Saturday, 31 December 2011

Astronomical Musings #1

I recently read a news report on a subject that I've long found slightly irksome - extrasolar planets. They, for non-astronomers, are planets in orbit around stars that are not our Sun. They are difficult to spot - considering their distance it's hardly surprising - and it's only been with the help of recent innovations in the field that astronomers have been reliably able to detect them amidst the glare of their parent star. As the news article in question mentions, this is done by looking out for the tiny and very brief drop in luminescence in the star as the planet passes between it and us.

The existence of quite a large number of these planets has now been confirmed. Amazingly, from such a huge distance it's possible to determine what kind of planet they are and even their temperature. Many of those found so far are gas giants but this latest discovery is not. Not only is it a terrestrial planet (i.e. one with a solid surface) but it's also one that's supposedly in the so-called 'habitable zone' around its host star. By this the genius astrophysicists mean that its distance from its star and therefore its mean surface temperature is comparable to that of Earth. This had led to many excited claims of 'a second Earth' or a 'twin' of our planet which has in turn prompted some more imaginative individuals to speculate that it might even host complex life-forms not unlike those found here on our own planet, and it's from here that my problem arises.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

NES Platform Games #2

Mighty Bomb Jack (1986)
By: Tecmo Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: 170,350
Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

One of my favourite arcade games when I was growing up was Bomb Jack. Its simple premise and pixel-perfect controls made for a tense and addictive game. During my Speccy gaming days I noticed that Elite had quietly slipped out a sequel on the 8-bit micros of the time which, as it turned out, was a pretty big departure from the first game and wasn't nearly as enjoyable. However, it seems that there was another sequel shortly before the one I played all those years ago, known as Mighty Bomb Jack. It was released on the NES as well as most home micros of the time, but not the Speccy or any Sega system which is probably why I didn't hear about it at the time! As is often the case here at Red Parsley, however, it's now time to rectify that. That usually begins with some brief research before actually playing the game and on this occasion I was shocked to find a game that is apparently despised amongst the NES community. It can't be that bad, surely?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

So, for the second year it's Christmas time here at Red Parsley, and indeed everywhere else that celebrates it! Unlike last year I'm not at home in the UK but am instead enjoying a sweltering festive season in Brazil right in the middle of their summer so it's been a mixture of searing temperatures, monsoon-like downpours, and brick-shaking thunderstorms. This of course means it doesn't really seem like Christmas to someone brought up not too far below the Arctic Circle. I'm lucky enough, however, to have a great family who arranged a special early Christmas for me before I left the UK so whatever happens here over the next week or so is a bonus!

This also means I will be doing virtually no gaming, retro or otherwise, during this most celebrated of festivals, but I suspect many of you will be. Of course, this is likely to be stupid modern games that take an hour to install, two hours to download updates, and are still riddled with bugs, but I'll leave you to it! I'll be back to super retro-gaming before long and, unlike last year, I've actually had a few posts saved up this time too. Regardless of my pursuits here or at home though, I hope very much that you all enjoy whatever you spend your time on and that you have a lot of fun. I've made some great new friends here over the last year including Sean, Bryan, Eric, Pablo, Marco, some older friends have continued to drop by including Marc, Edward, and Darkstalker, and there are of course many others too, so it just stands to me to wish you all, as well as everyone else who stops by here, and most of all my wonderful wife:


Friday, 23 December 2011

Awesome Nature #7

Great Kiskadee
Type: Bird Lives In: Central and South America Conservation Status: Least Concern

It's tempting whilst on holiday here in Brazil to do an 'Awesome Nature' post about one of the more famous creatures or trees found here but one thing I always look forward to when coming here is the sound of the Great Kiskadee's. They're not an especially tropical bird in any regard though. Even with their eye-catching white head-stripe, the brown and yellow colour means they wouldn't look out of place in any of the woodland areas back in the UK, and they don't exhibit any unusual behaviour as a result of their surroundings aside from their bravery in chasing off much larger birds. It's mostly just that loud and distinctive call that makes them stand out and it's a call that can be heard almost anywhere in Brazil, pretty much endlessly! It's also a call that led to their name here - Bem-Te-Vi, which translates to "I see you well!" They might see us but it's not to easy to spot them, only hear them. Everywhere.

Why It Is Awesome: Because it never shuts up!

Listen to their 'song' on Wikipedia or just play this clip:

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Gaming Memories - Part 7

It was my discovery of the mighty OutRun in the arcades of Torquay that first brought the Sega name to my attention and my subsequent acquisition of their splendid Master System console endeared them to me further, but it was when the MegaDrive arrived on the scene that I truly became ensnared by their magnificence, twenty long years ago now.

It must've been around 1988 when I got my Master System. I quickly became very fond of it and remain so today but it was never a console that was gifted by a huge range of titles. There was enough to support a monthly magazine though which was simply called 'S'. Although this magazine went on to become better known as Sega Power and would last right up until the end of the Saturn's reign, in the late 80's it was a pretty small magazine, composed of few pages, but midway through its run it started featuring news of a new and very exciting-sounding console. My interest was piqued immediately but I grew more and more excited the more they featured news and even some tantalising screenshots of some of the games the privileged few could expect to play on this new wonder-machine! The excitement and anticipation grew day by day, for my good friend Luke too. Then, one weekend I dropped by a different friend's house for the first time in a while, only to be greeted by a sight of special magnificence - a gleaming new imported Japanese MegaDrive! The sight of this was quite overwhelming in itself and the expectation increased when he flipped the power switch to the 'on' position.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Top Five Spectrum Shmups

There's no question that over my many years of gaming, shoot 'em ups have become one of my favourite genres, probably my very favourite, but it wasn't always the case. Back when my main source of gaming was my Speccy, I didn't spend much time playing them. Is that because the humble Speccy was incapable of hosting a decent shmup? No, I don't think so - it was graced by more than a few top arcade conversions such as ace ports of Flying Shark, R-Type, and Salamander so that can't be it. Maybe there wasn't many available or perhaps I just failed to notice them. Whatever the reason, it's a subject I've recently looked into and decided to compile a list of the best ones, excluding arcade conversions. Here's my cyan-soaked choices:

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. Xenon (1988)

Whilst I knew the 8-bit micros received ports of this overhead shooter, I've always been under the impression that the ST and Amiga versions were its natural home. But then I recently heard that supposedly the Speccy version is the best one, and playing it reveals that it is indeed pretty sweet! The game itself is something of an acquired taste - you can switch between a flying spacecraft, for which the screen scrolls automatically, and a ground-based tank which can move as quickly or as slowly as you like, and there are of course enemies that can only be destroyed by one or the other of them. The monochrome graphics on this version can be a little confusing at times but other than that, it's a great effort, and the 128k version has some fantastic music too!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Holiday Time!

Well, it's been around twenty months since I started this blog at the behest of my videogame-hating wife who was tired of listening to me babble on about them. I guess she hoped it would channel my interest in the subject in a more creative direction. I don't know how any of my regular readers feel but I'd like to think it's been fairly successful. At the very least, it's forced me to expand my gaming horizons beyond the few consoles I've owned in the past and play some games I've been hearing about for 20-30 years! For the first time since Red Parsley's birth, however, I am going on holiday!

Yes that's right, even as some of you are reading this very post I may be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, for RKS is taking a well-earned break in Brazil for... one month! I've been to Brazil three times before so I know I'll have a supremely enjoyable and leisurely time, plus it's the summer there at the moment too which means it will be very hot but with a lot of tropical rain storms, and believe me - it can rain in Brazil and then some! My travels this time will take in my wife's home town, Brasilia, where we will spend Christmas with her family, before moving on to Sao Paulo (and possibly Santos) for our New Year celebrations with her friends. This overwhelmingly huge city is home to many unique and diverse areas and one of them is Liberdade, its Japanese neighbourhood where I will hopefully encounter the same anime and ninja weapon stores that I saw on my first visit!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Arcade Platform Games #2

Wardner (1987)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 61,440
Also Available For: MegaDrive, Famicom Disk System

I think it's safe to say Taito have introduced a good few memorable games and characters over the years but Wardner must be considered one of their more obscure offerings. It's a side-scrolling platform adventure and stars a portly young chap who goes by the name of Dover who's out for a stroll with his girlfriend when a mysterious cloaked fellow appears and beckons them to follow him with stories of an awaiting 'fantasia'. Sure enough, the rapscallion has tricked them and swiftly kidnaps Dover's better half (but not before turning her into a crystal ball for some reason) and whisks her off to the evil wizard, Wardner. Predictably enough, it's now up to the girl's porky boyfriend to pursue the foul creatures responsible and rescue her (and hopefully turn her back into a human again too).

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Early Driving Games #5

Battle OutRun (1989)
By: Sega Genre: Driving Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

I'm not sure why but I'm in a bit of an OutRun mood at the moment. It could just be because OutRun rules more than anything else ever, but is that true of every game that carried the famous name? I took a look at the best games in the series with the recent Top Five OutRun Games, but you may have noticed that Battle OutRun isn't there. In fact, there's a good chance that many of the world's gamers won't even have played it as it was apparently only released in Europe. Seems a bit strange to me - surely if any game in the series should only be released in Europe, the logical choice would be OutRun Europa? Perhaps it's because the rest of the world didn't want it. After all, OutRun hardly has a glowing track-record on home systems...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Film Review #35

Gran Torino (2008)
Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Christopher Carley, Doua Moua, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, John Carroll Lynch, Chee Thao, Choua Kue, Brian Howe, Scott Eastwood

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 116 Minutes

Tagline: "Ever notice how you come across somebody every once in a while you shouldn't have messed with?"

He's been on our screens for over fifty years now, playing a huge variety of roles across most genres, but this film is apparently the last time we'll ever clap eyes upon the great Clint Eastwood. Unless we happen to know him in person, of course. He stated before Gran Torino was released that it was to be his last acting role, and at 78 years old who could blame him? A statement like that does bring with it a certain degree of expectation though. That may be true of any Clint film but his last ever? His legions of loyal fans will have been expecting nothing but the greatest of send-offs! Luckily for me I didn't find all this out until after I saw the film so I didn't go in with such an unreasonable level of expectation.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Scrolling Fighting Games #6

Final Fight (1989)
By: Capcom Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 925,419
Also Available For: SNES, Mega CD, Game Boy Advance, Sharp X68000, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Apple iOS

In recent years, Capcom have probably been most famous for their Resident Evil games. Through most of 90's it was the Street Fighter series, but before all of the many, many incarnations of these games, one of their most popular games was a scrolling fighting game which was so revered that it pretty much single-handedly formed the basis for Sega's decision to create the Streets of Rage (Bare Knuckle) series! This game was of course Final Fight and it's a game that I'm ashamed to say I had never played properly until a recent visit by my good friend Luke. In my defence, I was a Sega fanboy during the years in question but it's still no excuse really. To make amends, an hour or so of two-player ass-whooping ensued with the following discoveries.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Atari 2600 Round-Up #1

Hello and welcome to another new Red Parsley feature! As regular readers will no doubt already know, game reviews here are rather on the lengthy side, but not all games need (or deserve) so much detail. Less commonly, I may not be able to discover all the necessary information about a game to start with. Whatever the reason though, I thought the 'Round Up' was an ideal solution! Here I will look at games that fit these criteria, five at a time. These will often include arcade conversions, so to start things off, here's a look at how the Atari 2600 handled versions of some of the most popular arcade games of its time...

Space Invaders (1978)

I don't think there were too many VCS games that were as eagerly awaited as this one! When it did arrive, some bemoaned the unauthentic alien designs or the incorrect number of shields, but the fact is, it's still great fun to play. Of course, even in the arcades it got a bit boring after a while but this version features an amazing 112 variations of the game which includes ones with moving shields, invisible invaders, extra weapons, and even a splendid simultaneous two-player option! It could certainly be prettier (although it is more colourful than the arcade version), and if it was no more than it appears as default it would soon grow equally tiresome, but the huge number and variety of game variations makes it one of the most enjoyable games I've yet played on this classic old console! ... 8/10

Friday, 2 December 2011

Top Five Neighbours Characters

It may have outstayed its welcome now by a good twenty years but once upon a time, just for a short while, the Australian soap-opera known as Neighbours was compulsive viewing. The cast, while hardly award-winning in terms of their thesping, were a distinctive and frequently amusing bunch. Here's the five that have stuck in my mind the most over the years:

5 - Clive Gibbons

To call him the village idiot would be far too cruel but Clive, played by Geoff Paine, was certainly a pretty crazy guy and he would make this list purely for his highly chortlesome appearances in his gorilla suit - all part of the service offered by his gorillagram agency, naturally! He was a big favourite but his wacky antics hid some painful memories from his past...