How To Play Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On

Yeah, it’s another Youtube video, but there’s an important difference this time: I made it myself. It’s seven minutes long.

I’m new at this kind of editing, and I spent a lot of effort trying to give viewers enough time to read all the text, but I failed somewhat in that regard. I suggest pausing the video if you need to catch up. It’s about the recently released Switch version of Pocket Card Jockey, a horse racing and breeding simulation that search-and-replaced all the fiddly HORSE RIDING parts with CARD GAME: a form of Solitaire called Golf, a.k.a. One Foundation.

Yeah, I’m new at this kind of editing. It was good practice though!

Game Freak has mostly had its legacy taken up by The House that Pikachu built, Pokèmon. Pokè this and Pokè that. But they had a history before they made their absurdly popular critter catching/fighting RPG, beginning as an obscure  Japanese fanzine from 1983, and they sometimes publish a game that has nothing to do with their monstrous progeny. The best known of these is probably the Gameboy Advance game Drill Dozer, but lately they’ve sallied forth into mobile gaming with a title called, in English, Pocket Card Jockey. It got a 3DS port beloved of the few that tried it, and now an update of that is on the Switch ($15). It seems a bit easier now, but it’s still wonderful.

I’ve seen Pocket Card Jockey described as not complicated, and rarely do I see a take that I disagree with more. Pocket Card Jockey is very complicated, each horse has almost a dozen characteristics to be cognizant of, each race is full of tension, and success in G-I (the hardest type) of races usually comes through executing a good strategy. I’ve also seen people say that it must have been easy to make, and I disagree with that assumption too: I think it must have been terribly difficult to construct, and most of that difficulty was in design and playtesting. Games like this don’t just happen, not if they’re any good, and Pocket Card Jockey is good.

Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On has an extensive tutorial, with three whole practice races, but there’s still a lot to learn. That’s why I made this video, to try to infect you with some of my own 100-level enthusiasm for it. I know of few games that work better in practice. You should give it a try.

Nintendo Direct 2/21/24 Quick Takes

Here is the whole video in case you missed it:

Here is the list, with personal hype level expressed in stars, none to five:

00:30Grounded. Your characters are “shruken at the hands of an evil corporation.” First, corporations don’t have hands, their employees do. Second, it’s interesting to see how corporations have joined mad scientists, sorcerers and alien emperors as “the evil.” Anyway, this looks mostly like Generic Action-Adventure Game. “Work your way through the campaign to uncover the mysteries of the back yard.” Like, where they buried the water pipe? Good luck with that. Two stars.

01:37ENDER MAGNOLIA: Bloom in the mist. Big contrast to the previous trailer. It’s a “return to the Ender Lily’s world,” just assuming you know what that is. From the trailer I assume the “Ender Lily” must be a really bad flower, because everything is dark and grim, but especially dark. “This once flourishing country sits atop a wealth of buried magic,” yet somehow it looks like Blade Runner. Points for using the word homunculi (16 points if you have the tiles for it) and not inventing another bullshit video game word like “the Aeinsward,” or “the Valarath” or some crap like that. Your character is told early on that “your eyes says[sic] that you long for death.” Sometimes the winning move is not to play. I feel bad about talking down the work of so many hard-working developers, but I don’t think it’s possible to make a game less appealing to me, personally. One star.

03:04Arranger: A Role-Puzzling Adventure. “Role-puzzling” is not a thing. Looks like it might be okay, but I’m rating my enthusiasm as generated by the trailers, and they give me flashbacks to the PULL word in Baba Is You, so: Two stars.

03:45Unicorn Overlord. Oh, I want to play the fantasy title game too! Gargoyle Emperor! Chimera General! Minotaur President! Looks to me like a Vanillaware joint. Checking: I was right. Reading the transcript, I’m struck by the word unleash, one of those overused videogame words. It literally means to let go, but because it sounds good it gets used for all kinds of things. But really, if it ain’t a dog, it doesn’t fit. Vanillaware’s cool though, so I’ve talked myself into looking forward to it. Three stars.

04:23Monster Hunter Stories. “Monster Hunter” brings to mind fighting dragons and behemoths. “Stories” suggests Scenes From A Marriage. Combined, I’m imaging getting hitched to Smaug. (This is probably the backstory to the classic anime Dragon Half, come to think of it.) Anyway, it’s Monster Hunter. You hunt monsters. It’s a remake of a 3DS game, discarding the (mostly) realistic look of other Monster Hunter games for cartoony human characters. I have a previous Monster Hunter on my shelf but I’ve never played it, so I can only rate this One star.

05:00Disney Epic Mickey: Rebrushed. I remember when Epic Mickey games filled the discount bins at Walmart, but I always liked the idea, and the internet-viral concept art that inspired them, and they were “directed” by Warren Spector. One thing that always confused me about Epic Mickey, of which the trailer reminds me, is the opening positions Mickey as an innocent interloper, but the content of the Epic Mickey games clearly indicate that these worlds are about him, as a character. He’s not a plucky underdog, he’s the center of the Disney-pocalypse. And yet, that’s interesting. Three stars.

06:07Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. The title logo makes it look like it’s called Shin Megami Tensei V: Engeance. This being a remake, I’m just glad they didn’t call it something like Revengance, hah wouldn’t that be stupid. I don’t remember at this point whether a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game has ever appeared in English before. Maybe on the Playstation or Playstation 2? Sounds about right. (Checking: it was recent! 2021! Huh.) I think it defies belief that this isn’t yet another Persona game. Two stars.

07:41STAR WARS: Battlefront Classic Collection. Okay I was wrong, it’s not possible for me to be less interested in this. It’s exciting to some people or else they wouldn’t have made this, but I’m writing this, and I say, One star.

08:24SOUTH PARK: SNOW DAY! When your franchise stars a character who was once grounded by his mother for “trying to exterminate the Jews,” I submit that there is something deeply wrong with it. No stars.

There’s so many games here that I’m going to skip around a bit from here on.

10:23Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble. It’s an article of faith now that there have been no good Monkey Ball games since Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, and the recent Banana Mania, which was primarily content recycled from the old games. I just picked up Banana Mania a couple of days ago and was reminded why I like the Gamecube-era titles so much, so what the hell, Three stars.

11:40World of Goo 2. World of Goo was beloved of many people, myself included, and I’ve also liked everything Tomorrow Corporation has done, so I’m really looking forward to this, even if World of Goo is a very hard act to follow. Five stars.

14:03Another Crab’s Treasure.That’s a great title. The trailer, itself, actually calls this game a soulslike, which I guess is just the word we use now when a game is meant to be hard. The game does fix my main issue with Souls games, their relentless dourness. It’s whimsical and charming! Three stars.

15:32Penny’s Big Breakaway. From some of the people who made Sonic Mania, which itself makes it worthy of examination. A 3D platformer in 2024 that isn’t Mario, who’d have thought it possible. Three stars.

16:13Suika Game Multi-Player Mode Expansion Pack. I’ve been a bit outspoken that I don’t really like this version of the concept, prefering Cosmic Collapse on itch.io. Paid DLC that lets you play against others does nothing to improve the concept for me. One star.

16:57Pepper Grinder. It looks a bit interesting, but it feels a bit like a cheat that the tunnels you dig close up behind you. Two stars.

17:26Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On! Originally a F2P mobile game by Game Freak as one of their occasional non-Pokemon titles, like Drill Dozer and Part-Time UFO, which always seem to be terrific. They released a 3DS port that was one of those games that critics (including myself) couldn’t stop gushing over. I’m so hyped for this that I’ve already bought it, as of this writing it’s on my Switch back at home waiting for me to get back and play it. Five stars.

18:16Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley. A Moomintroll game! One where you play as his enigmatic, vaguely Link-like friend Snufkin! I’m in! Sadly its trailer is really brief. Four stars.

19:26Rare Games Added to Nintendo Switch Online. Five games are added: RC Pro-Am (NES), a classic; Snake Rattle & Roll (NES), challenging and a bit underrated; Killer Instinct (N64), which I never cared for but some people will like; Battletoads in Battlemaniacs (SNES), likewise; and Blast Corps (N64), which is very underrated, a launch game that helped define its system. All of these games except Battletoads in Battlemaniacs were previously collected in Rare Replay for Xbox One, but there is a feeling of coming home here. Overall: Four stars.

These releases are notable all because of Hiroshi Yamauchi’s decision not to buy Rare from the Stamper brothers at the dawning of the Gamecube era, which lost Nintendo Rare’s then-formidable reputation and coding prowess. Nintendo sold its 49% stake to Rare, and Microsoft bought controlling interest. The Gamecube took a substantial hit to its library, and Rare has never been the same. Despite a few distinctive hits (Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Viva Pinata and Sea of Thieves) I think Microsoft has never really used them well. For a time they were basically devoted to making Kinect games! (Checking: in fact, Rare’s Kinect Sports was at that time their best-selling game since Microsoft acquired them! Shame that its being tied to an abandoned peripheral means it has had practically no lasting legacy.) I would suppose the return of these titles to a Nintendo system is part of the deal that enabled Goldeneye 007 to come to both Xbox and Switch, but that is only speculation.

RC Pro-Am and Snake Rattle & Roll, are extra notable for their copyright notice by Rare Coin-It, a Miami-based subsidiary of Rare, that seemed to be devoted to games that had arcade pretensions. I don’t know that, but a lot of their games released with that copyright have strange arcade affectations: attract modes, high score lists, and arcade structure. In particular: Slalom (which did get an arcade release, as Vs. Slalom for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade platform), Wizards & Warriors, RC Pro-Am and Cobra Triangle. But these weren’t the only games that bore the Rare Coin-It copyright. I really don’t know why; maybe they were assign games that Rare thought might have potential as arcade games.

Back to the Switch Online collection, this move gives me hope that the Wizards & Warriors games, especially the first, and its sequel Ironsword, will make it there someday.

Project To Completely Finish Super Mario Maker 1 Enters Home Stretch

Super Mario Maker. Not the one for Switch, with the Master Sword power up and Superball Flower and the like. The one for WiiU, with all the Amibo characters and that formerly had the website listing all the levels, that Nintendo took down because it is a company of good and bad, and for them software preservation is among the worst.

Super Mario Maker survives, for now, but its online services will be shut down in April, removing the vast swath of levels that players made for the software, because Nintendo can’t be assèd to preserve it. That sucks epically, gigantically, humongously, brobdingnagianly. But it’s Nintendo. They always do what they want, heedless of the opinion of others, and as I said, that’s both good and bad.

Remember Super Mario Maker? Most players used it to construct hyper-lethal deathtraps, literal abattoirs of Marios. (Tip: don’t Google image search the word “abattoir.”) Sure, I tried constructing reasonable levels of fair situations, but saying that online is like claiming I don’t watch television: it sounds pretentious. In practice everyone made at least one Smiling Hellscape, and yes I did make at least a couple.

But on the other hand there is speedrun culture, who attempts to overcome any challenge in a game no matter how ridiculous. In order to upload your level to the SMM servers, you have to complete it. That means it must be completable, even if it’s ludicrously unfair. In addition to the usual kaizo gauntlets, some players created levels that rely on prior knowledge to finish, and tackling one of those if you don’t have that information can be Promethean exercise in trial and error, emphasis on the trial.

That brings us to the Discord server of Team 0% (invite link). There mission: to show every level created for Super Mario Maker some love, and by love I mean, at least one completion, before the servers go dark for bad in a month’s time. SMM helps out by offering to give players uncompleted levels. And so they play on, no challenge to great, no gimmick too obscure. Recently they finished every level made in the year 2019. And they’re down to their last 1,000 levels overall!

One month to go. 1,000 levels to finish. Can they do it? They finished 1,000 levels back in the first week of their project, so it’s definitely possible. We’re watching them on their epic quest, and wish them luck. The good kind!

Chrontendo 64

Dr. Sparkle is back with the 64th installment (Youtube, 55 minutes) of his quest to review every NES and Famicom game. He’s pretty far in! In about ten episodes, he figures he’ll reach the launch of the Super Famicom, which won’t be the end of his journey but will probably mean he’s in the home stretch.

In the meantime, ten games from 1990 are in this episode. They are:

Puss ‘n’ Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure – Technically a retread of a previously-covered Japanese game, this version has substantial differences so Dr. Sparkle decided to cover its U.S. version separately. A very easy game until the last stage where it jumps in difficulty, and then the final boss is absurdly hard. Dr. S expresses confusion why a game made to be so easy that it’s obviously intended for young children would become nearly impossible right at the last second. Personally, I suspect it was done because NES game publishers were terrified of the game rental market.

Wit’s: A Japan-only release, this is basically a de-luxe version of Snake, where your enemies have special abilities that you have to account for. Suprisingly, it’s an arcade port!

Captain Tsubasa Vol. II: Super Striker: A weird RPG take on Soccer, published by Tecmo and based on a manga and anime series. Instead of controlling a player or players completely in real time, the action pauses frequently and asks you what to do. The main screen is mostly animations down on the soccer field. It’s a unique take on soccer, but it’s not the only one: this is the second game to play like this on the Famicom. The Captain Tsubasa game series continues even today: the most recent releases, Dr. Sparkle tells us, are on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, although I don’t know if they take the menu-based RPG approach.

Jyuouki: This is simply a licensed Famicom port of Sega’s Altered Beast, and a pretty bad one at that.

Mahjong G-Men: Nichibutsu Mahjong III: Yet another Mahjong game, although with some interesting features, if you’re into Mahjong. That’s not Mahjong Solitaire, a.k.a. Shanghai, the Activision (and formerly PLATO) computer game where you remove tiles in matching pairs from a tableaux, but the Chinese Rummy-like game using tiles instead of cards. It also has a weird Tetris-like subgame involving Mahjong tiles.

The Pennant League: Home Run Nighter ’90: Yet another Famicom baseball game.

Dr. Mario: The classic Nintendo puzzle game! I always thought it was a bit inferior to Tetris, but then most games are, and that didn’t stop me from playing a ton of it long ago.

Pictionary: Based on the board game, and coming from infamous American NES publisher LJN. Dr. Sparkle is a bit harsh on developer Software Creations, but I think this effort looks pretty well-made to me. It’s not a classic, and it’s actually not really so much Pictionary as a kind of variation on the theme, where players play mini-games to reveal parts of a drawing and then try to guess what the drawing is of. It looks much like one of Rare’s many game show and board game adaptations and creations, and in fact if it weren’t for the Software Creations credit I’d have assumed that Rare made it.

Bigfoot: From Acclaim and developed by Beam Software. It’s fairly well polished for a Beam Software title, but has some weird ideas to it, including a weird control scheme for the events that involves tapping left and right on the control pad. I think the idea has a bit of merit, but that it was probably the wrong place to use it. A Bigfoot game would mostly be bought or given to kids, who would be the absolute last demographic you should expect to master a non-standard control scheme. I’m not one of those people who thinks making a game that goes about its play differently than most other games is always a terrible idea (see: most of what I’ve ever written about roguelikes), and I can kind of see why they did it, trying to make a race game that’s more than just holding to the right. It probably could have used a bit more iteration though.

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll: A game from Rare that they actually put a lot of effort into, and it shows. And some people really like it, it’s definitely got a cult following. Dr. S isn’t part of it, due to the difficulty of getting used to SRnR’s isometric style. I think what happened was, they had these routines laying around that they used in implementing NES Marble Madness, and decided to do another game that controlled in that kind of way. I think the game was poorly suited to a digital control pad; if it were controlled with an analog stick, or at least a digital control where diagonal movement is easier, I think it’s possible that some people who hate Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll might be able to enjoy it better.

Anyway, here is the whole episode, start to finish:

Romhack Thursday: BS F-Zero Tracks Revived

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

The site of friend-of-the-blog Matthew Green has a wonderful post that describes a new hack that puts the long-lost tracks from two Satellaview versions of F-Zero into the main game, making them playable in a romhack. The creators of the hack, called BS F-Zero Deluxe, went to great lengths to recover them, partly by using tracks recovered from old Satellaview Flash carts, and some by actually recreating them painstakingly from a VCS recording of the tracks being played.

The post has a long discussion with the hack’s main programmer that goes into great detail concerning the origins of the tracks and how they were recovered, and other context surrounding the broadcast versions of the game. I won’t restate all of that here; it’s well worth reading it over on Press The Buttons.

This version of the hack leaves the title screen unchanged. Maybe it’ll get its own title logo later?

The great thing about the tracks is they follow the progression of the original game. The original had a number of tracks that would be iterated over, with changes, as the player went through the leagues of the game, and the new tracks continue that pattern, with Big Blue II, Silence II, and Mute City IV, as well as new track sequences Forest I, II and III, Sand Storm I and II, and Metal Fort I and II.

The ten added tracks have been collected into two new BS Leagues to test classic F-Zero players:

BS-1 League

Forest I

FOREST I: One of only two tracks with no pit area for recovering energy! The Forest tracks are fairly simple tracks, but have large areas with slip zones.

Big Blue II

BIG BLUE II: Many changes from Big Blue in F-Zero, including a branch with a hard jump on the left, and an easy jump on the right. If you take the hard jump and it doesn’t look like you’ll make it, you can fairly easily steer in the air back onto the easy jump route.

Sand Storm I

SAND STORM I: Somewhat like an easier version of Fire Field, and with the Fire Field music to boot. Watch out for the narrow hazard zone with land mines down the middle! It’s hard for me to tell exactly, but it seems like this track uses Death Wind’s gimmick, where you’re constantly being pushed around as you drive.

Forest II

FOREST II: In addition to being the other track with no pit zone, a large part of the track is composed of one long slip zone.

Silence II

SILENCE II: The many 90-degree turns of the original Silence have been simplified, but in their place are two sections with land mines that are worse than any of their use in the original F-Zero. There’s also a highly dangerous section where all the walls of the track have been replaced with jump pads, giving unskilled drivers ample opportunity to launch themselves into oblivion.

BS-2 League

Mute City IV

MUTE CITY IV: The original three Mute City tracks began each of the original game’s leagues, and were mostly the same except for a significant changed area in the middle of the track. In Mute City II it was a difficult branch, and Mute City III added a narrow section and some landmines. Mute City IV does the same thing, except its new area is a huge series of jumps over open space! When you see the big arrows made of jump pads pointing the way back on to the track you had better follow them! It’s easy to die here even if you know what you’re doing, since at high speed you’ll probably have to aim for the narrow parts of the arrow.

Forest III

FOREST III: The only Forest track with a recharge area. It’s still not a complex track, but there are a couple of slippery areas with mines to avoid.

Sand Storm II
I had enough of an issue getting through this that my only screenshot is of finally finishing it. Note how much energy I have left-none!

SAND STORM II: The most difficult track of the new set, with lots of tight turns and an area with the magnets that pull you to the side, in addition to the strong winds.

Metal Fort I

METAL FORT I: Not so hard a track, except for the place where you have a jump onto a narrow section with magnet hazards on the sides. Make sure you’re lined up right, or BOOM.

Metal Fort II

METAL FORT II: For the last of the new tracks, it’s not really that challenging. There are two jumps on the side of the track, with boost pads just before them. For the first jump, if you miss the boost pad you probably won’t have enough speed to make it to the end of the jump unless you steer back onto the track, but if you hit the boost you should be okay. The second pad, you’ll probably have to steer back onto the track regardless, you simply don’t have enough speed to keep going straight even if you hit the boost.

BS F-Zero Deluxe also includes four more vehicles, with notably different properties from the classic four familiar to everyone who played the original (and F-Zero 99 for that matter). They’re presented alongside the first four, and can even be driven on F-Zero’s 15 tracks.

The new cars

When I start thinking about Nintendo’s Japanese consoles in context with these kinds of events, I start to realize that Nintendo’s long been doing special events to connect with its fans, it wasn’t something that started in the Switch era. On the Famicom they released special Disk System releases in conjunction with contests; on the Super Famicom there was the Satellaview; and on N64 there was the 64DD. I don’t know of something similar they did on the Gamecube, but the Wii and Wii-U were internet capable and had special software like the Everybody Votes channel to try to engage players. On the portable side of their lineup, there was the e-Reader, special Pokemon events, the DS Kiosks and software experiments like Dusty Diamond and the Nintendo Badge Arcade, and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection before they shut it down. I’m sure there’s a lot of things I’m forgetting too.

It’s a shame that Nintendo tends to regard all of these things as trash, never to be revisited except maybe in the occasional trophy or sticker in Smash Bros. The people who all of this would matter to aren’t getting younger; it seems like a huge missed opportunity for them.

A Guided Tour of the NES

This tab has been open on my browser for literally months, so I’m finally excising it from the bar….

A while back the site HackADay did a teardown of the NES, going through how to take it apart and reassemble it, and going through some of the elements of its assembly. It doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but that lets it be fairly short, at only nine minutes.

NES Hardware Explained (HackADay post, Youtube video)

Super Mario Sunshine’s Substitution Cipher

Are you surprised by that title? It isn’t obvious that there even is one, but Youtuber 2CPhoenix makes a strong case that there is, that’s (mostly) consistent across the game’s signage! Here’s their video on it (9 1/2 minutes):

These kinds of ciphers aren’t to common in games, but they’re not unheard-of either. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses one for the Hylian language, which it even translates for you if you play through the game a second time, and there’s at least one other such language that’s used in Breath of the Wild for Shiekah artifacts. And of course, working out a cipher that’s used in many locations is a major late-game puzzle in Fez.

The “language” of what are possibly the Noki in Sunshine Mario Sunshine is one of those things where, like Bubble Bobble’s Bubble Alphabet, the letters are actually heavily stylized versions of our familiar Latin alphabet, meaning, if you kind of take your brain off the hook slightly and just try to read the glyphs like they were words, you can get a bit of a sense of what they’re saying. Or at least I can. A little.

It’s enough to make one want to take a second look at the fakey-letters in some other Nintendo games, such as the Splatoon and Pokemon series….

On Super Mario World’s Score Display

Awesome Mario trivia blog Supper Mario Broth noted on Mastodon that Super Mario World is extremely inefficient in displaying Mario’s score.

There is more information on SWMspeedruns.com, but in brief, SMW stores the player’s score as a 24-bit value as hexadecimal digits, and converts that value to decimal when it’s time to display it. There is no good way to do that that doesn’t involve figuring out the entire arithmetic, but Super Mario World does it particularly slowly: it starts with a copy of the score, then sees if it’s over 1,000,000. If it is, it increases the millions digit of the displayed score by 1, subtracts a million from the work value, then repeats. When it runs out of millions it repeats with the hundred-thousands, and repeats until it finishes with the tens. At least it doesn’t try it with the 1s, seeing as how nothing in the game awards single points!

In a worse-case scenario, with a score of 9,999,990, the code goes through this whole process every frame, consuming up to 8% of the time available for game logic.

What could the game have done to accomplish this better? It could have found out how many of each digit there was once instead of looping and incrementing. It could only figure out the score when the value changes. Or it could save the value as the digits themselves in decimal, just increment them by the right values when its needed, and then copy that figure to the screen. That’s largely what 8-bit games would do.

Even worse, if Luigi is the active character, the game does this twice: it figures out and prints Mario’s score, then it does it again for Luigi’s score, placing it onscreen in the same place.

While printing the score is just one thing the game does each frame, the effect is great enough that complex scores can lag the game, enough that speedrunners take the score into account to avoid it.

This adds to the evidence that Super Mario World development was rushed. It’s already known that a lot of the code in SMW is buggy, allowing for some truly heroic exploits like programming a text editor in SRAM purely by manipulating objects in an early level.

Sundry Sunday: Stop-Motion Kirby Dance

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

The Youtube channel Animist did a stop-motion recreation of the famous Kirby victory dance a couple of years ago. (Well, one version of it, there’s many.) Most of the 9 1/2-minute video depicts the making of, including showing off the toys that were used, so if you just want to get to the finished version use this link. Here it is in full:

Making Kirby’s Victory Dance in Stop Motion (Youtube, 9 1/2 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: From AGDQ, A Dog Replaces R.O.B. in Gyromite

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

This week’s fun video isn’t decades old, in fact it’s from just a few days ago, from AGDQ.

The NES title Gyromite, a.k.a. Robot Gyro, is a very interesting game from a design standpoint, possibly more interesting than it is to actually play (although I think its music is very catchy). It’s never been rereleased by Nintendo, for the probable reason that it relies on the accessory R.O.B. to play.

R.O.B: It’s not just that funky Smash Bros. character! (Image from Wikipedia, taken by Evan-Amos.)

R.O.B. was a motorized accessory that activated servos in its arms depending on light signals sent to it from the screen. No cords went from R.O.B. to the NES. It used photoreceptors in its “eyes” to detect the screen signals, which were ultimately caused by player input on the controller. A fairly roundabout means of control, honestly.

Only two official R.O.B. games were made, and Gyromite (Going by its Japanese name “Robot Gyro” according to the title screen) used the “gyro” accessory for play. A platform is placed in front of R.O.B., on which you place the controller for Player 2.

On the controller is a device that spins the “gyros,” colored weighted tops. By manipulating the arms with action on Player 1’s controller, making them swing around and opening and closing the claws at the right time, you can cause R.O.B. to lift the spinning gyros from their platform, then set them down on the NES controller’s buttons. In the game, this caused colored pillars to rise or fall according to the control signals.

R.O.B. with gyro setup. Image from the blog Nerdly Pleasures.

While manipulating all of this, you also have to watch out for the action of the game itself. Gyromite is a simple platformer, but one without a jump button. The difficulty comes from having to essentially play two games at once, the platforming on screen and manipulating R.O.B. to position pillars in the right places in space and time.

R.O.B.’s motions are not simple to command either. It takes time for the arms to pivot between their destinations, time that must be accounted for in the on-screen action, and while the tops spin for quite a while they will eventually have to be collected and set back on their pedestals so they can be spun back up to full speed, or else they’ll topple over on the button. This doesn’t produce a failure state in the game. It’s just left to you to pick the top up yourself and put it back on its stand to be spun again. R.O.B. isn’t capable of such feats of dexterity.

There’s a lot more to say about R.O.B., and how it was mostly distributed as part of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s “Deluxe Set” in the U.S., the more expensive version that didn’t come with Super Mario Bros. Instead of that, let’s talk about how, due to the fact that R.O.B. is just a fancy-shmancy way to press controller buttons, that you can replace it entirely with some other mechanism, or indeed, even animal.

That’s what happened Wednesday at AGDQ, where Peanut Butter the Dog, with coaching from JSR_, left R.O.B. gathering dust in the closet as they played through Gyromite Game B.

They didn’t make it all the way without running out of lives, but they picked back up and kept going. And that doesn’t detract at all from Peanut Butter’s skills, or amazing doggy focus. They are intent on reading those hand signals and getting those tasty treats. So while they didn’t earn a world record, for “Dog playing Gyromite Game B,” their accomplishment is of definite note.

There are around four minutes of introductions at the start of the video, so if you want to jump right in to the run, begin here.

Gyromite by Peanut Butter the Dog & JSR_ in 26:24 – Awesome Games Done Quick 2024 (Youtube, 33 minutes)

Details of Mario Kart 64’s Catchup AI

It’s information I’d much rather see in text, and I find the video a bit annoying from a construction standpoint (the speaker has a bad case of Youtube Voice), but it’s really interesting information regardless. This video from Abyssoft contains a deep explanation of MK64’s opponent driving algorithm, and explains that the game selects two rivals for your character on each cup, and that opposing drivers pick one of three paths through the course, and can clip right through walls if needed to continue driving around the circuit.

Explaining the Ways in Which Mario Kart 64 CPUs Cheat (Youtube, 12 minutes)