Monday, 30 November 2009

Myth: History in the Making (Commodore 64)

I always wanted to play this when it was released. It looked amazing, and I loved mythology, so an action game set across several eras of classic mythology sounded right up my street. It did come towards the back end of the C64's lifespan, though, and it never ended up coming into my possession.

Perhaps that's just as well. I might have been disappointed with it then. It's not that it's a bad game - it's just very, very hard. In fact, it's so hard that I couldn't get past level one off my own bat. Luckily, I'm playing this on an emulator, so I did get to see a lot of the game. And, thinking about it, I was probably better at playing games like this fifteen to twenty years ago, and a lot more patient, so I might have done better. But I've had my backside kicked a lot of times playing this game!

I am a viiii-kiiiiing, I'm going out to waaa-aaaaar.

Myth sees you cast as a modern day lad, thrown back into the realms of ancient mythology. You have to battle against Greek, Viking and Egyptian warriors and creatures in a battle possibly more epic than any before or since. It's certainly epic in scope... imagine a modern remake! A game with all those elements would knock God of War into a cocked hat. A film could have a lot of potential, too.

Myth is a great looking game for its age (and platform) - there are some great effects (see the screenshot, which is part of a Viking thunderstorm), and the ancient beasts are pretty convincing. It's a shame that it seems to be so bone-crushingly hard... or maybe I'm just a bit thick, and can't figure out the puzzles as well as I should. It doesn't matter though... Myth has been a worthy trip back in time, in more ways than one.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Stir Crazy (Amiga)

Can you remember when Infogrames were just a bunch of crazily-spelt Frenchmen, rather than a soulless gang going around pretending to be Atari? Ahhh, those were the days. Most of their games were a bit shit, but there was always a crazy French originality to them.

Stir Crazy falls squarely into the "original but shit" category. And to make matters worse, there's not a sign of Richard Pryor or Gene Wilder, which might have given some hope of saving the day.

I imagine that most people won't have heard of Stir Crazy, and are wondering what it's all about. That's a good question... there were only fleeting moments where I had a clue myself. It's basically a collection of "wacky" Gallic prison-themed mini-games. One of them is a bit like Tapper, but sees you running between tables, keeping the lags fed. Another level sees you peeling potatoes. Really. There's a game which is like Nintendo's "Fire" Game & Watch, where you must bounce the escaping convicts on a trampoline. There's a couple of levels where I really haven't got the faintest clue what's going on. Oh, and one with sleeping prisoners, where you appear to have to keep rocking them back to sleep.

Who cares about level two? Let them starve, I say.

Oddly enough, there's no soap-dodging mini-game. Not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing. Oh, and I'm not sure if my copy was corrupted, but the sound on many of the levels was just... not right.

Today hasn't been a good gaming day for me. I'd decided the Amiga would be my weapon of choice, seeing as I've got piles of unplayed games sitting there. I abandoned the first pick because I couldn't be arsed to keep swapping between the four disks. The second game, in a successful attempt at reminding me of the fragility of old floppy disks, suffered a software failure and wouldn't load. I only picked this one just to make sure it wasn't a game based on the film. It's not, and despite it's weirdness, the best thing I can say about it is that it's no longer on my "to play" list.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Rock 'N Roll Racing (SNES)

Quite highly regarded, this, by all accounts, but not a game I was familiar with at all. Still, I fancied a change, and I haven't done any racing for a while (at least for this blog... I've been caning Forza 3 for a good while, might write about that at some point).

So, Rock 'N Roll Racing. So called because it's a racing game with classic rock songs SNES-ified for the soundtrack... a move which works very well. A bit of instrumental rock always goes down well in a driving game.

"Viper's about to blow!" Rather him than me.

As for the game itself, it brings to mind a loud arcade game. I actually thought of Ivan Iron Man Stewart's Off-Road Racing at first... it has a bit of that feel to it. But it's about half that and half Badlands, as you upgrade your bad-ass motor with weaponry as the game progresses.

As well as buying upgrades between races, you can pick up extras on the track during races. These pretty much amount to money and armour boosts, as you'd expect from a game of this type. You have to watch out for mines, too... easy enough to avoid, but worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

Rock 'N Roll Racing is good fun... once you ramp up the difficulty a bit. The layouts can seem a bit samey, and it's too easy for too long if you start on the easiest difficulty level. Give yourself a challenge, and you're in for a treat. And then there's the two-player mode...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Beneath A Steel Sky (PC)

I've cheated a bit with this one, because I was out on Friday night. When I started working in my office, it seemed like everybody was 21. Now, it seems like everyone is 65! We've had a lot of retirements lately, and Friday saw another one. So I was out, having a few drinks and celebrating a 100% success rate on the pool table. Yay me! But when I got home, I remembered (somehow!) that I should be playing a game for the blog. So I started to play Beneath A Steel Sky, and promptly went to sleep.

That's nothing to do with the game, by the way, more my blood-alcohol level. Having carried on today, the game is very engrossing. I actually started it once before, but couldn't get off the first screen. I was never a great one for point-and-click adventures, but having played a couple recently I'm getting the hang of them a bit, and finding them pretty entertaining.

Beneath A Steel Sky is by the team that went on to make the Broken Sword games, which makes sense because as soon as I started playing it, there was a sense of familiarity. Unlike the modern-day intrigue of Broken Sword, though, Steel Sky is a futuristic sci-fi effort. It's a setting that's right up my street.

The game made a big impression right from the start, with a superb comic-book intro. I seem to recall the game being released on the Amiga and coming on about eleventy-thousand disks. I couldn't help but wonder just how many disks were used on the intro alone.

You have to ask, because obviously a balding, fat, ginger bloke wouldn't be given any kind of responsibility.

Once you start getting into the game, finding objects and people to talk to and piecing things together, the game starts to open up and become more interesting. As well as the Broken Sword familiarity, I also felt a likeness to Blade Runner here in some ways... again, no bad thing. And there's a nice vein of humour here, which I like... when games like this are too dry, it's a bit of a slog to get anywhere.

As with The Dig, which I played back in February, it's a bit tricky to write about something which is so story-driven. But after the ninety minutes or so I spent with it I'm certainly sufficiently invested to want to carry on. If you feel like giving it a go, it's free on Good Old Games (, or if you're quick, it's 59p on the iPhone/iPod Touch.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Turkey Day!

This is what I did today:

Yep, Thursday 26th is Thanksgiving in America. And as I've transplanted my wife from America to England, we do the Thanksgiving thing over here. So we had my parents over, and had a big turkey dinner, and it was very tasty indeed.

Kind of a nice warm-up for Christmas. Pity I didn't get any games played, though.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Soosiz (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I read a review of Soosiz, I think on IGN, that said Soosiz was a bit like Super Mario Galaxy, or inspired by it at least. That's got nothing to do with why I got it... I've never played Super Mario Galaxy, and I don't own it. Come to think of it, I've never really sat down and properly played ANY Super Mario game. That's something I really need to address here...

Anyway, I got Soosiz because it looked cute and there was a Lite version available in the App Store. Simple as that. And the five levels given were more than enough to convince me that it was easily worth the £1.79 being asked for it.

What's it about, then? Well, you control this little yellow round thing with feet and spiky blue hair. The little yellow round thing with feet has to wander around the levels, collecting coins and other little yellow round things with feet and spiky blue hair. He has to avoid things like round green spiky things that look like conkers with eyes, round grey things that squash and crush, and huge big holes.

Each level is split up into, if not exactly small planets, then small areas of land. Soosiz, if that is your chacter's name, walks around the circumference of these land masses, finding what it needs to find and jumping over nasty things. At regular intervals, you'll find another land mass above or below you, and if you jump when near one of these, the gravity of the closer land mass will flip you and pull you onto it. And that's how you get about the whole of the level.

This is a very round game.

The game has a really nice feel to it, and getting used to this aspect of the game and the control method is as easy as falling off a log. And for a while, it's very simple, relaxed and chilled-out to play. After a short time, though, it throws a timed challenge at you, and then things are more frantic. This is when you'll have to replay a few times, and maybe get a little frustrated, but it adds a nice element of variety.

Soosiz turned out to be a really nice little surprise. It looks lovely, it's got a great little soundtrack, and it's a good deal of fun to play. The levels aren't generally too long, so it's a good game to play in small bursts if you're travelling, or if you just want to kill a few minutes. I'd definitely recommend you give the free trial a go, at the very least.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Peggle Nights (XBox 360)

PopCap are bastards. Evil, life-stealing bastards.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Gradius Rebirth (Wii)

Continuing the theme of long-running shoot-'em-up series beginning with the letter G, next up is Gradius Rebirth, a game many people probably don't even realise exists. It's a Wiiware game, and as such probably received a lot less press or push than any other Gradius title.

There may be another reason for this... Gradius Rebirth is pretty much identical to every other Gradius game, bar Treasure's awesome Gradius V.

For me, Gradius V was the rebirth of Gradius. It took the easily identifiable classic elements of the original games, dragged them up-to-date with a superb graphical update, and refined the gameplay elements to make it still difficult, but a bit fairer. I think it's fair to say that Gradius V is a classic.

This is more like Gradius Revisited... it's very much a throwback to the old days of the arcade Gradius, for good and for bad, warts and all. How much you get out of this will depend on how big a fan you are of the original... and how good you are at playing it.

Yes, that really is a screenshot from a game produced in 2009.

It's not a bad game at all, but nothing at all feels new. You feel like you could easily have played it all before. It's all very well having the organic pink bubbly landscape that grows at you... but it would have been nice to do something different with that. Throw the player a curveball or two, chuck in a few surprises.

Gradius Rebirth really doesn't have any surprises. I know that Gradius fans may expect an element of continuity; they may expect to see certain features in every game. But although retro is still cool in the gaming world, it would have been nice if this had a retro feel to it, rather than actually feeling like it was released in 1986. Like I said, it's not a bad game at all, certainly not for 600 Wii points, but the lack of freshness is somewhat disappointing.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Gridrunner Revolution (PC)

Once upon a time, Llamasoft developed for the Gamecube. Jeff Minter had an idea, and that idea was to marry three of his great loves: music, colourful lights, and the shooty destruction of everything in sight. The idea was called Unity, and it was a game that saw many people buy a Gamecube in anticipation of its release.

And then, it was cancelled. For a number of reasons, it wasn't working out. And a lot of people were sad.

Still, Llamasoft ploughed on. Space Giraffe came next, on the XBox 360 and PC. I like Space Giraffe, but it's rock. I only enjoy it up to a point, and then I can't do it any more. I still put it on for a blast every now and then, but I'm not good at it.

The latest Llamasoft game, which has appeared on the PC after a couple of setbacks, is Gridrunner Revolution. It's the latest in what must be one of the longest running game series around, and in a very welcome move, the original VIC-20 and Commodore 64 versions are available here as (very easy to obtain) unlockables!

But those are just added bonuses. The game itself is way, way different to those historical documents. And it's a very interesting beast. For a pretty large part of the game, it's a very chilled-out, laid-back experience. The previous game in the series was Gridrunner++, and at first glance this seems like it's merely a prettier version. But then the different game mechanic kicks in and changes it into an altogether different animal.

My eyes! My beautiful... oh, hang on... it's actually quite pretty.

In this game, you not only move around the screen, your ship can (and must!) rotate. But the biggest change comes in the behaviour of your ship, or more accurately, your ship's firepower. Most screens feature a sun, around which you can bend your bullets. Finding a good position in relation to the sun will see your ship firing a beautifully symmetrical arc of death. The prettier the pattern, the higher your boost multiplier goes, and the bigger your score is.

It has to be said, the feeling you get when you move into place and watch your bullet path slowly lock into position is fantastic. And this laid-back gameplay is very relaxing, almost therapeutic. But then you start to unlock the harder difficulty levels, and as hell is unleashed, it becomes another game altogether. And then when you think you've got that sussed, there's the unlockable Thrusty mode...

Like most Llamasoft games, Gridrunner Revolution is not going to appeal to everyone. And in fact, this time around, it even appears to have split the Llamasoft fanbase to a degree, with some loving it and some thinking it's not hardcore enough. Personally, I'm enjoying it a heck of a lot, and I play a different area of the game depending on my mood. In fact, in my opinion, this may be as close to Unity as Jeff Minter gets...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Cybernoid (Commodore 64)

I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't have thought of playing this at all. But I read online that it was available on the Wii's Virtual Console, and it made me think it would be a good game for this. I might have played it briefly in the Eighties, but I certainly didn't own it... it would have been hidden away, somewhere in the middle of a C90, given a cursory glance as I moved towards something I did actually want to play.

It's actually a really interesting game. It's basically a flick screen platform game in essence... except that you control a spaceship instead of a man/mole/jumping thing, and have to shoot your way through each screen.

That makes it sound a bit mundane, actually... although I wouldn't exactly say there was a puzzle element to Cybernoid, you can't just pile in with all guns blazing. Instead, you have to take a while to take stock of each screen, work out how best to get through it, and then give it your best shot.

I'll just sit here and wait for those arrows to pass... oh wait! They fire too! Aaaaargh!

Cybernoid, as you might expect of a Commodore 64 game, is hard. It's very hard, in fact, and you'll get to "practice" a lot of the screens over and over again as you try and figure out how to get to the next. Making it more difficult is the fact you don't have energy... one hit will blow up your ship. And as the graphics are quite big and the screens a little cramped, everything is a touch more difficult than it might otherwise be.

Still, I've actually really enjoyed playing it. It's very much a game of its time, although (and I seem to be reimagining every game I play these days) I'd quite like to see an update, or maybe combine both games into one and stick it on the DS, possibly using one of the screens to preview what comes next? Won't happen, though, but I quite fancy giving this one a bit more of a prolonged crack.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn)

So here it is, my hundredth post in this blog. And to celebrate, I'm playing a game that most consider to be a classic. I'm not playing it because of that, though... I'm playing it because I absolutely love it!

I owned Guardian Heroes when it came out. I'm not sure how it sold... it seems to be a bit of a cult classic. And when you consider the fact that it sells for as much now as it did then... well, it mustn't have put up particularly big numbers. Then again, most of Treasure's games (for this is one) seem to be more in the realms of cult classics.

I got straight into Guardian Heroes when I first played it, and it took no time at all for the magic to work itself on me again this time around. It is, in essence, a scrolling beat-'em-up, but it's much deeper than probably anything that came before it.

Part of this depth can be attributed to its RPG-like elements. You'll gain experience points for everything you batter, and as you're almost constantly beseiged by large numbers of enemies, you'll likely be doing a lot of levelling up. It makes for a far more entertaining game than if it were purely done Double Dragon-style.

The Undead Hero gets to work. He's a bit like an attack dog. Only undead. And with a huge sword. And he can get by without a constant supply of Spillers Shapes.

Adding to the depth a bit more literally is the playfield. Naturally, you walk along a side-scrolling area in your quest, but the screen is split into three parallels. You can jump to any of these with a tap of the appropriate button, and this helps to make your fighting a bit more tactical. It's not exactly at the level where you'd start to call it a strategy game, but choosing when to hop to another level can either save your skin if you're in a tight spot, or work to your advantage against the enemy.

To make it even better, you play as part of a team of bad-ass characters, all of which have differing traits which serve to help the battle in different ways. None of your team is as impressive as the Undead Hero that bands with you, though... when he goes berserk, it's a sight to see!

Guardian Heroes is, quite simply, a whole load of fun to play. It might be a bit of a button-masher, like most beat-'em-ups, but it's always entertaining. And with branching pathways throughout the game, there's plenty of replay value. In fact, the only bad thing about playing this again is that I couldn't save my game! My Saturn's battery has been dead for quite a while. Anyone got a memory card they don't want?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ton up!

No game today! That's because, according to my dashboard, I've made 100 posts! Well, almost... this is 99, so... well, you know. To mark this achievement, I'm going to dig through all my games and play something special, whether I've played it before or not.

A hundred posts. For a while there, I didn't think I'd get to that milestone. Now I'm looking forward to the next hundred!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Gods (Amiga)

I'd been quite keen to play this from the moment I saw it sitting in my pile of Amiga games. I kind of had a few fleeting memories of it from way back, but I don't think I actually played it then. But with it having the name Bitmap Bros. on it, there was naturally a high level of expectation that I'd be having a good time.

And I did.

I wrote a description of Gods, and in reading it back, it sounded like I was slagging the game off. I described it as being like a typical Amiga platform game - filled with lumbering, detailed characters that are too large for the playing area. And while that's true, it doesn't actually detract from the game... in fact, it helps to define it.

Gods, as I said, is a platform game. You wander around, jumping from ledge to ledge, climbing ladders, and shooting nasty things. Hardly innovative, that. To make things more interesting, there are some puzzle elements in there. There's nothing that will tax your brain... mostly, you're going to be pushing switches until you get them in the right positions to destroy obstacles or open trapdoors. It does add an extra element to the game, although as you might imagine, it can be a little frustrating at times. Depends how much you hate switches and levers.

No, your character is not a naked welder...

The best thing for me about this game is that it throws loads of loot at you. You'll always have gems and crystals and other valuable little bits falling to the ground, ready to boost your score. And that's something else I really like... Gods may be an adventurey-platform game, but it's also a great high score game. High scores will always appeal to me, being a child of the arcade age, so I appreciate the fact that this is a platform game where you can score over a million points, if you're good.

There are problems and flaws here... most notably with the controls. The problem is one that affected many a game back then... our joysticks only utilised one fire button. Because of this, you can only jump diagonally, and you can't fire whilst crouching... instead cycling through your "very limited" inventory. I think that, although I enjoyed the game, it would be a lot more fun if it didn't have these issues. In fact, I think I'd really like a modern remake of Gods. I think that using a modern controller and mapping these actions to other buttons would make it better to play. As it is, though, Gods is a very polished and pretty entertaining game.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hexen (PC)

I bought this on Steam for about ten pence, ages ago, along with Hexen II and Heretic. All were highly praised back in the day, I seemed to remember, so I might as well buy them cheap while I could and play them when I had time.

Who knows how many years ago that was? And I never got around to any of them. As if that comes as any surprise! But now is as good a time as any, so I fired up Steam for the first time in ages... looking through my games list on there, I've got a few candidates for this blog, just sitting waiting.

Anyway, Hexen. I wish I could tell you a lot about it, but for the vast majority of my time I was completely stuck. There were some steps up to an area with windows, and an area with trees, one of which concealed a door which needed a key, and one a cave where I could punch everything to death through stalagmites but couldn't actually get in.

All the leaves are broooown... and the sky is greeeeey... and so is everything else.

It wasn't exactly a lot of fun. In fact, all I was going to write here was "Doom, but with more grey and brown". And then, about five minutes before I was packing in, I read the instructions, found the key I had to press to open doors, realised there was actually a door at the top of the steps, and went through. And so, the game has opened up to me somewhat. I died pretty quickly after that, and didn't have time to start again, but at least I now realise what I need to do.

I was never a Doom fan... mostly because I've always been rubbish at it. Hexen seems to play much the same, and I expect I'll be equally poor when it comes to playing it, but I feel I owe it another shot, at least.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

I might upset a few people here... so be it.

If there was one thing that baffled me in my time in America, it was the incredible popularity there of Super Smash Bros. Possibly second only to Madden, any Super Smash Bros. game is a genuine bona fide system seller. I've never been able to understand that. I didn't play it that much, but everywhere I went, every message board I posted on, Americans were going crazy for Super Smash Bros. There always was (and is) talk of it being an incredibly deep fighting game, with the best multiplayer action you can find.

So when Morrisons offered Wii chart games for fifteen quid last year, I thought I'd give Brawl a shot. Of course, as is the way, it then sat on the shelf, unplayed by me. Until now... it's the perfect game to dig out for this blog.

Having played it for a couple of hours now... I just don't get it. I simply don't see where the rabid fanboy love for this game comes from. Incredibly deep fighting game? For me, it's a simple button-masher, a weird cross between Virtua Fighter and Shao-Lin's Road and nothing more. Half the time I'd just stand there hitting the button as enemy characters jumped into my weapon. The rest of the time, I didn't really know what was going on.

Doesn't this just look like the most fun imaginable? No. No, it doesn't.

I suppose I can see why Nintendo-philes would like it... there's a large cast of Nintendo characters and some clever backgrounds incorporating Nintendo games. For me, though, there's just nothing here. I can honestly say that I didn't have a single moment of enjoyment the whole time I played it. Actually, that's not quite correct... when you complete the game, you get to shoot the credits. That was quite good fun. Other than that, though... I didn't even enjoy the much-vaunted multiplayer.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a game that's loved by many, but I can't for the life of me see why. You would think the opportunity to smash Mario's fat face in would be unmissable, but for me at least, it's just a mess. America, I love you, but sometimes you're weird.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Club (XBox 360)

Right, enough of that sword-wafting questing rubbish. I fancied something a bit more straightforward, and The Club is nothing if not straightforward.

I've had this lying around for ages, having got it for nowt with a magazine subscription. I've dipped in and out of it, but never really stuck with it for any length of time before now. Silly me.

The Club is an arena shooter, with a difference. You pick from eight characters, and set about wreaking havoc. There's a storyline of a sort, which attempts to explain why these madmen would be running around abandoned locations shooting people, but none of that matters in the slightest. All that matters is that you have some top fun, tearing around and blowing enemies away at will.

This game comes by way of Bizarre Creations, who are better known for their Project Gotham Racing series. This could have been an interesting new series, but I don't think it's done all that well, sales-wise. It has a racing game element to it, in that many of the levels are races against the clock. The quicker you finish these levels, the higher your end-level bonus. But in order to really ramp up your scores, you'll need to master the art of combos.

Oooh... guns, guns, guns!

Combos are achieved by linking kills. Once you kill a bad guy, a combo meter will start ticking. If you can kill another one before this ticks down, you'll increase the combo meter, which is basically a score multiplier. The higher the multiplier, naturally, the higher your score for each kill. And if you can pull off a spectacular kill, say for instance a headshot whilst diving, you'll score even more highly.

The scope for high scores is enormous. This could almost make a fantastic arcade game, if it weren't for the fact that control pad style controls don't work so well in the arcade. It does take those old-school arcade stylings and play with them in a fresh new way. And with masses of levels of varying types (survival levels are also in evidence, for example), if you can put the effort in and learn where everything is in order to maximise your score, there's a mountain of entertainment here.

The Club is old-fashioned arcade fun, dressed in the clothing of a modern shoot 'em up. It's almost certainly the most testosterone-filled adrenaline rush of a game you could find, and it's all the better for that.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dark Savior (Sega Saturn)

I've waited a long, long time to play Dark Savior. Touted as the unofficial sequel to Landstalker, a game I've really enjoyed on two occasions, I was really eager for its release on the Sega Saturn. When it did finally hit the shops, I bought it immediately... only to have to sell my Saturn very soon after, before I'd even got the chance to go beyond the opening sequence.

It wasn't one of the games that came with my current Saturn, but thanks to the wonders of eBay, I now own it again. Finally, after all this time, my chance to play the game I waited for so eagerly has arrived.

And... I'm a bit underwhelmed.

First off, although the only link to Landstalker is that they have the same developer, you can tell that this is basically an upgraded version of the earlier game in many ways. It features the same viewpoint, the same action-adventure-platform style of gaming, the same text-box messages to sit through. It all looks so much prettier now... and yet, it seems to have lost a lot of the charm of Landstalker.

He couldn't possibly look any more heroic, there.

The game does have a different tack on things, by having different parallel paths down which the game can travel. Which parallel you take depends on how long it takes you to complete the opening act. That is an interesting and different way to start the game, but it just doesn't grab you like it should. It's a strange thing.

It's quite hard to put my finger on the problem with Dark Savior... it just doesn't feel right when compared to Landstalker. It's a bit of a shame... it's an epic quest alright, and one I feel as though I ought to have a decent crack at completing... I just don't think I'm enjoying it enough to justify it right now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dungeon Master (Amiga)

Through time, there have been games that have been groundbreaking, revolutionary and system defining. Those games are remembered still, and will be as long as people continue to write about the history of videogames. Better yet, they will continue to be played, such is their legendary status.

If there's one game that defined the Commodore Amiga for me, it's Dungeon Master. And yet, I never really played it. As I've mentioned before, I never owned an Amiga, and relied on trips to my mate's house for brief sojourns into 16-bit territory. And Dungeon Master isn't a two-player game, and nor is it something you can really share, so all I really got out of it was the excitement of watching and sharing an adventure.

Not any more. Now that the mate's Amiga is mine, I can have a Dungeon Master adventure of my own. That was what I thought... of course, that was one of the games that had gone missing from his collection. A scout around eBay rectified that problem, and a wee while later, I was on my way.

There's a moment in Dungeon Master, near the beginning, where you know there's no turning back. You've wandered around the top level, gazed at the not-very-attractive pictures of heroes, and chosen the character that feels best suited to you. And then you find yourself at the top of a flight of stairs... you know that as soon as you set foot on them, your adventure will truly begin...

In fact, this is the moment... one mouse click, and I'm in trouble...

It didn't take me long to realise that the game is far more intense and enjoyable when you're actually playing it. In fact, almost from the very start where I saw myself chased down a corridor by a mummy, I was well and truly hooked. The fact that the mummy was a slowly-shambling monster didn't make it any less frightening... when you're barely armed, it's more than scary enough.

I've played for a good while before writing this, and I'm pretty well hooked by now. I've found that you have to be careful where you save your game, though... if you save at the wrong moment, you could be playing the same part of the game over and over again before you realise you'll never have enough health and you'll have to start again. Not so bad if you're early on in the quest, but soul-destroying if you've been playing for hours.

Dungeon Master is a renowned classic, and rightly so. It's filled with enough horrors, tricks and traps to keep anyone enamoured for weeks. I'm thrilled to finally have the chance to play this at length... I intend to savour the experience.

The one-armed gamer.

When you've got an eight-year-old child, gaming is easy. You can play in your spare time, or if your child is around, you can play with them, thus ensuring the love of games will continue in the family. Once you throw a newborn baby into the mix, things are different. There's not really any such thing as free time, anymore.

I seem to be spending a lot of time with a baby in one arm. Often, it's post-feeding, waiting for him to drop off to sleep. But then, he might be out for a short while and then will wake up and be fussy. So you have to hold him again to try and soothe him.

They're not very interesting though, babies. They're cute, and fascinating, and amazing. But they're not interesting. They can't even tell you what their problem is, let alone have a meaningful conversation with you. And so you find yourself kind of hamstrung, looking after a tiny person that does nothing but eat and sleep and squawk and tie up one of your arms.

This is where my iPod Touch is showing its worth. In the moments where Ryan (our newborn) is settled, I can use my free arm to indulge in a spot of gaming. It might seem a little odd to have a baby in one hand/arm and a games machine in the other, but due to the nature of the touchscreen, it works. Or at least, it does in some cases.

Would it be too obvious to say "Oh, balls"? It would? Oh, OK.

A game that was recommended to me by many people is Orbital. It didn't sound too promising... fire numbered balls onto a playfield. The balls start with the number 3, then reduce with each hit until they disappear. Trouble is, their size depends on how much space is around them when they land. So if you shoot the ball and it lands in the middle of the playfield, it's going to fill most of the screen and knacker your game.

In practice, it's a work of maddening, addictive genius. Every single game ends through your own stupidity... you can never claim that the game itself was to blame. It's also hard. If you score over 100, you'll be doing very well indeed (clue: I haven't). And yet, it's got an incredible just-one-more-go factor to it. And for only 59p at the moment, it's an absolute bargain.

And you can play it using only your thumb. For the meantime, it's something of a Godsend.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ghosts 'n' Goblins... did you know...

...there's a new Ghosts 'n' Goblins game out? Well, there is. It's called Ghosts 'n' Goblins Gold Knights, and it's on the iPhone and iPod Touch (which is how I'm posting this... hence the lack of links and pictures). Yeah, I know what you're thinking... that'll be rubbish. But actually... it's alright! Capcom have certainly taken into account the limitations of the platform, and have tailored the game accordingly. As a result, you've got a slightly slower-paced, more laid-back GnG game, which will be great news for many a frustrated veteran and may be sacrilege to the die-hard.

Some things remain familiar... Arthur is back, as usual, although you can choose between him and Lancelot. The music is a nice riff on the original theme. There's a big map, comprising of (I think) six levels, and the usual array of hidden chests, extra weapons and end-level bosses .

Early impressions are quite good... the controls are not as good as you'd like, but not too bad or frustrating for an iPod game, although there is that old problem of cramp or wrist pain after a while. I think it may prove to be a touch too easy in the end, but that remains to be seen. It currently has an introductory price of £1.79/$2.99, but there's no trial version, so if you fancy it you should jump in quickly.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Titan Quest (PC)

After yesterday's dose of gritty realism, it's back to a realm of fantasy today with Titan Quest. This game takes place in one of the most epic settings of all... ancient Greece.

Greek mythology is something I've had a liking for since I was a wee lad, when I bought a book on Greek myths in a school book club. And what kid could fail to be completely captivated when watching Jason and the Argonauts? It's such a rich world full of amazing characters that it's ripe for videogame fun.

Titan Quest is a Diablo variant, and of course I played Diablo II a while ago. I found myself really enjoying that, and had high hopes for this game.

Hahaha, they're all dead! Whoops... erm, except for that big bugger firing flaming projectiles at me. Ruuuun!

Unfortunately, it's just too hard for me. I mean, it's rock. Certainly to start with, although maybe if I play it long enough and level up sufficiently, it will get a bit easier. As it stands, I'll march into a field to fight something (usually a combination of Satyrs and wild boars at the moment... it's still early on), and find myself either running off to lick my wounds or being regenerated at one of the town's fountains.

A plus point to this is that everything you've killed stays dead, so when you go back to pick up the fight, it should be easier second time around. And third time around. And so on, until you've finally won. It just seems to be a bit too much of a drag to be enjoyable, and is actually quite frustrating. I'm sure that with good use of potions and healing stones though, progress may be made a little more easily... I just haven't got to grips with them yet.

Still, if you like games where lewt is dropped by the barrowload and fancy a real challenge, Titan Quest is just what you've been asking the Gods for.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (XBox 360)

I feel like a bit of a shit with this game. I was involved in a discussion about Modern Warfare 2 the other day, and I commented that I still hadn't been able to afford the first one yet. In an act of splendid kindness, I was sent Call of Duty 4, and then today, out of the blue, I was presented with a copy of Modern Warfare 2. I feel kind of bad.

Still, I suppose the best way to get past that is to take it out on someone else, and who better than evil scumbag terrorists, right?

To be honest, I debated not writing about this at all. I mean, I must be the only person not to have played this, so who would want to read about it? On the other hand, with Modern Warfare 2 out today, this is possibly the best time to write about it.

I know Eastenders is bad, but that's a bit of an extreme way to get it off the air...

One inescapable fact has arisen whilst playing CoD 4... I'm shit at it. Really, terribly bad. I had to play the little intro obstacle course thing four times just to get a time that would put me at Recruit level (I thought it would be embarrassing to play as a Rookie). From that point on I did OK, with just the odd death here and there, but now I've hit the TV station (which can't be that far into the game) and I'm utterly stuck and out of my depth. I really must have died 100 times there so far. I've nearly blundered through it a couple of times, but generally speaking, each try has lasted a minute or less.

It's fair to say that I'm not a big FPS player. I do enjoy them, I just don't partake that often. The last Call of Duty game I played was the first one, which I loved. I'm finding number four to be intense, exhilirating and frightening. It's a fantastic game, and one which I am most definitely going to be persevering with. I have no doubt it will be worth my while.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Brütal Legend (XBox 360)

There may be a small amount of cheating going on in my blog this time around... cheating, in that not every game I write about will be a game I have played that day. I've played quite a lot in the time I've slacked off on the writing, so there's some catching up to be done.

Today's is a case in point. I'm writing about Brütal Legend, a game which I no longer even own, but bought on the release date, had my fun with and completed. And once it was over, it was time to pass the torch.

Brütal Legend comes from the more-than-fertile mind of Tim Schafer, the man behind many a gaming classic, with Grim Fandango being arguably his best. Psychonauts was his last game, and Brütal Legend is more in keeping with that than his older adventures.

In case you hadn't heard, Brütal Legend is a game about heavy metal. How many games are more metal than this? The answer is: none. The story actually concerns the best roadie in the world who, upon suffering a seemingly-fatal accident on stage whilst rescuing one of the members of the band he's looking after, actually is trasnported to a faraway land of METAL when his blood seeps into his demonic belt buckle. Fantastic.

It must have been a difficult job casting the part of the lead character. You would want someone who's an actor by trade, but who loves videogames and who's sufficiently steeped in the lore of metal that he'd throw himself wholeheartedly into the part. Fortunately for Tim Schafer, Jack Black fits that description to a T, and it's obvious that he had a blast making this game. Then again, who wouldn't when they make the lead character basically a much more awesome version of yourself?

There are other familiar faces and voices here, voices plucked from the heavy metal fraternity and who do a pretty good job. Lemmy is always a welcome sight and sound, and he has a decent role here. Lita Ford and Rob Halford show up too. But perhaps the biggest revelation here for me is Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not an Ozzy fan - I don't like his singing and I'm bored with his antics. But in this game, he's surprisingly funny. OK, so he's just reading the lines he was given, but they're all delivered in a very entertaining manner.

Supercharged and flying low, liquid dynamite...

The game itself is a mish-mash of styles... part Golden Axe, part Batman (I say that because driving your awesome car, The Deuce, feels similar to the classic Amiga Batman game), part Pokemon (there are loads of things to collect) and part RTS. That last bit worried me, because I hate RTS games, but it's really simplified and not too difficult to get on with at all.

A final word must go to the landscape that the game takes place in. It's a truly fantastic world, designed to look like every fantasy heavy metal album cover ever. And it does a fantastic job of getting that across... from howling metal beasts to distant volcanos, stark landscapes to breathtaking iconic vistas, the feeling of immersion in a fantasy world is complete.

With a cracking sense of humour, a huge heavy metal soundtrack and a nice variety of game styles set across a game that is neither too difficult nor too long, Brütal Legend is a game I'm very happy to have in this world. I feel a bit of a traitor to my metal brethren for having sold it, but in time, I will return...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

DrawRace (iPhone/iPod Touch)

I thought about coming back with a bang, and playing a really huge title that everyone knows. Instead, I've opted for low-key.

DrawRace is a game I bought when I was going through an iTunes 59p app phase. We've all been there... they're just so damn hard to resist! This one looked appealing... a racing game in the vein of Super Sprint, but with a unique control method. It actually reminded me of BMX Simulator, for some reason.

As you might have guessed from the incredibly self-explanatory title, DrawRace is a racing game where you draw the racing line onto the touch screen for your car to follow. Sounds simple enough, and it is, and it's also genius at work.

You don't just draw the racing line though... it also picks up the speed at which you draw, and your car will move accordingly. If you go too fast around a corner with your finger, your car will slide off and lose valuable time. You won't believe how well it works... the tension as you race against the computer car is palpable.

Zoom... just one look, and then my heart went boom...

There are twenty tracks to race on... to be fair, many of them are quite easy to win on, but some offer a real challenge and will take a good few tries to get past. Once you've beaten them all, you can go back and try and improve your times for the online leaderboards, or maybe try an online multiplayer race. I've never actually tried the multiplayer myself, but it's a nice option to have.

DrawRace is now £1.19, which is possibly a little bit too much for an impulse buy. I do think you would get your money's worth out of it if you have any interest in racing games, and the control method is not just a gimmick, but genuinely adds something fresh. Updates were promised a while back... I'm eagerly awaiting them, myself...

Let's try this again.

Alright, as is perfectly evident, this managed to slip away from me. My wife got pregnant (a great thing, by the way!), which left me with a lot of work to do and not a lot of spare time. Now that the baby is here, I've stupidly convinced myself that I'll have more time to set down my thoughts. It's a ridiculous idea, but I'm going to have a crack at it. Should be the ideal way to kill some time when waiting for my new son to settle back to sleep after a 3am feed...