Sunday, 30 October 2011

Have I Still Got It? Number 1 - The Human Race (Commodore 64)

I've been asked many times if I'd incorporate video into my blog, and I've always thought that it's a good idea in principle, as long as it fits in OK. I've added a few representative gameplay videos lately... I think this is a good idea, although they aren't getting a lot of views. I still think it's better to have them than not... I won't be commentating on them, I prefer to do that through the writing. But sometimes, watching a game in action can be a better memory jog for someone. So they're staying, although I might try and find ways to make them more interesting (all suggestions welcome!).

Another idea I had was to start a new series, called Have I Still Got It?, where I play a game I used to love and be really good at many years ago, and see if I've still got the skillz. I figure that might be a slightly more interesting angle, although I doubt, given my time constraints, that I'll be doing it on a regular basis!

The first game I'm having a go at for this feature is one I've written about before... The Human Race.

I'm not going to go into the game too much... I did that last time. I used to play it so much though... mostly because each level had its own astonishing Rob Hubbard tune. I couldn't get enough of them, and the only way to really listen to them properly was to play the game, and I suppose that was what spurred me on. It got to the point where I could easily complete the game on a single life, which goes to show how often I played it just for that music!

The game itself was a good un, to my mind, and well worth the £1.99, even though it only had five screens. But almost everybody else I've talked to and that knows about the game seems to think it's really difficult! That being the case, it seemed like the ideal candidate for an experimental feature. But the question is... have I still got it? Well, watch the video and find out!

The Human Race - have I still got it?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

River City Ransom (NES)

I've mentioned it before, a long time ago, that I'm not exactly steeped in the Nintendo lore. So there are tons of games ripe for exploration, enjoyment and blogging. That said, it can be hard to stick a pin, as it were, and decide on what to play, so recommendations are always welcome.

One game that I've heard talked about as a bit of a must-play is River City Ransom. That's all I could remember about it prior to today... I didn't know what it was about, what you had to do or anything. What better way to find out than to just dive right in?

Barf? I must have hit him really hard!

I was pleasantly surprised, at first, to find a game that was not unlike Double Dragon or Renegade (it felt a little more like Renegade to me). And, in fact, research showed that this was the third entry in a series that started with... Renegade. Damn, I'm good! And if you haven't heard of River City Ransom and live outside the US, well, it was known as Street Gangs in other territories. Isn't the internet wonderful?

River City Ransom is another in the long line of videogame tales that see your useless girlfriend captured and imprisoned and in need of rescue. One of these days, someone is going to program a game where that happens and the hero just says, "Ahhh, fuck it" and goes out and gets another girlfriend. That would be pretty subversive. Until it happens though, we chivalrous (in-game) fellas will keep on putting our lives on the line, battling past innumerable hordes of bad guys for the honour of our girls.

Oh man, I could murder a decent cuppa (and about a thousand goons).

The game features a number of inner-city locales to batter your way through, including parks, building sites, tunnels and buildings, and each of these locales is the turf of one of the many gangs that are featured. It's not quite The Warriors... each gang is determined only by the colour of their shirts... but it still adds a welcome sense of scope to proceedings.

Also featured in the game are high street shopping areas. In these, a number of shops can be visited and their goods purchased. These goods will go towards increasing your character's stats, be it through the eating of food or drinking of beverages (which will replenish lost stamina and energy as well as increasing maximum levels). You can also buy books which, when read, add extra moves to your character's moveset. This is a pretty cool touch, actually.

They what> The bastards! But I... I... trusted them!

One thing I noticed, bearing in mind that this is the first time I've ever played this game... River City Ransom has obviously been a massive influence on the whole Scott Pilgrim vs The World phenomenon. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the recent downloadable Scott Pilgrim game is almost a carbon copy of River City Ransom. I was amazed at how similar they are... I played Scott Pilgrim on the 360 when it was released, but not having been a NES owner, I didn't realise the extent to which it had been an influence. I suppose it's the sincerest form of flattery, especially as the Scott Pilgrim game was done so well and so lovingly.

River City Ransom is a good game, although its limitations can become a little wearying after extended play. You're only ever attacked by two enemies at once, which is a bit dull... that said, they often attack at such speed that you're easily caught out. I'm not a fan of the way you have to move three-quarters of the way across the screen to push the scrolling... it's a bit awkward. And I never actually saw an endgame as such... I didn't play it through to the end, but every time I died I was just put back to a recent point; there was no Game Over.

Hey, what's up homies? What's that? You want to batter me with bricks? Harsh.

Because the game never seems to end, the repetitive nature of the gameplay can become a little boring. Then again, that's the danger with almost every scrolling beat 'em up. At least you have the extra depth that comes with the RPG-Lite elements, and it's a little harsh to criticise what was obviously quite revolutionary for its time, and is still a pretty decent and fun game when it comes down to it. It's got me looking forward to digging out a few more NES games now.

Why is it called River City Ransom when you're not going to pay a ransom?

Monday, 17 October 2011

All your (Game)Base are belong to me.

Apologies for riffing on an infamous gaming meme, but it seemed appropriate at the time. If you're thinking that I'm throwing some fair old variety into the systems I'm using at the moment, then it's all thanks to my mate Alan Mamemeister.

Erm... that's not his real surname, but it's his nom de plume on the old interweb. Anyway, I've known him for over ten years online, but only finally got to meet him a couple of months ago. And to make the occasion particularly memorable, he chucked GameBase onto my laptop, along with the emulators and games for eighteen systems.

I said, "Eighteen systems".

I really did say "Eighteen systems..."

As you can imagine, that gives me a hell of a lot of blogging options. Too many, at times... it can be hard to settle on something, especially with so many games I've either never heard of, or haven't played. But it's a good problem to have when you're trying to fill in gaps in your gaming history.

It's a pity my laptop was playing up a bit, because he had loads more that he could have kitted me out with if we'd had time. Maybe next time... never mind, though, he left me with over 50,000 games as it is. At my current rate, I'll get these done by the time I reach Yoda's age...

GameBase is a wonderful thing. Like MAME, the intention is to document our gaming past. You don't just get the games, you get the history. Scans of game boxes, manuals, instructions, sound files... there's all sorts in there. If you're serious about your classic games, I'd recommend you check it out. Now, I think I might play Zero Wing for the blog...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Enduro Racer (Sega Master System)

Wow. Sega, eh? Just the name causes many to speak in hushed tones of reverence. And indeed, they've been responsible for some of the finest gaming moments of all time. There was a spell in the Eighties where their arcade games were simply incredible, and their name was a cast-iron guarantee of pure joy.

One of the games that caused jaws to drop was the mighty Enduro Racer. Not exactly a follow-up to Hang On, it was a hulking behemoth of a cabinet, with a giant screen positioned in front of a sit-on bike which not only did you have to wrestle around the course; you also had to "wheelie" with it to get over jumps most effectively. After you'd finished a game, you felt like you'd had a real workout.

It's no good doing that, you're bike will smash to bits way before the finish line.

When Sega entered the home console market with their Master System, it was no surprise to find they were plundering their arcade back catalogue... with so many classic names at their disposal, they'd have been foolish not to capatalise on a hungry gaming public. What probably did come as a surprise was their release of Enduro Racer.

I'm sure you've played Enduro Racer in the arcades. If not, you've probably played Hang On. Or OutRun. Or Super Hang On. Or... well, you get the picture. A large part of the thrill comes from racing into the screen at incredible screens, with traffic, scenery and obstacles passing by in a glorious blur. I don't know if Sega were worried that the Master System couldn't handle it, but in their infinite wisdom they decided to program an entirely different game, with an isometric 3D viewpoint, and release it with the Enduro Racer name.

This is where a rocket launcher would come in handy.

It makes for an unusual game today... probably moreso back then, when unsuspecting gamers would have had to overcome their initial disappointment and just get on with it. The format is largely the same... race a course inside a set time limit, jumping over logs and avoiding sporadic traffic and other obstacles. But with the alternative view, it plays completely differently.

To add a bit of a twist, maybe to make the game just a little less "arcadey" for the home market, at the end of every level you can buy upgrades for your bike... if you've done well enough. For every vehicle you pass, you earn a point. Score a minimum of five points, and you have enough for an upgrade. It's basic stuff, and I'm not even sure if I noticed any differences, but it's a welcome attempt at a little bit of strategy.

Wonder if you get a bonus for landing on the car?

Enduro Racer on the Master System does have a certain charm. It's a bit like playing BMX Kidz, or maybe Excitebike (there's a classic I've never played... ideal opportunity now!). I enjoyed BMX Kidz a little bit more though... with Enduro Racer, the first three levels were fairly easy, and then there was a huge difficulty spike on level four. I suppose that with practice, I could overcome this. I have to say though, that for all the game is alright, I never felt any real compulsion to go back to it.

Race! Jump! Crash! Endure!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hybris (Commodore Amiga)

I'm constantly on the lookout for new games to play, not just for the blog but also for my own entertainment and education. I've said it before... I've played thousands and thousands of games in my lifetime, but for every one I've played there are probably ten that I haven't.

Commodore's Amiga is a machine that I have fond memories of despite not having owned one until recently. It has a number of games that I really love, but stacks that I've never heard of. One name that I've heard mentioned in revered tones of late is Hybris.

Pew! Pew! Shooty shooty aliens!

I didn't have any idea what it was about, although I'd gathered it was a shoot 'em up. Great... I love a good shmup. My chances of playing it seemed slim, though, seeing as I didn't own it... but then my mate Alan fixed me up with GameBase, and finally I had a hassle-free way to play the game.

If there's one arcade game that Hybris takes its inspiration from, it's Terra Cresta. The backgrounds are similar, the attack patterns are similar, the weapons power-ups are similar... even down to the way you can split your ship for more deadly firepower. And that's all well and good, because Terra Cresta didn't get a release on the Amiga.

Hey, that's not fair! Stop ganging up on me!

There's a plot, but what do you care about that? All you need to know is that you're flying a heavily-armed craft over a planet's surface, wiping out ground-based defences and enemy craft. What matters is how well it's done. And in Hybris it's done really rather well.

The blasting action is satisfying, although attack patterns are somewhat limited, but even with that being the case it's easy to find yourself getting caught out and having to fight your way out of trouble. You get large points bonuses for wiping out entire formations, and you can pick up other bonuses by uncovering hidden objects, Xevious-style.

There are bosses too, of course. The few I've encountered have been slightly more interesting than usual. Nothing spectacular, but with slightly more unpredictable patterns than usual. You need to be on your game to see them off.

You're not the boss of me...

I'm really glad that I picked up on the talk about Hybris. It certainly ranks up there as one of the better shooters that I've played from the home computer era. Pity I never got to have a go back then, but it's always better late than never, and I'd like to have a bit more time with it. Oh, look, here's a video of one of my games! Let me know what you think, I might try and do more of these.

Amiga shoot 'em up Hybris, in action.

Tweet! Tweet! What I'm up to at the moment.

Hey gang!

The first part of this post is for those that read the blog, but aren't fans of the old social networking. As you might have noticed, I post links to every blog post on Twitter. But I also like to post other, non-blog-worthy gaming things up there every now and again, if you're interested. And then, there are the giveaways...

Yep, every so often, I like to give away games. That's right... give them away! Free! For nothing! Just when the mood takes me. It's usually cheapo PC stuff on Steam, but it's still better than nowt, right? So if you like a bit of a Tweet, follow me and we'll have some fun.

I've been having problems lately when trying to play certain PC games with my Logitech Wingman Rumblepad. It's a fine pad, and it works fantastically well for MAME, but it's struggling with other emulators and, more crucially, actual PC games. Not that matters in some ways... I haven't exactly got a mighty gaming rig, so big new releases are bought on consoles. But a lot of indie games are not mouse-controlled, and so I haven't been getting the optimal experience.

So, today I bit the bullet, ran up to Argos, and got myself an XBox 360 wired controller. And it's a bit of a revelation. It's so simple... just plug it in, the drivers will install and you're away. I expected that. But then I fired up WinVICE, an emulator where I was forced to use my D-pad to play Commodore 64 games, and lo and behold, I was able to use the left stick. Brilliant!

The main reason I bought this controller was so that I could properly play Scoregasm, the new release from Charlie's Games. My Wingman just wasn't having it, and it dragged the game down. But with the 360 controller, it's fantastic. I'll probably write a review at some point, but I will say that if you enjoy twin-stick arena shooters, you'd be a bit of a mug if you didn't buy this.

So I've got that to look forward to, along with getting back to loads of other games that I simply couldn't do justice because of controller issues. Don't know how I'll manage, though... I've just bought RAGE and the absolutely vicious Dark Souls for my 360, and Forza 4 is out next week...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ready Steady Bang (iOS)

It's a funny old world, the iOS game/app market. Seemingly innocuous little games can become blockbuster gaming juggernauts, crushing all in their path with their simplistic, easy-to-grasp concepts. And yet, others which are similarly polished and possibly even more fun can fall by the wayside, looking terribly forlorn when you check your Game Center leaderboard and find you're "#23 of 978". There are 250 million+ iOS owners out there... surely every app should be picked up by more than 978 by default?

Come on, old-timer. Put that thing away.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to give a shout out to a few iOS games that might not get as many mentions as the behemoths that have become part of pop culture. They might not have the profile, but they're irrefutably enjoyable, and all for less than the price of a Mastertronic budget game. And the first game I'd like to pimp to the "masses" is a terribly simple affair called Ready Steady Bang.

If you've ever wanted to be a cowboy or a sheriff in the Wild West, dispensing bullets one at a time in a life-or-death draw against a deadly foe, then Ready Steady Bang is the game for you. What? You question me?

No? Well, if you insist...

Ooohhh, alright... it's a reaction test. In the single player game you take on ten increasingly dead-eyed opponents. You shouldn't have many problems against the first or second, but once you start moving on you'll encounter goes that even The Waco Kid would have trouble dispatching.

That's all well and good, and it's great fun going up against these daftly-named adversaries. It's very satisfying to see your slightly-bigger-than-a-stick-man opponent fall to the ground, clutching his chest after you've beaten him to the draw. And the over-the-top winner's screen is great, displaying your average reaction time in huge numbers. But it's the two-player mode where this game really comes into its own.

Yee-haw! Take that, pardner!

Beating your mates is always fun, but never more so than when defeat comes in an instant. In the last couple of weeks, I've played Ready Steady Bang down the pub a couple of times with mates, and it's an instant winner. Just ramp up the sound on your iDevice, plonk it in the middle of the table with a mate sitting opposite, and away you go. It's like a two-player version of the shootout at the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The pair of you sit there, hunched at opposite ends of the table, fingers hovering and twitching above the screen... the announcer shouts out "Ready.... Steady.............. Bang!" Your fingers race to be the first to tap the screen. The loser falls, a broken and defeated man. The winner jumps for joy, being careful not to spill his pint over the iPhone...

Quick Draw McMoz prevails again!

It's fantastic. You could actually imagine this being an arcade cocktail table in a bar. It could rake in a fortune. Everybody has that competitive edge, and playing Ready Steady Bang amongst mates really brings that out. I love this game, and I've brought in a few sales purely on the evidence of a quick session at the bar. For 69p, it's a little gem that should be impossible to refuse.

Ready Steady Bang at the iTunes App Store