Real men don't use MAME. Real men buy a box of beers, throw some wires in it, tape it up, and play arcade games the way they are meant to be played. The ultra cheap way. Sure you can pay someone a couple hundred dollars to build one for you, but where is the fun in that? Build it yourself and use the money you save to buy a few PCBs.
So here is the deal, my game room was a mess of wires and stray power supplies from the supergun I had been making. For those who are behind the times, a supergun is a device that connects to an arcade PCB and allows you to play it on any tv at home. For health and safety reasons I thought it would be a good idea to clean up this mess into one nice package. I searched long and hard for something sweet to put this crap in but nothing seemed right. Then it hit me, the perfect shell:
You see the beauty of using a box of beers is that you can take your supergun to a party, make everyone think you provided the drinks, then run off and play Wrestlefest instead of having to listen to other peoples inane conversations.
So lets get building. I'll give you a run down of what we will need.
1) Jamma harness $10ish - This is what connects to the PCB. It allows you to slide boards on and off as you would any console cartridge. The harness has all the wires that we will need attached to it ready to go. I recommend getting a decent harness which has all the power pins consolidated to a singal wire for each voltage and has a ground wire for the controllers which has multiple connectors on it. This will save a whole lot of wiring.
2) Power supply $0 - Don't pay money for one of these. I'm sure every person reading this has a discarded computer lying around somewhere. The power supply from these computers is perfect. It supplies the 12v, +5v, and -5v that we require.
3) RGB converter $40 - This is the part where we have to break the bank. Jamma boards output video in RGB/SYNC which can't be played on a normal tv. The RGB converter changes the signal into something our tv can handle, s-video or composite. I got one from here but do what ever you need to do.
4) Controller $?? - This part is completely up to you. What I did was gut a crappy old stick I had lying around and put a couple of new parts in it. If you really wanted to you could find a stick and some buttons and attach them to a plank of wood or even your dog. The easiest way to go is find an existing controller and re-wire it. This part of the build cost me about $45 because I wanted to put some nice sanwa parts in it but you could do this for next to nothing if you wanted to.
Ok lets start wiring this baby. The first thing to do is separate the harness into groups. You can find a diagram showing what each wire on the harness is on the net. The groups are as follows:
1 - Player 1 controls - This will have up, down, left, right, A, B, C, start, insert coin, and a ground wire. Hopefully you have a harness that has the specific controller ground wire I mentioned earlier. It has connectors for every control component connected to the one ground wire.
2 - Speakers - Will have + and - wires.
3 - Player 2 controls - You can use these if you want but I only care about player 1 so these get bundled out of the way.
4 - Power - This will have +12v, +5v, -5v, and the ground wire.
5 - Miscellaneous - These are the unused wires like the extra neogeo function ones at the bottom of the harness.
6 - Video - This has red, green, blue, video ground, and video sync. If you have a good harness, these will be already connected to a plug which will fit straight on to our RGB converter.
7 - Service crap - Service switches and coin counting related stuff.
Next we will wire the power supply. Google a diagram of the atx power supply connector to see what voltage each wire is. We will need to connect our +12v, +5v, -5v, and ground harness wires to the corresponding wire on the power supply. In general yellow is +12, red is +5, and black is ground. You can use any of the plugs coming out of the power supply unit. We then also need to connect the PS_ON (mine was green) wire to one of the grounds on the power supply. This will make sure the power supply is always on when we flick the switch. Make sure you seal off all the joins so that no loose wires are hanging around.
The RGB converter will also need to be connected to the power supply. Mine uses 12v but for some reason was red. Connecting the harness to the converter is very self-explanatory. Life is a lot easier if you have a harness with a plug already attached.
Next we will sort out our controller. This is a simple matter of making sure the right wire is connected to the right switch on the stick or on the buttons. Every button and switch on the stick requires its own ground. This can all turn into a mess as shown:
Make sure any loose ground wires have the ends covered so they don't come in contact with any other wires.
Now lets mount this crap in our box. Cut a hole in the side for our power supply to get some air. We don't want it blowing up on us.
Next punch a couple of holes in the side for our RGB converter. One for the composite output and one for the power supply. It isn't the prettiest thing to have the power cable hanging out the side but what are you going to do. Its a box of beers after all.
Now if you want you can mount a shitty speaker to the top of the box. Do it for style:
Now shove the entire mess inside our box. If you have followed correctly, it should look something like this clusterfuck:
Last step is to seal up your box and crack open that last beer. We are done!
There is just one thing left to do, 'tate yo shit and blast everything that gets in your way:
There is a type of gamer out there who enjoys repetition, impossible levels, and turning their tv on its side. They still respect high scores, have a blatant disregard for physics, and live in a world of parallax error. They are shmup fans and they are the greatest people in the world. In a time when shmups reigned, the Master System had a surprisingly low amount of shooting games. However, these few games were of great quality, the awesome R-Type port, the beloved Fantasy Zone series, and best of all, Power Strike 2.
The original Power Strike was a conversion of the MSX game Aleste. It was renamed to Power Strike for release outside of Japan. A year later a sequal was released in Japan only, Aleste 2. Power Strike 2 is completely removed from this game and thank god.
Shmups aren't exactly known for their intricate story lines and Power Strike 2 doesn't really do anything to change that, but it does more than the standard 'you're the good guy, the guys coming from the top are bad, shoot them, large guy to follow' template. The game is set in the 1930s, the great depression of 1929 has forced Italy's pilots to become "sky pirates". You play as a hunky, blue glove wearing bounty hunter who is paid to hunt down and kill these pirates. No big threat to future of humanity here, you're just chasing that dollar and killing anyone that gets in your way.
While this isn't a study in video game plot construction, the setting is an important part in what is one of the most appealing visual styles the Master System has to offer. The enemies and bosses are straight out of a Jules Verne novel. From flying bronze mechanical oddities to giant sail powered air-ships, Power Strike 2 has an incredible range of stuff to destroy. The backgrounds are just as varied and beautiful. Whether Italian seaside, hillside encampment, or ancient ruin, each stage has an amazing level of detail and colour. The Master System's processing capabilities and colour palette are used to their maximum potential with this one.
The most impressive part of Power Strike's graphics is that despite all the enemy and bullet sprites on screen, the massive bosses, the changing backgrounds, and the game's fast pace, there is absolutely no flicker or slow down. It is games like this that they should hold up in programming classes as an example of how you can cheat a system's processing power and squeeze twice as much crap on screen than anyone thought possible. This is truly the prettiest game on the Master System and probably the best looking shmup of the 8-bit era.
Power Strike 2 is a true "pick up and play" shmup yet is complex enough to remain interesting. Your ship begins the first stage with a weakly powered primary gun and a special weapon of your choosing. The primary gun can be powered up by collecting the golden 'P' items while the secondary weapon is upgraded by collecting the numbered power ups. You can switch to any of the six secondary weapons at any point by collecting the corresponding number. The secondary weapons range from a spreading shotgun to Gradius style 'option' lasers. There are also additional power ups which rotate around your ship to protect it from enemy bullets as well as change the behavior of the primary weapon. Holding down the fire button fires both primary and secondary shots and also charges a special shot which is fired when the button is released. The other button is used to change the speed your ship moves, an important feature as the ship moves very fast.
There are eight stages in total, each begins with a suspiciously vague wanted poster of the criminal at large. Just assume they are inside the giant pirate ship shaped shuttle that has cannons and mechanical tentacles which appears when the background stops scrolling. Like most shmups of it's time it is hard but not so such that an unexperienced player can't get past the first stage. For someone who prefers a modern bullet hell shooter over the slow, clunky shooters of the 80s, this is probably the closest an 8 bit title gets to that modern, fast-paced feel.
So here we are sitting on what I consider the Master System's most under-appreciated game, yet I fear all this writing will have little effect. Shmup fans will certainly have already played and loved it, people who care about the Master System will have a hard time tracking down a cartridge, and people who don't really care probably wont take the time to download and emulate it. If that last type of person is you, take my advice and get this game. This is the best Sega and old school shooting has to offer.
More than anything, retro gaming should be about preserving the history of the industry. While there is little chance of Sonic or Alex Kidd being forgotten in time, there is every chance that The Ninja or similar games could. The type of games which were never good enough to gain the praise of most gamers. The type of game who only a mother could love. However insignificant they may seem, they remind us of a time where developers could get away with making a bad game. Luckily for us, The Ninja is one of those "so bad it's good" games. This could very well be the Master System's "Showgirls".
It really has a lot to offer. Horribly confused outfits, guys with turds for heads, impossibly hard to find yet essential items, ninjas that can spit fire, ninjas that like frogger. If you find yourself asking why the final boss is dual wielding pistols this is not the game for you. If the marriage of fun gameplay and silliness appeals to you, you are in for an 8-bit treat.
The Ninja is a port of the arcade title Sega Ninja, a game identical in most ways. The biggest difference is that the main character in Sega Ninja is a woman. For some reason they changed the Master System's protagonist to a male named Kazamaru, a ninja who rebels against the evil warlord Gyokura. Gyokuro seized power of the once peaceful province of Ohkami, kidnapping the ruling princess and confining her to the dungeon in Ohkami castle. Kazamaru's goal is to raid the castle, rescue the princess, and restore peace to Ohkami. Hardly ground breaking stuff but people who look for depth in a game like this should probably direct their attention to the ninjas who throw boomerangs.
Kazamaru begins his adventure outside the gates of the castle armed with only his trusty ninja throwing knives. The castle is protected by a humorous array of martial art baddies armed with throwing stars, samurai swords, and the ability to transform into some sort of dog-bear-pig thing. However they were never equipped with AI. Every enemy on screen does what any good ninja does and runs directly at you. Like any good zombie film, the lack of strategy is balanced by the sheer number of bodies coming at you. At the end of each level is an absurd looking character sporting a nifty vest-pants combo and throwing a magical floating baton.
The simple controls contribute to the game's fun factor. It handles like any top down run and gun, one button for shooting in the direction you are moving and the second for shooting directly up no mater which direction you are running. Pushing both buttons at the same time turns Kazamaru invisible for a short period. It appeals to same part of the brain which is aroused by shmups, strafing around the bottom of the screen and killing everything that appears at the top of the screen. Upgrading the throwing stars allows them to travel through the enemies killing several with one star. Seeing the ninja stars rip through the enemies is amazingly satisfying considering how simple the animation seems. Dead ninjas are simply replaced by a white outline in the style of Alex Kidd. And everything uses the same human outline, even the wolf things.
That isn't the only cheesy graphic in the game. Kazamaru has a silly looking two frame running animation, enemy ninjas hide inside rocks a quarter of their size, the boulder stage has rocks that seem to be made of rubber, if ninjas can't run at you they simply fly in a circle. Despite the lack of really detailed animations the game still has a very unique and appealing visual style. Everything is is amazingly colourful and has that great MSPAINT look. The levels are very well designed and show a large variation in settings, courtyards, desert, rivers, wall climbing, and inner castle levels are just some of the locations. The trees, ground, and structures all have excellent detail and fit together well.
The Ninja has the type of music that gets burned into your head for 2 decades. Maybe it's the cheese, maybe it's the fact there are only a couple of songs in the game. It isn't the pinnacle of what the Master System has to offer but it is catchy and it sticks with you.
This game may not be held as highly by others as it is by me, it's short, it's stupidly hard, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is an example of what gaming will probably never be again. The days when you could make a game about a ninja and dress him as a samurai are over.
One of the biggest tragedies in gaming is when, for what ever reason, a gamer dismisses a game they would have otherwise loved without giving it a chance. In the case of Golden Axe Warrior, there were two reasons. The first was that it breaks from traditional Golden Axe beat 'em up mold in a very big way. Waiting two years for the next instalment of your favourite sword swinging, dragon humping, dwarf filled action game, only to receive a cute looking top down adventure game would be difficult for any person to take. The second and far more common reason is that Golden Axe Warrior is one of the most blatant clones in the history of video games.
Clone is a very dirty word. It implies lack of creativity, inferiority, bandwagon jumping, and gives the impression that it is not worth the time. The first may be true in this case, but the rest couldn't be farther from the truth. Golden Axe Warrior does what other clones fail to do, it recreates one of the most memorable gaming experiences of the 8-bit era, The Legend of Zelda. Not only does it reproduce nearly every aspect of Zelda, it greatly improves many of them. If you can see beyond the clone tag, you will find one of the best adventures the Master System has to offer.
You play as a young warrior whose parents have been killed by Death Adder, the evil giant who has stolen the nine crystals that once protected the world from him. Death Adder has hidden these crystals in nine different labyrinths across the three continents that make up Golden Axe Warrior's overworld. Once all nine crystals have been collected a tenth labyrinth will open, a giant maze containing Death Adder and the legendary golden axe required to defeat him. Our hero begins his journey in the graveyard of his home town of Miliver. From here you are free to explore the 225 unique screens that make up the overworld.
The gameplay is the same in most ways to Zelda. You start out with a standard sword and weakest shield and armour. Given no real clue of what to do or where to go, your only choice is to start randomly exploring the surrounding area. Scattered through each is a familiar collection of hostile baddies, conveniently colour coded to indicate their strength. A second weapon, a battle axe, can be found in the first labyrinth and this and the sword can be upgraded to stronger versions as the game progresses. There is also four different magic spells which can be acquired from people throughout the world. Each of the ten labyrinths contains an important item, like a canoe, candle, etc.,and a boss to defeat. After defeating the boss you will gain one of the crystals. Nearly every screen in the overworld has some sort of hidden stairway or secret that appears from either killing every enemy on screen, using the axe to chop down trees, or using some magic.
So where are the differences between Golden Axe Warrior and Zelda? Well the first improvement becomes apparent on the second screen of the game. There are ten different towns to find, all of which contain buildings, stores, a place to sleep and save, and people who have more than half a sentence to say. There is a greater sense that this was at sometime a kingdom populated with people with perspectives, not just a monster infested world where people hide in caves and have nothing substantial to say. Golden Axe Warrior has less weapon choices than Zelda. No bombs, no boomerang, just a sword and an axe. This is offset by the addition of magic, four different spells with different effects. This doesn't really simplify the fighting at all, it just changes the way you approach the enemies. The controls feel more responsive than Zelda's, running in and quickly slashing an enemy seems easier. This is very welcome because Golden Axe Warrior is hard. You will die often, especially as you reach the later dungeons.
The music in this game is excellent. The title theme creates a very epic mood which is rare on the Master System. The overworld and town themes are catchy and don't seem annoying after listening to them for the 200th looped time. Perhaps the best theme of all is the dungeon theme and I doubt very much that anyone can play through an entire dungeon without nodding their head to it.
The most obvious and drastic improvement over Zelda is the graphics. They are some of the most rich, colourful, and detailed on any 8-bit system. Grass and flowers can seen, the ground and water have detail not just a solid colour, every sprite is beautifully drawn and animated. It gives Golden Axe Warrior it's own visual style and is what will separate it from Zelda in the minds of most.
Those Zelda fans who once dismissed Golden Axe Warrior are now presented with a unique opportunity. A chance to play ten new levels of their favourite game format. A new setting, new weapons, more characters to talk to, more dungeons to explore. A chance to play a game which successfully captures the feeling of exploration and adventure that so many people fell in love with when playing as Link. If you have ever wished you could forget everything you know about Zelda and play it again for the first time, here is your chance. If you can put your Zelda nostalgia to the back of your mind you will find a game that is ever bit as enjoyable, if not more.
I'm from a certain PAL country (first correct guess wins 5 Atari 2600 juniors which they can pick up from my house, really I don't want them) where collecting games from a certain period is an absolute chore. It's not a matter of just forking out $200 for a copy of Chrono Trigger, you have to wait 3 years for one to appear and pray nobody wants it more than you do. Or if you think you have found the ultimate bargain, a $15 copy of Secret of Mana, the guy takes your money and disappears. Like there is even a copy of Secret of Mana within 1000km of here. There are of course a few exceptions.
Sega was by for the most dominant company here in the late 80's and 90's and this makes finding Master System or Mega Drive games rather easy. I grew up with these consoles. If someone had asked me what an NES was 15 years ago I would have stared at them blankly for a while then resumed playing Golden Axe Warrior. That is a real shame because discovering these Nintendo games in your 20's isn't anywhere near as special as it should be. At some point you will probably ask "Hey man where is your Genesis?" to which I reply "What the hell is a Genesis?". If I had space for a Mega Drive I would get one in a flash but my room has enough crap in it as it is.
Also, I'm poor.
So my Master System takes preference, as some may have figured out already. It made me who I am today. The rest of my focus goes on the Nintendo consoles I missed out on in my childhood. Until recently I didn't have a region converter for my SNES so practically every RPG made was off limits to me. In recent times I have had two obsessions. Dreamcast and shmups. Guess which staff member we have to blame for that.
Ok let's get to some photos:
This is where the magic happens.
All three screens have an important roll. Every console must be played on a screen that represents that period of time. Castlevania must never be played on an HDTV.
I need more storage. Desperately.
Newer gen consoles. I don't turn my Dreamcast off. Ever.
My baby and my long lost son.
I really love my Atari 2600. I think they should be bundled with any new console to give gamers a sense of how programing videogames have progressed through the years.
About 60 NES and 30 SNES carts.
Handful of PS1 and 35 or so PS2. These are the only games that survived from when I first purchased them.
About 45 Dreamcast games and a pile of not-Dreamcast games. I don't feel guilty though because the nearest copy of Ikaruga is probably in Japan. Also assorted boxes.
When gaming gets old I like to jam on the banjo.
Excellent filing system.
This is the closest I ever want to get to "Rock Band".
To sum up, sometimes all you ever want to do is play R-Type 3, DoDonPachi, and Ikaruga at the same time. I wouldn't have it any other way!
Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a staple on the Master System. If you had a PAL console like I did there was a good chance it was the first game you played. It had everything you want in an 8-bit platformer; solid controls, great level design, colourful sprites, giant fists, and rock paper scissors battles. After the first game, the Alex Kidd series strayed from this winning formula. Lost Stars and High Tech World showed little resemblance to the first game and are perfect examples of developers tacking popular names onto mediocre games. Enter Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. A game that proves that you CAN successfully put a franchise name on an unrelated game, as long as it is somewhat related to the original and is, well, good. It also teaches us that even if we think a series is beyond repair, it can still be saved.
The opening cut scene is possibly one of the greatest on the Master System. It begins with Alex and his girlfriend standing in a field of flowers, holding hands, staring blankly into each others eyes. Suddenly the sky turns dark and lightning fills the air. A mysterious figure descends from the heavens and swipes Alex's love from his hands. This leads to the greatest sprite ever created:
At this point a white ninja appears and explains to Alex that the Hanzo the evil ninja has kidnapped his gal and plans to seize the ultimate power. What ever that is. The white ninja then throws a blue ball at Alex which transforms him into the worlds most sickeningly cute ninja as seen in the game start screen.
And so the challenge has been laid down. Alex must slash his way through four worlds, each consisting of three stages, two are standard platform levels and the last a boss fight. It is a formula that works very well with each level's length and difficulty. Alex begins with just his trusty sword which will be used for the majority of the game. There is a power pick up for the sword which increases its damage area, making it even more fun to use, and spears which can be thrown from a distance, perfect from boss battles. These pick ups are found in red boxes through the level which more commonly contain hearts which increase Alex's health. Alex also has a few special abilities, he can perform wall jumps which allow him to scale narrow heights to reach secret areas, and he can use poles to transform into a spinning fireball which devastates everything in his path. The most powerful pick up in the game allows Alex to take the form of a tornado, letting him fly and destroy anything he touches.
There are an impressive selection of enemies to contend with including guys dressed as Spiderman, pirates with boomerangs, guys dressed as green rabbits, guys from Sweden with guns,midget helicopters, and lobsters. Yes, perhaps the Master System's greatest ever boss battle is the world three lobster boss:
Games need more lobster battles.
The boss battles in this game are relatively easy, aside from the final one. It is actually a good thing because they complement the difficulty of the platform levels very well. This is not exactly the easiest game, but it provides a good challenge for any skill level and still remain beatable. You feel a sense of accomplishment when getting through the first couple of worlds on your first play though but are faced with a sharply increasing difficulty level towards the last world.
Shinobi World has some of the best graphics on the system. They stay true to what Miracle World produced years before but improve it enough to give it it's own style. Everything seems more colourful, backgrounds are far more detailed, every sprite is infinitely cuter, but most importantly they retained the white outlined ghost death animation, a classic in all gaming. This is the type of retro game which will never age graphically. They just start looking better compared to their brothers and sisters whose wrinkles become more and more obvious.
The music, like Miracle World's, is top rate. The main theme is taken from "Shinobi", the game Shinobi World was initially a parody of. The remix in Shinobi World is far superior to the slow, more tired original.
The single most important thing this game can teach us is that above all the gameplay, physics, and graphics a game can throw at you, all the game really needs to do is feel satisfying. In Shinobi World, raising the sword above you and bringing it down on an enemy sprite's head, then watching them disappear in a puff of smoke is infinitely satisfying. This isn't something that can be easily programed into a game, and is more likely often a product of luck. It's a combination of timing, animation, sound, and effect used in a way that appeals to every person in some strange way. Whipping bitches in Castlevania, mowing down guys with a machine gun in Contra, even going around a loop at speed in Sonic, all of these things are simple but you get a level of satisfaction out of them that is never reproduced by other games. Swiping at people in Shinobi World is a hard thing to describe in words and can only really be appreciated when you play it for yourself.
Plus there is a lobster battle. What more do you need?