Saturday, 30 July 2011

Top Five MegaDrive Soundtracks

Video game music is a pretty big deal these days. Since computers and consoles starting using CD's to store their data, composers have been able to do pretty much anything they want, and the result has seen some games having orchestral soundtracks to rival those of top Hollywood blockbusters. Prior to the mid-90's, however, composers were restricted to the abilities of the system's sound chip.

This 'chiptune' music now has a cult following amongst retro gamers like myself, with some talented individuals continuing to make these primitive chips sing like never before! I am regretfully not skilled enough to create my own but I was and remain a big fan. Each major computer and console uses a different chip to produce this music so each has developed its own style.

I suppose which system we enjoy listening to the most now depends on which one we spent most time with growing up. After all, at least part of the appeal of any aspect of retro gaming is nostalgia. For me, that means the music produced on the MegaDrive / Genesis is generally my favourite. There are dozens of games whose music I still enjoy listening to on this great console, so it's been a pretty tough job, but here are the five games that I feel have the best overall soundtracks:

5 - Wiz 'n' Liz by Raising Hell Software

This underrated platformer has a very distinctive musical style... actually, it has a distinctive everything style, but this superb soundtrack by Matt Furniss is certainly among them! It has a lot of tunes including one for the each area. This one for 'Snow Land' is my favourite:

Friday, 29 July 2011

Splendid Amiga Music #1

Datastorm (1989)

After my accidentally-enormous previous post here, I thought it might be a good idea to make a slightly shorter post this time, and what better way to do that than to extol the virtues of some great game music!? In the first post of this nature I'll remind you of (or reveal to you) the fantastic intro music to this classic Defender / Dropzone clone for the Amiga, composed by Timm Engels. Sadly, it constitutes the entire musical content of the game (to my knowledge) but remains one of my very favourite Amiga tunes. See what you think:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

F-Zero Series - Part 6

F-Zero GX (2003)
By: Amusement Vision / Nintendo Genre: Racing Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo GameCube
Also Available For: Arcade

It's hard to say for sure what the most popular F-Zero game is, but for a good few, including me, it's F-Zero X. It truly was, and still is, an absolutely phenomenal racing game, and a rare recipient of a 10/10 score here at this very blog. If there's possibly one thing about it that could be improved though, most would agree that it's the graphics. Super-fast they may be, but they are also largely devoid of detail, especially the backgrounds. It seems Nintendo listened to this slight criticism of their otherwise flawless game, for when the series returned to their main console (accompanied by an arcade counterpart) after a brief GameBoy-related diversion, it was in this area of the game that they sought to impress, and they enlisted some help.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Exploring the Neo Geo - Part 1

Back at the very beginning of the 90's, I was a very proud MegaDrive owner. It was the newest and most powerful console ever at that point and I was happy to point this out to anyone who cared enough to listen, and indeed many who couldn't care less. I was in this privileged position for only a short while, however, when I started seeing reports of a new console by some company called SNK. Who the hell were they? Ohhh yeah, now I think about it, weren't they the company behind a few arcade hits like Vanguard and Ikari Warriors? Very impressive, but releasing a few arcade games is one thing, releasing an entire home console system is another thing entirely. I thought the days when any old upstart could (or rather, would) release a new format were long gone, and here was this medium-sized arcade company throwing their hat in the ring. They couldn't possibly pull it off, could they?

It turned out that they meant business! In the kind of move that would make or break the company, they first released their flashy new hardware in the arcades with the MVS (Multi Video System) which was an arcade machine built to a standard configuration and which could be fitted with up to six different games. Following swiftly on from this was the AES (Advanced Entertainment System), the immense home console version of the arcade hardware. The hardware was based on a Motorola 68000 CPU and a Zilog Z80 co-processor which was the same as that used by the MegaDrive. SNK's machine, however, was packed with lots of custom chips which gave it a lot more power than Sega's machine, or indeed some of the consoles that came after it. The games released for the system was direct ports of their arcade counterparts. If any proof was needed of their authenticity, it was possible to buy a memory card, use it at home, save your position in a game, take the memory card to your local arcade, and continue playing there. Impressive stuff!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Crap Games #3

Ace of Aces (1990)
By: Artech Digital Entertainment / US Gold Genre: Simulation Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

The two games I've covered for this feature so far have been pretty stinky and they were both stricken with bad reviews in their day but neither received such a shockingly awful score as to fill me with the kind of unbridled fear that might be felt when surrounded by hungry zombies. This poor old Master System game did. I forget the exact magazine in question now but I do have a distinct memory of this game receiving a score of 15%. Considering that most game magazines had (and still have) a tendency to rate games on a scale of 50 - 100%, with average games receiving around 75%, a score as low as 15% was a real shock. Can any game really be that bad? Considering I actually quite enjoyed this game on my Speccy (albeit briefly), I'm very interested in finding out...

Friday, 22 July 2011

MegaDrive Shmups #5

Dangerous Seed (1990)
By: Namco Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: 478,800
Also Available For: Arcade

It's not unheard of for a developer to release a seemingly unique game which actually turns out to be part of an existing, popular game series, but it is quite rare. So imagine my surprise when I discovered this interesting-looking shmup is in fact a quasi-sequel to the great Galaga! Indeed, the story follows on from that of Galaga and sees the evil bugs, on the brink of defeat, launching pods at Earth and all the other planets in our solar system before fleeing. These pods contain 'Danger Seeds' which turn the planets into Galaga breeding grounds! Luckily, before the infestation began, three prototype star fighters were captured by the aliens. Unknown to them, the fighters were manned. Now the pilots have awaken, it's up to you to help them wipe out the evil insectoid scum for good.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Awesome Nature #4

Type: Mammal  Lives In: Asia, North America, Eastern Europe  Conservation Status: Various

I first discovered this amusing little creature in an episode of the BBC's fantastic Planet Earth series where several of them were shown frantically trying to outwit a predatory Mongolian wolf. It actually turns out that there are as many as thirty different species of them who mostly live in various cold, rocky places across much of the northern hemisphere. Many are not endangered (yet) but sadly some are critically so. The pictured species is a Hoffman's Pika which lives on the barren Mongolian steppe but other species differ in appearance a little, ranging from 6-9 inches long with small limbs and tail. Most of them look a little like rabbits so it's no surprise to find that they come from the same family. Regardless of what they're related to though, they're still one of my new favourite animals. After all, anything that can put a smile on ones face simply by existing must be good!

Why They Are Awesome: They're twitchy little balls of fluff!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Overhead Run 'n' Gun Games #4

Commando (1985)
By: Capcom Genre: Run 'n' Gun Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 42,100 (one credit)
Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Intellivision, Atari 2600
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

If I were to count all of the games on most of the modern consoles by genre, which type do you think would have most examples available? I'm willing to bet it would be first-person shooters, and like all modern genres, these too have their roots in much older games. While it's true that there were some attempts at first-person games as far back as the early 80's, I think that overhead run 'n' gun games have been more influential over first-person shooters than any other genre has. With that in mind, I suppose I can only feature them for so long here at Red Parsley before I come to this particular title, which is a great example of what I'm talking about - it's an FPS, but from above!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Gaming Memories - Part 6

I don't know if it was caused by the admittedly-sizeable expense of new games for my Master System, but one Christmas morning I had a nice surprise. Well, I had a nice surprise most Christmas mornings but on this one in particular I was rather taken aback when I unwrapped a sizeable and fairly heavy gift to find a picture of a ZX Spectrum staring back at me. I'd briefly used other people's computers - my good friend Luke's Dragon 32, a school friend's CPC, but a majority of my experience with computers was at school where they had some BBC Micros. These were I'm sure great computers in their day but they weren't very up-to-date at that time and were hopelessly inadequate for school work. So, aside from a few games of Chuckie Egg and Bomb Jack on my friends computers, my opinion of them was fairly low overall. But then came the Spectrum!

I didn't know it at the time but it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary Spectrum either. As a result of Amstrad's buy-out of Sinclair, they wanted to freshen up the range, so they launched two new models - the Spectrum +2, which had a built-in tape deck, much like Amstrad's CPC 464, and the Spectrum +3, which had a built-in floppy (giggity) disc drive, like Amstrad's CPC 664 and 6128. These discs were a curious format. The biggest problem of being an owner of a Speccy, CPC, or C64 was waiting an eternity for games to load by cassette. I already knew this well before the Christmas gift, and the disc was an ideal solution to this problem. The unfortunate side-effect of this was the inevitable price increase which wasn't helped by the fact that Amstrad had opted for the 3" disc format rather than the already-popular 3.5" ones used by other computers. Needless to say, it was the stylish, jet-black +3 which I received that morning.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Top Five Iconic Race Cars

Some people go absolutely crazy over motorsport, spending hundreds of pounds (or whatever currency they use) to travel around their country, even the world, following their favourite cars or drivers. I'm only what you'd call a casual fan myself, but even if you have no interest in the sport whatsoever, there are certain cars that stick in your mind. It may be through their glory on the track that they become well known to you, it may simply be for a distinctive colour-scheme. The reason isn't enormously important I suppose, but as far as I'm concerned, these are the five racing cars that I consider to be the most iconic:

5 - Ford GT40 (1964 - 1969)

This one is from before my time so it says a lot that it's such a familiar sight to me. It was designed by Ford for the express purpose of ending Ferrari's dominance at the Le Mans 24 Hour race. This determination supposedly stemmed from Ford's attempt to buy Ferrari in the early 60's; an attempt which Enzo Ferrari ended at the last minute, wasting millions of Ford's dollars. Whatever the reason, it was a mightily impressive car! The GT40, so called as the roof lies a mere 40 inches from the ground, was certainly very distinctive in appearance, especially with the colour scheme below. It went through several iterations during its lifetime. Being American, all of them did of course come with a monstrous V8 engine, and all of them were successful too. By the time it was retired in '69 it had won the Le Mans race four years in a row...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bomberman Series - Part 6

Bomberman II a.k.a. Dyna Blaster (1991)
By: Hudson Soft  Genre: Maze  Players: 1-3  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo NES  First Day Score: 36,400
Also Available For: GameBoy Advance

The original Bomberman was a big success and, once Hudson had finished porting it to most systems of the time, the next release in the series was this one. It's the first numbered sequel in the series and was surprisingly only released on the NES this time, although it did make an appearance on the GBA much later. It's of the same style as many of the previous (and indeed, subsequent) games in the series and again sees Black Bomberman up to his tricks. This time he's robbed a bank and framed White Bomberman for the crime! Poor old White Bomberman is swiftly arrested and thrown in jail and it's from here that he must use his bombing skills so he can escape and bring Black Bomberman to justice. To do this he must make his way through 48 stages which are divided equally over six different areas.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Film Review #30

Larry Crowne (2011)
Director: Tom Hanks  Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Bryan Cranston, Pam Grier, George Takei, Rami Malek

Certificate: 12A  Running Time: 98 Minutes

You know, now that I stop to think about it, it's been a long time since I watched a Tom Hanks film. I had forgotten about Charlie Wilson's War until I just had a quick look at his filmography but until then I thought The Terminal was the last time I saw him in what you would call a 'Tom Hanks film'. Maybe it's just me but they don't seem to be the 'events' they once were. This is also true of Larry Crowne. It's Mr. Hanks' second directorial effort after That Thing You Do, which is a remarkable 15 years old now, and sees him returning to the kind of territory in which he first made his mark. That was a long time ago though. He's both older and wiser now, perhaps more distinguished too, but does he still have the charm? The title character in a film like this requires it and it's in this role that he's cast himself.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Adult Games #1

Pocket Gal (1987)
By: Data East  Genre: Sports  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Easy
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 9,300 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nothing

Love them or hate them, videogames are big business. Those of us who partake in their wonders, however, have taken a lot of stick over the years for the sake our 'nerdy' hobby so it doesn't really help matters when developers release blatantly pervy games featuring titillating girlies in various states of undress. Most of the time this is of course a less-than-subtle attempt to grab the cash of lonely gamers with a bare minimum of effort. Indeed, the games that facilitate these giggling girlies are usually utter trash - the flimsiest of excuses for the nudity and immoral material contained within, and that's when there even is a game at all! But could there be any genuinely good games hidden amidst this nonsense? In a series of new features here at Red Parsley, I will bravely attempt to uncover an answer to this intriguing mystery!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Arcade Racing Games #2

Pole Position (1982)
By: Namco  Genre: Racing  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade  First Day Score: 19,740
Also Available For: Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Vic 20, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, BBC Micro, Texas TI-99/4A, PC (also available on compilations for PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, Dreamcast, etc)

Emulation is great but it's not always easy. I've been trying to get a different arcade racing game working in MAME for a while now but despite the assistance of a helpful Facebook friend, I'm still unable to play it. So in the meantime I thought I'd take a quick look at this old classic. I say 'quick' because it's a very well know game already, and I say 'look' because it's yet another old classic that I missed out on! It doesn't always seem like it actually, I've been hearing about it all my life so I know how well regarded it is but I've never had the opportunity to play it. Well, not this arcade version, anyway, any it is the version that took the world by storm, making 'into the screen' racing games popular in the process. So, how does it hold up today, and to a first-time player no less?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Master System Shmups #5

Power Strike a.k.a. Aleste (1988)
By: Compile / Sega  Genre: Platform   Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System  First Day Score: 4,441,900
Also Available For: MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

While it may be largely unknown to some Western gamers, the long-running Aleste series now numbers more than ten games which have appeared on a variety of 8-bit and 16-bit systems over the years. Predictably, they are based on an anime series in which an evil 'Super Computer', having been infected by a virus, is attempting to wipe out mankind! As is often the case, not all of the games based on it were granted a Western release and some of those that were have seen some changes. This Master System game is a conversion of the first Aleste game and outside of Japan it was known by a different name - Power Strike - and featured an entirely different story. Gone was the malevolent Supercomputer in the version I owned for my MS. In its place is a story involving good old crazy scientists and a botched experiment!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Puzzle Games #7

Jumping Jack'son (1990)
By: Infogrames  Genre: Puzzle  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga  First Day Score: 7,750
Also Available For: Atari ST

Detailed backstories for games are a given these days, but are often rather justified too. Most of the games of my youth didn't really require one though, especially puzzle games, but that didn't stop some creative programmers from trying. Take this Infogrames effort, for example. It stars the son of Jumping Jack who's on a quest to find the only known copy of Elvis Presley's first ever record which will free the spirit of rock 'n' roll and save the world from the gloom and despair of classical music! To achieve this he must conquer sixteen levels fraught with dangers and save all the great rock records of history from being destroyed by the evil classical instruments who have scattered them around the levels. No, I'm not making this up.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Top Five Dreamcast Racing Games

Unlike the poor old Saturn which came before it, the Dreamcast was positively heaving with top quality racing games and a sizeable percentage of my time with Sega's final console was spent playing them. On launch day I bought Sega Rally 2 along with a steering wheel and, while the wheel proved rather tricky for controlling that particular game, I soon had plenty of others games to use it with. Not since Burnout 2 was released on the GameCube have I spent so much time on a console playing one particular genre and my trusty DC (or a DC - they're hardly the most durable consoles ever!) still occupies a lot of my time. This was one of the hardest Top Fives to compile so far, but here are the games I settled on:

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. Hydro Thunder (1999)

Racing games generally come in two flavours - arcade and simulation - and this multi-platform release from Midway is very much the former! It features a collection of half-boat, half-spaceships which must be raced at super-speeds around a similar assortment of highly creative courses set over rivers and various other waterways. It only has one mode which is a basic arcade mode, and it's a tough game too - new boats and courses are only available upon successful completion of the preceding courses (and in a good position too!) and this is dependent on collecting and using the numerous 'boost' icons. Hydro Thunder might not have much depth but it is a hell of an entertaining racer. One long, non-stop adrenaline rush of a game!