Format- Gameboy Advance
Doom! Doom. Doom. Doooooooom!
This is probably the most well known game i’ve looked at yet, but it’s also the title i’ve put the most hours into, the GBA version in particular, so permit me to talk a little about the game that’s firmly rooted in my top ten videogames of all time.
I own the game on GBA, SNES and Jaguar (expect me to look over each port in individual entries), as well as wasting countless hours watching my dad play it on out PC back in the day.
I even recall putting ‘watching my dad play Doom’ on a list of my hobbies back in Middle School – only for the teacher to cross it out.
So to have Doom on my own handheld was a joy, and I completed the game several times over.
The main disappointment is that the GBA version is scaled down version of the PC version, with certain levels missing and replaced with slightly smaller ones. There’s no Cyberdemon or Spider Mastermind showdowns here – a major let down.
Still, the game crammed in an impressive amount into the tiny cartridge, and is miles better than the SNES version in terms of looks (probably because of the smaller screen).
When I play through the game it’s odd that some levels i’m more than happy to play through for the billionth time, whereas some I really can’t stand to trudge through, to the point of not wanting to play the game anymore.
Containment Area, the one with all the boxes, is a level I can’t stand playing for example. It just doesn’t feel right, and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the game.
Unholy Cathedral is another. It’s the one with all the teleporters placed in sets of four everywhere. Can’t stand that one. There are others, but i’ll spare you the details.
In fact, the game makes me realize how great its sequel is. There’s a huge amount of variety in Doom 2, and even the GBA version of it doesn’t miss anything out (the huge final boss, for example, is present and correct).
The original started off the series though, and for that i’m eternally grateful. The GBA conversion is solid, but falls a little short of offering the ultimate handheld version of Doom.
The iPhone version is impressive though – but despite having a fair crack with touch screen controls, the wait for a definitive portable version of ID’s classic shooter continues…
Format- Gameboy Advance
Genre- Side scrolling run and gun-em up
You’d think Contra and Metal Slug would be the type of games that would be fairly simple to clone. Lots of guns, lots of enemies, and lots of destruction. Simple.
It turns out, however, that formula is just a little too hard for some developers to handle. Too often sidescrolling gun games from lesser developers turn out to be either unfairly difficult, really dull, or both.
CT Special Forces almost gets it right, but sadly falls a little short of being considered a notable Metal Slug clone.
It definitely looks the part though, with rather attractive hand drawn graphics and a nice varied bunch of levels. A good range of weapons are grenades are also on show. The controls are also quite good, with the shoulder buttons used for throwing grenades and swapping weapons.
Problem is, the game requires you to be very patient when working your way through the (quite large) levels. You have to abide by enemies set walking patterns and pick them off accordingly. Although once you’ve adapted to this you can work through the game with some ease, but it doesn’t really make it a particularly fun or spontaneous experience.
Welcome variation arises from the occasional vechicle levels, but the parachute sections are most unwelcome. They’re frustrating in the extreme and can take several hard-earned lives from you each time. Considering the time you take working through levels, it’s a bit unfair to plonk these sections right in the middle of stages.
Bosses are also hilariously un-PC for the most part, with bearded terrorists aplenty to blast away at. It’s like what I imagine a American soldier’s wet dream to look like.
There is also the general problem that the game is a little too short, but seeing as you can pick it up fairly cheaply nowadays that’s probably not much of an issue.
There were a couple more CT games, but this was the only one I played. It’s incredibly dumb, sure – but it’s not without its charm.
Lost Vikings, The (1992)
By: Silicon & Synapse / Interplay Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: SNES, GameBoy Advance, Amiga, CD32, PC
Now that I think about it, the sub-genre of platform/puzzle games, on which I am rather keen, is a little obscure as genres go, but the combination of two older and exceedingly popular types of game has proved to be a fantastic partnership. Examples have taken many weird and wonderful forms over the years and one of the most interesting (though not necessarily best) is of the sort that includes multiple characters with differing abilities. This was of course made popular by the great Lemmings. Dozens of similar games soon appeared and most were average at best, but The Lost Vikings is a pretty rare example of another game taking that premise, putting a different slant on it, and actually succeeding.
Starring as the multiple characters in this game are the Vikings of the title who are indeed lost. Actually, ‘captives’ might be a more appropriate word as our three Nordic friends have apparently been abducted by the curiously-named Tomator, emperor of the alien Croutonian Empire, who has been collecting unique and interesting specimens for his intergalactic zoo. They obviously weren’t confined very effectively though as they immediately set out to escape their shackles. To do this you must guide them to the exit on each of the 41 levels (or 37 in the other versions) which are set over various themed worlds (through time, of course!). The first is apparently set within the Croutonian spaceship but others include an Egyptian one (obviously), Pre-Historic, and even toy/food-related ones (not sure what time-period it’s supposed to be though!).
Before I get carried away though, I’ve just realised how rude I’ve been by failing to introduce the stars of the show – the Vikings themselves! So, say hello to Erik the Swift, Baleog the Fierce, and Olaf the Stout! As you may have guessed, they each have unique abilities so you must use them all as a team to successfully finish each level. Erik can run and jump around the platforms and can also smash down certain walls by headbutting them, Baleog is equipped with a sword and bow (with infinite arrows) with which to battle the various enemies, and Olaf has a large shield which protects him (and indeed the others if they’re behind him) from enemies and hazards, and he can also raise it above his head and glide down from high places.
To complete a level you must succeed in guiding all three Vikings to its exit. On the first level this takes about one minute but as you go through the game the levels get larger and more complicated as you might expect. They are multi-tiered and most feature ladders, colour-coded keys/locks, switches, and various monstrous and not-so-monstrous enemies. As you progress you’ll encounter more and more obstacles and features such as spring-pads, moving platforms, and even a device that inflates our heroes allowing them to float! The enemies take many forms usually related to the environment you’re in. The pre-historic world, for example, features vicious cavemen, small dragons, and… umm… snails. There’s also numerous guns and other projectile-firing devices around, and a touch from any of these things, or indeed falling too far, will cost the unfortunate Viking one of his three health points.
Contact with some of the hazards found in the levels, such as spikes or electric forcefields, can cause instant death too, so careful planning is required for the most part, rather than charging around recklessly. Fortunately, hit points are replenished each stage and there are also a few items that can help you such as various foods to replenish your energy and smart bombs to clear the screen of enemies. These items can be transferred from one Viking to another too, depending on who’s most in need, which further emphasises the teamwork aspect of the game which is so prevalent. In fact, in some versions of the game (including this one) it’s possible for you and a friend to control more than one Viking at once.
As I mentioned earlier, after the success of Lemmings there was a good few games released that tried their own take on the ‘multiple characters with differing abilities’ formula, but in most cases it either seemed unnecessarily tacked-on or that the developers put too much emphasis on it, forgetting to create decent stages for them to explore in the process! Luckily, Silicon & Synapse (who would later become Blizzard Entertainment of Warcraft fame) got the balance just right with this amusing adventure. The levels are well designed for the most part and before each one there’s some humorous banter between the three Vikings (via speech bubbles). They all have unique abilities but they are simple too, and all vital for successful progress through the game’s ever-tougher levels.
Aesthetically, The Lost Vikings is pretty average. It doesn’t really need flashy graphics and, whilst there is a lot of colour and some nice backgrounds and foregrounds, it’s certainly not ground-breaking either. It’s the same with the sound – effects are kept to a minimum and the music suits the game well enough but isn’t particularly memorable. As with all games of this type though, it’s other aspects of the game’s design that counts, such as level and character design. Happily, near enough every aspect of the gameplay is spot-on. The Vikings themselves are appealing (helped by their entertaining chatter) and are easy to control, and the difficulty curve is reasonably well-balanced too. The only problem is that there’s something of a ‘trial and error’ aspect to some sections of the game, and if you make a mistake and kill a Viking it’s all the way back to the start of the level, and they can get pretty big and complicated later on! Still, each level has a password and it is addictive, with the unique abilities of each Viking making for an interesting and fairly originally-designed game that’s well worth a look.
Retro King Simon is a 36 year old guy from England, and likes lots of stuff, including retro videogames, movies, and anime. You can check out his blog here – Red Parsley.
RKS Score: 8/10
Lady Sia came out in 2001, which was very early in the GBA life, but it was a pleasant surprise.
An action-adventure platformer, Sia is a queen whose land is ravaged by a warlock and his animal minions. She alone has to hack her way through these creeps to reclaim her land. Not really sure why it seems like every game I play has ‘magic guy’ creating weird animal hybrids. That really doesn’t seem like the thing I would do if I had that kind of power. But anyway…..
There’s actually a very long and detailed story that unfolds throughout play, but I don’t want to give anything away. What I will say is this is a realitivly short game, with just a handful of main levels, and a few smaller levels within. Sia is armed with just a sword and an “energy blast”, and each level’s mission has her recovering a stolen family item; from a better sword to magic rings. These items will help her defeat the 4 bosses and the main one at the end.
The 32-bit, cartoony animation is neat, and the fluidity of her movements are top-notch for the little system. Little touches like using her sword to grab a ledge to pull herself up were nice additions. Sweet background music and sound-effects, as well.
The replay ability is fairly high, with a nice addition of a scoring system. Along her journey, Sia will refill her energy blast (in the form of gems), hearts (life), and rescue commoner-hostages. All of this, along with time spent on the level, gives you a score. This also gives you a reason to explore the entire level.
Again, it’s a very short game, and maybe a little cutesy for the tastes of some, but I found it to be a lot of fun. The only true negatives are the lack of a real challenge, and the occasional occurance of Sia ‘sliding’ during her combo hits. It can be annoying when you’re whooping ass on a rat-dude, and you keep running into him instead of carving him up into cat food. But, this certainly won’t ruin the game for you. If you’re like me, and you still weep over Xena, Warrior Princess not on TV anymore, this is a decent substitute.
It was early 2004, I had just finished graduate school at UCF and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Typical. My savings was starting to dry up and I needed money fast. I went around filling out job applications. I actually got hired at Lowe’s first off. I was sent to push shopping carts on the second day instead of going through the typical orientation session. By the third day I was left alone in the lumber section all by myself. I quit that afternoon. Days later while wallowing in shame and fear, I saw an advertisement on careerbuilder.com for a video game tester. I knew that was something I could do. When I found out it was for EA Sports Tiburon I got excited. I filled out the application and days later I got a call from one of their screeners who gave me the phone interview. This consisted of some basic experience questions, and some sports specific questions like:
“What is the difference between overtime in college football and the NFL?”
“Name the major BCS bowls”
“Name as many NASCAR drivers and their sponsors as you can”
I was able to pass that pretty easily so I was invited in for another interview at their office. Here I had to answer a ten page multiple choice test where we shown pictures of controllers and match them to their consoles. It was video game and sports stuff. I did good there too so then we were given a console and told to follow a procedure where we would get a video game to crash. Then a panel interview where I chatted with three people. I remember being asked if I could remember what the interviewers names were and I only could remember the chick’s name. Again, typical. I was told I had the job and I had to come in Monday morning for a week of training which consisted of learning the bug database and learning from the previous year’s titles. At the end of the week we got our assignments and I was on the NCAA team for PS2. We all felt sorry for the guy who was given Madden for Game Boy Advance.
The work started out good. We worked 10AM-630pm, there was a fridge and a soda machine there. In the break room there were arcade cabinet machines such as Q-Bert, Mortal Kombat 2, and Golden Tee. We had some good competitions there. Soon our days went from 10am to 10pm. Beta got closer and we split into different shifts. Some worked 10am to midnight, some worked 12pm to 2am. It was a grind. No days off, not when you are putting out one of the best selling video games of the year. The people at the 7-11 store got to know us rather well for coffee and energy drinks.
It was an interesting job. There were barely any women around. For a group of guys who barely got to see women outside the office, work life brought out the caveman in everyone. Think of that boobs episode of South Park if it helps. Also, I found that the people in charge took what they did waaaay to seriously. They’d pump us up as if we were on the mission to kill Bin Laden. And they were the kind of bosses who used the old “We work hard but we play hard” catchphrase. I always thought anybody who used that should be locked in a closet with bees. There was a divide too among the full time programmers and staff and the seasonal Quality Assurance testers like me. The “people upstairs” got better snack machines, benefits, and we got to read some messages which revealed that they pretty much thought we were peons. But we weren’t, at least not all of us. We had lawyers, cops, college graduates, parents, all guys just trying to make a living and pay the bills. I know they had their struggles too. There was a controversy awhile back about the wife of an EA Employee there who didn’t like the long hours and lack of overtime her husband had to deal with. Google “EASpouse” and you’ll see the story.
Eventually I moved on but every year I would check the credits of all the football games and see who was still there from my day. Some testers actually got promoted to game producer. That was something good about the job, if you showed dedication, you were rewarded. I often wonder where I would have gone had I stayed there. I surely would have made a better Superman Returns game, that’s for sure.
One of the more interesting games for the GBA is surely Sword of Mana. Supposedly this is the first Seiken Densetsu game in the Mana series but was for some reason renamed to Final Fantasy Adventure in its original release. I’m guessing it was more of a popular name to put into a title to raise sales. Either way, as much as I loved the original, this one is a great improvement over it. Of course, I can’t say I miss the classic gameboy colors but this is a totally different experience altogether. The game is a well done remake that proves yet again how Square kept milking their old games into “remakes” This time around though, they succeeded in a positive note. The game plays like any of the other Mana games(The good ones at least), and delivers a very satisfying gaming experience. You are able to pick from a male or female character which you will name whatever you want(Name advice, Petunia, Resputan).
So here we go in a new grand adventure, you will probably feel at home with the beat em up style gameplay it brings as well as Mana cards you can use to summon your magical powers. Sadly, this game doesn’t bring a link cable gameplay option which would have made it an incredible experience(Some of you may remember Secret of Mana on the SNES, three players!). You can still connect two GBAs with the games but only for trading purposes, this isn’t Pokemon you know! The game does deliver you with companions who will aid you on your quest but won’t stay long with you, just like the original(Remember that mage that looked like a red mage?). The game also has a very interesting gameplay feature which involves finding items on certain days which is a big plus as it’ll make you play the game for a certain amount of time.
Overall, like always don’t want to give out too much so you can enjoy and find yourself yet another great gaming experience.
Bubble Bobble (1986)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 180,180
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, PlayStation, X68000, NES, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, FM Towns Marty, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, MSX, PC
What more can be said about this all-time great? Whilst perhaps not as well known as Mario or Sonic, the cute dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble are just as iconic to many gamers, myself included, and have now appeared in a lot of games on nearly every system ever created, in one guise or another. My first encounter with the bubble-blowing twins was in ‘Kwiki Meals’, the cafe near my college. It was here that I ventured every lunchtime to play Bubble Bobble (and eat a burger), and I was often late back to class! It was the game that first brought the great Taito to my attention and they’ve been one of my favourite companies since. Sadly, both Kwiki Meals and the arcade masterpiece it once housed are now long gone but I’ve had a regular fix of Bubble Bobble ever since.
Most of you will know the drill by now – Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons by the evil Super Drunk who has also kidnapped their girlfriends! In order to get them back and be restored to Human form, they must battle their way through a hundred rounds of multi-platformed, monster-infested caves until they can face, and hopefully defeat, Super Drunk. Bub and Bob, who start each round in the bottom left and bottom right corners of the screen respectively, must clear each single-screen round of baddies in order to proceed to the next. To do this you must trap them in bubbles which both Bub and Bob can blow at will. The bubbles fly forward quickly, before floating up the screen being carried by the air currents in the caverns. Freshly-blown bubbles are surrounded by a shiny orange aura until they are a certain distance away and it is only during this brief period that enemies can be trapped in them.
Once an enemy is trapped in a bubble, it must be popped quickly to kill it, either by touching it with the spines on Bub and Bob’s head and back, by jumping on it, or by pushing it into a wall. If you fail to pop it quickly enough, it will pop by itself, and the re-released enemy will be angry and much faster. It’s also possible to bounce off bubbles instead of popping them when you jump on one or fall on one from above. This is an essential skill to learn as sometimes it’s the only way to escape from part of a level or reach some high platforms. Bubbles also stick together if they touch each other, whether they contain enemies or not, so if you time it right you can cause a mega-pon chain reaction meaning mega-points! There are eight different types of standard enemy altogether and each has his own movement patern. Learning these are obviously the key to success here, but don’t take too long – if you stay on one stage too long, the undefeatable Baron Von Blubba will appear and stalk you until there’s nowhere left to hide!
One of this game’s many memorable points is that it jointly holds the record with its own sequel as one of the most fruit laden game ever (this is a good thing)! Items are spilled on a platform somewhere in the level every time an enemy is vanquished and other items appear seemingly out of nowhere now and then. There is an enormous amount of them to be found, some of which are very useful, particularly the umbrella which skips several levels, and there are power-ups and various kinds of screen-clearing smart bombs too. Some other items are even available in different colours, varying their effect. Also appearing liberally are lots of different fruits, gems and foods which can be seized for bonus points. Additional bubbles sometimes get ‘blown’ onto the screen by the air currents running through the caverns, and included amongst these are ‘special’ bubbles which, when popped, unleash special powers. These include fire bubbles, which spill fire which scorches enemy’s, lightning bubbles which sends a enemy-killing lightning bolt across the screen, and water bubbles, which send a torrent of water cascading down the platforms killing all enemies in its path. The last kind of bubbles to be found contain letters. Collecting them will gradually spell out E-X-T-E-N-D down the side of the screen. Complete the word to clear the round and get an extra life!
There are many more little intricacies and nuances to this game and to be honest, I could go on all day about them, but discovering them for yourself is one of the things that makes Bubble Bobble as great as it is. Despite initially seeming random, almost everything you do has some sort of affect on the game, from how quickly you finish a round right down to a particular digit of your score when you reach a certain point. Many games have been called classics over the years. Whether they truly are or not depends on your definition of the term I suppose, but few are as genuinely timeless as Bubble Bobble.
The cute, colourful graphics which are full of character, that music by Zuntata which could just be the catchiest tune of all-time, the flawlessly structured gameplay, the fiendish stage design, the fantastic fun of jumping around the platforms trying to time an attack to perfection, playing the game with a friend, it goes on and on. It’s regularly sited as one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue. Bubble Bobble isn’t just a single screen platform game, for many it’s the single screen platform game! It’s certainly true that it’s among the most enduring platform games of all-time and that kind of lasting adulation can only be for one reason…
RKS Score: 10/10