Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Gaming Memories - Part 1

It was on a family holiday that videogames first got their hooks into me. Sure, they were around before that, and I was vaguely aware of them, even 'dabbling' on occasion, such as when I played the table-top classic, Astro Wars, for practically the whole weekend I stayed over at my cousin's house, for example, or when I played Frostbite on a school friend's Atari VCS after school now and then. At that point though, they were never anything more than a passing distraction.

That aforementioned holiday was pretty much my first vacation and would see us visit the land of my forebears. Namely, the Torbay area of Devon, and we would stay in a rented cottage. I was around 11 or 12 at the time and was very excited about my first trip away. It sounded fantastic, even if it would be occurring in the school summer holidays, thereby failing to ensure that I'd miss any schooltime! For those who don't know, Torbay is a beautiful area on the south coast of England in the county of Devonshire coast known as the 'English Riviera'. It enjoys a mild climate and is home to a sizeable marina, some nice sandy beaches, and three lovely resort towns - Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham - which collectively feature a whole host of sights and attractions of magnificent splendour. I, however, ultimately saw very little of all this after I first wandered past an amusement arcade.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Overrated! #2

Marble Madness (1991)
By: Atari / Electronic Arts Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Arcade, Master System, NES, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple IIGS

Originally released in the world's arcades in 1984, Marble Madness was another cracker from the then red-hot Atari. At least, that's what you'd be forgiven for thinking, given the game's popularity. In truth, it was a competent enough arcade game for its time, but somewhat less suitable as 16-bit console release seven years later. Marble Madness, you see, is a very simple game - you control a marble which you have to guide to the end of the level or 'goal' within a strict time limit. Achieve this and you'll get to tackle the next level. Each level is viewed from a 3D isometric perspective and is set on a series of raised platform sections. The surface of these levels is far from even though - it leans at all manner of angles, and ramps, chutes, bridges, and other such things also adorn the landscape and must be traversed in order to succeed.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Game Music #2

Instant Remedy

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of videogame music, particularly of the retro variety. It was around... hmm, I guess 10 years ago now, that I started my collection, initially by recording MegaDrive tunes using the splendid Gens emulator, but I didn't discover the remix community until a bit later. It was while searching for the original OutRun music that I first encountered Instant Remedy, and it opened the door to an unimaginable number of songs.

Instant Remedy is Martin Noriander (formerly Martin Andersson), a Swedish guy born in 1976, and a Commodore 64 fanatic who has spent a good deal of his time and effort remixing some of his favourte SID tunes. Now, one of my biggest embarrassments as a gamer is that I've never played, or indeed even used a Commodore 64 - I was always a Speccy fanboy until I moved onto consoles - so I've never even heard any of these famous SID creations everyone keeps raving about, but that didn't stop my elation at hearing Magical Sound Shower, one of my all-time favourite game tunes, in an exciting new way! And so began my collection of remixed game tunes. Instant Remedy was the first and I soon discovered just how many more talented enthusiasts were up to the same sort of thing!

I'm now proud/embarrassed to admit that I have somewhere in the region of 120Gb of game music, and much of it is awesome remixes (or 'arrangements') of all manner of classic game soundtracks. A vast majority of them, including Instant Remedy, are done in a dance/trance style, as you might expect, and I hope to cover some of the other awesome musicians here at some point, but for now, wrap you ears around the one that started it all for me.... Instant Remedy OutRun!

Instant Remedy - Outrun Instant OC ReMix .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

And if you like this track even nearly as much as I did, it might be worth you investing in some of Martin's other Instant Remedy tracks, available here. Apparently, Martin also has a CD available featuring the same tracks (listed below with original composers in brackets), so grab a copy of that if you get the chance too!

1. Last Ninja - The Palace (by Antony Lees) 1987
2. Flimbo's Quest (by Reyn Ouwehand) 1990
3. Comic Bakery (Extended Version) (by Martin Galway) 1986
4. International Karate (by Rob Hubbard) 1986
5. Game On (Issue 09 to 89) (by Markus Schneider) 1989
6. Ghosts 'n Goblins (Trance Version) (by Mark Cooksey) 1986
7. IK+ (by Rob Hubbard) 1987
8. Last Ninja - The Wastelands (Club Version) (by Ben Daglish) 1987
9. Trolls (by Adam Gilmore) 1993
10. Warriors (Club Version) (by Thomas Mogensen) 1989
11. Commando (V2) (by Rob Hubbard) 1985
12. West Bank (V2) (by Fred Gray) 1986
13. Last Ninja - Wastelands (Extended Version) (by Ben Daglish) 1987
14. Comic Bakery (by Martin Galway) 1986
15. Commando (by Rob Hubbard) 1985

Monday, 21 June 2010

Thunder Force Series - Part 3

Thunder Force 2 (1990)
By: Techno Soft   Genre: Shooting   Players: Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis  First Day Score: 363,130
Also Available For: Sharp X68000

My recent investigations into the origins of the Thunder Force series have yielded some very interesting results but this is where it all started for me - 1989, a friend's house, an imported MegaDrive, and a handful of games. One of the first ones we played? That's right, it was the underrated Thunder Force 2. Mere mention of the words 'Thunder Force' is enough to bring pleasant memories flooding back for a great many gamers who were growing up around the time of the 16-bit console boom, but for many, these memories concern the visual tour-de-force that was Thunder Force 3 or even the oft-heralded Thunder Force 4. The second game was not so well known. Released alongside the MegaDrive, at least here in the U.K, Thunder Force 2, while one of the best launch games money could buy, was still something of a missed gem for many.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

F-Zero Series - Part 1

F-Zero (1990)
By: Nintendo EAD Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES  First Day Score: 27,200
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

I have always been of the opinion that it's gameplay that counts, not graphics, hence my love of older games (increasingly in preference to new ones, in fact). This is my view and I stand by it. However, if there always seemed to be one genre that belied that stance, it's that of the racing/driving games. The way games of this type play, specifically the vehicle handling and play modes in my experience, has always been of the greatest importance, and that will always remain the case too, but due to the somewhat restrictive nature of the hardware available during the early years of the industry, we rarely saw examples of any kind. When we did, with the exception of a small number of classics, they were not often particularly spiffing. Either too much effort was put into making them look as pretty as possible, with the design and gameplay ending up tacked-on afterthoughts, or they simply couldn't make them look remotely convincing to start with. Then along came the SNES.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Overhead Racers #2

Badlands (1989)
By: Atari Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 32,140
Also Available For: PC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

After helping to put the overhead racing genre on the map with Super Sprint, there was unsurprisingly soon a glut of similar games. Never ones to rest on their laurels, it wasn't long before Atari offered their own 'update' in Badlands. This is one of those games that I'd been hearing about for years but hadn't actually played until now for this review! Finally playing it yielded few surprises, however - aside from a few additions to the basic formula, an 'update' is about all it is - Super Sprint in different clothes! Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, of course; Super Spint is hardly a stinker itself. So how does Badlands differ from its forebear? Read on...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Film Review #4

Iron Man 2 (2010)
Director: Jon Favreau Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L Jackson

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 124 Minutes

Tagline: It's not the armour that makes the hero, but the man inside

I don't think too many people would argue that the first Iron Man film was a surprise hit. It had all the right ingredients to be one but was still a bit of a gamble - rookie director, risky cast choices, unproven draw-power of character - but happily it paid off; Iron Man proved to be one of the most enjoyable comic-book adaptations to date thanks in no small part to Jon Favreau's sublime direction, the irresistible charisma of Robert Downey Jr. in a role he was just perfect for, and what turned out to be a hugely popular character. Thankfully, they both return in this well-timed sequel. But herein lies a problem. The first film ended up such a hit, Iron Man 2, unlike its predecessor, had a lot to live up to. The weight of expectation has killed many a film, but did it kill this one?