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Wednesday, October 21, 2015


In my 30 plus years of playing video games, I have seen some great games come in to my life. I have seen games from the Atari and Commodore 64 system all the way through today’s modern consoles. There are also plenty of stinkers in the mix to balance things out, but I digress. It wasn’t until years later that I became fully aware of games that only saw release in Japan. I mean I always knew that video games and their respective consoles were primarily made in Japan. What I didn’t understand though was that there were games that only saw release in the land of the rising sun. As an adult gamer it is maddening to now see these games all these years later and wonder why the hell they were never brought in to the living rooms of American gamers.

                The popular conception is that some of these games didn’t translate well in to English, and/or that the story or events in the story gaming would not resonate with Americans due to the differences in cultures. It is also known that some games were simply rejected by the American side of the business because the content was a little too adult in nature. I guess the people in charge of deciding which games should be brought to North America didn’t like the idea of kids playing games with bikini clad anime characters. Too bad. Games like Parodius would have done really well here in America, I think. Boy am I ever glad the conservatives (read: assholes) got their way. It’s even more maddening when you consider that these games sometimes did see a release in Europe and/or Australia.

                To be fair, this is probably a two-way street. There were probably also plenty of games made by American developers that never made their way to Japan due to the cultural differences.
  The ones that I cannot figure out, are the ones where there is not a clear reason why the game was never brought to North America.  Great examples of this can be seen in both the Tales of and  Gradius series.

                By all accounts the games from both of these franchises saw a decent amount of success in North America. So when they made a sequels to them, why were it initially only available in Japan? This is still something that bothers me to this very day.  Mostly due to the fact that I love the Gradius series. Oh sure I can find it on the Gradius Collection for the PSP, but I would rather have it available to me on my big screen TV. When you factor in that the spin-off game Lifeforce was available to us
here in North America it just makes me wonder that much more. I can honestly see no rhyme or reason as to why this game was not ported to the North American consoles of the day.
Luckily for us, our top scientists have since found a few ways to skirt the system and stick it to the man. With today’s technology we can now enjoy all of those wonderful Japan-only titles from the comfort of our favorite couch or gaming chair.

Between third party devices like the Retron5 console, various adapters, and other forms of mystical sorcery, we have been able to circumvent the region “lock-out” that was put in place to keep the communists out. We have even discovered that you can take a pair of simple needle-nosed pliers and snap out the two plastic tabs inside the North American Super Nintendo console and play Japanese Super Famicom cartridges.

Seriously, when you realize that you can often times buy the Japanese versions of popular SNES games on Amazon for a fraction of the cost of the North American version, you may just find yourself digging around in the toolbox looking for a pair of needle-nose pliers to perform your own open cart slot surgery. For example, the North American Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo is currently going for around $20-$25 USD on Amazon. The Japanese Super Famicom version of that same game is currently selling on Amazon for only $4 USD. While not every game will have this big of a price difference, there are enough out there that it does make searching for the Japanese version of your favorite games worth it.

If destroying things are kinda your thing, then you may also want to check out the phenomenon known as the NES 5 screw cartridge racket. Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was first introduced to us fat Western slobs in the early 1980’s there were a handful of games that were made using the original 60 pin circuit boards that were used in the Japanese consoles. To assist in saving
costs, and to flood the market with games, Nintendo created an adapter that could be installed inside the casing and convert their existing inventory of 60 pin mother boards in to a cartridge that would work on the North American machines that worked on a 72 pin connection. Nintendo eventually began to manufacture the 72 pin circuit boards for their new games, and the converter technology was abandoned.

In order to accommodate this additional piece of hardware the two external halves of the game case were held together using 5 tiny screws. The later cartridges only required three pins, and used two plastic tabs along the top to secure it. So if you can find one of these old original cartridge games from the NES library and you are feeling a little bit frisky, you can pop it open and harvest the converter and use it to play imported Japanese Famicom titles on your North American NES console. There are dozens of articles and videos available online to help you learn more about this practice.  You could also just purchase and import a used Famicom console online or go with a third party console like the Retron5 witch is designed to play these import cartridges.

But enough about that. We are talking about the games that never did make it to the shores of the North American continent. There are plenty of them out there, and thanks to the more nefarious and highly-controversial ability to emulate older gaming consoles, we can now play a lot of these games for free on our home computers. Heck we have even found ways to slightly modify or manipulate some of the newer gaming consoles and handheld gaming devices to allow us to emulate these older consoles using the hardware from these newer systems. This means that you can use the wonders of the world wide web of wonderfulness to seek out and obtain digital copies of the ROM or disc image files to play these games at no cost.

Yes, through the wonderment of modern computing we can once and for all play these foreign games for free to try them out for ourselves. This enables us, the consumer, to evaluate and decide what’s in our best interest, and show those old fuddy-duddies who so idiotically took a pass on bringing these games to North America all those years ago, that they were wrong.  We are in control now. We can play these games for free. We can then order physical copies of these games online, and have them shipped right to our front door, and play them through one of the methods listed above.

It feels nice to finally break free from the heavy hands of the companies and parties that so stupidly tried to keep North American audiences away from some of these otherwise fine games. In today’s modern global economy it is easier and easier for even the most casual of gamer to connect with all the different corners of the globe. Wait a second…globes are round and have no corners….that’s the stupidest phrase ever fucking thought of. But I digress…The point I am trying to get at is that in today’s modern world of global gaming, it makes less sense to regionalize games. I feel like we are seeing more and more international releases than we did in the days of the classic consoles. Sure there are still some games that only see Japan releases these days, but there is a bigger market for these kinds of games globally than there was back then, and with all the online video services out there, it’s a lot more difficult to ‘hide’ these kinds of games from the international audiences. I would like to someday see a world where games are released on the international level on the initial go. If that means delaying the release a little to make sure that what is being brought forth unto the world is going to work on an international level, then so be it. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


I realize that it’s somewhat unfair to compare these two games when one is 30 years older than the other. But the similarities between these two games warrant a closer comparison between the old school and the recent trend in retro-themed games in video game development. And these two games are similar enough on the surface to be used as test subjects.

GAME #1 – GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS (1995, Capcom)

(From Wikipedia):

Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a platform game where the player controls a knight names Sir Arthur, who must defeat zombies, ogres, demons, cyclops, dragons, and other monsters in order to rescue Princess Prin Prin (nice name BTW), who has been kidnapped by Satan… Along the way the player can pick up new weapons, bonuses and extra suits of armor that can help in this task.

GAME #2 – MALDITA CASTILLA (2012, Locomalito)

(Based on Wikipedia entry):

Maldita Castilla is a platform game where the player controls a knight named Don Ramiro tasked by the king to end a demonic nightmare that looms over the Kingdom of Castilla. Along the way the player can pick up new weapons, bonus items, and shields that can help in this task.

Aside from the main objectives, the games are almost identical in terms of the style of game play. Let’s go ahead and dig in a little bit deeper to see what other similarities we can uncover.


Both games are brutally difficult, and have a well-earned reputation as being some of the most difficult games to complete. The enemies and boss battles are relentless, and even the most grizzled of video game veterans will find the going a bit tough. The bosses, although tough, can be beaten
with a lot of practice, and a little luck. When you factor in the knock-back effect, and the sometimes finicky jumping elements found in both games, the level of difficulty really goes up. One difference worth noting at this point is the number of hits it takes to achieve death. In Ghosts ‘n Goblins Sir Arthur dies after 2 hits (the first knocks him out of his armor, the second reduces him to a pile of bones), while in Maldita Castilla our hero is given 3 hits (represented by hearts) per life. As such, death seems to be easier to achieve in Ghosts ‘n Goblins, mathematically making it more difficult to make it all the way through each stage.


Honestly it’s not fair to compare graphics from games that came almost 30 years apart. That being said, Maldita Castilla was purposely designed with the intent of looking like a game from the same era as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, so I think it is fair at least make a few general observations.

Maldita Castilla (left) and Ghosts 'n Goblins side by side.

Super Ghosts 'N Ghouls (SNES) screenshot

When you see screen shots side by side of the two games, it’s apparent that Maldita Castilla has a darker look, and that shading and texture design was maximized. In fact I would say it’s more fair to compare it to the SNES game Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts than it is to the original NES game. Even though I feel like Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the SNES has better graphics than Maldita Castilla, the latter is still very well done, and is a great example of a retro-themed game.


Both games offer the player an action packed, side-scrolling, platform adventure. Controls are for the most part responsive, and smooth, and it does not require any amount of time to learn the basic game mechanics of run, jump, and shoot.

The most notable game-play differences are as follows:

Multi-directional shooting – Maldita Castilla offers the ability to shoot in 4 directions; left, right, up, and down (while jumping). It would have been nice to have the 4 diagonal directions included, but it sure makes regular combat and boss battles a lot easier. By comparison, Ghosts ‘n Goblins only had the ability to shoot left and right, making things a lot more difficult.

Double-Jump – This ability is absent from both Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and from Maldita Castilla. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the other hand, did use a double-jump feature, one that would have really improved the overall gameplay in both the aforementioned titles.

Continues – Simply put, both Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Maldita Castilla provide the player with an unlimited number of continues, so there is no advantage to hand out for this category. Also, neither game has any kind of save feature available, so if you are going to beat them, you have to do it in a single sitting, or at least refrain from powering off the game.


As with the graphics, it’s not a fair comparison when you consider the age gap between the two games. Both games offer basic musical scores that complement the action on the screen, but neither is exceptionally noteworthy save for a few tracks. I would say that the edge would probably go to Maldita Castilla based on the more complex and variety of melodies found in the game.


Both games offer a pretty decent variety of enemies and bosses, but I would say that the overall winner has to go to Maldita Castilla. There is always something new with each stage, and I have yet to see enemies repeated. Also, the bosses in Maldita Castilla are unique, and are borrowed from all kinds of mythical stories and legends. Among them are a Manticore, Nuberu, a Don Quixote based boss, and even a two-headed vulture. 

Maldita Castilla is also the winner when it comes to the variety of stage designs. Along with the traditional left to right stages, the game also has our hero travelling up or down a series of platforms
to reach the top of a tower, or the bottom of a deep chasm, only to battle it out with one of the aforementioned bosses that guard or inhabit these domains.


While both games deliver a challenging game experience, both games also provide enough in terms of frustration that you will find yourself stepping away from them to prevent things from becoming
broken. Yes, both games are hard as hell, and both of them will require a lot of patience in order to complete. I will admit, that at the time of this writing, I have yet to complete either game in their entirety, including Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.

For whatever reason I find myself coming back to Maldita Castilla with a better overall attitude. I have stopped playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins so many times in the past, and have to mentally prepare myself to pick it up and play it again when I find myself wanting to experience it.  Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a good game, don’t get me wrong, but the level of frustration it provides really deals the death blow in terms of replay value.

If you enjoyed either Ghosts ‘n Goblins or its successor Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, then there is no reason that you shouldn’t get Maldita Castilla. The game is currently free, and can be downloaded from the developer’s website (  Be sure to also check out the other free titles that are also available from this fine independent developer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why ‘Shmups’ are a BLAST – Pun intended

Why is there something satisfying about blasting wave after wave of enemy fighters in to oblivion? What is it about dodging swarms of enemy fire that really gets me going? I don’t know that I have the ultimate answers to these questions, but I do know that the genre of video games known as ‘shmups’ has long been one of my favorites. 

Lifeforce (NES)
  To start off with we should probably define the word ‘shmup’. Simply put, ‘shmup’ is a nothing more than a portmanteau of the phrase “Shoot ‘em up” witch is a subgenre of the shooter style of video games. In a shoot ‘em up the main player engages in a lone assault against a growing number of enemy forces. There are additional styles of shoot ‘em ups that include things like rail shooters, scrolling shooters, and run and guns, but that’s a topic for another conversation.
As a child I played games like Asteroids, Vanguard, and Space Invaders, and while they are technically categorized as ‘space shooters’ or  ‘arcade shooters’ they still have a lot of the same elements found in  ‘shmup’ games. I was too young to really understand the larger picture when I played those early Atari classics, and it wasn’t until I grew older that things started to fall in to place.
                It all started back in the late 80’s, when Nintendo was the king of home video game consoles, or at least it was in my neighborhood. One fateful day a friend of mine invited me over to play a game called Life Force. I had never heard of it, but was immediately drawn to its fast action

AeroFighters (SNES)

packed style of game play. Using the infamous “Contra Code” we each got 30 lives, and co-opted that sucker to completion in what felt like a matter of minutes. After seeing that giant space olive explode on screen and then hearing that final melody of victory start up, I knew I was in love. I was ready to play it all again. And thus my love of ‘shmups’ was born.
                The appeal for me comes from the satisfaction I feel when I complete a level and advance to the next stage with all of my upgrades intact. In fact I would say that on top of the previously discussed definition, a good shoot ‘em up game also includes the following key elements:
·         Upgrades that are easy to use and that feel cohesive.

-          Even though it can be satisfying to blast away at swarms of baddies using the basic primary weapon, there is something to upgrading your gun to one with just a little more oomph. Whether it’s a laser shot of some kind, or a spread shot, the upgrade usually allows you to do more damage at a quicker pace, and makes those boss battles just a little easier to bear. And when you add on secondary weapons like missiles, the level of destruction really takes off.

·         Unique enemies and stage designs that prevent things from feeling repetitive.

-          The clinical definition of insane involves doing the exact same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time. The same can be said for enemy and level designs in video games. Recycling enemies and level design elements generally will cause players to slowly go insane from boredom. And for the record, simply giving an enemy or background a new coat of paint for each stage or level does not constitute as something new.

·         Unique and challenging boss battles.

-          Boss battles are the backbone of any good shoot ‘em up. And if the game designers have done their job up to this point, then you will have just fought your guts out, taking on a diverse swarm of unique enemies in order to reach the stage boss. How disappointing would it then be if that stage boss consisted of nothing more than something simple and weak? I love it when game designers think outside the box in terms of boss design. There is nothing quite like seeing a well-designed boss come on the screen for the first time. Some of the greatest boss designs have actually made me pause the game so that I can pick my jaw up off the floor. That’s how bosses should be.

o   And while we’re at it, I would like to add that while hard boss battles are great, there is a limit to the level of difficulty a gamer should experience while playing a game. I hate it when frustration gets ahead of fun. Challenge is good, breaking controllers in frustration is bad.

·         A masterful soundtrack that matches the fast paced action on the screen.

-          Like in film, video games must use a solid musical score in order to evoke emotional feelings that are otherwise not available to the player through the mechanics of regular game play. A good musical score can help emphasize so much more in terms of story and emotion, it can usually draw the player deeper in to the game, and keep them fighting on with a new sense of emotional investment. Some of the greatest games I have played have usually had masterful musical scores that stayed with me long after the power was been turned off. If I find myself humming the tune to a video game hours or even days later, then I know it is a game worthy of picking up and playing again.

·         Re-spawn vs Restart.

-          This is probably an aspect that’s up for debate, and depending on your own preferences, it may not make or break a quality shmup game. What I mean by re-spawn vs restart in this case is how the game progresses upon your death. Games like Life Force will simply re-spawn your ship in the same area where you just met your demise. Other games, like R-Type will make you start over, either from the beginning of the level, or from a checkpoint. Personally, I prefer to just re-spawn, since I feel like restarting can interrupt game play, and hinder progression. But that’s just me…

Asteroids (Atari 800)
As you can see there are numerous requirements that must be met in order for a casual shoot ‘em up game to be heralded as one of the all-time greats. But when it comes to providing a young impressionable mind with a life altering game play experience, a ‘shmup’ must follow this exact formula. And when it’s done correctly, that game will inevitably become part of that persons hall of fame collection, and it will be played over and over, and over again.

I know that everyone’s tastes differ, so these may not be the same reasons why you enjoy a good shoot ‘em up game. Please feel free to leave comment on what makes these kinds of games fun for you. I would love to hear your feedback. Thanks again for joining me on this journey in to the world of shmups.