Wonderland

Wonderland

Wonderland

“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this installment: Wonderland, an adventure game developed by the British game developer Magnetic Scrolls and published by Virgin Games in 1990.

Wonderland

Wonderland was a game set in the Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland mythos. You played Alice as she made her way through the bizarre Wonderland landscape, solving puzzles and enduring plenty of puns. However, the plot of the game did not follow that of the book, although familiar characters, such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, and the Red Queen all appeared to delight the player (or confound them).  However, only the characters from Alice in Wonderland appeared; there were no characters or scenes from the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass (which meant no Tweedledum and Tweedledee!).  Even so, there were still around 110 locations to explore in all their surreal glory.

Wonderland

Magnetic Scrolls developed an interesting game engine called “Magnetic Windows” which they used for Wonderland. Rather than one game screen, Magnetic Windows permitted several game screens to be opened at once (much like Microsoft Windows), and each window could be moved or resized as needed. So a player could have their inventory screen, a screen with details about a particular object, the game map, a specific room item list, a compass, a help menu, the main screen with a graphic, and more all open at once. Particularly enjoyable for those who tired of the constant switch between game map – inventory – action screen that most games used.

Wonderland

Wonderland received generally good reviews: “…very simply, it’s fun stuff to play” (Computer Game Review, June 1991); “Wonderland has shown me that the adventure-game genre is alive and growing” (Compute!, August 1991);  ”an atmospheric and cerebellum-crushing adventure game…“  (Amiga Power, June 1991).  It was (and is!) an enjoyable romp through a classic landscape. It doesn’t have much repeat play value, but being of the adventure game genre, it’s not really fair to expect it to. For those who have never parsed a text, give Wonderland a chance to show you what gaming was like twenty years ago!

Cool Spot

Cool-Spot

Format- Sega Mega Drive

Genre- 2D platformer

You probably know that Cool Spot was 7 up’s mascot during the 80’s and 90’s, but only really in the US. Therefore the UK got Spot surfing on a generic non-branded bottle in the games opening screen rather than one with a 7up label…but this is all rather beside the point. What’s important is how the game itself holds up.

Personally, I found this a tough game to like. Spot himself is a well animated character, but to the point where his slow ‘i’m so cool’ walk makes the game more annoying rather than fun. The same can be said for the game overall.

Cool-Spot

Plus, the opening level alone is tough enough to make you spit your lemonade out in sheer frustration. Set on a beach (see picture above), the stage is swarming with crabs that for reasons unknown want Spot dead. Difficult to simply jump over (you usually just end up landing on another one and hurting yourself), to make decent progress you have to slowly work your way to the right and picking off the crustacean cronies one by one with your soda spray attack. This is not fun.

Cool-Spot

The next level on a port is teeming with even more foes, and it’s here where I usually struggle to progress any further. I’m not helped by the fact I find Spot a fairly annoying character. He’s not as detestable as say, Gex, but I find his laid back attitude makes him look more a tool than actually seem cool.

Even the rather good music can’t save this game from being merely a forgotten relic of the over-populated 16-bit platformer crowd. Cool Spot might be worth a punt at a low price to see one of the better games based on a drink, but it’s in a very small playing field in that respect – and there are certainly a lot better platformers out there.

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty

If Empire Deluxe was the mother of “just one more turn,” Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty was the father of real-time strategy games. Published in 1994 by Westwood Studios, Dune II was based on the David Lynch Dune movie, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert, and was a sequel – in name only – to the previous 1992 Virgin Games PC adventure/strategy hybrid game, Dune.  The game’s designers further deviated from the film, novel, and game versions of Dune by adding House Ordos, which was not mentioned in either Herbert’s novels nor in Lynch’s film.  Of course, this was not an adventure game, so what cannon the game was based on didn’t make much of an overall impact on gameplay.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A sandworm swallows a harvester in Dune II

The plot was straight-forward: the Emperor needs more Spice from the planet Arrakis, and offers up the prize title of Governor of Arrakis to whichever House delivers the most Spice to him. Three Houses vie for the governorship: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Ordos. Each House has different strengths and weaknesses based on their particular House zeitgeist: House Atreides uses speed, House Harkonnen uses brute strength, and House Ordos uses sneakiness. (Their prime units represent those traits, with House Atreides using the speedy sonic tank, House Harkonnen using the slow but incredibly powerful Devastator, and House Ordos using the allegiance-altering Deviator.) The Emperor’s Sardaukar make an appearance toward the end, providing an elite challenge just when you think that your victory is at hand.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

A Harkonnen base in Dune II

As the game progresses, Spice blooms in the desert, and the Houses (either a player or the computer) sends harvester units to gather the bounty and return it to their base. The harvesters are exposed while gathering the Spice, and can be destroyed by enemy units or by the sudden appearance of a gargantuan Sand Worm. Protecting them from dangers is an integral strategic element of playing Dune II, as your score is determined by how much spice you harvest and return to your base. Of course, securing your base from enemy attacks and sending out an invasion force to wipe out your rival Houses are also important.

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Atreides base in Dune II

The list of features that Dune II debuted in real-time strategy gaming is impressive. It was the first RTS to use the mouse to move individual units. It was the first to use building bases and then units. It was the first to use a development technology tree, permitting the construction of advanced units only after certain buildings were constructed. It was the first to use units that you could move and then deploy as a base. It was the first to use different factions with different goals (and strategies). It was even the first to use a world map that you chose your next mission from. This is an impressive list, and these features are now commonplace in RTS games, but were fresh and new back when Dune II was released. All these would be found in Westwood’s own Command & Conquer series that would dominate the gaming industry for over a decade!

Dune II The Building of a Dynasty - Gameplay Screenshot

An Ordos base in Dune II

I fondly remember playing Dune II into the night (and the next day), cursing the computer as it launched a devastating attack on my base and thrilling to the total destruction of that same enemy. And I wasn’t the only one. The reviews for both the MS-DOS and Commodore Amiga versions were very positive (as were unit sales!), making Dune II a hit for Westwood Studios, which paved the way for the entire Command & Conquer series.   Two official follow-up games were also released,Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle For Dune, in 1998 and 2001, respectively.  There’s even a non-official version: Super Dune II: The Destruction (in which you play either Mercenaries, Fremen, or Sardaukar).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tppjzT-su0Q[/youtube]

The game’s influence is still recognized by the gaming industry, evidenced by it’s placement in IGN’s Top 10 Most Influential Games, GameSpy’s Hall of Fame list, and Computer Gaming World’s Best Games of All Time list.  With both industry accolades and sales success, it is obvious that Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty has the pedigree to belong on any retro gamer’s ‘must play’ list, and is yet another in a long line of Westwood Studio masterpieces!