Monday, 22 October 2012

SPECIAL FEATURE - Retro HD Updates & Remakes in 2012

Over the last few years we have been blessed with some excellent HD updates of popular games from the last few generations of consoles. Retail releases of Doom 3, HaloGod of War trilogy, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill Collections, Ico / Shadow of the Colossus, and Zelda Ocarina of Time have all been well received, and reboots of known franchises such as Rayman and Sonic have been enjoyed by both old and new gamers alike. For us retro loving folk who like their classic gaming much more 'old school', there is an even more fantastic pool of gaming updates and reboots, along with some fantastic compilations. 

While these retail updates are great for those who love to see PS2, & Xbox games spiced up, those of us who get butterflies at the thought of Mega Drives, Playstations, and Nintendo 64's (to name but a few) turn to the download services
Both XBLA and PSN are home to some wonderful classic games, lovingly crafted to look sexy on our big HD, widescreen TVs. Some are merely straight ports with a few graphical enhancements (or merely include a filter to smooth out the pixel edges), whereas others offer a gorgeous, full HD remake and a wealth of bonus content for fans.
SEGA have really gone the extra mile with their efforts, bringing back gaming goodies from their hat trick of wonderful consoles, the Mega Drive, Saturn and Dreamcast, as well as the coin-ops of the 80's and 90's (arguably their finest hour). Other developers, such as Capcom, Konami, Namco Bandai, and Rare have also graced the platforms with their updates. These give everyone a chance to relive the great games they grew up with, only this time with lush HD visuals, online multiplayer / leaderboards, achievements to accomplish, and bonus content.

The early days of this generation saw the download services mostly consist of basic ports of old arcade titles. Games like Pacman, Galaga, Shinobi, Tempest, and Scramble. These don't really offer anything new, but are essential for those who grew up playing the machines. Shinobi was a game I played religiously as a kid, our local seaside pier had a small arcade so I would routinely spend many 10 pences trying to beat games such as Robocop, Rastan, and of course Shinobi. This made buying the XBLA version a no-brainer, and I enjoy the game as much now as I always have.
Compilations are an easy way of getting excellent updates. The Namco Museum : Virtual Arcade release contains all of the XBLA Namco arcade games, so this is the best method of obtaining them all for very little money, throw into the deal a plethora of well emulated 80's and 90's arcade titles like Mappy, Rolling Thunder, Dig Dug 2, Retro Cross, and Dragon Spirit, and you have one of the best retro releases money can buy (see more about this at the end).

The older Konami titles on XBLA, Scramble, Track & Field, Gyruss, Time Pilot, Frogger, Contra, Super Contra, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, and Rush N Attack are all pretty standard ports, only worth digging out if you are a fan of the arcade originals. More deserving of mention is the excellent GAME ROOM, where you can buy many more brilliant old Konami arcade games for 240 points each. 
It is well worth getting them via this route as the leaderboards are always changing and so is great for score chasers.
They are also responsible for Castlevania Symphony of the Night, and Frogger Hyper Arcade (see below).

SEGA's earlier updates consisted of straight Mega Drive ports, most of which are available on the Ultimate Mega Drive compilation, but they also released some of their Dreamcast titles
It was a disappointing selection consisting of Space Channel 5, Sega Bass Fishing, Sonic Adventure, and Crazy Taxi. The games seem very dated, and Crazy Taxi is missing the licensed Offspring music that gave the original arcade game much of it's charm. These 4 games were released at retail as the Dreamcast Collection.
These two games are much improved and hopefully a sign of more to come. In the last few years though Sega have become one of, if not the best publisher for amazing HD updates. Not only have they brought several original titles with a very retro feel (Renegade Ops and Hell Yeah Wrath of the Dead Rabbit), they have given us high quality remakes of Dreamcast and Saturn games, more Mega Drive titles (with far better display options), classic coin-ops, and more. You only have to see how many of the games in this feature are by SEGA to see they are leading the pack when it comes to bring classic games to life in 2012.

Capcom's earlier reboots of known franchises were a big disappointment. Both Commando 3 : Wolf of the Battlefield, and 1942 Joint Strike, failed to capture the magic of the originals, and are best avoided. The HD update of Street Fighter 2 was a lot better, but the new HD look divided opinion among fans. These titles are all included on the retail release 'Capcom Digital Collection', which also includes the amazing Final Fight Double Impact, Bionic Commando Re-armed 2 (but not the first one strangely enough), Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix (long enough title guys?), and er..  some other tat not worth remembering. Just grab Final Fight on XBLA and ignore this compilation, unless you see it going cheap in a sale.
Capcom have also updated a few other titles, firstly the horrible JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a pretty shoddy 2D beat-em-up which plays horribly and would only appeal to absolute hardcore 2D anime fighters. It's also priced at a shocking 1600 points so avoid it like the plague. 

For fans of the excellent survival horror series 'Resident Evil' you will be pleased to know that both Resident Evil Code Veronica, and Resident Evil 4 (one of the best games ever made) are on xbox 360. Due to their size they are on 'Games on Demand' rather than XBLA, and both feature crisp new HD visuals. Unfortunately Code Veronica has not aged well, and suffers from the clunky controls and flaws it had when it was released on the Dreamcast. Resident Evil 4 doesn't offer any new content and is a slightly disappointing update. They are both great for fans of course, but I recommend you play the 4th game on the Nintendo wii instead. Sure the visuals aren't HD but they still look great, and the use of the motion controller is amazing, and really enhances the experience.

When HD Remakes Go Wrong!

Some modern reboots of 80's games have really missed the mark when trying to bring a classic game to modern audiences. Games that have failed to improve on the original formula include Burgertime HD, Spelunker HD, Choplifter HD, Boulderdash XL and Elevator Action Deluxe. These games looked very promising, but upon release fell well short of expectations. Not only did they offer nothing new (not always essential of course), but they actually ruined the core gameplay that made the originals so enjoyable. The simplicity and addictiveness were lost as the developers tried to add new gimmicks. Coupled with poor new visual styles and questionable design choices these games were shunned by fans of the originals, and bypassed by new gamers. Boulderdash was the biggest let down for me personally as I have loved the series since the original Commodore 64 games. The new visual style was very unappealing, and the stuttering frame rate didn't help matters. It was slightly redeemed by the retro mode, with it's quirky faux-3D 8-bit graphics, but overall I was hugely disappointed.

Before - Classic, simple but effective)

After - A garish, cluttered mess

With so many remakes and updates of classic games available I thought it essential to play them all thoroughly (all in the name of research of course), and bring the best of what's out there to your attention.

Best of the Best on XBLA / PSN

So what are the very best games on XBLA and PSN today? Obviously the game has to be strong to begin with. No manner of spit and polish can turn a mediocre game into a must have download title, but some games are clearly given more care and attention that others. Some can be ruined by bad graphics filters that make the game look like a cheap emulator, or by missing music and glitches that the fans will instantly notice. With this in mind, I present to you my favourite remakes and re-imaginings of classic retro games that you can buy today.

Outrun Online Arcade (SEGA) R.I.P.

It is an absolute tragedy that this is no longer available to buy, due to expired licenses, as it is the best arcade racing game ever made. I apologise for teasing you by gushing about how amazing a title is when it is no longer available, but hopefully most of you will have picked it up already (customers who purchased it before it went offline can still play the game). It is based on the Xbox Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast, but redone in absolutely stunningly crisp and gorgeous HD graphics. Unfortunately due to the download service's size limitations at the time, many elements were left out. So there are no remixed music tracks, no Coast 2 Coast career mode, and none of the Outrun 2 Arcade levels (just the coast 2 coast levels are included here). What we are left with though is pure game play perfection. You will never tire of racing through it's 15 varied and breathtaking courses, trying to improve your race times. I won't spend any more time on this as it is technical no longer an XBLA title you can purchase, but anyone who already has this should start playing again and relive the magic, the rest of you can still buy the Xbox original Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast, as it will work on your 360, and is the next best thing. Sure it isn't HD but it still plays exceptionally well. It is my favourite racing game of all time, without a doubt.

Pac Man Championship Edition : DX (Namco Bandai)

After working wonders with the original Pac Man formula back in 2007 with the sublime and highly addictive Pac Man Championship Edition, the original creator of the yellow dot muncher is back with a finely tuned update. Sticking to the winning formula set by Championship Edition, this wonderful updates takes what made it so enjoyable and then ramps everything up to 11. Multiple graphical styles to choose from, a cool psy-trance sound track that keeps the sense of pace throughout, additional gameplay mechanics make this a winner. The idea of clearing one side of dots before the next set appears remains, but now we have the fantastic ghost train to contend with. Most of the ghosts lie dormant around the levels, snoozing until you awaken them by passing close by. Once their slumber has been interrupted they will chase after you, forming an ever increasing conga line of ghosts. Collect a power pill and BAM! Turn on your axis to face your pursuers and begin devouring them in a huge chain. It is hugely satisfying and makes for huge scores. Add in slick little touches like time slowing down when Pac Man comes too close to an enemy, new modes like ghost combo, time attack, and score attack and you have a package that improves on it's earlier iteration immeasurably. Tense, frantic, and insanely addictive, this is a masterpiece in classic arcade game design.

Final Fight : Double Impact (Capcom)

Everybody loves Final fight... don't they? It is one of the greatest side scrolling beat-em-ups ever made, and is as enjoyable to play today as it ever was back in it's arcade heyday.
Capcom have performed a sterling job with this update, including a remixed sound track, and multiple visual settings, the best of which is an excellent arcade cab view with phosphor view which really captures the exact look of the original coin-op.
Online and local co-op enhance the experience, as do the well thought out achievements on offer. There are loads of original art and designs to unlock for fans of this seminal brawler.
This would be worth getting if this were just Final Fight, but Capcom have strangely paired it up with Magic Sword, a side scrolling platform fantasy game. In it you choose from a selection of characters and are tasked with getting to the top of an immense tower. Each short level holds captured allies which can be released using the limited keys available, the ally then fights alongside you until they are replaced or you die. It is a fun game, but very repetitive and not a patch on Final Fight. One has to wonder why Capcom didn't choose a better suited game, maybe Captain Commando or the epic Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. But if you look at is as an additional bonus you can't really complain. An excellent package.

Guardian Heroes (SEGA)

Arguably the greatest Sega Saturn game ever makes the HD transition and it holds up exceptionally well. Essentially a scrolling 2D beat-em-up with RPG elements. The game sees you selecting from one of 4 characters and then battling your way through forests, castles, dungeons, demon's lairs, and heaven itself. The story is far too confusing and weird to explain here, but it involves multiple endings and paths through the game. You don't move around freely like many other scrolling fighters, instead being able to switch between 3 planes. This enables you to pull off Street Fighter style joy pad moves to cast spells and perform special moves, and works really well once you get used to it. It is great fun to play co-op and the arena mode can now host 12 players over the original's 6, which makes for some truly chaotic scraps. The game is a lot more balanced than the original too, and the additional remix mode which adds new moves such as air recoveries and dashes is a welcome addition. The games visuals have been reformatted for widescreen displays, and the extra smoothing mode looks very nice. The original Saturn graphics mode still look better in all their pixelated glory, but the new look is respectfully done.
Overall this is one of the best updates of a classic game I have seen. Keeping the same core experience but improving on it to keep it feeling as fresh today as it did when it wowed gamers back in 1996. Essential.

Prince of Persia Classic (Gameloft)

All old school gamers remember Prince of Persia. It was on pretty much every format in it's day, from it's humble origins on the Apple 2, to the SNES. It pioneered new animation techniques and gave the characters a multitude of moves never seen before, but now taken for granted. Hanging from ledges, sneaking past spikes, pulling yourself up to the next floor were all at the smoothly animated prince's disposal. The aim was to make your way through the castle dungeons in order to rescue the princess from the evil clutches of the wizard Jaffar. You had 60 minutes to finish the game, and as well as the many traps throughout the games levels, you also had to content with sword wielding guards and even an evil doppelgänger
The update gives the old fashioned graphics a complete overhaul, now looking like a 2D version of one of the franchise's recent offerings. It look amazing. The backgrounds have a real sense of life to them, especially when you reach the palace interiors. The prince also has many new moves, and his new-found agility makes him a joy to control. He leaps and bounds around the levels, turning on the spot, propelling himself off walls, and back flipping over ledges. It makes for an exciting and fluid pace and really does feel like a genuine update of a classic, rather than just changing the graphics. Highly recommended.

Daytona USA (SEGA)

I have always been a huge fan of Daytona USA, it harks back to a great era when SEGA made fantastic arcade games that delivered fun and excitement in equal measures. It was the 6 player cabinet that I enjoyed the most, racing against friends in a loud bar or arcade was adrenaline fueled multiplayer gaming at it's very best. That was over 15 years ago (18 to be precise), and now we have an arcade perfect version to play in our own homes. Actually it's better, it's high definition textures and widescreen support make it look gorgeous, and it races along at a super smooth rate. Everything from the arcade original is here, the 3 well designed stages (each with mirrored version), the competitor packed races, the bright colourful graphics and, of course, the ridiculous, yet insane catchy music (“Bru Bru Skies”). It is an utter joy to play. There is multiplayer but unfortunately it's very hard to find anyone playing these days, which is a shame as when I have had luck finding people it is more fun than any other racer I can think of (8+ players on the original oval circuit being a riot). The new modes are the icing on this delicious cake, survival and challenge modes give the player some more tasks to complete and achievements to nab, and extend the longevity of the game. There is also a Karaoke mode should you be inclined to sing along to the tracks (“I wanna fry sky high....”), leaving you with the perfect Daytona package. An immensely enjoyable arcade racer and more proof that SEGA were (and still are) the masters of their game.

Castlevania : Symphony of the Night (Konami)

Castlevania Symphony of the Night set a new benchmark for 2D platforming adventures when it was released for Sony's Play station console in 1997, and I have loved it ever since.
Not only is it the finest game of it's genre, it is simply one of the best games ever made. With it's original Play station version going for steep prices, a mere 800 points is simply unspeakably good value, heck.. it's worth every penny of it's high asking price in boxed Play station format. If you don't own this game already I urge you to make this your next purchase. Utterly outstanding in every way.
I have written a full review of it which can be read here.

Double Dragon Neon (Wayforward)

A truly outstanding and inventive re-imagining of arguable the grandfather of the scrolling beat-em-up, and a stone cold 80's classic. This game pays homage to it's inspiration with something that, while very different in style, retains the spirit of the original. The greatest scrolling fighter since Capcom's arcade glory days, this is a must for fans of the genre. For the full review see here:

Doom & Doom 2 (Bethesda)

Two bona fide gaming classics, Doom came along and completely changed the genre, and gaming as we know it, upon it's release in 1993. Wolfenstein 3D, also by Id, had already wowed gamers and set new standards and possibilities with it's fast paced 3D environments, but Doom was next level stuff. Dark, gory, and full of atmosphere, the game planted you in the boots of a lone space marine lost in Hell itself. Tasked with fighting off waves of foul, pissed off demons. Luckily you were armed with a truly explosive arsenal of weapons, a pistol, shotgun, chain gun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and the infamous BFG 9000, a set of weapons that would inspired almost every FPS game to come. Doom 2 was more of the same, but with it's earth setting, fantastic levels, extra weapon (the epic double barrelled shotgun), and it's 8 brand new demons to kill, it was the superior game. Both games still hold up well to this day, sure the visuals are extremely dated and blocky, but they ooze atmosphere. The guns are still deeply satisfying to use, and the selection of beasties to maim and murder remain the best cast of enemies to grace an FPS. Who could forget the 'pinkie' demon, the floating 'lost souls', the Caecodemon, the horrendous Arch VVille, or the behemoth himself, the Cyberdemon. These are historical titles that still offer a tense, challenge, and highly enjoyable ride even almost 2 decades after their original release. At only 400 points each, they should be picked up by anyone with even a passing interest in the Doom franchise, the FPS genre, or gaming in general. Which means all of you! Ignore the shockingly poor and overrated Doom 3, even in it's new HD remake form which arrives on the 19th October and includes both XBLA Doom & Doom 2. No, get these on the download service and enjoy Doom as it supposed to be, fast, furious, unrelenting, and murderously good fun.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Vector Unit Inc)

Another Arcade racing port that improves on the original in every way. Hydro Thunder Hurricane has you splashing your way across large, well designed stages, bouncing off waves, and splashing down after huge jumps. It is a roller-coaster ride, and the water physics are outstanding. You genuinely feel as though you are crashing through waves, and gliding through currents.
The visuals are bold and colourful, and the frame rate is silky smooth. The environments are a real highlight, varied, with bags of character, they feel alive. Waterfalls cascade, buildings and mountains crumble, planes fly past, and huge monsters erupt from the deep as you fight against the other boats in order to reach the important 3rd place or higher. Indeed, it is a stiff challenge, there isn't much room for error, and with the waves throwing you around, and environmental hazards to avoid, it can be too easy to slip up and make a mistake, resulting in a poor finishing position.
However the sheer rush of the gameplay, and the credit earning system, whereby you gain credits for finishing well which in turn unlock new courses and vehicles, keeps you coming back for more.
Multiplayer is also excellent and there is still a large community of online players, something unfortunately lacking in many other XBLA racing games, which is testament to Hydro Thunder Hurricane's quality and addictiveness.
This is pure arcade thrills and spills, playing like a cross between Wipeout and Split second, on a log flume. And that is just as awesome as it sounds.

Frogger Hyper Arcade Edition (Konami)

Konami's classic 80's arcade game has always deserved a decent update, and with Hyper Arcade Edition we finally have it. An excellent reboot of the franchise that features various exciting new visual styles, from an 8-bit mode, to spoofs of contra, and geometry wars. The excellent, and sometimes amusing in game music makes the game a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. There are a plethora of fun gameplay modes to enjoy. There’s a fly catching stage, a stage where you must colour in the tiles by walking over them, and of course the classic get to the other side of the pond core gameplay from the original. It is frantic and hugely enjoyable in multiplayer, and is a great party game for when you have friends over. A highly polished revamp that comes highly recommended.

Afterburner Climax (SEGA)

At the risk of repeating myself (blame SEGA) we have yet another amazing port of a ludicrously enjoyable and thrilling arcade game. A perfect port of the 2006 arcade original, Afterburner Climax is SEGA at their hyperactive best. Fast, furious, and visually stunning this is a high octane rollercoaster ride of intense action. Playing like Top Gun on steroids the game has you piloting one of 3 jet fighters, rocketing at insane speeds through multiple stages, all of which are breathtaking to behold. The action comes on thick and fast, and initially you wonder what the hell is going on. But once it clicks you are in action gaming nirvana. Waves of enemies & missiles assault you as you barrel rolls out of harms way, returning fire with your own guns and missiles. The 'climax' mechanic allows you to build up a power bar that, once full, is unleashed to slow down time, allowing you to lock on all on-screen enemies with your missiles, which upon being unleashed, destroy everything in sight and boost your multiplier.
The score attack mode and unlockables add further longevity to proceedings, but it's the core rush of the gameplay, and the amazing visual spectacle of the whole game that keeps you coming back for more. One of SEGA's best and another example of how arcade gaming, in improved HD mode, can be some of the most fun you can have on a home console.

Other Highlights that are recommended:

NiGHTS : Into Dreams (SEGA)

Another excellent Saturn update from SEGA, this time the magical NiGHTS Into Dreams. For the full review of this lovely title click here. Here's hoping Panzer Dragoon Saga is next.

Earthworm Jim HD (Gameloft)

Hugely popular upon release due to it's humour and excellent cartoon graphics and animation. It even spawned a TV series. It shows it's age today, but is still a solid platformer very much of the 16-bit era. The HD visuals are very nicely done and make it feel like playing an actual cartoon.

Sonic CD (SEGA)

The only Sonic game released exclusively on SEGA's failed Mega CD console. It looks like the first 3 Mega Drive titles but feels quite different in many respects. It adds a time travelling angle to proceedings, meaning you can alter the layout of the future levels by your actions in the past. The level design can seem a bit messy at times. I don't think it is as good as the first 3 titles due to the confusing layouts and added mechanics, but it is a solid entry to the 2D sonic series and is only 400 points.

Wolfenstein 3D (Id Software)

OK, so I am biased as this is one of my favourite games of all time. Yes it looks incredibly basic compared to more recent titles, but the all important game play is still there. Besides, who doesn't love shooting Nazis? A must have for fans, or a gaming history lesson for newcomers. Aside from a few issues with slow music it is an excellent port of the PC classic.

R-Type Dimensions (Tozai Games / SouthEnd Interactive )

The tough-as-nails 2D horizontal shooter is here, with it's sequel, in original or cool enhanced graphics modes. It is every bit as hard as you remember and as such is not for the faint of heart. However, those who love shooters and enjoy a stiff challenge will be in heaven here.

Bionic Commando Re-Armed 1 & 2 (Grin & Capcom)

Two great reboots of the NES classic. This re-imagining of the original has you grappling your way across the difficult stages, shooting enemies, and hacking terminals as you make your way to one of the many huge boss encounters. The sequel lets you jump as well as swing from your grappling hook, so I found it the more enjoyable game. Both are solid though, and visually are very nice indeed. There are multiple nods to the original game, and has clearly been put together by fans of the NES classic.

Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms)

Another pioneering PC FPS. The graphics were revolutionary at the time. But it was the larger than life Duke Nukem character, with his crude, sexist humour, that really made a name for the game. The interactivity with objects and scenery was previously unseen, and the sheer balls-to-the-wall action that ensued made this a huge hit. The XBLA port is fantastic and it still plays well today. For fans it is a must, and for newcomers it will go some way to rectifying the damage done by the atrocious Duke Nukem Forever.

NBA Jam – On Fire Edition (EA)

I've never been a fan of sports games, but I always enjoyed playing NBA Jam on the Sega Mega Drive. It didn't take itself seriously, something that puts me off 'proper' sports titles. With it's big head characters, over the top commentary (He's on FIRE!!!), and ludicrous slam dunks(complete with flames), I found it highly enjoyable, especially in 2 player. The two on two matches and slick, easy to use controls made it feel much more like an arcade game than a sports game, and this HD remake is no different. It can prove slightly difficult to get the hang of initially, but once it clicks, and you are in the zone it becomes a blast to play, and again even better in multiplayer. My favourite sports game bar the Mario Golf series, and I recommend it to anyone, even those who generally hate sports titles.

Street Fighter 3 Third Strike Online (Capcom)

Some claim this to be the pinnacle of the Street Fighter series, I would disagree arguing that the more recent 4th instalment (in it's Super Street Fighter 4 iteration) is the greatest game in the series, but SF3 still plays a mean game of Street fighter. I would love to have seen Street Fighter Alpha 3 instead, as that has the fluid 2D gameplay the series is famous for, but retains the excellent cast of characters notably absent from Third Strike. I have never gelled with any of the SF3 fighters, they lack the character and charm of the original line-up. A Street Fighter without Blanka, Zangief, Guile, E Honda etc just feels wrong to me. But this is still a great 2D fighter, and it has been given a respectful; HD update and a multitude of online multiplayer options.

Ikaruga & Radiant Silvergun (Treasure)

Two excellent Saturn Shmups by Treasure that command very high prices for boxed originals today. Here you can pick them up for the tenth of the price, and with enhanced visuals.
Both games are very well crafted examples of the genre, and are less frantic than the CAVE offering, though still occasionally dip into bullet hell territory. The mechanics in Ikargua especially deserve mention, with the changing of polarity (colour) of your ship to avoid the opposite polarity bullets and enemies adding an almost puzzle like strategy to proceedings. But both titles are essential for shmup fans, though I find Radiant Silvergun slightly overrated, preferring the CAVE Shmups. 

Banzoo Kazooie (RARE)

A delightful 3d platformer that first appeared on the Nintendo 64, meaning we get blocky worlds and blurry textures. However the HD remake gives it a nice overhaul and the cartoony look suits it perfectly. The game is an enjoyable romp through a fairytale world, and it's humour and lovable characters are the icing on the cake. Sure, it shows it's age today, but if you enjoy 3D platformers such as the magnificent Mario 64, or loved this growing up, then guiding the silly bear and his bird sidekick through the varied worlds, searching for the hidden treasures, will bring a smile to your face. The sequel 'Banjo Tooie' is also available but it isn't a patch on the first game.

Mega Man 9 + 10 (Capcom)

Both Mega Man 9 & 10 are equally excellent of examples of bringing an 8-bit title to life on the current generation of consoles. Avoiding the trap of unnecessarily revamping Mega Man's visual style, these games stick closely to the look of the NES originals, even down to the sprite flicker (which can be turned off should it put you off).
Those not familiar with the difficulty of the original 8-bit titles may be in for a shock. Both games are brutally hard, and will take many repeat attempts to navigate the stages and reach the boss of each zone These robot masters are even tougher, but upon defeat enable the player to use their weapon, each weapon making it easier to defeat the others. It is this element of deciding which order to tackle the stages that adds a small level of depth to the standard 2d platform blasting. A weapon from one defeated boss could defeat another with only a couple of shots for example.
Due to it's difficulty, Mega Man games can be very frustrating, but there is an easy mode for those who can't take the pace. The chiptune music of both titles are an absolute delight, sticking closely to the energetic and catchy tunes of the franchise. If you are a fan of the NES originals then these games will feel like we have never left the 8-bit glory days.

Sega Vintage Collection : Monster World (SEGA)

More SEGA retro goodness, this time a very random selection of titles, but with the quality of the titles in question being so high we can forgive SEGA for seemingly choosing these out of a hat, blindfolded, while drunk. We have Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the Master System, the inbuilt game on the MS II console and one every single person who had the machine will instantly recognise. Sure it ain't Super Mario Bros but it has a whole charm of it's own and is sun to play. The graphics are gorgeous and vibrant, especially for an 8-bit machine, and the quirkiness of the characters, as well as the scissor / paper / stone (or Jenken) matches that take place only add to this. Representing the Mega Drive we have the excellent Revenge of Shinobi, which is bloody fantastic! It is a different beast to the arcade original and is far grittier and atmospheric, it also offers a stuff challenge and, in my opinion, is also a lot better than Shinobi 3 for the Mega Drive.

Lastly we have an original arcade game, lovingly recreated for your home enjoyment. The game in question is Super Hang-On.. basically Outrun on superbikes. It is ludicrously fast and very hard. Luckily the difficulty settings can be fiddled with, making the game more enjoyable, but it's a great old fashioned thrill ride!
3 great SEGA games for 800 points, sounds like a bargain to me!

Space Invaders Extreme / Infinity Gene (Backbone / Taito)

Space Invaders needs no introduction, simply put, if you don't know about the granddaddy of video games by now then you need to go and read some books about the history of video games. Right, now for the rest of us we all know the score so let me proceed. These two updates (from different developers) are both revamped games based on the original shoot-em-up template.

While Space Invaders Extreme goes for the neon eye-candy, fireworks explosions route, Infinity Gene is the more subtle game. You will be in familiar territory with both though. Move your ship around blasting the aliens that appear.. yes, that's it.. but it is highly playable and addictive stuff.
I personally prefer Infinity Gene due to it's variety in the stages, which seemingly evolve as you get further into the game, but they are both worth checking out.

Jet Pac Refuelled (Rare)

Rare's reboot of their classic ZX Spectrum game shows that gameplay always wins over graphics. The remade look is very nice, and the original Spectrum mode is also available in all it's colour clash glory. But the pure blasting action is what makes the game work. Collect the pieces of your ship, and then the fuel cannisters to power it, while avoiding streams of enemies flying in from all sides of the screen. Frantic, simple, but very additive. One of the most retro games out there, the fact that it can still be enjoyed today is testament to how enjoyable the core gameplay is.

The Secret of Monkey Island 1 & 2 (Lucasarts)

The Secret of Monkey Island series will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who enjoyed the height of the point & click adventure boom back in the days of DOS and Amiga gaming. There were many others or course, but asked which is their favourite of that era, most will refer to these two fantastic and hilarious pirate adventures. Lucasarts were the absolute masters of this genre back in it's prime, churning out classic games at an amazing rate. These two focus on a wannabe pirate named Guyrush Threepwood (yes really), and his bumbling, semi-cowardly interactions with the island inhabitants. It is a game that uses a language based interface such as 'look at','open', 'use'.. etc etc But in XBLA form has had a massive overhaul, changing the graphics, adding full voice acting, and getting rid of the text based interface in order to use a much more user friendly joypad system. The games are still as funny as ever and will genuinely make you laugh. The new graphics will divide opinion, but awesomely you can switch at anytime in-game to the original Amiga style graphics. I have to play it this way as it brings back great memories of my Amiga days (complete with ridiculous plastic spinning wheel copy protection). These games will keep you hooked until the very end. Sure, you may get stuck due to some obscure puzzles, but there's always (I don't condone cheating of course - wink). Check them out and enjoy comedy storytelling, and a mostly forgotten genre at it's best.

REZ HD (Q Entertainment)

Rez is a difficult game to describe to someone unfamiliar with it's unique techno on-rails shooter action. It is hypnotic, mesmerising, and addictive, yet also easy to get to grips with, and fairly linear under the surface.

You start as a wireframe shape of a man, throbbing in time with a 4x4 techno beat, your path completely on-rails. You control the large cursor and must hold down the button as you drag it across the enemies that appear onscreen, and upon letting go you unleash a barrage of homing shots that blast them, obliterating them in a shower of visual fireworks. Of course there is more to it than this, but this will give you the gist of what to expect. Rez has a cult following from it's original days on the Sega Dreamcast and it is easy to see why. It has such a unique visual style to it that it will draw you in, keeping your eyes glued to the screen like a baby watching a kiddy program with lots of bright colours and moving objects. The constantly building techno music, which evolves as you destroy each of the 10 waves of enemies, adds to the trippy feel of the game, even the controller vibrates in time with the music (you can plug in 4 as well). The bosses are huge and require a fast trigger finger, blasting away hundreds of panels on a huge disco ball beast to destroy his core for example. Granted, the game is quite short, there are only 5 stages to tackle. But you will keep coming back to better your score. The HD look is lovely, though the original was probably more impressive in it's day. I enjoy Rez, but I also think that Child of Eden is a far better game. It has far better visuals that really bring an organic world to life, a better (if slightly cheesey) soundtrack, and more variety in the stages, but Rez was here first as so should be experienced by anyone who likes music based gaming, on-rails shooters, or original oddities.

Lode Runner (Microsoft Studios)

Arriving way back in 1983 Lode Runner was a huge success. It blended basic platforming with puzzle elements that kept you on your toes and adding some depth to the genre. The basic mechanic here is that, instead of jumping, you can use your blaster to destroy certain blocks on either your left or right side. This means the enemies who ruthlessly pursue you throughout the stage will fall in and can be stepped over as you hunt all the pieces of precious metal dotted around the single screen stage. It requires both quick thinking and quick reflexes. There are also ladders and rails you can move across using your hands to help in the process. You always feel like you are being hunted, desperately surveying the level while avoiding the enemies so that you don't run into a dead end and become trapped. It has the same addictive qualities now as when i first debuted all those years ago, only this time with a nice graphical overhaul. Add to the mix a vast number of well designed stages, excellent puzzle and co-op mode, and you have a retro winner.

Deserving of a mention:

Rocket Knight (Konami)

Rocket Knight is a sequel of sorts to the original 16-bit games, Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster. Both highly regarded platforming games due in part to their big cartoony graphics, the charm of the characters that inhabited the game world, and the fun jet pack mechanic that saw your opossum zipping this way and that with his flaming sword making short work of the pigs and wolves that hassled him along the way. This new chapter in the saga is a lot of fun, it is a back to basics platformer with no pretensions about breaking new ground or offering anything new. But it does offer solid platforming fun, some inventive boss encounters, and great cartoon-like graphics. It won't set the world on fire, sure, but it is an enjoyable romp through familiar platforming territory. If only it wasn't priced at the baffling high 1200 points, maybe more people would have enjoyed it.

Sega Vintage Collection : Monster World (SEGA)

The only Vintage pack with games not already available on the Ultimate Mega Drive Collection, hence it's inclusion here. The Golden Axe and Streets of Rage trilogies are both on SEGA's compilation, and are best obtained that way.
Monster World includes Wonder boy in Monster Land, Monster World IV and Monster World V. The first really shows it's age and is actually very frustrating to play due to the fact it has a time limit (due to being an arcade title) and some exceptionally poor collisions which see you bouncing this way and that, with each hit draining your life bar and you can do nothing about it. Wonder boy in Monster World is much better. A Mega Drive adventure that plays like a side scrolling Zelda title (complete with ocarina), it is a fun journey, only hampered by the same collision issues from the previous game. Lastly there is Monster World V, originally only released on the Mega Drive in Japan, here it has been translated for your convenience. It is by far the best game too, the graphics are colourful and the backgrounds are especially pleasing to the eye. The controls are tighter than before and the collisions with enemies far less irritating. Overall, if you are a fan of the platforming genre, it is worth getting for this title alone.

Jet Set Radio (SEGA)

I am not really a fan of Jet Set Radio, I have always found the game to be clunky, and a fine example of style over substance. The sound track, the element most praised when people speak of JSR, is also very hit and miss, with some great tunes in there alongside some heinous affronts to music.
The update is done very well though. The graphics look great, and there is extra content designed for fans, including music videos for some of the songs. SEGA have taken care to make this a classy HD update, so if you are a fan of the game you will love this.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD (Activision)

First things first, I hate skateboarding - the act itself (as I suck badly at it) and also the lame skater culture that goes with it. However I loved this game in it's original incarnation on Playstation back in 1999.

Hours were spent (wasted?) perfecting the perfectly designed courses, and I remember that my room at uni was always full with people wanting to play. It was a great game then.. and I have to emphasize the 'then' part. It has not aged particularly well, and has been superseded by other, similar, games since.
It is still fun to play, but it failed to excite me in 2012 like it did all those years ago.

Marathon : Durandal (Bungie)

An HD update of Bungie's pre-Halo FPS. It is not in the same league as Doom, Duke Nukem 3D or Quake, certainly, but it is an enjoyable adventure for those who enjoy simpler, 90's style First Person Shooters. There are clearly signs of Halo in here, the alien factions and space marines all against one another, and the space station setting all give clues to what was to come from Bungie. The game is simplistic, but in some ways not as much as Doom, there are terminals to use, bridges and other interactive environmental elements, and much more emphasis on the story. The guns are reasonably satisfying to use, and the stages can be fun to explore. However, the level design can sometimes be confusing, and there isn't a huge amount of variety in the enemies or stages, but it is still worth a playthrough if you are a fan of the genre.

Rayman 3 HD (Ubisoft)

Call me old fashioned, but I have always (with the rare exception of Mario 64) preferred 2D platforming over 3D ones. Maybe my brain isn't wired to cope with large open 3D worlds, instead preferring a nice orderly side profile view... I don't know. Rayman 3 is a very average 3D platformer. Made in the years when everyone was desperately trying to bottle the magic of Mario 64 and apparently clone it to death, this game is very derivative. Maybe I am being harsh, it is fun, it has nice cartoony graphics, and the camera isn't too bad. However, when you can get the amazing Rayman Origins in lovely boxed retail form for not much less than this costs, I can't really think of a good reason to bother. Unless you adore 3D platformers, Rayman himself, or grew up with this and want some nostalgic harmless fun for a weekend.

Great games from the good old days

So as you can see, the retro gamer is spoilt for choice these days. Whether it is 80's arcade gaming, or games from the last decade with a new paint job and some cool bonus material to digest, XBLA & PSN are home to some truly great updates that not only offer nostalgic glee to those who enjoyed them many years ago, but offer newcomers the chance to experience them.

Lets hope we continue to see more classics given the HD makeover, there is certainly a vast catalogue of games deserving of such treatment. With Toejam & Earl, Oddworld : Abe's Odyssey, Shenmue, and Toki updates all on the way, we have some great titles to look forward to playing all over again, this time in 'bang up to date widescreen-o-vision'!

Happy Retro Gaming!

Again, don't forget to pick up the excellent Namco Museum : Virtual Arcade & SEGA's Ultimate Mega Drive Collection for more retro goodies. The Namco package contains many of the XBLA titles (hence why they are not written about above) and is an essential purchase. All XBLA titles are excellent ports of their respective titles.

Namco Museum Virtual Arcade                           Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection

XBLA Games on Namco Museum Virtual Arcade:

Pac Man
Ms Pac Man
Pac Man Championship Edition
Galaga Legions
Dig Dug
Mr Driller
New Rally X

Sega XBLA titles available on Ultimate Mega Drive Collection:

Sonic The Hedgehog trilogy + Sonic & Knuckles
Streets of Rage trilogy
Golden Axe trilogy
Shinobi (arcade)

Please note: You won't get achievements or online leaderboards on this compilation so if that is important then you should pick up the individual XBLA releases.

Coming soon:

Feature : Which old games need an HD update?