Thunderforce 4 Soundtrack on Vinyl Arrives

I’m a huge fan of DataDiscs and their video game soundtrack releases. I have bought many of their vinyl OSTs including Okami, Golden Axe, Panzer Dragoon and all three Streets of Rages. When they announced that they would be releasing the Thunder Force 4 soundtrack I was beyond excited. The game is one of my all time favourites and the soundtrack is amazing, one of the best on the Megadrive in my opinion. I pre-ordered it when the link went up a couple of weeks ago and it arrived today. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet but will write a review once I have. In the meantime, here are some pictures I’ve taken of this impressive looking 3 disc vinyl collection.

Vintage Arcade Finds In The Wild

Arcades have changed a lot over time and even though they are not as prevalent as they once were, there are many arcades that still exist and many have cool old games. Here I'm sharing a few machines that I’ve found on my journeys. It's interesting where some of these machines end up!

This Sega Weighing Machine is a Teignmouth Pier, I tried it but it didn't work… either that or my big behind broke the machine!

I love the woodgrain on this Super Nudge Gambler machine.

I found this beauty at the Teignmouth Pier… it doesn’t work though!

I went to a campsite in Devon and found this in the rec room... four classic games in one wonderful machine.

A staple of cinema complexes in the early to mid-90’s

I wonder how many hands have been on this piece of sweet kit.

I’m off the charts baby…. at least that’s what my wife tells me ;)

Streets of Rage 3- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

The early to mid 90's were a great time for gaming but it was still seen as a childish past time by many. When the Playstation released it tapped into to the burgeoning dance market where House and Trance tracks were popular and consistently hitting the charts. It seemed like a perfect mix; edgy games and oh-so-zeitgeisty music. However before Sony's miracle machine we 16-bit gamers did have a saviour of coolness and that was the inimitable Yuzo Koshiro. The composer behind the first two Streets of Rage games was a pioneer when bringing the sounds of the clubs into games. The Streets of Rage soundtracks are amongst the most highly regarded of the 16-bit era and rightly so. Whilst The Orb, The Prodigy and Orbital were getting into the charts, Koshiro was applying the music styling of the genre into his soundtracks.

Streets of Rage 2 was a high watermark on the Megadrive/ Genesis for both gameplay and music, so it was with bated breath that people waited to see what Sega would produce with the highly anticipated Streets of Rage 3 which would be released on a 24 meg cartridge!

The Streets of Rage Vinyl Soundtracks are things of beauty!

Upon release the Streets of Rage 3 game was made harder for the Western market, frustrating many with its butchered state and missing elements. The soundtrack was the same but tonally very different from what had come before and as a result quite divisive. The soundtrack was once more created by Koshiro but this time he was joined by Motohiro Kawashima, who had also worked on Streets of Rage 2 alongside Koshiro. The soundtrack was influenced more by the hardcore and minimal techno scene and so wasn't instantly as catchy as the original two soundtracks. The techno scene hadn't reached mainstream in the Western markets and so the grindy, repetitive discordant sounds didn't appeal to many.

At the time it was politely forgotten by the masses but as time has passed many have cited it as formative and an important video game soundtrack. So is the Streets of Rage 3 soundtrack worth your money and time? 

Well, first of all, being a DataDisc product the vinyl is impeccably produced and the sound quality is second to none. The double disc set contains the remastered version of the soundtrack that you remember from years ago. It has a lot to follow in the undeniably stunning SOR 2 soundtrack but in terms of production it succeeds. The soundtrack itself however is more difficult to judge. I have been a fan of old skool trance and dance since the early 90's but the discordant sounds and constant thumping, often without a discernible pattern, makes it a difficult soundtrack to listen to in its entirety. There are some standout tracks like Disco, Boss, Shinobi Reversed and stunning The Poets I but these are few and far between. The rest of the soundtrack is fine but nothing that you would want to go back to and revisit in your down time.

So is the soundtrack worth buying? For a completist a definite yes but for someone looking for a soundtrack to listen to and love? No. I'd go for Streets of Rage 2 or 1 as these are more instantly likeable and listenable. However, this being a Koshiro joint, you can't go too far wrong... even when he experiments and goes a little too left-field.

Sonic Mania- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

Sonic Mania has recently released and has garnered rave reviews, with many complementing its throwback style and a return to the classic game play which made the series so popular during the 16-bit generation.
Classic Sonic the Hedgehog games always had great music and Sonic Mania, which has a mix of new and remixed songs, carries this tradition forward proudly.
Data Discs announced the Sonic Mania LP a few months ago and whilst I was conscious of the many missteps in the series along the way I took the plunge and pre-ordered the record as the music has, on the whole, been pretty solid.

Classic Sonic takes front-centre on the cover of this soundtrack

So what of this new album? Well the record features 16 new tracks selected by composer Tee Lopes, which provides an overall flavour of the diverse music in the game.
The cover is suitably 90s with classic Sonic front and centre and random colourful shapes thrown around, reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Saved by the Bell introduction credits. The record comes as a single 180 g LP which is available in 3 colours; blue, black or red, orange, white and blue splatter. I ordered the splattered vinyl and was pleased with how it looked, it does look very smart indeed.

On the vinyl the tracks are:

  1. Discovery (Title Screen Theme)
  2. Lights, Camera, Action! (Studiopolis Act 1)
  3. Wildstyle Pistolero (Mirage Saloon Act 1 K Mix)
  4. Tabloid Jargon (Press Garden Act 1)
  5. Danger on the Dance Floor (Mini Boss Theme)
  6. Built to Rule (Titanic Monarch Act 1)
  7. Dimension Heist (Special Stage)
  8. Ruby Delusions (Eggman Boss Theme 1)
  9. Comfort Zone (Main Menu)
  10. Prime Time (Studiopolis Act 2)
  11. Blossom Haze (Press Garden Act 2)
  12. Rogues Gallery (Mirage Saloon Act 2)
  13. Hi-Spec Robo Go! (Hard Boiled Heavies Theme)
  14. Skyway Octane (Mirage Saloon Act 1 St Mix)
  15. Steel Cortex (Titanic Monarch Act 2)
  16. Ruby Illusions (Final Boss Theme)

The tracks are very good with a tinge of nostalgia but also are uniquely modern. They just fit right in the world of classic Sonic with upbeat chiptune music but with added trumpets, drums, epic electric guitar solos and super fast boogie woogie piano. For fan of the original series this record is a must have as it feels like a natural progression musically to what had gone before in Sonic and Knuckles. Current standout tracks for me include Studiopolis Act 1: Lights, Camera, Action! and Mirage Saloon Act 2: Rogues Gallery, which sounds like a modern rendition of Morricone's Spaghetti Westerns mixed with an upbeat chiptune. Other tracks may come to the fore but these two are the ones that appeal to me out of the 16 at the moment.

The soundtrack is a triumph and I would recommend it highly to anyone with even a passing interest in the original 4 games from the days of the Megadrive.

Digital vs Physical Media

Over recent years there has been a push towards digital media. There are many positives to this including the fact that it saves space and resources. As a father of 1 with a small house space is a premium, I can have tonnes of digital media and it won't take up any more physical space. Also a lot of the time digital media is accessible from different location via online services like Netflix or the cloud, this makes it really convenient to access resources from many different locations and there is no risk that the digital media can be lost or stolen. Digital media can be cheaper to acquire the physical copies, especially when it comes to rare or retro games. For example Mother on the SNES used to trade on eBay for over £100 but now is available from the Nintendo online store for only £6.49.

Earthbound costs a fortune for a mint boxed copy but now it is available for under 7 quid on the Nindendo store.

There are many pros for buying digital but I have my concerns.
Physical media has a resale value. With some games costing £60 on release I like the fact that if I like it I can keep it in my collection but if don't or I don't think it is worth having permanently I can sell it on. I can afford now to keep all my physical games but as a child I depended on trading to purchase the next game, otherwise there was no way I could have afforded it on my £2 a week pocket money.

However my concern with digital media is mostly to do with the legacy.
PT, the free Silent Hills demo from Sony, is no longer downloadable on the PS Store.  Many Sega games have been taken down from iOS, only downloadable to those who bought them initially and can download again but not for new customers.
If Metropolis, Fritz Lang's masterpiece were a digital only release made now it would have been lost to the digital ether, same for F. W. Marnau's Nosferatu. Games such as Silicon Knights Too Human, which was successfully destroyed due to copyright infringement would no longer be available in the digital marketplace.
Many modern games use online servers to play multiplayer, but after some time the servers are turned off meaning the multiplayer is no longer accessible.

But its not all doom and gloom. The internet creates tribes and ardent fans, there will always be someone or a small group who preserve something of interest and disseminate its. As a Mysterious Cities of Gold fan it was thanks to joining the Goldlist mailing list that I was kept up to date on developments on the new series. YouTube uploaders also preserve classics like Quatermass and emulators upload roms of classic and obscure games onto websites.

Fans often keep obscure or niche products and media alive.

So the whole issue is pretty complex but for me physical media is the way for most ways to consume most media but there are occasions for digital media.

Video Game Papercuts

I love video games and I also like taking photographs, so the idea of merging the two appealed to me. Over the past several months I have been taking characters from various video games and placing them in the real world and these are the results so far. It's a small portfolio but hopefully I'll add to it over time.

Video Gaming Bucket List

One of the perks of being old, and there are only a few that balance out the failing health, mortgage payments, the 'man' getting you down etc, is to be able to look back and recall fondly on what has gone before. No I don't mean in the 'Only 80's Kids Will Remember This' type of thing but rather really recall things.
I have had the privilege of living through the most exciting time in computing history. I was there when the British microcomputers emerged, thrived, then gave way to the Nintendo and Sega 8 and 16-bit console wars. I was there when the future seemed to be in FMV gaming (Hi Night Trap, I'm looking at you) and I was there when disc based gaming blew open the possibilities of what games could look and sound like.

Night Trap looked to be bring a new maturity to gaming- it didn't do very well.

When choosing an aesthetic for TheDeadPixels, which I started 4 years ago, I selected a predominately 8 and 16 bit look as these was the most formative years of my gaming when I was aged between 8 to 15.

People often ask me if I still play retro games and my honest answer is yes, not as often as Id like to as being a father and running a house takes up a lot of my time, but whenever I'm between modern games I often go back to revisit old classics, often to fill myself with the glow of nostalgia or to beat games I didn't have a chance to in my youth, either due to not being good enough or simply by not owning it.

Recently I've been working through my gaming bucket list, a list of video game achievements I'd like to fulfill before I die. This list is due in part due to my tendency to be a completist or to feel like I really have enjoyed all the best that the medium has to offer.

I went to PLAY Expo Margate and fulfilled a couple of my dreams by playing Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar and Musha on the Megadrive 3. This got me thinking as to what else I'd like to achieve in my time on this mortal plain and this list is what followed:

  • Complete Rainbow Islands on the Amstrad CPC 464- I got near the end when I was 11 in 1992 but never finished it.

This game is very hard to complete, even though it looks all cutesy and sweet it has a rock hard heart!

  • Finish a Dragon Quest game as they are a big deal in Japan.
  • Play Final Fantasy 5 and complete IX. I have completed FFIV, VI, VII and VIII and own IX but haven't completed it. I haven't ever seen a FF V cart in the wild and I'll be darned if I play the iOS version!
  • Play any Football Manager. I feel that as a Brit I'm letting the side down by not getting on this most British of institutions.
  • Complete Majora's Mask. I completed Ocarina of Time and it is my favourite game of all time but I only played Majora's Mask briefly (I own the cart), moving onto the PS 1 at the time.
  • Complete Monkey Island 1 and 2 as they are a big deal. On iOS I recently completed other classic point and click adventure games such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword 1, 2 and 5 but having bought the first two Monkey Islands on iOS I haven't got around to finishing them.
  • Complete Persona 3 and 4. I own both and have poured about 30 hours into them but this is Persona and over 100 hours are needed for each game. Who has time for that?
  • Play Skyrim. I bought it years ago and just never got around to it. I find I'd rather play games with a finite amount and feel like I'm making progress.
  • Complete Fallout 3. I bought this a few weeks after it came out and after 5 hours gave up, the pace is deliberately slow and world building but I want progress darn it!
  • Play the Zelda Philips CDi games even though they are supposed to be terrible!

The Zelda CDi games are supposed to be terrible but I'd like to play them!

  • Complete all the Metal Gear Solid games. I've played a bit of 1 and Peacewalker but that's about it. I really should rectify this tout-suite!
  • Complete Super Mario World. I have it and was working through it recently but with the housing renovations being done I had to move out and left my RetroN5 at home. It still awaits my return!
  • Complete Streets of Rage 3. I've finished 1 and 2 plenty of times but played 3 briefly at a retro games centre as I never owned it due to it being really expensive at the time and it coming out right at the end of the Megadrives life span.
  • Complete any original Megaman game and Megaman X. I didn't own a Super Nintendo as a kid so never played X but I did play the first two Megaman games around a mates house and 9 on the Wii when it came out a few years ago. They were brutal but I'd like to revisit and complete them.
  • Play Thunderforce 5 as I completed 3 and 4 on the Megadrive and thought they were brilliant.
  • Complete Okami-den. I loved Okami on the PS2 and completed it. I also purchased it for the Wii as I though the motion controls would enhance the game further. Okamu-den was a rare DS game and I only managed to buy it recently at the London Retro Gaming Expo. It's the game I'm currently working through.
  • Complete Zelda on the SNES. I completed Links Awakening and Oracles of Ages and Seasons as I had a Gameboy and whilst I have played up to the forth dungeon in ALTTP I haven't completed the game.
  • Complete Castlevania: SOTN and Super Metroid. I love both these series and have complete Metroid Prime 1 and 3 (I didn't taken to 2 with the Dark World mechanic) and I have completed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Super Castlevania but I haven't played what is widely considered the high watermarks of the Metroidvania genre.
  • Complete Wonderboy IV. I loved the Wonderboy game in the arcades and on my Amstrad but the high point was Wonderboy 3: The Dragons Trap. It was the jewel in the Master System crown and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I completed it. I bough the Monster World pack via Xbox Marketplace but haven't put much hours into 4, I feel I need to do this as its supposed to be amazing and was unavailable for a long time in England.

I'm not even sure that this was released in the UK but boy does it look wonderful.

  • Complete Mario 64. I played it lots but never got all the secret stars.
  • Play Panzer Dragoon Saga. I loved Orta on the Xbox but heard that this was much better.

Panzer Dragoon Saga fetches a pretty penny nowadays.

That's pretty much my bucket list. As I work through these I'll highlight these in red and date when they were accomplished. As well as playing current games, being a father and doing my day job this is a pretty comprehensive list of things I'd like to achieve in my life. Let's see how many I can do Give me your gaming bucket list in the comments section below

Technosoft Aqcuired by Sega

It is with great excitement that I bring the news that Technosoft games licenses have been bought by Sega. This may not seem particularly exciting but anyone in the know will be aware of the fact that Technosoft is most famed for its wonderful Thunder Force series which were highly praised and well-received shoot 'em ups on the Megadrive (Genesis) back when 16-bit consoles rules the world.
Thunderforce 3 and 4 were two of my favourite games on the Megadrive but I never got to play the later games in the series as it moved onto the Playstation and were rare or never released in England.

Technosoft had been acquired by Pachinko manufacturer Twenty One Company in the early noughts but the company didn't do much with the license at all so it's great news that Sega now has the license and may move the series forward. In Japan Sega will be releasing a compilation collection called Sega 3D Classics Collection 3: Final Stage on the 3DS, it will feature such heavyweight titles including Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes and Turbo Outrun.
Whilst this is a step in the right direction I would love to see Sega proactively use the license and resurrect this amazing series by creating some new games and getting the amazing composers back on the series. A new Thunderforce with retro style graphics and new Technosoft soundtrack... Yes please!

Japan: My Journey to the East

Yesterday my life changed forever, after years of believing it wasn't possible due to various circumstances my wife and I finally had a child. The introduction of my daughter is obviously a life altering event and late the next day has me becoming more reflective over my past. It is 4:04am on the Saturday as I write this, a piece about my dreams and aspirations as a child.

A couple of years ago I finally fulfilled a dream I've had ever since I was a child of 8, I went to Japan! Japan has held me in awe for so long due to a variety of factors. I was (and still am) a huge Mysterious Cities of Gold (MCOG) fan, which I found out was a specific style of animation called anime. For me the series had it all; relatable characters, amazing adventures and a thrilling story line. I found out much later that the series was only 39 episodes long but back then it seemed to stretch on forever, like Dogtanian, Ulysses 31 and Willie Fogg; all large sequential series that showed on BBC 1 and ITV weekly and then in large chunks in the morning during those looong summers.

Whilst wondering through our local WHSmiths (a newsagents here in England) I saw Manga Mania on the top shelf, next to the more salacious magazines. The art seemed reminiscent of MCOG so after seeing it a few times over the next few days I finally picked it up and fell down the rabbit hole. I vividly remember going over the next few months with my friend to WHSmiths and reading Fire Tripper, a lesser Rumiko Takahshi work but for me at the time I didn't know any better and it was perfect! My uncle who was only slightly older than me, saw that I had an interest in manga and gave me Devilman and Akira to borrow on VHS- not bad for a 13 year old kid enthralled by this new genre. At the time Akira blew my mind, I didn't understand it then and don't even pretend to now but I knew that I was watching something special.

This was the cover of the first Manga Mania I bought, in the letters section it had a comment about the 'Mysterious Cities of Gold' and I remember being excited to see my favourite show mentioned.

There was a local comic shop in our town called 'Rodneys Books and Games' which sold games, VHS films and books too, every Saturday my best friend and I would go to browse and occasionally purchase something.  Even though I knew they sold anime and manga it wasn't until I'd been given the films by my uncle that it clicked, these were the same genre and style that I'd liked- for all those years I hadn't noticed them but now I was all about them. The first series I worked through and completed was The Guyver, getting only a couple of pounds a week it took me a couple of years to complete the entire 12 part collection. Even now I have the series, unwilling to part with it even though I do not have a video recorder to play it on. My interest in manga peaked at the same time of the Marvel and comic boom in the early to mid 90's and I soon forged a group of friends who became Japanophiles and comic buddies, recording and swapping recordings off the Sci-fi channel and Channel 4 late on Saturday nights.

I loved the Guyver series, although it ended only a third into the manga.

For my friends and I Japan was a fantasy place where everything came out first and it was all amazing. This reached its zenith  with Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop, two of the greatest series of all time. The late 90s were a difficult time in Japan with its economic bubble bursting. High unemployment and soaring suicide rates were featured prominently on the news and this soaked into the media coming out at the time. Being a teen with all the difficulties that entails I enjoyed the nihilistic and over the top mayhem of films like Battle Royale, which showed the anger and desperation of youth and a society trying to figure itself out.  But GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) showed another side, it made me laugh. I remember getting the last trade paperback and reading it on the train home. I stifled  laughter and a Japanese passenger who sat opposite me looked at me quizzically until I showed the cover, he then smiled as if he understood. Yup, there was no doubt about it... Japan was a huge deal for me.

Evangelion is still everywhere in Japan, the cottage industry that grew out of the series is unbelievable. Even in England the amount of Eva related stuff you could buy was mental!

So with only a few months to go before we were going to leave Cambodia where we had been teaching for two years Japan was booked. Even though we only had a little bit of cash it was now or never, my wife and I agreed that this was the time to do this- we would probably never be closer to the country geographically! Excitedly I told my oldest friend, the one I used to go to WHSmiths with regularly and share manga comics and films. In a weird case of serendipity he had booked to go near the same time as we had booked, there would be a couple of days overlap where we would be able to meet up. Considering he had emigrated to Australia and we would be moving back to England this was unbelievably lucky, almost like destiny. Neither of us had been to Japan and now after 32 years we had booked to go to Japan and there would be overlap. Wierd!

So having reached Japan, I can honestly say that it was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. We stayed in Shinjuku and walked around the red light district Kabukichō, in the heady days of the economic boom unbelievable amounts of money passed through here. Now it is slowly recovering, highlighted by the fact that there was a robot fighting show opening that week, all at a reasonable price of £50 for admission- bargain!

A great book for a great megalopolis!

On the first day we explored Shibuya and Harajuku. Harajuku I knew through various quirky fashion magazines and Fruits books which I'd bought in Forbidden Planet in London. My wife and I explored the area for the day and loved it, the uniqueness and individuality of the products on sale were beguiling. Living in London where chain stores rule and very few independent stores exist or survive it was refreshing to come across a country that appreciated individual shops as well as the big chains. For lunch we had a quick MacDonald lunch and saw that people were there with their ipads, macbooks and tablets but when they needed the toilet they just left it at their table and off they went. The crazy thing was that when they returned their property would still be there, pretty much unthinkable in London yet here it was happening in a city of 20 million plus!
Working our way through Harajuku my wife bought a lot of makeup and trinkets and I bought a few skate stickers which I knew I'd put on my recently bought macbook pro.
Yoyogi Park was nearby so we headed down there, I was keen to see the cosplayers out in force as it was a Sunday. We saw a few but what really stood out for me was the peace and quiet I felt whilst in this  small park within a huge megalopolis. The temples were beautiful and I loved getting pictures around the Dori gates, now I felt like I was in Japan!
We travelled to Shibuya and I went into Mandrake, a well known anime and manga shop, whilst my wife went mall shopping.

The highlight of the journey for me was visiting Akihabara, the gaming and manga mecca. My friends and I had heard about this hallowed place in the 90s but being there alone seemed a pity for me. My wife is not a gamer and so had little interest in going with me, so I  deposited her in a nice French style cafe (after trying to persuade her to wait for me at the Gundam Cafe- which she didn't like). Walking around Aki with a pupils borrowed copy of the 'Guide to Japan for Geeks' book I walked around the various computing and manga shops in thrall to just ALL the stuff that was there. Much I recognised from my childhood but a lot I hadn't seen before. I bought a few games and an original Gameboy but wish I had more money to buy a lot more. I went to Namco Museum Arcades and Sega Gaming Parlours and played a few games including the Persona beat em up but it being a school day and just past midday there were very few people there. I loved the experience but just wished I had someone to share the experience with. I went into a pachinko parlour and left very quickly due to the amount of noise, even for an old gamer like me, someone who is used to arcades, the noise was deafening.  Akihabara held its allure for me but I know that if I had gone to Japan at the peak of my interest in anime and manga, then it would have been a much bigger deal.

We had booked tickets to go to Kyoto and I was very excited as I wanted to go on the Bullet train. However the cost was wayyyy to much for a return so we decided to go by bus and arrive back in Tokyo by Bullet train. The bus was extremely comfortable and cheap so that was a bonus and once we arrived we travelled to the Kyoto temples, the largest number of buildings under UNESCO in the world. The temples really didn't disappoint, the most spectacular being the gold temple and the famous Kiyomizu Temple.

The journey back by bullet was a real pleasure but to be honest having travelled by Eurostar it didn't have a wow factor that I thought it would. However it was great to see the Japanese countryside drift by at speed.

The last day in Japan we spent walking around Tokyo some more and caught up with my best friend for our overlap day. We walked around Shinjuku and chatted away and it was the first time that they had a chance to meet my wife. All in all Japan was amazing but make sure you take someone who likes hustle and bustle and the city as it is a very fast paced city with courteous and friendly people.

So why did the birth of my daughter lead to to think about this Japan trip from a couple of years ago? Well, I think its due to a couple of things. Firstly even though I had visited Japan I hadn't written about the trip until now... a bit of unfinished business I suppose. But also I guess I was just ruminating about what my life was and how now it is going to be very different from now on. It's now no longer about just me and my dreams but about my whole families- life is never going to be the same but that's okay... I am really for the next exciting part of my life. Gods in his heaven And all is right with the world.