Review round-up: Retro special

Now that Tired Old Hack is back up and running at nearly full speed again, that means the return of my written review round-ups.

This week it’s a retro-themed special:

• Tell everyone it’s Alex Kidd and not Alex The Kid in Sega Mega Drive Classics
• Kick 12 different shades of shit out of folk in Street Fighter: 30th Anniversary Collection
• Duck and weave your way through a Nintendo coin-op classic in Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!!
• Harness your inner ebony and ivory in the Switch version of Ikaruga
• Give your shoot ’em up muscles a hefty workout in Tengai
• Experience an odd shooter/beat ’em up hybrid in Sol Divide
• Struggle to somehow get fun out of Lode Runner in Lode Runner Legacy


Sega Mega Drive / Genesis Classics

Sega / Sega
Xbox One, PS4 (Xbox One version reviewed)

It’s been roughly twenty minutes since Sega last re-released some of its classic games, so naturally it’s time for another helping.

To its credit, Sega Mega Drive Classics is the biggest one-off compilation to date, consisting of no fewer than 54 games released for the much-loved 16-bit system (or roughly 6% of its entire library).

Many of the big hitters are in there, and some of them remain shining examples of their respective genres: I’ve still yet to fight a beat ‘em up as satisfying as the legendary Streets Of Rage 2, Sonic 2 is still a brilliant platformer and run-and-gun gem Gunstar Heroes is Treasure at its best.

That said, there are still strange omissions here, for reasons not fully explained. Both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are missing, as are the Ecco The Dolphin games.

It’s also a shame that Sega’s Street Fighter challenger Eternal Champions isn’t there, even though it featured on the ‘pay-per-game’ version of this collection released on Steam a couple of years ago.

This aside, the emulation is generally fine, with various sprite smoothing options for heathens who like to ruin the classic look of the games, as well as useful rewind and fast forward features (the latter being especially useful during lengthy ToeJam & Earl exploration sessions).

As long as you aren’t interested in its online multiplayer – which is laggy to the extent that it’s more or less broken – this is a decent (if incomplete) collection of games that nicely sums up the variety of experiences that were available on Sega’s legendary black box.


Street Fighter: 30th Anniversary Collection

Capcom / Backbone Entertainment
Switch, PS4, Xbox One (Switch version reviewed)

Given I recently wrote more words than is considered healthy on the complete history of Street Fighter, you may think the last thing I’d want to see is more of those pricks kicking the shit out of each other.

Thankfully, Street Fighter is one of those timeless games that’s always fun to play no matter how you’re feeling, so I’m more than happy to check out this compilation.

Actually, let me clarify: Street Fighter II and beyond are timeless and fun to play. The original Street Fighter, which is the first game included in this collection, feels absolutely prehistoric compared to the other 11 games featured and is clearly here for novelty value only.

The rest are all classics in their own way: the five-game combo of Street Fighter II, Champion Edition, Turbo, Super and Super Turbo defined the genre and remain fantastic to this day.

The three Street Fighter Alpha games were satisfying prequels that took the series in an interesting direction. Meanwhile, the Street Fighter III trio of New Generation, 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike added a whole new layer of tactical complexity to proceedings.

When played in their single-player renditions the games themselves are flawless, with the usual options to add scanlines and the like available for whoever wants to use them.

Online is a bit shaky, however, and the game’s failure to punish anyone who quits (or reward the person they’re fighting) means you’re in for a bit of a frustrating time if you want to work your way up the online leaderboards.

It could also be argued that some of the games here are a little redundant because they were ‘replaced’ with others in the collection: why play Champion Edition, Super Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III or 2nd Impact when you have Turbo, Super Turbo and 3rd Strike respectively?

In an ideal world those more superfluous entries would have been replaced with spin-offs or other curios to make the collection more varied. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix, even something more left-field like Capcom Fighting Jam or the Street Fighter: The Movie game would have made things more interesting.

As it is though, what’s on offer here has been handled well, online issues aside, and the whole thing is supported with a fantastically detailed museum mode full of artwork and information. A great entry point for those curious about the world of Street Fighter.


Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!!

Nintendo / Hamster
Nintendo Switch

The third of Hamster’s ports of classic Nintendo arcade games (following Mario Bros and Vs Super Mario Bros), Punch-Out!! is a spot-on recreation of the big N’s 1983 dual-screen boxing coin-op.

Like subsequent games in the series, the original Punch-Out!! is less about swinging wildly at your opponent and more about looking for patterns in his fighting style, learning when to dodge or block his punches and when to counter-punch. It’s essentially a series of boss battles rather than a true boxing game.

Fans of other Punch-Out!! games who’ve never played this one, however, may struggle a bit to get to grips with the controls here since it feels and plays a little differently.

It feels a little clunkier, and the now typical routine of hitting your opponent over and over with alternating lefts and rights when you stun them is far less potent, meaning it’ll usually take more than just a couple of counters to knock them down.

That aside, it’s still a cracking port, as is typical with most Hamster releases. The arcade game’s unique vertical two-screen cabinet (sort of like a primitive DS) is handled well, with options to have both screens either side-by-side or in their original vertical configuration (by turning the Switch on its side in handheld mode).

It may not be the best Punch-Out!! game in the series, then, but it’s the first, and therefore it’s probably of greater interest to those interested in Nintendo’s arcade past (like me). It’s great to have a slice of rarely shared Nintendo history available for the public to buy for the first time.


Ikaruga

Nicalis / Treasure
Nintendo Switch (previously Arcade, Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox 360, PC)

This vertical shoot ‘em up from legendary developer Treasure is no stranger to Nintendo: it was previously released on the GameCube around 15 years ago.

For those not familiar with it, the twist in Ikaruga is that enemies tend to be either black or white, and you can switch the ‘polarity’ of your ship accordingly. When your ship is white it can absorb white enemies’ bullets (to charge a special bomb), but white enemies take more bullets to kill. And, naturally, the opposite is true when your ship is black.

It initially takes a while to get used to, a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. But once it clicks it’s a shooting experience like nothing else you’ll play.

This Switch port is more or less the definitive version of the game, with a range of options for all skill levels – including infinite continues, should you feel it necessary – and the ability to flip the screen so you can play it vertically in handheld mode (the way it originally was in arcades).

It runs in silky smooth 60fps in both docked and handheld modes too, though it does slow down when you defeat the bosses. This is presumably deliberate, though: it’s always been the case in every version of the game.

Ikaruga won’t be for everyone – its high difficulty level means you’re going to have to be prepared to accept a lot of Game Over screens – but those willing to give it a go will experience one of the absolute classics of the shoot ‘em up genre.


Tengai

Psikyo / Zerodiv
Nintendo Switch (previously Arcade, Saturn, PS2)

Japanese studio Psikyo’s catalogue of ‘90s arcade shooters is steadily making its way onto the Switch one game at a time.

Tengai (also known as Sengoku Blade) is one of its more interesting titles, as instead of a ship you choose from five different flying characters, each with their own projectile weapons and special attacks.

It’s a beautiful looking game, with brilliant sprite art and parallax scrolling, and developer Zerodiv has handled the port well with a wide range of game and graphics options (as has been the case with all its Psikyo releases).

It’s probably one of the most bullet-heavy Psikyo games, so it’s perhaps a little trickier than some of its other Switch titles like Strikers1945, but if you’re up to the challenge it’s a great little forgotten shooter.

Incidentally, it’s also particularly enjoyable in co-op, so bear that in mind too if you’re the type who partners up regularly.


Sol Divide

Psikyo / Zerodiv
Nintendo Switch (previously Arcade, Saturn, PlayStation)

Another Psikyo arcade conversion, but this one’s less of a shooter than it initially seems.

As in Tengai you’re controlling a flying character instead of a ship (this time there are three to choose from), but the similarities pretty much dry up from there.

While you can indeed shoot at your enemies to kill them, you’re also armed with a melee attack for close-up enemies. Rather than a sort of last resort, though, the melee is actually considered your primary attack.

This means Sol Divide is actually more of a weird flying beat ‘em up than a shoot ‘em up, making for a strange hybrid of genres that isn’t actually too bad.

Everything about it feels like the exception rather than the rule: levels are much shorter than in other shooters, there are lengthy dialogue sections which are rare for a game of this type, and the graphics are pre-rendered CGI models (think Donkey Kong Country) rather than sprites. Personally I prefer the sprite-based look but hey, this may float your boat more.

If you’re buying Sol Divide expecting your typical side-scrolling shoot ‘em up you may be a little disappointed to find that the actual shooting is fairly limited. What it does offer, though, is a unique crossover of genres, and while it doesn’t always work seamlessly it’s interesting enough to keep you entertained for a while.


Lode Runner Legacy

Tozai Games
Switch, PC (Switch version reviewed)

Lode Runner is literally as old as me (it first launched on the Apple II way back in 1983) and is something of an acquired taste.

It’s a sort of puzzle platformer where the aim is to collect all the gold on a stage while avoiding the enemies that roam it. You can’t jump or attack enemies, all you can do is dig holes beneath you to your left or right. This way you can navigate the levels and even trap enemies if you time it well.

I’ve never been an enormous fan of the Lode Runner games and Legacy doesn’t change that, even though it tries its very best. Those who do love it will find plenty to like here: there are 50 normal stages as well as a bunch of harder levels, puzzle levels (which don’t have enemies but are harder to navigate) and Classic mode, which is a sort of recreation of the original game (shitty graphics and all).

There’s a surprising degree of customisation too: as well as being able to fully create your character by adding and removing cubes from them using a weird voxel editor, you can also make your own stages then share them with other players in the game’s World mode.

Long story short, this does everything it could possibly do to offer players a hefty package. Were it not for the fact that it’s still Lode Runner at its core, I’d be singing this one’s praises.


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