Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bat 'n' Ball Games #11

Thunder and Lightning (1990)
By: Visco / Romstar Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: Missed It (not displayed while playing)
Also Available For: Arcade

You would think after the immense success of Arkanoid that many of the clones that followed would also meet with some degree of fame and fortune too, especially if they were any good, but this release by Visco went largely unnoticed. This is even stranger when you realise it first appeared in arcades - the birthplace of most popular games of the day, and was also ported to the NES - the most popular console of the time. Perhaps it stank of poop? Many clones were tremendously generic and highly uninspiring to play after all. After just a few minutes playing Thunder and Lightning, though, that definitely didn't seem to be the case here. Impressions of Romstar's NES conversion were initially very positive - it's bright and colourful, the presentation is nice, and my time spent with it was enjoyable, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was going to suddenly start sucking hard and I would then come to understand the reason for its apparent anonymity.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Film Review #80

Oblivion (2013)
Director: Joseph Kosinski Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 124 Minutes

Tagline: "Earth is a memory worth fighting for."

Earth is dying. That's the bleak message we are given by Commander Jack Harper (Cruise) at the opening of this adaptation of Joseph Kosinski's unpublished graphic novel. It's set in 2077, around 50 years after a devastating war with the invading Scavengers (or Scavs), an alien race forced to leave their own world and who are now keen to exploit the resources of our precious home. It wasn't a direct invasion at first though. The Scavs first blew up our moon which threw the world into chaos. Enormous earthquakes struck within hours and huge tsunamis took care of much that remained. Then came the invasion. We fought back. We used the nukes, and eventually defeated the Scavs, but earth was left a poisoned ruin and most of her population gone. The survivors relocated to Titan with just a handful remaining behind to oversee the massive fusion generators which are slowly draining the oceans to produce energy for the colonists.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Indie Games News/Previews #5

No Man's Sky by Hello Games (2015) - PC and PlayStation 4

Given my apparent natural lethargy and general lack of urgency, the E3 fair isn't something I usually pay a massive amount of attention to. Sure, the more popular news items usually end up finding me anyway, some of which I find interesting, others I do not, but there is one game that's been featured in the last two events that I'm desperate to play, and that, as you might've guessed, is No Man's Sky. It's an indie title by a small British studio based in Guildford (which isn't far from me actually!), but the fact that it's been featured in two annual shows (and counting) should tell you that it's a little more ambitious than most indie releases. In fact, it's so ambitious, many believed it couldn't even be realised.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Exploring the Funtech Super A'Can

The number '68000' is probably one that means a lot to many retro gamers. It is after all the designation of the processor made by Motorola that's found in many fine 16-bit systems such as the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Sega MegaDrive, and SNK's mighty Neo Geo, but there are also a few lesser-known systems powered by it as well. One of them is the Super A'Can which is made by a company called Funtech.

Looks a bit like a 'Stealth Super NES/Famicom' - sweet!
It's not tremendously surprising if you haven't heard of Funtech as they're a Taiwanese company who were responsible for little of note prior to entering the gaming world, and accordingly, their strangely-named system was released only in their native territory. A strange decision, you might think - gaining a foothold in the console hardware market has always been extremely tough for a newcomer to begin with, never mind if said newcomer restricts themselves to such a limited audience. How in the blue blazes did they ever expect to attract any big name publishers to their system? It was also released rather late for a cartridge-based, 68000-powered system - 1995, no less - by which time the PlayStation and Saturn were striding forth, laying waste to all such systems with their fancy 3D graphics and CD-ROM games. It didn't stand a chance did it? I'd say not and indeed, it wasn't with us for long.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Doujin Shmups #10

Infinos (2013)
By: Picorinne Soft Genre: Shooting Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: 93,625
Also Available For: Nothing

It must've been some two or three years ago now that this game was first brought to my attention. Lord only knows why it's taken me so long to take a look at it but finally I have, and found... that I should have done so much earlier! I have been able to discover little of its background, largely because it was released only in Japan and all accompanying info is accordingly in corrupted kanji, but I suspect the story involves the usual invasion of horrifyingly evil aliens and resultant lone hero setting out to vanquish them, etc. What I can tell you for sure is that it's a horizontal-scroller and that Irem's classic, legendary R-Type was clearly the main inspiration behind it. I'm not sure anyone could blame the talented fellow (or fellows) of Picorinne Soft for holding said game in such high esteem though.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Early Driving Games #12

World Grand Prix (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Driving Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

The poor old Master System wasn't really blessed with a tremendous number of quality racing games so it remains a mystery to me why I never got around to buying World Grand Prix back in its day. It did look very similar to Hang-On after all, which was released the previous year, and I loved that fun little racer, so I should love WGP too, in theory at least. Sadly, due my own idiocy, it took many years to test that theory, but when I did finally play it I found that it is indeed a very similar game to Sega's famous motor-cycle racer. Both place you in control of a nameless driver whom you must guide around a series of courses in his/her respective vehicle with the object of simply reaching the end before your time runs out. Sounds easy enough.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Star Trek #10

Voyager Favourite Episodes - Season Three

Oops, it's been far too long since my last look at Voyager (sorry about that!) but I certainly haven't forgotten about this series of posts, or indeed Voyager itself which many fans believe started to really pick up in the quality of its stories from this third season. It was definitely harder to pick my five favourites this time around - as well as some episodes featuring events of long-term importance, there were also several 'lesser' episodes which have long been lodged in my memory too.

Getting the captain tea? What a crawly bum-lick! 
One of these is Voyager's first 'old Trek' tribute episode which reveals that Tuvok was formerly a junior officer aboard the USS Excelsior under Captain Sulu whom we (and Janeway) are able to see a fair bit of owing to a condition of Tuvok's which is forcing him to relive old memories. Aside from Mr. Sulu it's a pretty dreary episode but it's always great to see the old crew again! Other notable occurrences during this season include a brief appearance by a xenophobic race whose ships comprise a parasitic swarm, Torres experiences telepathically-projected dreams, Janeway saves Kes from a mysterious coma, Kes is (amusingly) possessed by a warlord, the crew are infected by a giant virus, and Neelix becomes even more useless. Interestingly, there is also a sequel to the TNG episode 'The Price' in which some idiotic Ferengi enter an unstable wormhole before it collapses with them never heard from again.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Currently Playing...

Raiden Fighters by Seibu Kaihatsu (1996) - Arcade

Actually I'm a bit late with this one as I've now finished playing it (chuckle), but I was playing it as part of a small 'shmup league' over on Facebook. My participation in this score-based league is infrequent, owing partly to my rather slouchy nature but more to the sad fact that generally speaking I suck arse at video games. This is painful to acknowledge but it's also true for the most part - while I could quite easily run rings around some random bunghole, my limitations become immediately apparent when placed up against 'proper' hardcore gamers.

With this in mind it's probably a bit strange that I decided to participate in the league at this stage - the Raiden games are hardly renowned for their ease after all - but I've had a Raiden Legacy icon staring at me from my PC's desktop for a while now so I figured this was a good opportunity to put it to use. Raiden Legacy, you see, is a bargain-priced compilation of some (though not all) of the Raiden games, but luckily it does include Raiden Fighters which I can't seem to get working anywhere else (grrr!). I reviewed the original game some time ago here at Red Parsley and, while it's clearly a stylish and well-crafted shmup, it also made me much angrier than it should, so I was kind of expecting the same sort of thing from this sequel.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Arcade Fighting Games #4

Violence Fight (1989)
By: Taito Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 918,620
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC (all as part of compilations)

Quarrelling is a subject that comes up all too infrequently in the world of video games. As far as fighting games are concerned, relations between combatants have usually already moved far beyond the stage where quarrelling might have an impact, but the fighters in this Taito release are competing for that very reason. As the poorly-translated story tells us, Violence Fight takes place in the 1950's and features "Mafia, reckless drivers, and general businessmen", all of whom are vying for not only a substantial wad of cash, but also the prestigious title of "No.1 Quarreller"! If that doesn't whet your appetite and get you fired up to kick all manner of arses, I fear nothing will, and that's a shame as there is a new fighter on the block called 'Bat' who, along with his manager, 'Blinks', apparently "seek for the money eagerly". Better get ready to help them.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Indie Games News/Previews #4

Venture Kid by FDG Entertainment (2015) - PC

Several months back I took a quick look at an upcoming game by FDG Entertainment based on the ultra-awesome Wonder Boy. Impatient as I might be to play it, FDG are still working hard on that project so I will have to wait, but it seems at the same time they have been beavering away on another game, again based on a classic series of 8-bit platform adventures - Mega Man. However, while Monster Boy looks like being, for all intents and purposes, an HD remake of the great Wonder Boy III (which is certainly no bad thing), Venture Kid is a brand new game that merely takes its inspiration from Capcom's much-loved series. I just hope it's not as teeth-knashingly tough as those games are!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Awesome Nature #19

The Door to Hell
Type: Geologic Formation Located In: Turkmenistan Conservation Status: N/A

Our precious planet is an incredible place, crammed full of countless natural wonders, but every now and then we manage to create one ourselves by accident, and a great example is the Door to Hell. It can be found in the barren deserts of Turkmenistan and was originally an attempt by the Soviets to drill for oil, but instead of that the drill site collapsed into a crater where they found a large pocket of natural gas. Worried about poisoning some nearby villages they decided to burn it off, expecting the reserves to be spent within a few weeks. This, however, was over 40 years ago and the fiery pit, measuring 230 feet across and 65 feet deep, is still burning continuously to this day. Supposedly there are plans to fill it in though, so if this kind of thing piques your interest, visit it soon, but be careful - the heat also attracts camel spiders which can grow up to six inches long, look rather hellish themselves and can give you a painful bite!

Why It Is Awesome: Greatest name ever!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Currently Playing...

Test Drive Unlimited (2007)
By: Eden Games / Atari Genre: Driving Players: 1-Lots (online only) Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360

My apparent ambivalence towards the 'current' generations of gaming systems since the turn of the century (ish) has caused me to miss out on several 'new' subgenres of games, and one that I really shouldn't have neglected for so long is that of 'open world' driving games. Whilst perhaps not just mere driving games, strictly-speaking, I suppose it was the Grand Theft Auto series that popularised the style, but the first and (so far) only example I've played properly is Eden Games' evolution of the long-running Test Drive series.

I therefore wasn't sure how I would be 'thrust' into the action but the game actually starts at an airport. Here, you can select your character from a queue of people waiting to board a flight to Hawaii, and it is here that the game is based. On the island of O'ahu to be precise, which is where your plane lands. From the airport you'll need to hire a car (I went for a nippy Lotus Exige), then find some more permanent wheels as well as somewhere to live by driving to the nearby car dealer and estate agent respectively. Fortunately you start with a reasonable sum in the bank - just enough to buy a cheap car and basic place - and then you have the whole island to explore at your own pace, and it's a pretty big place...

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Scrolling Fighting Games #13

Streets of Rage a.k.a. Bare Knuckle (1991)
By: Sega Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 143,200
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS

The Sega vs Nintendo war was an awesome time to be a gamer. Each move by one was met by a swift counter move from the other and they were always trying to outdo each other. One of Nintendo's was to secure conversion rights to the popular Capcom arcade game, Final Fight. With Sega unable to give MegaDrive-owning FF fans their own conversion, what did they do instead? Yes that's right, they just made their own version and called it... Streets of Rage! Unsurprisingly it has a great deal in common with the adventures of Haggar and Co, not least its selection of three courageous heroes - in this case ex-coppers - who have vowed to cleanse their city of the crime that's been poisoning it. The method they've chosen for doing this isn't startlingly original either, and involves punching and kicking the piss out of anything and anyone that comes into range of their extremities.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Top Five Scary Australian Creatures

Though it may not be the biggest country in the world, Australia is still a very large place; sufficiently large, in fact, to pretty much be classed as an entire continent by itself. It's way bigger than Europe, for example, and it has also been separated from the other main landmasses for close to 100 million years. This isolation had led to a great deal of bio-diversity. For some reason, perhaps coincidentally, this has resulted in the mighty country playing host to some of the world's scariest and most deadly creatures! Putting aside the obvious choices such as crocs and great white sharks (which are easier to avoid, at least) here are the five that freak me out the most :(

5 - Funnel Web Spider

Almost everyone is scared of spiders (even the 'tough guys' who try to convince people they find them 'cute') and one of the least pleasant in the Land Dahn Unda, not to mention most famous, is this fellow. There are several species, all of which are venomous and have large fangs capable of biting through a fingernail or shoe. They do at least do you the courtesy of adopting a 'warning posture' before striking, which is handy... assuming you even see them. Fortunately there are anti-venoms available; otherwise this scary scurrier would be higher on the list!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Indie Games News/Previews #3

Squirbs by Team Indev (2015) - PC

I've long had a weakness for those platform games with cute/weird characters so this upcoming indie title caught my eye easily enough, but I quickly noticed another thing that makes it stand out - you don't control just one cute/weird character but two simultaneously! The main character, you see, is the Squirb of the title whose world has been split into two, both of which contain copies of him. Your job is to search the 125+ stages for fragments of a magical stone which will return the world to normal, but you do this by controlling both Squirbs in both worlds at the same time by way of a split-screen view, with the simple controls (left, right, jump) moving both Squirbs in the same way.