Sunday, 30 January 2011

Hunter's Moon (Commodore 64)

With Stavros Fasoulas out of the picture, Thalamus had to look elsewhere for someone that could do their label justice. And where they looked was in the direction of Martin Walker. It might have seemed an odd move... his games until then hadn't exactly set the world on fire, although his Chameleon had been praised by the lads at ZZAP!. It would be interesting to see where he would take Thalamus...

An easy start. Shoot your way in, collect the starcell, job done.

It turned out he would take them back into space. Hunter's Moon is a game that I didn't give a lot of time to in its day. I found it too difficult and a bit too odd as a shoot 'em up... it's not an immediate game, it's not instantly action-packed and, as shooters go, it actually takes a fair bit of thought. Over the years it's been championed very strongly by ZZAP! 64's Gordon Houghton (or as I like to call him after one crazy night in Oxford, my pool brother... but that's another story). So there must be something to it that I missed at the time...

Twinkle, twinkle, little starcell...

Hunter's Moon, as previously mentioned, is a space-based shoot 'em up. There are 128 levels in the game, spread across 16 ever-more-complex star systems... a mighty proposition. You're trapped in a galaxy of organically-engineered hives... beautiful structures that it almost seems a shame to destroy. However - these hives contain starcells, and you need to obtain these in order to make your escape.

This is a bonus subgame. No starcells here, just shooting.

Now, when I talk about destroying the hives... you can't actually do that. Workers patrol the perimeters, constantly refreshing the walls. If you damage any part of a hive, it'll be rebuilt on the workers' next circuit. That being the case, you have to get in and out of there quickly, especially as you'll also die on contact with a worker.

It's been quite an odyssey, getting here...

Luckily, you have time to plan your moves. You can fly around the outer rims and use your radar to work out the best, quickest and safest ways to the starcells. And if you pick one up while it's still flashing, you'll obtain one of the four co-ordinates you need to escape the current star system.

OK, now this is getting a little bit hairy.

That all makes it sound terribly easy, but as well as trying to figure out your way in... and take it from me, with the routes those workers take, that's far from easy... you'll also have to watch out for their defensive firepower. Well, you are a thieving, laser-blasting scumbag... they're within their rights to try and ward you off. And they're good at it too... it's not long before they're throwing homing bullets at you, so the idea of just sitting there and planning your strategy goes out the window.

Oh no! They've bricked me in!

Hunter's Moon is a very clever game. It's superbly designed and structured, extremely polished with beautiful graphics and excellent sound, and it's a very challenging game, but not to the point of frustration. It seems like a bit of a slog, especially having to play through from the start every time, but once you get better at the early levels and can start skipping a few, you can concentrate on learning how to get past the more difficult stuff. Having finally played it properly, I reckon it still stands up as a great game, and a unique entry into the shoot 'em up field. I feel a bit silly for not paying it more attention years ago. Great stuff.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A Gamer Forever Voyaging.

And so, my gaming blog has a new name, and this is probably the last name change it will ever have, ever.



So, why the name change? Well, when I first started the blog, the title "A Game A Day" fit perfectly with its aims. My intention then was to play all the games I'd been given and write about them, in an attempt to justify keeping them (my wife would have loved the money they'd have fetched on eBay). And playing and writing about one a day was an achievable goal at the time.

Now, though, with a one-year-old to look after, the Game A Day thing has become much more difficult to keep up. Coupled with that, the blog has evolved somewhat, so I'm playing more than just the boxes full of games in the cupboard where our boile used to be.

I wanted a new name that fit with my intentions, and that was also games related. A Mind Forever Voyaging is renowned as a classic game, and I'll be playing it for the blog at some point. And as I'm trawling through gaming history, this title seems perfect (although I'd have happily gone with any of the others if they'd won the poll).

The voyage continues. My run through Thalamus' history is about to continue. Who knows where we'll go from here? I hope you'll stick with me to find out. Maybe we'll pick up more voyagers on the way...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Quedex (Commodore 64)

If Delta had the good fortune to appear just when Nemesis was fresh in peoples' minds, then Thalamus' next game, Quedex, struck it lucky by turning up when people were still gaga over Marble Madness. "Oooh, look! You control a ball through a series of mazes! That'll be awesome!"


The game got its name from its subtitle - The Quest For Ultimate Dexterity. So that's two reasons why I never played it back in the day... I never really liked Marble Madness, and why would I want to play a game to test my dexterity? Besides, I gave that enough of a workout playing shoot 'em ups. And so Quedex remained completely off my radar, with nothing there to pique my interest in the slightest.

This level has you chasing around after white squares. The excitement!

What doesn't help is that when the game has loaded, it actually tells you that it's "number 3 in a series designed to frustrate and enrage". I don't want that from my games! I want to have fun, to be entertained, even to relax. I don't want to be put on the verge of a stroke.

Still, moving onwards, I figured I'd have to at least see if there was any fun to be had from Quedex.

This teleport might take you somewhere good. It might not. Grrrr!

The game gives you ten "planes" to conquer, using your dexterity, which would have been directly related at the time to which joystick you were using. I had a Zipstik, so I would probably have been awesome at the game. Anyone with a Quickshot II would, likely as not, have been knackered.

In order to help you get the most out of the game, you're allowed to select the planes you'll tackle in whatever order you like. This is definitely for the best, because if (like me) you got to the second plane and got completely stuck, you'd feel like you'd wasted your money. If you'd bought it, of course.

Odd level, this one. The goal is right there... you can complete it immediately or try and pick up the tokens for extra points.

For all the game involves joystick wrestling as its mechanic, it does a fair job of providing variety over the ten planes. Number 1, for instance, has you negotiating a number of small floors with precision, with each floor requiring a different kind of manoeuvring. Number 2, though, sees you attempting to negotiate a maze by finding keys to unlock certain passages.

And that, for me, is where the game goes wrong. Because then it's not a test of dexterity, it's a test of memory and, at least to begin with, luck. When the levels are purely you against the clock, weaving in and out of obstacles or jumping across holes, it's really good fun. But when you're trying yet another teleport in the hope of landing next to that all-important key, then it's an exercise in pure frustration.

It's not all bad... this level makes me want a custard cream. Mmm... custard creams... hang on, we haven't got any in! Damn!

It's a bit of a shame, that. Really, what you've got here is half a game... maybe two-thirds. Those irritating levels really take the gloss off it, and from my point of view, are what will stop me from attempting to complete it. There are some game types I just can't hack, and those levels are just about the epitome of all that makes me mad in a game.

Quedex was Stavros Fasoulas' third game for Thalamus, and it proved to be his last. Not because Thalamus didn't like what he was doing... for all the frustration I found in his games, he was obviously a talented coder with a bright future in the industry. But he was called up for National Service in his home country, Finland, and was never heard from again. I read recently that he may be living in the United States now, and has left his gaming past entirely behind. Shame, that. Stavros, if you ever feel the need for an interview, get in touch... you've got a lot of fans that would love to know how you're doing.

Delta (Commodore 64)

If Sanxion was seen as something of a contentious effort, Thalamus' follow-up Delta, it could be argued, could be regarded as being even moreso. ZZAP! 64, being affiliated with Thalamus' publishers, had taken some frightful stick over their review of Sanxion, being accused of bias after rating it highly. So when the magazine hit the shelves and ZZAP! had only awarded Delta 74%, eyebrows were raised. Were they deliberately over-compensating on this occasion?

Mix-E-Load. What a great idea! Just don't choose the "Nolans" setting.

On the face of it, Delta takes everything that was good in Sanxion and ramps it up a notch or five. Whereas Sanxion had a fantastic loading tune from Rob Hubbard, Delta revolutionised game loading by using something called Mix-E-Load. This game you the opportunity to play with a Rob Hubbard tune as the game loaded, using different instruments and effects to alter the tune in a good number of ways. It was a really cool idea that was appreciated by everybody I knew that played it... I'm sure it was almost universally enjoyed.

Shoot the core! Well, the one in the middle, anyway...

Once the game loaded, another fantastic Hubbard tune played, fast, upbeat and uplifting... really putting you in the mood for a good blast. And the musical piece de resistance came in the game itself... a Philip Glass-inspired piece, again by Rob Hubbard. Lasting over ten minutes, it was a moody number, without the trademark Hubbard drums... it felt very atmospheric and well-suited to the strange alien landscapes, and the levels were timed so that changes in the music seemed to fit perfectly with changes in the game.

Oh come on... they were easy to shoot. You're throwing money away!

Graphically, Delta shifted from Sanxion's planetside plains and cityscapes, instead moving into deep space. Flying through ruined cities, warped rock formations, boiling seas and bizarre jelly-like structures, the imagination on display was a joy to behold. And the alien craft and formations were similarly inspired, moving with grace, fluidity and purpose.

Pity the actual gameplay couldn't live up to any of that.

Oooh, pretty colours! Prettttyyyyy.... Kill it!

Delta came not too long after Nemesis had made weapons upgrades popular. And indeed, there's a fine array of weaponry here for the taking; from the usual speed-ups and bullet upgrades to multiple bullets, multi-directional fire and shields, you can really tool yourself up to the wazoo in readiness for the alien onslaught.

I realise I'm still not saying anything that comes as a downside. So... here goes.

Sometimes I feel like there's some kind of wall between us...

The biggest problem in Delta comes with those extra weapons. Like Nemesis, shooting whole formations of enemies will get you a credit (automatically added in this case, rather than floating around waiting to be picked up). At times, a group of icons will appear, like a corner shop in space, just waiting for you to spend your credits. Blue icons can be "bought", simply by flying over them. Grey icons will kill you if you touch them, so don't be so silly.

Let's see... I'll have a Marathon, a packet of pickled onion Tudor and a multi-directional laser cannon, please.

The alien enemies move in strict formations. So once you've learned where they appear, theoretically you'll remember and wipe them all out, every time. But what if you don't? Well, if you don't have the right set of power-ups at any given time, you're in big trouble. This is true right from the off... miss any of the first wave and you can't buy a speed-up, which means you'll miss the next waves and can't buy a power-up, which means you're effectively dead in the water. Might as well start again.

I don't want to crash here... I can't swim!

The whole game is played out on this knife edge. If you miss anything, you're going to have to be very lucky to stay alive. And if/once your weapons start running out, particularly the speedup, then you're as good as dead. It takes the emphasis away from the shoot 'em up part of the game, and almost turns the whole thing into a puzzle game. In that respect, it almost reminds me a little of Ikaruga, although it plays nothing like that.

Uh-oh... looks like you've found your Nemesis...

The final act of cruelty comes with the apparent predecessor to Burnout 3's Heartbreaker icon in the Crash Mode... eventually, you will discover that shooting certain alien formations actually removes credits. That just isn't fair... you should never be penalised for doing well, and in a game where you're so utterly reliant on collecting power-ups, it's a real kick in the teeth.

When I see you, I just turn to jelly...

Delta is not a bad game. The production values, as expected, are of the highest standard. I've seen me load the game just to listen to the two outstanding tunes. And if you happen to be into shoot 'em ups where you need to learn patterns, then you'll be in spacey nirvana with this. That's not my bag, though, and as much as I've always wanted to truly love this game, playing it again just reminded me of all the reasons why we parted less-than-amicably all those years ago. As a technical demo for the Commodore 64, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better game. But if you're looking for a great game, I happen to think that ZZAP! 64 got that review just about right. For all its aural and visual splendour, as a game, Delta falls sadly short of the mark.

Sanxion (Commodore 64)

I'm going to do this Hyper-Thalamus! thing in chronological order... makes sense, really. That being the case, I'm starting off with their first release, a game that caused a bit of a stir for a number of reasons... Sanxion.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Thalamus was owned by Newsfield Corporation. Also owned by Newsfield Corporation was the legendary Commodore 64 magazine, ZZAP! 64. So when Sanxion was reviewed by ZZAP! 64 and awarded a Sizzler!, there were cries of foul play from other quarters. Were they right to be suspicious?

I don't think so.

Uh-oh... this looks like trouble...

Sanxion is a horizontally-scrolling shooter, although it's a little different from many of the day in that the bottom half of the screen has a side-on view where the action is concentrated, while the top half has an overhead-view scanner. That said, the scanner view doesn't extend much beyond what you can see in the bottom screen, but it gives you just enough extra to let you prepare a little for each upcoming wave.

Something that's a bit frightening from the off is the speed of the game. Once you push that stick to the right, you're really moving! Truth be told, you go too fast to really have a chance, but luckily you can dictate the pace at which you fly, which makes things a little bit easier (albeit far from easy!), and only results in your end-level bonus taking a hit (no great hardship).

Bonus time! All you have to do here is blast everything!

There are, though, occasional levels or moments within levels where you're forced to fly at full pelt. Unfortunately for you, that's usually at sections where there are barriers to negotiate. They're always in the same place, so once you've learned where they are and committed them to memory, you should sail through every time. Getting there takes a while and a lot of lives, though...

After every level, you'll play a bonus section. During these, you'll fly through rainbow-striped areas, either destroying waves of spaceships or picking up bonus coins. You can't die in these areas, but careful piloting can net you some pretty big scores.

Oh come on, that's hardly fair...

Sanxion is a funny game. It can be, in the same game, both exhilarating and frustrating. When you whizz through a few attack waves or barriers at top speed and come out unscathed, it's quite a rush. On the other hand, it can be annoying to hit barrier after barrier and watching your number of lives dwindle. Still, it's a highly polished game, with good graphics (the wobbling ship is a lovely touch), amazing music (particularly the loading screen - one of Rob Hubbard's best) and plenty of stuff to blast.

Looking back on it, Sanxion was an impressive debut game from Thalamus, but also a pretty big statement of intent. The high production values and polish would be synonymous with the Thalamus name, although so would the occasionally frustrating gameplay...


I just fancied a bit of C64 love today, so I loaded up a game by revered software house Thalamus, and then a thought hit me: they didn't releases that many games, why not write about them all?

So that's what I'm going to do. There are fourteen Thalamus games on the C64, so between now and my Top 10 of '10, I'm going to play and write about all fourteen. I've only played a few of them before, so it'll be a mixture of rose-tinted nostalgia and voyage of discovery for me. I'm quite looking forward to it... hope you all like the idea!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Advent Calendar - December 25th.

Christmas NiGHTS... into dreams (Sega Saturn)

And so, finally, we come to the last game of the Advent Calendar. It's a game I've waited about thirteen years to play. For all I love the original, and I do really love the original, I never managed to get hold of this little oddment. It was given away as a magazine cover disc... what an awesome present that must have been!

Awwww. Aren't they cute?

The original NiGHTS... into dreams saw you starting out as either Claris or Elliot, brother or sister, in the world of nightmares. In order to banish these nightmares, the mysterious entity NiGHTS would come along and, under your control, defeat the stuff of nightmares and allow the kids to sleep peacefully once again.

Iiiiit's Chriiiiiiist-maaaaaaaas!

It wasn't just one of the best games on the Saturn (a much, and unfairly maligned system)... as far as I'm concerned it's one of the best games ever. It has an utterly magical feeling and quality to it... the gameplay itself is floaty, almost dreamlike, as you swoop and soar around the landscapes. It's a high score game in essence, and a joy to play in that regard. But it just has that certain something that mere programming doesn't provide, that special element that elevates it into something truly special.

Now that's just lazy.

Enough waxing lyrical on the original game. Now I'm going to wax lyrical about this one instead.

Christmas NiGHTS... into dreams is a cut-down version of the original game... you couldn't expect SEGA to give away a full-sized product. But whereas you only get to play one full level and boss for each character, they've stuffed a load of lovely other goodies into the game instead.

Hmmm. Just a 'C'. Well, I am rusty... I suppose it's not a bad start.

When you load up the game, you're prompted to check that your calendar date is correct. Or maybe incorrect... Christmas NiGHTS tells you from the off that there are many calendar-activated surprises contained within the game. The intention, I would imagine, is that you play the game every day in order to discover what treats lie within. Maybe I will! There's an idea... a post a day for a year, alongside whatever else I'm writing about.

Don't let the bells end!

As it is, I played this on Christmas Day, December 25th. And sure enough, as NiGHTS drifts lazily around the landscape, you'll notice Santa and his reindeer flying by at times. You also get different music on Christmas Day... and it's absolutely lovely, not quite carol singing but distinctly festive in tone.

That's a big, ugly fella. At least he's in the spirit of things, though.

The graphics are (obviously) Christmassy in this version of the game, with snow everywhere, Christmas bells to collect and Christmas wreaths to fly through instead of the normal rings. NiGHTS himself wears a Santa outfit, and even the end-level boss is wearing a Christmas hat. Who'd have thought it?

Tricky little fella, this NiGHTS...

Playing through the game gives you the opportunity to unlock some of the Christmas presents that are hidden in one of the menus. There's a good number of unlockables which should keep anyone playing for ages. Lots of the unlockables are gallery items... artwork from the original game, mostly. But there are other things available. One item I unlocked was called "NiGHTS Goods", which is a collection of pictures of promotional and retail items related to NiGHTS. I never knew you could get so much stuff! If anyone can get me a plushie or keychain, I'll be your friend forever.

Look at those beauties! Wonder if you can still get any of them...?

One quite frightening item, is called, simply, "Karaoke". Ahhh, that most Japanese of traditions. When you complete the game, you're "rewarded" with a movie of NiGHTS flying around the game's terrain, while a cheesy song plays. Unlock the Karaoke option, and you get to sing along with this cheesy song! No, I haven't done this, and I don't intend to, thanks.

Leona Lewis expected to land another Christmas Number One.

For a freebie, Christmas NiGHTS is quite astonishing. It's a short game, sure, but a lovely one all the same. I've used the word "magical" before, but it truly is that. And it's packed with wonderful fan service. I have no idea how much is left undiscovered in here, but I certainly intend to find out. Christmas NiGHTS... into dreams is a love letter to both fans of the original game, and the original game itself. It's a glorious addition to anyone's collection, and I'm really glad to have finally played it after all these years. Merry Christmas!

Advent Calendar - December 24th.

24 - The Game (PS2)

Legend has it that a survey taken showed that, in the event of a terrorist attack, a high percentage of US citizens believed that Jack Bauer would save them. They should have re-worded it, replacing "US citizens" with "stupid people". Let's face it, you could conduct similar surveys in any country in the Western world and, if you asked the "right" demographic, would get a similar response. But it's a measure of the success of the TV show 24, that his would be the first name to spring to mind. A game based on the show was, therefore, inevitable.

Man, I hate getting up this early.

Oddly enough, considering I lived in the US between 2000 and 2005, barring trailers I've never seen a single minute of 24. It was massively hyped over there, and incredibly popular. And I'm led to believe it's a fine television show. But I missed the first one when it was broadcast, and then the second one had been on before I'd had a chance to see the first one, and so on, and so on. And so it seemed pointless watching any after that. And when the second season came on, it seemed pointless watching it having not seen the first. So there you go. I know what it's about, I know who's in it... but I've never seen it.

Someone had to pay... you'll do.

I don't know if that was a help or a hindrance when playing the game. I mean, this is mostly fan service, I would guess. If you're a fan of the show, it's probably awesome to play at being in Jack Bauer's shoes. It'll be great to be interacting with all your favourite (or least favourite) characters. I went into it totally fresh, though... maybe that was for the best. Too often games are crushed by the weight of expectation.

As far as game versions of an established entertainment medium go, 24: The Game actually seems really good. It's fast-paced, although whether that's in keeping with a TV show that needs to build suspense, I'm not sure. The graphics, for a PS2, are really quite good. There are good likenesses of the main characters (Kiefer Sutherland was instantly recognisable, if a little Kevin Bacon-ish at times, and I checked out a few of the others), and the voice acting is as good as you'd expect.

Well, there goes my no-claims bonus.

For all it succeeds with its presentation though, the gameplay itself doesn't match that. Luckily, it isn't awful. Well, sometimes it gets close, but generally it plays pretty well. The opening level, which also serves as a tutorial, see you as Jack Bauer storming a cargo ship that has been hijacked by terrorists to ship a ricin bomb. Although it's not terribly difficult, it's presented in such a way that it really ramps up the tension and you feel as though you have to get a move on at all times or disaster will ensue.

Do you know who blew up my car? Talk, and you'll live.

It's not all quite like that, though. There are some strange mini-games... the bomb defusal game you get on completion of the first level is a bit rubbish, for instance. And later on, there are some rubbish driving bits that the game could really have done without. I suppose they needed filler content though... it's difficult to maintain a story like this over the full length of a game.

This is actually a really interesting and effective way of moving the story.

Still, the story is interesting enough to mean I can overlook those things. And I appreciated that the game doesn't focus entirely on Jack Bauer... occasional levels see you playing as other characters, which fleshes things out considerably for the non-afficionado such as myself. I'd really like to see a 24 game on the current systems, but I suppose that ship sailed a good while ago. But for now, I'm gripped enough by this one to want to see it through to the end.

Advent Calendar - December 23rd.

Catch 23 (ZX Spectrum)

I bet a lot of you were thinking I wouldn't find anything for this one. I was thinking that myself, for a long time. It just goes to show how much research I did for this thing before getting under way!

Catch 23, from reading the instructions, is a very deep and complex game, in which an enemy faction has perfected an oribital interceptor, a craft capable of escaping Earth's gravity and lying in wait in space before re-entering the atmosphere at any moment to intercept and destroy missiles or aircraft. The fact that one of these is necessary on either side doesn't bode well for the current state of the planet's harmony... you are dropped into the enemy's test development site one dark night, with the aim of infiltrating and stealing the enemy's plans and eventually destroying the base.

They can't be too concerned by your threat if they've got time for plate-spinning.

I don't mind admitting that, in my first game, I was dead in three seconds. I'd figured that I'd work out the keys as I went along... so much for that idea! So it was off to World of Spectrum for a much-needed look at the instructions.

Once I'd got the controls to hand, I was able to last as long as thirty seconds. Ten times better! This is a seriously hard game... incredibly hard, in fact, at least at first. As soon as one of those guards appears on the screen, you'd better shoot the bastard, or you're dead. You get hit once, and it's Game Over. There are no health packs, no hopes of respite. You're dead.

Hey! Is that... is that a cheese?

It's very unforgiving, which was the case for a lot of games back then. It forced you to think a bit whilst playing... you can't just charge around gung-ho, you're not invincible. But once you get used to the idea of the guard just popping onto the screen, and the way the control method automatically switches to firing mode, you can actually start dispatching a few guards and think about making a move towards progress.

Not that you'll make a lot of progress. Like I said, it's complex, and as with a lot of these games, slow going. It'll really take a long time before you start figuring out where you are and what's around you. And the fact that you have random starting positions doesn't exactly ease you into the game, either.

Ah well. We all knew it couldn't last.

Catch 23 is a game from another era. It's 25 years old, and 25 years ago we were all a lot more patient with our games. If we'd spent our money on it then by God we were going to wring every last minute out of it. Nowadays, speaking personally, I don't seem capable of this, and so a game like Catch 23 that I might have taken the time to learn and really got into just hurts my head a bit. Out of the millions of brains cells I've lost in the last few years, some of them were apparently the ones that facilitate the playing of complex 8-bit games. And for that reason, Catch 23's charms have almost completely escaped me.

Advent Calendar - December 22nd.

Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22 (PS1)

I must admit, not only did I not get into the whole Dragon Ball Z thing, I never even gave it a second glance, other than to occasionally ridicule the hairstyles. I still don't particularly know what it's about, but then I could say the same thing about Pokemon. It's because I'm getting old, I guess. But from watching the intro movie to Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22, I suppose that kids watching this today is a bit like the equivalent of me watching Battle of the Planets when I was nine. So I guess it's OK, really.

Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22 is, as you would expect, a fighting game. I've never got on that well with fighting games, generally speaking, so I wasn't really holding high hopes for this one. Still, unto the breach...

You have to figure that hurts...

There are a few modes to choose from. The first, and probably most obvious and most played, is 1P VERSUS COM. This mode sees you taking on 22 opponents to win the game. So that's where the 22 of the title comes from, then. The other main mode is kind of like a tutorial with RPG elements... apparently you can take your charater and build up their attributes. I wasn't entirely sure how that worked though.

As with a lot of these things, it obviously doesn't take itself too seriously. I picked this up right from the character select screen, with names such as "Piccolo", "Little Trunks", "Super Trunks" (obviously the one to go for from those two!) and "Likum", this is not a game without a sense of humour, probably at its own expense. So, wandering through the different odd-looking types, I was about to settle on "Super Trunks" as my on screen persona...

Haha! You're getting beaten up by a girl! Well, a girl robot...

...and then I spotted a character called "Genious". So THAT'S why so many people of a certain age mis-spell the word "genius" on the internet! Damn you, Dragonball Z, damn you to hell!

Once I got into the fighting, it was all just a bit dull. Each character has about half a dozen special moves, but there's not that much variation in them, either in execution or appearance. Graphically it's ropey... although that's partially down to the original style of the characters. There's not much variety in them... they've either got stupid spiky hair, are bald or are androids. There's not much that can be done to help them.

This seems like a bit of a mis-match...

I imagine Dragon Ball Z fans might get something out of this... 22 characters seems like a decent roster for a fighting game based on a cartoon. The gameplay itself is not much fun and very samey, but I imagine if you're a fan you'll take the time to learn the moves for all the characters, in which case there's hours of play to be had, I didn't enjoy it, so even my hour's worth felt like it had gone on too long.

Advent Calendar - December 21st.

Earth 2150 (PC)

Now this one was always planned in for today. Well, this or one of the other games from the series... whichever was cheapest and highest rated on This one seemed like the best bet (there's a trilogy of games and/or expansions, all available in one purchase and download), even though I had no idea what the series was about.

Well it's a start, at least...

I was a bit disappointed to find out that Earth 2150 is a resource building and management game, or Real-Time Strategy, in the vein of Command & Conquer. That's probably my least favourite game genre... yes, even moreso than puzzle games! My brain doesn't seem to be conditioned to micromanagement, especially when you can't just do it in your own time.

All I can say is, I gave it a shot. I find these games hard enough at the best of times... when it's a digital download and you haven't got the instructions to hand, it makes things even worse! I know, I could have printed off the instructions... that's too much effort at the moment.

The inevitable rain of fire that signals my doom.

And so, this is one of my shortest write-ups of the whole calendar. I did manage to build a few units as instructed by the tutorial, but once it left me to my own devices it might as well have blindfolded me for all the use I was. Before long, I was floundering horribly and ended up quitting the game in disgust. I'm sure if you're a fan of RTS games then Earth 2150 is a fine example and well worth your time. It just made me miserable.

Advent Calendar - December 20th.

Robotron 2084 (arcade/MAME/everything)

It was really hard coming up with games for these later numbers. I had to get creative in a few cases, bending the rules and possibly even flat-out cheating. Hey, needs must. It didn't help, then, that the person I bought my "20" game from on eBay accidentally posted it to the wrong person. I had my money refunded, but it basically left me up shit creek for the blog.

Still, not to worry. I've said I didn't want to use years wherever possible... but in those cases, I meant the back ends of the years, with games like Tiger Woods 10 or FIFA 11. However, when it comes to futuristic games... I'm going to allow them. And so my fallback for today is the awesome arcade shooter, Robotron 2084.

Things are pretty easy at this point. Don't get used to that.

These days, Robotron 2084 is regarded as a classic. And rightly so - it's not just a brilliant game in its own right, it's also been (and continues to be) the inspiration for any number of modern games, Geometry Wars possibly being the most famous of them. However, I have to say I didn't so much as see one machine back in the arcade heyday, and so I never got to play it in its proper form. I've only ever played it through emulation, which is great, but this is one game that emulation has apparently never got quite right. Maybe one day...

What made Robotron 2084 such a revolution was its twin-stick controls; one stick to move your character, and one to fire in any of eight directions. It's not just clever, it's absolutely essential for this game to work properly. It simply wouldn't be the same if you had to shoot in the direction you're moving... not only that, it would be insanely difficult.

Now that's more like it. Watch where you're walking!

It's hard enough as it is. Right from the off you're overwhelmed by sheer numbers. You do get a bit of a chance to play yourself in... to begin with, you only have slow-moving grunt robots to contend with. Now is the time to get used to the controls in readiness for the imminent assault. And then, there's The Last Human Family to rescue...

Yes, the only silly sods left alive have to go putting themselves in harm's way on every level. Luckily, there are no consequences to their getting wiped out... but saving them gets you valuable bonus points, which all go towards the collection of precious extra lives...

The Brain Wave. Do this right and you can really rack up the points.

And you do need those lives. It's not that difficult a game up to around wave six or seven... but once the tanks are introduced you're in real trouble, and if you get past them then sheer numbers are likely to overwhelm you and bring about your downfall. The number of grunts homing in on you is frightening at times, but the sheer exhiliration you feel when you manage to fight your way through them and come out the other side is something that few other games can match.

When it comes to "zone" games, there aren't many better than Robotron 2084. I never got to play it when it first came out, but I've probably made up for that over the last decade. I've never been very good at it... I know people that can score over a million whereas I'd be happy with 200,000. I've never reached that yet... but I was over the moon to finally reach Wave 10 recently. That might not sound all that great, but you just give it a try and see...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Almost there!

Bear with me gang... although it's been quiet of late, I'm at a good point here. Tomorrow, I will be uploading all of the outstanding Advent Calendar posts. Yes, really! Then I'll have a few days where I make the occasional "normal" post about the odd game here and there, before I go on to my "Top 10 of '10".

Patience is a virtue, everything comes to he who waits, etc., etc...

Thanks for sticking with me... I'm looking forward to making loads of good posts in the coming year!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

I'm so weak!

So, my New Year resolution lasted all of eight days. I'd trailed out to Morrisons yesterday on streets that were not too far removed from ice rinks, albeit worse seeing as I live in a hilly area. And as I wandered the aisles looking for peanut butter and spicy chicken wings, I bumped into the cheap games tat, and I decided that I deserved a spur-of-the-moment impulse buy treat.

So I bought myself a game called Ninja Blade, for all of eight pounds.

Of course, my resolutions were to buy less games in favour of playing all the ones I've already got, and getting my completion percentage up to thirty percent by the end of June. This hasn't helped me on either of those fronts.

You want to watch what you're doing. There's probably a giant worm or something down there.

That's especially true when, as the point of an impulse buy is to play it immediately, I started on Ninja Blade last night, thus dropping my completion percentage immediately. Fortunately, the first dozen achievements are quite easy to get, so I was back to where I'd started by this afternoon.

And what of the game? After two missions, it's good, silly fun. A parasite has been spreading across the world, albeit remaining largely suppressed by crack teams. Now, though, it's hit Tokyo and is turning people into giant monsters that are ripping the city apart. You're a modern day ninja, and the only one capable of putting this menace down. You can't do this without dealing with some classic melodrama on the way, of course.

I hate to say I told you so, but...

It does have some annoying gameplay at times... for instance, if you're not a fan of the Quick Time Event you'd do well to stay away from this. It's got loads of them. But it is genuinely spectacular, with some enormous creatures to be battled and some hilariously over-the-top action setpieces that you probably couldn't manage without the QTEs. Oh, and the save system can be immensely annoying.

Yes, there are better examples of this type of the game, for sure... Bayonetta has certainly taken this style of game and built on it to great effect, and there are elements from games such as Prince of Persia in there too. But so far I've had a good time for my eight quid, and I can see that continuing over the coming days.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Game Room - The Final Insult

You know, I've defended Game Room on the 360 more than most. I still love the concept, even if it's been hobbled massively by the lack of partners and dubious quality of some of the games. In fact, the last few weeks have seen a bit of an upturn, with some really good stuff being made available. I've got 980 out of 1000 from its Achievements... the only one I'm missing is the one for having played for 36 hours. I'm about seven hours short.

Or rather, I was about seven hours short. I just loaded it up for a quick blast before bed, and was prompted yo download a 4MB update. Naturally, I did so... only to find that when the Game Room rebooted, it had reset me to Level 1, with a total playing time of zero.

All my Achievements are intact... as are the high scores I've uploaded to the world top 20 for some games. But apparently I haven't played those games at all. So instead of being seven hours away from the last Achievement, I am now thirty-sixhours away. Thanks a lot. No, really.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Belated... as with everything I do these days, it seems. It's been busy in the House of Moz, much to my chagrin... I'm supposed to be on holiday here!

Not to worry... I'm going to finally finish up the Advent Calendar posts, and then crack on with my Top 10 of '10.

Now, I've been working on the list for a while. In fact, I had the order settled, but I've had a rejig. I'd fallen into the trap that many non-professional games writers fall into... I'd made it too worthy, too "EDGE". My list probably won't look like a lot of other Top Tens of the year... partially because I don't get to play every new game on every format, and partially because I don't much enjoy some of those kinds of games.

Yep... my top ten will not be the "best" games of 2010, but the ten games I've enjoyed the most in 2010. After all, isn't that what games are about? I don't care about technical achievement, how nice an overwrought character's hair looks as it's blowing in the wind. I care about how much fun it is to play the game that character's in.

I'll start with a "close but no cigar" list... in rejigging the thing, some have dropped off that deserve a mention. So, on we go... happy 2011!