Saturday, 31 March 2012

Early Driving Games #7

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90's but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, many sequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a 'reboot' around this time (purely coincidental, I'm sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Film Review #40

Another Earth (2011)
Director: Mike Cahill Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Kumar Pallana

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 92 Minutes

Tagline: "If you could meet another you, what would you say?"

It was quite a while ago now, my trip to Brazil, or it seems so at least. The flight there was awful - cramped, uncomfortable, and most damningly, there was a meagre selection of mostly crap films to watch. The return flight, however, was much better, mainly owing to the far superior selection of films available. I ended up watching three in total. Two of them were unmistakably Hollywood affairs but the other one was not. It wasn't the most immediately obvious kind of film to watch on a long flight but its name immediately intrigued me so I gave it a try. You may have assumed from its name that it's some sort of sci-fi story as I did but it's actually a little more unusual than even that. It starts off by introducing us to Rhoda Williams (Marling), a 17 year-old astronomer who has a gift for science. As she's on her way back from a party to celebrate being accepted to MIT, she hears a remarkable story on the news.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Overhead Run 'n' Gun Games #8

Vindicators (1988)
By: Tengen Genre: Run 'n' Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: 35,200
Also Available For: Arcade, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Despite their difficulties in the mid-80's, one area that Atari remained fairly prolific was in the arcades. This particular game isn't one of their most well-known efforts but it's another one of those ones that I always remember thanks to its splendid adverts in the magazines of the day. The same magazines didn't give it very enthusiastic reviews though so it's not a game I've ever had much interest in playing until it spontaneously popped into my head a couple of weeks ago. I had subsequently intended to give the arcade version a try as usual, but have sadly been hindered by its twin-stick control method. My next stop was therefore the Amiga version but that proved even harder to play thanks to the crazy-arse control system that someone saw fit to bestow upon it. So now I'm hoping it's third time lucky and I can finally uncover the secrets of this unloved game.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Maze Games #4

Pengo (1982)
By: Coreland / Sega Genre: Maze / Action Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 14,880
Also Available For: Atari 2600, 5200, Commodore 64, Game Gear

Back in their earlier days, Sega seem to have had a thing about penguins. Several of their older games have featured the cumbersome creatures and I believe this mazey puzzler was the first one. It's a simple game, viewed from overhead, and consists of sixteen single-screened stages which all feature four things: ice blocks - lots of them, three diamond blocks, Sno-Bee's, and Pengo. Being an arcade game and having received no official conversions, I don't think anyone bothered to come up with a story to explain this bizarre scenario but let's start with Pengo himself who's a red penguin. Pengo wears a bow-tie, much like Konami's own more realistically-coloured penguin, Penta, would do the following year in his own game, but Pengo has more serious problems than that.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Splendid PC Engine Music #1

Dragon Egg! (1991)

The PC Engine was a strange console in many ways. It was tiny but deceptively powerful and it managed to push 16-bit performance out of an 8-bit CPU. One of the numerous advantages of that was the superb quality of its audio which rivalled that of the fully-16-bit MegaDrive. For my first look back at some of the most splendid Engine compositions, I've chosen this delightful platformer and, in particular, the catchy tune found on its first stage (which for some reason plays slightly slower than my version): (full Dragon Egg! review here)

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!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sega SG-1000 Round-Up #1

Considering I'm supposed to be a Sega fan, it took me an alarmingly long time to try out their first console - almost thirty years in fact! In my defence, it was not a very successful system and was never released outside Japan but even so, it was still a situation that needed remedying, and now that I've finally gained access to its games, it will be. The first step was the recent 'Exploring...' feature which gave a decent overview of the system, and now this post which represents the first part of a series which will look at all of the SG's rather meagre back catalogue of games. Here's the first random selection:

Bomb Jack (1985)

I'm a big fan of Bomb Jack so I was eager to see if this version continued the fine tradition of quality conversions. Sadly it does not. The stage layouts are the same but unfortunately it has awful graphics which ruin it. The backgrounds are actually quite good but the monochrome sprites are all drawn using some of the same colours so it can be really hard to spot them, or indeed Mr. Jack himself, at times. Can you spot him in the screenshot? I'm not sure why the bombs are in black boxes either. If it was just the confusing graphics that were proving troublesome I might let it off but one of my very favourite things about Bomb Jack is its pixel-perfect precision controls and they are also compromised here. Perhaps we've been spoiled by some of the fantastic conversions of this classic but this isn't among the best... 6/10

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

MegaDrive Platform Games #4

Rolo to the Rescue (1992)
By: Vectordean Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis First Day Score: Still Going!
Also Available For: Nothing

Sega's splendid MegaDrive had a rather sizeable library of games available for it which covered a wide variety of genres but the two most commonly featured must surely have been shoot 'em ups and platformers. Offerings of the latter were generally either serious, combat-heavy ones or happy, cutesy ones featuring anthropomorphic animals. I personally like both kinds very much but have always had a particular soft spot for the cutesy ones. There were quite a few of these to begin with though, and once Sonic had been unleashed on an unsuspecting gaming world there were many times more. Some games understandably got lost in that avalanche and one in particular that seemed to get largely overlooked by critics and gamers alike is this British effort published by Electronic Arts (back when that was a good thing).

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Arcade Shmups #12

Batsugun (1993)
By: Toaplan Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 361,690 (one credit)
Also Available For: Sega Saturn

Recently I had a thought which led to me trying to decide just how many categories of 2D shoot 'em ups there are. I settled on about eight (although it almost certainly needs a lot more 'research'!) but the most recently-invented of these is one I have little experience with. It goes by many names but the one I've most commonly heard is 'bullet-hell'. On the rare occasion a new 2D shmup gets released these days, and for the last ten years or so, you can almost guarantee it will be one of this type. But just how long have they been around, and who started the craze? There's probably lots of different opinions on this exact subject but the game most often credited with being the first bullet-hell game is this one right here from super-shmup stalwarts, Toaplan, and it's time I played it.

Friday, 16 March 2012

First Look PC #2

New Star GP by New Star Games (2011) - PC

Regular readers of Red Parsley will know of my fondness for overhead racing games so I was very pleased to hear about this new one. It's a surprisingly comprehensive game based on real F1. To that end, it includes all the courses, teams, and drivers from recent seasons (with slightly altered names in the case of the last two) and offers a nice selection of race options too, including quick race, full season (which can be saved), an online racing mode, and even a track editor! Races are viewed from directly overhead and, whilst quite zoomed-in, this still results in fairly small cars. Since they're each adorned in the proper livery for each team, though, losing your car amongst a group isn't really a problem. I've only played the quite extensive trial version so far (which has all the features mentioned) and I'm already addicted! The graphics are very detailed, the sound effects authentic, and the action, while fairly arcadey, is hugely enjoyable and atmospheric. Expect a full review when I buy the full version which I will definitely now do!

RKS Score: 5/5

Download the free demo of New Star GP here :)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Film Review #39

Super (2010)
Director: James Gunn Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 96 Minutes

Tagline: "Shut up, crime!"

Of all the many recent superhero film, Kick-Ass was probably the one that offered the most thrills and laughs. Its success could be attributed to several things but for me, its greatest appeal was how it managed a fresh approach to a genre that was fast becoming a little stagnant. It doesn't take a genius to see the appeal of the whole 'normal person with no superpowers becoming a superhero' thing but that's not a luxury that Super has. Contrary to the beliefs of some, it's not a rip-off of Kick-Ass - the two projects were developed at about the same time - it was just unfortunate enough to be beaten to the punch, so to speak, by Matthew Vaughn's film. So, without the luxury of freshness and originality, can this different take on the subject have the same impact? And that's even assuming it's any good!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Top Five Ugliest Consoles

Video game consoles are wonderful things. They date back almost as far as gaming itself and have taken many forms over the last 35 years or so. Some are fantastic-looking devices whose styling befits their power and splendour, while others are plain weird, but there have been a few that really do make you wonder what the designers were thinking. I may be alone here but these ugly systems take something away from the actual gaming experience for me as well. Only a little something but it's there nonetheless. Here are the five that make me say "groo!" the most:

5 - Nintendo Entertainment System

It may have destroyed all comers in almost every corner of the world (except here in the UK - hee hee!) but Nintendo's ultra-popular Entertainment System was not a looker. The original Japanese version of the system - the Famicom - was not the most graceful of consoles itself but it did have a lot of appeal and some neat features (controllers that slot into the side - sweet!) but the remodelled 'Rest of the World' version was a drab, square, almost featureless box which not only didn't look nice but was also poorly designed too.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Awesome Nature #9

Red Panda
Type: Mammal Lives In: China and Nepal Conservation Status: Vulnerable

These cute creatures have intrigued me ever since I saw the one they have at the splendid Marwell Zoological Park here in Hampshire. My parents used to take me there every year for my birthday treat and I always looked forward to seeing him, but more often than not he would disappoint me by hiding in his little wooden hut! In the wild, they live in the forests of the Himalayas, much like their larger and more famous relative, and also mainly eats bamboo too, but apart from that they have little in common with their 'Giant' namesake, particularly with regards to their appearance, instead looking more like a cross between a raccoon and a lemur. They are also nocturnal and clean their fur like a cat. They are so unique, in fact, that they are now classified within their own family of which they are the only member! Not only are they unique, though, but they're also distant and quite rare too, so I suppose I have little chance of seeing one in the wild. I guess it's off to Marwell again. See ya!

Why It Is Awesome: Because it's the real Firefox!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Exploring the Sharp X68000 - Part 1

Sometimes it really is amazing to think of the differences between the Japanese game market and that of the rest of the world. There is of course some tremendous localisation of games, that happens all the time. There's also plenty of Japanese games that never even see the light of day elsewhere (and vice versa to a far-lesser-extent), but how about whole systems? Us European gamers missed out on NEC's amazing PC Engine console but it wasn't restricted to Japan - lucky American gamers also got a redesigned version of the console to which they gave a lukewarm reception. There was, however, a system which was not only released solely in Japan but which was powerful, successful, and jam-packed with quality games, and it would come to be the envy of the rest of us.

Only those of us who actually knew about it, that is. I was already well aware of the splendid Motorola 68000 processor - it was at the heart of my beloved MegaDrive after all - I didn't personally discover the existence of any system actually named after it until many years later and I bought nearly all the games magazines at the time so it must've received practically no coverage. Looking back, this was really strange - even obscure systems like the Sam Coupe and Konix Multisystem commanded many pages of magazines prior to their launch (or not, in the case of the latter). I've therefore had to do a bit of research to find out the secrets of Sharp's fancy computer system. I knew of an early 8-bit micro of theirs known as the X1 and the X68000 is apparently the successor to this quirky machine.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Random Game I've Never Heard Of #5

Go! Go! Mile Smile a.k.a. Susume!! Mile Smile (1995)
By: Fuuki Co. Genre: Maze Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 186,340
Also Available For: Nothing

Aside from one not bad game, my 'Random Game' exploits have so far proven to be frustratingly unsatisfactory. This odd game, however, by little-known Japanese developer, Fuuki, looked like it might change the trend, at least initially. Upon selecting it - a decision taken almost wholly due to its strange name - I was greeted by a bright, vibrant, yellow creature, with what looks like a crash helmet on, bounding excitedly toward the screen before lots of yellow creatures with fancy haircuts do the same. This was followed by a fairy swooping around who settles on the title screen. Proceeding from here reveals a short cut-scene detailing the story and introducing us to the bizarre main characters, Mile and Yard, who are out for a stroll in pursuit of their 'dream' when the comely fairy stops them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Single Screen Platform Games #9

Happy Monster (1994)
By: H. Müller Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga First Day Score: 767,900
Also Available For: Nothing

Platform games as a genre have been around over thirty years now and this kind - where each stage is only one screen in size - was how the genre began before fancy stuff like scrolling was introduced. That's a lot of time to be trying to come up with new ideas. There is, after all, only so much you can do with one 2D screen filled with platforms. Impressively though, most of them manage to add at least something to the genre, or sub-genre as it now is. This effort by German fellow, Harold Müller, which appeared pretty late in the Amiga's life, does not. Apparently, this is typical of Mr. Müller whose games often feature, shall we say, 'borrowed' elements or ideas. Clearly, if true, that makes him either lazy or just lacking in creative abilities but does that mean his games aren't any good? I don't know yet so let's find out!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Master System Round-Up #2

'Great' Sports - Part 2

I'd like to say I really enjoyed playing Sega's oldest sports game series in the first part of this post but to be honest it was a bit of a chore - they weren't well-received in their day and time has done them few favours. However, during my research for the last post I discovered that some of the games were actually remade for the overseas market. My hope is that this resulted in some at least better, if not actually good games, and I'm about to find out as I boot them up, along with the two other games in the series that I didn't have space to feature last time out...

Great Soccer (1987)

It was released as World Soccer in Japan but this is the 'Great Soccer' that we in the UK and US got. It shifts the viewpoint to a side-on, angled overhead perspective, adds some lively in-game music, and the sprites are bigger, but the differences are purely cosmetic as far as I can tell. There is a 'Penalty Kick Contest' mode but other than that it's just the normal game. Choose from eight countries (whose national anthems are played when selected) and get stuck in. Sadly, aside from the players tackling automatically here (which I didn't notice before), the same problems that ruined the Japanese game also exist here - it's hard to even keep the ball for more than two seconds let alone put it where you want it. Apart from looking slightly less appealing than the original, this the same old futile nonsense... 3/10

Friday, 2 March 2012

Arcade Shmups #11

Gigandes (1989)
By: East Technology Corp Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 126,400 (one credit)
Also Available For: Nothing

I think most shmup fans would agree with me when I say there's two main themes that are used with our favorite genre in terms of their setting - ones set in the past or present which feature military-style aircraft and tanks and that kind of thing, or ones set in the far future in space or on alien worlds which feature suitably futuristic spacecraft. It's hard to choose a favourite as so many great examples exist of each style, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be the latter, mainly owing to the unrestricted potential for the design of... well, just about everything in them. One thing that's important is the design of a good and/or mean looking craft for the player to control - you will, after all, spend the entire game looking at it - and it's primarily in this area that this little-known game is most unusual.