Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Safari Guns (Commodore Amiga)

Here's another episode in my "pick a game I've never heard of from the box" series... which still has quite a way to run! And this particular instalment saw me playing a game called Safari Guns, which is another game from Beau Jolly's Big Box.

Safari Guns took me a little bit by surprise... I have to admit, I was expecting a hunting game. But it's not that at all. Instead, it's an Operation Wolf-style game... but with a twist. Instead of shooting the animals, you have to photograph them. Don't worry, though, you are armed with a gun as well as a camera. You have to switch to that when angry poachers pop onto the screen. That's when you get to satisfy your bloodlust.

All those tasty animals around, and he goes and shoots me!

Points are scored at the end of the game (and, I suspect, at the end of the level... I'll tell you if I ever get there...). Points are scored for photos of animals... each new animal shot being worth the most points. Subsequent shots of the same animal will bag you an increasingly diminishing number of points. You also score for blowing away the poachers... but if your trigger finger slips and you hit an animal, then points are deducted.

It's a simple formula, but an enjoyable one. It is, though, dependent on having a good mouse, and mine is merely OK. As a result, I didn't do as well as I would have liked. I did enjoy playing Safari Guns quite a bit, though... I thought it had that "one more go" element, and I actually quite fancy another shot on it now.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Unsung Classics. Number 8: Citadel (Commodore 64)

If you look up Citadel on websites, you might wonder how I'm putting it in Unsung Classics. After all, it got 91% in ZZAP! 64, which means it was obviously appreciated in its time. That may seem true, but I honestly don't know anyone else that's played it, and it hardly ever crops up in lists or discussions of best Commodore 64 games. Time to spread the word a little.

I remember following the making of Citadel in ZZAP! 64's Diary of a Game, and looking forward to it a lot. Martin Walker's updates were entertaining and insightful, and served to build a good picture of what we could expect from the game. As a result, I made sure I had a tenner available for when it was released, and bought it as soon as I could. I didn't regret it.

Your droid has a little information screen. The 'E' tells you you're about to pick up an energy capsule.

Citadel is a game set in deep space, where a routine explanation has picked up energy emissions from a seemingly-barren world. A probe was sent in to investigate, but after providing information on the planet's internal defence systems, contact was lost. As it is thought that the planet may hold technological secrets, you must use remotely controlled droids to explore the eight underground cities in an attempt to find anything of value.

The cities are laid out with checkerboard flooring, something akin to a chessboard. And indeed, the game's instructions say that this is like a cross between an arcade action game and a strategic board game. Seems like an odd mix, but there is some truth to this. You can't just pile in with guns blazing... the cities are very cleverly set up so that you're quickly overwhelmed if you try this. No, some thought is required here.

Success! You've found the door to the next city. Just in time... there are enemies on your tail...

In Citadel, each city's floors are littered with trapdoors. Once your monitor moves within a certain range of these doors, they'll open, revealing either a good surprise or a nasty surprise. It's easy to know which is which... if you get within two squares of a trap and it hasn't opened, then you know you'll reveal either a switch or, better yet, energy or firepower for your droid.

Switches are used to shut off electrified beams that deny access to many areas. There's quite a bit of backtracking needed to get all the areas open... although you don't always have to open every switch or visit every part of a city to be able to move onto the next. I appreciated this, as it can be frustrating to be stuck in similar-looking cities, wondering exactly how to get to the one bit you've missed.

This city's got horrible decor. You'd be wise to get out, sharpish.

There are some similarities to Paradroid here, too... obviously, there's the "remote droid beamed into droid-occupied territory" thing, but besides that, you have a Capture mode available. This one's a bit easier to use than in Paradroid, though... simply double-click to open it, move it over whatever you want, and let go. Voila, it's yours. This comes in very handy, because in this case, any droid you capture can be used as a shield... and it will need to be, otherwise you've got no chance in later levels, where enemy firepower is substantially more vicious.

Citadel is an excellent game, which requires you to use your brain as well as your trigger finger. It's very devious, and it's obvious that every single trap placement has been carefully considered, meaning you'll have to have your wits about you to get through the game. The action is a bit samey, it's fair to say, but it's still never less than interesting, and I've really enjoyed delving back into its depths.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Budokan - The Martial Spirit (Commodore Amiga)

Fighting games were always pretty popular on the old computers... not with me, though. I'm not very good at them, so generally speaking, I tend not to like them. There have always been exceptions... International Karate was fantastic, for instance, and some of the old arcade beat 'em ups have always appealed.

Budokan is a bit of a different beast, in that half of the game is devoted to training and learning.

This is a nice place. Now, where should I get beaten up first?

The game starts with you in the courtyard of the Tobiko-Ryu Dojo, where you will undertake your training. There are four training halls, each specialising in a different discipline. These disciplines are Karate, Kendo, Nunchaku and Bo. As you make your decision and walk towards the dojo of your choice, it's clear that you're disadvantaged right from the outset... your character doesn't half move with a limp!

Once you're in the dojo, you can choose to either practice your moves or take on a sparring partner. There's a decent selection of moves for each discipline, so practicing is a good idea at the beginning. When you've got a few moves down pat, it's time to try them on an opponent. Budokan gives you three different sparring partners, and it's worth taking them all on in turns, just to see how different opponents might come at you.

Welcome to Budokan! If you come back next Friday, there's a gig on.

Once you feel your skills are at a high enough level, you can finally travel to the fabled Budokan arena, to take part in the martial arts tournament. There, you'll fight a range of opponents, each with different skills and weapons, some of which you won't have encountered before.

Budokan has an interesting gameplay mechanic, in that you only get to use each of your disciplines a maximum of four times throughout the tournament. You can, if you wish, use kendo against a karate fighter, which is quite amusing. But that might leave you vulnerable later in the tournament. It also means that there's no point developing a favourite and sticking with it... you're going to have to mix and match your styles. It helps to keep the game a little fresher.

Hah! Know karate, do you? Well, I know stick, and now, so do you!.

At first, it seems that all that supposed depth counts for nothing, as you'll probably dispatch your first couple of opponents easily. But things soon change, and you'll find yourself eating mat on a fairly frequent basis. A problem rears its head, in that fights are quite short and loading times are not, so you end up spending more time watching and loading than actually fighting. Still, Budokan is a cut above your average early fighting game... although having said that, it's a bit like a kind of advanced Yie Ar Kung-Fu. That's no bad thing in my book.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

vvvvvv (PC)

I like to keep something of an eye on the indie games scene, because that's where a lot of the original ideas are, or you can get some cool little games for a bit less than full retail releases. Either way, they make for some good blog opportunities, and I've used them to good effect so far.

The next one I fancied a crack at was vvvvvv. Or is it VVVVVV? I'm not sure. And no, I don't know how to pronounce that. It doesn't matter... it's not called vvvvvv because of any of the characters' names, or anything like that. It's called vvvvvv because the game is filled with spikes.

Yep, and you have to collect it. Without the ability to jump. Good luck!

Yes, vvvvvv is a platform game. And, indeed, spikes are the order of the day. The game's setup is simple... you're on a spaceship, something weird happens, and the crew are teleported randomly about a space station. You, as captain, take it upon yourself to go and retrieve your crew, little realising that every single room is a treacherous nightmare to navigate. Mostly because of spikes.

Yes, I said spikes. And here are some. Oh, and a ghost. You should avoid that, too.

The game's controls are simple. You can move left. You can move right. You can't jump... what you can do is a gravity flip. So to get past some obstacles, you'll have to flip upside down and walk along the ceilings, or the undersides of platforms. It takes a fair bit of getting used to, but soon becomes an important and fun part of the game.

Now, this sounds a little bit simplistic in this day and age... so to help out in that respect, the game is unashamedly old-school and retro in every way. It's not an exaggeration to say that this could be a Commodore 64 game. From the way it loads, to the character set, to the graphics, to the SID-meets-NES music, it's presented perfectly in the style of a game from 1988.

You should look happy, seeing as I've just teleported here to rescue you.

The gameplay, too, is similarly old-fashioned... it's evil! It's flick-screen, rather than scrolling, and each screen is named in a time-honoured fashion, and some screens are very devious indeed, while others give you a little bit of a breather. And although some will have you tearing your hair out, eventually you'll suss them and wonder how you ever got stuck.

vvvvvv is a throwback in the most delightful way. Even the price is a throwback... it's about a tenner, which is what you would have paid for it in 1988. That might seem a bit much for what it is, but if you ever got any joy from vicious games like Monty On The Run, you should at least download the demo of vvvvvv... I reckon you'll get quite a kick out of it.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Revs! (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I was at a bit of a loose end today, and somehow I ended up on my iPod, browsing the App Store. Eventually, I happened upon Revs!, which was a 59p racing game, and so I impulse bought it.

It's a typical Super Sprint/Ivan Ironman Stewart-type game, something which seems to be becoming increasingly popular on the iPhone/iPod Touch. You get a choice of four cars, but all this boils down to is that you get a choice of your favourite colour, as they all look the same and they all have identical abilities. There's also a choice of two game modes: championship and time trial. I'll look at the championship first.

Once your game gets under way, it's you against the other three colours in a five lap race. The championship consists of eight tracks, and you score points for a top three finish... but if you come fourth, you're not allowed to progress. Harsh, that.

Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for slowing your car down so you finish last.

Should you make it through all eight tracks, there may be more. I don't know, because my accumulated points total saw me finish fourth, and I was told that a top three finish was needed to progress. So even though I never actually finished last, the others swapped positions enough to see me cumulatively last. Bastards.

It's very difficult to do better, too. I did win the first race, and managed second in the next, but I was third every other time. Your car isn't fast enough to outpace the opponents at the beginning, so you'll always see two cars streaking away into the distance. You can collect coins on your travels, and at the end of each race you'll get the chance to upgrade. But to be honest, I never noticed any difference from race to race in the performance of my car. And as overtaking can be as difficult here as the Valencia Formula One track.

It's like Wacky Races, except all the cars are broken from the start.

Time Trial can be a promising game mode, with a constant challenge to your own times being an addictive element of any game. Here, however, I was foiled in my attempts at fun. The game provides you with a ghost car, which is nice and gives you something to shoot for. Also, the cars now have different attributes, so you can pick one according to your driving style. But it also only unlocks one track for you, and to unlock the next you have to beat a pre-determined time... which I was unable to do! So I was left trundling around the same track, wondering where the hell I could shave off the second-per-lap I needed.

Revs! is actually a decent little app for 59p. It looks almost exactly like a Commodore 64 game, and is similarly old-school in gampeplay, with the cars having eight fixed positions as you turn. It never feels exciting, though, and is definitely hampered by its harshness. You might want to give it a go for that price and for the nostalgic feel... but you'd probably be better off going with DrawRace instead.

Friday, 26 March 2010

FIGHT! Commodore 64 vs. ZX Spectrum. Number 1: Bomb Jack

Here's a feature I thought would be a good idea, that would tap into our schoolyard memories and provoke, erm, "discussion"... ZX Spectrum vs. Commodore 64! We've all had those arguments as to which is better... and I felt like stirring the pot a bit more. Just for argument's sake.

Now, I owned a Commodore 64, but I'm perfectly able to accept that it might not have had the best version of every game. I thought it might be fun to take a game that was released on both, put them up against each other and see which is better. Let's see how it goes...

The first game I chose was Tehkan/Tecmo's Bomb Jack. OK, so it's an arcade game, and that being the case, why did I choose two no doubt inferior versions to look at? Even stranger... Bomb Jack is not a game I have any particular love for. I've never been any good at it, and I find it quite frustrating. And yet, I've subjected myself to it... twice.

Here's what we started with... lovely, juicy bombs.

The arcade game is actually quite nice. It's pretty enough... bold and colourful, with those lovely red cherry bombs hanging in blue skies. To get the best scores, you have to collect the bombs in order. Once you collect one, the next in the sequence will start flashing. That's the one you should go for. Collect all the flashing bombs and you'll receive a big points bonus.

It was never a favourite of mine; I never was any good at it. Playing it in MAME these days has given me a new appreciation of it... skilful play can see you weaving in and out of enemies, and it can get pretty intense. And of course, there's the risk/reward aspect of collecting the bombs in order for bigger points. It's a classic name, and in retrospect I would say rightly so.

Bit naughty, putting all that red in the background. Where are the bombs?

I had Bomb Jack on the Commodore 64... I did play it a fair bit but it was annoying. It wasn't well reviewed either, generally speaking. I'd also heard that the Spectrum version was really good... something that's stuck in my mind all this time, and partially led to this little feature.

Playing the 64 version again just brought home all its faults, but magnified this time. Jack's a fat lad, for starters... and oddly, you can actually feel the weight! Jack seems to drop more quickly than in the arcade version, and also seems to struggle to get his lardy backside off the ground. The enemies are all bigger too, but it's more than just a cosmetic problem... this extra size makes the screen very cramped, and it's very difficult (if not impossible) to manoeuvre around for the bombs. It's fast... but that's also a problem, given the size of everything. Also, bonuses are very hard to come by, which is annoying... and then you find out the game has a completely different (and lower) scoring system to the arcade version. Bomb Jack on the Commodore 64 is not very enjoyable.

That bird's nothing but trouble. One peck, and you're dead.

Having re-acquainted myself with the Commodore version of Bomb Jack, it was time to try the Speccy's effort. And the first thing I noticed was the size of the game's characters... they're small. Thankfully! When I say "small", I mean "just the right size". The game is perfectly playable on the Spectrum. Gaps can be squeezed through, enemies can be dodged, bombs can be collected in order, bonuses can be had. And the scoring system is the same as the arcade version's. Graphically, it's one of the nicer Spectrum efforts I've played so far, with colourful backgrounds and no sign of clashing. Nice work, Elite!

The home versions had a problem from the start, in that Bomb Jack in the arcade has a vertical monitor, and these versions had to be squashed hozizontally. One version coped with this far better than the other. I had quite a lot of fun with the Spectrum version of Bomb Jack. It's a very well implemented version of the arcade game, with precise controls and accurately-proportioned graphics. It seems as though they really took the time to lay out the screens with the horizontal aspect taken into consideration. The 64 version, on the other hand, doesn't work all that well. It does have nice red bombs, although they're more blood red than the big arcade cherries. But the poor scoring system and claustrophobic playing area really cripple it, and it's not really worth much time.

RESULT: Spectrum wins!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Colony Wars (PS1)

The PS1 is yet another platform I pretty much missed out on. I owned one, but only very briefly indeed, and of the few games I owned for it, I only really got to play a couple at any length. So this is a system that's prime for blogging...

One of the games I can remember owning but not playing was Colony Wars: Red Sun. I only bought it a couple of days before I had to get rid of the PS1, so never really got to find out what it was like. I saw it in Cash Converters (where else) and it rang a bell, but before I bought it I looked it up online and discovered that Red Sun is actually the third in a trilogy. So I decided to buy and play all three for the blog... eventually. I've got the original and Red Sun - Vengeance will follow courtesy of eBay.

Your sights are locked, but I wouldn't go attacking something that size...

The first thing I spotted was that this game was produced by Psygnosis. I was a touch surprised... they're well-renowned for their 16-bit classics, but I'd thought they were defunct before the Playstation era. Shows what I know. Anyway, it gave me a little extra edge of anticipation prior to loading it.

Colony Wars starts with a sweeping narrative, which anyone would swear is by James Earl Jones, adding an amount of grandeur to proceedings. Research suggests that nobody is clear as to whether this is James Earl Jones or just a very good impostor. Let's pretend it is. It just feels better that way.

In space, everything except you is enormous.

The game is a massive space-opera, where you play a single lone starfighter pilot, battling against a gigantic evil Empire. Of course! Your ship, thankfully, is simple to control. You can accelerate and decelerate with the shoulder buttons, and switching between different weapons is easy. I can be put off from space games very easily if the controls are too convoluted, but this is nice and simple.

It's difficult to judge how good this game is from my time with it. It's absolutely epic, and huge, and I haven't even scratched the surface. What I can say is that the ship handles pretty well, blasting things feels satisfying, and there's a genuine sense that you're part of a grand quest of righteousness... in spaaaaaaaaace! I imagine this impressed the hell out of people when it was released... I don't know if I'll be able to play the trilogy enough to do the games justice, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Game Room (XBox 360)

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday... I had my game lined up and then couldn't get it to start! I'll try it again on another system soon...

Microsoft threw Game Room at us from out of nowhere a while back, and since then, I've been waiting excitedly for its arrival. Now it's here I've snapped it up, and thought I might as well give my initial impressions.

In case you don't know what Game Room is, I'll tell you. It's as close to owning your own arcade as you'll ever get, unless you win the EuroMillions.

Look at the size of that place! You could fit stacks of games in there.

The setup, I think, is quite nifty. You're given a huge building interior, with loads of rooms, and you can fill these rooms with arcade machines. Some are actually classic arcade games, and some are custom-designed machines that play old console classics... currently for the Atari 2600/VCS and Intellivision. I'm not sure if other systems are in the pipeline, but you'd have to imagine they will be.

You're given a few themes to choose from at the beginning, so you can set up each room in a different style, and then plonk your games in whichever room you feel appropriate. There's also different items of decor that can be strewn about for added ambience. More themes and decor can be unlocked as you play in your Game Room.

I love the 80s! To cater for the likes of me, many themes are available for your rooms.

An added extra which adds something unique and fun to the gameroom is the mascot feature. Each game has a mascot, based on a classic iconic character from within the game. These can be bought separately at the shop, or you'll get them for free if you buy the game on its release date. It's fun to see these little daft characters pottering around in your arcade... I love seeing the Adventure duck/dragon roaming around, and characters are in danger of a kick to the head from my Shao-Lin's Road mascot (not really!).

There are down sides... the range of launch titles is not the best, meaning that you're unlikely to find any well-stocked arcades on your travels just yet. Still, as time goes by this will improve, and I'm genuinely excited to see how my arcade builds up over time.

Ahhh... happy memories. And barring gaming megaplexes, the only time you'll see your mates standing at arcade machines.

Also, there are server problems. So far, I've found it pretty difficult to upload any challenge scores... it's a shame that this isn't running smoothly, because the potential that exists from challenging your mates is massive. I'd hate for them to be put off because they can't connect to upload their score.

Still, I see masses of potential in Game Room. A lot of people are unhappy with it... unjustly in many ways, I think. It has to bed in before it can be properly judged, but I think that if you used to hang around in arcades when you were in your teens and/or love 80s arcade games, then Game Room is going to eat up a lot of your 360 time in the coming months... I'll revisit this one a little way down the line, to see how it's holding up.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Unsung Classics. Number 7: Z (Commodore 64)

It's time for another in that ever-popular series, Unsung Classics. Again, it's a Commodore 64 game... no surprise, because I've played loads more of them than any other system's games. I've got plenty lined up for the future, too... and another new feature I'm working on...

Z (or Z-Pilot in the US, apparently) is a top-down shooter, in the vein of Time Pilot, or more accurately, Time Pilot '84. It's set across four zones, or dimensions, and the object is to get to the fourth dimension and destroy the control ship.

Normally, I like a game of darts...

Each zone is filled with alien ship that are trying to stop you. Unlike the Time Pilot games, you're not constantly on the move here... you can stop and take stock of what's going on around you, which is quite welcome.

After a while, you'll see a bomb floating around. You have to shoot the yellow bomb container, then swoop in and collect the bomb. Bombs are used, in the first three dimensions, to blast holes in the portal that takes you to the next dimension. The more holes you make, the easier it is to fly through the moving barrier and into the portal.

You're sitting by the portal as a bomb floats by. Grab it!

Make it to the fourth dimension, and you'll have the chance to destroy the control ship. You'll need to collect at least five bombs for this... I say "at least", because the control ship is evil, and it's fast, and it will chase you around the level mercilessly. There's a fair chance that you'll miss with at least one bomb, so you'll need a decent supply to be sure you can finish the job... if you survive long enough. This level is more like Time Pilot meets Sinistar.

Z is a heck of a lot of fun. It's fast, smooth and quite a rush, particularly as you progress through the levels and the enemies get more and more vicious. Having to use the space bar for the bombs is a pain, but just adds to the nervous tension, particularly when that control ship is chasing you around. I don't think many people got to play Z in its day... I really enjoyed it then, and it's still a good shooter even now.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Warlock's Quest (Commodore Amiga)

One of the main reasons for writing this blog is to play all the games I've got sitting upstairs, in an attempt to justify keeping them. Many of them are games I've never played or even heard of before, and that's where a lot of the fun lies... seeing whether I've got an undiscovered gem or a waste of disk space.

Warlock's Quest is one of those games I'd never heard of. It seemed pretty obvious what it would be when I loaded it up... a role-playing game. Except... it's not.

No, I haven't got a clue what's going on there, either.

To be honest, I still don't really know what was going on. Sometimes, having some instructions can be quite handy. Basically, the game appears to be a shoot 'em up of sorts... the playing area is split into two levels, with your warlock moving from left to right and, where ladders or gaps allow, up and down between the levels.

A range of supernatural creatures are out to stop you from doing... well, whatever it is your quest is. I'd probably have to complete the game to find that out, and I didn't manage it. Mostly because it's hard. If you stay still and blast, you'll last longer. But of course, you won't get anywhere on your quest. The enemies are constantly spawning, so you can't just clear the screen and then move on, either.

Jesus! Those red blobs might be annoying, but I'll take my chances... downstairs looks freaky!

But, in true Gauntlet style, your energy is constantly ticking down, too. So if you do stay still, you'll get a high score before you die, but you will eventually die, so you might as well get a bit of a shift on and see what's on the other screens.

I did kind of enjoy the game... the graphics are very small but endearingly cute in a way. Apart from the scary stuff... it started to get a bit weird and freaky further on. God knows what I would have found if I'd managed to get further. I can't see me ever playing it again... it's out of the way now, and I can at least say I've played it. I didn't hate it, but there was nothing particularly outstanding there to encourage me to go back to it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Yakuza (PS2)

Cash Converters comes up trumps again! Although I'd heard of the Yakuza series, I really knew nothing about it, other than it was popular and pretty highly regarded. I had no clue about the gameplay, or anything. But it was £1.99. Perfect blog fodder, so I snapped it up.

If I'd known this was a golf game, I mightn't have bothered.

Yakuza puts you right in the heart of the Japanese underworld... in fact, it puts you in the shoes of an enforcer, with aspirations of starting his own "family". Trusted and respected by bosses, and with money, you're in prime position to go it on your own. Until your girlfriend is kidnapped, that is... and a chain of events is set in place that leads to you taking the rap for the murder of your own family's boss.

The first section of a game sees you playing this scenario out, and it serves to get you really involved in the story, as well as being a deent tutorial. You'll learn how to beat up large groups of thugs, which is what the majority of this game is about.

Just the seven of you? You couldn't make it more difficult than that?

The combat system is fairly straightforward. Punches are the order of the day... you can string together some pretty vicious combinations that will leave most thugs struggling to breathe. You're also able to put some other moves in there... a throw can scatter a few guys at once, while a suitably subdued bad guy can be slammed against a wall for maximum damage. And if all else fails, you can reach for the nearest chair or blunt instrument and beat the crap out of them with that.

Once you get out of jail, ten years later (game time, naturally!), the game becomes a more open-world affair. So when you're not on a mission, you have some freedom to explore. In doing so, you'll find a range of mini-games, which involve some daft games or (of course) more fights. Wandering the city is fun, as it's based on a real area of Tokyo. Pity, then, that it's often rendered Resident Evil-style, with fixed-camera views making you hobble around in a confused fashion.

This is what you get for fucking around with Yakuza! Go home to your mother!

Other than that, though, I found Yakuza an interesting and involved game. The gameplay itself is not especially stunning and in fact gets a bit repetitive, but the storyline and setting were enough to get me hooked. I can easily see why the series is up to a fourth game... it's not a world we generally have much access to, and it's sufficiently different to Grand Theft Auto to make it worth sticking with.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II - Rogue Leader (Nintendo Gamecube)

Star Wars.

It's probably the most recognised name on the planet. It's also, surely, the most-milked for merchandise, although I guess that's arguable. And it's got loads of videogame spin-offs. Most of which I haven't played...

I dunno. I love the films, particularly the original trilogy, but I still managed to get a fair amount from the newer ones. For some reason, though, I haven't been all that bothered with the games. Yeah, there's the classic arcade original... but I never saw one in its day, and so I never really fell in love with that.

Then there's stuff like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. Again, supposed classics, but they came at a time when my gaming mojo was at an all-time low. Even the Dark Forces games have passed me by. Thinking about it, I feel a little empty.

I've lost R2! Oh well, he was irritating me, anyway.

The Gamecube is a machine I got late in the day, and so missed a good amount of its classic titles. I seem to remember that Rogue Leader was a launch title, or thereabouts, and it generated a lot of excitement. And after playing it, I can see why. It's certainly the most spectacular-looking Star Wars game I've seen. The tutorial, set on the sandy plains of Tatooine, leads you into the game very gently... too gently, in fact. I found it a bit dull, and soon skipped past it.

The next level, though, is an attack on the Death Star. That's more like it! It's actually very familiar if you've played the first arcade game... first, you're shooting towers on the Death Star's surface. Next, you have to fight off waves of TIE-Fighters. And then, there's the trench run, as you attempt to blow up the Death Star.

See, now that's the stuff. There's no more intimidating enemy than an AT-AT.

Swooping over the Death Star, dodging and weaving as the TIE-Fighters scream around you, is really pretty thrilling stuff for any Star Wars fan. And it looks convincing, which is key. The trench run, too, has an incredibly solid feel, possibly for the first time. That said, it doesn't feel as fast or frantic as the decades-old arcade game, but it does feel authentic.

I did, though, find it quite difficult. And as such, I finished playing after I'd destroyed the Death Star. I'd played for over an hour at this point, including the time spent on the tutorial, so I consider it sufficiently played for a blog write-up. Two levels further on comes the Imperial Attack on Hoth. I've just GOT to play on to see that one...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Saboteur! (ZX Spectrum)

This was recommended to me ages ago and, erm, I forgot about it. But it's always been a game that was in my mind anyway. I quite fancied it back in the day, but never got around to playing it. Now I can, but I had to decide which format I would go for. As the Speccy version is in many Top 100 lists, I went with that one.

It's an odd title for the game, Saboteur!, because there's no actual sabotage involved in the gameplay. Instead, you have to search an enemy compound for a computer disk which contains names. Lots of lovely names, of people that no doubt need to be stopped from, erm, doing something. Probably something bad.

That'll teach you to mess with a ninja, sucker!

The enemy won't just let you stroll around unchallenged, though. Oh, no. From the moment you climb out of your little rubber dinghy, guards and security devices are out to stop you. The guards can fight, and some are armed, and there are also attack dogs and laser-firing security cameras, so you'll need your wits about you. Just as well you're a ninja.

It's set out in typical 8-bit platform fashion, with you running across the screen and "flicking" on to the next one when you reach it. It's also, as is fairly typical for these games, a bit repetitive, but given the setting of the game, that's not surprising or even any kind of a detraction.

What? Hang on... I didn't find the disk, and I got killed. How did the worst ones get on?

Once (or if) you've found the disk (against the clock... you can't just wander around for as long as you want!), then you must make your way to the roof where a helicopter is waiting to whisk you to safety. Just as well... that dinghy would be a bit of a rubbish getaway vehicle with all the heat you'll have generated!

Saboteur! is a pretty enjoyable game. It gives you a choice of nine difficulty levels which is pretty nice... get proficient at one level and you can ramp it up and try your hand at the next. There can be some frustration when you can't find the disk, or your way out, but that's just the nature of these games. Overall, this one was a pretty good pick.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Perfect Dark (XBLA)

Perfect Dark is one of the most revered games of all time. But as it was on the N64, I didn't get to play it. Never thought I would, either... until an updated version was released on XBox Live Arcade, for 800 points. Handy!

However, coming into it without the benefit of rose-tinted glasses makes the game a harder sell to me. I'm not that much of a FPS player to begin with, but those I've played lately are modern, state-of-the-art efforts, and however groundbreaking the original Perfect Dark might have been, this update would have to go some to match any of them.

I'm not sure that it goes far enough.

Oooh! That looks... exciting... ummmm...

For a start, although it's only on XBLA, it's still just an update of a two-genereations-old game, and so it doesn't look all that great. It's serviceable, sure, with some nice touches... but it still looks like a bit of an old wrinkly.

Gameplay isn't what I would call sublime, either. There's nothing wrong with it... in fact, old-schoolers might prefer the lack of hand-holding. But in areas that look very similar everywhere you go, it's quite easy to get lost, or rather, not know where you're meant to be going next.

You're Out Of Your Mind, thinking that looks like Mrs Beckham.

Mind you, although I said there was a lack of hand-holding, I played on the first (easiest) difficulty level, and the aiming was more or less done for me, and the guards were a bit on the stupid side, allowing Posh Spice, sorry, Joanna Dark to wander around relatively stress-free.

There's no doubt I haven't got the most out of this game at this point... I need to play on a tougher difficulty level, and I haven't even touched the multiplayer, which is the aspect most fans of the original seem to love best. I like the "spy behind enemy lines" element of the game, and I suspect I'll press on and look for improvements... but for me, it's not the all-conquering supergame it's been labelled.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Baraduke (Namco Museum (everything), arcade)

What a strange little game this is. It's another of those odd games on the Namco Museum that I've never played before, and when I first saw it I had high hopes of it being a bit like Section Z, a shooter that I love.

It isn't.

It's an odd sort of a shooter, which sees you controlling a player named Kissy. Yes, really. I actually looked up this game, and found that Kissy has a backstory. And that backstory is a corker. Apparently, Kissy married Dig Dug. Yep, that shocked me as well. They had three children, one of which is Mr. Driller. What? They are now, sadly, divorced. Even videogame characters can't stay together these days.

You can tell she's a girl. A bloke would shoot that daft cute thing.

I tell you, this was shocking revelation upon shocking revelation to me. Who would have thought it? Can you imagine a Japanese soap opera based on this? It would be awesome! Sadly, it's never likely to happen. Also sadly, this is all way more interesting than Baraduke, the game.

Baraduke (or Alien Sector, to give it its Japanese (and better) name)sees you venturing through alien landscapes, blasting odd looking creatures so that you can unlock the door to the next level. It's as shallow as that. The creatures (at least, the ones as far as I saw) look like octopii. Some sit there and throw out more octopii that wobble about at you, and shoot laser rings at you. If you blast the ones that sit there, they release collectable things.

Look, there's too many nasties down there. You go.

There's a recoil action when you shoot... if you don't counter it, you'll blow yourself right back across the screen, eventually. It doesn't, in actuality, have much of an effect on the gameplay... it just looks kind of nice.

That's about it, really. It's quite a dull game, and not much fun to play. It's slow, and low-scoring. All it really has going for it is that tremendously involved backstory. Who fancies writing it into a screenplay? Anybody with me?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo DS)

Professor Layton is a curious title. It's renowned for being caught in the great Woolworths crash of 2008, when every copy in England seemed to be stuck in a warehouse, and those that had made it into the wild were selling for eighty quid that Christmas. Eighty quid! People were desperate to get their hands on it. But why? For £8.99 from Cash Converters, I decided to find out.

This is a puzzle game. So yes, you might be wondering, what was I playing at? I have little love for puzzle games. But it did promise to be a bit different from the norm. For one thing, it's not a match three game... nor is it a Tetris-esque "fill the holes with the shapes" type of game. Thank Christ for that! I hate most of those.

It's not intuition. I already knew that letting a kid read the map would be trouble.

No, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a mystery wrapped in a puzzle, quite literally. The good Prof has to solve a mystery to obtain a great treasure, a Golden Apple, and to do so he must travel to the village of St. Mystere and solve the puzzles within.

And what a lot of puzzles there are! And several different types, which means that your brain really does get a bit of a stretch. Some are fairly straightforward, enough for even my meagre brain to cope with. Others, though, are right bastards, and when they tell you you're wrong, you're very likely to question them. Out loud. Strongly.

Haha. Yeah. 12 moves for you, maybe... 112 for me, more like!

The game is tremendously well put together, and beautiful, too. When I got to the title screen and saw that it was by Level 5, who were responsible for Dark Cloud (among others), it came as no surprise. I knew I recognised the style from somewhere, and it helps to make the game even more appealing.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a great little game. It's interesting, beautifully presented and a real workout for the brain, set out in a style that is very unlikely to irritate. And it's very easy to just pick up and play for a few minutes, whenever you feel you've got the time. I'm very likely to do just that, which is something to be said for a puzzle game!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Unsung Classics. Number 6: Halley Wars (Sega Game Gear)

Once upon a time, many many years ago, I was wandering around an arcade in Whitley Bay, and I happened across a game called Halley's Comet. It was a vertically-scrolling shooter, and it looked awesome. So I played it, and loved it. I seemed to be really good at it... it only had a six-digit high score, and on my second go I managed 545,000. And then... I never saw the game in an arcade again.

Years later, I bought a Sega Game Gear. I really liked that little system. When I spotted that there was a game called Halley Wars for it, my interest was piqued. And when I saw that it was a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up in the vein of Halley's Comet, I bought it immediately.

And I loved it.

Whoooosh! Those mini-comets cause a fair bit of damage. Best take them out ASAP.

It was quite a bit harder than its arcade parent... partly, I suspect, because of the controls, and partly, no doubt, because the screen was nowhere near the same height as an arcade screen and so there was much less time to react to enemies. Nevertheless, the prospect of saving the planet from an approaching comet remained appealing, and enjoyable.

I played this today using a Game Gear emulator, not something I've ever used before. I really like it... it has a nice Game Gear surround for the "screen". Brings back some happy memories.

Doesn't that look nice? I loved my Game Gear.

The game follows the arcade game of Halley's Comet pretty closely. Alien forces are using the approach of a comet as cover so they can attack the Earth. Your lone fighter must attempt to stave off not only the alien attack, but also the disaster of having a comet crash into the planet. Lasers are always a good bet in these cases, and your ship is therefore handily equipped, but powerups can be picked up along the way to help you on your quest.

This fella's a mite troublesome. He needs to be hit hard and fast.

If anything gets past your ship, be it alien spaceship or mini-comet, the planet will be damaged. Once this damage gets too great, the Earth is detroyed, and you're pretty much knackered up there in space. Or in other words, it's game over. It's a good premise for a game; it adds tension and forces you into taking a few more risks than you otherwise might.

Halley Wars, for an old handheld system, is a good little shooter. It seemed amazing to me at the time, and although it's obviously less so now, especially with the advent of MAME, I still think they did a pretty good job here. For me, it justified the purchase of the Game Gear, which is pretty high praise. Now that I can play Halley's Comet in MAME it's perhaps redundant, but I've had fun with it here nonetheless.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


I just can't play anything today. I haven't had a cold this bad for a long time.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Xenon (Commodore Amiga)

I can't remember ever playing Xenon on my mate's Amiga. I remember playing Xenon 2, vividly. But any memory of the first one escapes me. Strange. Maybe I didn't play it at all.

Now I have, though, and here we are. Xenon is a pretty interesting vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up. You start in a land-based craft, and can move in any of eight directions across the landscape. Enemy gun emplacements will rise from the ground and should be destroyed... not just because they're nasty, but also because they tend to leave behind powerups for your craft.

Early doors, and the land craft is about to have some work to do...

Eventually, though, the landscape will present you with towers and structures that get in your way. When that happens, a quick waggle of the joystick will see you transform into a plane-type craft. Soaring through the skies, you'll have no problem in flying right over any bothersome obstacles. This craft, too, can be powered-up with collectables.

The plane, on level 3. Yes, that says demo. No, I couldn't get to level 3 myself.

The game's formula is fairly predictable, otherwise. Move up the screen, destroying the enemies until you reach the end-level boss. Then die. Erm, I mean, you must defeat that to progress to the next level.

It's a pretty difficult game, but quite an enjoyable one. It's neat and crisp looking, and has a very upbeat tune which does a good job of driving you on through the level. Later efforts have surpassed this, but I reckon that Xenon stands as a good example of its time, with enough there to make it worthy of an hour of play. I could go back to this one.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Arx Fatalis (PC)

This wasn't my original choice for today... but my original choice didn't work, so I needed a replacement. Arx Fatalis has been sitting on my hard drive, unplayed, for ages, so it was a convenient stand-in.

Arx Fatalis is a role-playing game. That's a genre I've always convinced myself I like, mainly because of the thirteen months I spent completing The Bard's Tale between 1987 and 1988. In reality, though, most of the ones I've played I've found fairly boring.

And yet, I've found myself travelling that lonely path yet again. Arx Fatalis sees you in a world with no sun, where all the planet's inhabitants have been forced to band together to create an underground habitat in order to survive. But now that they've been down there a while, the bond is breaking and squabbling is, once again, the order of the day.

Whyyyyy, yoooou... I oughtta strangle you with my bare hands!

Your character finds himself imprisoned and with no memory. Isn't that always the way? Of course, the first task is to find a way out, and once that is done, start trying to piece together your life and eke out a new existence, before finding what your true mission is.

It's fairly standard stuff... walk around, get attacked by a rat, kill the rat, eat the rat. Oddly, you can bray the crap out of a rat with a giant bone and it will keep coming back for more, but one punch from you and it's dead. Obviously, you don't know your own strength. Rat meat, along with other foodstuffs, can be cooked before eating, which makes it more nutritious. Quite a cool idea, although I'm sure other games must have used this as well.

The dank, brown atmosphere made our hero think he'd been transported onto the Commodore 64...

Another cool idea is the magic system. You find runes on your travels, and what do runes make? Spells. To cast a spell, you use the mouse to draw the relevant rune symbols in the air. Draw them successfully, and the spell will be cast. I played about five minutes of Morrowind once (but I'll be playing that one in more depth for the blog at some point...) and I seem to remember it used a similar system. Could be wrong, though.

Arx Fatalis, research has uncovered, was intended to be Ultima Underworld III. Makes no difference to me, I haven't played any of the other Ultimas (have I played anything in my life?). But it is a pretty decent, if very murky and brown game, with a fairly interesting control system. If I can find the time, I might see myself getting on with this one OK. But that's a pretty big "if".

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sword & Poker (iPhone/iPod Touch)

For years, I've ridiculed the idea of videogames where you use cards to defeat your enemies. I've tried to play a couple of them, and hated them. I've called them stupid and pointless, among other things. And then I went and played Sword & Poker.

Sword & Poker is something of a dungeon crawler. It's not like Dungeon Master, and it's not like the Diablo games. Instead, you're shown a top view of a dungeon level, with you starting at the beginning, and a pathway to the end. Along the way are a series of monsters, which you must defeat to get to the end of the level. You can't go around them, although there are times when the path branches so you can choose which fight to take. But basically, you'll have a set number of fights to win in order to get to the next level. If your energy runs out before you get to the end, you've lost and will have to restart the level.

Ready... FIGHT! Erm, DRAW! Snap? Damn.

When you do encounter an enemy, you face off using a five by five grid. Nine cards are placed in the centre of the grid... you will then be dealt four cards, and you must place two of them on the grid to make the best five-card poker hand that you can.

Each hand causes damage to your enemy. Cleverly, it doesn't always work out that the strongest hand causes the most damage. That's the case with your starting weapon, but as you earn money you can buy new weapons at the end of every level, thanks to the handily placed shop. Some weapons have magic properties... others sacrifice damage with stronger hands in order to make some of the mid-level hands do more damage. So you might only hit for one point of damage for a straight flush, but you might hit for thirty for a full house.

Not sure about you, but I don't much like the look of that fella at the end...

It's an interesting element of strategy, because those premium hands don't show up all that often. You'll do best if you take stock at the end of every level, see what you can afford and look at how much damage each weapon can do, and whether certain trade-offs are worth it.

Sword & Poker is a very simple idea, and one I'm sure has been used many times before but that I've been too blinkered to see. I've learned a lesson with this game... although an idea might be stupid (which I still think the fighting with cards thing is), it doesn't mean it won't be enjoyable. You won't see me rushing out to buy more card fighting games, but I've learned not to be so ignorantly dismissive.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Missed a day! I'm disappointed, but I suppose it's inevitable, eventually. Stupid winter cold germs!

Oh well, back on track again...

Unsung Classics. Number 5: Firetrack (Commodore 64)

Have you ever played Star Force? It's a classic arcade vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up, albeit probably underappreciated. It's not exactly a giant name of the arcades, but those in the know... well... they know.

Star Force was in one of Consett's taxi offices in the Eighties, and I spent a fair bit of my pocket money on it. It plays so well, and you always feel capable of doing better. When you don't, it's your own fault. I loved it, and longed for a conversion for my Commodore 64. It never came.

You can tell they're aliens... look at that colour scheme!

There used to be a big bus station in Consett. It was shaped like a giant crescent, and it had all kinds of nooks and crannies. Some held taxi offices with arcade games. One held a second-hand bookshop. Ever keen to expand on his empire, the bookshop owner sold second-hand computer games, too. It was a good way for us kids to expand our collections... newish games were available at pocket money prices.

On one of my ventures into the bookshop, I saw Firetrack in the box of Commodore 64 games. I remembered it had had a good review in ZZAP! 64, and when I looked at the back of the box... it looked a bit like Star Force! And so, £2.99 later, it was mine.

That's a bit easier on the eye. Blows up nicely, too.

To be honest, I think that if someone had attempted to convert Star Force to the Commodore 64, it probably wouldn't have been as good as Firetrack. It's probably the best vertically-scrolling shooter on the system, and yet, like its arcade inspiration, was woefully underappreciated in its day.

There's a plot, but it's stupid and irrelevant. All that matters here is that you've got alien landscapes and ships to blast. The first level sees you up against fairly slow attack waves... they're easily dispatched... if you concentrate. It's easy to find yourself distracted, because each level is littered with + and X shaped squares, and if you destroy these they increase your bonus at the end of the level. There are also question marks at regular intervals... destroy a certain number of them and you'll be awarded an extra life.

Awww, that looks like little allotments. Burn them all!

As you progress through the levels, the difficulty increases... first, the attack waves get faster, and then they start shooting at you. Eventually, it'll take all your mettle and reflexes just to carry on.

Firetrack, for me, is an excellent arcade shoot 'em up. I haven't found too many that agree, but on the other hand, I haven't found that many that have actually played it. I think it suffered at the time because it was released right at the time weapon pickups became popular. That doesn't bother me.. I'm all for simplicity and purity if the game is good. Firetrack is very good, and I've really enjoyed playing it again.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Bionic Commando Rearmed (XBox Live Arcade)

Bionic Commando is a name that goes back a long way. I used to love the Commodore 64 conversion of the arcade game. It was tough but fun, with great music. I never got to play the arcade version, but that hardly matters. If you're American, though, the Bionic Commando name means something entirely different. A brand new version was produced for the NES, which although having a similar main character was a very different game.

It's this version which has been remade for the modern consoles. I bought it the day it came out, played the tutorial, hated it and never loaded it again. Still, the name holds an appeal, and when Capcom produced a brand new, all-singing all-dancing update, I was interested. I wasn't forty quid's worth of interested though... but months and months later, I was able to nab it for £4.50 from Tesco. Rude not to, at that. Before playing that, though, I thought it might be wise to revisit BC: Rearmed.

Good decision.

Ka-BOOOOM! Even the poster is shocked at the power of that one.

Having spent a bit more time with Rearmed and getting to grips with the controls a little more, I started to enjoy myself. The game reminded me quite a bit of Shadow Complex, although that game came out later. It also reminded me of Impossible Mission, strangely enough. I think it was the behaviour of the guards that did it... they'd wander around their little areas quite happily, but when I got near they'd maybe move faster or start firing. It's quite a bit like Impossible Mission's robot droids.

Once I got myself over the fact that your commando can't jump (which I still think is silly, but no longer insurmountable), I started pinging myself around the platform-strewn environments quite handily. And it becomes fun, swinging across a gap, landing successfully , taking out a guard, catching onto the platform directly above, hauling yourself up, hanging there, blasting another guard and then vaulting up onto the platform. Turning that into a fluid, seamless action is very satisfying. It feels right, it feels good.

That's the bugger, there. Let me pass!

There's a small amount of other spy elements here... hacking the computers is also IM-esque. It's a bit weird to start with, but it soon becomes manageable.

Just as I was really getting into it, though, I came to the first end-level boss. And that's where I remain. I just couldn't figure it out at all, even with the clues I was armed with. In fact, we came to an impasse... it couldn't hurt me, and I couldn't hurt it. After 15 minutes, it was back to the dashboard.

Shame, really... there's a lot of game for the MS points, and although it's tough, it feels more challenging than unfair. It's presented very nicely... modern, but with plenty of nods to the old-school. I expect I'll have another crack at this one, probably after I've had a look at GameFAQs or something. I hope the brand new version can live up to this one.