The Handheld Addiction

From the dawn of the console video game system- well, from the Atari VCS/2600 anyway, close enough to the beginning in any event- I have been an avid partaker of home video games.  Starting with the Atari, then moving onto Colecovision, NES, Sega Master System & Genesis, then slowing down a little, eventually getting a Playstation, 3DO, and a Gamecube.  Absent from all this was any sort of handheld system.  Well, if you don’t count the single-game LCD games from the early 80s- I did have a handheld Donkey Kong.  But as far as interchangeable handhelds, this era just passed me by.  From the Gameboy and its successors to the Atari Lynx, Sega Gamegear and Nomad (official portable Genesis) I have known of their existence and even played other people’s systems, but as far as owning one…?

A few months ago that changed when I picked up one of these little guys:
DSi XL

Actually, it’s bigger than the picture looks- it’s the Nintendo DSi XL Super Mario Bros 25th anniversary edition.  While others have gaming tastes that lean toward strategy games, shooters, and online games, I have gravitated more toward the Nintendo-esque platformers and adventure games.  That is, Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda.  Currently my library consists of just eight games, but I have access to more through my library.  In fact, that got me interested in a puzzle series, “Professor Layton.”  That is one of my games that I have yet to fire up aside from testing.  Besides that game I have three Mario games (Mario & Luigi II, Super Mario 64- an enhanced version of the old N64 title, and Mario Kart DS which came with the system), Zelda Spirit Tracks, a couple Sega titles (Sonic Rush and Phantasy Star 0), and a Konami game collection.  I eventually plan on getting the other Zelda title, the New Super Mario Bros, and the two Atari Greatest Hits collections.

So far, only two have had a lot of play time- two of the Mario games.  I have been playing the Mario 64 title most recently.  This game consists of the original 15 courses and the secret stars, and adds a bunch more.  I believe there are 30 more stars to obtain than the original.  Despite being called Mario 64, you actually get to play as four different characters, another of many changes from the N64 days.  In fact, when you start you can’t even play as Mario- you start as Yoshi and have to rescue Mario, Luigi, and Wario before you can play as them, though on many courses you can pick up a hat to play as a particular character until you get hit and lose the hat.  In the original, Mario got special abilities from blocks such as flying Mario, transparent Mario, and metal Mario (I’m sure I am not remembering the names correctly).  In this game, each character gets one of these abilities from the block, and it adds breathing fire for Yoshi.

To make things more interesting, there are things placed in courses that only one character can access.  There are things in ice blocks only Yoshi can melt with his fire ability, giant black blocks only Wario can smash, and of course the various things requiring the special abilities.  So far, I have completed over half the courses, and a few stars each from a couple more.  I have also collected several castle stars, some of which are not in the original game.  And remember the rabbits Mario had to catch?  Well, they increased that- a lot.  Now you catch rabbits for keys to play mini-games (I haven’t played any yet, but my guess is they are like the Mario Party mini-games) and there are different color rabbits depending on who you are playing as.  There are also eight glowing white rabbits- if you catch all of them, you can open a special door to get who-knows-what.  So far I have only seen and caught four or five of the eight.  I think I have some 110 or so stars, well over enough to do the final battle with Bowser (80 required) though I haven’t yet.

Controls are a little different from the original as the DS doesn’t have an analog control like the N64 did.  Instead, they go back to the classic style with a walking speed, but then you can go faster by holding a button while walking.  There are a couple other styles by mimicking analog via the touch screen, which shows a map throughout the game, but it just doesn’t work for me.  The new 3DS adds an analog control, but it will be a few years before I get one of those.  Anyway, here’s a video you can watch.  It’s the first part of a walkthrough of the entire game:

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Here are a few videos for other games I mentioned:

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What’s old is new

Isn’t that a common statement for fads and fashion?  Well in this case I am referring to something else.  Once upon a time, one Nolan Bushnell founded a gaming company that would become big- very big.  In 1977 they would put out not the first, but the most popular video gaming system of the time with interchangeable games.  The same company also produced popular arcade machines and computers.  Well, sort of- there was a split at one point into Atari Games and Atari Corp, but I am not sure which company did what- I believe Atari Games was strictly the arcade division while Atari Corp was everything else.  In any event, following the dreaded video game crash of 1984 (1983?), Atari was never quite the same.  The 16-bit successor to their 400/800/XL line of computers, the Atari ST, was fairly successful, but that would be pretty much be the last of the computers, aside from the short-lived 32-bit TT.  As for the consoles, they would never again achieve the success of the VCS/2600 though they would try all the way through the Jaguar in 1993.  Of course, these failing years, and many of the successful ones too, were not run by Bushnell himself as he “left” the company (read: fired) in December of 1978 according to Wikipedia.  The failing years were in fact with the infamous Jack Tramiel in the hot seat, who not only oversaw the failing of Atari but Commodore as well, but that is beside the point.  The point being Nolan Bushnell, who is now in fact on the board of directors of the current company that calls itself Atari.  Make no mistake, this is not the same company that Bushnell founded, but rather the French company formerly known as Infogrames who found itself with Atari’s assets when they purchased Hasbro Interactive in late 2000.  However, it is nevertheless interesting to find Bushnell on the board of directors for Atari for the first time in over 30 years.  Will anything come of this?  I don’t know, but here is a link to an interview with him.  It has some mistakes, like dating the 2600 to 1984 instead of 1977, but is an interesting read:

Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell “Returns”

(added quotation marks mine)

A couple of old Atari commercials on Youtube:

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A Retrogaming Post

As I promised to JustJ, my next post is a retrogaming one!  I decided to make it about a single game, one that spawned many versions and was the first arcade game from Nintendo’s famed Shigeru Miyamoto, a new hire at the time who was charged with making a game that would be used in the many leftover cabinets of a game that didn’t sell so well.  In arcade terms, a conversion kit.  If you know any Nintendo video game history, you know this is the man who came up with the hot selling Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda series.  In video games, he is a creative genius.  But this post isn’t about Mr. Miyamoto, it is about his first smash hit called Donkey Kong.  While I was sort of a general arcade game junkie of the time, this one game was my absolute favorite.  For those who have been a long time away from the game, here is a short video of the arcade game in action:

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I remember I was so jealous of a kid named Jason who was in my boy scout troop.  He was so good at the game that he could make it all the way to round four.  By that, I don’t mean the fourth screen, I mean the fourth level set which always started with the barrels screen and ended with the blue rivets screen where, once won, the feared ape would fall to his doom and the hero Mario, then just known as Jumpman, would rescue his lady only to start over in the next round.  Myself, I could only make it to round two or, on a very lucky day, round three.  Never past though.  But Jason made the game seem really easy.  Of course he was no King of Kong (see the recent movie about record setters Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe and their quests to maintain (in Mitchell’s case) or break (Wiebe) the world record on Donkeyt Kong) but still a world away from me.  If I made it to round three, Kong would hand my butt to me on the second elevators screen.

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As a fan of the game, I owned or played several iterations of it in the next several years.  The first one was the Nintendo Game & Watch version.  Their Game & Watch games were sort of a precursor to their Gameboy system in the late 80s.  These games had set LCD graphics that allowed only one game per system.  You can see all of these lit up briefly at the start of the next video before the game starts.  Believe it or not, you can actually play this and other G&W games on your PC using simulators (LINK)- in fact, that’s just what is used in the video:

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My favorite memory of this game is first playing it in school when a kid named John brought one back from a visit to Japan.  I was bummed that it was an import I couldn’t get until one day I actually saw it in the store and convinced my mom to get me one (it was likely a birthday or Christmas gift, I can’t remember)!  Cheesy as it was, I played it to death.  My eyes later opened really wide when a new video game system came out with Donkey Kong as a pack-in game- the Colecovision!  Up until this time we owned an Atari VCS (later rebadged “2600” when the 5200 was released) on which Coleco simultaneously released a far watered-down version of this title that would sell their own game:

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It is almost certain they made this, and other Atari versions of their Colecovision games, laughably bad in order to make their own look even more superior in order to make sales of their console.  This game system was absolutely a Christmas gift- no affording this sort of thing during the rest of the year!  The graphics were not quite up to par, and a level was missing, but it still looked spot on to my juvenile mind!  Needless to say, I played this one to death too:

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Sometime during all this, I was introduced to games on the Apple ][ computer.  Our school had them, and so then did the library.  I am not sure if there was an official version of Donkey Kong on it, but if there was I am sure I never played it.  However, there was a very difficult ripoff from the big software publisher of the time Broderbund called Cannonball Blitz, and the library had it.  I am not sure why the image in the video is all yellow- perhaps a bad camera recording a monochrome amber display?  There is only one other video that I could find on youtube of it running on an Apple ][ emulator on an Android phone, but it was small and the sound was very soft.

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Eventually, following the infamous video game crash when people stopped buying game consoles due to the glut of shovelware (absolutely terrible games) that was released for the systems, Nintendo decided to test the waters with their brand new Nintendo Entertainment System that we all fondly call the NES.  Okay, it wasn’t really new as it had been sold in the Japanese market as the Famicom for over a year, but it was new to us!  Once again, the pack-in title caught my 15-year-old eye because it looked identical to the game I had been playing in the arcades- Super Mario Bros.  I asked for and received the cheap version (no light gun or robot) for my birthday.  However, SMB was really not the first game released for the system.  Remember, the Japanese had it for over a year.  However, one of their first releases was- you guessed it- Donkey Kong.  This version looked even more perfect than the Colecovision one, but for some inexplicable reason it was still missing the fourth level, the pie factory.  They also discarded the opening sequence.  If any version should have been complete, it was this one.  Donkey Kong Jr. had all four of its levels, so why not Donkey Kong?  Oh, well.  Anyway, I don’t recall ever owning this one, but I did play it, so here it is:

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Donkey Kong of course lived on in an updated version for Gameboy, and in spirit in the Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES and Gameboy, Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64, and others.  In any event, that’s the end of this long post about one game over many systems- I hope you enjoyed it!