Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Top Five Countries I Know Nothing About

I've long had an interest in geography - it was one of the few subjects I did well in at school! - and I'd like to think I have a pretty good understanding of such matters including, unlike many people it seems, the location of every country our beleaguered planet is home to. I've also over the years come to learn at least something about most of them, whether by hearing about them on the news, watching films based in them, or even by visiting them, but some countries have remained little more than names on a map to me. So, here are the five I probably know the least about, or knew the least about until doing a bit of research for this post!

5. Suriname (South America)

I already knew that Suriname was 'one of those little ones at the top of South America', but that was about the extent of my knowledge. I've now learned that it's a former Dutch colony and the smallest country on the continent with a surprisingly low population of around half a million, most of whom live on the coast at the north. That leaves the interior of the country to be filled with tropical rainforests and savanna which, happily, remains mostly untouched by us idiots. Indeed, much of it takes the form of protected nature reserves and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back on the Atlantic coast, the economy is dominated by bauxite (aluminium ore) mining, an industry centred near the capital of Paramaribo which is home to almost half of the country's population, but tourism is also increasing thanks mainly to the diverse and beautiful nature reserves, one of which overlooks one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Maze Games #8

Puffy's Saga (1988)
By: Claude Sablatou / Ubisoft Genre: Maze / Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 15,580
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Is that Puffy's house or where his saga lies?
As any keen gamer will tell you, there are several ways to spark our interest in a new releases, and one way that publishers try to do just that is with adverts. In my favourite gaming era, these usually took the form of one page ads in magazines, and one that always caught my eye was for Puffy's Saga. It featured a very appealing-looking Pac-Man-like yellow sphere trapped in a labyrinth filled with treasure but scary monsters as well. I like maze games and I also like appealing characters so I was immediately compelled to try and help Puffy out with his Saga, but then, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, I didn't, and over the ensuing years the game passed out of all knowledge. Until I remembered it a couple of weeks ago...

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Arcade Platform Games #4

Toki a.k.a. JuJu Densetsu (1989)
By: TAD Corporation Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 88,100
Also Available For: MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64

Considering how awesome all monkey’s are without exception, there are surprisingly few of them in the video game world. The most obvious example is the mighty Donkey Kong but which others? The stick-wielding SonSon or the unnamed-but-helpful fellow from Psycho Fox? Perhaps the excitable whooping oafs from the Ape Escape games or the reckless Super Monkey Ball simians? I can’t think of too many more personally, but I did recently remember this game by the otherwise rather obscure TAD Corporation. Technically, it too stars a primate, but all it not as it initially seems. In this case, our hero started out as a Tarzan-like tribesman (named Toki, unsurprisingly) who was content living a simple life somewhere in the Pacific Islands when the beautiful Miho, a princess of Toki's tribe (on whom he was also quite keen, apparently), is kidnapped by evil witch doctor, Vookimedlo. Before Toki can oppose him, he is turned into a Geeshergam, one of Vookimedlo's ape-like minions.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Film Round-Up #1

Bourne Series (original trilogy)

My taste in films has, dare I say it, matured somewhat over the years, but I still enjoy a good action blockbuster now and then so it's remarkable that it's taken me so long to get around to watching the adventures, or should that be misadventures of Jason Bourne. I already knew that they were based on a series of novels by Robert Ludlum but I didn't realise how long they've been around - the first one was published way back in 1980 so I'm surprised it hasn't been 'Hollywood-ised' before. Nonetheless, Doug Liman (of Swingers fame), long a fan of the novel, did eventually get the ball rolling and slightly surprisingly cast Matt Damon as the titular character who, as we soon learn, is an ex/rogue/lost CIA spy/assassin.

That means, like so many films and TV shows in recent years, the stories relayed in the Bourne novels/films are ones involving various secret 'black ops' programmes run by American government agencies, usually by corrupt and/or power-hungry directors or involving rogue agents, etc, etc. I'm sure it all sounds as familiar and unoriginal to you as it did to me, but let's not forget - the stories, or at least the first one, and the general premise involved were conjured up more than 30 years ago now when tales of our sinister governments were much less prevalent. For the film versions, the stories were of course modernised but the basic premise remains the same - Jason Bourne is a covert operative for 'the agency' who's missing, presumed dead after a botched mission...

The Bourne Identity (2002)

We first meet Bourne, if indeed that is his real name, floating in the Mediterranean Sea. He's found by an Italian fishing boat whose crew discover he has two gunshot wounds in his back and no memory of... anything! A short recuperation period later and he's dropped off to pursue the only clue he has - details of a safety deposit box in Zürich. The contents of this, as well as some newly-discovered skills and the emergence of one or two rather nefarious characters who are soon on his case, quickly lead Mr. Bourne to the conclusion that his prior life may not have been completely normal. The fact that we're all as clueless as he is to begin with is what gives this first film its initial appeal and the more he finds out about himself, the more fighting and car chases and escaping from stuff he seems to get involved in! A good start which leaves enough unanswered questions so as to make the sequel one to look forward to... 8/10

Sunday, 17 February 2013

PlayStation Driving / Racing Games #2

Motorhead (1998)
By: Digital Illusions CE / Gremlin Interactive Genre: Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation
Also Available For: PC 

It was a pain in the arse getting this screen grab :|
The 70's and 80's were surely the 'golden age' of hard rock and heavy metal and one of the most iconic bands to emerge during this grand period were Motörhead. They were founded way back in 1975, took the world by storm, and are still recording music together today. Their longevity can at least partially be attributed to Lemmy who is about as close to a living deity as can be found in the world today. Some even believe that he possesses magical powers of some type. How else can his enormous success with young ladies be explained? Then again, perhaps his high 'score' count can be attributed to his money and success more than his 'good looks', or indeed his reputed magical powers. Nonetheless, their legacy remains strong today - even one of the most successful wrestlers ever - Triple H - used a Motörhead song as his entrance music. It's ironic then, that Motorhead - the game has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Motörhead - the band.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

PC Engine Shmups #9

Super Star Soldier (1991)
By: Kaneko / Hudson Soft Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 First Day Score: 734,600
Also Available For: Nothing
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation Network

For once the 'super' really is!
I originally started playing this game with a view to reviewing it quite a few weeks ago now - it is after all arguably the Engine's most famous shmup (along with Gunhed) and I hadn't played it before so this was a major issue to rectify! Not too long after starting, however, I discovered it had a prequel on the NES and MSX which, after playing and subsequently reviewing, found rather disappointing, and that got me thinking. The NES and PC Engine - both 8-bit consoles, both home to dozens of arcade conversions and arcade-style games, and yet the Engine is significantly superior with regard to games of this type (sorry NES fans!). I guess it's a little unfair to compare them but does the extra power of the Engine really make that much difference? I suppose it must do as after playing the frankly rather boring Star Soldier, this Engine sequel immediately looked ten times better...

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Overhead Racers #13

Indy 500 (1978)
By: Atari Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2
Difficulty: Medium Featured Version: Atari 2600
Also Available For: Nothing

They may have rather faded into obscurity somewhat these days but overhead racing games were once an immensely popular kind of game. I suppose all genres have their day though, and this kind lasted longer than most considering they were one of the first ever kinds of video games. Indeed, the first example was released waaay back in 1974 and was followed by many similar games as the technology gradually improved. These were all large, expensive arcade machines though, but it wasn't long before such games were also available for home systems as well. Among the first of these was this seminal title released by the very inventors of the genre exclusively on their first console as a launch title. It was bundled with two 'Driving Controllers' which were essentially paddles and therefore allowed very precise manoeuvring around its courses which... don't really have much in common with the titular race but never mind - not too many VCS games were particularly realistic!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Top Five Marsupials

Although I've been interested in nature since my childhood, I've never really been too concerned with learning how to differentiate between all the different infraclasses, which are classes within the classes. For example, I would hope anyone could correctly determine the difference between a bird and a fish, but how about telling the different types of fish or birds apart from one another? It may not be too taxing but it's not something I've ever really tried to do, but one infraclass that's always stuck in my mind is that of the marsupials.

All marsupials are mammals but while some mammals give birth as we do and some lay eggs, but marsupials give birth to their young much earlier than either of the other types and raise them to infancy in a handy pouch. This characteristic makes them unique in the animal kingdom and their distribution is also more specific than many other types of animals. The name is most commonly associated with Australia, and indeed many of the mammals living on this continent are marsupials, but they can also be found in South and Central America too. Despite this, the splendid creatures I've selected for this list are all from the bonzer land down under:

5. Tasmanian Devil

I suppose this angry creature is better known as a Warner Bros cartoon character these days but it's actually a mammal about the size of a small dog. Long ago it lived all over Australia but its population was slowly reduced until, as its name implies, it was found only on the large island of Tasmania. Since the late 30's they've been the largest of the carnivorous marsupials but they may not hold that status for too much longer as their numbers have fallen dramatically since the 90's as a result of diseases such as cancer, as well as us stupid humans of course. One reason for this is, or at least was, fear of them due to their ferocity while feeding and the loud screeching noise they make, but more recently it's just been for the usual reasons - for their fur or simply because their presence proves inconvenient.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Arcade Classics #4

Amidar (1981)
By: Konami / Stern Genre: Maze Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: ???,??? (one credit)
Also Available For: Atari 2600
Download For: Xbox Live Arcade

Like most of the early arcade classics, Amidar is one that’s been copied and cloned many times over the years. My favourite example is probably Zoom for the MegaDrive (what else!) but, as is often the case with me, it's this and some of the other clones that I'm more familiar with than the original itself. Most of the various versions differ only in their aesthetic properties though - the basic premise is generally the same, and that is simply to turn squares from one colour to another by encircling them! In the case of Amidar, each of the single-screen stages (or 'frames') features a grid viewed from directly overhead and consists of non-evenly-shaped squares, the lines around which feature... coconuts.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Arcade Adventures #4

Zillion (1987)
By: Tatsunoko Productions Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing

The title screen is a more intense red than Betelguese!
I think it must be an indication of my gaming preferences and heritage that I've seldom been able to 'get' some of the most popular computer games that were doing the rounds during the 80's. A great example of that is Impossible Mission - a supremely popular game, mainly on the C64 which I never owned admittedly, but I did later buy a copy of it for Sega's splendid Master System. I found it an enjoyable, though very difficult game, but the puzzle elements caused me great confusion and in the end I'm ashamed to say I gave up on it. If only there was a similar game but with less puzzley puzzle bits... Before long I discovered that there was - Zillion - an unusual title even now in that it isn't an arcade conversion and is exclusive to the MS which meant that not many people had the opportunity to play it. In the opposite scenario to which I usually find myself, however, I did have such an opportunity and I enthusiastically took advantage of it.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Exploring the PlayStation 3

As some of you may already be aware, my time as a gamer was spent on 'current' systems like everyone else right up until my beloved Sega went down as a hardware manufacturer. Indeed, since the untimely demise of their supremely awesome Dreamcast, I've been unable to muster much enthusiasm for any other current systems whether I've liked it or not.

This isn't just because of Sega's absence, obviously - I'm not quite that sad (hopefully!) - I just seem to have gradually been losing interest in them. I think it was a coincidence as much as anything else. It was around that time in my view that the sheer scale of games started exceeding my simple 'short sharp fix' tastes, for one thing. Most of the kind of games released in the 21st century no longer seem to cater for gamers like me. It's not realistic to switch on a PS3 or Xbox 360, have a quick ten minute blast on something, then turn it off again - it would usually take that long to even get to the title screen on most games for these systems, and even then the games themselves usually require hours of attention at a time! Anyway, I'm rambling now - the truth is, I really can't explain why I lost interest in 'modern' gaming, but it is something I've been trying to rectify. I guess I just need that one special game to ensnare me and all the rest will then fall into place...