Tuesday, 31 May 2011

PC Engine Platform Games #2

Liquid Kids a.k.a. Mizubaku Daibouken (1992)
By: Taito  Genre: Platform  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16  First Day Score: 64,470
Also Available For: Arcade, Saturn, Amiga (unreleased)
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

During the late 80's and early 90's there were quite a few software companies churning out games of varying quality and one of my favourites was Taito. Many of their platform games released during this time went on to achieve legendary status but for some reason Liquid Kids is one of their lesser-known titles. Perhaps it's because it follows a similar routine to so many other games from that period. Platform games certainly were at the peak of their popularity around this time but anyone dismissing it as 'just another cutesy platformer' missed out on a great game! Taking a little inspiration from some of their earlier games, Taito still managed to create another interesting adventure, and it featured a new character too. The star of the show is Hipopo, a rather squat-looking hippopotamus who's on a quest to defeat the evil Fire Devil and recover... you guessed it - his missing friends, and ultimately his girlfriend too!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Top Five Lakes

No one really knows how many lakes there are in the world. It depends on your definition of a lake really. Some put the number in the hundreds of millions, others say far fewer. However many there are, a majority of them are found in high northern latitudes. Indeed, around 60% of them are in Canada alone, and some smaller countries like Finland can boast many tens of thousands too. With such a huge number, I could easily make this a list of the Top Five Hundred most noteworthy lakes, nevermind a mere Top Five, so those examples listed below are instead just five that I personally find particularly interesting.

5 - Caspian Sea
(Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan)

As by far the largest lake in the world, the salt-water Caspian Sea has to be included! It's one of several seas and lakes in Europe and Western Asia which are remnants of the ancient Paratethys Sea and contains 40-44% of all lake water in the world. It's also home to many rare and interesting animals and plants but numbers are dropping thanks to heavy chemical and biological pollution by the numerous nations that lay claim to it. Would be higher on the list if it wasn't for the stupid humans messing it up.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Overhead Racers #9

Toobin' (1988)
By: Atari  Genre: Overhead Racing  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 25,752 (one credit)
Also Available For: NES, Game Boy Color, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX

By the late 80's, overhead racing games had been around for a while. Various companies had tried their hand at their own versions and some might say Atari had lost their crown. So what did they do to rectify the situation? Make another Sprint-based game? No, not exactly. Their next game was one which scarcely even fitted the genre. Atari invented the genre though, they can do whatever the hell they want with it surely? Indeed they can, and accordingly their next game of this type was a water-based one. Not featuring speedboats though, as may be your first thought, but 'radical tube riding dudes' instead! The game takes place on various rivers and waterways of the world which you, and either a second player or computer controlled opponent, must successfully paddle to the end of.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Exploring the Atari 2600 - Part 1

The most famous console ever? Certainly if you're my age or older, but it's one I have very little experience of. However, unlike my situations with the Commodore 64 and NES, this time it's not because I was an owner and fan of the competition. The Atari 2600, or VCS as it was originally known, was a bit before my time you see. I was a mere two years old when it was first unveiled, and by the time I had developed an interest in video games, it was on, what were at the time, the modern machines.

Whether I was there to witness it or not, however, there's no question of the enormous impact the VCS had on the industry, for both good and ill. I think it's also the console that most gets its former owners all misty-eyed until they finally play it again and wonder how they used to enjoy the games! For the most part though, I don't have the problem of any of its games having to live up to precious childhood memories. For all intents and purposes, these are new games to me, so however well they may or may not have aged, I can look upon them with a largely impartial eye. Which games to choose was another matter. Unlike my Exploring the NES series, I don't count many VCS fans as friends. Instead, I've decided to split this feature into two parts.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Computer Platform Games #1

Rick Dangerous (1989)
By: Core Design / Firebird  Genre: Platform  Players: 1  Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Atari ST  First Day Score: 8,760
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

There's not too many games I've played on Atari's most popular home computer but one that I did play is Rick Dangerous, so what better way to kick off my coverage of the great ST! It's notable for being the first release from Core Design, who would later create the Tomb Raider series of course, but for their debut release they took inspiration from the Indiana Jones films. Their own hero is a British agent and is clearly based on Dr Jones, at least aesthetically. He comes complete with fedora and six-shooter (although no whip, oddly), but it remains to be seen how extensive his archaeology skills are. Indeed, it's a game that pretty much everyone has an opinion of, and not necessarily a good one either.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Top Five Movie Moments #4

#4 - The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

There's really not much point in me reviewing this film. There's no question that it's an all-time great. It currently occupies the coveted #1 spot on IMDb's Top 250 and moreover, I don't think I know a single human who doesn't already love it. Well, except, inconveniently, for my good friend Luke, who thinks it's too much of a downer (I'm not sure you 'get' the film, buddy!), and my wife, who thinks it's too long. This pretty much means I have to watch it on my own most of the time. I don't have a problem with this though, and I have indeed watched it alone at least 30 times by now, so there's no question that I know it well. You'd think that would make it easy to pick my Top Five Moments, but that was far from the case!

Spoiler Alert: the Top Five Movie Moments featured here obviously assume that you've seen the film in question or don't mind knowing about its most prominent moments so don't come whining to me if they ruin a film that you haven't seen yet!

5... The Sentencing

The film opens with a shot of a lusty couple entering a room and getting busy. Sitting outside in a car is a young man holding a gun. Then we cut to a court room where the same man is being questioned as the accused in a double murder. He pleads his innocence but the evidence, circumstantial though it may be, looks overwhelming. The jury finds him guilty. Soon after, the judge sentences Andy:

Judge: "You strike me as a particularly icy and remorseless man, Mr. Dufresne. It chills my blood just to look at you. By the power vested in me by the State of Maine, I hereby order you to serve two life sentences, back to back, one for each of your victims."

The look on Andy's face says it all...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cover Art: Master System - Part 2

It may have been my first and still most treasured console, but games for the poor old Master System hardly had the flashiest-looking covers around. Considering the head-start Nintendo had with the NES, you'd think Sega would want their products to leap off the shelf at prospective new customers, not remain largely invisible! Oh well, the vastly superior cover art didn't really do much for the console's performance in Japan I suppose, but I still had a lot of fun with the first part of this feature. It seems a lot of you liked it too, so here's another selection of fine and not-so-fine covers from the Master System's back catalogue:

Space Harrier (1986)
As one of the early flagship titles for their console, it's a wonder that Sega didn't make more of an effort for its cover outside of Japan. There's a lot of empty space with the green dragon merely peering around the edge of the cover and getting a blast in the face for his troubles! That said, it is at least recognisable to fans, but just look at that Japanese cover - it's fantastic! It features a nice representation of the landscape, a couple of great-looking dragons, and even that splendid mammoth fellow from the title screen!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Puzzle Games #5

Mr Driller (1999)
By: Namco  Genre: Puzzle  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Dreamcast  
Also Available For: Arcade, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, WonderSwan Color, PC, iPhone

Love it or loathe it, Dig Dug is (correctly) regarded as an all-time classic arcade game and, despite being converted to a large number of home systems, it has not been one of the franchises that Namco has furnished with a large number of updates or sequels. It received a rather anonymous second instalment in 1985, but the series wouldn't be revisited for another fourteen long years. Originally intended to be Dig Dug 3, the transition during its development to Mr Driller also included a change in the protagonist. The hero of Dig Dug was Taizo Hori but taking his place here is his son, Susumu Hori! As the highest ranked Driller in the world, he was the first one the panicked people called when the cities became overun by mysterious coloured blocks rising from underground...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Film Review #27

Thor (2011)
Director: Kenneth Brannagh  Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Jaime Alexander, Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas, Tadanobu Asano

Certificate: 12A  Running Time: 114 Minutes

Tagline: "Courage is immortal"

Marvel have got a hell of a lot of characters they can potentially promote to the silver screen but as they work their way through the roster, the characters will inevitably be more and more obscure. For example, how many non-comic fans knew anything about Thor before this film appeared? That's not to suggest that they will be any less entertaining, of course. It could even work in their favour. Fans and non-fans alike are bound to have certain amount of expectation of a Spider-Man or Hulk film, for instance. Thor is more of an unknown quantity, and on top of that - he's a God! The journey into his fantastical world is one that has near-infinite possibilities, and sure enough, we are first introduced to the character around 965 A.D. when he is a mere child, the first son of Odin.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Survival Horror #1

Blue Stinger (1999)
By: Climax Graphics / Activision  Genre: Survival Horror  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Dreamcast  
Also Available For: Nothing

As game systems get more and more powerful over the years it's only natural that the games played on them will evolve to make better use of them too, and occasionally new genres appear. One such genre was arguably started by Alone in the Dark which appeared in 1992 for the PC but I don't think anyone would deny it was the arrival of Capcom's Resident Evil series which really saw it take off. This genre came to be known, of course, as survival horror, but it's one that's never really taken a hold of me. Despite this, I bought Blue Stinger at the Dreamcast's launch and looked forward to exploring its world. Is that because it promised something more than existing survival horror games, or would I once again fail to be ensnared by this burgeoning genre?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Thunder Force Series - Part 7

Thunder Spirits a.k.a. Thunder Force AC (1991)
By: Toshiba EMI / Techno Soft  Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES  First Day Score: 65,210
Also Available For: Arcade, MegaDrive (variation)

Wherever you stand in the whole MegaDrive vs SNES war, if you're level-headed and of sound mind, you can't possibly think that either system wipes the floor with the other. I was and remain a huge MegaDrive fan - 'Sega 4 Life' and all that - but I can humbly acknowledge that the SNES is still a pretty awesome console with some fantastic games. It's true that Sega's machine is better for some genres, while Nintendo's is better for others, but one area I always thought they were pretty close was shoot 'em ups. Both systems have some great examples of this technically-demanding genre but there are surprisingly few that appear on both machines so a direct comparison is not often possible. One notable example, however, did eventually appear on both systems. It was a much revered game on the MegaDrive whose name was, and still is, uttered with the utmost reverence. It has once again undergone a name change but it's still a game whose name begins with 'Thunder'...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Awesome Nature #2

Bumble Bee
Type: Insect  Lives In: Northern Hemisphere  Conservation Status: Endangered

For a long time now, when anyone's asked me what my favourite animal is, I've always replied Bumble Bees. There are lots of reasons for this. They're one of the least hostile insects of their type, for example, and are far less likely to sting than other bees, or especially damn wasps. There's also the myth that they should be incapable of flight. This has of course been proven as false now but it stills gives them an aura of majesty. In fact, their wings are so powerful that they can reach speeds of up to 15 metres-per-second and they can cause a visible helicopter-like down-draft when they hover over plants! They are mainly found in the northern hemisphere where there are more than 250 different species. Sadly, some of these are already extinct and if their decline continues it could spell trouble since they are major pollinators of a majority of our flora and are of vital importance to the delicate ecological and economical balance of our environment. I hope something can be done to help them out though - whether they should be able to fly or not, it always puts a smile on my face when I see one of the little fuzzballs flying around!

Why They Are Awesome: Because they defy science!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

NES Platform Games #1

Ice Climber (1984)
By: Nintendo  Genre: Platform  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo NES  First Day Score: 14,160
Also Available For: Arcade, Game Boy Advance, Famicom Disk System, NEC PC-88, Sharp X1
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

It's not often that one system dominates a territory like the NES dominated the US. At its peak, its market share was almost total and there were hundreds of games for lucky American gamers to choose from. One of the first they were able to get their hands on was Ice Climber. Released alongside the NES there, it's a fairly simple platform game which plays a little like a cross between the original Mario Bros and Kid Icarus (which came later, of course) and features two of Nintendo's earliest characters - a pair of Eskimos called Popo (a boy) and Nana (a girl) - both of whom will probably be more well known these days for their appearance in the Super Smash Bros series. Ice Climber marks their first appearance though and, as you may have guessed, also means it's a two-player game. Controlling Popo (or both of them with a friend), it's your job to reach the top of each vertical stage to, amusingly, recover vegetables stolen by a wretched giant Condor!

Monday, 9 May 2011

3DO Games #3

Pataank (1994)
By: PF.Magic Inc  Genre: Pinball  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: 3DO  First Day Score: 1,810,764
Also Available For: Nothing

One of the great things about videogames is that they allow designers to approach existing subjects from new perspectives. This is one of the reasons why I, and many others, love the Crush series of pinball games. Naxat realised they were no longer bound by the rules of an actual pintable and so covered their tables with all manner of scary creatures and outlandish bonuses. That was one way to play around with the accepted pinball format. Another one is explored here with Pataank. Until this game came along, to the best of my knowledge all pinball videogames viewed the action either from directly above or from the same viewpoint as though playing a real pintable (even the Crush games). Pataank has other ideas - as you might have gathered from the screenshots, the chosen perspective here is not only much closer to the table than normal but actually follows the ball around!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Top Five Saturn Racing Games

Some of my Top Five lists here at Red Parsley are very difficult to compile due to the high number of candidates worthy of inclusion. This particular Top Five, however, has proven to be the trickiest yet, but for a different reason.

As most of you will probably know, the Saturn was a 2D powerhouse but most developers struggled to create decent 3D graphics on it. Many tried though, which has resulted in a lot of mediocre racing games, amongst other genres, meaning I actually had trouble finding five games good enough to include here! Lesson learned - play more Saturn racing games - there must be five really good ones, surely?

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I've traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven't played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

5. Scorcher (1996)

One of many futuristic racings games to appear in the late 90's, Scorcher is a real rarity - a Saturn-exclusive game from a third-party developer (okay, there was a PC version too, but that doesn't count)! It didn't really set the world alight though and it's quite easy to see why. The graphics aren't bad from a technical point of view but are largely dark, gloomy, and not terribly eye-catching - about the only bright colours are the green glowy energy-cage things that encircle your space-bike. The controls take a lot of getting used to as well, but stick with it and it turns out to be a challenging but pretty enjoyable futuristic racer. The decent techno/trance soundtrack is noteworthy as well.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Gaming Memories - Part 5

It wasn't too long after I had the pleasure of discovering Astro Wars at my cousin's house that I first met my good friend, Luke. We met in middle school and I believe the catalyst was the mighty Star Wars. It's really hard to remember these things accurately (for me, at least) but I'm pretty sure he heard me talking about what we would soon discover was a mutually-appreciated subject and we soon became friends. The first few times we met up outside of school was of course for Star Wars-related reasons - swapping duplicate figures, primarily - but it wasn't long before I discovered he had a computer too. I only had a passing interest in them at this point but he was eager to show me his favourite games.

Unknown to me at the time, his Dragon 32 was an 8-bit micro and wasn't one of the most well-known or appreciated computers of the day, but where they were most popular was here in the UK. That's hardly surprising, I suppose, since they were produced by Welsh company, Dragon Data, but they were apparently also available in the US as a 'Tano' (any American readers remember them?). It was actually a reasonably powerful machine for its day but also included some rather unfortunate flaws as well which put paid to any chance it might've had of challenging the mighty ZX Spectrum and Commodore range. Luke and I never played a large range of games on the system but we both still have great memories of the ones we did play.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Bat 'n' Ball Games #2

Woody Pop (1991)
By: Sega  Genre: Bat 'n' Ball  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Game Gear  First Day Score: 65,210
Also Available For: Master System

Nintendo's Game Boy was a instant success from the moment it was launched thanks to the wonders of its bundled game, Tetris, which was perfectly suited to the little white slab o' fun. When Sega released the Game Gear, it was not. Is this because it wasn't released with any games that were perfectly suited to it? In an attempt to determine this I took a look at one launch title recently, and here I'll have a look at another. Perhaps released to show up Nintendo's own bat 'n' ball game, Alleyway, which accompanied the Game Boy's launch, Sega's effort immediately demonstrated the main advantage the Gear Gear held over its rival - colour graphics! Indeed, much like Breakout, Arkanoid, and pretty much every other game of its type, Woody Pop features many different coloured bricks. Colour alone doesn't make a game though, so what else does it have to catch ones eye?

Monday, 2 May 2011

PSP Games #1

LocoRoco (2006)
By: SCE Japan Studio  Genre: Platform  Players: 1  Difficulty: Easy
Featured Version: Sony PSP  First Day Score: Infinity
Also Available For: Nothing

There are very few games around these days that can make me want to buy them just from a mere screenshot. Maybe back in the days of Mean Machines magazine with its amazing shots of shiny new MegaDrive games, but today? Not for me. With that in mind, the chances of there being a game that looks so irresistible that I'll make me want to buy the system it's on just to play it? Surely not? It would have to be a very special game indeed. A game of untold wonder and magnificence. A game so enticingly unique as to awaken a primeval need to explore every facet of its being. Against all the odds, such a game did indeed cross my path. And so it came to pass, RetroKingSimon did unto that day purchase a PSP just to play... LocoRoco.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Film Review #26

The Expendables (2010)
Director: Sylvester Stallane  Starring: Sylvester Stallane, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Giselle Itie, David Zayas, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Certificate: 15  Running Time: 99 Minutes

Tagline: "Choose your weapons"

Sly has always been underrated as a director and screenwriter in my opinion. After a storming start to his career, he was one of the biggest stars in the world for well over a decade until he suffered a sizeable lull in his career, ironically occurring post-Cop Land, among his best films and most critically-acclaimed performances. A surprising number of his films saw him work as more than just an actor too. In more recent years, he's returned to prominence with new, 'final' instalments in the franchises that helped make his name, and it was largely thanks to these that he was able to convince the powers that be to give this film the green light. Despite his attempts to branch out into other genres over the years though, it remains those blockbuster action films of the 80's and early 90's that he's most famous for, and his latest project was an elaborate and extremely ambitious homage to those that he and all the other muscular brutes of that era starred in.