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Category Archives: Editorial

The Super Mario Bros. Fragrance Collection Made Us Wonder What Bowser Smells Like

It’s hard not to be curious about the lives of your favorite video game characters. What do they do when they’re not off fighting monsters or saving the world? While old video game instruction manuals provided the occasional morsel, one of the most interesting tidbits we’ve discovered came from a little-remembered piece of merchandise: The Super Mario Bros. Fragrance Collection. Released in Japan in 2014, the collection consisted of four scents that represented four of Nintendo’s most famous characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser. Most of the scents featured in the collection weren’t too surprising. The Luigi cologne had a manly musk scent, and, to the shock of no one, the Peach fragranced smelled like peaches. Mario and Bowser are where things get interesting.…
The Minds Behind the Games

Retrovolve Reviews Books: The Minds Behind the Games by Patrick Hickey, Jr.

Because video games were once such an upstart medium — and because the medium rose to prominence before the Internet did — much of the history of how we got here has simply been lost. In a lot of cases, information must be dug up retroactively (not unlike a particular pile of Atari 2600 games). And that’s the point of The Minds Behind The Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers by Patrick Hickey, Jr. — it digs up, dusts off, and puts on display a tiny sampling of the could-have-been-forgotten stories about game development. The Minds Behind the Games contains interviews with the developers of 36 video games that span several decades. In it, there’s a wealth of knowledge about the journey of video game development, detailed by the people who made it all happen.…
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

The 3D Platformer: How 1996 Witnessed the Birth of a Genre

In 1996, the 3D platformer was born. That’s not technically true, of course, as the first 3D platformer was almost certainly a French game called Alpha Waves that came out in 1990. But Alpha Waves failed to kickstart the 3D platformer genre, and very few people would be comfortable citing its influence on the genre. I’d even argue that it’s been largely forgotten by mainstream gaming culture. It simply came out too early and for the Atari ST, a system that few people owned. Jumping Flash! is another 3D platformer that pre-dates that 1996 mark as well. It launched for the original PlayStation in November of 1995. It too failed to make a significant mark on the genre, though it had the luxury of launching for the PlayStation so it’s better known than Alpha Waves.…
Pokemon Nintendo Power

Nintendo Power Predicted a “Pokémon Trade War” in 1998

In 1998, Nintendo Power magazine took on the monumental task of trying to explain Pokémon to its American reader base. With Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue fast approaching a September 30 North American launch date, Game Boy owners were going to need the scoop if they were to jump into a crazy new world their Japanese friends had been enjoying since 1996. After all, the West had seen nothing quite like it at this point in history. In Volume 108 (May of 1998) issue of Nintendo Power, five whole pages were dedicated to these strange little pocket monsters. While there’s a lot of good information on those pages, there are a couple points that seem kind of odd in retrospect. For example, the Poké Ball we know and love today was referred to as a Monster Ball. Now, it’s probably safe to assume Nintendo Power‘s information came from Nintendo of Japan, and Poké Balls are actually called Monster Balls in Japan.…
Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 Was Ultra Game Player Magazine’s 1996 Game of the Year

1996 was a great year for Mario. The smash hit Super Mario 64 launched September 29 in North America (June 23 in Japan), and it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. In fact, Next Generation magazine gave it the #1 slot on their list of “Top 100 Games of All Time” before the game was even out in the US (they’d received an early copy for review, so they had played it by then). In their 92nd issue (Holiday ’96), Ultra Game Players magazine called Super Mario 64 “The Best Overall Game of the Year,” and they acknowledged that folks (such as those writing for Next Generation) had already taken to calling it “the greatest videogame of all time.” Ultra Game Players praised its depth, the hugeness of its 3D world, and its clean visual aesthetic, among other things.…
super mario kart snes screenshot

How Gamers Took Screenshots in the 90s

Nowadays, capturing images from video of games is essentially effortless. If you’re using a modern console (or playing old classics on an emulator) the perfect screenshot is just a button press away. In the 90s, however, getting a shot of your favorite game could get pretty complicated. These screen capturing instructions (from the March ’97 issue of Nintendo Power) show just how difficult capturing an image could be: Of course, anyone that took pictures in the 90s knows that these instructions were just the tip of the iceberg. Although digital cameras existed in the 90s, film cameras still dominated the market. If you wanted to show off your Mario Kart times — or any other gaming accomplishment — you had to find a camera with film, keep taking shots until the roll was finished, and then pay to have your film developed.…
Mega Man 2 Box Art

Mega Man 2’s Box Art Explained by Artist Marc Ericksen

Like many Mega Man fans out there, we at Retrvolve have always been fascinated by the American box art for Mega Man and Mega Man 2. (In the 23rd episode of the Half-Glass Gaming podcast, we spend a bit of time pondering the mysteries of such art.) An an interview conducted by NintendoAge at the 2012 Portland Retro Gaming Expo (and archived by Rockman Corner), Marc Ericksen, the artist behind the Mega Man 2 cover, explains how it came to be: What happened was I had to go down to Capcom and do a game they just got in from Japan. They had a beta version; they were in a hurry to get this thing out. So I went down there.…
Box Art Documentary

Video Game Box Art Documentary Lands on Kickstarter

We’ve compiled a fairly robust history of Mega Man box art, and we’ve dived into some of the stories behind Atari’s box art philosophy; clearly, we’re very much into video game box art here at Retrovolve. On April 19, 2016, a Kickstarter project appeared that’s very exciting to box art addicts. Box Art – A Gaming Documentary is a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Robert McCallum that explores the history behind those images on your game cases. (Is that Color a Dinosaur we see in the image above? Why yes, yes it is!) The Kickstarter page promises answers to such questions as: But who created those images? Why was it on a box? Why did some games have different covers in different parts of the world?…
ralph mcquarrie atari

The Strange and Wonderful World of Atari Box Art

In the age of Atari, games couldn’t sell themselves on graphics alone. Games needed ways to spark players imaginations, to convince them that their villains and heroes were more than awkward clumps of pixels. And for that, they relied on box art. While some video game companies gave little thought to their cover art, Atari made it a priority. “I felt fundamentally that this was a consumer product that needed all the care and attention that a record album did,” explained Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell.. “I wanted the artwork to have a consistency to it, so that immediately, when you glanced at our packaging, you knew it came from Atari and you knew it was beautiful.” One of the first artists Atari partnered with was Cliff Spohn, a commercial artist with a distinct detailed style.…
Dungeons and Dragons

The Dungeons & Dragons Panic of the 1970s and 1980s Is Tackled in This Retro Report Video

Dungeons & Dragons was introduced to the world in the 1970s. While many saw it as an escapist fantasy game to enjoy with a small group of friends, others, including several prominent religious figures, saw it as a gateway to satanism. A private investigator named William C. Dear took this “Satanic Panic” very seriously when he investigated the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in 1979. He hypothesized (incorrectly, it turns out) that the boy had disappeared into the steam tunnels of his college campus to binge out on D&D. About the game, Dear says, “It advocated murder, decapitation… And I’m going, ‘This isn’t a healthy game. How can it be a healthy game?'” Dear went on to publish a book titled The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, and some have come to the conclusion that Dear was stoking the flames of this particular fire in order to sell more copies of it.…
Game Boy Pocket Seriously Distracting

This Game Boy Pocket Ad Is Seriously Distracting (and Seriously Disturbing)

In early 1997, Nintendo ran the following Game Boy Pocket ad in Loaded, FHM, and Viz magazines: We see a woman tied to a bed with a [insert emotion here] look on her face. Which sounds like the start of a porn film similar to what you can see at websites similar to www.tubevideoshd.xxx. While the agency responsible for the ad (Leo Burnett) filled in that blank with “frustrated” (due to being ignored), many readers found the word “terrified” to be more appropriate. After several complaints, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) asked Nintendo to withdraw the ad. Crispin Reed, account director for Nintendo at Leo Burnett, defended the ad, saying, “When you look at [our] ad in the context of the environment it appeared in, it’s exactly in keeping with the editorial pages which, I would say, go further than we did.…
Wings out of Shadow

Baen Software Rose and Fell While Barely Making a Sci-Fi Splash

The name Baen has been associated with science fiction since at least 1983, when Jim Baen founded Baen Books (and maybe even before that, since he’d worked as an editor for various publications beginning in about 1973). What many people don’t know, however, is that Jim was also involved in video game publishing, having created Baen Software in 1979. The first game they published was Starclash, released exclusively for TRS-80 computers in 1980. The object of the game was to wrestle control of the galaxy from your computer or real-life opponent. A sequel, Starclash II, was released for MS-DOS in 1983. At first, Baen exclusively published games, but they teamed with sci-fi author Fred Saberhagen to start a development studio, Berserker Works, in 1982.…
Zelda Toys

The Legend of Zelda 30th Anniversary – Celebrate with Us

February 21, 2016, marks the 30-year anniversary of the Japanese release of The Legend of Zelda. We here at Retrovolve are longtime fans of the franchise, and we wanted to find a fitting way to celebrate such a milestone with our staff and readers. So we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite Zelda-related things we’ve published and we thought it’d be fun to share those. You’ll find them below in no particular order. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Is a Beautiful, Profound Masterpiece Josh Wirtanen explains why he thinks The Wind Waker is one of the best video games ever made, looking at the art, story, and emotional impact of the game. Read it here. A Link to the Past and the Mystery of Link’s Missing Pants Mandi Odoerfer explores the instruction manual art of the Zelda series to get to the bottom of a strange mystery: Where are Link’s pants?…
chrono trigger

For Video Games, 2015 Felt Like 1995 All Over Again

In 1995, Seinfeld aired its 100th episode. Coolio topped the charts with “Gangster’s Paradise,” while the Misfits reunited for the first time in over a decade. Amazon sold its first book, Yahoo! launched the world’s first search engine, and some guy named Valeri Polyakov spent a record-setting 438 days in space. But none of that mattered to me, because I was too busy playing video games. If you weren’t of gaming age in 1995, it might be hard for you to comprehend the magic of that time. It wasn’t just that there were tons of great games; it was that every game released felt fresh and new. The 16-bit era was coming to an end, and the 3D era was just beginning.…
Bad Box Art Mega Man

An Illustrated History of Mega Man Box Art

In March of 2012, Capcom launched Street Fighter X Tekken, a fighting game that pitted Capcom’s own Street Fighter characters against Namco Bandai’s Tekken characters. To top it off, Pac-Man joined the battle to represent Namco’s greater universe, and Mega Man showed up to support Capcom. But it wasn’t the classic Mega Man we all knew and loved; it was this guy: This character was officially dubbed “Bad Box Art Mega Man” and was a reference to the cover art for the original Mega Man game. Yes, on the original box art, Mega Man dressed in yellow and carried a pistol instead of having a blaster built into his arm. One must wonder, had the person who created this ever actually played Mega Man?…
crash bandicoot ad

Crash Bandicoot Starred In the “Worst” Ad of 1998

In the late 90s, video game ads had a bit of a Wild West quality to them. Gaming had become a billion dollar industry, which meant that publishers were willing to pump plenty of cash into print campaigns. However, even the biggest magazines still had minimal oversight, allowing companies to run advertisements that were genuinely shocking (at least by today’s standards). Occasionally, Electronic Gaming Monthly took advantage of this lack of oversight and openly criticized a few of their advertisers. In their annually published Buyer’s Guide issue, they named the best and worst ads they’d seen that year. More often than not, the ads they called out deserved a good dressing-down. Past winners were exceptionally gross, dumb, or just plain tacky.  …
Lunar Sega CD

My Gender Dysphoria: “Damsel in Distress” and “Hero Gets the Girl”

I’m genderfluid, which means I identify as both male and female, depending on a variety of factors (including what side of the bed I woke up on that morning). This often leaves me with a feeling of whiplash because, as someone who enjoys video games, I can’t help but notice how many of the video game tropes that screw over women manage to screw over men as well (and how very few people are talking about that side of the coin). There’s been much discussion of the “Damsel in Distress” trope and how harmful it is to the perception of women in our society. And let’s be honest, it is harmful — it reduces women to prizes to be won. And, while I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with a story in which a princess needs to be saved, I do think that we could do with a few more stories about the princess saving herself.…
Harvest Moon Cow

EGM Weighs in on Harvest Moon, “Cow Teats,” and “Human Discrimination”

A grand old tradition in Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine was to create an annual Buyer’s Guide issue so readers could spend their hard-earned dollars carefully. (After all, brand new video games were ridiculously expensive in the 1990s.) This Buyer’s Guide was also a place where EGM‘s staff could lampoon the gaming industry at large, poking fun of the ludicrous ads that had graced their pages that year and weighing in on hot-button topics of the time. Thumb through any of these issues and you’ll get the feeling that Buyer’s Guide editorial oversight was much more lax than that of a standard EGM issue. It’s easy to forget that the “Women in Gaming” issue was a landmine in 1998. Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft would release that year — marking the third year in a row that would see a major Tomb Raider release — and Lara Croft had become one of gaming’s first sex symbols (possibly the very first)  by then.…
Mario Bong

This Nintendo Power Mario Redesign Is Pure 2005

Nintendo Power 196 is not one of the magazine’s more memorable issues. There are no hidden gems in its letters section, no nostalgia-tinged game awards, no eye-opening reviews of classic titles. Even the cover is just a picture of Daniel Radcliffe with a bad haircut. If you had a chance to thumb through some old issues, you’d probably toss this one aside. And that’s a shame, because it’s probably the only issue in the magazine’s history to to feature a tattooed Mario holding a bong. Or maybe a pimp chalice that sort of resembles a bong (with the stem hidden behind his fat plumber hand). I imagine Mario is the sort of guy that would use a glass bong for the best high!…
pantless link

A Link to the Past and the Mystery of Link’s Missing Pants

Long ago, in the halcyon days of pixels and wired controllers, an instruction manual was a treasure. Within its pages, you could discover tantalizing tidbits of backstory, admire beautiful character art, and pick up all kinds of useful gameplay tips. But while perusing these manuals was often a joy, they occasionally revealed more of a character than anyone wanted to see. In the instruction manual for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Link wears a tunic, and nothing more. There are no flesh-colored leggings, no modesty-protecting shorts, and no attempts to keep undergarments covered. Whether he’s smashing a pot, swinging a sword, or simply sitting under a tree, he consistently throws caution to the wind. An aversion to dungarees is a strange trait for an adventurer, but what really makes Link stand out is his exhibitionism.…
samus girl reveal

Can We Stop with the “Samus Is Trans” Thing?

Recently, an article at The Mary Sue proclaimed that Samus Aran, kicker of asses and chewer of bubble gum, is actually a trans woman (citing a quote from a 1994 official Japanese strategy guide as evidence). This had the exact effect as you think it did, causing a huge glut of hateful, transphobic comments all over the Internet. This is unfortunate, for two reasons. One, it reminds us that people suck and are horrible. Secondly, it could have been avoided if some people weren’t in a rush to prove minority erasure where none existed. Full disclosure here: I’m gender-fluid. There’s a huge amount of detail, nuance, and contextual situations involving my gender expressions, but if you want a sound byte, the best I have is that I’m the prettiest princess who will drop you with a spinebuster.…
earthbound

This Game Stinks: How Nintendo’s Marketing Failed EarthBound

Like many beloved niche titles, EarthBound — known as Mother 2 in Japan — was ahead of its time. The game’s cutesy graphics and unabashed weirdness belied its dark and meaningful storyline. At a glance, it’s no great surprise that it initially failed to find an audience. But when you look closer, you’ll find that EarthBound had everything it needed to be a success. A dedicated localization team ensured that every offbeat cultural reference was translated perfectly. Moreover, it had an impressive marketing budget, with ads for the game appearing in most major gaming magazines. Unlike most obscure gems, EarthBound was favorite of Nintendo superstar Shigeru Miyamoto. Prior to the game’s release, he had never completed a single RPG on his own.…
Mario Graph Paper

Super Mario Bros. Levels Were Originally Sketched Out on Graph Paper

Nintendo’s prerecorded “Digital Event” at E3 2015 was a weird mix of puppetry, announcements for games that were sort of like games we wanted but not really, and the charming smiles of the always brilliant Shigeru Miyamoto. Wait, puppets? Yes, I didn’t intend for the word puppetry to be some weird, confusing metaphor; there were really puppets created by Jim Henson’s Creature Studio as a big part of the show. One of the smaller tidbits of information to drop during the presentation was a bit of insight into the process of creating 8-bit Super Mario Bros. courses (or levels), straight from Miyamoto and his good pal (and long-time designer and producer at the “House of N”) Takashi Tezuka. “Back in the day,” said Tezuka, “we had to create everything by hand.…
Battletoads Banner

Rare Announces Classic Games Collection for Xbox One

At Microsoft’s E3 2015 press conference, Rare announced Rare Replay, a collection of 30 classic Rare games dating all the way back to 1983. Notables include Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, the lovably irreverent Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and — a personal favorite of mine — Battletoads. And, speaking of Battletoads, it looks like this collection will include both the original NES version of the game and the arcade version, which has never seen a release on home consoles. The collection will be out August 4 exclusively for the Xbox One. And it’s got Achievements, if you’re into that. So if you have both an Xbox One and a passion for great retro games, you might want to pick this one up. (For a more cynical take on Rare Replay, check that out at our sister site GeekParty.)…
controllers

N64 and the Miraculous Success of Expensive Toys

Looking back, it’s easy to point to Nintendo’s use of cartridges as the N64’s biggest misstep. Knowing what we do now, the choice makes Nintendo look like a stick-in-the-mud, a company too stubborn and out of touch to realize that the times were a-changin’. But in 1994, things weren’t quite so clear-cut. Back then, CD-Rom technology was still fairly costly, and to many, they looked like an easy way to price yourself out of the market. When Nintendo announced their decision, many praised them for their business acumen, believing that high-priced CD-only systems would never be embraced by gamers. One of those people was Ed Semrad, then-editor of Electronic Gaming Monthly. Semrad’s comments are particularly interesting not just because he praised Nintendo, but what he praised Nintendo for: for understanding that consoles were essentially expensive toys.…
ToeJam and Earl Hot Tub

ToeJam & Earl’s Greg Johnson Gets Hit with the “Love Hose”

In March of 2015, I spent about 40 minutes on Skype with Greg Johnson of ToeJam & Earl fame. He was in the middle of the ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Kickstarter, so I brought up the fact that, with the series back in the limelight, there are all sorts of interesting stories that people are sharing about their experience with the games. I wondered what it was like to experience that fresh batch of love from a creator’s perspective. Greg told me: It’s been very eye-opening for me and for the other members of the team. And Mark [Voorsanger, co-creator of ToeJam & Earl] as well. But I’m the one that’s kind of getting it mostly directed at me.…
ToeJam and Earl Ship Piece

Talking ToeJam & Earl with Greg Johnson – Part 3: Drugs

This is the final part of a three-part interview with ToeJam & Earl creator Greg Johnson. You can read the second part here, or start from the beginning by clicking here. Josh: So, back to ToeJam & Earl… This is going to be a super weird question probably, but this is something I’ve genuinely always been curious about. How much would you say that drugs influenced ToeJam & Earl? Greg: [Laughing] That’s funny. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t do drugs, and I never have. Any type. That’s sometimes shockingly surprising to some people who are absolutely sure that ToeJam & Earl came out of some drug-induced state of mind. Josh: It almost feels like, if you’re looking, you can see some references and things.…
Doki Doki Universe

Talking ToeJam & Earl with Greg Johnson – Part 2: How Race Affected Doki Doki Universe

This is the second part of a three-part conversation with ToeJam & Earl creator Greg Johnson. You can read the first part here. Josh: I’d like to transition real quick to Doki Doki Universe, because I finally did get a chance to play it. I was really blown away by a lot of the things you did with it conceptually, exploring what makes us human and what that might look like to an alien. Because you’ve got this very human character who’s a robot, and he experiences some pretty traumatic stuff (that’s kind of glossed over a little bit for kids), but it has the issue of being abandoned somewhere for 20 years [correction: it was actually 32 years] and just kind of patiently waiting for someone to come pick you up… That really affected me deeply on a lot of levels.…
ToeJam and Earl Say What's Up

Talking ToeJam & Earl with Greg Johnson – Part 1: Developing a Beloved Game Franchise

On March 18, 2015, I had the opportunity to spend about 40 minutes chatting on Skype with Greg Johnson, one of the creators of the ToeJam & Earl franchise. We mostly talked about the original ToeJam & Earl game, but we also brought up the more recent ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (which was funded on Kickstarter in March of 2015), and Doki Doki Universe, which Johnson also created. It was an incredibly interesting conversation, in which we explored racism, drug references, linguistics, and more. Read on for the full interview. Josh: Since you announced this [ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove‘s Kickstarter campaign], there’s been so much enthusiasm. It seems like it’s almost coming out of the woodwork probably.…
BioShock

Is BioShock Art?

A friend once convinced me to read Ayn Rand’s famous novel Atlas Shrugged. Since I have a degree in Literature, I’m not intimidated by gigantic books, so I took his bad advice and read through over 1,000 pages of Objectivist bullcrap. It’s kind of a hard read to swallow, and it often feels like it was overly long just so it would take up more space on a bookshelf and intimidate the other books into submission. I typically don’t recommend actually reading the thing. I’m glad I slogged through it, though, because it made BioShock a far more potent experience for me. See, Atlas Shrugged sets up a world where the rich and prosperous get so tired of dealing with those obnoxious working class parasites that they create their own society in a secret valley somewhere (in Colorado, if I’m remembering the book correctly).…
The Super Mario Bros. Fragrance Collection Made Us Wonder What Bowser Smells Like
The Minds Behind the Games
Retrovolve Reviews Books: The Minds Behind the Games by Patrick Hickey, Jr.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
The 3D Platformer: How 1996 Witnessed the Birth of a Genre
Pokemon Nintendo Power
Nintendo Power Predicted a “Pokémon Trade War” in 1998