Saturday, 25 April 2009

I'm baaa-aaaaack!

Had a week off. Sorry. Lots going on here at the moment... not least of which is the fact I'll be a dad for the second time in November! This is, of course, joyous news... but it presents me with a bit of a dilemma. I'll have to use the room that houses all my old games as a nursery!

So, what to do, what to do? Most people have told me that I should simply stick everything on eBay, because the money will come in handy and the storage issue will be solved easily. And that's all true.

But readers... would you do that? Honestly? I mean, think a little here. We're talking about a Commodore 64 with a boxful of games, a Super Nintendo with a dozen or so games, a Sega Saturn with about 20 games, and a Commodore Amiga with in excess of 100 boxed games and about another 100 loose. Plus an assortment of PC games, DS games, ZZAP! 64 magazine and other bits that are lying around.

It would also mean the end of the blog, which although it stalled over the last week or so, is still really only in its infancy. And I enjoy both the writing and the playing a bit too much to give that up.

So, the issue comes down to storage. I could either buy a load of crates and store them in my outhouse, which I'm reluctant to do, or I could buy cheap flooring and a ladder for the loft, and chuck them all up there. But then I'd have to go up there every day and dig through for something for this!

Gah. I don't know. I can't get rid of the stuff though... I'm going to have another kid to educate with this stuff!

Friday, 17 April 2009

I've got piles!

Don't worry, that's not as painful as it sounds!

I've got loads of unplayed games that I've used as the source of inspiration for this blog. But, weird as it may seem, I'm always on the lookout for more. Now, I much prefer to have complete, boxed versions of games. But when an eBay auction came up offering a large pile of Amiga disks... well, I bit. I figured there would be a good few in there that I'd never played before, and if I could get them cheap enough, it would be worth having them.

And so, nineteen quid and a few days later, this turned up:

A bit lopsided with the weight, and very rattly, which obviously pointed to the fact there were a lot of loose disks. But I knew that already. OK, let's see what we've got here:

Surprisingly well packed together, considering the kicking around the box must have had on the way here. Not many actual boxes though, and it's hard to see exactly what you've got when everything's piled up, so the only thing that remains to do is to spread everything all over the floor:

And there we have it. Lots and lots of lovely (and not so lovely) stuff. And upon inspection, there's very little here that I've already got, which is quite a result! Of course, as I said, I'd rather have them boxed and complete, but they've worked out at about 25p each like this, which is an acceptable cost for the purposes of this blog.

I haven't actually catalogued them properly yet, but the one big name that leaped out and smacked me in the eye was Dungeon Master. And it was with that game that the eBay Amiga fun began...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Warriors (PS2)

The Warriors is a game I almost played once before. I rented it, and loaded it up to see what it was like. But I decided I didn't want to play it until I'd seen the movie. So, I put the movie in my online DVD rental queue, and waited. And waited... and eventually it came, and I watched it. It was alright, nothing special. And then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I never actually got to play the game. And I wasn't that bothered... but then I saw it in GAME for £1.98. Perfect opportunity to give it a second chance, then...

The first thing I should note, for anybody that might not be aware, is that this is a Rockstar game. Them of Grand Theft Auto fame. Now, I've never got on with any of the GTA games... GTA IV came closest to pulling me in, and in fact I'll probably go back to that one at some point, but they've never really grabbed me for some reason. So I didn't really have high hopes for this, especially with the movie being a bit iffy.

And to my surprise... my expectations were massively exceeded. The Warriors is absolutely tremendous.

Rockstar have taken the film and run riot with it. They've kept to the narrative extremely well, and yet built a coherent game around this, without ever feeling like they've chucked anything in as filler. I have to be honest, I'm seriously impressed with the way this game has been constructed.

Using some of the original actors for voice talent helps add to the atmosphere... the dialogue is pretty good throughout the parts I've played so far. And with it being a Rockstar game, there's "controversy"... it's unquestionably an adult game, with liberal use of swearing, violence and mature themes. And the game is so much the better for it. This unflinching, uncompromising attitude ensures that the game carries its vision through completely.

Some of the violence is really graphic and quite shocking, actually. I was a bit surprised, but this is a game about gangs, and it's totally in keeping with the theme. Speaking of gangs, there are plenty of them here, each with their own personalities. You'll probably shit yourself the first time you run into the Baseball Furies, for instance...

The Warriors is a game anyone over the age of eighteen really should play. It is, to my mind, the best and most focused Rockstar game I've ever played, and it's really enjoyable. Double Dragon for grown-ups, if you like. This has been quite a find for me. I can dig it. I'm dying to get back into it....

Brain Training (Nintendo DS)

Alright, so this is a bit of a swizz. But I was recently given this and, seeing as it's another game I haven't played, I figured, why not?

But is it a game? It's not marketed as a game... more a magical, make-your-mind-better exercise tool. Should I include it in A Game A Day if it isn't really a game? Well, you can get high scores in it, of a sort, so I'm counting it.

It's actually quite good fun... well, to me it is, anyway. But then, I'm a bit twisted in that I like simple maths puzzles. Sudoku I can't do... ask me to add, subtract or do my multiplication tables and I'm in my element. And this game, erm... software title has you doing those until the cows come home.

There are other exercises, too... there are memory tests, for example, where you are shown twenty words and have three minutes to remember as many as you can. Now, given that I can go to speak to somebody and by the time I've opened my mouth I've forgotten what I was going to say, this should be ideal for me. But I'm rubbish at it, and don't seem to get any better through "exercise". Maybe I'll just eat more fish, or something.

At the end of the day, this has been a phenomenon, and whether it's doing people any long-term good is neither here nor there. What I can say is that it's a pretty fun way to get you thinking, which can't do any harm. I might as well pick it up for fifteen minutes a day... I can't see any reason why not.

I'll do a proper game later today...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Puzzle Quest Galactrix (XBox 360 XBLA)

Oh, man. If I told you the hours I've lost to Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords... well, you probably wouldn't believe me. And I haven't even completed it. I don't know why, because I never got on with Bejewelled, but there's something about its "match three" gameplay crossed with RPG elements and cheesy dialogue and storyline that appeals to me. It's damn addictive!

And so it was with great excitement I learned about PQ Galactrix, many months ago now. But then details came out that made me wary... six-sided pieces instead of four, pieces moving in different directions to fill in the gaps left by a match, "hacking" subgames... it seemed as though in trying to keep it fresh, they were overcomplicating a simple but winning formula. And at 1600 points, a lot for an XBLA game, it seemed like the price might be too high to pay if that formula was ruined...

Having played for about three hours solid, I can safely say that the formula, to me, has been enhanced, not ruined. Phew!

Having hexagonal pieces and multi-directional movement of the pieces adds a massive new challenge to the game... you really have to think about what you're doing. Yeah, there are still a lot of random elements... of course you don't know which colours will fall onto the board, but then you never do in any of these games. If you can deal with that, the chances are you're going to have a great time here.

Variety comes with the form of subgames. Hacking Leapgates in order to get around the galaxy is a huge and very important part of the game. And you may have read elsewhere that it's a massive annoyance. I don't think it is. Unlike the original, where you had to complete certain colour-matching tasks to capture creatures, hacking is not overly difficult, at least this early in the game, meaning you're pretty much free to progress as you please. And of course, if you fail, you can retry the task (with a different board).

Another subquest comes from the mining of minerals. You can move to an asteroid and play a match game to mine quantities of different minerals, which can be used to repair or craft upgrades for your ship or can be sold at trading posts. If you hold onto them, they may be worth more at different posts. This adds an almost Elite-like aspect to the game... it's worth shopping around to see who pays the best price.

A slight downpoint comes from the characters available to you... you have the choice of two men or two women, and it doesn't matter who you pick. In the original Puzzle Quest, choosing your class meant different spells were available to you. It makes no difference here... everyone has the same abilities. That's a bit of a shame, but hardly a dealbreaker in the game. You do collect other characters to keep you company through the game, each with helpful skills.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix is a game of epic scope, considering it's a simple puzzle game at heart. It really will last you for ages once you get into it, and as with the original, it's suitable for a quick ten-minute blast or a marathon session. Be warned though... what's intended as a ten-minute blast can easily turn into three hours... I know this from experience. I love this!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Audiosurf (PC)

I don't know why I didn't get round to this ages ago. As someone with a spectacularly limited range of musical taste, you'd think a game that you play to your own music collection would be ideal for the likes of me!

And indeed, it is! It's a crazy rollercoaster ride along fast moving tracks... tracks that are generated by the very music you're playing along to! Are you sick of generic EA bland-rock sountracks? Fed up with the predictable sweeping orchestral swathes of Final Fantasy? Of course you are.

As far as the game goes, it's kind of an odd mixture of Frequency and Klax. You fly your craft up the screen along the undulating tracks, and coloured blocks scroll down towards you. You don't actually have to press a button when you hit the block (like you would in Frequency, and latterly Amplitude, Guitar Hero and Rock Band... instead, you have to collect them in clusters, like in the aforementioned Klax. Get blocks of three and they disappear... but collect odd colours and they stick, meaning you have to try and construct a row of three as best you can.

It actually works really well, and it gets very frantic at faster speeds. There are quite a few modes of play, too, and each one affects the gameplay quite subtly. This variety helps extend the lifespan of the game, although to be fair, how can you get bored of playing a game with your favourite music as the soundtrack?

That said, it's probably not a game you'd find yourself playing for hours on end. But for something to fire up for half an hour every once in a while, it's great. Or even if you just feel like doing something whilst listening to music... it definitely fits the bill there. Find it at GAME in their "3 for £10" deal... or keep your eyes on Steam for a deal.

Flight Control (iPhone/iPod Touch)

What a cracking little timewaster this has turned out to be!

Flight Control gives you two runways and a heli-pad to watch over. The incredibly simple premise has you guiding planes and helicopters to their respective touchdown points. Of course, as with any good airport, everyone wants to land there, and this means lots of work for you.

The controls couldn't be simpler... you draw the flight path of each aircraft onto the touchscreen, then sit back and watch them land. At least, that's the hope... inevitably you'll have a jumbo jet steaming along its carefully planned route, only for a two-seater Piper to meander casually in its way. Cue hundreds of screaming passengers and one panicked aircraft controller, as you quickly try and draw your way out of trouble!

I'll tell you what it feels like... once things really get swinging, it feels a bit like the classic Juggler Game & Watch. Your eyes are darting all over the screen, looking for the tell-tale exclamation mark that warns of an aircraft's imminent arrival, all the while tring to keep all your planes and copters safe until they touch down.

Flight Control, for its current price of 59p, is a great little game. It gets really frantic quite quickly, and you'll have some crazy looking dotted lines littering your skyways in no time at all. You can't really go wrong at that price - check it out.

Right, where were we?

Crikey, I've had a lot on these last few days. I've barely switched my laptop on, in fact. Not only that, I'm currently writing with the remains of last night's drink-fest still rampaging around in my head...

Still, I'm feeling good, and ready to crack on with a batch of updates for the last few days. And I'm off work for ten days, which gives me a bit of time for this... I think I'm also going to revisit a couple of the earlier games and give an update as to how I'm getting on.

In the meantime, stop over to Daily Rodent when you've got a minute... it'll give you small daily doses of the sleeping games magazine giant that is Way of the Rodent. Should be fun...

Monday, 6 April 2009

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (ZX Spectrum)

I'm going to take some flak for this one. So be it. I'm playing games I've never played before and giving opinions. If my opinions aren't popular... well, they're still my opinions.

I've had the Spectrum version of Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge recommended me by many people as a Tour de Force of Spectrum programming, and a fantastic racing game. Well, I love racing games, so this sounded very promising. I've also played a couple of racers on the Spectrum that I liked... I seem to remember Enduro Racer was quite good.

So that's why I'm baffled by this one. I hated it.

For starters, your playfield is restricted to one third of the screen. This is not a good thing, in any way. It's especially bad when you're going up or down hills... you only get to see your car and the sky, or your car and a chunk of green. You can't do anything with any accuracy.

Turning corners is horrible, too. There are only about two possible areas of the track you can inhabit... the outside of the corner of the road and the obstacles on the side of the road.

It's fair to say the roadside obstacles move by at a fair lick, but it's like the road itself is a conveyor belt... the car just sits there, with no illusion of movement whatsoever. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, and not that it affects the gameplay in anyway... the sound is an absolute waste of time. Not sure about the 128K version though, but the 48K one just sounds ridiculous.

I'm sorry to say this, especially with my Speccy-loving chums reading this, but Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge is one of the least exciting racers I've ever played. I just felt nothing throughout the whole experience. Shame, as I was really looking forward to it.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Alien (Commodore 64)

My mate Stephen, who gave me the pile of gaming swag that inspired this blog, has (or at least, had) a rather unhealthy fixation with the Alien universe. He had the films, he had the comic books, and every time there was a game released based on the films, he would buy it sight unseen. I did try and tell him that this might not always be wise, but would he listen? Noooooo.

One of the games in my pile is Alien on the Commodore 64 (you'd probably guessed this from reading today's title). I definitely didn't play this on his machine... he probably kept it to himself, on account of it looking and sounding shite. And it's not the sort of game I really like anyway, so he was probably doing me a favour.

However, since it's in my pile, it's fair game for the blog. I figured I might as well give it a shot, and at the very least it would probably inspire me to watch the film again. Now I've got no fingernails left. Thanks, Argus Press Software.

Alien is one of the most tense games I've ever played. It's about as basic looking a game as you'll find... most of the graphics could be (and maybe have been) drawn with the C64's character keys. But that matters not. All that matters is that the game sets the right atmosphere, and it does.

The game starts with a text message informing you that Kane has been killed by the alien. That's hardly a spoiler. What you then have to do is try and organise the remaining team members, move them around the ship and find the items you hope will kill the alien. And of course, actually manage to kill the alien, which is easier said than done. Oh, and one of the team is an android... unlike the movie, it's different every time... and it pays you to determine which of them it is, if possible.

The ship is divided into three decks, and you move one turn at a time. There are also grilles all over the ship, which you can remove and then move around using the ship's duct system. It's all very well thinking you can sneak around like this, but the alien can also use the ducts, and there's nothing worse than stealthily moving through the inky blackness, turning a corner and BUMPING RIGHT INTO THE ALIEN! AAAAARRRGH, JEEEESUS CHRIST!!!

Honestly, it fair puts the wind up you when you select your character and see this:

And when you do see that, the chances are you're dead. Oh well, it's just as well you've got more than one character. But that won't really matter... for many, many games, the outcome will be the same. Your team will all be slaughtered. It's a very difficult game. But as you start working out what to do, the tide turns and you find yourself getting right into it. You're still dying, but at least you feel like you're figuring it out, and maybe next time if you do this instead of that, it will be different...

It wasn't for me, I stayed rubbish at it. But I have to say, given the very basic appearance of the game, it's got a hell of a lot going for it. Just goes to show, ugly doesn't always mean bad.

Oh, here's an indication of my level of competence...

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Microprose Formula One Grand Prix (Amiga)

I've already played a game by Geoff Crammond for this blog (the quite wonderful 'The Sentinel'), but if you know your gaming history, you'll know that Geoff's heart was in racing games. Hopefully it still is - nobody seems to know what he's doing now, but it would be great if he was beavering away on a new project.

Microprose Formula One Grand Prix seems to be the natural successor to his excellent Revs game. And as the Formula One season has just started, I thought now would be an apt time to have a look at it.

The first thing I noticed is that this has a lot of depth for a game that's not far off twenty years old. There are a lot of driver aids, for example, to help get you into the game. My son plays F1 '06 on his PS2, and I've played it with him and thought a lot of the driver aids there were helpful. I didn't realise that some of them have been used for so long! It was a big surprise to see a suggested racing line in this game... I don't know if this was the first game to feature this, but it's a great tool for learning the tracks and I was amazed to see it here.

The game feels good to drive, for its age. I started off with a Quick Game and set off around Silverstone, and it seems fairly accurate when compared to modern games. The speed is not quite there... but it's good enough and quite impressive when you're tucked up behind a car with its entire back end filling your screen.

I picked Monaco for a race, and that track does suffer a bit due to the graphical limitations of the Amiga. It feels a little bit like you're driving around a multi-storey car park, with big, grey, featureless walls the order of the day.

Once you plough into the main game, there's all sorts of tweaking that can be done. This is where Geoff Crammond's racers really come into their own... they're simulations rather than arcade racers, and it's much more satisfying to play if you're prepared to dig in and play with all the settings and options.

It's a shame that Geoff's disappeared for now... his talent shone through for years and every title he released was acknowledged by pretty much everyone with a reverential nod. If the long-discussed rumours that he's working on a new Stunt Car Racer game are true, we'll all be much the happier.

Rock Band 2 (XBox 360)

The rhythm action game is a funny genre. To many, it's a pointless exercise; bashing coloured buttons in a roughly approximate time to the notes seems ridiculous when you could learn a real instrument and play the songs properly for yourself. On the other hand, there are people that are simply too cack-handed, cloth-eared or completely lacking the musical know-how to learn an instrument, and yet love video games and like listening to music. For them, these games are a Godsend.

So, where do I stand? Well, I got in on this before a lot of you... I got the first Guitar Hero game on the day it was released when I lived in America. And I loved it, but circumstances prevented me from really getting to play it as much as I would have liked.

Since moving back to England, I've bought most of the Guitar Hero games. I'm not proficient at them... I prefer to just break them out every now and then for a bit of fun. I don't play at a high difficulty level... just being able to play along with songs I like is good enough for me. And there's another side to this... there's a whole generation of kids that are being exposed to massive amounts of music that they simply wouldn't get to hear otherwise, and they're loving it. They're taking it a step further in many cases too, and learning real instruments and forming real bands, so that they can play this stuff properly... and maybe write some songs of their own.

So I don't see any downsides to these games. At worst, they're harmless fun. At best, they're educational and inspiring.

But Rock Band brought a whole new level of commitment, and not only in terms of time... at a hundred and fifty quid, there's a financial commitment too. It's one I refused to make... until recently.

When I was seventeen my dad, who has played guitar for nearly fifty years and is an ace player, offered to teach me how to play the guitar. At the time, I'd just started listening to a guitarist called Yngwie Malmsteen (the section from about 4:25 to 4:50 may help you to see what I mean), and I basically bottled it, figuring I'd never be able to play like that.

Over twenty years on, I'm still listening to Yngwie Malmsteen, and I haven't learned how to play the guitar. But Rock Band 2 has some Yngwie Malmsteen songs available to download, meaning I can finally partially fulfil my dream of playing his music (or at least playing along with it). And just as easily as that, Harmonix made the sale.

Animal Crossing: Let's Go To The City (Wii)

I'm going to talk about a couple of games I've been playing for a while now. First up is Animal Crossing: Let's Go To The City.

I should start this by saying it's cheating a bit, writing about this. I played Animal Crossing a little bit on the Gamecube, and this is more or less the same game. There's a slight graphical update, and a city to visit... but that's not worth getting too excited about, it's more like a town square than a city.

So what's the point of Animal Crossing? You move into a little town that's inhabited by odd-sounding animal things, and try to get along as best as you can. The town's animal-thing residents are a bit moody if you don't do what you want, so you have a bit of a balancing act to perform. There's also a shopkeeper, who is also an animal-thing, and he has a bit of a racket going. A monopoly, in fact... and he has you in his pocket right from the start of the game, because if you want a house, you have to answer to him.

So you spend your whole game in debt to this shyster, trying to find ways to pay off your mortgage. There are a few ways to do this, but the best one is to go fishing. There are tons of different fish worth varying amounts. This is where the game gets its hooks into you... much like real life, it drip-feeds them to you month by month, so you feel compelled to keep playing in much the same way people keep playing Pokemon... to collect them all.

Some fish are rare than others and therefore worth more money (in an interesting twist, you sell the fish to the only shop in town... the one owned by the shyster with his hooks in you), and some are harder to catch than others. And if you're feeling generous, you can donate a specimen to the museum.

This is another big part of the game... the museum is there to record examples of everything in your town, so you should really trek there the first time you catch a fish or find something new. And there are also dinosaur fossils to dig up, which of course belong in the museum. Find a duplicate fossil and you're quids in, though...

There are a fair few things to do in Animal Crossing, but none of them is particularly exciting. And yet, despite the fact it's far too familiar to anyone that's played an earlier version, it's still very compulsive once you get into it, even moreso if you're playing with family members who live in the same town. If you don't get it, though... it can be really dull. I quite enjoy pottering around in our town for half an hour a night, it's quite relaxing. It's not really one for adrenaline junkies, though.