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.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

First Look PSN #4

Chime Super Deluxe by Zoë Mode (2010) - PlayStation Network (PS3)

Video games have not often fared well as far as charity is concerned, in my experience at least, and it seems Chime here is the first title released by non-profit publisher OneBigGame, so naturally I feared the worst. I bravely gave it a try anyway though, and what I found was a fairly simple music-based puzzle game. The idea is to choose from a list of dance/trance music tracks, charitably donated by such artists as Moby and Paul Hartnoll, which then play while you attempt to arrange a succession of various shaped blocks within a (nearly) screen-sized grid. As you're doing this a 'beatline' continuously sweeps the playfield from left to right. If your block-placing antics has left behind any completed blocks of 3x3 or bigger, known as 'quads', they are permanently added to the 'coverage' of the grid when the beatline passes over them which means you can then place more blocks on top.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Top Five Street Fighter Characters

While it's certainly not a genre I dislike, one-on-one fighting games have never really been my favourite genre either. Many of my preferred examples, however, are made by Capcom and feature the words 'Street Fighter' somewhere in the title. It's a series I first encountered in its very earliest form - the original Street Fighter in the arcades, and the version with the big puffy pressure-sensitive buttons too! I've since played most other games in the series (though not the fourth game... yet) and have enjoyed them all. Well, except for Street Fighter: The Movie, obviously.

Obviously the games are all very well made, catering for novice and expert players alike, but I think one of the most appealing things about the series is the variety of characters. There are few I really dislike but those below are the ones I've spent most time playing as. That just leaves the question: who is your favourite?

5... Sakura

Cynics might suggest that this energetic young lady was introduced to the series purely for fanservice reasons, being a schoolgirl with a very short skirt and all, and perhaps they're right, but she quickly became a fan favourite anyway. She debuted in Street Fighter Alpha 2 as a squawking teenager, having been inspired by Ryu's victory in the first World Warrior tournament. She therefore plays a little like him, having her own less powerful variations of some of his moves, but she's much more nimble. She might flash her panties now and then as she leaps all over the place but she'll have you for lunch if you get caught gawping!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Retro Calendar!

Oh hey, how's it going? Being something of a sad mindless office drone by day, I've become rather fond of those 'page-a-day' calendars in recent years. I've had several kinds including astronomy ones and even cat ones (who doesn't get bored of those crazy felines and their often-nonsensical tomfoolery?). While briefly mentioning this to friend and occasional Red Parsley peruser, David Bird, he had an idea - how about making an online retro game equivalent? This kind of amazing technical wizardry is beyond my humble abilities but luckily David is a dab hand at that kind of thing.

And a remarkably short time later he had done exactly that! But how did he manage to do it so quickly? Well, luckily he knew someone who already had a fairly sizeable collection of screen shots! So, after combining my exhaustively-grabbed archive and his own coding know-how, we soon had... the world's first (probably) retro gaming page-a-day calendar! Hopefully all you fellow retro-gaming fanatics think this is as cool an idea as we do so please feel free to check it out using the links below.

The images are sourced from the entire history of Red Parsley and are displayed using random effects such as scanlines and wibbling, and the featured game changes every hour too, so keep hitting 'refresh'. Here are a couple of samples from today:

Hope you like!

See the calendar in all its majesty here
Maybe also check out David's main website here.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Puzzle Games #17

Zooo a.k.a. Zoo Keeper (2003)
By: Success / Ignition Entertainment Genre: Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo Game Boy Advance First Day Score: 74,900 (normal mode)
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
Download For: Android, iOS

You know, I think there has to be something about having animals in video games that automatically makes them much more appealing, at least to certain people like me. Take those tile-matching puzzle games for example - you know, the ones like Bejeweled? Despite there being dozens, perhaps hundreds of different versions and clones of them on everything from proper gaming systems to mobile phones, web browsers, and Facebook, the only one that's ever appealed to me in all these years is Zooo. And, as you might've guessed, it's an animal-themed one! The creatures in question are apparently the occupants of a zoo and have run amok. You play the part of a zoo keeper and it's your job to 'keep the animals orderly'... by arranging them in lines, obviously!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Retro News... Internet Arcade!

For a while now I've been toying with the idea of posting odd bit and pieces of retro-gaming-related news but, since I don't often participate in many related groups or forums or attend too many community events (I'm a bit of a loner I guess!), I don't really find out about most things until after everyone else. Boo hoo! :(

I was fortunate enough fairly recently, however, to unexpectedly stumble upon some absolutely fantastic retro gaming news. Perhaps everyone else already knows about this too, but it's so splendid I'm going to warble away about it anyway. The amazing non-profit Internet Archive site already had stacks of texts, books, art, videos, films, music, and all sorts of other stuff freely available to view/use, and now they have made some rather awesome additions to their sizeable vaults. The first is known as the 'Internet Arcade' and is a collection of hundreds of classic arcade games from the 70's, 80's and 90's (though mostly the early 80's) which are all fully playable via JSMAME emulation from your web browser!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Film Review #70

Zombieland (2013)
Director: Ruben Fleischer Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 87 Minutes

Tagline: "Nut up or shut up."

Despite their recent popularity - or perhaps partly because of it - I've never really been tremendously interested in zombie films. I've seen a handful over the years but definitely don't seek them out, I just find them immensely predictable and boring. I'm therefore not sure what made me decide to watch this particular effort, especially since its title made it clear that there would be many of the lumbering oafs in attendance. Maybe it was the very decent looking cast that swayed me which is headed by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson who portray Columbus and Tallahassee respectively, so named for their cities of origin (apparently exchanging actual names might lead to them growing more 'attached' to each other which isn't a good idea when they could die at any time). They are two survivors of the 'zombie apocalypse' that occurred two months before the events of the film; the result, apparently, of a mutated form of mad cow disease which devastated the US.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Overrated! #7

Wipeout (1996)
By: Psygnosis Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Saturn
Also Available For: PlayStation, PC
Download For: PlayStation Network

Well, it's certainly a pretty cool title screen...
Developers had been experimenting with futuristic racing games for some time already before Nintendo came along and gifted us with the mighty F-Zero. Mighty as it was, though, being a Nintendo game, it was just a little too cartoony and colourful for some tough and manly gamers of the time. Luckily for them, Nintendo's superb game was sufficiently popular that the years that immediately followed it saw many developers rushing to try and topple it from its throne, and most of those were far more serious and 'realistic'. The most successful of these by some margin was Wipeout by British studio, Psygnosis, and it's a game that was immediately hailed by near enough everyone as the game that had finally made gaming acceptable, even 'cool'. As I would hope anyone reading this would know, however, that's no guarantee of it actually being enjoyable.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Splendid Master System Music #1

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Some time ago now I wrote about the intensely nostalgic feeling I had when I heard a much-loved piece of Master System music again for the first time in many years, and this past weekend it happened again! Okay, perhaps the feeling wasn't nearly as pronounced this time but I was still very pleasantly surprised to be reminded of this fantastic piece by industry legend, Yuzo Koshiro. It was featured in both the Master System and Game Gear versions of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, specifically the 'Bridge Zone', and must surely count among the finest pieces of Master System music I've heard. Check out its splendour thus:

Special Note: I didn't record this great tune myself, I'm just an admirer, so all credit to, firstly the original composer, and secondly the YouTube user who uploaded it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Single Screen Platform Games #13

The Fairyland Story (1985)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 58,800
Also Available For: MSX, X68000 (PlayStation 2 and PSP on compilations)

The most famous and beloved of all single-screen platformers may well be Bubble Bobble but, as I discovered a few years ago whilst fooling around with this very blog, it wasn't even Taito's first stab at the genre never mind the first ever example. Three years beforehand they gave us Chack'n Pop which was and remains quite a strange but oddly enjoyable game (once you get used to it!), and then again, the year before the legend itself arrived they graced us with Fairyland Story! Unlike Chack'n's peculiar adventure, however, this particular example has much more in common with Bubble Bobble and could therefore (possibly) even be considered its spiritual predecessor. Both games feature 100 single-screen stages, each consisting of an arrangement of platforms populated by several scary enemies which all need to be vanquished before you can move to the next stage. The only real differences are the characters and how they dispose of the heinous enemy creatures.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Film Round-Up #6

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

You might think this is just another rom-com that my wife 'encouraged' me to watch but it's actually one I bought for her only to find that she'd already seen it and didn't like it! Oops, oh well. I eventually got around to watching it anyway and it's actually not bad. This could of course be because Anne Hathaway spends much of it in various states of undress. She plays Maggie Murdock, a somewhat promiscuous young lady who begins a sexual relationship with Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a womanising pharmaceutical sales rep. He soon falls for her but finds her much less eager to commit to a longer-term relationship since, as we later find out, she suffers from early onset Parkinson's disease and seems to only want a sexual partner due to fears that any boyfriend or husband would leave her when her condition became too much of a strain. I guess it's hardly the most original premise but this isn't an all-out rom-com - a surprising amount of the plot is dedicated to Jamie's blossoming career, especially when a new drug called Viagra appears (the film is set in the mid-90's), but both sub-plots work pretty well together. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are both likeable in their roles, too, and they have some decent support from Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt amongst others. Unexpectedly enjoyable... 7/10