Beneath a Steel Sky

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Beneath a Steel Sky

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

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

 

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

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

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

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

watchmen_characters

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

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

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Review

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

It is amazing to me that a studio would be releasing an MMO at all in this day and age. We live in a time period where the fickle masses are buying games on a whim and usually own more games than they have time to play thanks to services like Steam. We live in an age where microtransactions are becoming standard and the masses have demonstrated that they will pay FAR more than a couple bucks a month to obtain that special look or feel they’ve been after for soo long.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

Yet here we are. Square has decided to bestow us with a reboot we didn’t ask for of their attempt at an MMO set in the Final Fantasy universe. While the game might be OK for the phony hardcore and awesome for the Brazilian huehue crew, it just doesn’t meet the expectations that the MMO enthusiasts and the hardcore have for these types of games nowadays. The pink elephant will not be caught here.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

On the positive side, the game has a very easy-to-digest questing and leveling system. Quest hubs are spaced out in such a way where you feel like there is a logical progression from one spot to the next. Scattered across each area are these random mini-events called “fates” which are pretty fun and provide an alternative means by which one can obtain experience as well as a special currency to interact with the NPC factions of the game. The commendation system implemented in patch 2.1 is a smart way to promote a positive culture in an environment that has the potential to be extremely toxic.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

A paragraph had to be specifically set aside to properly express the level of detail that went into the graphics of the game because they are THAT good … for a MMO. This game is one of the few which actually gave me a moment of pause when looking from a vista because of how beautiful it was. After obtaining a quest piece at the very top of this peak that took me a good 5 min to figure out how to climb, I couldn’t help but understand the feeling Ethan Hunt must’ve had at the beginning of Mission Impossible 2. From character modeling to shading to particle effects to terrain and flora, the guys at Square really made one of the prettiest MMO’s I’ve ever played.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

Too bad anything good I have to say of FFXIV:AAR stops there. The matchmaking and instancing is reminiscent of WoW’s very first implementation of the LFG tool. The level of grinding involved in attempting to raise more than 1 class or trade skill at the same time on the same character would make a Korean LAN cafe operator sick to his stomach. The inconsistency in voice acting on the main scenario quest is laughable. The tiered approach to gearing for end-game past darklight seems like an afterthought and not consistent with the level of polish that went into other parts of the game.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

Class balance is absolutely broken in the game and this has never been more apparent than in the newly released PvP system in patch 2.1. The housing system is hilariously expensive and simply out of reach for most. I could probably go on forever. It makes me sad that a game with so much potential and an excellent intellectual property couldn’t do better the 2nd time around with the same MMO.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

However, in all my years of playing MMO’s, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion. The quality of the player in relation to the general community will usually dictate my appreciation of the game itself. Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? We can all acknowledge that there are some bad MMO players in the World of Warcraft. By bad, I mean like those people that play a healer and spend their whole time casting the same spell over and over again till they run out of juice. Or how about the melee DPS player who literally stands in everything he can and ignores mechanics.

Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn

The second I drop into a virtual world – my assessment of the inhabitants of this world begins. Since I’ve always hated questing, I always try to be chatty and cool with my group mates while we endlessly grind instances to max level. Using my MMO gaming barometer, I can confidently say that FFXIV:ARR has one of the worst communities when it comes to MMO gaming skill in the history of the genre. Worse than DCUO, worse than EQ1 or 2, worse than WoW, worse than Rift, worse than CoH and worse than ToR. Thinking back, I feel like FFXIV is full of those tryhards from that WoW guild that people would use as a stepping stone to get into a real guild – yeah this game is full of people like that. While I’m sure this is due to the fact that the game exists on both PlayStation and PC and the clients can cross-play within the same realm … it doesn’t make the situation any more bearable.

So, for the hardcore and the enthusiasts that will always spend their time and money chasing that pink elephant of gaming; you will find no such joy here. Remember that inexplicable rush you got when you and your squad beat that other group to the Efreeti boots spawn even though they were there first? Maybe it happened on your first Ragnaros kill in vanilla. Wherever it was, that feeling will NOT be found in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Vegas Dream

vegas dream

Under the vibrant lights of the Vegas Strip, the tiny offering of hope at winning big empties, as it feeds the peoples common desire of having more. More money, more luxury… or maybe more Nintendo games. If u are looking for more games I’ve got one that can give you the thrill of gambling in Las Vegas without the worry of losing even a dime. The game is Vegas Dream for the NES.

Vegas Dream

Vegas Dream features multiple game modes such as slot machines, Black Jack, Roulette, and even Keno (if you didn’t get enough of playing that in the bar). But what makes this game stand apart from the rest is the added scenarios that happen at random… say an unfamiliar woman offers to watch a show with you. Maybe her intentions are good, or maybe she wants to steal your wallet and throw your money all over the Black Jack table. Throughout the game you will make choices during scenarios just like this, and they will have a heavy impact on the fate of your chips.

Vegas Dream will satisfy the needs of anyone unwilling to leave their home or lay real money on the line in order to get their gambling fix. I give this game a solid 8 out of 10 based on its genre, and I have never played a more enjoyable NES casino game. Give this one a try if you’re feeling lucky and if your luck runs out just remember… its always nice to have a reset button when your cash is on the line.

Fallen Skies: Episode 3

 

falling_skies

Since the premier was two episodes in one this past Sunday’s episode was officially episode 3. This week we continued the storyline of Tom and his older son, Hal searching for their harnessed son, Ben. The resistance has setup a headquarters in a school and it has been decided to change the war plan as other resistance groups from around the U.S. have been found. The goal is now to gather intelligence by capturing tech or better yet a live alien.

Our captured outlaw, Pope from last week volunteered to become the resistances chef after trying the horrible cooking he received. Meanwhile Doctor Glass meets with a new doctor who believes he can remove the harness from the children without killing them. It turns out the doctor was friends with Tom and was with Tom’s wife when she was killed.

Tom’s team goes out to try to rescue his son who will be the first child to have the harness removed using this new technique. Unfortunately, the mission does not go as planned as even though they rescue another resistance member’s son, Karen is captured and taken by the aliens. Tom attempts to rescue Karen but she and the aliens are gone.

Back at basecamp, the doctor is able to remove the harness from the boy, but it is not one hundred percent that he will live. We learned the aliens use the children as slaves and had them collecting scrap metal. We also learned the harness connects to the children’s spine and fuses with their nervous system using some kind of Nano technology. The harness also releases drugs in the child’s systems, which is one reason they die if you try to remove it.

Tom returns without Karen, but dragging behind him a live alien. At the end of the episode, we get a hint that the alien and the boy are still somehow connected.

This week Fallen Skies settled into the story of learning more about the aliens and how to defeat them. I knew the Ben rescue storyline would continue for a while, but having the captured alien does at a nice twist. It is also good to see more resistance cells out there and the character development of Pope is coming along nicely. I still think the show has a long way to go before it can find a permanent spot on the watch list. I think depending on what we learn about the aliens and their connection to the children could tell us if the ongoing storyline will be a winner or not.

 

Gun Frontier

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Gun Frontier (1990)
By: Taito Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,330 (one credit)
Also Available For: Sega Saturn

As most of us already know, shmups are one of the most common types of games around, or at least they were in the ‘good old days’! A majority of them featured basic stories merely to facilitate the action which usually revolved around some sort of evil dictator/alien invading a country or planet or something, perhaps kidnapping someone important in the process. So leave it to Taito to come up with a shmup story as off-kilter as this one! It’s set in the year 2120 when Mankind has escaped the confines of Earth and started colonising other planets. One of them, Gloria, is rich in gold, but it cost most settlers everything they had to reach it, so the planet has ended up with a civilisation somewhat akin to the American Wild West! Thanks to the abundance of gold though, Gloria provided a comfortable home to its inhabitants.

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Unfortunately, its gold also soon became a target for the ‘space thieves’ known as the Wild Lizards who invaded and quickly overwhelmed the comparatively primitive dwellers. Among them, however, was a few talented inventors and engineers were able to design and build two fighter planes in the shape of revolvers with wings (no, I’m not making this up). Much of this is revealed in the game’s pre-title screen intro sequence which includes some digitised stills of locals being traumatised. “Ah! Can anyone save us from this hell…” Yes, a chortlesome story it may be, but it does its job, perhaps overly elaborately, or giving you an excuse to shoot the crap out of the evil aliens, and this is done over six vertically-scrolling stages featuring some of the more intense blasting action yet offered by Taito!

Gun Frontier - Arcade

As might be evident from some of the screenshots, Gun Frontier looks and plays a lot like some other well-known vertical scrollers, notably Flying Shark. It features the same sort of tanks, squadrons of enemy fighters, and ground targets such as gun turrets and buildings, and even some of the backdrops are reminiscent. Not that this makes it a bad game, of course, just not very original. Maybe that’s what the Wild West theme is in aid of. Hmm, anyway. It seems the internal working of your aircraft doesn’t adhere to its antiquated design. If it did, you’d only be able to fire six shots before needing to reload! As is it, the rapid-fire, albeit weedy, ammunition is infinite. It initially consists of a twin shot which can be upgraded by collecting the silver ‘dimes’ that some destroyed enemies leave behind.

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Each time you collect five of these dimes your cannon’s power will be increased by one shot, ultimately enabling it to fire five shots at once. Your weird ship is also equipped with smart bombs whose power can be increased by collecting the gold bars left in the ruins of destroyed ground targets. Appearing less frequently is a spinning silver/gold dime. Collecting it when its silver side is showing will do the same as any other silver dime, but if you collect it with its gold side showing, it will instantly boost your shot and bomb power to maximum! Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as the power-ups are concerned, and you’ll need all the firepower you can get. The enemy attacks are relentless here with plenty of large tanks and battleships around to keep you occupied while the waves of smaller craft try to pick you off!

Gun Frontier - Arcade

Whilst plentiful, the design of the enemy craft are a bit hit and miss. Some of them are similar to many other shmups, as mentioned earlier, but for some odd reason many others seem to be based on old Wild West-era weapons that you (and potentially a friend, for two players can fight the Lizards together) control, which is a bit odd. It has been explained why the planet you’re fighting to save has a Wild West theme, but why would advanced aliens make their ships look the part too? Well, regardless of the motivations of the aliens, it’s an interesting look but I’m not sure I like it much personally. The sprites are all pretty good from a technical point of view though, and the screen is always busy with bullets, explosions, rockets, etc, and some enemy aircraft are even armed with flame-throwers!

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

The backdrops are generally pretty good with some nice details, such as a flock of birds flying away as a large underwater enemy starts to stir, but the choice of colours seems a bit dull and washed out for the most part. There’s a couple of nice graphical effects on show (such as the big blue ships in the screenshot above which change size as they change altitude), but nothing is really done with the strangely chosen Wild West theme beyond the aesthetic design of some sprites. In fact, the graphics, as well as the sound, and indeed everything about Gun Frontier really, is generally little more than average. It doesn’t do anything wrong and is perfectly playable, but at the same time there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen goodness knows how many times before either. Give this a go if you get the chance by all means, but don’t expect to be blown away by it either.

RKS Score: 6/10

Knightsquire

Knightsquire

Aaaah, yes, summer-time. Beaches, Tequila with a slice of orange, fruit with a slice of Tequila, overheated PCs and the chronic lack of money. Enter Independent Gaming and its brand new freeware find: Knightsquire (and not Knight’s Quest). A brilliant short adventure game that might just help you save enough money to treat yourself to your favorite alcoholic poison.

Knightsquire, lovingly crafted by none other than buloght (?), is apparently a game about a knight and his squire. Make that better a game about a knight, his squire and a door stuck shut. Not very epic in scope, but funny, quirky and touching on the delicate subject of squire-maltreatment (quite the class issue in medieval Europe), Knightsquire is a rather traditional point and click adventure, that’s slightly reminiscent of Gobliins 2 (see Gobliins 2 @ mobygames). Following a long adventuring tradition it lets you pick up , examine, interact with and use a variety of inventory objects, sporting mostly inventory driven puzzles. Oh, and it will entertain you for at least a couple of hours, provided of course you aren’t the ultimate adventure gaming genius.

Knightsquire

Anyway. On to the visual arts front, oh most perceptive and observant of readers, where as you should have already noticed Knightsquire sports brilliant low-res 2d graphics, with a distinct comic-book feel and buckets of color (well 32bits of it actually). Stylish eye-candy I would characterize it, were I not so majorly irritated by Firefox, thus getting all cranky and nasty, thus avoiding any good-hearted exaggerations.

Still, you get the point. It’s beautiful. It’s a precious little gem after all. And it lets you control both the knight and the squire. I swear I even heard of a resident princess!

That’s a (nine) out of (ten).

Feyruna: Fairy Forest

Feyruna Fairy Forest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot
Detailed sprites, a colourful cutesy game character, pure arcade action and fantastic hand-painted backgrounds… it’s got to be another (only slightly) retro Amiga game, right? Well, shockingly, no. It’s Feyruna – Fairy Forest, a brand new PC indy game from Germany, sporting some refreshingly old fashioned game mechanics and lovely 2d visuals. Interested? Good, let me elaborate a bit then.

 

FFF, as Feyruna – Fairy Forest will henceforth be referred to, probably features Feyruna, a fabulous fairy (which could also be the name of FFF’s setting mind you, but really, I like the idea of calling the fairy Feyruna), and is quite frankly an alliteration heavy casual and/or retro gamer’s wet dream. It also is one of the more polished (but less innovative…) indy games I’ve recently seen and one of the few PC offerings with three unlockable mini-games. They might not be much, they might be simple, basic even, but they’re definitely a touch that shows the amount of care gone into the game.

Feyruna Fairy Forest - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Then again, bonus games are just that, a bonus. The main course of FFF has the player assuming the role of a fairy (you know, the one probably named Feyruna), a decidedly non-slutty female character, and going on to liberate places from the Princes of Darkness in a rather ordinary plot, that certainly doesn’t takes itself that seriously. After all, FFF, just like every other action heavy game before it, isn’t about plot, it’s about fun, and this it delivers in abundance.

The game, a reflex honing experience with slight shoot-em-up tendencies, is surprisingly non violent and thus quite appropriate for kids, families and small orgies. You, the player, the happy lil’ sprite, travel through 60 levels, each comprising of a beautiful screen, enemies trying to kill/stall you, power-ups and glowies (and butterflies and stuff) you must collect, and …uhm… collect stuff and avoid/destroy the baddies. Eventually you’ll have enough stashed glowies to progress to the next level, that will definitely be more challenging and might also add a new enemy, power-up or tactic to the whole experience. Mind you, that even though the gameplay does indeed get repetitive, these constantly appearing new elements do keep FFF an addictive little pass time, while some progressively tough boss battles to spice things up.

Now, have a try for yourselves. Download the FFF demo. Oh, and I suppose…

That’s a (seven and a half) out of (ten).

Retro Love: Buy a Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast Logo

It’s been quite some time since I’ve got my brand new, but also (and that’s quite an oxymoron) second hand, SEGA Dreamcast, and let me tell you, I am as happy a punter as one can be. I’m a 100% converted and a newborn SEGA fanboy (well, not a boy in the full sense, but you get the idea… at least I’m not in my thirties just yet). I’m also rather thankful to the Dreamcast Junkyard for fuelling my DC obsession.

All things considered I’m thankful to dear Mr. Elderly too, for providing this blog’s comments space with a healthy dose of Irish surrealism, but that’s definitely none of your business. All you should focus on is buying a Dreamcast (unless of course you already got one, in which case you should consider buying a second). Why? Well, because…

1) It’s a matter of price.

The Dreamcast is dead cheap. You should be able to buy a brand new one for less than 80$ (that’s 60 euros) over at Lik-Sang (try clicking on the banner at the end of the article to see for yourself), or follow my example and buy a second hand one, either at e-bay or at your local second-hand-store-bazaar-whatever for quite a bit less than 50$. And this is paying for a 100% current-gen console.
Sega Dreamcast Console
the Dreamcast (via)

2) It’s the bleeding hardware

It doesn’t only look smart, it is smart. SEGA’s Dreamcast is miles ahead from both the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation, even though it’s not as powerful as the PS2 or the GameCube. It sports a RISC 128bit CPU capable of 360 MIPS (N64 ~120 MIPS, PS1 ~30 MIPS), a special edition PowerVR2 graphics processor, that can cope with 10 times PS1’s polygons, 16MB of RAM, a 1 Giga “GD-ROM” (aka fancy, fast and easily pirated CD-ROM) drive, brilliant 64 channel audio and a modem. Yes. The first console modem ever. Oh, and European players will apparently enjoy full 60Hz PAL support.

Sega Dreamcast Motherboard

the insides of the beast (via)

3) It’s the brilliant (and admittedly very cheap) games

With more than 300 games, the Dreamcast has something for everyone, except perhaps for us poor football minded maniacs. Most used (and abused) games should be picked up at ridiculous prices of 5-10$ (less in euros, even less in pounds), while published titles include such brilliant gems as Soul Calibur, Rez, Sonic Adventure 2, Rayman 2, Phantasy Star Online, Quake 3 (you might even be able to track down Half-Life), Metropolis Street Racer, Shenmue, Ikaruga, Crazy Taxi 2, Jet Grind Radio and the quite legendary Samba de Amigo.

Soul Calibur - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Soul Calibur

 

I could actually go on and mention at least a dozen more distinctive and defining games, but I’d rather mention something else. Dreamcast games are still being produced! Have a look at the 2006 released Under Defeat or the forthcoming Last Hope shooter.

Under Defeat - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Under Defeat

4) It’s the innovation and the quirkyness

And I’m talking innovation, beside the Internet connection or the PAL ting. The Dreamcast controller featured a brilliant analog stick, the now-standard shaped triggers and interestingly the Virtual Memory Unit, or VMU. This VMU thingy was far more than a memory stick. It plugged into the controller and used its little LCD screen to display relevant game information or graphics and even was a wee version of Gameboy, as it also functioned as a completely separate portable handheld gaming device (from hell). VMU games can be found right here, but searching and googling around will lead you to quite a few more cyber-stashes.

Sega Dreamcast VMU

the VMU (exposed)

 

As for quirkyness, one could mention the DC Keyboard, the Fishing Rod, the quite new-at-the-time Vibration Pack and above all Dreamcast’s Wii capabilities.

5) It’s the scene

By saying the scene I’m talking of the vibrant DC emulation, demo, homebrew and even amateur journalism community. On the Dreamcast you see, one can play anything from old arcade, to MegaDrive, Amiga, Atari, Gameboy, Playstation or NES games. There’s even a ScummVM port that makes those old Lucasarts adventures of yore DC compatible. Then again one can listen to MP3s, watch DivX videos, see the Dreamcast get pushed to its limits and play zillions of Tetris versions. All of these courtesy of the scene.

To start tasting sweet freeware offerings (you will need DiscJuggler to burn things on CD) try the following links: DCEvolution.net, Dreamcast Homebrew, IGN Dreamcast, Dreamcast @ pout.net.

6) There is no 6

Go on. Buy one! It’s cheap and powerful, but also quite the retro machine. Oh, and the Wii isn’t out yet.

Germ Attack

Germ Attack

I’m not the type to say no to a free game, even if it means reviewing it, and Germ Attack, was indeed given to me as a free review copy. Further good news is, it is actually a smart, nice little game. Bad news is, it’s another color-matching casual game, in the style of Sweety Puzzle (by the same developer).

Germ Attack, though, introduces an interesting and rather successful twist to the color-matching mechanics, that makes for quite a refreshing gameplay experience. Instead of placing colored candy on a grid a la Sweety Puzzle, arranging falling colored objects a la Columns or utilizing a Baku Baku mechanic, Germ Attack lets you rotate (apparently colored) germs, as they are placed on the playing area. Not easily described, but simple and intuitive, and you’ll get the whole idea by playing the demo for 15 seconds. Here’s a screenshot:

Germ Attack Gameplay Screenshot

Got it now? No? Doesn’t matter. Trust me, it’s really addictive, and for the price of 6.95$ you get 60 well designed and quite varied levels, presented with great hand-drawn graphics. Have a look by clicking here. Or here. No, here!

That’s a (seven) out of (ten).

Zombies 2

 zombies2

Zombies!!! 2 is, as should have already been noticed by any bearded board games’ scholar, closely related to the excellent board game Zombies!!! An expansion actually, or to elaborate a bit, a great, tidy, compact and beautifully produced expansion. Assuming those interested in Zombies!!! 2 are already Zombies!!! players (well, they really should be, as the original game is quite required to enjoy the Z!!!2 affair), I’ll get right to the new stuff. Ruleswise you get a slightly tweaked core ruleset, that helps speed the game up and clean up slight problems, a nice FAQ and quite a few brand new rules. Without wanting to spoil the overall fun-of-the-fan I’ll just mention two of them: 1) you get to ride vehicles, 2) tougher (government enhanced) zombies are introduced. Add to the improved rules:

– 15 new map-tiles that will let you fight the undead in a military base
– 30 new event cards (actually 2*15 new ones)
– 6 goofy looking but definitely nice glow-in-the-dark (super) zombies
– some blank replacement cards & tiles
– and (at last) quite a few (around 50) red heart tokens

and you’ll understand why this expansion too, is a no brainer!

That’s an (eight and a half) out of (ten).

Sweety Puzzle

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot
Non-gamers are Nintendo’s Wii little target, non-gamers were the people the PlayStation turned to gamers all those years ago and non-gamers are the market casual games are aiming for. But what are casual games (ask the masses in their booming and state-shattering voices)? Well, according to Wikipedia they are “a category of electronic or computer games targeted at the mass audience, which are peculiar for their simple rules, engaging game design, require no time commitment or special skills from an end user as well as comparatively low production and distribution costs from producer“.

 

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot

A wise and brief description, that so just happens to perfectly fit the subject of this quite modest review: Sweety Puzzle. A quirky, simple and extremely addictive indy-game that comes from Thailand. Yes, Thailand-Asia. A beautiful country you really should be visiting. But, as usual, I digress. Ahhh, yes, Sweety Puzzle. Haven’t played a game like this for years: elegant, fun, retro looking and with fine music playing in the background.

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot

The game feels like the mutant offspring of Go, Tetris and Columns. You place colored candies on a pink grid, rotate them, and apparently try to make them go pop! before you run out of time or space. It is actually one of those things that are better experienced, not described. So, just visit Sweety Puzzle’s homepage for a hefty demo; then come back here. I have not finished yet.

 

Sweety Puzzle has an excellent learning curve and a few very tiny glitches, mostly centered around its not-so-well Thai to English translation. It costs less than 7$ or 6 euros. Ok. Now, I’ve finished.

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

For a downloadable or Java demo (or a purchase) of Sweety Puzzle click here. For an Independent Gaming Sweety Puzzle review, here.

Monsters & Mercenaries Collectors Guide

In case you haven’’t figured it out yet, today’s post is about the ‘Monsters & Mercenaries Collectors Guide’’. A 170 pages long, full color and (very) well-priced volume published by Games Workshop, that doesn’’t limit its content to neither monsters nor mercenaries. A great variety of armies are dealt with instead: Dogs of War, Regiments of Renown (up to the very recent like the cutely and aptly named ‘Mengil Manhide’’s Manflayers’), Kislev and Ogre Kingdoms. Each army’’s units and models are presented, both in fully painted and in component mode(!), while every entry is accompanied by a short piece of fluff (sorry kitty). Obviously and as we’’ve come to expect no actual rules are included. On the other hand component codes and prices are mentioned. [You can find the Dogs of War and Regiments of Renown armylists here.] Oh, there are contemporary, collector’’s and archive models presented, as well as the Monsters, Siege and parts of the Mordheim ranges. Even drakes and golems are included…

The book also gives (brief) background information on relevant issues, such as the Tilean cities of Remas and Luccini or the Ogre tribe of the Blooded Gut. It is lavishly illustrated too.

The most impressive thing in the ‘Monsters & Mercenaries Collectors Guide’’ though, is not it’s size or the amount of useful information included. Neither are the usual photos of Golden Demon winners’’ entries nor the dioramas and conversions presented. It is the fully converted Araby themed army by Justin Hill. It simply has to be seen to be believed.

Finally do check what G.W. has to say for this collectors guide…

P.S. I do consider this guide a very good buy. Just not intended for everyone. It is a glorified miniature catalogue after all.

 

Spooks

Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 1
Well, in a nutshell: Spooks is the first creation of a person named “The Ivy”” along with a very small team, it’’s a freeware adventure, it looks good, sounds ok, is size-wise a very modest download and anyone who is smart enough to have reached this review, shouldn’’t have any trouble downloading it from the xii games website. And to wet your appetite, here is a nice screenshot:Nice, isn’’t it?
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 2
Of course it is, and it should be enough to convince you to have a look and to stop me from writing this review. Problem is, Spooks is a very good game, and one worth having a (slightly) more detailed look at. First of all the graphics are unique, mostly in grayscale and with a rather innovative use of color. Then, the three very important pillars of a comedy adventure game are there: the story is good (albeit a bit short), the dark humor is sarcastic and actually funny, the puzzles are varied, interesting and decently implemented.
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 3

Naturally, as Spooks is the Ivy’’s first foray in adventure game design, not all is rosy (what a weird and subtle pun -–eh?). Puzzles are a tad on the too easy side, which isn’’t necessarily a bad thing, as is for example the lack of obvious hotspots, which eventually leads to some annoying pixel-hunting. Other minor problems include a few quite obvious time-triggers, lack of a full soundtrack, the inclusion of one (easy yet uninspired) Myst-style puzzle and a lack of polish here-and-there.

On the plus side, the dialogs, handled with a typical multiple-choice interface, are very well written, the finale is unexpectedly unexpected, the Sierra styled interface works in an okay way, and as I’’ve already said everything is fine and dandy. Even the lead character is like Diamanda Galas in joke-mode. I guess that in order to find out more you should rather download and play the game. Here are more screenshots, and a hint on the plot: It’’s about ghouls. The female kind. That should do it. I’’m sure I’’ve convinced you to have a look.

Spooks can be downloaded from the AGS website.

That’’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Apprentice Deluxe

Apprentice Deluxe - logo

Do you know what the difference between a “review” and a “critique” is? No? Yes? Good for you. You can skip the rest of this paragraph. If your answer was no though, all I can do is provide you with my (very personal and quite copyrighted) view: A review is a critique from a consumer’s point of view. It is there to tell you if something is worth the money it will cost you. A critique on the contrary, judges something on its own and usually on its artistic merits alone, without taking price into consideration. On the other hand, computer games tend to be reviewed, as is customary and as they are considered inferior to -say- movies or apparently novels. So what shall I do with ‘Apprentice deluxe’? It is a PC game (an adventure to be more precise) and it is freeware. Should I review it? Critique(sp.) it? Take it out for a beer? What?

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot

Well, let me tell you. I am in neither a theoretical nor an analytical mood, so I’ll just review the bloody thing, taking into consideration that it costs nothing.

Apprentice Deluxe is evidently the Deluxe version of the famous and award winning AGS adventure Apprentice [If you want to know more about the free AGS authoring system visit the official site. It will also help you find out what AGS is.] The deluxe part consists of a full voice-over with almost professional voice quality, of some bug and graphic glitches fixes, of a brand new soundtrack and of multilingual support. You even get to toggle the voice-over or subtitles on and off. And since Apprentice and its deluxe sibling are literally the same game, I’ll be referring to both of them simply as Apprentice.

Apprentice has a simple, but enjoyable story, set in a traditional fantasy setting with ironic and satirical splashes. It is about a young wizard’s apprentice called Pib, whose not so epic quest is to collect the ingredients needed for his first spell and … that about sums it. Consequently the game is extremely short, albeit with allusions to a much grander story. The average gamer will not need more than one to two hours to beat it, and only if every item is looked at and everything explored.

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot 3

Pib is controlled in typical point-and-click fashion, which does feel like the correct method, despite the minor control and navigation problems. There is for example no right clicking to alternate between actions. Then again the inventory system is well implemented, attractively designed and fully compatible with a fantasy setting. Dialogs are handled the Lucasarts’ way using dialog trees, and almost every puzzle (except one –no wait; except two) is inventory based and rather on the easy side. The only puzzle that truly requires lateral and bizarrely inventive thinking is the one in which you’ll have to produce cheese, but after you solve it (in typical try everything on everything else adventurers’ fashion) the game does explain the reasoning behind it, and it does actually make sense. In a weird and almost funny way, but sense nonetheless.

Apprentice Deluxe - PC Gameplay Screenshot 1

The most impressive aspect of Apprentice, being an amateur freeware adventure and all, are the incredibly high production values. The music is very good, the low-res cartoony graphics are excellent and carefully animated, the game is full with detail and everything is clickable and verbally described. The humor and the minor in-jokes are good too. Not Monkey Island or Monty Python level, but Pib’s comments will put a smile on your face.

Apprentice offers an overall very pleasing (and brief) gaming experience, which continues with the already released and much improved Apprentice 2. You can download both games for free at the website of Herculean Effort Productions.

That’s a (seven and a half) out of (ten).

Alan Wake

Alan Wake logo
Alan Wake logo

A new series here at Obsolete Gamer where we hope to spark comments and debate on a wide arrange of topics. Various writers from Obsolete Gamer will give you their take (opinion) on a subject and we hope you will weigh in even if you completely disagree with us.

Alan Wake is a survival horror game that attempts to mix in more of the serialized television feel to its game. What this means is the game also plays like episodic television in which each level beings an episode.  Besides the action or important parts of the game you will also have some areas where you just walk around doing mundane tasks and it does add to the “show” feel more than if they were just cut-scenes.

You play as Alan Wake a famous writer that while on vacation in a small-town called Bright Falls is thrown into a mystery and a horror story involving his wife, his past and present works and a creepy town history that can give Silent Hill a run for its money.

The game itself has the feel of a Silent Hill as you are just a normal guy who all of a sudden has to go all Alone in the Dark, carrying a flashlight to fight of shadow monsters called “Taken” you also become proficient in hand guns, shotguns, hunting rifles, flash bangs, flares, flare guns and the use of batteries.

Now there have been tons of reviews on the game so I won’t go to much deeper into that aspect. Here is my take and there may be some spoilers so you are forewarned.

J.A.’s Take:

The game is well done, let me start with that. Sure, there are some clipping issues sometimes and the camera can spin you in an awkward direction and there are a few other tidbits, but I can deal with that. One of the problems I had was the game was too easy in one respect and then difficult in another. If you have ever played any third person game like a Silent Hill or Resident Evil then the normal difficulty with be a joke. Pretty much you will never run out of ammo except one very small part of the game and you can kill almost anything with the handgun alone.

Speaking of ammo, one thing that pissed me off about Alan Wake is the need to always find a way to make you lose your weapons and gear. Again, in the normal difficulty you will always have enough weapons and batteries, but almost every time you finish an “action” area you fall or trip or donate your weapons to Toys for Tots and you start the next “action” area with almost nothing.

If you play like me, in a survival horror game some of the keys to winning is to conserve ammo and run from a good number of your enemies, but in Alan Wake if you conserve ammo you just end up wasting it. As for running from enemies, unless you are near a strong light source it is a waste of time because many enemies can just appear behind you or they run super-fast and as a writer you have never hit the gym so you can’t sprint very long.

Speaking of running, let’s take a break and talk about puppies. What, you don’t want to talk about puppies in the middle of an Alan Wake rant? Too bad because my puppy rant might contain useful information about Alan Wake, but you have to listen for up to ten minutes or no achievement for you.

In a nutshell that is how I view the watching of the Night Springs television show that you can watch in game. Night Springs is a Twilight Zone rip-off show that you can watch on many of the televisions in game. The problem is twofold. One, for the most part you don’t need to watch the Night Sprints shows for anything other than an achievement.  Two, when you are being chased down and are in the middle of intense action it makes no sense to spend up to ten minutes watching a badly made in game show that does nothing for you. The same applies for the radio. Sure, the radio show gives you some current information and town info, but again, it is long and doesn’t really help you in the game and takes you out of the moment.

Another take you out of the moment comes from chasing down manuscript pages. Now to be fair, this is part of the story and the more you collect the more you understand about what is happening to you and even what will happen. The problem is in most of the action sequences you need to keep moving. When you are being chased by the cops and the taken at the same time it is just silly to stop and search that mountain in the distance for a book page. Also, if you miss some pages it can be really hard to understand what you are reading and it doesn’t help you that much really.

How about some coffee? Writers love coffee and there are 100 coffee thermos’s throughout the game you find just for an achievement, but again, it takes you out of the action and does nothing for you. I will admit sometimes it was cool to grab some coffee while shooting a taken in the face, but when you need to run and gun it just kills the mood to go foraging for your Starbucks coffee carrying device.

As for the story, you will either love it or hate it and don’t expect the ending to wrap everything up nicely. In the age of downloadable content the idea is to extend the story by making you shell out points (money) to buy more episodes until Alan Wake 2 comes out.

Alan Wake the signal
Alan Wake the signal

Bottom Line

I would not have purchased this game personally, this is a rental. I could have beaten this game in a day and playing on nightmare mode is only for achievements. If you play on Normal and have ever played any shooting or survival horror game you will be bored as the monsters are easy to kill, you have to much ammo and the only way they can even hit you is to sneak up on you from behind and try to surround you gangbang style.

The story was meh and I am not paying for your DLC to finish a story you should have in the first place. I care about story and history and this and that, but in a run and gun game I don’t want to watch television shows, listen to down home radio or read about how the great red oak tree was hit by lighting in 1834.

Alan Wake is like playing an Outer Limits episode, but not a very good one. Take Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark and that Darkness game put it together and you still have a game that will put you to sleep not keep you A.Wake.

So that’s my take, what’s yours?

CyberNations

Cyber Nations logo
Cyber Nations logo

Ever wanted to run a country? Check out this CyberNations review by Frederick Brunn, aka Clotifoth.

Ever wanted to run a country?  With CyberNations, a massively multiplayer online geopolitical simulator, you can.  Your country interacts with other players’ countries in the general setting of a facsimile planet Earth.  The real game, however, is on a larger-scale groups of these countries form alliances, which are the real nations.  Politics happen, treaties are signed, wars are waged and reparations are paid.  This is the real world.  This is CyberNations.

Read the full article on EOGamer

Article Source: http://www.eogamer.com/node/176

Zone 40 Wireless Gaming

Zone 40 Wireless Gaming console
Zone 40 Wireless Gaming console

Why oh why would you want to knock off the Wii? I mean you could just load up Yahoo games or an emulator. Fine, I will stop hating, but this console struck me when I was in Denver attending the beer fest. This was behind the counter at a CVS drugstore and I kind of brushed it off at first and then once I got home looked more into it.

What we know


Well the system looks a lot like a Wii console and it offers wireless gaming. However it is called the Zone 40 because 40 games are built into the console and that is the limit (so far) as far as software titles. There is an expansion slot, but it is not clear what it is used for. So you get two controls the console, rca cables, 40 built in games (11 of which are sports interactive), a stand and instruction manual for $39.99.

The word on the net

For those who don’t just scream “It’s a fake!” the reviews still aren’t good for the Zone 40. Pretty much it is said to be a system for a six year old and looks horrible on a HD TV. The sweet spot for this game is a 27 to 32 inch tv, normal definition.

It’s the games stupid


Depending on who you ask the games on the Zone 40 are either really horrible or terribly crappy. Some even say the graphics on the original 2600 look better. The 11 sport interactive games play sloppy and don’t have the look or reaction time of the Wii and the arcade games are not even as good as flash games you can find on an ad on a porn website.

Here is the title list:

100 METER  110 HURDLES ARCHERY BASEBALL BASKETBALL BEE FIGHTING BOMBER-MAN BOWLING BOX WORLD CHESS MASTER COMPETIVE FENCING DANCING GIRLS DARTS DISCUS FIRE MAN FISH WAR FISHING GOLF HIGH JUMP HIGHWAY RACING HITTING MICE JAVELIN LONG JUMP MOTOR STORM PING PONG SHOOTING BALLONS SNAKES SOCCER SPEED RACING SQUARES SUDOKU SWIMMING SWORD OF WARRIORS TANKSTENNIS THE MOUSE AND THE CAT TRIPLE JUMP UNDERSEA ADVENTURE WALKING-RACE ZUMA

The verdict

I haven’t played this, but it doesn’t look worth the cash, but if you want me to test it send my PayPal account $50 bucks and I will do a full review. Why $50? $40 for the game and $10 for the beer I need to make it through the review.

Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Soul box
Demon’s Soul box

Demon’s Souls

If the hype surrounding the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls was to be believed, I was looking forward to a game with a brutal difficulty not seen since the heyday of Rygar and Battletoads; one that had a more terrifying atmosphere than Silent Hill; and with more varied and gruesome ways to die than Dragon’s Lair combined with Space Quest. In short, the ultimate challenge for the hard-core. With the bar set so high, it seemed likely to disappoint in at least some respects. What I found was a flawed but thoroughly enjoyable third person hack and slash/dungeon crawler that threatened to send me to a video game addiction clinic before I finally managed to best it.

The basic mechanics of the game can be summed up as follows: “Kill Demons, Get Souls”. Souls are released by killing enemies and they can also be found on the corpses of deceased adventurers. Souls are effectively the unit of currency in this game and can be used to buy items, repair or upgrade equipment, learn miracles and magic, and even upgrade your character’s stats. If you die, you start back at the beginning of the level as a spirit and with all of your souls gone. There will be blue-glowing bloodstain at approximately where the game determined you messed up (if you fell down a well, for instance, it will be just before you left the ground), and if you can reach it before dying again, you can get your souls back.

Demon's Soul character
Demon’s Soul character

Combat is action-packed and extremely unforgiving. Button mashers won’t make it very far, as many of the enemies have good shields and are only vulnerable after they attack. Defensive players can turn a fight their way with a perfectly timed parry/riposte combo or open themselves up for a flurry of blows. Almost anything can kill you, so situational awareness is a must-have to survive. The game’s wide variety of weaponry and shields can be equipped in either hand and there are spells and items that can be used to enchant them. Demon’s Souls has an item upgrade system where blacksmiths can fortify your equipment in exchange for various types of ore. Some of the benefits include adding poison, bleeding, or fire damage; health or mana regeneration; and bonuses to critical hits, to name a few.

Demon's Soul
Demon’s Soul

Player characters are customizable down to the bone structure of the face and there are several “classes” to choose from that ultimately only effect your initial equipment and stats. One is free to upgrade their combat skills as they see fit and pursue different avenues of magic or types of weaponry. It may take a considerable amount of stat upgrading to do so, but it is very possible to turn a robe-clad magician into a full-plate wearing berserker with a sword nearly twice his size.

The game consists of a central hub called the Nexus that serves as your home base and has passageways to the five worlds. Each has its own distinctive art style and feel including a European castle with all the requisite archers, pikemen, and a couple of fire-breathing dragons; a shantytown filled with plague-rats, mosquitoes, and leeches, all surrounded by some of the most disgusting swampland imaginable; a temple full of samurai skeletons and flying manta-rays; and a mine that seems to go the depths of capital H hell. Each world has three or four stages each with a boss Demon that must be defeated. The souls of the boss Demons can be traded to different NPCs in exchange for spells and miracles, and in some cases, can be used to create powerful weapons.

Demon's Soul nexus
Demon’s Soul nexus

One of the innovative features in Demon’s Souls is the world tendency system. Tendency ranges in a continuum from pure white to pure black and can affect many aspects of the game. The player’s health in soul form is higher in a white world tendency and lower in the black. The amount and difficulty of enemies ramps up the blacker you get, and the type of loot dropped is also a factor. Some NPCs will only appear in pure tendencies, and there are even portions of the levels that are otherwise inaccessible until a certain world tendency has been reached. There is a system in place for keeping track of character tendency as well but it has a less dramatic effect on the game except in a few select situations.

Demon's Soul nexus
Demon’s Soul nexus

Players navigate through the game’s areas while either alive or dead. In corporeal form, the player has more health and the ability to summon up to two Blue Phantoms (spirit form players) to help him defeat the stage’s Boss Demon. Being alive has its drawbacks: dying in a level will shift the game’s world tendency towards black. There also exists the threat of being invaded and killed by a soul-hungry Black Phantom player. Spirits gain bodily form by defeating a boss Demon or assisting a player as a Blue Phantom (both of which will shift world  tendency), successfully invading and killing a host player as a Black Phantom (world and character shifted to black), or by using a magical item.

Demon's Soul shrine
Demon’s Soul shrine

In addition to the relatively seamless co-op and PVP experience, players are able to see ghostly images of other adventurers in the same areas, as well as the ability to give them hints or lure them to their doom. One of the first things you’ll notice while playing online are pools of blood scattered around. These are grisly remainders of other players that have died. By touching a bloodstains, you are able to see the last four or five seconds leading up to that player’s demise. This can be a great way to spot traps and ambushes that would otherwise give little to no warning. Another way that players can interact is by leaving messages, which can be entered through a Madlibs-style system using a library of the game’s terminology. Players can vote up useful messages and this will reward their creators with health. There is no way to down-vote messages that are misleading, false, or simply situated in places that will kill you if you try to read them, unfortunately, but there are a couple of messages (“beware false messages”, “liar!”, etc.) that can be left as tip-offs.

Demon's Soul shrine
Demon’s Soul shrine

For players that manage to finish the game’s main quest, a NG+ is available to start at the beginning with a character’s weaponry and stats intact to fight through an even more sadistic challenge. The game’s difficulty increases the more times you beat it (up to NG+8, at least!).  There is an in-game hall of fame called the Pantheon to show off the players that have the highest number of souls, most trophies achieved, etc. and this can be helpful to see what sort of equipment is favored by the best.

I had been following this game for a while, back before it was announced that there was even going to be a North American version and many people were importing Demon’s Souls from Japan. Gaming forums were full of people trading war stories about how many different ways they died before beating the first level, and I think the average was about twenty. Import sales continued to rise to the point where Demon’s Souls was released stateside. I snagged a copy from Amazon but it languished on my shelf for a couple of months before I decided to break the plastic and possibly my spirit by playing it for myself.

Demon's Soul shrine
Demon’s Soul shrine

When I finally worked up the courage to pop this game into my PS3, I was immediately grabbed by its atmospheric soundtrack and the bleakness of the art direction. The tutorial level showed me the basics of the game mechanics and drove home the message that a scrawny demon with a broken sword and no shield could easily take me down if I didn’t watch myself in combat. More and stronger baddies are introduced including the dreaded blue-eye knights with the ability to bash your shield out of your hands, chain three or four attacks together, and heal themselves if somebody did manage to wound them. More advanced combat tactics were required, such as the parry/riposte combo. I eventually found out that if I could get behind an enemy, there is a brutal backstab attack that would make the TF2 spy blush. Past the knight was an even bigger foe: the morbidly obese Vanguard demon that swings a battle axe twice the size of your character. I was under the impression that this was an unwinnable fight to utterly demoralize new players since the tutorial level invariably ends with your death, but I’ve read that it is possible to beat Vanguard here, even with the newbie equipment.

Demon's Soul valley
Demon’s Soul valley

The next couple of hours were a blur of gristly deaths. I would get past one obstacle and find myself stabbed, ambushed, crushed by a trap, toasted by a dragon, stabbed again, filled with crossbow bolts, and impaled by the blue-eye’s tougher counterpart: the red-eye knight. I was nearly at the home stretch but missed a step going down a spiral staircase and found myself plummeting to my doom, landing right on the switch that opened the gate to the end-boss. Obsolete Gamer cohort Stirge dubbed this game “You Can’t Win” around this point, which I think has a nicer ring than my nickname: “Kill Yourself Dungeon 3000”.

Demon's Soul tunnel
Demon’s Soul tunnel

There are few things that I didn’t like about this game and I don’t want them drowned out in a flood of praise for the stuff that was done right.

  • The targeting system stinks; when locked on to an enemy, it changes the controls so that moving side to side will strafe around a target rather than turn. This is usually a good thing when fighting one-on-one, but throw two or three extra combatants into the mix, and I’ll find myself dodging right into someone else’s attack or even off of a cliff. Also, if an enemy is out of range to be targeted, it will reset the camera, usually to face the wrong direction.
  • The camera is your biggest enemy. Demon’s Souls has a pretty good third-person camera system assuming you’re in an open area without a lot of debris. The camera fails miserably when in underground catacombs, some of which can be quite twisty and hard to maneuver even when you can see where you’re going.
  • When logging into the server, the world tendency will be reset to the average of all players, which can make it very hard to get to pure black or pure white. There are some occasions where the tendency will be set to pure white or pure black, such as holidays or announcements from the developers, but aside from special server events, logging in shouldn’t affect anything.
  • You can get booted back to the main menu if your internet connection becomes broken while playing online. I’ve found it better to play offline than have to gamble with the PS Network logging me out.
  • Contra-lag. The game can slow down if there’s too much stuff on the screen, like in the old-school space shooters. In some games, this bug ends up like a feature; a free bullet-time mode when things got hectic. This is unacceptable in a next-gen title.
  • This one is a minor gripe, but there is no way to sell items to merchants, so the only way to get any currency is by slaying demons or eating soul items.
Demon's Soul tunnel
Demon’s Soul tunnel

Every time you die, you start back at the beginning of the level, where you will have to fight past the legions of demonic assholes that you barely survived fighting in the first place, just to get back to your bloodstain. Many times, I’d find myself trying to rush through the beginning wave of enemies only to find myself mercilessly swordraped by some of the weakest dudes in the game.

There is a good variety to the Boss Demons. Some are relatively human-sized, others stand two-stories tall; most can kill you with a single attack, even if blocked with a good shield. The Dragon God from World 2 (Stonefang Mine) almost seems to have been borrowed from the Scarecrow sequences in Batman: Arhkam Asylum, as keeping out of the Dragon’s line of sight is the only way to survive.

Demon's Soul tunnel
Demon’s Soul tunnel

The Tower of Latria wins my award as having some of the game’s most freaky moments. You start near the top floor of a prison in a medieval castle and have to go through all five stories of it to find the keys that will let you out. There are narrow walkways and breaks in the floor that can drop you to your death if you’re not paying attention. Through the bars of the cells, you can see the emaciated forms of the prisoners, some of which will drop to their knees when you go by, as if they’re begging to be put out of their misery, others will hide in the shadows and try and shank you to death. Several lantern-carrying guards walk slowly up and down the corridors, and the only sound aside from the gibbering and shrieking of the prisoners is the eerie tolling of a bell that gets louder as the guards get closer. It somehow manages to get more disturbing once you get out of the prison and into the cathedral but I won’t spoil all the surprises. I also wouldn’t recommend playing this part right before bedtime.

Demon's Soul valley
Demon’s Soul valley

I would have to give high marks for nearly every aspect of the game’s presentation. The quality of the in-game graphics are pretty good, but perhaps a bit lacking when compared to some of the cinematic cut-scenes that introduce some of the bosses and locations. The levels are well designed and nuanced for the most part. The sound design pops; there are tons of great weapon clashes, monster growls and squeals, and magic effects. There isn’t a whole lot of voice acting in this game, but what little there is benefits from a diverse cast of expressive voices. The music ranges from epic symphonic scores to stuff that would fit right in to a 1970’s horror movie, but what I found interesting was the way that music cues are held back for boss fights or other major plot developments; for most of your time exploring the five worlds, you will be enveloped in ambient sound. This, along with the ghostly images of other players’ phantoms, helps heighten feelings of isolation and strangeness unique to Demon’s Souls.

Demon's Soul warning
Demon’s Soul warning

Playing online can be a blast if you don’t mind the occasional PVP encounter, as Black Phantom players can and will jump in on your game if you’re in body form and attempt to murder you at the most inopportune times. I’ve been able to recruit a couple of Blue Phantom players the last time that happened, and it ended up turning into a huge brawl. Summoning Blue Phantoms can be a double-edged sword, as the bosses get much harder the more players there are.

I think it was on the second or third night of my Demon’s Souls addiction, after a three hour soul-farming bender, that I left a cautionary sticky-note on the inside of the game’s case; a warning to future-me to think about what I was getting into. Of course, I didn’t pay it any heed; this game is too challenging and deep to blow off just because it’s aggravatingly hard. Also, this is one of the only games in recent memory to give me adrenaline rushes when the action gets furious. In closing, Demon’s Souls is a cruel mistress and if you like to wear nipple clamps or enjoy a good flogging, this one is for you. I’d like to leave you with some survival strategies I’ve picked up from my time with the game.

  • Watch your equipment encumbrance weight. You can load up to your maximum with a suit of plate armor and a comically large battle-axe, but this comes at the price of maneuverability. One the things that will save your skin is the rolling dodge, and if your endurance is too low for that amount of gear, you will end up on the ground for a few seconds in a very vulnerable way. The magic number to stay under is half of your maximum equipment weight.
  • Weapon upgrades. There are a limited number of Crystal Lizards that will spawn in each world, some of which are the only source for the various rare ores needed to upgrade your weapons. If you’re trying to trophy-whore this game, I recommend looking up a guide to finding out where the spawns are in advance.
  • On Royalty and magic. When I found out that the Royal class started out with a magic ring that can regenerate MP, I dumped my Temple Knight build and started the game anew. Talk about easy mode! Royals have practically no starting armor or weaponry to write home about, but the Fragrant ring is a great item for a caster, not to mention the fact that they also come equipped with Soul Arrow, the magic missile equivalent in Demon’s Souls. Having a pure caster almost breaks the game, however, as I was able to storm through most of the worlds blasting everything that moved with my pea shooter spell and effectively unlimited ammo, given a book or a magazine to read while it replenishes. I cheesed out some of the major bosses by nuking them from a distance or even by casting poison and running away. I beat the game but I feel like I’ve cheated myself in the process. Now I’m in the process of playing through as a fighter and the game is so much more challenging.
  • Common sense. A lot of this game seems like trial and error, but your biggest defense is not being dumb: keep your shield ready, peek around corners, listen for footsteps, etc. If you see a pile of freshly incinerated corpses, keep it in the back of your mind that whatever caused that will probably like to do the same thing to you.

Maniac Mansion review

I rarely do it but Today is the day that I most definitely will! I’ll start the review from the very end of it – the score. Why? Well, reasons may be many, some more other less probable but what the truth is, is that I, as most mammals do, only tend to try to simplify my life. I consider vast majority of my readers at least to be mammals, so I suppose they like things plain and simple as well. That said, if I mention the name of the game and the score, it’s obvious that all the old bastards such as myself will nod their heads in understanding and move away to other, more recent or less well known game reviews and those who still don’t know it (are there any gamers who don’t know IT!?) may find the score high enough to lure them into a quick read. For those that’ll stay and waste five minutes going through my endless blah, blah, blah, here – Maniac Mansion gets 9.5 out of 10. Thank you! Goodnight!



Maniac Mansion was developed and released by LucasFilm Games LLC (now known simply as LucasArts) in 1987 on Commodore 64 and then in 1988 on all other major platforms of the time – Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, DOS & NES/Famicom. And since all these represent different points in wide range of 8 & 16 bit machines, the game version varies slightly in terms of graphics & music depending on given machine’s capabilities. Have no fear though, over the top, B-class movie-like gameplay remains the same on all of these. And that’s the only thing that really matters here, right?! Right!

Maniac Mansion DOS EGA Title Screen
DOS EGA – Title Screen

From the technical point of view Maniac Mansion, often called MM, was a novelty of sorts. It introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine that revolutionized Adventure games genre offering a complete point and click interface instead of typical at the time – text based interface. It utilized now well known Verb + Object operation, where verbs would be a set of actions that player could take upon various objects in the game World. It’s easily noticeable that games that followed for years after used or based their own engines on SCUMM as it not only simplified interaction with the game but made it more fluid, life-like, so that the player would not get distracted by mis-typing lengthy boring-ass commands or using wrong words in former kinds of interfaces. On top of all that MM was the first adventure game that presented the player with more than one character to control simultaneously. Player could switch between them whenever he/she felt like it or needed to.

Maniac Mansion Amiga Main Hall
AMIGA – This is how the Mansion’s Main Hall looks like. It holds quite a few neat secrets as well.

Taking Video Games technology available at the time MM did not stood out in any other area really – graphics were OK but not mind blowing and lacked loved and cherished by everyone Rivers of Blood(tm)… Well, there was *some* blood in the game but hardly enough to keep a gore-hungry, silly TV-shows raised teens at peace. And music? Apart from truly awesome opening theme and few sounds (not on all systems though) during gameplay were practically abundant. Looking at the back catalog of games I played over the years, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s not the graphics or even sound and music that makes a good game…

Maniac Mansion NES Secret Lab
NES – Secret Lab ain’t that secret no more…

Maniac Mansion, from beginning to an end is all story. Story, that is simple, short but drives the player from the first minute when he choses three of the seven available characters (one fixed though) to the last second of gameplay, or till he fails. Yes, in MM one can fail and not complete the game just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing something unnecessary… And why would one wander around doing odd things, digging holes in piles of shit instead of following the flow of the story? Because, lets say that you love cheesy B-class movies that are so bad that they actually are really good… Now, in this World MM would be an absolute king and queen of those movies, all rolled into one!!

Maniac Mansion c64 screenshot
C64 – This is where it all began 20 years before…

You play the role of Dave and two of his friends who have to save Dave’s girlfriend Sandy (even those names seem as if the were taken out of an under budget production made for 75 cents and a promise of mention in the final credits) from the hands of mad scientist – Dr Fred Edison – and his army (well, actually only few) of mutated Tentacles… Sounds cheap & cheesy? It should, the story is so simple that honestly I don’t see it ever getting any better. At least not in 1987, when I was no more no less than six years old and Maniac Mansion was like reading a book that I could actually take part in and it did not suck.

Maniac Mansion Apple II Library screenshot
Apple II – Library – The source of all knowledge… And funny smells…

I’m not gonna spoil this truly awesome game for you by telling you about all the inside jokes, puns and 80’s pop-culture references because I know you’ll enjoy it far more discovering everything by yourself. All I’ll mention is the game offers huge re-playability value due to the fact that all the secrets and gags cannot be found on one playthrough. For one, the characters player choose at the beginning all have unique personalities and respond to same situations differently and may even need to find different ways of solving similar problems. Also many, many things in this game lead to failure but failure through tears of laughter as authors did not kept the best stuff only for actions progressing the plot. And this is exactly what makes a great game – when failure is *also* an option worth taking. ^_^

Maniac Mansion Atari ST kitchen screenshot
Atari ST – There’s no kitchen without chainsaw and some mature cheese.

Maniac Mansion, even though it changed the face of Adventure games genre forever cannot be treated like pure adventure game only. I’d say it’s an interactive movie with adventure and arcade elements at heart. Some puzzles must be timed perfectly to complete, other require smart switching between chosen characters and using their positions and available actions at just the right order. And at another time you’re sitting there watching the game unveil its cinematic sequences just to add depth to the story. Please, pretty please, with a rotten turd covered cherry on top, notice that I used italics whilst mentioning cinematic sequences. Oh, darn, I’ve done it again…

Maniac Mansion c64 tentacle
C64 – Tentacle in its full 8-bit awesomeness…

Why only 9.5 out of 10, if the game clearly was the next Bible!? Or Bible 2.0, if you please (I expect a lot of hate mail now, he, he… ^_^)!? Well, it sure was fun playing it and I even recall one time when as a child I played it with two friends, each of us taking a role of another character… It’s not difficult to guess we did not fare far in the game… Maniac Mansion is just awfully difficult at times, presenting the player with numerous dead ends upon reaching which there is no choice but to reload the game. Or even many time & monkey-like agility based puzzles that one may repeat time after time until perfecting them, so that he/she could progress just that little further in the game. Honestly, sometimes when I play it it feels as if my head was split and someone pissed inside – there seems to be the brain there but my reflexes just ain’t what they’re supposed to be, short-cutted or something. Or maybe I’m just getting old, that’s all? That said, all the humor, re-playability and utterly awesome setting of Old Mansion that holds unknown secrets and a lonely kidnapped girl do make me wanna play it again… Today… Must fight the urge to play the darn gameMust not choose the system nowI am the master of my own mind & willAhhEhhBollocks! I’ll give this bad boy one more roll. ^_^

Fury of the Furries review

Fury of the Furries is a side scrolling platformer with puzzle elements, published by Kalisto in 1993 on Amiga & PC. And a year later on Mac. The main difference between PC and Amiga versions (as I never played the Macintosh one) is the number of colors displayed on a screen. PC uses 256 of these whilst Amiga only 32. They are mixed and matched smartly however, so the difference is bearly noticeable. And in some cases I would’ve sworn that PC outing settled for only 32 as well.

Fury of the Furries PC title screen

The story line is quite dull and doesn’t shine above the early 90’s average for these kinds of games. You’re left in charge of four creatures that look a whole lot like critters. And critters were round, spiky haired, hedgehog like aliens who came to Earth to destroy the life on it in 1986 movie by the same title. It was a mediocre movie, I must add.

The pilot must’ve had one drink to many…

Anyway, in Fury of the Furries unfortunately, you are not mind-bent killing machines from space, but peaceful creatures on a mission to save your king that has been kiddnapped by the so called “the wicked one”, who in this game represents the ultimate evil. The four fur-balls you’re left with, differ in colour and set of abilities, which have to be properly utilised to complete each stage. Does this sound familiar to The Lost Vikings? Well, It should, because apart from being much bigger AND better game, they’re both quite alike.

Watch out for the Homing Bees!

As I was saying Furries you’re in charge of are all unique – the blue one is the only one that can dive and also it shoots bubbles in water. Green one is your friendly neighborhood spider-man. Well, it doesn’t walk on walls but has a line/grappling hook that it can swing on or use to pull objects when necessary. Yellow one controls fireballs of various power and the red one bites the dust – literally.

Another one bites the dust… This time literally!

The further you go the more time you’ll spend planning on how to complete each level since often you’ll find yourself with only one or two of these fur-balls available and sometimes not even through the whole stage but only at certain areas. And in the World of Fury of the Furries there’s many things that can kill you – starting from sharp spikes and pools of acid to mutated bees and other oddly shaped figures of game designer’s sick imagination.

It’s a small World… Not!

And since we’re on the World subject – the adventure takes place in a huge island divided into 8 regions which are then split into seperate levels and many hidden areas. Each region has unique feel and challenges to them, so mastering all will definitely take a lot of time and patience. After completing first two regions you’ll realize that you’re losing lives as often as cattle in an average sized slaughterhouse. Well, at least I did, since the difficulty goes through the roof starting with the third.

Fury of the Jungle… Starting from the third region onwards the game becomes uterly punishing and unforgiving.

Because, Fury of the Furries requires not only clever planning, but also mad gaming skills and in later levels some sick timing, which platform games of the 90’s were well known for. Fury of the Furries is no exception here. And nothing says challenge more than dieing 20 times in one level in less than 30 seconds from starting to play it, each time… Yeah… And that’s only second stage of third region that I’m talking ’bout here…

Why does the shark don’t give a damn about a dude on a surfing board but goes straight for me as soon as I get anywhere near the water!?

Fortunately, the game offers an extra life every 100 coins that you collect and since there’s loads of these in hidden areas, it’s an incentive to look for them from the start. And it’s not unusual for a level to have more than two secret sub-levels hidden behind the palm tree, in a pile of dust or under the shootable block of concrete for instance, so you’ll find yourself checking all possible places looking for those quite early.

Gotta get that money!

As I said before the story is not what makes this game special. The gameplay is. In fact, Fury of the Furries is so AWESOME that once you’ll start playing it, by the time you stop, you’ll realize several hours, days, months or even years have passed, the Earth is a nuclear wasteland, and you somehow missed the Armageddon. OK, that may not be entirely truth, but Fury of the Furries is a top notch game and a one of the best of it’s time and genre.

Spider-man, spider-man, the amazing spider-man…

In my opinion Fury of the Furries is one of those games that aged like wine does, it got better. Actually, it aged exactly like one of those very expensive wines, one that is so good and pricey that nobody even knows how it tastes like. Sadly, the same can be said about this game, as it never got the attention it deserved. When countered with platformers we got to play these days, all being easy, casual games, Fury of the Furries holds a serious challenge and completing it even on the easiest of levels will be time consuming. But also fun and rewarding.

Ripping bubbles in water…

All in all, it’s a great game worth time invested in it and a cheap buy as well. You can get it on eBay for peanuts and running it will require no more than some basic DOSBox skills or WinUAE configuration practice if you settle for Amiga version and don’t happen to have the real one. Like the best game reviewer on YouTube – Gaming Mill – would’ve said – Overall I give it 9 and a half out of 10. So, Thanks for reading, please leave a comment and make sure you give Fury of the Furries a try as it’s gonna be time and money well invested.

This is the end…

On the side note Fury of the Furries as a franchise has been sold by Kalisto a year after it’s premiere to Namco which then released it on SNES, Gameboy and PC (again!) as Pac-In-Time leaving most of the game untouched (in PC version), altering only the way the main character looks like – since there was only one of them in Pac-In-Time – Pacman – and how he accesses all of his abilities. Also if you don’t care much about owning original, Fury of the Furries is considered abandonware on PC & Amiga and can be downloaded from Abandonia & Planet Emulation sites respectively for each of the platforms.

Click here to get the official Fury of the Furries soundtrack.

Frontier (a.k.a. Elite II)

Frontier_elite2_box

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

That’s how you roll in style in space…

Well, this quote from the famous Star Trek series, that crippled many of the young geeky minds, can easily be applied to describe the game of Frontier. In fact this and MUCH more! But, let’s get to the heart of the thing while it’s still beating…

Departing from Matthews where dogs bark with their asses…

Frontier was developed by David Braben and released in 1993 by Gametek and Konami on various Amigas, Atari ST & PC. It’s a sequel to Elite hence why it’s often addressed as Elite 2 and predeccesor to First Encounters – which is also known as Frontier: First Encounters or simply Frontier 2.

100,000,000,000 Planets in Frontier sounds unbeliveable but it’s all truth!

But enough of the boring details, let’s spill some blood on this one… Frontier is a game of undefined genre. It’s a wild mixture of simulation, strategy with adventure and role playing elements. And as much as it seems that this kind of mix’n’match would not work out it actually does and the game is no less than brilliant! It’s a true sandbox experience where you have no laid out route to game’s completition and no scripted time or area predefined events. In fact, you can play it as long as you want and how you want. That is until you get killed or die in a far out system left with no hope of survival because you’ve spent the last of your money on slaves instead of fuel aiming for quick and illegal profit…

It’s not only mining colonies and military bases in Frontier, there are some modern settlements here as well…

The game World, or Universe to be more precise consist of just a bit short of 100,000,000,000 (!!) planets and moons. There’s also 82 kinds of missions/services generated randomly, so chances that you’ll run out of things to do and places to go are quite slim. In the World of Frontier you can become anyone you want! There’s many routes you may wanna progress in, like mining, piracy, trade, bounty hunting or working for one of the multi-system organizartions and picking either of the choices does not mean that you won’t be able to follow another if you decide to do so later on.

There’s plenty of random generated missions to go through, ranging from passenger/cargo transport to spying/assasination requests…

Loads of trade commodities, ship equipment, ship kinds and different fraction promotions, provide for a long and exciting gameplay. In fact when you start of you’ll find yourself in a small settlement with a very basic ship equiped with what seems like garbage and only 1,000 credits to spare and will have to take a long and hard route before feeling safe and comfortable in the dark World of Frontier. But this is exactly what makes this game so special – it does not lead you by hand mission after mission, instead it drops you somewhere in the middle of cold and dark nowhere and tells you to deal with it! And you will have to, cause otherwise you’re not a real man (or woman, since I don’t wanna sound sexist here).

Space: The Final Frontier…

That said, Frontier is a truly excellent product shadowed only by the fact that it is not a game for all.

Many people may not appreciate its hardcore „kill or die” approach and difficult beginnings. But those who decide to go through tough initial period usually fall in love with it because it’s an entertaining and deep experience that rewards patience.

Cobra MK I – it’s not a killing machine but I’ve flown worst.

It’s really impressive how HUGE game David managed to fit on one floppy and how well it worked out in the end especially that it is mainly one person’s effort. The game looks and plays the same on all systems yet all of these had some unique and system specific bugs in earlier, unpatched releases. Bugs like famous wormholes that allowed for huge jumps over great distances in Universe using just a tiny bit of fuel or „earning” money by endlessly „trying to sell” a passengers cabin with passengers still in it…

Each “dot” even if it has no name displayed here is a seperate solar system with its own planets and moons.

Frontier is quite cheap on eBay as it was fairly popular in the early 90’s, and hence many copies are still sold for prices that are easy to swallow. Same as with earlier reviewed Fury of the Furries, Frontier is widely considered abandonware and can be downloaded from Abandonia or Planet Emulation for PC & Amiga respectively, and run through either DOSBox or WinUAE.

Apart from these two ships and the crew on this station… In space noone can hear you scream.

As much as I’m a firm believer that any game that let’s you become a Space Pirate and not only blow people to pieces with various rockets, plasmas and lasers, but also trade slaves, drugs and radioactives, deserves an easy 10 out of 10, I won’t give it. I’ll settle for 8 out of 10 because as I mentioned before not everyone will find Frontier enjoyable – it’s a difficult game with no tutorial or hints and can just be a bit too overwhelming for a Sunday player.

Attacking other ships near Space Stations may turn their defences against you, ultimately bring an end to your Frontier life.

UFO: Enemy Unknown

UFO: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical strategy game with managerial and role playing elements published in 1994 by MicroProse Software on PC and various Amigas and later on on Playstation.

X-COM_-_UFO_Defense_Coverart

I wondered for a while how does one properly explain what ingenious creation like UFO is, compared to other similar games. And found no answer… So I decided to give it a whirl, play it for a while and see how I felt about it after years long brake from seeing it last. That was a HUGE mistake! A catastrophe on an unthinkable scale! I can’t stress how much time I’ve „wasted” playing it, though it was not a waste per se. Well, as you might have guessed by now, the game is not bad by no means. In fact when I started playing it I couldn’t stop until I beat it. And beating UFO takes a lot of time and patience as the game in its early stages especially is quite unforgiving. Going through it however, with all its ups and downs left me with a clear view of what I wanted to share here with you… So, let me get to it straight away…

In the beginning there was chaos…” And there is loads of it in UFO as well, especially for a first time player. There’s tons of screens, stats and settings that may seem a bit overwhelming for a person looking for a quick strategy fix, but if you decide to take your time with it and learn everything that there is to learn about the game it will reward you hundredfold! With long, deep (Oh, yeah, I said it!) adventure, that when completed will leave you disappointed… Badly… Because you’ll instantly want MORE!

UFO or X-COM as they call it in the US is a product built upon the idea that could’ve easily been transformed into three different, smaller games. First of, there’s the strategy – Globe View – in which you build your bases, send intercepting ships to shoot of alien vessels and direct your troop transport crafts to various missions – like alien terror attack, alien bases or earlier mentioned shot down UFOs. Sounds cool? Good, because it is!

ufo_enemy_unknown_01

Then there’s a micro-managerial – Base View – where you decide on your base’s buildings placement and purpose. Each building has it’s price, time it takes to put up and also provides certain commodities – like living areas, research laboratories, defences, hangars or even alien interrogation rooms, so thinking the layout through is a must. In here also, you buy, sell, research & manufacture various kinds of weapons, ships, equipment & technologies. And this is where you train, equip and prepare your troops before they get sent on a mission that most of them may not come back from.

And last but most definitely not least – Tactical View – where whilst on a missions you’ll lead your soldiers turn by turn to their painful and bloody deaths… I mean to victory against bad and ugly alien invaders, which vary in kind power and abilities! Yes… Well, initially some of your troops are bound to meet their maker in the field of battle when put up against overwhelming alien force. As they progress in game though – earn experience & gain skills, each mission will become more and more bearable until eventually with help of high tech equipment and armor designed by your team of smart bottle-bottom-like glasses wearing scientists you’ll start earning a bit of advantage. I wouldn’t hold on to that hope from the start though as that will not happen until you’re many, many hours into gameplay.

ufo_enemy_unknown_02

Because UFO punishes the slightest mistakes in tactical approach, you will have to be prepared for some serious losses when playing X-COM for the first time. That is good however as if it was not so challenging it may have not end up being so AWESOME… After all, it is fun to spray long series of bullets through purple coloured alien brains. But what’s even more enjoyable in my opinion is starting your way with your soldiers brains being spread on a pavement and slowly earning your way through the alien horde whilst learning their genesis, weak and strong points and researching means to counter them effectively.

In UFO: Enemy Unknown one can see many influences by the earlier games, games like Laser Squad or Civilization, from which UFO took what’s best and mixed into something even better. Funny enough Civilization was released by Microprose as well and Laser Squad was developed by the same team that wrote UFO. Coincidence? I don’t think so… Anyway, as I mentioned before UFO could very well be three separate, good in their own kind games but instead Microprose opted for mashing it all up into one tough but entertaining behemoth of a creation that takes many evenings to complete and keeps you on your toes through out it until the very last minute of gameplay.

ufo_enemy_unknown_03

All versions of the game are virtually the same gameplay-wise with only some minor engine differences. Differences like Amiga version having two separate release branches, one with 32 and another with 256 colours graphics (all other systems get 256 only) and a bit better music and sound effects. Playstation outing being least playable out of the lot due to the limitations of pad control compared to the mouse. All that said, any version you manage to pick up will provide you with dozens of hours of fun and challenge, and that’s what UFO is all about!

MicroProse released two continuations to UFO – X-COM: Terror From The Deep & X-COM: Apocalypse. First being direct sequel with some minor gameplay setting tweaks & alterations and second released in high resolution but with reduced micro-management scale from the whole World to one huge Metropolis. There’s been some spin-offs developed as well but mostly were not worth any attention as they fared into different genres, badly I must add. Independent Developers have been craving to shadow the success of original, releasing many similar games, especially over the last few years. Unfortunately none of them came even close to perfecting balance of gameplay and its mechanics, and MicroProse’s original is still King of the Hill when in comes to tactical anti-alien warfare.

ufo_enemy_unknown_05

It took me two weeks of serious gaming before I beat the game and I only managed to do it on normal difficulty level. Can’t wait to see what happens if I raise it a bit even though UFO was challenging enough the way I played it. Overall I want to give UFO: Enemy Unknown 15 out of 10 but I can’t, so I’ll settle for what’s available at hand…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dupngnAS6yk[/youtube]

PC version is still on sale (well, again not still) and can be purchased on STEAM either separately or as a part of the Complete pack where it is sold along with both successors. Alternatively if you still own your original disks they can be easily used to install and run it through DOSBox. As for Amiga outing, the game same as the platform has been forgotten for years and is only available to download as an abandonware at Planet Emulation website.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight review

Have you ever wondered what would’ve become of a child of Cool and Awesome? I know, I did… And what if that child hooked up with Great and their kid became Rad that in turn done it with Super, getting her pregnant in the process?? Well, wonder no more! What we’d end up with would be an odd hairy & stinky behemoth – CoAweGraDSu. And if the name’s too long or weird sounding to you, let me rephrase it, so it’s more understandable – Cool, Awesome, Great, Rad & Super above all – Moonstone!

moonstone
Moonstone PC title screen

Yes, Moonstone. A rock that fell of a big, round slice of Cheese that hangs on a night sky bringing all vampires and other darkly creatures to life, or death. I don’t know, I’m not an expert on these… Anyway, what I know a lot about is a video game of a same name & that’s what we’re going to talk of today.

Weird drug-related rituals have been known for ages… And loved for ages…

Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight is an action hack’n’slash game with role playing elements in fantasy medieval setting developed and released by Mindscape in 1991 & 1992 on Amiga and PC respectively. Both versions look and play nearly the same & use the same palette of 32 colors, but PC version seems a bit more radiant & Amiga outing sounds much better… And freezes your computer more often, but that may just be me and not a common case. Anyway…

I guess it was and always will be that the blonde ones are the most popular…

The story unveils you being one of four knights summoned by the old and wise (or drugged as they certainly appear to be) druids to fullfil their request of finding the sacred Moonstone, neccessary to save their land. The story has many twists and turns to it whilst still being simple and enjoyable. In very short find the Moonstone, bring it to druids, save their realm – and most of all stay alive whilst doing it.

Beware of the red bastard that burps with fire and feeds of brains… Or so I heard.

Wether you choose to play alone or with friends, the game involves all four knights with CPU taking control of unused ones. Each starts in a different region of a map, ridden by different creatures and dangers. But all have to go through a same, awesomely BLOODY path to complete the game. How gory this game actually is? Well, let’s say that having an upper part of your body bitten of by a dragon or head choped by rivalring knight is not a very brutal way to die in Moonstone…

It’s not important how many you’ve taken with you if you fell in the end…

Between chopping, stabbing, cutting and running away for your life (yes, this may happen to you as well, especially when followed by a huge fire-breathing dragon) there’s many activities that a knight in the World of Moonstone can participate in. Such fun things as gambling, visiting a seer seeking an in-depth view of your future, shopping or even looking for an aid from a lonely Wizard that lives on top of Abandoned Tower – kind of like Saruman from Lord of the Rings did. All the best things that true knights enjoy doing when not killing, raping or drinking… Or all these in a same time!

Missed me! You blind, acne ridden, bad breath bastard!

There’s many ways casual player can die in Moonstone, but there’s also many ways a careful one can develop in it. The role playing elements in the game are mostly seen through skills developing along with the gameplay and equipment upgrades that can either be obtained by means of trade or by brutal murders. Both equally enjoable, yet only one of them costing you virtually no money. One could argue that it’s not enough to aspire to a role playing game, but that’s fine because Moonstone does not try to appear as one. Instead it stands for what it is – fun, gory and awesomely enjoyable Party Game – if you happen to be twisted and have friends that thrive in surrounding of blood and other inner body fluids. On the other hand if you do, it’s probably good that you and your friends play games and not go out on a killing spree that one would expect you to. ^__^

Go on, son! Go on, son!

Moonstone has that board game feeling to it, with map view played in turn based mode and encounters being more lively real time combat decided purely by player’s own skills and equipment. After few failed playthroughs the game becomes easy. In fact if you died in all possible places in all possible ways, eventually you learn what, when and how to expect in the World of Moonstone. However since the graphics are so polished – beautiful hand drawn sprites and backdrops – and gameplay is enjoyable to the point of bringing Mortal Kombat to shame with its rivers of blood and pain virtually spread all over through the whole game time, Moonstone is utterly fun time killer and a very good Party Game.

Darn Critters! Who would’ve though they can attack from above?

It took me a while to decide what should be Moonstone’s final score. On one hand I think it deserves 8 out of 10 for a single player experience, on the other 10 out of 10 in multiplayer mode… Because nothing says fun more than bringing few friends together just to chop off a limb or two of them, then steal from them and finally leave their still warm corpses to rot in a puddle of their own blood. I’ve made my decision…

Yeah… You sure told me… People did sure know how to swear back then…