Goldeneye on Switch Online and Xbox One

Ordinarily this would be the kind of thing that intrepid blob reporter Kent Drebnar would cover here some week, but this is too big to hide as just one of several links in an omnibus post. At long last, one of the biggest N64 games of all is getting a rerelease on Switch Online (oh, and Xbox One as well), even if you have to get the Expansion Pack to play it. It should be playable when, or soon after, this post goes up! It even offers widescreen support and online play!

All images in this post (except for the last one) from MobyGames.

While it couldn’t save the system in the face of competition from the Playstation, there is no denying Rare’s Goldeneye 007 moved an awful lot of Nintendo 64 consoles, and until now, 25 years later, unless you wanted to pirate it, the original cart and system was still the only way to play it. It remains the most iconic James Bond video game ever made, and it may still be the most popular. They got so much right when making it, both with respect to the franchise and to doing a console-based first-person shooter right.

WARNING: the following paragraph will make little sense to people who weren’t both N64 players and internet readers at the time when it was new:

The spirits of countless N64 IGN readers rejoice this day. a golden eye is an eye tat is golden! Sadly, all record of eye tat boy is gone from their current website, Google is of no use at all in ferreting record of it out of the present-day web, and it’s too much trouble to dredge its memory up from the Wayback Machine. So it goes.

The gaming landscape has changed so much since then. When shrinkwrapped Goldeneye 007 boxes first saw store shelves, Rare was on their way to becoming one of Nintendo’s most beloved second parties. People largely came to see them as like a British branch of the company, then the Stamper brothers wanted to sell, Nintendo somehow said no to buying, and as a result the company began largely to languish, until around the time Viva Pinata came out. Since then, the people who made it left Rare and went on to make the Timesplitters games, which are still fondly remembered.

Such is N64 Goldeneye’s legend that Activision once actually released another James Bond game by that name, that actually wasn’t a port or remake of the original but was more of a reboot of it, with the Daniel Craig version of James Bond included.

Goldeneye 007’s twin release on both the Switch and Xbox platforms must have required some deep licensing mojo, but perhaps not even as much needed to wrest the rights for a rerelease of a James Bond movie tie-in game from the Broccoli family, as well as the likeness rights from Pierce Brosnan. With that many owners looking for their pieces of the financial pie, the stars must have aligned mighty right for the game to see the legal light of day again. Someone, please go check R’lyeh! Cthulhu must be about to awaken!

“a golden eye is an eye tat is golden!!!!”
(image source)

GoldenEye 007 Shoots Its Way Onto Nintendo Switch Online This Week (Nintendo Life)

The Arcade Blogger on the Development of Xevious

December 30th of last year, The Arcade Blogger did a piece on the creation of Namco’s classic vertical shooter Xevious.

Xevious was modestly successful in the US, where it was produced by Atari, but it Japan it did amazing numbers. Jeremy Parish (in his NES Works and related series) has mentioned several times that it was a vastly influential game in Japan, inspiring a whole generation of designers, and a whole bunch of clones and similar games. Its US release was around the time of the arcade crash, which was mostly an American thing. If it hadn’t had happened, maybe now we’d think about Xevious the way we consider Pac-Man.

The team behind Xevious

Xevious basically invented the vertical scrolling shooter where your ship has free movement of the screen. It also included a Bomb button to attack objects on the ground, displayed on the game’s background layer. It was a concept that would later be iterated upon in Konami’s Twinbee games.

Revealed in the article is an interesting fact. The scrolling background is stored in ROM as a huge 1024×2048 bitmapped image. That’s much wider than the screen is though. What the game does is send the player into a vertical portion of it 224 pixels wide.

When the player reaches the top, they wrap around to the bottom of another vertical stripe of the game world. In a complete loop, the player will travel from the bottom to the top 16 times. You can tell when you’re about to start another loop because the background will reach a place with trees all the way across!

You always start off a life in a tree-filled area because it begins you at the bottom of a stripe; each vertical pass over the map functions as a checkpoint. The stripes overlap somewhat, so you sometimes pass over an area you’ve seen before but offset by a bit.

For more facts on Xevious and its development, be sure to click through to the article!

The Arcade Blogger: The Development of Xevious

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 (romhacking.net)