Hearts of Iron III

Cover

Hearts of Iron III is not just a strategy game, it is a strategy simulator. This game is the definitive World War 2 simulator. It takes all the aspects of World War 2 into a game where you plan the war by the hour as if you were the leader of a real nation. It is an interesting hybrid between being turn based strategy and real time strategy. On one hand it is a pausable RTS game, on the other hand, the game has the hour as the basic unit of time which means if you slow the game down, it plays like a turn based game. This is especially useful if you want to track the war step by step, in this case hour by hour. As the ruler of the nation, not the general, you only make the large scale strategic decisions, not the tactical decisions, which are all taken care of by your generals.

As the leader you also take care of diplomacy which is unlike other strategy games where you can “talk” however often you want, and about whatever you want. Again like in real life you spend intellectual manpower to send diplomats abroad on missions such as negotiating trade agreements including not just trade of goods, but debt related issues, and paying for a country to produce units for you. There is also the political aspect of diplomacy, where you can sign defensive pacts, non-aggression pacts, even alliances. Most importantly, if you are part of one of three “factions”, the Axis, Western Allies, or Communist Allies, you can use diplomacy to influence other countries to align with you over time. If you are playing as a neutral country, you can just align yourself with a nation, so if you want to be the axis leader of Sweden, this game is for you :D.

Let me pause for a moment and say that unlike other games, this game includes every country that existed during World War 2, and you have the choice of playing any one of them. You can even play as a commonwealth country independently of Britain.

You also get to control production and the distribution of the production to different industries, however I have no idea how this game works for capitalist countries as I’ve only played fascist and communist countries in this game. I have picked up hints that you have less of a degree of control over your country in weaker governments, which is not the most appealing gameplay to me, but to each his own.

There is the brainpower aspect of the war, mainly: politics, technology, and espionage. These elements of gameplay are separate but interdependent. One thing to notice is that under the technology tab in the game, you not only control which technology your country is researching but how brainpower is distributed among the other categories mentioned above. In politics, you really cannot change your government system, but you can change your different political policies from social to economic issues. This is the political playground for those of you who want to test out your political beliefs (just kidding, social and economic policies are already set for you by the government in power and its ideologies. However, you do have control over things like conscription laws, degree of freedom in your country, how much emphasis on education or industry or military mobilization etc.). Political support for parties can change slowly over time, meaning if you are a republican country, you must beware of not being re-elected.

Finally, regarding espionage, you can do classical spying, or get involved in sabotage and political mingling. The only weakness of this game is the espionage, where you don’t really have control over the numerical amount of spies you send per country, although you can set priorities for them on a scale of zero to three, and you can only have one spy mission per country even if you have multiple spies. Other than that this game makes absolute perfect historical sense, and you will feel as if you are making real decisions for your country if you are playing this game.

The only other detail that is inaccurate is the german flag. We all realize that the Nazis were responsible for the genocides of around 30-40 million civilians but that does not mean that one should sacrifice a historically accurate flag with a swastika on it to make the game “politically correct”. Simply displaying a flag in a game should not equal support for that regime, especially when it is displayed to identify people of that regime. That way of thinking is so erroneous, I can accuse paradox interactive of supporting communism because they displayed the historically correct soviet flag in the game for the soviet union. Instead, the game designers have identified Germany with the flag of the German monarchy, which is even more offensive to monarchists as that is saying that the Nazis who killed 30-40 million, and the king of Germany who only cared for the well being of his people above all, are the same people.

Hearts of Iron 3 Italy
Hearts of Iron 3 Italy

Ratings:

Historical Accuracy: 5 out of 5

I would go as far as calling this game a historical simulator. This doesn’t mean that the computer artificially make sure certain events happen, but it makes sure the game makes historical sense if the leader of the nation was you instead of *insert historical leader here*. Aside from the fact that the flag of Nazi Germany in this game is the flag of the German monarchy for some reason, this game follows historical detail to the finest details. It should be really appealing for people who are World War 2 buffs.

Realism: 5 out of 5

The game is truly epic in scale and you get to experience all aspects of being a leader. I cannot describe even the basic details in a few sentences.

Difficulty: 5 out of 5

If it isn’t obvious already, a game with fine detail like this game is harder to learn than most games out there. The task seems overwhelmingly impossible at first, however if you are willing to put the time and effort, if takes only a day or two to learn. I suggest starting by choosing “The Gathering Storm” historical start, then find Spain on the map and choose Nationalist Spain. This is happening at the end of the Spanish Civil War, when it is clear that the Nationalists who are just outside of Madrid, are winning. It is relatively small scale, and hard to mess up, so it is an ideal first game to learn the game mechanics.

Sellability: 2 out of 5

This is a somewhat important factor, but shouldn’t bother anyone picking up the game if they truly love deep strategy. What sellability means is how well this game is doing on the market. The big failure of capitalism is that smart people who should be playing games like this are prevented from finding this game because only the big companies can advertise the hell out of you, making most smart people waste their brains on dumbed-down games instead of brain stimulating games such as Hearts of Iron. If you are a person who has found this game, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Consider yourself one of the chosen.

Popularity: 5 out of 5

This is not based on how many people play this game, this is based on how well this game is liked by people who have tried it.  Pleased to say that if you have a circle of intellectual buddies, go ahead and present this game to them, and the chances are very high that they will like the game.

Affordability: 5 out of 5

For a game like this, I would expect it to cost $100-$150. However it costs a mere $10, or $45 if you are willing to buy all of the extensions to the game. In short, this is one of the best deals you can find in your lifetime, and the game costs a few dollars on sales on steam, or $10 with all the extensions if I remember correctly.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5

Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen
Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen

The Flintstones

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The Flintstones

Whether or not these were a success has already been decided by history, but I’ve decided to revisit them, mainly because I’ve not played them all before, and also because I love the original cartoons. I have fond memories of the Top Cat and Scooby and Scrappy Doo Amiga games back in the day so it will interesting to re-visit these two most of all, however, the rest I am playing for the first time. Purely for alphabetical reasons out of the games I’ve selected, I’m going to first take a look at The Flintstones (1988) from Grandslam.

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The title screen and theme tune appear nice and quickly on this single disk game, with even a little animation (inspired by the cartoon show) to get us into the game.

You play as Fred Flintstone, who cannot go bowling with pal Barney Rubble until he has painted a wall, once this mini game is completed you drive with Barney (also another mini game) to the bowling alley. The bowling section of the game makes up the majority of the game, once done you then go on a completely unrelated (in all senses of the word) platform style mission to rescue Pebbles, avoiding giant nuts and bolts along the way. Yeah, okay then.

The game play is, um, varied to say the least. A couple of mini games which consist of painting a wall and bowling, intercut with a driving game and rounded off with some platform action (Ed – I wouldn’t really call it action). With such a rich source of material that is The Flintstones cartoon series, that can be applied to a multitude of genres, you wonder how they could have failed. It’s a pure and simple case of “what were they thinking?”, or maybe they just weren’t thinking at all? Why did they think painting a wall would make a great game? Domestic chores, really? Even more frustrating is that if you don’t finish in the alloted time, the game resets and you have to start from scratch, with Wilma basically calling you useless and lazy.

the-flintstones-amiga-
Animated intro, with obligatory Yabba Dabba Doo from Fred.

However, for me, painting the wall was probably the most bearable part of the game, the controls weren’t as bad as I had read about, and with a little thinking involved it was actually pretty easy to beat if you stuck with it (good tip, do the top sections first, working from right to left, then the bottom working left to right). Painting done Fred is allowed to go bowling. The driving section consists of a side scrolling ride in the car, with Barney in the passenger seat, just don’t hit the rocks in the road, well, that’s if the terrible collision detection will let you avoid them. Oh wait, the car jumps? Really? Yup, you basically have to make the entire car ‘jump’ over rocks, otherwise your wheel falls off and you have to replace it. I’m really sure they could have thought of something a little more mind numbing, tedious and pointless? (Ed – Sheldon, sarcasm)

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Paint the wall in time, if not, the paint all magically disappears… gah.

Controls from this point onwards really do let the game down a lot. The bowling section really needed some more thought in this respect, the little Fred and Barney animations when they bowl could have made for a really fun part of the game, instead it is painfully slow, difficult, and boring, even the scoring is hard to read, and given this fills the majority of the game it seems like a plus not to make to the next section (lucky for me, I didn’t make it to the next section). Thankfully, someone else has been brave and kind enough to do the hard work for us, the Amiga long play of this game is on YouTube, see link below, where the wonderful cubex55 has saved me from tearing my hair out.

Finally free from the tedium of bowling with Barney, you suddenly have to rescue Pebbles in the games final section.  It unfortunate that the game descends into this, it looks rushed,  and the enemies are completely unrelated to the show, it seems like the worst idea I’ve ever seen for a platform section of a game. I’m still not even sure how we got from a night out bowling to having to rescue Pebbles? Domestic chores to kidnapping, who would have thought it. In the end it looks like the Flintstones family are all re-united and happy, awww.

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Beat Barney at bowling, tedium strikes.

I do like to try to find some good in games, but this one was tough, the painting part of the game was okay, and the character sprites and little animations were pleasing to the eye (with low expectations, naturally).

Overall though it’s a frustrating menagerie of under-developed and miscalculated mini-games with the Flintstones name slapped on it. I guess in all honesty I don’t expect much from these types of licenses but occasionally you do get a good game in amongst them. There is also a Spectrum version of this game and a Master System one, in which the latter the characters are all the right colour on the title screen. Yay. For a game that retailed at £19.95 back in the day I expect a few people were disappointed with this choice of game.

A few stone age related games that won’t make you want to lob your Amiga out of a window are Prehistorik, Ugh! and Chuck Rock, so if you fancy a quick jaunt to the era of the caveman I’d recommend trying these 3, and leave The Flintstones firmly were it belongs, in the past.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

 

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Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

I remember very well the buzz at the gaming table about a certain balding protagonist of a now-classic Sierra adventure game.  He wasn’t your typical adventure game hero: he was a bumbler, a loser, an everyman shooting for the DD stars.  All he wanted was a piece of the action.  Well, a piece, at any rate.  With the release of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards Sierra On-Line in 1987, the 3D animated adventure game series entered a new, more (im)mature era, and a gaming icon was born.  (A little tidbit: 3D in this case meant “Dancing, Drinking, and Dames.”)

 

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Box art for Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

Poor Larry was a luckless virgin with absolutely no game.  He dressed in badly dated clothing and wore a gold chain, and by the start of the game, had come to the city of Lost Wages for one last shot at sleeping with a woman.  The game began outside a bar with Larry vowing to become an ex-virgin.  For many gamers, Leisure Suit Larry symbolized their own struggle to negotiate the turbulent waters of dealing with the opposite gender, and the game struck a nerve.  If Larry could get lucky, any of us could, darn it!

Leisure Suit Larry creator, Al Lowe
Leisure Suit Larry creator, Al Lowe

The creative force tapped to make Leisure Suit Larry a reality was a programmer at Sierra who had previously guided some of the Disney licenses, such as The Black CauldronDonald Duck’s Playground, and Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Based on that body of work, who knew that Al Lowe would have such a twisted sense of humor?  Al Lowe was an accomplished musician (complete with a degree in music), and had spent 15 years in the public school system teaching music.  He enjoyed playing games, and decided to teach himself programming to make his own, and enter a new career.  He completed a few games (Troll’s Tale and Dragon’s Keepwere two of them) and sold them to the fledgling Sierra On-Line company, and stayed with them for 16 years.

softporn adventures
Box art for Softporn Adventure by On-Line Systems

By his own admission, Al Lowe based much of Leisure Suit Larry on an old text adventure game written by Chuck Benton called Softporn Adventure.  The game revolved around the player finding various inventory items to get into the pants of several women – sound familiar?  Softporn Adventure was released for the Apple II system in 1981, selling 50,000 units for its publisher, On-Line Systems, (which eventually became Sierra On-Line).  Considering Apple had sold around 350,000 Apple II systems by 1981, Softporn Adventure was a decent sized hit.  Given that the Software Piracy Association’s estimated piracy rate was 40%, it was more likely that there were 70,000 copies floating around, which would be closer to 20% total market penetration.  (Al Lowe claims the ratio to be 100,000 Apple II PCs and 25,000 Softporn games sold, but his statement may have been a little bit of poetic license.)   Here’s a little historical tidbit for you: check out the lady on the right in the pic above…that’s Roberta Williams, in the buff.

 

Outside Lefty's bar in Leisure Suit Larry
Outside Lefty’s bar in Leisure Suit Larry

With sales like this, it’s little wonder that Ken Williams (husband of Roberta and one of the founders of Sierra) approached Al Lowe to make a new game with a similar motif.   They discussed updating Softporn Adventure to fit in the new 3-D animated adventure line-up, but as Lowe recalls telling Williams, “There’s no way I can do this as a serious game. It’s so out of it that it should be wearing a leisure suit…But if you let me mock it, I might be able to do a spoof of it.”   And so, six months of programming later, Leisure Suit Larry entered the marketplace, with a very quiet launch to avoid incurring the wrath of Sierra’s major distributors (like the unamused charcoal-gray suits in the Tandy Corporation headquarters, who were responsible for up to 40% of Sierra’s software sales).

 

Hot tub babe in Leisure Suit Larry
Hot tub babe in Leisure Suit Larry

Sales were very soft that first week, with only 4,000 copies sold; no advertising and no fanfare had its expected result.  However, word-of-mouth was as powerful in 1987 as it is today, and sales jumped to an impressive 250,000 copies sold.  The game even managed to garner the Software Publishers Association’s Best Fantasy, Role Playing or Adventure Gamof 1987. It was eventually released on several platforms, including IBM PC (MS-DOS), Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh, and the TRS-80.

 

Cover art for the VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry
Cover art for the VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry

With the advent of VGA technology, Sierra brought Leisure Suit Larry to a new audience in 1991.  It was relaunched with a completely redone game engine that used an icon-driven interface rather than a text-based parser, which was touted by the game packaging as an opportunity to “point-and-grope.”  The re-release used an updated SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) engine, which permitted 256-color VGA graphics.   This was quite the improvement upon the original 1987 game, whose highest graphics quality was 16 colors in a 300×200 screen.

 

Lefty's bar in the 1991 VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry
Lefty’s bar in the 1991 VGA remake of Leisure Suit Larry

Another avenue that Al Lowe was able to exercise his creative spirit within Larry’s universe was putting his music roots to good use by composing the theme music for the Land of the Lounge Lizards.  The music was an integral component of Larry’s impending iconic status, using the primitive sound technology of the early PCs to create a jaunty tune that was easily identifiable as Larry’s theme.  The VGA remake also had access to better audio technology, and so the music is much richer.  There’s also much more of it, as Lowe could really only fit so much audio into a single 3.5″ or two 5.25″ floppy diskettes (what the original 1987 game came loaded on).

Musical score for Leisure Suit Larry
Musical score for Leisure Suit Larry

Al Lowe’s creation sold well enough that sequels were a highly anticipated inevitability.  Lounge Lizards was followed by 1988′s Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking For Love (in Several Wrong Places), which was followed by 1989′s Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals. Typical of Lowe’s humorous approach to the series, the fourth game released in 1991 was actually entitled Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work.  Lowe followed up that game in 1993 with Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up Or Slip Out!.  Lowe’s final Larry game was 1996′s Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail. The dawn of true 3-D adventures was upon the gaming industry, but Sierra did not have the cash reserves to retool their flagship titles to the new standard.  Subsequently, Al Lowe was let go, ending his run as the narrator of the Leisure Suit Larry series, and ending Leisure Suit Larry‘s relevance.  Yes, more games in the series would be released, but they would be empty shells, devoid of the charm that Al Lowe captured for so many years, victims of the rise of the bean-counters in the gaming industry.  (Al Lowe is still on the Internet, and you can find him at his website: allowe.com How this creative man isn’t absolutely deluged with consultation requests from up-and-coming indie software developers amazes me.)

 

Hot tub babe from the 1991 version of Leisure Suit Larry I
Hot tub babe from the 1991 version of Leisure Suit Larry I

If you have managed to avoid playing the original Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, it’s time for that to end.  Yes, the graphics are hopelessly dated in comparison to the real-world graphic opuses that populate the gamerverse these days…but the joy of Leisure Suit Larry isn’t in the eye candy, it’s in the situational comedy coupled with Al Lowe’s scripting.  Pick up a copy – this game is worth any retrogamer’s retrogaming time!

Midnight Resistance

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Midnight Resistance

Midnight Resistance is a 1 or 2 player side scrolling shoot ‘em up and platformer. You play as mercenaries thrown into battle with alien forces who have kidnapped your entire family, it’s up to you to blast your way through each level to save them.  You’ll use a variety of weapons from flamethrowers (see below) to shotguns and special power ups such as a defensive barrier and homing missiles to defeat the enemies.

Midnight Resistance

Enemies come in all shapes and forms (and from all directions) which can make game play a little frustrating as the rotational control system of the weaponry is sometimes slow. For example to fire backwards you need to move backwards too, making shooting enemies running up behind you tricky. You’ll be up against foot soldiers, stationary heavy weapons, flying troops and plenty of bosses.  Bosses come in the form of tanks, planes, soldiers, and, eh, floating tv’s… as well as an impressively grotesque final showdown with a giant head.

Midnight Resistance

Luckily for the player keys collected from defeated enemies (the red things that look like lollipops) can be used to buy new weapons in the shop at the end of each level. And will eventually be used to save your family, although it doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of the game if you fail to save them all.

Midnight Resistance

Midnight Resistance is a colourful game with appealing cartoonish graphics, combined with the frivolous use of weaponry and no brainer action makes this a game to come back to again and again. It is an enjoyable play through but can be tough in places, its best points include nice backgrounds, 2 player co-op and an awesome choice of weaponry.

Thunderscape

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Thunderscape

First, a little gaming history. The AD&D gold box PC game series was a huge hit for SSI back in the day, but eventually technology outpaced the game engine, regardless of how many tweaks they could add to it. This meant a new game engine needed to be developed, which is exactly what SSI did for its next release, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.

Thunderscape PC Cover

Of course, this kind of effort is expensive, and a company needs to either have a large cash cushion to absorb it, or a high sales payoff in the first game release using the new engine. Unfortunately, SSI had neither, and the company was bought out by Mindscape, Inc., ending an era.

The World of Aden: Thunderscape was the newly sold company’s effort to mirror the success of the Ultima series in the RPG market: an in-house game engine and concept that did not require 3rd party licensing. No fees paid to TSR for the right to use the AD&D worlds meant higher profits for the company. It all sounded so elegantly simple. So why don’t we still adventure in Aden today?

Thunderscape PC

The answer lies in the gaming experience. Thunderscape was a world highly influenced by steampunk. Muskets were an option (albeit an expensive one) for adventurers. Steam golems, archaic-appearing robots, could appear to threaten the party, and other steam-related technology, such as steam engines, could be found in the game. Most other RPGs were classic medievalesque fare; because of its steampunk leanings, Thunderscape was something different.

In some ways, Thunderscape played like a standard SSI-produced RPG, which made the game world even more jarring. Character development followed a familiar pattern: the player forms a party of adventurers based on race (Human, Elf, Faerkin, Jurak, Rapacian, Goreaux, Dwarf, or Ferran), establishes their individual attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Willpower), decides on their skills (fencing, sword, axe/mace, bow, shield, martial arts, polearm, knife, firearms, stealth, acrobatics, lockpicking, fast talk, see secrets, merchant, xenology, and cast spells), decide which spells any spellcasting characters may use, equip the character with weapons and/or armor, choose the portrait and name your character. Once the party is ready, off they go, looking for monsters to kill, treasure to covet, and quests to complete.

Thunderscape PC

The game played out in a first-person perspective, attempting to give the “you are there” feel. There are 20 levels of fun, including caverns, cities, mines, castles, sewers, and the great outdoors. Movement is controlled using the mouse, with right-click accessing the directional arrows. Combat is also controlled by the mouse, with a special combat menu appearing when hostilities begin. And since many RPGs seem to be a scavenger hunt, accumulating inventory is also controlled by the mouse, with a hand icon appearing when you get close enough to something that your magpie-like characters want to add to their inventory slots.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape wasn’t all hack ‘n’ slash, though. Puzzles needed to be solved to progress through the storyline. Clues were distributed throughout the gameworld that needed to be collected and used. Even combat required more than the standard, send in the walking tank while launching fireballs from the rear, as some enemies would not fall without discovering their weaknesses during gameplay. All in all,Thunderscape was a thinking person’s RPG, not a clickfest.

For all its good features, Thunderscape had some play issues. It followed in the time-honored path of releasing before all the bugs could be squished, but that’s what version 1.1 patches are for. Even so, the game did well enough to warrant a somewhat mediocre sequel, World of Aden: Entomorph Plague of the Darkfall. However, the sequel was not a huge seller, and became the final game in the World of Aden series.

Thunderscape PC

Thunderscape remains a game that some recall with fond memories of many hours of deep gameplay, and others recall as a stopover between Menzoberranzan andRavenloft titles. It’s a game that got lost in the shuffle, but a good enough gaming experience to warrant inclusion as a Forgotten Classic. For a little steampunk action that predates Sierra’s Arcanum by several years, give The World of Aden: Thunderscape a try!

Horace Goes Skiing

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Horace Goes Skiing

Format: Spectrum Genre: Arcade Released: 1982 Developer: Psion Software

Horace Goes Skiing is [drum roll please!!!] the first game I ever remember playing. I must have been about four or five, so I reckon it was 1984 when I took my first sip from the honeyed cup that is computer gaming. Or should that be poisoned chalice? What would life have been like if my Dad had never bought that Spectrum? Would I have become interested in sport rather than video games? Would I have grown up to be a famous athlete?

Probably not.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

Anyway, looking back at Horace Goes Skiing now it’s amazing to think just how simple games used to be.  The game was basically in two parts: in the first part, Horace had to cross a busy road (a la Frogger) to get to the ski rental shop, and the second part featured Horace skiing down a mountain with his newly rented skis. And that’s it. When Horace gets to the bottom it all starts again, but this time with slightly more traffic and more gates to ski through.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

It’s this simplicity that is part of the game’s charm, but it’s also its undoing. By today’s standards, it’s a wafer-thin idea for a game, and playing it recently (there’s an excellent emulator (in Spanish) here: http://computeremuzone.com/ficha.php?id=710&l=en) I was surprised how enormously dull it becomes after a very short while.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

Back in the day though, my sister and I could play it for hours at a time – although, admittedly, most of those hours were spent waiting for the games to load. A lot of people look back fondly on the whole Spectrum loading thing, but even at the time I thought it was tediously rubbish. It generally amounted to staring at a screen of black and white fizz for around ten minutes, accompanied by a high-pitched sound somewhere along the lines of ‘WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE GRGRGRGRGRGRGRGR WHEEEEEEEEE NNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG’, only for the game to crash as soon as you started playing. Some people tell me that they enjoyed the protracted loading times because it contributed to a heightened sense of anticipation. I say these people should get out more.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

The major flaw with Horace Goes Skiing, in my opinion, was that the Frogger-style game was incredibly difficult (at least for a five-year-old with under-developed motor skills), so my lasting memory of the game is one of seemingly unending frustration (as I tried to reach the skiing bit), followed by a brief seconds of elation (reaching the skiing bit), immediately followed by crushing disappointment (skiing into a tree and dying). Oh Horace, you cheeky little life metaphor!

King’s Quest

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King’s Quest

Any blog about classic retro gaming simply MUST include a homage to Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest series, originally published by Ken and Roberta Williams’ Sierra On-Line company in the 1980s.

King's Quest
King’s Quest IBM PC Jr Version Front Cover

The story was a simple one: the Kingdom of Daventry is in trouble as three of its greatest treasures – a mirror that tells the future, a shield that protects its user from danger, and a chest that is always filled with gold – have been stolen.  The King sends Sir Graham, an honest and unpretentious young knight, on a quest to recover the treasures.  Should he succeed, he will become King.  Should he fail, he’ll become worm food.  Of course, how Graham accomplishes the task before him is up to the player!

King's Quest
King’s Quest Tandy 1000 Release

This was the original “big-game” release.  The industry was still very new, and it was not unusual for games to be coded by a single person over a couple of weeks for a low budget.  King’s Quest was coded by six people with Roberta Williams as the project leader, with a cost of $700,000, for an 18-month period.  This was completely unheard of, and was a very risky gamble that ultimately paid off, fueling an entire line of games from Sierra On-Line.

King's Quest

King’s Quest was a huge leap forward for gaming.  In a time when games either were completely text-based or with the occasional static graphic, King’s Quest provided character interaction with the game environment.  By pressing the arrow keys, Sir Graham could walk across the screen and could cross in front of or behind objects, making the game the first 3-D adventure.  And even though the interface was still text-based (you typed in what action you wanted to do), seeing the result of what you typed made for classic gaming.

King's Quest
King’s Quest classic “gold box” edition

Like any good adventure game, the puzzles in King’s Quest were varied and fun.  The Sierra team programmed puzzles to have more than one solution, and points were awarded to the player depending on what actions they took.  And unlike many of the action, destroy-everything-you-see games of the time, King’s Quest rewarded players with a higher score if they found non-violent solutions.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA 1990 Release

There have been several releases of King’s Quest over the years, starting with the original version in 1983, which was packaged up in the IBM PC Jr series of computers.  Fortunately, poor sales of the computer did not result in the termination of the King’s Quest franchise, as it was released in Apple II, PC (boot disk) and Tandy format in 1984 to general fanfare, and around 500,000 copies sold.  The game sold well enough that it was re-released in 1987 in the Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh and MS-DOS formats, which sent it back up the sales charts.  (It was at that time that the second part of the title, “Quest For The Crown,” was added.)  It even crossed over into the console video game charts with a version for the Sega Master System in 1989.

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA Screenshot

King’s Quest was remade in 1990 with much better graphics and music card support.  The quest points were changed slightly, which meant that the game itself played somewhat differently from the original.  A fan-made King’s Quest was released in 2001 by AGD Interactive, which has seen many updates right up to 2009.  You can find it here: http://www.agdinteractive.com/games/kq1/

King's Quest
King’s Quest 2001 Fan Re-Release

King’s Quest was such a solid game that it spawned an entire genre, the 3-D animated adventure.  Sierra shot to the top of the gaming industry with hit after hit, including an entire King’s Quest series, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Police Quest, and so forth.  If you haven’t played any of the original games, give them a try.  Yes, they’re incredibly simple and crude versus the immersive gaming environments we play in today, but they’re an important part of gaming history.  Be a retro gamer and Quest for the Crown today!

King's Quest
King’s Quest for the Sega Master System (SMS)

 

 

Hunter

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 Hunter

So, its review a great game day. Superb. My choice, Hunter, on the Amiga 500. I couldn’t let this one slip by, as it is one of my most treasured and favourite games on my Amiga. First off though, a little side note. In my review I make the obvious comparisons to the GTA franchise, however, for those of you who have played Far Cry 3, you might have to indulge my imagination for a minute or two at the end…

Either way, onto my review, Hunter on the Amiga 500, a great game, and a pioneer.

Hunter Amiga

 

Publisher: Activision

Developed by: Paul Holmes and Martin Walker

Genre: 3-D Adventure, Strategy

Year: 1991

Hunter is a game that takes you into a world where mayhem and destruction can reign free on your enemies and in whatever form that takes your fancy. Having first played this on my Amiga I’ve been hooked ever since and it’s the main reason I’m a big fan of games such as GTA. Playing it through again brings back some great memories and is certainly a welcome addition to my games collection. Hunter can be classed as a 3D action, adventure and strategy game, developed by Paul Holmes and Martin Walker (music) and released in 1991 by Activision.

Hunter Amiga
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Hunter lets you play three different scenarios; MISSIONS, whereby you receive an objective and a deadline to complete it, once you have completed your mission you return to HQ to receive more orders. The objectives become subsequently harder and the time shorter to complete each mission. ACTION, your man in the field is given a long list of enemy targets, it is then up to you to use the map and log book to locate each target and destroy them. Once again you are racing against the clock to finish the list, but can destroy the targets in what ever order you like.

Finally the main scenario, HUNTER, is the trickiest of them all. You must track down and kill the enemy General by collecting clues from civilians, bribing enemies, and by using a number of objects, vehicles and weapons to help you succeed. The deeper you go into enemy territory and the closer you come to completing this scenario the harder it gets, you are racing against the clock and options can become limited if you aren’t prepared for battle!

The game is controlled via mouse and keyboard, or my preferred method mouse and joystick. The joystick controls the directional movement of your man as well as the stop and start in vehicles and moving them around (point to note, there is no reverse). The fire button is used for any form of attack, be it grenades, bazooka or your trusty pistol. The mouse comes into play with the strategy side to the game and is used in the selection of weapons and sundry items needed to progress (log book, flares, maps, weapons, money, food).

Some of the most common items  you will need to use are aerial observation units, parachutes, maps and radar, and the handiest item you can acquire is the enemy uniform (don’t go into your HQ wearing it though). Both control methods are easy to utilise, and when using the mouse to select from the pop-up menu the game conveniently pauses.

Hunter Amiga

Hunter has great game play interlaced with simple graphics (as with many other great retro games) and makes the most of its sweeping landscapes and 3D environment. Greens, oranges and blues make up your basic air, land and sea colours, in turn making buildings, vehicles and people easy to identify. Vehicles are well drawn and conveniently placed at your disposal around the map, whether it’s a car, tank, helicopter or bicycle (less said about the windsurfer the better) you’ll be glad of the free ride as walking can be slow and tedious. Vehicles run smoother and faster than you would expect and each have their own unique uses (cars are nippy, tanks are slower, but can also take some serious missile damage).

Helicopters are easy to fly after the initial trauma of take off but are a bugger to land, especially if in a rush, best to put down in a safe area and walk the rest of the way!  The variety of weapons and sundry items is impressive. You can use a number of explosives to destroy targets or just have some fun generally blowing stuff up. The player can use land and timed mines, sea to air missiles, bazookas, 80mm shells, grenades and all the while carrying your trusty sidearm. Aerial observation units and radar help you scope out and assess the landscape and can be useful in finding people, buildings and vehicles. The food and money collected is used to bribe and gather information and the enemy uniform to breeze into enemy territory without a care in the world.

Hunter Amiga
Helicopters. Fly, yes! Land, no!

Apart from the title screen Hunter relies solely on sound effects to create its ambience.  Across the landscape the player can hear gun fire, explosions and roaming vehicles, or a sultry seagull flying overhead, destined to make you its own special target (why else would it be following me…). The maps, a different one for each scenario, give the game a sense of vastness when you begin your mission, and in its quieter moments, especially when dusk has fallen (use flares to light the way, or turn the brightness up on the monitor), can be a little creepy and lonely without anything else around you. Hunter has few drawbacks, however walking everywhere will cost you time and time is of the essence in Hunter. Finding a vehicle can be crucial to success and sometimes its a long walk,  so by the end you’ll be thankful for that enemy disguise, or the fact the soldier who arrived to work that morning forgot to lock his bike up to his guard tower.

Hunter Amiga
Danger! Random objects haphazardly strewn on floor!

Hunter is a game (for its time obviously) with the freedom and almost limitless possibilities of any of today’s titles that fall into the sandbox genre (think GTA, but slower, and with simpler graphics). Hunter is a classic and still fantastic to play, its open environment and vast maps make it challenging, fun and atmospheric. This concluding sentence from Amiga Power (Aug 1991) really summed the game up for me and my own experience of playing the game back in the day. Jonathan Davies wrote in The Bottom Line “Hunter was a real all-rounder, there was something for everyone in there, all wrapped up in a believable 3D world you can get lost in for hours.”  You can read the full review here on Amiga Magazine Rack.

Hunter Amiga
Home Sweet Home, a rabbit in every pot and a tank in every garage.

Now, If you’ll indulge me a little longer, onto a more modern comparison. Far Cry 3 and Hunter both are set in an ‘open world’ environment and set across multiple islands, where the gamer can either play the linear story line, or just mess about as they see fit. You’ll come across friendly areas and characters, with ammo stores and resources to buy, alongside the clearly marked enemy territories and bad guys (even the enemies in Far Cry 3 are wearing red). A variety of vehicles are strewn around at your disposal, although as far as I can see there isn’t a hover craft or wind surfer in Far Cry 3… The comparisons in my opinion are pretty clear, Far Cry 3 ‘feels like’ Hunter, specifically from a game play point of view, right down to the ‘night and day’ effects and abundant wildlife in both games (although in Hunter you lose money for killing animals).

In this gamers opinion, I think Far Cry 3 is what a modern version of Hunter would look like. A pretty bold statement, but maybe something to think about.

Thanks for reading!

The only music in the game comes from the title screen, listen to it here  Hunter Main Theme.

To give you an idea of the game play check out the first mission(in the MISSIONS scenario) being played out. This video is over 6 mins and just gives you a feel for the game play.

Also check out the Amiga Longplay for the Hunter scenario (retrieving the Generals head)

Descent to Undermountain

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Descent to Undermountain

Back in the holiday season in 1997, Interplay Productions released Descent to Undermountain, a new Dungeons & Dragons PC game hotly anticipated not only because it was a new AD&D game, but because it promised to be a 3D roleplaying experience using the Descent 3D game engine.  Many gamers did not bother to wait for the magazine reviews, as the last true AD&D RPG had been Strategic Simulations, Inc.’s 1995 classic, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, and the intervening years had seen only fighting and strategy games released based on TSR’s many game worlds.  They were to be sorely disappointed.

Descent to Undermountain

Descent to Undermountain began well enough with a deep, multi-screen character generation program.  The player began the process by choosing one of six character races (human, elf, dwarf, half-elf, halfling, and drow) in either gender.  As this was AD&D 2nd Edition rules, each race had restrictions or benefits, with humans being the only race with unlimited advancement (but unable to gain racial bonuses or multi-classing).  Elves and Drow received +1 on their Dexterity score, but suffered -1 on their Constitution score, as well as near-immunity to sleep spells. Half-Elves received partial immunity to sleep spells, no special pluses or minuses to their ability scores, but the most possible class combinations.  Dwarfs gained +1 on their Constitution score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Charisma score.  Finally, halflings gain +1 to their Dexterity score, some resistance to magic, and -1 to their Strength score.

Descent to Undermountain

The player next chose which of the four character classes they wanted: Fighter, Priest, Mage, or Thief.  Multi-class characters were possible for all races (except humans), but there were also some class limitations: Elves and Drow could choose Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, Mage/Thief or any of the stand-alone classes; Dwarfs could choose Fighter/Priest or Fighter/Thief (or simply a Fighter, Thief, or Priest), but not a Mage; Halflings could be a Fighter, Priest, Thief or a Fighter/Thief (but not a Fighter/Priest); and Half-Elves could be any class, as well as the Fighter/Priest, Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief, and Mage/Thief combinations.  Congratulations, you’ve got through the first two Character Generation screens!

Descent to Undermountain

After choosing the gender, race and class of their character, the player then worked up his or her ability scores (the standard Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) on the third screen in the character generation process.  The stats were randomly generated (you could discard them and refresh for a new set as many times as you wished), and each individual score could be swapped out with another.  For instance, if you chose to play a Mage and your Wisdom score came up 18 and your Intelligence score came up a 10, you could switch them.  In addition, each character was given an extra 5 ability points to distribute as desired.  Once completed, the player moved on to the fourth and final character generation screen, where they were able to chose the Name, Portrait, and Alignment of their character.

Descent to Undermountain

Besides a rich character generation process, Descent to Undermountain also had a decent storyline and pacing.  You began the game determining what in AO’s name are you supposed to be doing in Waterdeep.  As the game map only showed Khelben’s Tower as a clickable item, it was off to visit the Blackstaff to see if he could enlighten you.  It seemed that kobolds were bothering Waterdeep’s merchants, and had been spotted just outside the main entrance to Undermountain.  (Bear in mind that this entrance was guarded by one of the most powerful Lords of Waterdeep, but, hey, it’s an AD&D RPG, so you should suspend all disbelief at the splash screen.)  The Lord Mage of Waterdeep even passed you a quick couple of gold pieces to pay your way in and out of Undermountain, and sent you on your way to the Yawning Portal Inn.  (Tip for anyone daring to play this game: it”s a good idea to stop at the marketplace just prior to entering the inn.)

Descent to Undermountain

Up to this point players were seeing some decent high-res screens, and some good voice acting. Khelben’s voice in particular, performed by either Jim Cummings (the voice of the Terror Mask in Splatterhouse, among many other things) or Frank Welker(the original voice of Megatron) – the credits are a bit unclear on who did the actual work – was very crisp.  (Actually, Khelben sounds more like Jim Cummings.) And with all the prior work done on establishing your character, you’d expect playing the game would be worth the effort.  Ha ha ha.  No.

Descent to Undermountain

Sometimes it’s easier to show a few pictures rather than attempt to describe how bad something is with mere words. Yes, that’s a torch.  It flickered, but the closer you got, the more pixelicious it became.  And it got worse, much worse.  Although the box stated Pentium 90 MHz with 32 MB RAM were the minimum system requirements to run Descent to Undermountain, I remember using my Pentium 200 MHz system (that handled some sweet-looking games with aplomb) yet this game ran like a Descent-engine slug.   The problem was that Descent to Undermountain was a DOS game masquerading as a Windows game, with all the system resource management problems that entailed.  Worse, the 3D objects were being software rendered, not taking advantage of the then-existing technology of 3D graphics cards.  It seemed like an old game because it was: Windows 95 had already been on the market for years; the developers had no excuse for foisting a DOS game on their RPG audience.

Descent to Undermountain

Hidden within this morass of poor graphics was a fairly bland RPG.  The story was very similar to a standard AD&D adventure module from the Gary Gygax days: go gather the parts to re-create the Flamesword – an ultimate Drow weapon – to prevent Lolth, the evil Drow Goddess from enacting her master plan to enslave the world of Faerun.  Along the way, the player battled kobolds, skeletons, zombies, the Shadow Thieves, a mummy, orcs, ogres, a lich, drow fighters and priestesses, a beholder, and finally the avatar of Llolth herself.  Unfortunately, a terrible AI made the creatures ignore you or move in a bizarre fashion until you disposed of them, and then, due to programming glitch, they sometimes floated nearby.   As for the story, Descent to Undermountain used a fairly linear formula:  Khelben assigned you your task, and you went down into Undermountain to complete it.  Upon successful completion of said tasks, new parts of Undermountain would become accessible, although you could return to areas you already explored, too.

Descent to Undermountain

As you might infer from the overall tone of the previous paragraphs, critics crushedDescent to Undermountain like it was roadkill on the freeway.  Computer Games Magazine gave the game a whopping 1 out of 5 in its March 1998 review, whileAdrenaline Vault thought the game marginally better with a 2.5 out of 5 score in its December 1997 review.  Gamespot gave the game a hardy 3.7 (out of 10), with an article subtitled, “How could the company that produced Fallout also be responsible for one of the lousiest games to come down the pike in quite a while?”  And that seems to be a good place to end this look back at one of the many Retrogaming Ruins to have graced my gaming systems.  Full disclosure: I finished the game twice, just to make certain I wasn’t being too unkind the first time I played it.  The things we do to ourselves in the pursuit of retrogaming!

Knights of the Sky

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The great thing about Knights of the Sky was that you felt completely vulnerable throughout every mission – even just a few direct hits with a machine gun could send you spiralling to a fiery death, which led to some tense dogfights. ~Lewis Packwood

Knights of the Sky

Format: Amiga Genre: Flight Simulator Released: 1991 Developer:MicroProse

I was playing a demo of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. the other day. The graphics were superb – the representation of Rio de Janeiro was almost photo-realistic – but the game itself was deathly dull. Like pretty much all modern flight sims, it basically amounts to lining up your sights over some plane or tank that’s so far away you can’t actually see it, waiting for a lock on, then pressing the fire button. *Yawn*

knights_of_the_sky

 

Unfortunately, it seems that as real-life planes rely more and more on flight computers to navigate and select targets, the computer games based on them become less and less enjoyable. Perhaps by the time we reach Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 10 you won’t even need to do anything – you could just step outside for a cigarette and let the game play itself.

Thank heavens then for Knights of the Sky, a blesséd antidote to all this modern fly-by-wire, fire-and-forget, head-up-display, ensure-contents-are-piping-hot nonsense. Here’s a simulation where top speeds rarely climb into triple figures, where fire and forget equates to lobbing a hand grenade out of the cockpit and hoping for the best, and where your head-up display mostly consists of a petrol gauge and a compass. Welcome to World War 1.

knights_of_the_sky

 

The great thing about Knights of the Sky was that you felt completely vulnerable throughout every mission – even just a few direct hits with a machine gun could send you spiralling to a fiery death, which led to some tense dogfights. Pretty much every mission I attempted would end with me coaxing a critically damaged plane back to my home base after a few too many close encounters with the enemy. The wings would be practically falling off, the petrol gauge would be virtually on empty, and I’d be wrestling with the joystick to just keep the plane going in a straight line… Most of the time I didn’t make it, but on the rare occasions where I somehow managed to land my charred mass of wood and canvas back on friendly soil, I’d be practically dancing round the room in excitement. And, to my knowledge, there are very few flight sims that can inspire dancing.

knights_of_the_sky

 

By far the best aspect of this game was the two player mode. There were surprisingly few Amiga games that you could play over a link cable, but these games were among my favourites, and most of them are (or will be) on this list (I’ve already covered one of them – Stunt Car Racer).

Knights of the Sky just came alive in two player mode. As much fun as it was having my plane shot to pieces by nameless Germans, it couldn’t even come close to the sheer thrill of having my plane shot to pieces by my Amiga-500-owning mate who lived round the corner. As I said earlier, dogfights were tense in Knights of the Sky, but they were a good deal tenser when playing against a friend, especially if he unplugged your joystick in the middle of a loop-the-loop (thankfully, the computerised Germans never learned that little trick).

knights_of_the_sky

 

Actually shooting down your opponent’s plane was surprisingly hard – the view from your cockpit was incredibly restrictive (most of your view was taken up by instruments and a bloody great big wing in front), so it was really difficult to keep the other plane within your sights. Also, because the planes were so slow, actually turning round to try and get on the tail of your opponent was a constant struggle. And any slightly more advanced manoeuvres were a risky business – the planes could only fly at low altitude, so if you went into a steep dive there was a good chance you’d end up ploughing into the deck, and climbing steeply would generally cause your plane to stall. In fact, participating in a dogfight was kind of like watching two valium-addled geriatrics wrestling each other for the last Werther’s Original. In slow motion.

knights_of_the_sky

However, the very fact that the planes were so completely rubbish was what made Knights of the Sky so exciting. Because it was so much of a struggle to fly your plane – and even to find, let alone shoot at, your opponent – winning a dogfight created a palpable sense of achievement. Especially if you could do it without unplugging your opponent’s joystick.

 

Of course, the game is not without its faults. The graphics, for example, could be politely described as ‘uninspiring’, and they look positively Stone Age by today’s standards. Also, the single player campaign could become a little dull after a while, and there wasn’t really enough variety to hold your interest for extended periods of time.

But for the two player mode alone, Knights of the Sky more than deserves to be on this list, if only because it proves that flights sims can be exciting after all.

The Immortal

 

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The first thing you noticed when playing The Immortal was that you tended to die a lot. ~Dan Epp

The Immortal

The plot of The Immortal revolved around a young magician intercepting a call for help meant for someone else from his master, Mordamir, located deep within a labyrinth.  Since you – as the young apprentice – were the only help available, you set out to rescue Mordamir.  Once there, the young wizard discovered that  things are not as straightforward as they are presented by Mordamir, and many plot twists unfolded.  The dungeon was home to warring clans of goblins and trolls, whom you interacted with throughout the game, mostly through combat, but you could ally somewhat with the Goblin King for quests, information, and treasure.  There were other allies to be found in the game, but not everyone had altruistic reasons for giving you aid.  And there were other creatures living underground that considered you a possible tasty treat, as well as a variety of traps, so it was necessary to stay alert!

 

The Immortal
Anyone have a can of Spider Kilz I can borrow?

Much of the back story was given in the form of dreams that came when the young apprentice slept (on little piles of hay conveniently located throughout the dungeon levels).  The information these dreams contained was absolutely integral to surviving the quest, especially in the final sequence when Mordamir’s young apprentice had to make a choice of which powerful being he must ally with, and thereby end their stalemate.  I don’t recall a game that used this kind of lucid dreaming game mechanic quite as well as The Immortal, though opinions may vary.

 

The Immortal
Having a nap in The Immortal

The first thing you noticed when playing The Immortal was that you tended to die a lot.  Some players forgot they weren’t playing a buff warrior, but a magician’s young apprentice, so they forgot that running headlong into combat isn’t the wisest move for even an experienced wizard.  The trick was to either avoid combat (if you could!) or keep dodging around until your opponent tired themselves out, and then move in for the kill.  Sometimes this was easier to say than to do, however.  To make things more difficult, if your character didn’t die during combat, there were always the myriad traps for him to trigger.  Learning to navigate a room could result in many, many reloads, which is why The Immortal was considered a very difficult game to finish.

 

The Immortal
Successful spore attack in The Immortal

The next thing you noticed while playing The Immortal was the sheer level of violence. The combat screen graphics were fairly detailed for its day, and the level of gore they contained was a little over-the-top, which culminated with Mortal Kombat-style “finishing moves” with similar graphic details, such as decapitations, exploding skulls, eviscerations, and more.  For an early 1990s game, The Immortal was pretty intense.  (Oddly enough, the MS-DOS version wasn’t nearly as bloody as the Apple IIGS or Commodore Amiga versions.  The Nintendo Entertainment System version had much of the gore removed, but the Sega Genesis version might be the goriest of the all.)

 

The Immortal
Under the wizard’s attack in The Immortal

The game played in an isometric perspective, and an argument could be made for claiming The Immortal as the forefather of Diablo in its style.  It certainly taxed the system specs of the day, with particular attention paid to the death scenes (as mentioned above).  Did Blizzard find inspiration for their epic click-fest from memories of playing The Immortal?  Play it and decide for yourself!

 

The Immortal - IBM PC - Gameplay Screenshot -5
Under a death attack in The Immortal

 

 

Qwak

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Qwak is one for the adrenaline junkie gamers isn’t it?! There will always be some gamers who love fast-paced reaction based games…and those who don’t. That’s fine. ~Jamie Woodhouse

Qwak

Qwak is one of those odd cases where the story behind the game could be argued to be more interesting than the actual title itself.

Not that Qwak is a bad game by any means – it’s a super slick arcade platformer of the type that you just don’t see enough of nowadays – but this is a title with a intriguingly long history. So here we go…

Released on the BBC Micro (and the Acorn Electron) back in 1989 by Jamie Woodhouse, the game was then buffed up and bought to the Amiga and Amiga 32CD in 1993 with the help of Team 17.

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

It seemed as if that was the end for Qwak, but a whole thirteen years later Woodhouse plucked his personal labor of love out of obscurity and bought it onto the GBA.

Without a publisher’s backing the game was released unlicensed from Nintendo, with only 300 copies of Qwak created and sold directly on Woodhouse’s site.

A handmade instruction manual and the option to make your own box just demonstrated how much care had gone into bringing the game over to the GBA.

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

This was not the duck’s final bow though, but merely a rebirth. Since the GBA release he  has now flown his way onto three other formats – Mac, PC and iOS.

But that’s enough history – what’s most important is how the game stands up today.

It’s hard not to feel that Qwak’s core principles do seem like something from another era while playing, but this turns out to be a strength, not a weakness.

The game requires you move and think fast. You have a button to jump and another to fire your limited supply of eggs, with the latter essential for dispatching the many foes you’ll encounter.

Quite what your enemies are supposed to be (are they animal mutants…or something else?) is irrelevant, but range from the easily culled to ones of the irritatingly persistent variety (some can fly, and home in at you directly).

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

While avoiding foes you also have a set number of keys to grab to open each level’s exit, with fruit and gem pick-ups helping to elevate your score. A time limit means you’ll have precious little time to plan ahead.

In fact, boosting your high-score could be argued to be the main driving force behind the game, despite the fact that there are a set number of levels to complete.

Only the very best will manage to reach the end of these on the normal difficulty setting though, so beating your score is one of the main reasons to keep playing.

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

Stages are thrown at you in a random order as well, meaning you lose any chance of settling into a rhythm – with this only strengthening Qwak’s already highly challenging arcade sensibilities.

A highly competitive two player option (not available on the GBA version) rounds off things rather nicely.

Overall, there’s no real excuse if you haven’t at least tried Qwak (a free demo is available on the game’s site), especially seeing as it offers you the chance to experience videogame values that modern titles seem to have deleted from their repertoire.

Yes, there’s a good chance that the game’s demand for super quick reactions may put you off, but stick with it – seeing your high score steadily climb upwards may hold more appeal than you might think.

—-BONUS—-

Here’s a little extra for the 200th post – a mini interview with Mr Qwak himself, Jamie Woodhouse.

Qwak has been released on eight systems over the course of 21 years – can you see yourself releasing it on more formats in the future, or are you just focusing your time somewhere else?

Nope, it won’t be appearing on any new formats, just yet. I’m more interested in creating new games.

A worrying proportion of the people I get to play my GBA copy of Qwak complain that it’s too fast and that they can’t keep up. Do you find it worrying how truly intense reaction based gameplay seems to dying out in a lot of big-budget modern games, or do you think that it helps make a game like Qwak stand out all the more?

Yeah, I think a lot of people feel that way, it’s too fast for them. It really is one for the adrenaline junkie gamers isn’t it?!
There will always be some gamers who love fast-paced reaction based games…and those who don’t. That’s fine.

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

You’re thrown back in time to 1989 – would you do anything differently in terms of the title’s design or what it set out to do as a game knowing what you know now?

I wouldn’t be the same ‘me’, so I’d probably do a whole lot of stuff differently. Hard to say though, exactly what could have been changed to make it better, or exactly what would constitute ‘better’.

Regarding the GBA version of the game, when did you send off the last of the 300 GBA carts? Did you include anything special in the final copy to be sold, and were you relieved or slightly sad when you sent it out? 

I can’t remember the exact date, or even month; I guess it must be a couple of years back now? I didn’t do anything special for the last copy. Was quite glad when it was all over, was tired of stuffing things in to envelopes and licking stamps!

Finally – which is your favorite version of Qwak, and why?

That would be the iPhone version (which is basically the same as the PC and Mac version). It just feels more colorful, plays better, and I love the puzzle levels on world 2!

My thanks go to Jamie for his time, and wish him the best of luck with his future titles. The main hub of all things Qwak can be found here, including links to purchase the PC, Mac and iOS versions of the game.

Outlaws

 

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For single-player gameplay, there were three options: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Come on, who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns?) ~Dan Epp

 Outlaws

The background story in Outlaws revolved around retired U.S. Marshal James Anderson, who lives an idyllic life with his beautiful wife and only child.  Idyllic, that is, until his opposition to selling his land to a nasty railroad baron (weren’t they all nasty?) brings about the death of his beloved wife Anna and the abduction of his daughter, Sarah.  The adventure began with Anderson burying his wife, digging up his shotgun, and heading off to find his daughter and take his revenge.  “Dyin’s too good for ‘em,” the game’s tagline said, and after watching the introduction, you’re rooting for ex-Marshall Anderson to show them all what that means.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-2

Outlaws was a first-person shooter style game using a modified version of the Dark Forces game engine, and although the game’s storyline was focused on single-player gameplay, the game also featured a robust multiplayer mode.  Players could choose to play up to six of the main characters within the game: ex-Marshall Anderson, Matt “Dr. Death” Jackson (who killed the Marshall’s wife), “Bloody” Mary Nash, “Gentleman” Bob Graham (the railroad baron), “Spittin” Jack Sanchez, and Chief Two-Feathers, with advantages and disadvantages for each.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-3

For single-player gameplay, there were three options: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (Come on, who doesn’t like Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns?)  The differences between the options were in how much damage Anderson could take from gunshot wounds; in Good mode, the player could walk Anderson into a spray of bullets with only minor consequences, in Ugly mode the ex-Marshall might be able to withstand one or two shots, but certainly no more than that – so no wading into a gunfight firing at will.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-4

The graphics for Outlaws were the standard 800×600 mode, which by today’s standard would be bulky, but were more than adequate in 1997.  LucasArts also added Glide and Direct3D support on a later patch, which helped extend the game’s shelf life as better technology was released.  The animated cutscenes were quite unique, as they were run through a special filter to make them appear to be hand-drawn, which really helped add to the game’s atmosphere.

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-5

In addition to the main game, LucasArts included a set of five single-player missions that led the player through the early career of the ex-Marshall.   Each mission’s goal was the capture (preferred) or execution of a wanted outlaw on the run.  With each successful completion, Anderson is promoted, eventually earning his Deputy, Sheriff, and Marshall badges.  LucasArts also released a set of four missions on their website which they called, a “Handful of Missions,” in keeping with the spaghetti western motif.  These missions are stand alone gameplay, unconnected to the original storyline.  (Game companies that give you free extras are always tops in my books).

Unfortunately, despite the great gameplay, Outlaws did not perform well commercially.  It is forever a niche product (similar to Grim Fandango), which holds a special place in the hearts of those who played it.   Outlaws is another forgotten classic that deserves to be dusted off and enjoyed by retrogamers everywhere!

Human Killing Machine

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“Worst game ever? Human Killing Machine, Capcom. Seriously, look it up. I have a copy of it on disk, given away by Amiga Power, I believe.” @GuyFawkesRetro

Human Killing Machine

The above tweet peaked my curiosity, I boldly replied “Worst game ever? I have a sudden urge to try it.” And so I did. As you know I recently reviewed Yolanda! for review a bad game day, however if I’d known about this one it would have been a serious contender. I actually felt like playing Yolanda! after this, in fact, I felt like playing Rise of the Robots just to wash away the memories.

Human Killing Machine

You play as Kwon, who is apparently strong. You have to knock down (no K.O’s here) your opponent a number of times to win, your first battle is against Igor, once you’ve defeated him you then fight his dog (I’m assuming) which in my mind is just plain mean. I didn’t get much further than that, the collision detection is terrible, the controls unmanageable, and the poor animation lets down the relatively good graphics and backgrounds. At points I had no idea how or what I was doing to hit the opponent as the controls didn’t really match with anything on the screen.

human_killing_machine

A  player comment from Lemon Amiga:

“A clone of Street Fighter. Strangely, they took the Amiga version with its bad animations as reference and not the arcade version. So you got the same gameplay as SF, but executed even worse.”

And another.

“Often described as the next best thing (or something like that…) on many games-mags previews at the time, this soon revealed itself for the unforgivable, unplayable, Tiertex-developed utter disaster it actually was. If you played it for more than 10 minutes and survived, congratulations: that sure was a big task…”

Anyways, if you must see more, see above for the game on YouTube, someone has kindly played through the whole thing. Also good luck to @GuyFawkesRetro on twitter, who is on the search for the ultimate bad game…. (I think you may have found it?)

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs

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This was a fun little game in its day, but even then there was not much replay value, though, as once you mastered the fine art of fuzzballdom and cleared all its levels, there was nothing more to accomplish . ~Dan “Magisterrex” Epp

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs

With a title like Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs, you can expect a little gaming weirdness will be coming – and you’d be right. This is the setup: you have a fuzzball that needs to be guided through various maze levels looking for the keys to escape, while avoiding its nasty fuzzball brethren who want to dispose of it. There are tiles on the floor of each maze, some which contain food for your little fuzzball, and some which contain treasures (like magic rings, armor, wands, potions, scrolls and shields). You better plan your route, as your fuzzball moves through the maze it can only cross the same tile twice before it disappears. There are also traps waiting for your poor little fuzzball, so stay on your toes!

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs - Gameplay screenshot

Sir-Tech was known for producing the Wizardry RPG series, so Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs was a complete departure from their norm. (I picture the Wizardry team, burnt out from living an all-RPG, all-the-time existence, seeing this game and falling in love with its sheer absurdity.)  The game was credited as the work of Ian Currie (game design, graphics, and programming) and Robert Koller (game design and graphics).

Of the two designers, Currie would go on to work on several Sir-Tech games, such as Realms of Arkania: Star Trail, the Jagged Alliance series, and Wizardry: Nemesis, as well as more recent non-Sir-Tech offerings (since they went out of business in 2001, but not their Canadian chapter, which lasted until 2003), such as Star Trek: LegacyEmpire Earth III, and Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.

Freakin Funky Fuzzballs - Gameplay screenshot
Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs item list

This was a fun little game in its day, but even then there was not much replay value, though, as once you mastered the fine art of fuzzballdom and cleared all its levels, there was nothing more to accomplish . Even so, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs is a nifty little game that accomplishes what it sets out to do, and if you haven’t played it, worth picking up and playing through.  A true Forgotten Classic!

[Visit Magisterrex Homepage]

Little Big Adventure 2: Twinsen’s Odyssey

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It features a truly great and imaginative story and it’s gameplay is one of the best that I have seen in an adventure game… ~Harris Aspros

Little Big Adventure 2

The amount of time I spent on this game is unbelievable, partly because the first time I played it I couldn’t understand what was happening since I didn’t know English. But I played it more times a few years ago and whenever I remember this game I get overwhelmed with nostalgia
Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

What is Little Big Adventure 2: Twinsen’s Odyssey

It’s an adventure game (again) and I find it one of the examples which show that the sequel can be better than the first game.  Developed by [Adeline Software] in 1997 and re-published by Activision (they used to not suck so bad) the same year with the name Twinsen’s Odyssey. It follows Twinsen’s adventure to uncover an evil plot behind some alien kidnappings around the neighbourhood.
 Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

Why it’s Great

It features a truly great and imaginative story and it’s gameplay is one of the best that I have seen in an adventure game (some should take note). It is a great experience and you would do well to give it a shot.
Little Big Adventure 2 -Twinsen's Odyssey

Where you can get it

This one is actually (and strangely) available, you can find it at [Good Ol Games] for 5.99 USD.

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

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Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue. ~Dan Epp

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

In 1995, the phrase “full motion video” (FMV) conjured up the image of such classic games as Night Trap and Burn: Cycle – eye candy at best, and generally poor gaming experiences.  CD-ROM technology had been out a for a couple of years, and The 7th Guest was really still the only “must-have” CD-only game on the market.  So, imagine the concerns of adventure gamers when they discovered that the sequel to Jane Jensen’s awesome Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was going to be released in FMV format.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

However, these concerns were unfounded.  Sierra had been working on the Script Code Interpreter (SCI) game engine, which used full motion technology, for a Roberta Williams game, Phantasmagoria.  The development team for the second Gabriel Knight game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, was able to appropriate the engine for their own use, which had the benefit of cutting down the game’s development time.  However, even with the game engine built, FMV was an expensive process, involving a production crew and professional actors, all of whom were paid well for their time.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Another limitation that the use of FMV incorporated into gameplay was the need to limit the choices available to the player, thereby making the game more linear.  Unlike some games that provided many paths based upon how a player reacted to each situation, The Beast Within kept players hemmed within a much more linear storyline.  The costs in both production dollars and CD space were simply too high to choose any other avenue.

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The answer is multifaceted, but the first step was retaining Jane Jensen as the author of the entire storyline.  The first Gabriel Knight game was lauded for not only being fun to play, but having a deeper story than most adventure games.  Ms. Jensen had majored in computer science, but also had a deep fascination with creative writing, evidenced by her work on the Gabriel Knight series.  Interestingly, she did not become a published novelist until well after The Beast Within, with her novelization of the first Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers book in 1997, and then Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within’s novelization in 1998.  Her first non-computer game related novel, Millennium Rising, was published in 1999, the same year her last Gabriel Knight game was released.  She has continued to write books, earning a Phillip K. Dick Award nomination for Best Novel in 2003 for her book, Dante`s Equation.  But I digress!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The Beast Within was not only written well, it was acted well.  The game featured Dean Erickson as Gabriel, who would go on to leave acting altogether and become a real estate agent; Joanne Takahashi as Grace, who continues to take a variety of minor roles tailored for Asian women; Peter J. Lucas as Baron Friedrich von Glower, who continues to take roles for an ethnic European; Andrea Martin as Gerde, who was a Tony-award winning actress before working on The Beast Within and continues to work on both the stage and in voice-over work today.  None of these four ever worked on a computer game again! However, Nicolas Worth, who played Kriminal-Kommisar Leber, has not only had a successful career in film and television both before and after The Beast Within, but has also continue to work in the gaming industry, acting in Emperor: Battle For DuneCommand & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2, as well as lending his voice to Freedom Fighters!

The Beast Within - A Gabriel Knight Mystery

The puzzles of The Beast Within were not particularly difficult, but were, on the whole, imaginative.  The game used “hotspots” on the photographic quality images to show that there was something of interest on the screen, so it was a simple matter to gain all the inventory items required to solve most of the puzzles the game threw at its players.  Like many adventure games, forward progress could come to a complete halt until you discovered the correct hotspot, but this generally was not a complete inconvenience.

Reviews of The Beast Within were very favorable upon its release.  Two of the biggest gaming magazines of the day gave it high marks: PC Gamer gave it a score of 96% and it’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, while Computer Gaming World (CGW) gave it 5 out of 5 stars, a Critics Choice tag as well as naming it the 1996 CGW Game of the Year.  It also managed to make #17 on CGW’s 150 Best Games of All Time , which is the definitive “must-play” list for retrogaming enthusiasts!  If you haven’t played this classic of the adventure game genre, you’re missing a rare treat.  Highly recommended!

Rise of the Robots

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Rushing home we inserted the first disk and were confronted by a very impressive intro. ‘This is going to be great’ we thought. Then, after an hour or two, we both felt something was wrong. Could Rise of the Robots be… rubbish? Neither my brother or myself could believe it. In fact I remember assuming that we were playing it wrong, that it was our fault that you could beat every robot by doing a flying kick. ~Ian

Rise of the Robots

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Fighting Game Released: 1994 Developer:

Mirage ‘Even if you don’t believe in Father Christmas, it might be worth writing to him to make sure he doesn’t bring you a copy of this’. Jonathan Davies, Rise of the Robots review, Amiga Power 45. In 1993 various video game magazines ran previews of a beat-’em up that seemed to be from the future. It looked stunning, with graphics that promised to be far superior to anything else out there. Not only that but the gameplay was going to break new ground too, with computer opponents that ‘learned’ as they fought you, adapting their fighting style to match yours. All in all Rise of the Robots, for that was the name of this legendary game, was going to be THE game of 1994. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Davies alludes to in the above quote, Rise of the Robots was shit. Rise of the Robots was more than just a video game, it was an event. The previews of 1993 turned into a steady stream of hype throughout 1994. There was talk of tie-in books, comics, toys, cartoons and a film. It was to be released on practically every platform and giant cardboard robots were cropping up in video game shops across the country. Brian May was even going to write the soundtrack.

patrickandbrian
Brian May pictured with a relaxed GamesMaster

Being an impressionable 14 year-old I was extremely excited about Rise of the Robots. It looked simply amazing. I mean, you got to be a kung-fu robot! Just watch the video below for a taste of the building excitement. It ‘redefines the fighting genre and raises the ante on gamers with a futuristic motif proven in focus groups’. Focus groups like the motif, what more do you want?

Just after Christmas (the same Christmas I got UFO: Enemy Unknown), with a decent chunk of Christmas money jangling in our pockets, my brother and I went to Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and, £40 later, we had picked upRise of the Robots. I always remember how huge the box was. Well in fairness it had to be. On the Amiga 1200 Rise of the Robots came on 13 disks. That’s right, 13.

Rise of the robots - amgia

Rushing home we inserted the first disk and were confronted by a very impressive intro. ‘This is going to be great’ we thought. Then, after an hour or two, we both felt something was wrong. Could Rise of the Robots be… rubbish? Neither my brother or myself could believe it. In fact I remember assuming that we were playing it wrong, that it was our fault that you could beat every robot by doing a flying kick. That there was a way of turning round and jumping over the other fighter we just hadn’t worked out how. That you could pick a fighter who wasn’t the blue cyborg, you just had to complete it or something. How could all the hype be wrong?

Rise of the robots - amgia

Rise of the Robots was crippled by its flashy visuals. So much computing power was devoted to having beautifully animated robots that there was nothing left for the rest of the game. I distinctly remember reading Jonathan Davies review and just feeling sad. Ok, at least now I knew it wasn’t my fault the game seemed to be poor. It was poor. But I felt swindled, the victim of a con.

Rise of the robots - amgia

An important lesson for any child to learn is that all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes that which glitters is simply that, a glittery thing. Not only that but rubbish stuff is often coated in glitter to try to distract you from the rubbish underneath. Rise of the Robots, covered in metaphorical glitter (plus fairy lights, shiny baubles and tin foil), taught me that lesson. So in that way, and in no other, Rise of the Robots made my life slightly better.

Eye of the Beholder

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The holy symbol or spell-book must be in the characters hand and right clicking brings up a menu from which you can select your spells. Again players of current gen games will be familiar with the spells as they have only been added to over the years, not removed. ~Rusty Quiva

Eye of the Beholder

To this day one can often find reference in  any official Dungeons & Dragons game to “the Heroes of Waterdeep”. This game is what they are referring to and i count myself lucky to have played this and its 2 sequels (Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon and Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor). I have fond memories of sifting through reems of old-school laser print-outs of maps made entirely of ASCII characters trying to find my way through some complex dungeon puzzle.

Story: Waterdeep is having some problems with their sewers. The local council employs 4 heroes to do something about it. A few steps inside the sewers and a trap is sprung sealing the intrepid party inside. To escape they must venture deeper into the sewers which turn out to be the beginning of a sinister dungeon.

Gameplay: You start by creating your 4 heroes. Players of current gen D&D games will be somewhat familiar with the character creation process.

Once you have all 4 created you can enter the game and begin your adventure. Characters have 2 hands each in which can be placed a variety of weapons, or in the case of clerics and paladins a holy symbol, and a spell-book for mages.

Dungeons and Dragons - Eye of the Beholder

The weapons are activated by right clicking on their image next to the characters portrait. Melee weapons will be swung and ranged weapons will be fired or thrown. The hand that was just used becomes temporarily unavailable as the character recovers from its use. Spells are managed in a similar manner. The holy symbol or spell-book must be in the characters hand and right clicking brings up a menu from which you can select your spells. Again players of current gen games will be familiar with the spells as they have only been added to over the years, not removed. All spells had to be memorized before hand and the number of castable spells was limited by level. So a player would choose which spells to memorize and would then need to rest to be able to cast them. Inventory is a bit similar to Diablo in that each character has slots for particular equipment and a number of backpack spaces for everything else.

Everything in EoB takes up a single space and nothing stacks, with the exception of arrows fro which there is a quiver. Something not seen in D&D games since the EoB series is food rations. Characters get hungry and failing to feed them when their food bar is empty would result in hit-point loss. Movement in the game was square based like wolfenstein and relied on the numeric keypad. Puzzles were solved by interacting with the environment, for example clicking on a lever or placing a gem in a hole.

Dungeons and Dragons - Eye of the Beholder

The player party could grow to include 6 characters total, either by finding other living characters or resurrecting the bones of dead ones found in certain places. Characters in the front rank of the party could use melee attacks while those behind were limited to ranged weapons and spells.

Monsters range from kobolds at the start of the game right up to the Beholder itself at the end. Beholders have 11 eyes, 10 on tentacle-like stalks and a main central one. In the rules of D&D each eye is supposed to cast a spell, but for this game the beholder is limited to about 5 spells. Like its predecessor games EoB would also allow players to move their parties that had successful completed the game into the next game (EoBII) a feature not seen in other games until recently (mass effect 2). The dungeon is broken up into levels, but the gameplay is not entirely linear, requiring the player to return to certain levels after obtaining certain items or to gain certain equipment.

Dungeons and Dragons - Eye of the Beholder

Graphics: Excellent back in its era. Made full use of VGA graphics and was colorful and appropriate. The interface was simple and required little to no explanation. there were not a lot of sprites for each monster, but enough to let you know which way it was looking and which way it was moving and how it was attacking you. The screens I’ve included are only from the first few minutes of the game, but suffice to say there are few different looking areas, each inhabited by its own monsters.

Sound: Again, pretty awesome for its era. Made good use of your sound-blaster pro, but like most games from this era was equally good, just pumped out of a PC speaker. It is a common misconception that a PC speaker is only capable of beeps, but this is not true. The speaker is capable of the same range of sounds as any sound-card it just takes longer to program. However i do know of games that were released even earlier than this with better sound (like pinball dreams which had sound coming out of the speaker akin to today’s MP3s…  No really! It had voice and all).

Controls: Keyboard only or keyboard and mouse. Keyboard only is more difficult, but the game is paced so that with practice a mouse user would only have the advantage of convenience not speed. movement is via the numeric keypad using 8 for forward, 7 for turn 90 degrees to the left, 9 for right, 4 and 6 for strafe left and right and 2 for step backwards.

Overall: An excellent game which will keep you busy for days without a walk-through and at least a full day with one. Has some replayabilty by trying different party make-ups. The ability to move your party into the sequels is awesome. The simple GUI means that back then and today a gamer could pick up how to play in minutes. I never saw a single bug and the game never crashed out.

Battlefield 1942 (PC)

battlefield-1942-pc

Developer: Digital Illusions

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: First Person Shooter

Release Date: 2002

Awesome little FPS this, many hours of addiction and therapy needed to drag myself away. Even though the game is getting on a bit now, the graphics for one are certainly looking dated I still keep coming back for the odd game now and again, especially multi-player. The main game consists of capturing and controlling certain strategic points on the game map, almost a multiple capture the flag scenario. Once a team captures a point team members can spawn there, however when a team loses control of all of these points they cannot respawn and if all the players are killed the team with no spawn points loses (deep breath).

battlefield-1942-pc

The player can choose to play as either the Allied powers or the Axis powers. The Allies consists of the US, UK, Soviet Union, Canada and the French. The Axis consists of Germany, Japan and Italy. Regardless of which side you chose you’ll get a choice of five different character classes to choose from; Scout, Assault, Medic, Anti-tank, and Engineer. All have certain distinct advantages depending on individual tastes, I tended to stick with Scout and Assault as they move quicker, helpful in making it to the coolest vehicle first or for general running away.

battlefield-1942-pc

Some of my favourite scenarios in this game feature air combat. Let’s be honest, running across the vast maps, especially El Alamein, is a tad boring, driving or flying is much more fun and recommended. The game has a nice choice of vehicles to use and destroy and it’s always satisfying landing that bomb on target or engaging the enemy in a dogfight.

battlefield-1942-pc

Although the game play remains fun (there’s nothing like trying to fly a bomber like a fighter, or seeing the pilot parachuting out of the plane you’re all in) the graphics are  looking a bit naff, and the control system seems slow and clunky, especially if you’ve been sitting there playing something newer and shinier. It’s a game for Sunday afternoon when it’s raining and you’re not in the mood for anything to stressful from the gaming library.

battlefield-1942-pc

Also released were several expansion packs for the original Battlefield 1942 titled; Battlefield 1942: The Road to Rome and Battlefield 1942: Secret Weapons of WWII. Both added various new game play modes and design concepts but in my opinion didn’t really offer anything amazing or new in terms of playability.

I enjoy this game probably more than I should but then I can’t help it. The catchy intro music even has a certain appeal, so much so I even looked up the composer Joel Eriksson for this blog, see his IMDB page here! If any of you have played Dogfight for the Amiga the theme tune gives me the same sense of nostalgia and charm for a game, on its release, I couldn’t put down for 5 minutes without getting the urge to play it again.

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion PC

Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion is one of those games that it’s repetitive “music” is still following me in everything that I am doing. A game developed by Lucas Arts and the creator of the Monkey Island games, Ron Gilbert in 1997, an adventure game that let you control many different characters and gave you a sense of actually sneaking around in a mansion you were not supposed to be at.
Maniac Mansion PC
The story of the game was very simple, Dave’s girlfriend Sandy has been kidnapped by a mad scientist who is pretty obviously leaving in a scary mansion.What is cool about this game is that you dont control only Dave but in addition you can select to play us any 2 other of his 6 friends that want to help him rescue his girlfriend. Any one of his friends has his own set of skills that influenced the flow of the game (similar with what Ron Gilbert tried to do with “The Cave” which in my opinion did not come out as good as many Maniac Mansion fans where hoping).
Maniac Mansion PC
 Fun Facts

  • The legendary SCUMM engine was created for Maniac Mansion and  was later used on many of the company’s signature “Adventure Games”
  • A version of Maniac Mansion was ported to NES but with some changes as Nintendo considered some of the content of the game to not be suitable for children
  • There was a Canadian Series inspired by the Maniac Mansion called… “Maniac Mansion”
  • You can play “Maniac Mansion” inside “The Day of the tentacle” on an in-game computer

Daikatana

Daikatana

Every so often I get a little spoiled with too much classic retrogaming goodness, and begin to take for granted the great storylines, coding and sheer fun that most of my game collection contains.  It’s at that point that I find it helpful to look back on a game that is best played while under the influence of mood-altering substances.  Such a game is the pile of stinking defecation brought to us in 2000 called Daikatana.

Daikatana - PC
Front cover of the 2000 PC game, Daikatana.

What hopes everyone had for this game.  After all, the lead designer was John Romero, he who was quoted to say, “Design is Law”, was one of the co-founders of id Software, and was one of the co-creators of the industry-changing Doom.  This was a person who gamers could count on to bring his “A” game to the design process.  Or so we thought.

Daikatana - PC
Hello, I’m John Romero, and you’re not.

Much has been said about the incredible excesses of Romero’s studio while working on Daikatana.  Around $40 million was spent on this game, which was a result of both Romero’s desire to be surrounded by luxury (complete with a multi-million dollar office at the very top of a skyscraper in Dallas), and his inability to keep the game on schedule.  Critical errors were made from the start of the project, as Romero estimated a seven-month development cycle using the Quake engine.  But id Software beat him to the market with Quake II, which meant retooling Daikatana with the Quake II engine to avoid looking like a tired old retread.  If that wasn’t enough, Romero saw his entire development team quit, which meant further delays.  Add these factors together and it’s easy to see how Daikatana quickly became a money pit.

Daikatana - PC
Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

Perhaps if Romero didn’t project himself as such a larger-than-life personality, gamers would have been more willing to forgive him for such a catastrophe.  But even the advertising campaign was offensive to the buying public.  “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch. Suck it down.”  Seriously, how does an ad copy like that make its way all the way from a brainstorming session to publication?  Simultaneously insulting, crude, and a challenge to all gamers, everywhere, this ad campaign created an expectation that anything short of a coding love child between Sid Meier and John Carmack would be marked a failure.

Daikatana - PC
The offensive Daikatana ad campaign.

Once the game was released, the sheer mediocrity of the product became evident.  The game mechanic was wonky, with the player getting the “benefit” of two sidekicks that you needed to keep alive to help solve various puzzles during the game.  Of course, they had the AI equivalent of a gnat, so you tended to see them die. A lot.  And did I mention that if the sidekicks died you lost the level?  That’s just bad design, which is unforgivable from someone who believes, “Design is Law.”  The good news for the sidekicks is that the AI for the enemies is just as bad, perhaps worse.  If a solid object is between you and your enemy, fret not, as they’ll keep trying to walk straight toward you rather than go around it.  You could even go out for a smoke break and come back in to see them still trying to become an irresistible force.  But you can’t take that break, as your stupid sidekicks will take the opportunity to walk directly into the line of fire while you’re gone.

Daikatana - PC
Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

In the end, Daikatana sold 200,000 copies, probably to people who wanted to create a drinking game based on how bad it was.  The stark reality was after $40 million in development expenses and only 200K of boxes sold, Daikatana was an epic failure on a scale reserved for such amazing debacles such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (for the Atari 2600).

Atari 2600 E.T.
Daikatana is E.T.’s bestest friend!

So, game designers, study well the example that John Romero has left you and take note of what happens when ego and extravagance trumps hard work and diligence.  Let’s not have another Daikatana happen to us again, shall we?

Softporn Adventures

Softporn Adventures

I always wondered if there was a text based game about the pursuit of sex would it be almost like sexting is today. So, how many of you know On-Line Systems, perhaps you know them under their more famous name Sierra On-Line. Before we were introduced to the iconic Leisure Suit Larry, there was Softporn Adventure.

Softporn_Adventures

Designed by Chuck Benton, the game was produced for the Apple II in 1981 and was a text based game where you played as a down on his luck party animal. The gameplay consisted of you trying to collect certain items that would win the affections of various women.

So let’s back up a little. This is a text game and for those not familiar with text based games, they kind of worked like a mix between a Dungeons and Dragons game with real life dungeon master and a, Choose Your Own Adventure book. You would start off with text telling you where you are and enough information to get you started. From there, you would enter commands to get an idea of your surroundings and what to do.

Softporn_Adventures

An example would be typing, “LOOK” to get a description of where you are and, “INVENTORY” to be told what you have on you. So the game starts off like this;

 

I’m in a sleazy bar. Behind the bar sits the bartender. A sign hanging over

him says ‘BEER-$100 WHISKEY-$100’. The Place isn’t furnished too well. A

curtain hangs on one wall. There’s a button on the wall next to it. A fan

whirls slowly overhead moving the stagnant air around.

Here you would type something like, “Order Whiskey” and go from there. It might sound boring to some, but text adventures were just as engrossing as a book and for a gamer even more so.

Softporn_Adventures

Now this game had a lot of controversy for being so racy and it is said it was copied and distrusted to a lot of high schoolers not interested in Math Munchers and more interested in reading forbidden text such as;

>SCREW GIRL

She says, ‘Lay down, Honey- Let me give you a special surprise!’ I lay down

and she says, ‘OK- now close your eyes.’ I close my eyes and she starts to

go to work on me. I’m really enjoying myself when suddenly she ties me to

the bed!! Then she says, ‘So long, turkey!’ and runs out of the room!!

Well- the score is now 1 out of a possible 3…but I’m also tied to the bed

and can’t move.

 

Sure, this is nothing compared to the scenes in games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain, but for its time, it was enough to get computer geeks like myself a little hot under the collar. Now for those who played the LLL games you will notice the first game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, is pretty much exactly like Softporn Adventure, but in graphical form.

Now the game was not just controversial because of the racy subject matter, but the cover as well. Here is the info on it straight from the Wiki;

The game’s cover features three nude women and a male waiter in a hot tub. The hot tub is actually that of Sierra’s owners, Ken and Roberta Williams. From left to right, the first woman is Diane Siegel, On-Line’s production manager. The second is Susan Davis, On-Line’s bookkeeper and the wife of Bob Davis, the creator of Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. The waiter was Rick Chipman, an actual waiter from a local restaurant, The Broken Bit. The woman on the far right is Roberta Williams. The ad was considered somewhat scandalous at the time because of the degree of nudity displayed.


To me that is the most awesome thing about this, putting real people from your own company on the cover in such a manner. I couldn’t imagine that happening today.

“Hi, you’re an intern for EA right, so yeah, we have this new game called EA Semi Nude Tennis and we need some sexy women for the cover. Sure, we could have hired some models, but you want to make it in the business right? So, go ahead and put this bikini on, don’t ask how I know your size and report to studio A.”

This was one of the first instances of sex in a video game even though you never got to “see” anything. As far as the game itself you can actually play it online, but before that, here is an interview from Chuck Benton himself on Softporn Adventure.

Here you can view a Walkthrough for the game, thanks to Game FAQ’s for this.

Last but not least you can play it here: Softporn Adventure.

Red Baron

Red Baron

What you’re about to read, is an excellent guest post by Bill, who is a blogger for think SMART, that came up with some rather intriguing educational DS games and even a little something for the Wii. Bill lives in Hell’s Kitchen, once game-tested for Dynamix, and was eaten by a Grue many, many times. You can read more of his material here.
Stomping on turtles? Watching gravity win out against science with the help of fire and lead? Barrel rolls? Spinning hedgehogs doing loop-de-loops?
Red Baron

All of them fun, but limited in a sense. In the early 90s, games played out in little capsules. I could win the battle, build the city, save the princess, but it all disappeared the moment I flipped off the computer. Even the occasional game that told a story through the progression of levels felt hollow – there wasn’t much of a world behind whatever obstacles I’d been tasked to overcome. It was like some perverted version of Descartes: I play; therefore, the world exists.

Red Baron

Then along came a little company named Dynamix, a game maker determined to challenge my little philosophy. Red Baron was the first game I can remember that convinced me I was playing inside a “real” video game world, and that my actions had both immediate and broad implications on its future. The world, of course, was the Western Front of WWI. And from the moment you first signed on to join the fight against the German menace, the game kept a clock running on that world. Time crept forward between battles; as you moved along history’s timeline, battles were fought, world leaders met to make big decisions, and the war machine turned out technological advancements like faster planes, or machine guns that wouldn’t overheat as quickly.

Red Baron

Whether or not you got to use those cool new toys depended on how you flew, and Red Baron did a great job of rewarding good play. It kept track of your kills, how many times you’d been shot down, and if you’d managed to down one of Germany’s many “real-world” Aces. Rack up the kills, move into a better aerodrome. Better aerodromes meant better planes, and the chance to fly alongside one of the Allies’ elite Aces. Nothin’ wrong with some smarter AI piloting your wingman.

Red Baron

Between battles, you’d keep up with the “real world” through the game’s newspaper. I can’t tell you how proud I was (or how embarrassed I ought to be, today) when the newspaper’s lead story was on my bravery in shooting down some minor German Ace, or the stoic countenance I’d sported upon receiving my first medal. There was my teenage pride when, mouse in hand and Mountain Dew nearby, I’d read that my squadron’s efforts had led to a break in the lines, or frustration in reading about the Red Baron’s exponential kill-count. The newspaper was a (virtual) tangible anchor for the game’s sense of reality. Brilliant, really.

Red Baron

Reality didn’t begin and end with the in-game world, however. The various flyable planes each had their quirks, strengths and limitations. Guns would jam, often at the worst possible moment. One of the planes’ wings could literally rip off if you banked too hard, too often. You might parachute out of a plane and pray you avoid getting hit with flack.

Then there was the nightmare of your pilot taking a bullet from an enemy machine gun – as you lost blood, you’d begin to black out. Lose too much without finding an aerodrome or crash-landing (and hoping for a sympathetic farmer), adios. Game over. You’d have one last chance to read about your remarkable achievements and regrettable death in the aforementioned newspaper, and that was it. Reality was pretty harsh in WWI.

Red Baron

All of this would be for nothing if the gameplay wasn’t fun; luckily, it was amazing. The dogfights were edge-of-seat serious business, dodging around flack while emptying a machine gun into a zeppelin was the pinnacle of fun gaming. The game stomped its left foot in the muddy history of The Great War and placed its right foot in the shifting ground of an adjustable-reality flight simulator.

Red Baron put its feet down and straddled a line called “Best Game of Its Time,” and I’d dare anyone to try and knock it off.

Which is why I’m confused. It’s a strange phenomenon: Red Baron was – at the very least – the best flying game of its time, if not one of the best flight sims ever. In my opinion, it was the best game to come out around that period of gaming, beating out the likes of Civilization. For whatever reason, however, it’s also a game that today often goes un-remembered when bloggers and game magazines come up with “best of” lists. Strange.

Well, this is my little scream into the ether, for all it’s worth. Red Baron was and is one of the best games ever made, and God help you if you disagree.

Alien Breed

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Alien Breed

Oh, the hours I used to spend playing this bloody game. Not only was Alien Breed one of the best games on the Amiga, it was also one of the hardest – not least because of its incredible stinginess when it came to handing out health and ammo. God knows how I had the patience to keep playing, but I just couldn’t put it down.

Actually, when I come to think of it, the main reason this game was so damn hard was the control system. Because the Amiga only had a one-button joystick, you had to move ever so slightly in the direction you wanted to shoot before pressing fire, meaning that if an alien was sneaking up behind you, in the process of turning round to shoot it you’d more often than not end up walking into it instead. Of course, on modern consoles this problem could easily be solved by just assigning one thumbstick to movement and one thumbstick to directional fire, but obviously this wasn’t an option at the time (and I seem to remember The Chaos Engine suffered a similar problem).

alien_breed

Still, ropey controls aside, this was a brilliant game, and a brilliant-looking one too – the level design really managed to capture the feel of the Alien films the game was so shamelessly ripping off, and it’s still one of the best-looking Amiga games out there. Although I always wondered about the character design – why did the protagonist have an orange head? Did Earth’s government send one of the Incredible Crash Test Dummies to defeat the alien menace?

alien_breed

My favourite bit was when you were tasked with activating the level’s self-destruct system (obviously in homage to the films:  “Mother! Turn the cooling unit back on! Mother!…You BITCH!” (Alien), “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” (Aliens), and so on and so forth (love those lines)). Suddenly the clock in the top left corner would start ticking down and you’d be left to frantically steer your crash test dummy in the direction of the (incredibly far away) elevator, cursing every godforsaken alien that leapt out in front of you and panicking as your already slim supply of bullets ran out. Classic Amiga gaming.

alien_breed

However, I can’t write about Alien Breed without mentioning Team17′s (ridiculous) long-running feud with Amiga Power. Like many Amiga owners, I was a big fan of Team 17, and the company turned out some absolutely classic Amiga games (the Alien Breed series, Arcade PoolProject XWorms, etc.), but any time that Amiga Power gave one of their games a mark below 90%, they’d throw their toys out of the pram. It was ridiculous. Sure, they made some great games, but they also made some highly questionable rubbish – F17 Challengesprings to mind – yet for some reason they seemed to think that everything they touched turned to pure gold, and they even tried to sue AP for giving one of their games (Kingpin) a low mark. You can read Amiga Power‘s account of the Team 17 ‘vendetta’ here, and here is a link to an astonishingly libellous article in the French magazine Amiga Concept, which basically claims that AP killed the Amiga by giving low marks to Team 17 games.

alien_breed

For me though, Alien Breed (along with its many sequels) was Team 17′s finest hour, and I’m very intrigued by Alien Breed Evolution, the Alien Breed remake (of sorts) that recently appeared on Xbox Live Arcade. Sadly, according to theGamespot review, the new game seems to do a good job of capturing the negative aspects of the original with its ‘repetitive and dated gameplay’, ‘occasionally unwieldy controls’ and ‘instantly forgettable’ story (although at least they’ve made it a little easier this time around, so hopefully players will be less inclined to gnaw their own limbs off in frustration). Reading this review made me think that perhaps I’m seeing the old Alien Breed through rose-tinted spectacles, that perhaps the mist of nostalgia has obscured the frustrations and limitations of Team 17′s magnum opus. Perhaps, as the review claims, the original AB is an example of ‘a classic game that wouldn’t hold up too well if you were to go back and play it today’.

alien_breed

Perhaps. But whatever the reality, I still have fond memories of this rough-edged Amiga classic, even if Team 17 tarnished their crown somewhat through their litigious relationship with AP.

alien_breed

And what’s wrong with being ‘repetitive and dated’ anyway?

Amazingly, the incredibly badly drawn intro took up an entire disk. Still, the music was good, even if the graphics looked like something from Tony Hart’s Gallery:

Prehistorik 2

Prehistorik 2

Prehistorik 2

This is one more of the first ever games i played on the PC. Prehistorik 2 is a dos platformer (an-oter sequel from which I did not play the original) developed by Titus interactive in 1993. I remember I had no idea how to install a game on the family 3.86 computer and I had to ask my cousin to come and install it for me.

Prehistorik 2

The premise of the game is very simple, you are playing as a caveman finding hamburgers and fridges full with modern-day food everywhere killing animals and dinosaurs along the way while trying to get to the end of the level. It’s a game full with secrets which added a-lot in the level of entertainment it was offering.

Why I love it

Prehistorik 2

Like I said before it’s one of the first games I played on my 3.86, it is clear that a-lot of time was devoted by the development team to make this game a fun and an enjoyable experience. The large amount of secrets that can be found and little details, like the caveman becoming out of breath if he runs for a big distance are just some of the things that show that the makers where passionate about what they were doing.

Motor City Dragstrip

Motor City Dragstrip

In today’s world, online multiplayer gaming is an everyday thing. People rutinely go online and can fight, wrestle, and shoot others in real time. But back in MY day (I say as I feel my hair greying), for online multiplayer games we had only a few options. One was a major online service like CompuServe, PlayNET, GEnie, or Q-Link (a direct descendent of the above PlayNET, which later begot America Online). Another were MUDs on the then nascent Internet, which
was only available to government workers or college students and staff. As for my family, however, we chose BBS, or Bulletin Board System, door games.

Motor City Dragstrip

For those who don’t know (and for those who already do, please bear with me here), a BBS was a computer system, usually owned and operated by a hobbyist, that other computer users during these primitive times could call up and do any number of things: send e-mail (though at this time, not exactly what WE would consider e-mail), download or upload files of various types, and play games. And many of these games allowed for multiplayer play, although most forced a turn-taking scenario. This meant that while YOU were playing a game against a human player, the computer was actually doing the playing using the stats that player had built up while he WAS online. And when you were done, your opponent’s stats would be updated, and this would likely affect how he plays the next time he logs into the system.

There were many different genres of such games: from gambling, to sports, to even multiplayer RPGs. But the one that yours truly, Chris “Sledge” Douglas used to play the most, was Motor City Dragstrip, commonly known as MC Race due to the zip file that the game was packed into.

Motor City Dragstrip

Motor City Dragstrip was written by John Parlin for Motor City Software in 1990. There may have been a number of versions, but the one I have played the most and still currently use is 2.0, which was released in 1991. The game consists of a one on one racing mode, but your racing is not controlled directly by you. In fact, the only skill required is the ability to press the Enter key when the ANSI light turns green. NOT before, or you will forfeit your victory, and certainly not after.

As BBS users of the day used modems which had extremely low bandwidth compared to what we have today, there are no “graphics” per se. Everything is drawn on screen using ASCII text and shapes and ANSI color codes and animation. Many other such door games are done this way as well and it’s… fine. It’s perfectly functional, but not particularly good, even compared to other ANSI work.

Motor City Dragstrip

The winner is simulated by the computer based on your stats, which include fuel level, engine type, and condition of your tires. You can also choose your favorite brand of car, but I honestly have no idea if that aspect factors in or not.

Motor City Dragstrip

In between races, you can do a number of things to better your chances of winning in the Pit Stop Menu. Here, you can fuel up, change your tires, change your engine, or even change your car entirely. Of course, this all costs money, but if you don’t you can have your engine die, fuel run out, or even blow your tires which (apparently, as you can’t actually see it happening) can send you careening out of control destroying your car and potentially kill your crew.

Oh, and speaking of your crew, be sure have enough crew. You start off with one, but if you don’t hire more, he will get fed up and quit.

Motor City Dragstrip

Of course, with a game like this, there are some major flaws. First, if you buy a Supercharged Hemi right away, really the only opponents who can beat you are those with the same engine. Sure, the next engine below it may have a tiny fraction of a chance to pass you out, but odds are that you will always come out victorious. Add that to the fact that you get $15,000 to start out with and everything is pretty affordable, and this game can become boring real fast.

Motor City Dragstrip
You’d probably have more fun being a little LESS conservative.

There are two aspects that do actually help this game out, despite what I just said. Of course, playing against another real BBS user rather than the computer is always fun. Again, this is done in the aforementioned turn-based style, and your opponent will have no idea what happened until he logs back in to that BBS. The other is the gambling system. This definitely helps balance the game out, as when you do keep piling on the wins, you get tempted to wager more and more money on the races. In fact, my most recent playthrough had me absolutely dominating until I made one HUGELY bad bet and lost. Of course, blowing out my tires and killing one of my crew wasn’t a huge help either.

Motor City Dragstrip
I’M SO SORRY! Please send my regards to the family of…
umm… squinty??

In conclusion, Motor City Dragstrip was a fun little trip back in time for me… but I really can’t recommend it to today’s modern gamers. Even though there really is no skill involved other than some light inventory management, the race wager functionality does certainly add a bit of excitement to the procedings. This game was definitely WAY more of a fun experience on an active BBS with multiple real life opponents.

If you really want to give it a shot, look for a zip file starting with MCRACE. With all the BBS CDs that are available through textfiles.com or even archive.org now, it shouldn’t be hard to find. The registered version, however? That’s a completely different story.

Here’s a video of the gameplay in action… and as you will see, it was not without tragedy…

Yolanda

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Yolanda

Today is review a bad game day, a day I’ve been dreading. Mainly because I’m not only bad at reviews of good games, I’m even worse at writing reviews of bad games! Confused? Then we’re off to a good start. I had a few choices for this review, all on the Amiga, Rise of the Robots (1994) for one, a game called Graffiti Man (1987), andBattletoads (1992), another disappointing arcade conversion for the Amiga.

yolanda

However, the game that stuck in the back of my mind was Yolanda(1990), no matter how many bad games I started to remember playing this one always seemed to be at the top of that list. You play as Yolanda, the mortal daughter of Hercules, cursed by a jealous Hera because of her beauty, the only way to lift the curse (any man Yolanda falls in love with will die) is to repeat the 12 tasks of Hercules. To be honest on the box this sounds like a pretty neat idea for a game.

yolanda

The game play is platform based on a single screen, and as soon as it starts it looks like it could be quite an enjoyable game; platforms in place, check, enemies present, check, protagonist standing heroically, check. However, a few seconds after the level starts the platform beneath you either gives way or bursts into flames. Um, right… try again? Sure, why not. Level re-starts… hey wait… this isn’t the same lev….. Poompf. Arrrgghhh!!! (Ed – expletive replaced with generic sound of frustration). This is pretty much a summary of how most of the game will go for any player, novice or pro. You have to learn quickly that you only have a few meager seconds to move off of the platform you start on otherwise you will instantly perish in fiery style.

yolanda

However, once you’ve mastered the initial ‘avoid fiery death’ you have the rest of the level to deal with. The objective for each level is simple (although I’m still not sure how any of it relates to the 12 tasks of Hercules), you must reach the exit door, which initially appears as a creature of some kind and then changes to a door once you’re on the move. The phrase easier said than done has never been more relevant in this game. Two main reasons are the poor controls (once you’ve jumped you cannot maneuver or change direction) as well as the terrible collision detection. Once you’re hit by an enemy you will die instantly, and the level re-starts, but as mentioned before, it is not always the same level.

yolanda

The two problems above don’t even come close to the major issue this game has, which drops the playability down into a minus score. If you’re lucky enough to time a jump properly, and avoid any enemies, you may still not make it. Without any clues to guide you, platforms will disappear or burst into flames as soon as you land on them, leading to certain death. (Ed – meh, more like instant death ‘every’ time). Each level is like this. You have to memorize and learn the traps and pitfalls of each level, some of which can be completed but most (if not all) seem virtually impossible due to their randomness.

yolanda

Sometimes there is a fine line between a game being difficult, and a game being unplayable. I believe the controls and buggy game play ofYolanda land it squarely in the latter. Every level needs to be learned, every jump timed perfectly, every platform memorized. However, even if you do all this some levels are just impossible to complete, alongside the random level select it makes the game very hard to play and very very frustrating.

yolanda

When I first played this (budget version, £7.99) I really looked forward to it, the blurb and the box art sold the game to me, even the title screen and music I remember fondly. The title screen artwork and the music remind me a lot of The Great Giana Sisters, which I really like. The graphics aren’t so bad either, however, none of these elements can make up for the fact the game is terrible. I personally don’t think it went through enough, if any, play testing, otherwise I think they would have gone back to it and created a half decent platformer. For a commercially released game it feels poorly made and unfinished, I’m surprised it received reviews of above 20% back in the day.

Thanks for reading this review, take a peek at some of the links below for more information on Yolanda! Given some of the original retail prices for this game I’m glad I paid the £7.99 rather than the £24.99.

Information:

Lemon Amiga page for Yolanda, game info and screen shots.

Reviews:

Review of Yolanda from Amiga Action 12 (Sep 1990)

Game Rating: 70%

Cost: £19.99

Review of Yolanda from Amiga Format 15 (Oct 1990)

Game Rating: 49%

Cost: £24.99

Review of Yolanda from The One for Amiga Games 38 (Nov 1991)

Game Rating: 4/5

Cost: £7.99

Interstate ’76

Interstate_76

Interstate ’76

Oh yes, A lot of people that know me, tend to forget that I was once deeply involved in what I consider to be the dark ages of my gaming journey. The PC-gaming era.. It wasn’t all bad, it started great with the DOS/Windows 3.1 era where I didn’t have to worry about performance of games or anything, as I was still getting used to the simple factor of console gaming (I sold my SNES to put towards a 486 DX4 100Mhz with 8MB RAM, a 1MB video card and 540MB storage 1995), all I had to worry about was fuffing around with autoexec.bat and config.sys.

Interstate_76

As soon as Windows 95 came out and changed the way we played games on the PC, especially when developers started to make games to run in Windows, it was saying goodbye to command line interfaces, and hello to icon-doubleclicking. Interstate ‘76 was one of many titles which will always remind me of the better times of PC gaming. Even though I was trying to run a game which required a Pentium 90 with 16MB RAM.

Interstate_76

i76, released originally in 1997 was based on the same game engine used in Mechwarrior 2, which was yet another classic DOS series.

Interstate_76

The game is set in the mid 1970’s where there was an oil crisis in the United States. You play as Groove Champion, the main antagonist (who is set out to find out who killed your sister), alongside with your partner Taurus and the mechanic Skeeter. The story unravels more to find that the villains have a plot to destroy the main oil supplies across the US and Groove alongside with Taurus have to stop them.

Interstate_76

As I said, i76 is based on the Mechwarrior 2 engine, meaning you drive around in 70’s muscle cars armed to the teeth with guns/missiles/etc, with full customisation on what weapons are used as well as the working condition of them (as you get to salvage car parts from missions after destroying enemy vehicles).

Interstate_76

If there was one thing I was fearing before getting this game as of late, as well as back in 1997, was how on earth was I going to control a car with a keyboard? Well I was actually quite impressed with the controls considering that a keyboard is digital and well steering wheels generally are analogue. No, the controls are great in this game, I’m really impressed. Graphics were typical of what to expect from the late 90’s as shown below in the screenshots:

Interstate_76

The cutscenes are minimalistic yet adding a style which works for such a game.

Interstate_76

And the soundtrack is amazing, composed by Arion Salazar, who of course is the founding member of Third Eye Blind. Very funky and a strong 70’s feel to the music. Here’s an example of the Title song:

Interstate_76

The Nitro pack, which is the mission pack that comes with the i76 pack you get from GOG, puts you back further in time where you play as Taurus and Skeeter alongside Groove’s sister Jade before she was murdered, and in this mission pack it focuses more on the many auto-gangs in the desert.

Interstate_76

Considering the amount of levels you get, the customisability of your vehicle (for single player AND multiplayer), to get the Interstate ‘76 Arsenal pack for US$6.00 is, well.. there’s no excuses to not add this to the collection once again. This is a fantastic re-port of a classic Windows 95 title, which now works on XP, Vista and Windows 7 also. For this review, I ran i76 on VMware Fusion for OSX in a Windows XP Virtual Machine. End result was perfect and performance was not an issue on a 2GHz+ iMac.

Blade Runner

BladeRunner_PC

Blade Runner

Everybody has seen the movie (I hope) however there is a great game also with the Blade Runner logo on it , released in 1997, it follows the Blade Runner Ray McCoy. It is set in the same universe as the Blade Runner movie but it follows a story of it’s own, although many characters of the movie appear in the game as well.
What is Blade Runner
BladeRunner_PC
Blade Runner is a Point and Click adventure game by Westwood studios that was released back in 1997. Unlike the movie, the game follows Blade Runner Ray McCoy who is trying to hunt down a group of replicants. It is one of the first 3D adventure games ever and it does a great job of telling us a side-story inside the Blade Runner universe.
Why it’s Great
BladeRunner_PC
Because it is set in the Blade Runner universe and it has it’s own story, it references many parts of the movie and back in the day it was 4 cd disks. Oh did I mention that it has thirteen possible endings?

Where you can get it

BladeRunner_PC
I tried to do a research for a place that can be selling the Blade Runner game, unfortunately I was only able to find it only at the standard places that you find great games nobody wants to remake or republish:
Buy it at Amazon
Buy it at Ebay


“I was just finishing up my twelfth hour on patrol when I got the call. Welcome relief considering that the most action I had seen all night was a schizoid grandmother doing the shimmy in her underwear in the second sector.”

Ray McCoy

Spellbound Dizzy

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Spellbound Dizzy

Developed and published in 1992 by Codemasters Spellbound Dizzy is just one game in a long series of egg related shenanigans involving the Yolkfolk (this time with the help of Theo the Wizard). Each game follows the usual set of rules and gameplay, (puzzle solving platformer with inventory menu and dodgy music) but each retaining its own unique charm. The series was originally developed by the Oliver twins, two British brothers, Philip and Andrew Oliver, who started to professionally develop computer games while they were still at school. However, they had little involvement with this title other than signing the game off and letting Big Red Software take over the design and development aspects of the game.

Spellbound_Dizzy

The game itself is well drawn and immediately boasts about its size *cough* but never really gets further than that in the interesting stakes. The graphics are bright and colorful, the usual combination of cartoonish scenery and well drawn objects throughout.

Spellbound_Dizzy

However, compared to earlier games, this one seems inferior in design and presentation, even with the extra animation scenes such as Dizzy becoming stunned, swimming and the mine cart.

Spellbound_Dizzy

Spellbound Dizzy does feature some minor differences in game play from other Dizzy games; fruit and cakes are dotted around to restore energy, water doesn’t kill instantly, although without the aqua lung drowning is inevitable, and the mushrooms (magic?) are spinny objects that can propel Dizzy to greater heights, allowing him to reach unseen platforms and the odd cloud. Unfortunately these minor differences in game play don’t really make up for the lack of storytelling (it’s nice to have a little bit), puzzles that don’t seem to make much sense, and some very irritating music.

Spellbound_Dizzy

Long and ever so slightly dull (being generous) the Dizzy games seem to work best when they are kept simple and short, this makes them a lot more fun to play as opposed to (an hour in) switching the music off and wanting to throw Dizzy from a great height shouting “Survive that!”

Spellbound_Dizzy

As much as I love other Dizzy games this one didn’t work for me, childhood memories tell me it was a lot more fun ‘back in the day’, in my opinion there are better games in the series, Fantasy World Dizzy (1991), Magicland Dizzy (1991), that are genuinely still fun to play as an adult.

Need more Dizzy? Visit this  fan site for more info!

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

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Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

Plot: Arrakis, also known as Dune, is a planet rich in the valuable resource known as the spice melange, a rare resource that has caused 3 armies of the galaxy to battle for control over the planet. A challenge is set by the Emperor Frederick IV of the house Corrino to the other houses of Atreides, Harkonnen, and the Ordos to see who can harvest the most spice and therefore win control of the planet.

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

Review: Dune II: Battle for Arrakis is a far cry from its predecessor; its only comparison is that it is a game based on Dune. This sequel is a completely different type of game sharing; no story-line or game play, but is in fact an RTS game released in 1992 by the legendary Westwood Studios who also brought us Command and Conquer.

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

The player must select one of these 3 houses to begin playing. Each house is represented by a mentor who guides you through the basics of the game, structure building, placing, harvesting and building vehicles. Each mentor is characterized by its house, the creepy yet powerful Harkonnen, the noble and advanced Atreides, and, err, the Ordos (a race created for the game, the one no-one really likes to use).

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

The game starts off easy at level 1 (as you would expect) and your mentor takes you through the basics with a few minor attacks for you to defend against. The game then progresses each time you defeat the enemy (or in the earlier levels have harvested the required amount of spice). Credits are accumulated through harvesting the orange spice field on the map and returning the full harvester to the refinery, credits can then be exchanged in the usual manner for new buildings, defenses and vehicles.

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

The game is played over 9 levels, perhaps it doesn’t sound like much but the later levels require skill and patience to beat. Your enemies appear in the form of the 2 remaining armies you didn’t select at the start, later levels sees you pitted against both armies as they team up against you, the final twist coming in the last level when the 2 remaining houses and the forces of the Emperor’s Sardaukar (an unplayable elite force whose heavy infantry are particularly powerful) must all be defeated in one last epic battle.

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis

Even though the buildings style and appearance remain the same for each house (apart from the color) they each have their own special units, such as the Harkonnen heavy-duty Devastator tank, and the powerful Sonic Tank of the Atreides. The Ordos use the Deviator, a rocket launcher like tank that can change the alliance of any unit it hits for a limited period of time. Like modern RTS games you can take over buildings and build units of other armies as well as defend with walls, turrets and rocket turrets. As the game moves up through the levels you gain more advanced technologies, the final super weapon becoming available in the final levels through building the Palace. This provides the Harkonnen with a “nuke” type weapon known as the Death Hand, the Atreides can call on the help of the native warriors of Dune known as the Fremen and the Ordos rely on the Saboteurs to achieve their goals.

Dune II: Battle for Arrakis
Conclusion: Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis contains all those things we love in the modern RTS and can be seen as the father of all things war like and destructive. Take your combat tanks and siege tanks proudly into war (never mind how slow they’re moving) and watch out for sand worms (players claim the sand worms are not biased but I’ve lost more tanks to them in one level than the enemy). Dune II is one of Westwood’s greats and an inspiration for the beginning of the Command and Conquer series released by Westwood in 1995. Recent RTS games, (ignoring the heavy emphasis on graphics, movie style clips and network/internet gaming) still takes its basic style of game play of base and army building, unique super weapons and vehicles, and the collection of resources to fund this, from Westwood’s original classic.

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto

The first Grand Theft Auto was created back in 1997 from DMA Design and I am proud to say the most hated sentence…. “I was playing GTA before it was cool”. The original game was a comedic action, driving free roamer with a top-down view. Unlike later installments of the game (except GTA 2) the game was actually a score-attack like game where you were stealing vehicles and murdering people, earning points in the process
Grand Theft Auto
Why it’s Great
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto gave birth to one of the biggest (if not the biggest) franchises today for Rockstar and like Carmageddon 2 it was the subject of major controversy when it was released. Unlike Carmaggedon the franchise is still alive today and has produced millions of.. MONEY for the publishers , it is a blast to play and despite it’s age it still remains amazingly enjoyable until today.


Where you can get it
You can download the game for free here.

The Dig

the dig

The Dig

The Dig was released -after many a delay- in 1995 by Lucasarts and, despite failing to be a spectacular critical and commercial hit, should be considered one of the company’s most impressive offerings. Actually, I’d easily classify it as one of my all time favorite adventures and one of the few truly successful attempts at proper video game science fiction. What’s more, it still looks stunning and even has a whole museum (which, among other things, details The Dig‘s incredible development history) dedicated to its glorious, digital self.

Civilization II

Civilization II

Civilization II

Just a quickie (oooo er) about Civilization II. After much twittering about this game the other day I decided to dust off my old PC copy and play it again. I found the disc in amongst a few other classics neatly stored away in a disc holder. Afraid it wouldn’t work (the disc looks pretty beaten up) I proceeded to install, it worked fine. First thing I noticed was that it was quite refreshing to install such a playable game that quickly, less than a minute from install to loading up (and not a sign of a game update required). I dove straight in to the action.

Civilization II

I made a custom world, medium map, played at prince level and stupidly selected the raging hordes for barbarians, I played against 4 other civilizations. I selected to be the Romans myself, so I could employ the unfunny name of ‘Naughtius Jamesius’, some things never change. The game started well until I realized I’d completely forgotten how to play, tactics and strategies were absent from the beginning and soon the 4 other civilizations were ploughing ahead with warfare, advancing technology and building wonders of the world. My only saving grace was the fact my people seemed to like me, therefore I could address my fellow leaders from a throne instead of a rock.

Civilization II

30 minutes into the game and the other civilizations knew I was weak (I didn’t need the pop up report to tell me that – puny Romans), it was time to make alliances and play dirty, let’s just say the Persians and Greeks had no idea what was coming and would pay for their earlier mockery. Triumphs however were short-lived, 2 hours later I was destroyed by the Vikings, Mongols and eh, barbarians. The score I reached really isn’t worth mentioning here. Still, the time playing this flew by and it is still an amazing amount of fun, I’ll be playing again over the weekend (now I’ve had a warm up game), so hopefully it’ll go a bit better next time.

Definitely one of my all time favorite turn based strategy games, I still prefer this version than some of the later Civilization games, just as addictive as it was back then too.

Syndicate

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Syndicate

 

I’ve always been interested in politics and, well, power. I distinctly remember aged 7 or 8 explaining to a classmate that Margaret Thatcher was a Prime Minister, not a President as Britain didn’t have Presidents. When I was given the action figure of Hordak (main villian of She-Ra and former mentor of Skeletor of course) I considered the ramifications amongst the villians of suddenly having the old boss back. Who would they back? Could Skeletor be deposed? Could civil war break out on Snake Mountain?

I was an odd child in many ways.

By the time I was 13 I had started to think about how power should be used and, most importantly, who should be in charge. My conclusion? That I should be in charge. Yes, me. Sadly at 13 I realised I was some time away from seizing power. Sorry, did I say seizing? I obviously meant to say ‘become politically active, maybe getting involved in local politics or something’…

While I waited to get old enough to fulfil my political destiny I played games that seemed to have a political or, ahem, power-hungry bent. CivilizationCommand & ConquerColonizationRise of Nations, and, the subject of this post,Syndicate.

syndicate-amiga
See my Empire grow… Ooo har har har!

Syndicate is set in a Blade Runner-esque future where nation states and governments have been replaced by corrupt corporations. The people have been numbed into submission by having a chip inserted into their heads which alters reality, making them see a world of sunshine and lollipops rather than the dystopian nightmare it actually is. Imagine the iPhone ten years from now.

Rather than make you a freedom fighter or something similar (booooooooring),Syndicate puts you at the head of one of these naughty businesses. The aim of the game is to forcibly take over all other rival corporations – effectively take over the world. You do this by sending a team of four heavily armed cyborgs into various global hotspots to commit sabotage, oppression and bit of old-fashioned political assassination. Successfully complete the mission and a chunk of the world would become yours. It certainly puts the aggressive in ‘aggressive takeover’.

syndicate-amiga
A rival suffers from an unfortunate ‘accident’.

Each mission takes place in a city. One of the most impressive things aboutSyndicate, especially considering when it came out, is the way each level felt like a real city. Yes, they all look the same, but they seem like living, breathing places. Police are patrolling the streets, cars and trains are moving around the place and people are going about their daily business. Well, they were going about their daily business until cyborgs got in the way.

syndicate-amiga
Sorry everyone, boss says I’ve got to clear the area.

Of course you didn’t just have to kill people, you could also hypnotize them, kidnap them and turn them into cyborgs to use in future missions. You could raise taxes in each territory you owned and invest those funds in weapon research and upgrading your cyborgs, giving them fancy new legs, skin and eyes.

syndicate-amiga
We can rebuild him…

The great thing about Syndicate was, though simple to play, it had a surprising amount of depth. It wasn’t a case of just shooting everything that moved (though there was thankfully a lot of that) but also managing your resources. The way each of your cyborg agents reacted in missions could be altered by adjusting their IPA (Intelligence, Perception and Adrenaline). Raise taxes too sharply and you might have a rebellion on your hands in your territory. Want more intelligence before you start a mission? OK, but that info will cost you money.

There’s something about seeing the colour of your empire slowly spread across the map of the world that is just so appealing. Every time you successfully completed a mission you saw the cut scene below. I never got tired of watching it.

syndicate-amiga
In the manual it explains that like all power mad villains your base of operations is an airship. Oh yes!

 

Unfortunately, for various reasons I never played either of the follow ups – ‘American Revolt‘ (an expansion pack for the original game) and Syndicate Wars, a full sequel released on the Playstation and PC in 1996. I would love an updated version though. Even though it’s not something I ever do, an onlineSyndicate would be awesome, especially as the world of Syndicate seems to get a bit closer every day…

Ian

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

Street Fighter

Welcome aboard the Crapsville Express. Last time, Hard Drivin’ was served up as a turd for Review A Bad Game Day – this year the gong goes to another coin-op conversion.

Street_Fighter_1-c64

Game: Street Fighter
Genre: 
Fighting
Format:
 C64
Year: 1988
Publisher: GO!
Developer: Tiertex

Street Fighter

Prior to the sublime ‘Street Fighter II: The World Warrior’ SNES home conversion, there was the abhorrent C64 fighting game’ Street Fighter’.

Where does one even start with this game? For those of you not familiar with the series, ‘Street Fighter’ made its debut in the arcades in 1987. On the back of its success, the home version quickly followed on all conceivable platforms of the time, including the C64.

Street_Fighter_1-c64

Tiertex brought this foul stench of a fighting game to our trusty and much loved 8-bit home computer. I suspect the coding was done by a drunk programmer or their pet monkey. How this passed any quality assurance testing is beyond my comprehension. Anyway, on with the review…

‘Street Fighter’, as you may have guessed, is based on Capcom’s 1987 arcade game. You enter the worldwide martial arts tournament as Ryu and fight opponents from across the globe in order to become the street fighting champion. Ryu’s fighting arsenal is made up of various punches and kicks – that’s it (no special attacks!). Each battle has timed rounds; the winner being the last fighter standing. After each battle, Ryu competes in bonus rounds, smashing bricks to earn extra points.

Street_Fighter_1-c64

If you manage to bribe a friend to play ‘Street Fighter’, you could have yourself a two-player grudge match – Ryu vs Ken. The winner proceeds to take on the computer-controlled fighters, while the loser is subjected to watching this dreadful game being played – even the CIA plays by fairer rules of torture!

Street_Fighter_1-c64

The graphics are childish and messy – they do nothing to show off the C64’s abilities. The fighters tend to clash with the background. I reckon I could have drawn better sprites and backgrounds with crayons! ‘How about the sound?’ you may ask – let’s not even go there if you like your hearing the way it is. The effects and tunes are better suited for an Atari 2600 game, not a game that should be taking advantage of the C64’s SID chip. The clincher of this turdfest is the control – before there was button mashing, there was joystick and wrist breaking. The control is absolutely abysmal, by the time you attempt to pull off an attack; it is already too late, game over (which is probably a good thing!).

Street_Fighter_1-c64

The C64 had quite a few poor arcade conversions in its time, and sadly ‘Street Fighter’ makes this list. Had it not been for the stinker Hard Drivin’, this would have been number 1 in Crapsville. Play it at your peril!

GraphicsCrappy sprites with even crappier backgrounds.

15%

SoundTurn down the volume on your TV, I am warning you!

10%

PlayabilityLaughable. Apart from the terrible look and sound of this game, the controls let it down big time.

5%

LastabilityIt will last as fast as you can turn off your C64.

2%

OverallStay away! This is another poor C64 arcade conversion. If you want to play a great fighting game on your C64, try International Karate!

9%

 

 

Journey’s End

Format: Spectrum Genre: Adventure Released: 1985 Developer: Games Workshop

Nothing lasts forever. Here we are then, at game number 101. The last in our (not really) definitive list of games that made our lives slightly better. What game do you pick to adequately round off this 3 year journey? How can you represent 100 entries, thousands of words and several podcasts?

We’ve been through a lot on 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. Doing this blog has been fun, has brought friends together and has given Lew and myself a great sense of achievement. At times it’s also been frustrating, has caused arguments, has been distinctly annoying and seemingly never-ending, and there have been long periods where nothing has really happened. Our final game was all those things for me, plus its name is perfect for the last post (natch). We have reached our Journey’s End.

journeys-end-spectrum

My best friend for most of my childhood was a guy called Tony. Between the ages of 9 and 16 we saw each other pretty much every day. We lived on the same road, walked to school together and were in the same class at school. During the school holidays we would hang out together along with my younger brother. When you’re 10 years old, school holidays seem to last forever and we were often bored and struggled to think of things to do. Things got pretty desperate at times; one holiday I’m pretty sure we went to Woolworths every single day just to look at the videos and toys, never buying anything. Those were the days eh?

Tony had an old Spectrum (a hand me down from his older brother I think) and we used to dig that out and play on it, especially if it was pouring with rain outside. Even back then the Spectrum was pretty old fashioned, but we had no other options. I may be wrong but I think Tony didn’t own any two player games either. We were forced to play collectively, with one person controlling the game while the other two gave advice. This was surprisingly fun and kept us occupied for hours at a time. By far our favourite game to play this way was Journey’s End.

journeys-end-spectrum
To the castle comrades! Just to warn you it’s further away than it looks…

Journey’s End was a fantasy game, featuring the usual fantasy tropes – bands of warriors, spells, dragons, goblins (or was it orcs?) and so on. The game stood out by being split into four distinct parts which all played quite differently. It was also a long game. A very long game. So it was the perfect distraction to fill those long summer holidays.

Everything about the game took time. To begin with, of course, you had to load the game. It’s an obvious point to make but it did take aaaaages to play a Spectrum game. I remember we would sit there waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a game to load. Or should I say try to load? Often games would crash half-way through loading so you would have to start again. I’m sure Journey’s End often did that. It was quite possible to spend 45 minutes just trying to start a game. Looking back it absolutely amazes me that two 10 year olds and a 7 year old had that level of patience.

journeys-end-spectrum
Here you can see all the gems, pots of gold and potions. But you can’t see the stupid invisible traps.

The first part of Journey’s End was set in a maze. You would move around, exploring more of the maze until you found a key and a gate to escape. There were gold, gems and potions to find as well. Unfortunately there were also traps. Stupid, invisible, impossible-to-avoid traps. One of the most frustrating things about the maze was that you would only find the traps once you had set them off. The mazes were randomly generated and there was no logic behind where the traps were so it was sheer luck whether you ran into them. Not only that, occasionally you had strength points taken off because of a trap your character had fallen into during the bit between mazes, when you weren’t even controlling him. IT WAS INFURIATING. But we played it all the same.

journeys-end-spectrum
ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

After a certain amount of mazes (again it seemed random the number you would have to tackle) you start the second part of Journey’s End: recruiting your band of warriors, wizards and warlocks (I know warlocks and wizards are kind of the same thing, I just wanted to use another ‘w’ word).

journeys-end-spectrum

Using the treasure you found in the mazes you recruit a group of men to come on the quest with you. Not enough gold? Well make some on the rat races!

journeys-end-spectrum
Just like my old Grandad used to say, always bet on the Green Rat.

Being 10 year old boys we particularly enjoyed renaming the mercenaries so they had stupid and/or rude names. As a 31 year old man I suspect I would still find that funny.

journeys-end-spectrum
After advertising this is all I got. Rubbish!

Once you’ve got your gang together it’s time to go to the enchanted castle where the ‘Elixir of Hagar’ is being guarded by a giant dragon. How exciting! Oh, first you’ve got to get there.

Yes the third part of the game was you making your way to the castle. It’s actually quite similar to walking around the map in Final Fantasy 7, with the same random annoying fights. It’s this stage of the game that I really remember. The image of Tony, my brother and I, sitting on a large cushion transfixed in front of the TV, using the cursor keys to sloooowly move our group up the map while being watched by Tony’s haughty cat Claude is burned onto my mind’s eye. That stage was hard and often we wouldn’t reach the castle. The battles would pick off your men one by one, it was easy to get lost, and of course there was always the danger that the game would crash.

journeys-end-spectrum
So here we go. Easy right. Nope.

Looking back, this stage of the game does successfully recreate the feel of the first Lord of the Rings book, which emphasises just how far the Fellowship of the Ring actually have to travel. The problem is, while a book can use that time to concentrate on character, and while a film can distract you with flashy CGI and battles, a 1985 Spectrum game can only recreate the feeling of travelling nowhere fast. Again, the patience we had was incredible.

journeys-end-spectrum
Thrilling action from the map screen.

If you did manage to survive the random battles, find the bridge to take you over the river and then find the castle itself, you could move on to the fourth and final part of the game – the Dragon’s Castle.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about this stage as we rarely reached the castle. Even if we had got through the previous three stages without dying, by the time we got to the castle it was usually dinner time and my brother and I had to go home.

The couple of times we did get there though it seemed impossibly hard. I think we reached the Dragon once, but by then our party’s strength had been massively depleted, and we had used all our spells so there was little we could do.

Despite all of this we loved the game, and I think there was more to this adoration than just being able to call one of your warriors Arsebum. The very fact the pace of the game was so slow allowed Tony, my brother and myself to play it together. We gave our characters personalities, argued over the way to go, shouted at the TV in unified anger when we had tripped over an invisible bit of stone in the maze losing 5 strength points, laughed at each other’s jokes during the dull slog looking for the Bridge across the river and cheered when we found the castle. We may have never actually reached the End but the Journey was fun in itself.

journeys-end-spectrum
Saw this screen a lot.

Speaking of endings, we’re at the end of this post and this blog. Well, we do have two more podcasts to come about games that didn’t quite make the magic 101, but our list of games is now complete. For those who have read/listened to all 101 posts I hope you enjoyed them and Lew and I would like to think that the blog has made your lives (very, very, very slightly) better. Or at the very least not worse.

Every ending is a new beginning though and our new project will be launched sometime in the summer. Hope you can join us on that journey too.

One last thing before I go: fancy playing Journey’s End? Then go here for this excellent repository of old Spectrum games. Isn’t the internet marvellous?

Battle Chess

battlechess

Battle Chess

I barely remember this one but it was in a way the first PC game I ever played and  that is why I am putting it here. Of course today there are countless chess games for the PC but this one was my first and I still remember how entertaining it was to watch the battles play out in front of your screen

What is Battle Chess

battlechess

Battle Chess is obviously a chess game developed and released way back in 1988. The cool thing about it was that all the pawns where animated and you could see them killing each other in interesting and funny ways. When I was playing it I was still a kid so I didn’t know what I was doing but I was trying desperately to discover all the killing animations that were available.

Why it’s Great
battlechessIts a nostalgia thing I guess but you can’t deny that it’s cool to watch the pieces come to life to kill each other (maybe I have low entertainment standards)

Where you Can Get it

You can find the special edition at Gog.com, the special edition includes the original Battle Chess, Battle Chess 2: Chinese Chess and Battle Chess 4000, if you are interested you can buy it HERE

Stunt Car Racer

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Stunt Car Racer

Format: Amiga Genre: Racing Released: 1989 Developer: MicroStyle

 

Bizarrely, the inaugural post on this blog is for a racing game. Bizarre because generally I don’t actually like racing games that much; yet, when I think about it, the two or three that I’ve really enjoyed (Ridge Racer, Burnout 3, Gran Turismo) probably rank up there as some of my favourite game experiences, and Stunt Car Racer certainly deserves a special mention.

Most racing games before the mid-nineties were pretty rubbish. It was only with the 3D revolution that racing games really reached their full potential – before that it was all stripey grey race tracks and simplistic leftright leftright holddownthebutton gameplay (try playing a game like Lotus Challenge now and I guarantee the nostalgia won’t last beyond a couple of pixellated crash barriers). However, Stunt Car Racer WAS in 3D at a time when perhaps only a handful of games were, and what’s more it used the 3D space in a way that few games have, before or since.

stunt_car_racer

The raison d’etre of Stunt Car Racer is the tracks – glorious, insane, rollercoaster-like tracks that leave you gripping the joystick for dear life as you hurtle through the air after burning up impossible ramps, then gritting your teeth as you plummet back down, engine still racing, the screen cartwheeling as you miss the track by inches and smash into the dirt below with a bone-shattering crunch. At a time when racing meant dodging in and out of identical 2D cars, Stunt Car Racer did vertical – and how. There was even a loop-the-loop…

stunt_car_racer

The key thing about all this vertical fun was the ever-present sense of danger – there were no barriers to any of the tracks, so you always felt that just one small slip of the wrist could send you hurtling into the abyss, costing you valuable time as your stricken vehicle is winched back onto the track and, more importantly, causing potentially race-ending damage to your car. Above all, it was the intense adrenalin rush this caused that is my stand-out memory of the game; that and the excellent two player mode (only available over a link cable, but more than worth the considerable hassle of stringing together several wires and tellies).

I sold my Amiga recently (sacrilege I know), but I booted up Stunt Car for one last go before I carted the whole lot off to Mr Ebay. It’s lost none of it’s charm: sure, the graphics are basic (even for the time) and there’s only one other car on the track at any one time (believe it or not, that blocky red thing in the screenshot is a car), but it still retains an impressive sense of speed and danger as you hurtle round those suicide bends.

The creator of the game, Geoff Crammond (dubbed ‘Sir’ by Amiga Power), later went on to create the seminal Formula One Grand Prix series on the Amiga, but I’ll always remember him for this classic game. Nice one Sir Geoff.

Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now

Carmageddon II

Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now

I am ashamed to admit it but the truth is that I have never played the original Carmageddon, what I do remember however is the hours I spent murdering people with my red shiny car listening to Iron Maiden’s Aces High and the Trooper.
Carmageddon II
What is Carmadeddon II
Carmageddon  II is a racing game (kind-of), a racing game that you get points from running over people and destroying your competitors with the most violent and creative ways. In this spirit, there where three win conditions for any level in the game, win the race, destroy all opponents or kill all pedestrians.
Carmageddon II
Why it’s Great
It is great because this game was criticised like few when it first came out for the violence it contained that according to parents at the time would turn us all into killing machines by the age of 18… I haven’t still killed a person and I had a blast with the game. although from what I know in some countries the changed the pedestrians to animals or aliens for that same reason.
Carmageddon II
Where you Can Get It

Good question, I know Amazon has some but if you know more places that sell it please let me know.

 

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

Wonderland

Wonderland

Wonderland

“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this installment: Wonderland, an adventure game developed by the British game developer Magnetic Scrolls and published by Virgin Games in 1990.

Wonderland

Wonderland was a game set in the Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland mythos. You played Alice as she made her way through the bizarre Wonderland landscape, solving puzzles and enduring plenty of puns. However, the plot of the game did not follow that of the book, although familiar characters, such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, and the Red Queen all appeared to delight the player (or confound them).  However, only the characters from Alice in Wonderland appeared; there were no characters or scenes from the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass (which meant no Tweedledum and Tweedledee!).  Even so, there were still around 110 locations to explore in all their surreal glory.

Wonderland

Magnetic Scrolls developed an interesting game engine called “Magnetic Windows” which they used for Wonderland. Rather than one game screen, Magnetic Windows permitted several game screens to be opened at once (much like Microsoft Windows), and each window could be moved or resized as needed. So a player could have their inventory screen, a screen with details about a particular object, the game map, a specific room item list, a compass, a help menu, the main screen with a graphic, and more all open at once. Particularly enjoyable for those who tired of the constant switch between game map – inventory – action screen that most games used.

Wonderland

Wonderland received generally good reviews: “…very simply, it’s fun stuff to play” (Computer Game Review, June 1991); “Wonderland has shown me that the adventure-game genre is alive and growing” (Compute!, August 1991);  ”an atmospheric and cerebellum-crushing adventure game…“  (Amiga Power, June 1991).  It was (and is!) an enjoyable romp through a classic landscape. It doesn’t have much repeat play value, but being of the adventure game genre, it’s not really fair to expect it to. For those who have never parsed a text, give Wonderland a chance to show you what gaming was like twenty years ago!

Theme Hospital

Theme Hospital

This game comes from the golden era of Bullfrog where single player simulation games where indeed single player. In Theme Hospital you control and develop your own hospital, find cures to deceases and strive to keep the Grim Reaper away from your corridors.
Theme_Hospital

 

What is Theme Hospital

 

Like it’s mentioned above Theme Hospital is a classic hospital management “simulator” for the pc which was released back in 1997. You manage your hospital, you hire doctors, nurses, janitors and receptionists, you build diagnosis and treatment rooms, you discover new deceases and cures and you are having fun the whole time.

 

Why it’s Great

Theme_Hospital

It is a very humorous and enjoyable game that will keep you occupied for hours upon hours with a huge amount of content and deceases to be treated. It has humour, strategy, micro-management andabove all it  is FUN (I sometimes find that newer games are struggling to achieve this last one)

 

Where you can get it

 

You are in luck! Unlike our previous “Classic PC Games you Should Play” This game is easy to find since it can be bought digitally from GOG.com (no DRM attached) at:


“Patients are asked not to die in the corridors” ~Receptionist

Grim Fandango

Grim-Fandango - PC

Grim Fandango

Tim Schafer is best known lately for the Doublefine Adventure Kickstarter project where he managed to get and spend a-ton of money for the development of his upcoming adventure game called Broken Age. But Tim Schafer’s greatest success in my honest opinion was and always will be Grim Fandango, an amazing game that didn’t manage to sell all that well when it was first released back in 1998.
What is Grim Fandango
Grim-Fandango - PC
Grim Fandango is a 3D Adventure Game with a Film Noir art-style inspired from the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead)  and it comes from the good old LucasArts era. It is Manny Calavera’s  4-year journey through the land of the dead to reach the 9th underworld where all the dead souls go to find eternal peace.
Why it is great
Grim-Fandango - PC
This game has an atmosphere unlike any other game I have ever played. The environments are great, the dialogues are amazing, the story is cool, the characters are interesting, the jokes are funny and Glottis is not too big the cars are just too small!
Where can you get it
Grim-Fandango - PC
It is a pretty difficult game to find, since during it’s release it didn’t sell all that much.
I have however found that there are some copies of Grim Fandango being sold on amazon for rediculous prices but can also be found used at ebay.
If you are interested in this game (and you should be) you can find it below:

Ebay – Grim Fandango

Amazon – Grim Fandango

“A ticket on the number 9 is like a leaf of gold Manuel”
Salvador Limones

Haunted Hill

haunted-hill-c64

Haunted Hill

With all the hubub about DRM and digital distribution of games, it’s real easy to forget that some platforms have been using the concept for DECADES.  One such platform was the Commodore 64, a system very near and dear to my heart.  And as such, I’d like to present a game that is similarly dear to me, as it’s one of the first games I ever played, Haunted Hill for the Commodore 64!

Written by George Richardson for Merlin’s Associates, its a simple Centipede style game released as a shareware title in 1983. But, as you’ll find out, it’s more than just that.

The Syberia Collection

Syberia-Collection

The Syberia Collection

With the advent and admitted affordability of downloadable games one can easily forget just how lovely a properly packaged offering can actually feel. Yes, even by today’s meager standards, the physicality of a box, a modest manual, a sleeve and an actual DVD can be rather satisfying. Especially when sporting a most affordable price tag, which, oh so conveniently, happens to be the case of the Syberia Collection.
Syberia-Collection
Said collection of the almost classic and definitely well known SyberiaSyberia II and Amerzone adventures, you see, is much cheaper to grab in a DVD-case than its online/download only equivalents, which does indeed confuse my vaguely economological mind, but definitely sounds great. Being thus confused and all, I do also believe the thing should have been called The Benoit Sokal Collection, as Amerzone most emphatically is not a Syberia game.
Syberia-Collection
Now, as most adventurers know, all three games are fine point-and-click specimens that managed to make an impression during the darkest period of the genre and are still absolutely worth playing and owning. Especially if one is into this sort of thing (i.e. considers oneself an adventure gamer), as all three have been designed with the traditonal point-and-click gamer in mind. The re-mastered versions included in the collection seem pretty much identical to the original ones, though I must admit I haven’t played those since their respective releases and can’t be absolutely sure whether minor enhancements have been included or not. What does matter though is that everything runs lovely and glitch-free under both Windows 7 and Vista, meaning that these are indeed the versions to own.
Syberia-Collection
As for the misguided souls that haven’t tried any of the games on offer yet, let me just say they all feature excellent art -Mr. Sokal is after all a most talented comic artist- classic gameplay mechanics, great soundtracks, mostly easy but well-integrated puzzles, traditional interfaces, brilliant settings and pretty decent plots. The two Syberias in particular are played from a third person perspective and take place in a whimsical clockwork-operated world, whereas the first-person Amerzone is set in a fantastical version of a thinly disguised Amazon rainforest.
Syberia-Collection
What’s more and judging by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed replaying all three of the games on offer, I must admit they have all aged gracefully. Might even have to accept the fact they are, despite their flaws, great adventures I would probably had appreciated more weren’t I comparing them to Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight III.

Verdict: A collection of three classic and traditional adventures at an excellent price. Genre lovers shouldn’t miss it.

LeMans

LeMans - Commodore 64Format: Commodore 64 (C64)
Media: Cartridge
Year: 1982
Developer: HAL Labratory, Inc.
Publisher: Commodore
Game Mode: Single Player

LeMans

Gentlemen, start your engines! How apt that I pull out the LeMans C64 cartridge on this day, the start of the 2013 Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix season. I am aware LeMans and F1 are two separate sanctioned sports, but hey, it is a racing game, and that is all there is to it. Perhaps I should have ripped out Checkered Flag on the Atari Lynx. I just have to stop second guessing myself and stick with this old game.

LeMans - Commodore 64

LeMans on the C64 is a top-down up-the-screen driving game, where you as the driver, must hit the pedal to the metal and drive to a never ending finish line. The goal of the game is to pass as many cars as you can. The more cars you overtake, the more points you earn. It’s not about the finish line in this game, it is all about accumulating the highest points score.The faster you go, the more points you earn – 2 points per metre to be exact. Every 10 cars passed you earn 1000 bonus points. Keep an eye on the countdown timer, as you will only get time extensions every 20,000 points. This is old school tough.

LeMans - Commodore 64

The strategy to doing well in LeMans is to drive as fast as you can for as long as you can, passing computer drivers (watch out as they veer in your path!) and traversing all kinds of terrain. The terrain sections in LeMans is what makes the game quite interesting – there are icy roads (your car slides as if it’s on skates), divided highways (squeezing into 2 lanes), night driving (relax, you have headlights) and the famous “LeMans Esses”.

LeMans - Commodore 64

Every time your car is hit by another vehicle or if you steer into the walls, your car turns into a wreck and you must “Pit” to the left as the on-screen message tells you to. This kills off precious seconds, so try and avoid hitting or being hit by cars and stop steering into walls. If you can avoid damage to your vehicle, then you will be well on your way to that precious high points score.

The only (fun) way to play this game is with the ‘Commodore Paddles’. The Paddles add to the playability of the game as you hold the accelerator button with your left thumb and steer with your right fingertips. There were no “steering wheel” contraptions for the C64 back in the day. The Paddles did (and still do) the job just right.

Well, enough of my ranting, I am off to play another game before the F1 race kicks off.

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