“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Let’s sort these by site:
Playable Build Of Cancelled N64 Game ‘SimCopter 64‘ Discovered. It was reported on Reddit, and the buyer was 707northbayer. They’ve expressed interest in having it dumped and preserved, yay! The game was developed with the prospect of it being able to share data with an also-canned N64 version of SimCity. While it looks a little different, in play it is said to be very similar to the PC version made by Maxis.
Nintendo Switch Getting Major 2022 Game Late. It’s Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Again, no need to be coy about the title. Sheesh! Article also contains the mandatory description of what The Lord of the Rings is, as if that knowledge hasn’t been inescapable for over a decade now.
Are we on the verge of an 8K resolution breakthrough in gaming? Oh please no. There are 8K TVs already on the market, but they cost like $30,000. At least one TV maker is planning 8K console support, at a resolution of 7680×4320. Won’t this quadruple display lag? Why even bother if you don’t have a gigantic screen? You humans will be the death of me.
Henry Stockdale: Review of Kao the Kangaroo. It’s a modern remake of a Dreamcast-exclusive platformer in the N64 style. It’s rated 7/10, called “refreshingly straightforward,” and is available for PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox X & S, Switch and PC. It can be completed in about 7-8 hours, similar in length to other indie 3D platformers like A Hat in Time. Pretty nice!
Rebekah Valentine: Valve Responds to #SaveTF2, Says It’s Working on Improvements. SaveTF2 is a Twitter hashtag of people complaining that the Team Fortress 2 online play experience has been ruined by prevalent bots. They have a point. Valve actually responded to it, surprising many including me. It is one of the few times they’ve acknowledge the long-lived team combat game since 2020. To think the source of hundreds of memes would be left to decay to this extent. I mean, it’s not like Valve is releasing many other games at the moment.
From an unknown writer, their Ask the Developer series talkes to the developers of Nintendo Switch Sports. Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4
And the rest….
Eurogamer’s Ishraq Subhan: Reggie Fils-Aimé believes games industry “woefully behind” in embracing diversity. Two bits from the article: “For me as a Black man with my particular skin tone, hair, curls and everything else, it’s difficult to make a character look like me, and it shouldn’t be.” Fils-Aimé used an annecdote of his first E3 debut for Nintendo, where he was mistaken for security because he was a tall Black man in a suit.
Video Games Chronicle’s Andy Robinson: Sony’s classic PlayStation games on PS Plus appear to be 50hz – even in non-PAL regions. First party PS1 games, and a few 3rd party titles, available as part of the PlayStation Plus service appear to be based on their PAL versions, running at slower framerates. The reason the slower versions were used could be related to their language options, which would make supporting these games in multiple territories simpler. So far the games are only available in Asian markets, leaving it uncertain if this issue will affect games released in other territories.
And finally, GoNintendo’s rawmeatcowboy informs us that PAC-MAN Museum+ replaces multiple members of PAC-MAN’s family. Pac-Jr. replaced with Pac-Boy! Little Pac-Baby replaced with Pac-Sis! Dogpac Chomp Chomp replaced with “Pac-Buddy!” The reason probably being Namco doesn’t completely own the rights to some of these characters, and doesn’t want to license them. Particularly, GCC created Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man Jr., Bally/Midway created Baby Pac-Man, and Hanna-Barbera created Chomp Chomp. Professor Pac remains, probably because Namco doesn’t realize the character was created for a Bally/Midway game!
It’s Sunday again! Congratulations for making it to this late day and week.
Since you survived to this point, let’s relax and look at a couple of episodes of Unskippable, venerable web comedy group LoadingReadyRun’s riff project of video game cutscenes, formerly published on The Escapist.
There are 198 of these in the playlist, so let’s just do a couple for now. Above is the opening of everyone’s favorite embodiment of suffering, Dark Souls.
Probably because of the litigious propensities of gigantic megalithic corporations, their mocking of the cutscenes of the Kingdom Hearts games are not on the list. Since Unskippable is no longer hosted from The Escapist’s site itself, these are survived only by the random uploads of fans. One of those is here, for the HD release of Kingdom Hearts, in all of its manifest ridiculousness:
Rogue Legacy is the game that popularized what would become the sub-genre known as “roguelite” — the idea of having a focus on persistence as progression in a roguelike. Since its release, the roguelike and lite genres have blown up across the board. With all these new flavors, Rogue Legacy 2 has recently left early access and now asks the question: can the original roguelite show these newcomers some new tricks?
The Liter Side
The basic gameplay of the original returns with a new story. A Kingdom has fallen to a mysterious corruption, the guardians have been taken over by a strange force, and you once again sign away your life and your descendants to Charon to figure out what’s going on. The upgraded visuals are impressive, with improved lighting that makes everything pop.
If you missed the first one, the progression of the game comes in the form of your estate/castle. Gold, earned by killing enemies and finding treasure chests can be used after a run to add additions to your castle. These additions become progressively more expensive, but they will unlock new classes, raise stats, add new quality of life features, and more.
In runs, you can find blueprints that can be used to acquire new equipment pieces with a set bonus for wearing them all. Unlike the first game, your major improvements this time come in the form of heirlooms that are placed in each biome. Once unlocked, they stay active for the rest of the game. Runes, that offer passive bonuses, are still locked to completing a variety of puzzles and mini challenges throughout the world. A new unlock is in the form of “scars” which are bonus challenges whose resources can be used to unlock additional features and boost your stats even higher. The roguelite nature of Rogue Legacy 2 is on full display, and I can just see people attempting level 1 challenges or “low level” runs.
A new resource “resolve” acts as a reserve used to equip relics that provide a variety of passive bonuses that can be found in a run. Once your resolve gets less than 100, further drains will reduce your max health. These relics can be worth it and with the right ones can easily break a run.
Class diversity has been given a facelift with more classes, more special powers, and of course, more whacky traits. The traits were a big part of the original’s charm, with characters having traits that affect their run but can also earn you more gold for taking them.
Everything about Rogue Legacy 2 brings back the charm of the original, but it also brings back the issues I had as well.
Of the variety of action roguelikes I’ve played, both Rogue Legacies feel the most inconsistent in terms of movement and combat for several reasons.
While it may not look like it, there are aspects of bullet hell in both games in how you must dodge attacks. Many enemies can launch all varieties of projectiles at you, some that track, some that can go through walls, etc. One of the biggest annoyances with the game is the lack of standardized alerts about oncoming attacks.
Some attacks the game will warn you that the enemy is about to do them, others they won’t. The same goes for incoming projectiles off-screen — some of them the game will let you know, other times you’ll get hit with no warning. It becomes very frustrating when you are trying to keep track of things and you can have three different projectiles and no way to tell how they behave. You have no invincibility frames while dashing (only one class gets an I-frame dodge), and it’s very common to have a situation where dodging one attack puts you right in front of another.
The enemy physics is one of the most frustrating aspects of the game, to the point that I’m glad that there is an assist option to disable damage when coming in contact. Many classes have attacks that don’t push the enemy back when you hit them. This can lead to issues of enemies that you’re trying to attack, and they just fly or dash straight into you and do damage. For classes that can crit off dash attacks, it is far too risky to use this move on the later areas as you’re increasing the chance of you taking more damage.
Since enemies don’t respond to attacks, you can dodge all their projectiles, get into melee range and start hitting, and they’ll launch an attack with no tell and hit you without any means of dodging. Many of my deaths came from situations where it felt like the game was just not giving me a way to succeed — rooms where projectiles come from all angles, with enemies of varying tells, that all hit like a truck if I run into them or their attacks. I found that range attacks can break the difficulty in a lot of the later areas simply by not having to try and duck and weave around projectiles while trying to hit enemies.
The Daily Grind
Rogue Legacy 2 is certainly a roguelite and is by far one of the most grind-heavy out there. Every form of progression will take time to gather the necessary resources to upgrade. As with the first game, the general positioning and difficulty of the biomes don’t change, which means that your best way of grinding resources is to always go to the hardest area you can in order to maximize the gold you find. Just like with the first game, and with roguelites in general, you’re going to have a lot of throwaway runs that are just there to grind resources before having your “serious runs.”
The biggest hurdle to progress much like the first game is just how tanky the bosses are. Expect to spend a lot of minutes dodging the same patterns as you whittle down their health bars. A new feature that allows you to gain bonus damage requires you to hunt down clues in each biome. Damage is the most important stat, as killing enemies fast prevents them from firing back at you obviously. Because the cost of all upgrades gets progressively more expensive as you spend, it’s very easy to make things harder for you by getting upgrades that aren’t directly helping you but increasing the cost of everything else (the game has been patched with a recommended upgrade path). For people who do finish the game, there is an extensive array of post-game content and progressive difficulty if you really want to keep the rogue-lite-ness going.
A Family Reunion
Rogue Legacy 2 is the bigger, better-looking version of the first game. If you enjoyed the first game through and through, this is certainly more to love. If you were hoping for some refinements to the design and pain points, then this action family tree simulator still has some thorns to deal with. This is still the quintessential roguelite on the market and a must-play for fans of the original.
This was played with a press key provided by the publisher
Owner of Game Wisdom with more than a decade of experience writing and talking about game design and the industry. I’m also the author of the “Game Design Deep Dive” series and “20 Essential Games to Study”
Audacity Games is Activision co-founder, not to mention the creator of Pitfall! and A Boy and His Blob, David Crane, along with former Activision designers Garry and Dan Kitchen. They’re getting back into the games business with a new Atari VCS/2600 title now available, after three years of development: Circus Convoy!
With hardware acceleration, lots of crazy tricks are possible, as demonstrated in the recent post here on homebrew VCS carts. David Crane himself helped pioneer this approach with his seminal Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, whose original VCS version used a special chip to help make possible its many tricks. Well, Circus Convoy is notable in that it doesn’t use such tricks! It doesn’t use “hardware acceleration,” although I presume it still uses tricks like bank switching and additional RAM.
Take a look at the features and play guide pages on their website, and if it looks interesting to you and you still have a working Atari, maybe buy a cart? The prices do seem a bit high for a new VCS game in 2022, with the cheapest offerings at $55-60. But I’m sure there are hardcore VCS enthusiasts out there who are interested.
Grog‘s subtitle is “The Reimagined Original Roguelike Game,” which sounds like it could have been an abandoned acronym. It’s made by Dr. Thomas Biskup, creator of the classic roguelike game ADOM, who played Rogue on an old PDP at Roguelike Celebration back in 2018. Your default name is Brak, which is probably a reference to the creation of fantasy author John Jakes, but it’s possible to amuse oneself by imagining Zorak’s pal traipsing cluelessly through the dungeon. “Oh, man!”
Grog‘s presentation is purposely old-school, a gray console window with ASCII characters for graphics. While it’s similar to Rogue, it has some interesting differences. It doesn’t support diagonal movement or attacks, for one. There’s 25 levels, with two kinds of enemies introduced with each new floor, we might call them a strong one, with powerful combat ability, and a tricky one, with a way to give you troubles in other ways. Secret doors are automatically searched for as you move.
The movement keys are WASD, traditional for DOOM, not the hjkl set derived from vi. The wait key is the space bar, and period is to wait until fully healed, so if you’re used to waiting with period and paging with space, you might want to consider changing your habits. To use stairs, use the ‘r’ key. Lots of items are used by pressing ‘u’ or ‘f’. Press ? for other keys and information.
The game asks you for your name, gender (while it defaults to male, you can enter any text!) and type (like, species). The game’s set up so that if you enter the same thing at all of these prompts, your character will generate the same way, deterministically.
Grog’s level builder is similar to Rogue’s, but it’s not limited to a 3×3 grid of rooms.
One thing about Grog that’s mentioned on its page is the game actually gets more difficult the more times you play. When a character dies, they may show up as a ghost on later runs, making things more difficult for you, and also when a monster defeats a player character they may get promoted into a unique individual, with added power and a name, that can show up on later plays! This customizes your copy of the game to an extent as you play.
Owner of Game Wisdom with more than a decade of experience writing and talking about game design and the industry. I’m also the author of the “Game Design Deep Dive” series and “20 Essential Games to Study”
Arcade Mermaid is our classic arcade weirdness and obscurity column! Once a month we aim to bring you an interesting and odd arcade game to wonder at. Although this time, we’re expanding the purview to talk about an extremely rare game that has just become playable by the public through emulation for the very first time. Please note, this was written quickly and late at night. It may see minor corrections once I see it by the harsh light of day.
Bob Flanagan was mainly a programmer during his time at Atari Games, where he helped implement the original Marble Madness, Paperboy, and Gauntlet. Skull & Crossbones is the only Flanagan-helmed game that got produced, but MM2 could have been another.
Another reason to cheer for this game finally, finally seeing the light of day is the music, which kyuubethe3rdmentions was among the finest work of Atari composer Brad Fuller, who sadly left us in 2016. Marble Madness had very memorable music, and the 14 main levels of MM2 sound like they could easily have come from that game, including a remix of the original’s Beginner Maze track.
I haven’t seen anyone talking about the source of the roms. It’s been known that the MAME developers have had copies for safe keeping, but were forbidden by the person who let them dump them from releasing them to the public. A MAME driver, I hear, has been around for a while, but maybe only privately. I don’t know what that has to do with the efforts of David ‘mamehaze” Haywood, who has worked to get the game working over the past few days.
I’ve watched a lot of playthroughs of MM2 over the past couple of days, it has been quite a focus to speedrunners. Here’s a couple, that make the game look really easy: FlannelKat, and LeKukie. DumpleChan has a slower run that looks a lot more like a good player would have done in an arcade if the game had been made:
As mentioned before, no one seems to know how this game, long a holy grail for preservations and arcade enthusiasts alike, got released. Was it leaked? Did someone who happened to have the roms just decide one day to throw them online? There’s a thread at AtariAge that notes that the owner would release the roms in exchange for $42,000. Did someone raise that much money? They are now on the Internet Archive, and work on an official MAME driver is well underway, so in any event, stuffing this genie back into its lamp now is probably impossible.
How It’s The Same
The sound design is nearly identical to Marble Madness, using many of the same noises. The attention to detail on recreating the experience of the first game is admirable! And as mentioned, the music is terrific.
All of the original game’s enemies and most of its obstacles are seen somewhere in this game’s 14 levels. The only ones that come to mind that are absent are the Intermediate Race’s rolling wave and the infuriating cycling platforms at the end of the Ultimate Race.
It’s still a race against time, with leftover seconds carrying over to later levels. It’s still a co-op/competition game, where players can interfere with each other, seek to scroll them off screen for a time penalty, or coordinate their movements to double-team the Evil Black Marbles* and help keep players in the game.
A few of the levels have names from the original game. Their layouts are different, though.
How It’s Different: Structure
Marble Madness’s greatest weakness was always its ultra-short length. It only had six levels! It could be excused around the time of its creation, since in 1984 those kinds of scrolling map games were still a new thing. Well here there are 14 mazes, and three bonus rounds too!
Instead of a straight sequence of levels from start to finish, they’re arranged into tiers, of roughly equal difficulty:
Each tier can be completed in a variable order, with the player(s) deciding which maze to tackle first. Like in the original game, each maze in a tier carries time over from the previous one, with a small bonus. When the last maze is finished, players get 1,000 points for every second they had left, but also their time is zeroed out.
After each tier, the players enter into a pinball-themed bonus stage! The acceleration is tuned way up for these, making them feel properly chaotic. The players use their marbles to hit targets to spell either MARBLE or MADNESS, and hit drop targets to earn as many points as they can. Players get five extra seconds for every 5,000 points they score, on top of a large time award granted for starting the next tier.
Throughout all of this, if a player runs out of time in solo play, they can opt to continue to try the maze again with a large amount of start time. In group play, they can continue with the same time as one of the other players.
This pattern lasts until the final level, King Of The Mountain. It’s like a tier to itself with only that one level. Only two attempts are granted here: The First Try, and then, after a continue, the Last Try.
A lot of the game is fairly easy, but King of the Mountain is long and tough! Unlike most of the other mazes, the player starts at the bottom and must ascend to the top. At the very end the players have to climb a series of icy slopes that’s very difficult to make it through! It’s a suitable successor to the end of the first game’s Ultimate Maze, with its disappearing pathways.
This one’s big. Marble Madness, in the arcades, a trackball game. Marble Madness II uses standard eight-way joysticks. It makes for a huge difference, it makes the game easier, and also negates the point of the game a little.
In an earlier stage of development (as “Marble Man,” see below) the game went out on test in a trackball version, but it happened around the time the company began to move away from trackballs as a control method. Atari had been associated with trackballs for a long time, going back to the classic Atari Football, and they had recently released the trackball-based strategy/puzzle game Rampart. It’s possible, had Marble Madness II made it to production, that it would have been offered as an upgrade kit for Rampart. There is talk in the arcade modding community of some people wanting to turn their Rampart machines into Marble Madness II, despite the hardware being quite different. (I think this is a shame, as a long-time outspoken fan of Rampart, but it’s understandable for this game!)
With digital joystick control, long narrow passages lose much of their danger, turning a frantic perilous roll into the holding of a direction and the tap of a Turbo button. But also, joysticks can be less precise for this kind of game. I’ve seen forum posts speculating about what would be necessary to reimplement trackball control in the game, even though it’s not a simple change to the code. There’s the advantage that the programming of the original, trackball-based Marble Madness is out there. Time will inform us of the feasibility of this.
Marble Madness II was developed seven years after Marble Madness, and in that time powerups went from intriguing new idea to de rigueur. Throughout most of the mazes (not the first or last) there are crown-like structures with a cycling powerup atop them. It’s possible to bash through these and collect the powerup that’s currently on display. Two of these, Cloak and Crusher, allow the player to either evade or destroy monsters. Knobby gives a marble super-sharp control, and Heli grants flight for a while, allowing for huge shortcuts.
As speedrun playthroughs have demonstrated, these powerups allow for gigantic time saves! Heli can bypass whole sections of the maze, and Knobby allows a marble to tear around corners with pinpoint precision. In a multiplayer game only one player can get a powerup from each location.
Points Earn Extra Time
This really is a major change. In Marble Madness, other than the time awards for starting mazes and the occasional random award of 10 seconds, there was no respite from the steady advancement of the clock. You do get five extra seconds for beating another player to the finish line, but that’s only awarded in two-player mode, and the difficulties of playing with another player overwhelm that meager allowance.
In Marble Madness II, each player is awarded five bonus seconds for every 5,000 points they collect. The plethora of bonus flags scattered around mean that players will be earning bonus time frequently, the time awards often greater than the loss from going out of your way to collect them.
Flags & Hidden Flags
About those flags. They’re in every level but the first and last ones. They grant from 1,000 to 5,000 points, with the number printed on the flag. These are all over the place, and make it easy to amass a load of surplus time. Fortunately for the game’s design, this extra time is converted into more points at the end of a tier, and the players must begin stockpiling all over again Also throughout most of the mazes are bonus flags, worth 2,000 points each. These rarely flash into visibility for a couple of seconds, but often will appear as a reward for reaching out-of-the-way regions of the map.
The game promises players a “Super Bonus” for collecting all the flags in an area, but this requires a lot of patience to track them all down, and sometimes there are mutually-exclusive branches in the path of a maze that make it impossible for a single player to reliably get every flag if playing on their own. The Heli powerup, particularly, is great for collecting flags.
That last level King Of The Mountain doesn’t have any flags! Killing the enemies on that level is worth good points, but it means that very little bonus time is awarded there.
Tons of new obstacles
Every level has its own unique peril! Sand, crushers, falling icicles, killer satellites, meteor crashes, fists smashing out of walls, floating frying pans (in Wacky, of course) and many more. At the very end, huge rock-throwing trolls guard the passages up to the top of the Mountain.
The released version of Marble Madness II doesn’t have the Marble Man theme, but it does have voices, and they’re pretty nice I think! When you start a game, your marble develops a face and shouts “Marble madness!” in a way that never fails to make me smile. When you hit a letter or spell a word in a bonus level it’s announced aloud, and to me that’s almost reward enough in itself. It’s probably for the best that the superhero theme was dropped, but the faces, both on the marbles in their death animations and on the enemies, add some needed character to what might otherwise have been a pretty dry game.
So, that’s what we have to report on Marble Madness II, a game developed 21 years ago and is just now seeing the light of day outside of an extremely small number of collectors. 21 years is a long time. A not-insignificant number of fans of the original Marble Madness have died in the intervening time, never having had a chance to enjoy it. And even now, because it’s only playable in emulators, a lot of people who could otherwise enjoy it, but cannot overcome the technical hurdle of getting MAME up and running and getting its roms into the right shape (a formidable obstacle to many), will still be denied playing it.
Marble Madness II is not yet up in official MAME, but its driver is well along, and I think it’ll probably appear in the next release. I urge you to at least give it a try, and think of all the people who would have enjoyed if it had appeared back at the time of its creation. It was a long time coming, but at least now it is here.
I’ve not hidden my general contempt for current-day Atari, a company that has little to do with the old company, and has among other things dirtied their hands with cryptocurrency. But at least they know they have their hands on something good with the iconic Atari “Fuji” logo.
They tweeted about an article on the logo on the site Logo Design Love, which itself is an excerpt from Tim Lapetino’s wonderful book The Art of Atari. That at least is worth your time to check out! The logo is definitely one for the ages, which is probably why contemporary Atari still uses it. Atari Games, the arcade company, made use of it from early days all the way through to the end, when they were renamed Midway Games West shortly before they were dissolved completely.
Also at Polygon: Cian Maher’s 14 “most exciting” games of the summer, which contains a Gloomhaven computer game update, Super Mario Strikers, Capcom Fighting Collection, and Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course.
Back once again to the crossover fighter genre. Zack Zwiezen at Kotaku looks at WB’s Multiversus and asks, with some justification, if all pop culture is merging into a thick homogeneous paste. It is, after all, a game in which The Iron Giant can team up with Velma from Scooby-Doo to fight against Batman and Tom & Jerry. Space Jam: A New Legend certainly seems to imply WB is heading in that direction.
D. Hardawar at Engadget tells us that EVE Online can now be played streaming with just a web browser and a strong-enough internet connection. The new format is called EVE Anywhere. I mean, why not? The game is already sometimes derisively refereed to as a spreadsheet simulator, so why not build Google Docs support into it too?
Finally, from way over on Video Games Chronicle, Jordan Middler mentions that Xbox S sales in Japan exceeded PlayStation 5 sales last week. It’s the first time something like this has happened in eight years! It seems likely that the limited number of PS5s available to be sold might explain the difference. The PS5 still has a higher install base in Japan compared to the Series S, by 8-to-1, but in the past year the Series S has exceeded the entire lifetime sales of the Xbox Series X. Since the release of the original Xbox back in the PS2/Gamecube era, only 2.3 million units have been sold across the entire line, most of them being sales of the 360.
This is not some fan game made to play like Marble Madness, but the real deal, a legendary lost prototype from the Silver Age of Atari Games! Cancelled because of the great arcade fervor at the time around fighting games, meaning little Atari released in that era performed well on test.
Word is that the rom has been released somewhere on the internet, although I do not know where. It had been known that all the surviving Marble Madness II cabinets were owned by old Atari staff or collectors who were averse to allowing the rom images to be released. Whether one of them had a change of heart or, as has been speculated with Akka Arrh, another legendary prototype, they may have been obtained through nefarious means.
Technically the rights are still owned by Warner Media, I believe. I’ve long been amazed that the current rights holders haven’t seeked out the owners of these prototypes and offered them a big payday to dump the roms and release something like a Midway Arcade Treasures 4. Sure, it’d only be a matter of time before someone broke the roms out of such a package, but they’d still sell a ton of units and the prototype owners would be properly rewarded for both maintaining their machines and for lost collector value, and importantly, the games would be out there among people who would enjoy them and be protected against further loss and obscurity.