Board Game Top Shop Review

Throughout the lifespan of the original Playstation many games were haphazardly published just to see what would stick and what wouldn’t. When it came time to make room for Playstation 2 games, many stores were all too happy to bundle together the games left unsold from the previous console and hand them off with almost any purchase. Buying a bunch of bananas for $1.99? Here are your included 45 Playstation games that nobody else wants. And that is how my Playstation collection grew from a well cultivated dozen games to over 100 within a matter of months, back in 2002.

More often than not the games were worth less than the disc they were printed on. Sometimes I found myself feeling pity for the poor souls who labored their lives away on these things. I know someone tried really hard to make a dream come true with these games, but they’re so far from playable it’s kind of sad. But sometimes, sometimes, there would be a game that would completely amaze me and kept me entertained for hours on end. One of the latter that truly stands out in my mind is Top Shop (or Board Game Top Shop if you’re being pedantic).

Top Shop was originally released in Japan as Tenant Wars, which I think is a far more apt title, in 1999 before being brought out of Japan by our good friends at A1 games and Agetec. Top Shop allows you to play alone with AI or against up to six real people. In a way Top Shop feels heavily inspired by Monopoly, except shrunken down and shoved into a shopping mall where you purchase and maintain stock and upgrades to a retail store. You can choose between Free or Story modes, Free mode being my favorite, and the object is fairly basic; earn as much money as you possibly can while forcing your opponent(s) into bankruptcy.

There are eight different maps, or should I say malls, to choose from with 44 different styles of stores. Each store has their own unique products to stock. The player, in free mode, can also choose from 11 different avatars to play. The anime style, even though I’m not a fan of anime, is cutesy and fun. The graphics looks really good, and still hold up today, mostly due to the 2D nature of the game.

To start the player will roll a pencil as a sort of die and from there you either move as many spaces along or you may trigger a random event where you choose a card. Landing on an empty space will allow the player to purchase that space and build a retail store within. While sometimes difficult, but not impossible, purchasing up to four adjacent spaces will allow the store to be expanded into a much larger retail store, offering much better, aka expensive, merchandise. Landing on a space that is already occupied by a store will force the player to purchase at least one, but no more than two, products from the store, after items are purchased from either player or AI stores, the items must be restocked, if stock runs completely out the store is shut down and that space becomes available for purchase once more.

Each mall has different tiers and to help navigate this are both elevator and escalator spaces. Landing on an escalator will move the player up to the next tier. The elevator can be used to choose which floor you wish to be moved to. One thing that is very important is remembering to stop by the bank and collect the payments from all the purchases made in your store by other players. In the bank you can collect your payments as well as trade in points, earned when making purchases from other shops, for special bonuses that will help you seal the fate of your greedy fellow shop owners.

I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I purchased Top Shop. I never really got into virtual Monopoly or any other board games on consoles, to be honest, but something about Top Shop drew me in, and to be honest I’ve played this game far more than I care to admit. The replay value is remarkably high as well. With so many different stores and mall settings to choose from, as well as with how long a single game can be played and played enjoyably throughout. Top Shop truly and utterly blew me away with how such an unassuming game could be so much fun and to a slight degree addictive. Whether it’s played alone with the AI or using the multi-tap to play with family and friends I think Top Shop is a worthwhile purchase.

Posted April 27th, 2020

A Tribute to the Nintendo 64

As the Nintendo 64 nears its twenty fourth birthday I can’t help but feel ever more enamored with the aging console. You see, when I was 16 I walked into a Target store and experienced Bloody Roar playing on the Playstation kiosk, and being 16 meant expendable time and income were my only assets. It was right then and there that I made the choice to buy myself a Playstation. Within an hour I was back home playing through a demo disc and thoroughly loving it. Nearly all of my future paychecks were spent on Playstation games, so I never had any reason to so much as think about the Nintendo 64.

I do, however, have fond memories of spending countless weekends at a friend’s house who had what felt like every gaming console imaginable. Nearly every single Friday I would rush home to ask my parents if I could go spend the weekend at my friend’s house. The weekend would often start at a local rental place by the name of Movieland USA. My friend and I would often pick up racing games, or at least something that we could compete against each other in. There is still one game he and I both remember, with varying degrees of details between the two of us, but we do agree that whatever it was that game was obviously fun enough to still remember. Even with all the fun we had I never saw anything within the Nintendo 64 that struck me as a console I needed to own, as I was still trying to financially support my Playstation addiction.

I didn’t personally own a N64 until ten years ago, just before the vintage gaming boom really took control. I saw a Nintendo 64 for sale on Craigslist and decided to purchase it. Prior to that I did pickup a few N64 games from thrift stores that were too cheap to pass up, even knowing full well I didn’t have a console to play them on. As the Nintendo 64 games continued to fall into my hands, slowly, throughout many many thrift store trips, the N64 became an important console to me on a more personal level.

A year or so before buying my first N64 my life fell apart at the seams, so I relied heavily on video games to take me away from reality. Besides using them to escape reality it helped rekindle some of that nostalgia of spending weekends at my friend’s house and it also set me on a journey to discover a console that I had never given a fair chance before. One of my favorite N64 games at the time was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, with its bright banana yellow cart. I own the Playstation version, but for some reason the N64 version calms me and helps me unwind after dealing with the reality of life.

Fast forward to 2020 and life has yet again become a sea of anxieties, unknowns and for much of the world’s population a lesson in desperation. With all the consoles I now own I’ve preferred to pull out my Nintendo 64 far more than I have any of my other options. It seems the Nintendo 64 has also been receiving quite a bit of love from third-party companies like Retro-Bit with their Tribute 64 controllers. Current situations plus brand new controllers, that are actually really good, plus games being readily available from online retailers means I’m finding myself wanting to discover, and rediscover, what exactly the era of the Nintendo 64 was all about.

I still believe the Playstation is superior in terms of performance, but the memories of time spent with the N64 throughout my life, coupled with the unknown territory that I’m still exploring about the console and its library has made it an important console in my life. Recently I’ve discovered games such as Diddy Kong Racing, BattleTanx Global Assault and most recently World Driver Championship, which absolutely blew away with how good the game looks compared to many of the other racing games on the console. The more I play these games the more I want to fully explore the N64 library, and that is what keeps me focused on the good times that are still ahead.

Times get tough and scary, but if you manager your assets wisely and focus on a hobby you truly enjoy things do get better. Now more than ever I think it helps to find that hobby, or in my case console, that most interests you and give it what attention you can afford. If you’re like me pull out your old consoles, blow off the dust and give it a go with a game you may have never given a proper play through before. Or maybe a game that brings back a lot of nostalgia, like sitting down with friends or family for a round of Mario Party, just make sure everyone wears palm protection.

Posted April 24th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Wico Command Control for the NES

I own a couple of the Wico Command Controls for the Atari 2600 and think they’re an ok alternative to the original controller. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they produced one for the NES. Why would someone want a joystick for NES games instead of the D-Pad that Nintendo gave to the world that has become an industry standard? Ok, there are a handful of arcade ports on the NES as well as some flying games that perhaps I could see someone wanting a joystick for, but does the Wico Command Control even work as well as an NES controller?

Short answer: kind of. Long answer: it’s functional with every game I tested it with and does an adequate job, but it’s still not as good as the grey rectangle with two red buttons. To test the Wico Command Control I started where I felt the controller would shine best, Galaxian. No surprise here, but it did fine. It didn’t add anything to the experience, but it did maybe make things feel a slight bit more like an arcade. Next I decided to test how accurate it could be with Super Mario Bros. and actually to my surprise it worked pretty well. Super Mario Bros. is a game I use to test controllers because the inputs are immediate and there is an action for every button. The Wico Command Control actually did pretty well, not great but it did well.

I own quite a few joysticks for the NES from various brands and I have to say the Wico Command Control is the most bare-bones joystick I own. The other joysticks offer a turbo feature, but not with the Wico Command Control. The cable is extremely short, but that seems universal across all of my third-party NES controllers. It does offer ambidexterity, which is a nice little feature. It’s also shaped slightly like an NES controller, far more so than the version for Atari 2600 and 8-bit computers.

The Wico Command Control did a good job through all that I asked it to do, but still I don’t see myself purposely reaching for it over any of my other third-party NES controllers. I’m going to go ahead and say this controller obviously wasn’t marketed at me, but maybe someone coming out of the 8-bit computer era who was more accustom to using a joystick and wanted to ease themselves into using the NES controller. For that purpose I can see this controller being a good choice, but for me personally I’ll stick to the rectangle, or the dog bone, thank you very much.

Posted April 20th, 2020

Super Cars for the NES

Until I first saw Super Cars for the NES at one of my local media resale stores I had never heard it. The label, unashamedly, shows a pair of Nissan 300zx IMSA racing against two other opponents, which made me wondered if this was going to be some kind of Gran Turismo style game for the NES. For the couple of dollars the store was asking I was willing to take the risk to find the answer.

Super Cars was ported to the NES in 1991 by Electro Brain, after Gremlin Graphics released it for many 8-bit computers the previous year. Super Cars is a top-down racing game in much the same ilk of Micro Machines, with a little bit of Super Off Road and R.C. Pro-AM splashed in for good measure. The main goal of the game is to compete against the AI in a series of nine races. If you win all nine races you’ll be elevated to the next level of difficulty.

From the start the player can immediately choose one of nine tracks and start earning money to help maintain and modify there current car, or later in the game purchase a much faster, albeit harder to control, vehicle. Between races you’ll mostly be spending that money to refill your gas, replace your tires or repair your body and engine for the next race to come as if any of these items are completely neglected it’s game over. Modifying your vehicle is always a good idea, if you have money left from doing your repairs. Items such as a High Speed Kit, Power Steering, Turbo Charger and even better brakes are on offer, which do provide a slight bit of improvement on your vehicle, however one very important thing to note is that these upgrades will only last throughout the upcoming race and will need to be purchased again for each and every race. — Yeah, seriously!!

Alongside useful upgrades you can also purchase weapons, which are nothing more than a waste of cash. Front and rear missiles shoot only one projectile out either side of the vehicle and rarely, if ever, actually strike the opponent. Another reason I feel the weapons are useless is because the AI never really pose much of a challenge. They always stay on track and cruise along at a fairly normal pace, meaning as long as you make your turns properly you’ll be able to pass them on any available straight and never have to worry about them again. However, there in lies the problem, those pesky turns can be a bit of a problem at first, but once you’ve gotten a few races in, coupled with the upgrades, you should be perfectly capable of managing to win every race. The only real problems you might face are the occasional water or oil slick on the track, which are usually easy to steer around and miss.

What is a racing game without crashing? Well, Super Cars will tell you! Crashing into anything will merely slow you down, frustrate you for a second or two and it will lower the condition of your body and engine. Otherwise, crashing is just a waste of time. Again, once you’ve got a few races under your belt and you’ve bought the upgrades you really won’t have any reason to crash anyway. Plus, crashing isn’t even satisfying from a sound standpoint. When you crash into things it sounds like someone biting into a stack of Pringles chips. Which is yet another thing, Super Cars doesn’t really offer much in the sound department at all. The crunch of Pringles and a very slight chirp from the tires every time you turn — and I do mean every time — is all you get in terms of sound effects.

What Super Cars lacks in sound effects it more than makes up in Soundtrack. The music on this game is absolutely amazing. I’m not one to really take notice of video game music during the old bit era, but when music is 99% of what you’ve got to hear during a game, it’s all you can notice. The music sounds very much like Micro Machines on the Gameboy. It makes me want to play this game just to hear the music, the best part is that you can actually pause the game and the music still plays! So if you’re like me, you may find yourself booting up Super Cars, starting a race just to pause it and do anything other than actually play the game.

Now I’m not saying Super Cars is a bad game and you’ll never actively want to play it, I find it to be a good time waster in short bursts. Which is nice because it comes with a unique password system where you change the color on a grid of cars. I’m not entirely sure when you obtain a passwords, maybe after beating all nine races and advancing to a new difficulty level now that I think about it. I will say though that five laps per race seems a bit too much, especially considering there are nine tracks to complete. I’m guessing this was their way of extending the playtime of this game.

All things considered Super Cars is fun for short bursts of racing, but I can’t recommend it over anything that it’s styled even remotely like. All the games that it can be compared to are superior and have much more replayability. Super Cars is an interesting game, fun in short bursts and has an amazing music selection. If they had only taken the time to make the AI and tracks a bit more challenging and given the weapons more purpose I think this game could have easily been one of the top racing games on the NES today, and remembered fondly by many people.

Posted April 17th, 2020