Xevious

Xevious

Format- Gameboy Advance (but several others as well)

Genre- Top down vertical scrolling shooter

There are certain games you just don’t criticise. Space Invaders. Pong. Chibi Robo. Ico.

I don’t think Xevious can join that group though. There aren’t many people that seem to hold this game with much affection, and as a result the game is mostly forgotten.

‘Mostly’ as it has been re-released a fair bit in recent years, giving the current generation of gamers the (mis) fortune to play it again.

Suffice to say, it doesn’t hold up well nowadays. Enemy design varies from the bland to the mildly acceptable, and when both ground and air based foes are on screen frustration reigns.

Movement vertically is sluggish, like the ship is constantly have to force through an invisible blancmange. Coupled with bullets that are much faster than your ship makes the game unfairly difficult. I’m always up for a challenge, but only when the game plays fair.

The graphics have no retro wow factor either – patches of grass look like they were sketched by a five-year old in a more restrictive version of Mario Paint – it makes you wish for a simple but effective black space background.

I’ve not managed to get very far in the game (the screenshot above is of a level that I will probably never get the chance to play through) but I still think most of these criticisms still stand.

So don’t bother with Xevious. Just let it quietly pass away, and hopefully the game’s developers will do the same.

What does ‘Xevious’ actually mean anyway?

Note – I have a quite cool toy from Japan that is based on Xevious. It makes a sound from the game, and is sadly much cooler than the game itself.

Second note – This review was admittedly a play through of the GBA port of the NES game, which is respectively a port of the apparently superior arcade version. So this revisit shouldn’t be seen as a retrospective of the whole Xevious pantheon, just the poor NES version.

Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection

Well, well…. It hasn’t been so long ago… I mean it’s only been 50 years since the founding of Namco and almost 30 years since the oldest game of this compilation was released. On the other hand this blog has existed for less than one day, and this definitely is the first PC game review to appear here. That’s quite a paradox. Maybe.

Anyway. Namco’s Museum is an almost decent (budget) collection of some classic, some not so classic and a few pointless games, hoping to please retro gamers, to teach new gamers some old tricks, to teach young dogs strange tricks or to please the average casual gamer. There are 16 games on offer, two of which (PacMania and Galaga `88) are unlockable by attaining (pretty low) highscores in PacMan, Ms. PacMan or the original Galaga, which are actually three of the best titles available in this compilation, and are decently emulated. The other games included are:

Dragon Spirit, which I had never played before, and is a passable top down shooter with an appropriately ridiculous backstory and cute graphics .
Pole Position and the radically samey Pole Position II, both aged beyond recognition (they used to be quite nice guys back then) but excellently emulated.
Galaxian, which has always been a poor man’s Space Invaders.
Mappy, the strange little unknown game that is fun for five minutes, but tends to get nervous, act stranger and gradually reduces the poor player to a horrified excuse of a person.
Rolling Thunder, a decent platformer/shooter with nice graphics.
Xevious, the classic Namco Classic.
Skykid, which is pointless, annoying and obscure, but I guess perfectly emulating the horror of being a skykid (?).
Rally-X, a very interesting car game. An absolute time sink.

Oh sorry, almost forgot. When (and if) you buy Namco Museum you will also be able to play Digout and Bosconian.

That’s the deal. Just take into consideration that there are virtually no extras (like interviews, photos, videos etc), very few options, very slight but usually annoying sound problems and the overall presentation isn’t as sleek as it should have been. And you could always download MAME for free instead. On the plus side you get to hear five ‘classic’ 80s songs while browsing through the games and it wont cost you a fortune.

That’s a (five) out of (ten).

 

Thunder Force Series

Thunder Force - Title Screen

Thunder Force (1984)
By: Tecno Soft Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: NEC PC-88
Also Available For: NEC PC-98, NEC PC-6001 Mk II, Sharp X1, Sharp MZ-1500, Fujitsu FM-7

It has long been my intention to cover entire game series’ from start to finish here, rather than just odd games, so to satisfy my own curiosity, I thought I’d start with this classic series of shooters. Pretty much all Mega Drive fans must be familiar with the series, with the second game being a launch title for the console here in the UK, and the third and fouth games remaining particularly popular among shoot ’em up fans, but what of the original game from which the others evolved?

Soon after setting out to answer this question, I started to regret it! The original Thunder Force, you see, was, as far as I can tell, only released on a selection of obscure (to Westerners) Japanese 8-bit micros like the Sharp X1, Fujitsu FM-7, NEC PC-88, NEC PC-98, etc. Being a Japanese game, this is understandable. The problem, however, is the apparent difficulty in emulating these systems! Luckily for me, the Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and other popular micros from my youth are easy and painless to emulate, but the same cannot be said of the Japanese micros! After many hours of searching the ‘net and messing around with my PC, I was still no closer to finally playing the elusive Thunder Force! Fortuntely, help was at hand. A kind and helpful user of the Retro Gamer forum called Oli_Lar, who apparently has a great deal more experience with these systems than me, was able to provide me with emulators and roms for both the PC-88 and PC-98 versions of Thunder Force. So, thanks to this kind gent, I was finally ready to see a game I had often wondered about.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Not only did playing this game represent my very first experience of an NEC PC-88, but of any Japanese computer at all! So I had no idea what I should expect. If this game is anything to go by, first impressions of the PC-88 are that it’s somewhat akin to our very own ZX Spectrum. Which is no bad thing. The title screen is very basic, featuring the title over a scrolling landscape from the game. In-game graphics, on the first stage at least, consist of blue and yellow monochrome, with a few extra colours used for smaller things like alien ships and bullets, but are nicely detailed and feature little in the way of clash. Sound, however, is almost non-existent. A few little twinkle noises indicate explosions, and that’s about it from what I saw (or heard).

The game’s antoganists are the same as in the subsequent games in the series, namely the evil ORN Empire. In this iteration, they have been up to no good building an asteroid fortress, the Dyradeizer, with which to oppose the heroic Galaxy Federation. It’s your job to take a specially designed fighter, named the Fire Leo, and disable Dyradeizer’s shield generators and destroy it.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot 2

Although now known as a horizontally-scrolling shooter series, the Thunder Force games didn’t start out like that. Sure, TF2 featured both overhead and side-viewed levels, the overhead ones were dropped for subsequent games. This game, however, features overhead levels exclusively. The looping landscape is free-roaming, and scattered liberally over it are a large number of gun emplacements. Luckily, your ship is equipped with bombs to destroy these with, as well as a standard forward shot for taking out the periodic airbourne enemies. Hidden under random ground-based guns are two shield generators. Destroying these with a well-placed bomb disables the Dyradeizer’s invisibility cloak enabling you to give it a good kicking until you move onto the next stage to repeat the process.

Thunder Force - Gameplay Screenshot 3

That’s about it as far as the gameplay is concerned. It’s not a complicated game but it must’ve been pretty original back in 1984. There were a few games of a similar style around, such as Xevious, but Thunder Force has a few ideas of its own. Once you get the hang of things, it’s very enjoyable and really addictive, but it’s really tough going. I must’ve played it 20-30 times straight and the best I managed was stage two, and there are apparently 32 stages (or ‘scenes’)! The emphasis, as far as I played at least, is very much on the bombing of ground targets, the enemy ships buzzing around are seemingly there only to hinder your progress. When you first start playing, you’ll probably lose a life for every ground target you destroy, but you’ll soon develop a few techniques to prolong your game, although the fact that you start with ten lives doesn’t hurt! It would be interesting to see the later levels, but judging by the difficulty increase between stages one and two alone, that seems unlikely for now! I’ll keep trying though…

Thunder Force 2 was one of the first 16-bit games I ever played. I really liked it and enjoyed the variety of overhead and side-viewed levels, but I’ve wondered for years what the original Thunder Force would be like. I suppose I never really thought I’d actually get to play it, even via emulation, but I’m glad I did. The Thunder Force series is a great one and I’m glad to finally see where they came from. Overall, this is a really enjoyable, albeit super-difficult game, and one that I’m sure I’ll return to in the future. Not sure that’ll make much difference though! It’s difficult for me to give a rating to this game, being the only game on its host system, or indeed any similar systems, I’ve played so far. It’s really enjoyable (the first stage, at least!), but also really tough, so I think:

RKS Score: 6/10

Red Parsley – Thunder Force Series:
Part 1

What is the best classic space shooter and why?

Space Shooter arcade
Space Shooter arcade

There are a ton of great space shooters from console to PC and it started with a simple premise, invaders from space. Something as simple as shooting down attacking aliens became one of the most played shooters in history. I guess technically since the ship is on earth it is not a space shooter, but you get the point. In years since we have fired off shots at everything from Asteroids to Intergalactic warlords and had a ton of fun doing it.

We are beginning a new season with the Insider Discussion and will be focusing more on ranking, commenting and comparing classic games and what better place to start than with the space shooter. I personally loved the space shooter from Galaga to Tie Fighter to Descent, but honestly there was one game I really got into overall.

Freelancer

I loved this game because it was the first that felt really open ended to me. You started off as a jack-of-all trade’s character and from there you could decide what you wanted to do. There was an overall storyline, but you could go off on your own and fight against various factions. You could be a good guy or a bad guy, a pirate or an agent of the law, a miner, a broker or a thief, there were tons of choices.

There were also tons of areas with wide open space areas full of other ships and hazards. What I really enjoyed was that events happened in each area regardless of storyline or even your presence. You could warp into an area of space and right into a war between two factions and choose to either get involved or run for your life and if you did get involved it would affect your faction.

As you gained money you could upgrade your shipping and become a real badass. Honestly, once you got a few key upgrades you could own pretty much anyone, but it did take time to do that. The controls were pretty easy to use and standard for open space shooters like a Decent Free Space. In addition the battles could get really intense and there was a strategy to winning as well as avoiding battles.

One of my favorite things were the warp gates, especially when you were being chased and had to wait to be able to go through, made for some exciting times. Overall this was a fun game and you could even play with others online with one group on one side of the galaxy and another on the other side. Perhaps it was not the best space shooter of all time, but it was true enjoyment for me and a game I will remember for a long time to come.

Panel Choices

Defender

Chris Skaggs from Soma Games wrote: Does Defender count? (and Stargate) I think that game was a fantastic and unique vision of the space shooter that did something really unique.

Life Force

Justin Melendez from Lan Slide PC’s wrote: Life Force for the Super Nintendo was one of the coolest space shooters ever made. Not only did it have awesome power ups and a two player mode, but the entire game takes place inside the guts of a giant alien. If that isn’t awesome I don’t know what is.

Xevious

Juan Gril from JoJu Games wrote: If you include Shoot’Em Ups, I think that would be Xevious for me.

Asteroids

Aaron Hunter from Playtechtonics Inc wrote: All I can think of as an answer is ASTEROIDS! But that’s probably because everyone says the control system in Starport is very similar. So if you like asteroids, check out Starport.

David Warhol from Realtime Associates wrote: I like Asteroids.  The mechanics of the rocks getting smaller and more dangerous is great, and the physics of the ship really good too.  Space ballet.

StarWars: X-Wing

Mike Jorgensen from Zombie Studios wrote: Back at the dawn of time (which I like to call the early 90’s), there was a surge of crappy Flight Sims (including Space Flight Sims). From the chaos, there would arise 2 predators to sit atop the food chain, namely the Wing Commander Series, and the X-Wing Series. These two would embody the very ideals of Survival of the Fittest, with each iteration getting stronger and better than the last (not to mention stealing ideas). Watching the two grow and evolve was like watching Lions and Tigers (and we all secretly hoped for a Li-Ger, which would finally occur in Wing Commander 3 with the talents of Mark Hamill and Ginger Lynn).

In the end, the crown of King Of the Jungle would go to the Xwing Series (and specifically the first Xwing title).

Ok, so let’s strip away the sheer awesomeness of StarWars. You are still left with an engine that;

  1. Runs in 640×480 in 16bit color on 486 hardware (and is VERY versatile for scaling up or down on a relatively wide variety of hardware)
  2. Includes a full suite of gameplay related functionality (such as in-game movie recording and playback, character progression and awards, and those mission prep and planning screens)
  3. Includes an editor for making your own missions, scenarios, decals, textures, and modifying ships.

I can’t help but to re-iterate how significant the first accomplishment was. This was in the days before DirectX, before any abstraction layers, back when Men were Men & Women were Women & game programmers had to write universal binaries for what hardware MIGHT be running their code. That feat is the equivalent of walking into the UN Building and trying each language until you’re talking to everyone.

 

Separate from the capabilities of the engine, the game itself was a near masterpiece. Several missions included a pre-rendered intro. The audio and music was fantastic (but really, what else would you expect from LucasArts audio division). Nearly every actionable piece was animated, and I really do mean nearly everything. The user feedback on committing and completing an action, still stands out today. The beeps on the target lock, the HUD color change when within range, the end dots indicating which guns could probably hit the target. The actual gameplay was easy enough to get your feet wet in the first five minutes, but could take a couple days to master. You could spend days perfecting the little things like when to “set your deflector shields to double front”, or selecting in which pattern your lasers fired, or selecting what type of craft you were flying and what armaments it had.

In the end, the Xwing Series concluded with the Xwing Alliance, which included full 16 player support (OVER DIALUP NO LESS), frigate combat (with Turret and AI support), and more realistic physics (which are perfected in titles such as Freespace 2).

If you haven’t played anything from the Xwing Series before, grab the oldest PC you have in the house, throw the demo on, and enjoy the finer points of the 90’s.

Galaga

Grace Snoke from EOGamer wrote: Galaga.  Because it was fun and frustrating to me as a kid.  Okay, I’ll be honest, it’s still frustrating to me now.  It was one of the games that required a lot of thought, planning and quick reactions.  I reacted, just sometimes not quick enough, or not agilely enough and would end up dead so quick.  I admire the folks who have set world records in that game.  It would drive me insane to attempt that.  I just don’t have the patience required for it.

What is your vote for best classic space shooter?