51 Shades of Geek

Galaga: Demons Of Death

Galaga: Demons Of DeathThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships See the videowhich arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: Despite being one of the most consistent arcade hits of the early ’80s, Galaga seemed to be left out in the cold for years before coming to the home console scene. The first attempt, Atari’s passable Galaga cartridge for the Atari 7800, didn’t quite have the audiovisual flair of the arcade version. By the time the NES version was released, it was clear that things had changed – for all intents and purposes, this was the arcade game, and it looked and sounded and played just like the original. When the litmus test of ’80s consoles was arcade authenticity, you just couldn’t do better than that. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 1 (“N”)

Namco Museum Volume 1Buy this gameThe Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest exporters of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man at your side, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum, where you may examine classic video game sales brochures, promotional items, posters, and the arcade cabinets themselves – which contain, naturally, the actual games. (Namco, 1995)

Memories: A fantastic idea in a so-so package, Namco Museum‘s first volume on the Playstation is a mixture of picture-perfect emulations and a not-so-perfect framing structure. The thought of all the extra material is great in theory – and it has turned out to be one of the “compelling applications” for the DVD format. But in Namco Museum, these nifty ephemera from the 80s are presented to you as exhibits in clumsily bit-mapped hallways and rooms which aren’t even as convincing graphically as the Windows 95 “maze” screen saver. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 3 (“M”)

Namco Museum Volume 3Buy this gameThe Game: Old games never die – they get emulated and encased in digital museums. Some game companies, like Namco, are big enough to spread their best titles out over five discs. With Pac-Man hanging around, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum once more. (Namco, 1995)

Memories: Namco Museum 3, reprinted in the “greatest hits” range of Playstation games, contains some of the biggest coin-op successes to emerge from Japan’s video game supergiant – but this volume, also known early on as “Volume M,” also sees the beginning of the Namco Museum collection’s shift toward fighting and action-RPG-style games. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 2 (“A”)

Namco Museum Volume 2Buy this gameThe Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest exporters of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man still underfoot, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum yet again. (Namco, 1995)

Memories: The second volume (also known as Volume A) in Namco’s 5-disc collection of arcade emulations for the Playstation is the most difficult to find – one often sees it going for nearly twice its original retail price in eBay auctions – and yet it has some of Namco’s biggest “cult” hits… and yet only volumes 1 and 3 have been reprinted. Go figure. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)The Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest makers of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man still underfoot, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum yet again. (Namco, 1995, for Sony Playstation)

Memories: It’s hard for me to really justify blowing $25 on this particular import. Maybe it’s just the perversity of having two different versions of Namco Museum Vol. 2 when the American edition is hard enough to find as it is. Or maybe it’s because I want to be able to play as many classic arcade games as possible on my Playstation. Continue reading

Nichibutsu Arcade Classics

Nichibutsu Arcade ClassicsThe Game: Three obscure but memorable cult classics from Japan’s Nichibutsu Ltd. are gathered in one collection, along with an updated version of each game. Crazy Climber, Moon Cresta and Frisky Tom are included, with their respective remakes, Crazy Climber ’85, SF-X and Tom’s Strike-Back. (Nichibutsu Ltd., 1995)

Memories: Much sought-after by collectors now, this Namco Museum-style compilation is the only way to get most of these games on anything that’s not MAME – and in the case of the updated versions, this is the only game in town. It’s also the source of a very humorous photo, shown before the main menu screen pops up, which I find very funny (see below). Continue reading

Space Invaders Collection

Space Invaders CollectionThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Taito, 1997, for Playstation)

Memories: I can hear ’em already. “Okay, you’ve flipped your lid. There’s already a modern-day Space Invaders remake out there, there’s emulation, and then there’s the fact that Space Invaders has been emulated pretty faithfully all the way back to the Atari 2600 version. Why the heck do you need this version for the Playstation?” Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe Game: 21 years after the first relentless alien invasion of Earth, the Space Invaders are back – and so are you, in a vastly advanced version of the ubiquitous “tank” which was so critical to the defense of Earth in 1978. But the aliens have made some improvements to their hardware too, and they still outnumber you by at least 20 to 1. Handy survival tip: start blasting, and keep blasting. (Activision, 1999)

See the videoMemories: Now this retro revival surprised me. Updating Pac-Man and Q*Bert, that I could see. Those games had Saturday morning cartoons, vague plotlines of their own (in fine print on the arcade cabinets), and so they’re easy to update. Space Invaders, on the other hand, had a T-shirt, and a legacy of many wasted after-school hours spent on the Atari 2600. The only plotline one could assign to Space Invaders was that you could fight and fight and fight, but you’d eventually perish in the battle. It was inevitable. There were just too many of them. (And you thought UFO paranoia only blossomed in the age of The X-Files and Art Bell?) Continue reading

The Invaders (Space Invaders)

The InvadersThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. This edition adds two new modes, a timed game with a slightly updated retro look, and a 3-D mode which puts the player right behind the cannon, now expanded to a giant 3-D representation. (D3 Publisher [under license from Taito], 2001)

Memories: This budget title from 2001, to be fair, was largely a re-release of Taito’s earlier PS1 Space Invaders Collection just four years before this game’s release. But this time, you actually get more for that low, low price. Continue reading

Gatchaman: The Shooting

Gatchaman: The ShootingOrder this gameThe Game: The five who act as one – well, minus one character who doesn’t appear in the game – get their marching order from Dr. Nambu – get out there, infiltrate enemy bases, defeat enemy mecha, and kick as much ass as is deemed necessary. In practice, the game is exceedingly simple – advance upward through enemy territory, take out as many of Berg Katse’s masked men as possible, and live to face a huge mechanical boss. Four missions of increasing difficulty are included. (Bandai, 2002)

Memories: A nicely dressed-up scrolling shooter – think along the line of Taito’s 1980s coin-up Front Line – is at the heart of Gatchaman: The Shooting, one of an almost infinite number of similarly budget priced licensed-character shooters churned out by developers D3 Publishers for the Japanese market in recent years. Aside from the game’s simple but nicely-drawn and animated 2-D characters, the only real Gatchaman-specific content is a gallery of character artwork and some non-animated intro screens which appear between levels. Continue reading

Namco 5-In-1 TV Game

Namco 5-In-1 TV GameBuy this gameThe Game: It’s like Namco Museum in the palm of your hand: some of the venerable Japanese arcade innovator’s all-time best quarter-grabbers from the 1980s are gathered in the form of a standalone joystick that plugs into your TV or VCR’s A/V jacks. Games built into this system are Pac-Man, Galaxian, Rally-X, Bosconian and Dig Dug. Batteries are not included, but the fun is. (Jakks Pacific [under license from Namco], 2003)

Namco 5-In-1 TV GameMemories: After I reviewed the dandy Techno Source Intellivision 25-in-1 TV Game, at least one e-mail suggested that I wasn’t being critical enough in my review. I praised that dandy self-contained gadget for capturing the flavor of those 25 classic Intellivision games, even if a lot of the finer details were left out. Those of you who thought I was going easy on that game should just stop reading this review now. Because I kinda dig this quintet of Namco goodness – with some significant reservations. Continue reading

Tecmo Classic Arcade

Tecmo Classic ArcadeBuy this gameThe Game: Turn your Xbox into a virtual 80’s arcade with Tecmo Classic Arcade, the newest retro compilation disc to hit home consoles. (Tecmo, 2005, for Xbox)

See the videoMemories: Someone has definitely not been saving the best for last. Tecmo Classic Arcade follows a long line of classic arcade compilations which have been released this summer, including Capcom Classics Collection, Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary, Taito Legends and Midway’s Arcade Treasures 3. Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, Tecmo’s game collection simply doesn’t stand up against the competition. Continue reading

Lead (Atari 2600)

Order this gameThe Game: Players pilot a ship barrelling relentlessly down an enclosed tunnel. Turning around simply isn’t an option, and through various stages the player has to blast away at everything in sight, avoid everything in sight, and catch objects without blasting them. This all probably sounds easy, but the tunnels are rather twisty, and the ship is picking up speed constantly.

Memories: Bearing some resemblance to certain stages of games like Vanguard, Lead may not be the most original shoot-’em-up, but it’s one of the most addictive. With the See the videoVanguard-inspired ability to keep exploring once the game has ended (at, naturally, the cost of zeroing out your score), Lead certainly has depth. But, strange as it may sound, the game’s audio makes it a whole different beast. An organically evolving techno beat pulses in the background, its rhythm and melody influenced by the player’s actions and performance. Continue reading

Namco Museum Megamix

Namco Museum MegamixThe Game: Join Pac-Man as he rolls around the carnival-like grounds of the Namco Museum. Six “remixed” games are featured: Buy this gameGalaga Remix, Rally-X Remix, Gator Panic Remix, Pac ‘n’ Roll, Pac-Motos, Grobda Remix – as well as a healthy selection of Namco arcade classics: Cutie Q, Galaxian, Pac-Man, King & Balloon, Rally-X, Galaga, Bosconian, Super Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Xevious, Grobda, Motos, New Rally-X, Dig Dug II, Pac-Mania, Gaplus, Pac & Pal and Mappy. None of the games are hidden away as “unlockables,” achievements or Easter eggs, and all can be enjoyed freely. (Namco, 2010)

Memories: A Wii exclusive, Namco Museum Megamix elicits both suspicion and joy from this reviewer. On the “suspicious” side of things, the Wii has already had Namco Museum Remix, which had five of the six “remixed” games listed above, and maybe half of the arcade games that appear in Megamix; even Megamix‘s manual seems to acknowledge that you’ve already been suckered into buying Remix and therefore you already know the control scheme for the selection menu (which is almost a game unto itself). But on the good side, for the first time in quite a while, Namco has finally acknowledged something else: the media on which Namco Museum Megamix arrives has a much greater capacity than the 74-meg Playstation CD-ROMs that carried the first iteration of Namco Museum in the 1990s. Let’s fill that open space with… more games! Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (AtariAge.com, 2011)

Memories: Quite simply one of the most superb arcade-to-console ports ever made on an Atari platform, whether cranked out professionally or as a homebrew, Moon Cresta is a knockout on the Atari 7800. Continue reading

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