Friday, 30 November 2012

Electronic Arts or Electronic Farts?

In the long and jumbled history of video games, has there ever been another company like Electronic Arts? They're now among the very richest and most successful developers/publishers of all time but if you asked the average hardcore or retro gamer for their opinion of EA, most would probably have a venomous retort already scripted and ready to vent. I am firmly entrenched among them I have to say (as long-time readers here will already know), but it wasn't always that way.

Although founded waay back in 1982 by Trip Hawkins, I was only vaguely aware of them during my Speccy and Master System gaming years. It wasn't until the era of the MegaDrive had arrived that I really started to have sufficient information to form an opinion on the company, and that opinion was... actually a very positive one! That's right, back then EA were a splendid company whose name was held in high regard worldwide, even by me. They became a prolific supporter of Sega's 16-bit monster, pretty much from the off, and new releases were always eagerly anticipated. How could they not be when they had the quality of Battle Squadron, Starflight, The Immortal, Rolo to the Rescue, F-22 Interceptor, Desert Strike, and the James Pond series? Their releases weren't all 'Mean Machines Mega Games' of course, but the quality and, vitally, the originality and creativity were of a consistently high enough standard for EA to be regarded as one of the best and most reliable game companies around.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Awesome Nature #13

Ash Tree
Type: Tree Lives In: Northern Hemisphere Conservation Status: Endangered

Ones of the things the English countryside is famous for is its gorgeous woodland. Many types of tree can be found in them but, after the population of elms was decimated by Dutch Elm Disease during the late 20th century, now another familiar woodland sight is under threat. Sadly, after ravaging ash tree populations across mainland Europe for the last couple of decades (Denmark has lost 90% of its ashes), the deadly fungal infection know as 'chalara fraxinea', which causes ash dieback disease, has now reached our shores as well. There are over fifty types of ash tree in the world. All of them are flowering trees of varying heights, most of them are deciduous, and all live in the northern hemisphere, but only varieties in Europe seem to be affected by this devastating fungus with Asian varieties proving resistant. Let's just hope the European varieties survive long enough to develop a resistance as well. If you have any near you, treasure them while you can.

Why It Is Awesome: Well, I suppose they aren't any more awesome than most trees from the same region but they might be gone soon! :(

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Dizzy Series - Part 1

Dizzy (1987)
By: Oliver Twins / Code Masters Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 53,800
Also Available For: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC

One of my favourite Speccy loading screens :)
Many dozens of computers and consoles have come and gone since the late 70's but only a few of them prove as loved, as enduring, and as legendary as the ZX Spectrum. This is mainly applicable here in the UK of course, where the mighty fine Speccy was invented and consequently also where it was most popular. It still retains a strong following of fans here, some of whom are merely nostalgic former owners, while some others are mighty talented fellows who've continued to release original games for it. However, if you asked a random group of fans what their most favourite and least favourite Speccy games are, you would probably hear the same title mentioned in answer to both questions - Dizzy! Many gamers from outside the UK will have no idea who he even is though, so allow me to elaborate.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Top Five MegaDrive Two-Player Games

It’s no secret here that Sega’s mighty MegaDrive is probably my favourite console, and accordingly it’s the one I’ve spent the most time with and played the widest variety of games on. Included among these have been many fine two-player games – more than I remembered prior to starting this feature actually, which made it harder than I had expected to choose the five titles below. To help me narrow it down a bit, I’ve ruled out arcade conversions as has become normal with these lists (there are more than enough to these on the MD to have their own list) and I’ve also tried to choose five games which are actually enhanced by the addition of a player rather than simply allowing a second player to join the otherwise unchanged action. To that end, behold:

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. ToeJam & Earl (1991)

Coming at a time when Sega were at their peak in my opinion and seemingly acutely aware of what their customers wanted, ToeJam & Earl was and remains a unique and original arcade adventure starring the two 'hip and cool' rapping aliens of the title who have crashed their ship on Earth and must now scour the surface for all its component parts. The game world consists of a succession of weird floating islands which are randomly generated. This increases the longevity in either one or two player mode but the stages can get rather large too, so it certainly helps to have two sets of legs scooting around. There are lots of strange power-ups to search for as well, also random, and the peculiar characters and music make this a very memorable game. In my experience, there's never been anything quite like it and exploring its unusual world with a friend is fantastic fun.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Arcade Classics #3

Donkey Kong (1981)
By: Nintendo Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 17,600 (one credit)
Also Available For: ColecoVision, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, Intellivision, Apple II, NES, PC, Amiga, Commodore 64, VIC-20, MSX, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

It was apparently Nintendo's desire to establish a foothold in the lucrative US games market that saw the birth of Donkey Kong. To say that it helped them achieve that goal is something of an understatement - it was an instant smash hit and made Nintendo hundreds of millions of dollars - but it was also a landmark game for many other reasons too. It wasn't strictly speaking the first ever platform game but it was certainly the first really popular one and established several features that would go on to become staples in the genre. It was also designed by a certain Shigeru Miyamoto under the supervision of Gunpei Yokoi, both of whom would go on to become rather successful!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sega SG-1000 Round-Up #3

It's been a while since my last look at the SG-1000 so let's return to Sega's very first (and least successful?) console for another lucky dip. The random selection on this occasion has proved the most fruitful yet and includes three different kinds of shoot 'em ups and two nice platformers. Take a look:

Exerion (1983)

Like many SG-1000 releases, this one is a conversion of an arcade game, and like many of that time it's a single-screen shooter from the Galaxian school of swoopiness. It must've been a tough one to convert though, as the arcade version features a rather neat rolling planetary landscape at the bottom of the screen. Apart from this, it's business as usual with various formations of alien ships (and creatures?) appearing from the top of the screen and whirling around taking pot-shots at your small craft which can fire unlimited double-shots, but only one at a time, or single rapid-fire shots for a limited time. It also moves with inertia so can be tricky to control, but this version still proves to be a fair bit easier than the arcade game with one exception, which is a familiar one with the SG-1000 - the limited colour pallette means sprites sometimes get lost in the background. It's still an addictive blaster though, and Sega's machine even has a brave attempt at copying the rolling landscape. Good fun... 7/10

Monday, 19 November 2012

Lynx Games #1

Electrocop (1989)
By: Epyx / Atari Genre: Maze / Run 'n' Gun Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari Lynx First Day Score: 15,475
Also Available For: Nothing

Atari's mighty Lynx was a funny machine. It was a 'handheld' which was rather too big to be comfortably used as one for starters, but it was a powerful piece of kit for sure. It soon gained a glowing reputation for the surprisingly faithful arcade conversions which formed the bulk of its software library, but there were a few original releases too. Many of them were by Epyx, the co-developer of the Lynx itself, and most of these appeared at or soon after the machine's launch - presumably they were developed especially for the occasion to give the system a slightly more varied line-up. One of these was Electrocop. It gained a decent reputation at the time but it never seems to get mentioned these days any time the Lynx is mentioned. Has it dated that badly or has it been unfairly neglected in the intervening years?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Licensed Games #3

Doraemon: Yume Dorobou to 7 Nin no Gozans (1993)
By: Sega Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 16,155
Also Available For: Nothing

Everyone who has ever been lucky enough to encounter Doraemon immediately becomes aware that he's the King of Everything, but sadly he's only really famous in his homeland of Japan, as well as a couple of other countries nearby, so his miraculous wonder remains unknown to so many, and that includes the videogames based on his exploits of which there are lots. Some of them do emerge in 'The West' but only in reworked forms bereft of Doeraemon altogether, which seems a bit odd since they're usually designed specifically to take advantage of his splendour. I've already investigated one of his games here at Red Parsley which falls in this category, but most pass by without our knowledge altogether. I'm not even sure how many there are in total but one of the best known ones is this MegaDrive effort which predictably takes the form of a side-viewed platformer.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Film Review #45

Prometheus (2012)
Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 124 Minutes

Tagline: "They went looking for our beginning. What they found could be our end."

Few films were as influential or have gone on to be as revered as those of the Alien series. First arriving in 1979 courtesy of an unknown director, the original film was a revelation, and quickly reinvigorated not just the sci-fi genre but several others as well. Unsurprisingly, this success soon saw several sequels appear, some official, others less so. Like a few other cult franchises though, the quality of each instalment has dropped with each respective release, with the possible exception of the second film which is quite different to the first but probably equally as good. This decline has also seen the reputation of the franchise suffer so it wasn't too surprising to hear that Ridley Scott himself had plans to 'reboot' the series he created by way of an official prequel. As the film neared production, however, its producers began to distance the film from the Alien series. Could it be happening again, or would fans finally have another classic?

Saturday, 10 November 2012

NES Platform Games #3

Wizards & Warriors a.k.a. Densetsu no Kishi Elrond (1990)
By: Rare / Acclaim Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: ???,???
Also Available For: Nothing

I've mentioned here at Red Parsley a number of times how I pretty much missed out on the whole NES phenomenon due to my allegiance to Sega but I did actually own an NES at one point, albeit rather late on in the system’s life. I bought it from a charity shop with around 12 loose games. Sadly, it turned out that the grey toaster didn’t work so I never got to play any of the cartridges I had which included some of the classics and some I was less familiar with. Of the latter type, there was one in particular I was eager to try out and that was Wizards and Warriors, a title released by Rare in the late 80’s exclusively on Nintendo’s machine. I often find myself drawn to games with a fantasy setting and the simple-but-revealing title had intrigued me. I had imagined some sort of deep and involving ‘Metroidvania’ style arcade adventure, and now I have the opportunity to to find out if I was right.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Top Five Studio Ghibli Films

There's not really much point in me reviewing any Studio Ghibli films other than to be yet another voice extolling their many wonderful virtues; most of them would probably get 10/10 anyway! Something that's much harder to do is settle on a Top Five. I haven't yet seen every single one of them, admittedly, and I may have to amend this list accordingly once I have, but I've seen most of them and only one was anything less than overwhelmingly wonderful. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say Ghibli films should have their own category, so superior are they to all other animated films, anime or otherwise.

Part of the reason for this is their unmistakable style, thanks largely to the amazing dedication of key man, Hayao Miyazaki, who has directed and/or overseen many of their productions, the consistently extraordinary quality of which has seen the studio dubbed the 'Disney of the East'. Their films tend to have noticeably higher production values and audio/visual quality than most other anime - the soundtracks are usually original compositions and Miyazaki-san overwhelmingly favours hand-drawn animation over the use of computers. He personally checks countless thousands of hand-drawn images and he often draws many of them himself as well.

Most of the films share certain basic themes too. Many feature a young but ultimately strong female lead, usually undergoing some sort of right-of-passage or coming-of-age transition. They also rarely fail to feature at least some otherworldly spirits of some sort, and there is usually an element of pacifism as well. However, as much as you might be able to analyse the films, their characters, the themes explored, etc, doing so is far from necessary to gain immense enjoyment from watching them and being drawn into their respective worlds regardless of age.

So, as hard as it was to settle on only five films to include, if you haven't seen any of these, do yourself a favour - don't dismiss them as childish or unrealistic, just watch them. And then thank me! :)

5. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

A few of Studio Ghibli's films are based on novels but this one is, slightly surprisingly, based on an English one. I feel so proud that Miyazaki-san knows we exist! You'd probably never guess its origins though, as the story seems pure Ghibli from start to finish! Although Howl, a young and enigmatic wizard, may have his name in the title, it's a young hatter called Sophie who takes centre stage when she's cursed after encountering the Witch of the Waste. It's while pursuing a cure for this curse, which has turned her into an old lady, that she happens upon Howl's castle which does indeed move. Sophie's quest through her war-torn land comprises a film that differs considerably from the book on which it's based but that doesn't stop it from ending up as one of the most memorable films I've seen, with some of my favourite Ghibli characters, too, including Calcifer the fire demon, an asthmatic dog called Heen, as well as the eccentric Howl himself. A wonderful film and a great introduction to Ghibli for any newcomers.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Strategy Games #1

Worms (1995)
By: Team 17 / Ocean Genre: Strategy / Shooting Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: I'm a Worms master so I always win! :)
Also Available For: Amiga, CD32, Apple Mac, Game Boy, MegaDrive, SNES, PlayStation, Saturn, Jaguar

Even though I'm technically old now, I still consider myself fairly young, but the video games industry has changed beyond recognition even in my living memory. Games these days cost many millions to develop and often take years to reach fruition, and that’s with teams of a dozen or more developing them, but many years ago the opposite was true. Some of the best-loved retro games were created by only one or two people, often from the comfort of their own homes, or even by solitary students coding away into the early hours before oversleeping for their morning classes. Those days are long gone now, with regards to full releases for current systems at least, and one of the last successful examples I remember was the first in the now extensive Worms series.