Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Conan (XBox 360)

I had a bit of a frustrating day today, so I really fancied venting in gameplay form. Picking through my unplayed games, I found the perfect vehicle... Conan.

A decent hack-and-slash game can be very satisfying, and that's exactly what Conan is. It's quite obviously "inspired" by the gameplay of the mighty God of War, and although there's nothing quite as magnificent as some of the set pieces from that game, Conan has plenty to offer.

There's nothing terribly new here, it has to be said. Conan stomps moodily around pretty landscapes, smiting all before him. He does so in particularly stylish and brutal ways, which is where most of the fun comes from. There's a pretty long list of combos to unlock or purchase, and learning these leads to some terribly entertaining blood-spilling. Coupled to that are the counter-attacks... if an enemy attacks and you time your parry exactly right, you can lauch a lethal counter-attack which will usually result in pieces flying from the opponent, or an impressive spurting arc of blood, at the very least.

You can pick this up for a tenner at most places these days... it's worth a punt for that, as long as you like button-mashing blood-letting. It's not a pure button-masher though... once you learn a few combos you'll develop favourites and start using them effectively as you cut a swathe through all that stand before you. It really is like God of War-lite... but it's done well enough that it stands on its own as a worthy and entertaining game. It's actually found a little nich for me, and I'll be returning to it when my mood is right.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Star Force (Arcade/Nintendo Wii)

It's that time of the month where I play an old favourite of mine. This time, it's Tecmo's arcade game from 1984, Star Force.

I've loved this game right from when I first played it in Whitley Bay as a teenager. It's one of those inexplicable things that just happens in life. I remember walking around the arcade, looking for some of the big names like Nemesis or Ghosts 'N' Goblins, but finding them all occupied. Star Force was sitting there a bit forlornly, right in front of the arcade entrance with no customers in sight. And so, to pass the time, I whacked in a ten pee.

It turned out that Star Force was the game I enjoyed most that day. I liked the fact that it was relatively simple, and also the Greek-lettered stages were a draw, as I was heavily into Greek mythology at the time!

Star Force is a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up. It hit the arcades just before extra weapons became popular, which means that the only help you get comes from a bolt-on autofire unit you can occasionally pick up. To be honest, you're a little bit under-equipped for the task at hand, because there's a hell of a lot of stuff to shoot over 20-odd levels. Good luck seeing them all... it's a pretty difficult game for the mere mortal.

I've heard talk of huge bonuses in the game for achieving certain things... I've been playing this for 25 years, on and off (I really can't believe I'm saying that... 25 years!), and I've never achieved a solitary bonus. And do you know what? I don't care. Because I have as much fun playing this now as I always have.

Yeah, it's simple, but that's part of the appeal. It looks pretty nice, even now. It's got some lovely sound... effective explosion sounds and an understated bassline which becomes a jaunty little number upon collection of your autofire unit. And it's got classic "you versus the massive enemy forces" gameplay. And it's harsh but fair... most of the time you die because you weren't good enough. Just how I like my arcade games.

Star Force is a lesser-known classic, but well worth a shot for anyone with an itchy trigger finger. And in this, its 25th year, it's available on the Wii for 500 points. You'll need a classic controller to play, at the very least, but if you're an arcade fan, your Wii just got a bit more appealing.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Cannon Fodder (Amiga)

I figured that, seeing as I've got my Amiga out and haven't used it much this month, I'd stick with it for today's write-up. And sitting on the top of one pile was Cannon Fodder, the renowned Sensible Software classic, and a game that I'd never really fancied before today, to be honest.

If you ask me why I've never fancied it, it's probably because I expected a game that was like an advanced version of Commando, and it turned out to be a game where you use a mouse to point at little men and drag them all around a map, completing objectives along the way. I've never been a big fan of those games... right from Command & Conquer, which was probably the first game of its type that I played. I just don't have the right kind of brain for those games (see also: puzzle games). But Cannon Fodder, whilst being one of the first of those types, is less complicated than the genre eventually morphed into, and as a result, more fun for me.

Cannon Fodder is produced with a typical vein of Sensible Software humour running through it, but it also hits a solemn, sombre note. Each of the men you take to battle has a name, and whilst they rack up kill totals in macho fashion, you feel a pang of loss when one of them finally buys it. Hitting home harder still is the way new recruits blindly line up for battle by the hillside... a hillside that fills up with little white crosses as your men fall by the wayside. It's oddly poignant, and gives you pause for reflection...

...and then you pile back into the fray again. Cannon Fodder has a lot of levels, and they're well designed and fun to play with a pretty good learning curve, meaning that even the most hopeless strategist should be able to get a handle on things and make satisfying progress.

The only real issue I had with Cannon Fodder is that my men kept coming to grief because the mouse didn't respond properly. But that's because it's an old mouse and I didn't have a suitable surface for it. Other than that, Cannon Fodder may well live up to its claim that "War Has Never Been So Much Fun".

Saturday, 28 March 2009

StarRay (Amiga)

This wasn't my first choice today. I was going to play Datastorm, but I loaded it up and discovered a problem with corrupted graphics, a bit like the problem I had with Wings of Fury, but worse. So I knocked that one on the head and turned to another Defender-inspired game, StarRay.

I wasn't sure about this one at first. It looks very nice, with lovely, big, colourful graphics, but that also seemed like a bit of a flaw... I wondered if it was possible to zoom around the landscape like you can in Defender, without smashing into everything in sight.

A small amount of play answered that... it's not a problem at all. For having such a big ship, it's very manoeuverable, and although there's plenty to shoot I think that the game has been cleverly designed so that it doesn't feel claustrophobic in the slightest.

The game echoes Defender in all the ways you'd expect... you start off flying left and right above a spacey landscape, with drone ships attacking your "installations" (the game's equivalent of Defender's Humanoids). You blast them before they can destroy the installations, and all is well. As you move on, different enemies are thrown at you to keep things fresh.

And then, after the third wave, the game kicks you out of your comfort zone by throwing you onto a lush, forest-covered planet, with bees and insects in among the spaceships. It jars you a little bit, for this isn't what you'd expect from a Defender game. But this is good.

Progress reveals several different planet types, meaning that StarRay manages to stand alone from Defender as a cracking game in its own right. I was going to make do with that, but then when I finished my game, the high score table appeared... populated fully by "STE", the mate that gave me the Amiga in the first place.

Weeelllll... we can't have that, can we? It's like a red rag to a bull for any of us dyed-in-the-wool arcade game players. And so I spent the next half an hour making sure that the name at the top of the table was not "STE", but "MOY". Those are my arcade initials. And there they sit, proudly, in the Number 1 position.

StarRay is a great Defender-style game. I'm not going to say it's better than Defender... just a bit different to play. If, like me, you're a bit too cack-handed to get to grips with Defender properly, I'd highly recommend StarRay, as it gives you similar gameplay but without being quite such a bastard to the novice. I think it's great fun.

Scurge: Hive (Gameboy Advance)

I did get barely started on this game once before, only to put it down and forget about it. It's been nagging at me ever since, and so I thought I'd pick it up and give it a decent run.

Scurge:Hive continues in the vein of placing a classic older game in an isometric 3D setting. In this case, if you could imagine what an Alien Syndrome RPG might be like, you'd be pretty close to the mark.

I expect that sounds like quite an exciting prospect. And indeed, Scurge: Hive does a really good job of giving you a modern Alien Syndrome-type experience. There's not as much out-and-out blasting as you would find with Alien Syndrome, but that's not to say you won't often find yourself mobbed by hordes of crazed lifeforms. You most certainly will. But you do get a chance to explore, there are puzzles to solve (often quite simple ones), things to climb, and stats to upgrade.

That last bit isn't as daunting or off-putting as it might sound. You level up automatically, and it basically appears as though your life points increase each time you level up. That's about it, and that's good.

Looking after your health is one thing you'd expect, but there's a more interesting mechanic at play here. At the beginning of the game, your spaceship is attacked and your character becomes infected with the Scurge. If this ever reaches 100%, you die. Luckily, once you leave your ship, there are cleansing units (which also act as save points) available throughout the game which reset the level of infection to zero, but the moment you leave one of these the infection starts to build again.

It can occasionally lead to frustration though... there are moments where you get a bit stuck as to what you're meant to do next, and you have to forlornly trudge back to cleanse the infection without having actually done anything. And to add a bit to this frustration, the enemies respawn every time you enter the room. I can imagine there's a large group of people that would be really annoyed by this.

Still, that aside, Scurge:Hive is a very enjoyable and very tense sci-fi shooter, which builds a fantastic atmosphere and throws new challenges and enemies at you at regular intervals. In fact, I'm tempted to look out for a cheap copy of the DS version now. Wonder if I could write about the game tgwice?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Landstalker (Sega Megadrive)

This is yesterday's entry... but believe it or not, I was digging up the front garden and planting trees for a lot of yesterday, and before I could write this up, I was asleep on the couch. That couch and I have a very close relationship. So here we are, a bit late.

Technically, I shouldn't be playing this here. I played it a reasonable amount when it was released, so it's not exactly new to me. But I've got the unofficial sequel, Dark Savior, sitting upstairs for my Saturn, and as I've got unfinished business with this game (my brother swapped it for a SNES before I could really get far into it), I thought this would be an opportune moment to have another crack at it and see if it's as good as I remember.

Two words: It is.

If you want a simple, potted description of this game, I would say it's like Wonder Boy in Monster Land, given the Ultimate isometric 3D look. Which means that it's off to a flyer. Landstalker is an epic game, full of questing and fighting and talking. Lots and lots of talking. And you can't speed it up, either. Aaarrgh!

Still, not to worry. The conversations are often quite entertaining and occasionally humourous. And you'll probably need to follow them for clues as to what to do next.

One of the appealing things about Landstalker is that you can avoid a lot of the generic monsters that roam the landscape, if you want. One of the things that irks me about modern RPGs is the way you are forced to fight low-level minions. I don't know why that bothers me now... it never used to when I played The Bard's Tale all those years ago. Anyway, the point is that, with this being more of an action-platformer, you can see where everything is in the landscape, which means that you can just walk right by a lot of the critters. But if you choose to kill them, you'll probably pick up a bit of gold or health for your troubles. Depends how much of a hurry you're in to get on with the game as to how you choose to play it.

Landstalker is an epic game, but it's simple enough that you can play it at a fairly sedate pace and not have to tax your brain too much. You only really need buttons to jump and use your sword... strategy is not a large part of this game. The Wonder Boy in Monster Land in "3D" comparison is, I think, hitting the nail right on the head. I have a feeling that might appeal to quite a few people. If it does, you can get it on the Wii for 800 points. Good value, that.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Wolfenstein 3D Classic (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I've stayed in the FPS groove today, and gone from a modern classic that I'd never played to a true classic from the ages that I'd never played.

Wolfenstein 3D is, basically, the game that founded the First Person Shooter genre. To have not played it is to leave a serious gap in my gaming knowledge, and even if I have played Doom and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, it's not quite the same as the original.

Not that this is either, by all accounts, but it seems as good as. It's got all the levels of the original game, and in fact has been tweaked seemingly for the better (in most cases).

The one thing I'm having a little bit of trouble with so far is/are the controls. You've got two real choices here... a control panel which you press to move, or the accelerometer 'tilt' controls. I can't really get them working comfortably. Trouble is, I'm having a little bit of difficulty with the standard controls. It's walking forward I'm struggling with. You'd think I'd just had eight pints of Sneck Lifter, or something... I move in a very wobbly fashion, with a tendency to veer to the right.

If I can conquer that, then the rest of the game is a triumph. Although it looks undeniably old-fashioned, there's a certain charm to it, and I particularly like the animation on the plugged SS guards as they fall. There are 60 levels, with the option to start on any of them; there's a very handy automap function which can be brought up at the touch of an icon... and there are lots of Nazis (and their dogs) to kill.

I think that, with this new set-up, Wolfenstein 3D Classic is a damn good game for a mobile phone/MP3 player. Portable games should be split into bite-sized chunks... you're never likely to have an extended session. This has 60 bite-sized chunks, and the fact you can resume where you left off (another handy new feature) means that it's not a problem if any bite proves too big. For £2.99, I think this is a very worthy addition to your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Halo: Combat Evolved (XBox)

Where the hell do you start with this?

I've never played Halo before today. I own all three of them, although I only picked them up fairly recently. Not owning an XBox and not being a big fan of most FPS games, I just didn't bother with it. And my PC at the time wasn't anywhere near powerful enough to cope.

Previously, I'd never considered it a big loss. I suppose it's true that what you haven't had, you don't miss. But now I've had it. And I want more.

I've given this quite a bit of play today, more than most of the games in this blog so far. I've had more time, granted, due to being off sick at the moment. But I have actually wanted to play it, and I thought it only fair that a game of such magnitude should have a reasonable time investment before I even thought of writing about it.

So far, the variety has been welcome. Too many shooters see you cooped up in corridors or miserable looking buildings. Master Chief may start off in the confines of a spaceship, and having to crawl around inside little ducts is a pain, but you don't have to do it so much that it puts you off the game. And then you land (sort of) on the planet and everything opens up.

And it does feel like you're fighting an alien force. Obviously the enemy looks alien, but the sounds are such that they really feel alien. And when you're saving mates from their clutches, you do feel part of a massive struggle against overwhelming odds. The atmosphere is convincingly built here.

I may be late to the party by more than seven years, but the fun is still going on. Halo is now a legendary name in the gaming world, and I'm happy to have finally found myself in its world. I expect it will be a long time before I find my way back out...

MadWorld (Nintendo Wii)

Ugh, this cold I've got has really knocked me out of sorts. I went to sleep before I could write last night.

Right. MadWorld. Let me say, this is not a review, just a post based on my first 90 minutes or so of play. I'll also say, before I go any further, that they were the most entertaining 90 minutes of play I've had in a long time (at least as far as videogames go!).

The thing that draws you into MadWorld, and one of the things that might persuade you to buy it before you've even played it, is the black-and-white look that the game has. It's not exactly Sin City, but the comic book feel is authentic, with the only other colour being the red of blood. You'll be seeing a lot of red.

The game has a storyline, not that it's anything you'll be particularly concerned with. No, what you'll be concerned with is the violence.

MadWorld is one of the most violent games I've played. And I mean this in the best way possible. It's comic book violence, to go with the comic book look. And yes, it's fun to play a bloke with a chainsaw on his arm and go ripping bad guys to shreds. That's very satisfying in a game. But once you move beyond that, dig a little deeper, a whole world of hilarious carnage is opened up.

I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but the inventiveness of the killings is to be applauded. Look around your arena, look for things, maybe not even obvious things, that can be used as instruments of death. Signposts, waste bins, passing trains... not merely mundane, everyday objects here, but sources of amusement and hilarity, once used the right (wrong!) way, and the gateway to better weapons (every boy wants to own a spiked baseball bat, right?).

MadWorld is fantastic, hilarious over-the-top fun. I'm wondering at this point if it might get a little samey with repeated play, but I honestly don't think that will matter. A lot of games are samey after a few hours, but it doesn't stop them being fun, and MadWorld is really a lot of fun. The voice acting is fantastic as well, and hilarious. There are some great lines in there.

MadWorld is like a third-person version of Smash TV, the update you would want it to have if it moved outside the overhead viewpoint, and took away the guns (killing is more fun when you can see the black-and-whites of their eyes). That should be enough to convince most of you that it's worth your while.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Super Aleste (SNES)

I dunno, I fancied another shooter today. And after Gynoug on the Megadrive, I thought I'd hit the comparable system of the time, the SNES, and see what it had to offer.

Super Aleste is a vertically-scrolling effort, which is apparently part of a series. I didn't know about that, I've never played an Aleste game. I might look up some more of them after this one, though...

It starts off in a fairly pedestrian manner... slowly meandering up the screen, with standard baddies ambling towards you. It's once you start collecting power-ups that the true mayhem begins.

Every so often, you'll get a numbered pod. If you collect that pod, you'll get a weapon. There are eight weapons at your disposal, each of which is quite impressive and each of which will serve a different need. Each of these weapons can be levelled-up several times, which results in you becoming quite the death dealer.

The trick, really, is learning which weapon to use at which particular moment. That said, it doesn't matter quite as much on the standard difficulty level... get yourself sufficiently powered-up and you can pretty much plough through anything. Try playing on the hard level and you've got yourself a challenge!

It all sounds pretty standard, but I really liked playing Super Aleste. It's one I could see myself going back to quite often. It's got some very enjoyable gameplay, and a generous but not ridiculous scoring system, so you feel like you've earned those million-plus scores. The name might not sit up there alongside the acknowledged classics, but it's definitely worthy of a bit of anyone's time.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Chronos Twins (Nintendo DS)

I couldn't be bothered with setting up any of my old systems today... I just don't feel up to the hassle. So I pulled a game from my small pile of unplayed DS games... easy.

Chronos Twins is a game I picked up for a fiver from Game, quite a while ago. It's easy to buy a game for a fiver when you know they should usually cost more. Whether they're any good or not is a different matter. This one looked appealing... from the screenshots on the box, you can see it's got kind of an SNES-game look to it, and it's got what sounds like an appealing time-travelling concept. Although to be honest, I thought it was called "Chronos Twin" from the iffy cover art... it was only when I looked it up on the internet that I found otherwise.

The game boots up and presents you with a choice of languages to start with. I thought at first that I'd accidentally picked the wrong one... maybe if I look at it again it will say "Engrish" and not "English". I don't know if it's actually poorly translated or if it's a mildly clever homage to the games of the past. Probably not the latter... the presentation in general is pretty shoddy.

Once the game starts, it's pretty standard run-jump-shoot platforming action... until you die. That's when the time-travel element comes into it, and you're forced to play through the same world, both in the past and in the present. The twist is... you play both at the same time.

Are you any good at patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time? If you are, this game is for you, because that's what playing it feels like. You have to keep your eyes on both screens, because there are obstacles on the top screen that you can only clear by performing an action on the bottom screen, and vice-versa.

It's a really weird way to play the game, and for the majority of the time I just couldn't get my head around it at all. And when the actual gameplay is so standard and hum-drum, it doesn't really inspire you to go on. But, that said, I did find myself warming to it after an hour or two. I don't really know why... what with the rubbish translation, text that you can't skip or even speed up and ordinary jump-over-the-block-and-shoot-the-really-slow-moving-thing gameplay, there's not that much going for it. Must be the fact I don't actually have to get off my backside to play it that makes it mildly appealing at the moment.


I'm absolutely loaded with cold at the moment. Yesterday was pretty much a complete write-off once I got home from work. So, no game entry. I did try starting up a game, but to no avail... I was just useless.

Feeling a little bit better now, though...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Diablo II (PC)

What have I done?

I've often pondered starting this. I've bought it twice, and never got around to it. I've read reports, reviews and threads all over the place, none of which have had a bad word to say, other than to say that the game took away all other semblance of life from thousands of players. That's been enough to put me off... I lost 'uuuuuge chunks o' life to Championship Manager, and having successfully broken the grip of that addiction, I don't really need another one.

And yet, here we are. Two hours in, and probably two hundred to go.

Diablo II appears to be the logical progression of Gauntlet. It's probably the logical progression of Diablo I, actually, but I haven't played that either. But to my mind, this is what a modern-day Gauntlet should be. An isometric 3D hack 'n' slash, with RPG-like levelling up elements and stacks of gold and loot to pick up.

For some reason, there's something incredibly appealing about beating things up for their bits of tat. Whether you're saving the gold to buy some exclusive weapon or piece of armour, or just the sheer addictive power of seeing what drops off a corpse, this game knows what ticks your boxes, and proceeds to deliver enough stuff to keep ticking for many a long while.

I'm commenting on this even though I've only played for a couple of hours, which I suspect is like the videogame equivalent of painting the Forth bridge for an hour and then stepping back to admire your work. But I think it's enough to get a decent feel for how the game will pan out... I've levelled up a fair bit, I've completed a couple of quests, and I've hired a mercenary and am about to set off into battle with a companion. Things are picking up. Things need to be killed. I can see how this game gets its claws into you...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Gynoug (Sega Megadrive)

Right, I fancied a shooty game today because I haven't had one for a while. And as I haven't played a Megadrive game for a while either, I figured I'd marry the two. But which one to play?

I ended up going with Gynoug because I remember it from back when it was released. It got some really good reviews, and it was a game we owned but that never really got much of a look in. I decided I'd re-acquaint myself with it, although really, it was a case of getting to know it properly for the first time.

First impressions were disappointing... I'd remembered it being much better looking. In fact, I seem to remember magazines praising it for its art style. It looks quite rough around the edges nowadays, although I do like the ancient Greek-style setting.

As for the gameplay... it's very typical, you just fly along horizontally, blasting everything in your path and picking up the extra weapons. For me, there weren't a lot of threatening enemies. In fact, the biggest danger came from myself... I collected too many speed-ups and kept crashing into the landscape. And as that didn't happen often, the game lasted for quite a while. Thankfully, the game autofires if you hold the button down, meaning you don't suffer unduly from
gamer's finger. But even then, it removes a fair bit of potential challenge.

Gynoug was, as I said, highly regarded at the time. But sadly, from what I've played of it, it doesn't seem to have aged that well. Pity that, as I was quite looking forward to this one.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Starquake (ZX Spectrum)

I asked for suggestions for games a few days ago, and I got them. Starquake was one of them, and that jogged a memory for me, as I'd always wanted to play this and never really got the chance. What an ideal moment, then!

Part of my interest in this was because of Wizard's Lair, which I'd played and thoroughly enjoyed on the Commodore 64. Wizard's Lair was written by Stephen Crow, and so was Starquake, and that much is evident from the minute you start the game as they have a similar look to them in some ways.

My first game was unsuccessful... although I whizzed around at a very nippy pace, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and subsequently died none the wiser for my experience. A quick look at the instructions helped... ooohhh, you can fire! Armed with that knowledge, and an idea of what I was meant to do in the game, I ventured back in.

It's amazing how much difference instructions can make to a game. I always like to try and play without them if I can, but sometimes you do need a bit of a clue. This time around I was fairly flying around the game, and knowing what I was doing and what I was looking for meant my progress was encouraging.

It has to be said that Starquake is a very entertaining arcade adventure, much in the classic mode of the day (alongside the likes of Nodes of Yesod), where you explore an odd planet looking for different bits of tat. I've always enjoyed games like this, and the fact that this one moves so quickly means I'm more likely to return to it. The one slight problem area might lie in the fact the game has a password system, and if you want to get around properly you have to find these. But I've already managed to complete 25 per cent of the game, and so I think I'm more than happy to push on with this one.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition (Sega Saturn)

I remember the original Daytona USA getting quite a panning in magazines upon its release here... I wondered how it could be so bad? Anyway, as an upshot of that, I ended up not buying it... I already had Sega Rally, and everybody in the entire world knows that Sega Rally on the Saturn is fantastic.

Step forward fourteen years and you have me walking around Gamestation, trying to kill a few minutes before my bus was due, and spotting this for £2.99. I figured then that three quid was worth paying for something that I should really have some knowledge of.

Once loaded, it presents you with the classic Sega racing game schtick... sweeping views of the game's race tracks, accompanied by a fantastically cheesy rock song. You're instantly at home, and it's a good feeling. That said, you instantly notice that the old girl's looking a bit rough...

Still, looks aren't everything (apparently it's better than the original Saturn version!), and I quickly got into my first ever Daytona session. Too quickly, as it happens... I just unpacked my Saturn box and used the standard pad, which was a bad idea. Controlling your big boxy motor is a bit of a nightmare with a D-pad. To be fair, you'd expect that, so it was back to my room of goodies.

Next up was the Arcade Racer. This might surprise you, but when it comes to gaming at home, I've never used any kind of a steering wheel before. This one is quite nice... it's got a fairly comfortable grip, although the buttons could possible be positioned ever-so slightly better than they have been. Still, my lap times improved considerably, but not to the point where I was finishing races. I put this down to the way I was sitting... my room's not set up the best for this kind of thing.

Finally I moved onto the "3D" analogue NiGHTS pad. I'd forgotten I had this, actually... but courtesy of a generous mate (cheers, Jamie!), I had found my ideal control method for Daytona USA. At last, I started to complete races, and to actually enjoy the game.

I'm surprised that it took quite as much stick as it did... obviously, after the might of Sega Rally, expectations were very high. But it offers a fair bit... there are five courses, and they're not all ovals, as you might expect. And they're filled with typical Sega touches... you'll see hot air balloons taking off, animals running alongside the track, ferris wheels, trains chugging along a track that cuts through your course, and I even spotted a statue of a Virtua Fighter character.

You don't typically expect depth from a Sega racer, and you won't find a lot of it here. But you will find a pretty enjoyable racer which was possibly unfairly maligned at the time. I reckon I'd have been happy with it, had I bought it then.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Space Taxi (Commodore 64)

I'd never heard of this game in all my time owning a Commodore 64, and in fact it was only quite recently when I first heard the name. I was therefore even more surprised to find it was considered to be something of a classic! How? Where? Did any of you ever see this reviewed, or sitting on a shop shelf anywhere?

And so, with classics being meant to be played, I figured I'd dig out an emulator and give this one a bash.

Playing the game wasn't as easy as I expected. This wasn't because of some insane difficulty level... the game wouldn't let me start! All you're supposed to do is select the number of players, press fire, select the difficulty levey, and press fire again. But I was hammering the crap out of the fire button, and it just wouldn't do anything. That was a bit annoying.

Once I finally got started (apparently, a button press once in a while is acceptable), the game appeared with an enthusiastic but garbled "Hey Taxi". I was quite impressed... there are quite a few phrases here, and although it was about as rough as the speech from Rock 'N' Wrestle (Khhhhwah, Khhhoooo, Khhhreee), it was still quite an achievement, given the age of the game.

As for the game itself, it's a Lunar Lander affair... platforms litter the screen, and customers appear on the platforms at random. You have to pick them up and deliver them to their destination, and the quicker you do it, the better tip you get for a higher score.

It's simple, tried and tested, but done very well. The inertia is pretty much spot-on, making controlling the Space Taxi a lot of fun. I did have an occasional problem in putting down my landing gear (fire button problems again!), but other than that, it plays very nicely.

With plenty of levels and numerous difficulty options, Space Taxi probably just about earns the "classic" tag that I've seen slapped on it. I just wonder why I never saw it anywhere at the time...

Friday, 13 March 2009


Wow. I've been really tired these last couple of days. In fact, on Wednesday night I started playing a game for this (not saying what it is... find out when I play it properly!) and after about twenty minutes I'd gone to sleep with the controller in my hand! Yesterday was a write-off, too.

So, this weekend I've got a lot of catching up to do. There will be a lot of updates... I need to get to the point where I've played one game for every day I've been writing this!

By the way... if there are any games any of you think I might not have played and that would look good here, please suggest away in the Comments... I've got loads in my pile, but I'm using emulators too, and you can never have too much on your list...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Droidz (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I had something entirely different planned for today, and I know I've just written about an iPod game, but when I heard anout this, I just had to give it a go.

I've already mentioned Quazatron here, and quite recently. I complained that it couldn't measure up to Paradroid, which it is heavily based on. Well, Droidz basically IS Paradroid, on your phone. Is it a perfect port, though?

Well... not quite.

It does have a lot going for it, though. I mean, the basic gameplay is the same... control your Remote Influence Device droid aboard a fleet of hijacked dreadnaughts, clearing them of renegade, out-of-control robots. The premise is just as good now as it always was.

This version uses the tilt mechanism to move around the ship, and by and large it works pretty well. Another change comes with the firing method... just tap on the screen in the direction you want to shoot, and you will indeed deal laser-death in that direction. This actually works better than the original to my mind, and makes cruising the ships a lot of fun. It's really intuitive. Also, the graphics have been tarted up... just a touch, but enough to notice.

Where does it go wrong, then? And why did you just know that it would?

Well, one minor flaw is that you start on the same deck every time (at least, I have so far). That's just a little thing, but it's quite a noticeable difference nonetheless. A bigger flaw is that some of the robots just move too slowly. For instance, I gained control of a 296 robot, and found that I could hardly move! I'm wondering if clearing the iPod's cache might help the game run better, because at other time I can move about quite swiftly... but it's worth bearing in mind.

And then there's the game's infamous transfer system. If you want to have the weaponry and defences to survive on the ship's higher levels, you're going to need to be able to transfer to higher classes of robot. You do this by means of a sub-game, which sees you face-off against the robot of your choice on a type of circuit board, and the robot with the most lights lit at the end of time wins.

I've found that on the iPod, this is too fiddly. For one thing, it's easy to accidentally tilt the iPod and end up on a very unfavourable or even impossible side, and facing certain death. But even if you do end up on the side of the board that you wanted, moving the markers up and down the board and pressing fire is very awkward on the small touch screen.

These flaws are a shame, because Paradroid is still a really good game. They're not enough to put me off altogether, but I can imagine that some people will feel like chucking their expensive equipment across the room in frustration. If you think you'll be able to cope, go for it, because if you get past that you've got portable Paradroid. Wish Andrew Braybrook had something to do with it, though...

Monday, 9 March 2009

World of Goo (PC/Wii)

I hate puzzle games.

If you've ever bumped into me on a gaming forum, you'll know that, by and large, I hate puzzle games. There are exceptions: Puzzle Quest, for instance, with its RPG elements and stupidly enjoyable match 3 gameplay has me hooked. But the general rule is, if it's a puzzle game, I hate it.

World of Goo is a puzzle game. The basic outline is that you've got balls of goo lying sleeping in each level. You can wake these balls of goo and use them to make structures, which the remaining balls of goo will climb around. Somewhere on the level is a pipe, and if you can make the structure reach the pipe, all the unused goo will flow through the pipe into a jar. You have a specified number on each level that you need to get into the jar in order to get to the next level.

Normally I'd hate this kind of thing. But, the game mechanic is very clever, and the whole thing is very charming, and I haven't yet found it so frustrating that I'm in danger of breaking anything. That time is likely to come, but until it does, I'm going to quite enjoy playing with my balls.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Trauma Center - Under the Knife (Nintendo DS)

I could have gone with this on the Wii, as I've got that version as well, but this is the one I bought first, so that's what swung it.

I actually bought it for Lorraine... as part of my quest to keep her relatively interested in games, I buy games that she might actually have an interest in. And as someone that's spent many years in the medical profession, I figured this would be a lock.

She hasn't touched it yet.

And so, in the spirit of A Game A Day, I figured it shouldn't just sit there, never to be played, and I broke it open and gave it a shot.

First impressions are that it's Phoenix Wright in a hospital. Actually, I could probably just leave this one right there, because that's exactly what it is. Still, that would be lazy of me, so on I plod.

Trauma Center sees you taking on the role of Derek Stiles, a trainee doctor/surgeon of three years' experience who is about to be let loose on his own. After some early hand-holding from Nurse Fulton, she leaves, only to be replaced by a typical young hottie nurse with an attitude. Not what you want when you've got patients to treat!

I'm doing Trauma Center a bit of a disservice by saying that it's basically Phoenix Wright in hospital. Although it's a lot like that, with a lot of dialogue and a daft storyline, it's a lot more hands-on than Phoenix Wright and therefore more enjoyable. I did feel bad early on in the game when I killed a rock star who merely had polyps on his vocal c(h)ords (is it cords or chords? I'm never quite sure). Get past that and things start to open up (see what I did there), with bio-terrorism entering the fray.

I'm quite impressed by Trauma Center. It uses the stylus control very well, and is actually quite interesting and informative, as well as being entertaining. I've heard that the difficulty ramps up to stupid levels later on... I may find out for myself in time. But this is a game I'd definitely recommend... good stuff!

Fire (Game & Watch/iPhone/iPod Touch)

I remember this game vividly from years ago, even though I never owned it. This must be one of the first games ever to be banned.

I can't remember how old I was... younger than ten, certainly. I used to go with my mother and grandmother to Newcastle, and we'd go to the huge Fenwicks department store. I used to love going there, because it had a massive toy department, and right from the start they were in on the videogames "craze". They had a separate area, between the bikes and the cafe, that housed nothing but games.

Of course, in those days, the games consisted of classics such as Astro Wars and Mini-Munchman... but there were also the very popular Game & Watches. They were all there, available to play... Donkey Kong, Juggler... and Fire. Yes, Fenwicks had Fire, and it was a game I played and enjoyed a lot... but it was banned for the nature of its content before I even had a chance to ask for it for Christmas.

The game sees you as firemen/medics, outside a burning building. People will, in the interests of self-preservation, fling themselves from the building, and you, with your trusty trampoline thing, must bounce them to the safety of the ambulance.

I think, at the time, the press made it out that babies were being thrown from the burning building... and babies splattering on the pavement do not make for a cute gaming experience. They don't look like babies to me, but I'm not an accredited journalist with papers to sell.

Anyway, the game starts slowly, and as with all good Game & Watches, gets more and more frantic, with people bouncing in the air here, there and everywhere, until eventually you lose track of where you are and someone ends up as a carpet for the pavement... and then floats off as a little angel up to the neverworld.

It's good fun. It's just like Juggler, or any of those games where you just have to keep everything in the air, and it'll keep you diverted for a fair bit of time. For the £1.19 it costs you, it's a worthwhile nostalgia trip for anyone that remembers it, and a decent timewaster for anyone that doesn't.

Right, then...

Rough couple of days for the Blog. As I suspected, I wasn't able to update this on Friday night due to being out on the beer. I tried, believe me I tried. But it turns out that trying to update a blog using a mobile phone on the bus whilst half-cut just doesn't work out that well.

Yesterday shouldn't have been a problem... but it was, thanks to an alcohol-induced headache. I pretty much stayed off the computer yesterday, although I did have a decent spell on Street Fighter IV late on (decent in length... I'm still hopeless at the game).

So, today is where I make up for these indiscretions. And how am I going to make up for it? By posting not one, not two, but THREE (you can count 'em when they're up), yes THREE different games comments.

Better get cracking instead of waffling on here, then...

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Crackdown (XBox 360)

I really missed the boat with this one. I remember everyone talking about how insanely fun it was, while I sat there without a 360 to play it on. And when I did finally get my 360, I didn't get this game for a long time.

Today I got around to playing it, but I didn't do it justice. I'm very tired today, and I actually dozed off right at the start of the game, before I'd even got into a car! Not a great start.

I hasten to add that I dozed off through lack of sleep, not boredom at the game's opening sequence. Once I finally managed to keep my eyes open enough to use the controller, I was off and running... literally.

After five minutes or so, I came to the conclusion that Crackdown is a great big giant lads' toybox. Yeah, it gives you mission objectives and challenges and races and stuff, none of that really matters. It's like the time you'd be in the back yard with a handful of plastic soldiers and a Tonka truch, and you'd just smash the truck into the little soldiers. That's basically what you do in this game. And it's fan-tastic.

I do like the main elements to the game. I like that you're "cybernetically enhanced", meaning that there's no pandering to realism. Gritty games are all very well, but they tend to lose their fun factor after a while. There's really not much chance of that happening with Crackdown.

I realise that this comment is a bit bereft of information... that's because I didn't play it long enough to even scratch the surface. There's loads to do in this game, and I'm going to spend a lot of time doing those things. For now, I need some sleep, but you can bet I'll be back at this one before long.

End of the run?

I've done pretty well with this so far. It's called "A Game A Day", and I have actually managed to play and write about a different game every day, for more than month. Tomorrow might be a bit of a struggle, though... I'm off for a night out after work, and I can't imagine I'll be in much of a state to be playing games once I get home, if indeed I get home on Friday...

Looks like I might have to resort to playing an iPod Touch game on the bus on the way home...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Peggle (PC)

Damn you, PopCap, and your simple but stupidly addictive games.

I've bought a few of their efforts over the years, mostly for Lorraine and Aidan to play, because I like to try and keep the missus interested in games (makes it easier for me to have gaming time), and also because, well, they're good for kids (although Aidan prefers, and is better at "grown-up" games).

Usually I end up playing them a little bit as well... yeah, I've got entries on our Bookworm high score table, and I'm not ashamed.

I bought Peggle Deluxe for the family ages ago, having downloaded the demo and watched Aidan play it. I then completely forgot about it. Then, earlier tonight whilst thinking of a quick and easy game for today's blog entry, I remembered this and thought I'd give it a go.

Big mistake.

It's ridiculous how addictive this is. If you're looking for a game with that "just one more go" factor, this is it. The game is incredible simple. You've got a screen which contains a layout of coloured pegs and bricks. Orange pegs and bricks are the ones you need to shift to finish a level, and you do this by firing a ball from the top of the screen and having it bounce around, hitting as many of the orange things as possible.

You get ten balls per level, although you can earn more. There's no batting it backwards andforwards though, like you'd do in, say, Arkanoid, which I'm sure you're thinking this sounds like the reverse of. No, once you've shot the ball, gravity will eventually win the day and the ball will fall from the screen. There is, however, a bucket which moves backwards and forwards along the bottom of the screen. If the ball falls into that, you get it back for another shot.

And that's about all there is to it. It's presented stupidly well, although the unicorns and rainbows are a bit excessive. Yes, I just said that. Peggle is, as I've said, very, very simple and stupidly addictive. It's also cheap. You probably wouldn't regret spending six or seven quid on this (that's the price on Steam), even if it's not the kind of game you'd normally play. I should be going to bed now, but I'm off for another bash. Damn you, PopCap.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Castlevania (NES)

Talk about filling in a big hole in my gaming history. I've never played any of the Castlevania games before now. Nope, not a single one. There have been enough of them as well... it's one of the most famous and long-running franchises in gaming history!

Actually, I tell a lie... I did play Curse of Darkness on the PS2, but I don't feel that's truly in the spirit of the Castlevania series, and so I thought I'd go waaaay back in time to the very first game, where it all began.

I've read over the years about the depth in Castlevania games, with a variety of weapons, armour and other items to collect and use. As it happens, the first in the series is a fair bit like Ghosts 'N' Goblins in many ways.

That's in no way a bad thing... Ghosts 'N' Goblins is great. This game is an action platformer which sees you fighting your way through a spooky castle, using your whip and other collectable weapons to defeat bats, big cats, bouncing Medusa heads, suits of armour and many more castle denizens. You've also got your fair share of jumping and ducking to do, and all within a fairly strict time limit. Add a healthy number of hidden and secret items and bonuses to find and a high score to achieve, and you've got a game that's a lot of fun to play.

I'm sorry that I didn't play a Castlevania game earlier. The series is a classic, this one is very entertaining indeed and I'm sure they get better as they go on, although the RPG elements of later games are sure to change the dynamic somewhat. I'd definitely recommend you play this if you haven't before... it's a bona fide piece of gaming history, and it still plays pretty well today.

I think I'm falling in love...

I've owned many, many computers and games consoles over the years. I've enjoyed them all, but there aren't many that I've truly loved. The Commodore 64 was the first... and it was an all-encompassing love. Self-destructive, even... for a while, everything came second to the Commodore 64, even schoolwork. Obviously that was to my detriment, but when you're young and in love, you don't care about stuff like that.

The next time I was head-over-heels with a piece of gaming tech was with the Sega Saturn. The Playstation may have won the war, but the Saturn won the eternal place in my heart, and in NiGHTS... into dreams, gave me one of my favourite games ever.

Recently, I would say I've loved my PS2 and 360, but there's a new love creeping into my life... and she's an older girl. It's the Commodore Amiga.

I mentioned this baby in my posting called 'Loot!' early on in this blog. I spent a good number of hours on it when my mate Stephen owned it, and really enjoyed it. But I never owned an Amiga until he gave me that one. I haven't even used it that much yet, but I've used it enough to develop that dangerous attachment that we all know can happen.

The games I've played on it have been of mixed quality, but there's just something about loading them up, wading through the instructions and diving in that feels right. Occasionally, a game I try might have corrupted graphics... I guess that's a result of aging. We all get lines and go a bit saggy as the years go by. But I'm still enjoying the looking anyway. I've even resorted to trawling ebay for classics that I don't own. I don't know if that's a good idea... we'll see where it takes me over the next year or so. It's a relationship that I feel is worth developing...

Monday, 2 March 2009

Quazatron (ZX Spectrum)

This is a game that's intrigued me since it was released back in the Eighties, and is one I've always wanted to play. The reason I've always wanted to play it is that it's basically an isometric version of Paradroid, and Paradroid is one of my favourite games ever, so I've been keen to see how it measures up, or if it could even surpass Paradroid.

It can't.

The storyline of this game is different to Paradroid, and to me is not as appealing. Paradroid sees you remote-controlling an "Influence Device" aboard a seies of Dreadnaughts in space, attempting to destroy the on-ship robots that have gone out of control and slaughtered the crew.

Quazatron has a silly "cute" storyline, with the droid under your control having been expelled from droid school for dismantling his teacher after radiation made him a bit mad. Nahhh... that does nothing for me.

Still, that's a small detail if the game plays well. I did have high hopes... Quazatron takes the overhead view of Paradroid and forces it into isometric 3D, which is an interesting progression, and one which I thought might take the game to another level. In reality, it gives you an awkward viewpoint, and the flow of the game is utterly broken as you have to stop every time you reach the edge of the screen and wait for it to catch up in a horrible, juddering fashion.

Besides that, it just doesn't play as nicely as Paradroid. The transfer system remains intact, but you rarely feel the same sense of thrill as you get in Paradroid when you burst into a room of high-powered droids and blaze your way out in one piece, or bully a floor full of low-level droids after you successfully convert to a 999 droid.

Quazatron has all the right ideas to move Paradroid along... it's just unable to put them into practice as effectively as it maybe could have. It's more Quaz-imodo. I'm sure Speccy owners that have grown up with the game will disagree with me, but while I appreciate the attempt that's been made, it's no substitute for the real thing.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Wings of Fury (Amiga)

I really fancied playing a real epic today. But when push came to shove, I honestly couldn't be bothered to start something of that magnitude! I guess that Star Flight will have to wait for another day...

So I was picking through the boxes, wondering what might fit the bill, when I came across an Elite compilation. And on that compilation was Buggy Boy. I've never played the Amiga version of Buggy Boy before, but I loved the C64 version, so I thought I'd give that a go. But it ran far too fast on my A1200, and I can't remember how to switch to A500 mode (if that's even possible), and so I had to knock that one on the head as well!

Back to the pile, and I spotted Wings of Fury. This one looked promising... a bit of side-view arcade dogfighting action. I remembered a cracking little budget C64 game I used to play called (The Island of Dr.) Destructo, which basically involved you flying above a battleship, shooting down the planes that were swarming around you, and as the wreckage landed on the battleship it caused damage, and eventually the ship would sink. I kind of hoped for something like that.

Wings of Fury is not really something like that. I was a bit disappointed when it first loaded up and greeted me with a strip of corrupted graphics on the screen. I guess that comes through the perils of old age. Oddly, the corrupted graphics shifted with each game, sometimes being better, sometimes being worse, and once not being there at all. Peculiar.

As for the game itself, the first mission sees you taking off from an aircraft carrier, with the aim of destroying all enemy forces on a nearby island. These forces consist of two anti-aircraft gun bunkers, and two sheds full of soldiers. So you have to bomb the bunkers so that you don't get fired at, bomb the sheds, mow down the fleeing soldiers in a hail of gunfire, and then it's back to the carrier for tea and scones at two, what?

Sounds simple, but I soon discovered a problem... could I actually land on the aircraft carrier? Could I hell!

Prior to that, I'd actually felt a mite uncomfortable mowing down the little soldiers. Strange, that... I never did in the old days, and I don't really in modern games, even though everything looks far more realistic. But I did feel a twinge of wrong in this game.

But although the main objective was fairly challenging, due in part to getting to grips with the control method, it didn't take me that long to be able to complete it. I just wish that, out of the fifteen games where I managed it, I'd been able to land back on the carrier once. Just the once would have done!

Oh, well. I must have been destined to failure from the off. I should have picked another game when I saw the corrupted graphics... that should have been a sign. At least I gave it a go. I doubt I'll go back to try and see the second level... I don't think my Wings are furious enough.