Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Happy Holidays!

I want to wish everyone in Retrogame Land a very Happy Holiday Season!  The second half of 2014 was incredibly busy for me and there was just not enough time to keep up with this blog.  I have some down time between the holidays and hope to get a few posts done.

There has actually been a lot going on in Retrogame Land in the past few weeks.  Over at AtariAge, several new 2600 and 7800 games were released.  For the Atari 2600, Omnicrom, Pinata, and Flappy were released in November and just a couple of weeks ago Threes,  the 2014 Holiday cart ‘The Byte before Christmas’, and Stay Frosty 2 were released.  I have gotten my hands on Stay Frosty 2 and will have more to say about it in an upcoming blog.  For the Atari 7800, Astro Blaster and K. C. Munchkin have been released. These are currently sold out, but should be available again in January.

Several new 2600 games are also in development including Draconion by Darrel Spice and an amazing new version of Pac-Man by DINTAR816.  For the 7800, Bob DeCrescenzo is developing a scrolling zombie themed game called Rezolve and Schmutzpuppe is developing a version of Flappy Bird.

AtGames has released the Atari Flashback 5, the Colecovision Flashback, and the Intellivison Flashback.  The Atari Flashback 5 now comes with 92 built in games while the Colecovison and Intellivision Flashbacks each have 60 built in games.  They are available from many retailers including Dollar General, Toys R Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sams Club/Walmart.  I have been able to get my hands on both the Colecovison and Intellivision Flashbacks and will have reviews of these units posted in the next few days.

Again, Happy Holidays and I will have some more posts in the next few days!

@Atarigameguy


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Donkey Kong…

Donkey Kong is a 1981 video game developed by Nintendo and is one of the earliest successful platform games. Although there had been a couple of other platform arcade games, Donkey Kong was the first to introduce jumping.  Programmed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong was a monster hit that established Nintendo as a serious player in the video game market.  There are four different ‘platforms’ in Donkey Kong:  The construction scene, the cement factory, the elevator scene, and the rivets screen.  The goal in Donkey Kong is, essentially to climb to the top of the screen and rescue Pauline.  Only in the rivets screen is this different where Mario needs to knock out all of the rivets.

At the time that Shigeru developed Donkey Kong, it was a radical departure from the space shooters and maze games that had been dominating the video game market.  In fact, Nintendo America was not sure that it would be successful.  The Nintendo America staff is credited with naming the characters in Donkey Kong.  Originally they were only known as Jumpman and Lady.  They renamed them Mario and Pauline and had graphics made for American versions of the arcade cabinets.  They tested a couple of Donkey Kong arcade units in a couple of bars and, much to their surprise, the public loved the game.  They ended up converting over 2000 surplus arcade units into Donkey Kong units and the rest is history.  Donkey Kong went on to become one of the most popular and most recognizable game franchises in history.

Donkey Kong was ported to a number of home game consoles and computers including the Colecovision, the Atari 2600 and 7800’s, the Intellivision, and the Atari 8-bit computer line.

Colecovision version…

Coleco won the rights to produce cartridge based home console versions of Donkey Kong and decided to make it the ‘pack in’ game for their system which helped them sell over six million consoles.  The Colecovision (CV) version of Donkey Kong featured three of the arcades screens (the cement factory was left out home console versions) and no climbing or intermission screens.  The graphics were impressive, but the game was a little too easy to play.  In the elevator screen, Kong doesn’t throw any barrels, which makes this screen incredibly easy compared to the arcade version.  Still, the CV version was impressive for the time (1982).  Coleco also ended up producing Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 and Intellivison.

Donkey Kong for the Colecovision

Donkey Kong for the
Colecovision

2600 version…

Gary Kitchen programmed the 2600 version of Donkey Kong for Coleco.  I had the chance to meet Gary last year and hear him talk about the development of this game.  He was only authorized to make a 4K non-bankswitched game, so he was very limited with what he could do.  He managed to get two levels (Construction and Rivets) into the 2600 version, but the graphics (impressive for the 2600) were no match to the CV version.  Gary managed to capture essence of Donkey Kong, but it is not one of the better games for the 2600.

Today, there are two new homebrew 2600 efforts underway:   Donkey Kong Arcade and Donkey Kong VCS.  Both feature improved graphics and sound, all four screens, and intermissions.  The developers of these games have taken different approaches, but both are creating awesome versions for the 2600.  Due to Nintendo’s licensing policies, these will probably not be able to be made commercially available, which is a real shame.  However, if you have a Harmony cart, you can try out the prototype versions of these games on your 2600.

Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600

Donkey Kong for the
Atari 2600

5200 (8-bit) version…

Coleco did not develop a 5200 version of Donkey Kong, probably as they saw the 5200 as the main competitor to the CV.  Fortunately, Atari had obtained the rights to produce home computer versions of the game and developed an excellent port for their 8-bit line.  Atari’s 8-bit version has all four screens and well as the ‘how high’ intermission screens.

The 8-bit version has been converted to run on the 5200 and can be played on the Atarimax cart or can be obtained in cart form.  Playing Donkey Kong with the 5200’s analog joysticks takes some adjustment, but it turns out to be one of the better games for the Super System.   The game also takes advantage of the 5200’s Pokey chip to produce near arcade quality sound.

Donkey Kong for the Atari 5200

Donkey Kong for the
Atari 5200

7800 version…

The 7800 version of Donkey Kong was released in 1988 and is an excellent good port of the game.  As with all of the home console versions, it is missing the Cement Factory screen as well as the climbing and intermission screens.  Also, like most 7800 games, the sound could have been better had Atari included a Pokey chip in the cartridge.   Even with these limitations,  the 7800 version of Donkey Kong is probably the best original port of the game for a home console and demonstrates the 7800’s home arcade capabilities.

Thirty years after the release of the 7800, a new version of Donkey Kong is now available for the Pro System.  Perry Thuente spent over a year working on improving the 7800 version.  Originally, he had only intended to develop a version that would improve the sound by taking advantage of Atari’s Pokey chip that will be in the XM expansion module.  One thing led to another, and Perry ended up completely re-building the game.  He has added the climbing and intermission screens as well as the missing cement factory level.  He also improved the graphics and added the ability to play the game in either the Japanese or US arcade order.  Perry’s version is called Donkey Kong XM and needs the XM module in order to hear the sound.  Unfortunately, the delivery of the XM module has been delayed.  Also, due to Nintendo’s licensing policies, Perry can’t make this commercially available and is only making a few copies of the game for friends.  Since the XM module has been delayed, Perry has made a handful of Donkey Kong PK cartridges which take advantage of CPUWIZ’s Versaboard and include a Pokey Chip.  This version produces arcade quality sound on a stock 7800.  Being one of the lucky ones to have a copy of Donkey Kong PK, all I can say is wow!  The only way to have a better home version of Donkey Kong would be to put an actual Donkey Kong arcade cabinet in your house!!!

Donkey Kong XM for the Atari 7800

Donkey Kong XM for the
Atari 7800

Overall thoughts…

If you are a Donkey Kong fan, there are no really bad versions of the game and they are all readily available.  The Colecovison, 2600, and 7800 versions are plentiful and cheap, but a copy of the 5200 version on cart will set you back a few $$$ (however, is a pretty awesome game for the 5200!).

Perry’s Donkey Kong XM or PK version is, however in a league by itself.   If you own a 7800, and are a fan of Donkey Kong, then you simply need to get yourself a copy of this game.  Make friends with Perry and convince him to make you a copy.

Also, if you are a 2600 fan, don’t forget about the new versions of Donkey Kong that are nearing completion!

@Atarigameguy


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Multi-carts…

When I started this adventure a few months ago, I had never heard of a multi-cart.  A multi-cart is circuit board, usually mounted inside a standard cartridge shell, that allows you to load multiple games on either flash memory or some type of memory card.  As it turns out, some very creative and talented individuals have developed multi-carts for almost all retro game systems.  For example, multi-carts have been made for the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, Colecovison, Vetrex, Intellivison, and others.

Multi-carts have become a critical part of the retro gaming community as they allow developers to quickly load and test their games on real hardware.  They also make it possible for others to test game release candidates and report bugs back to the developers.  They are also great for the gamer as a whole library full of games can be put on a single cart, saving wear and tear on cartridge ports.

The Atari 7800 multi-cart was made by Chad Schell and was called the Cuttle Cart 2.  It is estimated that Chad built and sold about 200 of these and they are highly sought after.  The Cuttle Cart used a MMC to load and store the games.  The Cuttle Cart 2 is no longer in production, but you can learn more about it at Chad’s website.

Atari 5200 and Colecovision fans are in better luck as Steve Tucker makes and sells multi-carts for these systems.  Recently, I purchased Steve’s ‘Atarimax Ultimate SD Multi-Cart’ for my 5200 SuperSystem.  This Multi-Cart is an amazing product that allows you to put all of your 5200 games on a single cart.  Steve has also ported over more than thirty 8-bit games including classics like Atlantis, Demon Attack, and Donkey Kong.  Additionally there are a number of hacks, homebrews, and prototypes available for the 5200.  To see all of Steve’s cool products, check out his Atarimax website.

2600 fans are also in luck as a great multi-cart is readily available.  Developed by a team of great guys from the AtariAge forum, the Harmony cart is available for both SD and micro-SD memory cards.  The Harmony cart also works with the 7800 and allows you to play almost all of your 2600 games on either your 2600 or 7800.  Since purchasing my Harmony cart, I have been able to test and provide feedback on the development of a couple of new 2600 games as well as play a number of homebrews and hacks.

The same team that developed the Harmony cart are also working on the H2.  The H2 cart will be compatible with 7800 games.  This will allow those of us who do not have Cuttle Carts to help with development of new games for the 7800.  The development of the H2 has been slow, but it should, hopefully, become available in 2013.

Hooray for Harmony!