Holding Out for a Hero: Retro Access and Me

Last Updated on July 4, 2023

Choice, the problem that gets everywhere. Too little of anything is a problem of its own, and too much is just that. In retro gaming I have them both; too little in that I am still at the early doors of catching up to everyone else and their myriad access points, and too much in that I do not know quite properly where to start and what to bite down on.

Do I want a mini machine or some emulation codex? Perhaps one of the well-received hand-helds with a billion 16-bit games inside, or an original Gunblade NY arcade cabinet with those big, puffy recoiling guns? What about a Steam Deck? Everyone appears to love them, but my house already has a Switch.

Choices, choices, but I am looking for the definitive. The ginger nut of retro packages. I need a hero, basically; I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night. He’s got to be strong, and he’s got to be fast, and he’s got to not be very complicated, and require things like tinkering with the options or squinting so that it looks like it’s running off a CRT. I need a hero.

What I have got is a Nintendo Switch. Is it larger than life?

Super Mario Farm

I have a history with Nintendo. Even if they are the greatest, I still don’t think they are great. They are like playing pool on a U.K.-sized table and I always want for a Sega-sized, U.S. scale table. A bit less precision for a lot more momentum. But a Switch controller was what was in my hand along with a list of freebie games that come with signing up to their online catalogue. So not free, but we’ll say no more about it.

What I will say is that the presentation of Nintendo’s online marketplace is something of a joy. A far cry from the dead-eyed greys of most online screens with its simple design and big-box colours. Even I could navigate this, once I got my head around the symbol/lettering layout of the controller. I did, and there before me was a selection of Super Nintendo ‘classics’. I went for Super Mario World, because obviously, and in but a moment I was transported back to a time when platforming meant left or right only. But apparently also very brown? Was Super Mario World always set across a farm? I don’t remember that, and nor do I remember the background colours of this game being so washed out in slurry.

Is the problem at my end or Nintendo’s? Nothing changes with that I guess, except that the controller is no longer a Super Nintendo pad. That would be okay but it seems that Nintendo forgot to finish designing the D-pad for the Switch. At least half of it is missing and what’s left are just four small buttons. Didn’t these guys invent the digital pad? Well, you can forget all about that and get your mind around keeping the run button welded down while your other thumb vortexes around the new pad, searching for something familiar that it will not find.

This leads to death in-game and disappointment in life. Not a complete disappointment, but a sense that without a better controller you are going to be playing a less-than-what-you-remembered version. I guess that is fine for those to whom this is their first go-round with Super Nintendo games, but if I took that free (ish) copy of Super Mario Karts around to one of my brothers and asked him to play it on that controller… well he’s going to throw the whole thing into the koi pond, and then throw up his arms and look at me with an expression of, What were they thinking would happen?

So, onwards and into my techno-fears.

What’s Your MAME?

Like any common arcade fan, I cannot help but be drawn to MAME. Multi Arcade Machine Emulation. Even the name is cool. But how it works, why it works, and even should it work? These are questions which are beyond me, I simply don’t understand digital technology. But I do understand my eyes when they are seeing a replica of Scud Race running on a PC or whatever else. It doesn’t come through Sega, and there’s the rub, but they probably couldn’t emulate it better themselves.

I don’t know where I sit with it all. Someone’s property is just that, but the love of the legacy, and the holding aloft of now near countless arcade classics that MAME gives access too is at the very least the softest theft that I ever saw. But I don’t know how to get such a thing running and there are some reasonable other arcade choices available to me. And one sounds perfect.

It is called Pandora. Now that should be enough to send anyone running in the opposite direction. But hang on a minute, I have seen one being unboxed on YouTube and we’re all still here. You might have one of them yourself, and maybe it is that 90s 2-D arcade fantasy machine that you were hoping for. A slab with two arcade sticks and six buttons each grafted on.

And inside is loads.

King of Fighters ’94? you ask

Yep.

King of Fighters ’95?

Of course.

King of Fighters ’96?

Yeah, that’s there.

King of Fighters… ‘97?

Yep.

King of-

Let me help you out. The answer is yes. Yes, sir, you have arrived in SNK heaven.

So why haven’t I bought one? It’s not because of the price. The Pandora 11 which I have looked at is at the pleasant end, fiscally; but that is a problem, actually. Arcade sticks need to be tough, and they need to go on staying that way. I think Sega used to make theirs from Rolled Steel Joists. So they should. I just don’t see less than a couple of hundred quid lasting for more than a couple of hundred minutes, and by then I am going to be back at Yellow belt level on King of Fighters’98 (yes it has that). So then, when the stick snaps it is just going to be another machine in that koi pond. It’s going to fill up at this rate.

There has to be a reasonably functional, reliable way for someone as technologically remedial as myself to enter the retro-sphere.

I think there is, and it might just be the most boring way.

Mini Vanilli

Mini consoles appear to be caught between a desirable and dependable object, and otherwise repellent to the more hardcore end of the fandom. I can see the point to the latter, but I was always a console player, then and now. Game in, button down, recline; so of course I am talking about the Mega Drive Mini II. It is the solid, boring option closest to my heart. Like a diesel Passat estate, it is the obvious choice for my life.

But it is not the hero option, and I am holding out for a hero. I am holding out for the inevitable Saturn Mini. Fresh from the fight (that it lost against Sony).

Otherwise you are welcome to get in touch over at the Gaming Retro UK discord and make a case at convincing me to prise open the rusted bolts of my wallet for something else. You are most welcome to try.

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About the author

John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90's Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.

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