Category Archives: Arcade

Warp Zones and the Design of Vs. Super Mario Bros., in Short

Within the first few seconds, Vs. Super Mario Bros. tricks you into thinking it’s simply an arcade port of the NES classic. By the end of World 1-1, it’s apparent that the stages have been altered. It starts when you can’t find the invisible block containing the stage’s 1UP after the first set of green warp pipes. You’ll no doubt second guess your memory throughout the game as the stages begin to grow more original. You have now entered The Twilight Zone Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Finally, there's a purpose for that score.
Finally, there’s a purpose for that score.

Having played loads of Super Mario Bros. recently, I have its stage design burned into my memory. One subtle element of the original’s stage design is the way the developers mislead players in regards to the Warp Zones. Think about it. The first one, in World 1-2, is accessed by running across the top of the stage and avoiding the blatant exit. The remaining two are present in World 4-2.

Thinking you’re onto a formula, you run to the end of World 4-2 and sure enough, access another Warp Zone by running across the top of the stage and avoiding another blatant exit. That’s not the one you want though. Whereas the first Warp Zone transported you to Worlds 2, 3, or 4, this one merely progresses you a single world, to World 5. While this fooled me for me many sessions, I finally found the true second Warp Zone. Appearing much earlier in World 4-2, it allows travel to the remaining Worlds: 6, 7, or 8. That’s intentional.

Luigi is the Biz Markie of the Mario universe.
Luigi is the Biz Markie of the Mario universe.

I believe that sort of thinking was extracted to the entirety of Vs. Super Mario Bros. For anyone coming to it as I have, with the original, forefront in my mind, it’ll throw you for a loop. It appears to look and play the same from the first quarter, but that assumption is bucked within seconds. Because of the differences, it can be construed as tougher, at least for those who have played the original. Additionally, many of the changes are inclusions of stages from Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels – the original, much tougher, Super Mario Bros. 2. Plus, playing with a joystick just doesn’t feel right.

Power Drift [Arcade] – Review

For a month or two, Power Drift sat in a backroom corner of PJ Gamers. Not functioning, there wasn’t a reason to place it alongside the likes of Gyruss or Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. It was around this time that I was experiencing Shenmue II and developing an appreciation for Yu Suzuki. Being one of his lesser known games, I was interested in playing it. Released in 1988, I’d only recently read about it in a Retro Gamer profile of Yu Suzuki. Thankfully, it’s operational now, and although it lacks the fun hydraulic cockpit (it’s a stand-up cabinet), it’s unique.

The camera was usually in this cockeyed position as I drifted around the courses.
The camera was usually in this cockeyed position as I drifted around the courses.

What makes it unique amongst other racing games that could’ve been found in an eighties arcade are the roller coaster-inspired race tracks. These tracks feature massive climbs and drops and every turn is an opportunity to kick out the rear wheels and drift around competitors. The visuals helped sell the roller coaster feel of the tracks thanks to a sprite-scaling effect. As the name implies, the sprites grew and shrunk seamlessly as I played the game. This was doubly impressive as the game ran at a very fast clip. Watching the tracks rise, fall, and twist was mesmerizing – like watching a snake slither in the sand.

As with most arcade games, it didn’t take me long to understand what to do and how to do it. Progressing in the game became tough quickly though. I forewent ever hitting the brakes and instead began massaging the gas pedal around corners. Falling off ledges and colliding with other drivers was the key to success. The latter was challenging; I didn’t feel like I had the level of control over my racer as I’d like. Of course I also was zooming around stages NEVER HITTING THE BRAKES! Sometimes the hit detection seemed a little dodgy too, perhaps forming my opinion of the controls. It’s clear that to get a higher score and experience more stages, I’ll need to evolve my strategies. It’s a fun and unique game, especially to watch, but the loose controls took me a while to adapt to.

The Box Art of Gyruss

I’m going to skip over posting about the box art for Pokemon Colosseum as there wasn’t much difference between the various regional releases. Gyruss on the other hand, so a handful of releases in the early eighties.
Gyruss - ColecovisionParker Brothers published the early home versions and used the above box art for these releases. Those looking to play a home conversion of the Konami arcade shooter were in luck if they owned an Atari 2600, 5200, Coloecovision, Atari 8-bit computer, or a Commodore 64. The cover depicts a triangular space station. Perhaps these are the satellites that surround the power-ups in the game?

Gyruss - NESThe next set of home conversions came courtesy of Konami themselves. Released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan and the NES here in America, this box art evoked the stage progression of the game. Many planets are ahead of our starship pilot and there’s even the attention to detail noting the tubular nature of the gameplay. Very impressive! The FDS box art is practically the same and can be seen as the featured image to this post, kind of.

And that’s pretty much it for home conversions of Gyruss. It has been featured on a few arcade compilations published by Konami, but they don’t do those too often. Beyond those, it was released onto Xbox Live Arcade very early in the Xbox 360’s lifespan. This was a pure emulation of the original arcade game with little distinguishing features. Gyruss appears to be a game that hasn’t won over a lot of people. Regardless, it’s a stupendous golden age arcade game.

Gyruss [Arcade] – Review

Having grown up in the 1990s and 2000s, I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend time at an arcade. When PJ Gamers opened up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and did so with dozens of arcade cabinets, I was excited. More so than any other, Gyruss has captivated me. It’s a 1983 space shooter emulating the gameplay styles of Galaga and Tempest, in fantastic fashion. Besides featuring pure gameplay that’s so common in most arcade classics, a high score competition between my friend and I has kept me hooked.

Blasting that orange sphere granted the double blaster power-up.
Blasting that orange sphere granted the double blaster power-up.

Controlling a spaceship and having it revolve around the screen in a tubular manner took some getting used to. The spaceship mirrored the position of the joystick, which I haven’t experienced too often. Likewise, the waves of enemy spacecraft entered the screen any which way across the twenty unique stages. There were enough enemy types and wave formations to keep the game fresh and the sole power-up was fun to obtain, and definitely worthwhile. Another holdover from Galaga were the challenging stages breaking up the pace. Memorization proved to be influential in succeeding, but so too were quick reflexes and calmness.

Blasting an enemy wave early on.
Blasting an enemy wave early on.

Having spent enough time learning the gameplay and adapting to the rule set, success was ultimately, in my hands. After a month or so, my friend still reigns supreme with a score only 10,000 or so more than 200,000 odd points. I’ve lost the fire to try multiple times a week, but I do give it a shot every time I visit PJ Gamers. Gyruss has tuned into one of my favorite arcade games and I believe it to be incredibly indicative of the golden age of arcades. This, because of its pure, simple gameplay and rule set and its emulation of the pioneers that came before it. Ironically, these elements make it feel unique, while still feeling so similar to its golden age contemporaries.