Rhys is the creator and editor of Retro Garden, a long time Retro Game fan (even before it was cool), Rhys enjoys winding down from a hard day's work by gaming (both modern & Retro) as well as streaming on Twitch. Away from gaming, Rhys likes football, travelling, craft beer and being outside in nature.
I’ve previously on this site written about my visit to the Krakow Pinball Museum in 2016. However since then we’ve been through a lot and like a lot of other businesses I was concerned if it had survived the pandemic. Well – thankfully – it’s not only survived but it has thrived. It’s now twice as big as what it was in 2016, and has a brand new site located on the outskirts of the city. The Krakow Arcade Museum features more arcade games, as opposed to pinball machines.
The video is more of a vlog to share my thoughts on the place, as well as sharing some of the cool cabinets and pinball machines in there.
Should you go to either the pinball museum or the arcade museum? I would say yes. If you’re a retro video game fan and find yourself in the Polish city of Krakow I’d highly recommend going. They’re great places to kill an afternoon (especially as when I went it was over 35 degrees and both were cool and dark!). If I had to choose between both I’d probably go for the pinball museum, purely because it is in the tourist area of the city and also you’re less likely to see these machines at home. You’re not going to get a fully working pinball machine on a Raspberry Pi, are you?
Krakow Arcade Museum & Krakow Pinball Museum Gallery
Here are some pictures I took in the Krakow Pinball Museum and the Krakow Arcade Museum.
How long do you need in the Krakow Arcade Museum & Krakow Pinball Museum?
I was in the arcade museum for approximately 3 hours, over lunch. I probably could have stayed there longer but I’m one of these people who can quite happily spend 10 hours in Arcade Club. The pinball museum I spent approximately 4 hours at in the early evening.
How much are the Krakow Arcade Museum & Krakow Pinball Museum?
With both sites I paid 60zl (which is about £10) for entry. That gives me unlimited access to the venue for the day. If you only wanted to stay for one hour it’ll be 40zl, so you can see the day ticket is a lot better value. They do discounts for students, family tickets and under 18’s as well. I seem to remember limited food & refreshments, but beers came to about 10zl. There is also merchandise available.
Where can I find out more information about Krakow Arcade Museum & Krakow Pinball Museum?
I’d like to think I had either explored or made aware of every great game for my systems growing up. Take for example the Super Nintendo. I still own mine (albeit it’s a rather disgusting shade of yellow now), and in the 30 years or so I’d been SNES doing what Megadrive don’t, I thought I’ve played every game that was worth playing on Nintendo’s classic system: either I had it at the time, rented it from video stores, or emulated the ones that passed me by.
That wasn’t the case when – 29 years after it was released – I played Pocky & Rocky for the first time.
I definitely remember hearing about the Natsume game, but I cannot remember it getting rave reviews. Maybe average reviews, rather than dire reviews, but I can remember giving it a cursory glance at the name. I couldn’t tell you anything about the game. After dedicated a solid month of playing it, what you have is a fun little shoot em up.
You can pick one of two characters – Pocky (a girl in traditional Japanese dress) or Rocky (a tanooki), and must battle through a number of levels. The basic premise is that there’s a group of goblins that have gone insane with a spell and you need to break the spell. Granted it’s not exactly the greatest plot but it’s not about the plot. During the game you are shown stills of the action and a basic story, but you don’t really play this game for the story.
There are subtle differences between both characters, and the game can be played in one player or two player mode. The game is tough, with a lot of Japanese cultural references and enemies trying to kill you, but over time you end up learning patterns and how to progress. Unlike many games of this era you have an energy bar and lives. Both of which can be replenished with pickups, and there are a number of pickups dotted throughout the level, either by killing certain enemies or by firing at background objects.
The beauty of this game is the difficulty and it’s replay-ability. It’s a tough old cookie of a game, but like games of it’s genre like Contra and DoDonPachi, if you screw up, it’s your fault. It rewards repetition and using your full range of weapons to do the most damage. Some enemies are easier to beat with the melee attack than the actual firing of the weapon. After a month or so of solid playing, I didn’t complete it, but did have the best time with Pocky & Rocky. It does look different from other classic shooters – with no spaceships or muscular men to control – but with it’s timeless graphic style and a cute soundtrack that doesn’t get old – underneath you will find a solidly fun 16 bit shooter, that deserves more praise than it gets. Firmly a cult classic of the SNES era, it got more deserving eyeballs when Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined was released for the Nintendo Switch, and is probably the most definitive way to play the game today.
I first became aware of Namcot when I began my retro game collection, and picking up Famicom games. A lot of them were branded with Namcot on their cartridges, which were odd. So this got me thinking – who are Namcot? Where was it used? And why did it not reach us?
Well, after a bit of digging I began to piece together puzzle. The official answer is it was just a name used to publish video games on home systems in Japan, particularly 0n the Famicom. Namco got started in the video game industry by buying Atari’s struggling Japan division in 1984, and part of me does wonder if the company spun up it’s home division based on keeping the profitable arcade division and the experimental home video game division separate, as although Namco was one of the first third party publishers for Nintendo’s Famicom, there was of course no chance of universal success.
It didn’t seem to exist outside of Japan because, well, nobody really knows. Most of the publishing slapped Namco on the front cover, or some games like Dig Dug II had foreshadowing of what’s to come by being published by Bandai.
So how long did this go on for? Well, despite being most associated with the Famicom with their branded cartridges Namcot seemed to stop appearing on games and Namco taking over around the early Playstation days. The last game to my recollection to have the Namcot branding were two games: the original Tekken on the PS1, and Starblade Alpha, which both came out on the same day – March 31st 1995 in Japan.
The next Japanese release was Ace Combat, known as Air Combat in the US and UK, on June 30th 1995, which was branded Namco.
I should state I’m not an expert in Japanese corporation tax and business structures and what I’ve just said may be false.
Either way the brand name died until The Namcot Collection, which was released over here as Namco Museum Archive. Even on the fun MyArcade games which do seem to use the Japanese version of Dig Dug, you only get the BNEI branding. And that’s a story for another time.
PLAY Expo Blackpool is returning to The Norbreck Castle on the 1st and 2nd October 2022.
One of the largest and most popular retro themed events in the UK returns once again to it’s spiritual home – the large exhibition space in The Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool this autumn. You can expect the usual: consoles, arcade machines, pinball, talks from within the industry and a trading hall to pick up retro themed goods.
Last year’s event was one of the first events to take place post pandemic, which I attended, and it was a great event. I’ve already got my ticket sorted for this October’s event. I hope to see you there?
At the time of writing, there’s still over 100 days to go before the event, so guests and exhibitors are still waiting to be confirmed. However I’m sure in the coming weeks there’ll be confirmations. For more details please check out their social accounts on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.
Pre-booked tickets allow access to the event one hour before general admission at 10am, tickets can be bought for the weekend and day passes, with family tickets available for 1 adult & 3 children, or 2 adults and 2 children. Adult tickets are £18 for the day, and £32 for the weekend.
A new book, detailing the history of interactive fiction games, has launched on Kickstarter, and has smashed its funding goal within a day.
50 Years of Text Games: From Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon is the latest Kickstarter project by Aaron A Reed – an award-winning writer and game designer with a PhD in interactive storytelling. Based on a popular blog post series from 2021, the series covered one text game from each year starting in 1971, when the original version of MECC’s The Oregon Trail was released.
The book version takes the project to its conclusion, presenting the revised final versions of all fifty articles plus new maps, illustrations, and framing material in a 650-page volume. Author interviews, game excerpts, even snippets of source code help illustrate each game and explain how it works, what it’s about, why it’s special, and it’s lasting legacy.
The games covered in the book are some of the most popular games in the genre. Titles covered include Hunt the Wumpus, Zork, MUD and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from the early days, to more contemporary text based games like Howling Dogs, 80 Days & Lifeline. I played 80 Days on my Twitch Channel and would be interested in particular to read about that game, as the narritive choices in that adventure is excellent.
I’ve got a few of these books in the past, and they are great conversation pieces to have on your table. Backing starts at $1, but the pledge tiers are below:-
a Digital edition in two formats: PDF, and reflowable ebook
A Softcover edition
A Premium Hardback edition with a faux-leather, foil-stamped cover and bookmark ribbon, which also includes access to an exclusive online portal with bonus material and links to playable versions of most of the games
The Collector’s Edition includes a numbered, limited copy of the hardback in a custom slipcase with unique cover art, as well as a companion booklet, Further Explorations, that contain 60 additional pages covering fan-favorite games like Planetfall and overlooked micro-genres like hacking simulators.
The Ultimate Collector’s Edition includes a custom-made box of collectible mementos and historical artifacts, including a real length of 70s paper punch tape, and other surprises to be revealed during the campaign.
The Patron tier includes two Collector’s Editions, special thanks, and a one-hour chat or consultation.
The Commission tier enlists Aaron to write a fully original article on a game of the backer’s choice.
I must admit I am not the biggest fan of point and click. I like the humour and the stories, in particular the fact that they’re probably the best form of story telling of games that are out there – particularly in the retro style, however I find the “click everything with everything” gameplay that exists in it a bit tricky to get my head around. Before playing Day of the Tentacle, I only played two in my life. Two lauded versions of the game – first being The Secret of Monkey Island (read my review of The Secret of Monkey Island on this here site), and the second many moons later being Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Both of them had me reaching for the guide. Thank god the remake of SOMI had a hint system. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both, but at times things seemed illogical. Particularly with Indy.
So, Day of the Tentacle. Probably the pinnacle of point and click genre. Taking the main principles of Lucasarts games (it must be logical, and players can’t die), Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer created an absolute masterpiece.
The game takes place after the events of Maniac Mansion, and a mad scientist – Dr. Fred Edison – accidentally creates a purple tentacle with a thirst for world domination. Purple (the name given to the purple tentacle) is unstoppable, our three heroes (nerdy Bernard, student Laverne and a roadie Hoagie) are sent back in time one day to stop his creation. Of course things go wrong, and the three heroes are sent to different time periods – Hoagie sent to the formation of the United States, Laverne thrown into the future where humans are now the pets of tentacles, and Bernard? Well…he stayed exactly the same location. The only method of communication is to send objects down the Chron-o-John. Which is an inter-dimensional toilet.
As stated before, the difficulty I have with point and clicks is the logic. Sometimes the logic is flawed. However with this game the logic makes sense. Need an object in the future? Why not change the constitution of the United States in the past. Placing objects in the past to be used in the future, or causing consequences in the future, is all part of the game. In fact, the only real complaint from the logic side is once in the mindset, you are prone to overthinking. One such puzzle I did get a bit stuck on saw me having to remove a character from a room. I tried everything, but nothing worked. The solution? Push them out of the room.
One thing I did appreciate is that the game isn’t linear. Once Laverne is available you have three courses of actions, and there are different ways to approach the game. As somebody who is not the biggest fan of these games, you’re rarely stuck for things to do. I think one puzzle is illogical – but even then you do get a clue.
Even if the gameplay wasn’t great, sometimes the story can carry you through. Thankfully Day of the Tentacle has this in spades. You don’t need to play Maniac Mansion and can just jump straight in with this game. The writing is excellent and is a rarity for a video game – a cracking sense of humour with laugh out loud moments. Mixing this with a graphic style that is akin to a 1960’s Looney Tunes, and a solid soundtrack (and the game is fully voice acted as well), and presentation wise this game is on point.
It took me ages to play Day of the Tentacle, but I’d argue it’s the finest example of it’s genre. Even if you are not a fan of point and click, I’d recommend checking them out, as even the remaster is readily available.
For those of us of a certain age in the UK, Codemasters were a welcome beast of a games publisher. A large publishing house founded in 1986, Codemasters games were budget games that were available everywhere where games are sold, and a fair few where games weren’t. You’d often find a rack of them in chemists for example. These games would appeal to me as a kid as the bright boxes, often with colourful characters, appealing subject matters, words like “advanced” in the title and often hyperbolic language describing things as “Utterly Brilliant”. Little did I know later on in the years they were often written by Richard & David Darling, the founders of Codemasters.
Over time however the prospect of one game for pocket money price was not as alluring as getting four, and sure enough Codemasters then sought to increase the amount of games they sold with the “Quattro” series of games, released in the early 90s for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and even the NES. All these games were re-releases of games previously released by Codemasters, bundled together in one cart. Often with slight variations – the “4 Soccer Simulator” game was split into “11-a-side Soccer” game, or given new titles on the box with the old title in the game. It was a bit of a cash grab, but 4 games at 50p a pop meant you didn’t really care.
But what happened if you wanted more? What if you wanted six games?
Well, the purpose of the article, the video and the frankly weird journey I’ve been on the past week or so is to confirm a dim and distant thought I had in my brain: did a Quattro release have two extra games on it?
I must have been sometime in the early 90’s, I’d have been no more than 10 years old, and dipping my first toes into the world of retro gaming (or as it was known then, gaming), and unaware of things such as copy protection. The flicking through a manual to enter a word, or spin a disk to line up characters, oh no. This was too hard for my child brain. And Codemasters knew this. Because if you failed copy protection instead of taking you back to the main screen, they would instead throw you into the mini game instead.
Or did they? There was only one way to find out.
First I had to remember what Quattro compilation I remember playing. I do remember one such game being a tennis game. There may have been a rugby game on there, and after a while digging around The Centre for Computing History I found the game to be Quattro Skills).
And there-in provided the first problem: The Quattro games are compilations, rather than the actual games itself. The 11-a-side Soccer game is just 4-Soccer Simulator, and they are often listed as the originals of their part. The games are there, in most places, however they’re often the ones that are cracked. How can I fail copy protection when there isn’t copy protection?
I needed a new approach.
I turned to eBay instead, and sure enough after beginning the search I found an auction that was selling Quattro Skills. A quick transaction meant I had a copy of the game a few days later. A picture on the auction also confirmed that there was copy protection – a simple grid with letters assigned to rows or columns on the grid. I now needed to get it onto the PC.
Thankfully with a bit of help, I found the answer. The answer is to record it as a .wav file, using a Walkman attached to your line out, copy the sound file into something like Audacity and then use a piece of software to run it in an emulator. After borrowing a friend’s Walkman, getting the 5mm jack from my car, and making sure the Walkman still worked, I was ready to go.
After attaching a Walkman, and letting the tape run through (a process that took about 15 minutes to go through) I had a recording in Audacity ready to go. As it’s a compilation, we needed to split it into two different files – as both sides of the cassette had two games on it. Thankfully the inlay tells you where there’s a break in the games, and it’s easy to spot in the wave form.
After exporting it into a raw wave file (.wav) – which doesn’t have any compression – we then needed to convert it into a format that a Commodore 64 emulator can understand, which are generally .tap files. For this I used Audiotap, which is a small open source program that does the job. Loading one of the games into CCS64 (Pro Skateboard Simulator) and failing the Copy Protection means you end up getting Mr Naffo’s Sleepwalker, a version of the old game and watch game Manhole.
I said there was 2 games with copy protection, and there is. In the inlay is Pro Tennis Simulator with a similar copy protection, however no matter how much I tried I could get it working. There’s a bit of corruption at the start of each loading it seems and I’ve no idea how to fix it. But we still have a game – what of Mr Naffo’s Sleepwalker? Well as far as I’m aware the only digitised copy of the game exists on my computer. It is mentioned on sites and screenshots exist, however every rom dump appears to be corrupted or just plain missing. It seems to suggest that the game is public domain (probably why Codemasters included it), but the game it’s attached to isn’t, so I’m not sure how to distribute it or preserve it.
Spoiler Alert: this is the best game ever that deals with Insurance underwriting, and also this is my favourite game from the late 2010’s. I’ll try and be objective.
Return of the Obra Dinn is the second offering from named game designer Lucas Pope, the follow up to 2013’s “Papers, Please”, a game I’ve yet to play but I am intrigued by. Pope’s ability to turn dull, admin based jobs into magical gameplay experiences is further explored in this game. In Papers, Please the target was Immigration, in Return of the Obra Dinn it’s Insurance Underwriting.
The titular Obra Dinn is a ship. The game is set in 1807, where the damaged ship sails back into the harbour in Falmouth, with no crew on board. You’re given a ledger with the details of the ship, the route and it’s basic details about the 60 people on board such as job and nationality, and not much else to go on. However you’re also given a pocket watch. This watch will lead to clues as to what happened to each individual on board, as the watch when pointed at one of the dozen or so piles bones that lay on the ship will give dialog & a freeze frame of when they die, the ultimate “Record scratch – you wonder how I got here”.
After a brief, 5 minute tutorial which details the game (you solve fates of the crew in groups of 3, preventing you from brute forcing it), you’re then left to solve the story of the crew to your own devices. The crux of the game is working out what happens to each individual by cross referencing data in your ledger with freeze frames, and using knowledge of jobs & languages to try and piece together what happens. You are taken on a journey around the ship, and soon learn not everything is what it seems, with not everybody accounted for, leaving some element of guesswork as to what happens.
This is a game that plays to Pope’s strengths. The graphic style is akin to the Apple II monochrome (other filters for classic computers are available), and whilst there isn’t any animation, you do develop a connection to the personalities on board the ship. You overhear conversations and discussions, and despite having no animation, you feel like you’re on a living, breathing ship.
One area that is fully serviced is the sound – this game is fully dialogued (linguaphiles and those who can pick up accents will have an advantage in this game), and the game has a fully scored soundtrack. They’re short loops, rarely more than a minute long, that play over the 2-bit dioramas, but don’t get annoying. Probably because after uncovering all the lost souls, you find yourself darting between events, and the music tracks get ever more foreboding as you deal with everything from accidents to things a bit more sinister.
Return of the Obra Dinn is a rarity in games – totally original, and totally worth playing. It’s not too long – it probably took about me about 10 hours from start to completing every character (though you can finish it beforehand, but with multiple endings it’s worth persevering). There are times where guesswork and brute force is needed, particularly towards the end, but really don’t let put you off. If you’re fans of games of a more cerebral nature, than Return of the Obra Dinn is one game that is well worth your time.
So I’m delighted to announce that today is a relaunch of Retro Garden. It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, as my love for retro has grown exponentially since I started this blog, so I thought I’d give it a brand new coat of paint and a new look. Here’s what’s new.
I’ve become a bit of a Twitch streamer since the last time I’ve written a blog post on the site. So I’ve prominently featured my Twitch account. If you come to the site when I’m live, you’ll be able to tune in. I’m usually playing retro stuff, so it’ll be on brand!
Actual Split Sections
I felt things were a bit clustered at the top of the site, with streams and streams of posts. So I’ve split things into a few sections, first is the reviews (which has always been a feature of this site, as I want people talking about games). The second section is the features, and finally the News. I hope to expand the features to maybe include video content. We’ll see, but I do enjoy writing about video games, particularly classic video games, so we’ll see how we get on.
Easier To Manage
Peeling behind the curtain, this site is built on WordPress, a content management system. Professionally I’m a WordPress web developer, so overtime both the platform and my own skills have become stronger. Did you know when we first started including “Featured Images” in posts wasn’t a thing? So we hacked together various solutions that are now publicly available and integrated into core.
As such, this new design has those modern integrated features in bucketloads, meaning that the site can focus on what matters – video games.
I’m slowly converting old posts to the new style, so please bear this in mind as you browse the site, as things may look a bit off.
Have a Mooch!
Have a mooch around the site and let me know what you think! Spot anything odd? Do please contact me.
Mega Man X was one of my earliest experiences in video gaming, even more so than Mario or Banjo Kazooie, and it’s for that reason I’ll likely never be able to produce an unbiased review of the game. However, my love for the Mega Man series expands well beyond one simple game which I am too fond of. A recent game which I began to step into was Mega Man X2, which I was sadly never introduced to as a child.
The Mega Man X series, while detested by many at the time of its release, is a series I will always look back on in hindsight, as the first game to be released by the time I was born was X4, considered by many to be the overall decline of the franchise, when they made the transition to compact discs, and introduced cut scenes which snowballed into full fledged animated episodes by the later games. Yet, if I were to give my solid impression of the initial release which kicked off the revitalized series, I would give it only the highest praise, something I can safely vest into the sequel, which took every expanse that the original made upon the prior Mega Man games, and added to it.
Mega Man X2 continues the habit of having more animal based robot masters, as opposed to the much more classic robot masters who are all for the most part android in nature. This game takes the standard mech suit given to the player in X, and introduces the hovercraft, as well as a variety of armor upgrades giving the player new abilities, such as the mid-air dash, and the all elusive one hit KO Shoryuken of Street Fighter fame. The story continues the saga of Maverick Overlord Sigma, one of my most remembered child-hood villains. In spite of a weak development when compared to the other games, his all imposing danger reminded me of Gigyas, but without the intangibility aspect.
The story has a split depending on if you gather a number of parts of your old ally Zero, however the fork returns back to a single linear story following, so there’s no fear of alternate endings requiring a second, more tediously monitored play through, however it also invites enough entertainment for multiple runs on its own, without the need of collecting every little thing, if that’s not your particular interest. The game is filled with creative enemies suited to the environment of each level, and the bosses are all unique, and enthralling to fight.
They keep in touch with the classic chain of logical weaknesses, but if you screw up like myself and forget to check the walk through until halfway through the game, I’ve found that the heavy powered mega-buster works fairly well for a strong portion of the bosses, and the enemies won’t be too much of a hassle working with the bare basics.
All in all, if you go in headstrong, with nothing but confidence and have a fantastic experience, and on the far side, if you play it safe and use the bosses weaknesses to your advantage, you’ll still have an experience which is equally, and in some senses more fulfilling, especially if you’re a hardcore completionist.