Mission Impossible

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Mission Impossible 

Well known as being a crushing disappointment when it was released back in 1998, it’s difficult to know exactly who would want to play Mission Impossible nowadays.

What’s really surprising about revisiting it today though is how you can still see the potential underneath the myriad of design missteps. It wasn’t dubbed ‘dissapointing’ for nothing.

Based on the TV series rather than the movie, the game opens with that tune and with some truly shonky looking character introductions.

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Supposedly made to look like each person is twirling towards the screen, they instead look like they’re suffering from some serious spasms.

Things don’t get any better with the opening cutscene, which is woodenly animated and incredibly ugly and angular. It was never going to look good next to modern titles, but it’s still noticeably poor.

The first mission is also dull, and lacks any of the verve or excitement of the opening of say, Goldeneye.

You’re tasked with infiltrating a frosty Scandinavian (well, I presume it’s Scandanavian – the game gives all of its locations fake names for some reason) base and destroy the submarine within it.

Mission_Impossible-N64

Sounds promising, but it’s almost insultingly simple. You go into a building once you’re into the base, knock out a guard, disguise yourself as him (face changing is a big part of the game) and then stroll to the exit.

You then get to the next section, and have to find some bombs (why you didn’t bring your own is never explained) and plant them onto the sub and escape.

This had the potential to be a tense and stealth-based affair, but the game allows you to alert all the guards in the complex and still survive.

Thanks to the huge health meter (that’s the fuse at the bottom of the screenshot above) you can take hit after hit and grab the bombs, attach them to the sub and escape with no trouble at all.

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It feels cheap, and there’s no satisfaction to be had from defying the odds as it was so easy.

Still, it’s perhaps fortunate that stealth wasn’t an pre-requisite in the mission, as the controls are woeful if you’re hoping to avoid detection. The main reason for this is because it’s nearly impossible to control the camera.

You have to move your hand off the analogue stick and use the d-pad to rotate the camera, which is as clumsy as it gets.

This means the C-pad is used to select your items and the d-pad for the camera, whereas it should have been the other way around.

So after this limp opening you may be ready to give up hope, but the next mission is markedly better – or at least, it starts off well.

Mission_Impossible-N64

You must access the important areas of a Czech embassy while disguised as a waiter, while also having to rig the air ducts with gas bombs and assume the identity of the Ambassadors Aide.

The way you achieve the last objective is actually surprisingly enjoyable and amusing. You not only have to spike his drink, but also have follow him to the bathroom and knock him out (and then change your face to his).

Most amusing is the cutscene where you drag the unconscious aide into the bathroom. You see him being slowly pulled in, and it looks incredibly dodgy – this clip must have been included as a joke.

What even more hilarious is when you take out the female assassin in the same place. Look 4 minutes and 53 seconds into this video to see for yourself:

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This section ultimately makes you feel like an undercover agent though, and is a great example of why people’s hopes for this game back in 1998 were so high.

Somewhat inevitably it’s followed by a highly tedious trudge through a poison gas filled labyrinth however, which requires you to know exactly which explosive boxes to destroy to get through.

Choose the wrong route and you’re pretty much finished, as you only have a limted amount of ammunition.

Mission_Impossible-N64

To make matters worse the game froze while I was playing this section for no reason whatsoever, but with the game’s reputation for being a buggy this was no surprise.

My recent time playing the game is a perfect demonstration of the game as a whole. Small, promising snippets followed by crushingly dull or frustrating troughs.

Mission Impossible is not a complete disaster, but is sadly a case of a potentially great license squandered.

Excitebike

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Excitebike

A title fondly remembered by any and all who played it. Introducing the thrill of motocross to millions who were years away from even thinking about a drivers license is one of the most popular and beloved of the Black Box titles, Excitebike!

Excitebike
Excitebike, October 1985, Nintendo

Conceived in Tokyo late 1984, Excitebike was the first NES title that gaming gods Shigeru Miyamoto and Toshihiko Nakago worked on together. These two along with Takashi Tezuka are often regarded as Nintendo’s “Dream Team” and have worked together for over 25 years, developing titles you may have heard of like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda.

Excitebike
Part of the Un-Programmable Series. Is this is first instance of the title screen not being black other than Mario? The less black on your splash screen, the higher the rating!

The story goes that Miyamoto wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur right out of the gate but neither one thought the NES was capable of producing the exact feelings of accurately launching off ramps at high rates of speed and attempting to right your center of balance in mid-air. Determined to create a game that proved the NES was one malleable beast, they gathered that the physics for motorbikes was similar to what they were trying to accomplish with the unnamed Mario dino and Excitebike was born.

Excitebike
Look Ma! And you said dropping out would make me become a nothing! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

The game itself is a time tested classic. The graphics are bright, the variety of colors seem well thought out, and the music is classic NES fare, especially the catchy title screen tune. There are a total of two modes and 5 tracks but the action never feels dull or repetitive for a second. The first mode is a time trial where you are given a par time and must best it while dodging obstacles, aiming for ramps that shoot you into the stratosphere, and keeping an eye on your temp gauge to insure you don’t overheat. Overheating is one of the first challenges to overcome as having to wait for your bike to cool off can add precious seconds to your time. What’s awesome is that while A is your normal speed and B is your high speed, the game makes it impossible to not want to lean on B the entire time. There is definately strategy involved as to when to haul ass safely to your next opening in the action and when to slow things down so your don’t wreck or have to sit on the sidelines pissed off for a spell. Icons are laid out on the track as a sort of “instant cool down” for your engine and blend into the ramps, dirtpiles, and water puddles in a way to keep things intresting. The mechanics are simply amazing for the time as you can lean yourself forward or back in mid-air and it just feels right. Call it a lazy description but that is Excitebike as a whole, it just…feels…right.

Excitebike
So…which one of you assholes played Road Rash?

The second mode is just as fun but three times the white knuckle inducing challenge. You play the same five courses, but now have other “Excitebikers” to contend with. Sometimes, if you do much as scratch them, you’re picking yourself and your bike up off the ground. In real motocross, I imagine even a tenth of a second worth of impact can be catastrophic for the racers so it adds a feeling of true danger to the game. It isn’t difficult in a way that feels cheap as much as it feels like the challenge dares you want to try again an hour after you turn it off, the mark of any great game.

Excitebike
WHY GOD WHY? This mode would’ve been the standard bearer for mods years before they became as popular as they did.

Design Mode is exactly what it sounds like. You get your own NES canvas and get to paint it however you like. Starting with a completely bare track, there are 19 ways to litter it with shit that would drive anyone who tested your tracks out insane. The only bummer here is that it required the Famicom Data Recorder to save and load the tracks, which was never released outside Japan.

Excitebike
“It isn’t that Nintendo didn’t want to make more games starring me, my Lloyds of London insurance agents were PISSED when they got a copy of the original!”

In the actual Excitebike manual, it states “Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments.” Seeing as this isn’t part of the Sports Series of the Black Box titles and one of the Programmable Series, not having the peripheral that would’ve made an already epic game into an even bigger landmark title is kind of a let-down. Thankfully, the rest rules and eventually Miyamoto got to use the lessons learned here to create one of Nintendo’s top mascots of all-time, Yoshi.

 

THE FINAL VERDICT

9/10 A must have for every NES library, Excitebike is easily a title you can pop into the old grey box and still have a blast with. The physics are spot on, the fun factor is off the charts, and the challenge can go from beginner to ready to kick down walls. Good news is that Excitebike is one of the common carts, so this one can probably be found from $3 to $6 on average and worth every cent.

Excitebike
Ah, the classic Mario Excitebike we all piled into the stores for back in 1997 to add to our growing SNES collec…wait, WHATTHEUNHOLYFUCK???

The Excitebike series, for as popular and endearing to the fans as it was, laid dormant until 2000’s Excitebike 64 here in North America. HOWEVER, there was a little invention called the Sattellaview that hooked in through the Super Famicom in Japan (it would take all night to go into detail exactly what it was, think Sega Channel, but Nintendo), and in 1997, they released the most mind-blowing version of Excitebike ever.

Excitebike
Such an awesome find that I had to share two pictures from it. Hear that sound? That’s Nintendo still flushing money down toilets today for not releasing this publicly.

Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a SNES port of Excitebike featuring characters straight from the Mushroom Kingdom! It is a fucking travesty that more people don’t know this game exists as the gameplay and all-around Excitebike awesomeness is 100% intact. This will be a first for me because I’m all about original carts but since this bad boy had no cart, I highly recommend emulating this unknown piece of history. Excitebike with updated graphics starring Mario characters? How they could pass up the millions of dollars this could have sold is way beyond me.

Thunderscape

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Thunderscape

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

Thunderscape PC Cover

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

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

Thunderscape PC

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

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

Thunderscape PC

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

Thunderscape PC

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

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

Thunderscape PC

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

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

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Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

When Super Mario Kart landed on the SNES back in 1992, it was one of the most beloved racing games of all-time. Sega countered Mario with Sonic R on the Sega Saturn, and I considered it one of the most horrible games I’ve played. I did play a little of the original Sonic & All-Stars Racing on the Xbox 360, and was honestly shocked by its quality. Impressed by it’s predecessor, I decided to see if the sequel was any good.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Like Mario Kart, Transformed is a simple go-kart (sorta) racer with power-ups that either help you or slow down your opponents.  While I wasn’t terribly familiar with the original, I can tell the new feature in the game is the ability for your car to morph. It can fly in the air as a plane or ride the waves as a boat.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
 The single player features a rather impressive world tour mode which features challenges at your own pace. The good majority of the challenges are against A.I. opponents in a race to the finish. But there are also some unique ones here and there like a drift challenge and a challenge that has you maneuvering through traffic. And of course like any racing game from this decade, an online-mode to race friends and strangers.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Overall I ended up enjoying Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed a good bit. I thought the game had surpassed Mario Kart in offering a more full-filling campaign mode. Though the actual racing isn’t as fun as Mario Kart, and the boat and plane transformations aren’t that revolutionary. When compared to Sonic R, it’s a masterpiece, but overall Mario is still a good bit better than Sonic.
Score: 7 out of 10

James Bond 007

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James Bond 007

If you were to take a guess, you’d probably expect James Bond 007 to be a bland and utterly unremarkable platformer of some kind.

So for it to be a largely unconventional RPG style adventure is a very welcome suprise.

Although it never gets near being of the same quality of its obvious inspiration, Link’s Awakening, James Bond 007 offers up a virtual Bond escapade that feel genuinely different to the norm for the franchise.

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The game eases you in, with the first stage set in China. You’re tasked with finding some secret plans by fighting your way through a temple.

There’s no actual action until you’ve fixed a bridge and talked to several villagers, which definitely goes against the Bond tradition of an explosive opening.

Things get going once you steal the plans though, with several thugs and a boss (femme fatale Zhong Mae) standing in the way of your escape.

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This is where the main similarities to Zelda begin. To equip weapons and items you press select, where you can assign actions to the A and B buttons.

When you start you’ll likely equip just a block and a punch, but eventually you can choose from an arsenal of guns, machetes and various Q gadgets.

Action is admittedly stilted throughout the game, due to the limited size of the character sprites that are used, but bigger bosses do usually require a bit more than button mashing to defeat.

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Puzzles in the game are generally simplistic, and are usually nothing more than dressed up fetch or search quests, but there are occasions where a little thinking is required.

One example is early on in the game, where you have to sneak past a guard in a bar. To do so you need to shoot out the light so he can’t see you. There’s even a quip – “I left him in the dark” – to enjoy once you’ve complete this task.

James_Bond-gameboy

Its somewhat ironic that its the Bond license that maintains your interest though.

The quips, the globe trotting (locations include China, London and Kurdistan) and the fan service are what really keep you playing.

Bond flirting with Moneypenny, things going wrong in Q’s lab (sending a jet-chair through a wall is a highlight) and M’s blunt but caring attitude to 007 are all present and correct.

James_Bond-gameboy

It’s therefore safe to say that James Bond 007 probably wouldn’t be worth playing if it didn’t star England’s most famous fictional spy, but is undoubtedly still worth looking into if you’re fan of the franchise.

A little like Timothy Dalton, the game tries something a little different and isn’t entirely successful – but is still worth investigating if you get the chance.

Frozen Synapse

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Frozen Synapse

When Frozen Synapse first came out, I really did not pay much attention to it.  The visuals were really bad, and it was something that had almost no pre-release buzz.  Then I picked it up cheap as part of a bundle and finally decided to see what all of the fuss was about.

I went into this title blind.  I will admit that I saw the blocky, basic visuals and thought it might be a puzzle game of some sort – wow was I off-track on that one.  What you have is a turn-based strategy game that actually feels fresh.  Now, I cannot give the graphics a pass – they are pretty rough in my opinion.  The map and characters would feel right at home on a PC from two decades ago, though there are some decently rendered sequences between missions that show peoples’ faces and locales.

Frozen Synapse - PC

The reason this game works though, is because the strategy is actually interesting.  You really do get back what you put into it.  At first the learning curve was a bit high – there was a lot of information to take in right away.  That said, the layout was clean, the menus are helpful and easy to navigate and those elements helped ease the transition.

Frozen Synapse - PC

Essentially you are in command of a number of soldiers, who have different weapon types.  You move them to specific locations, set them up with options like hiding behind shorter barriers, guarding windows or trying to control intersections by positioning and aiming them.  You make these choices without knowing what your opponent has planned.  Then both sides ‘go’ and move through their commands, and the sides engage in firefights if they call into each others’ cones of vision.

Frozen Synapse - PC

If this all sounds a bit strange, that’s because it sort of is at first.  But there is a very long single player mode, and a fairly interesting multiplayer mode that handles rankings and matchmaking.  I enjoyed the multiplayer, and had a frustration with it at the same time.  The game plays out just like it does in single player mode, in that both sides plot out their turns and then flag themselves as ready to proceed.  Once both sides are ready, the computer handles how the scenario plays out, and you are informed that you have a new turn available.

Frozen Synapse - PC

You can then access that game again and watch your turn play out.  This was neat because I could react very quickly and have a handful of rounds roll out one after another if my opponent was still online at the time, or I could check back the next day and see if I was up yet.  I really enjoyed that sort of measured play.

Frozen Synapse - PC

 

The downside is it is way too easy for players to abandon games they have no hope of winning.  I had several matches I was almost certainly going to win, having my opinion down to their last soldier or two, but then they just never finished the map.  This can create a very false win/loss record.

Frozen Synapse - PC

The music is decent – certainly better than the graphics, but the meat and potatoes here is in the gameplay itself.  Adding further value to it, these maps are randomized.  So even if you lose on a map, you start the level over and you will likely have an entirely new situation.  I liked that because it forced me to actually get better at the game and not just memorize maps and movement patterns.

Frozen Synapse - PC

All in all, this game was a fun little surprise for me.  It’s not perfect, but it was a title I did enjoy playing all the same and would score a 7.5 out of 10.

Horace Goes Skiing

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Horace Goes Skiing

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

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

Probably not.

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

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

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

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

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

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

Horace Goes Skiing - ZX Spectrum

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

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

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New Super Mario Bros. Wii

 The original New Super Mario Bros. on DS was a good platformer and a great revival of the classic 2D games. Though it was too easy, a little bland, and there was a lot they could have improved upon. I was surprised to see the first sequel appear on Wii instead of the DS (or the eventual 3DS), but I thought it would be about the same quality as the first. I was thankfully wrong about that.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Gameplay screenshot -
Don’t get me wrong, I did like the first game but I loved New Super Bros. Wii. It had such a variety of levels, proved to be a challenge in the later levels (though not terribly difficult), and had levels almost as fun as Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. I have yet to play either the 3DS or WiiU sequel, but I will.

Virtual Pool 64

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Virtual Pool 64

In terms of content alone, Virtual Pool 64 is a success.

The big issue is whether this huge amount of content and modes is worth wading through today.

If you’re a pool fan it’s probably safe to say that it is though. Despite the game’s slightly dated visuals it plays a fairly solid virtual rendition of the ball potting sport.

The controls are undoubtedly the most important element of the game – without feeling suitably responsive and solid the main meat of the game would be largely worthless.

So it’s good to see they’re not bad. Not perfect by any means, but workable enough.

Virtual Pool 64 - N64

Moving your cue (seemingly held by the invisible man) is done with the analogue stick. Adjusting the cue angle is done with the right C-button, while holding the R trigger helpfully allows you to see things from an overhead perspective.

Hitting the ball is a little odd though. You have to hold A, and then pull back the analogue stick, pushing it forward to strike the ball. The strength of the shot depends on how quickly you move the stick.

It’s unintutive at first, but eventually you get used to it. You can see what the developers were going for at least, attempting to recreate the cue movement with the analogue stick.

You can then start picking through the games many options and modes.

Virtual Pool 64 - N64

There are nine variants of pool to choose from, and you can play in one-off matches, tournaments and more for each.

Four of them are the same thing but with a different number of balls though.

3-ball, 6-ball, 9-ball and 10-ball all see you potting the balls in numerical order, with the person to pot the last one the winner.

I personally have always found this version of pool to be a tad unfair (you can pot all but one ball and still be the loser), but I know many people who swear by it.

For everyone else you have the reliable, trusted 8-ball mode, with the option to play it US or English Pub style.

Virtual Pool 64 - N64

If you don’t how this version of pool works i’m surprised you’ve managed to read this far into this revisit. Suffice to say, it’s the one version of pool you should think of when someone mentions the sport to you.

You choose a colour/ball type (plains or stripes) and you have to pot all your balls and the black before your opponent.

Straight Pool, on the other hand, is pretty much pot any ball on the table that you can up to a certain pre-set total. A little mindless, but fun enough.

Rotation sees you attempting to rack up a score of 61 before your opponent with 120 points available on the table. This is one of the less enjoyable variants.

Bank Pool is even more torturous, only allowing you to pot a ball if you hit the rail during your shot.

Virtual Pool 64 - N64

One Pocket is slightly more interesting, and sees you elect a pocket from the far end of the table which you must then try to hit as many balls into as you can. This one is like a hybrid of Hungry Hippos and pool, but it’s still not quite as good as that sounds.

That’s quite a lot to get your teeth into, and if you’re in the market for a pool game on the N64 (well, you might be) you won’t get much better than Virtual Pool 64.

WarioWare Smooth Moves

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WarioWare Smooth Moves

Good evening, Seamus the Leprechaun here, guest blogger on the Decrepit Gamer, comin atcha from the bowels of Southern Ireland, where the weather is freezing my goolies off.

Well the old fella has let me loose on a review, so in a effort to give new life to the standard yawn inducing reviews we’ll take a little rumage at what ye the players have had to say about the bloody game.
WarioWare Smooth Moves

Well as if there was any doubt, scoring 83% from the readers reviews on Metacritic.com
the games the cat’s pyjamas.

Readers Reviews Summary:
Terribly stupid and shallow gameplay mechanism. At least Wii Sports was free and had bowling but Warioware is just DISGUSTING! Score 1/10
I find no enjoyment whatsoever in this. It’s painful to look at. How can I enjoy a game, regardless of the controls if I can’t stand the graphics? Score 0/10As you can see theres always some eejit willing to make a …(censored -elderly) of themselves in public.

WarioWare Smooth Moves

Gaf Comments: So I took me a trip over to the Wario thread on GAF forums, where spOrsk said
“the game seems over, way before it should be……..it just seems the game is missing the ambition of games like RT and Twisted.” Which frightened the crap out of a number of members till the following emergedPeru..This game is magical. It’s fantastic. It’s the best wario ware game by far
Memles… I think it’s a whole lot of fun, contains some moments of brilliant game design, but there just isn’t enough here.
Alternative Ulster…Wow, this game is beyond amazing.
wasting….Its awesome, finally a reason to turn my wii on again
2D mention…I’m quite impressed
Phife Dawg…I’m having a great time with this. Beating the high scores is fun and multiplayer is a blast.

Warioware_Smooth_Moves

So dere you have it… straight from the horses mouth, not those namby pamby professional reviewers who wouldn’t know a good game if it bit em in the ar…..(censored–elderly).

Right thats me done!. . . . . Oh yeah!!!

. . . . .theres a neat (I suppose) option over on the Nintendo site providing exclusive content. But to access it you’ll have to stick your pin in….. (elderly—-you actually have to enter a pin number contained in the special software insert included with the game)

TRINE 2

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Trine 2

Trine brought with it some fun platforming and cool puzzles, with local only co-op. Developer Frozenbyte added online co-op with Trine 2. Does that make the sequel better than the original? Read our review to find out.

Our three heroes, Amadeus the Wizard, Zoya the Thief, and Pontius the Warrior, have returned. Their world is now being taken over by strange plants and goblins. They are once again united by the artifact known as the Trine and it is up to them to save their world. The story is told through text and narrative and can be a little hard to follow at first. This doesn’t really affect the actual game play and doesn’t take anything away from the game.

trine2_gameplay

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and puzzles, in side scroller style. If you are playing solo, you’ll be able to switch between all three characters. Each one has their own special abilities and that adds to the intricacies of most of the puzzles. The characters’ abilities are upgraded through experience points that you’ll earn as you play along. Once you’ve spent these points, they aren’t locked in. You can reset them and apply them to other needed abilities for any of the characters. This is a nice little feature that comes in handy early in the game while you are still trying to earn more points. Points are earned by grabbing orbs that can be found all over the place in each level.

trine2_gameplay

The puzzles can be a little mind boggling if you don’t look at them through the eyes of each character collectively. Using the brute power of the Warrior can open up paths that only the Thief can get across. The Wizard is great for reaching higher places, but the grappling hook of the Thief might still be needed to get to those hard to reach places.

All three characters start out with little in the way of abilities, but this changes as you spend those experience points. The Wizard can earn the ability to create more boxes and planks out of thin air, as well as levitate objects and  goblins. The Thief will be given more powerful arrows which can freeze or explode enemies. The Warrior’s hammer becomes an actual throwable weapon, with auto retrieval. His shield becomes stronger and can freeze goblins, which can then be shattered into a bunch of goblin pieces.

trine2_gameplay

The original Trine used a mana bar, which limited you with the amount of magic you could use at any given time. Trine 2 does away with that and you can use your abilities without any restrictions. This is definitely an improvement and makes the game a little more user friendly.

The game can be played completely offline solo or with local co-op, but playing online with two other players is where this game really shines. Puzzles are a little easier as long as everyone knows their part. You can play with the three separate characters, or play Unlimited where as you can all play as any of the three. Having three Warriors in battle at one time will make any pack of goblins a mere speed bump along your journey. Having three powerful Wizards can also make life easier when you work together building things with your blocks and planks.

trine2_gameplay

The graphics for the game are some of the best looking graphics for a downloadable title to date. The level details and landscapes are crafted to make the game strikingly beautiful. Puzzle and level design give you the sense that much thought was given to their creation. Some puzzles can be solved in different ways, and it is the level of detail that adds to this design. A few glitches here and there may force you to restart a checkpoint or two, but it’s not a game breaker to say the least.

The sounds of the game vary from very relaxing, to up-tempo depending on the level. The rise and fall of the tempo matches the game play. The sound track is already available on iTunes and has some great scores. Ari Pulkkinen, the man behind the music, has created a great collection of music for this game.

trine2_gameplay

Trine 2 is hard to categorize as a single genre of game, and that adds to its overall appeal. Platforming, while not always perfect, is fun and entertaining. The puzzles can be quite intricate, but tend to be a little too easy once you start thinking using the collective mind of the three characters. The RPG elements are thin, but do give the title a nice RPG feel to it. Battling goblins and various enemies can get a little repetitive, but that doesn’t take away from the overall fun the game offers. Online co-op sets this game apart from the original, and definitely makes this game an upgrade.

Trine 2 is a beautifully crafted game, with a great soundtrack and intricately detailed levels. With it’s low price tag, and hours of game play, it is well worth its price.

Psycho Fox

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Psycho Fox

I must admit that when I first came to review this game, I failed to see why I had such fonds memories of it in the first place.  That was until I hit stage 2 and enter Skull Land!  From here the game picks up its pace a bit.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

Like many other platformers of its time, the objective of Psycho Fox is to save a world that has been thrown into turmoil by some evil tyrant.  In this case the tyrant is known as Madfox Daimyojin.  With Bird Fly perched on his shoulder, Psycho Fox must trek through seven bizarre stages, each with their own stage boss, before encountering his nemesis the Madfox Daimyojin.  Who is Bird Fly you may ask?  Bird Fly is Psycho’s trusty sidekick that can fly out from his shoulder to defeat enemy creatures.  Bird Fly also acts a shield because while perched on Psycho’s shoulder, he can take one hit without dying…however you will lose your feathered friend.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

One of the coolest features of this game is Psycho’s ability to morph between fox, monkey, hippo, and tiger.  However this is reliant that you have obtained a “Psycho Stick”, which can be found hidden away in the eggs that are scattered throughout the rounds or by killing an enemy creature.  Of course each transformation has its strengths and weaknesses.   Fox is the original form of Psycho Fox and his abilities such as walking, acceleration, punching power etc are standard.  The hippo has tremendous punching power with the ability to break bricks.  This allows you to enter some sealed off areas, but ultimately his weight will let you down.  Monkey is known for his high jumping ability, while Tiger is a bit of an athlete who excels in running and long jumping.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

Another feature is the end of round lottery bonus game known as “Amida”  To play this game you must acquire at least one money bag during the round…one bet per money bag.  Psycho Fox places a bet on a pathway that he then travels along, before receiving the prize at the end of the pathway.  Prizes include extra lives, psycho sticks, straw effigies, and magic medicine.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

Or if you’re unlucky like me, you might get the booby prize.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

My favorite part of the game is defeating the stage 2 boss.  A fly of epic proportions, brain visible through his transparent shell, Psycho must douse his opponent with fly spray by jumping on the nozzle of the can provided!

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

The game takes you through a number of landscapes including desert, sky, wind tunnels, and underground caverns, before you meet your nemesis the Madfox Daimyojin.  In addition there are various hazardous implements you must avoid including disappearing bridges, slippery slopes, and needle-studded floors and ceilings.

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

Victory was mine and boy was it sweet!

Psycho-Fox-Sega-Master-System

One of the bonuses of this game is that once all your lives are depleted, there is an unlimited “continue” function enabling you to return to both the stage and round you left off.

However, my main frustration with Psycho Fox is the lack of a “checkpoint”.  If you happen to die, you must begin from the very start of the round.  This is very frustrating if you happen to die whilst battling a stage boss!  Another criticism is that Psycho Fox moves a little too slow for my liking.  This means that if you get to close to an enemy, and are not in a position to throw a punch, it is difficult to move away in time.  It is also hard to jump distances if you don’t have a bit of speed behind you.

By the time the credits had rolled I felt like it was ME going psycho, possibly because I had died at least 100 times!  But despite my frustration Psycho Fox is a great little platformer.   It features some neat realistic sound effects, for example when Psycho cracks open an egg with his fist.  The soundtrack is great albeit a little repetitive, and the game is rolled up in a bright little package.  The biggest plus it gets from me is the interesting modes of defeating the stage bosses it employs.

King’s Quest

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King’s Quest

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

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

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

King's Quest
King’s Quest Tandy 1000 Release

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

King's Quest

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

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

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

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA 1990 Release

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

King's Quest
King’s Quest EGA Screenshot

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

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

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

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

 

 

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

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Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of my favorite games of all time, and when the sequel Brawl came out on the Wii I was more than excited. It had been a good number of years since Melee and there was plenty of new features and characters. Including the first non-Nintendo ones being Metal Gear Solid’s Snake and Sega’s Sonic.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl - Nintendo Wii

The game was generally the same as Melee with the layout and moves. They did recreate the adventure mode with a story and impressive cut-scenes. Though I did miss the Adventure Mode of Melee, as I thought it was overall more fun.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl - Nintendo Wii

Besides the online matches barely working, and tweaks in the game physics (though only super-fans will be able to tell the difference), I was overall satisfied with Brawl. I did miss that Roy and Mewtwo were no longer around either, but even though I had less fun than I did with Melee it was still one of my favorite Wii games.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

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Conker’s Bad Fur Day

As i’ve said a few times before, buying N64 games back when I was a kid was expensive. Very expensive. With price-tags of up to £60 per title, I could only afford to buy a game once every blue moon.

It just so happens that one game I did end up paying full whack for was Conker’s Bad Fur Day – and I think I ended up getting my money’s worth.

Starting of development life as the sickeningly twee looking and kid-friendly Twelve Tales: Conker 64 – developers Rare made a complete u-turn, deciding to make the game an adult, swear filled romp instead.

It was an inspired move, and the game has a freewheeling charm that’s still refreshing today as a result.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day - N64

Unlike the bloated collectathon that was Banjo Tooie (released around the same time and also developed by Rare), Bad Fur Day is a more linear and focused experience – and has aged better as a result.

I say focused, but the game boasts such an eclectic mix of settings and genres it’s hard to keep up.

Starting off with a bright and colourful farmyard stage, the game then has you climbing a mountain of faeces, and then throws you into a prehistoric world – and that’s just for starters.

The game has a deceptively simple way of tying all these wildly different concepts together though, and that’s through the use of ‘context sensitive’ buttons.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day - N64

Simply put, these are pads which you can stand on, press B, and are given a relevant tool to help you in your current predicament. Whatever that may be.

Teetering on a thin walkway with bats attacking you? Press B on the relevant spot, and your fire off a flamethrower that sees those bats bite the dust within seconds.

Need to attacks a giant boiler’s brass testicles? Press B, and you can whack them with a pair of bricks.

A deviously simple way to inject even more unpredictability into affairs, these buttons are fortunately used reasonably sparingly – otherwise they have made the game’s design feel a little too amateurish.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day - N64

What’s really surprising when looking back at the game is how simple many of the challenges are, and how they sometimes only feel fresh due to how they’re set up.

An arena based combat section is nothing new for example, but riding a velociraptor and making it tear terrified caveman limb from limb is.

The game is also bolstered by some truly stunning bosses, and to list them all here would be to ruin the surprise.

One is much better known than all the others though, and is still as mad, operatic and quotable now as the day the game was released.

In terms of presentation Bad Fur Day is still impressive as well. The graphics may now appear a bit angular and fuzzy by today’s standards, but the full speech used in cutscenes and the quality of the game’s script still stands up.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day - N64

The humour is strictly lowbrow of course, and there are perhaps a few too many film references and parodies – but it’s genuinely amusing stuff for the most part.

The game’s flaws still stand out though, and against modern titles they look even worse than they did back in 2001.

The camera is very poor, and you’ll be wrestling with is by using the C-buttons a lot of the time. In terms of difficulty the game can also be very unforgiving, with the latter parts of the war section in particular being controller-smashingly unfair.

Another element of the game that is bemusing is the lives system. When you lose all your lives you see a game over screen, but once you’ve started up your save file you simply start from the latest checkpoint where you were before. What’s the point?

Conker’s Bad Fur Day - N64

It’s nonsensical design choices like this that can end up making the game feel a little dated, but they’re not enough to stop the game from being worth playing.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is still a genuinely brilliant experience, and one that can be as frustrating as it is laugh out loud funny.

If you can persist through the occasional low-points the game offers up a mad-cap quest that hasn’t been seen before or since.

It’s just a shame that the game is so damn rare nowadays, mainly due to being released right at the end of the N64’s lifespan.

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

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Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

This week we have an incredible RPG for the SNES. It’s Lufia & the Fortress of Doom for the SNES. The game was released by Taito and it’s one of the most memorable RPGs for the 16-bit console. If you want an awesome old school RPG adventure with an incredible story and more, then you have come to the right choice! Lets take a look!
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
 The music is just awesome. Taito had some memorable music in its time. You will definitely love the soundtrack of this game so much that you’ll have it on your Ipod! Also, the sound effects are superb 16-bit beauties. You can’t go wrong with this one.
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
 The graphics are the usual RPG graphics for a 16-bit game back in the day. They aren’t at Chrono Trigger standards, but they are definitely good for the eye. You will not be confused in this game as to where is there is a door or not.
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
 The gameplay is what makes this game shine. It’s fun turn based classic style. You can’t go wrong with this choice of gameplay. Each character has their own style of fighting and can help other members out. If you keep a good balance of attacks and magic, your fights will be a lot easier than you might think. The game mostly takes places in caves where you must explore to your heart’s content. Definitely, addicting gameplay overall.
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
 RPGs don’t usually have much replay value as the games themselves take hours and hours to complete but there are extra dungeons and what not that makes some outshine. This one is more about going back to previous areas and see if anything has changed. This like many RPGs is not a game you would want to return to multiple times unless you’re deep in love with it.
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
 One of the most awesome RPGs for the SNES and a must play for the console. If you are just getting into RPGs, then this is the best way to go especially if you’re a fan of 16-bit games. This is a must have for your collection.

Total Recall

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Total Recall

Video game developer Acclaim who put out games like Mortal Kombat, Smash TV and Spiderman Return of the Sinister Six released this licensed game in 1990.  The movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid and Sharon Stone as his violent wife Lori.  If you haven’t seen the movie it’s a sci-fi movie that involves a lot of crazy things like traveling to Mars, having new memories implanted into the brain and Douglas’ loving wife who starts trying to kill him.  Problem is with the new implanted memories, he doesn’t know which ones are real and which ones are the fake memories so he’s on a quest to find out what is real and what isn’t.  Sounds like a crazy movie that should have a cool game right?? In theory yes, but what Acclaim delivered was just a frustrating piece of junk that adds in a bunch of stupid things that weren’t in the movie.

Total Recall - NES

You start the game playing as Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas.  The sprite is slightly accurate and it is a big guy who could be based on Arnie, but overall it’s a pretty bad looking game with some serious problems with its animation.  It’s a 2D action platforming game, where you have to get Doug to a certain part in the level while you kill people along the way.  Normally I love games like this but Total Recall has poor controls, tons of enemies and is just frustrating making it very difficult. There is a variety of different stages like city streets, the sewer, subway, concrete factory and sometimes you will have battles in little apartment rooms.  Unfortunately most of my time was spent in the sewer, since every time you walk past an alley you get hit by someone and dragged down there.  Then you need to work your way out and start by the alley again, the one nice thing is the alley seems to have a lot of energy drinks for you to replenish your health a bit.

Total Recall - NES

You can jump and punch (then shoot when you get a gun).  One of the most annoying things is when your enemies are constantly jumping over you making it incredibly hard to hit them while other baddies are attacking at the same time.  Oh and since when were there pink mutant midgets attacking Arnold in the movie?  Maybe I just have a bad memory, but it seems very odd to me.  It’s hard to kill these guys too since they are short and you have to duck to have a chance of hitting them.  It reminds me of playing Goldeneye on the N64 when someone would take Oddjob and it was much harder to kill them when they are shorter than you. Plus you have to fight rats. Ya, I don’t remember Arnie punching rats in the movie…

Total Recall - NES

While you are playing and trying to figure out what exactly is going on you will have a happy bubbly soundtrack to listen to. This game is supposed to be a gritty, and dark at moments but the music definitely doesn’t represent that.  It’s very off putting, it seems like they pulled a music track from some other happy game and just dumped it in here.  The sound effects are also bad with a lot of thud sounds and a weird buzzing type sound.

Total Recall - NES

There are just too many things wrong with this game.  The game feels unfinished with hit detection problems and flickering sprites just to name a few problems.  Ultimately the choices made by the game designers are confusing at best.  Why have a theatre where you can earn a life by watching the Total Recall movie credits then follow it up with a death scene of Arnold saying “I’ll be back!”  Did they not do any research and realize this was from a different movie? I love cheesy Schwarzenegger movies but seriously this is a huge disappointment, and there is nothing about it I can recommend.  Why couldn’t it have been a good movie adaptation like Batman?  It’s not even worth playing to see how bad it is, that is why I consider it one of the worst games on the NES!

Robo-Squash

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Robo-Squash

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

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Luckily your paddle is transparent…

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

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

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

Robo_Squash_Atari-Lynx
Oops, a rather unceremonious defeat again!

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

 RKS Score: 6/10

Hunter

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 Hunter

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

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

Hunter Amiga

 

Publisher: Activision

Developed by: Paul Holmes and Martin Walker

Genre: 3-D Adventure, Strategy

Year: 1991

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

Hunter Amiga
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

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

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

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

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

Hunter Amiga

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

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

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

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

Hunter Amiga
Danger! Random objects haphazardly strewn on floor!

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

TxK

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TxK

I am going to go against the grain here and write about a current gen video game. It’s no ordinary game, it has it’s roots in the arcades dating back to 1981. The game I speak of is TxK. What praises can be written here that haven’t already been lavished on this beautiful game by the great Yak, Jeff Minter (Llamasoft).

TxK

 

For starters, this is no ordinary update on Dave Theurer’s original arcade smash hit Tempest, or Jeff’s own Tempest 2000 on the Atari JaguarTxK brings Tempest well and truly into the 21st century. This tube shooter captures your attention and gobbles up a lot of your free time, not just the PS Vitabattery. Words like mesmerising, sublime, frantic, nail-biting and intense come to mind when describing TxK.

TxK

 

For those that have just arrived on this planet, TxK is a tube/web shooter, where your ship is attached to the top edge (rim) of a web playfield, shooting at enemies approaching from the background into the foreground. Your mission is to clear each of the 100 playfields and not allow the enemies to shoot you down or capture your ship. To assist you in getting further into the game, each level provides power-ups that can unleash screen-clearing bombs or provide you with an AI Droid which is handy in clearing enemies that have jumped up on the rim.

TxK

 

Coupled with the gorgeous psychedelic visuals, Jeff Minter has also thrown in some catchy, rave-inspired soundtracks. With an ingenious save system and modes of play, TxK is clean, perfectly designed and bristling with high energy.

Verdict: If there is one game that will convince you to buy a PS Vita, it is TxK. It has ‘killer app’ written all over it.

Zelda: Skyward Sword

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Zelda: Skyward Sword

legend of zelda -skyward sword
For those who don’t know, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has been my favorite game since I first played it back in 2000. While all the 3D sequels have been excellent, they all had their faults. Though none of them (except Majora’s Mask) really innovated the series. While Skyward Sword follows a similar formula, the new Wii MotionPlus controls (which weren’t around at the time of Twilight Princess) took the series to a whole new level.
legend of zelda -skyward sword
The motion controls for the first time let you swing Link’s sword like if you were really Link himself. This allowed the game to evolve with enemies (the ones that used swords anyway) to block and counter your moves and vice versa. The aiming for the bow and other long-range items was also excellent.
legend of zelda -skyward sword
I also really liked how the story was the ultimate prequel to the series. There was no Ganon, Zelda isn’t a princess, and there is no Kingdom of Hyrule yet. The story was fresh and the main villain for most of the story is the demon Ghirahim who wishes to revive his dark lord. He was also the most memorable boss of the game for me as when you first fight him, he can catch your sword (not in a cut-scene either) and toss it on the other side of the room.
legend of zelda -skyward sword
The game was also one of the longest in the series. It had plenty of dungeons, lots of side-quests, and overall is one epic adventure. While I still prefer Ocarina of Time,Skyward Sword really showed that the series is still one of the best in the industry. My only real complaint is that I wished they had saved it for the WiiU. Not being in HD  in the year 2011 did make it feel a bit dated visually.

 

Blues Brothers

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Blues Brothers

In 1999, developer Titus Software released a video game for theNintendo 64 console called Superman: The New Superman Adventures. More commonly referred to as simply Superman 64, the title gained widespread notoriety for being among the worst of all time. However, Titus had certainly been producing awful cartridges based on media licenses far before that; for example, Blues Brothers, which dropped in 1992 for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System Console.

Gameplay

Blues Brothers, at first glance, is a fairly typical platformer. The directional pad moves the protagonist left and right, holding down the B button enables a faster movement speed ala Super Mario Bros, and the A button jumps. Two players can play simultaneously, although the implementation has its flaws, such as enabling one player to easily be left behind forever. Otherwise, the only other move is the option to crouch by pressing Down, and possibly crawling back and forth while doing so.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

Based on the hit 1980 film of the same name starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, Blues Brothers gives the player the choice between playing as Jake or Elroy, although this does not affect gameplay beyond their appearance. The twelve-year gap between the movie release and the game release is interesting, to say the least, and one has to wonder if Titus was truly grasping for the cheapest licenses they could try to take advantage of.

This is a platformer, with the simple goal of reaching the end of each of the handful of levels. Enemies are usually to be dodged rather than defeated, with the exception of goggled sharks and dogs that can be temporarily rode upon, seemingly just for kicks. There are many traps, spikes, pitfalls, and other dangers. Even pausing is dangerous, since there is a delay, which is a spectacularly unusual element for any video game.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

While the formula seems intact, and the game impressively scrolls across all directions across large levels full of different required movements and detailed aspects, the player will soon realize that this is no ordinary NES video game. While three hit points are offered with each life by default, with a couple extra lives to go afterward and a couple continues besides, even all those instances of accident forgiveness can hardly prepare the player for the soul-searing nightmare ahead.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

To put it simply: Blues Brothers is a very challenging game. But to merely put it in such stale words, such simple terms like “extremely hard,” only dulls the true nightmare effect this cartridge provides. Blues Brothers on NES is a master class in awful license games, putting on a clinic of game design choices that artifically inflate both difficulty level and gameplay length through means of platforms the player can only spend a limited time on, invincible enemies, no means of attack, remarkable precision needed for jumps and other maneuvers, “trap” drops where you cannot see oncoming dangers, unclear destinations, slippery physics, and other notable faults.

Blues-Brothers-Video-Game

Blues Brothers may not be the worst NES game, and several nice quips could be uttered concerning its presentation, but the outright combination of patience for tedium and outstanding platforming skill required to complete it are astounding. Titus really flexed their bad-design muscles on this one, providing 8-bit gamers with something that might be even harder to enjoy than it is to complete.

Graphics

Having said all that, the game does not look terrible. Yes, the color choices can be a bit strange, with the one-color animals and the way the protagonists’ coats often blend into the background, and maybe sometimes the tile-based haphazard sophomore-effort effect of the levels is overwhelming, but at least the pixels are usually placed with care and the entirety obviously took a lot of effort to produce. Actually, it might even be better-looking than Superman 64, if we are being completely honest.

Sound

The effects seem a little limp, achieving a cartoon-like absurdity at their best and an underplayed denouement for the most part. Then there is the music, which might be the best part of Blues Brothers on NES; appropriate, considering that music played a rather prominent role in the film. From the title screen track to the stage backgrounds, the crew at Titus shows off some skill in layering the hardware wave forms nicely, with enjoyable beats over pleasant melodies. The emulated drum kicks well, and it may be a shame that such simply good chip music had to accompany an otherwise crappy game.

Originality

Beyond the strangeness of riding a green goggles-wearing shark for a few seconds, the whole Blues Brothers experience feels stale and overdone. The game feels like the final project of a student tasked with producing a platform games; the levels crawl on endlessly with little self-consideration for the reasons why they proceed in the manner that they do, and completion of each feels so utterly arbitrary. The ending seems to echo this sentiment, with a big shrug from the developers as a single bland congratulations screen marks the finale to a real slog-through session. A platform game can feel utterly cobbled together but still be somewhat fun, like Alfred Chicken, and some license games managed to shine on NES. But not Blues Brothers. Blues Brothers is bad.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

Stack-Up

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Stack-Up

Since 1967, there has been a major event held showcasing the latest in technology called the Consumer Electronics Show (CES for short). It was so popular in fact, that for awhile, the powers that be held two a year, one in the summer and one in the winter. In 1984, Nintendo entered the CES with flyers of a grey box flanked by out-dated looking Atari games boasting the slogan “The evolution of the species is now complete”.

Stack-Up NES

 

Inside that grey box was the Famicom, an institution in Japan for over a year at that point. Due to the crash of 1983, they couldn’t muster one single order at the event as consumers and retailers had zero to little intrest in risking one cent of hard-earned spending money on video games ever again.

Enter R.O.B., the greatest Trojan Horse in gaming history. At a time when noone was willing to part with their funds for a video game system, Nintendo unveiled the Robotic Operating Buddy along with the Zapper the following year and explained to retailers that it wasn’t a video game console, and instead marketed it as a toy robot and a toy gun. What kid didn’t see this and automatically start erasing shit off their Christmas list? They even went to the lengths of downplaying the televisions in the advertising to focus everything on the accessories.

Stack-Up NES
“Yes, I saved gaming by being unplayable. Suck it Atari!”

It worked and on October 18, 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System along with 18 available games were launched in a few markets in New York City. The rest as they say is history. By the end of the first fiscal year, R.O.B. was discontinued and sole focus was put on the gaming aspect of the NES but by then, they had already sold one million units and blew the asses off of people used to Atari’s simple graphics and sound. The moment impressionable youth first popped in Super Mario Bros after spending precious and frustrating time trying to figure out the robot’s nuances, it was too late. North America was hooked. The following year, 3 million more units were sold and people never spoke of the robot again. The Zapper had legs however, but that’s a story for a later review.

 

Stack-Up NES
But…I thought the game was named…

How are the game themselves? Let’s start with Stack-Up, or as it is called in Japan and in the title screen, Robot Block. The reasoning the title on the splash differs from the name on the box is because Nintendo was trying to cut costs and instead of overriding the 10NES lockout chip with new code, they simply created an adapter so basically you had a Famicom game(60 pin circuit board) being converted into a NES(72 pin) game when played. The 10NES chip was the enemy of many collectors who wanted to play games shipped from overseas, so a good deal of R.O.B. games were bought and broken apart for the converter alone, making both titles in the series very collectible. While Gyromite was a pack-in game at first, Stack-Up wasn’t. Being marketed solely to children at the time would be another reason complete sets are hard to come by as God knows what the fate of many of the required pieces were.

Stack-Up NES
If you think this is too much extra shit for a gaming controller, wait until Gyromite.

It comes with five pedestals and five “blocks”, which resemble nothing close to a block. Think more along the lines of Tonka Truck wheels without treading. So, you turn R.O.B. into a deranged looking electronic star and sit the blocks in a pre-arranged pattern. From there, you control Professor Hector (for some reason they put Professor Vector on the box) and jump onto tiles instructing R.O.B. to place them into the pattern the game asks you to. This would be the earliest example of the NES using a digitized voice in a game as the Professor actualy says “up”, “left”, and the like. That’s where the all fun times end. To start, R.O.B. moves in such a lackadaisical fashion, you’d swear he spent all the time confined to his box hitting on the reefer. It takes about twenty seconds for him to turn right and grab something, not counting the time it takes for him to turn back around and put the blocks where they are supposed to go. That, by the way, NEVER happens because while R.O.B. does an admirable job of picking up the blocks, transporting them with any sort of balance where they need to be is lost on the poor fellow. You’re going to spend half your time getting up and picking these damned blocks up and the other half wondering how they thought this game was ever going to be playable. Oh wait, see above, they already knew R.O.B. was a total piece of shit.

Stack-Up NES
My first walkthrough for GameFAQS will be for Stack-Up and will read like this. “Press start. The end”. You read it here first foks!

Parents still bought it for their kids, who all eventually popped in a real game and threw R.O.B. in the closet forever. There is another mode where you play Bingo while trying to instruct R.O.B. what to do by avoiding eneimies and hopping on directional buttons but in all honesty, it’s even worse than the original game. With alot of luck, you might be able to get the robot moving once every two minutes or so. The weirdest part of this game isn’t even the controller, it’s the fact that there is no way for the Nintendo to know what exactly R.O.B. has accomplished so all you have to do is press start and you the level is complete. No bullshit, my 6 month old son beat a level of Stack-Up.

Stack-Up NES
To prove how hardcore R.O.B. was marketed, he is in this old UK advert not once but twice!

THE FINAL VERDICT

2/10 Well, it has barely better controls than my current bar for complete shit, DKJrM, which is saying something for that poor game. However, the game isn’t as unplayable and, not meaning to go out of order, R.O.B. is a little easier to use here than with Gyromite. A video game that operates on a trust system is a pretty worthless one indeed when we as gamers look for any and every cheat available to us to see the end. I can see this being played once if only to try out the awesome looking peripheral, trying out say, Kung Fu, or Clu Clu Land, and then never even recalling having owned it until a closet clean-up and an Ebay auction a decade later. No denying the little fellow has a cult following as he has made as many if not more cameos in gaming than just about any other character in the history of NES.

Stack-Up NES
“If my brother, Johnny Five, could see me now…”

 

NBA Action ’95

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NBA Action ’95

To its credit, NBA Action ’95 was revolutionary. While EA was tinkering with a 3/4 view for their NBA series, Sega loaded NBA Action ’95 with then unheard of features like create-a-player, trades, injuries, and more. In 1995, it was the most feature-packed sports game ever made.

nba-action-95-

Unfortunately, all of that time spent developing those bonuses led to a hysterically funny basketball game. Situated in an illogical overhead view (where the players still appear as if viewed from the sides), every player was a force on the court. Chicago Bulls center Will Purdue could lead a fast break down the court every time, and the game’s total lack of defense meant he was an offensive powerhouse.

nba-action-95-

Lay-ups and dunks were missed more than jumpshots, and an absurdly high levels of foul calling meant you spent extensive time at the line (and made it even harder to play defense). Glitches (or a total lack of acceptable animation) results in players warping from the top of the key to the basket when dunking. Stepping out of bounds was only a problem when the referees decided it was.

nba-action-95-

NBA Action ’95 was so terrible, it contained a weird charm. There was (and still isn’t) anything remotely like its bizzare combination of simulation aspects and broken arcade gameplay. A level of complete unpredictability happens during every game, but that doesn’t mean its a classic, or even acceptable. On the bright side, Marv Albert’s now unintentionally funny, “Serves up a facial,” commentary may be the best aspect of the actual gameplay.

War of the Roses

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War of the Roses 

War of the Roses is an interesting title, because it takes a few chances that generally pay off, makes use of perhaps one of the most popular gaming modes on the market right now, and feels like a game with some as of yet untapped potential.  So what is War of the Roses?  It is an online experience that feels to me like a Battlefield or Call of Duty game, but with swords and bows instead of rifles and machine guns.

War of the Roses-PC

Graphics – 6:

The visuals are not particularly striking.  They do the job, and there are some nice pieces of flair here and there, like seeing your coat of arms show up on your shield for example.  One of my complaints is that the video controls lack granularity in the settings.  My PC ran the game fine, but my laptop was much more of a struggle at more moderate settings, so I had to move the game’s video settings to the most basic. There were areas I would have liked to have tweaked upward, trying to find that sweet spot between appearance and performance, but those controls were not there.  One very positive note however, is that the game ran smoothly for me, even when crowds of fifteen to twenty people were onscreen together in the same general vicinity.

Sound & Music – 6:

Again, nothing here that particularly impressed me but at least the audio did nothing to offend me either.  A few of the songs in the sound track were pleasant enough to bump this up from a five to a six and make this a very slightly above average offering, but none of the tunes really struck me as memorable either. Weapons clank off of shields with a satisfying thud and cries of pain are a constant on the field of war.

Gameplay – 8:

I am among that minority that prefers to play my shooters with a controller over a keyboard and mouse.  In truth the only games I prefer keyboard and mouse on are strategy or sim/builder titles.  This game unfortunately does not have controller support, so what you get is an interesting if sometimes inelegant control scheme using the mouse and keyboard combination.  Movement by keys is what you would expect, but combat is handled in interesting fashion.

War of the Roses-PC
For those using a bow and arrow as their weapon of choice, you click one mouse button to draw back the bowstring and you have to manage a few things at once.  You have to aim your shot – while taking into consideration that the arrow will lose height as it travels any considerable distance.  You have to pull back the string, and hope to release by clicking the other mouse button while trying to time it for a ‘sweet spot’ release where the weapon will do maximum damage.  Hold the string back too long, and you will tire and lower your weapon.

War of the Roses-PC

Crossbow is similar in that it is a ranged weapon, but where longbow is rapid aim and release, the crossbow takes time to load each bolt.  When you first spawn using this weapon, I always load a bolt right away and then go looking for trouble.  It definitely packs a bigger punch, but if you have any melee opponents nearby, you will probably have to switch off to your secondary short sword because you will not have time to safely load another bolt.

War of the Roses-PC

Melee combat also makes use of both mouse buttons as one activates block and one swings a weapon.  Melee comes in a couple of different flavors as you can use larger, two-handed weapons that can be used to block, but have a narrow window for being successful.  On the other hand, that heavier weapon can make for some longer reached and more impactful blows when they connect.  Sword and board gives you better defensive options as you have a shield you can raise – particularly useful if you are trying to close in on an archer – but a lighter, quicker weapon in your main hand.

War of the Roses-PC

Swinging a weapon though, can be a slightly awkward affair.  You press the mouse button to swing and then swipe your mouse to swing your weapon in that direction.  It works well enough when you get used to it, and these combat mechanics are touched on in the tutorial.  That said, I think that this could have been handled in interesting fashion with say, a second analog stick on a game controller as well.

Armor is certainly a factor.  Better, heavier armor generally means you stay alive longer in the scrums.  Some helmets have a visor you can drop down over your face, limiting your field of vision but better protecting you as well.  A nice touch, really.

Intangibles – 8:

So here is where I get back to my initial paragraph a bit.  This game is really only an online multiplayer game with two modes: deathmatch and take the checkpoint.  Some people joke about how Battlefield or Call of Duty should not even bother with a single player mode since they are usually short and the majority of the fans spend the bulk of their time in the multiplayer modes.  Well, Paradox took that to heart in their design here because the only offline mode is a training mode that I found more frustrating than helpful.  There is very little hand-holding going on either in training mode or in the actual game.  Players who have played War of the Roses longer have more levels and more money and therefore better toys than newcomers.  That being said, Death does not discriminate much here – everyone dies quite a bit, though there are certain classes and configurations that do seem more successful than others (horseback and heavy armor are very nice).

War of the Roses-PC

The maps are well made, and with as many as 32 players possible on either team, you can find yourself participating in some very interesting skirmishes.  You have opportunities to aid fallen comrades or to execute wounded enemies.  Both are boons in that you gain experience and the executions can be particularly visceral – from either side of the equation.  These do present some risk versus reward propositions though as you leave yourself vulnerable to an enemy sword or arrow as well.

War of the Roses-PC

So with only one component: online – and only two modes, why give the intangibles such a high score?  A couple of reasons.  One, I simply enjoyed the game.  I had some rough initial impressions.  The tutorial annoyed me, I could not really configure my video the way and wanted and the bells and whistles failed to impress.  I found myself greatly enjoying the game as I waded into combat, fighting side-by-side with my teammates.  Even better was the post-match content, however.

War of the Roses-PC

As you gain experience, and levels – you unlock new classes.  The first four are built in advance, but the next few are fully customizable.  As you dive into those customization options, you can unlock various perks, weapons and pieces of armor for the coins you earned playing the game.  Want to use a polearm as your primary weapon?  Go for it – you will have several to choose from.  Want to play an archer?  Unlock the class, pick your type of bow and then feel free to purchase the perk that lets you hold the string longer.  This part of the game is surprisingly deep and enjoyable.

Overall 7:

I mentioned potential in my introduction, and it is here.  There has been talk that the developers will be adding new contact in the near future, and promise that it will be significant.  I have not yet seen what that will entail – more maps?  more online and potentially objective-based modes?  Perhaps more unlockable items or crest customizations?  That part is unclear at this point.  This game probably will not be for everyone with its essentially lacking storyline and limited number of modes, but for those who enjoy some multiplayer carnage, you can do a lot worse than a title like this that focuses only on that aspect of the gameplay while adding a medieval flavor to the proceedings.

Gunfighter

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Gunfighter

At some point in the early 80s my parents aquired a Philips Videopac G7000, also know as Magnavox Odyessy². The world’s first computer games console was of course 1972′s Magnavox Odyessy (I say of course though I only found this out when googling the Videopac). I say aquired as I really can’t imagine my parents actually buying a Videopac off their own backs. I have a vague memory that an uncle may of given it to us when his kids no longer wanted it. That or my Dad got it from a man in the pub.

The Philips Videopac G7000

Whatever, I don’t remember it arriving, it just seemed to always be there. It was kept in a big plastic bag on top of a wardrobe and whenever my brother or I wanted to play it we had to ask my Dad to get it down and set it up on the TV. Consequently we didn’t play on it that often and it was always a bit of a treat when we did. Kids these days with their Nintendo stations and their xwees, they don’t know they’re born, etc. We had several games, but I only remember two – Laser War, a kind of space meteor type game (I may blog about it one day) and Gunfighter.

With Gunfighter you took control of, unsurprisingly, a Gunfighter in the old wild west. Each player was represented by about twelve sprites, with a couple of sprites representing the mandatory cowboy hat. You moved about the screen, firing your one sprite gun at your opponent and the one sprite bullet would drift across the screen, usually missing the other cowboy and bouncing off… things – not quite sure what they were, stones? Cacti?

gunfighter-ad

It was simple, slow and would no doubt be incredibly boring if I played it now, but back then it was a little bit of magic. I still remember the sounds, the way the screen would change colour when someone was hit, the feel and click of the joystick.

This game was the first multiplayer game I ever played. I mostly played against my brother, who I remember often beating. Though seeing as I’m three and a half years older than him that’s not so impressive – my hand to eye coordination was a little bit more developed… That didn’t stop me lording it over him, showing off and generally being a horrible, boastful, little git. I played against my Dad as well. More often than not he won but I used sometimes beat him. I think it was the first thing that I beat my Dad at (lets brush over the fact that he was probably letting me win to be nice). Probably my earliest memories of beating anyone at anything – of victory – are of Gunfighter. I was a true twelve sprite cowboy.

gunfighters-gameplay-screenshot

My dominance of Gunfighter couldn’t last forever of course. My brother soon got the hang of it and started beating me, rubbing my nose in his every victory just as I had done to him. I seem to remember that led to sulking and lots of ‘Not playing anymore’ on my part.

So Gunfighter taught me that what comes around goes around – to be a gracious winner as there’s every chance that next time I’ll be the loser. To this day I try to follow this creed, especially as more often than not I tend to be on the losing side when playing games. Especially if I’m playing Lew.

The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

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The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

Bart’s Nightmare is often considered one of the better retro Simpsons games as well – although that may be because it’s not competing in a particularly strong field of candidates.

By today’s standards Bart’s Nightmare is an overly difficult and strangely structured beast – but it still has some interesting elements.

One plus point is the game’s presentation, which as you can tell from the screenshot is very colorful and quite unique.

simpsons-the-barts-nightmare

This is mainly as the developers used a hand drawn art style, which ends up portraying the bright colors of The Simpsons’s cartoon world quite well. It looks a little ramshackle by today’s standards, but still maintains a certain charm.

The music used is also quite strange, exuding an oddly lulling quality that is very hard to accurately describe (as you can tell from that hash of a sentence).

In terms of plot the game sees you play as Bart, who falls asleep at his desk while attempting to do his homework.

simpsons-the-barts-nightmare

You are then taken into an odd dream world where you must recover nine pages to get back to reality.

To find the pages you have to scour the game’s hub (see above), which sees you avoiding crazed mail boxes, old ladies who shoot kisses, bouncing basketballs and so on.

Finding a page is seemingly a random event – and at this early point is where the game may start to test your patience.

Finding the pages isn’t enough either. You have to jump into one when you find it, and select one of two doors to enter.

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Each one takes you to a different stage, with every challenge different from the last.

This is where one of the main problems with the game lies. Although it offers up a variety of challenges, each has its flaws – making the game a rather bittersweet experience.

Most of the problems contribute to the game’s over-difficult nature as well.

In the Itchy and Scratchy stage for example, it can be tough to avoid taking consecutive hits before you’re able to fight back.

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The Bartzilla stage on the other hand, doesn’t even have the common courtesy of giving you a life bar.

A Indiana Jones inspired block jumping stage also feels far too random to be fun.

The controls also needed refinement. Your jump (B button) is too stiff and inflexible to make you feel in complete control, and movement is a little stilted in general to boot.

Overall, Bart’s Nightmare hasn’t aged particularly well. It’s presentation now acts as less of a cover for its slightly sloppy structure, but if you’re a Simpsons die-hard you might get something out of this.

Descent to Undermountain

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Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Descent to Undermountain

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

Super Mario Pac

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Super Mario Pac

Here is a free cool game that mixes the classic ZX Spectrum game Jetpack, Mario Sunshine and Super Mario World. In Super Mario Pac, Mario is trapped and being attacked by evil creatures, he must use his plumbing skills and the FLUDD backpack he acquired on a recent holiday to escape.

super mario pac

Control Mario, moving him left, right and water-thrusting him into the air, in order to collect and assemble his pipe escape route and poison any plants in his way. Use the FLUDD water cannon to drench the attacking enemies. Don’t forget to refill your FLUDD backpack regularly or you’ll really be in trouble!

super mario pac

So as you can see in the video you just fly around and shoot water at the turtles as you try to kill the Piranha plant, it’s that simple, but in that simplicity it’s actually fun and it’s free so why not and you get the music and graphics of Super Mario (with a bit of haze in some spots) so why not.

super mario pac

You can check out the main site and get the game here.

NES Remix 1 and 2

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NES Remix 1 and 2

I always view the NES era of gaming through sugar-frosted spectacles, forever unable to uncover much fault in this special time when I started identifying myself as a gamer.  Sharing notebooks full of passwords on the bus, the two-month long wait for Nintendo Power in the mailbox, and saving every penny for a year in order to buy Kid Icarus, these are the memories of a wonderful childhood.  Honestly, how can anyone really not love Nintendo?

NES-Remix

If you have ever left a game on pause overnight so as not to lose progress, you know exactly where I’m coming from.  Both volumes of NES Remix were made for people like us, the kids who could beat Castlevania in one sitting or still remember the location of every power up in Bionic Commando.  If you can still navigate through the Lost Woods from memory or decimate Ridley without taking damage, you will certainly find something to enjoy in NES Remix.

Think of NES Remix as your Nintendo favorites perfectly packaged for generation ADD.  Each game is broken into familiar bite-sized chunks that must be completed quickly in order to succeed.  Finishing levels earns the gamer stars, and stars unlock more levels and different titles.  You can also earn stamps to place on messages you leave for members of the Wii community, which Nintendo seems to think is better than a point-based achievement or trophy system.  Personally I would prefer a traditional ranking system where I could match up and meet with new players, but Nintendo doesn’t want their own army of Xbox Live assholes, and I can’t exactly blame them for that.

NES-Remix

Between both volumes of the series, tons of old favorites make appearances. Only a few of the choices are questionable, especially the “what in the fuck were they thinking” inclusion of the obscure and extremely terrible Wario’s Woods.  I would rather play through Captain Novalin (the 8-bit train wreck about living with diabetes) than be subjected to one more minute of Wario or his hackneyed woods.

The remix part comes in with 60 plus special challenges that completely change the familiar levels and games around.  Playing Donkey Kong with Link (who can’t jump) or plowing through lights-out Excitebike are just two of the awesome tweaks that make this the mode worthy of the purchase.  Some of the challenges are downright brutal. For example, imagine playing Balloon Fight (aka C-List Joust) while the screen continually shrinks.  The remix levels are hands down the hardest to complete, and they will certainly test your 8-bit mettle.

NES-Remix

Besides the palpable ire you will feel for Wario’s Woods, this game will also make you loathe the primitive jumping mechanics in Ice Climbers.  I never played it in my youth, but had I, this would have been the first game that made me contemplate unnecessary controller abuse.  You can’t float your jumps at all, which makes for an excruciating platforming experience, especially by today’s standards.

NES-Remix

The only other major problem I had was with the lack of attention given to Punch Out.  Most of the Mario titles get 20 plus levels, but Punch Out only gets seven?  And the final level is literally just you watching Doc train Little Mac in the park?  Punch Out deserves so much more than some slapped together levels.  Soda Popinski, Bald Bull, and Super Macho Man don’t even make appearances. Piston Honda serves as the final challenge, which is like getting a beer half filled with head—it’s still tasty, but it feels so incomplete.

Rumors are swirling that SNES remix is next.  If this is any indication of the direction the big N is willing to take with their back catalogue, they can just go ahead and take my ten bucks.

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow Dancer

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Shadow Dancer

Subtitled ‘The Secret of Shinobi,’ this is actually a do-over of the arcade game of the same name.

It’s not quite classic enough in my opinion to be classed a proper Shinobi successor, but it’s still a damn fine game in its own right.

shadow dancer

You play as a ninja, who can jump, throw shruikens and summon a fire attack. You can also strike foes with a blade if you get close enough. There’s also a white dog that follows you, but I don’t think it does anything of note.

You scroll to the right, basically shooting down foes with your shruikens, and avoiding their attacks/bullets. And it’s pretty damn important that you avoid their attacks, as one hit and it’s back to the start.

shadow dancer

This makes the game a lot more difficult than it would have been otherwise. Ducking usually allows you to avoid the bullets that come flying at you, but with no room for error, one mis-step can send you right back to the beginning of a stage.

Fortunately levels are quite short, and can be rattled through fairly quickly if you know what you’re doing. I believe you have to save a set amount of hostages held throughout the levels to progress, but they’re usually found along the path you’re going down anyway.

shadow dancer

There’s a decent range of ideas in the levels as well, such as one being ripped apart by an earthquake, and another allowing you to jump into both the fore and back ground.

The graphics are clear and detailed, and the animation is as fluid as you’d expect from a title with a Shinobi connections.

shadow dancer

Bosses are fairly simple, but are made a real challenge due to the ever present ‘one hit = death’ element.

It all adds up to a game that’s a challenge, but one you’ll end up relishing rather than rejecting. Although a genuine cart of the game will cost you a fair bit, it can be found in a few of those Blaze Mega Drive collections – which is nice.

Shaq Fu

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Shaq Fu

I just had to do this because this game is so awesome. So awesome it deserves a pick of the week. After seeing it for a total of three times at my flea market trip last Sunday, I decided to give it a shot and wow what an amazing game this is.

shaq fu - sega - genesis

 

For a side scroller the graphics are superb and the sound just outstanding, just try playing the game with the stereo plugged in and you will have one of the most amazing soundtracks in video game history! I’m not kidding! The gameplay is simple, you have Shaq doing the Shaqattack! doh! and much much more!

Once you pick this game up, you can’t put it down!

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btw….this is all a sarcastic entry….this game is pure shit but since no one in the entire world will pick it as a game of anything, I decided to be a nice guy like usual and do it myself. Screw this game! UP THE A-HOLE!

Mr Driller

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Mr. Driller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Dribble

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In 1987, Konami released a video game cartridge for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console that was a port of a fairly widespread basketball simulation arcade game called Double Dribble. Could such an early-release title for the young system’s cycle actually live up to its arcade-cabinet origins? ~Eric Bailey

Double Dribble

Gameplay

Double Dribble is a basketball simulation video game sporting (pun intended) five-on-five full-court gameplay. In this particular NES b-ball sim, the developers opted for the control scheme of using B to switch which defender is being controlled or to shoot on offense, while the A button steals on defense, or jumps to contest a shot if the opponent is shooting, or passes the ball. Actually, to clarify, pressing B once on offense makes the player jump, while pressing it again in mid-air releases the ball for the shot. If this is done near the rim, the game shows a dunk-animation cutscene, emphasizing the slam dunk; or, in some cases, getting “hung” when the ball clangs off the rim instead of satisfyingly tearing through the net.

Double Dribble

Other, the gameplay is fairly standard for an 8-bit basketball game, following four periods of play, offering a selection of a handful of cities to pick from for teams, and instituting certain penalties such as out of bounds, traveling (incurred whenever a player fails to release the ball in midair) and backcout violations, humorously called “BACK PASS” on-screen and resulting in a rapid change of possession. There is a tip-off to begin each game, but the computer always wins. Double Dribble does, though, have a few unique quirks: The players retain their momentum if they jump while running, which is already distinctive, but then the player can even change the athlete’s direction in midair. This leads to very interesting maneuvers in the paint, wherein a fairly dexterous player can change direction five or six times before the second B button tap to launch the dunk animation. It could be presumed that this is something akin to digitally throwing down a 1080-degree jam. Also, the game seems to emphasize stealing as the primary strategical element.

Double Dribble

Furthermore, the A.I. moves in the weirdest, most illogical patterns – even on higher difficulty levels, one example would be when an unguarded player has a clear path to the basket, only to turn and take several step back toward the half-court line instead. Finally, one unfortunate deficit of this basketball game is the inability to pass to an on-screen teammate: The computer can pass to an off-screen teammate, but a human player must absolutely only pass to a player that is already visible on screen, lending a certain limitation to available plays.

Double Dribble

The title screen has a voice effect for the Double Dribble name, then after the player chooses to play alone or versus a human opponent, a cutscene launches that shows people (or, at least, very fuzzily rendered pixelated massive blobs) swarming to an arena as a Konami blimp flies overhead. A shortened version of America’s national anthem plays, balloons are launched, and an absolutely enormous flag is raised over the stadium. Finally, one of the most awkward options screens in gaming history is found: Settings such as period length, team, and difficulty level can be altered, but with each button press, rather than simply and instantly scroll through the available selections, an on-screen player actually fires a jump shot at a rim that aligns with the intended option. This makes for an overly tedious selection process, which would be bearable if it were not for the already drawn-out effect of the opening ceremonies screen.

Graphics

This 8-bit basketball sim looks okay. There are better-looking roundball titles, and there are worse-looking ones as well. The players do not differentiate in height; but in classic NES basketball game tradition, there are palette-swapped sprites in two varieties to display white players and black players. Gameplay follows somewhat smoothly, the one animation anomaly being a bit of flickering, even besides the intentionality of the ball-handler flickering as a possession signal.

Double Dribble

Perhaps somewhat humorously, rather than the disappearing act of typical flickering characters, the ball-handler alternates in sprite frames between being caucasian and African-American in appearance. But the visual highlight of the game are the dunking cutscenes, perhaps the best on the console, copied by later titles but never quite equaled in their five or six frames of slam-dunk monochromatic-athlete glory.

Sound

Background music is laid to the wayside in favor of traditional arena organ ditties and the constant repetition of the bouncing basketball, emphasized appropriately for a game called Double Dribble, to the unfortunately annoying result. Some digitized voice effects are used, such as for the aforementioned title screen and certain foul calls.

Double Dribble

There is the usual “swish” sound effect for a made shot (heard often, since it seems very difficult for the computer to miss a jumper), the oomphy dunk noise, and perhaps this reviewer’s favorite, the rattling clang of a missed slam of the rim. Just as with its graphics and its gameplay, the soundtrack of this game is middling for a basketball title on the NES, though Konami does flex its muscles in a few highlight portions.

Originality

Double Dribble cannot get too much credit for creativity, since it is not only an arcade port, but also a title based on a pre-existing sport, basketball. However, Double Dribble did set the basketball video game standard on the NES, considering its early release date in the console’s supported lifespan. The gameplay is actually somewhat impressive in that context, but its most significant contribution to the genre is likely the dunking animations, which would be endlessly emulated by dozens of future basketball titles and series across further console generations, making the switch from gameplay view to a specific up-close dunking shot a staple for roundball games to come.

Double Dribble

In terms of its production quality, programming accuracy, faithfulness to the original sport, and overall place in the NES library, Double Dribble is an average game. This is not a title that will appear on any all-time greatest lists, except perhaps those that allow for sentimental favorites, but nor will this appear on worst-ever lists either. It is what it is: A simplified, arcade-style basketball video game. In fact, it is actually probably a step up from the original arcade iteration, which made players actually press a button for every single dribble. Nonetheless, Double Dribble on the NES scores two and a half stars out of five.

Star Fox 2: The Game We Never Knew

Star Fox 2: The Game We Never Knew

I never realized that a sequel had been made for the SNES until I saw the reproduction cart on gamereproductions.com.

The really cool thing is this isn’t just a couple of levels, this game is totally finished but just unreleased as Shigeru Miyamoto and the guys at Nintendo decided at the last minute they wanted to concentrate more on the N64 system and show what it could do with the Star Fox franchise with the most advanced hardware instead of releasing this title for the Super Nintendo.

Even though this game was complete it was left by the wayside, but once Star Fox 64 was made a lot of elements from Star Fox 2 were reused and integrated into that game, so if you play both you will notice a lot of similarities.

starfox 2 gameplay footages snes

A new improved version of the Super FX chip was used producing an even better looking 3D game.  This game instead of being strictly a flight-based game introduces some real time game play, new types of ships and new Star Fox team members.  When you and your teammate start on the map instead of taking a linear route like in the original game you can freely travel wherever you want, but as you move the enemy will react and also move around the map too.

starfox 2 - snes - gameplay screenshot

Your objective is to destroy all the enemies that are present on the map while trying to defend your home planet Corneria from enemy attacks.  If the planets damage level reaches 100%, you have failed your mission and the game is over.  To protect the planet you will have to destroy the fighters and incoming missiles that are headed toward the planet.  To permanently prevent the attacks you have to deal with the planets with enemy bases that fire the missiles and the battleships that deploy the enemy fighter ships.

starfox 2 - snes - gameplay screenshot

The really cool thing is when you make contact with one of these missiles or planets on the map screen you are taken to an action sequence.  If it’s a missile you came in contact with you will have to shoot down all the missiles on the screen, then if it was a planet you have to open the enemies base entrance by either hitting a switch, defeating a boss or destroying a shield.  Once you get into the base you have to go either fly through or you can transform into a walking tank and destroy the generator at the end.

starfox 2 - snes - gameplay screenshot

Once the generator has been destroyed no more missiles will be fired from that base.  While you are trying to clear out the enemies, more enemies will continue moving on the map and attacking Corneria.  So you may have to leave your battle to quickly intercept the enemies before they inflict massive damage to the planet. So managing your time effectively becomes very important.

starfox 2 - snes - gameplay screenshot

Starfighters from the Star Wolf mercenary team make an appearance, if you played Star Fox on the N64 or the Star Fox game on the DS you will recognize them.  They have captured some planets and if you try to take them back you will have to fight them. After some time passes they may start coming after your Arwings. They aren’t the only ones coming after you though, bosses will also be sent out to chase you down at some point in the game.

If you get a chance to pick this game up I definitely recommend it, but if not at least make sure you play Star Fox 64 on the N64 or 3DS and see how some of the mechanics from this game were incorporated.

Thanks to Yuriofwind for the video breakdown on the cancellation of Starfox 2.

Street Fighter Alpha

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Street Fighter Alpha

When I was a kid Street Fighter II was one of the coolest games we had on SNES. The series had seen many editions, spin-offs, and sequels, but this is the first time I really played the Alpha series. Since PSN has classics for the original Playstation, I thought I’d start with first Street Fighter Alpha.
street fighter alpha
Alpha was called Street Fighter Zero in Japan, as it is a prequel. Though it’s really the first real successor to Street Fighter II. It’s also more similar to II than III or IV. You have a fair amount of characters with a couple of stages. Old favorites like Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li are here but new ones like Charlie and Rose join the cast.
street fighter alpha
Overall it plays like a sightly superior Street Fighter II though some of the characters I didn’t care much for. There also isn’t a whole lot to the game either. Just an arcade mode and a versus mode. Typical for a fighting game in the 1990s, but now we expect a tad more.
street fighter alpha
I think Street Fighter Alpha is a great game, though as a fan of the series it does feel a bit like deja-vu. Why I was a bit curious to see what the original Alpha was like, I’m now regretting going to it instead of the the third game. I hear it’s got a lot more characters and improvements than the original.

Street Racer

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Street Racer

Street Racer is still no Mario Kart, but is much better than it has any right to be – just make sure you give it sufficient time to impress. ~Simon Reed

I’m not sure how I haven’t yet revisited Street Racer, as it seems a perfect for this blog. A game that’s slightly obscure and been forgotten by many, but still has elements that means it’s worthy of re-appraisal.

A Mario Kart style racer developed by Ubi Soft, Street Racer could easily be dismissed as a lesser imitation during your opening minutes of playtime.

Despite a rocking opening music track for the main menu and some solid if uninspiring looking cartoon characters to choose from – such as Frank (Frankenstein), what looks like a gold prospector and a beach babe – you’ll struggle to get to get to grips with the actual racing itself.

Street Racer - SNES

The game uses Mode 7 (at least it sure looks like it does) to a near nauseating degree, and tracks spin and warp quite badly.

This makes the simple task of seeing what’s coming up ahead much tougher than it should be. It looks good in stills (see above) but the game is no picnic when in full flow.

What makes things worse is that the fairly loose handling takes a fair while to get used to. You need to slow down regularly here – odd for a cartoon karting game – to get anywhere fast (pun intended).

Especially when you consider that you can’t really make out walls due to the Mode 7 graphics until the very last moment.

Street Racer - SNES

Added to the initial malaise of annoyance is the unclear power up/weapons system.

There are no pick up weapons in Street Racer, only turbo boosts (used with Y). Attacks, in the form of your racer punching, are done with the L and R buttons, which allow you to punch to the left and right respectively. X makes you perform a short jump.

If you can cope with these problems/oddities though – and it’s a big if – the game does get better the more you play it.

The more open tracks, such as a beach level, are easy enough to negotiate around for example, and you suddenly get the extra confidence to be able to weave your way through the pack – which you possibly didn’t feel like you could do before.

Street Racer - SNES

Better still, the game boasts some rather unique little features.

One is that after each race extra points are awarded to the racer who gets the fastest individual lap time, punches the most opponents and collects the most stars scattered around the track.

This is a neat little touch, and adds another welcome layer of depth to races. It can mean you can finish fourth but still accumulate a healthy number of points.

The other interesting part of the game is the inclusion of two multiplayer modes (they can be played in single player if you must) alongside the regular races.

One is a ‘Rumble’ mode, which has you trying to knock/punch off your fellow racers off a small arena. Depending on the difficulty setting you have buffers around the arena that slowly deteriorate when they’re hit.

Street Racer - SNES

It’s a little messy, especially with no real weapons to speak of, but still fun.

What’s even more chaotic is the ‘Soccer’ option though.

It has eight racers on one small pitch all attempting to take a football and thwack it into the one goal. The goal has a pong-esque paddle as a goalkeeper, and it’s as ridiculous to play as it sounds.

Despite it’s problems – it can take you minutes at a time to get the ball – it’s a brave experiment and one, against all odds, that’s still playable today.

In conclusion, Street Racer is still no Mario Kart, but is much better than it has any right to be – just make sure you give it sufficient time to impress.

Elven Legacy

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Elven Legacy

Recently I reviewed the game Fantasy Wars. Despite the somewhat generic title, I found it to be a pretty effective turn-based strategy game. A couple of years later, they released a follow-up game called Elven Legacy, which in turn has spawned a trio of expansions: Magic, Ranger and Siege. I picked them all up as a combo pack from Steam and finally had a chance to play them. Since they use the same basic engine, I figure I will review them as a whole here.

Graphics – 7:

Elven Legacy - PC

They’re okay – the environments are bland, and the characters themselves do little to stand out at a distance, though they tend to fare a bit better on their close up. The maps themselves are easy enough to navigate visually. The cut scenes are pretty basic-looking, and in places, ugly if I’m to be perfectly honest. The engine looks very, very familiar to Fantasy Wars, which is a bit disappointing given a couple of years development time between titles. Thankfully, there does seem to be more color and the flying units look better, and the environmental textures are a bit more detailed.

Sounds & Music – 6:

Elven Legacy - PC

The music’s what you expect, but it can be a bit repetitious too. There are not a ton of sound effects, but what is there gets the job done. The voice acting is in fact, terrible at times. What’s worse is the tutorial, which is broken in terms of audio. Overlapping sentences, phrases that get cut off early, these things make the tutorial almost completely useless. The expansions don’t seem to have any voice acting at all.

Gameplay – 8:

The menus and overall interface were very similar to Fantasy Wars, which is to say they are easy to get around once you’re familiar with them, but there is a bit of a learning curve. There’s quite a few units though, and the turn-based tactics are solid. The way units progress is entertaining, and gives you a reason to feel invested in them – but be prepared. Like Fantasy Wars, this game is tough. The Fog of War feature keeps you from seeing what you’re getting into at times, and the enemy is very adept at ganging up on and beating a single unit to a pulp.

Elven Legacy - PC

One returning feature I am not particularly a fan of is the time-based gold/silver/bronze system, where you have a certain number of turns to meet your objective, and it seems like gold in several of these is virtually impossible. When you try to rush to complete objectives, you tend to lose more units and overlook things you might have found if you took the time to scour the map a bit, which is a shame. Still, the rewards for gold completion are usually quite nice – solid gold earning, usually a free troop and it unlocks a parallel mission that does not really affect the outcome, but is interesting all the same.

Intangibles – 8:

Elven Legacy - PC

The games are a bit short – I got through my first run of Elven Legacy in about fifteen hours or so, but there’s plenty of replay value with things like the side missions you can unlock and also a separate mission feature on top of the campaign mode. I also found the story more interesting than what was presented in Fantasy Wars, though I felt it was better in Elven Legacy than the additional packs.

Overall – 7:

Elven Legacy - PC

Technically the games are not great. The graphics and sound/music are average, but the gameplay is challenging and there is a fair amount to do within the game. Like Fantasy Wars, this series of games can be found relatively cheaply (though not quite as cheaply). It’s a bit disappointing that the series did not come a bit further over the two year span, but for strategy enthusiasts there is enough here to keep you busy. The AI presents a good challenge and there’s a fair amount to do.

Knights of the Sky

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

Knights of the Sky

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

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

knights_of_the_sky

 

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

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

knights_of_the_sky

 

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

knights_of_the_sky

 

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

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

knights_of_the_sky

 

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

knights_of_the_sky

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

 

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

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

The Immortal

 

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

The Immortal

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

 

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

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

 

The Immortal
Having a nap in The Immortal

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

 

The Immortal
Successful spore attack in The Immortal

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

 

The Immortal
Under the wizard’s attack in The Immortal

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

 

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

 

 

Kid Icarus: Uprising

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Kid Icarus: Uprising

I never played the original Kid Icarus on NES, but I do know of it’s notable legacy. I did play the sequel on  the Nintendo Gameboy called Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters and was rather unimpressed. Like many others, I did like the “new” Pit (the hero of Kid Icarus) in Super Smash Bros. Brawl on Wii. I guess it’s no wonder that Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai was asked to make a sequel for the modern generation of video games.

kid icarus uprising 3DS

The game features a single and multiplayer mode. The story sets off with Pit being asked by the goddess Palutena to protect the Earth from the revival of the evil Medusa. Most of the levels start with flying missions (similar to StarFox) but due to Pit’s limited flight powers, the later part of levels finish while you travel on-foot.

kid icarus uprising pit vs boss
 The non-flight sections are almost like Zelda meets Metroid Prime. Pit can travel around dungeons and castles with plenty of secrets. At the same time defeating enemies and bosses with different strategies and weak-points. The online-multiplayer features two modes with a versus mode and battle royale though while they are fun the better part of the game is the story mode.
kid icarus uprising 3DS
Overall Kid Icarus: Uprising will most likely leave you unimpressed at first, but after the first ten levels it will get remarkably better and frankly pretty awesome. I also thought the voice-acting was superb and the dialogue and story between Pit’s friends and foes was hilarious and brilliant. I would give it a better recommendation but the only thing really holding it back is an uncomfortable control scheme similar to Metroid Prime Hunters on DS. I really do think the Wii or WiiU would have been a better platform for the game, but maybe a sequel one day.

Iron Soldier

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Iron Soldier isn’t the greatest game in the world – put amongst the software libraries of the N64, Saturn or Playstation it’s positively mediocre. ~Simon Reed

Iron Soldier

A Jaguar exclusive, Iron Soldier also happens to be one of the most common titles on the system.

Fortunately it’s no disaster like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (another common Jag title), but instead a fairly solid game that’s worth picking up if you’ve had a Jaguar inflicted upon you.

You take control a robot/mech, helping what sounds like a resistance group. There’s no real explanation of the over-riding plot, but it would be foolish to suggest that makes the building destroying action any less satisfying.

Iron Solider - Atari Jaguar - Gameplay Screenshot

At the start you have four missions to choose from (with 16 overall), which can be tackled in any order you wish.

Or at least, it seems that way. Some stages can be a real struggle if you aren’t equipped with weapons gathered from certain other levels.

Before you enter a mission you can tool up your mech with any weapons you may have, and you’re given a brief rundown of your objectives.

Iron Solider - Atari Jaguar - Gameplay Screenshot

This quick briefing has to be studied carefully – as not knowing exactly what you’re doing in a stage is suicide.

As soon as you enter a level you’ll probably be struck at how blocky the game is. If you needed any more evidence that the Jaguar wasn’t really 64-bit then here it is.

The next thing you’ll realize is that the controls aren’t the easiest to grasp.

Iron Solider - Atari Jaguar - Gameplay Screenshot

The simple task of movement requires you to press A and either up or down to start going forward or backwards respectively.

Once you’re moving (you can adjust the speed accordingly) you simply have to steer and shoot. Changing your weapons is tasked to the option button and – this took me a little while to realize – the numbered keys at the bottom of the pad.

Shooting is something you’ll be doing a lot as well, with endless streams of tanks and helicopters firing at you non-stop.

This is why knowing your objective is an absolute necessity, with missions being reasonably varied. Even if most basically just involve destroying stuff.

Iron Solider - Atari Jaguar - Gameplay Screenshot

The first stage, for example, sees you going around a city to destroy a warehouse. The second has you sinking docked boats, and another involves reducing a bridge to rubble with the use of grenades.

There’s no hugely complex action here, and the game is probably all the better for it.

Yes, the graphics may be ridiculously blocky, but the game still has some impressive explosions, and the way buildings dissolve into showers of cubes is actually rather charming, in a retro kind of way.

Iron Soldier isn’t the greatest game in the world – put amongst the software libraries of the N64, Saturn or Playstation it’s positively mediocre – but for the Jag it offers up some solid robo-destruction action.

Dungeons

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Dungeons was a game I was really looking forward to, only to be very disappointed by the end product. ~Nick Herber

Dungeons

Sadly, Dungeons is in fact the exact opposite of one of those stories.  The premise is one that caught my attention from the very beginning.  You are the evil overlord who creates, adds to and manages dungeons that foolish, intrepid explorers will visit in hopes of satisfying some deep need or quest.
Dungeons - PC

Your job is three-fold.  Lure them in, sate their interest by giving them what they want, and then finish them off when they try to escape your dungeon.  I have long heard that Dungeon Keeper was a classic PC title (I never did play it) that Dungeons tries very hard to emulate.  I get the feeling though, that Dungeons missed the mark on several points.  Dungeons was a game I was really looking forward to, only to be very disappointed by the end product.

Graphics – 6:

The details and animation are all pretty average.  This is not a game that will tax your video card by any means.  That said, I actually liked the color schemes and ambient lighting used throughout.

Dungeons - PC

The lack of detail and often minimal animations do little to help matters, but at least the visuals do not seem to cause slowdown and do not tear through environments.

Sound & Music – 7:

I really would have liked more music.  What they have here is actually pretty good, but there is not a ton of variety to be had.

Dungeons - PC
The voice acting is pretty decent as well, which is a big perk since the dialog is pretty well-written for the most part.  The sound effects are nothing special though.
Gameplay – 5:

Where to begin… overall the game’s core mechanics are adequate if shallow.  The idea of luring people in to more or less ‘fatten them up for the kill’ is okay on paper, but quite often I found it frustrating how you had to pander to a hero’s needs.  The lack of direct command over minions only made the missions that much more repetitive as well.

Dungeons - PC
The commands are a bit clunky to access and use as well, though the tutorial does a good enough job of at least getting you pointed in the right direction.

Intangibles – 5:

So, generally I want a long game, but in this case Dungeons just plods on for a bit too long.  The missions really are so similar to one another that I was ready for the game to end well before the last level.  I also had some stability issues with the game.  It would freeze or crash on occasion, but for reasons I could never properly identify.

Dungeons - PC
It was not using a ton of memory and my computer is well above the specs for this title, but somehow I kept getting it into bad states.  That problem did seem to diminish once I got a few levels in, but it got me off on the wrong foot initially.
Overall – 5.75:

What happens when you make a game with a great idea but poor execution?  You wind up with something like Dungeons.  I went into the game with an open mind, despite some negative reviews about it early on.  Usually I can find a couple of high-points for a game to discuss – even if I do not particularly like it.

Dungeons - PC
While there was some witty dialog that was reasonably well-executed, I could not help but feel disappointed in how average the rest of the title was.

Beneath a Steel Sky

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Beneath a Steel Sky

Ah, the point-and-click adventure – a genre so fondly remembered yet so close to extinction… ~Lewis Packwood

The fortunes of these most traditional of adventure games took a nosedive with the demise of the Amiga and never really recovered; the kids got into their fancy new ‘Grand Theft Autos’ and ‘Tomb Raiders’ and rapidly lost interest in figuring out how to combine broken string with some mud in order to create a mask with which to frighten the temple guard into giving you the key for the dungeon. Actually, when you put it like that it’s probably not surprising that the popularity of these games waned – after all, one of the best points about Grand Theft Auto is that you never have to spend twenty minutes painstakingly combing the screen with the mouse in a bid to work out whether you’ve missed picking up an essential item. “Ah, so that tiny yellow-green blob 14 screens back was actually a key!” is something you’ll never hear uttered by players of GTA.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Of course, I’m doing the genre a disservice – for all the frustrating back-and-forth wandering and pixel hunting there were a hundred more golden moments of ‘Eureka!’-style puzzle solving, not to mention elaborate plot twists. For, of course, ’tis in the narrative where these games truly excel, and Beneath a Steel Sky was a shining beacon in this respect. The developers even went so far as to create a mini-comic to be shipped with the game, detailing the events leading up to the opening credits.

 

Set in a dystopian future Australia, the comic describes how the main character, Robert Foster*, is raised by Indigenous Australians after a helicopter crash in ‘The Gap’ (the Australian Outback). He learns electronics and builds himself a robot, Joey, who becomes your companion throughout the game. Upon reaching adulthood, Foster is kidnapped by stormtroopers sent from Union City (a possible future Sydney), and his tribe is murdered. The stormtroopers have been sent by LINC, the mysterious computer mainframe that controls the city.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game proper opens with a jaw-droppingly animated (for the Amiga) sequence as the helicopter crashlands in Union City and Foster escapes. It emerges that in this ruthless future world, cities comprised of mammoth skyscrapers have swallowed up most of the remaining liveable land. Working class citizens are confined to the upper levels of the city, whereas the leisure elite luxuriate below (‘beneath a steel sky’, geddit?). In order to confront LINC and learn the truth about his past, Foster must evade security and work his way down to the lower levels.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

If the set-up sounds a little similar to Mega-City One in Judge Dredd, then it’s no coincidence – Dave Gibbons (of 2000 AD and Watchmen fame) did all of the artwork for the game (including the mini-comic), and every screen simply drips with cyberpunk chic. At the time it looked astonishing, and even now the dystopian backdrops are capitivating. The anticipation of what graphical delight awaited you on the next screen was almost as much of a draw as the fantastic plot.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Even though the game plot was more serious than some of it’s point-and-click contemporaries (e.g. The Secret of Monkey Island), BaSS still managed to squeeze in a fair amount of humour, mostly of the British variety (i.e. double entendres and sarcasm). Indeed, the fact that the game never takes itself too seriously is one of its most enduring features (Gears of War take note – non-stop, po-faced machismo is more likely to make gamers laugh derisively into their sleeves than empathise with the characters).

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Of course, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. The chief problem with the game was it’s sheer size (in terms of memory space anyway): the Amiga 600 version of the game came on a whopping 15 floppy disks (which I believe is actually the most disks used by one Amiga game – correct me if I’m wrong). This meant that backtracking through screens might involve several bouts of disk-swapping and loading, which became very tedious very quickly. Luckily I upgraded to an Amiga 1200 after I got BaSS, which meant that I could load the game in its entirety onto the 1200′s mighty 60 megabyte hard drive.

Blimey, it’s crazy to think now that my current mobile phone has nearly 67 times more memory than my old Amiga 1200…

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The other major problem with the game was the problem shared by many point-and-clickers – that of the obscure puzzle. To be fair, BaSS was relatively good in this regard compared with some other examples in the genre, but even one of the first puzzles in the game (which involved wrenching a rung from a ladder to use as a crowbar) had me backtracking between screens for AGES. And of course, all this was in the days before GameFAQs.com (God bless you GameFAQs! Sing hallelujah, for yay, the days of becoming frustratingly stuck in video games hath endeth!).

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Of all the games on this list, I’d rate BaSS in the top five games I’d like to play again, which just goes to show how much of an impression it left on me (if you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can play it for free using ScummVM). Interestingly, it seems that point-and-click adventure games are starting to make a bit of a comeback, chiefly thanks to the Nintendo Wii and DS. The laid back pace of the point-and-clicker is perfect for the older end of Nintendo’s gaming spectrum, and the Wii remote and DS stylus might as well have been custom made for playing this kind of game… With talk of a Director’s Cut of Broken Sword to be released for the Wii and DS, as well as the release of a new generation of point-and-clickers (e.g. Sam & Max: Season One, The Secret Files: Tunguska), perhaps this is the start of a point-and-click rennaissance?

In the meantime, here’s a clip of BaSS to whet your appetite – this is the CD-ROM version of the game, which used voice acting rather than text (although, inexplicably, everyone seems to be American, even though the game is set in Australia…).

Phantasy Star Online

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While the old series was more or a less a compeitior to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, PSO was in a class of it’s own. ~Adam R.

Phantasy Star Online

While Sonic Team might be constantly criticized for never really getting Sonic right when 3D came along, their magnum opus during the Dreamcast era was Phantasy Star Online. Which revived the classic Phantasy Star series after a 7 year break.

Phantasy Star Online

 While the old series was more or a less a compeitior to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, PSO was in a class of it’s own. The only thing like it were MMOs like Everquest on PC. It was to be played online as players can choose different classes and join other players to conquer levels and defeat bosses.
Phantasy Star Online
 The game later came out with different editions like a 2nd version with new content on Dreamcast. After the “death” of the Dreamcast, Sega ported an enhanced version on Nintendo Gamecube. There was also an Xbox version later on, but oddly it’s unplayable now since it had no offline mode and the online service for the original Xbox is gone.
Phantasy Star Online
This was one of the games I was always meaning to get, but never did. I never had broadband (until 2005) or got the internet adapter for Gamecube which was a big reason for it. Unless they come out with a Xbox Live Arcade version, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to try it out. I hear the sequels never recaptured the magic of the original.

Qwak

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

Qwak

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

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

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

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

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

—-BONUS—-

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

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

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

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

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

 

Qwak - Gameplay Screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outlaws

 

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

 Outlaws

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

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-2

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

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-3

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

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-4

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

Outlaws - LucasArts Entertainment - PC Gameplay Screenshot-5

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

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

Jaws Unleashed

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About as much fun as having your leg chewed off.

Jaws Unleashed

“Take control of Jaws the Great White Shark while playing out the themes and
locations from the JAWS film universe”. Though you’d wonder why you’d bother,
with a score of 53% for the xbox format,
and 55% for the Ps2 from Metacritic.com

jaws unleashed

Xbox reviews
summary

glitches, camera issues, satisfying missions, large environment,
unique combat
about as much fun as having your leg chewed off
Fans of the
film will love it, but prepare to wrestle with controls
technical flaws, but
the savagery makes it fun (???)
lacklustre camera, collission detection,
graphics

jaws unleashed

Ps2
reviews summary

Playing as a killer shark a refreshing change of
pace
Reasonable amount of fun at a budget price
Unforgivable
gameplay
In the spirit of generosity about 30 minutes of fun

jaws unleashed

Official website (don’t bother)
Gamespot
screenshots
IGN
Trailers
Gamestats
popularity rating 40.7%

The Wolf Among Us

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The graphics portray a part of New York that feels gritty and dirty and makes you feel like these characters couldn’t really be happy in their current environment. ~Louis Edwards

The Wolf Among Us

Set prior to the events seen in the first issue of the FABLES comic book series, The Wolf Among Us puts players in the role of Bigby Wolf, a man once more infamously known as The Big Bad Wolf. Now the sheriff of a hidden community in New York City, exiled from the land of fairy tales, Bigby is tasked by the bureaucrat Snow White to keep order within a society of mythical creatures and characters trying to remain undetected in the world of the mundane.

The Wolf Among Us

From a chain-smoking member of ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ to a car-stealing Mr. Toad itching for his next wild ride, The Wolf Among Us examines the lives of beings straight from the pages of myth and lore, now trying to survive on the meanest and most run-down streets of New York City.

Gameplay is a mix of seek-and-find areas and quick-time events, but don’t be fooled by the names of the characters. While it is loosely based on the land of fairy tales, this is all Grimm with no sign of Walt Disney. This game is clearly aimed at adults, with adult language and murder and mayhem galore. That’s not a bad thing, though. The story is well written while giving the gamer a quick understanding of who and what they are dealing with.

The Wolf Among Us

This is a story driven game that uses its surroundings and language to give the gamer a true feel for each character they encounter. While episode one is a little on the short side, it’s still long enough to introduce several key characters, and even re-writes one well known childhood story. That’s not a bad thing either. The story will give you many choices, and will remember each answer you give. Characters will take note of your responses, and their future interactions will reflect your previous approach to the game.

The graphics aren’t your run of the mill 3D style but more of a graphic novel style. This lends well to the overall look and feel of the game and fits right into the storyline. The graphics portray a part of New York that feels gritty and dirty and makes you feel like these characters couldn’t really be happy in their current environment. Add in the well fitting music and the overall sense of despair can make one feel sorry for these folks.

The Wolf Among Us

Telltale Games has once again created an episodic masterpiece that can’t fully be judged until the final episode is upon us. We know there will be five episodes in all, and it is the anticipatory waiting that will make you enjoy the next episode even more.

Well done Telltale Games, well done.

Dark Disciples II

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Dark Disciples II

Freeware CRPGs are less common that -say- freeware adventure and platform games, mostly due to the fact that they need to be bloody big to be any good; a simple fact that translates into tons of content, detailed mechanics and buckets of Tolkien-esque words. Enter, Dark Disciples II, the honestly named and vastly improved sequel to the original Dark Disciples.

Dark Disciples II Dark Disciples IIDark Disciples II

 

 

 

It impressively is a rather huge freeware, tile-based, non-linear RPG sporting an impressive number of quests, characters, monsters and areas, that let’s players freely explore its four continents and even come up with some interesting characters. I suggest you give it a try. I did.