Developer Profiles, Hardware, Interviews, Memories, Retrospectives

Japansoft an Oral History — a MegaBites review

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They didn’t see the need for a single developer to take the spotlight for a product,” revealed a Sega employee with the pseudonym ‘Ossale Kohta’. “They felt that the company should get the credit. If too much attention was given to the creator of a hit title, there was always the possibility that another company would poach them. Of course, I wanted to be recognised for my work”.

In the early years of the Japanese video game industry, Ossale Kohta’s story wasn’t uncommon. Even the most prolific of programmers, planners, artists and directors hid their identities behind alter-egos enforced by their employers. From Sega, to Capcom, Enix and Konami, the credit screens of arcade and console titles of that era were populated with mysterious nicknames such as ‘Phoenix Rie’, ‘Chanchacorin’ and ‘T. Oka’, to name but a few. But who were the talents behind them?

‘Ossale Kohta’ was none other than Kotaro Hayashida, the creator of Alex Kidd and the mind behind the very first concepts and gameplay mechanics of Sonic the Hedgehog. His is just one of the many incredible names whose stories and history are compiled for the very first time in Japansoft an Oral History.

The origin of the Japansoft title itself can be traced back to 2014 and the release of a series of books entitled The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by video game journalist and writer, John Szczepaniak. Released in three volumes, Szczepaniak’s trilogy was a treasure trove of tales from the relative unknowns of Japan’s early gaming industry, filled with stories of unreleased consoles, games, and tales of the rise and fall of the country’s most prolific development houses. Funded by Kickstarter campaigns, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers spanned three volumes. Certainly a passion project for Szczepaniak himself, for all its merits, the series was somewhat text-heavy, and lacked the polish, lustre and aesthetic it so rightly deserved. But as they say, you should never judge a book by its cover.

Continue reading “Japansoft an Oral History — a MegaBites review”

Interviews

Retro Replay arcade — A MegaBites interview

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While the modern-day arcade scene may pale in comparison to the innovation, sights, sounds (and cigarette smoke) of the coin-op scene’s glory days, a rising number of new locations are proudly waving the flag for arcade heritage. One of these venues is Norwich’s Retro Replay — the UK’s newest retro arcade. MegaBites spoke to Retro Replay’s owner, Glen McDonald, to get the lowdown on this newest of old-school gaming havens.

During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, there were arguably few experiences in gaming that could match the thrill and atmosphere of the arcade. The sights, the sounds and the heated competition for high scores under darkened light were near-impossible to replicate elsewhere — and still are. Arcades were the epicentre of gaming culture, a forum to battle for scoreboard supremacy, an arena to experience the very latest in video game technologies and experiences. 

Fast forward to 2019 and the launch of the Retro Replay arcade. Opened in September of this year, Retro Replay  is situated over two floors, in Norwich’s Castle Quarter shopping centre. Lit only by a combination of blue and purple neon, visitors are tempted inside by the inviting glow of cabinets including Virtua Fighter, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Galaxian, Lethal Enforcers and Ridge Racer — to name but a few. Meanwhile, the arcade’s ground floor is home to rows of retro consoles consoles, cocktail-style cabinets and bean bags sat beneath vast screen projections of Mario Kart.

For the price of a £10 day pass, visitors are free to play any game of their choice against a backdrop of chiptunes, frantic button-bashing, the cheers of gaming triumph and the groans of lives lost.

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The person responsible for this fun-filled oasis is its owner, 24-year-old Glen McDonald, who switched his day job as an account to launch Retro Replay, and share his collection of cabinets and passion for arcade gaming with the public. MegaBites spoke to Glen to find out more about the venue.

Continue reading “Retro Replay arcade — A MegaBites interview”

Memories

Aladdin 26 years later — is Capcom’s title the rightful heir to the sultan’s throne?

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Since its release in 1993, Aladdin for the Mega Drive has been widely regarded as the superior of the platformer’s 16-bit outings. But 26 years later, could it be that favour is shifting towards Capcom’s Super Nintendo edition, including, incredibly, my own?

Prompted by the Sega title’s anniversary, and its recent 2019 remaster for modern consoles and PC, I approached the SNES version for the very first time for a balanced consideration of the argument and a glimpse into a whole new world — of video gaming, that is.

(N.B. This article references the original 1993 edition of Sega’s Aladdin throughout.)

To this very day, Aladdin on the Mega Drive has remained one of my favourite platformers on the console. Since its release in 1993, I’d even go so far as to say it’s remained one of my top platformers, full stop.

Then a strange thing happened. Earlier this year, Disney released its live action version of Aladdin in the cinemas. Rather than convince me to buy a cinema ticket, it drove me to blow the dust from my cartridge and revisit my Mega Drive edition of Aladdin.

And it seems I wasn’t the only one…

Around the time of Aladdin’s 2019 cinema release, the Retronauts podcast released an episode rather temptingly named ‘Aladdin Games’. Its online notes read:

“Virgin Interactive’s Genesis game mostly overshadowed Capcom’s SNES interpretation thanks to still-impressive technical tricks, but the conventional wisdom about the Sega version being superior might not hold together 2.5 decades later.”

So I gave the Retronauts episode a listen. To my surprise, the Sega version came off worse — by a very, very wide margin. Then it dawned on me — I’d never played Aladdin for the Super Nintendo.

Was Retronauts right? Could it be possible for the SNES version to rival its Sega counterpart? There was nothing for it, I had to see for myself.

I had to play Aladdin for the Super Nintendo.

Continue reading “Aladdin 26 years later — is Capcom’s title the rightful heir to the sultan’s throne?”

Hardware, Memories

The Mini Tower of Power – A Mega Comparison

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The Mega Drive Mini is Sega’s first official in-house console launch since 2001. Bringing the Sega Mega Drive back to the masses in miniature format, the release has also resurrected a cult hardware combo — the awe-inspiring ‘tower of power’. Read on as MegaBites dives in for a close-up aesthetic comparison of the 2019 ‘tower’ and its mid-90s original.

Name a famous tower — the Eiffel Tower, the tower of London, the leaning tower of Pisa perhaps? Ask the same question to a retrogamer and the answer is likely to be Sega’s ‘tower of power’.

But what was the ‘tower of power’? In essence, it was a 32-bit CD upgrade of the Sega Mega Drive — a powerhouse made possible by combining the Mega Drive with the Mega CD and 32X. In essence, it was the Mega Drive at its most potent and powerful, if not a tad cumbersome.

Sega’s towering hardware combo promised so much — advanced 32-bit gaming, 3D graphics, smooth FMV, CD audio and the unique ‘Mega CD 32X’ disk format. For all the expectation, sadly, this tower toppled.

While the Mega CD had been available since 1991, the tower was only made possible following the release of the 32X in 1994 (Japan/USA) and 1995 (Europe). By this time, however, the Sega Saturn had already become Sega’s 32-bit showpiece, and the gaming industry at large was singing to the tune of Sony’s shiny new Playstation 1 release.

Requiring a combined investment in the range of £400 (!), young Sega fans at the time were looking at a lifetime of paid household chores to afford the ‘tower of power’ unit and its compatible titles.

With all these circumstances combined, Sega’s almighty tower was simply unrealistic and unattainable for the masses. Even today, the hardware remains an obscure anomaly to track down — until now.

Well, sort of…

 

Mini by name, mega by nature

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Fast forward to 2019 — a miniature replica of the ‘tower of power’ has been made available as an add-on for the Mega Drive Mini.

At the time of writing, the accessory is only available to the public as a Japanese variant… at least for now. However, Sega has unleashed European and US formats of the mini tower to a select few social media influencers and members of the press.

With my own full size European ‘tower of power’ in tow, and the odd piece of Japanese hardware thrown in for good measure, how do the elements of the ‘mini’ shape up against their 90s counterparts?

  Continue reading “The Mini Tower of Power – A Mega Comparison”

News, Retrospectives

A mega celebration for the mini console — MegaBites at the European Sega Mega Drive Mini launch

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On 2nd October, ahead of the Mega Drive mini’s European release, London’s Queen of Hoxton venue hosted the console’s official European launch party. Attended and organised by Sega Europe and GamerDisco, the night was filled with the sights and sounds of Sega. The event provided an exclusive chance to experience Sega’s European iteration of its new mini console, coupled with retro-inspired beats and speedrun tournaments.

So, how was it to finally get our hands on the European version of the Mega Drive Mini and who would emerge as the victor of the speedrun competition? MegaBites went along to find out.

For the past few months, any European fan of Sega, Sonic and/or retrogaming will undoubtedly have had a particular date circled on their calendar, Friday 4th October 2019 — the EU release date of the Sega Mega Drive Mini. In true 90s spirit, the European release of the Mega Drive Mini comes weeks after the US, Japan and rest of the world (that’s how it always used to be, kids). Now, at last, the console has arrived on our shores. But not before it enjoyed a retro-inspired launch event…

Not one to miss out on such an occasion, I jumped on the train and made the journey to the Queen of Hoxton — the centre of the Sega universe for that evening.

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Continue reading “A mega celebration for the mini console — MegaBites at the European Sega Mega Drive Mini launch”

Retrospectives

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2 – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

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Avert thine eyes! Nintendo alert! Once more, this site is graced with imagery of Sega’s mortal enemy, and for that I apologise. However, it’s all for a good cause – MegaBitesBlog.com’s latest article on RetroCollect.com – ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2’.

During the early-to-mid 1990s, the bitter rivalries between the console superpowers were hard to ignore. It was Sega vs Nintendo, plumbers vs hedgehogs and Mega Drive vs Super Nintendo. Amongst these battles, one gaming format had risen to the top to rule supreme over the video game industry – the cartridge. ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge’ is the story of that medium, and with it, the incredible lengths taken by developers of that age to topple the competition and reshape the gaming market forever. Continue reading “Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2 – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com”

Developer Profiles, Memories, Retrospectives

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

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Mega Drive fans, for what you are about to read, I sincerely apologise. MegaBites Blog has written about Nintendo. Shock, horror, blasphemy! I know, I know… But it’s for a good cause; my latest contribution to RetroCollect.com – Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One. Despite such treachery, you’ll be glad to hear that the piece is evenly balanced with a heavy dosage of Sega goodness, and a brief appearance by our Lord and saviour, Mr Tom Kalinske. Phew!

During the console generations spanning the 8-16 bit era, no matter if your allegiances sat with Sega, Nintendo, SNK or NEC, as gamers we all shared one thing in common: the cartridge medium – video gaming in its most physical form. Continue reading “Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com”

Retrospectives

Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com

2017-finding-the-hidden-palace-part-4Regular visitors to this site may have been aware that, since January 2014, I’ve been compiling a rather special series of articles on RetroCollect.com. I’m now proud to announce that this epic Sega saga has finally reached its conclusion…

MegaBites Blog presents Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com – the Internet’s first fully compiled account of the 21-year hunt for Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s mysterious deleted level, Hidden Palace Zone.

Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Casino Night and Mystic Cave… Just a few of the legendary zones that make up one of the greatest games to ever be committed to cartridge – Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yet, for every spike pit, for every loop, for each pinball flipper and hellish underwater section – unbeknown to Mega Drive and Genesis gamers everywhere – there was one vital zone that had been sorely omitted. Continue reading “Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com”

Developer Profiles, Retrospectives

Solving the Korean Console Conundrum

The Sega Mega Drive – one console, a thousand variants. During the 90s, amongst a host of hardware releases, the combined forces of Sega’s worldwide divisions brought us a vivid spectrum of gaming machines – the Sega Genesis, the Multi Mega, the CD-X, the Mega Jet, the Tera Drive, the Wondermega and the Nomad. From Europe, to the US, Japan and beyond, the list of licensed Sega upgrades and alternatives went on… and on. Yet, during that time, and far beyond the console war battlefield, an Asian tiger prowled its own territory. This was a land where the Sega name was all but a whisper – a video game market operating in a seemingly alternate reality, in which Samsung and Hitachi ruled the console roost, and where Sonic the Hedgehog called the mysterious Super Gam*Boy and Super Aladdin Boy consoles his home. This was South Korea – a country that also concealed one of the 16-bit era’s most obscure gems: the Sega ‘New Mega Drive’.

It was during a spot of online ‘retro’ research that I stumbled upon a website that detailed a system I had never seen, nor heard of before. “Very little is known about this product,” the website read. “It is assumed that it was released into the South Korean market quite late and was less successful than previous models. It is currently unknown who is responsible for this console or whether it had official backing.Of course, I was intrigued – even more so when I saw the image that accompanied the text. Could it be? Was this really a Sega Mega Drive? Continue reading “Solving the Korean Console Conundrum”

Memories, Retrospectives

Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 2

Finding-The-Hidden-Palace-Part-2As this humble blog continues to expand its horizons, fans of Sonic the Hedgehog can read the latest episode of MegaBites’ Finding the Hidden Palace on RetroCollect.com.

In a continuation of part one’s epic tale, the second chapter in the series picks up from the events following the fabled ‘Sonic2s Day’ – the North American and European release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. After months of publicity, previews and speculation, the 1992 release of Sonic 2 hailed the release of what is arguably the series’ finest release.

Homing in on the period 1992–1999, part two continues to document the myths, unravel the cryptic clues, and decode the conundrums, behind one of Sega’s greatest hidden enigmas; Sonic 2’s unreleased level – Hidden Palace Zone.

And here’s a little taster for you:

It was early 1999 and Canadian Sonic fan Simon Wai embarked on an online Sonic beta hunt. As far back as 1992, in Hong Kong, Simon had been one of the early few to play a black market copy of the Sonic 2 toy show beta. Now, seven years later, he had a renewed determination to rediscover it.

Beginning his journey on Chinese ROM sites, Simon soon came upon a lone Geocities page. It was here where he located the rather a inconspicuous file named ‘MD8123.smd’ – uncovering the syntax of which provided valuable insight into the file’s origin and identity.

‘MD’ stood for Mega Drive, ‘8’ represented an eight-megabit file, ‘123’ identified the file as the 123rd in its sequence and the ‘.smd’ extension identified it as a file created by a Super Mega Drive – a piece of hardware with the ability to extract a Mega Drive cartridge to floppy disk. It was only when he came to load the file that its true identity was revealed. Simon Wai’s memories came flooding back in an instant.

(Read more on RetroCollect.com.)

Be sure to visit MegaBites soon, as we have a further set of ‘mega’ exciting posts lined up, which you simply will not want to miss!