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Monday, September 26, 2011

Esoteric Retrospective: Cyber Core

TITLE: Cyber Core
CONSOLE: TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine
The TurboGrafx-16 didn't have half the library it's Japanese counterpart the PC-Engine had, thanks in Large part to Nintendo's borderline-monopolistic exclusivity practices. That said, we still managed to see some prime Shoot 'em Ups make their way across the Pacific, such as Blazing Lazers, R-Type, Air Zonk, Aero Blasters; the list goes on and on. One title that always stuck out to me, but usually falls under the radar of most jaded SHUMPS fans, is Cyber Core.

The fate of the world depends upon the mysterious entity 'Chimera.' The United Force has elected the enforcer Rad Ralph. Now, on with the mission!” When I was 7, I was completely taken by this intro. Why does Rad Ralph's face now resemble a smashed raspberry? Who did this to him? Am I trying to simultaneously save humanity and avenge myself? Have I become the ship I'm flying around in? Though it doesn't make much more sense, the missing line of dialog from the Japanese intro helps shed some light on Rad Ralph's situation: “A.D. 2269: The Earth was occupied by unknown being, 'Hyper Insect.'” So there you go, you're an average joe (with an idiotic monicker), who must save humanity from “Hyper Insect.” If you have the manual for this game it expands on that to tell you how you've merged with "Chimera," upon discovering Earth's fate at the hands of Hyper Insect preceding your return from Deep Space. I suppose I could have guessed that from the charming metamorphosis animation, but again, I was 7. It's not exactly Frank Herbert caliber canon we're dealing with here, but since when have you played a shooter for the epic story?

Cyber Core is, a standard top-down SHUMPS game with a story clumsily wedged in to give us an excuse to annihilate giant bugs (as if I needed an excuse). The more unique aspects of the game come to light when you start playing. For starters, the playing field, like Dragon Spirit before it, is split between ground and Air combat. Skyward enemies fall to your standard button II attack, while you must bomb ground-dwelling enemies with button I. This typically degrades into cranking both Turbo switches up and just holding down both buttons, but that can also interfere with certain upgrades, so you do still have to think somewhat. Along with ground and air enemies being split up, the field is actually somewhat wider then it initially appears. You can move over to the left and right sides of the screen to either grab enemies as they appear, or knock out extra baddies to push your score higher. What I admire most about this game is the power-up structure. Your ship which sort of resembles a winged insect at start can metamorphose between 4 alternate types: Beetle, Swallowtail, Mantis, and Hornet. To change your fighter to these types, you must collect the appropriate “radioactive eggs,” which fall out of another bug's ass when you shoot at it and are color-coded to your insect type. Each class has 3 stages of metamorphosis that can be achieved, giving you up to 3 shield batteries and increased attack power. What's great about this system is that the overall look and size of your fighter changes along with your attack. Along with having extra bombs and a deadly, screen-filling main weapon, your ship (and by association, your hitbox), becomes 3 times bigger than when you started! It's now far easier to get cornered by enemy fire, and far more difficult to avoid mid-air collisions. For some, this was a downer because increasing your power to the max was no longer equivalent to enabling “cake-walk mode,” but for me, it added some much needed challenge to a game that could be somewhat predictable from repeating patterns.

Though it's no Ikaruga as far as difficulty goes, Cyber Core is still frantic enough to keep even the most hardcore shooter aficionados on their toes. I have yet to beat this gem, but I have made it to the nightmarish final stage. Compounding the difficulty are the ground-based bosses that can only be hit with your bomb attack. It makes you think differently while playing the game, and, though it's a refreshing change of pace, it can still be difficult to get into the rhythm before you find yourself back in your “Precambrian Cyber Core” state, which is fancy talk for “Weak-Ass Default” state. Though it doesn't hand your ass to you like a modern-day “bullet hell” shooter would, prepare to be challenged nonetheless.

Does this game hold up today? The short answer is yes. Even though I may be looking at it through glasses rose-tinted by 20-years of nostalgia, it's one of the few games I always come back to in my collection and still have a hard time putting down. If you've got a PC-Engine or TurboGrafx-16 and haven't played Cyber Core, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Copies can typically be found on ebay for around $20. Or you can try picking it up at eStarland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hoarders: Stories of Extreme Collectors: John Hancock

Working as a feature writer on Fraggs gave me the freedom to come up with my own articles and segments. Well, it gave me the freedom to pitch articles and segments and see if I could get them picked up anyway. One of those segments was "Hoarders: Stories of Extreme Collectors;" A segment that featured a different hardcore collector every month. One collector was featured in the magazine, and 2 more were interviewed, and awaiting their run. When the magazine re-structured and became a weekly publication, there was no longer any room for the Hoarders feature. Rather than have these 2 collectors stories go untold, I elected to feature them here on With the Portland Retro Gaming Expo on the horizon, the natural choice for this week was...

Extreme Collector & champion for good

John Hancock started to get serious about collecting games in the mid 90s. At that time, John was reacquiring NES games he grew up with, and building upon his collection of Sega Genesis games that he played in high school, adding to his then scant library of around 100 titles. Living in Redding, CA John quickly pursued all information about where to collect games, hitting flea marts, used game stores, and often traveling around to used video rental stores; sometimes going as far as 100 miles away. After collecting for some time, John was introduced to online forums such as, where he got connected to other serious collectors. It was then that his knowledge and pursuit of oddball video games exploded. John attended the Classic Gaming Expo in Burlingame, CA, where he had the good fortune to meet Rick Weis. Soon after, John moved to Washington State, where he got involved with the Northwest Classic Games Enthusiasts, in Seattle. A year later John would help organize a retro video game show in the Portland Area with Rick Weis, which would become the famed, Portland Retrogaming Expo. Six years, and several video game scores later, John is still actively involved with the Retrogaming Expo, as well as organizing a smaller annual video game show for charity in Kelso, WA, to help fundraise for the Children's Justice & Advocacy Center. CJAC is a child friendly agency where children are interviewed and supported after disclosing child abuse. The Show is called Cowlitz Gamers for Kids, and has raised over $4,000 over the last two shows.

Q: How many games in your collection?
A:I have around 6,000 games currently. My collection started over 15 years ago with a box of Atari 7800 games from a San Jose Flea Mart. I sold my then large Star Wars Collection and used the money to start on my NES Collection. I now have 19 complete US collections. They are:

1.  Nes liscenced US set
2.  Sega Genesis CIB
Looks more like a store display
than part of a personal collection.
3.  Nintendo 64 CIB
4.  Sega CD CIB
5.  Sega 32X CIB
6.  N-gage CIB including online exclusives
7   Odyssey 2 CIB
8. CIB
9.  Atari 7800
10. Microvision CIB
11. Action Max CIB
12. Interactivevision CIB
13. Neo Geo Pocket CIB
14. RCA Studio II CIB
15. Sega Master System CIB minus Sonic UPC label
16. Nuon
17. Dreamcast CIB
18. Game Gear(loose US cart set)
19.  APF M1000(loose cart set of games)

I am also a boxed light pen away from having a Boxed CIB retail set of a Vectrex Collection.  

Q: What are your favorites?
A:  My favorite games include Robotron 2084 on the 7800, and  Burgertime on the Intellivision.

Q: Has your collection taken over your house, or just a room?
A:  My collection resides in a game room which is a converted garage. It took over a year to construct with custom shelving. The garage only had one electrical outlet when we first bought the house.

Original Atari dust jackets? This guy puts me to shame!
Q: What can you tell us about the rig in your game room?
A: I have Three Television Sets and computer monitors in the game room. I have 32 game systems connected. I have various system selectors for each TV set to connect them all. I use heavy duty hardware shelves to house my game consoles. I usually just use folding lawn chairs for furniture... that way I can easily just move them around to the different TV sets to play things.

Q: What's the largest set within your collection?
A:  My largest set of games is my NES set, with over 800 games that include variants, homebrews, and hacks.

Q: How many consoles do you own, and what sticks out amongst them?
A:  I have over 160 unique consoles. Some of the more bizarre are the White Bally Astrocade, Boxed Memorex Video Information System, and a Pioneer Laseractive.

Q: Approximately how many peripherals do you own?
A:  I have never counted my peripherals, so I would guess in the hundreds.  

Q: What's the craziest thing in your collection?
Hard to say something specifically, but I guess a Boxed Intellivision Basic Cart with manual. A friend of mine gave it to me after scoring it at an estate sale for 25 cents.

Q: What's the crown jewel of your collection?
My Stadium Events cart for NES. I scored it for a mere $100. It is a long, long story but the short version is that I won a Mystery Box auction at a Classic Gaming Expo in 2005. I won a rare Atari 2600 cart Magicard, and then was offered an insane amount of trade for it. Among one of the things was Stadium Events.

Q: Can you tell us about your "Video Collector DVDs"?
I have created a series of DVDs showcasing different parts of my collection to help fellow collectors and enthusiasts pursue these things. The Videos are organized into volumes.  Each DVD showcases Games, System Packaging, and Accessories, for Sega, Nintendo, Oddball Systems, and now Atari.  My Atari 2 disc DVD has just been finished.   Each Volume DVD set is approximately an hour to two hours.  Each Volume is $10 plus shipping.  For more information contact me

I'd like to reach out and thank John for taking the time to talk to me, and for sharing his incredible collection with us. John also has a collection of videos on YouTube that can be viewed on his channel. He does a great job of showing off key pieces of gaming history, and introducing us to new and interesting artifacts. Here's some more of his collection in pictures:

I think it's a safe bet that John's SNES collection rivals your whole collection.

Party like it's 1977.

His shelving system is not unlike eStarland's.

Wow! I didn't know they made that many Lynx games.

It's times like this I wish I lived near the other Washington...

I admit it, I don't think I'd ever heard of a "Bally Astrocade" before talking to John.

If the first thing you notice in this pic is the garage door mechanism
then you need to work on your priorities.

EarthBound, Stadium Events and Cheetahmen! This guy has everything!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Long Hard Road

Wow! I cannot believe how long it's been since I've last updated this poor neglected blog. Between actual paying work (not just crimes of passion like this), housework, writing for Fraggs Magazine, and becoming a father (no small ordeal), I haven't really had time to play any video games, let alone write anything about them.

Despite all the hang ups, there is lots of new content on the way. Expect more thrift store finds, reviews, and content previously written for other outlets that was never used for one reason or another. To ensure there isn't a drought of content again, we'll be going on a brief hiatus to ensure there's enough articles to keep this thing rolling in the event I'm tied up for another 5 months. So far, 4 are written, but I want to have a few more to give myself a bit of a head start. Expect to see some action this week!

Here's a taste of what's coming.

The Mother Load
This was just one stop on my incredible retro-roadtrip.