Thursday, 28 March 2013

N64 Driving / Racing Games #3

Beetle Adventure Racing (1999)
By: Paradigm Entertainment / Electronic Arts Genre: Racing Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo 64
Also Available For: Nothing

There's no story so why the film strip?
Considering the apparent ease with which the mighty N64 was able to handle 3D game worlds, I always found it rather surprising that it didn't host more top quality racing games. There was the king itself, F-Zero X, of course, and a few other corkers such as the floopy Wave Race, but alternatives were few and far between. I thought I had found one when I saw a rather enthusiastic review in a gaming magazine of the day so I bought the game in question at full price only to find it sucked big floppy donkey dicks. No, I'm not talking about Beetle Adventure Racing - I'll review the actual culprit another time - but such was the horror I endured with the other title that I became far more hesitant to try any other N64 racers, and that's where the EA's Volkswagen-starring game comes in. It too received decent reviews but I was so scarred by my previous experience that I never dared to try it... until now.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Sega SG-1000 Round-Up #4

Sega's oddly appealing SG-1000 has apparently harboured few hidden gems so far (that I've seen, at least) but I've missed it anyway so I figured it was time for another Round Up. The lucky dip on this occasion has yielded a nice mixture of genres including the only RPG released for the system! Take a look:

The Black Onyx (1987)

Yes that's right, this very game is supposedly (barring any doujin releases or something) the only RPG released on Sega's first console. That means there is a bit of Japanese text on the options screens but surprisingly the in-game menu is in English. Unfortunately that did little to improve my enjoyment of it. At the start you need to create a party of up to five adventurers before starting the game in a multi-storey labyrinth located beneath a town. However, I didn't get much further than this as sadly it's only marginally less confusing to play than the MSX's horrifying 3D Bomberman which it immediately reminded me of. Accordingly, it's incredibly easy to get lost and using a map to explore defeats the object really so I'm afraid I didn't stick with it for long. Black Onyx did appear on several other platforms and I can't comment on those versions, but this one was mighty unpleasant... 3/10

Friday, 22 March 2013

Maze Games #9

Raimais (1988)
By: Taito Genre: Maze Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 82,620
Also Available For: Various Compilations for PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox

I wonder how the name is pronounced...
Good old Taito, they sure know how to rip a game off don't they? Take Breakout as an example - released way back in the 70's to great acclaim and popularity, but by the 80's it was starting to look and feel rather dated, so what did Taito do? Around ten years after the original appeared they made their own version, gave it a sci-fi theme and basic back-story, tarted up the graphics, chucked in a load of power-ups, and released it as Arkanoid, which... also received great acclaim and popularity, and is in fact still generally regarded as the pinncale of the genre. Next move? A couple of years later, they worked their magic on another early classic in pretty much the same way, and the result is Raimais. As you may have already noticed from the screenshots, it's based on Pac-Man, but what have Taito done to moderise it? That's right - given it a sci-fi theme and basic back-story, tarted up the graphics, and chucked in a load of power-ups!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Almost 3D Platform Games #1

Spider: The Video Game (1996)
By: Boss Game Studios Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation
Also Available For: Nothing

The arrival of the powerful 32-bit CD-based consoles brought many new and exciting things to gaming but one of the most obvious was 3D games. Although some had come before, notably on the PC, it was now much easier for developers to create complex game worlds in all three dimensions. A good number of these flashy new games came on Sony's PlayStation which was much better suited to the job than the Saturn (boo hoo!) but, whilst they almost always looked nice, not all of them were truly 3D. This was particularly true of platform games - many featured lovely polygonal worlds in which you often spent as much time moving into and out from the screen as you did moving left and right, but their stages were still linear, forcing you to follow a set path. This didn't necessarily make them bad of course; some were spiffing and one that I always found interesting was Spider.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Top Five Lynx Arcade Conversions

Despite being hailed by its fans as the most underrated hand held ever, Atari's poor old Lynx was pretty much a flop from start to finish. It was a mighty powerful machine for its time, perhaps too powerful, as it sadly crippled the machine with a bulky size and woeful battery life. Due to this, few developers other than Epyx (the original designers of the machine) and Atari themselves actually released games for it, and what this means is that a large percentage of its back-catalogue is made up of arcade conversions. Thanks to that aforementioned power it managed most of them admirably though, and here are the very best ones:

5. Roadblasters (1990)

To be honest, I've never been hugely keen on this game. The version I've played the most is the monochrome version on the Speccy which is decent but too easy, but fan or not, this Lynx version is a pretty impressive effort. Like the arcade version and unlike the Speccy one, it's not particularly easy, partly because the car controls in the same slightly annoying way and I consequently didn't make it very far (and had little desire to try due to the aforementioned mild dislikeness I still harbour). The gameplay has been well duplicated though, and the graphics are superb - very colourful and fairly fast, although the scaling looks a but iffy on the Lynx's screen. So, great job on the conversion, less so on the game itself...

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Film Review #48

I Am Legend (2007)
Director: Francis Lawrence Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Dash Mihok, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Emma Thompson

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 96 Minutes

Tagline: "The last man on Earth is not alone"

Adapting a novel to film must be a damn tricky business at the best of times. This particular effort is actually the third attempt to place Richard Matheson's book on film following The Last Man On Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971), and the first to use the book's original name, but none of them have earned (or even asked for, in some cases) the endorsement of the author. Armed with a big budget and the very latest in ultra-fancy technology however, Lawrence's attempt to finally do justice to the celebrated book must surely be in with a good chance? I didn't actually get to find this out until just a few days ago when I finally got around to watching this well-liked film (see, it's not just games it takes me a while to get around to!). Despite its popularity, I've always been in two minds as to whether to watch it. Films set in post-apocalyptic worlds are always at least intriguing, but I couldn't really give two pieces of monkey crap about zombie films, which I've always been under the impression this is.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Doujin Platform Games #1

Yamamoto-san (2012)
By: AnnoJoe Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: 23,376
Also Available For: Nothing

Well, isn't she a lovely-looking girly!
There was I, merrily scouring the limitless ether for another interesting-looking doijin shmup to play (and review) and pretty much by accident I discovered that the phenomenon that is doujin seemingly extends to almost all other genres too, not to mention many non-video game related interests as well. Since platform games are, along with shmups, probably my very favourite genre, I figured it was worth picking one at random and giving it a try, and that game was, unsurprisingly, Yamamoto-san. It's a game that features enough kanji to render its premise a mystery to me, but a short intro sequence reveals a tornado or something causing some havoc. That leaves the sprightly girly to the right here to vanquish her land of the evil creatures that have moved in, presumably since the unwelcome disaster.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Gaming Memories - Part 11

For any keen gamer, the prospect of acquiring a new console can often be an exciting one. From the first announcement of the new system to leaked photos of games in action on it to finalised prices and launch line-ups and then finally the chance to actually own it, finances permitting of course. This cycle was particularly memorable for me with regards to several consoles which remain among my favourites, but none more so than NEC's mighty PC Engine.

The classic white Engine is the most appealing one...
I can't speak for other countries but here in the UK we had some fantastic gaming magazines in the 80's and 90's. One of them - Computer & Video Games (more usually referred to as C&VG) - covered computers such as the Spectrum, C64, Amiga, etc in its front half but had a dedicated console section in the second half know as Mean Machines which would eventually evolve into a separate magazine in its own right, but at this stage it was about as comprehensive as console coverage got for us. The most tantalising system they featured was the PC Engine which was quite mysterious but immensely desirable. It was released in Japan in 1987 and glimpses started appearing in C&VG soon afterwards along with the odd screenshot of early games like Alien Crush, Victory Run, and a stunning-looking port of the amazing R-Type. Every gamer who wasn't stupid immediately wanted one but, due to the lack of a European release, that wasn't an easy proposition.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Film Review #47

Adventureland (2009)
Director: Greg Mottola Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Margarita Levieva, Matt Bush, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 107 Minutes

Tagline: "Nothing brings people together like a crappy summer job"

Teen comedies have always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. Some of them are fantastic but many more are boring, stupid, or just plain awful. One example of the former is Superbad, a film I found immensely witty but also highly rewatchable as well, so when I first heard of Adventureland I was mighty pleased. It is after all from the same director, as its cover states proudly, so I was pretty much expecting more of the same juvenile, booze-fuelled tomfoolery. However, while Mottola's earlier film places the two 'heroes' in their final few weeks of high school, Adventureland is set shortly after its end when James (Eisenberg) is about to depart for a road-trip around Europe with his best friend. After spending the opening scene getting dumped by his girlfriend though (for the second film of his in a row that I've seen!), Jesse soon receives some more bad news when he discovers that not only can his parents no longer afford to fund his trip around Europe but they can't even put anything towards his upcoming stint at Columbia University either. That leaves him stuck in Pittsburgh circa 1987, and that can only mean one thing...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Random Game I've Never Heard Of #8

Robocco Wars (1991)
By: IGS / Taito Genre: Platform / Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo NES First Day Score: 110,950
Also Available For: Nothing

As any keen gamer from my era (and hemisphere) will tell you, the number of games officially available for whichever system we might call our favourite can be important but is usually only half the story. The number of quality titles available to import from other territories can usually boost the range significantly and can include all sorts of weird, great, and no so great titles. I was a fairly regular importer in the early 90's but one system I know very little about is the Famicom. Being as popular as it was, I have little doubt there are probably hundreds of games for it that never saw release in the West, and it was one of these that I discovered by accident when randomly selecting from the immense combined NES/Famicom release list for the latest post in this series of features. Since it is exclusively Japanese, the story or even basic premise behind the intriguingly-named Robocco Wars is not immediately forthcoming but it is a game that proved mighty appealing on first impressions.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Doujin Shmups #7

Ablation (2007)
By: 16x16 Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: 27,200
Also Available For: Nothing

There's certainly an encouraging number of passionate gamers out there creating all manner of homebrew/doujin games and the number seems to be increasing all the time, but as far as fan-made shmups are concerned, the favoured kind almost always seems to be swooshy, colourful bullet-hell games. This offering from 16x16, however, is a bit different. It was originally made for one of those game creation competitions and, as you can see from the screenshots, it actually has a look more reminiscent of a far more technically limited system like the ZX81! That little 1kB machine still managed to produce a good few enjoyable games though, so I remain confident that this splendidly-named shooter could also be spiffing!

Friday, 1 March 2013

3DO Games #4

Star Fighter a.k.a. Star Fighter 3000 (1995)
By: Fednet / Krisalis Genre: Shooting / Strategy Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: 3DO First Day Score: Lord knows, I've been playing it years!
Also Available For: Archimedes, PlayStation, Saturn

This screen is so suddenly-noisy it makes me jump!
As has been documented here on numerous occasions, my failed attempts to embrace most games that the modern systems have had to offer is a source of confusion and frustration. This hasn't always been the case though, obviously, and at many times from the distant past right up to... ummm... a while ago, I've enthusiastically welcomed all sorts or innovations, either gameplay related or those facilitated by the advancement of technology. Some of these occasions have been and will continue to be relayed here, but one of the greatest examples of the latter came the first time I played this game. Sadly, the 3DO didn't last too long and my local second hand game store had soon marked down all the games they had for it. I picked up a handful of titles for £10 each including Star Fighter but didn't really know much about any of them. The others ranged from average to quite good but Star Fighter, being the one I knew least about, was the last one I tried. I later discovered it's actually based on a game released the previous year for the Acorn Archimedes but the 3DO version had undergone some significant tarting-up. I didn't know this at the time though, of course, but its splendour was soon apparent nonetheless.