reaver, etc.). The word reboot put me off a great deal as I hear that particular word and instantly think “seemingly lazy money grab”. This game, however, cost me zero dollars as I simply downloaded it through my Playstation Plus membership via the PS3. “What’s to lose?” I thought. I spent roughly 15 hours with Tomb Raider 2013, and here are my thoughts.

Tomb Raider 2013 (TR) takes place prior (to my knowledge) to any other entry in the TR timeline. Laura Croft is more than likely in her early to mid-twenties (not specifically detailed), is setting off in the hopes of discovering a lost civilization, is on a ship in Asia, there’s a storm, etc., etc., etc. Things basically go from happy-go-lucky to devastating within the first five-minutes. In the off chance that you can’t figure out what happens, I wont ruin it. Again…first adventure, ship, middle of the ocean, storm. Let’s just say that survival is a driving factor in the plot.

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The story aspect is what kept me playing to be honest. I need a good story to get through most games. The whole survival aspect, unraveling a mystery, and faint desire to keep my shipmates from dying served as just enough incentive to keep pushing on. Is this the deepest or most involved storyline I’ve seen in a game? Absolutely not. Is it intriguing enough to keep you playing? Sure. I mean, it’s TR, you get the drill.

The gameplay in TR is pretty strait forward if you’ve played any other third-person action/adventure game in recent history (specifically Uncharted). Over the shoulder view, guns, bows, arrows, knives, sneak attacks, stealth, etc. You fight against other humans fairly regularly, and I never felt like I was running low on ammo (even though it’s “limited”).  You can upgrade your weapons as you level up and collect things within the environment. It’s pretty standard action/adventure fare here. That being said, everything worked as it should and I was rarely distracted by anything related to the gameplay. On occasion character movements felt a bit stiff, but it’s totally playable. I was completely unconcerned with any quirks related to controlling Laura after the first few minutes of gameplay.

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A staple of previous TR offerings has always involved some mixture of platforming and puzzle solving. Jumping, swinging, hanging on for dear life – it’s all there, and it’s all executed at an acceptable level. Sure, I missed a few jumps by not timing my actions with perfect precision, but most of my deaths felt very fair. I don’t mind falling to my death if it’s my fault.

If you love the TR series because of puzzles, you’ll likely be disappointed. There are puzzles, and one of them proved fairly frustrating – but it had nothing to do with the difficulty of said puzzle. It did have quite a lot to do with being 3AM and my choice of beverage that particular evening. While not a complete waste of time, the puzzles do feel a bit like an afterthought.

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There is one caveat to the gameplay. It is absolutely worth mentioning and could likely turn some away from the game entirely. The utterly dreadful QTE (quick time event for those of you who only play hardcore solitaire against the computer until 4AM every morning). QTEs require you to hit a prompted button within a certain amount of time to “tell” your character to do certain actions. Some games, such as Dragon’s Lair, are essentially movies that you can “play” by reacting to screen prompts. TR has plenty. You use them to dodge certain objects, finish off enemies, and make the impossible possible…yeah. I’ve never been a huge fan of the QTE, and I’m not a huge fan of it in TR. There were a few WTF moments when I know I hit the #$2!#$@ button, but I digress. It can and likely will take you out of the experience from time to time, but the shooting, jumping, exploring, people/treasure/animal hunting will pull you back fast enough to get over it. The final outcome of several of the QTEs were quite satisfying – I’ll give them that, and only that, much credit.

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Presentation is where TR truly shines. Taking into account the fact that this game was released ahead of the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s freaking beautiful. I’ve played some really visually sexy games in the past year (The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite come to mind), and this game is on par with some of the best, visually speaking. Granted, it should be as its release fell towards the “end” of the last generation – but it’s really something special. I would put it up against a few of the current cross-generational offerings. Sure, the textures can’t possibly be as crisp, and the draw distance might not be quite as far, but for a PS3 game? It’s pretty impressive. I did run into a small bit of trouble when I wandered into the most open area of the game (a beach), but I’m unsure if this is something I could replicate. It only happened once, so possibly not.  Other than that single instance, everything seemed to chug along smoothly.

One thing I really can’t get over is the gore. TR has always showcased interesting situations surrounding death (spikes, pits, etc.), but some deaths in TR are down right terrifying. Sure, if you fall down a pit, you just fall. If you get shot to death, you die. However, there are several occasions that making a misstep will greet you with a very detailed depiction of the pain and agony under which Laura is going through –  thanks to you. While I enjoyed it (it really made me feel for her, and really made me want to do a better job so she didn’t have to go through a similar experience), I could see how it could be a little bit of a turnoff to the squeamish. It actually surprised me when it happened the first time – and I’m about as desensitized as you can get.

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In conclusion, Laura Croft’s latest (and earliest) adventure is absolutely worth your 15 hours. While I didn’t 100% the game, I did complete the story and likely 50% of the extra content.  Completionists could easily spend 20 hours or more exploring the environment, turning over every rock, and seeking out every bit of extra treasure, but I would expect most to keep it around the 15-hour mark. There is some form of multi-player that I didn’t bother with at all. I know nothing about it, but I typically don’t enjoy multiplayer unless a game is built around it. TR is not one of those games.

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If I had to rate it on a 1-10 scale, I would give it an 8, with my higher rated games released in 2013 going to The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. Twenty-thirteen was a solid year for console games, and Tomb Raider 2013 deserves a bit of the spotlight. I can easily recommend a playthough – especially if you can get it for a reasonable price! There has been a remastering of the game for the PS4 and Xbox One titled Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. If you haven’t played it, I would suggest trying it on one of the aforementioned platforms. I’ve seen a bit of gameplay and the visuals appear slightly polished. You also get the DLC, some costumes, a digital mini art book, and a digital comic.

Have fun, play games, and be good to one another!

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Joe Reviews… the RetroN 5

The RetroN 5… a Step Forward for Yesterday’s Gaming

There were people out there that didn’t believe the RetroN 5 (R5) would actually ever come out.  Rumors abounded that Hyperkin was dealing with massive internal quality control issues as the release date kept getting pushed farther and farther back.  Taking two of them on the road to a number of gaming expos (including RGS’s own Super! Bitcon) certainly continued to whet the retro gaming community’s collective appetite for this all-in-one wonder.

Imagine a single console on your shelf that could play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Master System (with Sega’s Power Base Converter) games.  One HDMI output covered all of your audio and video needs, and hooked up with no issues to todays modern TVs (although, believe it or not, one of your Component video input jacks most likely accepts a yellow RCA jack if you have no other RCA A/V input).  A single power supply saves room on your surge protector.  A wireless bluetooth controller further reduces the amount of clutter, but you’ve got inputs for NES, SNES or Genesis controllers too.

Sounds like retro gaming heaven?  Perfection?  The ultimate console?

I’ve been using it for about a week now, and the answer so far is a resounding “not quite yet”.

My R5 and I initially got off on the wrong foot, as after I hooked it up to my TV and plugged everything in, I pushed the power button.  Nothing.  I pushed it again.  Still nothing.  After holding it down for about 5 seconds, it finally came to life.  Turns out that’s the standard way to turn it on.

I popped in the SNES classic Super Mario RPG (which I later discovered may have been a poor choice of game due to some known issues, more on that later, but it’s what I wanted to play), and got off and running.  After a brief loading screen, I was asked if I wanted to import my save file for use on the R5.  An easy decision, so I could pick up where I left off.

The HDMI video quality was apparent from the get go.  Every single pixel feels accentuated.  It almost has a jagged look to it.  Hyperkin apparently thought enough ahead to plan for this gripe, and included multiple different filters to soften the edges of those pixels, and give things a much smooth, and more natural feel.  The differences between each filter were subtle, but I definitely preferred playing with a filter intact than without one.

R5 unfilter

A close-up without the filter.

R5 filter

A close-up with a filter.

I decided to use the Hyperkin pack-in bluetooth controller, and it took a little bit of getting used to.  It’s directional stick is a movable circular pad similar to a Neo Geo Pocket, which has a little bit of a mushy feel if you’re trying to go in a specific diagonal direction (as you need to do frequently in Mario RPG).  The buttons also make a clicking noise each time they’re pressed, which bothered me somewhat at first, but not as much as I got accustomed to it.  In addition to the standard buttons used by the game directly, there are two additional small circular buttons on the top corners of the face of the controller.  One of these is programed to do an instant save state, while the other doubles the frame rate while it’s pressed down.  Both of these features are extremely useful, and welcome additions.  The frame skip especially makes playing some of the older, albeit classic, RPGs more manageable as grinding levels and clicking through long text scenes can be done at double speed.

R5 Contoller

The included controller; notice the small buttons in the top corners- your save state (left) and frame skip (right).

I did have a few minor issues with the Mario RPG.  The save state button worked intermittently, and when it didn’t work, the game would lock up.  I tried several other games (to include some of the typically more troublesome ones such as Mega Man X3 and a Donkey Kong Country 3 Not For Resale Demo Cart), but was unable to duplicate the lock up issue.  One other curious problem with Mario RPG specifically- those familiar with the game will remember the rhythm button pressing Yoshi racing on Yo’ster Isle.  For unknown reasons, the game did not register the “A” and “B” button presses here.  Plugging in a traditional SNES controller didn’t help.  I ended up turning the system off and using using a Retro Duo Portable (RDP), which didn’t have a problem registering all of my button presses.

I did find when I turned on my RDP that the file I had just saved on the R5 wasn’t present, and it was still showing my original, pre-R5 file.  It turns out that you need to manually select an option in the R5’s menu to copy a save file from the R5 back to the cart itself.  Those of you familiar with emulators may be familiar with the different files associated with simulating battery back-up and save states.  The R5’s system menu has a similar sort of file directory, and it’s just a matter of making sure the emulated states are copied back to the cart.  One potential advantage of this is the ability to do a complete memory wipe of a cart, even if there’s no menu option or discrete option to do it, which is nice for owners wanting to feel like their second-hand cart with someone else’s name emblazoned on a save slot isn’t quite so second-hand.

R5 NBA Jam TE

The Sega Genesis version of NBA Jam TE.

Other notes and observations:

-Save state functionality effectively makes any game that previously relied on battery back-up playable again without the hassle of replacing a battery.

-The console’s plastic and build feels a lot less cheap than other clone consoles.  The controller, however, has more of a cheap-plastic-y feel.

-The R5 does have a bit of a tight grip on the cartridges (Game Boy carts excluded).  This got better (or I got used to it) as I used the system more.  Didn’t really bother me too much, but I am careful not to yank them out of the system.  There are some accusations out in the wide, wide, world of web that the pin connector has been separating from the console due to this tight fit.  I doubt it, but also don’t mind treating it properly.

-The R5 did an outstanding job working with Sega’s Power Base Converter.  I had about a 95% cartridge read rate on the first insertion, which is better than I get with my model 1.5 Genesis.  The only cart which didn’t read on the first insertion was taken and out put back in, after which it came up fine.

-Game Boy games with color functionality (i.e. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX) both looked and sounded better than I thought they would (after playing around with the filters to soften the pixels).

-The R5 is physically longer than any other system on my shelf currently, and it sticks a little bit off the edge.  Not a huge issue, but worth noting for the picky aesthetic people out there.

-There is a cradle at the back of the console for the controller to sit.  It won’t charge without being plugged in via a 10 foot mini and micro USB cable, but it was nice to know there was a designated place for the controller to go.  This slot also serves as the extra room needed for the Power Base Converter to sit.

-An SD card slot in the back offers a lot of options for the future, as well as patches for games that have issues (Mario RPG for instance…).

-That SD slot can also be used to export snapshots in .jpeg format too.

-SNES reproduction carts aren’t recognized by title in the R5 user menu, but all have played fine so far.

-E.V.O. Search for Eden didn’t recognize in the R5 user menu, but still played fine; Super Metroid had the same issue as well as Pokemon FireRed, but each still played fine.

-None of my NES reproduction carts were recognized as even being inserted (the previous mentions said “Unknown Cart” in the menu with the option to try to run them, this one didn’t even say that or let you try to start the game).

-Super 3D Noah’s Ark did not register as even having a cart inserted and was unplayable.

R5 Centy

The R5′s menu system showing the Sega Genesis title Crusader of Centy.

-Games I’ve tried so far successfully:

NES: Duck Tales, Final Fantasy, Wayne’s World, Werewolf

SNES: Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble Not for Resale Demo Cart, EVO: Search for Eden, Final Fantasy V (Reproduction Cart), Mario RPG, Mega Man X3, Super Metroid

Sega Genesis: Crusader of Centy, General Chaos, Golden Axe III (Reproduction Cart), NBA Jam TE, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic & Knuckles

Sega Master System: After Burner, Black Belt, Double Dragon, Fantasy Zone: The Maze, Golvellius: Valley of Doom, Out Run, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Zillion II: The Tri Formation

Game Boy: Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, Operation C

Game Boy Advance: Breath of Fire, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Pokemon FireRed

Overall:

I do like my R5, and am glad to have it on my shelf.  I appreciate more than anything else it’s ability to consolidate the inputs and plugs so that I can streamline things quite a bit.  Outside of the Mario RPG gripes, I haven’t had any other major compatibility issues so far, aside from the carts requiring lock-on technology and the NES reproductions.  The frame skip and save state functionality is great.  There is a part of me that’s wondering, with the N64 patents expiring in 2016, if the RetroN 6 will add an N64 input to cartridge slot line-up though… but that prospect isn’t enough to deter me from recommending the R5 today.

Instead of a review score, I prefer to asses the cost of the system and it’s relative value to the asking price.

Launch MSRP: $140
-Worth it if you’ve got the money, but I don’t think I’d sell that copy of Earthbound off to be able to get one.

No-brainer price point: $100
-If you can find one (or wait for a price drop) here, it should be an easy decision to go for it.

It’s a steal price point: $80
-You’d be missing out big time if you passed up one at this price.

 

Let us know what you think in the comments section, or by dropping me an e-mail: joe@retrogamersociety.com

I’ll be putting together a community response piece if I get enough feedback, so don’t hesitate to send it, or if you’ve got any other questions or things you want me to test out on my R5.

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Joe’s Top 7… Gaming Anniversary Celebrations

Over the past few years, almost every NES franchise which still maintains a presence today hit the big 25 mark.  Several companies made a huge show out of it, with tons of memorabilia and collector’s editions galore, while some completely blew it.  Some were mysteriously absent altogether (I’m looking at you Metroid).  Here we’ll honor the best releases that marked any sort of gaming anniversary.  This is also a strictly opinion based list, and grounded solely in my own personal views.  Don’t hesitate to leave a comment, or to e-mail me at joe@retrogamersociety.com, and let me know what you think!

On to the list!

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Joe’s Top 10… Rarest North American SNES Titles

With the retro game collecting hobby really taking off, people generally fall into one of two categories when it comes to game collecting.  Most people start off wanting the games they had then they were younger, so they can revel in nostalgia while their children ask why the games resemble those weird downloadable titles with the bad graphics.  Somewhere along the line though, some people make the shift from collecting to just play the games they had or wished they had as a child, to wanting to get their hands on the more valuable and hard to find games.  With that in mind, I present, my personal top 10 rarest SNES titles.  Many of these do fall into the extremely valuable category, but that isn’t necessarily an exclusive requirement for being on this list.  Likewise, just because a game is extremely expensive, does not necessarily make it rare (sorry EarthBound fans).

All values are relative as of April 17th, 2014.

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