Gravitar

Gravitar

While it’s true that the first video games to employ the combination of a space vessel and a landscape with a fairly realistic interpretation of gravity came earlier than this one, the first one you could really call an actual game was Gravitar. Like the earlier Lunar Lander and Asteroids, it makes use of lovely vectors to create its landscapes and other bits and pieces, and this time they’re in glorious technicolor! Unsurprisingly for a ‘gravity game’, it’s also set in space and involves cleansing several star systems of the many gun emplacements, or ‘bunkers’, that are sprinkled across the surfaces of their various planets. Your ship is a small blue thing somewhat reminiscent of the craft in Asteroids and is controlled by five buttons. Two turn it left or right, one shoots its feeble but invaluable cannon, another thrusts its engine to counteract the gravity, and the last activates its shields.

Gravitar - Atari 2600

By making use of these buttons you’ll need to guide your craft through three solar systems and clear them of bunkers. You start off emerging from a portal of some sort from where you’ll immediately be drawn towards the nearby star. Getting too close will cost you a life so you’ll instead need to use the ship’s thrusters and head for one of the five planets that lie further out. Touching any of these switches the action to a side-viewed section of land featuring several red bunkers. Destroying one takes only a single hit but they’re constantly shooting as well so you’ll often need to be a very good shot! Once you clear the section of bunkers, simply head back to the top of the screen to re-enter the ‘home’ area and head for another planet. Do the same for all of the planets and you’ll move to the next ‘phase’ which has some new ones. If you manage to clear all three phases and you’ll then be transported to the next ‘universe’ where the same job awaits.

Gravitar - Atari 2600

It’s not quite as repetitive as it might sound though. Each planet has a different layout – one might feature a flat (though ‘bumpy’) landscape, others require you to go underground and take out the bunkers around tricky caverns, and one stage consists of what seems to be an asteroid with bunkers all around the outside of it. Each solar system also features a ‘red planet’ which contains a reactor at the end of a winding tunnel. The tough part is, you have to get to it, destroy it, and get back out within a tight time limit. Doing so will ‘complete’ that solar system. The planets also have different points values which indicate how difficult they are – not only in terms of bunker positions/numbers, but also how strong the gravity is and therefore how much fuel you’ll need to use, for your supplies are indeed finite and, unlike Lunar Lander, you don’t get more simply by inserting more coins.

Gravitar - Atari 2600

As well as the thrusters, fuel is also used by the shield so it can disappear quickly! Luckily, there are more fuel cannisters available on most planets which can be grabbed using your tractor beam (activated the same way as the shield). It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the bunkers are pretty good shots, and enemy ships also appear now and then and zero in on your position, so hanging around to grab fuel can often be costly. It’s not an overly tough game though, at least in theory. Lives are lost often at first but the stages are well designed and control of your ship is well implemented too – it’s one of those games where mastering the controls makes a lot of difference and can potentially see your game last forever (almost). Like many early arcade games it does keep repeating too. There are four ‘universes’ in total – the second one reverses the gravity (which will mess with your mind big time), the third one features invisible landscapes, and the fourth one has both features, but if you complete all of them you’ll just go back to the first one.

Gravitar - Atari 2600

The only thing that changes for each universe is the time limit for destroying the reactor which gets smaller and smaller until it becomes impossible, but that can take a good while – the amazing world record score for this game was achieved over a continuous 24 hour (almost) period! I’m not sure I’d want to play Gravitar for that long even if I was good enough (and I’m pretty far from that – I can generally only last between 5 and 10 minutes!) but it is a pretty decent game. The sound is limited to a couple of effects but I’ve got no complaints about anything else. The vector graphics are as crisp as you would expect (and are even all glowy on the Xbox 360 port!), the ship movement and collision-detection is fine, and those controls, while initially a little confusing, do at the very least challenge you to do better. It may still be a bit too tough for some but it’s a challenge that I enjoyed anyway!

RKS Score: 7/10

Robo-Squash

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Robo-Squash

Considering the genre was one of the first ones ever created, there’s been surprisingly few innovations in the world of bat ‘n’ ball games, but Atari, the very creators in question, tried doing just that with this slightly obscure release for their own Lynx ‘handheld’ (snigger). The objective does not, however, include the usual block-hitting tomfoolery that I had initially believed formed the basis of the game. Robo Squash is instead a tarted-up version of the very first bat ‘n’ ball game of them all, and indeed the very first popular video game full stop – Pong! Instead of the simple left-to-right-to-left-again gameplay of the original though, this example asks you to do the same thing but from an into-the-screen perspective! There’s a bit more to it than that though, of course.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Luckily your paddle is transparent…

Set against the backdrop of a rather peculiar political power-struggle of the far-future, you, playing as the champion of the ‘World Party’ must face your opposite number from the rival ‘International Party’ to decide the future of the world – eeeek! At the start of the game you’re presented with a four-by-four group of balls. Selecting one will start a round which consists of an into-the-screen view of the playfield. Your ‘paddle’ occupies the end closest to the screen, your opponent’s the opposite end. About half-way between the two in the middle of the screen is an assortment of bricks and a few other bits and pieces. The winner of the round is the first to score three ‘goals’ past his or her opponent or, less often, a quicker victory can be achieved if you manage to hit the elusive ‘mechanical spider’. There are several things that can make the process of winning a round a bit more complicated though.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Frog attack! Oops, I mean ‘dragon’ attack!

For one thing, the ‘ball’ appears to be a tomato or something similar as it leaves a big red splotch on the screen if you let it get past you! There’s also a seemingly random sprinkling of yellow and blue bricks which act as an obstruction but give you bonus points upon destruction, and there are a few power-ups items nestled among them too. These include a mouth (lets you catch the ball and shoot it from wherever you want), a dragon (lets you shoot fireballs to create a fiery distraction, although it looks more like a frog), a spiral disk (makes your paddle bigger), and an eye (helps you to see where the ball will end up). As well as all this, the ball predictably gets faster and faster the longer it’s in play as well which, along with the various visual impairments (splats, explosions, etc) can make this a pretty tricky game, especially when played against the near-infallible computer opponent.

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Oops, a rather unceremonious defeat again!

There are four difficulty levels though, and control of the quite accommodating paddle thing is surprisingly intuitive. Besides, games like Breakout and all its derivatives are the ones for solo-players; Pong and similar games were designed for two players and so is the case here. Aesthetically the game isn’t too troubling – the colourful bricks, power-ups, and the ball along with its splats work well against the grey backdrop, and the scaling is quite good too, as we’ve come to expect from the Lynx. The basic sound effects and lack of in-game music are less impressive but I still had a bit of fun with this one, albeit only for a short while as it’s a bit pointless playing it alone! That makes its appeal limited of course – these days, the chances of finding another Lynx owner are fairly slim never mind one also owns this game. If you should manage it though, Robo Squash would make the encounter a mighty entertaining one.

 RKS Score: 6/10

Mr Driller

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Mr. Driller

Love it or loathe it, Dig Dug is (correctly) regarded as an all-time classic arcade game and, despite being converted to a large number of home systems, it has not been one of the franchises that Namco has furnished with a large number of updates or sequels. It received a rather anonymous second installment in 1985, but the series wouldn’t be revisited for another fourteen long years.

Originally intended to be Dig Dug 3, the transition during its development to Mr Driller also included a change in the protagonist. The hero of Dig Dug was Taizo Hori but taking his place here is his son, Susumu Hori! As the highest ranked Driller in the world, he was the first one the panicked people called when the cities became overrun by mysterious colored blocks rising from underground…

Mr_Driller_Sega-Dreamcast-

This flimsy, and largely unnecessary, premise does of course set the scene for another colored/shaped blocks puzzle game. Once you’ve chosen between a 2500ft or 5000ft challenge, the arcade mode throws you straight into the action with Mr Driller falling on top of a huge pile of colored blocks. He can drill in all four joy-pad directions and doing so causes drilled blocks to vanish. As he drills down, untouched blocks may fall downwards if the blocks supporting them are drilled. This can of course result in Mr Driller getting crushed and losing a life.

It’s not quite as hard as it sounds though as falling blocks shake for a split-second before falling, giving you a precious chance to get out of the way. Falling blocks also stick to non-falling blocks of the same color if they touch them, forming larger blocks. There’s only four different-colored blocks as well, so some blocks can get pretty big!

Luckily, larger blocks are destroyed from a single drill-strike, much like single blocks, and any four or more falling blocks of the same color will vanish once they land. This can of course cause big chain-reactions so it’s best to make sure none of them land on your head! Speed is of the essence for more than one reason too.

Mr_Driller_Sega-Dreamcast-

Mr Driller has an ever-decreasing air supply so he must drill strategically but quickly. Air capsules are readily available which top up his supply by 20% but sometimes they’re tricky to reach. They are often near brown ‘X’ blocks. These take five drill strikes each to destroy and also take away 20% of Mr Driller’s air, so it’s not really worth breaking one except in an emergency. Mr Driller can clamber up blocks either side of him, but only if they are one block high. This is invaluable for reaching air capsules or escaping falling blocks, but sometimes it’s not enough!

As well as the arcade mode, Mr Driller players also have access to a survival mode and a time attack mode, both of which are fairly self-explanatory. The basic gameplay doesn’t change a great deal, but it doesn’t need to either. I don’t think I was alone in finding Mr Driller a rather unlikely release by Namco on the fancy new Dreamcast, but any initial disappointment soon faded.

It may look like a game that could’ve been hosted by a console from the previous generation, perhaps even the one before that, and it’s not even particularly original, but Namco ensured Mr Driller had it where it counted. It’s bright, colorful, and loud – the music and sounds effects are great. But more importantly, it’s just immense fun. And addictive. Very addictive. If you haven’t dabbled before, Mr Driller comes highly recommended.

Return Fire

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As technically impressive as the 3DO was for its day, it’s a sad fact that anyone who met the rather immense outlay required to own one had little in the way of high-quality games to play on it, and even less that actually made use of the new machine’s impressive abilities. ~Simon Lethbridge

Return Fire

One game that appeared to do just that, however, was Return Fire, and it was an exclusive too! Well, until the 3DO started floundering at least, at which point it was also released on the PS1 and PC, but still – for a while, 3DO owners had something to show off, and it was a game worthy of envy. It’s a simple military-based strategic frolic at heart which pits two forces against one another – green and brown. Player one controls the latter while a second player or the console itself controls the former, and the object is simply to seize your opponent’s flag and return it to your base. As you might expect, however, it’s not quite that simple.

Return Fire - 3DO

There are somewhere in the region of 130 stages altogether and they are divided equally into two groups – one consisting of single player stages, another of two player stages. They are viewed from a scrolling, angled-overhead perspective and most of them consist of an island with opposing forces occupying a different end each – two player maps give each side about half of the land area each while one player maps just have a few buildings on the player’s side with most of the island taken up by enemy buildings and defences. In either case, your job is to find the building which houses the flag, destroy it, collect the flag, and return to base, and there is initially only one mission on which to do this. Once this is completed, however, the next tier of stages is unlocked which has eight new maps. Finish any of these and the next tier becomes available with eight more, and so on.

Return Fire - 3DO

Your means of vanquishing your opponent and completing these stages comes in four forms. You start each stage safely within the confines of your bunker and here there are four vehicles to choose from – the Tank, which moves at a reasonable speed and can fire shells at ground or air targets with its rotating turret, the Armoured Support Vehicle, which is slow but has meatier defences and can fire air/ground rockets and drop mines, the Helicopter, which is fast and obviously unimpeded by buildings and suchlike, and can fire air/ground rockets, but is obviously a bit more delicate, and lastly the Jeep which is fast and nimble, can move across watery areas with its inflatable air thingies, and can launch grenades, but is of course incredibly weedy. Eight of the jeeps are available for each stage and these are the only vehicles with which you can grab and transport the flag, but you also get three each of the other vehicles for blasting your way to it.

Return Fire - 3DO

If any of your fine vehicles are destroyed you’ll automatically return to your bunker to choose another (unless you somehow manage to lose all seventeen of them!), but you can return at any time anyway to switch if you want. Helpfully, doing this also replenishes their limited fuel, ammunition, and armour as well, although this can be done ‘on the fly’ too, by stopping off at one of the relevant depots nestled amongst the gun towers and other buildings of either side. The depots though, like everything else in the game can be destroyed (even the trees!). This doesn’t present a dilemma for the solo-player as you’re only up against the enemy gun towers, but with a two-player game you then need to decide whether to preserve them for your own use or to destroy them to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Indeed, despite the extensive amount of shooting and destroying you’ll no doubt engage in while playing Return Fire (its ‘tagline’ is even “Destroy, Destroy, Destroy!”), if you want to actually play it properly, there’s a lot of strategy involved as well.

Return Fire - 3DO

One aspect of this is of course choosing the right vehicle at the right time, and they all differ enough for each player to find a strategy that suits them. You might want, for example, to use the chopper to scout out your opponent’s stronghold and try to locate his flag tower (there are usually some decoy towers too) and find the easiest route to it. Alternatively, you may choose to plough head-first through everything in a straight line from your bunker to your final goal. Whichever method you employ, it’s best not to hang around for too long or annoying little helicopters will turn up and start taking pot-shots at you (although it is very satisfying to shoot them down!). Other things to consider are the design of the stage in question. They all consist of one or several islands and in the case of the latter they’re linked together by rickety (and very destroyable) bridges which presents numerous possibilities in itself. As you probably already guessed, this is therefore a game which was not designed for solo play and accordingly is immeasurably more enjoyable when playing against a friend.

Return Fire - 3DO

As undeniably awesome as this mode is, I’ve also spend quite a bit of time with the one player mode and, while it is good fun, either for practise or for mere wanton destruction purposes, it does get a bit repetitive after a while. A big part of this is down to the graphics which are quite splendid but pretty much the same throughout the whole game. In spite of the angled-overhead viewpoint, the stages are presented in 3D which allows the camera to zoom in or out rather nicely depending on how fast you’re moving. Things do get a little blocky when the view zooms right in but that’s not too often. The worst thing about the visuals, though, is without doubt the total lack of variety. All stages are set in the same environment – sandy areas with surrounding water, bridges, the odd patch of grass – and all feature the same few types of building with the same roads around them. The only differences really are the shapes of the islands and the actual location/arrangement of the buildings and features, and even then, some stages are merely mirrored versions of others.

Return Fire - 3DO

One aspect of the game that definitely impresses, however, is the presentation. From the tank that trundles onto the screen to destroy the glass 3DO logo, to the dramatic title sequence, and the FMV clip of a WWII victory parade that greets completion of a stage, everything is very slick and polished, especially the audio which, famously, consists of several pieces of classical music. The aforementioned title sequence features Requiem Dies Irae while, in-game, each of the vehicles has its own theme tune including Mars: Bringer of War for the Tank, Flight of the Bumblebee for the Jeep, In the Hall of the Mountain King for the ASV, and of course Ride of the Valkyries  for the Helicopter, and the volume of the music even increases or decreases according to the intensity of the on-screen drama! There is also the occasional use of ‘incidental music’ such as upon discovery of your opponent’s flag, and victory is hailed by the Hallelujah Chorus which certainly gives the sense of a job well done.

Return Fire - 3DO

The ingenious use of this music, as well as some spot-on sound effects, is what really gives this game its fantastic atmosphere which is helped further still by some great attention-to-detail. Shooting a building often sees its occupants flee, for example (and yes, you can squash them if you so desire, complete with squelching noise). This superb atmosphere plays a big part in drawing you back to Return Fire too, even on your own. I don’t usually play it for long at a time by myself own as, despite the tremendously enjoyable and satisfying game mechanics, it’s easy, a bit repetitive, and largely pointless to play solo, but I still return to it often. Besides, it’s nice to play it with a full-screen (well, the upper two-thirds of the screen) now and then rather than half of it which can feel a bit cramped. If Silent Software came up with a decent back-story and incorporated some sort of mission-based one-player mode this could be an all-time great. It is a two-player game really though, and offers a rare chance to outfox a friend with cunning stategies rather than brute force, and in this capacity alone it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played.

Cavenaut

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This turns what I’m sure would’ve been a very frustrating and annoying game into a very addictive one which allows steady progress through its large number of screen… ~Simon Lethbridge

Cavenaut

Crikey! No sooner have I reviewed one game featuring a ‘spelunker‘ – the game named after the rather hazardous pursuit, no less – than another one veers into my radar’s bloopiness. Unlike the previous example though, this adventurer has slightly more noble intentions.

Our nameless hero is apparently a famous explorer and, during his no doubt many and varied trips and expeditions, he discovers strange signs in the ‘misty mountains of Peru‘ (in 1950 if you’re interested). What else can he then do but head off into the spooky peaks and investigate?!

This results in a very basic flick-screen mazey game which you start above ground in a thinly forested area. Our stick-figure hero can walk only in the four basic directions and accordingly you can steer him any way you like from the first screen. Your first job, however, should be to find a shovel which has two main uses.

Gameplay

Cavenaut

The first danger you’ll face are the enemies which can be found lurking on most screens in the form of snakes and frogs. They can’t be killed but move in predictable patterns so they can be avoided fairly easily. There are also a good few obstacles as well. Above ground there are trees and bushes and only the latter can be cleared (temporarily) by smacking them with your shovel. It doesn’t take too much exploration to find the entrance to the caves though, and down in these murky depths there are more bushes and enemies and even more hazards.

Areas only appear from the darkness as you get close to them, for one thing, and you’ll need to dig your way through many passageways with your shovel, but it only works on the lighter-colored loose dirt. By far the most common hazard, however, are the spike pits and arrows. At first these appear sparingly but before long entire screens are dominated by them, appearing, disappearing, and firing in increasingly complex patterns which require very precise movement.

Cavenaut

Contact with any enemy or hazard results in instant death (which is accompanied by an amusing noise) but you only need to start that particular screen again. Given the huge number of obstacles and sometimes trial-and-error nature of the game, it would be torturously difficult to play through were it not for the bounteous gift of infinite lives. This turns what I’m sure would’ve been a very frustrating and annoying game into a very addictive one which allows steady progress through its large number of screens (played flawlessly, the game would take well over an hour to finish).

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the kind of games found on early consoles such as the VCS and Intellivision (which is rather cool actually) except for its larger scale, and it builds towards a satisfying and not-entirely-expected climax which includes some challenging-but-nicely-designed caves, temples, and watery bits (with restrictive currents, of course). Don’t be put off by the black and white graphics and largely silent gameplay – not only is Cavenaut an addictive adventure but it’s also a free one! 

Final Score

RKS Score: 8/10

Extras

[mp3-jplayer tracks=” Cavenaut-Soundtrack-Title-Music-Short-Version.mp3, Cavenaut-Soundtrack-Title-Music-Long-Version.mp3, Cavenaut-Soundtrack-Ending-Theme.mp3″]

[Via Red Parsley]

[See more from Bruno R. Marcos]

Check out more great [Indie Game Reviews]

[Download the Freeware version of Cavenaut]

Haunted Castle

Haunted Castle a.k.a. Akuma-Jou Dracula by Konami (1988) – Arcade

Haunted Castle - Arcade

So there I was, messing round with MAME again when I selected yet another random, rather generic-sounding title to try. The resultant title screen was pretty cool and from there followed a brief intro which showed some girly getting kidnapped by a pesky Dracula-like nincompoop, and I also noticed that it was a Konami game. Hmmm, something about this was starting to seem familiar, but before I thought about that too much I started the game.

Haunted Castle - Arcade

At this point, a feeling of unbridled horror soon fell upon me like dark clouds casting their mighty shadows over a once vibrant landscape, but it wasn’t the game’s spooky horror theme that caused this; noo, this was down to the game itself which stunk like a garlic-riddled corpse. Intrigued by this badness, I then looked into it in more detail so I could know exactly what/who I was cussing, paying more attention this time. Then… egads! Sure enough, it was confirmed – Haunted Castle is actually a Castlevania game!

Haunted Castle - Arcade

As someone who largely avoided Nintendo consoles until the mid-90’s, one of several well regarded IP’s I never got around to looking into properly is Castlevania. I know of their glowing reputation though, and I have played a couple briefly, which makes this effort all the more surprising. It takes the form of a scrolling whip ’em up and involves guiding a suitably heroic-looking fellow through hordes of skeletons, bats, and zombies with the object, presumably, of rescuing the aforementioned girly. So far, so familiar.

Haunted Castle - Arcade

 

Aside from some clunky controls and suspicious collision-detection, however, there’s one big problem – it’s ridiculously hard as well. Our hero (Mr. Belmont, presumably) can take a few hits but has only the one life with which to face the infinite enemies which require fairly precise strikes from his whip. Then I reached an insanely tough screen on which chunks from a castle wall fly across the screen, and it gets even harder from then on. When I eventually get around to covering the Castlevania series I’ll take another look at this (once I’ve mentally prepared myself) but for now… uurghhh. And people whine about Ghosts’n Goblins being too tough? Holy crap, I hope the other games are easier!

RKS Score: 1/5

Super Star Soldier

Super Star Soldier

Super Star Soldier (1991)
By: Hudson Soft Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: 734,600
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation Network

Super Star Soldier

I originally started playing this game with a view to reviewing it quite a few weeks ago now – it is after all arguably the Engine’s most famous shmup (along with Gunhed) and I hadn’t played it before so this was a major issue to rectify! Not too long after starting, however, I discovered it had a prequel on the NES and MSX which, after playing and subsequently reviewing, found rather disappointing, and that got me thinking. The NES and PC Engine – both 8-bit consoles, both home to dozens of arcade conversions and arcade-style games, and yet the Engine is significantly superior with regard to games of this type (sorry NES fans!). I guess it’s a little unfair to compare them but does the extra power of the Engine really make that much difference? I suppose it must do as after playing the frankly rather boring Star Soldier, this Engine sequel immediately looked ten times better…

Super Star Soldier

One aspect of the original game that impressed me was with the number of stages – an unusually numerous sixteen. This sequel has a mere, though still decent, eight, but they are of a higher quality and are also much more varied. They all scroll vertically of course, and take place over enemy bases (or giant ships, maybe), planetary surfaces, in caverns, and in open space, and they’re filled with the usual mix of enemies – small ‘n’ fast ships, often flying in formation, larger more powerful ships, lots of scenery/ground-mounted guns and missile launchers, and of course large bosses at the end of each stage. Power-ups are found in the smoking hulks of a certain type of ship and include four main weapons represented by coloured rings – red is your default weapon which powers-up into a multi-directional shot, blue gives you ring lasers, yellow unleashes a swooshy flame-thrower, and green gives you a mighty crackly-looking lightning cannon.

Super Star Soldier

Each weapon can be powered-up four times by collecting successive icons. Grabbing more after that has a smart-bomb effect. Whichever main weapon you choose, you can bolster it with either heat-seeking missiles or a pair of shot-absorbing drones, both of which can also be powered-up. Contact from an enemy or their fire reduces the power of your weapons by one level so as long as you keep collecting icons, you should be able to progress quite far into the game. Luckily, the desire to do that is much greater here than with the prequel and part of this is down to the graphics which are superb. The smaller enemy ships often whizz around at ultra-sonic speeds and the larger ships are all great designs, especially some of the bosses which include a giant mech and what looks like that strange creature in the garbage compacter in Star Wars! As mentioned earlier, everything is far more varied here as well – just compare the screenshots to those in the Star Soldier review and I’m sure you’ll agree!

Super Star Soldier

The first stage rather reminded me of Gunhed, which is no bad thing of course – it’s mostly filled by a large metal structure brimming with guns, but the second stage differs about as much as it could, taking place over a forested planet! The third is similar but features a much more fiery landscape with jets of flame and fireballs occasionally escaping from the lava-filled areas. After that we find ourselves in open space with pretty stars and stuff in the background before entering some icy, obstacle-filled caverns. After that comes the obligatory enemy battleship and confrontations with the final bosses. Destroy all these and the evil ‘Star Brains’ are once again defeated! There is a little slow-down on the odd occasion but overall this is certainly among the best-looking shmups on the Engine and one of the most appealing I’ve played on any system. Even the weapon effects – something that’s often lacking in other games – are superb.

Super Star Soldier

The red multi-shot isn’t too spectacular but the blue, yellow, and green weapons are all fantastic which is all the more impressive considering the delightful backdrops and large number of enemies sometimes on screen, and there isn’t even an annoying stats/score panel in the way of it all! The weapons all have unique sound effects too, which are pretty good, and each stage has its own decent tune, so all in all there’s not really anything that’s less-than-splendid about Hudson’s fine sequel. Control of your ship (which is called the Neo Cesear, incidentally) is fast but precise and I rarely had any problems with the collision-detection. It’s even a surprisingly fair game too – the stages have restart points, the power-ups are quite numerous, extra lives are awarded on achieving certain scores, and the boss attack patterns are challenging without being too tough. Super Star Soldier is probably not quite as amazing as the great Gunhed but it is a fantastic shooter – sometimes fast and manic, other times slower and more cerebral, but always entertaining and everything the first game wasn’t!

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 23,297 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision
Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

It may have taken a few years but it still wasn’t long before the first few licensed video games started to appear. One of the first such games to grace an amusement arcade was this example, by my beloved Sega no less, and was based on the (mis)adventures of Captain Rogers. Well, I say ‘based’ but this is a game that, name aside, has pretty much nothing to do with the source material – something that would become a familiar story in the years to come – but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily make it a sucky game, just an unfaithful one. Planet of Zoom, for example, takes the form of an into-the-screen shooter. Nothing unusual there for a 70’s sci-fi show, I’ll grant you – plenty of shooting done in most of those. However, as long as it might have been since I’ve immersed myself in the gallant exploits of Buck, Wilma, and Twiki, nothing else from the game seems familiar.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t even be sure that we’re playing the game as Buck! Oh well, whoever may be at the controls, it’s your job to guide their ship through a tonne of dangerous stuff, and the best means of doing this is by blasting the crap out of it all. To this end, the ship offers unlimited use of its cannon, and you can also move it around the screen freely and increase or decrease its speed as you see fit. Each round is divided into eight stages (or sectors) of which there are three types – trench (as seen in the screenshot to the right), open space (next shot down), and planet (bottom shot) – but the object of each is the same; namely, to either fulfill an enemy quota or to finish within the time limit. If you can take down the required number of enemies before the time expires, you’ll move on to the next stage with any remaining time awarded as bonus points. If the timer runs down before you do this, you’ll still progress but with no bonus.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Most of the stages merely pit you against various kinds of oncoming enemies which include many flying saucers, hopping ground-based buffoons, red/purple versions of your own ship (almost), fast winged vessels, and angry-looking grey/red craft. As well as being mighty dangerous by themselves, most of them can also fire missiles and stuff at you, and there are also a few other hazards too. One of the trench stages features a series of barriers with gaps on the left, right, or middle, one of the planetary stages has a load of weird slalom-style gates (which offer only your continued existence as a reward for passing though them), and there is also a stage featuring a much larger boss ship which, for some reason, attacks with its back to you allowing you to simply blast all four of its engines to see it off. Defeating this befuddled clot isn’t too hard and each time you do it’s on to the next round where the stages are in a different order.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

This process goes on forever as far as I can tell, which means things could potentially get more than a little repetitive. Fortunately, the action is fast and involving enough to keep this from setting in too much. The stages all look the same each time they’re repeated but they work well – the scrolling is pretty fast and the enemies move quickly via some superb scaling. The colouring is also impressive with lovely pixelly explosions, nice shaded skies, and even some occasional eye-melting psychedelic effects on some spacey stages. The sound is a little more basic, consisting only of a constant blooping sound (the ship’s engine?), as well as shooting and explosion effects. They’re loud though, and do contribute to the enjoyment of Buck’s adventure which is a pretty decent one. I think it’s clear Sega’s inspiration for Space Harrier lies here, and the later game is understandably the one that’s more fondly remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised by its spiritual predecessor which is more playable in some ways as well as being slightly easier. Buck and friends may have a pretty limited involvement but they can still be fairly proud of this.

RKS Score: 7/10

Burnout

Burnout_arcade

Burnout (2001)
By: Criterion Games / Acclaim  Genre: Racing  Players:  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: Infinity
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Burnout_arcade

As many regular readers here may know, the demise of Sega’s fantastic Dreamcast took with it my enthusiasm for all ‘modern’ gaming as well. Consequently, a vast majority of systems and games released since then went largely ignored by me. Still to this day I’ve used a PS2 only very briefly, and I’ve never used an Xbox, but the GameCube is a bit different. My appreciation of racing games is also well-known and it was these games that consumed the bulk of my time with my shiny Dreamcast so my interest in modern gaming was again briefly piqued by a magazine cover I saw. The magazine was Edge whose cover was only usually awarded to notably important or prestigious subjects so when I saw one dominated by a new racing game called Burnout, I took immediate notice, particularly when I saw the text accompanying the image – “OutRun meets 3DO Need For Speed”…

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That said, any interest I had in video games at all during my post-Dreamcast depression was intermittent so it took me a good while to get around to playing Burnout, but when I finally did it was the GC version that I plumped for and my first impressions were mixed. It certainly isn’t a game to bog you down in exposition – as far as I can tell there’s not even a basic outline of your objectives beyond the obvious goal of being ‘number one’ (snigger), never-mind anything as radical as a backstory, but that isn’t too important with games like this. All the game does give you is a choice of several play-modes – Championship, Single Race, Head to Head, Time Attack, and Special. The first two consist of races against three CPU-controlled cars over ‘street’ courses which of course are crammed full of civilian vehicles. Single Race (arcade mode, basically) give you a choice of five fictional cars – Supermini, Sports Coupe, Saloon, Muscle, and Pickup – and three courses to race them on.

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Doesn’t sound like much I agree, so luckily more cars and courses can be unlocked by racing (well) in the Championship. This is the mode you’ll probably spend by far the most time with and it consists of two types of race – Grand Prix and Marathon races. There are four Grands Prix, which are each a series of three races over several laps of circuit-based courses (the number of laps depends on the length of the circuit), and two Marathons, which are single races over one long point-to-point course. Both types of race have a fairly strict time-limit to reach the numerous checkpoints but successful completion of each unlocks subsequent Championship races, more courses, more options for the Special Mode, and Face Off races. There are four of the latter which are head-to-head races against a CPU-controlled opponent in a new car. Win the race and you unlock the car for future use!

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This does of course bring the total number of cars available in the game to nine – the un-lockables are (skip this part if you want it to be a surprise!) – Roadster, Saloon GT, Tow Truck, and a Bus! Each vehicle is modeled on a real world equivalent (unofficially, of course) and differs with regards to its acceleration, top speed, and handling. The first two don’t matter too much as your opponents will generally be of an equal standard anyway – i.e. if you choose a slow car, they’ll be slow as well, so finding a car that handles according to your preferred driving style is most important. Some of them stick to the road like glue and obey your every command without question; others skid and slide around all over the place! Everyone knows it’s way more fun going for the fastest, craziest option though, and to that end I would recommend the Dodge Viper. Ermm, I mean the ‘muscle car’ – it’s big, heavy, and a challenge to control around corners, but it’s fast!

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There are a total of fifteen named courses through the game but only five of them are wholly unique – Interstate, Harbor Town, River City, Hillside Pass, Gridlock USA – the others are made up of sections taken from these courses, sometimes reversed or at different times of day (or night). Although they’re all comprised of public roads, there’s still a reasonable variety of types and features. Their names should give you a good idea or what they’re like but you can expect to tackle inner-city areas, motorways, coastal roads, quiet country lanes, and various others featuring undulating surfaces, tunnels, long sweeping corners, sharp right-hand turns, bridges, and lots of other stuff. As mentioned, all roads are filled with normal road-users as well, including everything from normal cars to buses, petrol-tankers, and big trucks, and these are predictably involved in much of the action.
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Travelling the sort of speeds typical of this game, it doesn’t take too much contact to cause a crash. Indeed, hitting stationary objects like walls and barriers is normally enough but touching any other vehicle that isn’t travelling at a near-identical speed (i.e. your opponents) will result in a usually-spectacular accident, often involving numerous other vehicles as well. Whilst it was almost certainly the often-leisurely drives around attractive locales that Edge magazine had in mind when they compared Burnout to OutRun, it was surely the huge crashes that made them mention the original Need For Speed. I guess Criterion were rather proud of them too – each is replayed from several angles and gives a damage figure in dollars. There’s even a ‘biggest crash’ category in the records screen, tempting you to cause them on purpose in pursuit of the record for each course!
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This can be tremendous fun as you might imagine, but believe it or not there is actually some incentive for avoiding accidents where possible, and that it what gave the game its name to begin with – the Burnouts! This is represented by a meter in the bottom-left of the screen and there are a few ways of gradually filling it – getting ‘air’ by driving over bumps and hills fast enough, driving on the wrong side of the road without crashing, drifting around corners, and by ‘near misses’ – in other words, nearly hitting civilian cars. Once the meter is full it’s available to use by pressing the relevant button which causes a significant increase in speed for… about thirty seconds if memory serves. This does of course greatly increase the likelihood of a crash as not only do the other cars come at you faster, but it also makes cornering a lot more difficult. When they do come though, they can be among the most spectacular crashes of all!
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They certainly do look impressive as well, whether you cause them on purpose or not! In fact, everything looks good here really – the cars, courses, roadside, and scenery are all fantastic and superbly detailed, but this kind of stuff is the least we expect from 21st century gaming – what impressed me the most was the smaller stuff. You can change the color of your chosen vehicle and the races take place at various times of day so the lighting there is great as well, and the attention to detail is superb – weather effects, your car’s shiny windows and bodywork reflecting the sky and parts of the scenery, its drive wheels kicking up dust if you veer off track, its headlights reflecting off the road surface during wet night races, your indicators flashing when you turn corners, shadows appropriate to the sun’s position, other road user honking at you if you get in the way… it’s all here!
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Even better is the sense of speed which was the best I’d experienced at the time and still impresses now, especially when using the ‘bumper cam’, and even more so when using a ‘burnout’ – everything gets a tinge of blurriness as your pace immediately increases, reflections pass over your car faster, tunnels approach scarily, it’s pulse-quickening stuff! And then there’s those crashes… The crashes are undeniably a visual high-point – sometimes your car will just stop dead, other times roll numerous times down the street, it can get wedged under trucks, stuck between two buses; hitting a crash barrier or something can even send you spinning through the air, but the results are usually the same for all vehicles involved – smashed windows, dents and scratches all over, and a million different types of crumpled bodywork. I’m no physicist but I’d say the vehicles also behave exactly as they should in these high-speed collisions too which is perhaps even more impressive.
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As entertaining as the crashes are though, I always found them a bit overrated. Games like Destruction Derby were created specially with crashing in mind but Burnout, however good its crashes may be, was designed as a racing game first and foremost, and in this regard it’s fantastic. The Championship mode probably won’t take too long to complete but all the courses and cars unlocked therein are available for use in Single Race and Head to Head modes which helps prolong the lifespan of this fine game, and then there’s the hitherto unmentioned Special Mode. To start with this only offers race replays and a music player but it’s also possible to view the credits, access a Survival mode (challenges you to race for as long as possible without crashing), Free Run (lets you race a course without any other traffic around), Free Run Twin (two player version of Free Run), all of which is unlocked in much the same way as the courses and cars.
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Even all these play modes will only last so long though. As with any other driving game, the thing that will or won’t keep you playing after you’ve seen everything is simply how enjoyable it is to play, and this is probably Burnout’s greatest strength. Part of the reason for this is the racing system which is surprisingly fair – if you race well but crash occasionally, your opponents will usually be very close by, constantly jostling for position, although not too violently. If you race really well and rarely or never crash, they’ll be way behind, and if you crash every thirty seconds you’ll never catch them up, or at least the leader! Something else that’s very welcome here is the fallibility of the other racers – they all make mistakes and frequently crash, often right in front of you, leaving you with a pile of wreckage to try and steer around unscathed! Possibly a tougher enemy than your opponents though, is the rather harsh time-limit which necessitates fast but careful driving in order to make each checkpoint. This, however, may sometimes seem impossible due to the design of the courses.
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They’re not badly designed you see, just realistically, and since real roads are not designed for 150mph races, there’s lots of potential problems. As well as the many, many normal road users who move around as real drivers would, changing lanes, turning at junctions, stopping at traffic lights, etc, there are plenty of tight (and often blind) corners, and even things like crossroads to try and catch you out as well, frequently successfully. The control of the cars is one of my favorite things about this game though. Each is noticeably different and testing the limits of them all is great fun – push any of them too hard and they’ll complain! The floopiest one is also, not in-coincidentally, my favorite, but even the weediest ones will give in eventually. What all this basically means is, although it can often seem like a tough or even unfair game, it’s more than possible to navigate each course quickly and safely. It’s definitely not a game to simply hold down the accelerator and bash your way around each course, but careful as well as skillful driving make playing it a thoroughly entertaining experience.

First impressions of Burnout are ultra fantastic – the very superb presentation, flashy graphics, eye-melting speed, and of course the crashes! Criterion definitely nailed it from an aesthetic point of view, although the oft-criticized in-game music is very much background music and quite inconspicuous. Get past the initially dazzling exterior though, and second impressions of the game may put you off a little. It seems as though you crash every thirty seconds without being able to do anything to prevent it and numerous angry shouts are sure to leave your mouth while playing. Stick with it though, and you’ll soon see that practice absolutely pays dividends. Time spent with the challenging courses and flawlessly-handling cars soon becomes immensely enjoyable, you’ll start finishing races without having crashed at all, laps times will continually come down, and Burnout soon becomes one of the most exciting, addictive, edge-of-the-seat racing games ever seen at the time.

RKS Score: 8/10

Zillion

Zillion - Sega Master System

By: Tatsunoko Productions Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

Zillion - Sega Master System

Zillion

I think it must be an indication of my gaming preferences and heritage that I’ve seldom been able to ‘get’ some of the most popular computer games that were doing the rounds during the 80’s. A great example of that is Impossible Mission – a supremely popular game, mainly on the C64 which I never owned admittedly, but I did later buy a copy of it for Sega’s splendid Master System. I found it an enjoyable, though very difficult game, but the puzzle elements caused me great confusion and in the end I’m ashamed to say I gave up on it. If only there was a similar game but with less puzzley puzzle bits… Before long I discovered that there was – Zillion – an unusual title even now in that it isn’t an arcade conversion and is exclusive to the MS which meant that not many people had the opportunity to play it. In the opposite scenario to which I usually find myself, however, I did have such an opportunity and I enthusiastically took advantage of it.

Zillion - Sega Master System

Like many Japanese games, this one is based on an anime series, albeit a shortish and relatively unknown one, even in Japan. Both the anime and the game star a fellow called JJ who is a member of the medieval-sounding White Knights, a peacekeeping force who are out to destroy the evil Noza Empire’s base which is located on the 50’s sci-fi-sounding ‘Planet X’. At the start of the game, the White Knight’s mothership has just landed on Planet X leaving JJ to infiltrate the underground base, rescue two captured comrades, and set the base’s mainframe computer to self-destruct. Sounds simple enough! After a short jog across the planet’s surface, JJ descends into the complex via a mysteriously-unguarded lift. From here he can make his way anywhere he wants really. The lift shaft and corridors lead to numerous rooms, each a single-screen in size. These usually contain various traps, some capsules, a computer terminal, and often a door to another similar room which will be locked.

Zillion - Sega Master System

JJ is less agile than the C64’s most famous secret agent but he can still jump around about the place (surprisingly high, too) and can also crawl along the ground. He packs a gun, too, which is used for destroying the sadly-infinite enemy guards who are found in pretty much every location – the planet’s surface, the lift corridors, and many (though not all) of the rooms themselves. Contact with their shots (though not the enemies themselves), or some of traps in the rooms, depletes JJ’s energy reserves, although he can get a ‘top up’ at any time by returning to the mothership. The gun is also needed for breaking open the capsules which contain power-up items including more energy, more powerful guns, goggles (which allow you to see some of the otherwise-invisible traps), ID cards (which are needed to access the computer terminals), and floppy disks which are needed to access the main computer.

Zillion - Sega Master System

More commonly found in the capsules, however, are code symbols. Each door has a four-symbol code but capsules only contain one so you need to bust open four in any given room, remember (or write down) the symbols, then re-enter them at the computer terminal. These capsules are, unsurprisingly, often protected by guards or traps which include energy-sapping barriers, conveyor-belt sections of floor, automated guns, mines, or trip-wires which trigger an influx of guards. The traps can all be turned off by entering a simple code in the terminals although, unlike entering door codes, you won’t get your ID card back so it’s best to work around the traps if possible. JJ is reasonable for this but, splendidly, you can also control your two kidnapped comrades once you’re rescued them. They include the awesomely-named Apple, a girlie who is predictably more agile than JJ and can jump higher but also takes more damage, and Champ, a bulky fellow who shrugs off enemy fire more easily than the other two but can’t leap around so well.

Zillion - Sega Master System

These two idiots also have their own energy reserves, so once you’ve rescued them you then basically have three lots of energy to get through the game with. Well, I suppose technically you have infinite energy if you can be bothered to go all the way back to the mothership every time you’re running low, but either way it makes Zillion a much easier and more accessible game than Impossible Mission, for me at least. That said, it can occasionally be rather unfair, as with the ‘unavoidable death loop’ I encountered. Contact with enemies or their fire knocks JJ (or whoever) backwards, you see, so if enemies are present very close to the point you enter one room and leave another, you can end up getting knocked backwards and forwards between them until you die. Boo hoo! Still, it only happened the once so far and the rest of the game is fairly accommodating despite some slightly iffy controls, mainly regarding the characters’ jumping abilities. Practise makes perfect though, although don’t expect to be able to play though the game quicker on subsequent runs – the door codes are randomly generated each time you play!

Zillion - Sega Master System

The presentation is of a high standard throughout the game and includes a few cut-scenes (including some girlie on the mothership crying if you die – unrequited love?) and the in-game graphics are quite good too. The sprites look a little weird to be honest (it looks like JJ has a blue face for one thing) and the way they shuffle along the ground is quite amusing. There’s a bit of flicker amongst the enemies when two or more are close together too, but there’s been a bit of effort to keep the nicely-detailed backgrounds a little more varied than I had expected. The audio is also good – there’s only one main tune but it’s a catchy one and the effects aren’t bad either which means that, all things considered, Zillion is pretty spiffy! It’s a pretty big game, spanning 136 screens I believe, and most of them are well-designed. You’ll need to return to some later (with a different character or more powerful gun, for example) and the sense of progress is keenly felt. Impossible Mission may well be an all-time great as far as most gamers are concerned, but my simple-mind would much rather tackle this lesser-known clone!

RKS Score: 8/10

King of the Monsters

King_of_the_Monsters

King of the Monsters (1991)
By: SNK Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS First Day Score: 47,640
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES, MegaDrive, SNES
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

King of the Monsters

The Neo Geo has gained a great deal of fame and adulation over the years for a variety of reasons but much of this has come from fans of its many one-on-one fighting games. The flagship series must surely be King of Fighters, but fighters are not the only thing it’s possible to be king of! All these human-based games are all very well but even the most creative minds can only do so much with our soft, fleshy, watery bodies. What we need is for someone to open their mind to the possibilities that other beings could bring to the genre. No, I’m not talking about robots, I think we’ve had just about enough of those metallic buffoons clanging into each other (eeek!). Something with the unpredictability of nature is still required I think, but a good helping of muscles, fangs, and a bit of primeval ferocity wouldn’t hurt either. Sounds like a job for the Japanese…
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The result is clearly inspired by Japan’s preoccupation with giant monsters and hideous creatures of various descriptions, known as ‘kaiju’, and is set in six cities around said country. Each city is home to a combat arena which is… the city itself! Due to the probably-radiation-assisted size of the monsters, they face off in city streets surrounded by appropriate buildings and other landmarks. Well, I’ve presumed they’re appropriate but I can’t say I’ve spent too much time in the cities in question. The action is viewed from a 3D overhead perspective meaning the monsters can move in all directions around the arenas which are encircled by an electrical barrier. Almost everything within the sizeable perimeter can be and usually is destroyed though – more often than not each city starts out all lovely and pristine and ends up looking more like a debris-strewn warzone!
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The titanic battles take the form of wrestling matches which, to quote good old Mene Gene, are ‘scheduled for one fall’ and are contested by six monsters – Geon (a Godzilla-like dinosaur), Woo (a blue King Kong-like ape), Poison Ghost (a creature made of toxic waste like Hydorah), Rocky (who is… umm… a rocky creature), Beetle Mania (a large Megalon-like beetle), and Astro Guy (a courageous Ultraman-like superhero). Any of them can be selected and all are fought twice (including your own character) before the game is finished. Their repertoire of moves doesn’t vary much from one to another, although they do have special moves of course, and they’re also taken from the world of wrestling which means many suplexes, throws, gorilla presses, DDT’s, pile-drivers, and some close-quarters grappling and even biting! It’s possible to pin your opponent (in some humiliating ways, obviously – see blue ape oaf below) any time you knock them down but it’s probably best to beat the crap out of them sufficiently first. If they’re weak enough, your ‘cover’ may result in a three-count and victory.
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And that’s pretty much it! One-on-one fighting games have become rather convoluted in recent years in my opinion but King of the Monsters is the opposite. Is that a good thing? Well, it could certainly do with having a bit more to it – some additional fighters at least, and perhaps also the ability to use the surrounding buildings as weapons – but its simplicity also works in its favour in some ways. The graphics and music are quite pleasing for an early Neo Geo title too. The tunes have an air of disaster about them and the monsters all screech/roar appropriately enough. They are also just the right size have some nice animations, and the attention to detail on the cities is superb. In classic B-movie style, the players are attacked by various human vehicles like tanks and boats during play and these can be picked up and thrown. Control of your chosen monster seems pretty good for the most part. Each has two attack buttons and a run button, although it often seems a bit hit and miss as to whether a strike/move is effective or not, but each one needs to count as your character is not restored to full power for the next match which can mean a very rapid defeat.
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And therein lies both the appeal and problem with King of the Monsters. It’s simple, even for a fighting game, and is very much an arcade game in the traditional sense – it provides a lot of fun and laughs in five or ten minute bursts but little beyond that. That’s to be expected of an arcade game but the Neo Geo home versions haven’t been enhanced in any way and the MegaDrive and SNES conversions even lose two characters! It certainly is an appealing game though, initially at least, and that appeal is heightened when a second player is added who, splendidly, you can choose to either fight against or alongside you against two CPU monsters! You’ll also likely find much to appreciate here if you’re a fan of the old Japanese films from which the game takes its inspiration. If giant rubbery monsters don’t do it for you though, you’ll probably lose interest fairly quickly. It’s a fantastic premise with some great ideas and there are few fighting games like it, I just wish there was a bit more to it.

RKS Score: 7/10

Alien Breed

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Alien Breed

There was a period during the early 90’s when being an Amiga gamer was nearly as great as being a console gamer with regards to arcade-style games (I know, hard to believe – hee hee!), and this was largely thanks to Team 17. Although not founded until 1990 – quite late for an Amiga developer – they made an immediate impact. Their releases were rarely very original but were almost always technically impressive and highly playable. One that remains among their most celebrated works is Alien Breed, an almost legendary overhead run ‘n’ gun blaster. It was reminiscent of many such games before it in concept and also took a good few cues from a certain sci-fi film, but was immediately successful nonetheless. This would indicate that it’s very good but when I gave it a quick try in my younger days I found it annoying and flawed. It’s reputation endures though, so maybe I judged it too quickly and too harshly. I shall now find out…
Alien Breed

The game casts you and an optional second player in the roles of Johnson and Stone, two members of the Inter-Planetary-Corps (IPC), an ‘elite band of tough mercenaries’ whose job it is to clean up the universe’s scum. On their way home from a long mission, they’re ordered to investigate the nearby ‘Intex Space Research Centre 4’ which has stopped responding to messages. This means landing their craft and scoping out the complex on foot, but they may have guests! Sound familiar? Indeed, there was a rather popular movie directed by a certain James Cameron released a few years before Alien Breed which has a very similar premise, and many more things will sound familiar by the end of the review as well, but that’s okay – a lack of innovation or imagination doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of enjoyment! The complex consists of six decks comprised of interconnecting rooms and areas. You have a set objective on each deck which is detailed before you start it. Once it’s complete, you need to find the lift and move to the next.
Alien Breed

You start on the first deck which is a docking bay, and a quick stroll around reveals a tidy, mostly metallic, and eerily quiet gameworld. The action is viewed from directly overhead and you can move freely around the decks in eight directions. There are lots of doors between areas which each require a key to open, and there are various bits and pieces dotted around the stages from barrels right up to active (but grounded) spacecraft, but it doesn’t take long to discover some slightly more dangerous stuff too – namely, the aliens – which look exactly as you would expect the Giger variety of xenomorph to look from above, and there are a lot of them. To help you reduce their numbers you start the game armed with a machine gun but the aliens, once onscreen, gravitate towards you, can move very quickly, and are infinite, so prowling the stages trying to take out every one you encounter will be a never-ending pursuit. Actually, it will end as contact with them depletes your energy quickly!
Alien Breed

Some things that are worth looking for include cash, keys, ammo, and health, all of which can be found laying around on the floor and all of which is necessary to make progress. The cash can be used to buy one of six different weapons (flamethrower, plasma gun, missiles, laser, etc) from the Intex computer terminals you’ll find now and then, all of which have finite ammo. The terminals also offer a map of the stage (which looks dauntingly large and intricate!), various stats and information screens, a game of Pong to kill time, and you can also buy a portable map, extra lives, and more of the stuff you can find on the floor in case you’ve developed a habit of squandering the existing supplies (although since that must also include cash, I guess you’d still be in trouble). They’re in fairly abundant supply though, so careful play should mean you can save your money for the arse-kicking weapons. Which are very much needed!
Alien Breed

Later stages introduce a few new features such as ramps and pools of acid (alien blood?), but most of Alien Breed’s six stages are pretty much the same thing – running around seemingly infinite corridors collecting stuff and shooting up evil creatures! Playing it reminded me several other games, notablyAlien Syndrome and my old favourite, Gauntlet, both of which are very enjoyable but rather repetitive overhead shooters. Team 17’s game should be much inferior to these two classics too. Although playing similarly to them, its visuals vary less than both. With the exception of the final stage, the graphics only change slightly from one mission to the next – usually a slightly different colour scheme, and there are very few different enemy sprites (facehuggers and two different ‘full size’ alien creatures). That said, the attention to detail is great and, along with the largely silent gameplay punctuated only by gunfire, occasional speech, and the screeches of dying aliens, helps create a pretty creepy atmosphere which does a lot to alleviate the repetition.

When I first played this game all those years ago on my trusty A600, I recall my main problem with it being its high difficulty. I remember running out of ammo quickly and having difficulty finding more. Playing it this time was much more enjoyable and leaves me wondering what on earth I was actually doing wrong the first time around! It’s a pretty damn tough game for sure, mainly thanks to the infinite aliens (there’s not even any Gauntlet-style ‘generators’ to stem the flow), but it’s not hugely unfair as I was expecting it to be either, even if you get trapped – you’ll probably often find yourself running away from aliens down a corridor only to find more coming from the other end! They do seem relentless to begin with too, but practise, as well as learning your way around the initially-confusing stages (buy a map!), will see you make steady progress. The first stage eases you in (giggity) and should be completed with minimal hassle but it’s just a ‘practise mode’ really, compared to the rest of the game, which I still can’t finish without cheating, incidentally (and there are a lot of codes too). Alien Breed is still a rather repetitive game but the great atmosphere and addictive action make it one that’s worth spending time on. Especially if you’re a fan of the film it’s (unofficially) based on!

RKS Score: 7/10

Exploring the ColecoVision

ColecoVision

Once video games were invented it didn’t take too long for home gaming to get established too. A few ‘electronic’ games had started appearing in the 70’s before the first actual home consoles arrived starting with the Magnavox Odyssey which, despite achieving limited success, spurred on others to try the same. Fairchild had their Channel F and later Mattel’s Intellivision had been doing respectable business, but it was of course Atari’s immense VCS that had destroyed all who stood in its way. By the early 80’s even that was starting to look a little old and tired though, and this new breed of enthusiasts known as ‘gamers’ were eager for a more advanced successor.

This soon arrived in the middle of that decade’s third year courtesy of another American company – Coleco. Despite their name, which was a contraction of Connecticut Leather Company, and their history of producing plastic and indeed leather products, they were no strangers to the exciting realm of electronic entertainment. They had already produced a range of standalone consoles in the late 70’s called Telstar which each featured a few pre-programmed variations of existing games such as Pong and Tank. Their latest effort was called the ColecoVision and, unlike the Telstar range, offered games on inter-changeable cartridges. In fact, it was bundled with one such game, a conversion of the popular arcade hit Donkey Kong, no less, and its quality soon showed that perhaps this new contender was the system gamers had been waiting for.
ColecoVision
Unlike the blocky, low-resolution games found on Atari’s machine, Coleco’s games were like having an arcade in the home thanks to the Z80A processor that powered it. Indeed, many of the games it hosted were arcade conversions and most of them were close to arcade perfect – a term that had to be invented for their machine.

Thanks mainly to its many games of this type, the ColecoVision became popular immediately; sales soon surpassed one million units and several fancy accessories were released as well, including a steering wheel controller (complete with ‘gas’ pedal) and, ironically, an adaptor that enabled it to run Atari VCS games! Although this device automatically gave the Coleco a vast library of games, and provided a great incentive to buy it in the process, it was the system’s own games that impressed the most and the number available quickly passed the hundred mark. Unimaginable success looked assured for the former leather company but sadly the sudden, catastrophic collapse of the US gaming industry, the infamous ‘video game crash of 1983’, then took their console down along with numerous others.

Happily for us retro gamers though, a good few titles were released before that unfortunate event brought things to an untimely conclusion and I’ve selected a few of them at random to help me determine whether ‘the crash’ was a curse or a blessing in disguise. Here’s how I got on:

Lady Bug (1982)
Lady_Bug

Arcade conversions represented a substantial percentage of Coleco titles and this one, whilst hardly a jaw-droppingly original game, was a top effort. As is obvious from the screenshot, it’s a Pac-Man clone, but it may not be as generic as it first appears. As the titular beetle, your job is of course simply to collect all the dots (or x’s in this case) around each maze. However, parts of the walls are made of movable gates (the green bits) through which your twitchy bug can move but the scary enemy bugs cannot. This is particularly handy as there can be up to four of them scurrying around and they move as fast as you do! The graphics are simple and there’s no in-game music (aside from the odd jingle), but apart from a bit of detail on the bugs this is pretty much an arcade perfect conversion and as such is splendid! It’s a fast-paced game which requires quick reflexes but it’s great fun to play and very addictive too. A great introduction to Coleco gaming for me!

BurgerTime (1984)
Burger_Time

This Data East title must be one of the more famous games to have received a Coleco release but it’s also one that I’ve never really been too keen on, I’m afraid to say. It’s a single-screen platformer – a type of game I generally dolike, ironically – in which you, as Peter Pepper, must create tasty burgers by walking over the various components to make them fall down before the various evil foodstuffs who patrol the stages can stop you. Sounds good but I’ve always found it to be a rather frustrating game with unreliable controls. If you’re one of the many who like the arcade game though, chances are you’ll like this version too. The graphics are smaller and slightly more squashed but the stages are correct, the catchy music is spot on, and it plays just like its arcade parent. Not one I’ll come back to very often but a treat for fans.

From Out of the Jungle (1984)
From_Out_Of_The_Jungle

Even in the early days, most video games asked you to kill and/or destroy stuff so the premise of this game was a refreshing change. It instead asked you to rescue the ‘Great Apes’ and other animals that had been imprisoned through a tropical jungle filled with evil hunters and their allies. This may sound slightly familiar, and indeed, it didn’t come as a big surprise to find that the game is also known simply as ‘Tarzan’. It plays a bit like a slightly more advanced version of Pitfall and is viewed from an angled side-on perspective which allows Tarzan to more easily evade his foes. Unfortunately he only has a feeble punch versus their guns and ‘Beastmen’ but he can climb trees and swing from vines as well. It’s a fairly interesting game with some decent ideas but is let down by two things – there are some unavoidable hazards such as trap doors that open beneath your feet, and the controls are also rather clunky, often resulting in unfairly lost energy (sometimes repeatedly). Good try but needs a coat of polish.

Flipper Slipper (1983)
Flipper_Slipper

This one is almost that rarest of rarities – a Coleco exclusive (but there was an MSX version as well)! It’s not a game I had previously heard of though, and its strange name provided few clues as to what I could expect. A subsequent perusal of the instruction booklet reveals that it’s supposedly a weird pinball game but it actually plays a lot more like a weird Breakout clone. There are ‘forested’ areas in the top-left and top-right of the screen which can be cleared by hitting the ball into the ‘trees’ with two movable ‘flippers’ (actually just crescent-shaped bats). There are also animals (turtles, fish, etc) to kill for bonus points, two ‘beaches’ on the sides of the playfield, a moving ‘beach house’ in the middle of the screen, and an angry dog behind a breakable gate (although he looks more like a reindeer to me, complete with red nose!). So, like I said… weird! But, like most Breakout-style games, it’s also rather addictive!

Nova Blast (1983)
Nova_Blast

I was determined to find a shooter on Coleco’s machine before concluding this feature and went for this one based purely on its title. Sure enough, it is indeed a shmup and, unsurprisingly for the day, it’s one based on Defender. As Nova 1, the last of your fleet, it’s your job to protect the six ‘Capsuled Cities’ that occupy the looping planetary surface. Much like Williams’ classic, there are loads of airborne attackers to shoot down with your rapid-fire laser, but your ship can also drop bombs to take out the ‘Water Walkers’ which are the main threats to the cities. So, it’s not very original but the graphics are detailed (I particularly liked the stars and planets in the background), the controls are responsive, and crucially for poor old me it’s also an easier game than the hardcore Defender! Once again not an exclusive, but it still provided Coleco owners with some fast and addictive blasting action.

Verdict:
Despite coming from a less prestigious background than companies like Atari, Coleco did a pretty impressive job with their console. They were pretty brave, too, releasing it while the VCS was so dominant. It must’ve been a bit like Sega, and Atari again, trying to muscle in on the handheld market which Nintendo has sewn up with the Game Boy, to use an analogy that I can personally relate to, but on this occasion it worked. Or it seemed to be working until the entire market imploded in the US, ending their dream, and those of many other companies as well.

It’s always a shame when a system goes down before its time, of course, but for many the ColecoVision’s untimely demise was particularly upsetting. It was similar to other system’s that emerged around the same time such as the MSX and Sega’s SG-1000, technically, and accordingly these platforms shared numerous titles, and many of the Coleco’s other games were arcade conversions. This obviously meant that it had very little exclusive, truly original software. Perhaps it would’ve received a steady flow of titles like this eventually, if things had gone differently. However, the bulk of the user-base of the aforementioned systems was in the Far East which meant the Coleco received ports and conversions of games that many Western players hadn’t seen before, and generally their quality was of a very high standard.

My personal experiences of the ColecoVision are vague. I’m sure I knew someone who owned one when I was young but I can’t remember actually using it much, if at all. That obviously made my time with it for this feature my first such experience and it’s one I’ve enjoyed a lot. Having already spent a good amount of time with some of the systems to which it is technically similar, there wasn’t really much here that surprised me, but most of the games I tried (which included several more not covered in this feature) were pretty slick and playable. The controllers were never particularly popular of course, but several peripherals had already been released for the ColecoVision (including the cheeky VCS adaptor!) and others were on the way including a new controller, so there seems to be little that would’ve prevented the system from going on to great success.

Sadly though, all we can do now is imagine what might’ve been. Coleco did (perhaps unwisely) try to follow up the ‘Vision with a home computer version called the Adam but, while compatible with all of the console’s software and accessories, it suffered from a number of problems and never really even got off the ground and its failure pretty much put the final nail in Coleco’s coffin that hadn’t already been hammered in by the market crash. I suppose if I had to sum up the ColecoVision’s legacy, I’d say that it was a good piece of kit with some good games, but it was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Switchblade

Switchblade - Atari ST

Switchblade (1989)
By: Core Design / Gremlin  Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Atari ST  First Day Score: 9,240
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Switchblade

Whether you love or hate Rick Dangerous, there´s no question that it was a memorable game. Anyone wanting more of the same would have to wait for its sequel which would arrive a year later, but released the same year as Rick’s first adventure was this game. It’s similar in looks and gameplay so it comes as so surprise to find that the same team was responsible for both games, but the setting has changed. This latter effort takes place ten thousand years in the future rather than the recent past, and it appears to be an anime-influenced future ‘cyber world’ called Thraxx where the Undercity is now ruled by the evil Havoc who has shattered the Fireblade and filled the city with his minions.

Switchblade - Atari ST

It’s down to you to flush the Undercity of this filth and simultaneously find the sixteen pieces of the Fireblade, the source of the Bladeknight’s power, and rebuild it to ensure lasting peace. You do this as Hiro, the last of the Bladeknights. He has as much stealth and cunning as you can muster as well as a programmable cyber-arm. Only when the Fireblade has been reassembled will you be able to take on Havoc and help Hiro gain revenge for the death of his people. You’ll start this flick-screen adventure above ground but after only a few screens you’ll enter the underground depths of Undercity, a vast, sprawling labyrinth of rooms, tunnels, and passageways. A labyrinth it is too as only sections you’re in or have previously been in will appear – all other sections are hidden until you enter them.

Switchblade - Atari ST

This of course means there’s lots of secrets and sneakily-concealed areas which often require some exploration or experimentation to find. Hidden or not though, all areas of Undercity are patrolled by the hideous servants of Havoc, contact with whom will deplete Hiro’s energy meter. To begin with he can only use his fists or feet against them but there are six power-up weapons available as he makes his way through the game which are mostly sword or projectile-type weapons. They will all have differing ranges and some projectile weapons also have limited ammo. The effect of some of them (including Hiro’s default attacks) is also slightly different depending on your use of the charge bar. More ammo can be collected of course, and other things to look out for include speed-ups, a temporary shield, flasks and orbs which award you with bonus points, and increases to your power-meter.

Switchblade - Atari ST

It’s also worth looking out for Fireblade fragments, of course, and successful recovery of all sixteen pieces bestows a sizable bonus upon Hiro as well as the option of using the Fireblade as a seventh weapon power-up. It will be a while before that becomes possible though as Switchblade is a pretty big game. It consists of five levels but, although ending with a boss fight, each level continues on from the last so there’s no real break between them. This extends to the look of them. The graphical style is similar to the distinctive look of Rick Dangerous before it – everything is neat and nicely drawn with small, squat little sprites, and I can’t imagine it really pushes the 16-bit CPU of the ST very hard – but unlike Core’s previous game, there’s almost no variety between the levels, and unfortunately that’s as far as both graphics and gameplay are concerned too.

Switchblade - Atari ST

The grey bricks, crates, girders and ladders that you’ll first see upon entering Undercity are still prevalent an hour later as you approach the climax of the game. This was very disappointing to find as even the much shorter Rick Dangerous has some variety between its levels, graphically. One improvement made here is the audio – the sound effects are pretty anonymous but there is at least in-game music courtesy of Ben Daglish, and it’s great! Playing the game will also feel familiar if you’ve played Rick’s game. There’s less trial-and-error frustration involved here, at least with regards to completely hidden traps and the like, but exploring the levels is done in pretty much the same way – jumping around multi-tiered sections and nipping up and down ladders. Hiro also moves in a similar way to Rick but since he has an energy meter rather than one-hit deaths, it’s a little easier too.

Switchblade - Atari ST

Overall though, I’m not sure if Switchblade represents a forward or backwards step. Rick Dangerous got a mixed response due to its immensely unfair but addictive gameplay while Switchblade was apparently unanimously praised, but in my opinion the latter doesn’t possess either of the former’s most notable qualities – it’s fairer but less addictive since the whole game is pretty much the same as the first five minutes. I know it suits the story to have the whole city looking pretty much the same, but it doesn’t do much for the player’s desire to see it all. This, combined with a very annoying ‘hit mechanic’, which sees Hiro shunted backwards every time he takes damage, means I have less compulsion to continue playing this than I do Rick Dangerous. It’s far from a terrible game, and uncovering all the hidden areas provides some motivation to play it, but it could’ve been so much better with a bit of variety.

RKS Score: 6/10

Blue Stinger

Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

Blue Stinger (1999)
By: Climax Graphics / Activision  Genre: Survival Horror  Players:  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Dreamcast  
Also Available For: Nothing

As game systems get more and more powerful over the years it’s only natural that the games played on them will evolve to make better use of them too, and occasionally new genres appear. One such genre was arguably started by Alone in the Dark which appeared in 1992 for the PC but I don’t think anyone would deny it was the arrival of Capcom’s Resident Evil series which really saw it take off. This genre came to be known, of course, as survival horror, but it’s one that’s never really taken a hold of me. Despite this, I bought Blue Stinger at the Dreamcast’s launch and looked forward to exploring its world. Is that because it promised something more than existing survival horror games, or would I once again fail to be ensnared by this burgeoning genre?

Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

In all honesty it was probably just excitement over the Dreamcast’s arrival which prompted the purchase of this game, but it does have a few differences to earlier games of its type. It’s set in the Gulf of Mexico in the vicinity of the Yacutan Peninsula. As we’re shown in the fairly decent intro sequence, this was the site of the immense meteor strike which brought to an end the age of the dinosaur. Fast forward to the year 2000 and a mysterious island is all that remains after a huge earthquake hits the presumed site of the meteor impact, and it becomes known as Dinosaur Island. It isn’t long before the island is occupied by a shady biotech corporation called Kimra. Nearly twenty years later, ESER (Emergency Sea Evacuation and Rescue) member, Eliot Ballade, is fishing in the area while on vacation with a friend when something falls from the sky, heading towards the island.
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

Soon after the island is struck by what appears to be a meteor, an energy barrier appears around it which traps Eliot’s friend, and almost capsizes their boat in the process. Needless to say, Eliot awakens on the island with only a blue, floaty creature called Nephilim for company. Urging Eliot to follow her, it’s at this point your adventure begins. To begin with you’ll just have Eliot to control but before long you’ll meet some friendly characters – Janine King, a member of the security force on the island who most of your contact with is via computer/viewscreen, and Dogs Bower, a resident of the island. From this point on you can select either Eliot or Dogs to explore the mysterious island with. Eliot is faster and more agile, Dogs is stronger and can take more damage. But damage from what, I hear you ask? The majority of Blue Stinger is a adventure game – explore the various buildings and other areas, solve simple puzzles or find items to progress, etc, but there are also some less-than-friendly creatures on the loose.
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

As you might expect from a survival horror game, the island is occupied by some horrifying creatures as well. Many of these used to be human by the looks of it, but I don’t think they’re zombies. Whatever they are, they waste little time in tearing chunks out of Eliot and Dogs if they get the chance. To begin with, your only means of fending them off is your fists but it isn’t long before you’ll start finding some more effective weapons. These come in two groups. Short-range weapons include the trusty baseball bat (do these things actually get used for playing baseball?), axe, even a light-sabre type device. Far more effective (and safer), but with finite ammunition, are the long-range weapons. These include the standard handgun and shotgun, a couple of more originals ones in the acid gun and plasma gun, and the supremely satisfying bazooka!
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

Some of these weapons can be found surreptitiously laying around, but they can also be bought at one of the various (automated) shops you’ll come across. It’s the same for ammunition, although this can also be found on some of the dead bodies you’ll periodically encounter. Eeek! Dinosaur Island is a fairly extensive place too. As well as the expected areas like the docks (which is where you start), warehouses, and research facilities, there’s also shops, banks, and all sorts of other places. It’s more like a town than a corporate headquarters – they even have their own currency – the Kimra dollar. This can be found in several places but your first source of it is a dangerous one – the terrifying monsters themselves!
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

Predictably enough, the hideous creatures increase in both strength and numbers as you progress through the game but it’s worth taking them on rather than running as each will explode in a shower of coins upon defeat! Whilst this does break the illusion a little, they are nonetheless invaluable sources of money which is needed to make decent progress. Money can also be found in a few other places, as can numerous other items. Some of them are useful but not very exciting such as keys, bank and ID cards, stamps, etc. Others are a bit more interesting but less useful such as an array of new t-shirts! Various foods and ‘Hassy’ drinks can also be found or bought which replenish your energy level to a varying degree depending on what you consume.
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

One of the biggest attractions of games like this is their realism which is probably why they, as a genre, were born relatively recently as a result of the ever-increasing power of home systems. After all, only so much realism could be achieved on the older and more limited cartridge and disc-based machines! Accordingly, considering it was one of the first Dreamcast games, Blue Stinger is a fantastic-looking game. The intro and cut-scenes are great (although the lip-syncing is a little ropey) and this was one of the first games on any system to feature a fully-3D game environment. The scale and atmosphere this helps to convey is pretty darn good and all the characters, especially the gruesome monsters, look superb. Some of the boss monsters are enormous and mightily impressive!
Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

The various areas of the game have been well thought-out too and the attention to detail is top-notch. For example, the game apparently takes place near Christmas as there are decorations and jingly music around the shopping area! The voice-acting, whilst not cringe-inducing, is a little below-par but the rest of the music is of a high standard too. Some of it’s creepy as you would expect, but that Christmas tune is brilliant. There’s something very surreal about shooting the crap out of disgusting, mutated creatures while music as happy and jolly as that is playing! A vast majority of the game is viewed from a third-person perspective and, mercifully in my opinion, control over Eliot/Dogs is more akin to Tomb Raider than Resident Evil which gives the game a lot more immediacy and is greatly beneficial to the enjoyment of the game.

Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast
And enjoyable it is too. The graphics, sound, presentation, etc are all about as good as you could expect for a Dreamcast launch title and they still impress today but for one problem – the camera. Yep, it was a familiar story in the late 90’s. The view of the action is very good until you find yourself in a cramped corner or something similar, at which point it doesn’t seem to know where to go! That said, it’s not a game-ruining problem and it shouldn’t dissuade you from playing Blue Stinger. The story is engrossing and the interaction between the characters is superb with some amusing banter between them all. The shady Dogs rarely seems at ease with Eliot and even less so when Janine’s around (I suspect he’d be ever more incensed if he knew about the revealing pics Sega hid away of her on the game disc!).

Blue Stinger - Sega Dreamcast

Aside from the camera problem there really isn’t and bad points to this game. There’s a genuine urge to unravel the mystery and see how things end and there’s a good 10-15 hours of tense and atmospheric gameplay before you’ll get to find that out. There’s also enough secrets and small side-quests to encourage multiple play-throughs and it’s enjoyable each time. A survival horror beginner I may be, but I’d like to think I know a good game when I see one, and this is certainly that.

RKS Score: 8/10

Alien Crush Returns

Alien Crush Returns

It’s scary to think that it’s now 23 years since Naxat dreamed up the genesis of the Crush series. There have since been several sequels, both official and otherwise, the last of which was the little-known Jaki Crush, itself now almost 20 years old, but that was it. Until now! Yes, in a move of special magnificence, Tamsoft have resurrected this great series and what better way of doing so than to remake the original? Alien Crush Returns is more of a sequel than a remake really though and they’ve even managed to tack on a backstory this time!

Alien Crush Returns

Apparently “an elite squad of space marines sets off to investigate an alien spaceship trapped in Jupiter’s gravity” or some such nonsense. Sound familiar? How they’ve managed to facilitate a pinball game with that story I don’t know, but the game includes a story mode, arcade mode, ranking mode and versus mode (1-4 player), and as well as multiple tables, including bonus tables as always, and lots of other sweet features like multi ball, reverse ball, etc.

Alien Crush Returns

The biggest change between this game and the original is of course the graphics which are lovely and suitably grotesque, including pulsating sacs, toothy mouths, slimy tubes, scuttling insects, and all manner of horrifying beasts. There’s even huge bosses this time too! There are initially three tables to play in arcade mode (although more can be downloaded) and the ball pings around them at quite a speed, probably the fastest of any Crush game so far, and as usual they are packed with secrets and bonuses galore.

Alien Crush Returns

I haven’t yet spent any time playing this game as I don’t own a Wii but the prospect of playing it sure makes buying one a tempting prospect, and the possibility of a Devil’s Crush Returns in the future is even more exciting! So, Alien Crush has indeed returned but is it better than the original? Well, that remains to be seen, but I can’t wait to find out!

RKS Score: 4/5

Black Belt

Black Belt a.k.a. Hokuto No Ken (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 209,100
Also Available For: Nothing Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Black_Belt
Apparently inspired by Irem’s Kung Fu Master, even to the point of borrowing its ‘plot’, Sega’s game introduces the martial arts master, Riki, whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Blinded by love to the obvious dangers ahead, Riki immediately sets out to rescue her by kicking and punching his way across six scrolling stages of enemy goons. His repertoire of moves is restricted to a punch or kick, both of which can be performed while standing or squatting, and he can also unleash a flying kick. Each stage features just one type of standard enemy who are each felled (and then explode) by one of Riki’s strikes. There are also one or more mid-bosses, who are usually armed, before the main end-of-stage battle against a much stronger foe.Back in the late 80’s, my good friend Luke and I were both proud owners of Sega’s Master System.

Black_Belt

We were both still at school though, so we couldn’t afford new games very often, but we frequently ogled the games we wanted in the various magazines of the day, and on both of our lists was this exciting-sounding game by Sega. It’s actually one of the first games by Yuki Naka who would later go on to head Sonic Team and was released earlier in the same year in Japan as a game based on the popular manga and anime series, Fist of the North Star. Rather than using this opportunity to introduce it to the rest of us though, its release in other territories saw a change in theme to the generic karate game we have before us. This was all unknown to Luke and I at the time of course, and despite the atrocious cover art (see here) it’s a game I always found very enticing.

Black_Belt

Enemy strikes deplete Riki’s health-bar but this can be replenished by performing a high-jump (jump while squatting) to grab the icons that occasionally float along the top of the screen. As well as several types of food to refill your energy, there’s also a temporary shield, but they’re tricky to grab without taking any damage as the buffoons running backwards and forwards along the single-plane landscapes are infinite and quite quick too. They’re also pretty small, as is Riki himself. The level of detail isn’t too impressive on most sprites either but the mid and end-of-stage bosses are quite varied and a bit more detailed too. Confrontations with the latter sees the view zoom in a little, and therefore the level of detail increase a little, as the game (briefly) switches to a one-on-one brawler complete with unique backgrounds.

Black_Belt

Each of the stages also has its own backdrop and tune, of course, but these are little better than average which sums up the whole game really. It would probably have proved a reasonably entertaining game to play every now and then when it came out but it’s not aged too well. There’s no incentive to play for points since the enemies are never-ending. There is a time limit, admittedly, but it’s not a very strict one which is probably because the stages aren’t very long – if you were forced to rush through them, each would probably last a couple of minutes at most, not including the boss fights which are, incidentally, the only times you’ll need to use more than one brain cell! Playing through the rest of the game, though, is a bit of a chore and there’s a few scrolling fightings games on the MS which are much more enjoyable. Sometimes these games I’ve been meaning to play for so many years are worth the wait. Sadly, Black Belt isn’t one of them.

RKS Score: 5/10

Micro Machines

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Micro Machines (1991)
By: Code Masters Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, SNES, NES, Game Boy, CDi, PC, Amiga

People will always have differing opinions of things. Whether it’s games, films, music or anything else you can think of; there will always be at least one person that worships something and another who hates it with just as much passion. However, generally speaking, good things are regarded as good by the majority and likewise bad things remain bad. This is as true of video games as anything else but there’s bound to be a few people that dislike well-regarded games and that includes me – it was the whole reason I created the ‘Overrated!’ feature here at Red Parsley of course. I’ve only covered four games so far though, which suggests it isn’t something that happens too often, but if there was one game I always had at the back of my mind to add to the feature, it would be this one. I don’t think there’s any game so universally lauded that I dislike, but I caught a lot of flak for its omission from my recent Top Five so I figured it was as good a time as any to address the issue!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Micro Machines themselves – the little toys – are pretty cool. I’ve even collected a few such as the range they released based on the awesome Babylon 5, and when the game was released it was met with universal acclaim from reviewers and players alike. I’ve always been keen on games of this type so I sought it out with the utmost haste. Being equally keen on my splendid MegaDrive, it was this version I plumped for and first impressions of the game were… superb! The presentation is outstanding with nice cartoony intro and options screens which give you the choice between single or multi-player games. The latter offers the choice of ‘Single Race’ or ‘Tournament’ for two players while the former allows you to choose between ‘Head to Head’ or ‘Challenge’ games, and it is the first of these that I prefer by some way which is basically the two-player mode but against a CPU-controlled opponent.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Before starting you first need to choose your own character as well as your opponent’s from a selection of eleven cartoony human oafs whose skill level supposedly increases gradually from one to the next. You’ll then race each other in your various miniature vehicles over a series of courses based on household locales. The first, for example, sees you racing powerboats around a bubbly bath tub! Other vehicles include Sports Cars, Formula One Cars, Tanks, Turbo Wheels (buggies), Warriors (hot rods), 4×4’s, and Choppers, and they are raced around the house on things like desk tops, breakfast tables, snooker tables, and even around the workshop and garden. All race locations feature items and obstacles appropriate to their setting which most of the time make themselves unwelcome. In the two-player Single Race mode you can choose a vehicle which is then raced over its ‘home’ course, but in all other play modes the courses are arranged in order and you have to win one to see the next.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Unfortunately, this is where the problems start, at least as far as I’m concerned. The single player Challenge mode features a series of twenty four races which includes several courses based on each house location with corresponding vehicle type used. Races are against three CPU vehicles with very simple rules – complete the required number of laps and finish in the highest position possible. If you finish in the top two, you can move on to the next race. If not, you’ll lose a life. All the other play modes feature one-on-one races, whether that’s human vs the computer or another human. On the left side of the screen are eight coloured circles – four red, four blue. The object is to turn all the circles your own colour which is done by getting far enough ahead of your rival that they drop off the screen. Each time you manage this, a circle is filled in your favour. This can make races very short or immense endurance contests depending on the skill and luck of the participants, with the latter playing a notably more prominent role than the former in my experience.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, in all head-to-head play modes, by their very nature you’re frequently racing high up the screen with little warning or view of upcoming corners and obstacles. Secondly, the design of the courses, while original and very appealing, also leaves masses of obstacles all over the place which not only slow you down if you hit them, but are also very easy to get stuck behind. On top of that, many of the courses take place on a table or something similar which means slipping over the edge and crashing to your doom is also commonplace. I can’t really say the courses gradually increase in complexity and difficulty as you might expect, either – the course that makes me most angry is only the third, and the one after it is a piece of cake! As annoying as all this stuff can be, it’s all manageable in slower vehicles like the 4×4’s or Tanks, but when you have to zoom around courses in fast, skiddy vehicles like the Sports or Formula One cars, mistakes come often which soon proves immensely frustrating.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

It might seem like a game that’s hard to get pissed at judging by the screenshots though. As mentioned, the presentation is fantastic, and the audio is great too, with plenty of catchy tunes and various noises. Graphically, there are no flashy special effects or anything here and it’s easy to see why the game looks more or less the same across a variety of systems, but it’s still very pleasing on the eyes nonetheless. It’s certainly a mighty colourful game and the appropriately tiny vehicles all look nice enough as they career through the smoothly-scrolling courses, but the varied backgrounds and the great attention to detail is where the work has really been done. Most of them show great creativity and are filled with a conveniently-arranged mess befitting their setting. For example, the breakfast table course is marked out by Cheerios (or something similar) and has various foodstuffs dotted around like waffles and fruit. On-course obstructions are caused by spillages such as baked beans, and there’s even a cereal-box jump!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Most of the other courses are just as detailed and imaginative, and discovering their various sights and features is highly enjoyable the first few times you race them. However, as amusing and comedic as the game may be, the object is still surely to make progress and win races while having fun, not instead of? Success comes from driving round the more difficult courses time and time again until you can do so blindfolded; until you can do so without making even the tiniest mistake. Doing so is immensely tense/exciting during the race and immensely satisfying afterwards, but this is likely to happen far less than the alternative which I at least found incredibly frustrating and rage-inducing: winning, winning, doing well, BANG! … stuck behind trackside object, near-instant last place… racing, racing, doing well again, regain the lead, skid a teeny bit too far on a corner, fall off the table, near-instant last place, racing, cross the finish line in last place, lost a life… GrrrrrRRRRRR!!!!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Okay, I know I’m probably going to take a right kicking from the legions of Micro Machines fans who loved and still love this game and its sequels; I know its faults that annoy me so are mainly limited to certain courses on which the faster vehicles are used, and even then can be found in many other overhead racers (though not nearly so prominently, I submit), but I can scarcely recall any gaming experience that makes me as angry as this one is capable of doing – something which is much more pronounced in the Challenge mode in which you have to manage to go without making a mistake for much longer than the short bursts of skill/luck required in the other modes. Control of the vehicles is flawless though, admittedly, and with two players, both of you are as disadvantaged as each other I suppose (unless one has had a lot more practise!) but winning is still often more down to luck than skill.

Micro Machines - sega genesis
Based on my prior experiences with this game I was preparing to give is cursory play to refresh my mind, then duly unleash the diatribe it deserves and give it a very low score, but I suppose I have to begrudgingly admit that I enjoyed Micro Machines much more this time. It’s still reallyannoying though, and frequently so – some times I’ll play it and do extremely well, even having enormous fun in the process, then catch myself thinking “this game is great, I was wrong, I’ll give a glowing review!”, but then my next session with it makes me angrier than ten Incredible Hulks and I end up smashing stuff up. The ideas behind the game are amazingly great and there’s many laughs to be had here, but in the end, this is a great example of a game that can be effing awesome and incredibly annoying, often within seconds of each other! Does that make it terrible game? No, I guess not, but it’s not a great one either in my opinion, sorry.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m08miUSCHI[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Gauntlet

Gauntlet_Atari

Gauntlet (1985)
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
Gauntlet_Atari

The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
Gauntlet_Atari

There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
Gauntlet_Atari

The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
Gauntlet_Atari

As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Gauntlet_Atari

Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
Gauntlet_Atari

The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Gauntlet_Atari

Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!

RKS Score: 9/10

Insector X

Insector X

By: Taito Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 259,300 (one credit)
Also Available For: MegaDrive, NES

The differences between the gaming cultures in Japan and the ‘West’ really are quite amazing sometimes. Obviously certain genres are more popular in certain parts of the world but even some that are universally popular, such as shoot ’em ups, can be quite different. The Japanese like bright, cute, and often very weird games while us Western gamers apparently have darker, more realistic, and often more violent tastes. A great example of this peculiar trend is Insector X by frequent purveyors of cuteness, Taito. Accordingly, this original is colourful and full of cute characters. Most Western gamers know it as a MegaDrive release, however, and this version features much more realistic graphics devoid of cuteness. When I recently decided to reacquaint myself with the game, this time by sampling the arcade version, it was this kind of game that I was expecting, but as you’ve probably already determined, it’s not the type of game I found.
Insector X

No versions of the game seem big on story, not even the ones that have instruction manuals as far as I can tell, but it seems the premise involves some sort of insect infestation, but they’re not just ordinary insects – these ones are cybernetic terrors! Rather than using a combination of insect repellent and the odd hydraulic press, however, the fate of the world (whichever world it is) is instead left up to a hero who rivals the insects in terms of his diminutive stature as well as his hardened resolve. He goes by the name of Yanmer and only with your help can he rid the world of the Dark Ruler Queen, etc. Five side-scrolling stages stand between the two adversaries as well as a large number of exoskeletal goons who, I’m happy to say, do not exclusively possess the luxury of flight – Yanmer is not only equipped with wings himself which enable free and unlimited movement around the stages but he also wears a hat topped by a propeller for good measure.
Insector X

The freedom of flight would be useless without something a bit more aggressive to back it up with though, as a single hit from one of the spindly critters is enough to put him down. To this end, Yanmer is also equipped with the standard weedy gun which initially fires a single small shot. It can be powered-up fairly quickly by collecting ‘P’ icons though, while the similar ‘S’ icons put a bit more wind in his wings, the ‘A’ icon equips an autofire option, Lightning icons are smart bombs, there are acorns to collect for bonus points, and there’s also the odd 1up to look out for. Then there’s the special attacks. There are ten of these altogether which are obtained by collecting insecticide cans carried by some enemies (which is a bit like Ripley carrying an angry Alien around, but nevermind) which alternate between ground and air attacks – coloured brown or blue respectively – of which there are five apiece. They are seemingly awarded randomly but generally consist of either bomb-like things to hammer the numerous floor-dwelling enemies, and various types of missiles for taking out the more numerous airborne nincompoops.
Insector X

These special attacks can also be powered-up by collecting successive icons and before long our heroic fairy is hurling an almost-unbreachable wall of death! That doesn’t make it the easiest arcade shmup of all-time but it’s far from the hardest either. Least that means you should get to see all the stages though, but are they worth seeing? Graphically, it uses a mixture of styles. As mentioned, the sprites are mostly cute creatures such as flies, bees, dragonflies, moths, and ladybirds in the air while the ground forces are made up of fish, snails, flowers, and even mushrooms. The stages themselves, on the other hand, are made to look a bit more realistic for the most part. They’re named Desert, Plateau, City, Jungle, and Their Empire, and feature a decent mixture of man-made as well as natural environments, both indoor and outdoor.
Insector X

Each stage, or ‘area’, is guarded by a giant creepy-crawly too, such as wasps or spiders. These things reminded me of the bosses in Fantasy Zone – they have limited movement and seem to content merely flinging a load of bullets your way. They’re not nearly as tough as the infernal guardians in Sega’s older cute ’em up but they do look half-decent, as do many of the backgrounds and some of the amusing enemies too, but I can’t help thinking this looks like a game designed a few years earlier – things were generally quite a bit flashier than this by 1989. The flashiest thing here is probably Yanmer’s weapons, with the screen often brimming with his multi-coloured bullets and missiles, but most effects, such as the explosions or enemies taking damage are quite poor. Still, it’s pleasant and cheerful enough, and sounds the part too. The music is rather on the loud side but most tunes are catchy and suit the cutesy action pretty well.
Insector X

For all its decent-though-unspectacular aesthetics, though, I’m struggling to think of any one moment or section of the game that really stands out. Control of Yanmer is good, although it’s possible to speed him up too much, but there isn’t really much in the way of foreground scenery or obstacles to manoeuvre around which was disappointing and made progress a bit… well, boring at times, especially as there isn’t really any super-tough, nerve-fraying parts either. A balanced difficulty level is rare in a shmup, admittedly, but sometimes you need a crazy, hectic section to keep you on your toes! It’s not a very long game either – a player of moderate skill should be able to play it through in less then twenty minutes with a bit of practise. Insector X is far from a terrible game and is well worthy of a blast if the chance arises – what else gives you the opportunity blow the crap out of confused-looking snails, frowning moths, and evil mushrooms? – but when the most noteworthy thing about a game, and an arcade game no less, is curiosity over its graphical style compared to a more popular version, it can’t really be wonderful news either.

RKS Score: 6/10

Test Drive

Test Drive

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90’s but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, manysequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a ‘reboot’ around this time (purely coincidental, I’m sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.
Test Drive

In fact, I had forgotten just howsimilar the two titles are until I played Accolade’s game for the first time in about twenty years for this review! There’s no options before starting the game aside from one important one – the selection of your car. The choices here include many of the supercar favourites of the day – Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette, and the good old Lotus Esprit Turbo. Each comes with a detailed stats screen to help you make your choice, after which you’re on the road, ready to go. The game is viewed from the driver’s perspective and each car can only be driven with manual gears, and it’s a full gearbox too, not the usual ‘low’ and ‘hi’ gears! There are five stages altogether with each separated by a stop at a ‘gas’ station where you’ll discover your average speed and points earned.
Test Drive

The stages are all segments of the same road which winds along a clifftop, movie-stylee – one side is sheer rock with the other side presumably consisting of a drop of equal sheerness! Normal traffic passes along the road in both directions now and then, although it’s not too busy, and there are also police radars which will summon a police car if you go too fast. There’s no time limit or other vehicles to race so you can approach the presence of the rozzers one of two ways: either go too slowly to bother them, or the way I’m sure most gamers will choose – go as fast as possible to outrun them! The supercar you’re driving isn’t a Daytona stock-car that will bounce around all over the place though – they’re very delicate things, even more so than I would’ve thought. Not only does hitting the rock face or another car cause you to crash (indicated by a smashed windscreen) but even revving the engine too high will result in obscured vision too!
Test Drive

Fans of the original Need For Speed will no doubt find most of this very familiar but it appears that Accolade got there first! Indeed, Test Drive must have surely been the first ever ‘supercar simulator’ and it’s the opportunity to drive these amazing cars that provides the game’s biggest draw. To that end, it’s a pretty good game. Each of the cars handles differently and the roads, which later on feature the odd oil spill or pothole, are good fun to drive along. Graphically, I remember being mightily impressed with this all those years ago but the intervening years have seen it age considerably. The presentation screens are still lovely but the in-game aesthetics less so. The oncoming cars (and occasional big rig) aren’t too bad but the scaling can be quite poor. If you’re travelling at any decent speed they’ll often seem to appear from nowhere prompting panic-lunges to try and get out of the way in time!
Test Drive

Don’t think that the absence of any kind of time-limit means you can crash as often as you want either – five wrecks equals game over here! Talking of which, one area that Need For Speed improved dramatically is the crashes. EA’s game was famous for its spectacular comings together but the spectacle here begins and ends with the broken glass in front of you. Even the track-sides and backgrounds are rather dull too, and the sense of speed isn’t great, although there is a handy rear-view mirror. So, the visuals might have aged somewhat, which is understandable with this kind of game, but I’m confident the audio was never any good, or at least this version. There are a couple of short (and not especially nice) tunes but the in-game sound is restricted to a horrible engine sound and that’s it! So, this is certainly one to play with the sound turned down, but is it one to play at all?

Well, like NFS, I think Test Drive was probably made as more of a technical showcase than as a thrilling and involving racing game. Accordingly, there’s really not much to it – no opponents, no car upgrades, no forked roads, and certainly nothing as radical as a championship or tournament mode. What there is, though, is pretty good. No time-limit or opponents also means you can relax and drive how you want to rather than be forced to tear through the stages like a maniac, although having said that, the between-stage pit-stops do encourage you to up the ante (as well as provide the odd lairy ‘motivational’ comment) and the lure of improving your average speed is quite strong. It is all over pretty quickly though, so that, along with the number of superior examples of the genre on the ST and Amiga, means that this original probably won’t hold your attention for long

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Ghosts’n Goblins

Ghosts n Goblins

Ghosts’n Goblins a.k.a. Makaimura (1985)
By: Capcom Genre: Platform Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 43,400
Also Available For: Sharp X68000, NES, Game Boy Color, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

The adventures of Sir Arthur, the brave and noble knight of Demon World, have long since passed into legend and become known as some of the grandest in the world of Men. However, the latest in what is becoming an embarrassing series of confessions here at Red Parsley is that until very recently I’d never even played this, the original game in the series. Eeek! Time to rectify that I deem, and what better way than to try the original of the original! First though, it might be prudent to try honing my skills and reaction times, for even I already knew that Ghosts’n Goblins is a supremely difficult game, apparently one of the hardest ever, and that scares me. As much as I may like retro gaming, I’ve never been especially good at most types of games, so I find myself approaching this notoriously hardcore challenge with a great deal of caution. Gulp!
Ghosts n Goblins

Despite my love of the Shinobi series and my mastery of some of its sequels, side-scrolling platform-shooters are one type of game I’m not especially skilled at. I am already familiar with the aforementioned knight though, having played his second game extensively on my treasured MegaDrive over the years, so I should be fairlyready for this, surely? Hmmm. Anyway, like that game, Sir Arthur’s first quest consists of six mostly-multi-tiered stages, each teeming with predictably scary creatures. He can run and jump through them to his heart’s content, provided the time-limit doesn’t expire (which spells instant death), but his objective is only to reach the end and defeat the evil boss that dwells therein. At the end of the final stage Sir Arthur must battle Satan, King of the Demon World. If he manages to defeat him, he will not only restore balance to the world, but also get his hands on Satan’s prisoner – the delightful Princess Prin Prin.

Ghosts n Goblins

Killing the lesser enemies on each stage is not mandatory – some of them are actually infinite so it’s not even possible. With this and the time-limit in mind, it’s advisable to proceed to the end of each stage as quickly as possible. Sir Arthur is initially armed with throwable lances which are in unlimited supply and defeat most enemies, certainly on earlier stages, with one hit. A few of the enemies, however, carry urns. Killing them allows you to then collect the contents which is most often one of numerous sparkly items for bonus points (including some of the Princesses’ possessions!), but occasionally you’ll find a new weapon. These include Daggers (my favourite – narrow range but rapid fire), Flaming Torch (short range fiery things), Axe (wider range and powerful, but fires slowly), and one final secret weapon which is required to defeat Satan.

Ghosts n Goblins

The only items you’ll find already dotted about on the platforms are coins or money bags, again for bonus points, but putting any degree of emphasis on the collection of this stuff is not advised – the default weapon is fine for the whole game (except the final boss battle), and points, while nice, won’t get you any further into the game! For that, practise is required, and lots of it. That brings me to that legendary difficulty… I’ve been playing Ghosts’n Goblins for a couple of weeks solid now and, while it’s definitely a tough game, I wouldn’t call it one of the hardest ever. After the reputation and build-up, I was expecting the most savagely torturous game in the universe, but for me it’s just… very tough! The main problem with the actual stages comes from the infinite nature of some of the enemies. The first stage, for example, features zombies who rise out of the ground and amble toward you. These don’t really cause a problem unless one emerges very close to you, and it’s the same story with the other stages.

Ghosts n Goblins

The second features small flying demons which this time come from some of the windows of the buildings that form the various backdrops. These things also appear without limit and again the main problem is when they appear very close to you, and there is an equivalent beastie through most parts of the game. For me though, the biggest problem in terms of difficulty was the larger enemies – specifically, the annoying Sons of Satan (red devil things – see screenshot below), as well as the even larger bosses which take the form of dragons and ogres and things of that nature, all of whom take numerous hits to put down. If you lose a life while attempting this you’ll return to the half-way point of the stage so each guardian has to be defeated with a single life – no small ask when Sir Arthur can only take one hit without dying which removes his armour, forcing him to fight on in just his undies – one of gaming’s most enduring images!

Ghosts n Goblins

If Arthur does lose his armor  more can be collected if you’re very lucky, but a new suit isn’t exactly forthcoming a vast majority of the time, and can never be collected during a boss fight which is another reason these confrontations are the part of the game I have most trouble with. If you can last long enough though, there’s a lot to see here. The sprites are numerous and look superb for their day. Even more impressive are the backgrounds which change several times during the course of most stages and range from the graveyard in which you begin to a town, various towers, and gloomy caverns, on the way to Satan’s castle itself.

Ghosts n Goblins

As mentioned earlier, you need a specific weapon to fight the Dark Lord himself (a Crucifix in the Japanese version, a Shield in other versions) and if you don’t have it you’ll be sent back to the star of the fifth level.As well as looking nice, and highly varied for its time, the music and sound effects are also great and add a lot of charm to an already-distinctive game. Control of Sir Arthur is pretty good for most part, with two exceptions – after playing Ghouls’n Ghosts so much I assumed the controls would be the same here, but sadly this original doesn’t offer the option of shooting directly upwards. I also found that he often got ‘stuck’ at the tops or bottoms of ladders. Apart from this though, our hero is still pretty nippy and can run and leap his way out of most hairy situations in the right hands. There are a few unfair moments which will have you turning the air blue but generally I found Ghosts’n Goblins to be very tough but an addictive and highly enjoyable challenge all the same. It’s taken me far too long to give it a proper try but I’m really glad I did now. A true classic indeed!

RKS Score: 8/10

 

Electrocop

Electrocop

Electrocop (1989)
By: Epyx / Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari Lynx First Day Score: 15,475
Also Available For: Nothing

Electrocop

Atari’s mighty Lynx was a funny machine. It was a ‘handheld’ which was rather too big to be comfortably used as one for starters, but it was a powerful piece of kit for sure. It soon gained a glowing reputation for the surprisingly faithful arcade conversions which formed the bulk of its software library, but there were a few original releases too. Many of them were by Epyx, the co-developer of the Lynx itself, and most of these appeared at or soon after the machine’s launch – presumably they were developed especially for the occasion to give the system a slightly more varied line-up. One of these was Electrocop. It gained a decent reputation at the time but it never seems to get mentioned these days any time the Lynx is mentioned. Has it dated that badly or has it been unfairly neglected in the intervening years?
Electrocop

It’s certainly quite an unusual game. It’s set in 2089 and casts you in the titular role which I guess makes you a robot and we all know what temperamental oafs they can be. This one will need his (or its?) wits about him, however, as he’s up against the formidable (and somewhat conspicuous-sounding) Criminal Brain. This is presumably also a robot, or perhaps a computer-based artificial intelligence like Skynet. Hmmm, well, whatever form it takes, it apparently has influence over the physical world as it’s kidnapped the President’s daughter – oh nooo! In order to retrieve her safe and sound, you must penetrate the ‘technoid stronghold’ know as the ‘Stell Complex’ in which the Criminal Brain is hiding, and you’ve only got an hour to do it.
Electrocop

Although not constructed in an especially unique way, it’s how the game presents your exploration of this complex that makes Electrcop unusual. The action, you see, is viewed from a third-person perspective with each of the complex’s twelve maze-like levels consisting of a series of corridors linked by doorways, some of which are blocked by locked doors which require a code. Mr. Electrocop can run left and right along the corridors freely and can pass through doorways by moving into or out of the screen at the appropriate locations which sees the game scale your view back or forth accordingly. Each (or at least, most) corridors are patrolled by enemy droids called ‘Walkers’ of which there are four kinds – the Yellow Jacket, Blue Bird, Viper, and Red Disruptor, which all vary with regards to their speed, armour, and weapon power.
Electrocop

In addition to these, the heinous Criminal Brain has also installed a few other surprises throughout his complex including sections of electrified floors, mines, and other weapons such as wall-mounted cannons and concealed mortar-launchers. All of these deplete our blue automaton’s energy reserves. Fortunately, he comes equipped with a default laser of his own and there are a few other weapons available, including more powerful lasers and disruptors. All of them can be used freely, some even simultaneously, but can get damaged during combat if you’re not careful, and they all have a limited ‘charge’ which determines how frequently you can use them. The more powerful a weapon is, the more charge it will use per shot. All weapons recharge automatically but trigger-happy players should probably save the more powerful weapons for times of crisis!
Electrocop

These weapons can be acquired from special panels located here and there on the walls and similarly there are also computer terminals which offer many things including the ability to run several programs. Probably the most important of these is the ‘Ice Breaker’ which is essential for cracking the door codes but others include ‘Stasis’, which can temporarily disable all the droids, as well as ones to repair damaged weapons or refill your energy-meter. Surprisingly, there are even some mini-games available to play via the terminals too including Meteors, Out Break, and Letter Puzzle which are simple clones of Asteroids, Breakout, and one of those slidey tile games. Their inclusion might seem strange but the Ice Breaker program often takes a while to ‘crack’ the door codes so the games merely offer a convenient way to pass the time. Very considerate.
Electrocop

A different way to kill a few minutes that’s probably not so advisable is to further explore the levels, perhaps looking for more weapons or something. This is something that’s only recommended if you’ve taken the time to make maps, lest you get lost and not even be able to find the door whose code you’ve just cracked! Indeed, there are over thirty doors through the whole game, although the amount per stage varies from one to the next, so there are lots of very similar-looking corridors to run up and down. Obviously, the further into the game you get, the more complicated and therefore difficult the levels get but your objective is always the same – look for the door (or one of them), crack the code, and get out! It can get pretty repetitive too, but that’s not the game’s biggest problem.
Electrocop

It’s quite clear that Electrocop was always intended as a launch game – technically it’s mighty impressive and shows off the Lynx’s talents well. The music is unmistakably Lynx-ish but the various tunes are terrific, and the graphics aren’t half bad either. The circuit-board and metallic backgrounds on each level are decent, although there’s very little variation, but it scales the stages back and forth very nicely, even altering the colour of the droids according to the ‘plane’ they’re on compared to you. The main character is pretty big though, and moves fairly quickly too, which means you’ve often walked into danger before you’ve even seen it, whether one of the many droids or an increasingly common (and annoying) section of electrified floor. The easiest solution to this is to just run along permanently shooting. That kinda takes the enjoyment out of it somewhat, but it’s that or get angry, and often.
Electrocop

One thing that could’ve reallyruined this game is regenerating enemies so I was very pleased to find that the metallic cretins here explode when shot, and with their constituent atoms remaining scattered for good! Even with this bonus though, it’s unfortunately far from perfect. Playing it either takes the form of a repetitive run ‘n’ gunner or a frustrating arcade adventure depending on how you play it. It was originally intended as a 3D sequel to Impossible Mission and it’s quite clear why, but it’s also clear why Epyx ultimately decided to dissociate Electrocop from their legendary franchise as well. There are some good ideas here and its technical wizardry must’ve made people eager to see more of the Lynx when viewed at trade shows and such, but as a full game warranting hours of solid play, sadly it falls some way short of the mark.

RKS Score: 6/10

Pataank

Pataank

Pataank (1994)
By: PF.Magic Inc  Genre: Pinball  Players:  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: 3DO  First Day Score: 1,810,764
Also Available For: Nothing

One of the great things about videogames is that they allow designers to approach existing subjects from new perspectives. This is one of the reasons why I, and many others, love the Crush series of pinball games. Naxat realised they were no longer bound by the rules of an actual pintable and so covered their tables with all manner of scary creatures and outlandish bonuses. That was one way to play around with the accepted pinball format. Another one is explored here with Pataank. Until this game came along, to the best of my knowledge all pinball videogames viewed the action either from directly above or from the same viewpoint as though playing a real pintable (even the Crush games). Pataank has other ideas – as you might have gathered from the screenshots, the chosen perspective here is not only much closer to the table than normal but actually follows the ball around!

Pataank

There are three main tables to explore – Surf’s Up, Disaster Central, Tunnel of Luv – and they mostly include the kind of features you would expect to find on real tables including all the usual bumpers, ramps, chutes, kickers, gates, etc. The ‘ball’ (it’s actually more like an ice-hockey puck) is equipped with magnetic grips and thrusters so you are afforded a degree of control over it and can aim it towards the various bonuses. It’s a novel idea and is definitely a new approach for pinball games, one very well suited to one of the first 32-bit consoles where gamers were expecting just this kind of innovation, but it’s not without its problems. At certain points the game ‘camera’ will zoom out but for a majority of the time, the viewpoint is very much ‘up close and personal.

Pataank

This perspective is great when zooming down tunnels or chutes but it can also prove rather confusing, and it’s easy to lose your bearings when the puck starts pinging around the table. From a graphical standpoint, the console handles everything admirably. Some parts of the tables are a little bare but everything moves around quickly and smoothly. There’s also small screens here and there which show table-specific FMV clips and the action is accompanied by a hyper-active sounding commentator and a catchy soundtrack. Any game that attempts something as innovative as Pataank, however, will rise or fall depending on how well executed it is, and while PF.Magic are to be applauded for trying something different, I think it may ultimately prove too confusing for some gamers. It’s a good idea though, and it can be good fun. With some tweaking it could’ve worked well, but I’d rather get my pinball fix from Devil’s Crush!

RKS Score: 6/10

Pitstop II

Pitstop II

Pitstop II (1984)
By: Epyx Genre: Driving Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore 64 
Also Available For: PC, Amstrad CPC, Atari 800, Apple II, TRS-80
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Pitstop II

One of my many objectives when starting this humble blog was to finally force myself to try out some titles on the systems that have gone largely ignored by me over the years. The first one to enter my mind was the mighty C64. I may have become somewhat distracted since, but the process began with the pair of ‘Exploring the C64‘ posts for which I requested some game recommendations from seasoned C64 veterans. One of these recommendations was Pitstop, a game that turned out to be so bad I immediately thought I’d been the victim of a practical joke. Subsequent research, however, has revealed its sequel to be substantially better thought of. It’s taken me a good while to work up the courage, but here I shall find out if the ‘Pitstop’ name has been redeemed…
Pitstop II

It’s no surprise to find that it’s an F1-based game once again but it’s immediately apparent that it offers far more than its prequel. Impressively for the day, it’s a one or two-player game but regardless of which you choose, the game employs a split-screen viewpoint anyway – player one occupies the top half of the screen and drives a red car, player two occupies the bottom half and drives a blue car which is controlled by the computer in one-player games. The pre-race options screen offers you the choice of three difficulty levels, you can set the number of laps (3, 6, or 9), and you can select any of six real racing circuits from Europe and the US. As the name hints at, however, it can get a little more complicated than that.
Pitstop II

As well as the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ cars, there are also a seemingly unlimited number of other racers pootling around the circuits, at a much slower pace of course, which means they’re pretty much just there to make your life more difficult. That’s to be expected with a game of this nature but unlike most similar games, or at least ones from this time period, you also have to be careful how you drive as not only can you run out of fuel but you can also wear out your tyres too. Driving too fast around corners too often, for example, will soon see your car squeal off to the side like a burst balloon and stop dead. This, as well as the fuel situation, can be overcome by making one of the titular pit-stops. These can take some time but are unfortunately necessary if you want to make it to the end of a race in anything resembling a decent position.
Pitstop II

Mercifully, the CPU car also makes pit-stops from time to time as well which makes this a surprisingly fair game. It looks a lot nicer than the first game too – it’s far from a stunner but streets ahead of the hideous original. Control of the cars is a bit odd to start with – they feel very skiddy, as if you’re actually playing a bobsleigh racing game or something, but it’s fine after a bit of practise. There’s no in-game music here either, but apart from these minor grumbles Pitstop II is notable improvement over the original which scared me so. You’ll probably tire of the one-player game before too long but this was meant as a two-player game and in that capacity it’s fantastic. It’s still hardly the most complex racing game, even for its time, but Epyx have certainly made this a much more enjoyable game than the first effort.

RKS Score: 7/10

Happy Monster

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Happy Monster

Platform games as a genre have been around over thirty years now and this kind – where each stage is only one screen in size – was how the genre began before fancy stuff like scrolling was introduced. That’s a lot of time to be trying to come up with new ideas. There is, after all, only so much you can do with one 2D screen filled with platforms. Impressively though, most of them manage to add at least something to the genre, or sub-genre as it now is. This effort by German fellow, Harold Müller, which appeared pretty late in the Amiga’s life, does not. Apparently, this is typical of Mr. Müller whose games often feature, shall we say, ‘borrowed’ elements or ideas. Clearly, if true, that makes him either lazy or just lacking in creative abilities but does that mean his games aren’t any good? I don’t know yet so let’s find out!

Happy Monster

Happy Monster, if its title is to be believed, is a game that features at least one happy monster. I don’t know why they’re so happy but it could be because of all the booty they have lying around the place. Many lush, ripe fruits, tasty snacks and desserts, and even gemstones, can be found in abundance across the twenty stages that make up the game. You play the part of a small, bearded fellow (who reminds me of Silver Neelsen from F-Zero X) whose job it is to collect (probably steal) each of these items, although defeating (probably murdering) the monsters that duly petrol their stash is optional. Successfully clearing a screen of all that inhabits it opens the exit from where you’ll begin again until all twenty screens have been conquered. Items to help him do this include 1ups and speed-ups, which are among the other items, but other than that, you’re on your own.
Happy Monster

Actually, now that I think about it, this must be how Mr. Neelsen was able to fund his F-Zero exploits. Oh well, he’s no worse than Zoda I suppose. Whether the F-Zero tournaments are tainted or not, our hero is gifted with only the basic platforming actions here. He can drop down through platforms, and he can fall an unlimited distance without harm, but contact from any monsters causes instant death. By means of offensive abilities, he can shoot fireballs from his torso to take out the monsters, of which there are several colours which determines their speed and how many hits they take to defeat, but he can only jump a short height. This presents the game’s only major problem – one or two stages have parts that you can fall into but can’t jump high enough to get out of. This basically means the stages in question fall victim to trial-and-error gameplay, particularly since there’s no ‘suicide’ button allowing you to start the stage again.
Happy Monster

As you can probably already tell from the screenshots, aside from the arrangements of platforms and collectibles  the stages that make up Happy Monster don’t differ a huge amount from one another. The same tiled background adorns each stage, albeit in alternating colors, the enemies are all copies of Spud from Superfrog, although again in different colors  and the player’s character is tiny, even smaller than the monsters in fact, and animated very basically. The sprites and items are quite well-defined but that’s about the only positive as far as the aesthetics are concerned. The sound only consists of about three effects, one of them rather irritating, and no music at all. Well, except for a rather unassuming title-screen jingle but it’s not really what I’ve come to expect from Amiga games, whether made by big multi-million pound corporations or by a guy in his bedroom!
Happy Monster

Indeed, from a technical point of view, Happy Monster is far from the pinnacle of Amiga gaming and it’s also one of the least original games of this type I’ve played. I suppose I shouldn’t be too judgmental though, Mr. Müller has achieved a lot more than I ever could! It may at first seem like a sightly tough and unfair game, but you’ll soon discover that it’s actually too easy – most stages can be beaten on the first try with no loss of life and even the few trickier ones only require a couple of tries at most before they are overcome, especially since stages are reset when you do lose a life. There’s no time-limit so you can spend as long as you want messing around. The only thing you have to be really careful of is to not fall into an inescapable part of a stage as I did a few times. This is my only real issue with the game as it can completely ruin an otherwise enjoyable session. Grrrr!
Happy Monster

Apart from that, though, despite its technical inadequacies and lack or anything remotely fresh or creative, it’s actually pretty good fun, but it’s still really hard to recommend it as could have so easily been much better. There are only twenty stages and they lasted me around an hour. With practice  I finished the game in fifteen minutes without losing a life. Even with such a short game, some later stages re-use sections from older stages and a couple are even repeated as a whole. There are also only five different colors of otherwise identical-looking enemies and just the one power-up in the entire game. There’s not even an ending – it just loops back to the start! It seems to me that Happy Monster is very much like a free shareware game that a fan made to test his programming abilities or something like that, but I’m pretty sure it was a full commercial release, and that means it’s average at best. Fundamentally, it’s an enjoyable enough game but with more enemies, more stages, and more varied stages, it would still be very unoriginal but would be so much better than it is now.

RKS Score: 5/10

 

Worms

Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Worms (1995)
By: Team 17 / Ocean Genre: Strategy / Shooting Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: I’m a Worms master so I always win! 🙂
Also Available For: Amiga, CD32, Apple Mac, Game Boy, MegaDrive, SNES, PlayStation, Saturn, Jaguar

Even though I’m technically old now, I still consider myself fairlyyoung, but the video games industry has changed beyond recognition even in my living memory. Games these days cost many millions to develop and often take years to reach fruition, and that’s with teams of a dozen or more developing them, but many years ago the opposite was true. Some of the best-loved retro games were created by only one or two people, often from the comfort of their own homes, or even by solitary students coding away into the early hours before oversleeping for their morning classes. Those days are long gone now, with regards to full releases for current systems at least, and one of the last successful examples I remember was the first in the now extensive Worms series.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Although originally created on the Amiga by Andy Davidson and released by Team 17, it was actually on the PC that I first discovered this unusual game when someone at work brought in a playable demo they’d found on a magazine cover disc somewhere (remember those?). It was certainly an eye-catching game, especially for a PC title of that time, and soon revealed itself to be a tarted-up example of what had become known as an ‘artillery’ game. These involve two or more players (or one player and CPU opponents) taking turns to take out each other’s on-screen representative (often a tank) by way of a variable-trajectory projectile. The early examples of this type of game, one of the first of which was called ‘Artillery’, believe it or not, featured little more than one tank each on opposite sides of a rugged terrain. Worms shares this basic set-up but adds a good few coats of gloss as well.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Matches here are contested by two, three, or four teams, each consisting of four worms apiece who are randomly distributed over whichever landscape the game has conjured up. From here, each team takes turns to try and take out members of opposing teams. You can’t choose which of your worms you want to use – the game cycles through them – but you canchoose how you want to dish out the hurt. Choices include guns, Street Fighter-inspired close-combat moves, grenades, cluster bombs, bazookas, homing missiles, dynamite, mines, or even an air-strike! A varying level of power can be applied to all but the latter and wind can affect the trajectory of some projectiles as well. Each worm starts with a hundred health points which are depleted by these weapons, with the amount lost depending on how close the strike was and which weapon was used.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

It’s also possible to kill worms outright by knocking them off the side or bottom of the screen, or indeed into any liquid that may surround island-like landscapes such as water, weird green stuff, or even lava! Fortunately, you can move your worm around to a certain extent. They can walk or jump in either direction, but can’t move over land or obstacles that are too large or steep. If you can’t move far or hide well enough, it’s also possible to use some defensive items such as positioning girders as makeshift shields, digging into the landscape using a drill or blowtorch, or moving altogether by way of ninja ropes, bungee cords, or even a teleporter! None of this is necessary on some stages though, as you can choose which one you want to face your enemy on. The game generates landscapes one at a time and you can either accept or reject it. Which is nice.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

They consist of side-viewed landscapes which are randomly generated by the game engine which means they can take all sorts of shapes and sizes – some helpful, others less so. You can scroll them a short distance in either direction, zoom in and out, and move them around freely in order to plan your next attack as well as possible, and there are around ten different graphical themes for them including snow, beach, jungle, scrapyard, alien planets, desert, etc, each of which is home to its own features. Not that it really matters though, as everything can be (and usually is) damaged or destroyed by the many, many artillery strikes! The landscapes can therefore be rather varied and are a big part of what makes Worms such an addictive game, but it’s not just them.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

The graphics weren’t technically anything special, even in their day – whilst colourful and fairly detailed, their pixelly 2D-ness was a far cry from the fancy hardware-accelerated 3D games that were flooding the system by then. They are appealing though, regardless of the lack of technical wonder. The worms are only a few pixels larger than the green-haired Lemmings (on whom the working version of the game was originally based rather than worms) but they are full of character and have animations for practically everything. They’re also frequently blabbering during matches. Despite barely any in-game music (there is a Worms theme tune on the title/options screens), they and have a comment or expression for most situations and their voices are highly amusing! This and practically every other aspect of the game can, however, be customised via the extensive options screens which allow you to change things like rounds per match, time limits, weapon stockpiles (most are in limited supply by default), and add certain conditions to matches, etc.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

This PC version of the game also gained a few extras by way of an updated edition of the game called Worms Reinforcements. This allowed you to add custom landscapes and ‘soundpacks’ (i.e. vocal themes for the worms), and also included a number of humorous FMV intros and cut-scenes and a one-player ‘Challenge Mode’ which consisted of various missions that acted like a (rather harsh) tutorial. Some nice extras for sure, but let’s face it – people play Worms for one reason and one reason only – to try and outwit their friends, and to that end it’s peerless. Everyone knows that already though, of course. The only question I was asking before this review was: how much has this original aged? Initially, after having grown accustomed to later titles such as Worms Armageddon and Worms Reloaded, it seemed like a lot. Strategy games are often regarded as boring and long-winded, but Worms is about as arcadey as they get though, so once I had re-acclimatised to the older style I was soon adding to my many memorable and amusing experiences of playing this classic.
Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Later incarnations of the gameare much more polished, both visually as well as with regards to their gameplay, but Worms has never been about flashy visuals or scaring the pants off gamers – it’s about having fun, and it arguably does that better than any other series. What else comes close? Some Bomberman games, perhaps? They are also fantastic games for multi-player larks indeed, but it’s more short-lived, has a faster pace, and is less strategic as well. Nothing beats taking out a friend’s worm after a cunningly devised tactic pays off. Almost as entertaining is a cruelly-placed stick of dynamite (accompanied by an unsympathetic giggle from the agressor), or even a simple fire-punch off the edge of a precipice. You can even name your teams for added personality! As far as I’m concerned, all gamers owe Andy Davidson a hearty back-slap for creating one of the funniest and most riotously enjoyable multi-player games of all. Yes, the later installments are better, but this original is still hugely entertaining and addictive and probably always will be.

RKS Score: 8/10

Paradroid

Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Paradroid (1985)
By: Andrew Braybrook / Hewson Consultants Genre: Shooting / Puzzle Players: Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore 64 First Day Score: 1,275
Also Available For: Atari ST, Amiga, Archimedes
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Paradroid

Well, I suppose it’s time I got around to reviewing some Commodore 64 games here at Red Parsley. My unfamiliarity with the system makes choosing one something of a ‘lucky dip’ though, so how do I choose? Most of what I know about this game is a result of the coverage the remake that appeared on the 16-bit computers received in my favourite magazines of the day. This C64 version is the original though, and many fans would insist that it’s still the best, so let’s see what the fuss is all about. The game is apparently set on a fleet of spaceships, each of whose various decks, which are viewed from overhead, are populated by lots of droids which have been turned hostile by some malevolent asteroids. It’s therefore your job to destroy them. Sounds simple enough!
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

I’ve always assumed that this is a rather complicated and puzzley game but the first few minutes I played it were spent moving my amusing-looking droid around shooting all the others I encountered. I suspect it gets more involved than this, however, and that indeed proves to be the case, but not by as much as I thought. As mentioned, the object of the game is to take out all the other droids on each deck of the ship. The humorous droid I spoke of is the very weak one you start off with and a device known as the ‘Influence Device’ allows you to exert control over it. You can move it around the spaceship in the eight basic joystick directions and it can fire an energy weapon in its direction of travel. The decks of the ship vary in size and all but the smallest are divided into numerous rooms. Droids occupy these rooms but you won’t know how many there are until you enter.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Each game is started at a random point on the first of the never-ending ships. Each of them has lifts to facilitate your movement up and down through the decks and there’s also terminals here and there which you can log onto which give information on the remaining droids. Each one you encounter is represented by a number which indicates its power (your default droid is numbered 001). The higher the number the faster it can move and the harder it is to destroy. Some droids can also shoot back, with the power of their shot also increasing with their number. There are no power-ups to collect so to contend with the ever powerful droids you’ll have to employ an alternate technique. Any droid can ‘link’ with another and this enables you to take them over via a mini-game which involves basic circuit diagrams and logic gates.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Here, you control one side of the screen and the droid you’re trying to take over controls the other side as you battle for control of the droid’s circuitry. Success means you ‘become’ that droid but they only last for a limited time so you’ll need to continually transfer to new droids. It’s also wise not to try and take over a droid that is much stronger than the one you already control as you will likely lose, and losing means your current droid is destroyed and you’ll revert back to the weedy default droid. If this droid is defeated in an attempted transfer, it’s game over. And it’s a game over screen I’ve seen quite a few times now! I was a bit worried about playing this game as I thought it was going to be rather complicated meaning I’d have to spend hours learning how to play it, searching the internet for guides, etc.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Fortunately, it’s not as complex as I feared, but it is pretty tough. This is no console game so there’s no multiple lives and continues to ease you in. If you lose the default droid, that’s it! Mini-games have never really been my forte either, and it is here that I predictably have most trouble with Paradroid. It’s a good concept though and, whilst probably not invented here, it does suit the game very well. Also suiting the game are the graphics. My experience with C64 games is limited but I do know that they often look quite blocky and use a distinctive colour palette and that is the case here too. It’s not a bad thing though and the style used is a good one. The mostly-monochrome colour schemes change from deck to deck and they can get a little garish (green and red? groo!) and it would be helpful if some colours were altered when being used against some of the lighter background colours, but overall this is a decent looking game.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

The sound is pretty minimal which was surprising to me – all this tooting C64 fans do about their beloved SID chip and there’s nary a tune to be found here! There is a few ditties though, and some atmospheric sound effects too. I suppose full-on musical tracks might not really suit a slow-paced game like this either, so perhaps it was a conscious decision to not include any. In any case, it doesn’t adversely affect the gameplay. I think it’s safe to say I’ve not played anything quite like Paradroid before and playing it for the first time over 25 years after its original release makes me think about how many other unique games I missed out on. It’s certainly a captivating game and pootling around these ‘robo freighters’ is an oddly therapeutic experience. I’ll probably have to play it for years before I get really good at it but with a game as original and well-designed as this one, it’s no real hardship.

RKS Score: 8/10

Pocket Gal

Pocket_Gal_arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Pocket Gal (1987)
By: Data East  Genre: Sports  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Easy
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 9,300 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nothing

Pocket_Gal_arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Love them or hate them, videogames are big business. Those of us who partake in their wonders, however, have taken a lot of stick over the years for the sake our ‘nerdy’ hobby so it doesn’t really help matters when developers release blatantly pervy games featuring titillating girlies in various states of undress. Most of the time this is of course a less-than-subtle attempt to grab the cash of lonely gamers with a bare minimum of effort. Indeed, the games that facilitate these giggling girlies are usually utter trash – the flimsiest of excuses for the nudity and immoral material contained within, and that’s when there even is a game at all! But could there be any genuinely good games hidden amidst this nonsense? In a series of new features here at Red Parsley, I will bravely attempt to uncover an answer to this intriguing mystery!

Pocket_Gal_arcade-gameplay-screenshot

As you’ve probably already seen, the first game of this feature is a pool-based game. It’s a Japanese game but as far as I can tell there’s no fancy options or tournaments. When you start, you’ll see a chart featuring four different classes, each of which is represented by a ‘sultry’ lady and you have to work your way up the ranks, so to speak. This naturally involves playing pool. There is a two-player mode but in the one-player mode there is surprisingly no computer-controlled opponent. Instead, you must simply pot all the balls (tee hee!) yourself. Bonus points are awarded for potting multiple balls in succession and for following their numbered sequence. The more points you get, the quicker the girlie will get her kit off! That’s right, for the object of the game appears to be simply to disrobe the ladies – first they’ll lose their outer-garments, then their underwear, and the further up the rankings you get, the more effort is required to persuade them to do so! Oo-er…

Pocket_Gal_arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This ‘effort’ comes in the form of stages. There are more of them per girlie the further you get and they alternate between frames of regular pool (is it still called a ‘frame’ in pool?) and trick shots. A predictibly simple interface enables you to take the shots – just move your aim, represented by a dotted line, and set the power. It’s hardly a complicated process so you should find yourself smacking the balls around (giggity) in no time. There are a few different variations of pool during the course of the game (6 ball, 9 ball, etc) and it’s possible to add topspin, backspin, and swerve to the cue ball during play, but that’s about as complex as things get. So, your prize for playing well may nudge this game toward the ‘adult’ side of things, but is it even worth playing it at all? Well, not for the ‘prize’ itself, obviously – even in its day this was hardly an obscene game – but it’s actually not bad.

As you can see, the graphics are hardly anything to write home about. The tables themselves, whilst coming in several different colours, didn’t exactly require the finest hardware in the world, but everything looks okay. More importantly, the balls move around fairly accurately, at least to my non-expert eyes, and playing the game can be pretty entertaining in short bursts. The different variations and trick shots help to keep it from becoming too repetitive and there’s some pretty decent music and sound effects too (even a bit of speech!). As for the girlies themselves… well, they’re more amusing than anything else, but that was probably the point I suppose. It’s certainly not worth playing the game just to see their ‘boobies’ but Pocket Gal is a surprisingly enjoyable game regardless. Obviously there’s not much in the way of depth so it does get repetitive after a while, but it’s good fun while it lasts.

RKS Score: 6/10

Wizorb

Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

Wizorb (2011)
By: Tribute Genre: Bat ‘n’ Ball Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: 952
Also Available For: Apple Mac, Xbox Live
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

As video games evolve over the years it’s inevitable that advances in technology will see new genres born, and equally inevitable is that sadly a few older genres will become extinct. One that I thought had gone the way of the latter is that of bat ‘n’ ball games, or brick-breakers, or Breakout clones, or whatever you prefer to call them. They originally came about as a one-player version of the first commercially successful game ever – Pong. This obviously makes them one of the oldest and most basic types of game around which shouldn’t make their demise too surprising! But wait… What’s this? Splendid indie developer, Tribute, has sought to revitalise the ailing genre with this very game!
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

The fruit of their endeavours is Wizorb which, as unlikely as it may sound, it actually a RPG-ish take on the traditional bat ‘n’ ball style of game. It’s set in the once peaceful Kingdom of Gorudo which has been cursed and is now threatened by a mysterious evil presence. Their last hope for salvation rested with a skilled swordsman named Owain but shortly after embarking on his mission to rid the land of evil, he disappeared. Then, when all hope seemed lost, a stranger stepped forward to save the helpless townsfolk: Cyrus, a wizard from a distant land who’s versed not only in both black and white magic but is also master of a secret magic art called… Wizorb!
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

The quest undertaken by Cyrus encompasses five ‘worlds’ (which are actually themed areas of Gorudo), each of which consists of twelve levels before a boss battle. As with most games of this type, successful completion of a level is achieved by destroying all the bricks on it and there are several different types. However, each single-screen level also includes a few enemy creatures and these need to be destroyed as well by smacking them with the ball, or ‘orb’ as is the case here, and keeping it in play by deflecting it with the bat, or ‘magic wand’. The orb does of course gradually increase in speed the longer it’s in play but Cyrus isn’t restricted to the wand and orb method of clearing the bricks. He’s also able to deploy various magic spells and it’s from here that at least some of the game’s RPG-ness comes.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

He can use splendid magical abilities at any time as long as he has sufficient power available and there are two types – black and white. There are also two variations of each which are used depending on where the orb is in relation to the wand at the time of use. If it’s very close, using black magic will unleash the Magna Orb which can smash through lots of bricks at once while using white magic will slow the orb down and give you limited control of it for a short while. If the ball is not close to the wand, using black magic will shoot a Fireball which can destroy bricks or hurt enemies (including bosses – hooray!) while using white magic allows you to alter the orb’s trajectory. There are also two other magics – Teleport which allows you to reposition the ball after losing a life and Recover which refills a portion of your magic-meter if you manage to hit the orb with the wand eight times without hitting a block or enemy.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

Each magic uses up a set percentage of your reserves but luckily using Recover magic isn’t your only means of replenishing your supplies. Destroying bricks often results in items drifting down the screen and these can include potions (replenish 20% of your magic), coins (ups your gold reserves by one), gems (worth ten gold coins), keys (unlock doors), hearts (extra life), or most rare of all, a fairy (which flies around the screen randomly dropping items). As you make your way through the game though, other items called Curses start joining the more helpful items which have a variety of effects depending on the curse. They might shrink your wand, increase the speed of the orb, steal some of your magic or gold, prevent the orb from causing damage for a short while, impair your wand’s movement, or even cost you a life.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

As well as several different sizes of normal bricks, there are also lots of other kinds such as shield blocks, ones made of stone or ruby, the inevitable unbreakable variety, and each world has its own generic ‘decoration’ brick as well (crates in the first world, bushes in the second, etc). There are also several block-sized features like bumpers, switches, runes, and treasure chests which may contain either a reward or a curse! Some levels feature doors. Ones that are already open generally lead to a similar exit elsewhere on the screen but locked ones need to be opened by hitting switch blocks or collecting keys. These either lead to a bonus room with lots of bubbles filled with items, or to a shop where you can use your gold reserves to buy other items, some of which are available in-game and others that aren’t.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

The shops sell several helpful items for very reasonable prices such as potions, a longer wand (snigger), extra lives, magnets (sticky wand), slow orb (orb starts at half-speed), multi-orb (three orbs at once), strong orb (double damage), or even a jewel crown which blinds you for being greedy! There’s also all sorts of different bonuses to aim for, some of which are awarded at the end of a level, others at the end of a world. Talking of the worlds, each is named (Clover Village, Slime Forest, Rotten Mines, Cursed Castle, and Netherworld) and home to some of its own features including one type of enemy for each – Wolfkids (who live in towns), Slimes (which move slowly by hopping), Eyeballs (who thrive in dark areas), Ghosts (which can teleport), and finally, Skull Knights (who can deflect the orb with their sword).
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

Each world also has a boss, which usually takes the form of a giant version of that world’s standard enemy, and it’s own graphical theme – medieval-style town, grassy plains, rocky mines, royal castle, and even spooky, mystical, spacey stuff! Regardless of the theme, however, the graphics are absolutely fantastic throughout. As a recent game, Wizorb obviously doesn’t feature state-of-the-art 3D environments and ten billion polygons per brick and all that stuff but Tribute pride themselves on being perveyors of fine pixel art and to that end it is a success, for it is indeed a wonderful-looking game. The presentation is of the highest quality and includes plenty of detailed options and instructions screens, and in-game, things are of an equally high standard.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

The levels themselves have had about as much detail packed into them as you would think possible without distracting from the actual gameplay. Each world has a great style and, while some are more colourful than others, all are superbly detailed and full of character. There’s also a lot of nice touches like the pink slimy curses, watching a Magna Orb smash through tons of bricks, or even the old codger himself, Cyrus, who makes a few appearances. All the sprites are detailed and appealing (even the enemies) but Cyrus is my favourite! The audio is also superb with lots of nice effects and some great music. Each world has its own tune (Slime World has the best in my opinion) and there are a few others for the title screen, bonus rounds, boss fights, etc.
Wizorb - pc gameplay screenshot

However, of greater importance than the aesthetics with games like this is the design of the levels and the controls used to play them. Happily, both aspects of Wizorb are also superb. Movement of your ‘wand’ is achieved by either mouse or keyboard and while both are accurate and fairly forgiving, the mouse obviously offers greater accuracy, although efforts have been made to keep the keyboard option as close as possible. You can launch the orb in any direction you want at the start of a level or life as well which certainly makes tackling the more fiendishly-designed levels a little easier. It’s not an overly easy game to actually play but the increase in difficulty is nice and gradual and you can save at any time too – each reload gives a full quota of continues so it doesn’t take too long to see all the game has to offer.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUh09N-EzoM[/youtube]

When such an apparently simple game offers as much as this one does though, it feels like a privilege to see it all, and there are plenty of bonuses and achievements to keep you playing which is all the more impressive given the game’s meagre asking price. There’s even a village you can explore called ‘Tarot’ which is in ruins at the start of the game but by making donations to villagers you can help to rebuild it and then make use of its services. Things like this are what make Wizorb such an appealing game to play – it’s always clear how much love and effort has gone into it which makes you love it back even more! It’s a great game anyway but if you have even the merest hint of fondness for bat ‘n’ ball games, Wizorb is an essential purchase – it could be the best couple of quid you ever spend.

RKS Score: 9/10

Renegade

Renegade (1986)
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor  an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6e7cg7DSQ[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

Onslaught

Onslaught (1989)

Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

By: Hewson Consultants Genre: Platform Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga 
Also Available For: MegaDrive, Atari ST, PC
Download For: Xbox Live Arcade, iOS

Onslaught

The years of the Atari ST and Amiga were conflicting ones for me. For the first half of their tenure, my main system of choice was my trusty Speccy. As great as Sir Clive’s marvel was, it couldn’t hold a candle to 16-bit machines, technically. For the second half of their tenure, I was the proud owner of the all-powerful MegaDrive console where I found myself in the opposite situation. Whichever side of the fence I found myself on though, I always kept an interested eye on releases for the ST and Amiga and one that always intrigued me was Onslaught. It was available on both machines and looked suitably impressive for either. It wasn’t long, however, until I learnt a valuable lesson – appearances can be deceptive…
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

These are basically boss fights but feature a floating, four-armed head! You control a hand that can move around the edge of the screen and fire magic stars, and this you must do until the strange creature is no more. Victory means you’ve won the territory and then it’s on to the next. The temple stages are the same as mind duels and there are also plagues, crusades, and rebellions to contend with. These occur at random intervals and make the going even tougher, particularly the latter which costs you a previously won territory. During the battle sections, it’s also important not to let too many enemies past you unscathed as if enough of them make it, they can grab your banner too!Set a good few hundreds of years ago, Onslaught is the tale of many warring kingdoms. At the start of the game you’ll see a map screen consisting of a 16×16 grid of tiny squares which presumably represents a sizeable portion of the world of Gangore. Each red square is a kingdom and each red dot with a light ring around it is a temple. You start the game as a random warrior, all known as ‘Fanatics’, and at a random point on the map, although usually towards the edge somewhere. From here you can select any kingdom or temple within one grid square of your position. The former are multi-tiered, side-scrolling platform/combat sections which come in three parts. First you have to battle your way from left to right until the end where the enemies banner is located, then it’s on to a ‘siege’ section which is more or less the same except the enemy banner is at the top of a castle, and then it’s on to a ‘mind duel’ which are rather stranger.
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

Each of the kingdoms on the map has a status panel type thing that can be viewed prior to attacking them. This includes the popularity of the warlord who’s currently in charge (which affects the strength of the enemies), population (number of enemies), and warband (types of enemies). The last one is of particular note as the enemies can take several forms, some more dangerous than others. Footmen attack with conventional medieval style weapons, wizards cast spells, and spearmen are fairly self-explanatory. There are also soldiers with cannons and other more powerful weapons aimed in your direction and landmines dotted around which should be avoided at all costs. The last kind of enemy is the most annoying.
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

They are the riders. Their vehicles range from boars, horses, or even magic carpets, and they travel across the screen in either direction. If your warrior is touched by any enemy it will push him backwards a little but this effect is considerably increased by the riders. The armaments used by your ‘fanatic’ can sometimes lesson the likelihood of this happening though. You’ll starts the game with a mace. This is obviously very short-range and not terribly powerful so it’s fortunate that some defeated enemies will leave behind shield icons. These are new weapons which include crossbows, bombs, and homing shots. They all have a limited lifespan but are invaluable for making progress, as are the magic scrolls which can be collected from the same source which give you abilities ranging from screen-clearing smart-bombs to freezing the enemies.
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

The first thing you’ll notice when you load Onslaught is the splendid piece of music and the impressive loading screen, above. These both make a great first impression and the in-game graphics and music, while varying little, are still of a high standard. The battle stages are quite cluttered and the colours a bit garish but the detail and animation of the sprites is great. Overall it’s very atmospheric though, especially the fantastic music. However, as is typical of Amiga games the music comes at the cost of any sound effects, although you can turn the music off on the options screen if desired. Something else you can do here is raise the difficulty but I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing that – if taking over a load of kingdoms single-handedly sounds tough, that’s because it is!
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

Your warrior may have a reasonable amount of energy but it’ll soon get worn down – most of the battle stages are fairly short but are so full of enemies that most of them will take a while to get through. The enemies re-spawn too and they really do throw everything at you including arrows, meat-cleavers, cannonballs, and land-mines to name a few (although it’s not surprising I suppose since I’m pretty sure you play the part of the bad guy, attacking and ransacking innocent villages!). Some stages can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to even make any headway, particularly stages populated by riders. This kind of thing just compounds the already highly challenging nature of the gameplay and sadly makes playing Onslaught a very frustrating experience. All this and you get just the one life and no continues!
Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

The screenshots and description probably make Onslaught seem like a really interesting game, I’ll certainly agree there. There’s a lot to do and the mixture of combat and strategy seems like it’s been well thought through, so I really wanted to like it, but after giving it numerous chances to impress me, the result is always the same. Its design seems very disorganised and chaotic but most of the problems are caused by the very high difficulty. I don’t know how insanely gifted some of you might be but I often don’t even finish the first stage nevermind rule over the whole land of Gangore! It is quite addictive but I can’t imagine I’ll make it too far into the game – I certainly haven’t yet! It’s hard to know what to make of it really. There’s lots of great ideas and potential but sadly it’s just been executed in a frustratingly unsatisfactory and… well, frustrating way. Time for a remake?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvypl68aC-g[/youtube]

RKS Score: 5/10

Alien Syndrome

Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshotIt’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jkQ-NM1UE[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

Skyblazer

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

Skyblazer (1994)
By: Ukiyotei / Sony Imagesoft Genre: Platform Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES 
Also Available For: Nothing

The arrival of the monstrous 32-bit consoles in the mid 90’s may have brought lots of flashy polygons and lighting effects with them but something else their arrival did was to overshadow a good few of the later releases for the trusty 16-bit machines, and among them was this offering from Sony which must surely have been one of the last games they made for someone else’s console. It takes the form of a platform/adventure game and is actually pretty flashy itself which is just as well since its story is not. It’s an adventure that sees you take the role of a young scamp named Sky, believe or not, which presumably means his adventure will take the form of a ‘blaze’ across the magical kingdom in which he lives; a magical kingdom, incidentally, which is now bereft of its princess, Ariana, who has been kidnapped by the nefarious ‘Lord of War’, Ashura, who intends to use her magical properties to summon Raglan, an ancient creature of unspeakable terror. The story gets a little more detailed with the odd piece of dialogue here and there but the basic objective is – rescue Ariana and smack Ashura upside the head!

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

The quest at hand is a rather large one consisting of eighteen stages which are selected, and can also be revisited, via the map screen which shows them spread across the fictional world in question. They include the usual forests, castles, temples, and caverns, as well as a few more unusual locations, and they’re patrolled by a considerable variety of enemies such as sorcerers, dragons, and strange monsters beyond description, all of whom are intent on depleting Sky’s energy meter. He’s a fairly agile guy though. He can run and jump around like any decent platform hero but he can also climb up walls as well which proves to be extremely helpful. His attacks come in two forms. The most basic sees him unleash his fury via punches and kicks which are so ferocious they leave blue swirly things in their wake! These are of course available without restriction. His more potent attacks requires magic power which is represented by a meter similar to the energy one at the top of the screen.
Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

There are eight magic attacks in all but you start the game with only the first. The others are acquired one at a time after successfully vanquishing successive bosses and, whilst looking quite sparkly and flashy, actually only perform the usual old power-up tricks – more powerful projectile attacks, enemy freeze, temporary shield, smart bomb, etc. You can cycle through all the magics you’ve obtained and of course each has its uses. Using them depletes your magic power, but it’s possible to collect bottles to replenish your reserves. Bottles to recover energy also exist and there are large and small varieties of each. The only other special items to keep your eyes open for are gems. Collecting a hundred of these will award you with an extra life but there’s also some bigger ones dotted around which are worth ten normal ones. All these items are dropped by defeated enemies but they can also often be found around the stages, located in hard-to-reach places of course, so mastering Sky’s movements is key here.

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

He doesn’t have a huge repertoire of actions available but control over him is near-flawless, and it needs to be for much of the game. Quite a bit of the action is made up of standard platforming but Sky’s agility is called into question on many occasions as well. There’s some steep walls he needs to clamber up, the second stage mostly takes place through tree-tops with monsters hiding inside, the fourth stage sees him commandeer a mini-hang-glider, there’s a Nebulus-style rotating tower stage with precarious little platforms, and some areas have moving sections of wall which need to be navigated very quickly to avoid a crushing! These comprise but a few examples of the varied gameplay on offer here, and there’s also the bosses. Rather than the usual one boss per stage, here there’s only ten boss battles, but they also invariably require lots of leaping and wall-climbing tomfoolery as well! Fortunately it’s possible to use your magic during these battles and success is generally met with a chit-chat with the old man who guides you through the game and a return to the map screen from where it’s sometimes possible to choose between several stages.

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

As mentioned, one area in which Skyblazer excels is the variety between stages. Some games try to add mini-games or bolt-on inappropriate sections that don’t feel right but here the balance has been struck just about right. Each of the many stages is distinctive and each requires a slightly different approach without ever betraying the style and feel of the game. You even have to travel between continents on the map screen by hang-glider which sees the game switch to a 3D view, using trusty Mode 7 of course! A few other touches of Mode 7 have been used during the course of the game too, without ever going overboard, and that’s typical of the graphics used throughout really – instead of trying to do too much, Ukiyotei have ensured that everything is clean, neat, and finely polished, and the result is fantastic. Accordingly, the sprites all feature an ideal amount of detail and the backdrops, whilst generally quite basic, are beautifully drawn with fantastic use of colour throughout.

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot
There’s some nice special effects during the course of the game, such as the rain on the first stage, and the animation is nice too. The foreground graphics aren’t as varied as the everything else, consisting mostly of rock, but all look great as well. Splendidly, the audio is also of a very high standard. The sound effects are good, although not hugely numerous or memorable, but the music is superb. The style is typical of the SNES and its distinctive sound chip and there’s lots of different tunes which are very rousing and moody and add a lot to the atmosphere of the game. The various stages, as well as the aforementioned variety, are generally very well designed, and increasingly challenging as well (although there is a handy password system). Most of the usual themes are visited here at some point like woodland areas, slippy ice, deserts, castles, etc, but there is usually at least an attempt to do something a bit more interesting with them than the norm.

Skyblazer - SNES - Gameplay Screenshot

When I first started playing this game my initial impressions of it were great anyway, but after the first few stages I really started wondering what might be in store for me on the next one too! Sure enough, throughout most of its length it continually surprised me, and pretty much always in a good way. The rise in difficulty is well-graded – the first day’s play should see you reach the second continent but it does get quite tough and requires some quick thinking as well as quick reflexes. In addition to the modestly-numbered enemies there’s plenty of traps and hazards around the stages such as moving platforms, spikes, fire, and all the usual stuff, as well as a few less common ones like rolling logs. Using (or saving) your magic power also requires a little strategic thinking as it can occasionally be used to pass some of these hazards. Overall, it’s hard to think of anything bad about Skyblazer. The SNES sets the standard pretty high for platformers but this one is a tremendously entertaining, varied, and long-lasting game which deserves your attention, however belatedly. The last good release for the SNES? Probably not but it’s certainly a good release. A very good one in fact!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqzYe00NLfw[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

My Favorite Games: Part 10

And so… we finally reach the end of My Favorite Games. As expected there’s lots of games I’m fond of that I couldn’t find space for, and I’m sure as Red Parsley wears on there will be many more to consider, and even replace some of the games already here. Nearly all these games come from my younger days and I enjoyed them all in their prime and continue to enjoy them now, but since the purpose of this blog it to help me discover older games I haven’t previously played, some new lists will undoubtedly follow. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my lists as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Wiz n Liz – MegaDrive (1993)

Wiz n Liz - MegaDrive

Also released on the Amiga, this frantic platformer is not very well known for some reason, despite receiving decent reviews in its day. That never stopped me from playing it to death on my MD though, and I still do! This is also a good example of how games don’t need to be remotely violent to be great fun – aside from a few bosses there’s not a single enemy in the whole game! The object is to rescue all the rabbits that were stolen from the amusingly-named planet of Pum. Collecting rabbits releases letters and fruits which can be used to spell out and then mix magic spells, and they release various other items too. There is a huge variety of magic spells, each of which has a different effect – some give you bonuses, some are mini-games, others are just for fun. With fantastic graphics and music, this fast-paced platformer is a criminally under-played gem (which also offers simultaneous two-player action) and I can’t stop playing it!

Goldeneye 007 – Nintendo 64 (1997)

Goldeneye 007 - Nintendo 64

Yep, sorry, but I had to include it! This was pretty much the first FPS I played properly and what an experience it was! Being a fan of the Bond films didn’t hurt either. In fact, I had just watched the Goldeneye movie before I first played this and, having been used to terrible movie tie-ins generally, wasn’t really expecting much from it. To my amazement, however, not only was it amazingly playable but it also stuck to the plot of the film too. That was unheard of! This fantastic game represents many firsts for me, notably my first use of a sniper-rifle which was awesome, as well as probably the first game I’d played where stealth and cunning yielded more rewards than charging in all-guns-blazing like a bull in a china shop! Goldeneye is probably more famous for its multi-player deathmatches than for its one-player game but it was the latter that kept me playing this, even when I got stuck in the damn jungle level!

Soul Calibur
– Dreamcast (1999)

Soul Calibur - Dreamcast

Being a big Sega fan, not many games made me prouder of being a Dreamcast owner than this one. Stunning graphics (which actually improved on the arcade game) and a equally stunning soundtrack were the icing on the cake of this ground-breaking game from Namco. It had a lot of flashy moves which weren’t too difficult to perform, a great range of characters, and flawless combat physics, but my biggest surprise was discovering the Adventure Mode which saw you travelling around completing various missions to unlock many treats in the game! Many were hoping for a good conversion of this game. What they got was so much better than the arcade original it defied belief! This is still the finest 3D fighting game I’ve ever played.

Operation Wolf – Arcade (1987)

Operation Wolf - Arcade

Out of all my many visits to the arcades of Hayling Island in the late 80’s/early 90’s, this was the game that received most of my money. It was my first experience of a light-gun game, and it was a hell of an intro! An Uzi with grenade-launcher? Yes please! The force-feedback on the gun made things all the more authentic and I just loved playing this over and over, even if I wasn’t very good at it and never managed to complete it. No game of its type ever ensnared me like this did, until Point Blank of all things arrived! Shooting the helicopters and trucks was always particularly satisfying. Of all the home versions, only the Master System version was much cop, but even that didn’t offer the tense atmosphere of this fantastic original.

Sonic 2 – MegaDrive (1992)

Sonic 2 - MegaDrive

Last and not least… as a Sega fan I can’t possibly leave out a Sonic game, and as most will probably agree, the series never surpassed the second MD game. Released after a MAJOR hype campaign, this was one of the rare games that actually lived up to expectations. It took everything that Sonic 1 started and added a whole lot more – bigger, prettier stages and more of them, a new character in Tails, two-player action, those famous tunnel-based bonus rounds, a bigger challenge… Some of the later Sonic games were good but none of them were ever as endlessly entertaining as this one. Going back to play this makes me sad in a way as it marks not only Sonic’s peak, but arguably that of Sega themselves too. Oh well, let us Sega fanboys remember the good times – even Nintendo fanboys must’ve been jealous of this one!

The End…

Dragon’s Fury

Dragon’s Fury (a.k.a. Devil Crash MD) (1992)

By: TechnoSoft Genre: Pinball Players: 1-2 (alternate) Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 22,593,300
Also Available For: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16
Download For: PlayStation Network

Dragons Fury - Devils Crush MD - Gameplay Screenshot

For two years, Devil’s Crush had been thrilling Japanese (and to a lesser extent, American) PC Engine gamers before, unlike its prequel, it finally received a conversion, and it was MegaDrive owners who were the lucky ones to receive it. Handled by Technosoft (famous for the Thunder Force series), it’s a more or less a straight conversion of the Engine game (aside from the unnecessary name change), but there are a few noteworthy differences. Aside from a few small, almost unnoticeable changes, the main table in this version looks pretty much the same as it did on the Engine – everything’s in the same place and everything does the same thing, though the ball feels a little weightier and doesn’t seem to bounce around quite so much.

Dragons Fury - Devils Crush MD - Gameplay Screenshot

As far as I can determine, all the bonuses and scoring techniques also remain unchanged, too. The graphics are slightly different, though. While good in both versions, this version appears less colourful and slightly fuzzier and less defined than the Engine version, and the surface of the table is much brighter here, which makes the colours at least appear to be less contrasted. I actually prefer the graphics of the Engine version by quite some margin but that’s just me. Check out the shots in both reviews and make up you own mind as to which version you think looks better. The music has changed very little during the conversion process, though the sound effects are slightly different (and better) here. Since they are one of this game’s strongest points on the Engine they certainly increase the enjoyment of playing this version, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Dragons Fury - Devils Crush MD - Gameplay Screenshot

One significant difference between the two versions is the bonus tables. There are still six of them here but only two of the ones from the Engine version have survived the transition; the other four are all new. I’m not sure that they’re better but they are probably easier (except for number six which is well ‘ard). Also, this version has an ending! If you can defeat all six bonus tables, you’ll progress to a final table featuring ‘King Dragon’ (or King Demon, depending on which territory you’re in). Defeat him and you’ve completed the game! If you’re like me though, you’ll purposely avoid reaching him in order to achieve the highest score possible.

Dragons Fury - Devils Crush MD - Gameplay Screenshot

Which reminds me of perhaps the biggest difference between the Engine and MegaDrive versions of this great game – the difficulty. This was the version I first played, and it’s the version I’ve spent by far the most time playing, and I’d like to think I’ve become pretty good at it, achieving scores in the nine-figure region fairly easily. This, however, proves a lot more difficult when playing the Engine version. For example, the top section of the table is where high scores can be quickly amassed, and it’s A LOT easier to get there, AND stay there for prolonged periods on this MD version. It’s not that the tables on the respective versions have been designed differently though, nor that this game has been badly converted by TechnoSoft. The ball physics is outstanding on both versions, but, as mentioned briefly earlier, they are slightly different here, which results in a couple of tricks I learnt when playing this version, didn’t work when I started playing the Engine game.

Dragons Fury - Devils Crush MD - Gameplay Screenshot

So there you have it. Both versions are essentially the same. The Engine version is more challenging and looks prettier (in my opinion), this MegaDrive version is easier and louder. Both are amazingly playable, both are as addictive as hell, but this version is the one where I cut my teeth, so to speak, so I’ll always love playing it.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-HEbNw2Kbo[/youtube]

RKS Score: 9/10

The Simpsons Arcade Game

It’s the Simpsons Arcade game as the pick of the week. I fell in love with this title back in the arcade era in the late 80s and early 90s and now that it’s available in the PSN network, I had to have it. Lets kick back and check this wonderful adventure!

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Gameplay Screenshot

Can anyone not have the music of the Simpsons engraved on their head? I know I do! Not only is that wonderful sountrack in the game but also a lot of remixes using it. What better way to enjoy a Simpsons game than to listen to such a wonderful soundtrack! The sounds are also very cartoonish like and best of all, Simpson voices! You’ll hear Homer yawn, Bart swear, and the others!

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Gameplay Screenshot

The graphics are amazing for its time. The game looks just like the cartoon so in a way you get the feeling you are in the cartoon itself. There is no other way to have made this game possible! All the characters look like the ones from series so you won’t have any problem recognizing them. There are of course some characters that only appear in the game but you get the picture.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Gameplay Screenshot

The gameplay is so much fun you’ll be replaying it with all your friends over and over! The game is quite simple. It’s a beat ’em up which means you have to beat everyone on your path. The game is seven stages long and packed with lots of traps and foes so at points it can get quite challenging. Overall, there isn’t any problem since you don’t need quarters anymore.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Gameplay Screenshot

This is an arcade game so it obviously holds replay value! It’s always fun to go at it alone and let people join along the way or start a new game with three online peeps and enjoy the journey together. It’s such an awesome masterpiece and totally worth it!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9DE-KyZnLc[/youtube]

So there is nothing much to say except, get it! It’s a must have, you’ll have a blast ! Online randomness? Yes! Simpson humor? Yes! What more do you want? That’s all for this week!! By the way, it only costs 9.99, runs away”

Star Control: The Ships

The first Star Control title really is a game of two-halves. The ‘Main’ game is seen as the strategy side of the game with its turn-based, territorial expansion-based shenanigans, while the ‘Melee’ mode is seen as the action, shoot ’em up side, but it is a lot more strategic than people realise itself. Each of the fourteen starships in the game has many variables, as can be seen in some of the screenshots below and, while it’s possible for any one ship to defeat any one other, there are certain ships that are better or worse against certain others, and many crafty tactics can be employed to exploit their weaknesses.
There really is nothing like an epic Melee battle between two experienced, well-matched combatants. Each lurking on opposite sides of the screen trying to guess what the other is thinking, the occasional skirmish to test each other. They can be very tense affairs! So, for the benefit of any budding Melee-Masters, the next installment in my series of Star Control features will take a look at the ships used by the seven races that comprise the Alliance of Free Stars (the ‘good guys’)…
Chenjesu Broodhome

Star Control

Arguably my favourite ship in the game! This is the flagship of the Alliance fleet, used by the crystalline Chenjesu species. While not particularly quick, it’s big and powerful enough for that not to matter most of the time. It’s primary weapon is the Photon Shard which is a round projectile with an infinite range – when you launch one, keep your finger on the fire button and the shard will continue on for as long as you hold down the button! It’s the longest range weapon in the game and causes devastating damage with a direct hit (some smaller ships can be taken out with one strike), but you can only fire one at a time. When you release the fire button the shard will fragment into eight smaller pieces that travel a short distance causing minimal damage.

Star Control
The Broodhome’s secondary weapon is the D.O.G.I. Creating one of these will use all the fuel supply but the D.O.G.I will then home in on the other vessel and each time it makes contact (and makes an amusing ‘barking’ sound!) it will drain your opponent’s fuel. These are very useful, and you can deploy up to four of them, but some of the ships with powerful, short-range weapons like the Avenger and the Drone can take them out with ease. The Broodhome’s biggest weakness is its lack of maneuverability which, amongst other things, means that it’s the ship most vulnerable to planetary gravity, with each high-velocity collision causing a significant percentage of its crew complement to be lost, but it’s still a imposing, numerously-crewed vessel that you’ll do well to come out of a battle with alive!
Ship Rating: 5/5

Yehat Terminator

Star Control

Smaller and more agile than the Broodhome, this nippy craft crewed by the Pterodactyl-like Yehat is a formidable offensive and defensive craft. It’s armed with twin, rapid-fire Pulse Cannons which can pepper an adversary’s ship with many small, weak shots which can collectively cause a lot of damage, especially to larger ships. The defensive side is catered for by an impenetrable Force Shield which can be activated at will. Both of these eat through the Terminator’s fuel reserves though, and it doesn’t have very big tanks! Luckily its refuel rate is pretty high which, combined with its speed and maneuverability, makes it a tricky opponent that’s hard to beat in the hands of an experienced player. The cannons have a decent range so you can hover just inside it, popping off occasional shots, and using the shields to protect you from the shots you can’t avoid. The cannons have a great sound effect too!

Ship Rating: 4/5

Mmrnmhrm Transformer

Star Control

The Mmrnmhrm are best mates with the Chenjesu, a friendship that would lead to the creation of the devastating Avatar battleship in Star Control 2, but in this original their ship is interesting, but ultimately pretty average. As you may have guessed from its name, this craft is able to alternate between two forms. The first and default form is a slow but maneuverable one with twin short-range Laser cannons. With the tap of a button, however, its wings sweep back and its powerful afterburner kicks in, turning it into a fast, long-range craft which fires twin, long-range homing missiles. Both forms come with problem though – the first form is very slow and the second has a horrendous turning speed meaning it’s basically only usable in a straight line. The trick is to attack with the lasers, retreat with the faster craft, wait until the fuel reserves build back up, then zoom in close to your opponent and, change back, and let rip with the lasers. It’s a sound tactic but the ship is pretty clumsy in practise. It can be reasonably effective but isn’t particularly enjoyable to use.

Ship Rating: 3/5

Ariloulaleelay Skiff

Star Control

They’re a brainy bunch, those Arilou, so it’s odd that the Skiff is one of the weediest ships in the game! This is one of three ships that can be destroyed by a single shot from one of the larger vessels, but of those three, it’s almost certainly the handiest. It’s very fast, has the tightest turning circle in the whole game, and most impressively it comes equipped with an inertialess propulsion system. This means it can reach maximum velocity instantly and stop just as quickly, and is also unaffected by planetary gravity too. As those with a knowledge of astrophysics will know, that makes the Skiff one agile little bastard, and it can even hide next to planets to lure larger ships into the gravity well! On top of all this, the Skiff is also equipped with a ‘Hyperdrive Shunt’ which basically teleports the ship to a random location in the playfield (whilst making a funny noise). This is extremely useful for escaping from any hairy situations, and with the Skiff’s meagre crew complement, there are many! Its weaponry consists of a short-range, rapid-fire, auto-aiming laser, which can do a decent amount of damage if you can get a full volley off without taking any fire. The best tactic with this little ship is to sneak up behind a ship, pummel them for as long as possible with the laser, then ‘shunt’ out of harms way. Repeat until ship is defeated!

Ship Rating: 3/5

Syreen Penetrator

Star Control

Clearly a riff on the sultry green alien women from Captain Kirk’s adventures, the female-dominated Syreen race is one with whom you can have many interesting encounters in the sequel to this game (including shagging one of them!). Here however, the innuendo’s are limited to their ship (and its name) which is pretty fast and armed with a fairly weak Particle Beam. The ship’s most helpful feature though, is its ability to project the hypnotic songs of its crew outside the ship. When done in close range, the song lures crew from the opposing ship out of their airlocks and into space where they can be collected by the Penetrator, adding them to its own crew roster. This can be done until even the largest enemy ship is down to a single crew member so you just have to finish them off with a single shot!

Ship Rating: 3/5

Earthling Cruiser

Star Control

Hooray, it’s our ship, and a pretty decent one it is too! It takes a while to get going and even then it’s a bit lumbering and not particularly fast, but its armaments make up for that. The Cruiser’s main weapon is a plentiful supply of Nuclear Missiles which do a decent amount of damage and have a range bettered only by the Broodhome’s Photon Shard’s and the Podship’s Plasma thingies. This means it can stay as far away from its enemy as possible, using its excellent turning speed to whip round and fire off a missile before continuing on its way. Any time an enemy does get close enough to shoot at the Cruiser, it can take down weaker projectiles with its auto-targeting Point Defense Lasers which can shoot up to four things at once. This means its the only in the game ship to be effectively immune to the Dreadnought’s bloody fighters (much to its users chagrin!).

Ship Rating: 4/5

Shofixti Scout

Star Control

The Shofixti are a proud and courageous species modelled on the Japanese of old, so it’s a shame their ship sucks ass! It’s pretty fast and maneuverable, but has a weedy Energy Dart as its main weapon which, contrary to the picture, can only fire one shot at a time doing minimal damage to your opponent. That’s assuming you even get a chance to shoot as the Scout has a tiny crew complement and can be destroyed by a single shot from larger ships, and still in seconds by some lesser ships. The only thing it’s remotely useful for is its Glory Device – a self-destruct which, when detonated close to an enemy, can do a decent amount of damage. When under computer control, they bide their time waiting for a chance to get close enough to deploy the Glory Device, then blow themselves up! That says it all really…

Ship Rating: 1/5

Alliance Ships Total Rating: 23/35

3-D Bomberman

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

3-D Bomberman (1984)
By: Hudson Soft / Kawaguchi  Genre: Action  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: MSX  First Day Score: 000,000 (seriously!)
Also Available For: Sharp X-1

It’s been a while now since my last look at this great series but since returning to it I’ve discovered, apparently in my eagerness to progress through the series, that I missed one out! Now that I’ve realised this, however, I wish this particular offering had remained obscured from my sight until the end of time. For better or worse though, it does exist, and as you may have guessed from the title, it tries to do something a little different. In more recent years there have been a few attempts to turn our hero’s world into a three-dimensional one but I thought Bomberman 64, which itself got a rather lukewarm reception, was the first one. It now appears that this isn’t the case, for as far back as 1984, and immediately after the original game’s release, Hudson released 3-D Bomberman, and it was something of unbridled horror.

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

Usually when writing about a game I try to remain impartial and detail the various facts and figures of a game before praising or criticising it accordingly, but this game is different. It is, you see, quite literally the original Bomberman but from a first-person viewpoint. This would be a concerning prospect on a modern consoles but on an MSX? It is, quite frankly, terrifying. The first problem is that all the walls are red with nothing to differentiate ‘soft blocks’, or destroyable parts of the wall. This means there’s lots of identical-looking corridors that you’ll most likely end up walking around aimlessly. If you walk into a dead-end, it’s a good bet that it’s a soft block in your way, so you can try laying a bomb. The viewpoint also makes it difficult to judge distance accurately though, so you’ll have to run far away to be sure of avoiding the blast (which looks like a untuned TV). Once you’ve turned back round you’ll probably be unable to find where you were so you’ll have to wander aimlessly some more.

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

As you might expect, there are enemies in the mazes but you’ll rarely spot one and when you do it’s very difficult to kill one. Lest we forget, the most effective way of doing this in normal Bomberman games is to trap them in a dead-end but it’s no longer possible to watch them from afar and then move in when the timing’s right. There is a very basic scanner in the corner which shows enemies, but it doesn’t show walls so it’s not a great deal of help really! Technically the game is reasonable enough – the mazes (and they literally are mazes now) move pretty quickly and smoothly, more so than I would’ve expected, but that’s not the problem – this style of game just shouldn’t have been attempted in 3D, back then or now! It’s really, really not an entertaining game to play – it’s confusing and very easy to get lost, and there’s no variety whatsoever. There’s probably a few power-ups and maybe a few different enemies to be found if you persevered, but to be honest I couldn’t handle playing it long enough to find out. I feel like I need a shower…

RKS Score: 2/10

Jetpac

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Jetpac (1983)
By: Ultimate Play the Game Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 6,220
Also Available For: BBC Micro, Commodore VIC-20

Most gamers who grew up in the UK around the same sort of time I did (you know, the 80’s ‘glory days’), probably had one of the 8-bit micros that were doing the rounds at that time and for me it was the ZX Spectrum. I got into gaming late though, and missed the Speccy’s early years which also meant I ended up missing most of the games released by the now legendary Ultimate and, to my eternal shame, I’ve never got around to playing them since either. This is once again where good old Red Parsley comes in handy for me as it provides a great excuse (not that one should be needed, admittedly) to rectify this glaring oversight! To that end, this series of features will look at all of the games released by Ultimate and I guess it makes most sense to start with the first game!

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Developed by Tim and Chris Stamper, the founders of Ultimate, Jetpac is a simple game as you might expect, and it stars Jetman. It’s your job to guide him around the single-screen stages to reassemble his rocket and then refuel it by collecting the fuel pods that fall onto the screen one by one. On most stages after this he’ll just need to refuel it but every now and then there will be a new rocket to reassemble and he’ll have to repeat the whole process from scratch. Jetman can fly using the titular device for indefinite periods and is also armed with a laser to take out the endless swarms of aliens that drift across the screen attempting to stop him from half-inching their resources (such as precious metals and gems), which also drop onto the screen periodically and can be collected for bonus points. The stages are also looped meaning if he flies off the left of the screen he’ll emerge on the right and vice-versa. This is useful for evading aliens but can also be risky as the aliens do the same!

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

Each stage is home to a different kind of alien (until they eventually start repeating) and they are the source of the game’s difficulty. Each type of alien moves in a different way and your ability to deal with them will determine how far you can get. For example, I have most trouble with the ones that look like gonks but others may find them a breeze. I think most players would agree that this is still a pretty tricky game though, regardless of which types of alien cause you problems! The sound is predictably almost non-existent and the graphics are also fairly basic, and suffer from a bit of colour-clash for good measure, but at least they are colourful, and they’re nicely detailed too.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT4gzLAryCs[/youtube]

Jetpac has never been a flashy, show-off game anyway though, even I know that – it’s famous for its gameplay and nothing else and after just my first few seconds playing it I could see why. It may be simple but it’s also extremely well-crafted. As is often the case, this combination makes it a very addictive game, and one that I’m pleased to have finally played!

RKS Score: 8/10

Bomb Jack Twin

Bomb Jack Twin (1993)
By: NMK Co., Ltd  Genre: Platform  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 169,260
Also Available For: Nothing

BombBomb Jack Twin - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Poor old Bomb Jack. After an exceptional mid-80’s debut his future looked bright and he could’ve been one of the very first platform heroes but despite a couple of sequels, he instead faded into obscurity. One of the sequels, Mighty Bomb Jack, appeared only a couple of years after the original and took the addictive bomb-collecting, enemy-avoiding gameplay and introduced scrolling stages as well as numerous bonus collectibles. A year after that, Elite offered their own unofficial sequel, creatively titled Bomb Jack 2, which strangely took away Jack’s power of flight, instead requiring him to leap from platforms to adjacent platforms. The next game in the series was also sadly the last to date and it was… Bomb Jack Twin.

BombBomb Jack Twin - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Appearing some six years after Elite’s franchise-destroying game, Bomb Jack Twin took the gameplay back to the basics, but made one vital addition – a two player mode. Yes, that’s right – joining in with Bomb Jack’s bomb-collecting tomfoolery this time is a female Bomb-collector (Bomb Jill?) and together they must once again save the world’s landmarks and cities from… actually, did we ever find out who was responsible? Anyway, the stages here are basically polished-up copies of those found in the first game with one exception – they’re a lot harder! It appears, therefore, that rather than merely offering the option of a two-player, this game is designed to be played that way.

BombBomb Jack Twin - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

The reason it’s harder, you see, is because the enemies are both much more numerous, and much faster. Just look at the screenshots below – both were taken by me a few seconds after the start of the stage and there’s already six or more enemies on the loose! The longer you last, the more of them there will be and some of them chase you around the screen at a ridiculous speed. The first stage eases you in a little but after that you’ll need the reflexes of a gazelle to get very far on your own and the ‘P’ icon becomes more vital than ever before!

BombBomb Jack Twin - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

As you can probably see, one of the biggest changes the series has seen from first game to this one is the graphics. It’s been nine years since the first Bomb Jack so this game looks much fancier with its beautifully drawn sprites, some nice animation, and nice backdrops. Some of the music and sound effects return from the first game (in remixed form, of course) but they are joined by some new ones too, and everything is top-notch presentation-wise. But does the pretty new look make it a better game?

BombBomb Jack Twin - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Stages are set in thirteen locations around the world and before play begins you’ll see a map screen showing where you are. After three rounds, then a bonus round (same sort of objective but with no enemies and a tighter time limit), you’ll move to the next dot on the map, and control over Jack (and Jill) through the game is again extremely tight and precise which is more necessary than ever here!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArQymJldzkU[/youtube]

Obviously this game is the best in the series for enjoying with a friend since it’s the only entry in the series with such an option, and fantastic (if often short-lived) fun it is too, but when ‘flying solo’ I think I’d have to go for the original. If you’ve got the necessary skills, Twin is a superb game, but it’ll just prove too tough for most single-players.

RKS Score: 8/10

Sigma Star

So here we are finally back with another entry of Retro Game of the Week. This time around we have a very interesting title. Not only is this an RPG, but it’s a shoot ’em up with RPG elements. You can’t get any better than this!

Sigma Star - Gameboy Advanced - Gameplay Screenshot

Music

The music fits the game with its sci-fi soundtrack. You get the feeling that you are playing a game with weird unknown worlds and awesome action gameplay. The game does deliver great sound effects as well as very dramatic tunes. There is not much more to say about the music except that it fits the game just right.

Graphics

Sigma Star - Gameboy Advanced - Gameplay Screenshot

The graphics are GBAs standard. The usual SNES feel of the game in a portable game delivers with success. You get to fly around with scenery similar to R-type and enjoy the beautiful scenery. When you are not on your ship, you are walking around exploring the beautiful planets during your missions. The graphics aren’t the most groundbreaking but they are sure pretty.

Gameplay

Sigma Star - Gameboy Advanced - Gameplay Screenshot

The gameplay is quite enjoyable. The main idea of the game is to fly with your ship and shoot down other ships. In the process, you gain experience and eventually level up. This is very important as you will make your ship more powerful as you level up. The game works as an RPG since you walk around exploring different areas when you are suddenly summoned to your ship in order to battle a swarm of enemies. Once you defeated all of them, you are sent back to where you were in your mission. The game develops quite well and keeps you interested in a story involving a soldier betrayed by his own people only to join forces with the enemy. There is a lot more to it that I don’t want to spoil as usual.

Replay Value

Sigma Star - Gameboy Advanced - Gameplay Screenshot

As with all RPGs, you are left with a story that you’ll eventually finish and try to give it another shot. The point is that to replay this game might be a good and a bad idea. The good is that you can play this game at your own pace while the bad is that you get to play the exact same game over and over. Do you really want to do that? That is the weakness of playing RPG games, especially long ones. It’s all up to you.

Conclusion 

Sigma Star - Gameboy Advanced - Gameplay Screenshot

To conclude, this is a game that will make you want to pick up more shoot ’em up titles especially if they are combined genres. The RPG elements helps it keep interesting and as weird as the game may play, it ends up working in really good ways. The game is fun, interesting, and very well worth it. I suggest you pick it up and give it a shot! Until next week!

ASO: Armored Scrum Object

ASO – Armored Scrum Object a.k.a. Alpha Mission (1985)
By: SNK  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 20,480 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nintendo NES

Armored Scrum Object

You know, the history of videogames can be funny. As genres were born, some examples of their games were forgotten almost as soon as they appeared while others went on to be remembered as landmarks, even legends in the years to come. The ones most fondly recalled were generally the most playable, not necessarily the most innovative, and that brings me to ASO (or Alpha Mission as most will probably know it). I must confess that I’d never seen or played it before undertaking this feature. I had vague knowledge of its sequel on the Neo Geo, but this original? Not a clue. When I started playing it though, I was rather pleasantly surprised for, as it turns out, ASO is a very innovative game considering its age! Is its obscurity a blip in history or is it deservedly ignored?

Armored Scrum Object

Its innovation doesn’t extend to its story though! Yep, it’s the same old nonsense – evil aliens attacking Earth, blah, blah, blah. In this case, seven waring races from the Tetranova galaxy have been fighting with such ferocity that all their homeworlds have been destroyed. Finding unity in their newfound homelessness, they have joined forces to find a new home on which they can recover and rebuild their fleets before going to war once again and, as you may have guessed, that new home they’ve selected is Earth! Eeek! Fear not though, as you’ve been given the chance to kick them off using the SYD attack fighter, which for once isn’t an ‘advanced prototype’ either! Using this ship you must fight through twelve areas before Earth can be saved and peace restored to one and all.

Armored Scrum Object

One of the first things I noticed about ASO is that the twelve vertically-scrolling stages generally feature just as many targets on the ground as they do airborne ones. To that end, the SYD fighter is capable of firing its laser cannon to take out the squadrons of various enemy craft but it can also fire missiles to destroy ground targets. Many of the latter include several types of gun turrets, but there are also many parts of the scenery that can be destroyed and it’s in the smouldering remains of these that the game’s many power-up icons can be found, and this is perhaps what impressed me most about the game. Yes, its mixture of airborne and ground-based targets is somewhat reminiscent of Xevious but the plethora of collectible icons here is impressive for such an early game!

Armored Scrum Object

This is also where things can get a little complicated! The icons are marked by both letters and colours. Those marked with ‘S’, ‘L’, or ‘M’ will upgrade the SYD’s speed, laser power, and missile power respectively, but the ones marked with ‘E’ will gradually increase your energy meter which powers the various weapons or ‘armors’ available. The SYD has two of these permanently – the lasers and missiles – but the others must be collected and each is split into three pieces. Once all three pieces of a given armor are collected it is available for use, but only once your energy reserves have reached a sufficient level too. Once this happens you can select which armor you wish to use (only out of the ones you’ve collected of course) and unleash it accordingly!

Armored Scrum Object

There are eight different collectible armors altogether and aside from a shield they are all offensive including more powerful cannons, super-missiles, and energy beams, right up to a powerful smart-bomb style attack. Using any of them will deplete your energy and they only last for a limited amount of time or number of shots, plus some are better in certain situations than others, so strategic use is advised! There are many other icons to be found too – twenty in total, amazingly – and even one of my sizable reviews isn’t big enough to go into all of them, but suffice to say it’s possible to upgrade and downgrade your ship’s various attributes and, mercifully, there are also icons that let you keep your various power-ups after a life is lost, one each for speed, lasers, and missiles.

Armored Scrum Object

Other icons include ones that increase the size of your energy tanks, ones for warps and bonus points, extra lives… all sorts of things, and as long as you keep firing those missiles, the landscape will be littered with them, and that’s probably the best thing about this game – your progress is almost entirely down to intelligent collection and use of the millions of icons or ‘energy tiles’. In spite of their numbers, however, the stages themselves are constantly busy with lots of small enemy fighters flitting backwards and forwards taking pot-shots at you, punctuated by the occasional larger, more powerful craft, but the end-of-level bosses are very challenging, at least at first before you adapt to their attacks and learn a few tricks. Some even fire homing-bullets which are really annoying!

Armored Scrum Object

This combined with the slightly sluggish controls and the fact that the collision-detection often makes your ship seem to be a little bigger than it is conspire to make this is one tough game! While the music and sound effects are merely functional, the graphics here are pretty impressive. The stages aren’t enormously varied despite seemingly being set on both spacestations and on planets, but the sprites are varied and well-detailed too and the great use of colour means things rarely get confusing.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co8dKqWsAVs[/youtube]

This is all impressive enough anyway but when you consider that ASO was released in the same year as the legendary but more basic Gradius, it’s pretty amazing! SNK have managed to pack a huge amount into this game – its twelve stages, twenty power-up icons, and eight weapons is far in excess of anything else I’ve seen from other games of this age and on top of that it’s great fun too, if a little hectic. It’s very much a game where practise pays off though and I’m now greatly looking forward to giving the sequel on the Neo Geo powerhouse the once over! Ultimately the few little niggles mentioned prevent this from being an top-ranked blaster but I’m still very surprised it isn’t better remembered.

RKS Score: 7/10

Top Five Alex Kidd Games

Yes, yes, okay, I know – there are only five Alex Kidd games, so how can this be a Top Five? Well, actually, contrary to popular belief, there are in fact six Alex Kidd games – Sega sneaked out another one which never left Japan, but I’ll look at that one in a later feature. This feature, instead of selecting the five best Alex Kidd games, will place his five best-known adventures in order of greatness!

5. Alex Kidd in High-Tech World (1989)

Alex Kidd - HighTechWorld

The well-informed among you could be forgiven for not considering this a true Alex Kidd game as it was actually nothing to do with him in its Japanese form, instead being based on some obscure anime show and being converted to an AK game for its overseas releases. It’s also the game I was most intrigued by prior to this feature as my entire knowledge of it was pretty much restricted to a single screenshot and tiny review in some magazine of the day (C&VG’s Complete Guide to Consoles, as I recall). As it turns out, that intrigue was somewhat misplaced, with the game focusing on Alex’s attempts to find eight pieces of a map to a new arcade which has opened in town. Unlike the other games in the series, this takes the form of an arcade adventure which does involve lots of familiar platforming action but also sees Alex talking to other characters, searching furniture for items which he can use elsewhere, etc. It’s not a bad game I suppose, but it’s not a huge amount of fun and just seems like a bit of a chore at times.

4. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989)

Alex Kidd - EnchantedCastle

Commonly believed to be the final Alex Kidd game, Enchanted Castle was actually released shortly before Shinobi World, but it is the only one that didn’t get a Master System release, instead appearing as a launch title for the MegaDrive. Despite some spruced-up visuals and music (only marginally though) this effort very much retains the feel of the MS games which is probably its biggest problem. The Master System is a great console but the significantly greater power of the MD gave Sega the opportunity to do a lot more with their character but sadly they didn’t seize it. It’s not bad and has some nice ideas but it’s also very frustrating, with the merest touch from anything that moves causing instant death. Even for a launch game this was rather average but next to some of the MD’s other platformers, it’s a pretty poor effort.

3. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (1989)

Alex Kidd - Lost Stars

This was the first Alex Kidd game I played after I borrowed it from a friend many years ago. I swear I have firm memories of playing it through to completion over that weekend (yep, even with it making you go through the game twice, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts stylee) but since replaying it for this feature I’m not so sure my memory is accurate – it’s harder than ten angry lions! It is also the most surreal of Alex’s games, requiring him to traverse some strange landscapes and battle some stranger foes while trying to recover the twelve Zodiac signs! The object of each stage is simply to reach the end within the time limit. Enemies are just there to get in your way and contact with them takes a chunk out of your remaining time. I have good memories of this game which, while frustrating, is also addictive and features such obscure stages the urge to see what Sega dreamed up for the next one is strong!

2. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (1990)

Alex Kidd - Shinobi World

Cross-over games are few and far between on any console in my experience so that already makes this game noteworthy, but happily it’s also rather good! I hadn’t played it prior to this feature so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but as it turns out I needn’t have thought so hard about it – it’s quite literally a cartoony version of a Shinobi game with Alex Kidd replacing Joe Musashi. Clearly modelled on the MS version of the first game (it even features arranged versions of the same music), Alex must battle through twelve stages filled with enemy ninjas, soldiers, and bosses, all based on similar ones from Shinobi. Like High-Tech World, this game was not originally developed as an Alex Kidd game but the character suits it well and it’s a superb final outing for ol’ big ears. Ironically, it’s also tougher than Shinobi, but the stages are interesting and well-designed so it’s worth battling away.

1. Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986)

Alex Kidd - Miracle World

To my shame, I failed to fully embrace this game in the late 80’s when my MS was my only console, despite its glowing reputation. I have since made up for lost time though, and can see why it was so revered. Miracle World is perhaps the most ‘normal’ of Alex’s adventures but it’s also the most enjoyable as you help him on his journey to free his brother and father who’ve been kidnapped by Janken the Great. This obviously involves lots of top platforming action but Alex also gets to go swimming and take command of a motorbike and a pedicoptor along the way too! This variety along with the lovely colourful graphics and nice music helps to make Miracle World a superbly entertaining game. It has pretty much always been regarded as the best in the series and although Shinobi World comes close, this is still the champion!

Bomber Raid

Bomber_raid_cover

Bomber Raid (1988)
By: Sanritsu Denki / Sega  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System  First Day Score: 78,100
Also Available For: Nothing

Bomber Raid - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

As much affection as I have for the Master System, it didn’t really fare too well anywhere except Europe (and Brazil), and its paltry but loyal core of proud and loyal owners were enveloped by the congealing mass of NES owners in Japan and the US. A testament to its failure in the two most important markets is the fact that this very game represented the final official release for the console in Japan, and at a time when the system was only just becoming established here in the UK! Bomber Raid was released exclusively on the Master System too so there’s a good chance a lot of American and Japanese gamers missed out on it altogether, but did they miss much? And perhaps more importantly, was it a fitting farewell for the lovely little console in its native territory?

Bomber Raid - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Taking its cues from Capcom classic, 1942, and a few similar games to a lesser extent like Flying Shark, Bomber Raid is a WWII-set vertically scrolling shmup which takes place over both land and sea. It’s interesting that the front cover of this game depicts an SR-71 Blackbird dropping a load of bombs as the actual game sees you piloting a far older and less sophisticated plane and any bomb-dropping you do is restricted to the three ‘cluster bombs’ your aircraft is equipped with! The game takes place over five stages, or ‘missions’ (you’ll receive a short briefing before each), all of which are filled with enemy aircraft, tanks, boats, submarines, and other associated vehicles, including of course much larger and more powerful bosses at the end of each stage.

Bomber Raid - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Amidst all the usual military-type enemies, you’ll frequently encounter spinning pods which release power-ups when shot. These include speed-ups, upgrades for your feeble main gun, and can also see smaller drone planes join yours and produce fire of their own, although they are just as prone to enemy fire as your main aircraft too, and you can also unleash the aforementioned cluster bombs which are screen-clearing smart bombs as you might expect. No, the arsenal isn’t particularly huge or impressive but even with the pretty limited resources available here you should make pretty good progress through the stages. The difficulty curve is just about right and there’s few overly tough parts that you’ll get stuck on.

Bomber Raid - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

In fact, probably the biggest challenges offered by the game, at least initially, are a result of graphical issues! They’re pretty good, if lacking a little in variety, but the enemy fire is small and moves fast so it’s often hard to spot it, and the same can be said of some of the enemies themselves. Your own bullets, too, are practically invisible to start with making the acquisition of power-ups even more of a necessity! There’s also a bit of slowdown and flicker now and then too but aside from that, this is a decent enough looking game, and indeed a decent enough game generally. It was actually one of the MS games I always wanted to play but I never got around to buying it, so this is my first encounter with it, and happily it’s been a good one. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not the best vertical-scroller on the Master System (Power Strike retains that crown) but once you get used to the slightly confusing visuals it proves to be an enjoyable and addictive blaster, and a decent farewell for the Japanese incarnation of this great console.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncUcqF82FCc[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

Neo Drift Out

Neo Drift Out (1996)
By: Visco Corp  Genre: Overhead Racing  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES & CD, Arcade (variation)

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

From around the early to mid-90’s the stagnating genre of overhead racing games suddenly saw something of a revival when lots of rally-based variations started appearing. Many companies made offerings but credit for this sub-genre can largely be given to Visco Corp. Their 1991 game, Drift Out, though frustrating and tricky to play, was one of the first games of this type and swapped the traditional overhead racing game viewpoint for a zoomed-in perspective which allowed for much more detail and longer, more complex courses. It wasn’t hugely successful but sufficiently so to give rise to two sequels. The first of these had the superb idea of shifting the viewpoint further still to an angled-overhead perspective and the game was much better as a result but it still had its problems. I’m hoping this sequel, using Neo Geo hardware, would attend to them.

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

One of the additions Drift Out 94 made to the original game was the inclusion of an official license for the available cars. While this game retains that license it unfortunately has fewer cars to choose from with your options being limited to the good old Evo, Impreza, and Celica. Each of them differs with regards to their speed, control, and body but it doesn’t really make a dramatic difference which one you go for. After you’ve selected a car you’ll get a short practise stage to race on before beginning the game proper. There are six courses in all – European, African, Snow, Southern Hemisphere, Scandinavia, and Great Britain – and they’re set over the kind of terrains you might expect to find – tarmac, gravel, dirt, snow/ice, and sand.

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

As with the prequel, each course has to be completed within a pretty strict time limit in order to qualify for the next one and they are arguably more testing than before too with regard to the sheer frequency of harsh corners. It seems every other turn here is a hairpin, right-angle, or chicane, and there are numerous short-cuts and obstacles as well. For example, the snow stage features slippy ice patches and course-encroaching snow drifts! Fortunately your car is more than sufficient for power-sliding around most of them, but impact with any obstacles or trackside objects knocks it around costing you speed and therefore time. Luckily nothing effects it too severely though. Much like real rallying, you’re racing against the clock rather than other cars directly but it is possible to catch up other racers (or be overtaken) if you’re good (or bad) enough!

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

The first Drift Out was fairly innovative for its time but it did have pretty frustrating gameplay. Luckily Drift Out ’94 did a lot to improve the basic formula of its predecessor but both were memory tests, and that remains the case with this Neo Geo update. That’s about all it is too, really – an update. Graphically things haven’t changed much, for one thing. In fact, I think I’d even say that the last game has slightly superior visuals to this one but there’s really not much in it. The previous game has a little more detail in its scenery but this game is noticeably faster which actually doesn’t make it more difficult, surprisingly, since the course designs here are a little more straightforward. The short cuts add some variety to each race too, but the accompanying music and sound effects are nothing special once again. Neo Drift Out is basically a faster version of Drift Out ’94 with less cars but different, and slightly less-confusing course designs, which basically means it rectifies none of its predecessors faults but creates no more either. It’s great fun though and is probably the most playable of the three Drift Out games, but not by enough to get an extra point!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d50YE00hO98[/youtube]

Doraemon Meikyu Daisakusen

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot

Doraemon Meikyu Daisakusen a.k.a. Cratermaze (1989)
By: Hudson Soft  Genre: Maze  Players: 1  Difficulty: Easy
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16  First Day Score: Infinity
Also Available For: Nothing

Having recently introduced some Red Parsley readers to the wonder that is Doraemon (a post met with overwhelming indifference it seems!), I thought it might be timely to feature a game based on his antics. In fact, there are currently over 50 videogames based on or featuring everyone’s favourite robotic cat, but this is one of the few to make it out of Japan. Well, kind of. For there was once a rather obscure arcade game called ‘Kid no Hore Hore Daisakusen’, better know in the West as ‘Booby Kids’ (snigger) which received an NES port. It was later also ported to the PC Engine (or rather a game based on it was released) but the sprites and theme of the game were altered to incorporate Doraemon and friends, naturally, given their popularity in their native realm. However, this version was then released on the TurboGrafx-16, but since most Americans don’t know who Doraemon is, all the original graphics were put back into the game and it was released as ‘Cratermaze’! This review, however, will focus on the Doraemon version of the game. Because I like him.

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot
Not everyone likes Doraemon though it seems. There he was, happily flying along on his magic carpet device with his friends when an evil spirit turns up and kidnaps all of them except Doraemon himself! It’s now clearly up to the splendid blue moggy to rescue all his friends. This is done by guiding him around the many overhead viewed, scrolling mazes in each of which you must collect sixteen… well, they look like pies or something, but I imagine they are dorayaki, Doraemon’s favourite food! After they’re all collected a key will appear which unlocks the exit to that round. Of course, the rounds are also inhabited by various peculiar beasties which pootle around the mazes seemingly aimlessly, and all of them cause Doraemon to lose a life if one of them touches him. Fortunately there are a few things that make his task a little easier to shoulder.

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot

In order to deal with the horrific beasts prowling each round, Doraemon is capable of digging holes in which he can trap them. Once this happens, another press of the same button sees the hole filled in, thereby cruelly ending the life of the enemy in question. For each of them you kill you’ll receive bonus points at the end of the round but, beyond potentially getting you out of a tight spot, that’s about all killing them does. They will immediately respawn nearby and are pretty much just there to get in the way and prevent you from… umm, collecting all the dorayaki’s! Helpfully, one of the several power-ups available doubles the number of holes Doraemon digs at once so you can dispose of the enemies from a greater distance, but be careful – on the higher of the two difficulty settings he can fall into the holes himself!

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot
There are sixty rounds in all, each one being several screens in size and of course littered with various power-ups too. There’s speed-up boots which, like the one already mentioned, last indefinitely, but there are some more with rather more limited time-spans including a clock which freezes all the monsters, a spray which slows them all down, an invincibility shield, a bubble-gun which traps and kills any enemies that you shoot, something which turns the level blue and all of the enemies into ice, and perhaps best of all – bombs! These are used Bomberman-stylee, killing any enemy in their blast range (well, this game is by Hudson Soft!). Other items found now and then include teleporters (which, like Gauntlet, send you to the nearest similar device) and spring pads (which can just as often be a pain as they are helpful!).

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot

Doraemon Labyrinth, as it’s sometimes called by Westerners, is a curious game. There’s definitely nothing spectacular about it but at the same time everything here is pleasant enough with one exception – it’s far too easy. The graphics and sound certainly don’t push the Engine to its limits but they do their jobs well. The stages and sprites aren’t particularly varied but everything is neat and well-drawn, with the titular metallic feline looking great. The music too, which for the most part will be familiar to fans of the anime, is pretty good as well, which just makes it more of a shame that Hudson didn’t think to increase the difficulty to any noticeable degree. To be honest, I got bored of playing after 30 minutes or so, having not even come close to losing a life, but I strongly suspect that if you were so inclined you could play through this entire game in your first sitting, even on the higher of the two difficulty settings!

Cratermaze - TurboGrafx-16- Gameplay Screenshot That’s the most (or only!) frustrating thing about this game – it’s genuinely enjoyable to play for a short while and features some nicely designed stages – but the absence of any kind of challenge offers little incentive for prolonged play. Hudson Soft are generally purveyors of some top-notch games, especially on the Engine (such as the splendid Bomberman series which this game plays a little like), so I can only assume this title is either aimed exclusively at young children, or is a rare slip up.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXM_BwNwCf8[/youtube]

RKS Score: 5/10

Devil’s Crush

Devil’s Crush (a.k.a. Devil Crash) (1990)

By: NAXAT Soft Genre: Pinball Players: 1-2 (alternate) Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: 18,756,300
Also Available For: MegaDrive / Genesis
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot

If you cast your mind back to the first time you noticed pinball videogames, there’s a good chance you’d think of this game. Digital Illusions had some success in the early 90’s with the reaslitic but playable Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies, and sure, Alien Crush was popular, but it was this sequel, which arrived approximately two years later, which really got the genre noticed among the console gaming fraternity. Brought to us by Naxat again, the basic premise is obviously very similar to before. Instead of the evil aliens from the first game, however, this game is based, perhaps somewhat controversially, on the occult! The main table, for there is only one again, is three screens high this time, medieval themed, and is crawling with hordes of satanic demons, dragons, and monsters beyond description!
Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot
As before, each section of the main table has its own flippers and is home to its own features. The bottom section, for example, is home to a large skull (who mocks you by laughing every time you lose a ball!), a fire-breathing dragon, a tower, which gives you a blocker if you get the ball through its gate, and several other features. The middle section is dominated by a woman’s face, which the ball can enter for bonus points, and it also gradually mutates into a dragon every time the ball enters a pocket! The top section features a rotating pentagram with eight sorcerers standing around it, and looming over them is the Dragon’s Gate (a large skeletal demon thingy). All sections of the table are also populated by various bugs, soldiers, and scary creatures who wander around helping your score multiplier increase as you destroy them with the ball.

Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot

Devil’s Crush, like its prequel, again features bonus tables too – six this time – and the main table is festooned with pockets through which you can enter them (when the pocket is open). On each of the bonus tables, the object is to take out the evil creatures that dwell within. These range from large dragons, skeletal heads, undead knights, and all manner of smaller, but equally malevolent foes. The only way to end this game it to max out the score counter, which, if you can manage it, would be 999,999,990! It’s not as impossible to achieve as you might initially think though, for if you thought there was a lot to do in Alien Crush, then you’ve not seen anything yet! There are even more ways to increase your score here, including various tricks, secrets, and all sorts of ways of increasing your multiplier. Not only that, but there’s now a password option to resume play later too, so I think it’s safe to say there’s plenty to keep you occupied!

Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot
Graphically, the game is even more impressive than its predecessor. The dark, gothic, demonic theme is superbly presented here, with excellent definition of the sprites and backgrounds and great use of colours, which are nicely contrasted. The table and monsters are mostly dull greys and browns compared with bright reds and greens for the explosions and various flashing lights. There’s far more happening at once than there was in Alien Crush, too. There’s a near-constant stream of evil beasts of some sort wandering around and they look suitably demonic, though their animation still isn’t particularly impressive. The table itself appears to be based around an ancient castle of some sort, compared to the sci-fi inspired, organic appearance of Alien Crush’s, and looks very much like the kind of place evil is likely to dwell. All this is supplemented by a fantastic soundtrack featuring a mixture of fast, rock tracks and moody, mysterious sounding tunes. Add to this the great, loud, arcadey sound effects, and your ears will thank you for playing this!

Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot

Gameplay-wise, like Alien Crush, not everyone will enjoy playing this, simply because it’s pinball, but those who do play it will discover one of the most immediately entertaining games ever! This is without doubt the best pinball game I’ve ever played on a console or computer and even puts many actual pintables to shame, too! There is again an option to choose between fast and slow ball speeds and on fast, which should be everyone’s choice really, the ball can sometimes rocket around the table at awesome speeds – reactions are everything here. The ‘tilt’ option is also present once more, and ball physics and play mechanics are flawless too – this is a game that takes genuine skill and lots of practise to be proficient at. There’s a hell of lot of demons to keep you occupied (a near infinite number, in fact) and a great many targets to hit and objectives to meet, and the length of time you play for is more or less entirely dependent on your competence rather than your luck.

Devils Crush - Gameplay Screenshot Most pinball videogames have tried to be authentic pintables rather than taking advantage of the limitless creative potential that computers and consoles offer. Alien Crush was the first to try something different, and Devil’s Crush upped the ante ten-fold! Naxat have produced a frankly remarkable game here, and one that remains the definitive example of its genre, as well as one of RKS’s all-time favourite games. It’s as simple as pinball should be, but at the same time has so much more to it. This game should, theoretically, last you forever.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Axe0DKqdtZc[/youtube]

Fantasy Zone 2

Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)
By: Sega  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System  First Day Score: 40,000
Also Available For: Arcade, Nintendo NES, MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Sega pretty much invented the quickly-dubbed ‘cute em up’ sub-genre with Fantasy Zone and it was an interesting fusion of gaming styles. The bright, colourful graphics full of funny-looking creatures and cute characters belied the tough shooting action the game provided, but it proved to be very popular and was converted to several platforms of the time. Set ten years later, this inevitable sequel tells pretty much the same story as the first game – the now-expanded territory of the Fantasy Zone has come under renewed attack from the evil Menon Empire who are once again attempting to construct a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. He’s getting on a bit now but Opa-Opa still springs into action to save the day!

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot
Fantasy Zone 2 The Tears of Opa-Opa, to give it its full title, initially appears to be more of the same from Sega, and there is in fact little difference between this and the first game beyond the cosmetic, but that’s certainly no cause for complaint when the first game was so good! There are again eight stages and each but the last is a free-scrolling, looped stage featuring a constant stream of small enemies, usually moving in formation or patterns, whose sole job it is to prevent you from destroying the larger, enemy-spawning Menon ‘bases’ on each stage, of which there are substantially more this time. Eliminating them all will lead to a boss fight before progressing to the next round.

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

The biggest difference between this and the first Fantasy Zone game is that each round is now divided into several different areas. Destroying enemies still releases coins (and notes now, too) of varying value but some Menon bases leave behind a blue warp instead. These allow you to travel back and forth between the areas, each of which generally contains four or five bases. There is also one base that will leave behind a red warp when destroyed. This leads to the boss but you can’t enter it until all the bases are destroyed. Opa-Opa’s basic armaments remain his weak but rapid-fire twin shot, and slow-firing but more powerful bombs. Fortunately there is again a shop to help him out which this time stays put once it appears rather than floating around for just a few seconds as before. Most of the old engine and weapon upgrades return, such as the jet engine, wide beam, laser, seven way shot, and twin bombs (which are much more useful this time) and there’s a few new ones too like the big shot, three way shot, and twin big bombs. As before, the speed-ups and twin bombs will last for the remainder of that life but the other shot and bomb upgrades are time or shot-limited.
Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot
The eight rounds are all set on new planets and as such there are many glorious new wonders to behold here, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest draws of Fantasy Zone 2. Not only does each round have its own background, but most of the areas within each round do too, and they are mostly superb! As well as being unique (and very colourful, as you might imagine!), they are much more diverse than in the first game and feature particularly impressive ice and fire stages. Each stage is also home to unique enemies who are varied and superbly detailed for the most part. There is a little slow-down when things are at their busiest, but this remains one of the prettiest, most vibrant games available for the Master System.

Fantasy Zone 2 - Sega Master System - Gameplay Screenshot

Anyone who’s played Fantasy Zone will know exactly what to expect here. Sega has tinkered with the premise very little for the sequel and, aside from the new graphics, sound, and level structure, this is essentially the same again but even better. It remains a pretty tricky game, with some smaller enemies moving very quickly and occasionally seeming to appear from nowhere, but it’s not unfairly difficult and playing though it is great fun. As well as taking you to new areas, the warps are extremely helpful for escaping from oncoming hordes of enemies, and thanks to the easier access to the shop, it’s now possible to buy weapon upgrades and save them for the bosses, so you could say the going is a little easier here. In fact, the only thing here that’s worse than the first game is the music which is still pretty good but not as memorable as the first game. Overall, this is a fantastic sequel that retains all the charm of the first game and adds more of its own.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3J8vP02wEFs[/youtube]

RKS Score: 9/10

My Favorite Games: Part 8

My Favorite Games

Saturn Bomberman – Saturn (1997)

Sega Saturn - Bomberman

The Bomberman series is unquestionably one of my favourite series’ of all-time and it’s almost unanimous that this Saturn-exclusive version is the best. Unlike many who view the Bomberman games exclusively as multi-player games, I personally really enjoy the single player modes on most of them too. The simple pleasure of trapping enemies and blowing them up, gradually powering-up our White Bomber hero, and progressing through the stages is one that I enjoy a lot, and the stages in this release are the most inventive and feature-laden yet. However, no one can question the frenetic fun of a multi-player Bomberman session and this is another area in which SB excels – it’s possible to have up to ten players simultaneously battling away here and it’s among the most fun that can be had in any game!

Hydro Thunder – Dreamcast (1999)

Hydro Thunder - Sega Dreamcast

For some reason water-based racing games are few and far between to begin with, but good ones are unfortunately even rarer. For this reason, I thought Midway’s Hydro Thunder may be a special treat even before I first gripped the steering wheel, but a few short, heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed minutes later I knew for sure! There’s no fancy options screens or championship modes to mess around with here – simply choose from the selection of ‘space boats’ and blast away! The courses are fantastically themed and designed, and are full of features, shortcuts, huge jumps, and other racers to jostle for position with. The water physics here aren’t as convincing as something like Wave Race but that’s not really the point – this is a fast-paced arcade racer through and through, and what a rush!

Robocod – MegaDrive (1991)

Robocod - Sega MegaDrive

Released by EA before they sucked, this sequel to the entertaining underwater adventure, James Pond, bore little resemblance to its forebear aside from the inclusion of the main character himself, and even he is barely recognisable! To enable our hero to engage in non-water-based tomfoolery, he has been equipped with a robotic exoskeleton, but the Robocop puns end there as he embarks on a bizarre platform-based quest across many large, strangely-themed levels to save Christmas from Dr Maybe! As well as being a superbly designed game, Special Agent Bond’s second mission is a treat for the eyes and ears too. It may not have as many background colours as the Amiga version but it’s superior in pretty much every other way, and provides a long and entertaining challenge with a surprise around every corner.

John Madden Football – 3DO (1995)

John Maddon Football - 3DO

Given my well-known intense dislike of EA, some may be surprised to see this here, but I didn’t always hate them. In the MegaDrive days in particular, EA were awesome and one of their best games was John Madden Football. This was the first version of the series to appear on a 32-bit system and, as great as the MD games were, it made a big difference. Bigger sprites, great commentary from Madden, video clips, countless game options and stats, more plays than ever, a floating camera that follows the action closely, and the ability to play as legendary teams from the past made this the definitive US Football game to have ever been seen at that time, and it’s still my favourite to play. Some games are great fun but too arcadey, some are too intricate and take too long to learn. This was just right. Plus, it’s the only game where I’ve actually managed to win the SuperBowl!

Chuckie Egg – Dragon 32 (1983)

Chuckie Egg - Dragon 32

Few platformers were as popular as this one in their day. Every version that I’ve played is at least good, but the rather garishly-coloured Dragon 32 version is the one I’ve spent by far the most amount of time playing. My good friend Luke had a Dragon around the time I first met him and we would spend many hours trying to play through this. The game apparently cycles through the eight single-screen stages five times but I’ve had the skill to prove this. Luke was always better at Chuckie Egg than me but even he couldn’t get that far! Still, despite its hideous background (which seemed perfectly normal at the time), this is a great version of the egg-collecting classic, and the only version Luke and I have played which enabled you to perform a few little tricks which greatly helped our progress!