Tuesday, 16 December 2014

3DO Games #6

Icebreaker (1995)
By: Magnet Interactive Studios Genre: Action / Strategy Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: 3DO
Also Available For: PC, Mac

I got my first 3DO whilst it was still a 'current' system and, thanks to its failure and the subsequent price reductions, I was also able to buy most of the games I wanted for it quite quickly too, but one that I was not able to was Icebreaker. It was described by magazines of the day as a puzzle game and the few screen shots I'd seen were quite intriguing, but I was never able to find it anywhere, not even mail order (which was the last resort in those days). So, once again, this fine blog gives me the chance to finally tick another box, so to speak, and the first thing I noticed when I did finally get to play it is that it's not really a puzzle game at all. It's more of a action/strategy mixture, and it's quite an unusual one at that. The emphasis, you see, is very much on pyramids. There's no back-story to speak of so it's difficult to know how or why they came to be, but there are a lot of them.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Film Review #72

Event Horizon (1997)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Joely Richardson, Kathleen Quinlan, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 95 Minutes

Tagline: "Infinite Space, Infinite Terror"

I've been a fan of science fiction for most of my life, certainly since I can remember, so it's very odd that I never got around to watching Event Horizon before now. It wasn't especially well-received in its day, nor was it very successful, but, like my viewing of martial arts films, a lack of critical acclaim never usually stops me from giving the latest example the once over. Thanks to the ever-helpful Netflix recently reminding me of its existence, however, I've finally done just that. I never knew that much about its plot other than there being a spacecraft and some sort of horror element to it, so I naturally assumed I was in store for some sort of Alien-like mystery/massacre, and that theory seemed a sound one when I started watching.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Arcade Racing Games #4

WEC Le Mans 24 (1986)
By: Konami Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 97,380
Also Available For: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX, ZX Spectrum

There are many things about most games that can help to make them memorable other than simply being really good. As far as WEC Le Mans is concerned, that was achieved in two ways, for me at least. First, by featuring that supremely lovely Porsche (a 962 if I'm not mistaken) with its distinctive Dunlop livery on all its promotional materials (which, ironically, was not used in-game), and second, by housing the arcade version in a large, round (not to mention rather bulbous) simulatory machine that actually spun players around in accordance with the on-screen action. But is the game actually any good? This was something I didn't really know until recently as I'd spent far more time remembering its adverts and giant twirly machine than actually playing it, and that's odd since it was part of the fine selection in my local arcade at the time, and a fairly decent version (supposedly) was also available for my trusty Speccy. Ooof! Time for this fine blog to save the day once again.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Gaming Memories - Part 15

Most of my posts in this series of features have relayed my many happy years with the console or computer in question but the previous one, a few months ago now, was a little different. It was regarding my tenure as a Game Boy owner which, sadly and for reasons I'm not really able to fathom, I owned only for a rather brief period. Looking back now I find it strange, then, that a decade or so later I decided to give Nintendo's by now-ultra successful handheld another chance.

By now the Game Boy was a bit old hat though, so I figured I'd instead go for the newer, fancier Game Boy Advance, and if I was going to do that I might as well get the very latest model which was at the time the 'SP'. In fact, if I'm honest, it was the recent news of some limited edition versions of the SP that really swayed me (as well as a very brief encounter with an old friend's GBA which I saw running a Street Fighter Alpha game rather impressively) and I duly sought out and purchased the one that most appealed to me - an 'NES Classics' model whose colour scheme was based on... the NES, believe it or not. As can plainly be seen in the picture here, it was certainly a great looking device, resembling an NES controller when open and an NES console itself when closed. This made it a lovely item for my collection but would I spend any more time using it than I did its predecessor?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Thunder Force Series - Part 8

Thunder Force 4 a.k.a. Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar (1992)
By: Techno Soft Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis  First Day Score: 494,440
Also Available For: Saturn (compilation)

Jeepers, has it really been two and a half years since I last visited this fine series?! I guess that could be because the wonderful third game has for so long been not only my favourite game in the series but my favourite shmup overall as well. Back in the early 90's I owned all three MD Thunder Force games and duly purchased the fifth game for the mighty Saturn when it was released too, but the second and third games, particularly the latter, have always been the ones I have returned to - for some reason I never really 'felt' the subsequent releases regardless of the acclaim they continued to receive. This fourth game, known as Lightning Force in the US for some bizarre reason, is often cited by fans as the pinnacle of the series, for example, so I guess it's finally time for me to devote the time and effort to it that it clearly deserves. Can it possibly be better than the third game?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

TV Shows #6

The Killing U.S. Version (2011 - 2014)
Created By: Søren Sveistrup (original Danish version) Starring: Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Billy Campbell, Liam James, Michelle Forbes, Brent Sexton, Kristin Lehman, Eric Ladin, Brendan Sexton III, Jamie Anne Allman, Elias Koteas, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Julia Sarah Stone, Peter Sarsgaard, Gregg Henry, Tyler Ross

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 45 Minutes (per episode)

Tagline: "Be Careful What You Uncover"

Despite not having actually watched TV for over ten years now, generally speaking, there are a tonne of shows I still want to watch, either on DVD as I used to, or on Netflix or Amazon Prime as is more likely now. Therefore, when my wife suggested we watch The Killing I really wasn't that keen. I hadn't heard bad things about it, I hadn't heard anything about it in fact, I just had too many other shows I wanted to watch. But I know better than to argue these things so we started watching it. As you probably guessed, it's a serial crime drama but you may not know that it's based on a Danish show called Forbrydelsen, created by Søren Sveistrup. The US doesn't have the best track record of remaking shows or films from overseas so I was a little wary when I discovered this, but I was happy to find... it wasn't half bad.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Currently Playing...

Battle Squadron (1990)
By: Innerprise Software / Electronic Arts  Genre: Shooting   Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga  First Day Score: 361,000
Also Available For: MegaDrive/Genesis

My Sega fanboy-ness was never stronger (or more irrational, some might say) than in the MegaDrive/Amiga days and one game I often used to cite as a demonstration of the superiority of Sega's mighty machine was Battle Squadron. My review of the MD version a few years back was surprisingly impartial but the fact is I've always viewed it as the better version. My opinion has naturally been contested by various Amiga fanboys over the years but I have always remained resolute. Nonetheless, I recently decided to give their beloved version of the game another try anyway!

There is actually one immediately noticeable thing about that the Amiga version that is superior to the MD, and that's its box-art. That's (possibly) a subject for another post though. As far as the actual game is concerned, there are less dramatic differences. For all intents and purposes, they are both versions of the same game which, in case you haven't played it or seen the MD review, is a one or two-player vertical scroller which charges you with violently disassembling the evil Barrax Empire.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

PSN Downloads #4

Vessel (2014)
By: Strange Loops Games Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation 3
Also Available For: PC, Mac

There doesn't really seem to be a massive amount of games starring genius/mad scientists but most of the ones that are around seem to be platformy puzzle games. One of my favourite such examples is the Amiga game, Morph, but Vessel, while further proof of my theory, is quite a bit different. It's a game I recently happened upon via PSN and is a port of a game I've now discovered was released a full two years earlier in it's original PC incarnation. Not sure what the delay was as it seems to be pretty much the same game, and that's one starring M. Arkwright, an inventor who has created a type of splooshy liquid automaton called the Fluro (fluid robot). They were supposed to take over all the laborious monkey jobs that us lazy humans can't be arsed to do but, unsurprisingly, they soon had other ideas.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Top Five Tom Cruise Films

Yes, I know, I can already hear some of you hurling insults and derogatory remarks in this general direction regarding the rather famous (or should that be infamous?) subject of this post, and Mr. Cruise does seem to polarise opinions somewhat. His devotion to the much-maligned 'religion' of Scientology is enough to earn the scorn of many, and his often-wacky behaviour seems to irk many more, but I don't really care about that stuff. I prefer to focus on more relevant stuff.

For example, something else he's devoted to is his work. He chooses his roles pretty carefully and he's actually a superb actor when the role demands it. He also usually performs all his own stunts during their filming as well, which is quite remarkable when you see some of them (mainly the Mission: Impossible films). He has a lot of time for his fans, too, and always spends hours working his way around crowds at premieres to give out signatures and pose for photos - something I respect a great deal considering how unpleasant some lesser 'stars' can be.

The main reason I don't share many people's opinions of Mr. Cruise, though, is simply because of how much I've enjoyed many of his films. When I mentioned to someone that I was planning on making this list I was asked "Has he even made five good films?". Now, as I replied at the time, I believe many people let Cruise's 'colourful' personal life cloud their judgement of his films, so yes, in my opinion he's made many more than five good films, but these ones are my favourites:

5. A Few Good Men (1992)

Despite the huge hype surrounding this film on its release, I ended up seeing it much later than most for some reason. Upon finally doing so (by buying it on DVD), however, it was very easy to see why it was so popular! It's basically a military courtroom drama which gives it potential straight away, but it has a superb cast too (with a scene-stealing turn from the mighty Jack Nicholson). Cruise plays Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, an inexperienced US Navy lawyer assigned to defend two officers accused of killing a fellow officer, but Kaffee believes they were actually following the orders of obstructive base commander, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Nicholson). The plot is fairly predictable but powerful performances from pretty much everyone involved make this a gripping drama all the same

Friday, 28 November 2014

Stealth Games #1

Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
By: Silas S. Warner / Muse Software Genre: Stealth / Maze Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Apple II
Also Available For: PC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64

Having quite recently experienced my first 'stealth' game in Splinter Cell, I figured it was a good time to look at what must be the first ever example of the genre, which also happens to be the beginning of a popular (and active) franchise. It was released all the way back in 1981 by Muse Software and its name is surely already known to gamers old and new alike, but I doubt too many know much about it. The setting is the titular castle during World War II and it's your job to infiltrate it, find the secret war plans within, and escape. Its flick-screen rooms are viewed from above and most of them contain Nazi guards of which there are two types, but unlike most games featuring such dangerous and malevolent enemies, it's not always necessary to kill them.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Retro News... Long Lost Sega Game!

As any regular visitors here will no doubt already know, two things I'm rather fond of as far as gaming is concerned are Sega and shmups. Imagine my delight, therefore, not to mention my surprise, to recently hear about a long-lost Sega shmup! This kind of thing happens now and then of course - lots of unreleased or prototype computer and console games have been leaked before, usually having been developed for a particular system before its fortunes take a downturn and a release no longer looks profitable. This particular title is a little more special though.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bat 'n' Ball Games #9

Arkanoid - Revenge of Doh a.k.a. Arkanoid II (1987)
By: Taito Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: Not much with a control pad :(
Also Available For: NES, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, MSX, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

There have been a surprising variety of bat 'n' ball games since Atari's Breakout first appeared but, despite that, it's still Arkanoid that most gamers cite when recalling their favourite examples. Luckily Taito were not ignorant of the joyous reception their fine game had enjoyed and swiftly went about crafting a sequel. As before, it has a nonsensical story which is just an excuse to play the game really. This time, the amusingly-named 'Doh' has come back to life and now inhabits a large spacecraft called 'Xorg'. Using this craft he/it has 'entered our universe from a different dimension'. In response, the 'Mixtec' Arkanoid-type ship has launched 'Vaus 2' to make a pre-emptive strike on Xorg.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Film Review #71

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 179 Minutes

Tagline: "More, more, more, more, more, more is never enough"

I think it's safe to say the common perception of Wall Street is not an especially positive one. It is after all pretty much exclusively associated with greedy, arrogant, lying fat cats who have and want nothing to do with us lower class riff-raff. Oliver Stone's film of the same name among many other examples demonstrated that all too well, but at least they are fictional. Martin Scorsese's latest effort, however, is not. Much like several of his previous films, it's based on the memoirs of its main character - Jordan Belfort, a real-life stockbroker who, after earning a low-level position with a respected Wall Street firm and almost immediately losing it following Black Friday, instead decides to start his own company dealing in penny stocks along with new friend, Donnie (Hill).

Thursday, 20 November 2014

PS2, Xbox, GameCube... The Last of Their Kind?

For almost the entire history of video games there has been a rivalry to one degree or another between console gamers and home computer users. The former believed their systems to be the superior gaming platforms whereas the latter heralded the multi-functionality of their systems, and I suppose both were right - that is after all what both types of format were designed for.

Rather than simply acknowledging that though, most gamers argued instead. First we had the Spectrum and Commodore 64 users versus the Master System and NES users, then MegaDrive and SNES users versus Amiga and Atari ST users, and when the CD-based consoles started appearing it was the all-powerful PC they were competing with. I was an active participant in many of these wars, particularly at college where I spent many study hours passionately lobbying for my mighty MegaDrive in the face of a devout Amiga fan, right up until I effectively left the 'current' gaming scene with the demise of Sega's final console which was, as we all know, the last really great console to be released. Part of the reason the Dreamcast didn't achieve the levels of success that Sega needed it to was simply because there were so many PS1 owners who were waiting for the PS2 to be released, and most of the rest were waiting to see what delights Nintendo would come up with for the GameCube or to see what Microsoft's debut console would offer, and it's these consoles that I recently decided must surely constitute the last of the true games consoles.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

MSX Games #1

Herzog (1988)
By: Techno Soft Genre: Strategy / Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: MSX
Also Available For: NEC PC-88, Sharp X-1

The superb MegaDrive is correctly remembered as one of the finest consoles ever and was graced by countless fantastic games. One of its more under-appreciated gems is Herzog Zwei, a real-time strategy game from Techno Soft (yes, they of Thunder Force fame) which is often cited as one of the very first such games ever. Something that is seemingly even less well-known than this slightly obscure game, however, is that it was a sequel to an even more obscure MSX release called... Herzog! For the linguists among you, the name is actually German for 'duke' (no, I've no idea why a Japanese game has a German name) which does little to explain the premise. Unsurprisingly, the backdrop is warfare, namely a conflict between the 'Mercies' (blue) and 'Ruth' (red), and the goal for both sides is to reach their opponent's base and destroy it.