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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (PS2)

Right, we've reached the end of the month, and as a reward for not missing a single day, I promised myself a treat - that treat being to play one of my all-time favourite games.

All my PS2 gaming came in the five-year spell when I lived in the USA. Well, it actually came in a three-year spell... we got our PS2 for Christmas in 2002, about fifteen months after I'd moved there. As we were members of Blockbuster, we used to mosey on down the road a few hundred yards to our local branch, pick up a film or two, and I'd look at the rental games. On one occasion, I found myself having to choose between Burnout 2 and NFS:HP2.

I picked this one, and to this day I'm glad I did. I played it a hell of a lot in my week's rental period, and my wife Lorraine then bought it for me for Valentine's Day (awwww!). And over my years of PS2 ownership, this remained one of my most-played games.

I don't own a PS2 at the moment, but my son does. This is handy, because the PS2 has a load of games that I love, and equally a lot of games I have yet to play but would like to. So every once in a while I kick him out of his room, and I take up residence on the PS2 for a couple of hours. Tonight, while he was on Animal Crossing, I was on NFS:HP2.

It's been a long time since I've played this, but it all came flooding back to me in the time it took to cross the start line. This might not be the most realistic racing game ever made, but it's really, really good fun.

You've got two main game options - Hot Pursuit and World Championship. World Championship is the straightforward element of the game... just you against other racers, competing for the Championship. It's very enjoyable as it is, but it's just the warm-up...

Hot Pursuit (well, the Ultimate Racer part of Hot Pursuit) is the real deal, and sees you completing different racing challenges to unlock branches of a progression tree. I like this progression system (which is actually the same in the World Championship)... you know exactly what you're aiming for at all times.

It does ease you in gently, and with not that much relative excitement... the first couple of races involve you getting from A to B inside a certain time. The cops are after you, but it's only you against them, and they're not that rough early on. It's when you start unlocking your third branch of races that things pick up...

This is when other racers enter the fray. The game takes on another dimension altogether when you're racing against the cops and other drivers. Your rivals are pretty vicious, and will nudge and bump you at any opportunity, and the cops will do likewise... when they're not radioing ahead for roadblocks or the police helicopter.

These elements are what makes the racing in NFS:HP2 so exciting and entertaining. It's fantastic, racing along with the constant CB radio chatter in your ear. And it's even better when you pull of a move that forces the cop on your tail into an oncoming car or a bridge, and you hear "I'm out of commission"... "Roger... we're sending over a wrecking truck". Brilliant.

It's even better when you're haring towards the finish, trying desperately to catch up to the flyboy who zoomed past you half a lap back, only to roar past him as he's pulled over by a cop at the side of the road. Of course, this works in reverse as well... you might be streaking towards a glorious win, only to have the cops gang up on you and knock you into a tree, leaving you staggering over the line as a couple of opponents roar past.

With all this and the stylish presentation, such as cuts to dramatic slow-motion camera angles as you make a particularly impressive jump, this is as close as you'll ever get to playing at Smokey and the Bandit. And I mean that in a good way. I wish EA would get their act together with the Need For Speed series... if they gave us this exact game with online multiplayer, I'd probably die of happiness. Here's hoping. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this for what it is... one of the finest arcade racers I've ever played.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Rocky Rodent (SNES)

I'll be honest. This is not a game that I've had a long-held desire to play. It hasn't been sitting in my pile for ages.

Nope, there's a lad I know over on Way of the Rodent, and he's called Rocky. And so when I discovered this game, I just had to play it. So, sorry to anyone that's reading this and is not familiar with Way of the Rodent or Rocky, but you might not have a clue what I'm going on about some of the time here.

The premise of the game, having investigated it online, is actually pretty similar to real life. Rocky is an odd-looking character with daft hair and a massive appetite. His favourite restaurant is owned by Pie-Face Balboa. When Rocky accidentally eats an envelope full of cash that Pie-Face was supposed to give to the mafia, he's in trouble - especially when the mob capture Pie-Face's daughter. Pie-Face asks Rocky to rescue his daughter, and if he can manage that, he'll get all he can eat at the restaurant... for free!

It's an offer Rocky can't refuse (although not in the Godfather style), and so off he sets, using his weird hair to batter turtles and jumping cans of hot sauce, all the while picking up cheese and chips, just because they're lying around. The level of realism in this game is stunning.

Unfortunately, Rocky Rodent is not much cop. Despite the mad hair gimmick, it's a very standard and slow-paced platformer, with nothing much going for it at all. Still, it gave me a laugh for a few seconds, before I realised the game itself was dull. Shame, that.

Harumph...

I'm not really a fighting game fan. When it comes to one-on-one fighting games, I like boxing games, but my love for other fighting games pretty much ends with International Karate and Yie Ar Kung-Fu (plus Mortal Kombat, for the silliness of it all).

Despite this, and despite only ever liking Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha on the PS1 from the entire Street Fighter series, I went and bought Street Fighter IV today.

I've only played Vs. Battles so far... against my eight-year-old son, Aidan. We've had ten matches. We've fought twenty rounds, in total. Aidan has won them all.

Bah. Wonder if I can take it back?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Mayhem in Monsterland (Commodore 64)

This is a biggie. Mayhem in Monsterland is renowned as being the last really big game released on the Commodore 64, and regarded by many as the best game ever to hit the old breadbin. I was pretty much finished with my Commodore 64 by the time it was released... I still used it, but I wasn't buying any new games, and even though it looked really nice I didn't have the urge to get it. And so, I hadn't played it before tonight.

I was very disappointed at first. Speeding through black and blue landscapes, occasionally jumping on the resident critters, proved a touch dull. And then when I got to the far right of the level and it was blocked off, I was stumped. What the hell was I supposed to do now?

The problem was, the version I played didn't come with instructions, and so I didn't get the gist of the game. A quick Google search turned up plenty of information, and it clicked. Another play of the game saw me bouncing on enough heads to collect the magic I needed to unlock the level's second objective.

What you do is collect the magic that is occasionally dropped by a stomped-on creature, and when you've got enough, you drop down a designated area where you meet a dopey looking dragon-thing. The dragon-thing takes the magic and puts colour into the world, and you then have to collect the stars that become scattered around the landscape. The level layout remains the same, but it's now nice and colourful, and littered with different types of creatures.

It's quite a clever game mechanic for its time, and the whole thing is nice and fast and smooth. It's certainly a very technically impressive Commodore 64 game. That said, it didn't really grab me that much in the time I spent with it. I feel that further investigation is necessary, but I don't have as much of an urge to continue with this one as I do with The Sentinel. That's a bit of a shame, but it's not like I haven't got enough games to be getting on with...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Dig (PC)

I've never been a huge fan of adventure games... that might stem from the Commodore 64 days and being utterly stumped by the simplest of puzzles in text adventures. But I went through a spell a while ago of buying up all the re-released Lucasarts adventures. My wife's a bit of an adventure games fan, and I played through Grim Fandango with her years ago and loved that, and I've watched her playing other games, such as Syberia. It's a genre I feel I've missed out on a bit, so I thought I'd make the effort.

The Dig was my first choice for a couple of reasons... it's possibly the least renowned of those Lucasarts games, and I like to go for the underdog, and I also liked the look of the sci-fi theme. Not that you'd know it was sci-fi from the front cover...

I was immediately pleasantly surprised when I ran the disc and discovered the game didn't install! I can't remember the last time I played a PC game straight from the disc... thanks Lucasarts, for not cluttering up my hard drive any more that is necessary!

The game does look its age now... everything's seems a bit rough looking by today's standards. But it still puts across a tremendous atmosphere, helped greatly by the score. Music as a scene-setter is often overlooked in favour of the jaunty tune, but this one really hits the mark.

The game starts off with the end of the world nigh. That's a bit dramatic, but as you're charged with destroying the asteroid that's going to obliterate us, you know things will turn out alright. Or will they...?

As befits a good sci-fi story, things take an interesting turn. And that's where I am at the moment... I've just hit the first interesting part of the story. I played the game for a good while, but as was often the case with adventure games in the past, you have to do a lot of pointing and clicking and experimenting with items and conversations.

It's not something I'm used to, and I know a lot of people like to have a walkthrough at hand. But the game has a relaxed feel to it to start with... it couldn't be otherwise when you're floating around space in zero gravity. And I like taking my time and trying everything out. Games don't have to be belted through in record time, and I can see this becoming a chill-out game for me.

I say that because I'm sufficiently hooked on the story where I'm going to want to see where it leads. I loves me a bit of sci-fi. The Dig is off to a very promising start... I reckon Sunday afternoon will see me losing a few hours to this...

Bloody favouritism!

I'm 25 games into this blog now (that'll be 26, a little bit later on), and I'm not getting bored or running out of game ideas at all. But, I've decided on a slight adjustment to the formula. I've decided that, at the end of every month, I'm going to write about one of my favourite games. Although the voyage of discovery is a joy to be on, a familiar face every now and then is always welcome...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Jet Set Radio Future (XBox)

I'm sure, from reading this blog and seeing some of the game names mentioned, that some people must think I've never played videogames before in my life. I must have played thousands over the years, but there are just that many of them that it's more or less impossible to cover all the big names on every system.

I did come close to playing Jet Grind Radio once, but the copy I was going to play was scratched and didn't load at all. So Jet Set Radio Future is my first trip into the world of grafitti, tagging and weird gangs in the jazzed-up streets of Tokyo.

It's a very stylish game, this one. I love the look of it, and also the laid-back, chilled out feel you have while playing it. You never feel particularly rushed, except for any occasion where you get drawn into a race. Besides that, you just roam the streets, grinding and pulling tricks when you feel like it, and completing your objectives more or less at your leisure. It makes me wonder if skate took some inspiration from this series.

Whilst playing this, although I liked it a lot, I couldn't help but feel that the potential is there for it to get repetitive later on. The game does keep throwing different challenges at you to break up the grafitti-spraying, so if it keeps doing that then the problem might be alleviated. I'm hoping so, because after spending fifteen minutes at the beginning skating around bored because I hadn't figured out what I needed to do to kick the story along, I'm enjoying it a lot now that I've got an idea of what I'm doing.

I think a lot of this game is about feel. The world is impressively densely populated, so it feels right, and the skating feel is also spot-on. I like the quirkyness of it all, and the way you collect characters by defeating them or completing their challenges, rather than unlocking them. Jet Set Radio Future is a game that's taken me a long time to get hold of, but I'm happy that the effort is so far proving to have been worthwhile.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Gunstar Heroes (Sega Megadrive)

Time for a bit of classic old-school action today, with Treasure's Gunstar Heroes. I don't know why I've never played this before... I owned a fair few Megadrive games back in the day, and Gunstar Heroes seems to fit perfectly with the type of game I was buying. I just mustn't have got around to it, I suppose. Shame.

Gunstar Heroes is, as you've now come to expect from Treasure, a very well thought-out and designed game. It's got some great features for the time - you get a choice of control method, a choice of starting weapon and a choice of starting level.

Each level is wildly different from any of the others, which means you've got a lot of variety right from the off. This is welcome, otherwise this might have veered towards a standard blaster. That said, it's got so much to do and so many tricks up its sleeve that I don't think there would ever be any danger of that.

The first level you can choose sees you running and blasting madly right from the off, with enemies swarming at you from all directions. Luckily you've got some neat moves at hand - you can grab the platforms or scenery and either swing up to the platform above, or move along the underside of the platforms, like you would on a set of monkey bars.

Other levels have you in the Gunstar Heroes equivalent of minecarts, hurtling along at ridiculous speeds and blasting in all directions, or jumping up a series of platforms to get to the top of an aircraft that's taking off, just as examples. It's manic platform shooting, with some great characters and funny touches. Oh, and there are all kinds of mad bosses to tussle with, too.

When it comes to shooting stuff, not many people allow you to do it in a finer way than Treasure. And while this isn't as traditional a shooter as, say, Gradius V or Ikaruga, it still gives you hours of top-class blasting action, guaranteed to give you gamer's claw.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Bioshock (XBox 360)

Following on from the post about movie tie-ins, I thought it might be a good idea to play and write about a game that is having a movie made based on it. And seeing as I've had Bioshock sitting there since my birthday in 2007 without having touched it (yeah, ridiculous, I know), I thought now would be the perfect time to start it.

Did I say perfect time? Sitting here in the dark, late at night? I'm really creeped out now, and I haven't even been playing it for that long. It's the atmosphere, see? I can't think of the last game I played that sets the scene as well as this... I probably haven't played one. Right from the legendary opening plane crash, you're drawn in very deeply indeed.

I'm glad I waited until I had a HD telly before I started playing this... it's truly stunning, and I don't think it would have had quite the same impact on my old box. I'm sure it looks stunning on anything, but HD really brings it home. But it's not just about looks... the voice acting is fantastic too, and that helps to no end with the atmosphere.

It's funny how some games can ooze atmosphere while others, although they might have amazing-looking graphics, can feel quite bland. But Bioshock is set in a world that's so vivid, you can't help but be thoroughly involved. The way it plays with shadows and creepy voices just sets you up for shocks, which it then delivers. And the characters are really well-defined, too.

Aside from this, the game has a really well thought-out "extra weapons" system, with which you can get creative and come up with the combinations that work best for you. I'm not yet far enough into the game to have been able to experiment much, but I can see the potential at this point in time.

I really don't know why I've left Bioshock on the shelf for this long. The reviews have been universally glowing, and the word-of-mouth from friends equally so. Even though I'm not far into the game yet, I can see that it's stunning in every way, and even though it's got me a little bit jumpy, I'm really looking forward to seeing how the story turns out. I can't help but wonder if this will finally be the game that sees the movie do it justice.

And the Oscar goes to....

With it being the Oscars tonight, I thought I might play a film tie-in game today. And then I remembered that I did that yesterday, and changed my mind. I'll still play something, but I'm not sure what, yet.

But that got me thinking... whatever happened to film tie-ins? Time was that you could never open a games mag without seeing glossy full-page ads from Ocean or U.S. Gold for games based on the latest blockbuster movies.

Of course, we all knew that the majority of them were no good, being mainly uninspired platformers or arcade adventures, with sprites that bore just about a passing resemblance to characters from the movies, often running through levels that bore no resemblance. That didn't matter though... they were bought in huge numbers by youngsters that wanted a bit of escapism for their pocket money, and they were largely fairly happy with the uninspired, whilst the big companies pocketed some decent amounts of cash.

I think, eventually, that all dried up when we grew up. We started to see through the hype and the big names, and realised we weren't really getting much bang for our bucks. Parents must have grown tired of seeing the games they'd splashed out on, games which were now costing significantly more money, sitting gathering dust on shelves after mere days.

There were exceptions, of course... I remember Ocean pulling their fingers out towards the end of the Commodore 64's life and giving us good games based on Batman, Platoon and The Untouchables. The Amiga version of Batman floored me with its incredible racing section, one that I didn't think was bettered for years.

Now, though, the film tie-in is more or less dead, with only animated films and Bond movies getting regular attention. In fact, it's gone the other way, with film to the silver screenthe other way. Most of them have, sadly, turned out poorly, and yet they still bring in reasonable audiences. So I got to thinking... which of this year's Oscar nominees or summer-gone's blockbusters might translate well to games?

An obvious candidate would be The Wrestler, but as there are already successful wrestling franchises on the go, this one would need something to make it stand out from the crowd. So along with the standard wrestling matches, you could have Cooking Mama or Warioware-style mini-games, where you have to make Randy The Ram try and slice meats without cutting his finger off, or fill a pot of potato salad with the exact amount in less than five seconds. Perfect.

It's a bit tougher with other films... I was thinking you could do something for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button along the lines of Jason Rohrer's game, Passage, except in reverse...

Slumdog Millionaire is easily covered... play the quiz game with Buzz or Scene It! controllers, then switch to regular controllers between blocks of questions for fun mini-games. Run across train rooftops! Avoid beatings! Serve tea! Failure in any of these sections mean you will be unable to return to the questions and will lose the chance to win the million.

Of course, you'll need some games based on the big-budget blockbusters, too... how about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? No? Maybe not... just play Space Invaders whilst wearing a hat, and gloss over the rest of that idea...

Or there's The Happening... run! Run like the wind! No, wait... run FROM the wind! Nah... that wouldn't work, would it...?

I think it's for the best that the two industries have decided to keep their creative talents apart, for the most part. There are a lot of great ideas going into video games now that need the best talent of the industry working on them, instead of wasting their ability polishing turds. I'll be keeping a close eye on tonight's Academy Awards, and giving thanks that nobody decided to pick up the licence for a game about Harvey Milk.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Die Hard Trilogy (Sega Saturn)

Oh, man. It's been too long since I last switched on a Saturn. The joy I felt at hearing that start-up again was great. I've always had a lot of love for the Saturn.

That being the case, I've already played a lot of the games I own for it, many times. And as I'm trying to use this blog primarily (but not exclusively) to play games I haven't previously played, I might have been presented with a problem. But a quick peek through the pile brought forward Die Hard Trilogy, which is a game I haven't played before.

It's actually almost three games I haven't played before. With the game being Die Hard Trilogy, the developer made the choice to incorporate a completely different game type for each film (this, of course, was made long before Die Hard 4.0, or whatever it was called). This means you've got a very varied package, which is very welcome.

There's one thing I'll say before I mention how this plays - Die Hard Trilogy on the Saturn is one of the ugliest games I've ever seen. Seriously. I don't know how much of it is down to the 3D limitations of the hardware, but this is one ropey old slapper. But, like with many a rough-looking old boiler (so I've heard), you can still have a good night of entertainment as long as you know what you're playing with.

The first section, Die Hard, sees you starting at the bottom of a tower/office block, and having to make your way to the top. Naturally, a multitude of well-armed goons spill out of rooms and lifts, trying to make your progress difficult. There are also hostages that will need to be set free, and once each level has been cleared, you must find and disarm a bomb before you progress.

This section looks abysmal, with you stuttering and spinning around the environment and its semi-see-through walls, mowing down minions to your heart's content. Playing it reminds me of an ancient and little-known Mastertronic game called L.A. Swat. You and your enemies move really slowly, and shooting them sees them collapsing into a red pile of offal. It's quite amusing, in an old-fashioned before-the-world-went-mad-through-political-correctness way.

The second section, Die Harder, is a lightgun game without a lightgun. Apparently you can actually play this section with a lightgun, but I couldn't be arsed to dig mine out. The onscreen crosshairs work fine, anyway. It's a lot like the Virtua Cop games in terms of gameplay, but absolutely nowhere near as good. Again, like the first section, it moves really slowly and the graphics are atrocious, and yet it keeps you quite enthralled nonetheless.

The third section, Die Hard With A Vengeance, is kind of like a cross between Crazy Taxi (which wasn't released until a few years after this) and Carmageddon. It's not supposed to be... you're not meant to mow down pedestrians on your way to defusing the bombs. And yet, they explode across the streets and your car in such a satisfying manner, you can't help yourself. There's a guilty pleasure for you. Other than that, it's terrible.

You often hear about films that are so bad they're good. You rarely hear the same about a game, and yet Die Hard Trilogy on the Saturn falls squarely into that category. Each individual section is terrible in almost every way (I forgot to mention the horrendous voice acting), and yet each section will keep you entertained while you play, with the third being the weakest in that area. I suspect I won't load it up often in future, but at least I'll have a few laughs if I do.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Mega Man (NES)

I'm sitting here licking my wounds after a lengthy session on Mega Man, my first ever. I did say I had some huge gaps in my gaming knowledge... it might have been better if I'd left a Mega Man sized gap!

I'm not saying that because Mega Man is a bad game... I'm saying it because it's absolutely rock hard. As platformers go, this is one of the most difficult I've ever played. And I'm no soft touch... you're looking at the blog of a man who has completed Monty on the Run without the cheat (take that, C5 section!).

Mega Man celebrated its twenty-first birthday last year, a year which also saw the release of Mega Man 9 on the modern consoles. That was my first experience of a Mega Man game, although I only played the demo. I quite enjoyed that, and in playing this I see how accurate the new version is in terms of replicating all the fans' favourite parts of the original games. Good work there, Capcom.

This game is quite clever, in that it allows you to choose any of its six levels to start on, with bonuses for completing the level being higher depending on which boss you choose to tackle (although apparently defeating all six unlocks a seventh). That must have been quite a novel feature for the time.

Not that it matters that much... it's probably going to take you ages before you even see the easiest boss! I tried all six levels and got the mother of all arse-kickings on each one. Well, I say that... my arse was definitely kicked harder on some levels than on others. The Elecman level seemed particularly harsh... I couldn't even get off the first screen with my first life!

But, a bit of perseverance paid off, and I saw myself beginning to learn the patterns and layouts and beginning to progress a bit. I'm encouraged by this, because it means that I might carry on playing it to see just what I'm capable of. If I'd constantly died at the same places, I just wouldn't have bothered.

I can see why Mega Man has such a reputation. It's revered in many quarters, and it was released in a time when we all had more patience with our games, and would have thought nothing of sitting for hours at a time with a game, trying to figure it out. That's usually how we develop our fondness for games... they don't even have to be good, they just tend to get etched into our brains due to the time we spend with them. I liked this, and I might even spend some of my spare points on Mega Man 9 for the XBox 360.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

ExZeus (iPhone/iPod Touch)

ExZeus is not a game you'd probably expect to see in your App Store. A lot of the games for the iPhone and iPod Touch so far have been quite simplistic efforts, puzzle games and retro remakes cluttering the store and burying the innovative gems, of which there are unquestionably a few. ExZeus is one of those few.

Well, when I say innovative, that might be a stretch. You've seen the gameplay before, just not on this platform. You take charge of one of three giant robots (the game is Japanese... they do love their giant robots in Japan) and go to war against invading forces. Pretty standard storyline, I'm sure you'll agree.

Basically, if you've ever played any of Sega's classic 80s shooters like Space Harrier or Afterburner, you know what kind of gameplay to expect. That's what's so surprising... you're playing a 3D into-the-screen shooter on a phone or MP3 player!

It's a quite amazing achievement. It looks great, but what's better is the way she moves. It's fast and smooth, and there's no lag affecting the game anywhere at all. It's totally fluid which, given that this almost looks like a PS2 game, is really quite impressive.

The game itself is not the best shooter you'll ever play, mind. It's tough to start with, which might be offputting, but give it a few goes and you should be getting past the first boss (took me four goes to get to level 2). And it's all maybe a bit too frantic... tilting left and right and up and down and trying to remember whether you need to lock on or just shoot will leave you in a heap of scrap before long.

Still, for £3.49, you might want to give this a punt. It is good, definitely, it is fun, it is action-packed, and it's a great game to show off with. Here's an official screenshot, to give you an idea.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

kurukuru kururin (Game Boy Advance)

I've had to look at that title three times to make sure I've typed it properly.

This is one of those games I bought pre-owned, when I was looking around the local Chips store, purely because the name rang a bell and I was sure that someone had said it was good. It was only three quid, so I figured I wasn't really losing anything if I was mistaken. Turns out, I wasn't mistaken. Yay!

Obviously, as I had just a vague memory of hearing about the game, I didn't have a clue what it was about. And whereas some games' titles, such as Space Invaders or Moon Patrol, give you a hint at the action to come, you don't get any ideas from a title like kurukuru kururin.

A quick look at the back of the box seemed to imply that flying a helicopter would be the core of the game, and although it is, that's not really how you feel when playing the game. In fact, it's actually kind of like those games where you have to guide a metal hoop along an electrified wire without touching it, but in reverse. Interesting...

It's a fine concept, and it's been executed very well. Naturally, it's got a cute theme... go and rescue your lost, cute-looking brothers and sisters from different worlds. Each world consists of tight and winding passages that you have to steer your way through. But there's a problem with this for me... I'm playing it on the DS, and the D-pad isn't very good. This makes navigation of tight corridors much trickier than it should be, and as a consequence, makes the game less fun to play.

This is a shame, because it's a good game. Fortunately, my son has a GBA SP, so I'll be able to play this properly another time.

I'd actually like to see this come out as Wiiware, or maybe have a new version come out on the Wii (or any of the new consoles, come to that). An expanded version with more levels and modes would be great. In the meantime, though, kurukuru kururin will keep me entertained for a good while, I reckon.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Red Star (PS2)

The Red Star was a game I was looking forward to for ages. I read a few previews, and thought it looked and sounded really good. And then... the publisher went bankrupt. The game seemed stuck in limbo forever, and there were frequently rumours that it wouldn't get a release at all.

That would have been an awful shame, but fortunately the game did hit the shops, and we're much the better for it.

The Red Star is apparently based on a graphic novel. I'll be honest... I know nowt about that. I'm not a big follower of graphic novels. But if it's as entertaining as the game... well, maybe it's a good place to start.

It's hard to describe this game. It doesn't fall into any neat little pigeonholes. It's got bits of all sorts going on. You're fighting an evil army, that much is for sure. There's an array of bad guys... some require you to get up close and personal, and give them a good kicking, whereas some are better off being taken out from a distance with weaponry. Some have shields. Some are huge. There are people, tanks, gunships... like I said, all sorts.

What The Red Star does is keep you off balance. You never get settled. It's constantly throwing surprises at you. You'll be moving in one direction, using melee combat, then maybe the floor will give way and you'll need to move in another direction, blasting enemies... then perhaps a boss will appear at an unexpected moment. You're never comfortable. It constantly keeps you engaged and on your toes. And it's all done with loads of style. As the levels shifted and changed, with bosses being thrown in from out of nowhere, I had a huge grin on my face. It's fantastic fun.

I'm pretty sure that The Red Star won't have sold anywhere near as well as it should have, probably because of its troubled release. It certainly deserved better, as it's one of the more exciting games I've played in a long time. I'd actually urge anyone to seek this one out. GAME often have it for a fiver or less, as do Gamestation, although you might have to settle for a pre-owned copy. Doesn't matter, get it either way. It's a real gem.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Sentinel (Commodore 64)

The Commodore 64 is my machine. I grew up with it, it's probably mostly responsible for my schoolwork suffering, and I loved it to death. I've played a lot of Commodore 64 games over time, but there are so many of the things that there are loads I've never managed to get round to. I like to think I've played most of the classics, but there are still some glaring omissions. The Sentinel is one such omission.

The Sentinel was quite a controversial release at the time... ZZAP! 64 basically said it was so good that it didn't need ratings. That might have been a bit of a pretentious way to look at it; it might have been a cop-out. But you could see where they were coming from... The Sentinel was a unique concept, one that was (and still is) hard to grasp the emormity of.

Imagine, if you will, a board game, but the board has 10,000 different layouts. Your objective is not just to take the "king" (The Sentinel), but to do so as many times as possible in order to reach and defeat the 10,000th level. And imagine a difficulty level that starts on "medium", and increases with each win. That's something like what we're looking at with The Sentinel.

I have a confession to make. I find The Sentinel to be incredibly difficult. Comparisons were made with chess at the time, and they're good ones - it takes a hell of a lot of thinking to get anywhere in this game. You have to plan your moves, but you also have to be quick about it, because once you make your first move, The Sentinel grinds into life and starts to turn his gaze towards you...

The Sentinel is packed with atmosphere and dread. It's a cat-and-mouse game, where you have to stay one step ahead at all times, or you're dead. It's certainly one of the more interesting games I've played in a long while. The feeling of satisfaction when you finally beat your first level is massive... although mine was tempered the first time I absorbed The Sentinel and found I didn't have enough energy left to escape the level - curses!

It has to be said, this is a phenomenal concept, executed as well as could possibly be expected for the time. I've only played it for an hour and a half, and I've only just managed to escape the first level. But I feel like I'm starting to get to grips with the game, and I can feel the hook. I'm learning to like it. This might, or might not be a good thing. I may be trapped here...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)

Aren't games brilliant? There are all kinds of different types of games, which can serve all your gaming moods or needs. There are big, daft, shallow arcade games which will kill a few minutes of your time. There are sports games. There are epic games involving quests that seem to take a lifetime. There are shooting games. There are platform games. And so on... Basically, whatever you're in the mood for, videogames pretty much have it covered.

Yesterday, I played a big, daft, shallow arcade game (Screamer). It must have put me in a certain mood, because today's game is another big, daft, shallow arcade game... but whereas Screamer is over 13 years old, this one is brand new.

House of the Dead: Overkill is a follow-up to the big, daft series of lightgun games, but they've built this one from scratch especially for the family-friendly Wii.

Hang on a minute... "House of the Dead, on the Wii? Surely they must have toned it down?", you might be asking. Actually, no... in fact, they've gone the other way and made it the most extreme House of the Dead game yet. There's more gore than ever before, more swearing than ever before, and less taste than ever before.

It's glorious, unashamed arcade gaming. Who cares if it's shallow? It's just stupid fun. You all know how it works... zombies/mutants run at the screen in a jerky fashion, and you shoot them, preferably in the head. They die, you move onto the next batch of shambling horrors, until either you die or you complete the game. That's all there is to it, and you wouldn't want it any other way.

If you're thinking of getting this, bear in mind that there really is no depth to it. It's a classic arcade game. You play for a high score. If that's what you're in the mood for, HotD: Overkill will satisfy that urge nicely. That's especially true if you buy the "Hand Cannon" along with the game. In fact, if you are buying this game, I would urge you to buy that as well. It's a big, daft peripheral to go with the big, daft game, and it contributes enormously to the baaaaad-aaaaassss feeling you get from the game.

House of the Dead: Overkill is a very brave release from Sega. They might risk taking a bit of stick, releasing such an adult title on the console that prides itself on being for the family. But the people that buy the consoles are adults, and sometimes we like to kick back with some adult entertainment. HotD: Overkill is four hours of blowing heads off, entertainingly cheesy dialogue and unnecessary, OTT swearing. Sometimes that's just what I want at the end of the day.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Screamer (PC)

There's a website I'm fond of, called Good Old Games, where their remit is to sell good old PC games at a low cost, and with no DRM at all. It's a worthy aim, and I've availed myself of their services a few times so far.

This weekend, they've got a promo offer on their racing games. One of the games is Screamer, which is a game I'd heard the name of but never seen or played. After a brief canvassing of opinions, I decided that £3.50 was not too much to pay. One download and setup later, and I was off.

Oh boy, was I off! Screamer is very much a game of its time, an arcade game of the era built for the PC. Someone told me it was the PC Sega Rally of its day... I think it may be a bit of a cross between that and Daytona, although it brought to mind the recent OutRun games whilst playing it, although obviously they came much later.

There's not a lot of depth to Screamer... choose a car, pick a track and race. You can race a championship if you like... there's yer depth. In fact, it's so arcadey that your only controls are up, down, left and right, plus gear changes up or down if you use manual transmission.

It's quite a joy to play something as simple and unpretentious. Screamer is loud, fast, brash and above all, fun. Even the noisy commentator is kind of endearing in his own "special" way. For a little over the cost of a pint, this has proven to be well worth the time and money.

Friday, 13 February 2009

F-Zero (SNES)

I know that, over time, some names are going to pop up here that astonish people. I expect that F-Zero will be one of them.

No, I'd never played F-Zero before this week. As I've said before, my SNES ownership only came courtesy of an unwanted swap deal, and I never grew to love the thing. Not having owned a NES either meant I didn't have any particular leanings towards Nintendo (and you can imagine some of the games I haven't played on that system that will cause dismay to some... hello, Zelda).

Anyway, F-Zero cropped up as part of a competition that my mate Alan runs, and so arose the opportunity to play it for the first time. My only prior experience was F-Zero GX on the Gamecube, which I'd only really briefly played on an in-store console, so it was nice to have the opportunity to play this properly, especially as I love racing games.

So, gloves on and strapped into the chair, I settled in for some extended play. First of all, I found F-Zero pleasingly quick. A racer never works without a true sensation of speed... no problems on that score. For the competition, everybody is playing on Practice and racing solo against the clock. Playing it that way is actually great fun, and a good way of learning the tracks for the racing to come.

In the game proper, this will be essential. The AI opponents are nasty little buggers, and are happy to put you into the fence if you try and pass them. It's a weird sensation... one moment, you're going at nearly 500 km/h, the next, you're bouncing sideways and out of control, wrestling furiously to get back into the game.

With a good number of tracks to race on, cups to win and track records to break (possibly the par that appeals most to me), I can see that F-Zero is going to keep me occupied well beyond the scope of this challenge.

This is renowned as a classic racer, and that's obviously with good reason. With the likes of Wipeout not even a blueprint in the garage at this time, F-Zero was one of the first futuristic racers to really make a name for itself. We're still waiting for a Wii version... maybe Nintendo are trying to come up with a futuristic controller to do justice to the game?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

de Blob (Wii)

Hey, a game with loads of colours and jumping around! Do we see a theme developing here? Well... no, not really.

de Blob is a game that's been widely praised for some time now, but I never really fancied it, and it was only upon spotting it for £14 that I decided to take the plunge. I'm glad that I did - de Blob keeps up my lucky streak of good games played.

How would I describe de Blob? Kind of like a cross between Amidar (remember that?) and a Katamari game. It's got a lovely, languid style to it, where you can just wobble about the landscape under little pressure, splatting and colouring under your own devices. Of course, you have set targets, but for the most part they're not that difficult to accomplish, and so you just feel like you're exploring. There is a free play mode anyway, which reinforces that.

For a game that's about an originally colourless paint blob in a grey city, de Blob is infused with a remarkable amount of character. I'm not necessarily talking about the slightly forced Blob cohorts that pop up from time again and mutter unintelligibly (but with subtitles) - de Blob himself and the landscape he inhabits have a feel very much of their own. It feels nice to decorate the place... it feels right.

I do have a slight issue with the controls... they don't work as well for me as I'd like. But they didn't stop me from playing for two hours straight this afternoon, and I'm pretty sure they won't stop me from completing this one in due course. It's a refreshing blast of gaming colour.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Qwak (Amiga)

I've heard of this before - it's by Team 17, who are one of the more famous Amiga developers, so that's not surprising. I've never played it before, and in fact it was a toss-up between this and their Project-X game, which I'll get to at some point. I basically picked this by looking at the screenshots and seeing the pretty colours and mountains of bonus points, and thinking, "That'll do me".

I didn't actually have a lot of time to play before writing this. It's been a busy and somewhat rubbish day. But I know that I liked it enough to play plenty more. If you like single-screen collect-'em-ups, such as Bubble Bobble or Rod-Land, you should love Qwak. There are enough bonus items and fruits here to satisfy any collecting whims.

Another game that was brought to mind whilst playing this was Solomon's Key. I'm not exactly sure why... it hasn't really got the same kinds of puzzling elements of that game. It just feels similar in control when you're running around. I imagine the sandy-coloured blocks have a bit to do with it as well, although playing as an armour-plated Orville the duck is something of a deviation...

Qwak is a charming little game, entrenched firmly in its era. It's got cute, cuddly and colourful graphics, nice tunes, loads of levels and plenty of jumping and collecting fun, with the puzzling element of learning the layouts of the levels and how to score the maximum from each level to keep you occupied. And now that I've written about it, I'm off to play it some more. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Reactor (Arcade/MAME)

Reactor is a game I've played before - more than 25 years ago on the Atari VCS (2600), at my cousin's house. It really made an impression, so much so that I remember it to this day. I figured I'd give the arcade version a shot.

Upon playing it again, it doesn't take much time to realise that Reactor is very, very simple, but very addictive and challenging. There's really not much to it... you're in a ship inside a nuclear reactor, and you must destroy rogue particles whilst stopping the core from reaching meltdown.

Gameplay is equally simple... to destroy the particles, you bump them into the walls, but they're trying to do the same to you. There are control rods on the walls... if you can bump the particles into those and destroy a complete set, the reactor will cool down and give you some breathing room.

Reactor doesn't look like much at all, but it's a fun game from the times when you could never win, just hope to hold out for as long as possible and get the highest score you could. I actually think I prefer the excellent Parker Bros.' Atari version to the arcade version... it plays the same, but has some really harsh and jarring sound effects which add to the tension and scary atmosphere. Whichever version you go for, though, Reactor remains a pretty entertaining game.

Reactor

Monday, 9 February 2009

Chaos (ZX Spectrum)

Today, I figured it was time to break out an emulator. I was never a Spec-chum, or whatever they call themselves these days, in that I didn't own a Spectrum. I did enjoy playing on those owned by friends, though... I had some great times with the likes of JetPac, Knight Lore and Jet Set Willy. But I owned a Commodore 64, and that's where most of my love for the era lies.

That being the case, I know I've missed out on a lot of great games. Choosing one to start with was always likely to be difficult... and then I remembered Chaos. A mate mentioned years ago that it was one of his favourite games of all time, and that kind of stuck in my mind, and then just a couple of weeks ago it was brought to my attention again when Mat 'mogwins' mentioned it in an early-morning post-beer and Rodent Awards discussion. I decided that Chaos would be my Spectrum starting point.

So what is Chaos? It's a single-screen turn-based strategy game, featuring spells and wizards and their evil creations. Basically, it's a wizarding stand-off between anything from two to eight wizards, any of which can be controlled by human or CPU. The object of the game is simple - kill the opposing wizard(s).

Chaos reigns.

Obviously, although it sounds simple, it isn't. You may have a variety of spells at your disposal, with all manner of creatures and weaponry at your beck and call (if your spell is successful, that is...), but so do they and they're just as adept at using them... moreso, usually, on higher difficulty levels. That's where the strategy comes in... it's not just a case of finding the best means of attack, you also have to be mindful of fending off their heavies, too.

A nice touch here is that you don't have the same spells every time. What you do have can make a lot of difference to how you play. For instance, in my first-ever game, I didn't have many powerful creatures to call on, and the game petered out in a draw. But then in my second game, I had a green dragon, and I'd wiped out the opposing wizard in two moves.

Chaos is fantastic. There's a huge amount of tinkering available to balance the game out or make it more interesting as you get better. You can increase the skill level of the opposing wizards, or simply up the number of opponents. A battle between you and several other wizards is pretty intense, and highly enjoyable. I'm really glad I picked this as my first Spectrum game, and I'd recommend anyone give it a try.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

R-Type Dimensions (Xbox 360)

Bit lazy, this one, in that I haven't had to spend ages setting up the system first. I did have to download the game from XBox Live Arcade though, and that took a while.

I never intended to buy this. For starters, I never liked R-Type in the arcades (or on any system, actually). I always preferred Nemesis/Gradius. Even when new versions were released on the PS2, I much preferred Gradius V to R-Type Final. They're both pretty similar when you boil them down, but I think that Gradius feels faster paced and you've got a bit more freedom with your progression, in terms of the weapons you can use. Just my personal preference.

Also, I didn't play it long enough to learn how to use the "The Force", the power-up attachment that you can bolt on to your ship. It's just such an integral part of R-Type, that I'm not surprised that I never got into the game. You have to know what you're doing with your power-ups. I think that some prolonged play and experimentation is going to aid me here, and hopefully nurture a bit of love for the game.

Another reason I didn't want to buy it was the price: 1200 points. I don't like spending that much on any game, let alone an arcade conversion. But then I worked it out, and it really amounts to paying 400 points for R-Type, 400 points for R-Type II, and another 400 points for the updated graphics and extra game mode. It doesn't seem as bad when you put it like that.

Playing the game for a long period has made me realise that I should have given the game more time when it was sitting in an arcade in Whitley Bay. It hasn't taken me long to get to grips with the power-up system and to learn some of the layouts, and I'm enjoying it a lot more than previously. I've also managed to progress quite a bit further than before... I never continue on arcade games, so I'd never actually played the famous level three before. Now I have, and it's great.

So, 1200 points for an arcade game is perfectly reasonable after all, when it's done well. If it was a straightforward port, maybe not, but the choice of new or original graphics and game modes, coupled with the classic gameplay, make it well worth the purchase.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Cybernator (SNES)

I was thrown for a bit of a loop today - I had planned to play something on the Dreamcast, but I haven't been on it for quite a while, and when I finally got it all set up I discovered the VMU's battery had run out, meaning I couldn't play anything. I'm not exactly a seasoned Dreamcast player, so I presume that the controller needs the VMU to function... if I'm wrong then the controllers must be knackered. Anyway, I'll be off to buy a watch battery sometime next week.

In the meantime, there are plenty of backup plans. Instead, I dug out the old SNES I was given. There are only about ten games with it, but I don't think I've played any of them before. I was a Megadrive owner back in the day... until the day my brother swapped my copy of Landstalker for a SNES. Bastard.

So I got everything set up, and whacked in the Cybernator cartridge. I didn't know what to expect from this one, but it turned out to be a game that's part of the Assault Suits series, and it actually received a PS2 release a few years ago. That game was panned, but I'm taking this game on its own merits, bearing in mind the fact it's now over 15 years old.

I quite enjoyed it, actually. The game sees you in a giant robot suit, ploughing your way through enemy bases that are filled with platforms. So there's a lot of jumping and thrusting to be done. It feels a bit odd at first, but that's because the suit has a real weight to it, and you need to get used to that.

You have a few weapons at your disposal, although you only start with two. Capsules can be picked up that will give you extra weapons, will power up your weapons or will give you back some health. All of these come in very handy, because you'll take a good kicking in the course of your game.

There are also some horizontally-scrolling shoot-'em-up sections to deal with, and frankly, I found the ones I played a bit of a pain. It's very unwieldy, trying to fly a giant robot around the screen and also aiming at guns that are shooting at you and missiles that are fired your way. Dual-sticks would help this to no end, but of course, home consoles didn't have dual sticks in 1992...

Cybernator is a pretty good game, when all's said and done. I've read that it starts to fall down toward the end... I didn't get that far in my brief run with it. Apparently it's available as Wiiware for 800 points, by the way, which is about £6. Not sure if it's quite worth that, especially with no demo to try, but it passed a couple of hours of my evening without any trouble at all.

Loot!

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was so that I could make an attempt at playing through the piles of games my mate gave me. Trouble with that was, they've all been stored in black bags in my spare room. I'm sure you'll agree that's no way to keep aging classics of any medium, so as a result of my mate mogwins asking if I had a list of my Amiga games (I hadn't), I figured this weekend would be a good time to air them out, catalogue them, and store them where I can see them and get at them.

It's taking a while. Like I said, there's a lot of stuff. And yet (and I'm not being ungrateful here) I know he had more Amiga games than there are here. I know we spent hours upon hours caning Speedball 2, and that's not here. I know he had Dungeon Master. I know he had Starglider 2. And I know he had more Cinemaware games than just Rocket Ranger.

Still, no griping from here, there's enough to last a lifetime as it is. I do wonder where some of those games ended up, though...

Here's a small picture of the Amiga and Saturn stuff. It's too small in blog form to make everything out, but at least you can see the enormity of my task, bearing in mind I've got more gaming gear stashed out of sight for now... and not taking into account any emulated games I play. Good times lie ahead.

Friday, 6 February 2009

PapiJump Plus (iPod Touch)

Winter cracks me up.

I mean that literally - the skin on my fingers dries up and splits, so that I have painful cuts on the ends of my fingers and thumbs. Thanks for passing that on, dad.

When this happens, gaming is painful, and so is typing, so I've found a way around that by buying and playing a tilt-only game on the iPod Touch. That game is PapiJump Plus.

It's a simple affair - you control a red ball that looks as though it could be a descendant of Evil Otto. There are a load of platforms, and by tilting the iPod, you move Papi to jump on the platforms. If you miss and fall off the bottom of the screen, you die and it's game over.

And yes, it really is as simple as that. There are a few game modes, such as jumping up the screen, jumping from left to right (a touch reminiscent of Thing on a Spring), and... you guessed it, jumping down the screen.

Still, despite the simplicity, it's pretty addictive for a while, mainly because it's got a high score table and it's annoying if you don't beat your best. And what's more, I can play it without having to use my nasty, split finger-ends. For 59p (or 99c) it's not bad at all, and it's kept me going with my game a day. I imagine it might pass a few minutes in a traffic jam on a bus quite nicely. And I haven't needed to type as much as usual - I win!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Armed and Dangerous (PC)

I owned this once before, and sold it. I bought the copy I now own for one pound. I tried to sell that too, but nobody wanted it. It seems that Armed and Dangerous is the game that nobody loves, so with Valentine's Day approaching, I thought I'd better hit it up.

Armed and Dangerous, if you haven't heard of it, is a third-person shooter by Lucasarts. Just the name would normally be enough to have people buying it in droves, but then again, it's got nothing to do with Star Wars. It was also a new IP on release, which made it a doubly difficult sell.

It's got a rubbish attempt at a storyline, which doesn't matter of course... you're only in this for the carnage. And the controls are a bit woolly, with aiming in particular a bit vague, even with the whacking great crosshair slapped on the screen.

None of that matters. This game is about killing enemies in inspired fashion, using some of the most bizarre weaponry ever committed to code. Got a bunch of enemies you need to take out? Why not try the Vindaloo Rocket Launcher? Surrounded by angry foes? Simply activate the Topsy-Turvy bomb, an anti-gravity device that will pull the bad guys high into the air... until you deactivate it, at which point... well, what goes up, must come down. Usually with painful results.

You've also got the World's Smallest Black Hole, which comes neatly packaged in a cardboard box. Take it out of the box, and you'd better not hang around... not if you like your current size and shape. And then we have my favourite: the land shark gun. Yes, it's a gun that fires a shark into the ground, and that shark then homes in on victims and erupts underneath them, Tremors-worm-style, and fills its belly.

Of course, you've gathered by now that this is ridiculous. Sure it is. But it's pretty entertaining, and makes a nice change from the usual oh-so-serious blasters that saturate the market. I doubt I'm going to devote my life to it, but it'll be a nice diversion every now and then, and certainly counts as a quid well spent.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Panzer Dragoon Orta (XBox)

I totally missed out on the XBox - I had a PS2 and Gamecube, and had a foot in that stupid "I can play all those games on the PS2 or PC" camp. Of course, there were a few decent exclusives on the old monolith, Panzer Dragoon Orta being one of them.

I may have missed out on the XBox, but I was already very familiar with the Panzer Dragoon series having owned the first one (Eins?) and Zwei on the Saturn. And although Orta is intrinsically the same as those games, the cut-above graphics help elevate it way beyond them. Even now, it looks very decent indeed.

As far as the gameplay goes, there's no denying the fact that it's very similar to Rez, although of course that should be the other way around. Rez kind of stole a lot of thunder from the Panzer Dragoon series, a lot of which was probably down to the way it incorporated music into the game.

It's a shame, because although there is a gameplay similarity, the two have such different looks and styles that it's well worth owning both. PDO has a wee bit of strategy - your dragon can morph into three different types, each of which has a slight advantage over the others in certain situations. Switching on the fly is easy, so once you get to grips with the system and the enemies in your way, it becomes second nature to morph at the right times for maximum effect.

Another thing this game has in common with Rez are the lengthy and often difficult boss battles. I struggled for ages on the first one, only to read online that "if you find this one difficult, you might as well give up now". This is advice that I'm only too happy to ignore, because Panzer Dragoon Orta is worth every minute you sink into it.

I'm doing well so far... I haven't played any stinkers and there's only been one game that I haven't felt an urge to return to. Let's hope this lucky streak continues...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Chaos Engine (Amiga)

You can tell from this that I've got some pretty big gaps in my gaming knowledge.

My mate Stephen owned an Amiga back in the day. I could never afford one, but I used to go to his house regularly for next-gen gaming sessions (I had a Commodore 64). But for some reason I never played this game, which is odd, given that it's ideal for two players. I can only think I wasn't going there as much when he bought this.

He gave me all his gaming stuff a couple of years ago, but it's all sat in the spare room until today when, at last, I dug out the Amiga 1200, and after an age spent trying to tune the telly in, I had it up and running. I figured a renowned classic like The Chaos Engine would be a very good place to start.

And I was right. The Chaos Engine is still a really good game. It makes me think of a cross between Gauntlet and Mercs, with more depth and less volume of enemies. That's not to say it isn't a challenge, though. It's all too easy to get carried away and go charging up the screen, only to blunder into a couple of enemies and find yourself dead. Better to rein yourself in, take your time, make steady progress.

Even going slowly, though, there's plenty of hot fire button action. I played for about an hour and, not having used a proper joystick in donkeys' years, I've got a bit of a claw thing going on with my right hand now, and I've only scratched the surface so far. Games are going to last a lot longer, the more I play. That could be a problem!

The Chaos Engine is typical Bitmap Bros shmupping. Shoot stuff, collect the Cheerios (oh alright, coins), get to the end of the level, upgrade your skills and weapons. There's nothing wrong with that predictability... the system works, which is all you want.

Something else that works is the AI of your partner. If you're being attacked by two enemies and you attack one, your partner will generally attack the other one. Why do programmers have such a hard time implementing that today? It helps to make the game just that bit more enjoyable.

I'm very happy with my Amiga haul, and although I know that many of the games won't have aged well, I'm looking forward to working through them, whether they're games I've played and loved or otherwise. The Chaos Engine has been a great start, and I'm definitely going back to it... sometime tonight, in fact.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Shaun White Snowboarding (Wii)

I got home at 2:45pm today, having left work earlier than usual because of the heavy snow. Thirty years ago, if school had been closed because of the snow, I'd have been straight out in it, not coming home until I was in tears due to my wellies being packed full of snow. Nowadays, I'd rather be inside where it's warm. But it seemed only right today to have some kind of snow-related fun, and so I fired up Shaun White Snowboarding for the first time.

You can probably guess that I bought Wii Fit with my Wii: my wife, Lorraine, quite fancied it at the time, and I'd promised the family a Wii when we moved into our house. Of course, we've both used it once each, and the balance board sits and gathers dust under our coffee table.

But with the purchase of Shaun White Snowboarding, it looks as though the balance board might finally get a bit more use. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a problem with the balance board, namely that I can't actually balance. I don't know if it's because my feet are too big for the board, or if I've got an as-yet-undiagnosed inner ear condition, or if I'm just hopeless. So what you'll usually see is me leaning forward like Eddie The Eagle in a crosswind, just to have my character go straight on. And as soon as I stand normally, the character goes veering off to the left, usually into a tree or obstacle, or away from the reward or stunt that I was heading straight towards.

It's a bit of a shame, but I'm sure that a quick recalibration of the board will sort that out. And even with this problem, I still find Shaun White Snowboarding to be a lot of fun. It's not going to give you anything like the workout that Wii Fit does, but if you fancy a bit of SSX-type fun, albeit gentler and less extreme, and you've got a balance board sitting idle, then you really ought to pick this up.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS)

Today wasn't a good day for starting up a new game: I had the Newcastle vs Sunderland match to contend with, for one thing (thankfully, we managed not to lose). Then it was off to my parents' for dinner, which took away several hours of potential gaming time.

Or so I thought... my dad recently bought himself a PS2 "for when the grandkids visit". Yeah right, dad. Anyway, I helped him set that up, and that resulted in quite a long session on World Championship Snooker 2007. And it's quite good. I thought of writing about that today, and then changed my mind.

I changed my mind because I really want to play some of my unopened games. Phoenix Wright is a game I bought on the DS for my wife, a long time ago. And then neither of us played it. But, seeing as it's so highly thought of, I've always meant to get around to it, and now seemed as good a time as any.

The thing is, though... Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney isn't really a game. There's not a lot of "playing" involved. In fact, it made me think back to those books you used to read as a kid, where you'd read a few pages, and then something would happen which would prompt you to turn to one of two pages to continue the story, depending on how you wanted it to turn out.

Phoenix Wright has a LOT of reading. It's quite entertaining reading, but it's not what you really want to be doing with a small screen. Every once in a while you get to choose an answer, and then we're off again as the story moves in the appropriate direction for your choice, and you wait for the opportunity to actually do something again. I can see the appeal, but it's not something I'm overly enamoured with, and I probably won't rush back to this one.

Emulators - what's the crack?

A big part of my plan for this blog is to play as many games as possible for the first time. That's good in a way, as I've got a decent-sized pile of unplayed games for my current-gen systems. This is a good way to kick-start me into finally getting around to them. But there have been umpteen thousand games released in the last thirty years... couldn't this get a little expensive?

Well, it could, but I'm probably going to use emulators a fair bit of the time. They're a bit of a grey area, but they do open up worlds o' fun. Of course, they're not as good as playing the real thing, but as a subsitute they work well enough and they introduce a lot of people to games they might otherwise have never seen. And everyone needs to know where the games of today had their origins.

I don't mind using them... if the games I play on emulators are made available to buy in this day and age, I usually do so, and in many cases I end up buying them several times (Namco Museum, I'm looking at you, even though I don't think most versions have been great VFM).

I reckon if I had all the money I've spent on games over time, I'd probably have enough to buy a house outright. But where would the fun have been in that?