I am totally fine relying on PC emulators to play old games but my friend Rich made a strong argument for original hardware this year. Rather than stockpiling physical copies of every game ever made he’s invested in the homebrew carts that play ROMs on their respective consoles. So one SNES cart gets you nearly every game running on the actual hardware. It really impressed me with the vintage consoles like the Odyssey 2 and especially the Fairchild Channel F with its amazing controller. The best of the bunch were Dodge-It, Video Whizball and Hockey, each offering wild spins on Pong thanks to the Fairchild’s crazy controls.
Back to emulation though, I’ve had a half-finished GameEX setup on my laptop for years but it wasn’t until Jeff got me into the RetroPie that I came to appreciate the all-in-one solution. Sure, I got distracted for a while — making a custom theme and continuing to hunt for quality box art — but I still spent a bunch of time with a bunch of games. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs kicked off my Brawl ‘em All series. I livestreamed Castlevania: Bloodlines while devouring gross jelly beans and followed it up with a proper playthrough of Cyborg Justice. I finally played more than the first stage of Ninja Cop and I only cheated a little bit in Boulder Dash while recording a fresh version of its soundtrack.
It’s also been great with the nephews at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The modern Ninja Turtles are a little different but I was surprised how much middle ground we could share playing the original TMNT arcade game and Turtles in Time. X-Men Arcade was another favorite and I finally got to finish Spider-Man The Videogame after 25 years!
If I had to guess which retro game I’d get most hooked on though, it definitely wouldn’t have been California Games for the Atari Lynx no less. In my defense, it’s a total nostalgia hit as I had a Lynx growing up and on the RetroPie it was under ‘A’ so it was one of the first things that came up when I was repeatedly testing. Really it’s the BMX mode that I love. It’s primitive but more than any other version of the game it feels almost like Trials. Seeing your rider wipe out and skid alongside the bike, sometimes down huge hillsides, is painful and hilarious and just as satisfying as landing a quadruple backflip.
The RetroPie also led me to discover Retro Achievements which is exactly what it sounds like. People have hacked Xbox style Achievements into ROMs complete with varying point totals, pithy descriptions and little icons. The functionality is still a little wonky (sometimes you load up a game and instantly unlock everything) but it has the added bonus of keeping a play log of every game I touched. When you have instant access to 12,000 different games over a span of 30 years it’s great to have someone keeping track of what you’ve already seen! Finally, for Christmas I got both of the Atari Flashback collections on PlayStation 4. Just as with Sonic’s Genesis Collection the Trophies have given me reason to play some of my favorite old games in ways I’d never attempted before.
The greatest real-world retro find for me in 2016 was Hogs of War. The game was originally a budget title from Infogrames that I got for free to review. But once I sold it off back in the early 2000s the price skyrocketed and I’d been on the hunt for a reasonable copy for the last several years. I finally spotted it at a flea market in February and even got a little break on the price.
I really didn’t set off down the Retro path on purpose but as modern gaming waned for me in 2016 it looked like a much more interesting and entertaining route. I discovered and learned so much more about gaming’s history in 2016 and I don’t see myself getting any less absorbed by it in the new year.