Cavern Sweeper

I’m a fan of the work of Finnish game creator Arvi Tekari, aka Hempuli. He burst on the scene three years ago with genuine indie hit Baba Is You, which somehow continues to receive updates. (If you have it and haven’t played it in a while, you might want to take a look. It just might have a lot more puzzles in it than you remember.) We’ve also linked to his Finnish translations of the Super Mario Bros. manual, and his parody game of his own work Baba Is You XTREME.

Somehow though, he keeps making interesting new things! Most recently there’s Babataire, a variant of Spider Solitaire that uses Baba characters for cards (it’s fun!), Babataire Ex, a variant of the variant that also uses Baba Is You’s rule-modification mechanic (and that, honestly, I can’t make much sense of), and Cavern Sweeper.

Cavern Sweeper is really good! It’s a generalization of Minesweeper where the mines not only have different values, casting varying amounts of danger into the adjacent squares, but where, on harder difficulties, different kinds of mines can even have differently-shaped danger zones.

In the easiest version, all monsters have a diamond-shaped peril region around them with a value from one to three. The number in a space is the sum of all the danger spread into them. Harder versions also add slimes, which have the traditional square-shaped Minesweeper danger zone, ghosts with plus-shaped areas, and optionally serpents with X-shaped zonas de peligro.

To make up for the added uncertainty, you’re granted two additional helps. First, as you mark spaces (you must select the proper kind of monster in the space for it to count), the numbers are subtracted from the nearby regions, decreasing the chaos around it, and any impossible situations are marked for you. And you’re allowed two extra misses before you’re actually in danger of losing the game.

Cavern Sweeper is a fine addition to the genre of Minesweeper variants, and I rather think I prefer it to the original.

Cavern Sweeper (, browser-playable, $0)

Secrets of Gamecube Animal Crossing

I’m still playing New Horizons after over two years, and as I write this just had my third Halloween! I’ve got a lot of Jack’s Robes and Jack’s Heads in storage if anyone needs one. But that’s beside the point.

How many of you had the original Gamecube Animal Crossing? I did back in college, and it was quite popular with me and my roommates! One of them picked up her own memory card, to have her own town, where she build up a fortune in bells. She was kind of obsessed for awhile.

Gamecube Animal Crossing existed in the days of the early web, but at a time where people were a bit less determined when it came to investigating a game’s code for information on how its systems worked. As such the schoolyard rumor mill was still a large part of the game’s experience, and all kinds of outlandish lore would get traded around. Of course that still happens today (and misinformation is rampant in general), but if someone wants to know the real scoop, that information is out there for the diligent. (Hell, I wrote an ebook on the very topic of Animal Crossing New Horizons strategies and secrets.)

Youtuber LSuperSonicQ (with help from Chuggaconroy) made a video investigating many of the rumors surrounding the original game. You should watch the video, but seeing as it’s 20 minutes long, here’s a rundown:

  • Brutus the cursed villager: does not exist in the game’s code.
  • Deathwing the cursed fish: does not exist in the game’s code.
  • Villagers meeting each other and changing moods: outcome depends on the personalities of the villagers.
  • Rare dialogue: often the result of talking to a villager when they’re in a mood.
  • Angering villagers: hit them with tools repeatedly, push them around a lot, or talk with one many times in a short period.
  • NES games “Forbidden Four”: Ice Climber, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda. Ice Climber and Mario Bros. were released via eReader and are difficult & expensive to access now. At first included Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out as well, but it was distributed by a code generator (that’s now sadly defunct).
  • Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda: were never released by any means, and are only accessible via Action Replay or other hacking means. (Although it is claimed that this code generator can generate them.)
  • The NES item: does function, but only plays rom files that are on the memory card, and Nintendo never distributed any! Roms can be put onto a card with file transfer methods and played with GCAC’s NES emulator.
  • Gyroid boxing: the rumor that gyroids can be made to fight in the boxing ring furniture items is false.
  • The Ringside Seating wallpaper: the crowd cheers if you ring the Judge’s Bell while it’s up!
  • Master Sword: cannot be pulled from its pedestal. The Super Star, however, will make you flash if interacted with.
  • Password system: can be used to obtain items that are not ordinarily obtainable, like villager event clothing and special stationery, through means like the code generator I linked above.
  • Comic Book, Glasses Case, Pokemon Pikachu: Ordinarily part of villager lost item quests. They can be generated themselves with password generators and placed in houses, but they have no models there, and so are invisible.
  • Tom Nook sleeping in his shop: unviewable in the US version, but in the Japanese version there is a secret means to open his shop late a night, by tapping your shovel on his shop’s window three times.
  • Working for Nook out of your uniform: it works! Just show up for work out of uniform. He’ll react, but let you do it anyway.
  • Mr. Resetti’s surveillance center: unavailable in US version. In Japanese version can be found by breaking a cracked rock and jumping down a hole. While there, Mr. Resetti and his brother Don’s feet are visible. They are not Digletts! Some sequels made the surveillance center able to be visited even in the US. (New Horizons, sadly, is not one of them.) Described at 10:32.
  • Resetti’s music: there is a code that replaces all the game’s music with Resetti’s theme until the game is reset.
  • Post Office: there are messages for sending letters to players with full mailboxes, and for writing a letter to a villager but waiting to send it until after they leave. The trick of writing a letter to a villager and keeping it in your inventory so they won’t leave does not work.
  • Police Station: Copper has animations for interacting with some visitors (Joan and Wendell are mentioned), and is known to fall asleep at 2 AM!
  • The Dump: Nothing special known.
  • Beta Map: Through a process described in the video, it’s possible to be sent to a testing map through normal gameplay. It’s shown off in the video. It’s impossible to escape from it though without resetting. It’s described at 15:58.
  • Secret K.K. Slider songs: K.K. Song, Two Days Ago, and I Love You, can only be obtained by asking for them by name. (Each successive sequel made the previous game’s unlisted songs “official,” but added their own unlisted songs.)
  • Three songs, Forest Life, My Place and To The Edge, can only be played randomly if K.K. Slider doesn’t recognize a request, and cannot be obtained at all in GCAC.
  • The Whale: I’ve seen this one personally! There is a gigantic fish shadow that can be seen randomly, and very rarely, on the boat ride to the Gameboy Advance island. It cannot be caught. Here’s more info.

Everything You Never Knew About Animal Crossing for GameCube feat. Chuggaconroy (Youtube, 20 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: “Everything You Need To Know” About Five Nights At Freddy’s

Oy. There are few lorebombs of niche gaming more intricate, and as utterly impenetrable to the uninitiated, as the Five Nights At Freddy’s superseries. What started mostly as a jumpscare delivery mechanism turned out to have backstory, and sequels, and prequels, and novels, and side games, and more.

The “Everything You Need To Know” series takes properties with sizable amounts of lore and tries to condense them to make them generally understandable. By no means do they cover all of the details, choosing to get the gist across simply rather than to explain everything that’s going on. It’s a bit humorous, but the point here isn’t a comedy and/or snarky retelling, as with the So This Is Basically series, but to give you a good rundown with some leavening humor along the way.

So, what will you do with your newfound knowledge? Impress kids? Write fanfiction? Perform exorcisms? Seek to create knockoffs?

Roguelike Celebration: Adam Newgas on Constraint-Based Generation

Honestly, I could devote a post to every Roguelike Celebration talk. I’ve been limiting myself to just one such post a week, on Saturdays. This one, a short sixteen minutes talk about terrain generation, is for the developers out there.

Constraint-based generation, also known as “wave function collapse,” is a system where, as objects are placed randomly during generation, the generator “solves” the world around them, placing later terrain as is necessitated by prior terrain. If the generator reaches a contradiction, a situation where there is no viable terrain that can be placed, it undoes the contradictory placement and continues from there.

It’s a technique that’s fairly popular in procedural generation circles, and among other games is used in Caves of Qud. It’s also fun to watch it work!

Getting Started in Odd Giants

We mentioned Glitch remake project Odd Giants back in October. It’s incomplete, and the game it seeks to revive was incomplete too, so there’s a lot missing. Still, Glitch (not that Glitch) was beloved among a certain faction of internet people, and some of that magic is still there.

It’s an unusually chill thing to play. To get a sense of the game, here is a promotional Youtube video from 2011, which looks a little different from how the game evolved, but conveys Glitch’s great sense of whimsy:

Now, there are lots of forgotten, abandoned, or failed games that are worthy of a second look, or would be if anyone knew of them. They are an invisible ocean around us, most games that have been made, by far, will disappear unknown and unloved. While many of them perhaps aren’t worth knowing about, some of them definitely are. Just because Stewart Butterfield backed this one doesn’t mean it was any good. But, some people liked it, and remember it fondly, and I’m one of them. We like old and forgotten pastimes here at Set Side B, and want to tell as many people about them as we can, as long as we are able.

Glitch was a Flash-based web MMORPG platformer. You played as a glitch, plural glitchen, a humanoid creature living in the land of Ur, which existed within the thoughts of eleven godlike Giants. (Eleven is kind of a sacred number in Glitch and Ur.)

Glitch was created in Flash, and it was already in the outs back then, preventing iOS players from entering. Since Flash is unusable in browsers any more (without alternate runtimes like Ruffle), Odd Giants is implemented in Unity, which means you can’t just jump into the game by browsing to a site, and that you have to download a 1.2 gigabyte client to play. And you’ll have to download a new one when there’s a major update. But on the other hand it means all of the game’s graphics are stored on your computer, greatly speeding load and transition times. I think I prefer to play it this way.

As I said, Glitch was created by Stewart Butterfield, the creator of Flickr and, later, Slack. (In fact, Slack’s communication code has its basis in the chat system from Glitch.) In a move atypical of many rich tech bizzes, when Glitch shut down, its production studio Tiny Speck donated nearly all of the game’s assets to the public domain, which is what makes Odd Giants, and other Glitch remake projects like Children of Ur and Eleven, legal. (Tiny Speck renamed themselves to Slack, but it’s the same company. They just make business communications software now instead of a laid back exploratory MMORPG platformer.)

Glitch, and thus its revival/remake Odd Giants, is a platformer, but it eschews many of the basic principles of platformers. There are no enemies, you never die from falling off the screen, and dangers are few. Platforming, running and jumping, is mostly just a way of getting around and collecting “quoins,” little objects floating around the games many areas. If you never lost that basic joy of running Mario around terrain without having to stomp on things or dodge hammers, you’ll have fun in Odd Giants.

Since the world of Ur is in the Giants’ thoughts you don’t actually encounter them directly as creatures in the game, but their presence is felt in many ways. Particularly, there are shrines to them all over, where you can donate objects for their favor, and eventually earn Emblems and Icons devoted to them.

The world of Ur is divided into a number of regions, each divided into a hash of streets, which are shown on the region map as lines. Here’s a map of Groddle Forest, the starting area:

Each street’s left-right scroll corresponds to its in-game area. If you’re standing at the left edge of a street in the game, you’ll also be at its left edge on the map. Where the streets connect on the map, there are signposts in the game that allow you to transfer to connecting streets. It’s not a completely frictionless way of navigating the game’s regions, but it’s easy to get used to.

If there are no enemies, then what do you do in Ur? Mostly you just run around and collect Quoins, and also water trees, harvest fruit, mine rocks, squeeze chickens, milk butterflies, nibble on piggies, and other miscellaneous activities. These actions are initiated by clicking on an object and selecting the action from a menu. When you do, a progress meter appears, which fills quickly. Most actions just take two or three seconds. As you advance, you become able to more things like make meals or transmute metals, that build off of the things you did at the start.

There is no solid final goal. It’s just a world to explore and have fun in. Without enemies to fight, some people will find this pointless. That’s okay. It was always something that some people would find unappealing. But if you like the idea of a non-violent game where you can talk with friends and do silly things in, then you may enjoy playing Odd Giants.

Aiding in this is a great sense of whimsy and fun that suffuses almost everything aspect of the play. The graphics are charming throughout, with well-animated creatures and many scenic vistas to explore. Almost every text sentence in the game has a joke or two in it. Just playing to see whatever funny thing to see or read next can be entertaining, for a little while at least. The music, especially, is worth checking the game out for a little while. I don’t think I’ve heard a single track that isn’t great.

As you do things, you use up your Glitch’s Energy. If you run out of energy, your little person “croaks” and ends up in Hell! But Hell is a region of streets, just like the others. It’s not hard to get out of Hell. You just run around squishing grapes lying on the ground. Squash enough and you’ll be returned right where you were, although without much energy. You could even spend a Get Out Of Hell Free card, if you’ve found one, and bypass that whole process. A lot of the negative things in Glitch/Odd Giants are pretty light like this. No punishment ever really feels punishing, although it may interrupt what you were doing for a bit.

In addition to Energy, glitches have Mood, which slowly depletes and decreases rewards if it dips too low, and “iMG,” or Imagination, a general advancement currency used to pay for Upgrades and other features, like expanding your house. There’s also experience points, or “XP,” which contributes to a glitch’s experience Level, but Level doesn’t affect the game much at all. It just seems to gate being able to use a few high-end items that you probably won’t even see for a while.

Instead of level, most of your character’s advancement comes from buying Upgrades and learning Skills. Some Upgrades are things like being able to walk faster and getting a triple jump, but most are things like increasing your maximum Energy, increasing the bonuses you get for Quoins, or getting bonus items randomly while doing things, or other things of that nature. Upgrades are bought with iMG, and are offered from a “deck” three at a time. You can buy any that are offered, but to get new options you’ll have to “reshuffle.” This will put the unbought upgrades back into the deck and deal you three new ones. As you buy Upgrades and remove them from play, the deck is seeded with more powerful, and much more expensive, replacements. Every game day (which last for four hours of real time) you’re allowed two free reshuffles, with them growing in price after that. There are also some other special upgrades that can be bought repeatedly, like Get Out Of Hell Free cards, extra Reshuffles, and access to special bonus areas (that, unfortunately, mostly don’t work yet in Odd Giants).

Most Upgrades are nice extras. The need to have Skills, on the other hand, blocks access to more major game features. There’s a complex array of Skills, many requiring other Skills, or particular accomplishments, under your belt before you can learn them in a kind of skill tree. Each skill takes real time to learn, which pass whether you’re in-game or not. Some skills take hours, or even days, to learn.

You start out with the capacity to know ten Skills. Back in Glitch, you could still learn skills if you were over capacity, but they took even longer. In Odd Giants, at least for now, your capacity is a hard limit, but you can raise it with Upgrades.

Some Skills are really basic things, like access to the Info command on objects, or access to the map. Most of them give you new powers, like being able to teleport places, or allow you to use items like the Meditation Orb. Many things are blocked until you learn the requisite skill, so it’s good to always make sure you have one learning, if you have excess capacity, when you log off from the game.

It cannot be denied, though, that sometimes the game feels like a gussied-up skeleton of progression systems with a visual veneer. You can make some cool items later on, like “Essence of Purple” or “No-No Powder,” but you’ll have to master many skills to get to that point. Glitch had a number of mini-games to discover that you could play at low levels by finding Game Show Tickets, and bonus levels you could buy at the Upgrade shop, but none of those things work currently. It makes the early going a bit of a slog, but the players in the game tend to be very friendly and helpful, and willing to give new players advanced items just for asking.

Details to get you started

It’s fun to collect quoins, those little floating powerup items that are scattered in many streets, but truthfully they don’t earn you much. Once in a while a quoin will give you a larger-than-usual bonus, but it’s infrequent, and rarely enough to bother going out of your way to collect them. Still, they’re fun to pick up, so I usually do it anyway.

Your Energy cap is a major limiter of your activity. Food items usually restore Energy, so it’s good to stock up on those. Learning the skill Meditation I lets you use a Meditation Orb, which allows you to regenerate a random amount of Energy or Mood when you want, with only a 30 second timeout to using it repeatedly. I would try to get that as soon as possible.

You’ll want to earn lots of iMG to unlock Upgrades and expand your yard and home. Most things you do will earn you at least a tiny bit of iMG. When you get the Skills to use machines to make stuff, you can usually convert several items at once, which can get you more for less work. A lot of your iMG will come from Achievements, which the game tracks in the background for you, and Quests, which are usually randomly assigned.

There is a bug in the current version (0.14.1), as I write this, that allows you to get all the rewards for most Quests without having to do them. Just cancel the Quest from the quest screen, then exit the game and reenter. You’ll have to wait 30 seconds before coming back in, but when you do you’ll get the full reward! One of the Quests, the one that asks you to construct an Icon, is extremely time-consuming to complete, but has high rewards. This can be used to help fund some of the most expensive Upgrades.

You can gain a lot of iMG every game day by using Emblems and Icons. There are shrines to the 11 Giants around many areas. You can click on one to donate items to it, which awards you an amount of iMG, and well as favor with that Giant, depending on the value (in the game’s money, called Currants) of the item. If you built up 1,000 points of favor with a Giant, you can exchange it for an Emblem for that Giant. (In 0.14.1, the first time you do this with each Giant you’ll receive two Emblems, which is good since you can immediately spend one to unlock an important skill!) Using an Emblem’s Contemplate command can be worth 30 iMG per Emblem of that Giant you’re holding. That takes up a lot of inventory space, so you’ll want to invest in bags, which you can buy from vendors to carry more. It takes a significant number of Currants to outfit yourself with full Bigger Bags, but it’s ultimately worth it because you can carry so many more Emblems, and all kinds of other things too.

If you collect 11 Emblems, you can combine them into an Icon, which can be set on the ground and be Reflected upon, for even more iMG. In the Groddle Heights region, at the moment, there are a number of Icons set up on the ground for people to use, although sometimes they require a small Currant payment. If you can find your way to Xalanga, the region Zealous Rd NE currently has all 11 kinds of Icons set up for easy use.

Some features are not yet coded. Some of these are in the game as Upgrades or Skills that don’t work once acquired. There is no indication which these are, which sucks, but what can I say the game’s under heavy development. One of these as of this writing are the ability to unlearn skills to make room for others, and most of the bonus levels you can buy as Upgrade cards.

At the moment lots of areas have terrain but not much of interest to find in them. Many of the special areas don’t yet work. One that does, at least, are the Savannah areas, among them Choru, Xalanga, Zhambu, Baqala, and some others. Try navigating there if you want to find a lot of valuable items quickly.

There are some other things to do if you explore a bit, but many things that were in Glitch are not yet implemented. It’s a bit wild and woolly in that regard, but presumably that kind of stuff will be implemented eventually. As it is, it’s still fun to log in, customize your character (click on their portrait in the bottom-left corner of the window), and run around and explore.

More information

An archived version of the wiki for Glitch is here. There’s also a lot of information left up at the game’s website.

While constructing this post I rummaged through the Metafilter archives (which are a great resource) and found a number of related posts:

On Game Neverending (a predecessor of Glitch). On how it gave rise to Flickr. On Glitch itself. On Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi joining up with Tiny Speck. On Glitch’s closing. On Keita Takahashi’s idea journal. On the grant of Glitch’s assets to the public domain. On the Glitch Forever wiki revival.

News 12/1/22: DABLOONS

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Quite a bit to get through today! Pull up a florb and moop for a bit!

Luke Plunkett at Kotaku informs us of Nintendo pulling support from the third-party tournament Smash World Tour, leaving them in a gigantic financial hole. This will severely harm tournaments’ willingness to trust Nintendo in the future, and the esports scene around future Nintendo products. Nintendo’s response at the end is especially frustrating, claiming they did not request any events be cancelled while still denying SWT a license, forcing them to cancel anyway.

Benj Edwards at Ars Technica: an AI from Nvidia can play Minecraft now, performing tasks based on text prompts. Congrats, you’ve invented a 10-year-old!

Image from Wario 64’s Twitter feed

After our initial post, I’ve purposely been trying not to talk up the Super Mario Bros. movie, but I do think this post from Ryan Leson at IGN is of interest, about Shigeru Miyamoto noting that Donkey Kong’s been a bit redesigned for the movie, still recognizably the Rare-made version of the character, but with some adjustments to more resemble the original version.

Here’s Rich Stanton at PC Gamer on the effort to preserve a Ridge Racer Full Scale, a version of the arcade game that featured an actual car chassis the player would sit it, had triple ultra-wide display, and cost operators $250,000. Very few were sold, and it’s possible only one survives, which was in Blackpool. After an arcade museum sought to purchase it, but refused when they learned of damage to the frame, it was thought lost, but although the physical structure of the unit has not been salvageable, the car portion and the hardware have been saved, and its code dumped. More can be read at Arcade Blogger.

Yep! I’m old.

Richael Watts at Rock Paper Shotgun has a piece up on Dabloontok, an RPG-ish thing a bunch of people are doing on TikTok, involving cat videos trading an imaginary currency called “dabloons.” This isn’t imaginary in the sense of crptocurrency, or indeed all money when you think about it; this is really imaginary. How many you have is completely on the honor system. Participants use it to “trade” with these cats, and they can also be “stolen” by them. The whole thing seems pretty silly overall, but it’s entertaining to learn about!

And at Engadget, I. Bonifacic remarks upon Pong turning 50 years old. Yeah, that number isn’t getting any smaller. It’s a useful retrospective, although I take issue with them saying that without Pong Nintendo would not exist. Nintendo is over a century old, originally making playing cards. What is more likely is they wouldn’t exist as we know them today-they may not have gotten into video games at all. (By the way, they make traditional Japanese game playing equipment too, like go boards!)

Romhack Thursday: Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast!

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Most of the things we post here are game hacks. That is, something that has been modified from a published game. Hacking games is not illegal, but the process that some people usually use to obtain the roms themselves may be somewhat questionable. Well not for the subject of this week’s article: it’s 100% homebrew, created from scratch and unencumbered by such considerations! It runs on NES hardware (or an NES emulator), but technically speaking what we have here is more of an indie game on classic console hardware more than a hack.

It’s also an unusual subject for a 2022 indie game. You’ll find all kinds of hacks to, say, put silly characters into Super Mario Bros., but a remake of an Intellivision game, and one with an Atari port that is very much its equal, and porting those games to the NES-that’s unusual enough to merit discussion, even if the game itself is very simple.

Astrosmash! (with the exclamation point) was a very popular game for the Intellivision. I heard it was originally intended to be an Asteroids-style game, with rocks that split into pieces when shot, but turned out to be interesting translated to a Space Invaders-style missile base game, where your ship is stuck to the bottom of the screen shooting at targets falling from above. Astroblast! was released by M-Network (Mattel’s label for publishing games for competing systems), and was a very similar game for the Atari VCS/2600, but actually improved on the original in two ways: it can be played with either the joystick or paddle controller. It’s the only game for the VCS like that! Both control schemes are fun, although experts can probably play much better with the paddle, due to both its faster and more precise movement. And, it’s extremely fast! The sheer pace of the VCS Astroblast is so much greater than the Intellivision Astrosmash that it kind of demonstrates why VCS games tend to be more engaging than Intellivision games: it wastes no time with an easy ramp up in difficulty, but starts faster than almost any other game, and only gets harder from there. It’s simply exhilarating!

The way it works is like this. Rocks, Pulsars and Spinners fall from the sky, and your ship tries to shoot them before they hit the ground. You get points for shooting things, but lose points for things that get past you. Rocks come in two sizes (smaller ones have higher point values), but only kill you if they hit you. Big rocks break apart into small rocks when stuck. Pulsars home in on you as they fall, which makes it more likely they’ll hit you, but also means they’re easier to shoot. The most dangerous items plummeting towards you though, by far, are the Spinners. You must shoot Spinners, you don’t just lose points if one lands but a life. Small Spinners are your greatest enemy, since they’re also hard to hit. There’s also UFOs that harass you, which pass by horizontally and drop bombs on you.

Here is a short game of Astroblast, to give you a sense of how it works. Notice how fast it is. Know that this is nowhere near as fast as it gets. It is my kind of game:

As you score gets higher, the background color changes, and the game gets faster. You get extra lives every 1,000 points, and you start with ten, far more generous than most arcade-style skill tests from that time, but you need all those lives because you’re constantly dying. Difficulty is determined by score, the more points you have the faster it gets. Because you lose points as well as gain them, and because the speed is balanced right at the edge of human reaction time, players tend to play until they reach a difficulty score boundary, where only nearly-inhuman focus, and lots of practice, can push you beyond it. Astroblast will push your playing skills to the very limits.

Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast is an homage to these two games. It takes the same form, your ship at the bottom shoots upwards at an endless wave of plummeting targets, Rocks, Pulsars and Spinners. (There are no UFOs in this version.) There’s fewer things falling, but the game is a bit more precise about hitting small targets. Pressing the Select button turns on autofire, which you’ll probably want to use, to avoid compressing your thumb tissue into a singularity with rapid frantic tapping.

Rocks don’t split in two in this version, but otherwise it plays a lot like VCS Astroblast. Small Spinners are particularly difficult targets to hit, and must be aimed at precisely.

This version takes on a bit of inspiration from Pac-Man CE, in that in addition to having limited lives, you have a time limit. You can earn extra time by hitting +30 second targets that pass by horizontally, and you can regain hits on your ship by hitting passing 1UPs. These are the only bonuses; unlike the originals, you don’t get extra ships from points at all. Although the game ends if you run out of time, chances are great that you’re going to lose all five of your lives before then.

As in Astrosmash/blast, as you ascend to tougher difficulties, the screen’s background color changes. You probably won’t see the later levels though without a lot of practice. Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast offers a level of challenge rarely seen in most games. I prefer games like this, with a strong element of chaos, to more typical modern examples of high challenge, like bullet hell shooters and rhythm games. I think the essence of the super fast video game is in randomness, not memorizing levels and playing them almost by rote but in reacting instantly to dynamic situations, and that’s why I like all the Astro-style games.

I am left wondering what inspired Double Z to look to old Intellivision and Atari games for inspiration. They were released when I was a small child; had Double Z even been born yet when the Astro games were on store shelves? For whatever reason they made it, I am glad they did. Games like this don’t come around often any more, and I intend to put in some solid practice on it.

Astro Smash ‘N’ Blast, for NES (