We’re brought up U Can Beat Video Games before (here’s all of the videos they’ve done to date, and here is their home page with a merch store), but this time they’ve covered Super Mario Bros. 3 in their typically completionist style, covering every level and every secret in the entire game. Sometimes they split a long game into two or even three videos, but not this time, this one video goes through the whole game, and it’s three hours and 23 minutes long! The other reason to link them this time is it’s their 100th video!
They’ve done some other interesting games since the last time we linked them, which was when they covered A Link To The Past. Some particular games they’ve done in the meantime:
Castlevania 3, every route and every stage, in two hours, 22 minutes and 22 seconds
Even if you don’t have an interest in seeing these games taken apart so thoroughly, many people enjoy using their videos as background while doing other things. In a Youtube environment where video makers feel encouraged to go nuts with editing and fill their footage with distracting noises, UCBVG is a model for how to create interesting and informative videos. They are great! And they have a couple of adorable dogs who appear in every video, too!
On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
Kirby’s first adventure was, famously, a Gameboy game. Since that system is black and white, it’s been heard that Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t know Kirby was supposed to be pink until his second major game, Kirby’s Adventure, was released as a swan song for the Famicom/NES. The last main world in Kirby’s Adventure, as a nod to its Gameboy roots, is monochrome.
Kirby games tend to have distinctive graphics, and Dream Land is no exception even if it is monochrome. But what would they look like if they were in color? Well we don’t have to wonder any longer, because of a romhack constructed by GreenAndACat. It ports the game to the Gameboy Color hardware, and it looks pretty darn great! They resisted the urge to make it too fancy, instead giving background elements broad swaths of primary color that look great when applied to the game’s simple yet iconic graphics. Have a look:
Forever late to the party, I splurged a bit and got the Zelda Game & Watch Nintendo made last year, and you can still find on sale in some places. It doesn’t seem to have been as popular as the Super Mario Bros. version, despite being a somewhat better value for the money. It’s hackable, but it requires opening it up and doing some soldering, and has so little storage that to really make use of it you have to replace its Flash memory chip too.
But even if you don’t hack it, it’s a nice thing just to have? It’s got a great screen for one thing. And as reports were on release, there is a light-up LED Triforce that shows up through the back case when it’s on that’s just a nice touch. The games are largely as they were on their original release, although with flashing effects toned down to avoid triggering seizures in photo-sensitive sufferers of epilepsy.
Of new features though, the standout is the clock mode, which I’ve not seen a lot of people talking about! It self-plays a kind of weird version of The Legend of Zelda via AI. Monsters are generated, the AI destroys them, then more monsters are generated. They drop items, but rupees don’t seem to matter. Every two minutes, Link moves to a new screen. Every 30 minutes or so he changes location between the overworld or a dungeon. He finds items, he beats bosses, he gets heart containers, he slowly collects Triforce pieces, and at noon and midnight he defeats Gannon and starts all over again. There are even secret staircases to find, although the AI seems to know where they are.
At any time during this show, you can press A and B at the same time to take control of Link yourself. He controls exactly like he does in the NES version, with enough nuance (like, the edges of the screen are a safe zone like in the console version) that I wonder if this isn’t a hugely hacked-up version of the game’s rom that’s providing the show. The sound is just ticking by default, but if you hold the A button down for five seconds it enables the sound from the game too.
If you choose to control Link, you can’t access the subscreen, but you can switch items using the Select button. If you run out of hearts Link respawns almost immediately. Also you can’t move to a new screen yourself, instead the game advances to a new area after two minutes regardless of how well either you or the AI player does. If you leave the controls alone for a couple of seconds the AI will take back over for you.
I don’t know if the world map that Link travels through is mappable. I’d be very interested to know if it’s a hack, and if it is, if someone could break it out of the software. If it isn’t, maybe the game world could be recreated in a hack of the original Zelda rom?
There is also a special version of Zelda II. When you activate the Timer function, the version of Link from that game will automatically fight enemies, and you can take over from its AI too. This version is more explicitly game-like: it tracks high scores earned (by either human or AI) in each of its ten time limits and on each of three enemy sets, plus one more, a special mode where it records the time a human player can defeat a number of enemies. (Hold A for five seconds from the timer set screen to activate it.) And there’s a version of the old Game & Watch title Vermin included, with Link instead of its generic character that was later christened Mr. Game & Watch.
A note about the combat implementation of Zelda II in the timer game. Ironknuckles show up here, but the trick familiar to people who have played a lot of the NES game, of jumping before an Ironknuckle and stabbing as you’re coming down, as of slashing through the top of the enemy’s head, which always gets past the shield, does not work in it. Instead, to get past an Ironknuckle’s defenses, you must rely on the fact (in this game) that they can’t movie their shield while they’re attacking with their own sword.
So, it’s time to make an embarrassing admission. This is at least the seventh time I have legally owned the original Legend of Zelda. I had its NES cartridge, the Virtual Console rereleases for Wii, Wii-U and 3DS, the GBA rerelease, and the one on the Gamecube bonus disk for pre-ordering Wind Waker. I’ve probably forgotten at least one other version along the way-I had Gamecube Animal Crossing, which has the rom of The Legend of Zelda on its disk too, although it was never made available without hacking, and I subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, meaning I can also play it there if I were to be of that mind. Now, I own a yet another device that can play The Legend of Zelda. Most of that time I could have played it for free via emulation, yet I keep buying it.
My response to people who are somehow in favor of Nintendo’s draconian legal response to pirates is, why do I keep doing that, continually giving them money for a game I’ve bought many times, when if I had the mind I could probably have gotten a hundred copies off the internet? Am I just stupid, or is there some other motive at work here? I am open to either possibility.
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Aaron Greenbaum at Den of Geek investigates, what was the last NES game released? Covers multiple territories, and both licensed and unlicensed titles, although in that later case recent releases stretch the premise considerably.
This might be our first link to comingsoon.net, reporting that Nintendo has purchased the studio that animated those charming Pikmin shorts from back in the Wii-U era. [Reminders: first, second, third] Maybe we should save those links for Sunday? Maybe we’ll just slip them in again some week.
We have a bit of animosity towards Cracked for how they treated several of their prior writers, although that did eventually result in the creation of both Behind The Bastards and Some More News, which are creator-owned. Still, bad scene Cracked. Currently working for them (for how long?) is Eli Yudin, and they wrote a list of 15 Gloriously Weird Genesis games. It contains ToeJam & Earl, Wiz & Liz, Rocket Knight Adventures, The Ooze, and Mutant League Football, among others.
At Stone Age Gamer they have a series about Game Boy sequels to NES games, and in that Chris Randazzo writes about Blaster Master Boy, which is really a Game Boy port of Robowarrior, which was originally known as Bomber King in Japan, where it was a spinoff of Bomberman! The source for that information: the dusty back corners of my beleaguered brain.
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Matthew Byrd of Den of Geek lists 20 Genesis/Mega Drive games that were ahead of their time. Some interesting choices, like Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday, and they did notice Naughty Dog’s Rings of Power unlike that previous list. They also mention ToeJam & Earl, although they diss it a bit, boo. They also give nods to King’s Bounty, Starflight and Herzog Zwei, which are all fine games. No mention of Might & Magic II though!
At first, Sorrel Kerr-Jung’s article at CBR about Invader Zim’s voice being recast, and series creator Jhonan Vasquez being upset about it, doesn’t seem like it fits in with our theme. Even hearing about it being in SMITE, which is one of those MOBAs a particular breed of older kid might be enthused with… well, I’ve never heard of SMITE. But when I found out it was because they wanted to avoid voice actor Richard Horvitz’s union, and yeah, that’s the kind of terrible behavior we can get behind telling people about. The developers responsible are Hi-Rez Studios and Titan Forge Games. Also, whose idea was it to put Invader Zim in a MOBA?
Sad news that’s been going around: popular niche puzzle makers Zachtronics is closing up shop. They’re making one last game though, Last Call BBS, which Vice’s Renana Price calls “a beautiful vision of the 90s internet.” It’s basically a collection of smaller puzzles with a framing story about maintaining a friend’s website. Like all of Zachtronics’ products, it looks very interesting. It’s available on Steam.
At Rock Paper Shotfun, Katharine Castle tells us about Stray, a game where you play as a cat in a post-apocalyptic world full of robots. Some are mean, but some are friendly, including one your kitty protagonist wears as a cute backpack! It mentions that the platforming involved is unique in that it prevents you from upsetting notions of feline grace by just not allowing you to make bad jumps. I mean, that’s okay most of the time, but what if I wanted to play as a kitty klutz? Believe me, they exist.
We post a lot of articles from Nintendo Life here, we have noticed, to the degree that we are considering a limit to the number of times a single site can be featured in a single news post. Well, we haven’t done that yet, so the three Nintendo Life posts this time out:
CBR.com’s Patrick Arellano presents a list of ten mistakes that still haunt Sega. Many times these lists are pretty light, but this one makes some significant points, especially about the rancor between the Japan and U.S. branches of the company around the Genesis through Dreamcast era.
Gaming Hell is great! It’s an obscure game investigation site with some serious Oldweb power. They recently had a look at the Japanese-only Game Boy title For The Frog The Bell Tolls, known in its home territory as Kaeru No Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru, the game whose engine went on to serve as the basis for Link’s Awakening. (EDIT: As the article points out and I skipped over, and discovered after I wrote the preceding, while Kaeru no Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru has a number of aesthetic and gameplay similarities to Link’s Awakening, under the hood people note that the engine does not seem to be similar!)
There is a whole world of Nintendo games that never made it out of their home country on release, and the company only acknowledges exist in other territories with reluctance. Games like Captain Rainbow, Doshin the Giant, and Nazo No Murasame Jo. Once in while one might get a Virtual Console release, or a mention in a Smash Bros. or Nintendo Land, but other that it seems like strict radio silence.
Ant Cooke of Gaming Hell speculates on why this game didn’t make it to the US, that it has to do with some difficult to localize content. There may be something to this, but if I might offer? Kaeru No Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru also only got one rerelease in Japan. Maybe Nintendo saw its not featuring one of their large stable of marketable characters as a weak point? Likely it’s a combination of many factors that edged the game over into possibly-unprofitable territory on some obscure spreadsheet, somewhere.
One could spend hours speculating on why Nintendo does or doesn’t do a thing. Ultimately they are a huge company, not a monolith but composed of hundreds of people, and many people could doom a project if they chose. It is a shame in For The Frog The Bell Toll’s case. It’s not just their loss, but all of ours.
U Can Beat Video Games (their YouTube channel) has only been around for a bit over a year, but they’ve already covered a lot of challenging games. It serves as a complete video playthrough, often revealing all the game’s secrets, and has remarkably restrained and helpful audio commentary by YouTube standards.
UCBVG videos cover the entire game, and can be long. The most recent, the covering A Link to the Past with a second part, is nearly two hours but it uses YouTube’s timeline annotations to mark any potential trouble spots you may have. Even if you’ve mastered the games he covers, I find it relaxing to watch anyway to refresh my memory on these decades-old amusements.
What I appreciate most about Jeremy’s many series is how they’re informative without being dry (he knows his stuff!), interesting without being pedantic, and lively and entertaining without being obnoxious, obnoxiousness being a sin that I charge against many many gaming YouTube channels. If your videos whisk cut-out elements around the screen, their passage marked by swooping sound effects, then you are not going to get a link from me if I can in any way help it, so states the doom of rodneylives, and of Set Side B too if I have something to say.
From Cat Graffam on Twitter, the Game Boy Camera Art Gallery is a Game Boy rom image, in the form of an RPG-style walkaround, showing off photos taken with Nintendo’s crazy and awesome little heavily-dithered, 4-color foray into 90s digital photography. It can be viewed in-browser or as a downloadable rom, or you can purchase a cartridge with it for use on your own Game Boy or Game Boy-compatible hardware! Here are a few works from the compilation:
One of their discoveries is of a hidden structure to the overworld of that game. Their discussion of this is fascinating, and should be referred to if you have an interest in such things. I will give a broad summary here.
The Game Boy was not given much VRAM for storing graphics. To avoid bus conflicts, the CPU that runs the system only has access to VRAM, to store new background tile information, either during VBLANK, a specific time each frame when the PPU circuitry isn’t accessing memory, or by blanking the screen entirely, which is only really feasible during major transitions, like through a door or into a hole. So, the system is limited in how quickly it can store new tiles during play.
Link’s Awakening stores two kinds of tiles in its VRAM. Most of them are from a set that’s used throughout the overworld, but a small number are overwritten, used for different purposes as Link explores the landscape. The overworld is separated into 2×2 blocks, and each can have its own set of these customized tiles.
There is a problem with this setup, however. When Link changes screens, like in the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past, the screen transition scrolls smoothly between the areas. During the scroll, briefly, it’s possible for elements from two different screens to be displayed at once. How does the program handle situations where the custom tiles have two different definitions between screens?
The answer is that the overworld is cleverly designed so that there aren’t adjacent screens with walkable passages between them that use different sets of custom tiles. There are screens in the game that only use tiles from the main overworld set, and all of the places with passages between the screens with custom tiles have one of them, as a kind of memory airlock, to prevent glitches during transitions. It’s pretty clever.
If this is interesting to you, I encourage you to read the whole article, especially for the exceptional cases where the system breaks down and they had to find other ways to keep the screen from glitching.