Virtual Boy Turns 20

August 21st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Virtual Boy on a Swing

Nintendo released the Virtual Boy 20 years ago today in North America (on August 21, 1995). I wrote an article about the creation of the Virtual Boy for FastCompany, which was just published today.

I hope you enjoy it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Wordtris

August 17th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Spectrum HoloByte Wordtris Game Boy Super NES advertisement - 1992How Video Games Are Designed

[ From VG&CE, November 1992, p.59]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Tetris spin-off game?

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Satoru Iwata (1959-2015)

July 13th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of NintendoIn Memoriam: Satoru Iwata (1959-2015), President, Nintendo of Japan
CEO, Nintendo of America

What a horrible thing. Iwata will be sorely missed.

These days, few large company CEOs rise up through engineering (in this case, software engineering) to take the top spot at the firm. Iwata did exactly that, and that likely contributed a great deal to his success at leading Nintendo.

Nintendo needs a new rudder now. Who they choose to replace Iwata will make or break the company at this point — Nintendo is in a fragile position, poised at the edge of a transition to a new console business model designed to ensure its survival in a mobile/tablet/smartphone dominated world.

What will happen next is anybody's guess.

What happened under Iwata was amazing.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game Boy Lemmings

May 4th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Psygnosis Ocean Lemmings for Game Boy advertisement - 1993Biggest Lemming I Ever Seen

My brother received the IBM PC port of Lemmings as a gift (probably for Christmas) in the early 1990s. It made a distinct impression in my young mind, with its vivid VGA graphics, a playful MIDI soundtrack, and charismatic little creatures that you could bid to do your every whim.

I have never played the Game Boy version, but this ad caught my eye.

When I wrote a feature about the most ported games of all time for 1UP.com back in 2007, Lemmings featured prominently with ports to 28 systems up to that point in time. What can I say — Lemmings is a classic.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1993, p.48]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the best Lemmings-like or Lemmings clone game? (Other than Lemmings, of course — The Humans and Baldies come to mind.)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Turbo Touch 360

January 26th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Triax Turbo Touch 360 controller SNES Super NES Genesis EA Sports advertisement - 1993Man, that basketball player is pissed.

The Super NES / Genesis era coincided with a second golden age of third-party video game controllers and peripherals (the first golden age being the Atari 2600 era). If you browse through the Retro Scan archives, I'm sure you'll see quite a few.

One of the stand-out gimmicks of this era arrived courtesy of Triax Technologies: the Turbo Touch 360. Representing a series of controllers for various platforms (SNES, Genesis, and NES with IBM planned, but I'm uncertain if it launched), the Turbo Touch line relied on a touch-sensitive pad in lieu of a traditional D-pad.

Using the touch pad, you didn't have to physically push down on the D-pad to register movements; instead, you lightly slid your finger over the cross-shaped touch pad, sort of like a laptop touch pad. Ideally, this should result in quicker movements, but it could also result in more errors.

There was another supposed benefit to the touch pad technology as well. This 1993 Chicago Tribune article positions the Turbo Touch as a cure for game-induced thumb blisters (at the suggestion of Triax's marketing staff, as the article suggests).

I've heard a lot about people getting thumb blisters over the years while playing video games, but I've never actually seen it happen. That's because I've only heard about it through game peripheral advertisements. Such blisters are plausible, of course, but you'd have to push down on the D-pad very hard and rub it around over a long period of time. Maybe my thumb skin is just tough or something, but it's never been a problem for me.

(Full disclosure: I did get a blister in the middle palm of my hand by rapidly rotating a Suncom Slik Stick over and over for about an hour while playing Decathlon for the Atari 2600 in the early 1990s)

I'm not saying that no one ever got a thumb blister from playing a video game, of course (do a Google search) — just that it wasn't the epidemic that companies like Triax have led us to believe.

Call me skeptical, but I wouldn't be surprised if the the video game thumb blister meme originated as a marketing angle in an era that aimed to be loud, raw, and edgy (think "Play it Loud", Sega scream, etc.). What could be edgier than actually getting physically injured while playing video games? That's intense!

I actually own a Turbo Touch 360 pad for the Genesis that I never got around to trying for some reason (I bought it at a thrift store when my Genesis was packed away). Right now I have no idea where it is. Perhaps I should dig it out and put the promise of touch-fueled gameplay to the test.

[ From EGM or GamePro, circa 1993]

(I scanned this back in 2006, at a time before I wrote down the publication source and page number of every scan. I'm sure it came from a 1993 issue of EGM or GamePro. When I run across the ad again, I'll update this post accordingly.)

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever gotten a blister from playing video games? Tell us how it happened.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Secrets of Obitus

January 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Psygnosis BPS Obitus SNES Super NES RPG EGM advertisement - 1994Dare ye gaze into the sacred gems of immortality?

Here we have an ad for the Super NES port of Obitus (1994), a Psygnosis RPG for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS originally released in 1991.

I'd like to say I've played this one, but I can't for the life of me remember if I actually liked it. I know I tried it, especially after first scanning this ad some years ago. Is anyone out there a fan of either the PC or SNES versions of Obitus? It sure looks cool.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly - November 1994, p.39]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best PC to video game console RPG port of the 1980s or 90s?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The NES Zapper Diagram

January 5th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo NES Zapper diagram from Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt Instruction Manual - circa 1988Plug it in, plug it in. (click for full image)

I love retro line art diagrams; this one has to be one of the best.

These two pages from the US Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt instruction manual (you can see both pages if you click on the image above — the small two dots in the middle are holes for a staple) illustrate the proper way to plug the Zapper light gun into your "Nintendo Entertainment System Control Deck."

Much fun can be had from doing that, of course — although I spent many hours in my youth cursing the laughing dog. My dad was first in our family to try to shoot the canine as he giggled at our Duck Hunting failure. Sadly, you can't.

NES Action Set Release Date

By the way, I've seen some sources say that the NES Action set, which first debuted the combo SMB/Duck Hunt cartridge, saw its first US release in November 1988. That is definitely not true, because my brother first got an Action Set for his birthday in June 1988.

Seeking to clarify this, I just did a newspaper archive search and found mention of the "Just Arrived" NES Action set in the April 14, 1988 edition of the Ukiah Daily Journal (from Ukiah, CA, of all places). That means the Action Set was available as early as April 1988.

So take dates you see on the Internet with a grain of salt unless they are coupled with a strong source (or better yet, collection of sources) behind them.

[ From Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt manual, 1988, p.23-24]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what's the best Zapper game for the NES?


See Also:
Disk Box Modern Art (RSOTW, 2014)
Simple IBM Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
USB Instructions (RSOTW, 2013)
Game Boy is Twenty (RSOTW, 2009)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Playing With Portable Power

December 8th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nintendo Game Boy Now You're Playing With Portable Power flier flyer - 1989With great portable power comes great portable responsibility.

The box art for Game Boy's launch titles was brilliant. So distinctive, playful, and irresistible. Even though the games themselves were blurry messes on the original Game Boy screen, the art makes me want to go back and buy those games all over again.

[ From Game Boy pack-in flyer, ca. 1989]

Discussion Topic of the Week: How many items on this flyer do you own?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Donkey Kong Puzzle

October 13th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

MB Puzzle Milton-Bradley 200 piece Donkey Kong Puzzle box cover art - circa 1983That is one dangerous and sexy construction site

When it comes to vintage 1980s puzzles, few can beat the sheer cultural nostalgia value of this 200-piece Milton-Bradley Donkey Kong puzzle, which comes straight from my childhood. This is a scan of the front of the box.

It's not often that I find a true surprise lurking in our old family toys, but I had completely forgotten about this puzzle until I ran across it in the back corner of my mom's attic a few months ago. Memories of poring over the lush, vibrant artwork on the box rushed back to me as I pulled it from where it had lay, dusty and neglected, for 25 years.

Look at the the highlights, the curves, the gradients. The richness.

Luckily for me, all the pieces were still in the box, so I have now re-assembled the puzzle and framed it. It will never be lost again.

The artwork for this puzzle no doubt echoes the side cabinet art of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, but with added detail and an airbrushed vividness. I think it would make an awesome poster — does anyone know who the artist was?

By the way — even though I find it insanely difficult at times, the original Donkey Kong is one of my favorite arcade games. It was also one of the first video games I ever played, courtesy of a port to the Atari 800.

P.S. Pauline is way hotter than Princess Peach.

[ From MB Donkey Kong 200 Piece Puzzle Box - circa 1982-1983, front]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, which is better: Donkey Kong Jr. or Donkey Kong 3?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Nintendo Smartwatch

September 15th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Nelsonic Nintendo Game Watches Zelda Watch Super Mario Bros. Watch Service Merchandise catalog advertisement - 1989Why not put LZDN1WBF and LSMN1WBF on your Xmas wishlist?

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced the Apple Watch. That got me thinking about other nerdy watches of yore, and I remembered something I recently found in my mom's attic.

Last month, my mother and I searched through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's old dishes to see what might be of use to me now. The dishes had been sitting in my parents' attic untouched for two decades. Many of them were padded with old newspaper from eastern Tennessee, which is where my grandmother lived until she died in 1992.

Among the usual black-ink-on-yellowing-paper fare, I found a handful of gloriously full-color advertisement circulars. A December 1989 mini-catalog for Service Merchandise caught my attention immediately because it featured a pair of Nelsonic Game Watches licensed by Nintendo. (That segment of the circular is what you see scanned above.)

Each of these two watches, which sold for ($19.97 a piece — or $38.37 today when adjusted for inflation) played a simplified prefab-LCD interpretation of its console namesake. If you remember Tiger's LCD handheld games, you're on the right track. In the Zelda watch game, you were forever trapped in a dungeon, and in Super Mario Bros. you forever hopped between platforms.

While these watch games were limited at the time, it was amazing to think you could fit a portable, battery-powered "video game" on your wrist and play it wherever you liked. I personally recall seeing more than one of these watches getting confiscated by teachers during my elementary school days.

That desire to carry functional video games with us has never abated. Heck, I bet that within days of the Apple Watch's release next year, someone will hack it to play emulated versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — allowing us to finally have the full NES experience on our wrists. It may be 25 years too late, but it will be amusing to see how things have come full circle.

[ From Service Merchandise Circular (IE499J), Dec 1989, p.11]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned a watch that played a game? Tell us about it.

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