Pitstop II

Pitstop II

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

Pitstop II

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

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

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

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

RKS Score: 7/10

Happy Monster

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Happy Monster

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

Happy Monster

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

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

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

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

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

RKS Score: 5/10

 

Worms

Worms - PC - Gameplay screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RKS Score: 8/10

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

From all the games I have ever played, there is only one I have firmly associated with Christmas and the whole wintery festive period (I sadly don’t seem to particularly care for this one much anymore, what with me being an apparently empty/logical shell of a gnome and all). Said game is none other than The Adventures of Willy Beamish; a game designed by Jeff Tunnell, developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra back in the too distant sounding 1991. A game I was reading about in every gaming mag of the era, an expensive VGA offering in a big box, and a most excellent Xmas present by my parents.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I distinctly remember being incredibly excited about it, yet somehow carefully opening its box to discover a ton of 5.25″ disks, one of the best manuals ever designed, a Sierra catalog, some feelies of sorts and those amazing, colourful Willy Beamish stickers that ended up on my room’s door. I also remember waiting impatiently for what felt like ages for the game to install itself on my 40MB hard-drive and playing it for hours to the sounds of an old Platters LP. Hmm, this must be why I also associate this kind of music with the holiday season and, apparently, why I was listening to 50s music while photographing my dearest of all game boxes:
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
Interestingly though, I have never played the game since finally beating it later in 1992, admittedly with the help of a learned, yet younger, friend who I am sure must have gotten his hands on some sort of rare at the times walkthrough. But, why haven’t I played it again after all those years, then? Why have I abstained from its many charms? Well, truth is, I somehow feel I might just spoil its memory and have decided to only periodically re-read the manual. Besides, I do actually remember Willy Beamish pretty vividly.
 The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I remember its fantastic Dragon’s Lair-esque graphics; they were the first of their sort in a point-and-click adventure. I remember the stunning animations and (low-res, I’m afraid) cartoon quality cut-scenes. I remember the way it showcased the capabilities of my very first PC soundcard. I remember how the story of a nine year old boy trying to competitively play video games while avoiding parental troubles and getting the girl, somehow turned into a ghost infested attempt at foiling an evil corporation. I remember getting sent off to military school and dying a dozen lushly animated deaths. I remember cajoling my in-game parents and entering my frog into competitions. I remember exploring the sanitised darkness of 90s American suburbia and being both shocked and delighted. I remember enjoying the subtle humour. I remember getting hopelessly stuck, but, above all, I warmly remember loving it.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I also remember things I didn’t quite notice back then. I remember that Willy Beamish sported an incredibly simple (or elegant if you prefer) interface, one of the first ones to feature a smart cursor, yet remaining incredibly difficult. I remember the dead ends and pointlessly punishing arcade sequences too. And the fact that the trouble-meter was a very smart way of letting players know whether they were on the right track.

Then again, that’s enough with my memories. Anyone else care to reminiscent on the festive joys of gaming? Well, that’s what comments are for I suppose.

Paradroid

Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

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

Paradroid

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

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

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

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

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

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

RKS Score: 8/10

South Park

SouthPark

I wanted to do a review that had something do to with Thanksgiving even if it was a stretch and behold I found South Park. Published in 1999 from Acclaim this first person shooter features your four favorite characters from the show all voiced by the original actors, but sadly there is little else than that to mark as a bright spot for the game.

south_park_fps

The story is that a comet is heading towards South Park and apparently that has caused all kinds of crazy things to happen. From evil turkeys to living toys it is up to the boys to stop them. Now first off, the game at the time looked great and that is most likely because it was not too difficult from a programing standpoint to turn the 2D paper characters into 3D. Along with the bright colors of South Park the game at the time was a visual treat.

south park game turkey

During the single player campaign you are treated to cut screens featuring original dialog from many South Park notables including Chef who gives you your “mission briefings”.  Sadly, the first person aspect of the game is lacking. One reason is because even back then the AI was pretty weak. It was almost impossible to get taken out unless you got swarmed by a ton of enemies. The weapons were also way underpowered which makes sense considering they are kids, but so many of the enemies and especially the bosses took so many hits to kill it got boring real fast.

n64southpark

Another thing that gets old is the repetitive voices when running around in mission mode or multiplayer. At first it is cool to hear the characters react to being hit or finding things, but after hearing it 100 times you almost want to mute the game. One bright spot in the game for me personally was the multiplayer. Not because it was much better than the single player, but because of the dancing gun which you can see an example of in the video below.

The game was made on the Turok 2 engine and was released for the N64, Sony Playstation and what I played it on, the PC. South Park is just good enough to give it a run through once if nothing else than to experience the graphics and original dialog, oh and the dancing gun. Beyond that it was a weak shooter where most of the enemies ran straight at you and the boss had patterns a video gaming noob could detect. The game did feature the boys killing turkeys and having Thanksgiving dinner and so it has found a place as a legit Thanksgiving themed game.

Deathkeep

Deathkeep

As I prepared for the excruciating experience of preparing my entry into the Review a Bad Game Day worldwide self-flagellation exercise, I realized two key historical gaming themes: first, the rise of the 3D adventure was not without its failures along the way, and second, the history of putrid games released on the PC is an unfortunately long and varied one. My choice, the promisingly-titled first-person AD&D game, Deathkeep, is an evidential exhibit in both.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

To understand Deathkeep we need to journey back in time to 1987, when Strategic Simulations, Incorporated (SSI), was granted the AD&D license from TSR, Inc. The next seven years were wondrous for the PC Dungeons & Dragons player, as the company released many quality RPGs, beginning with the Gold Box series (of whichSecret of the Silver Blades remains my all-time favorite), the Eye of the Beholderseries, and the later SVGA games such as Menzoberranzan and the Ravenloftgames. I can recall many hours of gaming in the AD&D universe thanks to the talented development teams at SSI. Unfortunately, this review is not about one of those games.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The AD&D license expired in 1994, which meant that no new development of games using the AD&D ruleset could be initiated, but games already under production could finish their development cycle. This is how Deathkeep could stay alive and be released on April 30, 1996, a full two years after the license had expired. So between the extra time given to the game and the need to make it the crowning achievement – the legacy, as it were – of the SSI experience with the AD&D universe, you would expect this game to well-nigh pulse with energy while still in the box. You would certainly not expect what appeared to be a very late April Fool’s Day prank from the lads and lasses at SSI.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

The game begins with a brief semi-animated (mostly a slideshow that occasionally animates, similar to the early days of graphic adventures) which sets up the quest: Stop a generic AD&D villain from reacquiring his long-lost power by recovering three special Orbs from his ancient lair – his “Deathkeep” – which he raised amidst a Dwarven fortress, and deliver them to an ancient three-armed skeleton creature’s temple hidden within that same fortress. Well, not every game can have an interesting and creative storyline, and the hope of those starting the game was that perhaps the game itself would rise above the “every DM in the world has run this story” plot. Unfortunately, the opening sequence may have been the highlight of the game.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

 

The first real worry that this game might be broken comes immediately after the opening sequence, when you choose your character. Typically in a RPG, a player selects their gender, race, class, abilities, equipment, and so forth, customizing their character and giving it their own unique stamp. In Deathkeep, the game presents a total of THREE characters to choose from: a male Dwarven Fighter, a female Elven Mage, and a male Half-Elf Fighter/Mage. Astonishingly, that’s it. Not even a choice in gender for each character, so if you’re not into cross-dressing but you do like playing Mages, you’re out of luck. At least you could name your character.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

As for the gameplay itself, the control mechanism was efficient enough: you could opt to use your keyboard or your mouse for a full range of motions. Combat was handled by facing the creature you wanted to disappear and clicking on your mouse until it was gone. No real problem, aside from the incredibly chunky graphics, that is. Maps and inventory screens displayed in 640×480, but the game ran in 320×200, resulting in walls with very poor textures, and creatures that looked like they would be right at home in today’s Minecraft but with lower resolution. The whole game was just hard on the eyes, and considering the some of the amazing games that were released that same year, SSI really had no excuse.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

So why was Deathkeep such an embarrassment? The answer lies in the timing of the loss of the AD&D license and what system the game was originally designed to play on: the Panasonic 3DO. Deathkeep was first released for the 3DO in 1995, a full year before the Windows release. The 3DO was a 32-bit video game system whose core processor ran at 12.5 MHz, and whose video output was either 640×480 or 320×240 (on 60 MHz North America systems…50 MHz PAL versions ran much better graphics at 768×576 or 384×288). The game was simply ported over to Windows, with less than stellar results.  Of course, the game wasn’t all that good on the 3DO, either.

Deathkeep - pc game - gameplay screenshot

Here’s a little humorous tidbit of knowledge found in the game’s documentation for anyone wondering why I don’t have any screenshots of gameplay: Deathkeep does not permit Windows multi-tasking. Attempts at doing so exits the game. Not a single screenshot utility works, not the standard PrtScn/Paint combo, not Gadwin, not MWSnap, not Screen Rip32, nothing. Perhaps the developers wanted no visual evidence that might implicate them in this sorry mess of a PC-RPG, perhaps not. Truly this is a bad, bad game.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2ZKhaexa4E[/youtube]

Deathkeep was promoted as a 1st person 3D game set in the AD&D universe, with “…dungeon delving the way you like it – fast, furious and fun!”  I was one of the unfortunates who purchased the game upon its release (and still have it in my collection of AD&D PC games), and after revisiting it for this review, I am reminded of what I thought back in 1996: This game is neither fast, nor furious, nor fun. It’s games like this one that helped spawn the world-wide “Review a Bad Game Day” phenomena which hopefully will help gamers tell other gamers of some of the pitfalls that await them, while simultaneously presenting an opportunity for us to share our pain with sympathetic readers. So my fellow retrogaming enthusiasts, consider this a solemn warning: should you encounter the excrement that is Deathkeep in your travels, run, don’t walk, away from this game before you suffer as I have suffered!

Onslaught

Onslaught (1989)

Onslaught - gameplay screenshot

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

Onslaught

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RKS Score: 5/10

Hard Driving

Hard Driving

With a plethora of terrible games out there, I thought the decision would be quite easy. Little did I realise, I found myself struggling to come up with one bad game that truly grated my retro gaming nerves. I could write about how terrible ET was for the Atari 2600, but I thought that everyone already knew that. Then, a light bulb went off in my head ! Why not write about a game that promised so much and delivered so little – Hard Drivin’ on the C64. Get your vomit bag out and read on……

Hard Driving - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Format: Commodore 64
Year: 1989
Publisher: Tengen
Developer: Domark

Don’t be fooled by the “C+VG HIT” on the cover of this game. This game was more of a miss than a hit. Originally released in the arcades in 1988 by Atari Games, Hard Drivin’ was a revolutionary coin-op. It was touted as the world’s first authentic driving simulation. The game featured state-of-the-art polygon graphics and realistic force feedback controls, all designed to offer gamers a sense of what it might be like to sit behind the wheel of a high-performance car. So how do you convert this sense of driving, to an 8-bit system and still make it playable ?

Hard Driving - Gameplay Screenshot

Well, in hindsight, you can’t. This conversion was an absolute catastrophe on the trusty C64. It featured hideous monochrome graphics, and the control system was a joke – any slight pressure on the joystick, and your car would instantly veer out of control.

The other frustrating aspect of the game was the sense of speed, or lack thereof. Driving at 140mph felt like my grandmother could walk faster with her walking frame. Perhaps the speedometer was measuring speed in hours-per-mile.

Hard Driving - Gameplay Screenshot

Did I mention the graphics ! It is absolutely laughable when seeing oncoming traffic – it looks like a flying double bed coming at you at a snail’s pace. Embarrassing as this game is, it was never released as a standalone game, nor at full price ! Perhaps the publisher knew it was a pile of stinking poo.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYwgMy3ckkw[/youtube]

In a nutshell, this C64 conversion offered the gamer to drive a painfully slow and uncontrollable vehicle around a bland and ugly looking world. This title easily wins the award for the worst C64 arcade racer ever, period !

GraphicsAs close to hideous as possible. Prepare your visual cortex for an ugly onslaught

9%

SoundYour ears will be begging you to stuff plugs in them

9%

PlayabilityNo sensation of speed, bland and utter ugly track design. You will stop playing it after a few seconds

1%

LastabilityYou will turn off this game faster than you can say “This is crap!”

0%

OverallHard Drivin’ on the C64 wins the turd ribbon for being exactly that, a stinking turd

4%

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

If Empire Deluxe was the mother of “just one more turn,” Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty was the father of real-time strategy games. Published in 1994 by Westwood Studios, Dune II was based on the David Lynch Dune movie, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert, and was a sequel – in name only – to the previous 1992 Virgin Games PC adventure/strategy hybrid game, Dune.  The game’s designers further deviated from the film, novel, and game versions of Dune by adding House Ordos, which was not mentioned in either Herbert’s novels nor in Lynch’s film.  Of course, this was not an adventure game, so what cannon the game was based on didn’t make much of an overall impact on gameplay.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A sandworm swallows a harvester in Dune II

The plot was straight-forward: the Emperor needs more Spice from the planet Arrakis, and offers up the prize title of Governor of Arrakis to whichever House delivers the most Spice to him. Three Houses vie for the governorship: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Ordos. Each House has different strengths and weaknesses based on their particular House zeitgeist: House Atreides uses speed, House Harkonnen uses brute strength, and House Ordos uses sneakiness. (Their prime units represent those traits, with House Atreides using the speedy sonic tank, House Harkonnen using the slow but incredibly powerful Devastator, and House Ordos using the allegiance-altering Deviator.) The Emperor’s Sardaukar make an appearance toward the end, providing an elite challenge just when you think that your victory is at hand.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A Harkonnen base in Dune II

As the game progresses, Spice blooms in the desert, and the Houses (either a player or the computer) sends harvester units to gather the bounty and return it to their base. The harvesters are exposed while gathering the Spice, and can be destroyed by enemy units or by the sudden appearance of a gargantuan Sand Worm. Protecting them from dangers is an integral strategic element of playing Dune II, as your score is determined by how much spice you harvest and return to your base. Of course, securing your base from enemy attacks and sending out an invasion force to wipe out your rival Houses are also important.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Atreides base in Dune II

The list of features that Dune II debuted in real-time strategy gaming is impressive. It was the first RTS to use the mouse to move individual units. It was the first to use building bases and then units. It was the first to use a development technology tree, permitting the construction of advanced units only after certain buildings were constructed. It was the first to use units that you could move and then deploy as a base. It was the first to use different factions with different goals (and strategies). It was even the first to use a world map that you chose your next mission from. This is an impressive list, and these features are now commonplace in RTS games, but were fresh and new back when Dune II was released. All these would be found in Westwood’s own Command & Conquer series that would dominate the gaming industry for over a decade!

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Ordos base in Dune II

I fondly remember playing Dune II into the night (and the next day), cursing the computer as it launched a devastating attack on my base and thrilling to the total destruction of that same enemy. And I wasn’t the only one. The reviews for both the MS-DOS and Commodore Amiga versions were very positive (as were unit sales!), making Dune II a hit for Westwood Studios, which paved the way for the entire Command & Conquer series.   Two official follow-up games were also released,Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle For Dune, in 1998 and 2001, respectively.  There’s even a non-official version: Super Dune II: The Destruction (in which you play either Mercenaries, Fremen, or Sardaukar).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tppjzT-su0Q[/youtube]

The game’s influence is still recognized by the gaming industry, evidenced by it’s placement in IGN’s Top 10 Most Influential Games, GameSpy’s Hall of Fame list, and Computer Gaming World’s Best Games of All Time list.  With both industry accolades and sales success, it is obvious that Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty has the pedigree to belong on any retro gamer’s ‘must play’ list, and is yet another in a long line of Westwood Studio masterpieces!

3-D Bomberman

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

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

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

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

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

3-D Bomberman-gameplay screenshot

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

RKS Score: 2/10

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro was a game-changer when it arrived back in 1992.  Long before Tiger Woods was winning championships and wooing pretty birdies, Access Software had been making golf games.  Their first, Leader Board Golf for the Commodore 64, came out in 1984, so they had quite a bit of experience already under their belt.  But this golf game was different; not only was Links 386 Pro a technological marvel, it was also an amazing game to play.

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro Front Cover

The graphics were absolutely stunning with amazing detail.  The trees and bushes along the fairway, scenic backgrounds, even the clouds in the sky – this was an unbelievable game to play.  It felt like you were actually golfing these courses.  Compared to the cartoonish and blocky graphics that gamers were subjected to over the years, Links 386 Pro was the pinnacle of the computer golfing experience.

But this game had more than just great graphics. The sound quality was outstanding: the whoosh of the club, the smack of the ball, the glorious sound of the ball entering the cup, all this and more enhanced the experience of and the illusion of actually “being there” on the links.  Players could mulligan their shots (but it would show up on their scorecard). You could preview the course and analyze the grade of the shot.  You could even split the screen to watch the ball coming and going from different angles!  So many features added to the enjoyment of the game.

Links 386 Pro

Links 386 Pro Game Play Screenshot

All those features had a cost; at the time of its release, Links 386 Pro pushed the technological envelope.  This game can be run on a 80386SX-25 MHz with 2 MB of RAM, but the slow screen redraws made an upgrade to a minimum of a 80486DX-50 MHz with 4 MB of RAM required.  To access the graphics a Super VGA card capable of 640×400 resolution was needed, which helped spur on SVGA card sales.  Many computer salespeople loved Links 386 Pro for the easy sales it produced (all they needed to do was make a comparison demo and the newer, more expensive computer found its way into the buyer’s shopping cart!).

Links 386 Pro also satisfied gamers’ needs to trumpet how good they were.  A recording mode allowed the player to share that perfect game with all your closest gamer friends – and post it on the bulletin boards to brag to everyone else.  Whole competitions erupted between golf simulation aficionados seeking to become the world’s best golfer (simulated golfer, that is!).

There were many add-on courses for Links 386 Pro, which gave the game a longer shelf life.  You could golf in Hawaii, challenge the pros at Pebble Beach, enjoy the majestic view of Banff, take on the pride of the British Isles at the Belfry, even experience the terror of the Bermuda Triangle.  There was a course for everyone!

Links 386 Pro

Devil’s Island Links 386 Pro Expansion Screen Shot

All in all, this game is an important piece of retro gaming history.  Anyone who experienced its sheer epic gameplay back in the day will remember the joy of shooting a low score, and, ever so rarely, the Links 386 Pro version of Caddyshack’s,

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDtd2BF-zV0[/youtube]

“It’s in the hole!”: YES!!! YES!!!

Jetpac

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

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

Jetpac - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

RKS Score: 8/10

Hero’s Quest

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

This week I’m  looking at the Sierra On-Line classic, Hero Quest, first released in 1989.  This game was a completely different gaming experience back in the day.  Most gamers were used to adventure games, like King’s Quest or Space Quest, or role-playing games, like Might & Magic.  But an amalgamation of role-playing and adventure games was unheard of! Lori Cole’s game design was unique and the game was a best-seller for Sierra, spawning several sequels over the years.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

You could play Hero Quest either as a Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief.  The game’s puzzles were designed so that they could be solved in different ways by the different character classes, and you could improve your character’s skills and inventory as you played the game.   It played as an adventure game, where your character completed quests and solved puzzles, moving the storyline to its epic finish.  By today’s PC game standards, the graphics and sound are rudimentary at best, with your hero looking a bit like a stick figure jerkily moving about the screen.  But a good retro gamer never judges an old game by today’s standards!  The storyline is strong, and can still be fun to play today.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

An interesting side note about Hero Quest is that the game’s name had to be changed almost immediately after it was distributed.  Milton Bradley had trademarked the Hero Quest name for their 3D board game, which apparently no one in the Sierra On-Line team knew – until they were told to remove it or else.  The solution was to simply change the title of Hero Questto Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Of course, this has led to these two games forever jumbled together in google searches as retro gamers look to find them to add to their collections!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1rJXX5yBcs&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Oil’s Well

oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
I thought I’d let you know just what a visually stunning, additively fun and mostly forgotten little gem this 1990 Sierra production is.
oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
Well, it is, and its VGA version for our ageing DOS boxes is most probably the best arcade/puzzler this developer ever came up with, though admittedly they did have to remake its earlier 1983 version.
oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
Oh, and it would be fair to call this one abandonware. Have a play/look.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-JQS3iWjVA[/youtube]

Loom

Some classic games are more obscure than others, but are no less gaming gems than those games that inspired a multitude of sequels and imitators.  LOOM, a LucasFilm Games (the original name of LucasArts Entertainment) product, is one such game.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The front cover of the PC game, LOOM.

Released in 1990, LOOM contained a complex plot involving the fate of the universe resting upon the shoulders of one gifted man-child who is the last practitioner of an ancient guild of magicians called the Weavers.  The plot was so complex, in fact, that the preamble goes on for 30 minutes.  You read that right.  Originally a cassette tape was included so you could listen to the audio drama before starting the game. In the later CD-ROM version, the audio file was included on the CD.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The classic retro game LOOM begins!

Bobbin Threadbare, the aforementioned only surviving member of the Guild of Weavers, must learn the ways of his craft.  This is not a simple adventure game; players don’t simply point and click their way to the grand finale.  In LOOM, magic is music and music is magic.  Bobbin can cast spells, but only as musical sequences on the C Major scale, and only if he possesses his “distaff,” a combination walking stick and wizard’s staff. Much of the game revolves around Bobbin seeking new “drafts” – the magical musical sequences – for him to use in his quest to save the universe from a “grey strand” that has unbalanced creation.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

The Practice Mode of LOOM.

This game is pure delight from beginning to finish.  I loved the musical element and complete departure from the standard LucasArts adventure fare that this game provided.  The puzzles weren’t all that challenging, but different enough to be memorable.  The graphics were good for the time, also.  But most importantly, you couldn’t die or be returned to the beginning of the game for a simple mistake, making LOOM the first game to follow the LucasArts game design philosophy.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

Standard Mode for LOOM

The game featured three challenge levels: Standard, Practice, and Expert, all relating to how the player learns the new scripts (spells) as they play.  With Practice mode, players could see the letters for the notes that were played. Standard mode takes away the letters on the notes, but instead the distaff glows when the notes are played.  Toughest of all – the Expert mode – removes both the glowing distaff and the musical letters, forcing the player to “play by ear” repeating the spells without the aid of any graphical representation.

Loom-PC-Gameplay-screenshot

Expert Mode for LOOM

Although this is a definitely a one-of-a-kind game, its creator, Brian Moriarty, claims that it was originally intended to be the first of a trilogy.  The sequel, Forge, would have followed Rusty Nailbender of the Guild of Blacksmiths in his fight to free his home from the evil of Chaos.  Following that would have been The Fold, wherein Fleece Firmflanks (I’m not making this up!) must restore the all the guilds to their former glory.  Alas, the sequels were not meant to be, and LOOM remains the unique game that it is today.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnEMcquu2lc[/youtube]

This is a fabulous piece of retro gaming history, and one of the most sought-after PC games for most collectors.  If you have a chance to play it, do so.  You won’t regret your time spent saving the world!

Star Raiders

I remember getting Star Raiders for a present back in 1982. The first thing that comes to memory was how the box was a bit bigger and heavier than most of the 2600 carts we had bought. When I opened the package, along with the game and manual was a giant touch pad. I thought, “How cool is this?” After I started the game and realized I had to have at least 3 hands to work the joystick, red button, and pad, I knew I was in trouble.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Star Raiders was originally released a couple of years earlier for the Atari 8-bit computers. An original 1st-person space sim/shooter that took advantage of the keyboard to do many things such as commanding shields, weapons, warp drive, etc… This is the reason for the touch pad, and it was a pain in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love peripherals, but if I can’t play an Atari 2600 with 1 joystick/1 button…I don’t want it.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
The game itself is a bit boring. Just a grid “Galactic Map’ and the 1st-person space view with the target reticule in the center. The “stars” flying past you are a nice touch, and they’ll move as you do, left and right (or in space, there’s no such thing as left or right, I guess).

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Ships will appear as you reach their grid quadrant, but seem to just randomly appear. Sometimes, the only way you know they are there is when they shoot you. When this happens, there is the typical 2600 sound-effects, but cool red flickering to let you know you have taken damage. You can repair and replenish your constantly-draining energy. Keep your close eye on the energy numbers dwindling at the bottom of the screen, because if it gets to zero…game over.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Depending on the difficulty you choose, you may have to defeat as many as 40 ships to complete your mission. The ships are the basic 2; one that looks like a Klingon Bird-of Prey, the other a Tie Fighter turned on its side. You have phasers and photon torpedoes at your ready, unless you take specific damage to them, then repair (at starbases) will be necessary. This game is a bit repetitive, and the difficulty is ramped high, with special mention in the “Activision Decathlon Hall of Fame of Joystick Snappers” as you wrench on it to try and keep the alien ships in your sights.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_VDM8nC9sM[/youtube]
Overall, I appreciate what Atari tried to do here, and I had fonder memories of the game before I tried to play it again. I respect the game for being a pioneer in the genre, but I think it tried to do too much, taking a lot of fun out of it. I need more action and less Starfleet Academy work. Not a bad game, just not a very good one either.

5/10

Companions of Xanth

Although many people remember Sierra and LucasArts for their incredible adventure games, other companies produced a few gems, too.  Legend Entertainment managed to procure the publishing rights to a slew of literary properties, including Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle, and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, the focus of this game of the week blog entry,Companions of Xanth.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth box art

Companions of Xanth was based on the best-selling, pun-filled Xanth series of fantasy fiction by Piers Anthony.  The game was based on – and further fleshed out – one of the books in the series, Demons Don’t Dream.  To emphasize the connection, the softcover novel was included in the box.  This 1993 game followed Dug, a Mundane from Mundania, as he competes in a world-shaking quest thrust upon his shoulders by the demons E(A/R)th and X(A/N)th.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth in game image

Dug travels Xanth with a Companion who is there to try to keep him out of trouble as he has no experience with the magical dangers that Xanth is rife with.  When you begin the game you are offered a choice from four Companions: Nada Naga, Jenny Elf, Che Centaur, and the Demoness Metria.  Choosing any Companion other than Nada Naga results in a failed game, which irritated some gamers.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth Companion choices

The game plays as a standard mouse controlled adventure game. You select what action you want to do from a list of verbs, then select the object with which you want to perform the action.  Unlike some Legend adventure games, there is no text input.  Inventory management is controlled by the mouse in a similar fashion, by selecting the object and then the action.  Graphics are crisp at 256 color VGA, with the player touring various scenic vistas of Xanthian beauty.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth in-game screenshot

The “puzzles” in Companions of Xanth are not terribly difficult, and operate in typically twisted Xanth fashion. Those who cannot turn their hats backwards will find this terribly annoying, and simply won’t understand where they should be searching.  Some scenes are one puzzle wonders, which mirror the one-pun scenes in the novels. It pays to have read and enjoyed previous books in the Xanth series so you know what kind of logic applies.

Companions of Xanth

Companions of Xanth – The Censor Ship (groan)

I quite enjoyed this game as it was fun to adventure in the magical world of Xanth.  It has a different vibe than some games, which can put some people off, but as far as I’m concerned, Companions of Xanth is a retro gaming classic!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MPXFadd2VI[/youtube]

Twilight 2000

When you ask a retro gamer about who their favorite game companies, names like Sierra On-Line, LucasArts Entertainment, or Origin Systems often come up.  Less likely, but deserving of a look is the little known Paragon Software, the company that brought The Amazing Spider-ManMegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani ConspiracyThe PunisherSpace: 1889, and X-MEN: Madness in Murderworld, among others.  Paragon Software was also responsible for bringing one of my personal cult RPG favorites to the PC in 1991’s Twilight 2000.

Box front for the 1991 PC Game Twilight 2000

Box front for the 1991 PC Game Twilight 2000.

First, some background story.  Twilight 2000 was set in a future wherein the border tensions between China and the U.S.S.R. escalate and events unfold in Europe which draws NATO and the Warsaw Pact into direct conflict.  Conventional warfare is followed by the use of chemical weapons, which leads to tactical nuclear strikes, and finally a “limited” nuclear war engulfing the globe.  The result is widespread catastrophe and the near-collapse of civilization.  Resources are scarce and enemies are around every corner.  Warlords rule individual city-states, and the countryside is ruled by whoever has the most armament.  Your team finds themselves in what used to be western Poland, under the thumb of Baron Czarny, a despot who finds no atrocity to atrocious to commit.  Having enough to deal with without a nutbar making life even more difficult for them, a consensus is reached that the mad Baron needs to be dethroned – and that’s where the game begins.

Boris Yeltsin to the rescue!

Boris Yeltsin to the rescue!

The Twilight 2000 PC game was based on the pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, first published in 1984 by the Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW).  It was a game of its time, with the Cold War raging and fears of nuclear Armageddon permeating the international consciousness.  Players assumed the role of soldiers trapped in Europe after the final offensive and counter-offensive between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The game had a cult following, but with the close of the Cold War, the appeal of the game began to wane.  A modified history was presented in the 1993 version of the game that attempted use the attempted coup against Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Federation, as the focal point of an alternate history, but never quite caught on.

Isometric exploration screen for Twilight 2000.

Isometric exploration screen for Twilight 2000.

 

Twilight 2000 combines tactical gameplay with RPG elements.  Your task is to complete missions with up to 20 soldiers.  Each of your team has different attributes, languages that they speak, and special abilities, all of which you set to make their unique personality.  Each personality will determine how your soldiers respond to your orders, so it’s important to choose wisely to avoid messy situations (not unlike the pen & paper version!).

Driving screen from Twilight 2000.

Driving screen from Twilight 2000.

The game unfolds in a variety of styles: there is a top-down map display; isometric tactical screens; front-on inventory screens; even a first-person 3-D driving mode (which was a bit ahead of its day, with polygon graphics and lighting effects based on time of day).  One of the more frustrating limits of the isometric display is that the game world, although continuous, requires new screen loads when changing locations.  This leads to frustration as you can miss an important item as it’s not on the current screen, but in gameworld terms, is only a few feet away.

Equipment screen from Twilight 2000.

Equipment screen from Twilight 2000.

The equipment screen shows off an impressive array of weaponry, armor, and general use items available to your soldiers.   Everything from Kevlar vests, various types of grenades, flashlights, thermal goggles, M-16s, Uzi’s, M9 pistols, even M203 grenade launchers!  This was the Diablo of the post-apocalyptic game genre, with something for everyone.  Yee-haw!

Map screen from Twilight 2000.

Map screen from Twilight 2000.

All in all, Twilight 2000 is a good PC game.  It’s certainly not perfect (and needed a few patches after its initial release), but it provides some decent gameplay in a well-crafted gameworld.  Pick up a copy and let the post-Apocalyptic good times roll!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_53e25MtVIA[/youtube]

You can download the game here

Panzer General

By the 1990′s, turn-based strategy war games had become highly specialized with a very thin customer base.  Most required a grognard’s ability to juggle multiple battle statistics at once, and had a limited visual appeal.  Then, in 1994, Strategic Simulations Incorporated (SSI) released Panzer General and the wargame genre transformed into a mass market product.

Panzer General game box

Panzer General game box.

Unlike real-time strategy (RTS) games, turn-based strategy games permit the user time to ponder their next move without having to press the pause button.  The drawback is that once you’ve committed your resources you must watch your turn – and your then your opponent’s – play out.  To state the obvious, chess is an example of turn-based strategy.

Typical combat screen in Panzer General

Typical combat screen in Panzer General.

Panzer General offered players both single scenario play, in which they could assume the role of an Allied or an Axis general, as well as a Campaign Mode, in which the player attempts to win World War II for Germany.  The campaign runs from 1939 to 1945, and as units gain battle experience, they become stronger, and the player (as general) gains access to upgrades and reinforcements – assuming they are victorious, that is.  If the player achieves their scenario objectives with five or more game turns to spare, it is considered a “Major Victory,” which unlocks further game elements.  Major Victories enable the player to alter history, such as invading Britain on the heels of victory in France, or even landing an invasion force in North America to capture Washington, D.C.

The invasion of Malta in Panzer General

The invasion of Malta in Panzer General

The game was published across several platform, including versions for the Panasonic 3D0 system, MS-DOS and Windows based computers, Sony PlayStation, and for the Macintosh.  It also spawned a plethora of sequels, including: the 5-Star Series (Allied General, Fantasy General, Pacific General, People’s General, and Star General), Panzer General II, Panzer General 3D Assault, Panzer General III: Scorched Earth, and Panzer General: Allied Assault.  Clearly gamers enjoyed wargames once again!

Furious combat in Panzer General.

Furious combat in Panzer General.

Panzer General was both well-reviewed and well-received by the gaming public.  Besides receiving high review scores from the critics, gamers just kept playing the game.  To this day, there are sites on the Internet devoted to this game, with hundreds of scenarios, new units, and even new features.  Mods are the fountain of youth for classic games, and Panzer General was no exception, as they managed to keep the game fresh and interesting years after its release.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2H6pnOZCUg[/youtube]

Ultimately, the game’s fabulous gameplay coupled with its genre-changing aspect make it a classic retro game that every retrogamer needs to play!

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

For those of us who remember well the 1980s, the phenomenally endowed Elvira – the campy TV persona of Cassandra Peterson – was and is much loved.  Dressed in gothic attire that tended to display her front-facing assets, Miss Peterson was a staple of the late night television viewing, and a highly recognizable advertising brand.  Many and diverse were her following, including myself…as I admit to being an Elvira acolyte.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Accolade tapped into this cult following with the 1990 release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, a horror-themed PC adventure game with RPG elements.  The developer was the aptly named HorrorSoft, which focused primarily on making games in the horror genre.  HorrorSoft was actually Adventure Soft, and was sub-branded to give the company the ability to explore both a new genre and a new gaming engine.  Elvirawas HorrorSoft’s second game, their first being the somewhat enjoyable “Personal Nightmare”(featuring an appearance by Elvira), and they didn’t disappoint.  From the back of the box’s flavor text – “Can somebody help me find my chest?” – to the ending credits, Elvira was a fun game.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

You play a helpful adventurer in Elvira, brought in to rescue the lovely Mistress of the Dark from the dangers of her own castle.  It seems Elvira’s quite-dead grandmother wants to return to the Realm of the Living, and plans to unleash a horrific assault on her surroundings – and upon her errant granddaughter, too.  Poor Elvira wants nothing to do with her grandmother’s schemes, but she’s lacking her usual magical arsenal as all her potion ingredients and equipment is scattered throughout her castle, and she needs you to collect it all and return it to her, while dispatching the nasty creatures that her dear grandmother has prowling the corridors and rooms along the way.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Like many RPGs and adventure games, inventory management was a straightforward exercise.  As you explored your environment (all 800 locations of it), approximately 300 objects could be picked up and placed into your pack, which was represented by a grid at the bottom of the screen.  Some objects could interact with others to create more powerful items (such as potions ingredients combining into potions).  The combat mechanism was equally as simple, involving clicking on either the “thrust” or “parry” icons at the correct moments (not button-mashing them into a fine powder, a laDiablo).  Some of the magical potions and items improved your combat or defensive prowess, which was absolutely essential when facing some of the more terrifying castle denizens.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Elvira was released on several gaming platforms, including MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Atari ST, and received favourable reviews.  Sales were sufficient to warrant a sequel, Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus.  HorrorSoft would go on to make one more horror-themed PC game, Waxworks, before the company was abandoned to focus on the rebirth of its parent, Adventure Soft Publishing, and the release of theirSimon the Sorcerer series.

Elvira - Mistress of the Dark - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

If you are a retrogaming horror junkie, or a classic adventure game aficionado, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a game well worth playing.  It has the right mix of humor and horror, action and exploration to warrant a place as my Retro Game of the Week, and is a worthy addition to any retro gaming collection!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwlaVJ35CdI[/youtube]

Empire Deluxe

Empire Deluxe (1993) title screen

If ever there was a game that could be pointed to and accredited for the “just one more turn” phenomenon in gaming, Empire Deluxe is it.  Released in 1993 by New World Computing, Empire Deluxe was an advanced and enhanced version of Empire: Wargame of the Century, which in turn was a version of Empire, first released in 1977 and coded in FORTRAN.  The early version of Empire was crude as the platforms it ran on, but was still addictive.  The 1987 Interstel Corporation release, Empire: Wargame of the Century, had the advantage of Mark Baldwin‘s graphic user interface, making it visual appealing, which helped the game garner “Game of the Year” honors from the influential Computer Gaming Magazine.  This success helped propel Empire Deluxe‘s sales forward, having the advantage of both a built-in user base as well as being a high quality game.  In fact, Empire Deluxe sold well, and remains a favorite game for many PC gamers, earning a spot on GameSpy.com’s “Top 50 Games of All Time” list.

Box art for Empire Deluxe

Box art for Empire Deluxe

Game play of Empire Deluxe is very familiar, as it should be considering it is the great-grandaddy of the entire RTS genre.  Each player starts with one city, and needs to develop his military strength to conquer the surrounding territory.  Military units are varied, and include infantry, armor, transports, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, battleships, aircraft carriers, fighters, and bombers.  Targets have differing defensive and offensive values, and not every city is easily conquered.  (In fact, conquering cities lowers their production capacity, and if a city changes hands often, it becomes almost useless as a source of production.)  Combat is straight-forward, with the winner moving into the loser’s square upon victory.  Exploration is key, and as players start on an island, building up a naval task force (with both exploratory and combat vessels) is necessary to achieve victory.

Empire Deluxe screen shot

Empire Deluxe screen shotEmpire Deluxe had three modes for aspiring world conquerors: Basic, Standard, and Advanced.  The Basic Mode was set up for beginners, with limits to the number and types of units available, simple production rules, and the elimination of the “fog-of-war” obscuration of the game map.  The Standard Mode used the “fog-of-war” feature, added a few more complications to the production rules, and permitted the use of a few more military units.  The Advanced Mode unlocked all the military units (from infantry to bomber!), added rules for terrain effects on movement and combat, presented the most complications for city production, and opened the game map to its largest size (200×200).

Rear box art for Empire Deluxe

Rear box art for Empire Deluxe

Some of the game industry’s brightest minds worked on custom maps for Empire Deluxe, including Will Wright (The Sims), Trevor Sorenson (Star Fleet), Don Gilman (Harpoon), and Noah Falstein (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis).  It seems obvious that the game’s influence throughout the industry is noticeably vast!  If you’ve never played a game of Empire Deluxe, you’re missing out on a piece of retro gaming history.  Between its history significance and the happy memories it invokes, Empire Deluxe is a true retrogaming classic!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxgI9LfahK0[/youtube]

Ascendancy

Some games are released and gain an instant cult following, yet do not find a larger audience with the larger PC gamer market.  Sometimes they are too quirky.  Sometimes the game’s instructions are confusing, and require a great deal of experimentation to learn and understand.  Sometimes the genre is experiencing market oversaturation, and no matter how good the game is, people are too tired of playing that kind of game.  Whatever the reason, great games have been released that did not find more than a toehold in the gamerverse, and disappeared into the mists of gaming history.  Ascendancy, released by The Logic Factory in 1995, was one such game.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Cover art for the 1995 PC game, Ascendancy.

Ascendancy was a turn-based strategy game set in a sci-fi universe, and gave the player several species options to choose from – 21 in all.  (Interestingly, Humans were not included as one of those races. )  Each species had its strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.   For instance, some races were better negotiators, some better scientists, some better weapon makers, some better at defending their turf, and some better at invasion.  How soon you met these other species depended on how dense of star cluster you chose at the beginning of the game.  The denser the cluster, the more planets existed, and more star lanes connecting them.  Those star lanes were the key to victory, as could be controlled by a particular alien race, and that control could vary as systems were conquered.  For even more variety, the computer randomized your opponents, which meant never knowing exactly what you faced; the game was different every time you played it.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Title screen for the 1995 PC game, Ascendancy.

An interesting feature of Ascendancy was the Tech Tree, which was a three-dimensional representation of the scientific advances that were available to the alien race.  As each discovery was made, new paths – branches – were opened for development.  The Logic Factory outdid itself with the names of the techno-advancements, with such titles as Tonklin Diary (which allows for Tonklin Frequency Analyzers) or Spacetime Surfing (which allows for Star Lane Drives) or Gravity Control (which allows for Quantum Singularity Launchers) or Momentum Deconservation (which allows for Concussion Shields), and so on.  Of course, you could jumpstart your research by locating and searching through alien ruins on the planets your fleet visited for lost technology, which was yet another random variable that made Ascendancy both ever-changing and immanently replayable.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Ascendancy was a wonderful game with a huge flaw: the AI.  Although casual gamers enjoyed the game’s challenge, more advanced gamers found the AI to be weak and easily mastered.  The Logic Factory responded by issuing a patch which greatly enhanced the game’s AI, but in 1995 few people were on the Internet, so the patch never found widespread release.   For those itching to play the original Ascendancy with the Antagonizer patch, here it is: ANTAGONIZER and README.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Planetary screen in Ascendancy

As could be expected in any multi-civilization strategy game, Ascendancy included a robust diplomacy element.  As new species discovered your existence, their attitudes and responses were influenced by how you reacted to them.  Peace treaties, hostilities, technology exchanges, invitations to join in current conflicts were examples of some of the outcomes resulting from an exchange of diplomatic pleasantries.  As in real life, species who considered you weak would make broader demands and reject overtures; species who considered you strong worked on making you their best friend.

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Successful research screen in Ascendancy

Ascendancy was a quirky game, but it found a receptive audience due to its stellar gameplay.  It earned a 93% score and an Editor’s Choice award from PC Gamer, and received some high praise from the grognard’s grognard, William R. Trotter (which has an interesting story and legend surrounding the review and his subsequent strategy guide work on the same game).  Ascendancy also won a Codie Award for Best Strategy Software in 1996, in a field that included Allied General and Command & Conquer.  (Mind you, they gave the Best Adventure/Roleplaying Game award to Oregon Trail II that same year.)

Ascendancy - PC Games - Classic - Gameplay screenshot

Searching the ruins in Ascendancy

Time has passed and the prospect of a sequel remain dim.  However, a new version built for the iPhone (and iPad) has been released, and has received some solid reviews from those who game on those platforms.  But for the retrogamer, the original Ascendancy remains supreme in turn-based space strategy exploration and conquest, and well worth investing a little time playing once again!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXm6DL3D4Ws[/youtube]

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

If there was one axiom in the PC gaming world back in the 1990′s, it was that LucasArts produced incredible adventure games.  So many went on to become cherised memories in the minds of gamers, such as The Secret of Monkey Island,Loom, and Day of the Tentacle, but also the subject of this edition of the Game of the Week: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis box front.

Fate of Atlantis was a superb Indiana Jones game because it featured all the aspects of an archetypal Indy adventure.  To begin with, Indy fought and competed against Nazi.  ”Nazis. I hate these guys.”  The best Indiana Jones stories cast Hitler’s ever-dangerous forces and sympathizers as the good professor’s main antagonists.  After all, who doesn’t hate the Nazis?  (I mean, besides extremist fringe political groups.)  They’re the quintessential villains for the time period: efficient, brutal, and seemingly omnipresent.  The second major aspect is the need for Indy to be on a quest for an artifact of extreme potency.  Finding an object to match the mystery and sheer majesty of the Ark of the Covenant or the Cup of Christ required shifting the religious overtones from traditional sources to the New Age movement.  Incorporating the alien, time-lost feel of the ultimate symbol of New Age mysticism, the lost city/continent of Atlantis, was a brilliant decision, and gave the game the same epic feel of the movies.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Splash page for Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

The man responsible for the Fate of Atlantis’ adherence to the Indy mythos was Hal Barwood.  Barwood had a broad background working in the film industry, including being credited for writing Stephen Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express, co-producing the box office flop/cult classic Dragonslayer, and writing the Gregory Peck World War II movie, MacArthur.  However, Barwood had a much more limited computer game background, having been involved in the production of a mere two titles (as “Special Guest Film Director” on The Secret of Monkey Island, and mysteriously credited as “Works like crazy!” on Monkey Island 2).  Still, LucasArts needed someone who thought in cinematic terms, so regardless of his relative inexperience in PC game design, Barwood was given the Big Chair for their next Indiana Jones project.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Exploring the ruins in Fate of Atlantis.

Barwood showed his good judgment immediately upon receiving the script for the yet to be titled Indiana Jones game.  The script was originally submitted as a potential movie script for a fourth Indiana Jones film, but had been rejected.  Barwood realized that the rejection was sound, as he stated, “It was rejected for a reason, though, and I thought it was hopeless.”  He and his co-designer, Noah Falstein, “marched down to George’s wonderful research library and started thumbing through Dark Mysteries of the Past -type coffee table books.”  There they came across an artist’s rendition of Atlantis, and immediately realized its potential as a game setting.  From there they decided that the game’s version of Atlantis needed to have some grounding in our reality, so they “decided to fasten on Plato’s reality to give the thing legitimacy.”  And with that as the foundation, Barwood proceeded to write out the plot of the game, birthing a true gaming classic in the process.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Atlantis as described by Plato in Timæus and Critias.

In some ways Fate of Atlantis was a typical LucasArts adventure, but in other ways, atypical.  The game used the SCUMM game engine (first used in Maniac Mansion, hence the abbreviation for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion).  It used 256-color VGA graphics, and had an outstanding audio score.  (Later versions would include digitized voices, and an inspired Indiana Jones sound-alike performance byDoug Lee.) Further, players traveled throughout a vast game world (200+ locations) searching for objects that helped solve a variety of puzzles.  Yet the differences Fate of Atlantis showed were remarkable.  For instance, unlike games such as Loom or The Secret of Monkey Island, the wrong decision in Fate of Atlantis could result in Indy’s death.  This was an interesting departure from the LucasArts Canon (detailed quite eloquently and yet most verbosely by Ron Gilbert in a 1989 missive, reprinted here).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Magazine ad for Fate of Atlantis.

Another key difference was that Fate of Atlantis included a multipath scenario for gameplay, which was originally envisioned by Noah Falstein, but left to Hal Barwoodto implement.  These paths had different playing styles, unique puzzles and situations, differing game world locations, and even alternate cutscenes.  The game paths had titles which indicated their favored strategies: the Fists Path, containing plenty of fist-fighting and an emphasis on action; the Team Path, which involved Indy adventuring with the game’s female love interest, Sophia Hapgood, and treated her as a kind of in-game hint book; and the Wits Path, which de-emphasized the action in favor of more and more complex puzzles to solve.  This was not a completely user-driven game world, however, as Fate of Atlantis always began and ended in the same way, with the option to select one of the three paths coming somewhat in the middle of the game.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Onboard a Nazi U-Boat in Fate of Atlantis.

Of course, even before Fate of Atlantis was released, Indiana Jones was already a cultural phenomenon.  There had been three movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and at the time of Fate of Atlantis’ release, a television series was in its first year of production (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles).  Games based on the movies had been released on several platforms, including Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom in 1984 (C64), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1987 (AmigaApple IIAtari ST, C64, DOS), Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients in 1987 (Apple II, DOS), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Action Game in 1989 (C64, DOS, Atari ST, Amiga), andIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure in 1989 (Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh).  In other words, this was a franchise with both a solid history and strong fan base.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

A Fist Fight in Fate of Atlantis!

Fate of Atlantis was released on several platforms, with versions for MS-DOS, Amiga, Macintosh, and FM Towns. As you can imagine, releasing the game on several gaming platforms ensured its best-seller status, selling over a 1 million copies (with the obvious caveat that the game was also good).  Fate of Atlantis was not only a hit among the buying public – it garnered many accolades among game critics, including “Best Adventure Game of the Year”  by Computer Game Review, a solid 90% game review from Amiga Power, and was even named #93 in the 150 Best Games of All Time list in 1996 by Computer Gaming World (CGW).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Indy swinging into action in Fate of Atlantis.

Ultimately, all the awards and positive reviews are meaningless if they don’t convince you to play the game – and enjoy it.  Yes, the graphics are dated compared to today’s 3-D visual masterpieces with photo-realistic images, but if you’re a retrogamer, the graphics aren’t your chief concern, the gameplay is.  And Fate of Atlantis delivers great gameplay with a professionally written story that immerses you into what could have easily been the fourth Indiana Jones movie script.  Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is highly recommended, and clearly deserving of its Game of the Week honor!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET_98IcvoTI[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

James Bond: The Stealth Affair

Long before GoldenEye established the gold standard for James Bond action games, 007 had a PC gaming presence, with games dating back as far as 1983 (the Commodore 64 game James Bond 007).  Most were based on the various Bond movies, and were either interactive fiction, such as James Bond: A View to a Kill(1984) and James Bond 007: Goldfinger (1986), or arcade action side/vertical scrollers, such as The Living Daylights (1987) or 007: License to Kill (1989).  Some were forgettable, some enjoyable, but the first graphic adventure James Bond adventure is today’s featured game: James Bond: The Stealth Affair.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The story revolved around a missing F-19 stealth fighter, stolen from an American base and tracked (how did they do that?) to somewhere in Latin America.  Who did it? Could it be the Russians pulling a Red October or could it be some Latin American tinpot dictator or crime lord?  The danger of having a Latin American drug lord having stealth technology was sufficient to bring in the best troubleshooter in the business: James Bond.  The action began as fast as our man James stepped off his flight into the Santa Paragua airport, holding only a briefcase and his airline ticket, with the need to somehow get past a maddeningly efficient airport security guard.  “I don’t care who you are. In this country you are all outsiders.“  The game moved on from there, with a variety of puzzles to solve, as well as a few arcade action sequences to complete.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Splash title page for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The Stealth Affair was a graphic adventure using a point&click interface, which means an inevitable pixel hunt.  The command menu was brought up by right-clicking the mouse, and consisted of EXAMINE, TAKE, INVENTORY, USE, OPERATE, and SPEAK.  Descriptions were provided when you used the EXAMINE command on objects, and you could either TAKE some items to later USE them in other situations, or OPERATE devices immediately.  You could not EXAMINE your INVENTORY, however.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

James Bond The Stealth Affair copy protection screen

Interestingly, The Stealth Affair was a James Bond adventure game title only in North America.  The game was originally released in Europe as Operation Stealth, and it wasn’t James Bond that was attempting to recover the missing stealth technology, it was agent John Glames.  The developer of The Stealth Affair was Delphine Software, based out of France.  Their previous hit was Future Wars, but would go on to produce some amazing games, including Out of This World (released as Another World in Europe), Flashback, and Fade to Black, among others.  Interplay Productions was the game publisher who distributed Delphine’s games, and whose logo was emblazoned upon the box covers of the North American versions.  It was Interplay who acquired the James Bond license and who initiated the change to the Operation: Stealth game from a generic spy adventure game to playing 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The powers-that-be decided that the James Bond franchise was a bankable commodity, so they altered all instances of John Glames into James Bond.  In addition, some of the action sequences were removed, presumably to make for easier gameplay, and some of the bad French to English game text was reworded. Oddly both Bond and Glames were working for the CIA, which to a Bond enthusiast, is a serious faux pas.  But I digress.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Operation Stealth

The game simply begged for Sean Connery voiceovers, but, alas, the IBM PC version lacked digitized voices.  Darn technology and/or budget limitations!  However, the Amiga version had synthesized voices (with 1 MB or higher RAM), but a serious bug in the code can lead to a full system crash if using the player got tired of listening to the dialogue and attempted to click through with the mouse button.  As one of the attention-challenged brethren of gamers, that’s a serious flaw that exploits a common weakness!

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Why is James Bond working for the C.I.A.?

The Stealth Affair was released on three formats in North America: IBM PC (MS-DOS), Amiga, and Atari ST.  Reviews were generally favorable, with .info giving the game 4.5 out of 5 stars in their March 1991 issue, stating that, “No Bond fan should miss this one.”  However, some reviewers were more ambivalent towards the game, such as the review in the May 1991 issue of Compute!, wherein the game is described as, “Controlled by either keyboard or mouse, the Bond of The STEALTH Affair moves and acts in a manner like that of his namesake in latter-day 007 movies-that is, choppy and silly, trading the quiet sophistication of Ian Fleming’s hero for a goofy nonchalance.”  Still, accepting the technology limitations of its day, James Bond: The Stealth Affair was a fun game.  Perhaps not worthy of the top 100 games of all time, but still in the running for the next one hundred, and well-worth a look by any retrogamer yearning for a spy-based adventure game!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pU7sQE2GE5M[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Blackwell Unbound

Blackwell Unbound artwork

Blackwell Unbound

Blackwell Unbound is the second game in the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games and thus a sequel of sorts to the excellent Blackwell Legacy indie point-and-click adventure game. Then again it also happens to be an enlightening prequel to the Blackwell Legacy, taking place in a brilliantly stylized version of New York during the early 70s. This time around you wont be helping the shy Rosangela and her ghostly guide Joey solve supernatural problems, but will instead be guiding her rather outspoken and definitely more confident aunt, Lauren Blackwell, and her ghostly guide Joey solve two, obviously ghost-related, cases.

blackwell unbound - gameplay screenshot

The game is thus slightly longer that Legacy and feels even more so, as the inclusion of a couple new mechanics, make for a far more taxing experience. Not that the game is difficult, mind but the ability to switch between Joey and Lauren, a few newly integrated simple inventory puzzles and looking up names and places in a directory do help mix things up. After all, making sure that a deceased jazz musician, a half-crazed ghost and an incredibly sad villain find their respective ways, shouldn’t be that easy.

blackwell unbound - gameplay screenshot

Great gameplay aside, Blackwell Unbound also sports the signature excellent writing quality of the series, amazing music, spot-on voice acting, interesting characters and some truly beautiful pixel-art graphics, for that authentic classic adventure feel. The only thing sadly missing are those character portraits the Blackwell games seem to do very well. A shame really, but the developer commentary and a few more extras will definitely make this up for you.

Oh, and New York and its multitude of people and cultures do get another love letter in the form of this brilliantly written and quite touching interactive story, that never fails to be funny when the situation allows.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9oQ7n5F5hI[/youtube]

Verdict: An excellent game and a truly rare chance to adventure in a ghost-infested version of New York in the 70s. Get the Blackwell Unbound here.

Wolf

“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 instalment: Wolf, a unique 1994 simulation game by Sanctuary Woods that placed gamers in the role of canis lupus seeking to survive in a sometimes hostile environment.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Perhaps a game about learning how to be a wolf, the dangers they face, and what challenges they overcome does not sound like it would be fun, but it was. Wolf was a unique simulation, and a completely different subject matter than what gamers had ever seen before. The 40-some scenarios were fascinating, and included diverse goals: hunting down caribou to avoid starvation, challenging the alpha male pack leader for control of the pack, and even just surviving a single day in their stark environment. For the comprehensive wolf experience a player could choose to play the campaign mode, which ran them through the full gambit of the wolf life cycle.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Settings screen for the PC game, Wolf

The game mechanics really sold the “be-a-wolf” concept. Sound effects of birds and other noises of nature provided ambience, while the graphics were crisp and the scenic vistas marvellous to look at. As your wolf travelled it became either hungry or thirsty, and needed to be satiated. The game simulated a wolf’s incredible sense of smell by showing various scents that your wolf discovered, some close, some far, and all trackable. Humans were a severe danger and were to be avoided at all costs, and could be detected by both sound and scent. You could even howl!

shakira

Whoops, wrong howling; wrong wolf.

Fortunately, the game designers didn’t just read a Jack London book and whip up a game based on it. Wolf Haven, a wolf reserve near Olympia, Washington, was tapped to provide the expert knowledge on what challenges wolves face and what behaviors they exhibit. Wolf Haven is a nonprofit organization devoted to the study and conservation of wolves, and has around 80 acres of land used for the purpose. They have been in existence since 1982, and continue to provide sanctuary for wolves today…and they even offer group tours! (The game designers even based five of the wolves portrayed in the game on actual wolves that lived within Wolf Haven.) With this level of expertise behind them, it’s not surprising that Sanctuary Woods was able to offer a world-class simulation that both educated and entertained.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Winter hunting in the PC game, Wolf

Critics agreed on the quality gameplay of Wolf, winning the “Best Game of the Show” Award from Electronic Games at its debut at the Winter, 1994 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as well as earning praise from such heavy-hitters as PC Gamer Magazine, receiving a score of 88% and a PC Gamer Editor’s Choice award.  It performed well enough to merit a sequel, Lion, which followed the life of the King of Beasts on the Savannah. All in all, Wolf was a great game, and well worth locating a copy and playing, even today!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbXEvWfWoF0[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Pirates

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Sid Meier – Gamer godThe game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Swordplay in Sid Meier’s Pirates!The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Takethat, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier’s Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale);Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title ofSid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively calledSid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2RigX8BVlc[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Thunder Force

Thunder Force (1984)
By: Tecno Soft   Genre: Shooting   Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: NEC PC-98 
Also Available For: NEC PC-88, NEC PC-6001 Mk II, Sharp X1, Sharp MZ-1500, Fujitsu FM-7

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

Thunder Force

During the course of my long struggle to finally see and play the original Thunder Force game for the PC-88, I saw some screenshots of the PC-98 version, which appeared to have fancier graphics, so I decided it might be a good idea to include that version in this feature too. I soon regretted it, of course. This turned out to be even harder to get to play than the the PC-88 version! However, after a long and arduous struggle, fraught with many problems, and once again with the help of some splendid fellows from the Retro Gamer forum, I managed to get it running.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

For some reason, the emulator I used to run this game won’t work on my desktop PC, but will work on my laptop. This in itself caused a problem. The emulator, you see, uses the numeric keypad for in-game control, and my laptop obviously lacks one of these. I therefore had to try and play by pressing the ‘Fn’ key as well as the other keys the emulator uses for in-game control. This proved diificult. With perseverance, however, I was able to play the game to a reasonable degree. Degree enough to determine that this version of the game is at least as insanely difficult as the PC-88 version, perhaps even more so! Everything seems to be the same, such as the level layout, and the sound is identical (i.e. near enough non-existent!), but the graphics, as initially suspected, are indeed quite a bit nicer. Definition is more or less the same, but many more colours are used here.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot

And that’s pretty much it really. Aside from the graphics, the two versions more or less the same. It’s still really, really difficult, but is still playable and addictive too. The PC-98 must use a pretty interesting graphics chip though. The screenshots I managed to get of this game do not like to be resized or saved in any format other than png or they go all funny, so, as this blog automatically resizes pictures, the shots posted here don’t look quite as nice as they should. Overall, I’ve been really happy to finally see what the original Thunder Force game is like, I just wish it was easier to emulate and play (the option of using a control pad would be nice, for example!). If at a later date, I’m able to have a more comprehensive look at this game, I’ll definitely do so, but for now…

RKS Score: 6/10


American McGee’s Alice

American McGee’s Alice

In the aftermath of Doom and Doom II‘s critical and financial success, many software companies sought to duplicate id Software’s successes.  Some chose to attempt to out-Doom Doom, bringing forth various first-person shooters in an attempt to capture the same market.  Some chose the classic business maneuver of poaching talent, seeking to duplicate the successes of id Software by tempting their brightest minds away with a van full of candy.  American James McGee (yes, that’s his name; no, it’s not a nickname), whose resume included everything from being a tester onWolfenstein 3D, to a level designer for Doom II, to a co-producer for Hexen: Beyond Heretic, was one of those targets.  At the tender age of 28, McGee jumped ship to Electronic Arts in 1998, and was given free rein to direct, write, and design the game of his own choosing.  That game, of course, was American McGee’s Alice.

American McGee’s Alice

Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass had long since passed into the public domain, and several new visions of the setting had already come to pass in cinema, literature, and gaming (such as Wonderland).  However, McGee’s take on the Alice mythos pushed its darkness further into the open.  The game begins with a tragic house fire claiming the lives of young Alice’s family, sending her spiralling into despair and catatonia.  For years she remains within a sanitarium, until one day the White Rabbit returns – not the delightful White Rabbit of her youth, but a somewhat bedraggled White Rabbit, its absent-mindedness no longer charming, but eerie.  Once again Alice follows it into Wonderland, where all is not as it was: the Cheshire Cat is mangy and underfed (but still smiling); the Duchess and the Mad Hatter want to kill her; and the Red Queen rules with a bloody, iron fist.

The level design was absolutely stunning in its 3-D dark surrealism. Alice follows the White Rabbit into the Village of the Damned, where she is reintroduced to the Cheshire Cat, and can locate the Vorpal Blade so she can go all snicker-snack on her opponents.  Next comes the Vale of Tears, a foggy realm that is home to the ravenous Duchess and the poor Mock Turtle who needs his shell back.  Other areas include finding the wise Caterpillar in the Cave of the Oracle; experiencing the chessboard realm of the White Queen; the twisted version of Rutledge Asylum that houses Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as well as the Mad Hatter; the volcanic lair of the Jabberwocky; and the final castle level of the Queen of Hearts. Each level shows the strength of American McGee’s talent for level design as well as the versatility of theQuake III Arena game engine it uses to bring it all to life.

Another element important to the atmosphere of American McGee’s Alice is its aural component, including the voice acting, sound effects, and musical score.  On this front, the game excels.  The voice acting was performed by professional voice actors, with experience in film, television and gaming projects, such as Roger Jackson (who voiced the Cheshire Cat, the Jabberwocky, and the Dormouse…as well as the telephone voice for the Scream movies), Susie Brann (who was the voice of Alice), Andrew Chaikin (who voiced the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare), Anni Long (who voiced the Red Queen and The Duchess), and Jarion Monroe (who voiced the Caterpiller).  As for the game’s soundtrack,  Chris Vrenna (who drummed for Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails for 8 years), approached the challenge of composing the music for the game by looking for instrumentation that sounded like they could be from the Alice’s era, but also having a “creepy” or “bizarre” sound that “created a mood”.   To this end he used toy pianos, penny whistles, toy accordions, wind-up musical boxes, zippers, grandfather clocks, and more.  Ultimately, between the eerie music and the wonderful voice acting, the game fulfills all its audio expectations.

American McGee’s Alice - PC

Of course, American McGee’s Alice is not a perfect game. The level design is brilliant, but the gameplay has its pedestrian moments. For instance, if you are a fan of games that require platform-style jumping to avoid enemies, locate items and switches, and to find level exits, this is the game for you. For those that find all this leaping about a tad annoying…not so much. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the controls for jumping quickly in this game, as you will be doing a lot of it. However, if you can get past that, the rest of the gameplay has enough variation to keep the player wanting more.

American McGee’s Alice - PC

American McGee’s Alice proved popular enough to inspire a toy line from Milo’s Workshop.  These limited movement action figures featured Alice with the Cheshire Cat, the Card Guards, the Jabberwocky, the Caterpillar, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit.  The quality is similar to Todd McFarlane’s toy line, and were released from 2000 through 2004, and continue to have some value on the collector market.

It’s been over 10 years since Electronic Arts released the game that gave us all a disturbing insight into the mind of former id Software level designer American McGee.  That’s right, American McGee’s Alice was released in October, 2000, so those who remember buying it on its release date, should take a moment to realize time is marching on.  For those who never played this classic PC game, pay your respects to those of us who did.  After all, we’re probably Elders of the gaming community at this point.  With the sequel finally being released, do yourself a favor and play the original.  Your Elders demand it.

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

In 1996, Activision released Zork: Nemesis, a visually-stunning game, but with an overtly dark theme and a serious – even intense – game atmosphere, very unlike any other game in the Zork series.  (So dark, in fact, that the Infocom label was not included on the box!)  Nemesis was a great game, but something had to be done to bring back the humor and irreverence of all things Zork.  And so, a year later, in 1997, Activision released a new game in the Zork / Enchanter series, set 580 years before Return to Zork, and with an eye to bringing the series back to its roots – Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The story behind Zork: Grand Inquisitor was fairly basic: magic has been banned by the merciless Inquisition, and the Dungeon Master has been trapped within a trusty adventurer’s lantern.  The player is called upon by the Dungeon Master – “I shall call you ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous, adventurer person. AFGNCAAP for short. ” – to restore the magic outlawed by the Inquisition in Quendor.  To do so, AFGNCAAP must locate the lost Zorkian magical treasures of the Coconut of Quendor, the Skull of Yoruk, and one of the Cubes of Foundation, with which a torrent of magic will be released, defeating the plans of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions.  Sounds easy, right?

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The technology used by Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a modified version of the Z-Vision game engine first used in Zork: Nemesis.  A full lateral sweep of 360 degrees was available to the player, but not any vertical movement (with a couple of exceptions based on unique scenes at GUE Tech and at the Flathead Mesa).  Human characters were portrayed by actors in full motion video, while non-human characters, such as Marvin the Goatfish, were clay models which were then digitized and animated.  Zork: Grand Inquisitor used lighting effects to draw the eye of the player to explorable areas, permitting the player to spend more time engrossed in puzzle-solving rather than the standard mouse click-fest and hunt-and-click routines of many adventure games.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The voice acting was superb, with Hollywood-class talent giving life to the various characters, which included Michael McKean (as the lantern-trapped Dungeon Master, Dalboz of Gurth) and David L. Lander (whom many will recall played Squiggy inLaverne & Shirley, as the font of ridiculous proclamations, the Voice of the Inquisition).  Some of the actors involved who had both visual and audio parts included Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack, Rip Taylor as Chief Undersecretary Wartle, and Erick Avari, as Mir Yannick, the pompous, over-his-head but desperately attempting to fake it, Grand Inquisitor.  The effect was to improve the gameplay, especially during cutscenes, which can be excruciating when players are forced to watch the programmer’s second cousin who once acted in a school play gamely work their way through a script. *shudder*

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Zork: Grand Inquisitor received good reviews (PC Gamer Magazine gave it an Editor’s Choice award and scored it at 88% in its May, 1988 issue, while GameSpot scored it as a 8.0 “Great”).  The biggest fault that reviewers agreed upon was that it seemed too short, and a longer visit in this archetypical gamer universe was wished for.  Now that’s a complaint any developer would like to hear!  It was released for both Windowsand Macintosh platforms, and played the same on either one.  Also, a DVD version was released in 1998, which also included the full version of Zork: Nemesis as an added bonus.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82fq5ylrOgg[/youtube]

Never forget who is the boss of you. ME!  I am the boss of you!“  Combining the visual appeal of Zork: Nemesis with the humor of the original series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a laudable addition to the Zork milieu, and certainly a worthy entry into this Game of the Week series.  Bluntly put, this game is well-worth a playthrough, especially if you are a fan of the Zork series!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

The 7th Guest

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

It can be argued that The 7th Guest was responsible for the popularization of the CD-ROM format, as it predates the other pioneering CD-ROM superseller, MYST.  The atmospheric horror/puzzle hybrid was a smash hit at a time when CD-ROM drives were not ubiquitous across the PC gaming world.  With over 2 million copies of the game sold, CD-ROM manufacturers noted that their sales quadrupled in the aftermath of this game’s release.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game begins with the background story of how Henry Stauf went from a tramp to a rich toymaker. From there, the player finds himself trapped in an ominous-looking mansion with six other “guests” trying to piece together what has happened to them.  Their host, the enigmatic and wicked Henry Stauf, challenges them to a game with the winner achieving his or her heart’s desire.  But you are not an invited guest, and the game you must win is for possession of your very soul.  Scenes of what has already transpired are shown to you as you solve each of the puzzles, culminating in a final confrontation with Stauf himself, all done in a first-person perspective.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

This was a game like no other before it.  First, it was BIG.  At a time when game companies were packing 1.44 MB of code on multiple 3.5” diskettes, The 7th Guestclocked in over an astounding 770 MB on two CDs.  The reason for that massive size was the full-motion video used to propel the player through the mystery, as well as the prologue and epilogue of each puzzle.  With superior production quality and professional actors, the game’s cut-scenes were enjoyable to watch.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

An interesting feature of The 7th Guest was how the music, composed by George “The Fatman” Sanger, interacted with the story.  Each character had its own rendition of “The Game” – the main theme music of the game, which played when that character was on the screen.  If two or more characters were on the screen at once, the musical variations were woven together. This led to a heightened mood and better storytelling, and was just one more example of the game’s professional production.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The 7th Guest is legendary for the hype that surrounded its development.  From the first demo shown to the gamer masses during the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in 1992, the anticipation building to its eventual release in 1993 seemed to indicate either that The 7th Guest would be an amazing game or a bitter disappointment.  Judging by the sales this title achieved, “disappointment” was not a word used to describe The 7th Guest.

The 7th Guest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game’s creators, Rob Landeros (a graphic artist) and Graeme Devine (a programmer for Virgin MasterTronics) followed the success of The 7th Guest with a sequel, The 11th Hour.  Although their company, Trilobyte, was initially flush with cash from the success of The 7th Guest, increasing tensions from divergent visions of the company’s future and spiraling production costs exhausted their funds, and eventually their partnership sundered.  However, in 2004, another gaming company, Lunny Interactive, announced the reunion of both Devine and Landeros and the imminent development of the long-awaited third game in the series, The Collector. Six years later, the game is merely another vaporware legend, which is really unfortunate, as the gaming world could always use a little more Stauf to play with!

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

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy

Buccaneer - The Pursuit of Infamy - Indie Game - PC - Gameplay Screenshot
Sid Meier’s Pirates!was a game that deeply impressed my little underage self, as it was one of those preciously few digital offerings that actually made me daydream and fantasize about being a pirate drinking milk and eating hamburgers somewhere in the Caribbean of yore. As for them serving wenches, well, I couldn’t care less really. I was only 9. Besides, I even thought that fiddling with the map was far more exciting than courting a governor’s daughter. Pah, kids.

Anyway, what I particularly and truly liked about Pirates! -even more so about its excellent 2004 remake- were them glorious ship to ship battles, and happily that’s what indie developers Stickman Studios have evolved into a full, action-packed game. Joy!

Buccaneer - The Pursuit of Infamy - Indie Game - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Said game is none other than Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy (official website, Steam page), a game impressively developed by a team of only two, apparently extremely talented and hardworking, individuals. Now, besides being a feat of sheer will and dedication itself, Buccaneer also happens to be the game that even momentarily allowed me to once again live the digital thrills of bloody sea battle and, well, imagine things of a heroic nature. What’s more it is easily the best pirate game I’ve come across since 2004. Despite, as already mentioned, being a pure action game. A pure combat focused action game to be precise, that besides battling, only spices things up by letting the player select missions, buy new ships, upgrade older ones and rudimentary manage his/her crew’s morale.

Buccaneer - The Pursuit of Infamy - Indie Game - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

What truly matters though is the simple fact that the basic combat mechanic is absolutely brilliant, simple, fun and makes for a fluid and addictive gameplay experience. Oh, and if you have to know, the player gets to commandeer his/her ship using the WASD keys while moving the camera with the mouse and using the left and right mouse buttons to shoot the cannons on the respective side of the ship.

On the other hand, not everything is perfect. Land bombardment for example is quite frustrating, as aiming at particular buildings is nigh on impossible, while sometimes the battle area is a bit too small for proper maneuvering. Then again, when you got those fantastic graphics, the tons of available -and surprisingly varied- missions, some excellent and highly amusing multiplayer options, a fine selection of Steam achievements, an amazing sounding ocean (!) and a convincing atmosphere, you just can’t complain. Buccaneer is quite fantastic.

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

Verdict: Three parrots, five cannonballs, one monkey and half a bottle of rum, meaning you should definitely give this excellent indie pirate game a try. I’d suggest you bought one or two copies of the thing too.

Kondtantinos or Gnome is a classic and indie gaming writer. You can see his wonderful blog by following this link – Gnomes Lair.

Gemstone Dragon

Gemstone Dragon, or The Quest for the Gemstone Dragon to give it its full name, is as traditional a CRPG as one can imagine, provided one imagines something not entirely dissimilar to Baldur’s Gate.

Gemstone Dragon - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Actually, Gemstone Dragon is the most Baldur-eque gaming experience I’ve had for quite sometime, what with its sword and sorcery plot, the traveling around fantasy worlds, the looting of corpses, the quests and side-quests, the real time combat and a plot about some sort of ancient evil rising in the way ancient evils always rise in games like this: covered in conspiracy. Now, even though its game-mechanics are not based on D&D, the game remains as traditional as one can imagine, starting off with the player selecting a portrait and his/her gender and going on to gain xp, fame and shiny bits of armour.

Gemstone Dragon - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

RPG tradition is also evident in the simple decently done tutorial that eases you into an intuitive interface, the simple yet very D&D rules system, the inventory and all those skills, basic attributes, levels, etc.

Tradition of course is no bad thing. Especially, when a tried game logic is applied to an inspired project filled with smart touches, as is the case with Gemstone Dragon. After a while you’ll forget all about mechanics, systems and interfaces, and be immersed in classic, monster brutalizing adventure to save a fantasy world. You’ll meet interesting NPCs, animals, foes and monsters, visit towns and dungeons, and -generally speaking- have a proper old-school CRPG experience.

What’s more, the game does offer something new, and I’m not referring to the lovely journal and the handy automap. No, all of Gemstone Dragon is made in flash and playable online, proving that flash can really handle huge, deep games, complete with all the graphics, save/load functions, animations, sounds and texts necessary. It does come with a few hiccups of course -you can’t for example use the right mouse button- but it’s still impressive. Would be even better if the world map could be scrolled with the cursor keys, mind…

Gemstone Dragon - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

As for the graphics, they are lovely and properly 2D, with enough detail to help your imagination do something. The sound on the other hand is mainly functional, but does help with the overall atmosphere of Gemstone Dragon. Everything actually feels like running on a simplified version of the Infinity engine.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvfknMNix2A[/youtube]

You can try a demo of Gemstone Dragon and buy both its online and downloadable version at the game’s official site.

Verdict: You probably already know if you care for Gemstone Dragon or not. It’s as honest a game as is humanly possible. As for me, I definitely enjoyed it.

Kondtantinos or Gnome is a classic and indie gaming writer. You can see his wonderful blog by following this link – Gnomes Lair.

SimCity: The City Simulator

Sim City - PC - Box

If there ever was a game that you weren’t really sure if you were playing a game or using an educational tool…but you didn’t care because it was so much fun, SimCity: The City Simulator was it.  Published by Maxis Software in 1989, SimCity was written by a young Will Wright (he of the incredibly addictive The Sims fame), and would go down as one of the most influential and popular games in gaming history.

In SimCity, players had to construct an entire metropolis starting from nothing but a bulldozer and random terrain.  Along the way to full city status sims begin to populate your city and make demands.  They may need more housing or shopping centers; perhaps crime is rampant and a police station is needed; maybe frequent brown outs are creating a demand for a new power station; perhaps your sims are bored and want a stadium…and so on.  Meanwhile, the city needed just the right level of taxes to encourage growth, yet still pay for all those fire and police stations.  Random emergencies could wreak havoc on your city, with tornadoes devastated entire zones, earthquakes leveling buildings, airplanes crashing and resulting fires requiring immediate response.  If you guided your city with a steady hand, your tax coffers filled up and your sims considered you Simsville’s best Mayor ever.  If you failed to keep on top of the ever-changing developments within your city you could find yourself in the ranks of the unemployed.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Although the core of the game was designed for open-ended gameplay, the game also included scenarios which revolved around achieving a specific goal within a certain time period.  These were based on both past situations as well as possible futures that urban planners had already had to solve or were in the process of planning for.  The past scenarios included dealing with crime-ridden and an economically-depressed Detroit in 1972; a post-earthquake San Francisco in 1906, and rebuilding Hamburg at the end of World War II (this one was only in the IBM PC, Amgia, and Atari ST version).  Future scenarios included Boston suffering a nuclear plant meltdown and Rio de Janeiro flooding from global warming.  There was even a fantastic scenario based upon the classic Godzilla movies, wherein the player had to rebuild Tokyo after an attack from the King of the Monsters.  Further scenarios were released in the SimCity Graphic Set 1: Ancient Cities and SimCity Graphic Set 2: Future Cities.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The path to SimCity’s initial release wasn’t an easy one.  Originally titled “Micropolis,” Will Wright, its creator, developed it for the Commodore 64, a platform he had previous success in with the now-classic, Raid on Bungling Bay.  By 1985 the game was ready to go, but he couldn’t find a dance partner willing to publish it, as the powers-that-be struggled with its open path gameplay and lack of winners versus losers.  He believed in the potential of what he had coded, so he partnered with Jeff Braun (a successful publisher of font packs for the Commodore Amiga) and founded Maxis Software in 1987, and sought the rights to publish his game with his own company.  After two more years of code changes and legal wrangling (which included cementing Broderbund Software as Maxis Software’s distribution agent), SimCity was brought before the gaming public.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Interestingly, although Will Wright had originally coded Micropolis for the C64, the first platforms SimCity was released on were the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, followed by IBM PC (MS-DOS) and then the Commodore 64.  EventuallySimCity: The City Simulator would be ported to the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, and even the Super Nintendo.   The game was, of course, a smash hit, and garnered several gaming awards, including: Best Computer Strategy Game (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), Game of the Year (Computer Gaming World), Best Consumer Program (Software Publisher’s Association), and many, many more.  Its legacy is also well-recognized, earning a top ten position on the still-respected Computer Gaming World’s 150 Game of All Timelist.

 

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The legacy of SimCity is more than just accolades, as its incredible success motivated Maxis Software to publish many variations on the theme: SimAntSimIsle,SimCopterSimLifeSimFarmSimEarthStreets of SimCitySimTown, and SimSafari.  Maxis even picked up the publishing rights for two similar Japanese games, A-Trainand Yoot Tower (which was renamed SimTower to take advantage of the sim-craze).  SimCity also spawned several sequels and remakes, including SimCity Classic(updated for Windows), SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM (which added FMV to the SimCity experience), SimCity 2000SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, and SimCity Societies.  And, of course, there is a direct link between Will Wright’s SimCity: The City Simulator and his epic seller, The Sims (and all its subsequent sequels and expansion packs).  Clearly,SimCity had a huge impact on the gaming universe.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Sadly, Maxis Software did not last as an independent company.  Although Maxis had been partnered with Broderbund since its inception, by 1995 they hired their own sales team and launched their IPO, taking Maxis public for the first time.  Unfortunately, the buzz from SimCity 2000‘s success had long worn off, and the pressure to fulfill the stock analysts’ projections took its toll on the company.  Wright and the other designers were pressured to abide by a strict deadline in 1996, with Maxis’ management team demanding all four games in development by released.  The designers complied, but the games they published that year did not catch the gamerverse on fire (I’m looking at YOU, SimCopter), and the share price of the new company which had such an incredible history slide precipitously.   In 1997, Electronic Arts made $120 million stock offer that they couldn’t refuse, making Will Wright and Jeff Braun very wealthy young men.  For his part, Braun became the biggest shareholder of Electronic Arts, and gave him the ability to invest in a variety of technology companies.  As for Will Wright, the money afforded him the time to do what he most loved – and did best – in developing new games.  Thanks, Electronic Arts!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzHVcvZw_7Q[/youtube]

If you’ve never played SimCity: The City Simulator, you’ve missed out on an integral piece of gaming history.  For a retro gamer, it’s still as fun as it always was, which is a sign of just how well it was crafted by Will Wright.  Between great gameplay and a long-lasting legacy, SimCity deserves to be on anyone’s best games of all time list.  Pick up a copy and see for yourself!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Tie Fighter

Serve the Emperor! Join the Imperial Navy and save the Galaxy!

The back cover blurb of one of 1994’s best PC games began with these words, and what an amazing game it was.  Star Wars TIE Fighter was the sequel to the amazing Star Wars: X-Wing Space Combat Simulator, and it gave players the chance to play for the other team:  The Empire.

1994's Star Wars TIE Fighter

1994’s Star Wars TIE Fighter

I loved the setup to this game: the Rebellion are called “terrorists” and a threat to peace and order in the galaxy.  But the game isn’t just about taking on the Rebellion; your rookie Imperial Pilot is tasked with wiping out pirates, ferreting out corruption in the Imperial Navy, and disposing of other criminal elements.  In all, there are around 50 missions you get to embark on.

Not only could you play fly various missions for your commanding officer, you could also choose to enter into a secret service for the Emperor.  A shadowy member of the Emperor’s Inner Circle gives the player further objectives to fulfill.  These optional briefings add more information to what’s going on in the game as they reveal more and more of the plot.  You don’t need to complete them to finish the game, but they’re fun!

While John Williams’ original soundtrack plays in the background, the player gets to fly a variety of space craft, which include: TIE fighters, TIE bombers, TIE Interceptors, TIE Advanced, TIE Defender (awesome!), and assault gunboats.  Personages you interact with include Emperor Palpatine, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Grand Admiral Zaarin, and, of course, Darth Vader.  If you complete the game and save the Emperor you can expect a closing ceremony reminiscent of the one at the end of the original Star Wars movie, except this time it’s all in the Imperial motif.

Tie Fighter - 1994 - Gameplay Screenshot - Lord Vader

 

Lord Vader expresses his displeasure.

There was an expansion disk pack released for TIE Fighter called Defender of the Empire, which added a few more missions, but didn’t do much in advancing the storyline.  A second expansion pack called Enemies of the Empire was originally planned for an independent release, but ended up as an added bonus to the CD-ROM release of TIE Fighter, called – appropriately enough – Star Wars TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM.  The CD version includes Defender of the Empire, and offers around 100 missions to fly.  This is retro gaming at its finest, so if you never played TIE Fighter, it’s time to suit up and restore order to the galaxy – your Emperor commands it!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffh65UsBQvM[/youtube]

 

Star Wars: Dark Forces

With the release of DOOM in 1993, the gaming industry went into overdrive in coming up with similar games using the first-person perspective.  Some games, such a as Heretic and Hexen, simply licensed id Software’s game engine.  Others choose to build their own 3-D first-person shooters from the ground up.  LucasArts Entertainment was one of the latter companies, and Star Wars: Dark Forces was their first stab at the genre.

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Box

Box cover for the 1995 game Star Wars: Dark Forces

Released in 1995, Dark Forces was the first Jedi Knight game, though the original release did not use the “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces” tagline.  Later re-releases would, however. The story revolves around a mercenary called Kyle Katarn, an ex-soldier of the Empire who now works freelance for the Rebel Alliance.  After a minor interlude wherein Kyle steals the plans for some obscure new Imperial weapon called the “Death Star”, our hero is tasked with investigating General Rom Mohc and his plans for creating a new weapon for the Empire: the Dark Troopers.

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

The game plays out over 14 levels in which Kyle takes on a variety of low-level enemies, such as stormtroopers, Imperial Officers, Gamorrean guards.  Kyle visits famous locales from the Star Wars universe, such as the Imperial capital, Corsucant, the “Smuggler’s Moon”, Nar Shaddaa, and the Imperial Super Star DestroyerExecutor, and interacts with classic characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Mon Mothma.  There are the obligatory cameos by Darth Vader and Boba Fett, but there’s no interaction between Kyle and them.  (Which is probably a good idea, as any of the heavy-hitters of the Star Wars universe would be able to use him as a mop at this point in his fictional career).

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

The action is in the first-person perspective, and unlike DOOM, you can look up and down for your enemies, all the better to locate and eliminate them.  Although later in the game series Kyle hears the call of the Jedi, there’s no lightsaber action in this game.  However, there are plenty of other weapons to keep you interested, including the Bryar pistol, the standard stormtrooper E-11 blaster rifle, thermal detonators, the absolutely awesome Stouker concussion rifle, and the Dark Trooper assault cannon (the best way to take those bad boys out).

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

Dark Forces was released on three platforms, all CD-based.  Its initial release came in MS-DOS format (PC), followed quickly by a Macintosh version, and finally a Sony PlayStation (PS1) version a year later.  Both the MS-DOS and Macintosh versions are similar to each other, and play well, but the PS1 version suffers from the translation, and is an inferior game.

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot - Playstation

The game was a tremendous hit for LucasArts, generating close to a million units sold, and ranking one of the top-selling games of the 1990s.  The critical reviews were also very favourable, with many comparing Dark Forces to id Software’s masterpiece, DOOM.  Of course, with both critical and financial success came the sequel parade, and LucasArts knew a good property when they saw one.  Dark Forces spawned Jedi Knight, which was an even better game than its predecessor (and which begat its own sequel and an expansion pack!).

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot - Mac

Box front for the Macintosh version of Dark Forces

All in all, Dark Forces is a very good game and should be on any retro gamer’s resume. If you haven’t played it before, consider giving it a little time in your retrogaming play list and help Kyle Katarn stop the threat of the Dark Trooper program once and for all!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR1qrAi3gL0[/youtube]

Lode Runner

Way back in time, when I was gaming the night away on my Apple II clone (a Circle II), all things Zork ruled my gaming existence.  But when I needed a respite from adventuring in the Great Underground Empire, Lode Runner was the game that took its place.

Lord Runner - Apple - Box

Lode Runner was an arcade hit published by Broderbund Software in 1983.  The game’s backstory was that a vast fortune in gold bullion was heisted by the Bungeling Empire, and it’s your job to recover it.  Some of the gold sat around waiting for you to pick it up, and some was carried by various agents of the Empire –  which required a slightly more creative approach.  Essentially the only way to get their gold was to bury them alive, and wait for the gold to pop out once they were crushed to death.  Your Lode Runner was able to blast the dirt to either side of him (and more than one square, if needed), which would eventually automatically refill.  The trick was to make certain that an Agent would fall into it, and be unable to get out in time before the hole refilled.  Blast too soon and the hole would refill long before the Agent arrived; blast too late and the Agent would either climb out of the hole and expunge your Lode Runner from virtual existence or the hole would not open at all.  Timing your blasts, and knowing when to kill your Agents off, was the point of the game.

Lode Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

Lode Runner for Apple II screen

Yes, it was simple. What 1980’s game wasn’t?  But it was fun.  And clearly many, many gamers thought so, too, as Lode Runner was released on multiple platforms, including: Apple II (1983), Atari 400/800/XL/XE (1983), Commodore 64 (1983), MSX (1983), PC Booter (1983), VIC-20 (1983), Macintosh (1984), Nintendo Famicom (1984), ZX Spectrum (1984), PC-88 (1986), Nintendo Entertainment System (1987), Amstrad CPC (1989), and the Atari ST (1989)…among others!  That’s a lot of systems, a large audience, and a reason why Lode Runner remains a classic gaming memory.

Lode Runner - Sierra - Box

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns cover.

Like any classic game, Lode Runner had its share of updates and sequels, again a sign of a game that has a classic appeal.  The list is impressive:

  • Load Runner’s Rescue (Commodore 64, 1985)
  • Hyper Lode Runner (GameBoy, 1990)
  • Battle Lode Runner (TurboGrafx, 1993)
  • Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (DOS/Macintosh/Windows, 1994)
  • Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns (Windows/Macintosh, 1995)
  • Lode Runner 2 (Windows/Macintosh, 1998)
  • Lode Runner 3-D (Nintendo 64, 1999)
  • Battle Lode Runner (Wii, 2007)
  • Lode Runner (Xbox 360, 2009)

Lode Runner has been considered a classic for some time. It made #80 on Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time list, and was mentioned in 2003 as one of the best games of all time by Gamespot in their The Greatest Games of All Time series.  The creator of Tetris, the classic puzzle game that all puzzle games are compared to, was quoted in a 2008 interview with Edge Magazine that he considered Lode Runner to his favorite puzzle game for many years.  There was even a 1986 Lode Runner board game created by Donal Carlston (the creator of the still-popular board game, Personal Preference)!

Lode Runner - Online - Box

Lode Runner Online: The Mad Monk Returns cover

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jnRWMvxb7o[/youtube]

Back in 1983, a big bowl of salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, a jug of chocolate milk, and an afternoon of wiping out agents of the Bungeling Empire was a recipe for good times.  Now that I’m older (married with children, no less!), there’s no more chocolate milk nor salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips, and my afternoon gaming has now been replaced with late evening gaming. But Lode Runner will always hold a special place in my gamer heart, and if you’ve never played it, find one of the updated versions and have great time!

The Secret of Monkey Island

It’s very difficult to write a blog that focuses on the best retro games without reminding everyone about the gaming joy that was The Secret of Monkey Island, released by LucasArts Entertainment in 1990, to rave reviews from both game critics and the gaming community as a whole.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island cover art.

Monkey Island was an adventure game wherein the player assumed the role of young Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate looking for the way to become one of the pirate fraternity.  The Pirate Leaders give him three tasks: Defeat the island’s Swordmaster, Carla, in insult sword fighting; steal a statue from the Governor’s mansion; and find buried treasure.  Along the way he will meet a cast of wacky characters, while finding both true love with the beautiful and intrepid Elaine Marley, and a bitter, lifelong enemy with the ghost pirate LeChuck.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island insult sword fighting.

The quest process is one of the great strengths of Monkey Island: non-linear story telling.  It does not matter what order Guybrush completes his tasks in, so a player never feels unduly railroaded through the plot, and can explore the game world at will.  Another key strength that makes this work is that Guybrush does not die as a result of a wrong course of action.  Even jumping off a cliff cannot do our hapless hero in, which frees the player to try unusual actions in any circumstance, just to see whether the game programmers anticipated it.  (Actually, there is one way for Guybrush to expire – and only one – in the game, which involves hanging around for longer than 10 minutes underwater.)

The Secret of Monkey Island

Guybrush Threepwood is running out of time…

The guiding force behind The Secret of Monkey Island was Ron Gilbert, who based the game’s ambience and feel upon his experience at the Disneyland attraction Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as on the novel On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers, which was the inspiration for many of the game’s characters.  He went to the point of writing a series of short stories based on his ideas for Monkey Island, which he used to help convey the spirit of game to his creative partners, Tim Schaffer and Ron Grossman.  All three used the stories as a blueprint for creating the game, and as a place marker for keeping the project vision focused.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Another tight spot for Guybrush.

The Secret of Monkey Island used LucasArts’ SCUMM engine, and the fifth such game to do so.  Players interacted with the game environment by choosing a verb and an object to interact with, and the game would provide a response.  Examples of the kinds of commands are LOOK AT, GIVE, PICK UP, OPEN, CLOSE, TALK TO, PUSH, PULL, and USE.  Part of the fun of Monkey Island is to see how many responses are programmed into the game depending on what actions you choose!

The Secret of Monkey Island

It’s the Pirate Life for me!

The Secret of Monkey Island migrated to several platforms: MS-DOS, Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, FM Towns, and Sega CD.  It was a smash hit for LucasArts, thus guaranteeing a sequel – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – which was also a huge seller.  In fact, the Monkey Island franchise has had many sequels: The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape From Monkey Island, and the various Tales of Monkey Island Chapters.  Its popularity continues today with the downloadable Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition release.  Gamers just keep coming back the Monkey Island universe, a sure sign of a classic gaming franchise!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_CTE5Xx_1o[/youtube]

Zork

One of my earliest gaming memories involves spending long nights playing Infocom’s flagship game, Zork on my family’s Circle II – an Apple II clone – computer.  This was a text-based adventure: no graphics, no digitized speech, no musical score; just vivid descriptions of another world that still resonate in my memories today.

Zork

Gaming history tidbit! Zork was originally entitled, “Dungeon,” but as soon as the lawyers at TSR, Inc. found out, a quick “thou shalt not” trademark violation letter convinced its creators to call it “Zork” after a MIT slang for an unfinished program. I doubt if anyone would associate the word “zork” with anything but text-based gaming today, so perhaps this is an example of how gaming language changes over time.  But I digress…

Who could forget Zork’s opening: “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.  There is a small mailbox here.”  The text-based parser would respond to your directions, such as “Open mailbox” or even just “open”.   Actually, the parser was quite advanced for the genre, as it was able to handle conjunctions and prepositions, such as “open the mailbox and read the leaflet,” and had a wide array of verbs and nouns that it recognized.  Of course, if you tried a command that it didn’t know, the parser would just respond with, “I don’t understand that” or a pre-programmed witty response if you tried something the programmers anticipated you would, like typing in “jump” and getting “Wheeee!!!” as a response.  For fun, type in any of the following: zork, win, repent, yell, and see what the parser says back.

Zork

 

After a brief search of the area you find a way to enter the house, and from there, the entrance to the Great Underground Empire.  (Incidentally, this game is responsible for teaching gamers that although a sword is wonderful to have, a lantern is even better.  Lose your lamp and expect a grue to feast your poor lost soul.)  Many of the locations in the Great Underground Empire (G.U.E.) found their way into other games, such as the spectacular Flood Control Dam #3.  Did I already mention the magnificent prose used in this game?  These locations were described in such a manner that gamers could close their eyes and visualize their environs…and the danger they were in.

By the way, you’re not alone down there in the remnants of the G.U.E.  Besides the ever-present danger of a grue coming across you, there’s a troll blocking your access, and a damn Thief randomly appears throughout the game.  He’s looking for treasure, and considers you a nice low-level random encounter.  In other words, run into the Thief and he’ll steal you blind.  He might even take your lantern (and that’s a bit of a problem).  A winning strategy is to avoid him until you’re armed and dangerous with the nasty knife, and then take him out (but not before saving the game first; he’s a tough guy to take down).

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

Finding the original disks is a serious challenge these days, thirty years later, but there are several emulations available to anyone looking to play this classic retro game.  You can download the first three games here: http://www.infocom-if.org/downloads/downloads.html or just jump right into a game here:http://thcnet.net/error/index.php You can also play the original Dungeon game complete with a game map, here: http://almy.us/dungeon.html

Go on – enjoy a little classic oldschool gaming with one of the games that started it all!

Wing Commander

Classic games are recognizable by both how much fun they are to play and how much they change the genre – or create their own.  Wing Commander by Origin Systems is a game that fits this criteria for greatness.

Wing Commander - PC Gamwplay Screenshot

The original Wing Commander game circa 1990.

Back in 1990, this game pushed the technology envelope.  It needed a 80386 class machine to really run well, and a VGA card to get all the eye candy it had to offer.  A good argument can be made that Wing Commander helped sell a lot of 386 computers to gamers who needed better hardware to get their sci-fi space combat fix!

The creator of Wing Commander, Chris Roberts, characterized his game as “World War II in space.”  The player took the role of a fighter pilot for the Confederation, battling the war machine of the Kilrathi, a race of feline aliens.  Attack runs and defensive missions were launched from a space-going aircraft carrier, the TCS Tiger Claw.  If the player was successful in meeting mission objectives, the storyline continued with Confederation forces pushing back the Kilrathi armada.  If the player failed their objectives, they could continue to the next mission, but too many failures resulted in the Confederation retreating and ceding the sector to the Kilrathi.  This “campaign tree” game system was innovative and fresh in 1990, and a large part of the reason why Wing Commander is a classic.

Wing Commander - PC Gamwplay Screenshot

The First Wing Commander Add-On Pack

Critics agreed: Wing Commander won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Game, as well as Computer Gaming World’s Overall Game of the Year award.

The game also spawned an entire series of sequels, add-on packs and stand-alone games: Wing Commander: The Secret Missions, Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 – Crusade, Wing Commander II: The Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 1, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2, Wing Commander II Speech Accessory Pack, Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander: Academy, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander: Armada, Wing Commander Privateer: Righteous Fire, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Prophecy, Wing Commander: Prophecy – Secret Ops, and Wing Commander: Privateer 2 – The Darkening.  Numerous “gold” editions for the games which combined the add-on packs with the original games or multi-game packs that featured one or more of Origin’s other titles were also published.  Wing Commander was even ported to other game systems, including the Commodore Amiga system, the Sega CD system, and the Super Nintendo (SNES).  The series even crossed over into Hollywood with a feature film release in 1999.

Wing Commander - PC Gamwplay Screenshot

The 2nd Wing Commander Add-On Pack

If you haven’t played the flagship of the Wing Commander universe, pick up a copy and imagine it’s 1990 all over again.  Become a Confederation cadet and fight the Kilrathi menace – you’ll be glad you did.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlokYOPAa0o[/youtube]

Civilization

Sid Meier's Civilization

A game I fondly remember playing again and again, burning the midnight oil and gaming the night away because of it, was Sid Meier’s Civilization, released by MicroProse Software in 1991.  This retro MS-DOS based game had it all: outstanding gameplay, a well-executed concept, and superb graphics (for its day), and was yet another hit from Sid Meier and his team.

Players started with a single settler (a covered wagon) at the dawn of civilization, chose a location to found their first city, and from that built an empire as the game timeline progressed to the Space Age.  Sometimes you’d find another computer player right next door, and either had to keep the peace with non-stop diplomacy, or – more times than not – send in the troops to crush them like the insects they truly were.  Up to six other civilizations were out there to discover, and they all had to be dealt with, one way or another (either the Americans, Aztecs, Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians, English, French, Germans, Greeks, Indians, Mongolians, Romans, Russians, or Zulus.)

Sid Meier's Civilization

Yet this wasn’t just yet another military simulation; players had to build their empires by monitoring the happiness of their citizenry, providing improvements that would encourage growth in their cities, establish trade routes, and pursue technology advancements through scientific research.  Neglect anything for too long and the consequences could be dire: fall behind in the technology and your troops might be like the Polish Cavalry facing the Blitzkrieg on horse with sabres.  Forget to keep your citizenry content and your cities begin revolting.  Overlook trading with other empires and find your city improvement budgets limited.  Limit your internal and external upgrades of your cities, and watch them spontaneously Neglect to build up your military might and watch as your cities fall to the armed might of your bitter enemies – or worse yet, random barbarians raging across the continent. A strong empire builder needed to be aware of all aspects of their empire!

Sid Meier's Civilization

But, wait, there’s more!  This was an incredibly deep game.  You start out as a Despot (where do I sign up?), but as the game progressed and new ideas developed as a result of technological improvements, other forms of government presented themselves.  Each had its advantages depending on your goals and current state of your empire, but each also had disadvantages.  It wasn’t a great idea to switch to Democracy in the middle of a military build-up or full-blown campaign, as your citizens tended to be on the pacifistic side.  On the other hand, if you wanted to push the envelope on scientific development, ruling over your cities with an iron fist as King wasn’t a winning strategy either.

You could also gain serious advantages over the other empires by building one of the many Wonders of the World.  These took a long time to build, using up many resources, but could be the difference-maker between victory or defeat.  These Wonders varied by game era, and could become obsolete with new technological advances.  Some had limited appeal and should only be looked at under a specific set of circumstances, however.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJu7cUVTO8E[/youtube]

This game has not only stood the test of time, it has spawned many sequels: Civilization II, III, and IV, CivNet (the first multiplayer Civilization), Civilization Gold, and Civilization Revolution, as well as many similarly-themed games, such as Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Call to Power, Colonization, and Master of Magic.  And the franchise doesn’t appear to be running out of steam anytime soon.  If you love retro games and you haven’t played the original Civilization, what are you waiting for?

 

Planescape: Torment

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

There are few words that can describe the wonder that is Planescape: Torment.  A few that come to mind: amazingdeepgloriousimmersive.  This game is worth every accolade sent its way and more.

Released by Interplay in 1998, Planescape: Torment was developed by Black Isle Studios, the RPG masters who also worked on Icewind Dale, Fallout, and Baldur’s Gate.  The game is set in the Planescape universe, part of the Dungeons & Dragons setting.  You are in the City of Sigil, the center of the universe – a place where any creature from any place in the multiverse can visit, as long as they do not disrupt the eternal rule of the Lady of Pain.  The game mechanics follow the 2nd Edition rules set, so no Feats or other munchkin bells & whistles.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

The graphics are in 2D isolinear, a standard for RPGs of the late 1990’s.  Though not as detailed when compared to today’s near photorealistic graphics, the characters and backgrounds are still quite detailed, and do not distract from enjoyable gameplay.  The music sounds a bit other-worldly, which is par for the course for a game set in the Outer Planes of the D&D cosmos.  Unlike some games, where the music is either repetitive or annoyingly out-of-place,  the music in Planescape: Torment does what it’s supposed to do: add atmosphere to the gameplay and stay in the background.  By the way, the sound effects and spoken dialogue are spectacular, too.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

You begin the game waking up from a marble slab in the middle of the mortuary.  You don’t know who you are.  You don’t know anyone you meet.  You’re covered with scars that seem too numerous to be received in just one lifetime, which is to be expected, as it seems you have a curious immortality: although you can die, you cannot stay dead.   This isn’t a standard RPG; your goal isn’t to find a treasure or defeat an ultimate villain.  All you need to do is to discover exactly who you are, and why is it that you suffer so.  As you progress through the game, you will gain new insights to who you’ve been, the friends and enemies you’ve made, and the feats you’ve accomplished.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

Since your memory is gone, you choose what class you want to level up in as you gain experience, and you are not limited to that class each time you reach the next experience plateau.  More importantly, experience is rewarded for more than just combat.  How you speak to NPCs can result in a bonanza of experience points, as can completing tasks.  The choices you face in every encounter can adjust your alignment depending on what approach you take.  In short, everything about Planescape: Torment is open-ended, the hallmark of an excellent RPG.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s2Qkx3lN5s[/youtube]

As you gain experience, you also gain ability points.  Which attributes you put those points towards makes a difference in how the game progresses.  New dialogue options might open up for you.  Certain NPCs may treat you differently.  Quests might have different parameters.  Your choices impact how the game plays!

I cannot remember a game that I have enjoyed more than Planescape: Torment.  In fact, it became my favorite game I ever played back when it was released, and no game since has been able to knock it from that position.  The only weakness I can think of for this game is that eventually it ends.  If Black Isle made another Planescape game I would buy it in a heartbeat.  If you haven’t played Planescape: Torment, you’ve missed out on something BIG.  Get yourself a copy. STAT!!

Duke Nukem 3D

“Who wants some?”
These words always bring back awesome gaming memories of this installment of the magisterrex Game of the Week: 3D Realms’ 1996 PC games classic, Duke Nukem 3D.  Many hours were spent blasting away aliens, looking for all the secret rooms, and seeing how much of the environment could be manipulated.  And all the while Duke Nukem ripped off one-liner after one-liner, just like a good action picture from the 80′s.

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Duke Nukem 3D 1996 Release

“Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!”
The story was pretty straightforward.  Aliens had taken over Los Angeles, and had genetically mutated a bunch of mankind (including all L.A.P.D.’s officers, turning them all into Pigs).  This was bad enough, but when they shot down Duke’s shuttle, it was time to make them pay, and Duke spends the rest of the game wiping out the alien menace.

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition

“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of gum.”
Players could look up and down, change altitude with a jet pack, get shrunk by a shrinkray, go anywhere they wanted.  There were levels in bars, levels where you had to go underwater, levels where you had to fight in the dark.  This game was the total package.  But it wasn’t for the kiddies, though, with plenty of cussing, a constant array of strippers, partial pixelated nudity, and lots of gooey bits left over when Duke’s enemies got zapped.

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The Kill A Ton Collection

“I ain’t afraid of no quake!”
Part of the fun is finding all the hidden references to other games or movies.  Some of the characters (well, their dead bodies, at least) or items you find are:  The Terminator, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, The Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Doom guy, a video of the OJ Simpson car chase, and the alien mothership from Independence Day.  These are the kind of small touches that make a good game a great game.

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The T-800 looking a little flat in Duke Nukem

“Shake it, baby.”
To the no one’s surprise, it turned out that throwing cash at strippers and blowing away partially nude women can get your game put on the kind of lists that prevent Wal-Mart from displaying it on their shelves.  3D Realms found Duke Nukem 3D banned by Brazilian authorities, required to release a parental locked version to access the Australian market, and even placed outright on the “List of Media Harmful to Young People” in Germany.  Back in 1996, this game was mired in controversy!

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

A pixelicious Duke Nukem 3D stripper.

“Hail to the King, baby!”
Duke Nukem sold over 300,000 copies in its first week of release.  It went on to spawn several re-releases, like the Atomic Edition, East Meets West, and 3rd party level compilations and other mods, like Duke!Zone and Nuclear Winter.  In the end the sales of Duke Nukem 3D were in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and made Duke Nukem easily one of the most recognizable franchises and characters in the gaming world.

Duke Nukem 3D - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

East Meets West Pack

“What are you waiting for? Christmas?”
If you never played Duke Nukem 3D, go on and pick this game up.  It’s still a lot of fun, even after all these years – as the best games always are!  And don’t forget to download the high-resolution pack, which transforms this classic into a 32-bit juggernaut of retro gaming goodness!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBrvyM4JZ4Q[/youtube]

The Last Express

The Last Express
I do know that the precious reader of Gnome’s Lair has been quite aware of my interest (or is that fascination?) with The Last Express. I have after all been constantly mentioning the thing both via Twitter and Facebook, and have also grabbed a digital copy via gog.com, which I promptly installed. But should I review it? I really don’t think so. More than a few excellent reviews and retrospectives for this truly unique, groundbreaking, gorgeous and amazing adventure game are readily available and are way better written than anything I could hope to come up with. That’s why I have chosen to do something I’ve never really done on this blog; namely write a series of posts more or less detailing my experiences through the game.
Here I go now…
Being a traditionalist, I didn’t immediately start playing after downloading and installing the game. Oh no. I read through the manual, watched the mostly spoiler free making-of video and even had a glance at the digital version of the Quick Reference Guide. The manual was unsurprisingly the best part, what with it trying to explain the intricacies of the game’s non-standard interface and features, while wisely providing minimal only information on the plot and some interesting insights to the Orient Express -the setting of The Last Express– itself.
The Last Express
The game itself starts off with an impressive if short intro movie that managed to immediately set the tone and introduce me to the amazing visuals on offer, though intriguingly failed to also introduce me to my apparently Irish avatar and his motives. This lack of knowledge has so far proved an excellent idea, as I slowly get to uncover who I’m guiding (most probably to his doom), discovering his shady -hopefully revolutionary, what with Mr. Robert Cath being Irish a few years before Ireland’s war for independence- past and finding out what it is I’m supposed to be doing. As for the newspaper clipping discovered in my pocket, the same clipping that let me know I was a wanted man, was too vague to enlighten me, but intriguing enough to get me hooked.
The Last Express
The game’s interface, on the other hand, is rather intuitive and more or less straight forward, despite the rather odd way the inventory works. Also, the fact that The Last Express is played in real time and comes complete with an incredibly handy rewind time feature, allows for complete freedom of exploration, true in-game choice and a relaxed pace. There simply is no anxiety for dead ends, which I thought -and still think- is necessary to enjoy such an investigation heavy adventure.
The first few hours are, after all, far from action-packed. As Robert Cath I fought a guy, sneaked around, eavesdropped and enjoyed the excellent French, Serbian, English, African and Russian accents, disposed of a body, got a feel for the train, helped an ageing aristocrat make it through the night, met some surprising characters and even hid in a toilet while waiting for a policeman to leave the train. I particularly enjoyed reading through a 1914 newspaper, that ominously foreshadowed the Great War.
The Last Express
Importantly I also found out that I’d better get the passenger list, some papers and a certain suitcase from the off-limits luggage compartment. Following characters and trying to either chat them up or spy on them proved quite a bit revealing too, whereas climbing in and out of my cabin’s window has not been particularly enlightening though incredibly fun, but, I’ll admit, hardly as elating as breathing the atmosphere of the turbulent and politically tense times before the First World War.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9G3Cbw1Y9UQ[/youtube]
A Russian anarchist arguing with a young lady of a Czarist affiliation, a German capitalist that wants to purchase gold, Serbian patriots that had something to do with my deceased (and inelegantly disposed) comrade and some sort of colonial royalty make for an incredible assortment of characters, that turn the confined space of the train into a vibrant setting as lively as you’d imagine it. Oh yes, I might have not progressed as much as I’d hoped, but I’m definitely enjoying myself.


Exolon

Exolon (1987)
By: Hewson  Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 15,850
Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Enterprise 128

Exolon gameplay screenshot

Having recently revisited one game by the great Raffaele Cecco, and the one I knew best, I thought it might be time for a long overdue look at another, this time on the system where he made his name. I was always enticed by the attractive-looking screen shots of Exolon in the Speccy magazines I enthusiastically read in the mid-to-late 80’s too, which makes the fact that I never played it all the more odd. There’s no story here as such with the game merely plonking you on some alien-infested planet and advising you to proceed from left to right wiping them out! This involves guiding your battle-hardened space marine through 124 screens filled with everything the aliens can throw at you.

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The marine is outfitted with the snazzy Exolon suit, a powerful exoskeleton equipped with a hand blaster and backpack grenade launcher, and it is these that will facilitate your progress. The screens, or ‘zones’, are occupied by a mixture of targets. Some feature aliens themselves who swarm from right to left across the screen indefinitely. These can be taken out easily with your hand blaster but there are also ground-based guns and missile-launchers which can only be taken out by grenades, and it’s the same for the non-hostile but still inconvenient obstacles which appear to consist of hardware such as satellite dishes as well as strange alien structures. You’ll also encounter land-mines which can’t be destroyed at all. Your brave space-marine is a little delicate though as contact with one of these, or indeed any enemy/bullet/missile, results in instant death!

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is the quality of its graphics which really are superb. The colourful screens full of well-defined sprites and objects are enjoyable to battle through and still impress today. The sound is pretty minimal though with just a few basic effects to listen out for. Control over spacey is pretty good – he can jump and duck to avoid enemies and, although his blaster and grenades supplies are finite, he can pick up more along the way which also includes a power-up for the blaster. You’ll get a bonus at the end of the level (25 screens equal one ‘level’) if you forego the upgrade but I’d get it if I were you – this is a pretty tough game (much like all of Mr. Cecco’s games, in fact)! It’s not too unfair though with few screens proving notably harder than others and you should make gradual progress, and you’ll want to too as Exolon is a well-designed and thoroughly enjoyable run ‘n’ gunner and among the best on the Speccy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGpQxt3vn3o[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

Commander Keen 4

Commander Keen 4 - PC

This time around we have a classic for any PC gamer that was around in the early 90s. Commander Keen IV is what made the franchise complete as it unveiled a game like no other. Commander Keen was what Mario is for Nintendo, a franchise that always delivered but like any great franchise it must have it’s ace game. This game is Commander Keen at its best and it shows. With great graphics(for its time) And awesome mechanics and sound, there is very little to dislike about this game. The plays very simple, it’s your average platformer but with a spark of creativity that makes it very enjoyable. You play as Billy once more and are on a quest to save some old people! Yeah, these old people are actually a community of keepers that have been kidnapped. Your mission my friend is to save these keepers, sounds simple huh? It’s not! Especially in the later levels as the game becomes more challenging than ever before. Overall, the game is just enjoyable from beginning to end although there are many secrets to be found(I haven’t found all of them).

Commander Keen 4

The music of the game is enjoyable as well, if you are lucky enough to play it in true DOS then you will also be able to choose from the PC speaker sound which isn’t bad at all just very retro. If not, you can always use the wonderful and probably best emulator ever released DOS BOX and find yourself a copy of the game, you’ll do fine like that as well. I wish I had my classic PC out so I could be playing it in pure DOS but I will have to settle for Dos box which is not bad but I think most of you know how much I love classic original stuff(Except Famicom, I wuv Famicom pirates).

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

To conclude, this amazing masterpiece published by Apogee and developed by ID software Is something that any gamer should play period. It will cost you nothing now that the episode is everywhere on the net and in the end, you’ll have a very enjoyable retro gaming time. I’m telling you this for your own good, be sure to pay respects to the roots of gaming and try it out.

Urban Legend

Urban Legend - PC Review
The year is 2127 and Russia has been a colony of the US for over a century. The people are starving, Neuromancer influenced megacorporations are running amok, genetically modified food is introducing the masses to cancer, non genetically modified animals have been extinct for ages, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and this time around there is no Lenin. There’s only John Doe -strangely, one of the more interestingly named heroes in history- and it sure feels as if someone pressed the diarrhoea button for the great arsehole up there. Oh, and thankfully it’s still 2007 and this, apparently, is a review of Urban Legend.
Urban Legend - PC Review

 

So, uh, let me introduce the game properly, shall I? Well, according to the developer (Russia based ELENS) Urban Legend is an isometric turn-based squad-based strategy game, and, shockingly, it really is. And a good one at that too. The game offers over 30 levels of sheer strategic fun that will definitely appeal to the Fallout, Jagged Alliance and X-Com (a.k.a UFO) crowds, providing a very elegant action points based combat mechanic and an intuitive interface, that’s as simple as left-clicking to move and right-clicking to fire. Then again, moving and firing, admittedly with the added hassle of picking the right weapons and selecting/equipping a modestly sized squad, can be tactically challenging enough to test years of accumulated turn-based combat experience and even lead to frustration and/or insomnia. Thankfully genre beginners and tired middle-agers can always go for the easy setting.

Urban Legend - PC Review

Us young and lively gnomes, on the other hand, always go for the harder difficulty setting such as …er… hard and nightmare… It’s a masochist thing, really.

The enemy AI feels brilliant, and -what’s more- getting progressively smarter, the level design is varied and lethal enough to have your clumsily positioned sniper killed in no time, whereas the simple RPG-like progression of your squad gives the game a depth that can easily turn it into an addictive marathon. I for one have spent over 30 hours with the beast and have yet to beat it or at least get bored. You see, Urban Legend might not be the most innovative indy game ever developed, but it’s a brilliantly polished, immensely playable and very fair experience, that does make sure you’ll only loose when you make an obvious -even if tiny- mistake. It’s a fully satisfying example of an almost extinct, but still popular (ah, gotta love them contradictions) genre.

The only rough bits are some awkward translations from Russian to English, that are easily forgiven, as they almost enhance the (cyberpunk; did I mention that?) atmosphere. Besides, when you get tons of beautiful pixel-artist created graphics -some the best I’ve actually ever seen- and smart splashes of sarcastic humor, you can definitely ignore the odd misspelling.

Visit the Urban Legend website and grab a demo.

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Kid Gloves

Kid Gloves - Amiga

Kid Gloves (1990)
By: Logotron Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga First Day Score: 48,550
Also Available For: Atari ST

The poor old Amiga games industry was ravaged by pirated copies of games flooding the market and friends copying games for each other, it was this more than anything else that brought Commodore down in the mid-90’s. I’ve always tried to avoid that sort of business but when I belatedly got my Amiga, a friend gave me a box of discs with copied games on. Some didn’t work, others were pretty sucky, but of them all Kid Gloves is probably the one I played the most, guiltily of course, but seeing as it was later given away free by Amiga Power magazine I don’t feel so bad now! However, since I no longer have my Amiga and have developed a deep fear of using WinUAE, it’s been a long time since I played this game. It’s not looked upon too favourably by the Amiga community these days, I wonder if I’m about to destroy my happy memories of playing it too…

Kid Gloves - Amiga

It’s a pretty simple game which sees you, as Kid, attempting to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend or some such nonsense. In order to do this he must make his way through the danger-filled, flick-screen world between him and his goal. Each of the screens are populated by various creatures and obstacles, such as pigs, goblin things, whirly blades, etc, which move in short, simple patterns, and some which remain still, such as fire. Contact with any of these objects means instant death for our hapless hero. Fortunately he can fight back, against the creatures at least, by firing coins at them, and there are other weapons available in the shop that appears periodically including Flames, Deathstar, and Megalaser. Many of the screens also contain other items like food (for points), keys (to pass barriers), money (to spend in shops), smart bombs (to clear screens of enemies), and ankh’s (for extra lives) and he can also use magic to turn the barriers into food too.

Kid Gloves - Amiga

If there’s one thing about Kid Gloves which is still as true today as the first day I played it, it’s that it’s a pretty tough game! Some screens have objects such as blocks that fall down when you touch them to help you reach certain areas. Not only does this kind of thing kill you if you go so much as a pixel too close, but they can also have the opposite effect and prevent you from accessing an area. Most of the enemies in the game either walk backwards and forwards on platforms or bounce on the spot but there are also some that appear some time after you entered a screen. These ones can move freely around the screen and pursue you like Baron Von Blubba! Luckily, unlike the Bubble Bobble meany, these can be shot, but they always appear in the same place regardless of where you are on the screen which means they might appear right on top of you if you’re not careful! There are also some fireball things that move much more quickly around the screen if you hang around for too long, and these cannot be shot. However, leaving the screen then returning to it will reset everything to its original place, except the enemies which do not reappear.

Kid Gloves - Amiga

That’s pretty much the only problem with this game. I knew even back then that it was a simple game, looking more akin to a Public Domain game than a full-price release. The backgrounds and sprites look okay but are poorly animated and hardly push the Amiga to its limits. There is some nice sampled sound effects and speech though, and a pretty decent title-screen tune, but there’s no in-game music. None of this is really reason to dislike the game, it just has a few minor gameplay flaws that are so frustrating. The collision-detection is pretty shocking for one thing which obviously doesn’t help matters, and the controls can be really fiddly too – you try going up or down a ladder in a hurry! I never could get very far in Kid Gloves and that hasn’t changed since I started replaying it. Every time I think “right, I’ll get really far into it this time” it just ends up annoying me too much and I play something else. I don’t think it’s aged too badly, but it’s flaws are more apparent to me now. Ultimately it has a certain charm but this is a very average game that could’ve so much better with a few tweaks.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjjHNqxLJ5M[/youtube]

RKS Score: 5/10

Empires and Dungeons

Empires and Dungeons
It’s a rare moment when one of the best games ever conceived (rogue actually, read about it here and play it too) sort of evolves into something that’s reminiscent of the best fantasy turn-based strategy game ever sold or pirated(that’s got to be Heroes of Might and Magic 3; see it @ mobygames). Empires and Dungeons attempts to do exactly that.

 

Empires and Dungeons

Empires and Dungeons is basically a quasi turn-based dungeon hack with a simple, albeit purely turn-based, strategy game bolted on top of it. It plays surprisingly well, for it manages to be as simple and intuitive as Diablo, almost as rightly paced as rogue and as one-more-turn-syndrome evoking as HOMM or even Civ. More than that, the graphics are way better than ascii @s and Xs, and the Deutsch-English language used throughout the game, is not as badly translated as one would expect. The game goes as far as actually featuring something very reminiscent of decent prose.

Empires and Dungeons

 

Oh, and I’m sure I’ve heard the excellent background music before… But, really, who’s paying attention to such things? This game is a solid time-waster ideal for a) people with lots of time, b) turn-based worshippers, c) wullet bitches, d) artists that don’t need inspiration, e) indy gamers with a retro tendency.