I finally got around to playing my Steam copy of Archon:Classic on my PC over the weekend, a game I had bought when there was a sale on it several months back (good news: it's still a reasonable $9.99). I used an Xbox 360 controller to play the game, which, while playable with a keyboard, is only for Apple II die-hards. Or masochists. In any case, to put it simply, this is exactly the Archon remake/update we were always hoping for, particularly after being crushed by the travesty of Archon Ultra - which never felt right, despite being from the original developers - and games like Wrath Unleashed, which unnecessarily made everything 3D, including the board.
This is Archon in its purest form, 2D, with combat that feels exactly like it did back in the game's 8-bit heyday, which any original fan will tell you is absolutely key to the experience. What's nice is that after the developers of Archon:Classic tuned the game to perfection, they also added in features and modes from all the other versions of the game (secondary attacks, different boards, etc.), and even some additional modes, like concurrent four player, that really enhance the game tremendously. While I haven't tried every mode and feature - yet - according to the trailer, you can even replace the modern visuals with the classic sprites, a fact that I didn't even notice considering the myriad of options to choose from:
Our friends over at the RetroGaming Roundup Podcast have released their October 2011 episode. Check below for the contents of their latest production:
A stunning conversion of the Apple II original, Prince of Persia, has been released for the Commodore 64. As original Prince of Persia author Jordan Mechner himself states on the site, back in 1989, he could never get anyone interested in doing a C-64 conversion because the 8-bit computer market was considered moribund at that time (it was certainly an accomplishment just getting Broderbund to put out the Apple II original at that time, despite the game's quality). Since the Apple II source code was lost, conversion author "mrsid", actually pain stakingly did a memory capture of the Apple II version and then reverse-engineered everything (and then clearly enhanced the game for the C-64's audio-visual abilities). Extraordinary! Check out the videos below and be sure to go to the site to download the cartridge image!
NOTE: This is now the audio-fixed version of the video review, with much quieter in-game audio.
(Download the mp4)
Today I'll be taking a look at Atari's new Flashback 3, which, despite the name, is actually the fourth major Flashback system released. I reviewed the first Atari Flashback way back in 2004, when it was first released. Unfortunately, Legacy Engineering Group (LEG) was apparently only given 10 weeks to create the system from scratch and therefore had no choice but to rely on a NES-On-A-Chip (NOAC) to power the product. Since the goal of the Flashback was to deliver both a plug-and-play Atari 2600 and 7800 experience, this was definitely too tall of an order for what amounted to a Nintendo Entertainment System clone, particularly given the limited time to optimize the game simulations.
While the first Flashback clearly disappointed anyone remotely familiar with any of the 20 first party 2600 and 7800 games it clumsily simulated, the upside was that it sold enough for Atari to order production of a Flashback 2. This time LEG did have the time to do it right, and, while they dropped all efforts to replicate the 7800 experience, they ended up developing what amounted to an "Atari 2600-on-a-chip," whose high accuracy more than made up for the omission. Released in 2005, the Flashback 2 came with a mix of over 40 original, prototype, hacked, and homebrew Atari 2600 games. While the first Flashback was styled like a miniature 7800, the Flashback 2 was styled like a miniature Atari 2600 VCS, complete with simulated woodgrain. As a bonus, the two included joysticks were pin compatible with the originals, meaning they could be used on other systems that worked with Atari-style joysticks. This also meant that you could use original paddle controllers with the Flashback 2 to play the hidden paddle games. This was in direct contrast to the first Flashback, which merely converted its paddle games to make use of the joystick, which again, was not the way you wanted to experience those games. As a final bonus for those with the requisite skillset, the Flashback 2 could be hacked to add a cartridge port, which outside of a few relatively minor compatibility quirks, made it an ideal modern revision of the original Atari 2600 hardware, particularly since it had default composite video output rather than RF.
Well, the announcement that many of us have been waiting for has finally happened: Amazon is now into tablets. Besides updating their Kindle e-reader (e-ink) line with much-needed $79 (6" standard wi-fi, with ads) and $99 (6" touchscreen and wi-fi, with ads) models, placing them ever closer to "disposable", a la the paperbacks of the tablet hardcovers analogy, they also announced a 7" color tablet, the Kindle Fire, with reasonable specs for just $199.
While many were expecting downright gimped hardware, outside of the limited 8GB storage (this is mostly a cloud device), the dual core processor and reasonable resolution (1024x600@16mm colors) and battery life (~8 hours) say otherwise. The best part is the price and they'll seemingly have some flexibility with that as well going forward. As the TouchPad fiasco has shown, with the throngs clamoring for the $99 - $149 clear-outs, if you're going to go toe-to-toe with the iPad, you better come in with a fantastic price rather than comparable or even better specs. Now Amazon has positioned themselves ideally as a real iPad alternative, with a different form factor and the compelling narrative of Amazon services, which is about as close of a match as you'll get for the iTunes experience outside of, well, iTunes. I assume this will be a big success and will pave the way for a 10", premium tablet, which will in fact attempt to muscle in on the iPad's dominance. Even as an enthusiastic iPad 2 owner, I welcome the competition, and look forward to how this plays out. Frankly, while this won't have a major impact on the iPad's sales (at least for the foreseeable future), if I were a manufacturer of any other tablet, I'd be very scared right now. While the Kindle Fire is very much the embodiment of tablet-as-consumption device versus the productivity possibilities you have with the iPad or similarly powered Android tablets, it offers a truly viable option for those who don't need the latter, or simply want a device in-between their existing smartphone and 10" tablet. I have a feeling this will also impact the dedicated e-reader market, because the prices are really less than $100 apart if you consider the ad-free option from Amazon, but certainly the low end $79 model has room to drop even further. Once that hits $49, all bets are truly off, and there really would be little reason not to own one as your "tablet-lite" experience (with a focus on reading and outdoor usage) that you don't mind bringing to the beach. Good stuff!
For those who didn't catch it, those bizarre rumors of Nintendo releasing an analog joystick add-on for the 3DS are true. What's bizarre about this $20 add-on - besides how quickly this will be released after launch - is that it will require a AAA battery. Some are speculating that this is for some type of rumble feature - something Nintendo has tried a few times before on their handhelds and never supported beyond a few games here and there - but it could simply be because of the way the expansion clips in and is utilized that may it require a power assist. This of course does nothing to help the 3DS's anemic battery life, so why Nintendo didn't address the REAL issue here (hint: it wasn't the lack of a second analog stick) and make it a combination rechargeable battery slice and analog stick combo is beyond me, but then Nintendo has not been making much sense in the past year anyway, be it the anemic Wii game release schedule or the seemingly panicked series of "corrective" responses to a tepid 3DS launch.
Frankly, Nintendo doing a HUGE price drop for the 3DS shortly after launch spurred sales enough where you think they wouldn't have to do this analog stick thing (which, by the way, adds another set of shoulder buttons!), but these days there's no telling what's going on behind the scenes over there at Nintendo HQ. Perhaps Nintendo has projected that the sales boost won't be sustained, or perhaps they're somehow fearful of the wide 2012 release of Sony's Vita, but I really doubt either scenario. While I've gone on record stating that I believe this is the last sustainable generation for a dedicated mainstream gaming handheld in the light of already good enough smartphone and tablet gaming (which will quickly get ever more powerful due to the amazing amount of competition in those spaces, outpacing anything possible in dedicated gaming handhelds), there is still this generation to keep the proverbial good times rolling at least somewhat like they were before the iPhone kicked off the smartphone craze and threw a monkey wrench into the whole portable gaming thing.
Naturally this analog stick add-on kind of minimizes Nintendo's other announcement of 3D video recording with the 3DS, which is rather neat, but it will probably be more of a novelty than anything particularly useful anyway given the handheld's inherent power. There was also the usual announcement of additional entries in their popular franchises, which of course Nintendo has been leaning on almost exclusively of late.
Oh, and one more thing... If anyone thinks for a minute that this analog stick add-on doesn't mean that a combined 3DS hardware revision isn't coming sooner rather than later, then I guess you probably also think that Nintendo is fully in control behind the scenes these days...
I'm back from vacation and again have a big remarkable auctions catch up post. This time I look at recently closed auctions for The Elder Scrolls: Arena - Deluxe Edition (PC DOS), Stack-Up (NES), Ultima (Apple II), The Witness (Apple II), and Zork Trilogy (Amiga):