Retro Games Rereleases and Piracy


The recent resurgence of retro gaming has caught the eye of game publishers, as we are now seeing a steady increase of retro games being rereleased on modern platforms. Recent examples include the Mega Man Legacy collections, the Sega Genesis Classics Collection, the Capcom Beat'em Ups bundle, Nintendo Switch Online, the  mini consoles (NES, SNES, Playstation, Neo Geo), and others. Publishers are starting to mine the ore of nostalgia that adults thirty years of age and older are susceptible to, and they should. Just because a game was released a long time ago doesn't mean it is no longer relevant or enjoyable.

Movies and music albums are rereleased all the time. How many versions of Star Wars compilations are there? Too many to count! Yet people still love them and snap them up. Some musical groups have just as many "Greatest Hits" albums as studio albums, and yet they still sell. Sega knew this, as there are a glut of Sonic and Genesis collections. This may be annoying to some, but I say more is better. There are so many classic retro games out there that would make a great collection, and the recent Capcom Beat'em Ups collection is a great example. Nearly half of those arcade games did not get an a home port to a console, and were until now, lost to the past. I think Konami should get onboard and put together a series of collections, starting with its Arcade hits.

Rereleases of classic retro games in high definition are always welcome

Some will say these games are available through emulation. While that is true, the issue of roms and piracy jumps to the forefront. Piracy is nothing new when it comes to entertainment media. In the early 2000's the file sharing network known as Napster opened the floodgates to sharing of mp3 music files. Napster was subsequently sued by every meaninful entity in the music industry, and was forced to shut down by the courts. This has since led to changes in how music is distributed, particularly with DRM (digital rights management). The music industry shifted to an open online marketplace for songs priced individually. After doing so, Apple proceeded to sell individual songs in droves as the digital music eclipsed physical music media in the marketplace.

Similarly, recent efforts by Nintendo mirror what transpired nearly twenty years ago, albeit on a smaller scale. Their effors to smash rom sites with litigation have been fairly effective. The major rom sites like Emuparadise, Loveroms, and the Isozone have scaled back or removed altogether copyrighted roms and IPs. Where people stand on the issue is as broad a spectrum as colors in the rainbow, but the writing is on the wall. Nintendo is sending a message, and it was clearly received. This maybe another watershed moment in the history of digital entertainment media, or it may not be. Just like the Whack-A-Mole game at Chuck-E Cheese's, roms may pop up somewhere else eventually.

Retro game collections have been better in recent years
There is an argument that companies don't do enough to preserve their catalog of releases, and this may be true. This can change, if more companies realize the demand, and do something about it. If the companies make these games available, the need for piracy diminishes, and they can actually make money on their IPs again. Win-win, right? I would gladly purchase a legitimate copy of a game, if I could. I'm sure many people out there feel the same way. As long as there is demand for such media, publishers should be able to make a profit  off of selling rereleased games. Part of preserving these retro games is supporting the companies that made them, so that future official rereleases is a realistic possibility.

Some retro-inspired releases
Perhaps the next step in the evolution of video game distribution is a subscription based service, like Netflix, Hulu, etc. This would allow for gaming to be above the table, and also allow for proper rights management to be preserved. It would take some work to track down publishing rights for companies that no longer exist, but it can be done. I don't currently own a Switch, but I like the efforts being made to increase retro game availability. If the same retro releases make their way to PS4 I'm sold. What do you all think? Would you buy rereleases today, even if you have free access to roms online?

Recent gems

Review: Tecmo Super Bowl '19


Tecmo Super Bowl (TSB) is the follow up to the immensely popular Tecmo Bowl (TB) on the NES. It was released in 1991 for the NES, Genesis, and SNES. The gameplay can be described as arcade-like, with fast action, vibrant colors, and simple gameplay. Unlike the Madden football game series, which are considered more as simulation games, TSB has more universal appeal as the controls and gameplay are simplistic enough for most to pick up and play.

Modern versions have all 32 teams are represented

I had both TB and TSB back in the day, as I was/am a football nut. There were a lot of improvements made in TSB:

  • eleven players on the field for each team (TB has nine)
  • official team licenses and NFL Players (TB only had the players, not the real teams) 
  • double the number of plays, sixteen-game season with saving
  • expanded rosters with substitutions
  • season stats
  • and more

This game is so addictive, it makes you want to keep coming back and completing the entire season's schedule. If your team makes the playoffs, you continue play as far as you can make it, and perhaps maybe to the Super Bowl. As far as I can remember, this was the first NES  sports game to offer such a lengthy campaign. Unfortunately, only the 1991 season schedule can be played, but even still, it had immense replayability as you can choose any of the other teams and play through them again.

all eleven players are on field for each team

Other Tecmo Super Bowl games followed during the 16-bit generation, such as Tecmo Super Bowl II Special Edition and Tecmo Super Bowl III Final Edition. These all had upgrades in all departments, but for some reason the 8-bit NES iteration retains a cult following, having annualized rom hacks each year. I ordered a physical cart of this year's edition, TSB 19, from tecmobowl.org. The cart is playable on original hardware, but may not be compatible with emulation based clone systems like the Retron 5 or Super Retro Trio.

Updated rosters are a staple of sports games
The rom can also be dowloaded from that same website for free, if you prefer to play with an emulator or Everdrive. This is just as enticing because there are several iterations of the game that are uploaded by members of the TSB rom community. Each version has tweaks to gameplay, rules, uniforms, colors, and so on.

One might wonder what could be different about a nearly 30 year old 8-bit game that would be interesting these days. Well, TSB 19 has loads of improvements and changes to the gameplay, such as playbook editing, adjustable quarter length, current rosters, to name a few. There is an active fanbase that scrutinizes player attributes, team playbooks, roster changes, and make frequent edits to the rom. There is a cult following for this game to the point where regional tournaments are held all over the country; I think this is awesome. I'm not a pro by any means, so I wouldn't enter one myself, but I'd love to attend one just to watch.

As deep as the TSB has become, you don't need know much about football to enjoy the game. If you understand the basic rules, you can play the game. Of course, those who understand the nuances will fare better than the average person. Anyone can become decent after playing a few games. The real fun is playing another person, and throwing all football logic out the window as you go for it on fourth and eleven from your own twenty yard line.


Additionally, I actually feel like this year's Chicago Bears roster is one that is worth playing, something that I haven't said for a long time. When the Bears traded for Khalil Mack earlier in the month, I was worried that the trade would not be reflected in the game's roster, but to my delight it made it in before pressing.

I love these 8-bit renders of player photos

What appears to be a simple 8-bit arcade-like sports game is surprisingly deep, with loads of replayability. In my humble opinion it is still one of the best multiplayer games not just on the NES, but of all time. Despite its programming limitations, it stands the test of time; the epitome of gameplay over graphics. The modern updates to the game are just icing on the cake. If you haven't ever played Tecmo Super Bowl, or its been a while, do your self a favor and give it a try. Better yet, play with a friend for bragging rights.


Review: Brawler 64 Gamepad by Retro Fighters


I'm not a huge fan of the original N64 controller. I find it bulky, but not in a satisfying way. It is unergonomic when using the "main" part of the controller, the analog stick. Your wrists are unnaturally close together when holding the center and right grip, causing strain after some time. The left grip, or 1/3 of the controller,  is used for the d-pad, which is an afterthought as there were so few 2D games made for the console. The d-pad is surprisingly subpar, and given Nintendo's legacy of awesome NES and SNES controllers this is a shock. The A and B buttons are fine, and there is some ingenuity with the differently-sized C buttons, making them easily distinguished by touch. The shoulder buttons are fine, no complaints. The trigger, or Z button is on the center prong, along with the analog stick. This means you fire with the same hand that you move with, which is opposite of most first person shooter games today.


When I heard the Retro Fighters was releasing a modern-layout controller for the N64 I was intrigued. I preordered one right as the initial batch was released. The initial release was panned by reviewers for a physical issue - the left shoulder button was catching the analog stick when the stick was pushed in a certain direction. This was no good, and the company worked to resolve the issue. I was worried that my order would be one of the first iterations. I have just received mine last week, and I am happy to say the analog stick/shoulder button issue has been resolved.


There were two reasons I purchased this controller. First, the overall shape has been modernized, assuming a more conventional design with two handles. The overall size and form factor feel comfortable and familiar in the hand, an immediate improvement.



The second reason is the analog stick. The original stick was long, with a plastic thumb tip, not unlike a golf ball tee. It would eventually grind at the base of the plastic concave fitting, and loosen over time. All controllers loosen over time, but the N64 controller did so to the extreme. The new analog stick feels like a Playstation 2 stick, both in shape and texture. While these are positives, the stick has an odd octagonal gate at the base, preventing smooth rotation if pressed to the limits; a jarring, bumpy rotation results. Again, this only happens if you press all the way to edge and rotate, otherwise you will not notice it.

The original analog stick, being slightly longer than the average analog stick, offered better precision. Because it was longer, it offered a greater level of control when compared to a shorter, stubbier, modern analog stick that we have become used to. Imagine steering a car with a large wheel and a small wheel. Each motion on the small wheel would result in a large movement, whereas the same amount of motion on a large wheel would result in a smaller movement. This is noticeable when playing Mario 64. The range of motion between walk and run is noticeable and controllable. When
using the Brawler 64, there is less control in between walk and run. You can get used to it, but it will throw off seasoned players.

The port on the bottom of the controller allows for either a rumble pak or memory card. I have had no issues using either, although I hear 3rd party products do no always work here. I am also told that the transfer pak for Pokemon games does not work as well. I do not own these games so I cannot comment on that.

All in all, I find it a much more appealing and comfortable controller than the stock controller. I have used this for all of my N64 gaming since I purchased it, and have no regrets. The shortened analog stick does take some readjusting to, but I think it is worth it. I am not an N64 enthusiast, so I'm sure there are some game-particular nuances that I may be missing, but from a general perspective, I recommend this to anyone who has ever had issues with physical configuration of the original N64 controller. You can purchase one at https://retrofighters.com/#home for $30.



Review: Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide


Mark Bussler is the creative force behind the popular YouTube channel Classic Game Room (CGR). He would be considered an industry veteran, having created CGR in the late 1990's and was one of if not the first person to review video games on the internet, along with then co-host David Crosson. If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that you have watched some CGR videos on YouTube; it is widely considered to be one of the premier channels on retro gaming. Recently CGR has shifted its new content from YouTube to Amazon Prime. You can still view older videos on YouTube, but he is no longer posting new content there. In an interview with fellow retro game YouTuber Pat Contri (Pat the NES Punk), he cited lack of intellectual property protection, saturation, and finances as the reason.


In addition to shifting his video content to Amazon, Mark has started production of retro game related publications, available in both print and kindle format. One such book is the subject of this review, the Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide (UMVGCG). This book is an amalgam of photographic appreciation of the covered subject matter, review guide, personal history, and fan service to the dedicated CGR fans who will pick up on the inside jokes and references. At the time of this writing there are four volumes available on Amazon.


Each volume features a selection of consoles. Each featured console has been photographed from every angle, and has personalized history from Mark. The tone and verbiage is in the characteristic CGR style; I can hear Mark's voice as I read his candid, overzealous, yet honest opinions.


Along with a glut of photography, he presents a practical buyer's guide for each system, keeping in mind gameplay/cost. Its not so much a top ten or best of list, it focused on how to get the best value for the consoles, which is more useful, considering the interwebs are littered with top ten lists (mine included). With the ever-rising cost of retro games, being able to find value becomes more and more important.

Every controller, every angle

Other features include boxart closeups, controller closeups, random pictures of consoles in the wild (litterally, like outdoors), and montages of game cartridges and disc cases.

These boxart spreads are fantastic

If you don't know, Mark has a background in documentary and film making. His photography moves to the forefront of these books, maybe in excess. It is clear that all the photos are presented with know-how and care. This is definitely a new take on retro gaming console publications. To be honest, I think maybe he could have trimmed the volume of photographs down a bit, or swapped some hardware pics with more in-game photos. There are 230 pages, and the photographic content dwarfs the written content by a wide margin.

Did you know the Nintendo 3DS is a migratory console?

The books cost $40 on Amazon, and while they are of decent heft, I think the could have been focused down some of the photography, and sold at a $30 price point. However, I could see a coffee table book, combining the first three volumes being a nice hardcover format (the fourth volume is a dedicated book to the Sega Genesis, and I gather that future volumes will be specialized as well). 

All in all, these are nice visual retrospective books. Being a longtime fan, picking them up was a no-brainer for me. They are definitely unique, and celebrate retro consoles in a way not done before.


8Bitdo Bluetooth Modkit for Genesis Controller


8Bitdo is a company that has made quite an impression in the retro gaming world, with its lineup of bluetooth controllers and receivers. They controllers are generally well regarded, with good build quality and minimal lag. These products have been reviewed all over the internet, so I won't dwell on those too much, I wanted to focus on their recently released modkits.

front of the PCB

back of the PCB

The modkits allow you to convert an original NES, SNES, and 6 button Genesis controllers to bluetooth controllers. This is the first time that 8Bitdo is offering options for Sega controllers, as their product line has been primarily Nintendo-centric to this point. I applaud the expanding of horizons, yet wonder why it didn't happen sooner.

Initially, I was conflicted about sacrificing an original 6 button Genesis controller, but my fears were allayed when I saw how clean the mod was. You simply unscrew the back, swap out the guts of the controller with the new board, and screw the backing on. You can store the original controller pcb in the provided anti-static bag should you want to revert your controller to stock.

The best part about this is that you retain the build quality of the first-party controller, while modernizing its functionality. Third party controller builds are hit or miss when you consider all of the reasons why you like an original controller: d-pad shape and resistance, button resistance and travel (height), and overall controller sturdiness. I find this to be particularly true with Genesis controller button presses; I have not yet found a third party controller that accurately replicates the light, bouncy (yet not too clicky) resistance. I have found one third party Genesis controller that comes close, the Hyperkin GN6, but it still does not compare to the original. I appreciate the unique option to use your own controllers.


Look, no wires!

The mod presents a micro USB port to charge the controller, and a cord is included. The instructions state that it is compatible with Switch, PC, Mac, and Android. All of their products now advertise the same compatibilities, and since their other controllers are compatible with RetroPie, I assumed (correctly) this would be as well. This is a game changer for playing Genesis via emulation; a legitimate controller makes a work of difference.

What is puzzling is that they do not offer a retro receiver for the Sega Genesis. They went so far as to design a bluetooth board for the Genesis controller, yet it cannot yet be used with an original Genesis. Perhaps this will come in time. It does work with the receivers for the NES, SNES, and NES/SNES Classic receiver, but the SN30 model is the best bet for those consoles.

A blue LED indicates power and connectivity

At the time of this writing one other Bluetooth Genesis controller exists: Krikzz's "Joyzz" Genesis bluetooth controller. Krikzz is the creator of the Everdrive series of flash carts. It comes with a receiver, but at a $65 price tag, plus international shipping, I haven't gotten around to ordering one yet. RetroBit is gearing up to release its line of Sega bluetooth controllers, and has shown some prototypes at trade shows. It will be interesting to compare the field of offerings, and I'm excited Sega is finally getting some Bluetooth love.

Even though there is not yet an 8Bitdo receiver for the Sega Genesis, I recommend this modkit for anyone who wants a modern experience playing Genesis games via emulation, like RetroPie. At $20, its worth it.

Nintendo Classic Editions vs. RetroPie


The NES and SNES Classic Edition consoles have been bona fide hits for Nintendo. They have constantly been selling out, and command high scalper prices during production lulls. Now that stock has finally reached an equilibrium with demand, we are at the point where just about anyone who wants one of the classic consoles can easily go out and buy one at msrp. Several factors contribute to them being as popular as they are: nostalgia, ease of use, price point, design appeal, and so on. If you follow any retro gaming groups on social media, you probably have seen many discussions regarding these consoles. Invariably, someone brings up RetroPie as a superior alternative. I'd like to dissect the various arguments.

There are lots of different cases available for the Raspberry Pi computer
Capabilities
The NES Classic is a single board linux computer, and has hdmi video out put at 720p.
The Raspberry Pi, also a single board linux computer, has a superior processor, onboard Wifi and Bluetooth, four usb ports, ethernet, hdmi (1080p), 3.5mm audio out, and more. The Pi is intended as a multi-use Swiss army knife of small computers. From a technical standpoint there is no comparison. This may or may not matter to the user, if all you are doing is playing 8 or 16 bit games. The 1080p video output of the Pi tops the 720p output of the NES Classic, but again, we're talking about a resolution that is originally 240p, so the difference is not really going to be noticed. It could be argued that the 720p is a perfect 3x integer of 240p, and so no interpolation (which may cause visual artifacts) is necessary.

There are a lot of user made images and themes for RetroPie

The Pi has multiple options for operating systems that provide emulation front-ends: Emulation Station with RetroPie, Attract Mode, and Recalbox. They each have their nuances, and while the end result is the same (playing retro video games), the operation and navigation is where the differences lie. Personally I find attract mode too flashy, almost dizzying. It also requires more tweaking than Emulation Station, and easier to mess things up. Recalbox is a simpler setup, with fewer options than the others. Emulation station is a happy medium between them. The Front ends can be customized to show opening animations, game box art, video previews, game descriptions, ratings, and a plethora of related information. Games can be assembled in collections by system, genres, publishers, and favorites. Gameplay can be customized using the Retroarch menu, allowing for tweaks to visual and audio output, game cheats, save states, screenshots, and more.
Virtually any usb controller can be used, it just has to be configured once. Bluetooth controllers are supported as well, and the company 8Bitdo makes several high-quality options. Even Wiimotes, PS3, PS4, and XBox controllers can be used. Configuring Bluetooth controllers is a little wonky, but once they are set up they are good to go. Obviously these are all third party controllers, and for those who grew up playing on the original controllers, most of these just don't feel as good.

The NES Classic has its lone default operating system, which is the epitome of clean and simple. There is no learning curve, installation process, rom loading (unless you hack it), or any other setup process - simplicity through and through at the cost of virtually no customizability. Again, the NES Classic was never marketed as a tinker computer so the comparison is not on the level.

The NES Classic user interface is simple and intuitive, if not rudimentary

The NES Classic only comes with a relatively small number of games when compared to the potential of RetroPie, but there's a reason behind that: Copyright. Nintendo has a mix of its own IPs and licensed games on its Classic consoles, everything is on the up and up, and everyone who should get paid is getting paid. RetroPie itself does not come with any games, it is on the user to load software. Since video game roms have been freely available on the internet since the late 1990's, people have gotten used to downloading entire libraries of games for retro consoles. A quick search on eBay or Etsy will yield completely loaded SD Raspberry Pi systems at marked up prices. As of this writing, there is a sudden change in the rom landscape as Nintendo is suing some of the major websites known for distribution of roms. This may have the effect of squashing open rom sharing across the internet altogether, making it more difficult to obtain roms. This is an entirely separate topic altogether.
When adding games to the NES Classic, making folders is recommended

Intended Audience
While both pull at the heart strings of nostalgia, the intended audience of these two devices can be  pretty different. The NES classic requires no technical know-how, and appeals to a wide audience. The Raspberry Pi is a tinker computer, intended to promote coding and programming skills. In order to get RetroPie loaded and operational is not for the faint of heart; even with loads of tutorials and walkthroughs available online, it is can be an exercise in frustration, and a teacher of patience. Not many will go through the trials and tribulations required to setup their own RetroPie image, which is why the selling of such is so prominent. Those who stick with it are rewarded with a trove of systems and thousands of games at their virtual fingertips. I have always felt that having entire libraries of games was a little grotesque, especially when I have no intention of playing many of them. I like to pare the lists down to what I have in physical form (or what I can't afford, in the case of Little Samson). It makes scrolling through games lists manageable, and more efficient.

Like the Wii, the NES Classic is something that your grandparents can setup and play, a casual system with universal appeal and approachability. Many people that I know that have tip-toed into the world of RetroPie have needed assistance here and there, as random bumps and hiccups are the order of the day. There have been developments in the world of RetroPie to make it more user friendly and accessible, such as cases with shut-down scripts (since the Raspberry Pi is a computer, it has to be turned off from the menu or command line; a shut down script runs the command from the physical action of turning off the power on the Pi case - something you would not normally do to a computer). Even still, it is a jungle that most will not want to navigate.

Cost
The NES Classic with one controller is priced at $60 (SNES Classic w/two controllers - $80). A Raspberry Pi 3B+ computer board alone costs $40, and comes with nothing else. You will need a power supply ($10), hdmi cord ($5), controller ($15), and micro SD card ($15 for 32 GB) at the very least. If you don't want the board open and exposed, you should get a case (like the popular NESPi case - $25). All of the prices of these components vary, but on average it adds up to about $120 after taxes and shipping. That's double the cost, but it potentially will be able to do a lot more than Nintendo's offerings.

Intangibles
As many features as RetroPie has, There is one feature that the NES Classic has that stands out, and makes me come back time and time again: visual save states. Sure RetroPie has save states, but there's no visual indication that they are there. You might have played a game half way through, and saved your progress, intending to come back later. A few weeks later you may not remember that you did so, as there is no way of knowing unless you try loading save states blindly, and so you start from scratch. On the NES Classic, save states create a screen shot of where you are, accessible under the game in the menu. This to me is huge, almost game-changing. Being able to look at a picture of where you left off immediately reminds you of your progress, and you are more likely to continue on from that point. Most games from the NES era were too difficult to finish in one sitting, so annoying passwords were used, or you simply left the game paused, for hours or days. This lets you look at the save state images, and select which one to start. As an adult with a full time job and family with kids, this is a life saver. I feel like I can go back and finally finish many games that I never had the chance to, simply because I can save incremental progress at will with ease. I remember losing hours of  progress in Metroid because I couldn't tell what some of the password letters were. This mitigates that issue.
The screen shots of the save states are AWESOME!!!

Also consider that the NES Classic is first-party hardware, designed and manufactured by Nintendo. The build quality is top notch, as are the controllers. The software is fully licensed, and for some people that is a big deal. Everything about it is legit and above board. Once you hold one in your hand, you know it will last. I can't say the same about many of the Raspberry Pi peripherals and cases out there. USB controller quality never really seems to measure up to OEM Nintendo controllers. From a quality standpoint, Nintendo sets the bar.

The Classics series controllers are almost indistinguishable from the originals - can you tell which is which?

Summary
So on the surface it seems that these two products have similar audiences, but in reality they lean in different directions. Debating which one is "better" is subjective and depends on the user. Super hardcore retro gamers are not going to use either on this as their main setup, as they most likely have a fine-tuned retro gaming rig. RetroPie is geared towards people who prefer the perks of emulation (entire game libraries), or at least dabble in it. The NES Classic is for casual/non gamers, who want to enjoy some nostalgia here and there but on the whole are not invested enough in retro gaming to go any further. While I generally reside in the first two categories, the visual save states on the NES classic and the first party controllers make the NES Classics a surprising favorite, especially since I have added the games in my library to it. So what do you think? Which do you prefer? Why?

Book Review: The SNES Omnibus



Brett Weiss has written several books compiling the libraries of retro video game systems. I have two of his previous books: Classic Home Video Games 1989-1990: A Complete Guide to Sega Genesis, Neo Geo and Turbografx-16 Games, and Classic Home Video Games, 1985-1988: A Complete Reference Guide. These were some of the first books of their kind. Prior to these, I have never heard of a book that chronicled the entirety of a console's library. I found these pretty useful in vetting the library of NES and Genesis titles. The information provided was just enough to get a glimpse a game, with varying levels of detail. Many games that were of lesser quality were given shortened treatment, sometimes justifiable, sometimes not. Unfortunately these early publications were in black in white, and thus what photos were present did not convey the necessary detail to sell the games. 

His latest book is titled the SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and its Games Volume 1 A-M (at this time the second volume is unavailable). Immediately I notice the jump in quality of the publication. The pages are heavyweight and glossy, the pictures are in full color, and there are more of them.


The reviews span every officially released game, for the first half of the library. Each game review offers a box scan, game cart scan, title screen, gameplay pics, and an advertisement sample if available. Brett's reviews are very informative and detailed, sometimes including personal memories. While they are reviews, they slant more towards objective descriptions. There is an even keel present in every review. I was scanning for overt fanboyism or angry tirades and did not find any. At first I was skeptical of his middle of the road approach, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciate it. You see, many reviewers and YouTubers have made careers on focusing on the negative or fantastic aspects of games, but very rarely are games described objectively. I found this refreshing, as it gave me a chance to learn enough about the game to be interested in trying it, and I also had the freedom to make my own conclusions.  

Also included are quotes from Brett's colleagues, collaborators, friends, and associates. These add necessary second opinions, additional details, and personal accounts. 

Overall, I found the SNES Omnibus to be a great addition to any retrogamer or SNES fan's library. I only wish it were a single complete volume, instead of split into two.  It can be purchased on Amazon.com for $50. 


My Adventure With Rhea, the Sega Saturn Optical Drive Emulator


I have been an avid collector for the Sega Saturn since the late 2000's. Its fair to say that it is one of my top 3 favorite consoles. I particularly enjoy all things 2D, and the Saturn had that in spades, but only if you import; the domestic Saturn library was focused on 3D gaming, as that was the trend. It's a shame, as many top tier games for the system happen to be 2D games like Radiant Silvergun, Battle Garegga, Batsugun, Street Fighter Zero 3, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, and so on. Of course many of these games have become quite collectable of late. Some of these have been rereleased recently, like Battle Garegga and Radiant Silvergun, but many have not. Anyone who has started collecting for the Saturn has come to the realization that it is just too cost prohibitive now.

Emulation has been a handy tool for gamers to try out games that were too costly to obtain. Holy Grails like Chrono Trigger on the SNES, MUSHA on Genesis, and Magical Chase on Turbo Grafx all can be played with relative ease on a computer or rom cartridge. This is not the case with Sega Saturn games, however. The Saturn's internal architecture made for some difficult programming back in the day, and only the best programmers could make use of the Saturn's potential. What that amounts to is emulation that is behind the curve compared to its contemporaries. The gems of the Saturn catalog are locked in physical form until its emulation matures. Or until something else comes along. Enter  Rhea.

The Rhea is an optical drive emulator (ODEMU) for the early Sega Saturn models (the Phoebe is the version for the Model 2). It is a device that reads roms from an SD card, instead of a laser reading a disc. In effect, it forgoes the need to use the CD. Much like the Everdrive which came before, it is a bridging of modern tech and original hardware. This comes at long last, as some games reportedly have succumbed to the dreaded disc rot. I have only one game that this has happened to, and it wasn't fatal as the hole must have been in an unused sector of the disc. Even still, this can give a collector chills just thinking about the potential disaster looming.

ODEMUs and Everdrives offer the benefit of keeping games protected and not risking scratches, and that was a motivation for myself. As Saturn game values skyrocket, they have inadvertently become something of an investment. I never would have though they'd be worth so much, but here we are. The Rhea will allow me to play backups of my games, keeping the originals is prime condition, should I decide to sell them at some point.

Since the Rhea physically replaces the laser in the console, it is best used in a Saturn that has a dead laser. I bought one off eBay as I didn't want to sacrifice one of my working units. The installation of the Rhea itself is very simple (The Phoebe units require some minor soldering).

The most difficult part of the process was the software end. There are a lot variables, and its easy to get lost in the sea of technical information if you're not used to working with various computer file formats. First of all, you will need to properly rip the game from your discs, and in the allowed formats: CDI, CCD+IMG+SUB, MDS+MDF, and some ISO files as long as there are no separate audio tracks. There are many applications that will do this, and the one that the internet says will work best is Disc Juggler. I had mixed success with this, so the games I couldn't back up I found through other sources. Secondly, the Rhea seems to dislike micro SD cards, or at least my micro SD cards. This was particularly frustrating as I worked on the same cards for days before I tried a regular SD card, formatted in FAT32. Thirdly, the folder structure is a little wonky. Rhea only likes folders with numbers, and will only read the game in the first folder. To change to the next game, you need to press the small button on the board to the right of the card slot. This is highly inconvenient to say the least. Thankfully, there is the RMenu program by Neuracid, which provides a menu interface and allows the games to be selectable on screen.


The action replay (AR) cart, which is the defacto-norm when it comes to bypassing the region lockeout on the Saturn, can still be used for its RAM, cheats, and memory capabilities. Leaving it in all of the time will be annoying, as every time a rom is selected the Saturn intro screen plays, along with the AR load screen. I just leave it out until I know I need it.

After a week of frustration and reading/watching every resource online, I finally broke through and got everything working. I am happy to report that games play, look, and sound as they should.

So at this point I ask myself when I'll hook up a Saturn with a laser and play my original copies. I asked myself this when I got the Everdrives. It is just too convenient to select a game from a menu. I used to love pulling a game off the shelf, opening the case, and plugging it in. That appeal has worn off somewhat recently. I seriously doubt that I will sell off all of my games, but maybe I don't need all that I have. Playing the games on original hardware is my preference, and now that is possible on the Sega Saturn. Its interesting to see how perspective can change over the years.

Review: Pro Wrestling for the Nintendo Entertainment System



Wrestling was huge in the 80's. The WWF was ubiquitous; licensed t-shirts, wrestling figures, and bedsheets were everywhere. While Nintendo would license plenty of video games, the best wrestling game on the NES was Pro Wrestling, an early first-party title, part of the black-box series.


The game can be played with one player, in a circuit-type campaign, or two player, which is head to head. The latter has consumed many a Friday night for me as infinite rematches and controller bashing prevailed. The fervor of such matches rivals that of Tecmo Bowl matches.

The body slam is a basic move in all wrestlers' repetoire
What makes it such an ideal head to head game is the simplicity of controls. Most moves are simply the result of a directional press and a button. Even if you don't know how to play, you will learn quickly. There is a punch and kick, using B and A, respectively.
Landing a kick is all timing
Body slams are easy to pull off by pressing up and B.You can throw your opponent into ropes (left or right  and B), and clothesline him on the rebound. You can throw your opponent out of the ring if you are close to the edge, and get out yourself to continue the carnage (just be sure to re-enter the ring in 20 seconds or you will be counted out).

Flying off the turnbuckle is very satisfying, as long as your opponent doesn't roll out of the way at the last second

You can even climb on the top turnbuckle and launch yourself on your felled opponent; if he gets up while you are in mid-leap you will crumble to the mat, so timing is critical.

The clothesline in all its glory

Once you think you've worn your opponent down, you can attempt a pin by pressing A while standing near him. If he has enough fight left, he will push you off before the 3-count. Likewise, if you are being pinned you can mash the buttons to get up.
Pick your opponent up off the mat and take advantage of his exhaustion
While every wrestler has their own special moves, these moves cannot be used right away. Your opponent needs to be broken in a bit before they become available. To execute, press some combination of A and a direction after engaging. The exception is Fighter Hayabusa's back-brain kick; you need to be positioned at a 45 degree angle below the opponent. This is the most difficult move to land as your opponent is generally always moving.
The Iron Claw
Against convention, there is no life meter visible. You are always guessing as to how much vitality you and your opponent have. A subtle clue is how long a wrestler takes to get up off the mat; the longer it takes, the weaker he is. An obvious sign is the loud alarm that sounds when a player is subjected to a devastating move. Recovering from a pin attempt at this point is difficult.

A suplex can land your opponent out of the ring

Pro Wrestling has seven selectable wrestlers, each with their own ethnicity and special moves:
  • Fighter Hayabusa - a nondescript Japanese wrestler, with a devastating back-brain kick that is difficult to pull off
  • King Slender - the classic, long haired, blonde American, he is stereotypical wrestling hero. His special move is the suplex.
  • Starman - a pink unitard and star face makes this Mexican wrestler a throwback. He has the ever-amusing standing sommersault kick, and less impressive flying cross chop.
  • The Amazon - the most unique character on the roster, he is the usual favorite due to his vicious piranha bite and head lock choke. Oh, and he has the head of an angry fish and he's green.
  • Giant Panther - a blonde, tan skinned giant, he is anti-hero of sorts. He finishes opponents with his iron claw and head butt.
  • Kin Korn Karn - a Korean wrestler that is less interesting to use, given the other choices. His special moves are a Karate kick and Mongolian chop (why Mongolian if he's Korean?).
If you're not warmed up before you attempt a suplex, your opponent will counter with is own

The final wrestler is the Great Puma, who is the title holder. This guy is super tough and can utilize all special moves, and seemingly has endless stamina. Being the final boss, he is not selectable as a player. If you manage to defeat the Great Pumu, you then have to defend the title against all challengers. I'm not sure if there's a proper end to the game, as each successive match becomes more difficult.

The visuals are very early 8-bit, but sprites are drawn well enough that you can clearly see everything that you need to. Each wrestler has enough visual flair to set them apart. The background consists of a ring, the announcers, and the mildly animated audience.

The music is a catchy tune on a loop, which sticks in your head when you're done playing, but is not annoyingly redundant as you might expect. The sound effects are appropriate for the action, and the crowd will cheer when you pull off a special move.

Beat your opponent down out of the ring, just make sure to get back in before 20 seconds
Somehow this game was truly forgotten, as it doesn't seem to come up in any kind of list for the NES, which is a crime. It doesn't have the flash that other games have, but it has supreme playability. Find a way to play this game, an give it a few tries, you won't regret it. Better yet, grab a friend an play it together for the first time.