Category Archives: Essentials

A collection of articles highlighting noteworthy or interesting games from the libraries of lesser-appreciated, rarer or retro systems, and in specific genres.

Dig Dug: Diggin’ Dirty

One of the interesting things about fully exploring retro gaming is discovering the subtle differences between different versions of a game.

Back in the early to mid ’80s, there were sometimes quite significant differences between the various platforms’ take on an established game. This was due to a combination of factors: most frequently it was down to the technical limitations of the host platforms, but sometimes it was due to the programmers responsible for the ports not having all of the resources they needed, and consequently having to do the coder’s equivalent of holding things together with sticky tape.

Namco’s port of its classic arcade title Dig Dug for the Famicom — easily accessible today as part of the Namco Museum Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming platform — is a good example of (probably) the former. Either way, it’s a distinctive version of Dig Dug that is well worth playing, even if you’re well familiar with the arcade original!

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Alice in Wonderland: Curiously Entertaining

When I’m tired, bored, depressed or, most commonly, a combination of all three, there’s something that I occasionally like to do.

Once I’ve cleaned up the mess from doing that, I like to delve into what I will euphemistically refer to as my vast collection of digitally preserved retro video games and pick something at semi-random. I’ll scroll through a platform I typically don’t give a lot of attention to, pick out something that I probably wouldn’t typically make the choice to play under normal circumstances, and then give it an honest go.

And so it was that as last week drew to a close and Friday evening became Friday night, I found myself playing Digital Eclipse’s official Game Boy Colour adaptation of the classic Disney movie Alice in Wonderland. A couple of hours later, I’d accidentally beaten the damn thing, and I didn’t feel the slightest bit sorry.

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Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!!: Rockin’ Out With the VTubers and Vocaloids

The original Groove Coaster, which released on iOS in 2011, was a revelation. It was an accessible yet challenging rhythm game that made excellent use of its touchscreen control method — and which beautifully demonstrated how a completely abstract aesthetic can be just as thrilling and enjoyable as a detailed, realistic one.

While the series isn’t as well-known today as it was during the initial fever for it when it first appeared on the scene, it’s been quietly rumbling along for a decade at this point, taking in several sequels for both mobile phones and arcades, a Steam release for PC in 2018 and, towards the end of 2019, a special Switch version subtitled Wai Wai Party!!!!

At fifty quid, Groove Coaster Wai Wai Party!!!! may look a tad pricey for a downloadable game to the casual observer, and I must confess I’d put off checking it out for far longer than I should have because of this. But having been generously given some eShop credit as a leaving present from my old job, I figured it was high time I gave it a look for myself. So let’s explore it together!

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The Killing Game Show: The Only Way is Up

This post is one chapter of a MegaFeature!
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A couple of years after his first commercial video game Combat Crazy had failed to set the sales charts alight — despite being an enjoyable side-scrolling platform shooter — Bizarre Creations founder Martyn Chudley was back with another game, this time for 16-bit platforms.

The new title was known as The Killing Game Show, and was published on 16-bit home computers by a company called Psygnosis, which had been establishing a very solid reputation for itself since its inception in 1986. Not only was Psygnosis a spiritual successor to the legendary 8-bit developer-publisher Imagine Software, but it had also demonstrated right from the start that it was a company dedicated to high-quality, well-produced games that oozed class and style — on both the computer screen and on players’ shelves, too.

The Killing Game Show, developed by Chudley and a team working under the name Raising Hell Software, was an ideal fit for Psygnosis’ portfolio, featuring impressive visuals and solid but challenging gameplay to back them up. So let’s take a closer look.

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Checkered Flag: Where the Driver’s Gender Becomes Important

Fun fact: I have the manual for the original Atari Lynx version of Checkered Flag framed in my toilet.

For a certain period during the Lynx’s lifetime, Atari eschewed booklet-style manuals in favour of posters for the games with the instructions on the back. My wife liked the art on Checkered Flag’s instructions sheet — which I somehow still had despite having not owned a Lynx for a good ten years or so — and so we put it up on the wall. Consequently, every time I’m having a poo I get to read those instructions for the umpteenth time.

Believe me, I am now intimately familiar with how to play Checkered Flag effectively — helpful now that it’s been rereleased as part of the Atari Lynx Collection 2 cartridge for the Evercade — and the fact that, in Atari’s own words, the winner of each race is rewarded with “a trophy and a big hug”. And, in a surprisingly progressive, inclusive step for a video game on a failed console from 1991, the manual also takes care to note that said big hug is “where the driver’s gender becomes important”. Oh, also there’s some racing game action in there, too, I suppose; let’s take a closer look.

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Rod Land: A Personal Story

As I type this, one of my longstanding gaming prayers has just been answered: Jaleco’s Rod Land, one of my favourite games of all time, has just got an Arcade Archives release on Switch and PlayStation 4. This is, to my knowledge, the first time the original arcade game has ever been rereleased on any platform. It even lets you start straight at the “sequel” set of levels if you want to.

I’ve written about Rod Land before — as well as showing the excellent Atari ST version in the Atari A to Z series — but what I haven’t done is share a personal story about why this game is especially important to me. And why, in retrospect, the first time I encountered it was probably a defining experience for me, not just in terms of gaming, but also in terms of things like self-expression, self-perception, taste and perhaps even a touch of gender identity, too.

So indulge me a moment, dear reader, and I’ll tell you why Rod Land means so much to me.

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Tokyo Highway Challenge: Around and Around and Around

The racing game genre is one area of gaming where, outside of graphical and performance improvements, I suspect it’s always felt quite difficult to innovate.

After all, the fundamental concept of “two or more things moving in the same direction at high speed, with one attempting to get somewhere before the other one in order to receive some sort of reward” has been around pretty much as long as human civilisation. So what else can you do with that?

Well, says Tokyo Highway Challenge (aka Tokyo Xtreme Racer, aka Shutokou Battle) for Sega Dreamcast, why not rethink the fundamental means through which a winner is decided? Let’s take a closer look at how that works.

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FireHawk: Lafia Strike

Helicopters are cool. At least they used to be in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’m not sure we’d get a TV show where the helicopter was the star today.

Anyway, with how fashionable helicopters were in this time period, it’s not surprising that we got a fair few video games where helicopters played a leading role. And one such example was FireHawk, developed by the Oliver Twins and published by Codemasters and Camerica in 1991 as an unlicensed cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

It’s not one of the Oliver Twins’ better-known pieces of work, but it is a fun time. And, as luck would have it, we now have easy access to it as part of the Oliver Twins Collection for the Evercade retro gaming platform. So let’s take a closer look!

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Crawlco Block Knockers: Getting Lewd on the Switch

There’s been a quiet revolution happening in gaming over the course of the last year or so. You won’t read much about it in the mainstream games press, for a variety of reasons, but it’s absolutely been happening.

I’m talking about the growing acceptance of games with adult content on home console platforms. More specifically, Nintendo’s seeming willingness to embrace this side of things considerably more than either of its key rivals in the console business — particularly Sony, who have been notoriously heavy- handed with what content they will and won’t allow on their platforms in the last few years.

While we’re still a way off getting fully uncensored, sexually explicit eroge on the Switch, we can at least enjoy games with a cheeky sense of sexuality and eroticism about them on Switch. And, as I type this, the latest game that falls into this category is Eastasiasoft’s port of the excellent Crawlco Block Knockers by Cosmi Kankei. Let’s take a closer look!

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Xeno Crisis: 16-Bit Mayhem

One of the most delightful things about the modern video game scene is the fact that a lot of developers are willing to go back to classic hardware and make new games.

In doing so, they can create games that feel authentic thanks to their working within the limitations of the original host platform, but which perhaps incorporate some more modern design sensibilities that the gaming community as a whole has figured out over the years.

Xeno Crisis is an unapologetically old-school arcade-style shooter, designed specifically for the Mega Drive and ported to a variety of platforms. That original Mega Drive version is also available as part of a double-game cartridge (alongside the excellent but very different Tanglewoodfor the Evercade retro gaming system, and it’s that version specifically that we’re looking at today.

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