Monday, 21 May 2012

Hang About...Haven't I Been Here Before? The Wonderful World Of Video Game Cartography

Save for a few brave soles who would diligently scribble down in pencil, each and every room from their favourite video games of the 80s and 90s, before inking it all in with biro, adding some flourishes of colour with their best felt tips and eventually posting off their creations to the 'usual address' of their favourite computer gaming monthly, the world of video game cartography has rarely been explored, unravelled or appreciated. That is until now...

Thanks to the sterling efforts of the people over at every single nook and cranny from your favourite 8-bit, 16-bit and even some 32 and 64-bit games has been chronicled, stitched together and laid out for your eyes to feast on, and quite a sight it is too. Ever wondered what the whole of the inside of Dracula's Castle looks like? Or just how long Yoshi's Island really is? Or what is just out of view on those glossy tree tops in Donkey Kong Country? Well all these answers and more are waiting for you over at

It is a highly recommended site, not only for those perilious video game explorers who need a handy hint, or the location of that elusive power up. But simply as a distraction to whatever it is you are supposed to be doing today, and a chance to really appreciate the level design of many of the greats of video gaming. Put the kettle on, grab a handful of your favourite biscuits, and spend half an hour taking in a fresh perspective of worlds you have no doubt visited countless times before...Go deserve it.

Monday, 6 February 2012

ThatGameCompany and GameCity 6 Challenge The Idea Of Audience With 'Journey Live' Event

Whilst shooting a short documentary for a friend during this year's GameCity festival I managed to have some down time, during which I went along to Robin Hunicke and ThatGameCompany's 'live performance' of their new game Journey. The experience was an incredibly captivating one, the audience clearly invested in the nomadic world of the nameless protagonist.

Following on from Robin's Performance of Flower at a previous GameCity festival, these performances mark a new, shared experience in video games before a live audience.

Finally a big thanks is due to ThatGameCompany and GameCity for supporting the video on their official Facebook pages.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Tri Ace Take Handheld Gaming Beyond...The Labyrinth

Big things are not surprisingly expected of Tri Ace's new RPG for the 3DS, the game already having its artistry likened to games such as Ico and A Shadow's Tale.  Aside from the jaw dropping visuals the developers' RPG heritage should also promise well oiled mechanics, intelligent characterisation and dramatic storytelling. Most interesting is the game's experiment in 'breaking of the fourth wall' having the lead character Yorda address you, the player, directly. Tri Ace's RPG credentials, including entries in both the Star Ocean and Final Fantasy series mean this is definitely one to keep an eye on leading up to the official release date.

Yuji Naka Set To Deliver True 'End Of Generation' Gem To The Wii

Until now, details of Yuji Naka's Rodeo: The Sky Soldier had been virtually non existent. There have been no screenshots, no video and no specific details on exactly what Naka's 'very original action game based in the sky' held for hungry Sega fans. That is until now, and the amazing news is that the game is already complete for Nintendo Wii and 3DS, and is in the process of being distributed through Prope.

Rodeo: The Sky Soldier is is a far cry from Naka's 2010 offering Ivy The Kiwi, a well received yet simplistic platform puzzler devoid of the high octane twists, turns, loops and all out speed of Naka's earlier work. But all that is set to change this year with Rodeo.  The trailer not only evoking Naka's signature work, but the in your face blast'em ups of Treasure mixed with the thrills and spills of classic Yu Suzuki. Heck, Naka's not even afraid to take on Team Ico at their own game, having our eponymous hero scale a jaw dropping colossi.

One to book mark your calender for, as soon as a release date is finally attached to this sometime in 2012

Friday, 4 November 2011

World's Favourite Search Engine Goes All Spintendo...

It seems the cultural impact of video games shows no signs of slowing down, so much so, that the instructive words of Starfox 64's Peppy Hare have had a lasting impression on the designers over at Google. What am I talking about? Well head on over to Google, type the legendary words: 'Do a barrel roll' into the search bar and gawk in amazement.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Game Designers Are Really Nice People...

That age old aphorism 'never meet your heroes' has no place in the overtly humble world of the video game industry, and no event is more acutely aware of this than Nottingham's GameCity. A festival I'm sure whose feelings would be hurt if you didn't want to meet them. Now in its sixth year GameCity is the world's only festival to celebrate video game culture by provoking thought and discussion on what video game experiences mean to their creators and audiences alike.

As the ever enthusiastic and witty festival creator Iain Simons introduced this year's event to the select audience gathered in the lavishly turned out marquee on Nottingham's Old Market Square, he was happy to point out no less than three influential game designers, all stood within metres from myself, mingling within the crowd, with none of the pomp or self importance that is the usual reserve of more established creative industries. First onto the stage was Robin Hunicke producer of ThatGameCompany's PSN hit Flower and soon to be released Journey, her sentiments echoing those of the festival. Her altruistic vision: to inspire new generations of game designers, citing that 'what is important are not the events of GameCity 14, or GameCity 20, but of GameCity 1000' and the game designers that will be influenced by the endeavours of the festival far into the future, seeing GameCity as the catalyst to mould new thinking and fresh perspectives for future generations. And if the previewed trailer of her latest game Journey was anything to go by, Hunicke and ThatGameCompany are sure to succeed: 

Back on the stage and Iain Simons was quick to introduce the second of the evening's modest luminaries, Richard Lemarchand Co Lead Designer on Unchartered 3: Drake's Deception from Santa Monica based developers Naughty Dog. And while Lemarchand didn't take to the stage he did take the reception to his latest endeavour with considerable grace, no mean feat when we're talking about one of the biggest blockbuster franchises to grace the Playstation 3:

The third and final designer was the ever popular and wonderfully celebrated Eric Chahi, creator of Another World, Heart of Darkness and the recently released From Dust for Xbox Live. Eric has been invited to curate the first day of the festival beginning his 'boot cycle' tomorrow with events as far reaching as music workshops involving the Tenori-On, a visual instrument developed by Elektroplankton creator Toshio Iwai. A 60 person dinner for which Eric has created the menu and will discuss his gaming career throughout and an evening of game inspired music with Nottingham musician Exile promising to provide Wii remote controlled visuals and video game sampled beats, bloops and beeps.

After the introductory speeches and the declaration of the event being officially opened (in which Iain Simons literally fell to his knees to present Eric Chahi with the key to the festival) there was a chance for the fans to meet the makers, and the makers to meet the fans, continuing that fine tradition, nay, mission statement of GameCity as a platform for discussion about the things we hold dear about our favourite pass time, or in my case just a chat about the weather and the local pubs in Nottingham with Eric Chahi, but I must have made some kind of impression on him as he signed my game with the following inscription:

Translation: For Matt, with friendship, Eric.

What a thoroughly nice bloke.

GameCity 6 runs from the the 26th to the 29th of October in venues throughout Nottingham City. Check the Official schedule for details.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

What? Really? £2.35...For Some Of The Best Games The Famicom Has To Offer? Surely There's A Catch?

OK, So my intention was never to talk about pirated software on here, but I recently stumbled upon a few websites claiming to sell games that 'Simply reminds you the old good times' and with a such a warm and thoroughly Chinglish welcome, my new AV Famicom sitting there with no new games and prices for original Famicom carts rising daily on eBay, how could I resist. My immediate reaction was to scour the internet for souls braver than me who had already taken the plunge, already thrown down their £2.35 per cart and thrown all caution to the wind in an attempt to unearth some Famicom gems and hopefully shed some light on what was actually meant by titles like SD Fighter, Contra 6, Three Eyes Prince and Silk. But alas, it seemed nobody had been brave enough, except for the odd maverick here and there on Youtube, who had bought the odd one or two of these cartridges and been gracious enough to do us a little video review. But I was still left scratching my head at the titles, what was I actually going to find, if at all anything, on these horridly moulded lumps of plastic (at least I think its plastic, all the cartridges appear to have the looks and equivalent strength of a material that shares more in common with a vegetable derivative rather than oil, but the delicacy with which you have to handle these things is part of the fun, right? Right?). Well dear reader it appears that it was down to me to take that the plunge, and I felt it was my God given duty as a gamer to share with you what I found on these tiny little circuit boards, in the hope that this post may aid weary internet explorers in the future. Trust me...there really were a few pleasant surprises in there... So without further ado...


Game One: labelled THREE EYES BOY. Actual Game: MITSUME GA TOORU Natsume/Tomy (1992)

Mitsume Ga Tooru is surely the jewel in the crown of this cartridge's collection and worth (Perhaps 30 times) the asking price of £2.35. Based on Astro Boy creator, Osamu Tezuka's manga and anime of the same name (literally translated as The Three Eyed One) the game pits protagonist Hosuke Sharaku in the usual quest to free a kidnapped girlfriend from the clutches of an evil nemesis (interestingly enough also sporting a third eye). It is worth noting that the game was developed by Famicom veterans Natsume and was done so quite late in the machine's life cycle, so expect top notch platform antics, flourishes of excellent game design and the stretching of the hardware to the limit to deliver one of the Famicom's greatest action platformers rivalling much of the 16-Bit output of the time.

Game Two: labelled SILK. Actual game: SILKWORM Tecmo/Sammy (1990)

Tecmo's horizontal arcade shmup allows you to take either a helicopter or Jeep into battle against swarms of enemies.

Games Three & Four: labelled DRAGONBALL FIGHT 2 & 3 Actual games: Unlicensed Pirate 1-on-1 Fighters

These final two games on the cartridge appear to be your usual button mashing one on one, pirate fighter fair. I don't belive they are pirates of actually released titles, but I would be happily corrected if anyone out there knows any better.


Game One: labelled KAGE. Actual game: KAGE / SHADOW OF THE NINJA / BLUE SHADOW Natsume/Taito (1990)

The first of two stand out titles on this cartridge. Kage is again action platforming nirvana from Natsume, with ninjas, weapons, wall crawling and boss fights galore in a similar vein to Famicom favourite Ninja Gaiden.

Game Two: labelled MONSTER IN MY POCKET. Actual Game: MONSTER IN MY POCKET Konami (1992)

Konami's decent side scrolling platformer based on the late 80s toy range.

Game Three: labelled STREET FIGHTER 12P. Actual Game: Unlicensed Street Fighter Clone

Game Four: labelled SUMMER CARNIVAL. Actual game: GUN NAC Compile/Tonkin House (1990)

The second of the stand out titles rounding out this compilation is Compile's Gun Nac an incredibly pacey vertical scrolling shmup guaranteed to keep trigger happy shooter fans engaged.


Game One: labelled CONTRA 6. Actual game: SUPER CONTRA / SUPER C / PROBOTECTOR II Konami (1990)

Much like the widespread original pirate Contra cartridge known as Contra 24 (and reviewed below) this version of Super Contra allows you to start the game with all manner of cheats applied, be it different weapons, level skips or with the infamous Konami Code cheat for 30 lives. The game can also be played in its original untouched state. Again a sterling entry in the Contra series and one of the greatest run and guns on the Famicom.

Game Two: labelled KAGE. Actual game: KAGE / SHADOW OF THE NINJA / BLUE SHADOW Natsume/Taito (1990)

Game Three: labelled FINAL MISSION. Actual game: FINAL MISSION / S.C.A.T. / ACTION IN NEW YORK Natsume (1990)

Final Mission is another sure fire hit from Natsume, and an increasingly hard to find game. Natsume's side scrolling space marines vs. aliens shmup evoking memories of the Capcom classic Forgotten Worlds employing an adjustable second weapon for peripheral damage. Sweet.

Game Four: labelled CONTRA 2. Actual Game: CONTRA FORCE Konami (1992)

While I'm not totally familiar with Konami's Contra Force. This seems to be a hacked version of the game giving the characters the names of Guile, Rocky and Ryu. The sprites also seem to have been swapped. Still its perfectly playable.


Game One: labelled BUBBLE BOBBLE. Actual game: BUBBLE BOBBLE PART TWO Taito (1993)

The continuing adventures of Bub and Bob just doesn't seem to have the wealth of collectables, two player support or indeed the charm of the first game in the series.

Game Two: labelled KICK MASTER. Actual game: KICK MASTER Taito (1991)

Taito's Kick Master while developed in Japan only received a North American release. This side scrolling martial arts fest is another hidden gem in the Famicom's crown, and is similarly hard to find on the collector's market. Its perfect blend of chop socky action and RPG elements making it a firm favourite with retro fans.

Game Three: labelled SD FIGHTER. Actual game: MIGHTY FINAL FIGHT Capcom (1993)

Only a couple of years after the underwhelming release of Final Fight on the Super NES came this amazing, super deformed version of the game for the Famicom complete with a whole new backstory, a huge cast of enemy characters, new levels and most importantly the choice of all three original characters. Again a gem in the Famicom library and a game any self respecting brawler/Final Fight fan should play.

Game Four: labelled STREET FIGHTER 12P. Actual Game: Actual game: Unlicensed Street Fighter Clone

Cartridge Five: JX TV.GAME CARTRIDGE: KV-2001 CONTRA 24

Game One: labelled CONTRA 24. Actual game: CONTRA Konami (1988)

Like the Super Contra edition bundled in the cart above, this cartridge is like having your own copy of Contra with a Game Genie permanently strapped to it allowing you to play all manner of variations of the original run and gun classic. Start on any level, start with any weapon, start on any level with any weapon, start with the Konami code activated or just play the 'balls hard' classic as it was meant to be played with no cheats whatsoever. With Contra 24 the choice is yours. 


Games One, Two & Three: labelled THE ADVENTURE ISLAND II, III & IV. Actual games: TAKAHASHI MEIJIN NO BOKUN JIMA / ADVENTURE ISLAND II, III & IV Hudson Soft (1991-1994)

Contained in this wonderful little package is the almost complete collection (except the first game) of Hudson's Wonderboy mimicking platformer series Adventure Island. What is of most interest here is the inclusion of Adventure Island IV, previously only released in Japanese territories the game was the very last release for the Famicom in 1994 and a deviation from the standard platforming fair of the previous games, including more of a sprawling Metroidvania style adventure complete with fetch quests and mini games galore. Recommended. Plus tracking one down on eBay will cost you in excess of £100.00.

Cartridge Seven: JX TV.GAME CARTRIDGE: YH-3130 SUPER GAME 3-IN-1

Game One: labelled SNOW BROS. Actual game: SNOW BROS Toaplan/Capcom (1990)

Toaplan's single screen arcade game shares many similarities with Taito's Bubble Bobble, but has enough charm and invention of its own to make it stand out from the crowd. The increasing rarirty of Snow Bros. games on all platforms (and subsequent high prices) and the excellent quality of this arcade port make this an attractive addition to the cartridge.

Game Two: labelled TEKKEN. Actual game: TEKKEN SPECIAL. Unlicensed 2D Tekken Clone


Wow. So that turned out to be a much longer, much more informative and much more garishly coloured post than I had originally intended. It is not usually my thing to geek out with lists and facts and serial numbers etc. But I felt it necessary to highlight some of the classics that are available via these some what questionable avenues after finding it genuinely frustrating to discern what these cartridges contained when making my own purchases. For the Famicom fan that truly appreciates the aesthetics and ergonomics of playing on the original hardware these compilations offer perhaps a last chance to play some of the genuinely harder to find games the way nature intended. Far surpassing any experience you could ever have with emulation. The real reason I have brought these games to your attention is that as of the time of writing, these cartridges are still available via a number of websites and it would be a missed opportunity for any Famicom enthusiast to miss the chance to play these games at a fraction of the prices beings asked for the originals. It is also important to bear in mind that I have only reveiwed the seven cartridges I bought, but there are around 50 of these cartridges available across different sites. It is also nice to see a lot of the later Famicom titles represented on these cartridges, as compilation carts often only catalogue the same archaic titles from the Famicom's launch line up that often haven't stood the test of time. So without further ado, here's the information you've been waiting for. The websites where you can order these beautiful slices of gaming history:

You will notice a running theme through these sites, mainly that they seem to offer the exact same products, and often in currencies/domain addresses from Western countries like the UK and the US. But Don't be fooled, they are Chinese based warehouses and this will mean long postage times to the West. Also I cannot vouch for the 3 other sites I have listed here. But I ordered from Acekardsale and postage took around 3-4 weeks and my items arrived in good condition. As always I will stress the importance of due diligence when shopping online, but I had no problems with my order. So apart from wishing you happy shopping there's just one thing I'd like to leave you with. Its this incredible use of the English language used to describe these carts on most of these websites. Enjoy:

"Simply reminds you the old good times.

Still remember the time when we were kids scattered around the house and fight for the chances to play the games in turns Still remember that we need good co-operation for the Contra and Jackal And for God's sake, I still remember we tried so hard for the Contra, till we knew there was a cheat code for 30 lifes, then we can finally went through all the battles. LOL

All the games from PS3, Xbox 360 cannot bring me this kind of good memories. LOL, so buy the machine now, and try to get back to those good old days, or share with your son then he knew how we played games when we were young."

Don't it make your bottom lip quiver...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Who Needs A Flashy 80s Hydraulic Arcade Cabinet When You Can Do This In Your Living Room

Developers Sabarasa have made one of the balliest moves yet on Nintendo's undersubscribed Wii Ware service. Their new on rails shooter Horizon Riders employing not only the Wii Zapper but the criminally underused Balance Board to pilot your lone merc against a planet under military control from a maniacal Artificial Intelligence. Wowsers. The game looks like a blast, and is an incredibly inventive move from the fledgling developers to employ so many of the console's peripherals that are surely gathering dust in cupboards and attics across the world. This heavy reliance on hardware however seems to be being met with opposition from more economically challenged players, the standard control method tasking you with navigating via gyroscope controls whilst aiming with the Wii remote. But Soiboughtalllthesegames tips our cap to Sabarasa for trying to inject something new into this niche genre. Who knows maybe one day we'll be able to play the cancelled Dreamcast Space Harrier sequel Planet Harriers this way. Afterall there's no way you can get one of those original arcade cabinets in your living room without taking a few walls out. Welcome to the Fantasy Zone? I think I'm living in it.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Mushroom Is A Lie

Indie developers seem to have come up with an answer to that burning question nobody ever asked. What would happen if you gave Mario a portal gun? Currently in development: Mari0 (yes, spelled with a zero) applies the mind twisting physics of Valve's first person puzzler to the distinctly 2D environs of the Mushroom Kingdom. According to the best part for us gamers is that its gonna be free for everyone and be supported by Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems. In the meantime feast your eyes on this neat preview and find out more about the game over at the official website:

Friday, 30 September 2011

In The Words Of Kojima: "The Equivalent To The Big Bang Of Our Gaming Universe": Game 0014

The past twenty five years have been extremely good to Nintendo's game changing platformer along with its unlikely yet likeable protagonist. Since its arrival on the Famicom the game has not so much aged, as matured, the secret to its 'simple to pick up, difficult to master' play mechanics remaining as closely guarded as a junior lab technician carrying the recipe for Merchandise 7X on his first day at Coca Cola. Miyamoto's fourth game as director introduced many of the now commonplace staples of the genre and its immediate and lasting influence on the industry is testimony to the game's original, impeccable design.

At a time when most developers were reeling from the video games crash of the early eighties, Super Mario Bros. signalled a wake up call to consumers and a call to arms for developers to see the potential of the Famicom hardware. While not the first side scrolling platformer, in an industry swamped with single screen competitors the scrolling nature of Super Mario Bros.' worlds brought a genuine sense of freedom to the medium. The goal was no longer a repetitive, claustrophobic battle for elusive high scores but a genuine hero's quest, complete with requisite damsel in distress, a dastardly villian with his eye on the Kingdom, clouds to explore and dungeons to uncover. A lesson in perfection, stretching out in front of you across eight beautifully scrolling worlds.

Today the game remains as fresh as it ever was. The Mushroom Kingdom proving a virtual playground of distractions in Mario's quest to rescue the princess. And as fun as these distractions are to uncover, Super Mario Bros. is truly at its best when levels are being navigated at break neck speeds, the risk of impending death from a rogue green shell or a flaming fire pit never a moment away. For most gamers the levels of Super Mario Bros. are ingrained in the psyche, such is the lasting popularity of the game. The challenge no longer simply being to beat the game, but to play 'that perfect game' of Super Mario Bros., stomping every enemy, collecting every coin, exploring every pipe and consistently hitting the top of that increasingly difficult to reach flagpole. As with all of Miyamoto's creations, Mario and his supporting cast of heroes and villains brought a sense of characterisation to a genre that had been terribly one dimensional. Afterall, how many other games can you recall where you can scream at the entire cast of enemies by their individual names? Adding to this sense of character was composer Koji Kondo's now iconic musical score. Perhaps the most recognisable score in video game history, Kondo's short melodies having been created so that they could be endlessly repeated without sounding repetitious to the player. A trait that would become synonymous with the Composer's work throughout his career.

Twenty five years ago the original Super Mario Bros. set a bar so high that even Nintendo themselves must have had sleepless nights about how to follow it up. Third party developers of the time rarely achieved the design or success of Nintendo's crowning franchise and its this strive for perfection from the start that has made Mario such an enduring figure. So popular is Mario's legacy that it echoes the global impact of long term popularity challenger Mickey Mouse. It follows then that, If Jumpman in Donkey Kong was Miyamoto's Steamboat Willie, then surely Super Mario is his Sorcerer's Apprentice.  With a consistently high standard maintained in the games that have followed since the original, Super Mario Bros. has long since been surpassed, refined and perfected. However, much like the ever popular Zelda series the blue prints for Mario's success were set in stone in this first Famicom outing, validating Miyamoto's often overused but wholly deserving moniker as the 'Walt Disney of Video Games'.

Favourite Moment: My favourite moment with Super Mario Bros. was not specifically with the game, but rather with the format I recently played it on. Running at a full 60Hz on a Japanese AV Famicom, is the only way to experience this original outing if you, like me, were unfortunate enough to have grown up with the decidedly slow 50Hz PAL versions of the game. To play Super Mario Bros. the way it was intended was a genuinely refreshing experience, giving me a renewed interest in its legacy.