Top Five Clouds

Anyone who’s lazy and spends a lot of time daydreaming like me will surely love clouds. It truly is one of life’s simplest pleasures laying on some grass on a nice day, maybe with some nice relaxing music playing quietly, gazing up the various different arrangements of clouds. It’s also interesting that merely looking at them can not only tell you what the weather is like, but can also warn you of impending weather too! To that end, here is my Top Five:
5 – Noctilucent
These are the highest of all clouds and are almost beyond the extent of the atmosphere altogether! They can only be seen in high northern and southern latitudes, and even then only for a short time after the sun has disappeared below the horizon. They weren’t even discovered that long ago and there is still little known about them. Plus, they look nice ūüôā
5 - Noctilucent
4 – Cirrostratus
Cirrostratus are also very high clouds which are so thin they often more resemble more of a haze than clouds in the usual sense. They are composed of ice crystals which sometimes form halos by refracting sunlight and can signal an impending rain or snow storm
4 - Cirrostratus
3 – Altocumulus
One type of Altocumulus, the Lenticular cloud, can take many unusual shapes, and have often been mistaken for flying saucers. In their more common form they can look pretty funny when seen covering the sky, for they are very small but usually in large groups resembling a flock of sheep! They also often signal the arrival of a thunderstorm.
3 - Altocumulus
2 – Cirrus
These are very high, wispy-looking clouds which are composed of ice particles. Looking out the window and seeing them generally means it’s a nice day (although not necessarily hot!). They can also cause ‘Sun Dogs’, which is a weird-looking atmospheric phenomenon not unlike the halos caused by Cirrostratus clouds, only these occur much closer to the horizon when the sun is setting or rising and cause bright spots or halos around it
2 - Cirrus
1 – Cumulonimbus
The biggest clouds you’ve ever seen are probably Cumulonimbus cloud decks, they are absolutely immense! At the largest they can span the entire height of the clouded atmosphere and they’re responsible for near enough all major weather, be that torrential rains, severe winds, thunderstorms, lightning, hail, and can even turn into supercells. Also, they look like an Independence Day ship will appear from them. Eeek!
1 - Cumulonimbus

Top Five PC Engine Shoot-em-ups

5. Image Fight (1990)

Image Fight - Gameplay Screenshot

Developed by Irem soon after they unleashed R-Type, this fantastic vertical scroller is for some bizarre reason far less revered than its sibling, which is odd because even a quick session with it reveals Irem were more than adept at this kind of shmup as well as the horizontal variety. It’s not the flashiest shooter ever – the graphics aren’t particularly impressive and the music is instantly forgettable, but it is challenging, well designed, and, much like R-Type, features some interesting power-ups. Rather than the now-legendary Force from that game, here it’s possible to attach a variety of devices to the front of your ship, each of which give it a different weapon. A top blaster which deserves more recognition.

4. Magical Chase (1991)

Magical Chase - Gameplay Screenshot

For a long time an Engine exclusive, this horizontal-scroller is so charming it’s as if you’ve had a spell cast on you by the ‘Star Maiden’ protagonist of the game! It’s a horizontal-scroller in a similar vein to Cotton (which was released around the same time) which sees you in control of a witch complete with broomstick (but apparently no black cat) battling six demons and their bizarre minions across the six stages! A very strange but nonetheless compelling and highly playable little game which looks fabulous, has a fantastic soundtrack, and constantly beckons you to discover what lies around the next corner.

3. R-Type (1988)

R-Type - Gameplay Screenshot

Until the PlayStation came along, this remained the most faithful conversion of this eternally worshipped, all-time classic yet seen (Lord knows why it never appeared on the MD, come to think of it, that could’ve been a cracking version). Despite the fact that it was initially spread over two separately released Hu-Cards, it was still hard to fault it. The graphics and music are near- faultless and as close to arcade¬†perfect as anyone could reasonably¬†expect, and the timeless level design¬†and gameplay is faithfully recreated.¬†This was a God-send for the game’s¬†many fans.

2. Gradius (1991)

Gradius - Gameplay Screenshot

As is the case with R-Type, this was arguably the best version of Gradius until the arrival of the 32-bit consoles, although the X68000 effort was also superb. While it’s true that the graphics are simplistic and do suffer from bouts of slowdown now and then, they are also beautifully defined and the twinkly, multi-coloured stars in the background are hypnotic! The remixed soundtrack here is fantastic too, and among my favourite shmup soundtracks on any system, but it’s the finely honed gameplay that keeps me coming back. Challenging it may be, but the difficulty curve is well pitched and there’s so many distinctive touches (including an extra level) it’ll take ages to see all it has to offer.

1. Gunhed (1989)

Gunhed - Gameplay Screenshot

It’s amazing to think that this was one of the first shmups released on the Engine. After all these years it’s still one of the finest vertical-scrollers I’ve played on any system. It’s true that there’s a vast number that I’ve still not played but that doesn’t detract from the sheer quality of this classic from Hudson. It eases you in with the gentle opening stage before gradually ramping up the intensity to sweaty-palms, edge-of-the-seat levels – this really is a game that oozes quality in every department. Given the Engine’s prowess with this genre, it’s possible I may encounter an even better shmup at some point but it’ll have to be something really special to beat this legendary game.

Top Five PlayStation: Racing Games

I’ve always been of the opinion that fancy graphics are far less important than a well-designed game. I think my continued love or retro games and enduring disdain for modern gaming is evidence enough of this, but there’s always been one exception – driving/racing games. Try as they might, developers in the 80’s and early 90’s were rarely able to fashion both a playable and convincing into-the-screen racer outside of the arcades, and I can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many I personally liked. That is until the CD-ROM-based consoles appeared. The Need For Speed on the 3DO was perhaps the first indication of what this medium could do for the genre but it took the release of the Saturn and PlayStation for it to reach full bloom, with the latter system producing both the most numerous and most impressive examples yet seen.

I personally got into PlayStation gaming late, sticking loyally with my good old Saturn for as long as there were games made for it, but eventually I had to join the ranks of the competition. When I did, a majority of the time I spent on it was spent playing driving games. I certainly didn’t play all of the ones on offer but of the ones I did play, here are in my opinion the Top Five:

Special Note: A big thanks to Martyn Carroll, Facebook friend and editor of the original version of Retro Gamer magazine (and contributor to the current incarnation) for providing me with a working PlayStation emulator for this piece. Yes, I own the originals of the games featured here, but I needed the emulator to get the screenshots, so… thanks Martyn, I owe you one!

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I’ve traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven’t played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

 

If I review any PS1 driving games in my upcoming feature that get really high scores, they don’t appear in this Top Five because I hadn’t played them before! (a.k.a covering my arse!)

5. Total Drivin’ (1997)

Total Drivin

I bought this game cheap with no prior knowledge of it on the off-chance it might be worth the risk. Luckily it paid off! Whilst far from the pinnacle of the PlayStation’s graphical achievements, it is pretty innovative in other ways. The championship mode, for example, features races in various locations around the world and consequently on a variety of surfaces. To this end, there’s not just one type of racing here but five – Rally, Sports, Indy, Buggies, and Dakar Rally! One of my favourite things about this game is that your opponents aren’t just bunched up behind you waiting for a mistake – the better you race, the further ahead you’ll get. You can even lap them if you’re fast enough! This is a great and underrated racing game with a lot more variety than even Gran Turismo.

4. Porsche Challenge (1997)

Porsche Challenge

This was the first game I ever got for my PlayStation when I finally gave up hope for my beloved Saturn, and I was very pleased with it. Admittedly, looking back, the graphics are a little ropier than I remember – the car models are nice (as you would expect from a game with an official license) but the draw distance isn’t great and there’s a fair bit of pop-up, but luckily it still plays very nicely. The only car available to drive is the Boxster but there are six different coloured ones to choose from, each driven by its own character, some of whom exchange banter between races. There’s only four courses to race over but they’re pretty long and there’s many variations of each (mirrored, reversed, extra sections, with shortcuts, etc), and all are very enjoyable to drive around. A not-too-hectic racer that provides a really pleasant driving experience.

3. Ridge Racer Type 4 (1998)

Ridge Racer Type 4

I don’t care what anyone says, Ridge Racer sucks big floppy donkey dicks and so does its ‘sequel’, Revolution. Rage Racer, however, was where Namco started rectifying this situation and RR4 (complete with ridiculous and unnecessary Type in its title) is arguably where the series peaked. Featuring a huge number of courses (for RR standards) and billions of car variations, it’s already infinitely better than the stupid original, but it also vastly improves the horrifying handling problems that blighted earlier efforts too. It has a number of play modes including an excellent career mode, and in my opinion is one of the best looking racing games to appear on Sony’s debut console with races taking place at various times of day meaning some lovely lighting effects. Ridge Racer finally becomes a must-play!

2. Colin McRae Rally (1998)

Colin McRae Rally

Yes, the second game in the series (also on PS1) is technically more impressive but I’ve always preferring playing this original. It pretty much kickstarted the whole rally game craze by itself, and with good reason – driving Mr. McRae’s iconic blue Impreza around the world’s rally courses was a fantastically enjoyable experience. Near enough any kind of driving surface (and weather condition) you can think of is catered for here and the attention to detail is amazing – watch your car get progressively dirtier throughout the race (and damaged if you keep hitting trees!). There’s no in-game music, no opponents to race against (on-screen, anyway), just precision driving, and it¬†had arguably never been done better.

1. Gran Turismo (1998)

Gran Turismo

I’m sure a majority of PlayStation gamers would opt for the second game in the series as the peak of the genre on their favourite console but I’m not sure any driving game had as much of an impact on me as this original. It pretty much rewrote the rule book on what could be achieved in a driving videogame with its license tests forcing you to earn the right to race¬†in the game’s various classes, huge range or real cars to buy, race in, and customise, near-photo-realistic replays, and hugely intricate championship mode. It’s amazingly playable and addictive too – I had great fun gradually building up my Honda Prelude to an all-conquering rice-rocket! There was more to this game than most racing fans could dream of at the time and it still impresses today.