Wolf

“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this instalment: Wolf, a unique 1994 simulation game by Sanctuary Woods that placed gamers in the role of canis lupus seeking to survive in a sometimes hostile environment.

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Settings screen for the PC game, Wolf

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

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Whoops, wrong howling; wrong wolf.

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

Wolf - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Winter hunting in the PC game, Wolf

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

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

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

Gemini Wing

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Gemini Wing (1987)
By: Tecmo  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 85,980 (one credit)
Also Available For: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga, MSX, Sharp X68000

Like most people (or game fans, at least), I have a fairly extensive list of games I always meant to play but never got around to as a result of time or financial constraints, but Gemini Wing has never been among them. My only memories of it are the rather lacklustre reviews the home conversions received, notably on the Speccy (which had blue and yellow monochrome graphics as I recall), so when I decided to take a look at the arcade original of this vertical-scroller (which is actually a few years older than I realised), I didn’t have very high expectations. Initially, however, it’s been a pleasant surprise! I hope my luck holds, I could do with a decent new shmup to play…

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Even for shmup standards, Gemini Wing has a pretty hideous storyline that I won’t inflict on you here, but suffice to say, every alien race in the galaxy has apparently declared war on Earth! Things aren’t as bad as they might seem though as the invading aliens didn’t reckon on the ingenuity of the Gemini Wing fighter. It is using this that you (and a friend) must engage the terrifying alien fleets across seven stages of vertically-scrolling action. It appears you’re fighting the actual aliens themselves here too, for the most part, rather than their spaceships and stuff and they’re quite a diverse bunch that wouldn’t look out of place in our gardens and forests!

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

As you can probably tell from the screenshots, many of the aliens look like insects, other animals, and plants, and they include centipede’s, bats, various types of flies, praying mantises, spiders, beetles, trees, even single-celled organisms! The bosses are similarly organic in nature. The first, for example, is a walrus, and the next a pair of one-eyed snakes! Like Metal Black, recently reviewed here, Gemini Wing tries to do something a bit different with the weapon system too, and with a bit more success this time. Your fighter is equipped with a reasonable, though poor range, cannon, but you may notice the ship also has a tail of circular icons behind it.

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

These are called ‘Gunballs’ and each of them represents a different special attack ranging from three-way fire, to homing missiles, to a wall of fire, and others. They are used in the order they trail behind you and each lasts for one brief attack, acting like lesser smart bombs of a sort. More of them can be collected by destroying a certain kind of alien called a ‘Bringer’ which have ‘Gunball tails’ of their own! Bringers are hard to kill but each time you shoot one will change the type of Gunball they are carrying. When it carries the attack you want, you can steal them by flying into them and snatching them. Be careful though as they can also steal your Gunballs in the same way!

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Not all the Gunballs are weapons though. Certain ones will also give you speed-ups, an extra life, or award you with bonus points too. If you do manage to destroy a Bringer (it takes a lot of shots), its Gunballs will scatter around the screen, much like your own if you lose a life. This does of course make things a little easier as you can gather up most of your lost power-ups again when you restart (which happens immediately from the point you died). That’s not to say this is an easy shmup though. As well as numerous medium and large enemies, there are frequent swarms of dozens of smaller enemies (like the green things to the right) and they often move lightning fast!

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Others attack from behind while some, such as the beetles, come flying down the screen straight at you. Most of the enemies have horribly unpredictably flight paths too, especially the smaller ones, and it’s not just the aliens who cause problems. Many of the stages are home to hard-to-reach guns and there are various kinds of barriers that you have to try and shoot through as well. Fortunately the Gunballs are fairly common but you’re still likely to become overwhelmed now and then! The game can sure handle a lot of sprites on the screen at once too – there are sometimes literally dozens of several different types attacking at once.

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Your ‘tail’ of Gunballs following you around can be a bit distracting too, but this isn’t the hardest shmup in the world either. The sprites and backgrounds are both pretty varied, and the sprites in particular look nice. However, Tecmo missed some great opportunities as well. For example, the first stage takes places over a giant canyon of some sort. Some parallax scrolling here could’ve looked amazing and given the game a real sense of scope! Nevermind though, it’s still looks decent enough. The music and sound effects are pretty average though, it has to be said, and not something that you would even notice really unless you actually tried to.

Gemini Wing - Arcade - Gameplay Screenshot

Initially at least, this appeared to be a bright, cheery game which kind of reminded me, thematically, of a vertically-scrolling version of recently-played Amiga classic, Apidya, what with the abundance of insect-like enemies and all (well, vice versa since Gemini Wing came out first but you know what I mean!), and plays a little like PC Engine great, Gunhed. Having something in common with those two fantastic games is certainly no bad thing and, while Gemini Wing is not as good as either of them, it is a pretty half-decent and playable game. It has a great two-player mode (and yes, the players can steal Gunballs from each other!) and proves a nice challenge too. The difficulty increase is gradual with only a few overly tough sections, and there are some innovative features here which work well. As mentioned earlier, to me at least, this has always been one of those games that was just, sort of… there, but having now given it a chance, it has proven to be a rather pleasant surprise.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGWq0n0tQ8g[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

Penguin Land

Penguin Land - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Penguin Land (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 9,450
Also Available For: Sega SG-1000

Back in the late 80’s when my beloved Master System was my console of choice, I was rarely able to add to my game collection. I had around 8 games, mostly considered classics nowadays and highly rated back then. As I spent time looking through the magazines of the day, there were, however, always a few games that I wanted but was never able to get my hands on. Penguin Land was among these. Despite the unspectacular scores it generally received in the magazines, I found myself taken by the premise and screenshots and decided that I had to have it! This was, I suspect, mainly due to my fondness for platform/puzzle games, but it wasn’t until many years later – around 10 in fact – that I finally got round to buying it. Was it worth the wait?

Penguin Land - Gameplay Screenshot 2

As you may have guessed from its name, Penguin Land features… a penguin! He is no ordinary penguin, however – he’s a space penguin called Overbite, Penguin Mission Commander, who has rather carelessly lost three eggs on a distant, icy planet. After flying to retrieve them, he has to push them back to his spaceship and safety. This must be done over the course of 50 vertically scrolling rounds through which you must push the egg carefully without breaking it, from the top of the stage to the bottom. Of course, it’s not that simple, for there are various hazards awaiting you and your egg, not least of which is a time limit. Polar bears, rising and falling section of rock walls, birds that drop bricks on your egg if you don’t move it for a while, and ghosts which mess up your controls are also out to hinder your progress as much as possible too!

Penguin Land - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Luckily, with his eggs trapped on apparently such a hostile planet, Overbite is free to walk and jump around the rounds to his hearts content. A vast majority of the blocks are blue ice blocks. Overbite can break the ice blocks beneath him by pecking them and the egg can then be pushed through the gap. Be careful though – the egg can’t fall more than three blocks downwards without breaking, so you’ll have to take some time to consider which blocks to break. There are also cracked blocks which break as soon as the egg touches them, stone blocks which can’t be broken, and tubes which Overbite or his egg can drop through. Also sprinkled liberally around the stages (increasingly as you progress through them) are rocks, which can be pushed around much like your egg, and can also be pushed off platforms onto polar bears below!

Penguin Land - Gameplay Screenshot 4

Like most platform / puzzle games, Penguin Land is a simple concept, yet fiendishly addictive to play. The graphics, whilst pretty repetitive (only the background colour changes really) are neat, appealing, and suit the game style well. There is some slight sprite flicker if too much occupies one line, but it’s rare. There aren’t many tunes in the game though. A few little ditties and just the one main game theme. It’s a jolly, catchy number, but may soon grate, especially if you dislike this kind of tune to start with! Sounds effects are minimal but decent enough. As is often the case with games like this, though, it’s the gameplay that makes all the difference. It’s easy to start playing but hard to master, and with 50 challenging rounds to play through, it will last a fair old while! You can choose any of the first 30 rounds from the title screen and there’s even a level editor with which you can create additional rounds and save them on the cartridge’s battery back-up.

Penguin Land - Gameplay Screenshot 5

After waiting so long to play this game, I won’t say I was bowled over by it when I finally did get to play it. To be fair, it was probably an unspectacular release, even when it came out, but it has proven to be a highly playable and addictive little puzzler that not many people seem to know about. If you like platform games that require a bit of thought and planning, give this charming game a try!

RKS Score: 7/10