River City Ransom

I think it’s time we discuss one of the best NES games ever created, River City Ransom. To do justice to this NES masterpiece I feel we must first pay our respects to the company who created it, Technōs Japan. Technōs Japan is responsible for so many NES classics, but most notably they created the Kunio-kun series, which still lives on today even though sadly the company does not. The North American market saw some, but not all of the games in this series. The ones we did manage to get are some of my favorite games on the console, including Nintendo World Cup Soccer, Super Dodge Ball, Crash ‘N the Boys Street Challenge and of course River City Ransom.

River City Ransom is a non-linear beat em up style game with some RPG elements thrown in. The main story follows Alex and Ryan as they fight their way across River City in an attempt to rescue Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi who is being held captive inside River City High by the game’s villain, Slick. Along the journey they’re forced to fight through various gang territories as well as face several gang leaders which act as mini bosses. In summation you punch and kick your way through parts of town on a mission to save your girlfriend while collecting bouncing coins dropped by thugs to purchase items to increase your skills to defeat even tougher thugs.

One of my favorite aspects of River City Ransom is that the player can move anywhere on the screen, horizontally or vertically. That level of freedom in an NES game was a big deal back then. Each screen will spawn thugs from a variety of gangs in the game. Some of them will even wield weapons such as brass knuckles, baseball bats (both wooden and aluminum), chains, wheels, trash cans and sometimes even fallen comrades will be used to try and stop Alex and Ryan. Progressing forward or going backwards doesn’t require defeating the thugs on the screen, so running away like a wimp is fully supported in River City Ransom. At the end of some screens will be a boss for one of the gangs you’ve been fighting. These mini bosses are usually just a little bit harder than the thugs you’ve been fighting, but the further you progress the tougher they become.

From time to time you will enter different towns in which you can purchase food that will replenish your health and add additional points into stats. There will also be stores to buy self help books that will increase your fighting abilities. One town even offers a spa where you can see the main character’s pixelated derriere, which was always hilarious to see as a kid. To save all your progress River City Ransom offers a password system to keep track of your character’s progress through the game. I’ve previously voiced my hatred for this system as there are a few characters that can easily be confused while writing them down, as well as requiring so many characters in general that writing the whole password down could take up half the night after you’ve already put so many hours into the game.

River City Ransom is a fun challenge, as well as fun and funny in general. This game has given young me so many hours, if not days of enjoyment fighting the different thugs and reading their cries after I’ve kicked their faces in. To this day the bouncing coin sound is still in the memory banks in my head. I have to confess that I’ve never beaten River City Ransom. I know, I know, but hear me out. With as open world as this game is and as much as I truly, deeply and seethingly hate the game’s password system, I never bothered to write them down. I simply started from scratch and played a few hours of beat up the thug who cries for his mother, catch the bouncing coins and ask the cute girl in the burger shop for a smile over and over again, it was that simple. Even without having beaten the game all the way through I still stand by the statement that River City Ransom is one of the greatest NES games ever created.

Posted May 29th, 2020

The Curious Case of Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf

I was an exceedingly curious child, always getting myself into trouble while trying to figure out how and why things worked. One of my experiments was putting a Playstation disc onto my PC just to see if it would play the game. Back then I didn’t understand the concept of operating systems, BIOS, or why some games would only run on whatever system. The only thing that happened was a window popped up displaying the contents of the disc, much the same as it would for any data disc. Clearly I wasn’t the only curious person out there as it came to light that certain copies of Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf held a secret easter egg on the disc that could only be accessed by putting it into a PC.

How exactly this easter egg ended up on the final release version of the game disc is still a bit of a mystery, but with EA ever being the party pooper, once they found out about the stowaway data, they quickly recalled the game and released a patched version. Tiger Woods 99 PGA Tour Golf is, undeniably, a sports title, so while many video game collector’s may not own a copy at all, those who do may have the original version with the secret on the disc. Which version is more rare isn’t very well documented but I would guess that the version harboring the hidden secret may be a little easier to find than the patched version.

If you’ve just returned from checking through your Playstation collection to see whether or not you have the disc, there are a few simple ways to tell. The first thing to keep in mind is that the SLUS (00785) will never change, at least not between the two versions that I have. What does change is the ISBN and the UPC codes. If you already own a copy, or run across one in the wild, you’ll want to look for the ISBN:0-7845-1503-4 and UPC: 14633-07911. Another issue may be that the game may find its way into the wrong case, or it may have no case at all, so always be sure to check the disc as well. Just below the Tiger Woods 99 logo on the disc you will find copyright information followed by the code 791107, which slightly resembles the UPC code.

If you’ve found one in your collection, or happen to find one in the wild that matches the numbers above, you can now pop it into a PC and look for the hidden file yourself. The hidden secret is a file named ZZDUMMY.DAT. Even though the file is a .dat it can be viewed on many media players, such as VLC. Once the file is opened in a media player, the user will be greeted with the 1995 short film Jesus vs. Santa by the creators of South Park. This short was supposedly requested by FOX executives to pass around as a video Christmas card. Again, how and why this file ended up on the game disc are still a bit of a mystery.

Some might say I spent too much for both copies at a total of $4, and to be honest I kind of agree with you. It’s probably not a rare game, it’s probably not even a good game, but the video game oddity collector within myself wanted to own both the original and the patched version. This is nothing more than just one of those extremely weird oddities in the video game industry that made me want to own a game for no other reason than it’s silly little hidden secret.

Posted May 25th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Intec PS6010A w/ Turbo

Back in the day Intec were heavy hitters when it came to gaming peripherals. I don’t necessarily mean they were good, but they sure released a lot of them. Today I’ll be putting their PS6010A (is that the best they could come up with?) through its paces and see whether this controller was worth however much it retailed for.

Although I never personally seen one of these in a store brand new, I can imagine a young me being drawn to this controller back in the day. When almost every Playstation controller was drab grey this one is completely clear, allowing the internals and how this controller functions be seen. The main features of this controller, since it lacks any analog features, are a programmable turbo and a slow motion function.

The slow motion feature is fairly useless, at least in all the games I tested it with, because most games will either take you to a completely new screen once the Start button is pressed, or a large menu will obscure the entire screen. Factoring in the fact that most PS1 era games took a few seconds to load a pause screen and then a few more seconds to continue after the pause screen was disabled, the slow motion just feels like a relic left over from the cartridge era that really doesn’t translate well in the new CD based era.

Where the PS6010A really shines is the programmable turbo feature. Any of the action buttons can be programmed individually by holding the turbo button and simply pressing the button(s) you wish to program. Once programmed, pressing the buttons will illuminate an LED which will tell you that button has successfully been programmed. To disable turbo on any given button you simply press and hold the Clear button and then press the button you wish to deprogram. The LED will no longer flash once this button is pressed, telling you it is no longer turbo programmed.

The plus sides of the PS6010A are that it feels like an original digital Sony controller, it’s transparent and has a very useful programmable turbo function. The only real downside is the slow motion function. “Then don’t use the slow motion function.”, you might be saying. The problem there is the slow motion button has been placed right where the Select button usually is on a Sony controller, and the Select button has been moved to the right, just between Slow Motion and Start, leading to some accidental usage of the slow motion feature.

Overall I feel the PS6010A is a good alternative to the digital controller, not a replacement but indeed an alternative. It does feel a bit cheaper, but it doesn’t feel like it’s made out of extremely brittle plastic like some other controllers I’ve used. The turbo feature is something I can not praise enough about this controller. Simple to program, simple to deprogram and it actually made the games I tried it with more fun. The only true downside that I can see is the placement of the slow motion feature and that the slow motion feature really isn’t that useful.

Posted May 22nd, 2020

Wave Race for the Nintendo Game Boy

Believe it or not I didn’t know the Wave Race series began on the Nintendo Game Boy until I found and purchased a copy a few years ago. Produced by the ever popular Shigeru Miyamoto, Wave Race was released on the Game Boy all the way back in 1992, but only for North America. Europe had to wait until June 1997, making it feel more like a portable sequel to Wave Race 64, while Japan seemingly never received a local release of Wave Race at all. Wave Race still sold well enough on the Game Boy that it achieved Player’s Choice status. Is it any good? Let’s find out.

Wave Race allows the player to play alone against AI, practice alone or compete against up to 3 of their friends, pending everyone has a copy of the game, a link cable and someone has the four player adapter. The overall goal of Wave Race is to race through 16 different circuits in 8 different locations and earn enough points to unlock faster, although also more difficult to control, watercrafts. There are two styles of racing available: circuits will see the player competing in a lapped series of races where finishing in a higher position will gain more points. The other style is slalom, which will pit the player against other players to see who can collect points pylons. Points here are solely dependent on collecting pylons and the race is over once all points pylons have been collected.

Along side competition, the player must also contend with varying track conditions and the inertia of the watercraft itself. Strewn about the tracks might be shallows, whirlpools or heavy currents that may all cause the player problems in their attempt to compete. To combat these setbacks there are also power ups in the form of a dolphin or octopus. Once a power up is collected the watercraft will flash and afford the player one of two abilities: collecting a dolphin will give the player easier maneuverability while collecting an octopus will allow the player to bump into opponents and steal some of their turbo.

Speaking of turbo, the only thing that confused me about this game was the button arrangement. B is throttle and A is turbo, where I’m far more familiar with things being the opposite way around, but that’s just a minor gripe. Competition, however, is pretty fierce and will bump and jump your watercraft off the course. If you manage to miss a pylon on the circuit tracks you will be forced to go back and go around it properly, and the AI knows this.

I have to be honest here, the whole time I played Wave Race I felt like someone cut down Micro Machines to just the boat stages and made it the whole game. That’s not to say Wave Race isn’t a great game in its own right, in fact I think the fact that it made me think of Micro Machines should be considered a good sign. I’m more familiar with Wave Race 64, so finding out the series began life on the Game Boy was a shock, but Wave Race is a really fun game and I’m seeing now why it achieved Player’s Choice status.

Video Game Power Supplies

Those among us who are both vintage gaming fans and avid thrift shoppers will likely know that sometimes old consoles are easier to find than their essential hookups. Some thrift stores will split up a perfectly good set that came in complete and price everything individually to maximize profits. This means if you hit the store at the right time you may be lucky enough to find the whole set. But what happens if you’ve found everything but the power supply?

Using the correct power supply on a console is crucially important, something that can literally make or break your video game console. So what should someone look for when trying to find a replacement power supply for any given console? In my personal opinion OEM can never be beat. If I find an OEM power supply for any given video game console in a thrift store, taking into account the console can not be found, I will pick it up. These were manufactured to work with the console as intended by the console’s manufacturer and therefore I feel are the best choice.

Sadly time makes fools of us all and sometimes those old OEM power supplies are just useless blocks of plastic with broken, corroded or otherwise dead parts inside. With the boom in popularity of vintage gaming consoles, many third-party companies are now manufacturing power supplies to have readily available options to those who need their consoles powered and need them powered now. I don’t currently own any modern made power supplies, but I’ve seen them for quite a few systems. In their early inception, reviews for third-party PSUs were mixed as to whether they worked properly or killed consoles, so do your research on what brand to trust.

Before you go plugging in a console with a questionable PSU you’ve found in a box or a drawer, the important criteria you should check online as to what the console requires are: voltage, amperes, polarity of the plug and whether the console requires AC or DC power. AC or DC power, as well as voltage and plug polarity, must be strictly followed as per the console’s requirements, without exception. However, amperes can be more, but shouldn’t be fewer, than the console requires. Giving the console more voltage, the wrong polarity or wrong type of power can cause severe damage to the console. Giving the console fewer amperes than it requires may cause the PSU to overheat and damage the PSU or possibly worse. The console will only use however many amperes it requires, causing no harm in using higher amp rated PSUs.

Sometimes one power supply can power many different consoles, albeit not at the same time. For example, the Sega MK-1602 is a 10 volt DC PSU that works with the Sega Master System, first generation Genesis and both Sega CD units, but can also be used to power the Turbografx 16, Atari Jaguar, Famicom and Super Famicom. This power supply should NOT be used to power the NES, as the NES requires AC, likewise using the NES adapter on any of the above consoles could cause harm to them as well. Another thing to take into account is not all barrel plugs are created equal. In North America the NES and SNES power supplies use vastly different sized plugs, I’m guessing that was Nintendo telling consumers not to try and run the SNES off an NES power supply.

Most vintage Nintendo and Sega consoles will have third-party power supply options, but what happens when you have some oddball console like the Atari 2600, which uses a 3.5mm headphone style jack, or the Colecovision using a completely proprietary plug that you’re simply never going to find anywhere else? In those cases I would say that rebuilding one yourself might be the only option, but exercise extreme caution while both tearing down the PSU and using the PSU after it’s rebuilt as it could be dangerous under both circumstances. Most likely a rebuilt PSU, done properly, will work just fine but I would err on the side of caution when rebuilding and using a rebuilt PSU, just my personal preference.

This is the age of the internet and therefore a lot of information has already been archived about what power supplies will work with what. I would suggest heeding great caution when it comes to powering those vintage consoles. Taking the time to hunt down a proper PSU will deliver a longer life for the PSU and the console, giving you many more years of fun with that console. Sure, repairs can be made in many cases but comparing the time it takes to get the right PSU in the first place to the time it takes to repair a broken console that was powered up haphazardly with a random PSU will show that tracking down the correct PSU is clearly the best choice.

Posted May 15th, 2020

Peripheral Vision: Namco NeGcon

Way back at the end of 2010 I saw one of the strangest controllers I had ever seen at a local thrift store. For some reason I decided to pass on buying it until I went back a few months later, during their New Years sale. Seeing it was still there I purchased it without hesitation. After purchasing this odd little peripheral I didn’t do much with it beyond making sure it worked and putting it away with the rest of my gaming controllers. The poor thing has been sitting in a box amongst its controller brethren, but given the world has been put on standby for now I figured now is as good a time as any to pull it from its resting place and give it a good try out.

The first thing you’ll notice about this controller is that the center, where the controller pivots, is actually an analog steering mechanism for driving/racing games. The normal Playstation buttons have been replaced with A, B, I and II, the latter of which are actually analog buttons usually used for throttle and braking. L2 and R2 have been removed entirely and start is now a round button all by itself without a Select button to keep it company. Needless to say this controller will not work with a large portion of the PS1 library, for one reason or another.

When it comes to using analog, I still haven’t gotten it down. Sure, I’ve had controllers that use analog sticks since the Dualshock 22 years ago, but I still haven’t managed to master how analog works. I always tap analog sticks as if they were D-pads when I go around corners in every driving/racing game I play, I can never find that balance point. So when I booted up a few of the NeGcon compatible games that I own I had hopes that maybe I could finally find that balance point and drive like a pro.

First up I tried Namco Museum Vol. 3, in which I played Pole Position II. The only thing I can say is WOW! No, seriously, I was honestly expecting this controller would be a squirrelly mess but that was far from the truth. It took a while to really hone in on that balance point, but once I did I was able to float the car through the corners like butter. I am really impressed with how well the NeGcon worked. Although, come to think about it, the NeGcon and Namco Museum Vol. 3 are both from the same company, so shouldn’t they work in perfect harmony?

Let’s try Motor Toon Grand Prix, another game that is compatible with the NeGcon but produced by Polyphony Digital. Again, the cars floated through the corners pretty well after I took a while to familiarize myself with the way these cars handled. Motor Toon Grand Prix is a really good game, maybe because it’s from the same company who brought us Gran Turismo. Speaking of, that’s what I tried next. And yet again, after taking a few laps to familiarize myself with the weight of the car the NeGcon has an absolute brilliant response. I won’t lie, with Gran Turismo I still twisted the controller in a way similar to tapping an analog stick, but not as much as I would an actual analog stick. I’m really impressed!

Now, just for giggles let me try some games that aren’t officially supported and see whether they would even recognize the NeGcon. First up I tried Disney’s Magical Racing Tour and couldn’t get past the menu. There simply aren’t enough buttons, no dice. The same happened when I booted up Test Drive Off Road 2, the button the game is looking for to be pressed to pass the menu simply isn’t present.

Now I moved on to Nascar 98 and I was surprised to see the game actually has graphics for the I and II buttons. I was able to get out on the track and the analog throttle and brakes worked, but, and this is a huge but (so much so Sir Mix-a-lot might be interested), steering was an absolute nightmare. The controller only twists about 180 degrees and it took that whole span to do anything at all. With Nascar 98 there is an inside view where you can see the steering wheel move, and it was moving ever so slightly with each twist, but in the end it only amounted to just enough to make the turn and nothing more. Using the NeGcon with Nascar 98, even though it has the graphics for the I and II buttons works, but it’s just no fun.

Lastly I tried Hot Wheels Turbo Racing and I’ll try to sum it up as bluntly as possible by saying “Same as Nascar 98”. Turning on the ground was horrible but for some reason when the car was in the air it seemed to respond better, not great, but better. The problem being, as we all should know, steering only works when the wheels are on the ground. Normally Hot Wheels Turbo Racing is a fairly fun game, but not with the NeGcon!

For the games that the NeGcon is compatible with, it worked an absolute treat! Although few, there is a list online detailing all the games it’s compatible with, including a few PS2 games, surprisingly. For the games the NeGcon is not compatible with, well, it wasn’t fun at all and I’d rather not speak of that experience ever again. The NeGcon is fun peripheral that, if fully supported, really can make racing games more fun somehow. With it’s analog buttons for throttle and brake, the buttery smooth pivot in the center and having just enough buttons to get you into the game to race and nothing more, I actually feel bad that I never gave this thing a try before now!

Posted May 11th, 2020

Rockin Kats for the NES

In 1991 the good people of Atlus released a game by the name of N.Y. Nyankies for the Famicom in Japan. Later that year North America would receive it as Rockin’ Kats. When I finally got my hands on a copy of Rockin’ Kats, many years later, I remember loving it right from the start. At its core the game is a platformer much the same as the Super Mario Bros. series, but Rockin’ Kats brought its own style to the genre and added aspects that made it feel completely unique.

In Rockin Kats the player takes control of a blue cat by the name of Willy. Willy is a young jazz musician in New York City with the nickname of The Rockin’ Kat. To add a goal to the game, Willy’s girlfriend Jill has been kidnapped by the local crime boss, Mugsy. Willy must now fight through different levels, armed only with his punch gun. The levels are presented in a television channel like system, rather than linear levels, with varying themes, opponents, mini bosses and bosses. Ultimately Willy must rescue his love Jill and defeat Mugsy.

In total there are five stages, with the first four stages being playable in any order. The fifth and final stage becomes available once the other four have been defeated. There is also a shopping channel where the player can buy bonus items with the cash they’ve obtained throughout the game to help them throughout any of the other stages. If the cash found in any given stage isn’t enough, there is also a bonus channel with mini games for additional cash and extra lives, however in this case it takes money to make money. Rockin’ Kats also offers a fairly simple password feature to keep the progress players have put their time and effort into.

Once Mugsy is defeated and launched into outer space, Willy and Jill are reunited, but that’s not the end of the story. Although peace has been restored, after the credits roll, Mugsy will challenge the player to one more time around. You can choose to stop before the credits, as you did beat the game, but the added bonus is a way to get just a little more play out of this game.

Rockin’ Kats isn’t really a challenging game, but some aspects can be a bit tricky for the player during a first time play through. Learning to use the punch gun is key to mastering the various ways it can help the player defeat bosses and master level environments. The levels aren’t all that long either, but the mini boss and boss fights can take a little time to learn their patterns. Rockin’ Kats is a game I played and replayed so many times as a kid. I’ve seen a few people talk about it, but not as much as I really think this game deserves. I feel Rockin’ Kats is an absolute NES classic and should be talked about far more than it currently is.

Posted May 8th, 2020