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Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 23,297 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision
It may have taken a few years but it still wasn’t long before the first few licensed video games started to appear. One of the first such games to grace an amusement arcade was this example, by my beloved Sega no less, and was based on the (mis)adventures of Captain Rogers. Well, I say ‘based’ but this is a game that, name aside, has pretty much nothing to do with the source material – something that would become a familiar story in the years to come – but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily make it a sucky game, just an unfaithful one. Planet of Zoom, for example, takes the form of an into-the-screen shooter. Nothing unusual there for a 70’s sci-fi show, I’ll grant you – plenty of shooting done in most of those. However, as long as it might have been since I’ve immersed myself in the gallant exploits of Buck, Wilma, and Twiki, nothing else from the game seems familiar.
Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t even be sure that we’re playing the game as Buck! Oh well, whoever may be at the controls, it’s your job to guide their ship through a tonne of dangerous stuff, and the best means of doing this is by blasting the crap out of it all. To this end, the ship offers unlimited use of its cannon, and you can also move it around the screen freely and increase or decrease its speed as you see fit. Each round is divided into eight stages (or sectors) of which there are three types – trench (as seen in the screenshot to the right), open space (next shot down), and planet (bottom shot) – but the object of each is the same; namely, to either fulfill an enemy quota or to finish within the time limit. If you can take down the required number of enemies before the time expires, you’ll move on to the next stage with any remaining time awarded as bonus points. If the timer runs down before you do this, you’ll still progress but with no bonus.
Most of the stages merely pit you against various kinds of oncoming enemies which include many flying saucers, hopping ground-based buffoons, red/purple versions of your own ship (almost), fast winged vessels, and angry-looking grey/red craft. As well as being mighty dangerous by themselves, most of them can also fire missiles and stuff at you, and there are also a few other hazards too. One of the trench stages features a series of barriers with gaps on the left, right, or middle, one of the planetary stages has a load of weird slalom-style gates (which offer only your continued existence as a reward for passing though them), and there is also a stage featuring a much larger boss ship which, for some reason, attacks with its back to you allowing you to simply blast all four of its engines to see it off. Defeating this befuddled clot isn’t too hard and each time you do it’s on to the next round where the stages are in a different order.
This process goes on forever as far as I can tell, which means things could potentially get more than a little repetitive. Fortunately, the action is fast and involving enough to keep this from setting in too much. The stages all look the same each time they’re repeated but they work well – the scrolling is pretty fast and the enemies move quickly via some superb scaling. The colouring is also impressive with lovely pixelly explosions, nice shaded skies, and even some occasional eye-melting psychedelic effects on some spacey stages. The sound is a little more basic, consisting only of a constant blooping sound (the ship’s engine?), as well as shooting and explosion effects. They’re loud though, and do contribute to the enjoyment of Buck’s adventure which is a pretty decent one. I think it’s clear Sega’s inspiration for Space Harrier lies here, and the later game is understandably the one that’s more fondly remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised by its spiritual predecessor which is more playable in some ways as well as being slightly easier. Buck and friends may have a pretty limited involvement but they can still be fairly proud of this.
RKS Score: 7/10
Black Belt a.k.a. Hokuto No Ken (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 209,100
Also Available For: Nothing Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Apparently inspired by Irem’s Kung Fu Master, even to the point of borrowing its ‘plot’, Sega’s game introduces the martial arts master, Riki, whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Blinded by love to the obvious dangers ahead, Riki immediately sets out to rescue her by kicking and punching his way across six scrolling stages of enemy goons. His repertoire of moves is restricted to a punch or kick, both of which can be performed while standing or squatting, and he can also unleash a flying kick. Each stage features just one type of standard enemy who are each felled (and then explode) by one of Riki’s strikes. There are also one or more mid-bosses, who are usually armed, before the main end-of-stage battle against a much stronger foe.Back in the late 80’s, my good friend Luke and I were both proud owners of Sega’s Master System.
We were both still at school though, so we couldn’t afford new games very often, but we frequently ogled the games we wanted in the various magazines of the day, and on both of our lists was this exciting-sounding game by Sega. It’s actually one of the first games by Yuki Naka who would later go on to head Sonic Team and was released earlier in the same year in Japan as a game based on the popular manga and anime series, Fist of the North Star. Rather than using this opportunity to introduce it to the rest of us though, its release in other territories saw a change in theme to the generic karate game we have before us. This was all unknown to Luke and I at the time of course, and despite the atrocious cover art (see here) it’s a game I always found very enticing.
Enemy strikes deplete Riki’s health-bar but this can be replenished by performing a high-jump (jump while squatting) to grab the icons that occasionally float along the top of the screen. As well as several types of food to refill your energy, there’s also a temporary shield, but they’re tricky to grab without taking any damage as the buffoons running backwards and forwards along the single-plane landscapes are infinite and quite quick too. They’re also pretty small, as is Riki himself. The level of detail isn’t too impressive on most sprites either but the mid and end-of-stage bosses are quite varied and a bit more detailed too. Confrontations with the latter sees the view zoom in a little, and therefore the level of detail increase a little, as the game (briefly) switches to a one-on-one brawler complete with unique backgrounds.
Each of the stages also has its own backdrop and tune, of course, but these are little better than average which sums up the whole game really. It would probably have proved a reasonably entertaining game to play every now and then when it came out but it’s not aged too well. There’s no incentive to play for points since the enemies are never-ending. There is a time limit, admittedly, but it’s not a very strict one which is probably because the stages aren’t very long – if you were forced to rush through them, each would probably last a couple of minutes at most, not including the boss fights which are, incidentally, the only times you’ll need to use more than one brain cell! Playing through the rest of the game, though, is a bit of a chore and there’s a few scrolling fightings games on the MS which are much more enjoyable. Sometimes these games I’ve been meaning to play for so many years are worth the wait. Sadly, Black Belt isn’t one of them.
RKS Score: 5/10
Classic Gaming at E3 2013
Classic gaming is alive and well at E3 2013. For the last few E3’s there has been a great section reserved for retro gaming. Each year it has grown and this year it was better than ever!
Format- Master System
Genre- Lightgun shooter
You may remember my dismissal of Knife Edge on N64 as a pointless exercise without having an actual light-gun to play it with. Well, Assault City has a gun, but it’s still not much cop. But what do you expect when you play it with Sega’s rather naff Light Phaser?
The game starts with an odd shooting range thing, with both human and robot faces popping up to fire at. You’re not supposed to shoot the humans apparently – it took me a little while to realise this. No instructions you see. You’re just supposed to already know the robots are your enemies. That’s robo-racism if I ever saw it.
The weird faces the humans pull when you blast them with lead are amusing though. (the robot’s death animations are boring in comparison). It’s almost like the designers wanted you to shoot the wrong targets…
You’re then given a ranking for how well you did (I performed badly, predictably), and whisked into the first stage proper. Things get ugly quickly.
Enemies fly around in the air, and a robot (which the game has taught me is certainly an enemy) walks along the bottom. All of them are rather uninspired and blandly designed. I shoot away at them, and their death explosions are as equally dour.
Eventually I die, despite not really knowing when I took a hit. Enemies are so badly designed it’s not clear when they’re shooting at you.
I’m treated with a cartoon panel style rendering of my death (which is nice), but it doesn’t paticularly inspire me to attempt to progress any further.
Light-gun games don’t usually age that badly. They have a simple charm that is purely down to the way they are played – with a chunky plastic gun.
Assault City definitely does suffer from the weedy Light Phaser you have to play it with, but it has other, deeper, problems. It’s designed without any real style, and it also lacks any solidity of heft in its gunplay. These are two areas which really work against it.
In the end, it’s a game where you shoot at things on a screen, and Assault City does a half-decent job. But it had to doa lot better than half-decent job if it wanted to be remembered with any fondness.
Micro Machines (1991)
By: Code Masters Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, SNES, NES, Game Boy, CDi, PC, Amiga
People will always have differing opinions of things. Whether it’s games, films, music or anything else you can think of; there will always be at least one person that worships something and another who hates it with just as much passion. However, generally speaking, good things are regarded as good by the majority and likewise bad things remain bad. This is as true of video games as anything else but there’s bound to be a few people that dislike well-regarded games and that includes me – it was the whole reason I created the ‘Overrated!’ feature here at Red Parsley of course. I’ve only covered four games so far though, which suggests it isn’t something that happens too often, but if there was one game I always had at the back of my mind to add to the feature, it would be this one. I don’t think there’s any game so universally lauded that I dislike, but I caught a lot of flak for its omission from my recent Top Five so I figured it was as good a time as any to address the issue!
Micro Machines themselves – the little toys – are pretty cool. I’ve even collected a few such as the range they released based on the awesome Babylon 5, and when the game was released it was met with universal acclaim from reviewers and players alike. I’ve always been keen on games of this type so I sought it out with the utmost haste. Being equally keen on my splendid MegaDrive, it was this version I plumped for and first impressions of the game were… superb! The presentation is outstanding with nice cartoony intro and options screens which give you the choice between single or multi-player games. The latter offers the choice of ‘Single Race’ or ‘Tournament’ for two players while the former allows you to choose between ‘Head to Head’ or ‘Challenge’ games, and it is the first of these that I prefer by some way which is basically the two-player mode but against a CPU-controlled opponent.
Before starting you first need to choose your own character as well as your opponent’s from a selection of eleven cartoony human oafs whose skill level supposedly increases gradually from one to the next. You’ll then race each other in your various miniature vehicles over a series of courses based on household locales. The first, for example, sees you racing powerboats around a bubbly bath tub! Other vehicles include Sports Cars, Formula One Cars, Tanks, Turbo Wheels (buggies), Warriors (hot rods), 4×4’s, and Choppers, and they are raced around the house on things like desk tops, breakfast tables, snooker tables, and even around the workshop and garden. All race locations feature items and obstacles appropriate to their setting which most of the time make themselves unwelcome. In the two-player Single Race mode you can choose a vehicle which is then raced over its ‘home’ course, but in all other play modes the courses are arranged in order and you have to win one to see the next.
Unfortunately, this is where the problems start, at least as far as I’m concerned. The single player Challenge mode features a series of twenty four races which includes several courses based on each house location with corresponding vehicle type used. Races are against three CPU vehicles with very simple rules – complete the required number of laps and finish in the highest position possible. If you finish in the top two, you can move on to the next race. If not, you’ll lose a life. All the other play modes feature one-on-one races, whether that’s human vs the computer or another human. On the left side of the screen are eight coloured circles – four red, four blue. The object is to turn all the circles your own colour which is done by getting far enough ahead of your rival that they drop off the screen. Each time you manage this, a circle is filled in your favour. This can make races very short or immense endurance contests depending on the skill and luck of the participants, with the latter playing a notably more prominent role than the former in my experience.
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, in all head-to-head play modes, by their very nature you’re frequently racing high up the screen with little warning or view of upcoming corners and obstacles. Secondly, the design of the courses, while original and very appealing, also leaves masses of obstacles all over the place which not only slow you down if you hit them, but are also very easy to get stuck behind. On top of that, many of the courses take place on a table or something similar which means slipping over the edge and crashing to your doom is also commonplace. I can’t really say the courses gradually increase in complexity and difficulty as you might expect, either – the course that makes me most angry is only the third, and the one after it is a piece of cake! As annoying as all this stuff can be, it’s all manageable in slower vehicles like the 4×4’s or Tanks, but when you have to zoom around courses in fast, skiddy vehicles like the Sports or Formula One cars, mistakes come often which soon proves immensely frustrating.
It might seem like a game that’s hard to get pissed at judging by the screenshots though. As mentioned, the presentation is fantastic, and the audio is great too, with plenty of catchy tunes and various noises. Graphically, there are no flashy special effects or anything here and it’s easy to see why the game looks more or less the same across a variety of systems, but it’s still very pleasing on the eyes nonetheless. It’s certainly a mighty colourful game and the appropriately tiny vehicles all look nice enough as they career through the smoothly-scrolling courses, but the varied backgrounds and the great attention to detail is where the work has really been done. Most of them show great creativity and are filled with a conveniently-arranged mess befitting their setting. For example, the breakfast table course is marked out by Cheerios (or something similar) and has various foodstuffs dotted around like waffles and fruit. On-course obstructions are caused by spillages such as baked beans, and there’s even a cereal-box jump!
Most of the other courses are just as detailed and imaginative, and discovering their various sights and features is highly enjoyable the first few times you race them. However, as amusing and comedic as the game may be, the object is still surely to make progress and win races while having fun, not instead of? Success comes from driving round the more difficult courses time and time again until you can do so blindfolded; until you can do so without making even the tiniest mistake. Doing so is immensely tense/exciting during the race and immensely satisfying afterwards, but this is likely to happen far less than the alternative which I at least found incredibly frustrating and rage-inducing: winning, winning, doing well, BANG! … stuck behind trackside object, near-instant last place… racing, racing, doing well again, regain the lead, skid a teeny bit too far on a corner, fall off the table, near-instant last place, racing, cross the finish line in last place, lost a life… GrrrrrRRRRRR!!!!
Okay, I know I’m probably going to take a right kicking from the legions of Micro Machines fans who loved and still love this game and its sequels; I know its faults that annoy me so are mainly limited to certain courses on which the faster vehicles are used, and even then can be found in many other overhead racers (though not nearly so prominently, I submit), but I can scarcely recall any gaming experience that makes me as angry as this one is capable of doing – something which is much more pronounced in the Challenge mode in which you have to manage to go without making a mistake for much longer than the short bursts of skill/luck required in the other modes. Control of the vehicles is flawless though, admittedly, and with two players, both of you are as disadvantaged as each other I suppose (unless one has had a lot more practise!) but winning is still often more down to luck than skill.
Based on my prior experiences with this game I was preparing to give is cursory play to refresh my mind, then duly unleash the diatribe it deserves and give it a very low score, but I suppose I have to begrudgingly admit that I enjoyed Micro Machines much more this time. It’s still reallyannoying though, and frequently so – some times I’ll play it and do extremely well, even having enormous fun in the process, then catch myself thinking “this game is great, I was wrong, I’ll give a glowing review!”, but then my next session with it makes me angrier than ten Incredible Hulks and I end up smashing stuff up. The ideas behind the game are amazingly great and there’s many laughs to be had here, but in the end, this is a great example of a game that can be effing awesome and incredibly annoying, often within seconds of each other! Does that make it terrible game? No, I guess not, but it’s not a great one either in my opinion, sorry.
RKS Score: 6/10
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!
RKS Score: 9/10
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II
Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.
As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.
The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!
Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!
RKS Score: 6/10
Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.
It’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.
RKS Score: 7/10
Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 40,000
Also Available For: Arcade, Nintendo NES, MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Sega pretty much invented the quickly-dubbed ‘cute em up’ sub-genre with Fantasy Zone and it was an interesting fusion of gaming styles. The bright, colourful graphics full of funny-looking creatures and cute characters belied the tough shooting action the game provided, but it proved to be very popular and was converted to several platforms of the time. Set ten years later, this inevitable sequel tells pretty much the same story as the first game – the now-expanded territory of the Fantasy Zone has come under renewed attack from the evil Menon Empire who are once again attempting to construct a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. He’s getting on a bit now but Opa-Opa still springs into action to save the day!
Fantasy Zone 2 The Tears of Opa-Opa, to give it its full title, initially appears to be more of the same from Sega, and there is in fact little difference between this and the first game beyond the cosmetic, but that’s certainly no cause for complaint when the first game was so good! There are again eight stages and each but the last is a free-scrolling, looped stage featuring a constant stream of small enemies, usually moving in formation or patterns, whose sole job it is to prevent you from destroying the larger, enemy-spawning Menon ‘bases’ on each stage, of which there are substantially more this time. Eliminating them all will lead to a boss fight before progressing to the next round.
The biggest difference between this and the first Fantasy Zone game is that each round is now divided into several different areas. Destroying enemies still releases coins (and notes now, too) of varying value but some Menon bases leave behind a blue warp instead. These allow you to travel back and forth between the areas, each of which generally contains four or five bases. There is also one base that will leave behind a red warp when destroyed. This leads to the boss but you can’t enter it until all the bases are destroyed. Opa-Opa’s basic armaments remain his weak but rapid-fire twin shot, and slow-firing but more powerful bombs. Fortunately there is again a shop to help him out which this time stays put once it appears rather than floating around for just a few seconds as before. Most of the old engine and weapon upgrades return, such as the jet engine, wide beam, laser, seven way shot, and twin bombs (which are much more useful this time) and there’s a few new ones too like the big shot, three way shot, and twin big bombs. As before, the speed-ups and twin bombs will last for the remainder of that life but the other shot and bomb upgrades are time or shot-limited.
The eight rounds are all set on new planets and as such there are many glorious new wonders to behold here, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest draws of Fantasy Zone 2. Not only does each round have its own background, but most of the areas within each round do too, and they are mostly superb! As well as being unique (and very colourful, as you might imagine!), they are much more diverse than in the first game and feature particularly impressive ice and fire stages. Each stage is also home to unique enemies who are varied and superbly detailed for the most part. There is a little slow-down when things are at their busiest, but this remains one of the prettiest, most vibrant games available for the Master System.
Anyone who’s played Fantasy Zone will know exactly what to expect here. Sega has tinkered with the premise very little for the sequel and, aside from the new graphics, sound, and level structure, this is essentially the same again but even better. It remains a pretty tricky game, with some smaller enemies moving very quickly and occasionally seeming to appear from nowhere, but it’s not unfairly difficult and playing though it is great fun. As well as taking you to new areas, the warps are extremely helpful for escaping from oncoming hordes of enemies, and thanks to the easier access to the shop, it’s now possible to buy weapon upgrades and save them for the bosses, so you could say the going is a little easier here. In fact, the only thing here that’s worse than the first game is the music which is still pretty good but not as memorable as the first game. Overall, this is a fantastic sequel that retains all the charm of the first game and adds more of its own.
RKS Score: 9/10
Soon after arriving home from the family holiday mentioned in ‘Gaming Memories – Part 1, I was suddenly obsessed with the videogames I had previously had little interest in. Chief among my obsessions was the amazing OutRun. It wasn’t long before I discovered that this ‘Sega’ company who made OutRun also had available a home console, much like the Atari VCS I had briefly flirted with at a friend’s house. After some investigation I found that there were three variants available – the Master System, the Master System Plus, and the Super System.
Apparently this flashy-looking console also had some flashier-looking accessories. Namely, the ‘Light Phaser’, which, excitingly, looked like a blaster from Star Wars, and the ‘3D Glasses’ which looked cool even before I found out what they were for. The basic Master System pack was just the console with a control pad and a built in-game. The Master System Plus also came with the Light Phaser and featured an additional built-in game. Lastly, included with the Super System was both the Light Phaser and 3D Glasses, and a built-in game that took advantage of both. Naturally, I decided I wanted the latter! The day I found all this out was an exciting one. I stayed up all night trying to work out how I could have this great console. I didn’t want to wait for Christmas, I wanted it straight away! After some pretty brain-bending calculations, I discovered I could pay my parents back £3 per week from my paper-round if they bought me the console I so desired. After a hard fought campaign, they finally relented. Unfortunately the Super System was unavailable but they did buy me a Master System Plus with three games, and some 3D Glasses separately. Two years of paper rounds then ensued, all proceeds going to this cause. It didn’t matter though – I had Outrun!
My trusty Master System would go on to keep me entertained for many years. It even persuaded my best friend, Luke, to buy one of his own, and he was lucky enough to get a proper Super System! Before long we were spending a lot of our time at each others houses, challenging each other at our favourite games, with both of us becoming firm Sega fanboys in the process, an allegiance which it took the SNES to break, and even then our hearts always remained in the Sega camp. Luke and I both have our favourites on Sega’s first console offering (outside Japan), but after my visit to the late, great Microland with my parents, I came away with the following games…
Safari Hunt (1986)
Eager to try out my fancy new Light Phaser, this was the first game I tried when I finished unwrapping my shiny new Master System. It was built into the console itself but was also available separately on a combination cartridge. It is essentially the Master System’s version of Duck Hunt and sees you shooting various innocent-looking creatures over three different single-screen settings which repeat over and over until level 69 (giggity). Well, apparently – I never played it that long! The object is to shoot as many creatures as possible before you run out of bullets. If you’ve surpassed the required score you’ll progress to the next screen. If not, game over! Despite its horrifying un-political correctness and extremely limited nature, this was actually good fun in short bursts and I played it often. Light-gun games didn’t really hit their stride (in the home, at least) until the 32-bit era (with Virtua Cop, et al) so this was one of my few experiences with them, but I have happy memories of it.
This conversion of the hit coin-op was impressively released in the same year as its parent and was another game that came built into my Master System. The object is simply to keep racing for as long as possible without running out of time. There are four different backgrounds that the game cycles through (including a nice night-time stage) and the road is packed with other racers, although they’re only there to get in the way – there’s no actual race positions or anything. It’s still great fun though – it’s fast, addictive, and requires skill rather than luck to progress in. I probably ended up playing this one more than most of my cartridge games and it’s still highly enjoyable. Top stuff!
Snail Maze (1986)
I had been using my Master System for a good few months before I got around to reading the instruction book that came with it, and upon doing so I was surprised to discover there was another game built into it! It seems that on certain models of the console, if you turn it on with no cartridge inserted whilst holding Up and buttons 1 & 2 simultaneously, the result is the now famous Snail Maze! It’s a very simple game – simply guide the small snail through the complex maze to the exit within the (very) strict time limit. There are twelve mazes in total and if you fail to reach the exit of any of them within the time limit you’ll be dumped back at the start of the whole game. It’s a bit of a trial and error, memory-test kind of game really, but again, it’s fun in short bursts and that bloody tune will drive you insane!
OutRun 3D (1989)
Ah, the very reason I had a Master System! I had the choice between this and the standard ‘non-3D’ version of this game in Microland on purchase day. I naturally assumed they would be the same, aside from one making use of the 3D Glasses and the other not. I was incorrect. I didn’t play the non-3D version until later on Luke’s MS but it turned out it was a lot faster and harder! This version plays nicely enough though and, despite being a bit too easy, was very enjoyable at the time. The 3D effect was quite impressive too and handily the game had a 2D option as well, and the Master System’s sound chip does its best to replicate the iconic music of the arcade behemoth. It’s not the greatest driving game of all-time but hey – it’s still OutRun!
After Burner (1987)
Another conversion of an immense arcade machine (you have to call it a ‘machine’, it seems wrong just calling it a mere arcade ‘game’!), and one even more impressive than OutRun from a technical point of view. The little Master System actually has a good go at replicating its parent and proved to be one of the better home versions of it. Piloting the iconic F-14 Tomcat, it’s your job to blast your way through eighteen stages of anonymous enemy aircraft. Obviously the graphical detail has had to suffer a bit here, especially the ground scenery, but overall this is an enjoyable conversion of this classic, and even has semi-cheat feature enabling you to reach the later stages unscathed!
Altered Beast (1988)
If memory serves I think it was actually my parents that suggested I buy this one, perhaps for a bit of variety. I hadn’t previously heard of it but it looked interesting enough, and for a while I quite liked it. Before long I discovered it was far from the pinnacle of Master System gaming, but I suppose it’s not really a genre the MS is swamped in though, and it’s not too bad. It does have one of the arcade version’s stages missing (the third) and can be pretty frustrating, but how can it a bad thing to turn into a powerful human/monster hybrid? It’s just a shame you don’t get to spend more time in these forms, especially the first one – the fireball-throwing werewolf! Besides, I’ll always have a soft spot for this game as I could actually complete it!
So, these were the games that kept me occupied for the first few months of my console-owning life, and great fun they were. They were of course gradually added to over the coming months with many titles now considered among the system’s best, such as Fantasy Zone, Psycho Fox, Wonderboy 3, Power Strike, Shinobi, Spellcaster, etc, and my good friend Luke often brought his favourites to my house too. The Master System remains one of my most fondly remembered consoles despite the fact that it was soon superseded by the MegaDrive (another of my favourites) and I really can’t recall any bad memories of this under-appreciated console which I still regularly enjoy now.
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Master System First Day Score: 36,940
Also Available For: Nothing
Despite being pretty popular here in the UK, the Master System was never really the most popular console of all-time. The comparative lack of games could be one reason, the NES was awash with thousands of games after all, but it’s still a shame as Sega’s sleek-looking console was pretty innovative for its time. Among the bright ideas it housed was a ‘Smart Card’ system, adapted from an accessory for Sega’s earlier Japan-only console, the SG-1000, which was an alternative to the high-cost ROM cartridges used for most games. The card system was effectively home to a budget range of games early in the Master System’s life before being dropped, but considering the number of games released on the format barely reached double figures, it didn’t really matter too much!
TransBot was, however, one of the few games to find a use for Sega’s card format (although it was later released on cartridge too, which kind of defeated the object). It’s a pretty basic horizontally scrolling shmup set after a nuclear war. Having sought refuge underground, Mankind slowly starts to emerge only to find Dalaus, a computer left over from the old world, has designs on the planet itself and has sent its minions to see us off! Luckily, our hero has access to at least one device with which to try and stop them – the CA-214 fighter. This ‘TransBot’ fighter initially seems normal enough, but it has the ability to change its form, and with these changes come new armaments. The default form of the fighter is a fairly unassuming jet / spaceship type craft which movies slowly and is equipped with a puny forward shot.
Enemies come in a variety of small, uncomplicated forms, and are easily dispatched, even with the default craft. However, they move much more quickly, and often in screen-spanning formations, so it’s sometimes easier to just avoid some of them. Trundling periodically along the bottom of the screen is a small truck which is apparently a munitions vehicle which, when shot, will release an icon branded with a question mark. Collecting this will trigger the power-up bar at the top of the screen to begin cycling through letters A – G, each denoting a particular power-up. Press the button to stop it moving and you’ll get the weapon it landed on. Many of these involve your craft transforming into a robot with increased firepower such as simultaneous forward and rear shots, three-way shots, wide shots, etc. However, this also makes the craft larger and therefore more likely to be hit. Luckily your craft can also be powered-up in its smaller form too!
Unlike most shmups, rather than lasting until the player loses a life, these power-ups only last for a limited time and it’s not long! Fortunately the munitions trucks are frequent and certain weapons are more suitable for particular sections, so it actually works out pretty well. This isn’t the only slightly unusual feature in TransBot either. Your ship has an energy bar for one thing, which allows you to sustain several enemy hits before going down rather than falling victim to a single strike. Also, and perhaps most obviously, there is no real level structure, with the game instead cycling through two different types of background – a pretty standard, planetary surface, and a metallic-looking enemy base of some sort ending in a boss – and the game goes on, cycling through them forever as far as I can tell! This makes TransBot an excellent score-attack game, something backed up by the fact that world authority on score-keeping, Twin Galaxies, has an official record for the game!
Given the popularity of the Transformers at the time this was released, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration for the main character came from, but I’m not really sure it works too well. It’s at best an under-used gimmick here, but does that make this a bad game? Well, back when my trusty Master System was my main console of choice and its games were freely available in high-street stores, I always steered clear of this game. Every magazine review I saw of the game slated it, despite its cheaper price point. If it was that bad then, it must be terrible now, right? Well, no actually. Being both a budget game as well as an early release for the Master System, TransBot is understandably basic, in concept as well as aesthetics, but it’s actually not at all bad, and certainly not as bad as I’ve believed all these years! Yes, the graphics and sound are bland and repetitive, and with games like R-Type, Fantasy Zone, Cloud Master, and others available, there seems to be little reason to play this, and I’m guessing this is from where the aforementioned scorn originates, but it’s a decent enough little blaster which is challenging, addictive, and good fun.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kzmHCYnSQg[/youtube]
RKS Score: 6/10
Gran Turismo – PlayStation (1998)
There’s been a few landmark driving games over the years but I can’t remember any that had the impact that Gran Turismo had. Much of the adulation it received initially was earned by the near photo-realistic quality of its action replays, although this always confused me – sure they look good, but it’s the game that counts, isn’t it? Luckily, this aspect of the game was also ground-breaking in many ways. Featuring masses of real cars, numerous testing circuit-based courses, extensive car customisation options, and lots and lots of competitions, this was a driving game fan’s dream come true, and is still the series others aspire to. Many prefer one of the various sequels but this original is the one I always return to, mainly because I’ve never been too good at ‘simulation’ driving games but this game lets you keep boosting the power of your car until you’re more powerful than your rivals (the sequels brought in BHP limits for races)! My trusty Honda Prelude destroys all!
Super Metroid – SNES (1994)
I can still remember buying this game second-hand in my local game/music store. I had little knowledge of it and, thanks to my prior Sega allegiance, I had never played the earlier Metroid games, but I had heard that it was supposedly something special. I really didn’t know what to expect so, upon playing it for the first time, proceeded with caution. What followed was one of greatest awakenings of my gaming life! I was initially wondering what was going on (no one reads instruction books unless they get stuck!) but was quickly immersed in the atmospheric, haunting world of Brinstar and all the other amazingly designed areas of Super Metroid’s world. Not many games have hooked me like this one did – I spent hours, days, weeks trying to uncover all the secrets and explore every square inch of its fascinating game world. In fact, given my love of this game, it’s nothing short of insane that I have yet to get around to playing the subsequent Metroid games!
Exhumed – Saturn (1997)
Due to my lack of interest in modern gaming and PC gaming generally, there’s very few first-person shooters I’ve actually played – something which perhaps needs to be rectified – but this is one of the few exceptions, and a damn fine one it is too. Its set in and around Egypt which gives it the potential for a great story and lots of secret passages and traps, not to mention a fantastic atmosphere! It strikes the perfect balance between puzzles, exploration, and shooting and features a huge game world to play through, with new parts of older levels being continually opened up after the acquisition of new items and abilities. A superbly programmed game by the now sadly defunct Lobotomy Software which did things on the Saturn that supposedly weren’t possible.
Psycho Fox – Master System (1989)
My affection for the Master System has been well documented in these pages and this is one of my very favourite games for it. Sure, in mere screenshots it probably just looks like every other 8/16-bit platformer going – grass, desert, ice stages, formulaic characters, cute graphics, etc, but take the time to play it and you’ll find that it’s a lot more than that. Featuring four playable characters with unique abilities that you can switch between using ‘transformation sticks’, large stages with multiple routes, a perfectly-graded difficulty level, and lots of secrets, there’s plenty here to keep any fan of platformers happy for a good while. It is also home to several features that I hadn’t seen before, but which would later become commonplace in the genre, so for it’s time it was pretty original too. On top of all that, it has springy poles that can fling you halfway across the stage! Great fun and addictive as hell!
Ocarina of Time – Nintendo 64 (1998)
To my shame this remains the only Zelda I’ve played properly (yes, I know!) – as much as I have enjoyed the few RPG’s I’ve played, I guess my attention span isn’t up to it! However, this game was one of the few I’ve actually bought full price on the day of release and it was worth every penny. Like Super Metroid, Link’s first 3D adventure draws you into its world completely and hours pass by without you noticing. Featuring lots of large areas and dungeons, many of which reveal new secrets every time you return to them, countless side-quests, dozens of characters to interact with, and a whole host of items and equipment to collect, some new, some old, this is about as immersive as videogames get for me. Now, I must get around to playing A Link To The Past!
Wiz ‘n’ Liz (1993)
By: Raising Hell Software / Psygnosis Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 922,300
Also Available For: Amiga
Released mid-way through the MegaDrive’s life, this quirky platformer for some reason seemed to slip under the radar for most gamers at the time. Is that because it sucks? Actually, no, and it was released on the most popular console and computer of the time, and came during a period when the genre was at its peak too, so it’s a mystery to me why more people haven’t played it! I actually first encountered it in a very favourable review in an Amiga magazine but it was the MegaDrive version I would ultimately purchase, purely because the MD is better than the Amiga as everyone knows (hee hee!), but the MD is also far better catered for as far as this kind of game is concerned too. So how did Wiz ‘n’ Liz fare against the likes of Sonic? Not too well, one might think, but could Psygnosis have a surprise in store?
One of the first things you might notice when playing this game is that it’s nearly as fast as Sonic! It’s set on the amusingly-named planet of ‘Pum’ where Wiz the wizard and Liz the witch reside. Their pastime of creating new magic spells is second only to taking care of their many beloved pet rabbits. Unfortunately, however, their latest spell has gone wrong and whisked all their rabbits off to who knows where! Under your (and a friend’s) control, Wiz ‘n’ Liz immediately set out to rescue them all and restore Pum to its former glory. Finding all of their rabbits isn’t particularly hard as they’ve been liberally sprinkled across the many charming and not so charming lands that comprise Pum. They’re not just normal rabbits though, but magic rabbits, and every last one of them must be rescued.
The game begins in Home Land where Wiz ‘n’ Liz’s house and magic cauldron are located. There are also some trees here in which magic fruit grow. Mixing any two of these fruits in the cauldron creates a spell whose effect depends on which combination of fruits are mixed, but the first spell creates a door which provides access to the level select area. From here you can enter the various levels (or ‘lands’) and you can tackle them in any order you want. Each land is made up of two or three rounds, and on each of these there is a set quota of rabbits to rescue. This is done by touching them and to start with they will each release letters which slowly float up the screen. Collecting these letters spells out the magic word at the top of the screen. Once it’s complete, rescued rabbits will instead release magic fruits, stars, and clocks.
Collecting these items isn’t mandatory but it can be very useful. Gathering magic fruits will fill the magic-meter which, when full, makes that fruit available to mix magic spells with in Home Land. Each clock collected will add five seconds to you timer for the next stage / land, and stars can be spent on fruits, more clocks, and even extra lives in the shop, but only once you’ve worked out the magic spell to summon it! There are eight standard lands to play through (as well as one secret final land which you must earn the right to play) and they are all multi-tiered and based on some pretty standard themes such as Grass Land, Snow Land, Desert Land, Dead Land, etc. Each is also looped and the stages contained therein are timed, with the amount of time you start with being determined by which of the three skill settings you choose before play.
One of the most notable things about Wiz ‘n’ Liz is that it’s nearly bereft of enemies, with only a few bosses making up their ranks. As well as the skill settings, there are also three ‘levels’ to choose between – Apprentice, Wizard, or Sorcerer – and each time you finish one of them you’ll face a boss, such as a giant malevolent tree or sunflower, before progressing to the next level. The boss you face will be determined not only by the level but also the skill setting, so there’s a good few of them, and that’s one of my favourite things about this game – the range of difficulty settings mean it’s possible to just mess around having fun and trying out new magic spells, or to really test yourself and try to finish the game properly too! There is also a superbly frantic two-player mode in with the players race each other to see who can collect their rabbit-quota first.
Despite taking this long to explain, Wiz ‘n’ Liz really is a fairly simple, albeit slightly strange game! Aesthetically, things are certainly superb. The opening title sequence features some lovely wibbly reflective water effects, for example, and the in-game graphics are nicely detailed, superbly animated, amusing, and full of character. The audio on offer here is of a similarly high standard. The sound effects are superb and there are lots of tunes, including one for each land. They are still among the best I’ve heard on the MegaDrive and must surely rank highly on the list of the composer, the great Matt Furniss’ achievements, perfectly suiting the fast, frantic, arcade-style gameplay. In fact, on a good few occasions I’ve decided to play this game just to give my ears a treat before zooming through the delightful lands, getting caught up in the addictive rabbit-rescuing antics once again!
That’s the best thing about Wiz ‘n’ Liz – you can play it for five minutes, you can play if for two hours, it’s great fun either way. The magic spell tomfoolery complicates the otherwise simple gameplay a little but, whilst good fun, most of the fruit combinations produce little of substance, instead mostly comprising amusing mini-games, bonus time/points, or changing some minor aspect of the game (rabbit colour, for example). That’s one of the things that most puzzles me about this game – being a platform game, it’s not completely original, but it has so many unique features and charming touches, even if many of them are superficial – it’s still a fantastic game, so its lack of success is bewildering. Not only that but it was released at a time when 2D platform games were king and originality was scarce which only confuses matters further. It’s hard to believe that it’s only the second game from the developer that would go on to become the revered Bizarre Creations (responsible for Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars amongst others). Wiz ‘n’ Liz is a game I would urge any platform fan to try. Besides, how could you not like a game featuring rotating fruits with faces?
RKS Score: 9/10
Shoot ’em ups have long been one of my favourite genres and one that I probably own most examples of. The fact that my recent ‘Top Five MegaDrive Shmups‘ post has been my most popular yet indicates I’m not alone! I also seem to have sparked a craze for compiling shmup lists, with all and sundry now apparently listing their own favourites, including my friend Graeme (Jdanddiet) here! So, continuing the theme, I thought I’d return to my first console, and here’s my choices:
Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I’ve traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven’t played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!
5. Cloud Master (1989)
I never really had much interest in this one due to the average scores it seemed to get in reviews, but when I actually played it, I discovered that I (at least) really liked it! One of the reasons for this could be the highly varied and imaginative enemies, which seem to be straight out the Fantasy Zone school of weirdness, but it’s got nice graphics, including some fantastic sprites and it’s just really enjoyable to play too.
4. Astro Warrior (1986)
I think this was originally a pack-in game on a combi-cartridge with Hang-On or Pit Pot. It did get a standalone release as well though, and it deserved it – it’s a cracking little game! It reminds me of a kind of cross between Cresta’s Moon and Terra and the power-ups increase the size of your ship a bit like those games too. I love these early space-based shooters and Astro Warrior is a great example. It might be a bit
short but it’s great fun while it lasts.
3. Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)
Yes, the first game is a top blaster but this sequel just does everything a little bit better in my view. I’m pretty sure it was the first Fantasy Zone game I played too. Happily, the hyper-cute enemies and super-colourful backdrops from the first game return and if anything, they’re even more garish here! In fact, the whole game concept is mostly unchanged. But hey, it’s all part of the charm of playing a Fantasy Zone game, huh? Simple, addictive, and very challenging.
2. R-Type (1987)
Many people’s bet for number one, I’m sure! Few shooters have become as iconic or proved as influential as this one, and this conversion of Irem’s all-time great is an outstanding one for sure. It has a few issues such as some sprite flicker but I don’t think anyone could really have expected any more from the humble Master System and they even found the space to cram in an extra level here too!
1. Power Strike (1988)
Perhaps better know as Aleste to some, this was one of the first games I got for my Master System and I’ve still got it now! It really is a technical marvel too – there can be dozens of sprites on the screen at once and there’s no slowdown or flicker, and it has very fast scrolling at time. Graphical achievements aside, this is a top-notch vertical scroller and still one of the best I’ve played. In fact, one of the only ones I’ve played that’s better is another game in the series on the SNES! Gorgeous, loud, challenging, and addictive – what more could you ask?
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
Marble Madness (1991)
By: Atari / Electronic Arts Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Arcade, Master System, NES, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple IIGS
Originally released in the world’s arcades in 1984, Marble Madness was another cracker from the then red-hot Atari. At least, that’s what you’d be forgiven for thinking, given the game’s popularity. In truth, it was a competent enough arcade game for its time, but somewhat less suitable as 16-bit console release seven years later. Marble Madness, you see, is a very simple game – you control a marble which you have to guide to the end of the level or ‘goal’ within a strict time limit. Achieve this and you’ll get to tackle the next level. Each level is viewed from a 3D isometric perspective and is set on a series of raised platform sections. The surface of these levels is far from even though – it leans at all manner of angles, and ramps, chutes, bridges, and other such things also adorn the landscape and must be traversed in order to succeed.
Many obstacles and hazards also hinder your progress. Chief among these are the Steelies – evil black marbles which will try to bump you off the side of the level at every opportunity they get. You can bump them back and even off the side of level, but it all costs you time. Other enemies include Marble Munchers, Hoovers, Acid Slime, Terrordactyls, Hammers and Pistons, all of which cost you precious seconds. If your marble falls off the side of a level, takes too high a drop, or falls victim to one of the traps, you’ll lose it. You have an infinite number of marbles but losing marbles costs time, so it’s best not to make a habit of it! Very helpful in certain situations is the turbo button. This will cause your marble to travel faster and is often the difference between a crushed marble and a victorious marble, but you’ll also run the risk of whizzing straight off the edge!
And that’s about it! As I said, it’s a simple game. The problem here is that this conversion is pretty much identical to the arcade version. “But that’s a good thing!” I hear you cry. Usually, yes, but no effort has been made here to improve on the arcade game – something that was more than possible in light of the MegaDrive’s 16-bit mega-power. Initially, Marble Madness is good fun, though somewhat frustrating, but you’ll probably just be getting into it only to find – it’s over! That’s right – Marble Madness has a mere six levels. This was just about passable for an arcade game, but a home console game? I don’t know about you but I demand more for my £40! What there is of the game plays nicely enough though, and the graphics, whilst hardly pushing the MegaDrive to its limits (you would have a tough time telling this version apart from the Master System version!), are decent enough. As is the case with many isometrically viewed games, the landscape is covered in a grid-like pattern and looks neat and tidy and organised and everything. Each level is fairly colourful but there’s nothing much else of note.
Possibly the most horririfying thing about this game is the ‘music’. Examples featured herein range from poor right down to ghastly I’m afraid. Some of it can barely be considered music! The only reprieve is on level two which features a fairly reasonable tune, although it is looped and frequently repeated. Sound effects aren’t much better either. I don’t usually like to criticise someone’s hard work too much unless it’s obvious that they’ve put in no effort, but this one will have you reaching for the volume button pretty quickly. At least there is both music AND effects though I suppose! Regarding the gameplay – as I mentioned earlier, what there is of it is decent enough – ball movement is satisfactory and the levels, though frustrating on occasion, are pretty well designed for the most part but, as mentioned, there’s only six levels in this game. Six! It’s not as if they’re long ones either – I’ve completed this game in less than ten minutes, and it can be done in less than five! To think that some Playstation-licking casual gamers complain when a game can be completed in a ‘mere’ ten hours! The existence of a simultaneous two-player mode here livens up proceedings a little, and can be fun for a short while, particularly if the two players decide to try and take each other out, but that’s really the only reason to play this more than once.
So there you have it. A legend, right or wrong, which was an enjoyable five-minute diversion in the arcades, but as a MegaDrive game it just isn’t enough. If there was, say, 30 or 40-odd levels on offer here, this would be a pretty good game, maybe even a great one, but a six-level game that can be seen in its entirety in five minutes is unacceptable. A good idea, but there’s just not enough to Marble Madness, unfortunately.
RKS Score: 4/10
As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of videogame music, particularly of the retro variety. It was around… hmm, I guess 10 years ago now, that I started my collection, initially by recording MegaDrive tunes using the splendid Gens emulator, but I didn’t discover the remix community until a bit later. It was while searching for the original OutRun music that I first encountered Instant Remedy, and it opened the door to an unimaginable number of songs.
Instant Remedy is Martin Noriander (formerly Martin Andersson), a Swedish guy born in 1976, and a Commodore 64 fanatic who has spent a good deal of his time and effort remixing some of his favourte SID tunes. Now, one of my biggest embarrassments as a gamer is that I’ve never played, or indeed even used a Commodore 64 – I was always a Speccy fanboy until I moved onto consoles – so I’ve never even heard any of these famous SID creations everyone keeps raving about, but that didn’t stop my elation at hearing Magical Sound Shower, one of my all-time favourite game tunes, in an exciting new way! And so began my collection of remixed game tunes. Instant Remedy was the first and I soon discovered just how many more talented enthusiasts were up to the same sort of thing!
I’m now proud/embarrassed to admit that I have somewhere in the region of 120Gb of game music, and much of it is awesome remixes (or ‘arrangements’) of all manner of classic game soundtracks. A vast majority of them, including Instant Remedy, are done in a dance/trance style, as you might expect, and I hope to cover some of the other awesome musicians here at some point, but for now, wrap you ears around the one that started it all for me…. Instant Remedy OutRun!
|Instant Remedy – Outrun Instant OC ReMix .mp3|
|Found at bee mp3 search engine|
And if you like this track even nearly as much as I did, it might be worth you investing in some of Martin’s other Instant Remedy tracks, available here. Apparently, Martin also has a CD available featuring the same tracks (listed below with original composers in brackets), so grab a copy of that if you get the chance too!
1. Last Ninja – The Palace (by Antony Lees) 1987
2. Flimbo’s Quest (by Reyn Ouwehand) 1990
3. Comic Bakery (Extended Version) (by Martin Galway) 1986
4. International Karate (by Rob Hubbard) 1986
5. Game On (Issue 09 to 89) (by Markus Schneider) 1989
6. Ghosts ‘n Goblins (Trance Version) (by Mark Cooksey) 1986
7. IK+ (by Rob Hubbard) 1987
8. Last Ninja – The Wastelands (Club Version) (by Ben Daglish) 1987
9. Trolls (by Adam Gilmore) 1993
10. Warriors (Club Version) (by Thomas Mogensen) 1989
11. Commando (V2) (by Rob Hubbard) 1985
12. West Bank (V2) (by Fred Gray) 1986
13. Last Ninja – Wastelands (Extended Version) (by Ben Daglish) 1987
14. Comic Bakery (by Martin Galway) 1986
15. Commando (by Rob Hubbard) 1985
Chase HQ (1988)
By: Taito Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 4,723,860 (one credit)
Also Available For: PC Engine, X68000, Master System, Game Gear, NES, Game Boy, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Before the days of polygons, it was pretty rare to find a decent driving game. Even in the arcades they were pretty rare. If you asked any gamers around my age to name their favourite, most would probably say OutRun, and with good reason – it was a revolutionary game that made a huge impact. There was a few other good examples from around that time as well though, and one was Chase HQ. This effort from the awesome Taito was clearly influenced by OutRun – what else wasn’t in the years after its release? – but it’s not just a shameless rip-off, no sir. Whilst the basic gameplay has shades of Sega’s classic, Taito also injected it with themes taken from some of the American buddy cop movies and TV shows which were so popular at the time. It sure sounds like a perfect combination but how does it stand up today?
Taking on the role of police detective, Tony Gibson, it’s your job to pursue one dangerous criminal on each of the game’s five stages. They have all commandeered some sort of powerful sports car and are fleeing out of the unnamed city (which is probably LA), They have got a head-start too so you, along with your partner, Raymond Broady, need to move quickly to make up the lost ground. After a briefing from the lovely Nancy back at ‘Chase Headquarters’ you’ll get sixty seconds to catch up with each felon in your black Porsche 928 Turbo. Once you’ve reached him, you’ll get another sixty to smash his car up until they stop (they’re all men – women don’t commit crimes, remember)! Your ride is equipped with three helpful turbo boosts per stage/credit which can either be used to catch up with the ‘con’ quicker, or to smash into him more aggressively once you already have.
You’re probably thinking that it sounds like a lot of fun, but you may also have thought that it sounds rather short. Well, you’d be right on both counts, but the latter point is pretty much the only bad thing about the game. Rather than attempting to craft a longer lasting, more subtle kind of driving game, Taito have instead gone for an intense ten minute blast of a game. It’s not particularly difficult either but some replay value is added by the accumulative bonus you receive for passing each of the many civilian cars the roads are filled with without hitting them. Technically the game is a noticeable step up from OutRun too. The sprites are probably a little better and more varied and the game plays a bit faster, but the biggest improvement is in the stages themselves.
Rather than sticking to one backdrop each, the backgrounds and scenery here change numerous times per stage and are pretty varied too. The courses are also much less flat than OutRun’s and each features a fork mid-way through with one route being longer than the other. The audio is also pretty half-decent. The music, whilst perfectable fine, could never hope to best Hiroshi Miyauchi’s immortal tunes, and the effects are okay too, but Chase HQ’s most noticeable addition is the speech. Your partner is pretty vocal throughout the game, willing you to drive faster and getting excited once battle commences, and good old Nancy has a fair bit to say for herself, both during the briefings and over the police radio during the game too.
Such is the glorification of crime and violence these days, I’m confident that if this game was released today you would play the role of the criminal, most likely with the object not only to escape from the pursuing police officers but to kill them too, and bonus points scored for killing civilians too, or some such nonsense. As it is though, this is very much a ‘good guys sim’ and remains one of the most memorable cop games released. The combination of OutRun and cop film was a superb idea for a game and makes this play very differently to the former. It also creates a fantastic atmosphere and makes it a different enough game to stand proudly next to OutRun instead of in its shadow. It won’t take you long to see all Chase HQ has to offer but it’s such a fast, exciting rush of a game, you’ll be back time and time again. A genuine classic.
RKS Score: 9/10
It looks like the R3Play report will have to wait a day or two, the pictures are a pain in the arse to upload and my opportunities to do so are limited. There’s really not a great deal to see anyway, unless you were there and want to see if you can spot yourself! So in the meantime… continuing with My Favourite Games, here’s the penultimate list:
Blast Corps – Nintendo 64 (1997)
This was Rare’s first game for the N64 and what a start! It would also end up being the first in a long, amazingly successful run for the company on that console which many said rivalled that of Nintendo themselves, and with titles like this on offer it’s hard to argue. The premise was simple – a truck with leaking nuclear missiles has been set on a straight path to a safe detonation area. Your job is to demolish everything in its way. Yes, it sounded awesome and happily it played awesome too! Featuring eight unique vehicles custom-built for the express purpose of destroying stuff including three robotic suits, there can’t be anyone who didn’t enjoy the mayhem offered by this game, and the stages were punctuated by time trial stages which featured yet more vehicles and usually involved a race of some sort. Amazingly playable, superb fun, and a thoroughly unique and brilliant soundtrack too!
Fantasy World Dizzy – Spectrum (1989)
Poor old Dizzy seems to be the subject of a lot of vitriol among certain sections of gamers but I, and I’m pretty sure many others, loved his flick-screen, budget-priced adventures. They were available on most other computers of the time but the Spectrum is where the Dizzy games were most at home and it’s here that I played them. The first two were great but the Oliver twins really hit their stride with this third game. Featuring the largest gameworld yet, a broader variety of locations, a more forgiving difficulty curve, hidden secrets, and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of The Yolkfolk, Dizzy’s third adventure put many full-price releases to shame! It would also be the final game in the series to be handled by the Olivers and later games suffered as a result.
Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure – MegaDrive (1990)
Psycho Fox has always been one of my favourite platformers and I was disappointed it never got a sequel, so imagine my joy at discovering that its creators, Vic Tokai, had released a similar game on the MegaDrive! This splendidly-named game had many of the features of Psycho Fox (including, perhaps most importantly, the bendy poles) and wrapped them up in a different setting. Replacing our collection of useful animals here is a boy wearing the ‘magical hat’ of the title, which doesn’t really let him fly but it does enable him to float, Bomb Jack style. Magical Hat was released in the West too, but with a radical overhaul of its graphics and theme. The renamed Decapattack instead uses a cartoony-horror theme and is still a great game, but I prefer this Japanese original any day of the week.
Shinobi – Master System (1987)
This first Shinobi game may have eventually been a little overshadowed by Revenge of Shinobi on the MegaDrive but it’s still a fantastic game, and this Master System version is my favourite. It’s impressively faithful as a conversion whilst also making life a bit easier for us by adding a life-meter as opposed to the one-hit deaths of the arcade game. It does suffer a bit from sprite-flicker (although you could say that about most MS games) but that’s pretty much the only criticism you could level at this classic run n gunner with its five, dual-plane, ninja-infested stages. It’s unquestionably the best game of its type on the system and still plays as good as it ever did. Now if only I could beat that damn final boss!
Starflight – MegaDrive (1991)
Those who know me will be aware that my favourite game of all-time is Star Control 2 on the 3DO, but if it wasn’t for Starflight, I may never have even discovered it! I’ve only ever played the MD version which arrived some five years after the PC original, but it certainly appears that this is where some of the inspiration for SC2 came from. It too is an epic space-exploration game featuring tons and tons of star systems containing varying numbers of explorable planets and features alien races, some friendly, some hostile. It’s not on the sheer scale of SC2, with less stars, less aliens, etc, and doesn’t have the hours of speech or top music of Toys For Bob’s great game, but, considering when it was made it’s arguably even more impressive. Starflight is an engrossing and original adventure and one that it’s still easy to get sucked into today.
I’m not really in an R3Play mood at the moment, so the last part of what will be my Top 50 Favourite Games will be posted tomorrow! 🙂