Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lunattack (Commodore 64)

And so it's on to Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games, starting at the beginning (a very good place to start, so I hear) with Lunattack. Known as 3D Lunattack on the ZX Spectrum, it was the third in an ongoing series on that machine. When it came to the Commodore 64, it was the first and only entry.

It's been quite difficult to fill this post out. There's a severe lack of information on the internet regarding this game. There's not a single cover/box shot for the Commodore 64 version, and I can't find instructions anywhere. So I've pretty much had to wing it, which is fine... I do that quite often anyway, but I do like to do at least a bit of preparation before I start.

Ugh! What the hell is that? Blast it, quick!

Lunattack sees you piloting a craft above the surface of the moon, in an attempt to destroy the base of the evil Seiddab (if you're among the uninitiated, read that backwards...). It sounds easy enough, but as is always the way, they've had the evil sense to defend this base with an array of deadly weaponry. You're going to have to fight your way through that lot before getting to your main target.

Now, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and I was probably doing it wrong anyway, so it's difficult to go into the game in any great detail. I read a couple of reviews of the Spectrum version that said it was like Battlezone. I don't think that's entirely accurate, although obviously there are elements of that game here. For instance, although you're flying, you always remain at the same height. This does open up the ability to attack both ground and air units, though. If you can find them, that is...

Tanks at two o'clock!

At times, Lunattack seems like a terribly barren game. You might strafe your way through a tank battalion, and then go for minutes without finding anything at all, other than the odd rock to avoid. Or rather, that's how it will seem until you discover the game's map screen...

Yes, by accidentally pressing the F1 key I found out that your game doesn't just randomly generate some stuff to throw at you if it can be bothered... there's a proper structure to things. Not only that, but the map is massive. And I didn't work out what all the symbols mean for ages, either...

Now, let's see... left at the purple skull... right at the mountain range... no, it's no use. We're lost.

There are plenty of different zones to fly through, with one nice touch being that you can see Earth in the distance if you're flying in the right direction. Some zones will set off a frightening alarm as they cause your hull to overheat... if you don't cool it down quickly, the ship will be destroyed. Others will be filled with tanks, rocks or flying "things", all of which must be either destroyed or avoided if you want to reach the Seiddab base.

If you've ever played an Andrew Braybrook game, you'll know that the presentation is usually excellent. And that's how it is with Lunattack, if you show a bit of patience. Rather than rushing straight into the game, if you let the opening sequence run for a while you'll get a bit of backstory and an explanation of the map's symbols and the game's scoring system. There's also an options screen where you can change your starting stage and level. If only I'd done that when I'd first loaded the game, rather than a couple of hours later...

Kapow! A missile finds its mark. There's lots more where that came from, too.

Lunattack appears to be much more epic than I'd originally thought. I should really have known better. I played it for about two hours and had a high score of 120... now I'm pushing forward and in danger of breaking 1,000. What's more, I want to. Discovering new games is cool... discovering hidden depths within those games is cooler still. I wouldn't say it's a stone cold classic... at least not yet. But it shows the promise that would be fulfilled in future games...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Andrew Braybrook - a quick C64 history.

A while ago (a good while... sorry!), I ran a poll to decide what I should write about next, in series form. I've left it up... it's to the right there. As you'll see, the reading public decided that I should write about Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games. Now, I've had a fair few distractions since then, but I'm moving on with that right now, so buckle up and get ready for a classic Commodore ride.

As is the case with a lot of my articles, I did some research on Andrew Braybrook before I started writing this. I knew a fair bit already... of course I did, he was one of the Commodore 64's biggest celebrities back in the day. I thought he'd written more Commodore 64 games than he actually had... although some of them were rewrites and upgrades. I still haven't decided whether or not to include those yet...

It turns out that I've never played Andrew's first or last Commodore 64 games. That gives me something extra to look forward to over the coming days... for while it's nice to revisit well-loved classics, it's embarking on a voyage of discovery that really makes this exciting for me.

The man himself! Responsible for about 30% of my worst homework assignments...

There was almost always an air of excitement around a new Braybrook game. The first one I followed excitedly was Paradroid, courtesy of ZZAP! 64's "Diary of a Game - The Birth of a Paradroid". You can read that here, at the rather splendid 'Def Guide to ZZAP! 64' website. I didn't even have a Commodore 64 at the time, although friends did, and I would often be found at one of their houses, marvelling at this amazing machine.

Little did I know at the time, but I'd already played an Andrew Braybrook game while I was reading this diary - his Gribbly's Day Out was a favourite from those snatched afternoons. The strange infant-collecting platformer was already renowned as something of a minor classic, and was an indicator of things to come from the programmer...

Paradroid, of course, blazed onto the scene with a fanfare and a shower of awards, and accusations of favouritism in certain quarters... but it really set out Braybrook's stall as a top-notch programmer, not just technically but as someone who could write amazing games. This was reiterated with the release of Uridium, one of the finest arcade shoot 'em ups on the 8-bits not just on its release, but in their entire lifespan.

Andrew released just three more original games on the C64... once its natural life was reaching an end, he started moving toward the more powerful machines. Alleykat was a space racer with guns... which was probably only partially successful. The massive, sprawling space epic Morpheus followed, and then his time on the 64 ended with something of a whimper, with the puzzle game, Intensity.

There's lots to look forward to there, especially if I include any of the Special Edition updates. But first it's back to the beginning, with a game I suspect few of us have played before... Lunattack.

Gaming things that need to stop. Number 1 - Unboxing videos.

A mate of mine has suggested to me that I might fancy making video articles for my blog. I'm not against that - but if I'm going to do it, I have to do it right. One idea I had would see me playing a game I was able to complete when I was younger, and seeing whether I was still skilful enough to do it now. That one could work.

One thing that wouldn't work would be if I were to make an unboxing video. Now, when it comes to video games (well, all hobbies really, but particularly video games), there's a fine line between being a geek or a nerd. Most of us would accept being labelled a geek... some perhaps grudgingly, others proudly. Being a geek is alright, nothing wrong with that. Most of us , though, wouldn't want to be labelled a nerd. But if you make an unboxing video, you are, in fact, a nerd.

I'm holding the Climax Edition of Bayonetta. There's a game, an art book and a CD in there. How does that grab you?

Seriously - you're making us well-adjusted gamers look bad. People that don't indulge in our hobby think we're all like that. We're not. We're normal, rational people that work in offices and schools, and like to come home and play a video game for an hour or two to unwind. It's fun. People that don't play video games might watch a movie or a TV soap opera... it's all an escape from the drudgery of life.

I don't see what purpose an unboxing video serves. If someone is interested in the special edition of a game, then all you're doing is spoiling it for them, and given they've forked out a fair bit extra for the good stuff, that's a bit mean. If they're not interested... then they're not interested. No amount of breathless nerdy rambling will persuade them otherwise.

I love Deathsmiles, but is there really any need for this?

The commentary on an unboxing video is usually quite ridiculous. "Here's the shrinkwrap... I'm taking it off now". It's a video. Everyone can see what you're doing. They can see that you're opening the box. They can see that you're taking out the instructions. All you really need to talk about, for the benefit of the three weird people that have decided to watch a video of somebody opening a game, are the really unusual items that people who would prefer to buy three new games for the price of your one won't ever get to see.

I realise I'm being a bit mean-spirited here, and I suppose it's harmless enough. I should just leave alone those that get something out of watching some hamfisted spod ripping open the game he's just bought so he can clutch his plastic figure clad in +3 Armour of Majesty in his sweaty paw. But I just find the whole notion of watching somebody else either ruining my surprise or getting orgasmic over a plastic helmet a bit ridiculous. And I imagine non-gamers do, too. So stop the unboxing videos now, or the rest of the world might forever think we should all be on a register somewhere.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sega Rally Online Arcade

I love Sega Rally. From the arcade and Saturn versions right up to its rebirth on the 360, it's a great racing game. The original version was most definitely an arcade game... short, sharp bursts of racing on a small number of tracks, with hardly any cars available. It handled like a dream, and constantly kept you coming back for more in the hope of shaving milliseconds from your best times.

The current-gen update of Sega Rally (known as Sega Rally Revo in the States) was an altogether different beast in a lot of ways. It retained the awesome handling, but added loads of tracks in the form of Championships and Leagues. It was, and still is, eye-wateringly, hair-tearingly difficult. I mean, it's rock hard. Every now and then, I'll find myself loading it up in the forlorn hope of eking out a few points so that I can unlock the next League. It's so, so hard. And yet, I still love it.

Wonder if that place is open? I fancy a bacon sandwich.

Now we have Sega Rally Online Arcade, a Live Arcade title by Sumo Digital, weighing in at just 800 points. What a bargain! Or is it? I've had a good go at finding out.

Sega Rally Online Arcade follows OutRun Online Arcade in updating a classic Sega arcade game for the XBox Live Arcade market. OutRun Online Arcade was amazing, featuring the classic five-ending race and a Heart Attack Mode. It was also a great high score game, and I was involved in some epic tussles on my Friends Leaderboard, with positions changing all the time. In the end, my son Aidan, who was eight years old at the time, emerged at the top. Little swine.

Nothing like a quiet Sunday drive in the countryside. And this is nothing like, etc...

You're not going to get as much leaderboard fun out of SROA, because you don't score points. You're also not going to get as much depth... whereas OutRun has fifteen different stages to master, SROA has only five (as far as I know at this point - oh, and they're all similar to those in Sega Rally Revo). You can tackle three of them from the outset in the Quick Race Mode, and if you try the Championship and race through all three in first place, you will unlock Lakeside... finishing first in that one will see you unlock it for Quick Race play.

The fifth course is the classic Desert course from the original Sega Rally, and you get to race on that using the classic cars from that game. It's a lovely touch... it would be lovelier if you got all the original tracks (I don't know at this point that you don't, they may be unlockable, but it doesn't look like it).

Say hello to an old friend...

I have to say that the car handling feels different in this game to past games. I find that a bit odd in some ways... surely it should feel the same as the first 360 Sega Rally? But it's a bit more arcadey, a bit more forgiving. Whereas I love that first 360 game, it really is rock hard and that's offputting to some. This one can be blasted through fairly easily. It's an exercise in fun. You wouldn't enjoy battling your buddies if you were gnashing your teeth at the difficulty level, would you?

So, it doesn't sound like you get that much, but it's only 800 points, which is a bit less than seven quid. And I think the focus is set more firmly on the Online aspect... this IS an arcade game, and the intention is to fire it up for a quick blast with your mates, with the single player mode being ideal for practicing or if you fancy a bit of high-speed action without any major time commitment. I reckon it does the job very well for the price... see you on the beach!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Operation WOW (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad)

If you played arcade games in the Eighties, the chances are that at some point, you played Operation Wolf. Whether it was on the giant arcade machine, with its massive front-mounted guns, or on one of the excellent home ports, you've probably heard or seen the words "Sorry, but you are finished... here".

Oooh, my very own arcade!

I played the Commodore 64 and Amiga versions, and although they were (obviously) lacking the guns, they played incredibly well. The 64 version gave me terrible cramp in my hand from the constant blasting, whereas the Amiga version could be played using the mouse, which felt better, and it looked really good, too. It's been a long time, though...

I was intrigued to hear of Operation WOW, which promised Wolf-style action on Apple's tiny devices. I wasn't sure if that could work, but as it's free, I figured I had nothing to lose...

That's quite a lot of hardware to be up against.

And I'm very glad that I started off that download, because Operation WOW is really good. In fact, it IS Operation Wolf, albeit with much more cartoony graphics. Other than that, the levels are the same, and I think that even the layouts are the same. They certainly look familiar.

The aim is the same as ever... blast your way through six levels to rescue the hostages/POWs/whatever they are. Different environments pose different problems, but mainly, you're blasting soldiers, tanks, boats and helicopters, and all the while they're assaulting you with whatever they can throw at you.

Ooohhhhh... you'd love to, wouldn't you?

I was both heartened and amused to find that even the comedy touches had been retained for things like extra weapons pickups... shooting indigenous wildlife such as pigs or buzzards will see grenades or bullets left behind. I'd rather have bacon, but in this game you take what you can get.

The developers have even thrown in a couple of mini-games, just in case the main game isn't enough for you. There's a target shooting game, where you need to clear all the targets as quickly as possible while avoiding the red herrings. And there's an amusing little effort called Meat Ninja... which is the same as well-regarded iPhone game Fruit Ninja, except that different meats are thrown in the air and you have to blast them. Funny.

They've shot me! THROUGH THE FACE!

Operation WOW is a splendid effort, even if it is a throwback to a different era. The cartoony graphics do make a difference in bringing it up to date, but other than that, this is the same classic game that you remember from the past. For free, it's excellent, and if you like arcade gun games then you really ought to download this right now.

Operation WOW (iPhone/iPod Touch)
Operation WOW HD (iPad)

Sword of Sodan (Commodore Amiga)

I remember the day my mate bought Sword of Sodan from Maughan Micro Computers, a pokey little shop in the Metro Centre. I was there, and it wasn't that long after he'd got his Amiga. He had a few games with it at that point, although a lot of them had come with the machine... Wizball, The Karate Kid Part II (I wonder where that one went?), for example. Of course, having stepped up from the Commodore 64, it was very easy to be seduced by screenshots on the back of the box. And Sword of Sodan's screenshots were amazing.

Phwoar, look at her! Or him, if that's your preference.

Back to his we went, and opened the game. Three disks! Three! It had to be amazing! In actuality, it just meant a lot of loading. And not much game, as it turned out... I think we completed it on our first go, taking turns as we progressed through the levels. It was a bit disappointing in that respect, but on the other hand, it did provide a sense that this computer was the future.

I thought I'd give it another go now, to see just how it fared more than twenty years later.

Halt, stranger!

To be fair, it's not really a very good game. It's a straightforward left-to-right scrolling beat 'em up, but it's no Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. It kind of reminds me of an odd game called Great Gurianos, in fact. When I say "left-to-right", I mean left-to-right... it all takes place on a single plane, in a single direction. So there's absolutely no strategy involved... you just have to slash and jump at the right times. Oh, you can duck, or do an overhead hit... that's a total of three fighting moves. And occasionally you pick up potions which have varying effects.

...that didn't end as they'd expected...

For a game that was bought on the basis of its screenshots, the graphics aren't really all that good, looking at them now. When static, they're a massive step up from the 64, with huge figures taking up large amounts of the screen. The animation isn't much cop, though, and although the different game areas are nice and varied, the enemies within aren't, with usually only one or two of a kind on any one level.

Moments later, the giant's head was removed from his shoulders. The bigger they are...

Having slaughtered the game to this point, I have to say I found it kind of refreshing to play something so straightforward. These days, everything has to be so complex. There's some merit to a game that sets out its stall in such a basic fashion. Sword of Sodan is not a game I would buy on any format if it were released today, but I can actually see myself playing it again at some point. Not sure if that speaks more about the game or my personality.

Top 10 of '10: Number 1 - Bayonetta (XBox 360)

So here we are, with my number one most enjoyed game of 2010. And who'd have thought that a game released in the second week of 2010 would hang on to my top spot all year? Not many, but from the day I played the demo of Bayonetta, I had a bit of a feeling. About the game... what did you think I meant?

If you ignore the fact that you play a witch who is clothed in her own hair, which becomes a super-powerful weapon at her command... oh, who am I kidding? It's impossible to ignore that. But for all that it's absolutely mind-bogglingly crazy, Bayonetta actually has a good, well fleshed-out story to complement the frenetic gameplay.

That woman's in the nip!

Bayonetta is a witch without a memory... but after 500 years asleep, that's not really surprising. The story begins with Bayonetta trying to regain her memories, and indeed they do come back, piece by piece... usually awoken by some catastrophic event or a character from her past. It becomes apparent that there are two factions of witches, representing the dark and light sides. As long as balance remains between the two, the world will be a good place to live in. But, of course, that balance is threatened, and this threat seems to revolve around Bayonetta...

It's like Kung-Fu... with added kick!

The game plays like Devil May Cry... as it should, both games were directed by the same fella. But I always found the Devil May Cry series a bit po-faced. I quite enoyed them for what they were, but ultimately they were all a bit too difficult for me, and a bit too dry.

That's never a problem with Bayonetta. Right from the start, where you're on a falling clock tower (falling from where, I don't know, but it falls a looong way), battling demonic angels in strange forms, you know that this is an action game with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

Alright, I can't even begin to stress how much wrong is in this picture.

Bayonetta took a lot of flak before it was even released, all because of its main character. She was regarded as being a blatant sex object, only in the game to sell as many copies as possible to teenage boys and old pervs. However, once you actually played the game, you realised that the sexuality is all done with a sly wink and an outrageously over-the-top sense of style. It's great fun.

See this? This is about as straightforward as it gets.

What's more fun is the gameplay. I can't remember the last game to make me grin quite as much as this one. It's quite preposterous in so many ways, but never in a way that makes you question why you're playing it. You're dropped in at the deep end, being under attack right from the start with little explanation... that comes as you progress.

Once again, Bayonetta finds herself in a hairy situation...

While at first it just seems like a hack-and-slash game with lovely graphics, things soon take a turn for the better... pretty much the first time you encounter any kind of boss. They're massive, and often quite ridiculous, but always imaginative. Any time you're attacked by anything with an upside-down baby head is a bit disturbing. Luckily, you can counter any such monstrosity with a monster of your own, made from the finest jet black hair. Yes, Bayonetta uses her witchly powers to summon forth some incredible-looking creatures from her hair, and these things deal some almighty damage. It might sound ludicrous, but when it happens under your control, it's amazing.

Look, I'm a reasonable guy, but I've just seen some very unreasonable things.

Games such as this do sometimes have a bad habit of becoming samey, but Bayonetta has a few tricks thrown in to mix things up a little. There are "Alfheim Portals" to be discovered... mini-challenges that are hidden away and, if found, can be beaten for a reward. Then there are the little things thrown in as a service to Sega fans... just wait until you see the OutRun and Space Harrier tributes...

Well, I'm very happy to be here...

Bayonetta might not be the most serious of games, and with some epic and perhaps more worthy games being released last year, it probably didn't top many end-of-year polls for Best Game. But I had way more enjoyment out of this game in 2010 than any other. Its action was great, always imaginitive and inventive, and it had a sense of humour unlike anything I'd played before. I completed it, and have gone back to it with the intention of completing it again. And when I've done that, I just might do it again. It's one of the best games of this generation, without a doubt.