Thursday, 31 December 2009

Gears of War (XBox 360)

I figured I'd make my last game of 2009 one of the biggest games of the decade - Gears of War. But I'll be honest - I'm not really getting along with it at the moment.

I think a lot of this has to do with my relative inexperience with this kind of game. I'm struggling with cover, and getting blown away time after time. I don't find the controls all that intuitive.

I played it for about two hours, with the first hour on "Hardcore" setting. Well, it suggested this setting if I knew how to make a headshot, and I do! Just not well enough, it seems... I was getting nowhere! A quick switch to casual helped matters, and I was able to see more of the game... but not enough of it for my liking.

You can't even go sightseeing without getting into bother, these days.

Still, it's a big, bold bastard of a game, with some fantastic action setpieces. I like the team dynamic a lot, too. It's just a shame that my team mates aren't able to keep me alive a bit longer!

With 2010 fast approaching, this feels like one of my more rubbish write-ups. I haven't been concentrating on the game as much as I should, with everything else that's going on. 2009 saw the blog get off to a great start, only to die off partway through the year. It's been great to get back into it, especially with the added drain on my spare time that having a new baby involves. But I expect to go strong with this in the new year, and maybe even get back to my intentional aim of revisiting earlier games. But with so much still to play, and so much still to look forward to, this blog looks set to run and run.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Mini Squadron (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I got this as part of the appvent calendar, an initiative that gave away a different iPhone/iPod Touch game every day in December up to Christmas Eve. I'm all for free stuff, especially games, as it extends the potential lifespan of this blog even further.

I'm especially for free stuff when it turns out to be good. Mini Squadron is a pretty impressive little horizontally-scrolling shmup, which sees you going backwards and forwards and looping-the-loop over a fairly small tract o' land, downing enemy aircraft until a level is complete.

It's more or less as simple as that. What's good about it is that there are loads of unlockable planes (56, in fact!), meaning that there's a heck of a lot of game in here for what is essentially a simple shooter.

Look, pretty patterns! Shoot the planes, and you'll see black smoke. Better for you.

It also controls pretty nicely. Circling your thumb around is enough to have you swooping and spiralling around the skies quite gracefully. It plays very, very nicely. It actually reminds me of an old Commodore 64 game called The Island of Dr. Destructo... with some Time Pilot elements thrown in.

Throw in some fun extra weapons and you've got yourself a cracking time. If you played it non-stop it would take you at least five or six hours to complete, probably more. I reckon that's easily enough to justify its £1.79 cost, but seeing as I got it for free, I'm extremely happy. There's a Lite version available... give it a try.

Star Flight (Amiga)

I can't tell you how long I've been wanting to play Star Flight. After The Bard's Tale had ensnared me on the Commodore 64, I had been bitten by the complex games bug, and seeing this on the C64 really piqued my curiosity. But I didn't have a disk drive at the time, and when I did get one I'd either forgotten about this or just didn't bother hunting it down. In truth, I blame Wasteland for that.

So it was with some excitement that I saw this in my Amiga pile. I was immediately put off, though, when upon opening the box I was confronted with the deranged scribblings of a confined lunatic.

Gibber gibber, scribble. Make any sense to you? No, me neither.

Actually, it's quite understandable. My mate Stephen, who gave me his Amiga, always used to write notes when playing complex games, which makes sense as you'd need to refer to or remember this stuff maybe months later on in the game. Loads of his game boxes are littered with scraps of paper that look like something that would lead you to the Holy Grail, when really they just lead you to the planet with the best mining potential in a game.

In terms of the game, it was really difficult for me to get going. What with a huge manual and code wheel, there's a hell of a lot to get to grips with, something which seemed easier when we were teenagers. And probably was, come to think of it.

The latest Missile Command world record attempt wasn't going well...

Also, the disk is filled with saved games. And there doesn't appear to be a way to start a new game, at least, not without making a new backup of the original. And I couldn't be bothered with that, either. So I set out into the galaxy in the Starship Enterprise, with Kirk and crew at large. Cheers, Stephen.

Still, difficulties aside, the time I spent in the game showed much potential. I did manage to pick out a planet on the star map, made my way there without confrontation, landed safely, drove about on the planet, mined a bit, made my way back to the ship, and took off back into the planet's orbit. Not bad going. Next will come the job of finding somewhere to sell my stuff.

Star Flight is obviously a game that you could play for years. I don't know if I'll be committing to that, but I'm happy to have finally had the opportunity to play it, and to know that it's there if I feel like having another crack at it.

Project X (Amiga)

I seem to be all Team 17 and Bitmap Bros. with my Amiga selections at the moment. Not that that's a bad thing... they're renowned as having produced some of the best games on the Amiga. Still, given the range of games, apparently good and bad, that I've got, maybe I should spread the rest of them out a bit...

Anyway, Project X. It's a fairly typical Amiga horizontally-scrolling shmup. It certainly is extremely polished... it's got loads of huge sprites whizzing about, albeit in sadly predictable (and typical) patterns, some of which are more like demos than attack patterns.

Ooh. Swoopy. Swirly. Deadly.

But enough of the negatives... Project X is a lot of fun to play. It's obviously inspired by Gradius (or maybe Salamander, with the helpful speech) above anything else, with a large range of weapons to pick from, and collecting power-ups lights up the icons in turn along the bottom of the screen. A quick "Wizball Waggle" activates the power-up, and you're good to go. Simple, and effective.

There's not really anything revolutionary to Project X... like I said earlier, it just polishes everything until it's really shiny, and delivers a good time into the bargain. The version I've got cost a tenner... I reckon that would have been more than fair back in the day.

Battle Chess (Amiga)

Playing Battle Chess was a right blow to my ego, I'll tell you that much. See, chess is seen as the ultimate intellectuals' game. If you're smart, you can play chess. And although I haven't played it for ages, I always thought I was alright at chess.

I'm not.

Battle Chess kicked me seven ways from Sunday. And I was just playing at the default difficulty level. I suspect that if I'd looked, I could have made it harder still. The thing with chess is, you have to be able to look several moves ahead. And where I thought I was setting the computer up for a devastating loss, I was actually digging myself into a huge hole. Within four moves, I'd lost four of my most powerful pieces, and the game was almost up. I was devastated.

This isn't going well. And one of my own men is bored at his friend's demise...

Lack of human brainpower aside, what else can I say about Battle Chess? I remember seeing it in a computer shop in Newcastle when it was first released. It made an awesome demo for the Amiga... it's very enticing, with its big, bold characters wandering about the board like the creatures in that odd space-chess-type game in Star Wars. It was probably the perfect game for teens to convince their dads that the Amiga was the perfect computer for them.

It does look very impressive when the castle turns into a giant rock monster, wanders down the board and batters a pawn to death. And the other animations in "fights" are great. So, really, the only downside I saw to Battle Chess was the fact it exposed me as something of a clueless dope. Might be better if I stick to playing other humans.

Forza Motorsport 3 (XBox 360)

This is cheating, because I've been playing it solidly for ages. But I'm just throwing in some games that I've been playing "properly" because, well, I want to!

It seems odd to say this, but going by what people are saying, Forza 3 is something of a Marmite game. The people that loved Forza 2 for its difficulty and seriousness seem to be underwhelmed with this new iteration, feeling that it panders a little to the arcade crowd.

For my part, I can't really argue with that. I found Forza 2 far too difficult, and I'm not into tuning and modding, so I really struggled. Forza 3 has a Quick Upgrade feature, which means I can be competitive in the game without having to know the ins and outs of downforce and braking performance and engine capacity. In other words, I'm finding it much more fun.

Look, ma! Look what I did!

In fact, I'm enjoying this game so much that I've even dabbled with the paints and vinyls, and I haven't got an artistic bone in my body. And the fact that the multiplayer, the one part of Forza 2 that I did enjoy, has lost none of its appeal just sticks the cherry on top.

Forza Motorsport 3 is a beautiful looking, highly enjoyable racer that straddles the line between arcade and simulation just right... for anyone that loves arcade racing. If that's you, you'll probably be able to overlook the flaws that more serious racers have found with the game, and get on with the business of having some high-speed thrills.

Borderlands (XBox 360)

This one was raved about by... well, everyone! And when zavvi decided they would sell it for £17.99, it seemed rude not to, despite the fact I'm not usually a fan of FPS games.

Having said that, Borderlands is kind of like a cross between Diablo and Fallout 3, with almost every enemy you defeat in the post-apocalyptic landscape dropping loot. I like this in a game; it gives me far more incentive to keep playing when the game is constantly giving me stuff.

Rather than having you create a character, Borderlands gives you a choice of four, each in a different style. This might be a bit restrictive for your average dice chucker, but I appreciated the ability to just pick someone and jump straight in.

Ahhh, I love the smell of charred bandit in the morning.

Better than the accessibility, though is the weaponry. Borderlands must surely contain the biggest arsenal in videogaming history. Every day, the shop (sorry, vending machine) will have a new range of artillery for you to buy, with some very imaginative and sick stuff to pick from. My favourite so far is the sniper rifle that sets things (and people) on fire. It's bizarrely entertaining to see the experience points you're receiving leaking from a character as the flames take his life force away.

You'll also find special weapons at key points in the game, usually after defeating a boss character or completing a task for someone. Things like this really help to keep the game fresh and exciting, as you're always wondering what you'll find next.

Throw in a solid and very entertaining multiplayer game, and in Borderlands you've got one of the best games of 2009. I'm very glad I took that punt for eighteen quid... that was a bargain.


Yep, updates have been... umm... sporadic. Well, keeping it daily at this time of year is tricky, to say the least. Sorry. Still, I've got lots of updates on the way, and should have them all done by the end of, erm, the decade. And I'm doing more than one game a day at the moment! Fun times!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Spelunky (PC)

I like surprises, as long as they're good surprises. Spelunky is a lovely surprise. The only annoying thing is that I didn't get around to playing it before now... especially as I seem to have an older, unzipped version sitting on my hard drive. That's time I've wasted when I could have been playing the game!

Spelunky puts you in the boots of a caver. You're off exploring caves for treasure, and there are cave critters to defeat and damsels in distress to rescue. You'd be absolutely right in thinking that it sounds familiar... it most definitely is. There's more than a nod to the past here - the whole game feels old-school, and is absolutely no worse off for that.

Dah-da-da-daaaah, dah-da-daaaaaah...

There are a few minor control scheme niggles... it can be tricky to pull off exactly the move you want at the right time or in the right place, and I haven't figured out how to do certain things whilst carrying a stranded woman (yes, really). Generally speaking though, Spelunky offers hours of snake-whipping, bat-bashing, treasure-hunting entertainment.

Anyone who's ever enjoyed games such as Pitfall II, Rick Dangerous and, of course, Spelunker will be right at home with this one. The PC version is currently available for free at Spelunky World... a note there mentions that an XBLA version is coming soon. I'll be looking out for that...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Bobby Bearing (ZX Spectrum)

Well, after the "fun" of Technician Ted, I thought I'd give the Spectrum another try - this time with Bobby Bearing, which as well as being a renowned Spectrum classic also received a Zzap! Sizzler on the Commodore 64, if I remember rightly. So surely I was in for a good time with this one?

Weeellllll... no.

Obviously, I was doing something wrong. But I spent my entire game rolling around a landscape that appeared to consist of about six screens endlessly bolted together, with the (very) occasional different screen thrown in to try and keep me awake. But as it was all done in near silence, this tactic didn't work.

Die, you irritatingly smiley bastard.

Actually, that's harsh. There's a noise every time you go off the screen, and the grating sounds of moving boxes every once in a while. The moving boxes provided my only entertainment... squashing the bastard bearing. Because I have no idea what I was meant to be doing. I was just rolling around a samey landscape, watching my timer go down.

I suppose the drawback with emulators can be the lack of comprehensive game instructions. Maybe if I'd had these, and some idea of the object of the game, Bobby Bearing would have been great. But usually you can pick up the gist just by playing, and it really didn't seem like the game had a point. Shame. Wonder what gem the Spectrum will land me with next time?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Chip Factory featuring Technician Ted (ZX Spectrum)

Hoooohh, boy. Sometimes this blogging lark is a bit painful.

I've vowed to play not only the games I own for this blog, but also games on systems I may not have owned, or other games I may have missed in the past. Now, the Spectrum is not a computer I'm well versed in. I had friends that owned them, and I enjoyed a fair few of the games I played then, but I've missed out on a lot. So I've trawled the internet for "Best Spectrum Games" lists, in an effort to help my progress. Technician Ted turned up on some of them, so I gave it a go.

But not for long.

Technician Ted can probably best be described as "Jet Set Willy in overalls". Looking at it, it's more like Jet Set Fred Elliott. I say that, I say I say that, because I can only go on first impressions. The reason for this is that I literally only saw three screens in the game.

Yep, this must be the boardroom - there's the chairman's creepy floating severed head.

Now, I know I'm not very good at JSW-type games, but come ooooon, Ted! Each of the three screens you can easily access appears to be impossible. On the first, if you go left, there's a pixel-perfect jump that is too perfect and is actually impossible to make, and a too-fast meanie that you can't jump. On the second, the only platform you can plausibly reach is guarded by an impassable spinning coin. And on the third, there's no way down without dying.

So, either Spectrum owners were possessed with superhuman gaming skills (a possibility, given the abilities of some I know, and given what they had to work with), or this game just isn't playable without cheating. Up yours, Ted. I never even got to find out what kind of chips they make in your factory.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Canabalt (PC/iPhone/iPod Touch)

You might have heard of Canabalt by now... it's getting quite a reputation these days, and with good reason. Originally a free browser-based PC game, it's made the leap to the iPhone, and quite successfully, by all accounts.

Leaping is what Canabalt is all about. In what is one of the simplest games you'll ever play, the game sees you on the rooftops of a crumbling city, trying to get away from disaster. I'm pretty sure that, as in most games of this type, that's not possible, and you live by your high score/farthest travelled distance.

And that's it. You use one button to jump, and you can't control your character in any other way. It's extremely refreshing, and the game turns out to be very, very addictive.

Flyyyyy... fly, my beauty!

Canabalt has an appealing retro graphics style... it uses a black/white/grey palette, and the main character is very Commodore 64-ish. Once it gets moving, you'll be drawn in to your thrilling escape effort, which rivals anything from blockbuster movies in its scale.

There's really nothing more to say about the game... it really is that simple. But what's also simple is the fact that Canabalt is a really well done game that's very addictive and well worth your time. Play the free version first, and then if you like it, pop onto your iPhone and pay the £1.79 to have it on you at all times. See how good you are. The farthest I've managed to get is 6088 metres.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Alien Breed (Amiga)

Alien Breed is out tomorrow on XBLA, apparently. Big deal - I've got every Amiga version of Alien Breed upstairs. My mate was obviously a big fan. So, what better timing than to play the original version for my blog than right now?

I was quite excited when I opened the box... in something of a novelty, not only did the game come with two game disks, but also a story disk. A nice touch, I thought, and popped it into the drive to have a look-see before I played the game. Pity, then, that the disk suffered a software failure. Bloody old tech!

Oh well, not to worry. At least the game works... something which, after play, I am glad of.

I think it's pretty fair to say that Alien Breed is pretty much "Gauntlet... iiiiin SPAAAAAAAACE!". It's got more or less exactly the same mechanic... wander around mazes, using keys to open doors, collecting health and then getting the hell out of there. Luckily, there's a little bit more to it than that... there's more of a story and an objective than in Gauntlet.

Die, alien scum! Funny how they explode when you shoot them...

Also, things are broken up a little by the fact you can access a computer at certain locations, which is handy for all kinds of things. Best of these is the shop, sorry, weapons upgrade facility. There's quite a range of firepower... which you WILL need. Or if you're just bored with blasting aliens, you could have a nice relaxing game of Pong...

Alien Breed is, indeed, a spacey version of Gauntlet. I thought this might be a problem, as I get bored with Gauntlet quite easily. I did find myself drawn into Alien Breed, although with such a big game, the need to start from the beginning with each game can irk after a while.

As something of a Stop Press, I've now played the demo of the 360 version (thanks to the wonders of only half-finishing blog posts). It seems quite promising... there's a lot of darkness, which leads to some jumpy scares. I expect I'll buy it over Christmas, although 800 points for the first part of a trilogy seems a mite excessive. Maybe I'll just stick to all my Amiga versions...

Monday, 14 December 2009

F-Zero GX (Gamecube)

It's a bit of a stretch to say I've never played this. However, it is fair to say I haven't played it properly. See, when I owned it in the States, my Gamecube was hooked up to a 19 inch portable telly, and I was sitting ten feet away. And if you've ever played F-Zero GX, you'll know that that's no way to play it.

Now, I have a bigger telly. It's a 32-inch HD telly, which while not exactly being state of the art, is a nice telly and much better for gaming. So I figured it might be time to try F-Zero GX again.

And it's a much better experience on a bigger screen, that's for sure. Tear-arsing around at 1600 km/h is better in every respect when you're displaying it on a larger area. Speed apart, everything still looks pretty nice and sharp these days. In fact, I can't help wondering if the Wachowskis' Speed Racer movie was partially based on this game. The crazy looping tracks, the eye-searing colours, the insane speeds, the battling element... all traits that Speed Racer and F-Zero GX share.

Wish I hadn't had that sandwich before the race...

Having said all that, I can't say that I really enjoyed F-Zero GX any more, this time around. I still had a lot of trouble getting around corners smoothly, and in my first set of races, never finished higher than 20th. Things improved in my second series with a different vehicle... I actually finished second in one race. That was ruined when I couldn't negotiate corners on another race and ended up going from first to 27th in a matter of seconds.

Basically, I'm not very good at F-Zero GX. I realise that it's a game that needs a fair bit of practice in order to become close to proficient, and so it's not really for me. I think I'm doomed to suffer a dislike of futuristic racers for eternity...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Super Metroid (SNES)

Well, stuff this.

I've never played any of the Metroid games, so I thought, where better to start than with the one I actually own (currently)? This may have been a mistake.

I'll be honest, though... I probably didn't go into this as much as I should have. Instead of digging out my original and playing that, I was lazy and used an emulator. This means that I haven't read any instructions. And this means that I don't know how to turn in to the morphing ball.

Lights... camera... but where the hell's the action?

That's right. Everyone that's ever so much as heard of Metroid knows that Samus, the main character, can turn into a ball to roll through small gaps. Well, maybe Samus can, but I can't. I've tried every key and button and combination of buttons on the controller, but nothing. And I've tried to redefine the keys on the menu screen, but there is no mention of the morphing ball there, either.

So I've been doomed to wander around a load of very dull and uninhabited corridors, in the hope of finding something to do. There was one bit with a bit pterodactyl-type creature, which beat me up a bit and then flew off. And that was it. The only enemy I've encountered so far.

I'm sure that Super Metroid might be a cracking game. If I dig out my original and read the instructions, and find out how to turn into that bastard ball, then I'll give it another try and write an update. Because the rest of the game surely can't be as dull as the start!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Ant Attack (ZX Spectrum)


Now, I know old games can be difficult. I've been there and done that. Sometimes, a game that looks very simple can be absolutely rock, much to one's surprise.

Ant Attack appears to be one such game. Now, I was not a Speccy boy, or Spec-chum, or whatever it is they're calling themselves these days. But I was aware it had some cracking games, and Ant Attack is renowned as a classic. So I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm not very good at it.

I don't know if that's because of my inability to grasp the controls... I had to use keys because I couldn't configure my joystick. As a result, I died a lot.

Quick! Run! We're almost freeeeee!

Despite the screenshot, I did score points and I did get past the first level. I took a screenshot early because, at the time, I didn't think I would get much further. I did, though, which was just as well or this little post would have been much shorter and more awkward.

Ant Attack has quite a nasty atmosphere to it, actually. It's set in a very bleak, forced 3D town/world, and if you wait long enough, you'll see that it's seething with giant ants. And these bastards don't mess around... once you jump over that wall, they're on you. They don't let up, either. You can't just run off and hide, and hope they'll forget about you. Even in "safe" spots, they'll just hang around waiting for you, and then bite big lumps out of you at the first opportunity.

I can't say I really got far enough into the game to have got to know it properly. I can't say I really enjoyed it that much, either. Too much pain in too short a time. It's interesting though, that's for sure, but I'm not sure if I'd have had the patience to stick with it back in 1983, let alone now.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Prey (XBox 360)

Prey is a game I've had sitting around for ages, and I figured I should finally get around to at least giving it a look. I can't say I was that bothered... I'm not a big FPS fan, but I've heard it talked up quite a bit. So, into the drive it went.

It's got quite an intriguing premise... OK, so the whole alien abduction thing is hardly new, but playing as a Native American Indian (Cherokee, in fact) is pretty unusual. And they've tapped into the spiritual side of the Cherokee to give you a range of "special powers" in keeping with that whole mystique.

So, it really is a massive clash of worlds, going from this ancient and noble race to the clean technology of an alien spaceship... one where the inhabitants are rather nastily hurting fellow humans, including your family.

Not a handsome lad. Also, not smart... he's not aiming at me, so he's about to be alien mush.

For some reason, though, Prey reminded me of a PS2 game. I can't for the life of me think which one. Maybe it's The Mark of Kri... yes, I think so. Although they're entirely different games, they do both feature a main character with a bird as a kind of guide. Glad I've nailed that down now.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed my little spell on Prey, although really the game was just getting started when I put it down. Is that enough to make me carry on with it? Yeah, I think so.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bayonetta (XBox 360 demo)

I haven't written about a demo before, but the first game I played for this blog was Devil May Cry 4, and Bayonetta was directed by the creator of the DMC series, so I figured, why not?

There's more to it than that though... Bayonetta is quite probably the single most mentally insane game I've ever played. And bear in mind, I've played Blood Will Tell..

It's not just insane, though... it's possibly the most entertaining and enjoyable game I've played all year, and that's only based on the demo. It may, basically, be a lot like Devil May Cry, but it takes all that po-faced faux-sincerity and throws it out the window in favour of sheer lunacy and an imagination that you can't help but love.

Trust me, this is a relatively sane moment.

Something that's evident right from the start is that Bayonetta is gorgeous. And I'm not just talking about the lead character - the art direction and style is extraordinary. It's not just the actual graphics, although they're stunning... it's the amazing level design, and little touches such as the butterflies that fly from Bayonetta when she performs a double-jump. Lovely.

As for the game... I can't remember the last time a game made me laugh out loud out of sheer joy at what's just happened on the screen. Some of the tricks Bayonetta can perform are so way, way over the top that they're hilarious. The Torture Attacks are funny, but one of the bigger moves I performed to kill a big monster was just so utterly mad, I was giggling like a little girl. And some of the stuff that happens in the levels... incredible.

I've read all the hype about Bayonetta and tried not to be taken in, but from playing the demo, I absolutely cannot wait for the game to be released. Try the demo for yourself... not just once, but two or three times. Chances are, you'll feel the same way.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Comix Zone (Sega Megadrive/Sega Megadrive Collection on consoles)

Wow, it seems like ages since I last played a Megadrive game! And I haven't played many over the course of this blog at all. Not sure if that's because I owned a Megadrive back in the day, but I should really start putting that right. And I'm starting now.

Comix Zone was a game I always wanted and never managed to get, for some reason. It just looked like nothing I'd seen or played before... I always thought it seemed more imaginative than most games.

Having now played it for quite a while, that thought holds true. That said, Comix Zone is basically a button-mashing beat 'em up, which doesn't sound very exciting. It's the way it's been done that makes it a bit special.

Take that, you evil cur!

The game throws you, a comic book author, into your own comic, and you have to try and fight your way out. As you'd expect of a comic, it's split into panels, and you have to defeat every enemy in a panel before you can move on to the next one. At times, you'll be given a choice of route, making this something of an interactive story, and key things happen at different times or in different places, depending on the route you've taken.

I really like this approach and the style of Comix Zone. The characters relay their thoughts through comic-style speech bubbles, and you definitely feel as though you're taking part in a story. The relatively limited style of action is certainly made a lot more palatable because of the game's presentation. I like this one.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Oh, come on. I mentioned in the Soosiz post a few days ago that I'd barely played any of the Super Mario games. And seeing as I got SMB for free from Nintendo, courtesy of buying the Internet Channel on the Wii ages ago, I thought, "what better than a miserable Sunday afternoon to sit and give it a good bash?"

With that out of the way, I then thought I'd have a go of Super Mario Bros. Haha. Ahem. Yes.

There's probably not much I can say about Super Mario Bros. that's new... I'm one of the few gamers that hasn't played the series extensively. That's a bit weird, but I've never really been that much into Nintendo's stuff. I went with Sega all the way up to the Saturn, and then with Sony and now Microsoft. They all suited my needs better. At times, I've had a Nintendo console as my "second" console, but never really given them as much attention. My wife, Lorraine, knows a lot more than me about how to play this.

Why is it that almost every SMB pic on the net is taken from level one? Can nobody be bothered to actually play it?

I don't regret that, but Super Mario Bros., after some extended play, really is a wonderful game. It's that so much has been packed into something that is essentially so simple, that goes towards making it so extraordinary. If it was simply a case of getting from left-to-right before the time ran out, it would be fun but unremarkable. But there are so many ways of getting there, courtesy of warps, and so many little things to find that you could play it for weeks and not have discovered everything.

I don't expect to sit and play this for hours on end from this point on... this blog would end right now if that were the case, for one thing, and I've just got too many other games that need to be played. But it feels comforting to know that it's just sitting in my Wii, tucked away out of sight, waiting for me when I've got the time. And I will have the time... I'll make sure of that.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Starfox Adventures (Gamecube)

Quick question: is it wrong for cartoon animals to be sexy? I only ask because, in Starfox Adventures, one of the characters you play is a blue female fox. A nubile, young, blue female fox. With pert breasts. Dressed in a skimpy bra and a loincloth.

OK, so I realise that was probably a stupid question and that I might have just sent fifty percent of all readers scurrying off to find a copy of Starfox Adventures, but just hold your horses there... it's probably not worth it.

There. I've saved you the bother.

Everyone probably remembers Starfox (or Starwing) from the days of the SNES... it was something of a flagship title. The fast-paced flying and shooting action was, if not quite revolutionary, then at least tremendously entertaining. Starfox Adventures gets off to a good start... you're on the back of a flying dinosaur-thing, shooting down a giant ship. Or not... once you disable its guns, you land on the ship, and it all falls apart to a degree.

Starfox Adventures sees you roaming around foreign lands... not in a spaceship, but on foot. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's not really what you want from a Starfox game. But it's definitely not what you want from a Starfox game when you're saddled with a terrible camera. Many's the time when you'll be running into the camera, and you have to press the shoulder button to re-align. That's very frustrating and not really acceptable.

What if he comes at you with a point-ed stick?

Fortunately, the game appears to be easy enough for that not to matter. Really, despite the pert, nubile, skimpily-dressed blue fox, this is a game for kids, and that's a shame given that the biggest market for this game is probably the thirty-year-old age group. Even when you revert to controlling Fox himself, it's a simple, bog-standard run, jump and solve the simple, signpostged problems type of game. Starfox Adventures is not enough Starfox and too much Adventure, and that's really the biggest problem of all.

Friday, 4 December 2009

PC games are a pain in the arse.

Really, they are. I had a good one pencilled in for today, and it installed just fine, but when I went to actually play it... no chance. You never find out what the problem is, other than a guess that it's because you're using a newer version of Windows than the game was written for. I tried messing around with the settings and the compatibility, but with no joy.

So, there's no game today.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Denki Blocks! (GBA)

Sometimes, as gamers, we make mistakes with our purchases. Whether it's a badly-judged impulse buy, or going on recommendations when you know you really shouldn't, our gaming histories are littered with boxes, cartidges and disks that are sitting gathering dust.

Denki Blocks! is a game that I knew I shouldn't have bought. But, you know, everyone talked about how great it was. What a great puzzle game it was.

I hate puzzle games. But now and again, something comes along which grabs me. Puzzle Quest, Zoo Keeper, Jewel Quest... those games, I like. But I suppose they're not true puzzle games. They're all twists on the "Match three" genre. Denki Blocks! is a true puzzle game.

Move the blocks through the gaps to make the shapes. Yeah, just like that.

As such, I'm sure it's a wonderful example of its type. But I wouldn't be able to tell you that. My brain just doesn't work properly when it comes to these things. I can't process them properly. I can't work them out. And so, I don't play them.

I gave this one a fair shake, but in return, all it gave me was a headache. It shows you a shape that you have to aim for, and you have to move the coloured blocks through the gaps and manoeuvre them into those shapes. And I just can't do it. It's ridiculous. I hate it.

If anyone wants a copy of Denki Blocks! (cartridge only), posted for free, they can have it. I know for a fact I won't be playing it again.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

King & Balloon (Arcade/MAME/Anything NAMCO can get it running on)

I originally thought that this was going to be my easiest write-up so far (well, except for Peggle Nights...) - I was going to say "King & Balloon is just a shit version of Galaxian". But then I played it a few more times, and decided that was a bit harsh, and probably wrong.

There's not too much I can say about it... you're in a castle, and the king is running around underneath you. Floating above the castle are rows of balloons. I can only presume they're robot balloons, remotely controlled by some unseen enemy bent on kidnapping your king, because they don't just float there, they swoop down and you have to shoot them.

Yep. It's insane.

If they get past you, they'll sit at the bottom of the screen. The panicking king blunders about without much thought, and at some point will wander into a balloon, which will then fly off with the king. If you can shoot the balloon, the king will float back to safety. If not, you lose a life, and another king is crowned for you to save!

And that's about it. So, King & Balloon - not a shit version of Galaxian, just a weird one, that's not as good as Galaxian. Worth a play, but nothing to get too excited about.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (XBox)

This is a tough one to write about. I mean, I've wanted to play it for ages, and I love Star Wars. And the fact I didn't like it doesn't mean it's a bad game. In fact, given more time, I could probably really get into it. But I only gave it an hour, and to be honest, it hadn't really got started in that time.

The game is set way, way before the Star Wars movies. It starts in familiar fashion... the music, the scrolling intro, the pan down from space to a spaceship under attack. And then to your dope of a character, rolling out of bed as the unpteenth laser blast finally awakens them from their slumber.

Thank goodness for that, the guests have started to arrive!

Knights of the Old Republic is pretty dialogue-heavy... it is more of a role-playing game than an action game, after all. The problem for me is that, at least to start with, there's no flow to the game. Instead of having a tutorial, you learn as you go, with another character joining up with you and explaining how to use your inventory, maps etc. You'd think this would be the best way to go, but as soon as you encounter anything in your travels, the game stops while he tells you how to go about your business.

I'm certain that KOTOR will develop into a fine game. I just have to decide whether I'm able to give it enough time for that to happen. The prospect of running around a galaxy far, far away is one that's always appealed, and after suffering the extreme disappointment of dancing Wookiees having been a day one buyer of Star Wars Galaxies, this might turn out to be just what I'm looking for. Or I could go in the direction of Dark Forces...

Monday, 30 November 2009

Myth: History in the Making (Commodore 64)

I always wanted to play this when it was released. It looked amazing, and I loved mythology, so an action game set across several eras of classic mythology sounded right up my street. It did come towards the back end of the C64's lifespan, though, and it never ended up coming into my possession.

Perhaps that's just as well. I might have been disappointed with it then. It's not that it's a bad game - it's just very, very hard. In fact, it's so hard that I couldn't get past level one off my own bat. Luckily, I'm playing this on an emulator, so I did get to see a lot of the game. And, thinking about it, I was probably better at playing games like this fifteen to twenty years ago, and a lot more patient, so I might have done better. But I've had my backside kicked a lot of times playing this game!

I am a viiii-kiiiiing, I'm going out to waaa-aaaaar.

Myth sees you cast as a modern day lad, thrown back into the realms of ancient mythology. You have to battle against Greek, Viking and Egyptian warriors and creatures in a battle possibly more epic than any before or since. It's certainly epic in scope... imagine a modern remake! A game with all those elements would knock God of War into a cocked hat. A film could have a lot of potential, too.

Myth is a great looking game for its age (and platform) - there are some great effects (see the screenshot, which is part of a Viking thunderstorm), and the ancient beasts are pretty convincing. It's a shame that it seems to be so bone-crushingly hard... or maybe I'm just a bit thick, and can't figure out the puzzles as well as I should. It doesn't matter though... Myth has been a worthy trip back in time, in more ways than one.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Stir Crazy (Amiga)

Can you remember when Infogrames were just a bunch of crazily-spelt Frenchmen, rather than a soulless gang going around pretending to be Atari? Ahhh, those were the days. Most of their games were a bit shit, but there was always a crazy French originality to them.

Stir Crazy falls squarely into the "original but shit" category. And to make matters worse, there's not a sign of Richard Pryor or Gene Wilder, which might have given some hope of saving the day.

I imagine that most people won't have heard of Stir Crazy, and are wondering what it's all about. That's a good question... there were only fleeting moments where I had a clue myself. It's basically a collection of "wacky" Gallic prison-themed mini-games. One of them is a bit like Tapper, but sees you running between tables, keeping the lags fed. Another level sees you peeling potatoes. Really. There's a game which is like Nintendo's "Fire" Game & Watch, where you must bounce the escaping convicts on a trampoline. There's a couple of levels where I really haven't got the faintest clue what's going on. Oh, and one with sleeping prisoners, where you appear to have to keep rocking them back to sleep.

Who cares about level two? Let them starve, I say.

Oddly enough, there's no soap-dodging mini-game. Not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing. Oh, and I'm not sure if my copy was corrupted, but the sound on many of the levels was just... not right.

Today hasn't been a good gaming day for me. I'd decided the Amiga would be my weapon of choice, seeing as I've got piles of unplayed games sitting there. I abandoned the first pick because I couldn't be arsed to keep swapping between the four disks. The second game, in a successful attempt at reminding me of the fragility of old floppy disks, suffered a software failure and wouldn't load. I only picked this one just to make sure it wasn't a game based on the film. It's not, and despite it's weirdness, the best thing I can say about it is that it's no longer on my "to play" list.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Rock 'N Roll Racing (SNES)

Quite highly regarded, this, by all accounts, but not a game I was familiar with at all. Still, I fancied a change, and I haven't done any racing for a while (at least for this blog... I've been caning Forza 3 for a good while, might write about that at some point).

So, Rock 'N Roll Racing. So called because it's a racing game with classic rock songs SNES-ified for the soundtrack... a move which works very well. A bit of instrumental rock always goes down well in a driving game.

"Viper's about to blow!" Rather him than me.

As for the game itself, it brings to mind a loud arcade game. I actually thought of Ivan Iron Man Stewart's Off-Road Racing at first... it has a bit of that feel to it. But it's about half that and half Badlands, as you upgrade your bad-ass motor with weaponry as the game progresses.

As well as buying upgrades between races, you can pick up extras on the track during races. These pretty much amount to money and armour boosts, as you'd expect from a game of this type. You have to watch out for mines, too... easy enough to avoid, but worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

Rock 'N Roll Racing is good fun... once you ramp up the difficulty a bit. The layouts can seem a bit samey, and it's too easy for too long if you start on the easiest difficulty level. Give yourself a challenge, and you're in for a treat. And then there's the two-player mode...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Beneath A Steel Sky (PC)

I've cheated a bit with this one, because I was out on Friday night. When I started working in my office, it seemed like everybody was 21. Now, it seems like everyone is 65! We've had a lot of retirements lately, and Friday saw another one. So I was out, having a few drinks and celebrating a 100% success rate on the pool table. Yay me! But when I got home, I remembered (somehow!) that I should be playing a game for the blog. So I started to play Beneath A Steel Sky, and promptly went to sleep.

That's nothing to do with the game, by the way, more my blood-alcohol level. Having carried on today, the game is very engrossing. I actually started it once before, but couldn't get off the first screen. I was never a great one for point-and-click adventures, but having played a couple recently I'm getting the hang of them a bit, and finding them pretty entertaining.

Beneath A Steel Sky is by the team that went on to make the Broken Sword games, which makes sense because as soon as I started playing it, there was a sense of familiarity. Unlike the modern-day intrigue of Broken Sword, though, Steel Sky is a futuristic sci-fi effort. It's a setting that's right up my street.

The game made a big impression right from the start, with a superb comic-book intro. I seem to recall the game being released on the Amiga and coming on about eleventy-thousand disks. I couldn't help but wonder just how many disks were used on the intro alone.

You have to ask, because obviously a balding, fat, ginger bloke wouldn't be given any kind of responsibility.

Once you start getting into the game, finding objects and people to talk to and piecing things together, the game starts to open up and become more interesting. As well as the Broken Sword familiarity, I also felt a likeness to Blade Runner here in some ways... again, no bad thing. And there's a nice vein of humour here, which I like... when games like this are too dry, it's a bit of a slog to get anywhere.

As with The Dig, which I played back in February, it's a bit tricky to write about something which is so story-driven. But after the ninety minutes or so I spent with it I'm certainly sufficiently invested to want to carry on. If you feel like giving it a go, it's free on Good Old Games (, or if you're quick, it's 59p on the iPhone/iPod Touch.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Turkey Day!

This is what I did today:

Yep, Thursday 26th is Thanksgiving in America. And as I've transplanted my wife from America to England, we do the Thanksgiving thing over here. So we had my parents over, and had a big turkey dinner, and it was very tasty indeed.

Kind of a nice warm-up for Christmas. Pity I didn't get any games played, though.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Soosiz (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I read a review of Soosiz, I think on IGN, that said Soosiz was a bit like Super Mario Galaxy, or inspired by it at least. That's got nothing to do with why I got it... I've never played Super Mario Galaxy, and I don't own it. Come to think of it, I've never really sat down and properly played ANY Super Mario game. That's something I really need to address here...

Anyway, I got Soosiz because it looked cute and there was a Lite version available in the App Store. Simple as that. And the five levels given were more than enough to convince me that it was easily worth the £1.79 being asked for it.

What's it about, then? Well, you control this little yellow round thing with feet and spiky blue hair. The little yellow round thing with feet has to wander around the levels, collecting coins and other little yellow round things with feet and spiky blue hair. He has to avoid things like round green spiky things that look like conkers with eyes, round grey things that squash and crush, and huge big holes.

Each level is split up into, if not exactly small planets, then small areas of land. Soosiz, if that is your chacter's name, walks around the circumference of these land masses, finding what it needs to find and jumping over nasty things. At regular intervals, you'll find another land mass above or below you, and if you jump when near one of these, the gravity of the closer land mass will flip you and pull you onto it. And that's how you get about the whole of the level.

This is a very round game.

The game has a really nice feel to it, and getting used to this aspect of the game and the control method is as easy as falling off a log. And for a while, it's very simple, relaxed and chilled-out to play. After a short time, though, it throws a timed challenge at you, and then things are more frantic. This is when you'll have to replay a few times, and maybe get a little frustrated, but it adds a nice element of variety.

Soosiz turned out to be a really nice little surprise. It looks lovely, it's got a great little soundtrack, and it's a good deal of fun to play. The levels aren't generally too long, so it's a good game to play in small bursts if you're travelling, or if you just want to kill a few minutes. I'd definitely recommend you give the free trial a go, at the very least.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Peggle Nights (XBox 360)

PopCap are bastards. Evil, life-stealing bastards.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Gradius Rebirth (Wii)

Continuing the theme of long-running shoot-'em-up series beginning with the letter G, next up is Gradius Rebirth, a game many people probably don't even realise exists. It's a Wiiware game, and as such probably received a lot less press or push than any other Gradius title.

There may be another reason for this... Gradius Rebirth is pretty much identical to every other Gradius game, bar Treasure's awesome Gradius V.

For me, Gradius V was the rebirth of Gradius. It took the easily identifiable classic elements of the original games, dragged them up-to-date with a superb graphical update, and refined the gameplay elements to make it still difficult, but a bit fairer. I think it's fair to say that Gradius V is a classic.

This is more like Gradius Revisited... it's very much a throwback to the old days of the arcade Gradius, for good and for bad, warts and all. How much you get out of this will depend on how big a fan you are of the original... and how good you are at playing it.

Yes, that really is a screenshot from a game produced in 2009.

It's not a bad game at all, but nothing at all feels new. You feel like you could easily have played it all before. It's all very well having the organic pink bubbly landscape that grows at you... but it would have been nice to do something different with that. Throw the player a curveball or two, chuck in a few surprises.

Gradius Rebirth really doesn't have any surprises. I know that Gradius fans may expect an element of continuity; they may expect to see certain features in every game. But although retro is still cool in the gaming world, it would have been nice if this had a retro feel to it, rather than actually feeling like it was released in 1986. Like I said, it's not a bad game at all, certainly not for 600 Wii points, but the lack of freshness is somewhat disappointing.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Gridrunner Revolution (PC)

Once upon a time, Llamasoft developed for the Gamecube. Jeff Minter had an idea, and that idea was to marry three of his great loves: music, colourful lights, and the shooty destruction of everything in sight. The idea was called Unity, and it was a game that saw many people buy a Gamecube in anticipation of its release.

And then, it was cancelled. For a number of reasons, it wasn't working out. And a lot of people were sad.

Still, Llamasoft ploughed on. Space Giraffe came next, on the XBox 360 and PC. I like Space Giraffe, but it's rock. I only enjoy it up to a point, and then I can't do it any more. I still put it on for a blast every now and then, but I'm not good at it.

The latest Llamasoft game, which has appeared on the PC after a couple of setbacks, is Gridrunner Revolution. It's the latest in what must be one of the longest running game series around, and in a very welcome move, the original VIC-20 and Commodore 64 versions are available here as (very easy to obtain) unlockables!

But those are just added bonuses. The game itself is way, way different to those historical documents. And it's a very interesting beast. For a pretty large part of the game, it's a very chilled-out, laid-back experience. The previous game in the series was Gridrunner++, and at first glance this seems like it's merely a prettier version. But then the different game mechanic kicks in and changes it into an altogether different animal.

My eyes! My beautiful... oh, hang on... it's actually quite pretty.

In this game, you not only move around the screen, your ship can (and must!) rotate. But the biggest change comes in the behaviour of your ship, or more accurately, your ship's firepower. Most screens feature a sun, around which you can bend your bullets. Finding a good position in relation to the sun will see your ship firing a beautifully symmetrical arc of death. The prettier the pattern, the higher your boost multiplier goes, and the bigger your score is.

It has to be said, the feeling you get when you move into place and watch your bullet path slowly lock into position is fantastic. And this laid-back gameplay is very relaxing, almost therapeutic. But then you start to unlock the harder difficulty levels, and as hell is unleashed, it becomes another game altogether. And then when you think you've got that sussed, there's the unlockable Thrusty mode...

Like most Llamasoft games, Gridrunner Revolution is not going to appeal to everyone. And in fact, this time around, it even appears to have split the Llamasoft fanbase to a degree, with some loving it and some thinking it's not hardcore enough. Personally, I'm enjoying it a heck of a lot, and I play a different area of the game depending on my mood. In fact, in my opinion, this may be as close to Unity as Jeff Minter gets...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Cybernoid (Commodore 64)

I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have thought of playing this at all. But I read online that it was available on the Wii's Virtual Console, and it made me think it would be a good game for this. I might have played it briefly in the Eighties, but I certainly didn't own it... it would have been hidden away, somewhere in the middle of a C90, given a cursory glance as I moved towards something I did actually want to play.

It's actually a really interesting game. It's basically a flick screen platform game in essence... except that you control a spaceship instead of a man/mole/jumping thing, and have to shoot your way through each screen.

That makes it sound a bit mundane, actually... although I wouldn't exactly say there was a puzzle element to Cybernoid, you can't just pile in with all guns blazing. Instead, you have to take a while to take stock of each screen, work out how best to get through it, and then give it your best shot.

I'll just sit here and wait for those arrows to pass... oh wait! They fire too! Aaaaargh!

Cybernoid, as you might expect of a Commodore 64 game, is hard. It's very hard, in fact, and you'll get to "practice" a lot of the screens over and over again as you try and figure out how to get to the next. Making it more difficult is the fact you don't have energy... one hit will blow up your ship. And as the graphics are quite big and the screens a little cramped, everything is a touch more difficult than it might otherwise be.

Still, I've actually really enjoyed playing it. It's very much a game of its time, although (and I seem to be reimagining every game I play these days) I'd quite like to see an update, or maybe combine both games into one and stick it on the DS, possibly using one of the screens to preview what comes next? Won't happen, though, but I quite fancy giving this one a bit more of a prolonged crack.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn)

So here it is, my hundredth post in this blog. And to celebrate, I'm playing a game that most consider to be a classic. I'm not playing it because of that, though... I'm playing it because I absolutely love it!

I owned Guardian Heroes when it came out. I'm not sure how it sold... it seems to be a bit of a cult classic. And when you consider the fact that it sells for as much now as it did then... well, it mustn't have put up particularly big numbers. Then again, most of Treasure's games (for this is one) seem to be more in the realms of cult classics.

I got straight into Guardian Heroes when I first played it, and it took no time at all for the magic to work itself on me again this time around. It is, in essence, a scrolling beat-'em-up, but it's much deeper than probably anything that came before it.

Part of this depth can be attributed to its RPG-like elements. You'll gain experience points for everything you batter, and as you're almost constantly beseiged by large numbers of enemies, you'll likely be doing a lot of levelling up. It makes for a far more entertaining game than if it were purely done Double Dragon-style.

The Undead Hero gets to work. He's a bit like an attack dog. Only undead. And with a huge sword. And he can get by without a constant supply of Spillers Shapes.

Adding to the depth a bit more literally is the playfield. Naturally, you walk along a side-scrolling area in your quest, but the screen is split into three parallels. You can jump to any of these with a tap of the appropriate button, and this helps to make your fighting a bit more tactical. It's not exactly at the level where you'd start to call it a strategy game, but choosing when to hop to another level can either save your skin if you're in a tight spot, or work to your advantage against the enemy.

To make it even better, you play as part of a team of bad-ass characters, all of which have differing traits which serve to help the battle in different ways. None of your team is as impressive as the Undead Hero that bands with you, though... when he goes berserk, it's a sight to see!

Guardian Heroes is, quite simply, a whole load of fun to play. It might be a bit of a button-masher, like most beat-'em-ups, but it's always entertaining. And with branching pathways throughout the game, there's plenty of replay value. In fact, the only bad thing about playing this again is that I couldn't save my game! My Saturn's battery has been dead for quite a while. Anyone got a memory card they don't want?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ton up!

No game today! That's because, according to my dashboard, I've made 100 posts! Well, almost... this is 99, so... well, you know. To mark this achievement, I'm going to dig through all my games and play something special, whether I've played it before or not.

A hundred posts. For a while there, I didn't think I'd get to that milestone. Now I'm looking forward to the next hundred!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Gods (Amiga)

I'd been quite keen to play this from the moment I saw it sitting in my pile of Amiga games. I kind of had a few fleeting memories of it from way back, but I don't think I actually played it then. But with it having the name Bitmap Bros. on it, there was naturally a high level of expectation that I'd be having a good time.

And I did.

I wrote a description of Gods, and in reading it back, it sounded like I was slagging the game off. I described it as being like a typical Amiga platform game - filled with lumbering, detailed characters that are too large for the playing area. And while that's true, it doesn't actually detract from the game... in fact, it helps to define it.

Gods, as I said, is a platform game. You wander around, jumping from ledge to ledge, climbing ladders, and shooting nasty things. Hardly innovative, that. To make things more interesting, there are some puzzle elements in there. There's nothing that will tax your brain... mostly, you're going to be pushing switches until you get them in the right positions to destroy obstacles or open trapdoors. It does add an extra element to the game, although as you might imagine, it can be a little frustrating at times. Depends how much you hate switches and levers.

No, your character is not a naked welder...

The best thing for me about this game is that it throws loads of loot at you. You'll always have gems and crystals and other valuable little bits falling to the ground, ready to boost your score. And that's something else I really like... Gods may be an adventurey-platform game, but it's also a great high score game. High scores will always appeal to me, being a child of the arcade age, so I appreciate the fact that this is a platform game where you can score over a million points, if you're good.

There are problems and flaws here... most notably with the controls. The problem is one that affected many a game back then... our joysticks only utilised one fire button. Because of this, you can only jump diagonally, and you can't fire whilst crouching... instead cycling through your "very limited" inventory. I think that, although I enjoyed the game, it would be a lot more fun if it didn't have these issues. In fact, I think I'd really like a modern remake of Gods. I think that using a modern controller and mapping these actions to other buttons would make it better to play. As it is, though, Gods is a very polished and pretty entertaining game.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hexen (PC)

I bought this on Steam for about ten pence, ages ago, along with Hexen II and Heretic. All were highly praised back in the day, I seemed to remember, so I might as well buy them cheap while I could and play them when I had time.

Who knows how many years ago that was? And I never got around to any of them. As if that comes as any surprise! But now is as good a time as any, so I fired up Steam for the first time in ages... looking through my games list on there, I've got a few candidates for this blog, just sitting waiting.

Anyway, Hexen. I wish I could tell you a lot about it, but for the vast majority of my time I was completely stuck. There were some steps up to an area with windows, and an area with trees, one of which concealed a door which needed a key, and one a cave where I could punch everything to death through stalagmites but couldn't actually get in.

All the leaves are broooown... and the sky is greeeeey... and so is everything else.

It wasn't exactly a lot of fun. In fact, all I was going to write here was "Doom, but with more grey and brown". And then, about five minutes before I was packing in, I read the instructions, found the key I had to press to open doors, realised there was actually a door at the top of the steps, and went through. And so, the game has opened up to me somewhat. I died pretty quickly after that, and didn't have time to start again, but at least I now realise what I need to do.

I was never a Doom fan... mostly because I've always been rubbish at it. Hexen seems to play much the same, and I expect I'll be equally poor when it comes to playing it, but I feel I owe it another shot, at least.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

I might upset a few people here... so be it.

If there was one thing that baffled me in my time in America, it was the incredible popularity there of Super Smash Bros. Possibly second only to Madden, any Super Smash Bros. game is a genuine bona fide system seller. I've never been able to understand that. I didn't play it that much, but everywhere I went, every message board I posted on, Americans were going crazy for Super Smash Bros. There always was (and is) talk of it being an incredibly deep fighting game, with the best multiplayer action you can find.

So when Morrisons offered Wii chart games for fifteen quid last year, I thought I'd give Brawl a shot. Of course, as is the way, it then sat on the shelf, unplayed by me. Until now... it's the perfect game to dig out for this blog.

Having played it for a couple of hours now... I just don't get it. I simply don't see where the rabid fanboy love for this game comes from. Incredibly deep fighting game? For me, it's a simple button-masher, a weird cross between Virtua Fighter and Shao-Lin's Road and nothing more. Half the time I'd just stand there hitting the button as enemy characters jumped into my weapon. The rest of the time, I didn't really know what was going on.

Doesn't this just look like the most fun imaginable? No. No, it doesn't.

I suppose I can see why Nintendo-philes would like it... there's a large cast of Nintendo characters and some clever backgrounds incorporating Nintendo games. For me, though, there's just nothing here. I can honestly say that I didn't have a single moment of enjoyment the whole time I played it. Actually, that's not quite correct... when you complete the game, you get to shoot the credits. That was quite good fun. Other than that, though... I didn't even enjoy the much-vaunted multiplayer.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a game that's loved by many, but I can't for the life of me see why. You would think the opportunity to smash Mario's fat face in would be unmissable, but for me at least, it's just a mess. America, I love you, but sometimes you're weird.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Club (XBox 360)

Right, enough of that sword-wafting questing rubbish. I fancied something a bit more straightforward, and The Club is nothing if not straightforward.

I've had this lying around for ages, having got it for nowt with a magazine subscription. I've dipped in and out of it, but never really stuck with it for any length of time before now. Silly me.

The Club is an arena shooter, with a difference. You pick from eight characters, and set about wreaking havoc. There's a storyline of a sort, which attempts to explain why these madmen would be running around abandoned locations shooting people, but none of that matters in the slightest. All that matters is that you have some top fun, tearing around and blowing enemies away at will.

This game comes by way of Bizarre Creations, who are better known for their Project Gotham Racing series. This could have been an interesting new series, but I don't think it's done all that well, sales-wise. It has a racing game element to it, in that many of the levels are races against the clock. The quicker you finish these levels, the higher your end-level bonus. But in order to really ramp up your scores, you'll need to master the art of combos.

Oooh... guns, guns, guns!

Combos are achieved by linking kills. Once you kill a bad guy, a combo meter will start ticking. If you can kill another one before this ticks down, you'll increase the combo meter, which is basically a score multiplier. The higher the multiplier, naturally, the higher your score for each kill. And if you can pull off a spectacular kill, say for instance a headshot whilst diving, you'll score even more highly.

The scope for high scores is enormous. This could almost make a fantastic arcade game, if it weren't for the fact that control pad style controls don't work so well in the arcade. It does take those old-school arcade stylings and play with them in a fresh new way. And with masses of levels of varying types (survival levels are also in evidence, for example), if you can put the effort in and learn where everything is in order to maximise your score, there's a mountain of entertainment here.

The Club is old-fashioned arcade fun, dressed in the clothing of a modern shoot 'em up. It's almost certainly the most testosterone-filled adrenaline rush of a game you could find, and it's all the better for that.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dark Savior (Sega Saturn)

I've waited a long, long time to play Dark Savior. Touted as the unofficial sequel to Landstalker, a game I've really enjoyed on two occasions, I was really eager for its release on the Sega Saturn. When it did finally hit the shops, I bought it immediately... only to have to sell my Saturn very soon after, before I'd even got the chance to go beyond the opening sequence.

It wasn't one of the games that came with my current Saturn, but thanks to the wonders of eBay, I now own it again. Finally, after all this time, my chance to play the game I waited for so eagerly has arrived.

And... I'm a bit underwhelmed.

First off, although the only link to Landstalker is that they have the same developer, you can tell that this is basically an upgraded version of the earlier game in many ways. It features the same viewpoint, the same action-adventure-platform style of gaming, the same text-box messages to sit through. It all looks so much prettier now... and yet, it seems to have lost a lot of the charm of Landstalker.

He couldn't possibly look any more heroic, there.

The game does have a different tack on things, by having different parallel paths down which the game can travel. Which parallel you take depends on how long it takes you to complete the opening act. That is an interesting and different way to start the game, but it just doesn't grab you like it should. It's a strange thing.

It's quite hard to put my finger on the problem with Dark Savior... it just doesn't feel right when compared to Landstalker. It's a bit of a shame... it's an epic quest alright, and one I feel as though I ought to have a decent crack at completing... I just don't think I'm enjoying it enough to justify it right now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dungeon Master (Amiga)

Through time, there have been games that have been groundbreaking, revolutionary and system defining. Those games are remembered still, and will be as long as people continue to write about the history of videogames. Better yet, they will continue to be played, such is their legendary status.

If there's one game that defined the Commodore Amiga for me, it's Dungeon Master. And yet, I never really played it. As I've mentioned before, I never owned an Amiga, and relied on trips to my mate's house for brief sojourns into 16-bit territory. And Dungeon Master isn't a two-player game, and nor is it something you can really share, so all I really got out of it was the excitement of watching and sharing an adventure.

Not any more. Now that the mate's Amiga is mine, I can have a Dungeon Master adventure of my own. That was what I thought... of course, that was one of the games that had gone missing from his collection. A scout around eBay rectified that problem, and a wee while later, I was on my way.

There's a moment in Dungeon Master, near the beginning, where you know there's no turning back. You've wandered around the top level, gazed at the not-very-attractive pictures of heroes, and chosen the character that feels best suited to you. And then you find yourself at the top of a flight of stairs... you know that as soon as you set foot on them, your adventure will truly begin...

In fact, this is the moment... one mouse click, and I'm in trouble...

It didn't take me long to realise that the game is far more intense and enjoyable when you're actually playing it. In fact, almost from the very start where I saw myself chased down a corridor by a mummy, I was well and truly hooked. The fact that the mummy was a slowly-shambling monster didn't make it any less frightening... when you're barely armed, it's more than scary enough.

I've played for a good while before writing this, and I'm pretty well hooked by now. I've found that you have to be careful where you save your game, though... if you save at the wrong moment, you could be playing the same part of the game over and over again before you realise you'll never have enough health and you'll have to start again. Not so bad if you're early on in the quest, but soul-destroying if you've been playing for hours.

Dungeon Master is a renowned classic, and rightly so. It's filled with enough horrors, tricks and traps to keep anyone enamoured for weeks. I'm thrilled to finally have the chance to play this at length... I intend to savour the experience.

The one-armed gamer.

When you've got an eight-year-old child, gaming is easy. You can play in your spare time, or if your child is around, you can play with them, thus ensuring the love of games will continue in the family. Once you throw a newborn baby into the mix, things are different. There's not really any such thing as free time, anymore.

I seem to be spending a lot of time with a baby in one arm. Often, it's post-feeding, waiting for him to drop off to sleep. But then, he might be out for a short while and then will wake up and be fussy. So you have to hold him again to try and soothe him.

They're not very interesting though, babies. They're cute, and fascinating, and amazing. But they're not interesting. They can't even tell you what their problem is, let alone have a meaningful conversation with you. And so you find yourself kind of hamstrung, looking after a tiny person that does nothing but eat and sleep and squawk and tie up one of your arms.

This is where my iPod Touch is showing its worth. In the moments where Ryan (our newborn) is settled, I can use my free arm to indulge in a spot of gaming. It might seem a little odd to have a baby in one hand/arm and a games machine in the other, but due to the nature of the touchscreen, it works. Or at least, it does in some cases.

Would it be too obvious to say "Oh, balls"? It would? Oh, OK.

A game that was recommended to me by many people is Orbital. It didn't sound too promising... fire numbered balls onto a playfield. The balls start with the number 3, then reduce with each hit until they disappear. Trouble is, their size depends on how much space is around them when they land. So if you shoot the ball and it lands in the middle of the playfield, it's going to fill most of the screen and knacker your game.

In practice, it's a work of maddening, addictive genius. Every single game ends through your own stupidity... you can never claim that the game itself was to blame. It's also hard. If you score over 100, you'll be doing very well indeed (clue: I haven't). And yet, it's got an incredible just-one-more-go factor to it. And for only 59p at the moment, it's an absolute bargain.

And you can play it using only your thumb. For the meantime, it's something of a Godsend.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ghosts 'n' Goblins... did you know...

...there's a new Ghosts 'n' Goblins game out? Well, there is. It's called Ghosts 'n' Goblins Gold Knights, and it's on the iPhone and iPod Touch (which is how I'm posting this... hence the lack of links and pictures). Yeah, I know what you're thinking... that'll be rubbish. But actually... it's alright! Capcom have certainly taken into account the limitations of the platform, and have tailored the game accordingly. As a result, you've got a slightly slower-paced, more laid-back GnG game, which will be great news for many a frustrated veteran and may be sacrilege to the die-hard.

Some things remain familiar... Arthur is back, as usual, although you can choose between him and Lancelot. The music is a nice riff on the original theme. There's a big map, comprising of (I think) six levels, and the usual array of hidden chests, extra weapons and end-level bosses .

Early impressions are quite good... the controls are not as good as you'd like, but not too bad or frustrating for an iPod game, although there is that old problem of cramp or wrist pain after a while. I think it may prove to be a touch too easy in the end, but that remains to be seen. It currently has an introductory price of £1.79/$2.99, but there's no trial version, so if you fancy it you should jump in quickly.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Titan Quest (PC)

After yesterday's dose of gritty realism, it's back to a realm of fantasy today with Titan Quest. This game takes place in one of the most epic settings of all... ancient Greece.

Greek mythology is something I've had a liking for since I was a wee lad, when I bought a book on Greek myths in a school book club. And what kid could fail to be completely captivated when watching Jason and the Argonauts? It's such a rich world full of amazing characters that it's ripe for videogame fun.

Titan Quest is a Diablo variant, and of course I played Diablo II a while ago. I found myself really enjoying that, and had high hopes for this game.

Hahaha, they're all dead! Whoops... erm, except for that big bugger firing flaming projectiles at me. Ruuuun!

Unfortunately, it's just too hard for me. I mean, it's rock. Certainly to start with, although maybe if I play it long enough and level up sufficiently, it will get a bit easier. As it stands, I'll march into a field to fight something (usually a combination of Satyrs and wild boars at the moment... it's still early on), and find myself either running off to lick my wounds or being regenerated at one of the town's fountains.

A plus point to this is that everything you've killed stays dead, so when you go back to pick up the fight, it should be easier second time around. And third time around. And so on, until you've finally won. It just seems to be a bit too much of a drag to be enjoyable, and is actually quite frustrating. I'm sure that with good use of potions and healing stones though, progress may be made a little more easily... I just haven't got to grips with them yet.

Still, if you like games where lewt is dropped by the barrowload and fancy a real challenge, Titan Quest is just what you've been asking the Gods for.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (XBox 360)

I feel like a bit of a shit with this game. I was involved in a discussion about Modern Warfare 2 the other day, and I commented that I still hadn't been able to afford the first one yet. In an act of splendid kindness, I was sent Call of Duty 4, and then today, out of the blue, I was presented with a copy of Modern Warfare 2. I feel kind of bad.

Still, I suppose the best way to get past that is to take it out on someone else, and who better than evil scumbag terrorists, right?

To be honest, I debated not writing about this at all. I mean, I must be the only person not to have played this, so who would want to read about it? On the other hand, with Modern Warfare 2 out today, this is possibly the best time to write about it.

I know Eastenders is bad, but that's a bit of an extreme way to get it off the air...

One inescapable fact has arisen whilst playing CoD 4... I'm shit at it. Really, terribly bad. I had to play the little intro obstacle course thing four times just to get a time that would put me at Recruit level (I thought it would be embarrassing to play as a Rookie). From that point on I did OK, with just the odd death here and there, but now I've hit the TV station (which can't be that far into the game) and I'm utterly stuck and out of my depth. I really must have died 100 times there so far. I've nearly blundered through it a couple of times, but generally speaking, each try has lasted a minute or less.

It's fair to say that I'm not a big FPS player. I do enjoy them, I just don't partake that often. The last Call of Duty game I played was the first one, which I loved. I'm finding number four to be intense, exhilirating and frightening. It's a fantastic game, and one which I am most definitely going to be persevering with. I have no doubt it will be worth my while.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Brütal Legend (XBox 360)

There may be a small amount of cheating going on in my blog this time around... cheating, in that not every game I write about will be a game I have played that day. I've played quite a lot in the time I've slacked off on the writing, so there's some catching up to be done.

Today's is a case in point. I'm writing about Brütal Legend, a game which I no longer even own, but bought on the release date, had my fun with and completed. And once it was over, it was time to pass the torch.

Brütal Legend comes from the more-than-fertile mind of Tim Schafer, the man behind many a gaming classic, with Grim Fandango being arguably his best. Psychonauts was his last game, and Brütal Legend is more in keeping with that than his older adventures.

In case you hadn't heard, Brütal Legend is a game about heavy metal. How many games are more metal than this? The answer is: none. The story actually concerns the best roadie in the world who, upon suffering a seemingly-fatal accident on stage whilst rescuing one of the members of the band he's looking after, actually is trasnported to a faraway land of METAL when his blood seeps into his demonic belt buckle. Fantastic.

It must have been a difficult job casting the part of the lead character. You would want someone who's an actor by trade, but who loves videogames and who's sufficiently steeped in the lore of metal that he'd throw himself wholeheartedly into the part. Fortunately for Tim Schafer, Jack Black fits that description to a T, and it's obvious that he had a blast making this game. Then again, who wouldn't when they make the lead character basically a much more awesome version of yourself?

There are other familiar faces and voices here, voices plucked from the heavy metal fraternity and who do a pretty good job. Lemmy is always a welcome sight and sound, and he has a decent role here. Lita Ford and Rob Halford show up too. But perhaps the biggest revelation here for me is Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not an Ozzy fan - I don't like his singing and I'm bored with his antics. But in this game, he's surprisingly funny. OK, so he's just reading the lines he was given, but they're all delivered in a very entertaining manner.

Supercharged and flying low, liquid dynamite...

The game itself is a mish-mash of styles... part Golden Axe, part Batman (I say that because driving your awesome car, The Deuce, feels similar to the classic Amiga Batman game), part Pokemon (there are loads of things to collect) and part RTS. That last bit worried me, because I hate RTS games, but it's really simplified and not too difficult to get on with at all.

A final word must go to the landscape that the game takes place in. It's a truly fantastic world, designed to look like every fantasy heavy metal album cover ever. And it does a fantastic job of getting that across... from howling metal beasts to distant volcanos, stark landscapes to breathtaking iconic vistas, the feeling of immersion in a fantasy world is complete.

With a cracking sense of humour, a huge heavy metal soundtrack and a nice variety of game styles set across a game that is neither too difficult nor too long, Brütal Legend is a game I'm very happy to have in this world. I feel a bit of a traitor to my metal brethren for having sold it, but in time, I will return...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

DrawRace (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I thought about coming back with a bang, and playing a really huge title that everyone knows. Instead, I've opted for low-key.

DrawRace is a game I bought when I was going through an iTunes 59p app phase. We've all been there... they're just so damn hard to resist! This one looked appealing... a racing game in the vein of Super Sprint, but with a unique control method. It actually reminded me of BMX Simulator, for some reason.

As you might have guessed from the incredibly self-explanatory title, DrawRace is a racing game where you draw the racing line onto the touch screen for your car to follow. Sounds simple enough, and it is, and it's also genius at work.

You don't just draw the racing line though... it also picks up the speed at which you draw, and your car will move accordingly. If you go too fast around a corner with your finger, your car will slide off and lose valuable time. You won't believe how well it works... the tension as you race against the computer car is palpable.

Zoom... just one look, and then my heart went boom...

There are twenty tracks to race on... to be fair, many of them are quite easy to win on, but some offer a real challenge and will take a good few tries to get past. Once you've beaten them all, you can go back and try and improve your times for the online leaderboards, or maybe try an online multiplayer race. I've never actually tried the multiplayer myself, but it's a nice option to have.

DrawRace is now £1.19, which is possibly a little bit too much for an impulse buy. I do think you would get your money's worth out of it if you have any interest in racing games, and the control method is not just a gimmick, but genuinely adds something fresh. Updates were promised a while back... I'm eagerly awaiting them, myself...

Let's try this again.

Alright, as is perfectly evident, this managed to slip away from me. My wife got pregnant (a great thing, by the way!), which left me with a lot of work to do and not a lot of spare time. Now that the baby is here, I've stupidly convinced myself that I'll have more time to set down my thoughts. It's a ridiculous idea, but I'm going to have a crack at it. Should be the ideal way to kill some time when waiting for my new son to settle back to sleep after a 3am feed...

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Deaths in the family.

This is a trying time for me as a gamer. My time has been very limited of late, but even worse, equipment is packing up on me. First of all, my "upstairs" telly, where I play all of my old systems, has died. That's incredibly limiting in terms of writing this blog... I can't really bring everything downstairs for gaming, as the "proper" telly is usually being used for something.

And then, yesterday, without warning, my XBox 360 proudly displayed the "E74 error" message. I'm gutted, although I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got my first 360 death.

I'll be looking into getting that replaced next week. The telly may be more of a problem. I have, fortunately, still got plenty of games I can still play... I've got a good few Wii games there, and there's the PC games I was sent recently, plus the iPod has a stream of games coming out all the time.

So, I'm going to try and pick up the pace here, yet again. It's easy to let things slip... I need to get back in the saddle.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Playman Track & Field (iPhone/iPod Touch)

Funny how sometimes you just can't resist something.

I was browsing the Apple Store and happened across this in the "What's Hot" section, for just 59p. The words "Track & Field" were almost enough to get me to buy it regardless, and the positive reviews tipped the balance that little bit further. I was sold.

And I'm happy that I was! Playman Track & Field is very nice indeed!

The game has five events... not too bad given that the original (and Hyper Sports, the follow up) only had six. They're all standard for this type of game... 100 metres, Long Jump, 110 metres hurdles, Pole Vault and Javelin. You can play each event separately, or run them all together in a kind of half-decathlon, where you score points for how well you do in each event.

There are two difficulty levels, Amateur and Professional. You shouldn't have too much difficulty winning every event in Amateur... Professional is where the challenge lies. It's very difficult to get good enough to beat your computerised opponents at some of the events.

So how do you play? It's not exactly like the original Track & Field... belting the crap out of an iPhone screen would not be a good idea. Instead, coloured buttons appear on the screen randomly, and you have to hit them correctly and as quickly as you can to build up speed. Then, at the end of the event, you hold two buttons for differing effects (to "dip" across the line in the running events, for jumping or throwing in the others).

It all works really well, it's challenging, fun and addictive to play, and it has a very cute and endearing style. I would say if you have any kind of liking for Track & Field and fancy an on-the-go version, you could do a lot, lot worse than to spend 59p on this.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Street Fighter IV (XBox 360).

I've never been much of a fighting game fan.

Wait... let's rephrase that. I've never been much of a fan of fighting games based on martial arts. I've always got on well with boxing games... right from Fight Night and Barry McGuigan's Boxing on the Commodore 64, through the Punch-Out!! games and up to the latest-gen Fight Night games, I'm a keen fan of digital pugilism. But unless it's International Karate or Yie Ar Kung-Fu, one-on-one martial arts games have done little for me.

And that includes the Street Fighter series.

Now, I'm aware that this may by seen as sacrilege. Alright, the first one was a bit cack. But from then on, most of them are renowned as fighting classics. And I can appreciate that. They look great, they're well balanced and they play well. I've just never been able to get the hang of learning all the combinations needed for moves. If it's not "fire button + up = flying kick", I'm pretty much knackered.

Still, I went ahead and bought Street Fighter IV, because it looked good and a lot of my mates were getting it. And I played it for a bit, and I learned about three moves, and I got killed a lot. And I hated it. And I put it away for about a month.

And then, the lads on the Way of the Rodent forum started talking about having an online tournament. And I figured, seeing as I had the game, I may as well take part. If nothing else, at least I'd get a bit more play for my thirty quid.

And so I picked a character that I thought I might have a chance with... Crimson Viper. I figured that with her being a new character to the series, most people would not be as familiar with her moves and I might have a small advantage to counteract my uselessness.

I started practicing. And I didn't do very well. But then somebody suggested I change the difficulty level so that I could at least get through the game and unlock some of the other characters. And it was at this point that I actually started to enjoy the game!

I started getting the hang of some of the moves... and in fact got to the point where I could pull off a lot of them almost every time, even with the 360 control pad. I won some matches. I even got to Seth, the "Boss" character... and lost. But next time, I managed a win!

Suitably buoyed, I played with some of the other characters, and managed to win with them, too. And I learned a few moremoves into the bargain. I think I even managed to become quite reasonable with Crimson Viper. I'll never be able to hang with the big boys... Street Fighter has its own language which I don't understand, but I could now play the game with something approaching a degree of efficiency, and gain quite a bit of enjoyment from it.

What's that, you say? The tournament? How did it go?

Oh. Well, I lost my first match, although it was fairly close... and then I watched Newcastle United lose to Spurs whilst waiting for invites. The lads knew I was probably watching the match, and the invites never came. What a wasted afternoon that was.