So as I mentioned previously, now that I have my MythTV system rolled out (fairly successfully, I think), I’ve found myself playing a lot of old games that I haven’t touched in years. Sure, in the past, I’ve been able to play these games on a computer, but there’s nothing quite like being able to experience them in my livingroom on a proper (nice and fuzzy) TV with a decent joypad. However, the joypads I’m using (are nice cheap USB Logitech pads) don’t do a good job of replicating that true Arcade Experience (tm).
Enter XGaming. These guys are in the business of building arcade-grade gear that can be interfaced with a PC, for use primarily with MAME. XGaming have been in the biz for quite a while, marketing their X-Arcade stick, a control built with arcade-grade joysticks and buttons, mounted on a nice, heavy base. Very nice. And at $129, their Dual Joystick, which sports two full control sets mounted on a single platform, is an absolute steal.
But then evil-Jeremy, my Go playing friend and source of generally bad financial influence, pointed me at Treyonics Controls. Like XGaming, they build arcade-grade PC-compatible sticks, but their Centurion really stands out. Why? Well, it sports 4 more buttons than the XArcade, which is nice, but more importantly, it is equipped with a heavy-duty trackball and dial! Finally, I can play Arkanoid the way it was meant to be played, right in the comfort of my own livingroom! Further, their sticks are 4/8-way switchable, meaning you can play games like Donkey Kong, which used a 4-way stick, on proper, authentic controls, while still being able to use the 8-way stick for high-twitch games like Street Fighter II. My only fear is that they don’t currently have prices available… I can’t imagine it’s cheap (though damned tempted, whatever the price :).
Of course, all this got me thinking: what if, one day, I could build a proper arcade cabinet? And that’s when I found arcadecontrols.com. These guys provide all the information and directions you need to build your own cabinet from scrap or pre-built parts, including explanations of various materials and technologies, wiring diagrams, tips and tricks, and links to part suppliers. Could make for a very cool project once I get my media room done…
So, as part of the MythTV project, I decided it’d be fun to install a rather large collection of video games from the old days so that I could play them on a proper TV with a decent joystick. The result, I’ve played more video games in the last couple weeks than I’ve played in the last six months.
In particular, I rediscovered an old Sega Master System classic that I had, in fact, completely forgotten about: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Actually, more accurately, I’d mis-remembered this game, attributing it’s various qualities to a bunch of other games, not realizing that this was, in fact, the title I was thinking about the whole time!
Now the first two installments in the Wonder Boy series are fairly straight forward platformers. You progress through levels, defeating boss characters while building up armor, weapons, items, and so forth, until you defeat the final big baddie in the game. Pretty standard stuff. The Dragon’s Trap starts off similarly. In fact, it begins precisely where Wonderboy in Monsterland ends off, and has the player actually defeat the last boss from the WBML as his first task (though, obviously, it’s much easier this time), after which Wonder Boy is cursed and transformed into Lizard-Man. Wonder Boy must then find the Salamander Cross in order to break the curse.
Similar to WBML, the levels are of a 2D platform-style, but unlike it’s predecessor, the player is given freedom to roam about the game world. As the player progresses, boss characters are defeated and Wonder Boy is tranformed into other characters, each with his own unique power:
- Lizard-Man - Can breathe fire for extended attack range.
- Mouse-Man - Can climb walls made of mouse blocks.
- Pirhanna-Man - Can swim freely in water.
- Lion-Man - Swings his sword in an arc, allowing him to destroy higher or lower blocks.
- Hawk-Man - Has the ability to fly.
And, of course, Hu-Man (believe it or not, it’s actually spelled that way in the manual). Each of these special powers then makes it possible to access new areas of the game that were previously unavailable. For example, Mouse-Man may make it possible to climb a wall previously unscalable. The result is something similar to Super Mario 64, where regions of the game may be visited and revisited to discover new secrets previously unavailable.
In addition, Wonder Boy has the opportunity to collect new weapons and armour as the game progresses, each of which provide varying levels of attack or defensive capability, as well as various special powers. Occasionally, these items are found, however most are acquired by spending gold, which is collected by killing enemies.
The result is a game which combines the elements of a 2D platformer with something akin to an RPG, providing great replay value. This is particularly true because the difficulty level of the game ramps up very smoothly. While consistently challenging, the game doesn’t become too easy or too frustratingly difficult.
To top all this off, for a game published in 1989, the game looks quite good. The sprites are big and colourful, and the big boss characters are gigantic! The soundtrack is also rather catchy, although it could probably grate on some people’s ears after a while. :)
So if you’re feeling the need to take a stroll down memory lane, I highly recommend this game. Though, be warned, it’s pretty addictive. Just ask Lenore.
I look outside, and I can’t help but wonder if hell really has frozen over. It’s like the molten core of our planet decided enough was enough and packed it in, taking it’s warm glowing warming glow with it. End result? Desolate, wintry wasteland, complete with bitter wind and endless, hardpacked snow drifts. On the way to the bus, I expect to be chased down by a pack of starving wolves, or perhaps encounter a group of migrating caribou on their way to warmer climes, musing over these crazy humans who aren’t doing the same.
The funny thing is, a small, childlike part of me rather enjoys this brutal, brutal winter weather. Given that the last time we had winter this bad was probably when I was in highschool, or perhaps even earlier, I suspect there’s a strong sense of nostalgia being triggered by these near-blizzard conditions. That part of me wants to grab a toboggan and go sledding in the freshly fallen powder. Or find a freshly-plowed-off outdoor skating rink. Or go home and curl up under the covers with a book, protected from the cold by the heavy blankets.
Apparently bitter, bitter cold brings back warm memories of childhood. How ironic.
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