Review: Super SD System 3 for PC Engine


Flashcarts has been around for years, allowing users to play roms on original hardware. Many find these invaluable as the rarity of certain games drives up prices to prohibitive costs. Since they play on original hardware, they function exactly as original games do. They are also a means to preserve their original games, and test other games to see if they would like to purchase them, and play rom hacks, unreleased games, and translations.

CD based systems like the Playstation, Saturn, an Dreamcast have recently been recipients of optical drive emulation, through such products like PSIO, Rhea and Phoebe, and GDEMU, respectively. These are devices that are installed in the CD system that forgoes the need for discs to play games. The use of the word emulation here is misleading, there is no emulation as far as gameplay is concerned, the method of getting game data to the console's cpu is direct and internal. In essence, these devices are like flashcarts for the CD systems.

Video output of older systems can range in quality, as most North American consoles were limited to radio frequency (RF), composite, or in some cases S-video. A recent revolution in retrogaming has been to adopt the RGB standard, which many consoles support internally, but require proper cables to coax it out of the system and or modification.


The Super SD System 3 is a modern solution for the Turbo Grafx/PC-Engine line of consoles. It also works for a Supergrafx, if you have one. It is produced by the Spanish company Terra Onion, who also make a Neo Geo flashcart. It is a hardware add-on that slides right on to the back of any TG-16 or PC-Engine. It's function is threefold: it acts as an optical disc emulator and flash cart for the CD add-on as well as for Hu-card games, it improves video output to RGB, and contains the arcade card required for some memory-demanding games like Sapphire and Strider. It is definitely a boutique item that fills a specific niche, and as such commands a premium price. If you add up the cost of these features individually, I think the price is appropriate, even at $300.

The Hucard slot can still be used to play games, but since this uses the pins at the back of the console, the CD peripheral cannot be used at the same time. So you have to be ok playing backup roms of your CD games. This introduces a little snag, as some may not be familiar with making backup images of their roms. If you search around, you can find tutorials on how to do this. It is more work than downloading roms, but you feel a little better about it. Then again, I'm never going to acquire a legitimate copy of Ginga.....Saphire due to its outlandish asking price, so this is an example of straight downloading to play.

There has been some debate as to the video quality from prominent online sources, but I honestly can't see the issue. I think mine is the revised version, which had some tweaks and improvements made in the interim. It could also be I don't have the highest end equipment to detect this. There may be an issue present, but I couldn't tell. I'm using SCART through the OSSC, and if it doesn't bother me with this setup, I think its fine for 90% of people.

An options menu allows for customization

The setup is similar to setting up a flash cart. You update the firmware via SD card, and load roms, Huard or CD, onto the SD card. You will have to obtain your own bios to run the CD games. This is not hard to find. You can customize some options, like loading the last game played, using an in-game hook to back out to menu, establish game save data for each game individually, and others. The in-game hook works on some games but not others, there's no way to tell beforehand. I found myself power cycling the system often to get out of games.

The game data saves is huge, as the original amount of space allocated on my PC-Engine Duo was miniscule. Now I don't have to worry about losing or overwriting game saves.


Being that I already have a SCART RGB setup, all I needed to do was buy another 9-pin SCART cable, like the one designed for the model 2 Sega Genesis. My SCART systems run through an OSSC and it looks fantastic to my eyes.  I also tried HD Retrovision's Genesis model 2 component cables and they work just as well as a SCART cable.


The one thing that I would have liked is for the system to have HDMI output. However, this unit is an add-on to existing hardware, not a complete overhaul of the console's processor, and thus high definition video would not be possible unless there was some external scaling taking place. Another cool addition would have been a second controller port, but given the fact that this attached to the rear, it would have been inaccessible.




So, overall I recommend this to anyone who already has a SCART-capable setup. The gameplay is still using genuine hardware, you can play backup roms of your games, and the video quality takes an huge leap forward. If you already have a CD system, the price point may be a bit too high. Given that TG/PC-Engine is notorious for escalating prices, so there is definitely a market for this.



More Shoot'em Ups for the Playstation


This is part two of my top shoot'em ups for the original Playstation. If you missed my top ten, you can view them here. Note that some of these are Japan region exclusives, and you will need some medifications or other methods to play them.


Raycrisis and Raystorm
Raycrisis


Raystorm
Raycrisis and Raystorm are very similar in theme and gameplay. I think one is the sequel, or prequel to the other, its hard to tell as they are both set in the future. Everything is rendered in 3D for both games, and they haven't aged all that well. Once you accept this there is fun to be had here. The primary game mechanic here is the lock on targeting for enemies in the background plane. Your main laser is fine, but the real fun is using the targeting reticule and taking out enemies before they arrive on your plane. Of the two, I prefer Raystorm, as I feel the control is better. In both games, there is a slight return to center if you let go, giving is a slight "on-rails" character. The pull to center is a bit too strong on Raycrisis for my liking. Maybe you won't notice it, maybe its in my head. It's not a deal beaker.

G-Darius
Another Darius game in a long line of Darius games, G-Darius makes the leap into 3D (actually 2.5D as it is still side-scrolling) with mixed success. The Bosses are larger than life and look good, but almost everything else doesn't. The gameplay is traditional Darius gameplay, except for the new capture ball that you can through at enemies (usually mid-bosses), and force them to fight on your side. A novel tactic that was explored in Darius Gaiden, but put to greater use here. Overall its a fun Darius game.


R-Types
From what I can tell, this is a near arcade perfect port of R-Type. There are a couple of home ports of this game, but I think this is the best, it looks great through RGB via scart. I am terrible at this game and nothing has changed. Both R-Type and R-Type II are on this port, and some options are selectable at the onset as well. I wish I were better at this game, as I feel my enjoyment of it is limited due to its punishing difficulty. Its a great game, I just have some kind of mental block where I die at the same point over and over again. One day I'm going to practice and try to get through it. One day.


Gekioh: Shooting King
This game is a fairly straight-forward game. Known on the Sega Saturn as Shienryu, the localized name doesn't do it any favors. I can't see it flying off the shelves with a name like that.
Anyway, its a very competent 2D vertically scrolling shooter, with some very nice effects. When enemy ships are hit, they trail downward, venting smoke all the way until they impact. This is impressive for a sprite-based game. The lightning weapon is equally as impressive when powered up; it jumps from enemy to enemy as it dispatches them one by one. Also present are a typical vulcan that widens with power ups and missile salvos. The character of the bombs also change, depending on which weapon you have. Control is smooth, and speed up capsules are available. Its a fun, lesser-known title.


Raiden DX

This is a tweaked and refined version of Raiden II, with more options and more advanced scoring mechanics. Specifically, you can choose from three levels: Alpha (training), Beta (5 stages), and Charlie (8 stages). Stages are remixed in the later Charlie level from the original Raiden II. It's kinda like the special champion edition hyper fighting version of Raiden. If you liked the earlier Raiden games, you'll like this as well. 



In the Hunt
A unique game in that there are very few submarine-based shoot'em ups. Without doing too much digging I can say this is the best one. Developed by the same team members as the Metal Slug series, the detail oozes from every pore. The love that went into the character sprite design is unparalleled. For a traditionally slow moving vehicle like a submarine, you might think that the level of action would be muted, but think again. There is so much going on at one time, it can be difficult to focus. Each torpedo, depth charge, missile, and explosion is laden with follow through animations, giving the game a level of animation that is inspiring. This can lead to some slowdown, as would be expected, but its a worthy tradeoff.



Zanac Neo
The first Zanac game on the NES was a difficult game. Even for its time, it was pretty impossible without a turbo fire setting. Zanac Neo, found on the Zanac X Zanac collection, shows its heritage in that regard. The visuals are fantastic, and the music is modernized with a trance - electronica grove thing going on, its reminds me of the music in Lumines. Like the original Zanac game, power ups are numbered, and you can level each one up if you collect them consecutively. It was developed my Compile, and similarities can be gleaned here and there if you follow the genre. I had more fun after I notched the difficulty down a bit.


Parodius Series


The Parodius series originated as a spin off of Gradius. The power up system and difficulty are the obvious give aways. The stage and enemy design is laden with choices that make you wonder what the programmers were smoking. There are multiple releases for the Playstation, but they were Japanese exclusives, like many games on this list. They are worth tracking down, as they are definitely unique, and a refreshing departure from the usual grim shoot'em ups out there.


Harmful Park
Once you get used to Parodius, the next step in weird shooters is Harmful Park. This game takes place in a theme park setting and builds stages around them. Roller coasters, zoos, candy shops, haunted houses all make for colorful and active scenery. Oddly, there is a wedding chapel scene where a distraught groom's tears sprayout and kill you. Makes sense. The weapons are as random as the stage design, employing pie throwing, shooting potatoes, and an sundae explosion. You can aquire a jello shield, becoming encased in a jello mold (like in The Office). If you die, you respawn automatically, which I much prefer. You'll likely die a lot as you get distracted by all of the random background happenings; its worth it as the game design is some of the most inventive ever seen in a shooter. This game is prohibitively expensive, it may be the most expensive shoot'em up on the system, so find another way to play.

So that was my second tier of Playstation shoot'em ups. All good games in their own right, just not quite good enough to crack the top ten. What do you think? What shoot'em ups that are under the radar do you think should get more attention?

Top Ten NES Two Player Vs. Games



My previous post was on my top two player co-op games for the NES, so this time I'm dredging up past rivalries and covering my top two-player versus games. Playing these games as a kid may have involved pushing, shoving, pulling your opponent's controller cord out of its port as you battle to back up all the your trash talk.


Super Dodge Ball

What kind of childhood would be complete without reliving the horrors of gym class dodge ball? In case you weren't traumatized enough during the school day, you can take out your aggressions in Super Dodge Ball for the NES. The game is sort of fun alone, but several times better against a live opponent (as are all of these games). There is variety to be found as each player has tweaked attributes, and differing power throws. There are some rules that I don't quite remember from gym class, but overall its a blast.


Tetris (Tengen)

The first Tetris game I played was the Tengen Tetris game. At the time, I had no idea that it was unlicensed, nor what that really meant. I remember the odd-shaped, black cartridge, and thinking it was odd, but whatever. This version allowed for two-player head to head, and that automatically makes it superior to Nintendo's official offering. It was the first two-player VS game that I ever played, and in my mind set the bar for how such games should play. As you clear lines, your opponent has junk rows added from the bottom, inhibiting his ability to clear lines effectively. The music was catchy, the colors popped off the screen, and there were little Russian dancers that would come out inbetween rounds.


Dr. Mario

A highly color-dependent puzzle game, Dr. Mario has you maneuvering bicolor pills that drop into a jar such that four pill halves in contiguous color contact disappear. The goal is to clear the play field. Just as in Tetris, the better you perform, the more difficult you make it for your opponent. There are only two music tracks, each one just as catchy as any Mario soundtrack. You'll be humming the melody to "Chill" or "Fever" for hours after you're done playing.


Ice Hockey

NES sports games did not require much actual sports knowledge, and I still don't know what icing is, but Nintendo's Ice Hockey built in its own layer of strategy by incorporating a simple concept everyone can understand. Fat guys are slow and strong, and skinny guys are fast and weak. By allowing you to choose the composition of your line, you choose your approach. Do you power through with a heavy set, knowing you'll lose every chase down of a loose puck, or do you finesse your way to the goal, knowing that if you get hit you're flattened and loose the puck? Debates still continue as to what is the optimum lineup.



Track & Field I & II

An early third-party release, Track and Field was a popular arcade conversion by Konami. What could be more adversarial than a pure button-masher? Want to see who will win a race? All you have to do press the buttons faster than your opponent. New and intriguing methods were devised to increase the rate of button taps. Two methods were using a shirt sleeve to rapidly slide your fingers back and forth over the buttons, using your index and middle fingers in a alternating tap. Other events required more than button mashing, like the timing of the javelin throw, jumping the hurdles, the clay pigeon shot, and others. This is a game that would fit well in a competition cart.


Pro Wrestling

Another early NES title, Pro Wrestling had just enough character, just enough simplicity, and and just enough realism to draw kids of the 80's in and pursue their own wrestling title dreams. I remember sleepovers where winner takes on all challengers, and keeping win-loss records on a notebook paper. Everyone had a favorite character, each with a signature move. Try the power moves too early and it will backfire on you. Will your opponent stay down on the mat long enough for you to leap off the top turnbuckle and crush him with a knee drop? Or will he roll out of the way, leaving you to crumple to the mat? Like the prematch posturing that took place before televised matches, this game brought out the most colorful insults.




Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road
Giant boulders are placed all over the course for character

This is an arena racer that shows the entire race course on screen. As such, your cars are pretty small. I don't know much about monster truck racing, but the courses seem ridiculously treacherous and unforgiving; perfect for a video game. The hardest part of this game is turning. Your controls are relative the to the direction the car is facing, and it can be easy to over turn and hit the wall just before a turn. With the aide of a Four Score adapter, you can race against three of your friends at the same time. It was a party game before party games existed. The difference between a skilled player and noob is painfully and hilariously evident. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the top finishers receive more money, and can upgrade their cars at a faster rate, further leaving unskilled drivers behind. A true gem that more people should play with friends.


Double Dribble
Do you know where "the spot" is?

There aren't a lot of basketball games on the NES, but even if there were, Double Dribble would have to be one of the best. It is hard to program a game with that many sprites moving around at the same time, yet Konami did a fine job replicating the fast pace of basketball. The graphics are serviceable, the sprites flicker as the cpu tries to keep up, and yet there is no slowdown to be found. The free throws involve timing, the three point shots are rare (unless you know "the spot"), and stealing passes is just as frustrating for your opponent as in real life. Despite not having the NBA license nor player likenesses, this game is worthy of settling disputes.


Blades of Steel
If you're anything like me, you often pass when you mean to shoot

Despite this being the second hockey game on this list, Blades of Steel has one thing that none of these other games offer: in game fights. If you keep harassing and checking the same player, he'll eventually throw down the gloves and be ready to duke it out. Player control is tight, and shooting and passing are intuitive. There's even a mini-Gradius game that you can play during intermission. Voice samples are impressive considering the machine. "Get the pass!"


Super Tecmo Bowl
If you are an NFL fan, its worth your time to track down the updated roms

Out of all of the competitive games on the list, I have found Tecmo Super Bowl to be the ultimate dispute settling, disparaging, humiliating, gloating, scream-inducing, controller-smashing game. Football is the sport I watched the most of growing up, and in our neighborhood, it was king. With quick plays and four quarters, you can do a lot of damage in little time, and have your opponent buried by halftime. Or, the game could come down to the last play. Part of the strategy is knowing the nuances of the game, and which team to use. Deeper than that, knowing the "money" plays and general football strategy will go a long way to provide an advantage. We're not talking "Madden"-deep strategy here, but even still, the cpu will control the players the users are not, so anticipating what the cpu will do can help you sneak some plays in that wouldn't work in real life.
This game has a cult following, and a community that hosts regional tournaments and updates rosters. You can even purchase an updated physical cart.

So there you have it. If you and a friend have a dispute that needs to be settled, you have a burning urge to yell "in your face", pick up those NES controllers and settle the issue like adults. Just don't throw the controller, as it is are harder to find replacements these days.