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King of 3: George Riley

Posted by VectorGamer on October 28, 2014 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

King of 3: George Riley Takes On Junior and the King of All Kongs

Originally published in Retrocade Magazine Volume 1 Issue 1


The organizers of the The Grassroots Gaming Expo must have had a hunch that George Riley wasn’t attending – they added Donkey Kong 3 to the list of tournament games.


George Riley is undeniably the greatest Donkey Kong 3 player on the planet. Period.


And while the rest of the classic gaming world goes gaga over another Donkey Kong kill screen and its world record changing hands (yet again), his accomplishments on the less glamourous, black sheep of the Donkey Kong series goes unheralded in contrast.


Riley’s current marathon record of 3,538,000 is almost 1,000,000 points better than Dwayne Richard’s second place score.


George also holds the DK3 tournament settings world record with a score of 857,200 that was set in June 2010. That score is almost 400,000 points better than Dwayne Richard’s inaugural score of 473,400 achieved in October of 2005.


With George Riley submitting MAME scores to MARP and sitting numero uno in not only various Donkey Kong 3 ROM sets but also Donkey Kong Junior ROM sets, one can only suspect the man is serious in gunning for the Donkey Kong Triple Crown.


And why should expert Donkey Kong Junior players care that he’s putting up great scores in MAME? Because he learned Donkey Kong 3 in Java.


So, before George’s future accomplishments render him inaccessible, I nabbed him for an interview with Retrocade Magazine.


When did you first get into classic gaming?

Riley: Maybe Rip Off was the first one I really remember. I think I actually have a picture of me playing the game. Maybe the picture helped me remember that time more clearly.


My first home console was the Commodore 64 which I got when I was 10. Unfortunately a few months later it was stolen when we moved. I have no idea what happened to it, but I did get another Commodore 64 years later.

 

You are also a classic console collector. When did you get into the hobby and any significant finds in the wild?

Riley: If you want to get technical, I guess I was a collector when I got my first Atari 2600 at the age of 17 in 1992. I would go to thrift stores from time to time and pick up an Atari 2600 game. I would only go for the popular games that I knew of though. Boy, if I had insight about the fact that the rare games would be worth a ton one day I may have tried to pick those up as well. I started actively collecting for the Atari 2600 in 2001.


I have had a few good finds in the wild from time to time. I found a Pengo loose in a thrift store for $2 once and I also was able to find a Starpath game player for the Atari 2600 at Salvation Army about seven years ago. About three years ago I bought about 25 mint condition Atari 2600 boxes. Some were rare like Basic Math and they also had around 4 different gatefold games. I also have found Sears and Atari Heavy Sixers in the wild along with a few Atari Joystick Heavy Sixers. It is easy to get Heavy Sixer Joysticks where I live. I don't think anyone besides me really knows what to look for in my area.


I believe you had an Atlantis II up for sale. Do you still own it and how was it acquired?

Riley: I actually had two different Atlantis II carts at one time. It was a freaky coincidence. Both were loose, but one had extensive documentation. I posted on AtariAge (a site for classic game collectors) about this auction with great documentation. The seller had a reserve that was insanely high. I mentioned how I had bid that up to $2,000 and it still had not broken the reserve.


Later on someone had posted about how he would sell his Atlantis II for $1,500. It was loose but had the box sticker stuck to it. I jumped at the opportunity and bought it.


The guy who had the Atlantis II with docs had his reserve super high and no one had a high enough bid. He tried again with no success. Then, out of the blue, he contacts me with a second chance offer through eBay for my original $2,000 bid. I decided that although this was going to hurt me financially it would be worth it. Through the years I sold both of them: one was for college and the other to go after the Donkey Kong Junior record.

 

You are currently the record holder on the Atari 2600 translation of Galaxian. How would you compare the quality of the 2600 translation of this classic against the arcade game itself along with the other ports released to e.g. the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision?

Riley: Personally, I prefer the Atari 2600 version. Usually arcade ports are nothing compared to the original, but this title seems to be an exception. First the colors are livelier on the Atari 2600 and for whatever reason the sounds are not as annoying. And finally I am just good at the Atari 2600 version while the arcade version rips me apart. It is fun to play games that are challenging yet still allow you to dominate it.

 

If I recall, you first broke Todd Rodgers' 2600 Galaxian record and then subsequently broke your own record by doubling up Todd Rodgers’ score.

Riley: Yes, that is 100 percent correct, except I also broke the record live with a 1.955 million game. I just was not able to send that one into Twin Galaxies.


How much playing time was spent on Galaxian until you broke the record? What were your average scores on the game before you went on the run to break the record? Did you have a "breakout" moment in your game progression that built your confidence in knowing that you could break the record?

Riley: AtariAge has a high score game of the week contest - they so happened to have Galaxian as one of their games of the week three different times.


At first, I really was not that good at this game - I would get scores of around 25,000 to 35,000. Then, the first time they had it as a game of a week I found out I was really adept at it and got a third place score of 89,000+. Then the second time they had it as a game of the week I had a score of 201,000+ which was good enough for first place.


I noticed that some really good players were having trouble with this game. I am talking about a player who would regularly break Atari 2600 world records could not even get 100,000 points on this game. They had the contest a third time and I had a score of 217,000+.


About a couple of months later I saw Steve Wiebe play Donkey Kong at E3. It was during the summer time of course. And I thought that the idea of going after a record for a short period would be a fun thing to do. It was an easy choice for me to pick: Galaxian. I am a substitute teacher and I’m single so I have more time on my hands than the average person. So I thought to myself, what the heck? Why not go for Todd Rogers’ record?


Of course, his record was 1,343,700 points. Like I said, my high was around 217,000 points so I really did not think I even had a shot. So, I posted that I was going to give myself two months time to go after this record. I decided I was only going to play three games a day at first, because I did not want to burn myself out. At first the progression was slow but at a steady rate. Soon 300,000 was hit, then 400,000 and then 600,000.


At first I had no intention of submitting this tape, but soon enough people started posting how that was a dumb thing to do and no one would ever really know you did it unless you submitted a tape. At first I thought you needed a camcorder, so I used that as an excuse. Once I found out though that they accepted VCR submissions, I decided to go for it. At the time I hit 600,000 I decided to actually send in the score. At first I did not use a printer and just used a hand written copy of the agreement.


I actually sent the 600,000 tape to the world record holder Todd Rogers himself. I could have sent it into Tom Duncan at first but, I just wanted to write to Todd telling him how I really thought he was probably the greatest game player out there and that he was really an inspiration to me. For whatever reason, that game was never verified and so I sent my next tape into Tom Duncan. I found him extremely quick in verifying - I mean within a matter of a couple days. So, from then on I stuck with him.


As far as when I thought I had a legit shot at getting his record was probably when I hit the 800,000 mark. I was now at an area where I was only a few hundred thousand away. Another time I really knew I had a shot was when I flipped the game, and actually got another extra man at 7,000. In fact I took that game up to 30,000 points of the record. So, I was definitely on the doorstep when that happened.

 

In the game that you broke Todd Rodgers’ record, was there any anxiety when approaching the record score? What about during the game after you eclipsed Rodgers' score?

Riley: For me there was a ton of anxiety. I had come close to Todd's score and then for two straight weeks I did not even come close to his record. I was suffering a mental block or a slump and it was really getting me down. Then I had my run.


It was actually the day before my deadline of July 31st. I knew if I did not do it this run I would not be able to do it by the deadline. I was about to drastically cut down on my game play to only one game a day instead of three or even more like I was pushing myself the final two weeks. As I broke it, a huge smile came on my face and I was able to push it 300,000 points further.


I am a man who very rarely cusses. But, for that one time I actually decided to unload the F-bomb to express my excitement and said “I F'ng broke Todd Rogers’ record!” And I used caps with all big letters in bold to express it.

 

Was there any difference in your performance when you broke your own record? Was it relaxing knowing that you were just improving upon your own record with really nothing to lose?

Riley: Well yeah, once you break the record, then a lot of the doubt fades away. When I first broke the record the main obstacle was freaking out, making the wrong move and dying right away after I just had died. When I doubled Todd's record my main challenge was no longer of fear but of focus.


Galaxian, as far as the game is concerned, does not let up. It is a constant barrage of enemies one after another - there are only 3 seconds between levels. There are no bathroom breaks because there is not a continual giving of men like other games. You get 3 men to start, another man 2 minutes later and then you have to wait about 2-1/2 hours before another man is given. So, because of the constant barrage you need to be always focused on what you are doing.


At about the 5 hour mark I noticed I was actually starting to get mentally fatigued. I was starting to miss ships that I usually can get easily. For most marathon games the game play is at a level where it is not that mentally taxing. Galaxian is very mentally taxing. And so concentration was the biggest thing.


Later on after I set the record I found out that Twin Galaxies seems to allow for a person to park their ship or character in a safe spot and take 5 minutes off per hour if the game is over 6 hours. My game was 7 hours so I could have used this trick and possibly reached a much higher score. Most likely the person who will break my record is going to use safe spots and take time to rest in order to break the record.


As far as doubling Todd's score: at first my goal was not 2,696,100 (which is a little more than double Todd's record) but to get 3,000,000 points for the year. When in less than a week I got to 2,696,100 (it took me 7 hours to get that score), I realized that I could be spending a ton of time just to increase the score another 300,000 points. So, for me that was good enough and it was time to go after bigger and better things.


That score has been very good to me. I was able to have it featured on Twin Galaxies Parade of Champions and the score was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records: Gamer's Edition. Heck, I even signed a couple of books as autographs which was a pretty cool experience.

 

The Donkey Kong 3 record is, at this time, the one you are most famous for. What is it about DK3 that makes it special?

Riley: Well, for me, it has to be the multi-tasking that goes on in the game - from spraying the worms, Donkey Kong and bugs to defending the flowers and dodging Donkey Kong's coconuts - there simply is so much you have to do all at once. If you let one thing go everything falls apart. Most other classic games from this era are not multi-tasking games.

 

If memory serves, you were playing DK3 on a Java app before you purchased a DK3 machine, is that right?

Riley: OK, yes, I went the extremely unusual route of playing Donkey Kong 3 on Java. I found that this really helped later on.


One main reason is I could not rely on any sound clues - it was all on visual clues. Sound plays a very important part of the game. Also, I was using a keyboard with Java. I decided to then search for a Donkey Kong 3 machine in the area but there was none.


But, I did find an Ultracade. I found that playing with a joystick was way easier than playing with a keyboard. Within a week I was getting to 3,000,000 on easy settings. At this time I knew that if I could get a Donkey Kong 3 machine I would be able to have a great chance at breaking the record. I took a leap of faith because I had no idea how the game would play on Twin Galaxies settings.


I looked around and found nothing. So, I went online and decided to enlist help. I offered $50 to the person that could find me a Donkey Kong 3 machine. Shortly after, someone posted about this party supply place in L.A. I called them, and they offered to sell the Donkey Kong 3 machine for $775 shipped. I knew this was overpaying, but I was desperate and believed I could break the record. So, I took the plunge and bought the machine.


Upon receiving the machine the joystick played a tad bit stiff and the monitor was not perfect. But, I gladly paid and went about going after the record. I soon found out the joystick was really bad and deteriorated. I still could play but I had to put effort in moving the joystick and it was starting to put blisters on my left hand. Soon the monitor was also having problems and would go out of whack if played too long.


How was your score progressing? And at what point did you breakout, giving you the confidence in breaking the record?

Riley: I had no clue as to what Twin Galaxies settings were going to be like. I decided to put the machine on 5 man settings first which is the Twin Galaxies Tournament Settings (TGTS). On the third try I broke the TGTS record without even recording. At that point I knew that I would eventually be able to get the Tournament and Marathon records.


I felt so confident about the Marathon record that I actually told you I was going to go after the record for the AtariAge Memorial Day weekend tournament. I think within two days of the tournament I broke the record. Then I just gradually moved up that score until I hit the 3,000,000 mark.

 

Some feel that Donkey Kong 3 has nothing to do with the Donkey Kong series: it's missing Mario and it's a shooter instead of a platform game. What are your thoughts on that and does it have anything to do with the perception that DK3 does not get the attention it deserves like the previous two titles in the series?

Riley: I always point out one thing: Shigeru Miyamoto was the lead programmer for this. Among Nintendo fans this man’s name is extremely revered and just bringing his name up in an argument is pretty powerful.


Well, if you think about it Donkey Kong Junior was also extremely different. I mean you are playing as neither Donkey Kong nor Mario but as Donkey Kong Junior (another character that disappears after that game). True, it is a platformer, but there are no hammers - just fruit.


Most people who are really, really good at Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior are primarily platform gamers. I think the biggest problem with DK3 is that it is a shooter first and foremost and a very hard shooter at that. So people don't really want to spend the time needed to become really good at the game for so little glory. Dean Saglio is the current record holder for Donkey Kong on MAME and has also been dabbling with Donkey Kong 3. I saw a game he played on Donkey Kong 3 just a couple of days ago and unlike the other games he was playing, he really seemed extremely frustrated. He even said words to the effect of "this game is going to be hard to get good at."


For me, that is probably one of the greatest compliments I have ever been given: the world record holder on the most highly competitive game admitting that this game was hard to get good at. I have seen this man play Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Zookeeper. The man completely owns these games and does things that are simply amazing.

 

You discussed that you discovered a "blue screen" in DK3 - can you discuss what that is and how you discovered it?

Riley: The Blue Screen: basically that is where the game repeatedly gives you the same blue screen over and over again. Strangely enough, I was just playing around with Java one day and was able to get to it. I decided to see if the same thing happened on my arcade machine and sure enough it did.


As a side note, Donald Hodges later found out with save mode that the game actually loops back to board one on board 257. As a challenge I decided to see if I could do that with Donkey Kong 3 on default settings in MAME which, ironically enough, are the easiest settings. I was able to do that and I achieved a score on MARP of 6,689,400 on Easy settings. I also found out that the game does not give out extra men after you loop the boards. I was really hoping this would happen because then the game can be marathon’d for a very long time. But alas, that was not the case.

 

Do you think that your DK3 record is one that could stand for ten years or more due in part because of it being less popular than DK, DK Jr. and the fact that your score is so high?

Riley: Well, some very high profile names have tried to go after this record or have had the record. Dwayne Richard and Shawn Cram are usually mentioned among the greatest gamers of all time and they were the former world record holders. John McAllister also toyed with the idea of going after the Donkey Kong 3 record. So did Steve Wagner, Justin Knucklez and Brian Allen. And like I said Dean Saglio has been trying his hand at this game as well.


Yes, the game is less popular than the other games, but some very big names in the arcade world have had their go at this game. One thing I have learned is that no record is safe. At the moment I am sitting pretty, but someone out of left field could come and knock me off my perch. Heck that is what I did to Dwayne Richard. Also, let it be noted that the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior records changed hands a bunch of times in 2010. So, I believe that no Donkey Kong record is truly safe - even the Donkey Kong 3 record.

 

What attributes do you possess that allowed you to crush the DK3 record?

Riley: I think the biggest thing for me is the fact that I love to play this game. I mean I really, really enjoy what I do in the game. I really believe that in order to become great at something you need to have the love.


But besides that, I also think you need to have a chess-like mind. You need to be able to see three or four moves ahead at all times. The ability to constantly focus is also a must. And lastly I think you need to have a strong will. This game will at times kill you off a couple of times very quickly. It can be really mentally discouraging if you let it get to you. The key for me is to mentally stay in the game when this is happening.

 

How are you progressing on Donkey Kong Junior? Do you foresee yourself being the first gamer to achieve the Donkey Kong Triple Crown?

Riley: I have been stuck at 1,161,100 for about a month now. I have had a couple of games that were within 10,000 of that mark in the past week. To be honest, my highest official goal really for this game was 1,000,000 points which is something I have far exceeded. I think 1,200,000 is possible for me.


My goal really isn't to get the Triple Crown with these three games. My goal is to be the all around best on all three games. A lot of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior players do avoid Donkey Kong 3 like the plague and the ones who play Donkey Kong 3 generally don't go super hard after Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. So, basically what this means is that my competition in being the all around best is not that huge.


I believe if I can get 1,000,000 on Donkey Kong then I will have the title wrapped up. I am almost done now with Donkey Kong Junior. In about a month and a half, I will move onto Donkey Kong as my primary game and I understand the commitment this is going to take. Unlike Donkey Kong Junior where I devoted a year of my time to this game, I will devote two years of my time to Donkey Kong. Based on most people’s experiences, it seems that the learning curve is about two years of hardcore practice in order to become an elite player.


Now of course if somehow I stumble upon all three records than obviously I would be on cloud nine for a very long time.


 

I had Space Jockey back in the day and it’s currently in my VCS collection. Some may view it as a terrible VCS title. What are your thoughts on the game itself and what was enticing for you to break the Space Jockey world record? How long was the game play to achieve the score?

Riley: OK, I will admit that this is by far my least favorite game of any of my records.


After I got the Galaxian record, I really had this thought that I did not want to be known as a one trick pony. So I searched for the game I had the best chance at breaking a record with. Sure enough, Space Jockey fit the bill. The only thing I really needed was an 8 hour tape instead of a 6 hour tape because the game play was going to take at least 6 hours to break the record. As far as the game it took me 7 hours and 45 minutes to set. To be honest it was pure torture to play.


It felt like this was pure hell on earth to play. The game is super easy and super repetitive. There is only one screen and it kept going on and on and on and on and on. I would rather be on a road trip with a couple of kids “saying are we there yet?” every 10 seconds than to play that game.


By the way, two of the previous record holders have also stated their disdain for this game. Most games are a game of endurance or skill. This is a game of tolerance for such horrible game play.


Have you considered going for 1,000,000 on Laser Blast?

Riley: Thankfully, Laser Blast stops at 1,000,000 and thankfully enough people have done it - like ten or so where the relevance is meaningless. If Laser Blast did not stop, I might think about it. Same goes for Megamania. I love that game, but ten or so have maxed that game out as well. i

 


Review: Scramble (Vectrex)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

If you were too busy pumping quarters in Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga back in 1981, then you probably missed this great shooter released by Konami that same year.

 

Cited as the influence for the Gradius series, this horizontal shooter puts you at the controls of a cool looking space ship dodging missiles, destroying bases and bombing fuel tanks through various terrains. There are five terrains to get through before you meet the objective of bombing the enemy base on the sixth level.

 

So, how does this all translate to vector graphics on the Vectrex?

 

Pretty darn good!


 

I was skeptical about how this would play out on the Vectrex, but was pleasantly surprised.

 

The terrain drawn up in vector graphics looks sensational. Your space ship actually looks more like a vector version of the Cosmic Avenger craft, but that’s just nitpicking. Explosions appear as large asterisks on the screen and sometimes I crash my space ship accidentally on purpose just to see it break into pieces.

 

There are some collision detection issues in this release but they seem to work in your favor. You can dip your wing into the terrain without losing a life and I’ve even went through a missile without dying!

 

Aside from that, the game play is “all that.” Maneuvering through the tight spaces takes some practice and that’s even on the easiest of three skill levels.

 

It’s all about the fun factor and this port of Scramble delivers.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Life Force (NES)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I remember my local bowling alley getting this arcade cabinet in their game room. I played it several times back in the day and to this day I find it to be a bizarre horizontal space shooter.

 

Konami ported their 1986 arcade release to the NES in 1988. The game can be played by one or two players simultaneously with one piloting the Vic Viper and the other the Road British Space Destroyer. Like many games in this genre, you can power-up your weaponry throughout the game.

 

The space monster Zelos has gone on an intergalactic buffet. Zelos needs a whooping in the digestive tract from the star fighters to save civilizations. Along the way you battle enemy defenses and bosses to your ultimate goal of destroying Zelos’ heart and soul.

 

At the onset, this game looks like same wine, different bottle. You’ll see similar enemy craft travelling in similar flight patterns as in Gradius. After that wave, things get interesting.

 

You travel through caverns facing enemy Death Hands, Belbeims (which look like ribs or horns – take your pick) and other universal scum. When you finally plow your way through all the obstacles it’s time to face the first boss.

 

Golem is a brain with Death Hands and an eye protruding from his frontal lobe. I’ve found that you can simply do circles around him avoiding the Death Hands and just start wailing on his eye.

 

I like the dynamic of this game. Once you get to Terror Zone II, the game turns into a vertical scrolling shooter and that’s pretty neat!

 

Graphically this game looks good and at the same time bizarre – appropriate for the story line. The music doesn’t fit the game, however – I would’ve chosen a jingle to the tune of Public Image Ltd’s “Albatross.”


 

There is no randomness in this game so you basically have to do repeat plays and memorize the patterns. It’s still a challenge, nonetheless.

 

This is a highly addictive game –one you can play for hours on end.

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Gulkave (ColecoVision)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Gulkave is a 1986 Sega horizontal space shooter ported from the SG-1000 by Eduardo Mello and released by Team Pixelboy. This game is another example of  “what could have been” had Coleco not snubbed the ColecoVision in favor of the disastrous ADAM.

 

In a nutshell, you pilot a spaceship called the Zaiigar that shoots anything that moves. Your adversary is the Gulbas Empire who throw everything but the kitchen sink to see you destroyed. Your goal is to destroy the eight fortresses of the Gulbas Empire. Pretty easy, right?

 

Wrong! This game is tougher than tough. There are no cookie levels in this game – it’s an onslaught from the onset.

 

Your Zaiigar ship is protected (temporarily) by a shield barrier that loses energy with every hit you take. When you run out of energy on your shield barrier, the next hit you take means you lose a ship.

 

There are thirty levels known as “acts.” When you complete an act, you earn bonus points for any energy remaining on your shield barrier and you move onto the next act. The eight Gulbas fortresses that you are to destroy are located at the end of acts 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30.

 

Along the way you can receive power-ups for weaponry upgrades, and of course, you lose the additional fire power once you lose a life. Some of the weaponry is pretty awesome like the “Screen Eraser Blaster” that shoots five beams so you can give the Gulbas thugs some payback.

 

The cartridge features a high score table, a game demo screen and (thankfully) the ability to continue the game. Music plays throughout which is typical for this genre of games of the mid-1980s.

 

The graphics are superb and if you didn’t know it you’d swear that this wasn’t a ColecoVision title. On the first act your ship is flying over nicely rendered ice capped mountains with a sparkling star field in the background.


 

The level of difficulty has its positives and negatives. The positive is that it can entice you to explore the game further by using the continue feature (if needed). The negative is that there are players that would have preferred, at a minimum, two difficulty levels (e.g. Novice and Standard) for the purpose of practicing and discovery of the game at higher levels without having to use a continue.

 

Players that seek a challenge of this magnitude in the genre of horizontal shooters will enjoy this game. It’s a hit or miss for players that don’t.

 

Grade: B-

 

 

Review: Yars' Revenge (2600)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

A programmer at Atari was asked to develop a port of Star Castle for the Atari 2600. He said it couldn’t be done “but, here’s Yars’ Revenge.”

 

You are Yar (Ray spelled backwards – as in Ray Kassar), a fly that must destroy the Qotile (the equivalent of the cannon in Star Castle) that lies behind an energy shield on the right side of the screen. You must chip away at the cells in the energy shield by shooting them or nibbling away at them. All the while you are being chased by the guided destroyer missile (equivalent to the sparks in Star Castle) in your attempt to tunnel a path through the shield. Once you have a path through the energy shield, you can then launch your Zorlon cannon from the left side of the screen to destroy the Qotile on the right.


 

In the middle of the playfield is the neutral zone where you are invincible to the destroyer missile but not to the swirls blasted off by the Qotile. Additionally, you cannot fire from within the neutral zone.

 

As you kill off more Qotiles, the destroyer missile increases its pace and Qotile’s swirls are launched more frequently. As you advance further in the game, there will be a couple of boards sans neutral zone.

 

None of this stuff makes sense but that’s the imagination that makes games from the classic era great! This is definitive Atari 2600 of the early 80s.

 

Graphically, Yar looks pretty good as a cosmic fly and the Qotile looks like some kind of demonic cannon that constantly changes hues. Machine code was used as graphic representation of the neutral zone and the destruction of the Qotile. All this action is set to the sounds of the Qotile swirls, Zorlon cannons and an insect drone as the backdrop.

 

From a game play standpoint, thisis one of the finest titles in the 2600 library. It’s one of the few moments in Atari’s history where they made the right decision in that they released a title that was influenced by an arcade port instead of releasing a blocky flickerfest masked inside seductive box art and calling it Star Castle.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

Review: Star Fortress (ColecoVision)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

This is the home brew version of Star Castle ported to the ColecoVision by John Dondzila.

 

You command the familiar looking Asteroids type ship while you blast away the rings to destroy the cannon in the center.

 

You can use the two buttons on your controller to fire and thrust and your joystick to rotate left and right. You can also push up on the joystick to thrust which I have found is much easier. I dabbled playing this game using the Roller Controller but I found the Coleco controller to be the better option.

 

Graphically, the game looks great. Although the star field is static backdrop it’s something you’d miss if it wasn’t there. The sparks flicker but that may have been done intentionally to mimic the effect in the arcade game.

 

I like the audio effects in this translation. The drone of the rotating rings hasn’t been left out and the other effects are vintage ColecoVision: the game looks and sounds like it could have been released back in 1983.

 

There are two flaws I found in this game. The first is when you attempt to bounce off the rings: at times you will go through a missing segment and get trapped between two rings.

 

The second flaw is the lack of acceleration for your ship. When you thrust from a dead stop, for a second your ship stutters like it’s running on fumes before it actually accelerates. In this type of game you need full acceleration.

 

Between arcade, Vectrex and this version I’d have to say Star Fortress is the most difficult. The cannon watches you like a hawk and more often than not when he unloads on you it’s certain death.

 

The nostalgia has been captured in this release; however it would be more enjoyable if it weren’t so difficult.

 

Grade: C+

 

 

Review: Star Castle (Vectrex)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

My favorite arcade game used to be Galaga. Then, it was Sinistar until I came to terms with the fact that the game cheats. Now, I can profess my love for Cinematronics’ 1980 vector classic, Star Castle. And what better system to port this brutally difficult arcade game than the Vectrex?

 

The Vectrex translation features two difficulty levels with game 1 being the most difficult and the default level of play. The cartridge was also bundled with an attractive overlay with blue tint and red ring and yellow circle in the center to colorize the rings and cannon. The overlay really makes the game look sharp (especially when you play in a dark room!).

 

Like most deep space shooters, your ship rotates left and right (using the joystick or controller buttons) along with thrust and fire.

 

The bad guy is a cannon that rotates in the middle of the screen surrounded by three rings rotating in opposite directions. Aiding our foe are three sparks that will free themselves from the rings and chase you around the screen. Colliding with these sparks is fatal.

 

The object of the game is to destroy the cannon by shooting the ring segments (but do not shoot all the segments of a ring or they will regenerate) for points in order to create a gaping hole. Once there is a path cleared through the rings to the cannon, you need to kill or be killed. Whenever you destroy the cannon, you are awarded a bonus ship, you repeat the process of destroying a cannon and the game ramps up in difficulty.

 

The difficulty is in the game’s speed. The deeper you advance in the game, the faster the sparks travel and the faster the cannon rotates to keep aim on your ship. In the latter stages of the game, you have no option but to stay on full thrust and firing at the same time.

 

The Star Castle arcade game featured some great audio effects such as the drone of the rotating rings and the thundering destruction of ring segments. The drone has been recreated well on the Vectrex although the sound of ring destruction resembles that of two brawling wooden coat hangers.

 

Graphically the game is spot on and there are no flaws to speak of.

 

The Vectrex version of Star Castle is easier for this reason: the sparks never wrap around the playfield. With that, you can always wrap around the playfield to avoid collisions. Nevertheless, the sparks increase their speed to a profound level much like the arcade game.

 

Star Castle is arguably the best game in the Vectrex library and is a must have for your collection.

 

Grade: A+

 

 

Review: Space Fury (ColecoVision)

Posted by VectorGamer on February 1, 2014 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

That Connecticut Leather Company was famous for releasing less than popular titles for the ColecoVision library and Space Fury could possibly qualify as one of them.

 

There are four skill levels to choose from in this translation of the Sega classic. Skill level 1 is the easiest, skill level 3 is considered the arcade equivalent and skill level 4 is the most difficult. Skill level 3 is what this review will be based on.

 

But first, I want you to free yourself from the Coleco controllers, plug in the Roller Controller and use that instead! The trackball allows you to rotate with precision and the placement of buttons 1 and 2 on the Roller Controller make thrusting and firing much easier.

 

The game opens with the obligatory trash talking alien. He looks like an alien but not the Space Fury creature. Fans of the old English translations of Japanese Godzilla movies should feel right at home as the alien simply moves his lips while the text of his smack scrolls across the screen. “Fanfare For the Common Man” plays in the background for some reason.


 

The spaceship you command is the common Asteroids triangular ship that appears in the center of the screen. Just like the arcade game, the alien ships fuse together to form the cruisers and your ship cannot be destroyed by the alien ships. Cruisers will then chase you down in a deadly collision or destroy you with their fireballs.

 

When the round is over, you choose one of the three docks for extra fire power and receive bonus points – just like the arcade game.

 

After you complete another round, you dock a second time and after another round you dock for a third and final time – just like the arcade game. The strategy for most players is to dock in the 9 o’clock position to obtain ultimate fire power for the remainder of the game.


 

There are compromises made translating a vector arcade game with raster graphics. For example, there are alien ships that resemble paper clips. The alien with the varicose veins found in the arcade game looks more like a one-eyed Creature From the Black Lagoon. Overall, the graphics won’t knock your socks off but they work in this translation.

 

Like the arcade game, the action is fast and furious. And as advertised on Coleco’s box for this game, it “Plays Like The Real Arcade Game.”

 

Grade: A

 

 

Review: Star Wars Return of the Jedi Death Star Battle (2600)

Posted by VectorGamer on January 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

This is a game that I had sitting in a storage tub for quite some time before it ever met the cartridge slot. A few times I would give it a go, didn’t “get it” and put it right back in the tub.


One day I decided to read the manual.


You pilot a Millennium Falcon and the objective is to destroy the energy core of the Death Star. To meet that objective, you must first destroy a number of Tie Interceptors on the first screen to create openings in the Death Star’s energy shield. At that point, you need to wait for the shield’s grey energy band to deactivate before you can slip through one of the openings where you’ll hyperspace to the Death Star screen.


When you advance to the Death Star screen, at the top you will see the Death Star which is rebuilding piece-by-piece with the energy core in the middle. You pilot your Millennium Falcon at the bottom of the screen firing away at the Death Star to create a pathway in order to blast the energy core. In the midst of all this, your movements are tracked by the Death Star’s Death Ray which will destroy you if the Tie Interceptors, who are circling and firing at you, don’t do it first.


Every so often, you’ll see the green Imperial Shuttle enter the playfield. He moves horizontally in a straight line and if you collide with him you are destroyed. However, if you manage to fire with precision, you can pick up a hefty 3,000 points. You must fire at the Imperial Shuttle’s upper body which can be challenging.


Once you successfully hit the Death Star’s energy core, numerous fireballs spray out in all directions. The longer you survive without getting hit the higher the bonus.


Rinse and repeat.


Gamers that are fans of Sinistar and Star Castle (like me) will enjoy this game as it combines elements of both. The building of the Death Star parallels the building of Sinistar. Chipping away at the Death Star to destroy the energy core is akin to chipping away the rings to destroy the cannon in Star Castle.


Since the playfield wraps around, the strategy for destroying the energy core is to bounce side-to-side. This will allow you to chip away at the Death Star while avoiding getting hit by the Death Ray.


I like the graphics on the first level. The energy shield changes colors and has a sense of depth. The Death Star can be seen being built in the distance while you battle the Tie Interceptors.


The only problem with this game is the abrasive sound effects used for the bad guys zipping by. However, other effects like those used for the Death Ray are a nice touch.


For me, learning how to play by doing something basic (reading the manual) allowed me to discover a fantastic and addicting game.


Grade: A

 

 

Review: Sinistar (5200)

Posted by VectorGamer on January 31, 2014 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

AtariAge (atariage.com) released the Sinistar prototype cartridge in 2010. Naturally, I had to pounce on this one.


There are four difficulty levels to choose from (listed easiest to most difficult): Coward, Survivor, Warrior and Immortal. If you want arcade difficulty, choose the Warrior level. You can turn auto fire on or off and select 3 or 5 starting lives. The 5200 controller has multiple fire buttons to accommodate manual fire and launching Sinibombs simultaneously although it’s best to choose the auto fire option.


This is one of the rare instances where the 5200 stock controllers work very well. You need to make circular movements around the Warriors and Sinistar and the stock controllers excel in that regard.


Most elements of the arcade game have been translated. The missing pieces are most of Sinistar’s speech, although “Beware I Live” has been preserved to indicate when he is completely built.
 


One issue I have with the graphics is that it is difficult to differentiate the crystals from the stars in the background. If the star field would have been rendered in flickering reds, blues and yellows the crystals would have been distinguishable.


Additionally, the colors are washed out and do not have the vibrancy as found in the arcade game.  Despite all that, objects are multi-colored and detailed. For example, the planetoids appear as three dimensional rocks instead of two dimensional paper plates.


The game was never completed, so there are bugs in the game with the most noticeable being your score and text breaking up in bits and pieces as the game progresses. Because of that, you need to power-cycle the 5200 after each play.


I would love to see this game polished up one day. In its current state, it’s not a title you can enjoy playing over and over again since you have to power-cycle the unit after each play. Additionally, the collision detection needs to be tweaked as your bullets go right through the Warriors and more often than not you have to place the ship right next to them for the kill.


There’s no doubt, however, that under different circumstances this could have been one of the top sellers in the 5200 library. The cartridge is more geared towards collectors and Sinistar fanatics.


Grade: B-


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