Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Atari 2600 Pac-Man games…

There were three officially released Pac-Man games for the Atari 2600.  In this post, I will discuss these as well as some homebrews and hacks.  Be sure to read my previous post about the arcade versions of these games.

Pac-Man…

Released by Atari in early 1992, Pac-Man ended up being the best selling game ever for the 2600.  It went on to sell more than seven million copies at $37.95.  That was a heck of a lot of money back in 1982 and would be more than $80 today.  The 2600 version was programmed by Tod Frye who was one of the first Atari programmers to receive royalties.  It has been reported that Tod was paid more than $1 million for his efforts.   Atari spent more than $1.5 million on advertising and marketing for Pac-Man.

Unfortunately, the game was horrible and it looked nothing like the arcade version.  The maze was nothing like the arcade maze and since when did Pac-Man grow an eye?  Pac-Man’s orientation doesn’t change when he changes direction and there is a tremendous amount of flicker with the ghosts.  Supposedly, there were better prototypes that had been developed, but Atari wanted to squeeze the game onto a 4K cartridge to save money.

Pac-man did sell seven million copies, but Atari had produced twelve million and, after playing the game, many customers returned it for a refund.  Thus, Atari ended up with more than five million unsold copies.   Unless you need to have this game for some collecting reasons, don’t even waste one dollar of your money on Pac-Man!

Ms. Pac-Man…

Released by Atari less than a year after Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man turned out to be an excellent port to the 2600.  Maybe the reason why is that it was actually programmed not by Atari, but by Mike Horowitz and Josh Littlefield of General Computer Corp (GCC).   Mike and Josh managed to get pretty close to that arcade experience, given the limitations of the 2600.  In fact, they pretty much have it all…four ghosts, bouncing fruit, animated title screen, four different mazes, and Ms. Pac-Man looks like Ms. Pac-Man.  There is still some flicker, but much improved over Pac-Man.   Ms. Pac-Man uses an 8K cartridge, versus 4K, and it is worth every K!

Ms. Pac-Man belongs in every 2600 collection and is the basis for several hacks.

Jr. Pac-Man…

Developed in 1984, but not released until 1987, Jr. Pac-Man was also programmed for Atari by GCC.  This time, Ava-Robin Cohen did the programming and she did an awesome job.  Once again, almost all of the arcade features are present in the 2600 version and it is a blast to play.  The biggest difference between the arcade and the 2600 version is the scrolling.  The 2600 version scrolls vertically, instead of horizontally.   Other than that, it is all there…Junior, the ghosts, candies, scrolling screen, etc.!

Pac-Man Arcade…

Using the Ms. Pac-Man code as a starting point, Rob Kudla created the Pac-Man that Atari should have done in 1982.  Rob extensively hacked Ms. Pac-Man to create a great version of Pac-Man for the 2600.  The mazes, sounds, graphics, and gameplay are all much closer to the arcade than Atari’s original version.  Photos of the game and several review comments are posted, so be sure to check out AtariAge to learn more about Pac-Man Arcade.

Pac-Man Plus…

Using Rob Kudla’s Pac-Man Arcade as a starting point, Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo did some additional hacks to create a ‘plus’ version of Pac-Man.  Bob changed the mazes to be green, changed the ghosts to have leafs on their heads, and changed the fruits to match the bonus items in the arcade version.  I don’t think that this variation has been made available on a cart, so you will need a multi-cart or emulator to play to version of Pac-Man Plus.

Pac-Man 4K…

Dennis Debro set out to make a 2600 Pac-Mac version, as close to the arcade as possible, using only a 4K cartridge.   Recently his Pac-Man 4K has become available from the AtariAge store.  For a 4K effort, Dennis has done an amazing job.  The maze, graphics, and gameplay are just about as close as you can get to the arcade, especially given the 4K size of the game.  My only feedback is about the amount of flicker for Pac-Man and the ghosts.  Photos and a video of Pac-Man 4K are posted at AtariAge, so go check them out.  Flicker aside, Dennis has shown what Atari could have done with a 4K limit for Pac-Man!

Hack’em/Hangly Man…

At one point, the folks at Ebivision had developed a Pac-Man game for the 2600.  Due to licensing issues, they instead turned it into Pesco.   Nukey Shay took their original Pac-man code and has made many changes and updates to create one darn good Pac-Man for the 2600.  He has even included the Plus mode and is working on a Ms. Pac-Man game as well.  To read more about his efforts, see his thread at AtariAge.

There have been plenty more hacks of Pac-Man games for the 2600, but I have tried to cover the most significant ones.  This actually took a lot more time and research than I thought it would!  Next up…Pac-Man games for the Atari 7800…for now, I need to go play some Pac-Man!!!

PacMan for the 2600

Pac-Man for the 2600

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Pac-Man the series…

In my next few posts, I am going to write about Pac-Man, the spin offs, and ports to the Atari 2600 and 7800 systems.

Pac-Man…

Pac-Man is probably the most well known video game in history.  It was developed by Namco in 1979 and distributed in the United States by Midway.  In Japan (and in parts of Europe) the game was known as Puck Man.  Pac-Man was developed over a period of about eighteen months by Namco employee Toru Iwatani.  When Pac-Man was first released in Japan, it was not a hit as Space Invaders continued to dominate the arcade scene.  When Pac-Man was released in the US, everything changed.  It seemed that the American public welcomed the change from Space Invaders and the seemingly endless number of arcade space shooters.  Midway sold more than 350,000 Pac-Man arcade units and it became an even bigger hit than Atari’s Asteroids.

The game of Pac-Man is based around a pretty simple concept.  The player must control Pac-Man and have him eat all of the dots in the maze, while avoiding the ghosts.  There are four power pills (at the corners of the maze) which give Pac-Man invincibility and the ability to eat the ghosts.  Each ghost eaten is more valuable.  The ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde), which all have different personalities, get re-incarnated when their eyes return to the box at the center of the screen.  As the game progresses, the time period of invincibility becomes shorter.  Additionally, fruits appear periodically and, when eaten, give the player bonus points.

Most gamers don’t know that it is impossible to finish a Pac-Man game.  There are 256 levels, but there is a bug in the arcade ROM that prevents completion.  Normally there are seven fruits displayed across the bottom of the screen, but an error in programming causes 256 fruits to be displayed on the 256th level, destroying the right hand side of the maze.

Due to its popularity, Pac-Man was ported to almost every home console of the era including the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems.  It was also ported to the Intellivision, NES, and Commodore 64.

Ms. Pac-Man…

Believe it or not, Ms. Pac-Man started out as Crazy Otto.  General Computer Corporation (GCC) had developed an enhancement kit for Missile Command arcade units.  This didn’t make Atari very happy and they sued GCC.  The suit was settled when GCC agreed not sell any more enhancement kits without the agreement of the original manufacturer.  GCC also agreed to collaborate with Atari on some future projects.   GCC had developed an enhancement kit for Pac-man called Crazy Otto.  Per the agreement with Atari, they were compelled to show it to Midway.  Midway ended up liking it so much that they bought it from GCC and re-worked it into what is now known as Ms. Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man became a monster hit for Midway when it was released in 1982.  In fact, Ms. Pac-Man became one of the most popular arcade games of all time.  It was the first to feature a female character and Midway sold more than 100,000 Ms. Pac-Man arcade units.  Unfortunately, Midway did not obtain authorization from Namco for the development and release of Ms. Pac-Man.  Fortunately, Ms. Pac-Man was so popular that Namco did reach agreements with Midway and GCC and Ms. Pac-Mac  became an officially licensed Namco game.

Like Pac-man, Ms. Pac-Man was ported to a number of home consoles including the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and 8-bit systems.   It was also ported to the NES, Commodore 64, and Apple II.

 Super Pac-Man…

This is the third game in the series and, unlike Ms. Pac-Man, was actually developed by Namco.  Super Pac-Man becomes ‘super’ by eating one of the two ‘super’ pellets.  When ‘super’, he is larger, faster and can eat through doors.  When ‘super’, he is also invincible to the ghosts.  When normal, he must eat the keys which open the doors to allow him to eat the fruits.

The Super Pac-Man concept was quite a deviation from Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man and was only a moderate success.  It was also developed to run on a Motorola 6809 CPU versus the Z80’s used the the previous Pac-Man arcade units.

Due to its limited success it was only ported to the Atari 5200, but was never released by Atari.

Pac-Man Plus…

Pac-Man Plus was released by Midway in 1982 and, like Ms. Pac-Man, it was not authorized by Namco.  Pac-Man Plus is similar to Pac-Man with the biggest differences being the green (versus blue) maze and the fruits being replaced by ‘other’ objects such as beverages.  Additionally, eating a power pill sometimes causes unexpected results such as making the maze invisible or only turning three of the four ghosts blue.

Because Pac-Man Plus was released just before the ‘Video game collapse of 1983′, it was never officially ported to any home consoles.  It was reasonably popular in the arcades and, actually, outsold Super Pac-Man.

Midway also developed a Ms. Pac-Man Plus arcade system which was identical to Ms. Pac-Man, only with different mazes.

Jr. Pac-Man…

Jr. Pac-Man was another version developed by Bally Midway without permission from Namco.  Jr. was closer to the original Pac-Man format than Super Pac-Man.  The biggest change is that the maze is now twice as large and, as Jr. moves, the maze will pan across the screen horizontally.  There are also six power pills instead of four and, due to the scrolling mazes, there are no tunnels.  Jr. Pac-Man also has the added challenge of things happening off-screen.  Additionally, the toy candies (versus fruits) transform the dots and make them more valuable to eat, but they can also destroy the power pills.

Released in 1983, Jr. Pac-Man was only a moderate success.  It was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems, but only the 2600 version was released.  Since Jr. Pac-Man was developed Bally Midway, the arcade systems run on Z80 CPU’s like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Aracde Systems

Pac-Man Aracde Systems

Next…

In my next post, I will write about the Atari 2600 ports of the Pac-Man series…


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Galaxian and Galaga…

Galaxian…

Galaxian is an arcade game developed by Namco in 1979 and released in the United States by Midway.   Galaxian was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Taito’s Space Invaders and was also a fixed, space shooter game.  It differed from Space Invaders in that it was a RGB color game and the aliens would break away from formation and ‘dive bomb’ your ship.  The RGB color screen with multi-color sprites and scrolling star background was considered ‘ground breaking’ for 1979.  The Galaxian arcade units were powered by a Z80 CPU and the game was ported to nearly every home console of the era, including the Atari 2600 and 5200, and the Colecovision.

Galaxian at Funspot

Galaxian at Funspot

Galaga…

Namco followed up Galaxian with 1981’s Galaga.  Galaga was similar to Galaxian, but added some new features such as additional alien flying patterns and ‘challenging stages’, which occur periodically during the game.  They also added the ‘tractor beam’ where your ship can be captured.  This adds a cool twist to the game as, if you have additional lives, you can kill the alien to get your ship back and it will attach to your current ship to give you double the fire power.  With more complicated alien movements, Galaga arcade units used three Z80 CPU’s and two sound generators.  Galaga was a smash hit for Namco and ported to a number of home consoles including the NES and the Atari 7800.

In 1983, Atari released Galaxian for the 2600.  The 2600 version was a pretty good port, given the hardware limitations of the VCS.  The one thing that bugs me about the 2600 port, is the crazy yellow borders; I am not sure what Atari was thinking with these.  Fortunately, more than one gamer has ‘hacked’ Galaxian to improve the appearance of the game.  Jess Ragan’s Galaxian Arcade improves both movement and graphics to be much closer to the arcade version.  Nukey and KevinMos3 have teamed up to produce an even more arcade perfect version of Galaxian for the 2600.  You can check out both of these versions at AtariAge.

5200 owners were not left out as Atari developed a pretty good port of Galaxian as one of the release games for the 5200.  The 5200 version doesn’t have any of the cool start screens of the arcade, but the graphics and game play are well done.   Given that the 5200 has a Pokey chip for 4 channel sound, the sounds could have been programmed to be closer to the arcade, but it is still a fun game to play.  If you have a good joystick, you will not have any control issues with Galaxian, but this version also supports the 5200 Trak-ball.  I have played Galaxian with both the standard 5200 joystick and a Trak-ball and it is fun to play either way.

Galxian was not ported to the 7800, but Galaga was one of the first dozen release titles for the 7800. Like many of the early release games for the 7800, it was programmed by General Computer Corporation.  Galaga for the 7800 was positively received by many, but panned by others as not being arcade perfect.  Comparing the 7800 version to the arcade version reveals differences, but none that detract from the game play.  In fact, Galaga is one of my favorite games for the 7800 and is a pretty awesome port when you take into account that compromises had to be made as the arcade units had three CPU’s versus one for the 7800.  Galaga utilizes a single fire button, so you can play it with your CX40 or Flashback joysticks.

If you have a 2600, then you should pick a copy of Galaxian or Galaxian Arcade.   If you have a 7800, you should pick up both Galaxian and Galaga.  Also, no 5200 owner should be without a copy of Galaxian in their collection.  Since millions of copies of Galaxian and Galaga were produced, they are easy to find and are still readily available for purchase at relatively low prices!

Wild for Galaxian!

Wild for Galaxian!


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Scramble…

Scramble is a video game developed by Konami in 1981 and distributed in the United States by Stern.  It is a side scrolling ‘shoot ‘em up’ with outstanding graphics and game play.  In Scramble, you control an aircraft with the goal of getting as far into the Scramble system as possible.  In addition to controlling the movements of the aircraft, you must also use your guns and bombs to destroy rockets, UFO’s, and fuel tanks.  You must keep an eye on your own fuel and destroy a fuel tank to increase your fuel level.

In Scramble the terrain is constantly changing and you must fight your way through six stages:

  • Stage 1:  Launching Rockets
  • Stage 2:  UFO’s
  • Stage 3:  Meteors
  • Stage 4:  Launching Rockets from tall buildings
  • Stage 5:  Mazes
  • Stage 6:  Base

The Scramble arcade units were powered by two Z80 CPU’s and two AY-3-8910 sound generators.  It was ported to the Commodore 64, Vic 20, and Vectrex, but not to any Atari systems.  Scramble was succeeded by ‘Super Cobra’ which was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems.

Thanks to Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo, it is now possible to play Scramble on the Atari 7800.  Bob started his work on Scramble in late 2011 and completed it in March of this year.  Bob had made a few cartridges for AtariAge forum members and now Scramble is available for order from the AtariAge store.

Bob referenced the original arcade ROM’s to produce as faithful of a port as possible.  Comparing Bob’s Scramble to the arcade version, shows his typical attention to detail.  Given that the 7800 only has a single CPU and limited sound, Scramble for the 7800 is amazingly close to the arcade version.  My only comment about Scramble is that the game has some bright colors and some of them ‘saturate’ on my 7800.  I have tried Scramble on two different systems with the same result.  The color ‘saturation’ seems to only affect the lower portion of the screen and does not have any impact on game play.

In an earlier post, I discussed controllers for the 7800.  In order to control the guns and bombs, a two button controller is a must.  When I play Scramble, I prefer my modded CX24’s.  Scramble is a fun game, but it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.   Bob has built in three difficulty levels into the 7800 version which will keep you coming back for more.  Scramble is a unique side scroller for the 7800 which not only pushes the system to its limits, but, also, shows what a great home arcade system it is!  Once again, Bob has ‘knocked it out of the park’ with Scramble…another must have for your 7800!!!

Wild for Scramble!

Wild for Scramble!


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Atari Flashback 4…a second look!

I have had my Atari Flashback 4 for a few weeks now.  I posted a review on this unit a couple of weeks ago, but though it was time to post some additional insight…

Let me start with the wireless controllers.   As I stated in my first post, these are infrared and require a line of sight to the base unit.  I continue to read posts on forums that bemoan infrared controllers, but I wonder if they have actually tried a Flashback 4.  Yes, you need a line of sight, but I really like these controllers.  They have a good feel to them and work well with no lag.  The new wireless controllers are one of the selling points of the Flashback 4 versus previous units.

The second thing that hard core gamers complain about is that these systems use emulation.  In the case of the Flashback 4, the system actually runs on an ARM processor.  In the past these emulations were a little glitchy, but AtGames seems to have gotten it right with the Flashback 4.

With 75 games included on the Flashback 4, it is worth reviewing my top ten:

Asteroids-an absolute Atari classic!  Asteroids plays just as I remember it back in the days that I had a 2600.  The 2600 version was not arcade perfect, but was a blast to play and it still is on the Flashback 4.  If anything, Asteroids plays a little better as there is almost no flicker in this version.

Battlezone-the arcade version had vector graphics, but I always liked the colors in the 2600 version.  This game gets real hard after a few rounds and will keep you coming back for more.  Still a blast to play and well implemented on the Flashback 4.

Fatal Run-this game was developed late in the life cycle of the 2600 and was only released in Europe.   Needless to say, this is a game that I hadn’t played before.  I used to really like driving games like Pole Position and Enduro, so that is probably why I like Fatal Run and it is neat that it is included on the Flashback 4.   Follow this link to read more about Fatal Run and also, see AtariAge for a copy of the manual.

Gravitar-here is great game that I did not have for my 2600 back in the day.  Gravitar has good graphics and great game play.  This is not an easy game, so it should hold your attention for hours.  See if you can protect your galaxy from the evil Gravitar!

Jungle Hunt-a 2600 classic that is well executed!  It plays just as it should on the Flashback 4 with outstanding graphics and gameplay.  You will have hours of fun with Sir Dudley and his jungle adventures!

Missile Command-another all time Atari classic!  This is one of my favorite 2600 games and looks and plays great on the Flashback 4.  I would probably be rich had I not spent so much time playing Missile Command!

Space Invaders-as I mentioned in my previous blog, AtGames included a new version of Space Invaders that looks almost arcade perfect.  I wish that they had also included the original 2600 version, but this version is lots of fun to play and looks great.  It is a little too easy, so I always start my games on the 3rd or 4th level.

Super Breakout-I have always enjoyed paddle games.  I am not particularly good at them, but they provide a nice relief from the ‘standard fare’.  Super Breakout is a simple game, but is still a lot of fun to play.  You need to get a set of paddles to really enjoy this game, so it is nice that the Flashback 4 supports them!

Warlords-you need a set of paddles to play Warlords, but they are worth the investment.  The paddle input is converted from analog to digital, so they have a different feel than ‘normal’, but you will adjust quickly.  Warlords is just as much fun to play now as it was thirty years ago!

Yar’s Revenge-this was an original game developed for the 2600 and is a nice addition to the Flashback 4.  So many 2600 games were conversions of arcade classics that struggled with execution on the VCS’ limited hardware.  Yar’s Revenge provided a refreshing new game and is a still blast to play!

In addition to my top ten games, I would like to highlight a couple of others.  Both Saboteur and Save Mary were prototype games that were not released when the 2600 was in production.  I haven’t played either of these games enough for them to make my top ten list, but they are great additions to the Flashback 4 system.

Other great games on the Flashback 4 are Combat, Centipede, Off the Wall, Polaris, Pong, and Video Pinball.

Upon a second look, I still highly recommend the Flashback 4.  The emulation and the wireless controllers are a dramatic improvement over the previous edition.   If you are looking for some Atari fun at low price, you really can’t go wrong!


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Taking care of your game carts…

Cleaning your carts…

I had mentioned in a previous blog that I had purchased a number of my game carts second hand.  Early 2600 and 7800 game carts had a dusk cover mechanism which protected the carts from the elements pretty well.  Later 2600 and most 7800 game carts do not have this dust cover mechanism.  Thus, many second hand carts will be pretty dusty and dirty.  Not only will this have the potential for the cart to not make good electrical contact; this dust and dirt can get down into your game system.  The simplest and most effective way to clean your carts is with isopropyl alchohol and a good quality cotton swab.  It is important to have a good quality swap so that the cotton doesn’t come off and get stuck on the cartridge contacts.  Cotton swaps are cheap, so don’t be afraid to use more than one to make sure that you have removed as much dust and dirt from your carts as possible.  Also, be sure that the cart is dry before you insert it into your game system.  The alcohol will evaporate pretty quickly, so you don’t really need to dry the cart off.  Just wait a few minutes and you should be all set.  Once you clean your carts, you are going to want to keep them clean, so see below for a storage tip!

Going Wild for Cleaning!

Wild for Cart Cleaning!

Storing your carts…

Although game carts for retro game systems are relatively cheap, if you build up a large enough collection, the total value can start to add up to some significant $$$.  After you have more than a handful of carts, you are going to want to have some way to safely store them.  I looked on-line for cart storage systems and, since it has been many years since these systems have been manufactured, asking prices are pretty crazy.  I think that I have come up with a pretty clever and simple solution.  At a local discount store, I was able to find small plastic storage bins that were the perfect size to store 24-25 carts side by side.  These bins are pretty inexpensive; in fact,  I paid less than three dollars each for my bins.  I also picked up a couple of extras of these bins to store my game controllers.  They are also great for transporting your carts, if you want to head over to a friend’s house to play some video games.  If your carts are just laying around loose, show them that you care for them and get them a new home!

Wild for Cheap Cart Storage!

Wild for Cheap Cart Storage!


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Sega Genesis Classic Game Console…a review

Up until now, all of my blogging has been about Atari 8-bit systems, but I also want to cover other retro game systems in this blog.  One of the most popular 16-bit systems was the Sega Genesis.  The Genesis was originally released in 1988 and, almost singlehandedly, caused the end of the 8-bit era.  Sega sold more than forty million Genesis base consoles between 1988 and 1997.  Outside of the US, the Genesis was known as the ’Mega Drive’. The top selling game for the Genesis was ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, which also became the ‘pack in’ game for systems sold in the US, starting in 1991.

Recently, I picked up the new Sega Genesis Classic Game Console from AtGames.  The system includes 80 built in games, but only 40 of these are ‘original’ Sega games.  With that being said, some all-time Sega classics are included on this system such as: Altered Beast, Ecco, Golden Axe, Jewel Master, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Streets of Rage.  Additional versions of these classics are also built in including Ecco II, Golden Axe II, and Sonic II.

I haven’t had the time to play all of the games on this system, but the ones that I have tried, seem to play as Sega originally intended.  Like the Atari Flashback 4, all games run in emulation on an ARM based CPU.  The emulation seems to be very well executed on this incarnation of the system.  I am not as familiar with Sega games as I am with Atari games, but I didn’t notice any significant play or sound issues.  In my opinion, the emulation is nicely done and will satisfy all but the hard core Sega Genesis gamers.

Like the Atari Flashback 4, AtGames includes two wireless controllers.  These ’six button’ controllers are infrared based and required a line of sight to the base system, but seem to work really well.  The controllers take two AAA batteries each and have a cool auto off feature, so that you can’t accidently leave them on.  There are also two ports included if you prefer to use wired controllers, but I think that you will really enjoy having wireless controllers.

The biggest difference between this system and the Atari Flashback 4 is the inclusion of a cartridge port.  This allows you to play almost any Sega Genesis cartridge based game.  When the cartridge is inserted, the system simply boots to that game.  When there is no cartridge in the system, it boots to the internal game menu.  I played Madden ’97 for over an hour and was not able to detect any issues or ‘glitches’ in the game play.

Hard core gamers seem to be opposed to these ‘flashback’ type systems.  In some of the earlier versions of these systems, the emulation was a little ‘glitchy’, but seems well executed in this version.  I was able to buy my system at a local retailer for under $30.  For a base system, 40 classic Sega Genesis games, and wireless controllers, I think it represents an incredible value.  Having a cartridge slot and being able to play hundreds of additional games is a real added plus.  If you are a fan of the Sega Genesis and are looking for some retro game fun at a great price, get yourself a Sega Genesis Classic Game Console!

Wild for Sega!

Wild for Sega!