Presenting The Ultimate Emulation System – The RetroPie!

Salutations! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, we’ll be talking about a wild addition to my gaming repertoire; the RetroPie! I’ll also mention the controllers that I’ve equipped onto this versatile, little system. So, without further ado, let’s begin.


What is a RetroPie?

RetroPie is an OS that can be loaded onto a Raspberry Pi – basically an inexpensive microcomputer – and transforms it into a retro gaming emulation machine! RetroPie can be loaded as its own OS or it can be overlaid on top of an existing full OS. In my case, I loaded it up on a Raspberry Pi.

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To put one of these bad boys together, you’ll need the following:

  • A working computer to download the software, games, and the like.
  • A Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B or higher is recommended)
  • A power source for the Pi (must be rated at 2.5 amps)
  • a Micro SD card (16 GB minimum, but I use a 32 GB card)
  • A USB-capable controller or keyboard
  • A 16 GB minimum USB stick (I recommend getting a fresh stick, but reformatting an old one works too)
  • A Micro SD to USB adapter
  • An HDMI Cable
  • A HDMI compatible screen
  • A case (completely optional, but good to have nevertheless)

Installing RetroPie on the Pi computer is not too difficult to do – just follow the steps listed here.

Pro tip: once the software is written onto the MicroSD card, your computer may tell you that it can’t read the device and will recommend to format it. DO NOT FORMAT IT! Just remove it once the writing process is complete and insert the SD card into the Pi. This happened to me a couple of times until I figured that out.


What Games Does RetroPie Play?

In a nutshell, practically all generations of consoles and games up to and including the original PlayStation. There are emulators that can play beyond that system, but the Pi isn’t powerful enough for them to work properly.

In general, a majority of games are compatible with the emulators on the system. In other words, I’ve yet to find a game that doesn’t play perfectly on here.

There are also some homebrew games and ports available to play, such as Duke Nukem and Doom. These can be found through the Manage Packages option on the main RetroPie menu.

Getting the games into the Pi is as simple as inserting a fresh/formatted USB stick into the Pi and taking it out after it creates all the directories on the stick, which usually takes a few minutes. Next you insert the stick into a computer, copy your games into the respective console folders and put the stick back into the Pi. If all goes well, you should see a list of systems appear on the main menu of the RetroPie interface, which will contain the games.

Options and RetroArch

Once you launch a game, you can access a list of options that allow you to modify the screen resolution to fit your screen or change the default emulator for the game, among others. This is done by pressing any button before the emulator starts.

RetroArch is a front end that’s accessed while the emulator is running and provides options to save and load states, modify control configurations and adjust settings. The default command to access this menu (assuming you’re using an SNES controller) is Select + X.


What about Controllers?

Thanks to the Pi’s Bluetooth capabilities, you can easily use wireless controllers to play your favourite classic games! While you can connect PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox controllers to the system, I find that the perfect controllers to use are the ones by 8bitdo.

I have the SNES30 (or the SN30) Bluetooth controller and it’s a BLAST to use! The controller feels exactly like the Super Nintendo controller, down to its weight, the feel of the buttons and grip.

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The setup is a bit of a chore, but once it’s all done, you just turn on the system and the controller and you’re good to go!

If wired is what you’re looking for, you can use a USB wired controller or, if you have some classic controllers lying around, a USB to (insert console here) converter also works great!


Where Can I Get All This Stuff!?

Luckily, you can get a complete Raspberry Pi kit on Amazon for a relatively modest price. Either check Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

As for the case, there are plenty to choose from! There are even some cases that look like classic consoles of yore! The one I used is this one – the transparent, seven-layer construction is stylish, it comes with plenty of heat sinks and it has a fan that you can connect to the Pi’s GPIO board to keep the unit cool. It’s very useful!

Amazon also has a plethora of controller options available. You can also find wireless controllers, including the popular 8bitdo controllers, at any electronic big-box store or gaming stores, like Best Buy (CA) or GameStop/EB Games for example.

As for games, well emulation is still a very gray area in legal terms. I won’t tell you where you where explicitly you can find any, but Google is your best friend in that regard.


So, there you have it. All the tools you need to build your very own retro arcade system! Whether you’re looking to play the finest offerings of retro gaming for the first time or the millionth time, the RetroPie is probably the best option available, in my opinion.

With another edition concluded, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, off to play some Mega Man X on my own RetroPie setup and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Espresso Shot Review: Golden Axe

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” It’s Espresso Shot Review time! Today, I’m looking at Golden Axe for the Sega Genesis – a game I’ve never even played before, surprisingly enough. I was introduced to it from a guest review on The Well-Red Mage’s blog and I decided to look into it myself. How did it fare in my eyes? Read on and find out!


Introduction

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Golden Axe is a side-scrolling, beat-em-up/ hack-and-slash action game. First introduced in 1989 in arcades, it was ported to the Sega Genesis (or Megadrive) and Master System of that same year. It’s been a part of several compilation titles, such as the SEGA Smash Pack and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and is presently part of the SEGA Forever collection of free, mobile titles available on iOS and Android.

Story

Taking place in the Conan the Barbarian-inspired land of Yuria, Golden Axe tells the story of three warriors who are tasked to save the King of the realm, his daughter and the titular Golden Axe from the Death Adder – A powerful warlord who threatens to kill the royal family and break the axe unless the people in the kingdom acknowledge him as their ruler. Each warrior however has their own motivations for defeating the Death Adder beyond saving the king and his daughter; Ax-Battler, the barbarian who wields a sword and Earth magic, seeks vengeance for his mother’s death. Gilius Thunderhead, an axe-wielding dwarf from the mines who uses Thunder magic wants the Adder’s head after his twin brother was killed by his henchmen. Finally, Tyris Flare, an Amazon warrior who specializes in longswords and Fire magic, will stop at nothing to pay back the Death Adder for the death of her parents.

It’s a pretty simple story that’s common for this era of gaming, but its nice to see that the characters also have their own reasons for fighting; it makes them look less one-dimensional and allows the player to empathize to their situation.

One complaint I have is that the in-game story doesn’t exactly match what’s listed in the instruction manual. In game, each character mentions that their friend, Alex, died in battle and that they will avenge him while saving the land. I would much rather have the game narrative to stick to the “avenging the death of loved ones,” plot instead of avenging some random dude named Alex.

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Who is this “Alex” you speak of, Battler? Aren’t you supposed to be avenging your mother?

Gameplay

Controls are simple in Golden Axe. The directional buttons move the character, the A button activates magic, the B button makes the character attack and the C button is the jump button. In addition, there are several moves that can be useful as you traverse the game. You can hit an enemy multiple times by mashing the B button, but it leaves you open from behind. If you’re in close while rapidly tapping B, you’ll pick up and throw the enemy, good for giving you some space when you’re surrounded. Double tapping left or right makes the character break into a run; hitting B while running initiates a dash attack, useful for getting the drop on an enemy. You can also use aerial attacks by jumping and hitting B while in midair. Doing a jump attack while running yields a more powerful attack that can one-shot or severely damage enemies, but it’s a bit tricky to pull off. Finally, you can use a powerful reversal attack by hitting B and C together, but it’s  hard to connect and leaves you open if you don’t.

In terms of gameplay, Ax-Battler is the most balanced in terms of strength, movement and magic, Gilius has great strength and speed but lacks in magic and Tyris’ strength lies in her magic, but lacks in physical strength and reach compared to the other two.

Each character’s magic meter has a different maximum level. Gilius maxes out at three, Ax-Battler maxes at four and Tyris maxes at six. Each level corresponds to the strength of the magic used, so, while it’s easy to max out Gilius’ magic, his strongest spell is much weaker compared to Tyris’ strongest spell. an awesome fire-breathing dragon used when her magic meter is at level six. To use magic, you’ll need to collect blue pots, which are only dropped by bag-carrying Thieves. You’ll have to smack them a few times to get the pots. You’ll sometimes run into these guys as you progress through each level, but at the end of each level you’ll enter a bonus round where you battle with at least one Blue Thief and sometimes a Green Thief who drops meat, which restores one bar of your character’s health.

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Hey! Give those back!

There are seven types of enemies, including boss characters, to be wary of, from henchmen who use maces and clubs to axe-wielding Amazonian women, skeletons who use swords and shields, giants wielding hammers and powerful, armoured knights. You can easily tell the difference in how strong they are based on their colour pallet.

They might not seem like much at first glance, but it’s advised to avoid being surrounded, because even the weakest of enemies can overpower you when they’re coming in from both sides, which happened to me quite often and resulted in me losing a lot of life. I would have liked the reversal attack to be easier to connect so I could get out of those jams without being overwhelmed. I also found that the enemies were a bit bland at times and I would have liked to see some more variety. I compare this to the TMNT 2: the Arcade Game port for the NES, where there were a TON of different flavours of enemies to fight against. I do like how the giants wielding hammers laugh at you when you’re knocked down.

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Quit laughing at me, you bastard…

Boss fights either pit you against a gauntlet of enemies, or you fight against the Death Adder himself at the very end. What’s interesting is that for the home console version of the game, they added two extra levels and a new final boss – the Death Bringer, mentor to the Death Adder.

Another feature that made the game interesting is the use of creatures as steeds. Enemies usually ride these, but they can be easily knocked off with a well-placed kick. There are two types of rideable creatures – a Chicken Legs who attacks by swiping its tail or a Dragon who can either spit fireballs or breathe a jet of fire that incinerates your foes. The creatures are really fun to use, but if you are dismounted more than three times, it runs away. A minor annoyance, but it’s fair; the creatures would have made it all to easy to beat the game.

Speaking of which, the difficulty is not too bad compared to other beat-em-ups, which is a good thing because it allows for anyone to pick up and play it without becoming too frustrated. It’s also pretty short, at about eight levels, meaning it won’t take more than a few hours to fully complete it.

Visuals

While the graphics are dated, for a game that’s almost 30 years old, they aren’t that bad looking. The playable character sprites have a fair amount of detail in them and their animations are pretty fluid.

I do like the environments, they really elicit a medieval-fantasy like feel.  I also like how there’s a day to night transition right before a boss fight, it makes the game feel more alive and the stakes more dire.

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Sunset Showdown!

In stage 4, your battles take place on the back of a giant eagle, which I though was pretty cool! Though, I had to wonder, “How does a pathway exist on an eagle?” Also, “Why are there skeletons burrowed in this poor eagle’s back?”  It somewhat didn’t make sense, but hey, who am I to complain?

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That must take some serious pruning to maintain…

I didn’t like how some of the enemies looked; again, they looked a bit bland, but from the animation standpoint, at least they didn’t move as blocky as they looked.

Sound

I found the music and sound effects to be a bit on the tinny side, but still enjoyable nonetheless. Stage 1’s music really set the tone for the game – it gave off an “I’m storming your stronghold and taking you down, if it’s the last thing I do!” kind of feel, which was pretty rad.

The death screams were somewhat hilarious, but they started to grate on me a little bit, especially after hearing my character die again and again (Beat-em ups aren’t my specialty). It didn’t stop me from enjoying the game though!

Replayability

With three characters to play as and each differing in magic, reach and speed, there are some opportunities to replay the game. The story doesn’t change for each character however – it’s still the same.

On top of the arcade mode, which you can play with two people, there is a Beginner mode, consisting of the first three stages with easier enemies, perfect for those who are either new to the series or need a refresher on how to play. Also, there is The Duel mode, where each round pits you against different types of enemies and the goal is to survive for twelve rounds. Each duel is also timed – if you don’t win in the allotted time, you lose one bar of energy.

It’s quite challenging, considering the fact that you can’t use magic at all in this mode; you’ll have to focus on weapon skills if you are to succeed. If you’re playing with two players in The Duel mode, you fight against each other instead.

Conclusion

Golden Axe’s cast of characters, use of powerful magic and rideable creatures help make the game stand out over many others in the genre. But the low variety in opponents and their blandness, coupled with the fact that it’s easy to become surrounded and a lack of a proper reversal technique hurt it in the long run. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun game to pick up and play, especially for two people!

3.5 out of 5

3.5 out of 5

Super Mario Bros. 3 and the NES – On That Day 25 Years Ago…

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the inaugural edition of “Games with Coffee.” Ready to get this journey started? Then grab a chair, top up your mug and get ready to travel down Memory Lane, because I got a bunch of questions to ask you:

Do you remember the very first video game you’ve ever played or the first console you’ve ever owned? Do you remember how it made you feel when you turned it on to play it? Were you excited whenever you heard the familiar introduction tunes or jingles? Was your first game challenging or easy? Were you determined to finish it at all costs?

You’re probably wondering, “Where are you going with all this?” Well, I’ve asked those questions for a specific reason: Today I want to talk about the very first video game I’ve ever played on the very first console I’ve ever owned. This game had a pretty big impact on my life and set me on a path that would help shape me to be the person I am today. The vibrant colours, sounds and environments expanded and cultivated my imagination. It’s also helped me to understand how being inspired by something unlikely can achieve great things. Even the circumstances to me owning my first console also taught me a valuable lesson, a lesson I only figured out later in life when I looked back at this moment: How to persevere in the face of adversity.

The game and console in question: Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System.


1992 was an awesome year. Not just because the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series (which was extremely important to five year old me at the time), but also because my dad gave me the best Christmas gift a little kid could ever get – a brand-new Nintendo Entertainment System pre-packaged with Super Mario Bros. 3. It almost didn’t happen though because of what happened at the end of 1991, when the recession affected our family.

My dad lost his job and our landlord had no choice but to evict us and sell the house we were renting to own at the time to make ends meet. My dad’s older sister took our family in, while he himself took a night shift job with his older brother in the family business – medical-grade plastic injection moulding.

For almost two years, we shared the same roof as my paternal aunt and uncle, their two grown children and a basement tenant. Initially, my mother was humiliated at the fact that we went from a good job and a house to nearly homeless and unemployed, while my dad was ashamed at putting our family in that position, even though it wasn’t his fault to begin with. It was a difficult period for the two of them.

Shane And I

My brother (left) and I (right), not knowing or realizing what the hell was going on at the time.

I’ve always considered Christmas of 1992 as the catalyst for when things started to change for the better for our family. Even though Dad worked double shifts, he was determined to be an expert in the injection moulding business, doing whatever he could to understand how the machines worked and how to fix them when they broke down. Mom trained to be a receptionist at a private college while learning how to use word processing software a computer (which was up-and-coming technology at the time). All that work eventually paid off when we finally moved into a brand new house in January of 1994, paid for by my parent’s hard work. When I was told this story as an adult, I was floored. I never realized how much they did to get our first house.

Since that day, whenever I put on Super Mario Bros. 3, whether it was emulated or remade, I always think back to the struggle my parents faced almost 25 years ago, and how they fought back to make our lives better.


As for me, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when I first started playing video games. Like all new players, I was pretty bad. I didn’t even know what the ‘B’ button was used for; I just kept pressing ‘A’ all the time to jump. It took the combination of me actually reading the manual and an older kid physically showing me how to run in the game for me to get it, but even then I still struggled.

I’d get to World 8, only to get trounced either by the tough levels or by running out of items and lives before I could even hit the final castle. I developed a love-hate relationship with it and I actually gave up a couple times, thinking I would never finish it.

Until one day I did.

It was 1995. My brother and I stayed by our favourite aunt’s loft in the city and we rented the live-action ‘Super Mario Bros.’ movie from the local Blockbuster (remember those?). I remember back then thinking that it was the greatest movie ever, when in actuality, it was so cringe-worthy bad.

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Not the brightest moment for Nintendo, or John Leguizamo (Image by Internet Movie Poster Awards)

Anyways, I was so inspired that when I got home, I did two things – I wrote a crappy fan fiction based on the movie for my third grade creative writing class (only the second time I’ve done that, and it certainly wasn’t the last) and I was going to finish Super Mario Bros. 3, come hell or high water. I even planned it all out:

Step 1: Get some Whistles.

Step 2: Get all of the items between Worlds 1 and 3 (Especially the Juglem’s Cloud at the end of World 2).

Step 3: Play all the Whistles to get to World 8

Step 4: ???

Step 5: Profit!

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Tonight I dine on – Whoops, wrong series…

I wasn’t joking about Step 4 either; I knew firsthand how challenging World 8 was, but for some reason I breezed through the levels on that day. Levels 8-1 and 8-2 and the Mini-Fortress had stumped me for years, but this time I either cleared them easily or skipped them thanks to the level-skip cloud. Everything was going right for a change. I played smart; I was patient, used my item stash wisely and didn’t rush. And then I arrived at Bowser’s castle for the first time.

It took me almost all my lives and going down to the absolute last of my item stash before I could finish it and I remember setting my controller down in astonishment at what I accomplished. It wasn’t significant by any means – I didn’t cure cancer or developed the technology of the future, but that moment, to me, meant everything. And it was from that really terrible movie that I learned that even the most unlikely of inspirations can lead someone to achieve great things, whether it’s beating a game that’s stumped you for a time or starting a passion project that you’ve been putting off for years.

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A Winner Was Me!!!

 


So, that’s my story for today. Now it’s your turn: Hit up the comments below and let me know what your first memories of video gaming were, how they inspired you and what you learned looking back at those days. Also, stay tuned for next Saturday morning’s post where I talk about a smart phone game I’ve recently been obsessed with: Clash Royale.

Until next time, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to keep gaming and keep brewing.