Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Shinobi Series - Part 4

The Revenge of Shinobi a.k.a. Super Shinobi (1989)
By: Sega  Genre: Platform/Fighting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis  First Day Score: 1,399,500
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

It might seem obvious to follow up a successful game with a sequel or two but not all of them receive one. As we know now however, Sega sensibly released many sequels to the classic Shinobi and the first two appeared very close together. First came Shadow Dancer, a fellow arcade game which updated the basic Shinobi formula nicely. Following closely behind it was this game, known in Japan, where it was first released of course, as Super Shinobi. Here in the UK it was renamed as above and was a launch title for the eagerly-awaited MegaDrive console. Even now, there has seldom been a launch game that so ably and immediately demonstrated the abilities of the system on which it's based. The effect it had on me was profound at the time and is still keenly felt today.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Puzzle Games #6

Lumines (2005)
By: Q Entertainment / Ubisoft  Genre: Puzzle  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PSP  First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 2 (variation)
Download For: Xbox Live Arcade, iPhone

When Sony announced the launch line-up for their swanky new handheld console, I and many others were expecting the same old flashy 3D games found on their other systems to accompany it. This turned out to be a largely substantiated assumption, but there were a couple of surprises amongst the usual suspects. Just about the most un-flashy 3D-ish kind of game around must surely be that of 'falling block' puzzle games, perfectly playable examples of which can be found on the most basic of formats, but here was one nestled next to Ridge Racer and the like. Typically though, this isn't an ordinary falling blocks game even if it may initially seem to be.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bat 'n' Ball Games #3

Plump Pop (1987)
By: Taito  Genre: Bat 'n' Ball  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 65,210
Also Available For: PlayStation 2 (on compilation)

Arguably the first successful game ever was Pong which was a great game for two players, but what about solo gamers? They were soon catered for too when Atari adapted the game for the single player. The result? The all-time classic, Breakout! It wasn't long before clones started appearing, of course. Up until recently, every one of these 'bat 'n' ball' games that I had played quite literally featured a bat and a ball, just like Breakout itself, but as soon as a year after Atari's classic was unveiled, a game called Circus was released by Exidy. This replaced the bat with a see-saw and the ball with two small men (or 'people', I suppose) who bounced each other up and down on the see-saw, destroying the balloons above, which of course had replaced the bricks. It is on this game that the amusingly-named Plump Pop is based.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Exploring the Atari 2600 - Part 2

Unlike the two of the previous 'Exploring' features posted here where I asked fans for recommendations of games to try out on the systems in question, this time I didn't. For the first part, I revisited the only VCS game I had spent a significant amount of time playing, then tried out a few of the more famous games that I'd heard of. This means there was a good chance that they'd be great games though, so for this part I've selected five random games to try out. Here's the ones I chose:

Planet Patrol (1982)
This Spectravideo release was my first pick and I was pleased to find that it's a good one. It plays a lot like River Raid, which I looked at in part one, only turned on its side! Unusually for a horizontal-scroller, it moves from right-to-left and charges you with rescuing downed pilots. To do this you must brave the waves of enemy fighters and missiles, taking down as many as you can, pass over the pilot to rescue him, destroy the enemy city, avoid the ensuing debris, stop to refuel, and repeat! One novel feature is the gradual transition from day to night. During the latter, the enemies are only visible from the flash of your cannon firing! It's a great idea and adds a little variety to an addictive and enjoyable shmup.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Awesome Nature #3

Monkey Puzzle Tree
Type: Tree  Lives In: Peru and Argentina  Conservation Status: Vulnerable

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding these eye-catching trees interesting. They hardly seem to fit in with the oak, birch, and plane trees so commonly found here in the UK, but where did they come from? Well, for starters, 'monkey puzzle tree' appears to be a mere nickname - its official name is 'araucaria araucana' and it is native to Chile and Argentina where it was discovered in the 1780's. It's one of the slowest-growing trees in the conifer family and also one of the longest-lived - in it natural habitat it can live for as long as 1,000 years. Its nickname comes from the fact that every inch of it (except the trunk) is covered in hard, scale-like leaves which would no doubt cause monkeys and other trees-dwellers some problems in moving around it! Amusingly, its French name translates as 'monkeys despair' so I guess we're not the only ones to have noticed that!

Why They Are Awesome: Because they puzzle monkeys, of course!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Top Five Ways To Eat Potato

If you're anything like me, vegetables aren't usually the first choice when selecting a lush meal. Healthy they may be (for the most part) but they are seldom the most exciting part of any dish they may be part of. There are a few exceptions though, and potatoes are one! They are arguably the most versatile of all vegetables and can be fashioned into all manner of enjoyable snacks and meals. It's also easily possible to turn them into unhealthy (and therefore tasty) forms too. Here are my five faves:

5 - Mash

Friday, 17 June 2011

Arcade Adventures #2

Spellcaster a.k.a. Kujaku Ou, a.k.a. Warrior Quest (1989)
By: Sega  Genre: Arcade Adventure  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

If there's one criticism you could level at the Master System, it's the rather meagre size of its software library. Many of its games were arcade conversions, others could also be found on systems such as the MSX, NES, and PC Engine, but one thing it also had was a few exclusive titles, and Spellcaster is a good one. It's not as unique as I once believed though. As with many Japanese games, it's based on a manga (and later, anime) series called Kujaku Ou (Peacock King) which stars Kujaku, a demon-hunting Buddhist monk. In this Western version he's called Kane and he has been summoned by Daikak, the leader of the great Summit Temple, to investigate mysterious attacks on neighbouring temples, perhaps a prelude to war between rival warlords. His first stop is Enriku Temple where ten guards have gone missing.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Film Review #29

Senna (2011)
Director: Asif Kapadia  Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Viviane Senna, Sid Watkins, Jean-Marie Balestre

Certificate: 12A  Running Time: 106 Minutes

Tagline: "The legend of the greatest driver who ever lived"

Formula One has always been a popular sport here in the UK. We've produced a good number of skilled drivers and won lots of world titles. Also, unlike many sports that we've created or helped to pioneer, we've actually remained successful at it until the present day. However, I don't think the sport has ever been more popular than it was in Brazil during Ayrton Senna's rise. He was a naturally gifted driver and a born competitor who, with his parents help, pursued his passion from an early age, and soon rose to prominence in his homeland. This documentary by Brit, Asif Kapadia, who is more normally found directing arty dramas, follows the career of the Brazilian legend from his promising arrival in Formula One in 1984, through his most successful years, right up until his untimely demise ten years later.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Arcade Shmups #7

Lightning Fighters a.k.a. Trigon (1990)
By: Konami  Genre: Platform   Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 63,830
Also Available For: Nothing

It was while selecting the latest instalment of my 'Random Game' feature that I discovered this title and it's another apparently obscure, little-known game by a big-name developer which I knew nothing about. It's known as 'Trigon' in its native Japan and at first glance it appears to be a thoroughly unremarkable vertical-scroller. Perhaps, you might therefore think, its obscurity is for good reason. On the other hand, perhaps it's an under-appreciated gem, who knows! After initially sneering at it dismissively, I quickly inserted (giggity) some virtual ten-pence pieces and gave it a whirl, and... it's not bad! The first thing that struck me about it is its 'arcadeyness' - it's loud and boisterous, and features a decent attract mode - it certainly would've caught my eye if I'd seen it!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Top Five Amiga Platform Games

Back when I was a raging Sega fanboy I was hopelessly loyal to my Master System and MegaDrive and worshipped them everyday. The Amiga and Atari ST were frequently the butt of my elitist teasing and there were, in my opinion, two genres in particular at which the consoles excelled, and which the home computers seemed incapable of matching. One of these was shmups. I've already taken a look at the selection of these available for Commodore's 16-bit powerhouse, so now it's time to see how the other disputed genre performs...

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!

If I review any Amiga platformers in my upcoming feature that get really high scores, they don't appear in this Top Five because I hadn't played them before! (a.k.a covering my arse!)

5. Brian the Lion (1994)

Released by Psygnosis quite late in the Amiga's life, Brian the Lion was, it seems, developed purely so disgruntled Amiga owners could wave it in the face of sneering console owners (like me). Indeed, it's biggest claim to fame is that it features some flashy graphics of the kind previously only thought possible on Sega and Nintendo's obviously far superior machines (hee hee!), including SNES-style Mode 7 effects. Fortunately it's also a pretty damn good game too! Brian himself is a beach shorts-wearing Lion on a quest to save his friends by means of his roar and claws alone! It doesn't appear especially original or unique in any way to begin with, and it is a standard platformer for the most part, but it does have those admittedly impressive visuals, some fantastic music, and a later section even throws in a shoot 'em up! It tries its best to stand out from the crowd and winds up pretty successful. A very enjoyable game that's great fun to play.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

SNES Platform Games #1

Out to Lunch (1993)
By: Mindscape  Genre: Platform   Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES  First Day Score: 5,740
Also Available For: Amiga, CD32

Food's involvement with video games can be traced back as far as Pac-Man and similar games with their collectible cherries and other fruit bonuses, but how many games are there whose central theme is food-related? The first one I can think of is Data East's Burger Time, released more than a decade before this game, but whichever was the first and however many there have been, Out To Lunch must surely rank as one of the 'foodiest' games yet (okay, not counting modern games like Cooking Mama)! The star of the show is Pierre le Chef who is touring the globe to show off his famous dishes. Unfortunately, his ingredients have staged a revolt and all escaped from the fridge! The resulting adventure sees Pierre chasing his various foodstuffs around the world over forty-eight themed stages, trying to recapture them all in time.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Random Game I've Never Heard Of #3

Motos (1985)
By: Namco  Genre: Action  Players: 1   Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 11,700
Also Available For: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Whilst I still think it was a good idea, I don't seem to have had much luck with this 'Random Game' feature so far. The first two I chose both turned out to be worse than finding a dead mouse in your hamburger, but surely I can rely on Namco to buck the trend? Actually, seeing as it is by Namco, and an 80's arcade game, I'm rather surprised to find that I hadn't already heard of Motos, but a mystery it was. Happily, first impressions were good. It's a simple game and so was quick and easy to get to grips with - each single-screen stage features a grid floating above the vacuum of space. Starting in the middle of each is a small bumper-car type craft, about the size of one grid square, which you can move around the grid at will, each of which is also populated by numerous enemies.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Film Review #28

Hanna (2011)
Director: Joe Wright  Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng

Certificate: 12A  Running Time: 111 Minutes

Tagline: "Adapt or Die"

There's been a lot of revenge films released over the years. When done well they're a pretty damn entertaining, not to mention satisfying kind of film to watch, so it was with interest that I approached this one. It doesn't take a genius to determine that the story focuses on Hanna, but who is she? Well, Hanna, as the trailer will tell you, is a very special girl. The film opens on a snowy wilderness. Before long we see a figure stealthily hunting a deer with a bow and arrow, taking it down with a single shot. This figure, we soon learn, is Hanna (Ronan), a 16 year-old girl living in a secluded cabin in a remote part of Finland with her father, Erik (Bana). Here he has been training her as an assassin and teaching her about the world in which she has yet to step foot, and he's done a good job - she's clearly highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat and adept at handling various weapons. When she announces to him that she's 'ready', he reluctantly gives her a transmitter that will reveal their location. But what is it that she's 'ready' for?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Early Driving Games #3

Super Cycle (1986)
By: Canvas / Epyx  Genre: Driving  Players: 1   Difficulty: Easy
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum  First Day Score: 17,042 (retired)
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64

In my quest to find good driving/racing games on retro systems, I thought that this time I'd return to one I've enjoyed previously to see how it holds up today. Of course, when I say 'enjoyed', I don't mean I loved the game - I have an abiding memory of it being far too easy for one thing, but enjoyable games of this type were few and far between on the poor old Speccy so it held my attention for a while. It can be thought of as a budget homage to Sega's great Hang On since both are motorcycle-based, and the objective is also the same - to keep going. Your bike has three gears to get you up to speed and from that point on your only job is to steer left and right, taking care to avoid the other riders. There are no positions though so they're only there to get in your way.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Golf Games #2

Neo Turf Masters a.k.a. Big Tournament Golf (1996)
By: Nazca Corp  Genre: Sports  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES & CD
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

I've never really been a fan of the fiddly, drawn-out games that seemed to exclusively populate this genre for the first decade or so of its existence. I've always preferred the arcade style approach, so the first golf game that I got into, or even played for more than a few minutes, wasn't one of the famous Leaderboard games on the 8-bit micros. Nor was it one of the many, many technically-impressive Links games that swamped the PC in the early-to-mid-90's. I know what you might be thinking now but it wasn't even this game for the Neo Geo. No, the first golf game I played at any length was actually the mini version of this game that was released for the console's little brother, the Neo Geo Pocket, so I'm more than a little interested to see how this version compares.