Retro Reviews

Thunder Blade

By Shaun Hatton - November 21st, 2008

Thunder Blade

Thunder Blade was one of the bigger “Arcade” titles on the Sega Master System. Essentially a top-down shooter with some pseudo-flight sim levels peppered in, it provided hours of entertainment to my nine-year-old self. Like with Shinobi, my cousin Mike and I would try to best each other at the game remotely. We’d call one another upon reaching milestones.

“I got to level five – the one with the caves,” was something he got to say before me. The game had its problems, even back then. For one the controls were completely different for the two types of stages. In top-down levels the helicopter moved too slowly. In behind-the-copter stages it moved too fast. There was also a dead zone in these stages where you could stay, not fire a shot, and still pass the stage.

This isn’t a game I’ve ever been able to finish, and even trying to today with my wealth of gaming expertise, I find myself unable to do it. Thunder Blade has ultimately defeated me!


By Shaun Hatton - November 20th, 2008


I somehow came into possession of three copies of Rampage for Sega Master System thanks to lot purchases. However, I’ve had Rampage since its release in 1988. At the time all Sega Master System games came in white boxes. Rampage, to my knowledge, is the only one that had a red box design. I’ve also seen it with the traditional white-with-grey grid box design, too. Oddly enough the box I received the game in was a cardboard one.

My dad and I would make a trek to Toys R Us when it came time to get a new game. Oftentimes I’d go with nothing in mind, only knowing that when we were done, I’d have a new game. The evening we came home with Rampage was different than others.

The way Toys R Us was set up back then, the game aisle actually had no games in it. There were only game box arts in plastic sleeves stuck to the displays. Flipping a box art over would reveal other details about the game, mostly just the back of the box art. Below each box art was a purchase ticket. To buy a game, you’d have to take a ticket up to a cash register, pay for the game, and then take the receipt to a game kiosk where an attendant would check it and slide your newly-purchased game through a tiny slot in the glass.

Read the rest »


By Shaun Hatton - November 19th, 2008


Since my last Byte-Size Review was for Shinobi, I figured I’d follow it up with the game that I most often associate with it: Vigilante. It’s another part of my Sega Master System game collection, and it’s one of the last Master System games I received when the system was still in its prime. It, like Shinobi before it, was a gift. If my memory is as good as I hope it is, it was the only game gift I had received for the 1989 holiday season.

What made me want Vigilante was not its bright, sharp graphics. It was the fact that the cover looked so cool. The game only has five stages and five bosses (two of which are exactly the same). But what I really liked about it was that it offered a lot of enemies and that each stage had nunchucku somewhere in it, which turned the character’s quick punch into a slow flick of the ‘chuck.

The premise of the game was that rogues had invaded my turf and kidnapped my girl. Naturally, I’d have to walk slowly after them wearing a white t-shirt and overalls. Some of the punks had chains while most were just fond of running up to me and trying to choke me to death. Pleasant! The bikers in the third stage presented most of the game’s challenge at the time. Sadly, it doesn’t hold up today despite it stirring older emotions of childhood.

Shinobi + An Introduction

By Shaun Hatton - November 18th, 2008


It’s true that with the bounty of great games gracing the offices of Toronto Thumbs we find ourselves with slightly less time to write and play as much as we’d like. So to combat this, we’re introducing Byte-Size Reviews. No, we will not be reviewing new games in this format. This will be reserved for games that have already been out for some time, perhaps even past their shelf lives.

The idea actually stemmed from the fact that I have hundreds of games in my personal collection and would like to, eventually, review every single one of them. So here without further ado is the review for one of them: Shinobi for Sega Master System.

Read the rest »

The Famiclone You Could Own

By Shaun Hatton - April 15th, 2008


Our April Fool’s joke about the 25th Anniversary Nintendo Entertainment System went over well and even generated a flood of email asking if it was the real deal or not. Sadly, it wasn’t. And yes, we’d all love to be able to buy a brand-new NES without resorting to the crazy world of online auctions and dealing with the extortion experts selling sealed vintage gaming gear.

As far as we know, Nintendo has no plans of releasing an official Nintendo Entertainment System for the console’s 25th anniversary. After all, the company has arguably been quite unable to meet the supply demand for Wii. I can’t believe it’s still sold out everywhere. Really, I thought everyone already had one.

But getting back on-topic here, there are a few affordable options for people wanting to play their old NES games but not wanting to deal with refurbishing old NES decks. One of these options is the Yobo system pictured above. The thing is obviously not licensed by Nintendo but it is able to play NES games quite nicely. It comes with two controllers that are equipped with auto-fire buttons. The Yobo also accepts regular NES controllers, including the Zapper.

The Yobo is very cheap and also cheaply-made. The thing weighs less than a game cartridge! Still, it’s not a bad device and if I didn’t already have a stack of Nintendos, I’d use it more often.

Fantasy Zone on Virtual Console

By Shaun Hatton - April 14th, 2008


Shooters do not get much stranger than Fantasy Zone. You pilot a craft that has flapping wings and that can use its feet to run along the ground of stages, all the while blasting brightly-coloured enemies that explode into showers of coins. You then use these coins to purchase upgrades to your… um… ship.

The game also allows you to control the speed of your ship and the direction in which you fly, making it someone unique among other titles in the genre (as if the off-putting neon greens and pinks didn’t already set it apart).

In any case, Fantasy Zone is a Sega Master System classic title, and one that is now available on the Wii Virtual Console for 500 Wii Points. It was a must-purchase for me despite my having the original cartridge somewhere in this maze of boxes that is now my living room. That’s right! I’m moving, which somewhat explains the recent posting lull here.

RETRO REVIEW: Parker Brothers Q*Bert

By Shaun Hatton - February 17th, 2008

This LED-screen Q*Bert game still works as well as it did on Christmas 1983.

I received this tabletop arcade game back in 1983, on Christmas. I had just turned five years old and Q*Bert became my third-ever video game, right behind Pac-Man and Donkey Kong Jr. It was a gift from my grandparents on my mother’s side of the family. I gleefully opened the box and played it right away. The memory, while fuzzy in a few places, is still quite clear about certain parts of the experience.

I sat on the living room sofa with my head buried into the game’s bright green, blue, and red screen. I didn’t care that there was cake to be had. I was too busy changing blocks to different colours while avoiding the snake and dangerous red balls that rolled down the pyramid. I was hooked.

But not as hooked as my parents would soon be. Yes, my parents actually played video games at one point. And they were actually very good at them. Though I’d play Q*Bert as much as I wanted during the day, it was late in the evenings, when I’d be asleep, that my parents would take turns trying to outdo each other to see who could get the highest score.

This tabletop arcade game of Q*Bert was that entertaining. You have to remember this was also at a time when we didn’t have a home console (my mom later became the master at Safari Hunt for Sega Master System). And together with Pac-Man and Donkey Kong Jr., I was in gaming heaven.

Read the rest »