Thursday, 26 February 2015

Crap Games #8

Shadow of the Beast (1989)
By: Reflections / Psygnosis Genre: Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga
Also Available For: MegaDrive, Master System, PC Engine CD, FM Towns, Lynx, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

If you could go back in time to the end of the 80's and took a stroll to your local computer retailer (and yes, those little independent shops did used to exist), there's a very good chance the window displays would include, amongst other things, an Amiga running Shadow of the Beast. Its release was very quickly followed by all and sundry heralding its wondrous audio/visual delights and, naturally enough, many shop keepers swiftly seized upon these qualities in an attempt to sell more Amigas. Who could blame them? It certainly made an impressive sight. Before too long, however, the game developed a reputation of being all style over substance. Some even called it a glorified tech-demo. Not that anything is wrong with tech-demos of course, they've been used to sell hardware since there has been hardware, but most of those aren't then put on sale as full games at about three times the price of a normal release...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Film Review #75

Divergent (2014)
Director: Neil Burger Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Kate Winslet, Maggie Q, Christian Madsen, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Ansel Elgort

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 139 Minutes

Tagline: "What Makes You Different Makes You Dangerous."

The movie world has been seeing quite a number of war-ravaged Earths reinventing themselves in the last few years, or at least particular parts of our poor old planet anyway. Most recently we've had the districts and oppressive Capitol of Panem which have hosted some exciting adventures and a potential coup d'état, and now comes the first film adaptation of another trilogy of novels set in a not-entirely-dissimilar-looking world. Here, our precious home has been subjected to a vast, unspecified war - much was devastated and even the climate has been changed, to such an extent that lakes have dried up. The survivors live in what's left of downtown Chicago which has been sealed behind an enormous, all-encompassing wall, and here, society has been divided into five factions.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Collection Rarities #1

I don't have a tremendously large retro collection these days, much to my sorrow. There are several reasons for this including limited space, a video-game-hating wife, and this very blog (I spend a large portion of my gaming time on emulators grabbing screen shots), but I do still have a few decent items left. One of my favourites is rarest console I own - a 'Skeleton' Saturn, as they have become known.

As anyone into retro gaming knows well, Sega's Saturn was a fantastic system with stacks of top-quality titles available. Many of them were only released in Japan, however, which means any serious player or collector needs to either have their UK/US machine modified to play Japanese games, or go the whole hog and buy an actual Japanese system. As is often the case with our Far Eastern friends, there were several models of Sega's 32-bit powerhouse including one with white casing and another with grey casing, but by far the most interesting models to collectors are the so-called 'skeleton' Saturns which have smoky grey transparent casing, allowing you see the various bits and pieces inside. These were the final Saturns to be manufactured and came in two guises.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Sega Super Scaler Games #3

Enduro Racer (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 1,617,848
Also Available For: Master System (variation), Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

When most gamers recall arcadey motorcycle games, or indeed Sega motorcycle games if you want to be more specific, they immediately think of Hang-On. Perhaps younger gamers might be more familiar with Manx TT Superbike, but one game that often seems to get forgotten is Enduro Racer, and that’s a bit peculiar. It is, after all, different enough from both of those games, and from anything else that was around at the time, to be worthy of remembering, surely? Well, I've only remembered it myself recently, and I was never fortunate enough to find the 'proper' version of it in any arcades to begin with - I enjoyed the Speccy version long ago and, as some of you may remember, I have already looked at the Master System version here at Red Parsley which was basically an entirely different (but decent) game - so I'm looking forward to giving this arcade original a try.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Hack 'n' Slash Games #3

Völgarr the Viking (2013)
By: Crazy Viking Studios Genre: Platform/Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: Apple Mac, Linux, Xbox Live Arcade

The indie gaming boom of the last few years has given us lucky oafs more choice and variety than ever before. That can only be good news, of course, and I have taken particular delight in the many retro flavoured titles that have been steadily appearing lately. Some of them have been sequels/reboots, whether official or unofficial, while others have clearly been inspired by favourites from the past, and Völgarr the Viking definitely falls into the latter category. Völgarr is a great warrior who fell in battle 'to overwhelming numbers defending his homeland after slaying hundreds of adversaries.' His mortal life is restored by Odin, however, on condition that he rid the land of the terrible dragon Fáfnir who has been sowing chaos throughout the land of Midgard. If Odin is powerful enough to do that, it does make you wonder why he didn't just flick Fáfnir away himself though.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sega Model 1 Games #2

Virtua Fighter (1993)
By: Sega AM2 Genre: Fighting Players: 1-8 (via machine link-up) Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade
Also Available For: MegaDrive, 32X, Saturn, PC, PlayStation 2

Though polygon graphics had been around for some years already, it was Sega’s seminal Virtua Racing that really kickstarted the gaming industry’s obsession with them. Though it may have merely been a glorified tech demo, it still proved to be a mighty enjoyable game as well. If the new technology was to evolve and achieve any sustained success, though, it needed to be proven by more than one game, so Sega soon cooked up another, and wisely went for a totally different kind of game too. The result was Virtua Fighter, a one-on-one fighting game born partly out of this need to show off the Model 1 board some more, but also no doubt due to the ongoing popularity of the genre prompted by Street Fighter II a few years before. Capcom’s game is a rather cartoony and unrealistic affair, of course, but Sega were aiming for more realism with their game to go with the more realistic graphics too.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Indie Games News/Previews #2

Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze by FDG Entertainment (2015) - PC

Growing up as a Sega fan-boy as I did in the late 80's, there was one series of games that was a must-have, and that was Wonder Boy. The first entry in the series was a fun action game but the second, called Wonder Boy In Monsterland, was a revelation, taking the form of a fully-fledged arcade adventure made up of lots of magical lands to explore and tons of special stuff to collect. The third instalment was even better and remains one of my favourite games of all-time, but whichever one you prefer, there's no doubting that this fantastic series was a great reason to be a Master System owner. It should therefore come as mesmerisingly awesome news to hear that there is a new title on the way.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Film Round-Up #7

Due to the nature of my work I always get a decent amount of time off work over Christmas and New Year and this is often a time that includes numerous movies. This year I received a few as gifts and I gave a few to my wife too, and we watched nearly all of them. Some of these will hopefully receive full reviews (eventually) but until then, here is a round-up of some others viewed over the holiday period:

Fracture (2007)

I'm not entirely sure why now but I've been after this film for years. Happily, I received it as a gift at Christmas along with several other titles but it was the first I tried. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Ted Crawford, a wealthy Irish engineer living and working in LA who, upon discovering his wife has been having an affair, confronts her and then shoots her, leaving her in a coma. When the police arrive he immediately confesses and is duly arrested. The case is taken on by cocky deputy DA, Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) who is expecting a quick open-and-shut case to round off his current job before he moves on to his lofty new position with a prestigious law firm. Unfortunately, Ted is released on a technicality and Willy, unhappy at the blemish on his reputation, gets involved in a battle of wits with clued-up Ted who believes he's staged the perfect crime, and is soon obsessed with bringing him down. Sadly, I didn't find this quite as engaging as I had imagined I would but it's just about saved by the lead cast and their superb performances, without whom this might just seem like an elaborate TV show episode. Not the most gripping crime drama but worth watching 6/10

Friday, 6 February 2015

Isometric Games #3

The Immortal a.k.a. Wizard of the Immortal (1991)
By: Will Harvey / Electronic Arts Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: NES, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Apple IIGS

There were many examples of very striking promotional artwork being produced for games in the 80's and 90's, and one that I was recently reminded of after it having passed out of memory long before is The Immortal. How could I forget that sinister-looking Grim Reaper type fellow that adorned all the adverts, cover-art, and even title screen of the game though? Who can say? Having now returned to the game for the first time in an age, I've found myself wondering who he actually is. He's certainly not the character you're tasked to play through the game as, who, though nameless to mere mortals like us, is much fleshier and appears to be from the land of the living. He's also rather wizardly in appearance, in the finest traditions of Gandalf and other grey-robed, staff-wielding, beardy old codgers. Whatever his name and background may be though, he has a rather daunting mission before him.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Favourite Speccy Loading Screens - Part 2

As some of you may have seen, about a month ago I posted the first part of my selection of my favourite Spectrum loading screens. Actually, I imagine rather a lot of you saw it as it turned out to be my most popular post for some time! I suppose visually-stimulating posts are always popular but, whatever the reason, I'm very pleased to now present the second part of the extensive gallery...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Currently Playing...

MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology (1999)
By: Climax Group / THQ Genre: Racing Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Microsoft Xbox
Also Available For: PC, Game Boy Advance, N-Gage

I must say, this fangled Xbox contraption may be bordering dangerously close to 'modern gaming' but it's been pretty helpful so far too. A couple of months ago I wrote about how I've played and liked very few 'flying games' over the years only to find a superb example on Microsoft's leviathan, and now I've found what certainly looks to be a top quality motorcycle game, another genre I've encountered few of (aside from Hang On).

Even though I hadn't played it, I actually thought I was already familiar with this series but, to my surprise, I've discovered there are two MotoGP series' running simultaneously - this one for the PC and the Xbox consoles and a separate one by Namco for Sony's consoles which seems a bit silly since they use the same logo and all. Hmm, oh well. I can't speak for Namco's game then, but this MotoGP game and is a rather splendid one. It's quite arcadey in nature, despite being officially licensed, and consists of Quick Race, Arcade Championship, Grand Prix Series, Training, and Time Trials modes as well as an Options screen which allows you to change stuff like the volume, number of laps, gear type, circuit map on/off, direction arrows on/off, etc, as well as change the controls, load or save a 'guest rider', and access a load of unlockable stuff.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Computer Shmups #3

Xenon (1988)
By: The Bitmap Brothers Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 62,310
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, MSX, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

The numerous home computers of the 80’s were never really known for the quality or quantity of their shmups but one that seemed to get a lot of press time was Xenon, the first game by legends-in-the-making, the Bitmap Brothers. It’s a vertical-scroller but one that's rather unlike most other efforts of the time. You play the part of Darrian, a Federation fighter pilot who intercepts a distress call from Captain Xod whose fleet has come under heavy attack by the wretched Xenites, a hostile race who had inundated the Federation almost overnight. As the closest ship to the fleet's position, Darrian is compelled to respond (though hardly enthusiastic about it) and heads for their last location which is the other side of four sectors crawling with pesky Xenite filth.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Splendid 3DO Music #1

Star Fighter (1995)

As much as us retro gamers loved and continue to love chiptunes, it wasn't until CD-based games started appearing that we had the first 'proper' soundtracks composed by real instruments or featuring samples, voices, or anything else the composers cared to add - the limits, in other words, were now non-existent. One of the earliest examples of this kind of soundtrack that I really liked was found in Fednet's stonking 3D shmup, Star Fighter. Composed by John Avery, it consists of nine techno/trance tracks (I've never been great at differentiating the many sub-genres of 'electronic music') which the game cycles through as you play (and you can jiggle the order around as you please). All of them are superb but I think my favourite is this one...

(full Star Fighter review here)

Special Note: I didn't record this great tune myself, I'm just an admirer, so all credit to the splendid Mr. Avery, as well as my thanks for making such a great soundtrack to start with!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Bat 'n' Ball Games #10

Krakout (1987)
By: Gremlin Graphics  Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum  First Day Score: 9,150 (default settings)
Also Available For: Commodore 64, MSX, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro

Welcome to the ultimate challenge! Bold words indeed from the inlay of this 80's brick breaker for the home micros which, like many other such games at the time, was inspired by Arkanoid. In a concerted effort to differentiate their game from the Taito classic, Gremlin have rotated the action ninety degrees which means the ball (mainly) travels left and right rather than up and down, but apart from that things are very familiar here - simply clear each of the stages of the bricks contained therein to move on to the next. A big but not immediately noticeable difference here, however, is that unlike Arkanoid with its thirty-three stages, Krakout asks you to clear a whopping one hundred stages! Luckily a vast majority of these contain far fewer actual bricks though, so they shouldn't take as long to clear - in theory.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Top Five Films For 2015

Despite my long-standing love of movies, I've never really been the biggest cinema-goer. I probably go less than ten times in a given year and even then it's usually at the behest of my lovely wife, but this year may be a bit different. For a while now I've been noticing more and more potentially-awesome films that are due for release at some point this year and it's gotten to the point where I've found it necessary to document them in case I forget any! Of those I've discovered so far in the 'Ultimate Movie Year', however, I think the five I'm most looking forward to are these:

5. Furious 7 (April)

Many mock the Fast and Furious series for its remarkable longevity but they've been making more and more money at the box office and some could argue that they are getting better and better as they go too. This seventh instalment was announced long ago – to such an extent, in fact, that a teaser was found in the closing credits of the sixth film! As brief as it was, it made it clear what direction the film would take. It's set mostly in Tokyo around the time of poor old Han's explodey death in what we now know was not an accident. Rather than just a random collision while racing recklessly away from DK, it seems the whole thing was orchestrated by Ian Shaw (Jason Statham), brother of the sixth film's protagonist, Owen, who's gunning for revenge on the whole team. Dom and the guys (including Paul Walker in his last film appearance) don't take anyone's shit lying down though, so I'm sure they'll be ready, and from what I can gather they may have the help of Tokyo Drift's Sean Boswell too. I'm sure I'd enjoy this anyway considering how consistently-entertaining the series is but I especially can't wait to see the team locking horns with Jason Statham! (see the trailer here)