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Posted on Jul 13th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Repros, Contra Hard Corps

A few days ago I checked-off a bucket list item.  It is a minor one, probably somewhere in the three- to four- hundreds on the list, though it has been there since my early teenage years.  I finally got a decent ending on this little gem:


How this was accomplished makes it an inauthentic accomplishment for some, but it represents an interesting angle on modern and retro gaming and collecting.




I came to the Genesis a couple years after the SNES, though I had played many of Sega's best at friends' homes.  While I still consider the SNES close to my gaming heart, I have full respect for the Genny and its spectacular library.  In those days few companies crafted as many great gems as Konami, and they blessed both major 16-bit contenders with their own evergreen classics.  (Hey, at least NEC had Hudson!)

Castlevania: Bloodlines and Rocket Knight Adventures are in my top ten for the system, but I sunk the most time into Contra Hard Corps.  I cleared the SNES's Contra III: The Alien Wars on the hardest difficulty, but Hard Corps lived up to the name by keeping me from getting all the way through one of the branching paths (although I stumbled into an alternate path a few stages in and got an obviously silly cut-short ending.)  I really, really wanted to get all the way through more stages but time and other games pulled me away, not to mention controller-breaking frustration.

I don't have to tell fellow gamers with four or more decades behind them that our reflexes just aren't what they were half a lifetime ago.  I can still get about as far as I ever could in Hard Corps, but for years it seemed like the game was destined to share The Adventures of Batman & Robin as another Genny classic that defeated me.

Put all that on hold for a moment.

A few years ago, I saw reproduction cartridges popping up at the annual retro video game conventions we attend.  At first all I saw were interesting fan-made hacks that didn't interest me much (no offense to anyone's hard work, there are really impressive fan-made projects, but they weren't my thing at the time.)  But when our own RFGener Crabmaster recommended Recca, a shmup for Famicom, all I could find was a NES repro cart.  I didn't even own a Famicom at the time and the price was reasonable, so I took a chance.

Well, after being incredibly impressed with the game and the quality of the cart, my eyes opened and I began looking for other eclectic repro releases.  Some, like Bahamut Lagoon, Sweet Home, and Mother 1 and 2 finally gave me the chance to have translations for games I always wanted to play but couldn't due to the language barrier.  Then there are releases that were practically impossible to play otherwise, such as Fix It Felix Jr. and the Broadcast Satellaview releases of The Legend of Zelda and F-Zero.  Not to mention the outright strange releases you can't get elsewhere, like Soul Star for the Atari Jaguar and DarXide for the U.S. 32X.

The last line I finally crossed when it came to repros were games that became realistically out of reach simply out of cost such as Sega CD's Keio's Flying Squadron, GBC's Shantae, and the NES version of Bonk's Adventure.  I don't consider these officially part of our video game "canon" collection, but simply games I have really wanted to play and share.  Repros have allowed me to cheaply play them on original hardware, a huge preference of mine.  I know that the collecting community has mixed feelings about repros but I have to say, as a retro game player before collector, being able to play 3DO's Doctor Hauzer and The Wily Wars on my original Genesis is an incredible opportunity to have.  And while I will likely never replace my original Beyond Shadowgate lost to theft, it was kind of emotional to finally pick of a repro and hear that starting song again.  I've also bought backup repros of pricey games of which we own originals, such as the Sega CD version of Snatcher.

On the one hand, with more and more expensive retro titles getting the reproduction treatment, the collector market has to remain vigilant against fakes.  And it's easy to see cheaper repros affecting potential buyers' decisions.  That said, recent official repro carts from Data East and Capcom were a bit of a surprise, as is Retroism's upcoming release of Return of Double Dragon for the Super Nintendo (which is a translated version of the superior Super Famicom version).   If nothing else, it shows reproduction carts and discs are popular enough to get attention on a much larger scale than a small table in the back of a convention.

Which comes back to the last retro game con we attended.  Between Pokemon Yellow for NES and Clock Tower for the SNES, I saw an unfamiliar label for Contra Hard Corps.  Now Contra has a ton of hacks and variants across every major retro system so that wasn't surprising.  But being the curious sort (and being the annoying customer that hangs around when everyone is starting to pack up their wares) I looked closer.

This was the "Enhanced and Restored" version of Contra Hard Corps.  Ookaaay, the original wasn't a VHS tape nor a Shelby Cobra, so what exactly is this supposedly enhancing and restoring?  I'll quote the back:

"This special edition of Contra Hard Corps enhances many aspects of the original game while simultaneously restoring many elements from the original Japanese version that were mysteriously lost when it was ported to the Genesis.

* HIT POINTS INCREASED TO ORIGINAL "3"

* MAXIMUM LIVES CAN BE INCREADED TO "10" IN OPTIONS

* PLAYERS CAN CHOOSE THE SAME CHARACTER AT START

* SECRET JAPANESE CHEAT CODES RESTORED

* BRIEFINGS AND MENUS CAN NOW BE SKIPPED

* ADDITIONAL GRAPHICAL, TEXT, AND MENU IMPROVEMENTS"


OK, so really it comes down to a hack of the original Japanese ROM with a cleaned up script and some non-gameplay quality-of-life improvements.  I had read before about the Japanese version having the option of more lives and continues.  I would have imported it long ago if it weren't for cost and the fact that while the story wasn't exactly Shakespeare, I still wanted the Engrish explanation for why I could play a half-pint double-jumping robot named "Brownie."

Thus far the new translation offered no explanation.  But with those extra options, boy is the game more accessible!  I can finally play through the entire game and see each ending, which I have been working through to do just that.  When I showed the game to a guest, he shrugged and mentioned he could just do that with a Game Shark.  I suppose, but in my own mind the fact that I'm simply playing the game with the Japanese options "feels" more legitimate.  I won't pretend this means I can complete the American release, but frankly the point is I'm having a ton of fun!  This version has breathed new life into a game upon which I had kind of just given up.

It is notably ironic; I'm very critical of modern video games and the constant patching they normally require.  Yet really, that's sort of what this is; patching a retro video game.  And it isn't even fixing a known bug, like the second player losing control halfway through Battletoads.  It is basically just letting me use the Japanese difficulty setting with an English translation.  Does that count?  As annoying as it is when a game is shipped broken, how much worse is it to not be able to fix it?  And does a patch have to even fix major issues, or just "restore and enhance?"  And if it does, does it matter if it is by someone representing the original developer or a talented coder on their free time?  Is one less legitimate by default?  Is a game ever "done" and who makes that call after the original release?  What about copyrights and the shifting legal sands of rights and ownership and artistic representation and integrity of design intent and creative ownership and...  maybe I bought a neat copy of a game that came with some neat stickers and a poster and nobody is going to completely agree on the rest.

Not kidding, some of those stickers are sweet.  One is a sticker of the original meat grinder ad for the game.  The poster went right up in our basement.

Especially now that legitimate companies are producing repros, the lines separating hacks, restorations, reprints, outright piracy, and homebrew releases are getting fuzzier.  Some gamers won't touch any of them, and some take issue with the impact they have on the collecting economy.  Some love the fact that they can finally afford versions of games previously far out of reach.  And some could care less either way.

As for me, I'm thrilled that I can finally play all the way through a childhood favorite.  And maybe soon I can finally play Web of Fire...

Smiley


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Comments
 
What are your thoughts on flash carts? You can do everything a reproduction provides but you're also gaining the ability to back up your saves and use it as a SEGA CD RAM cartridge.
 
I can see the appeal, and they are nifty, (and I wouldn't mind a Turbo Duo one) but my preference is having an actual cart/disc of the game, even an unofficial one. That is an artificial distinction for some, as is the difference between physical and download media, but the physicality of the library is more relevant for me.  Mainly I'd like flash carts for backups given how many older discs I've had to replace due to disc rot. I see various flash carts at the conventions we attend, and I will likely bite one day.😛 Good question though!


 
Recca, is the the same game I see floating around on the 3DS VC?
 
I generally have no problems with repros, with the one caveat being that they need to be original entities, and not sacrifice "donor" carts, i.e. sports games or other super common games, to get the necessary game boards to make them. That used to be a requirement, but repros can now be made that don't require that, due to the proliferation of new boards and eproms that can be burned inexpensively. My other minor caveat would be that the repro needs to look like a repro. It needs to be in a new shell that is distinct from the stock shells, and the label needs to look different, if only because of the material its printed on makes it pretty obvious that it's not an original. I know a guy locally who makes repro carts, and he typically uses colored and translucent shells for his games, and most of the time uses alternate or fan art for the labels. Case in point, he does a Castlevania Bloodlines "Enhanced Edition" repro, which is the same game, but with some changes to the intro, and some recoloring done to characters, enemies, and stages to be a bit "spookier" and look more in line with other games in the series. He also does super expensive shmups, like MUSHA and Grind Stormer, and games that didn't get an official Western version, but have available fan translations, or require no Japanese language knowledge to play. Plus, stuff like Golden Axe III and The Wily Wars, as you mentioned, that never saw a cart release here. These kinds of scenarios make repros quite attractive, and give collectors like us at least a partial satisfaction, being able to plug that cartridge into the actual console and play that singular experience. There's still a bit of "magic" to that.

I would be interested to know where you found a repro of Keio Flying Squadron. Because the Sega CD and Turbo CD will play CD-R copies, I'm happy to download ISO files of games that cost $300 and will likely never see re-issue, so I can still play them, but I'm still intrigued by the repro CD idea. Are these just pro-printed CD-R copies, or are they actually pressed CDs, which would have a longer shelf life? This kind of preservation is important, going forward, for the CD medium, and eventually DVD and BluRay, so that these games aren't lost to time. If one can spend a few bucks making a bit-for-bit copy of an original CD based game, on something that is factory pressed, rather than a home burn, that's quite compelling, and even gives hardcore collectors some ability to play games using something other than a CD-R, and leave the originals alone, to help preserve them and keep them (hopefully) from CD rot and other hazards.

Also, I may have to invest in a similar repro of Contra Hard Corps. I have a cart-only copy I've had for years, but it's just so brutal! Your mention of it being comprised of the Japanese version of the game brought to mind a semi-recent episode of the Retro Game Squad podcast, where they talked about the differences between the original Japanese and US releases of Hard Corps, and the fact that the difficulty was ramped up to 11 in the US version for some reason, and that the original Japanese iteration is far more manageable. I might actually be able to make progress in the game, past the "running in the screen" section, with the springy spike arm boss. I always get my backside handed to me when I play Hard Corps, and I tend to rage quit pretty quickly. This kind of thing would maybe get me to play the game more, and actually dig into it a bit.
 
@Link41: Oh yes, and you should buy and play and love. Cheesy

@MetalFRO: I completely agree about repros needing to stand out and look different, and the colored shells is a common theme I see.  I particularly enjoy when they are thematically appropriate (say, dark translucent red for Bloodlines.

As for those CD-based repros, it depends; you typically have to pay a lot more for better quality.  I have a few high quality repros that cost accordingly, and I spring for those when I find them for games I really want for good.  Most others are indeed simply CD-Rs.  Really, it just comes down to what the vendors have available as to what I pick up; I generally only buy repros when I can examine them myself, with a few exceptions (like, say, sellers here I trust.)
 
Funny, I was just writing something about this the other day.  I've long considered bootlegs/repros to be roughly in the same court as game ROMS, the only difference being the hardware you played them on.  That is, until I decided to take a little vow about...  media purchase preference.  While I still don't know how I feel about them for the long run, for now they really make it possible to play some awesome games that are out of my extremely limited financial reach (Chrono Trigger and Soul Blazer to name a few). 

I've also spent some time agonizing over the Retron5 and it's translation patch capabilities as an alternative.  For certain games that feature a translation (or maybe even a hack), it might prove useful, though lacking in analog output and lagless gameplay.

Very nice article, Jess.  Really gets the old noodle going.
 
@bombatomba: Thanks!  Yeah, the Retron 5 is really hit-and-miss, and I mainly use it for translation patches and (with the extra converter) Game Gear games on a TV.  GG games alone is worth it to me, as it is like opening a whole new Master System library!
 
i would love to get into repros to get some english translations of games we never got or ones i cant afford. i recently acquired hard corps and i dont find it to be that hard. maybe just a little harder than alien wars. it's quickly become on of my favorites to just run through when i have only 30-60 minutes

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