Solaris Japan

Friday, 13 October 2017

Mega Drive Review - ToeJam & Earl (Game 145)

‘ToeJam & Earl’ has to be the most Nineties ‘Rogue’-like game ever made, but is there much left when you strip away the nostalgia?

Developed by JohnsonVoorsanger
Published by Sega
Released in 1991

Working late one evening I passed a club that was clearly having a 90's theme night. I could tell this from the queue as it seemed club goers today believe that everyone in the 1990s dressed like a Spice Girl or wore torn jeans. Given that I'm in my mid-thirties I'm too old to worry about clubbing, 'Club 18-30s' makes this very clear. However, unlike the crowd of Geri wannabes and Noel Gallagher lookalikes I was alive in the nineties and remember it very differently. For me the decade didn't start in 1996, there were half a dozen years before that; where bright colours and an "awesome" "radical" attitude prevailed over Brit Pop and Girl Power. A time when the Fresh Prince was rapping, when Rocko enjoyed a modern life and when Nickelodeon and MTV were still culturally relevant. A period when eighties excess hadn't completely been replaced by millennial indifferences, a decade encapsulated by 'ToeJam & Earl'.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Mega Drive Review - Super Hang On (Game 144)

The appeal of 'Super Hang On' in the arcades was the novel control system. But without it is this racer worth your time?

Developed by Sega
Published by Sega
Released in 1993

To promote the Mega Drive, particularly in America, Sega promised to "bring the arcade experience home". From a technical standpoint this seemed to be a realistic goal. Games like 'Golden Axe' or 'Alien Storm' proves that arcade-like experiences are possible on a 16bit home console and Reviewers would frequently say how "arcade perfect" the conversions were. However for me, as a child, a trip to the arcades was more than the games played. The ambiance featured heavily in the experience. The sound of hundreds of machines vying for your attention. The sticky floors and the worryingly sticky joysticks. My local arcade sat on the seafront so the smell of fish and chips still reminds me of 'Street Fighter II', 'Final Fight' and 'Bubble Bobble'. Yes I could play these games at home, but I couldn't return to them at the end of the day and feel proud that a high score hadn't been beaten. 

Arcades continued to get bigger and more popular between the late seventies and the early nineties. Suddenly it didn't seem to be enough to have a traditional arcade cabinet. Two player machines turned into four player machines. Guns and drums started to adorn upright machines. Before long, players were handing over a fair amount of money to sit down in a life sized car, or to spin in a gyroscope while trying to gain a high score. Arcade machines changed. No longer something you stood at, they became something you got in or climbed on. m

Friday, 15 September 2017

Mega Drive Review - PowerMonger (Game 143)

When Peter Molyneux, the "God of God games" turns one of his finest works into a Real Time Strategy title the results should be wonderful. So what went wrong with ‘PowerMonger’?

Developed by Bullfrog Games

Published by Electronic Arts

Released in 1992

I'm not afraid to commit hours to a game; I couldn't love RPGs if I did.  Cumulatively I have spent over 350 hours playing games with 'Persona' in the title and my yearly romp through 'ChronoTrigger' typically will require a 30 hour investment. Alarm bells even ring if a Role Playing Game lasts less than 20 hours; these games demand a commitment. Over this lengthy play time a game should introduce new ideas slowly and not bombard you with too many play mechanics too soon. The best games start welcoming but end complicated when all the demanded actions are instinctive and second nature. I am not a fan of long introductory tutorials, I find them off putting. I don't want to have to spend ages reading a manual to know what to do when I press start. Worst of all I dislike games by designers too arrogant to think you might be alienated by their impenetrable game. This is why I am weary of 'PowerMonger'. Every 'Let's Play' I've seen on YouTube starts with bafflement; the player totally confused by what they should be doing. Archived reviews also strike fear into my heart. “It takes time to get used to the way this world works" suggested Amiga Format noting first experiences with the game are defined with "headaches and frustration". "Initially the game is rather confusing" Atari ST User Declared “‘PowerMonger’ doesn't have the same instant appeal of [similar games]". ST Action called it "complicated"; EGM called it a "very long daunting game". 

Game Pro even said you should "only look to ‘PowerMonger’ if you're in the mood for a long, slow pillage". This hardly seemed glowing endorsement for a game. Even ‘PowerMonger’s own creator the famous / infamous Peter Molyneux has said things that kill my enthusiasm. "[I have] an idea of the ideal game we want to write.’Populous' was the first step to writing this game, and ‘PowerMonger’ is further along that road. But our ideal game is yet to be written." Considering he went on to create 'Godus' which is presumably the intended destination on this development road, it's hard to muster enthusiasm to play an earlier stage in the creation process. While he has created sensational games like 'Syndicate', and 'Theme Park', Molyneux has also become known as a man who promises much but delivers little. He was even called a pathological liar by the cruellest of critics, in an interview that nearly prompted his retirement.  In keeping with this reputation he didn't hold back when promoting ‘PowerMonger’ back in 1990. "‘PowerMonger’ is essentially a war game. But unlike the traditional board or computer games of that genre, we've created something that exists in real time, where you can do almost anything you want."  

Friday, 1 September 2017

Mega Drive Review - NBA Jam (Game 142)

Despite there being a new NBA game every year, fans of basketball still flock to the nineties game 'NBA Jam'. In fact 2017 saw the release of a fan patch to change the teams to the current roster. But what is it about this specific game that continues to draw in players who don't even like basketball?

Developed by Midway / Iguana entertainment
Published by Acclaim
Released in 1993

As regular readers will have noticed, when playing a retro title I like to look at the reaction the game got from reviewers at the time. They naturally lack the hindsight that modern critics have, so often the first title in a franchise is greeted with excitement. Twenty years ago reviewers obviously didn't know what was to come, so very rarely will you see someone suggesting a sequel. They’re instead lost in the excitement of a new franchise, enjoying the first title for its own merits without the ability to compare it to the better follow ups. The world was a different place twenty years ago, so at times you notice reviewers making cultural references that are no longer relevant. But interestingly, now I'm the same age that many of the reviewers were, I've begun to appreciate their perspective more. When I first read the reviews I was a child reading the opinions of an adult. However, now twenty extra years of life experience has put me in the same mindset that they were in when they originally put critical pen to paper. This is probably why I laughed so much when I read Chris Buxton's 'NBA Jam' review in issue 27 of Total! magazine.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Mega Drive Review - Taz in Escape from Mars (Game 141)

When a bad game sells well, expect a sequel. But should developers ignore the criticism of the first game when they come to craft the follow up?

Developed by HeadGames Inc.
Published by Sega
Released in 1994

You'd think it would be an unwritten rule that if you're creating a game based on existing property you'll include the things that make the license recognisable. HeadGames Inc clearly hadn't read this particular rule book when they created a follow up to the 'Taz Mania' game. 'Taz in Escape from Mars' includes only the main character and everyone else from the 'Taz Mania' TV series have been left behind; indeed the titular location of "Tazmania" is hardly featured. Instead the game (initially at least) moves the action to Mars and designers have created their own story to somehow justify this. 

The game starts by showing Marvin the Martian capturing Taz for his intergalactic space zoo. But bars will not contain a Tazmanian Devil and Taz escapes; determined to get revenge on his captor. Naturally the story is very different to the first game which simply had Taz hunting for a large egg. While Critics all saw the bizarre narrative shift between the two games, they couldn't seem to agree as to why it had happened. EGM felt it was a conscious effort to distance the sequel from its predecessor as "The first Tazmanian Devil game wasn't all that hot". GamePro instead implied that the inclusion of Taz was to add gloss to a mediocre game that otherwise wouldn't sell."If it weren't for Taz, this game would just be another jump-n-bump adventure" they noted in a review. The problem is that 'Taz in Escape from Mars' is a "one step forward, two steps back" sequel. The original pretty ropey prequel still echoes through it despite the location change. As such hardly any of the first game's shortcomings are addressed. Instead even more problems are added since HeadGames Inc seem to have had a desire to shoehorn in as many game mechanics and level locations as possible.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Mega Drive Review - Taz Mania (Game 140)

'Taz Mania' is yet another 16bit platformer. Is it fair that the game and the protagonist have been forgotten about today?

Developed by recreational Brainware 
Published by Sega / Warner Bros Inc.
Released in 1991

6 year olds have no idea who the Tasmanian Devil is; this was the conclusion I came to following a massively limited poll. I asked my daughter and her friend to give names to the cartoon characters I showed them. While Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy where familiar they had clearly never seen the Loony tunes characters before. Bugs Bunny was thought to be Judy Hopps from 'Zootopia', Daffy Duck was named Donald's brother and Taz caused one to cower because he was "too scary". This may all have been influenced by the fact we play 'Disney Infinity' so my informal polling had to go further. Neither my wife nor work colleagues mentioned Taz when asked to name cartoon characters they watched when they were younger. It may not have been scientific testing but the Looney Tunes characters and specifically The Tazmanian Devil seem to have been forgotten. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Mega Drive Review - Streets of Rage (Game 139)

‘Streets of Rage’ is recognised as one of the finest franchises on the Mega Drive and a system seller for many. But why should Sega thank Nintendo for its success?

Developed by Sega
Published by Sega
Released in 1991

On October 29th 1988, the Mega Drive first went on sale but all was not well for Sega.  "The Japanese launch of the Mega Drive was low-key and poorly timed, coming just a week after the release of the NES title 'SuperMario Bros 3', one of the most defining games for a decade" Keith Stuart notes in 'Mega Drive / Genesis : The Collected Works'. After a year of mediocre sales the President of Sega Enterprises at the time was disappointed. "The Mega Drive was far inferior to the NES in terms of diffusion rates and sales in the Japanese market" admits Hayao Nakayama. 

According to gaming historian Stuart, things only got worse for Sega. Panic set it when Nintendo announced that a successor to the popular Famicom Console was due to launch within a year of the US Launch of the Mega Drive (known there as the Genesis). "The Super Famicom lurked on the horizon [and] there was little room for manoeuvre". there was also the collective belief that Nintendo was stepping on Sega's toes. "Sega's key strength was the quality of its arcade games. This was a golden era for the in-house amusement machines division" observes Keith Stuart. One of the most popular games in the arcades at the time was Capcom's 'Final Fight' and Nintendo declared that this game would appear on the Super Famicom within a month of the systems launch. Sega were by all accounts livid. After enjoying a lucrative relationship with Nintendo during the NES era, Capcom initially decide against creating games for Sega's Mega Drive. So if  Sega wanted a 'Final Fight' style game they had no choice but to create a rival game from scratch and they had to do it quickly if it were to be released before 'Final Fight' appeared on the Super Famicom.  

Friday, 21 July 2017

Snes Review - Lady Stalker (Game 138)

Calling a game 'Lady Stalker' could conjures up many an inappropriate image, but was the name the only reason the game didn't see a western release?

Developed by Climax Entertainment 

Published by Taito

Released in 1995

In Japan “the past century is a history of sexual distortion,” social psychologist Hiroyoshi Ishikawa told Time Magazine in 1983. “A small portion of young people in Japan are sexually very, very active, while the vast majority are sexually repressed.” Studying this work The Japanese Times found that the situation is actually getting worse. "Not much has changed in 30 years — except that the “small portion” grows steadily smaller" they noticed. "For the Japanese government, "celibacy syndrome" is part of a looming national catastrophe" claims the Guardian newspaper. Japanese young people are not only avoiding marriage, they are not having children since many have stopped having sex altogether. According to research by The Guardian "a third of people under thirty have never dated at all". Nearly half of women and a quarter of men surveyed "were not interested in or despised physical sexual contact" with most preferring "solo sexual pursuits". Decades of increased Alienation from the opposite sex have meant that many have sought gratification through other means, leading to a huge market for adult-only media. "Normal sexual desires for another person have been replaced by porn, and in turn this allows people to avoid normal sexual relationships" claims former dominatrix Ai Aoyama who now works as a Tokyo based relationship counsellor. As the years pass the content of this pornography gets more extreme and irregular; leading to tastes that the West find at least irregular if not repulsive. "When you have spent years watching hentai porn, your appetites for the normal are almost completely distorted as to be unrecognizable" claims Aoyama. 

During this time of increased interest in perverse video games it's hardly surprising that a game called 'Lady Stalker' would come to the super Famicom. As it wasn’t localised for the west, many (myself included) saw the title and feared the worse, especially as it was developed by a company called Climax Entertainment. But to my surprise and delight it wasn't the game I expected. Evidently the name was never intended to be salacious, it was simply factual. You play as a character called Lady who stalks the land looking for treasure. Rather than preying on women, you play as one. It's an unfortunate title that would certainly have been changed if the game were localised. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Mega Drive Review - Land Stalker (Game 137)

Developed by Climax Entertainment
Published by Sega
Released in 1993

The Mega Drive is generally considered to be starved of good RPGs so is there a reason why 'Land Stalker' is so often overlook?

Ten years ago Sony published a quirky puzzle game called 'Echochrome'. It was released on the PS3 and PSP and gameplay involved the manipulation of a virtual environment to take advantage of optical illusions.  Spatial awareness was not required because if a platform looked like it was above another, characters would interact with it as if it were. Similarly, if discontinuous platforms appear, from the chosen camera angle, to form a continuous path, the character will traverse from one to the other. While it is complicated (and hard to briefly explain) 'Echochrome' was enjoyable because it took advantage of a player's limited understanding of a 3D game environment. It worked because our comprehension of a virtual world can be distorted by what we see. However the reasons it was enjoyable are the very same reasons that ruin 'Land Stalker'; a game that would otherwise be remembered as one of the finest 16bit RPGs.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Mega Drive Review - Rolo to the Rescue (Game 136)

‘Rolo to the Rescue’ is a 16bit game that may seem charming, but may actually be the most aggravating game ever to grace the Mega Drive.

Developed by Vectordean
Published by Electronic Arts
Released in 1992

You shouldn't judge a book, or a game, by its cover. This is advice that a three year old will not take; especially when the cover shows a cartoon elephant and each night she cuddles up to an animal called Toot Toot. For a few frustrating weeks my daughter would head into my games room and pull all the Mega Drive games off the shelf till she found 'Rolo to the Rescue'. She would then stare at the cover and the elephant it depicted, desperately asking me if she could play it, or at least watch me play it. I felt like a terrible Dad when I said no, as despite appearances, 'Rolo to the Rescue' is not a game a three year old should play. In fact, it's not a game for anyone who doesn't have an entire afternoon and patience to spare. 

For a long time, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommended that a three year shouldn't watch TV for more than 1 to 2 hours per day. Put simply this isn't enough time to finish 'Rolo to the Rescue’; even an adult would struggle to finish a fraction of the game’s 70 levels in this amount of time. It's a platform game comparable in length to 'Super MarioWorld'. However while it has copied the world map that Mario treks around, unlike Nintendo's masterpiece 'Rolo to the Rescue’ doesn’t include a battery backup. It's doesn't even include a password system. For my three year old to finish the game she's drawn to, she will have to set clutching a controller for a very long time. Admittedly the AAP softened their stance in October 2015. Now, it encourages parents to keep screen time to a minimum, choose quality content, that focus on interaction, learning and strong positive morals. Under these newer guidelines the start of 'Rolo to the Rescue' doesn't seem too bad a choice. After-all the game certainly tells a story that is filled with strong moral decisions and actions.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Mega Drive Review - Alien Storm (Game 135)

Alien Storm is a brawler that has a lot of things in common with SEGA's other entries into the genre, especially those that started off in the arcade. But with a variety of gameplay styles why has this game got lost in the crowd?

Developed by Team Shinobi

Published by Sega

Released in 1991

Given that my youth was spent playing platform games and RPGs on the Snes I had no idea just how many different side-scrolling brawlers there were in the late '80s and early '90s especially on Sega machines. Like most gamers, I knew of the big franchises; 'Golden Axe', 'Double Dragon', 'Final Fight' and 'Streets of Rage'. I was also aware the genre was frequently used to create licensed games like 'Turtles in Time' and 'Batman Returns' but I had no idea there were so many other titles that are now frequently forgotten. 

As the name would suggest, 'Alien Storm' presents a classic alien invasion story. A generic city is under attack by swarms of foul beasts from outer space, led by a giant brain in a jar. Celebrity reviewer Julian Rignal in particular loved the foes featured in 'Alien Storm', to the extent that he spent half his allotted review word-count just listing some of them. "One alien has green arms inside its mouth which reach out and grab you; another farts noxious gases, one irritating type spits goo from mouths in its chest, there's a mutoid kangaroo which sprouts a disgusting proboscis from its pouch, a giant slitherer which opens it mouth enormously wide and leaps across at you, and there's also a which grabs you, turns you upside down and drops you on your head." Game designer Makoto Uchida took great delight in including these gruesome foes and remembers many more enemies that were not used.
"I spent a lot of time on the different attack styles. There are so many ideas that didn't get through the proposal stage but I think everything came out satisfyingly well. The company's female colleagues play-tested the game with their eyes shut complaining "[they] can't look at it straight it's so gross!"" The boss fights were also made deliberately huge and repulsive at the request of Uchida. "Getting the enemies right is 100% important. There is a formula in Hollywood that says a movie will be a huge hit if you manage to create an incredible villain. This applies in the same way to games".

Friday, 26 May 2017

Mega Drive Review - Buster's Hidden Treasure (Game 134)

Every 16bit console has more platform games than anyone could ever play in a lifetime, but this was one I wish I had known about in my youth!

Developed by Konami

Published by Konami

Released in 1993

Expectations are always hard to meet but this is especially true when they're coloured by nostalgia. Our brain has a habit of remembering the good so flaws are frequently forgotten. We distort the memory so it is always going to disappointing when the truth is once again exposed. While this is depressing for a retro gamer revisiting the favourite games of their past, what's perhaps worse is when a game is as good as we remember but muscle memory prevents us from enjoying it. A favourite game is likely one we played a lot in our youth and as a result we know all its nuances. We remember the shortcuts, the cheat codes and how to waltz past bosses with ease. Childhood familiarity means that a game is easy to beat even if we want to saviour the experience as an adult. This was the problem I had with the Snes game 'Tiny Toon Adventures:  Buster Busts Loose'. I remember loving this game as a child but when I replayed it a few years back the game posed little challenge (except for one infuriating stage). I longed for there to be more levels to challenge me, new experiences to be had, but within a few hours I had beaten the game on its hardest setting. Fortunately for me, extending the experience is possible but I'd have to turn to the Mega Drive. Even better, the Sega based 'Tiny Toons' game is much less varied. While this may sound a short coming the Snes 'Tiny Toons' game was a rather hit and miss affair. Though that game was a platformer it also ventured into other waters with largely unsatisfying results. There's one stage that plays like American football and a range of mini games that are predominantly unremarkable. The straight forward platforming sections and the boss fights are where 'Buster Busts Loose' really shines and thankfully this is the type of game play that can be found in 'Buster’s Hidden Treasure'.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Mega Drive Review - Bio Hazard Battle (Game 133)

The Mega Drive is well served when it comes to shooters, but 'Bio Hazard Battle' offers an experience unlike all the others. 

Developed by SEGA Enterprises Ltd
Published by SEGA Inc.
Released in 1992
When I think of my favourite games there are some quite obvious common traits. I primarily play games which have strong stories since narrative development propels me to play on. I enjoy fair gameplay where failure comes from my shortcoming rather than flaws in the game. While I wouldn't want too many different gameplay styles within a game, a bit of variety is preferable. Finally I liked to be praised, I like my games to frequently reward me for doing well and avoid rubbing incompetence in my face. Role playing games clearly tick most of these boxes which is why I gravitate towards them. However, every now and then I have a desire to play their antithesis. Shoot ‘em up games offer little to no story. They're unashamedly hard with repetitive gameplay. Frequently you die through no fault of you own and after an hour of failing to get past the first level you realise just how terrible you are at playing games. So why does anyone play these games?

Admittedly, my knowledge of the shoot ‘em up genre is limited. While I've dabbled in the occasional space shooter like 'Thunder Force' for the most part, if I play a shooting game it's typically one that is excessively cute or quirky. However even with this narrow glimpse I can appreciate the thrill a player gets from mastering something where the odds are stacked against them. Yes you may fail repeatedly but every game over screen symbolises a lesson learnt. You keep playing hoping to get that little bit further on the next game, until, eventually the game's end is reached.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Mega Drive Review - Chuck Rock 2 (Game 132)

The 16bit era was awash with platformers, but is 'Chuck Rock 2: Son of Chuck' a sequel or a rehash?

Developed by Core Design
Published by Core Design
Released in 1993

With few exceptions film sequels are known to be inferior. Popular musicians often talk about their struggle to measure up to a popular debut with their "difficult second album". However the video game medium seems to buck the trend. Typically the debut entry in a series is a starting point which subsequent games build on. As technology advances and developers get more accustomed to using it, the quality of the games we play increases. When creating a sequel to a popular game often the mechanics of the prequel get refined and improved. Development time is spent on optimising what has come before rather than starting from scratch. The developer also had the advantage of knowing what the audience and critics liked in a previous game; which game play devices worked and which infuriated. A follow up can therefore be skewed towards the prequel’s strengths making, in theory at least, a stronger game.

For a sequel to exist of course what had come before must have enjoyed some success; be it critically or commercially. Few publishers are going to be willing to fund the continuation of a series that no one liked or bought. This is why I was so surprised to see that a sequel to 'Chuck Rock' existed. Amiga magazine The One claim coding on the sequel started in late 1991 with a game concept in place before the first 'Chuck Rock' game was even finished. While the first game wasn't bad it also wasn't very good. While it did present a few intriguing Rock based puzzles, the novelty of this wore off quickly when they were endlessly repeated. It's hard to ignore the mediocrity of the game or indeed forgive its underlying misogamy. It seems that my indifferent feelings to the game were not shared by customers at the time however. Clearly enough people bought it to warrant production to start immediately on its pre-planned sequel.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Mega Drive Review - Alien 3 (Game 131)

Licensed games attract an audience based on the name on the box. But is the game's name the only thing that reminds a player of the 'Alien 3' film?

Developed by Probe
Published by Acclaim
Released in 1992

For most gamers the term "film license” prompts a great many thoughts and few of them are positive. With few exceptions video games based on films or TV shows are at best mediocre. Purchasing a licence, also buys a certain fan-base that comes with it. According to Sunsoft producer director René Boutin, smaller companies depended on licensed games to keep afloat. "Working with famous licensed material was pretty cool" he recalls. "We were told that anything that was not tied to a license just did not sell, which was true for the 16bit consoles around that time".  With a big name on the box  a mediocre game can still turn a profit. So while expensive to acquire, licenses were lucrative (even though they left little money for actual development). Worst still the developer has less time to create or play test a game since a license is only valuable when the source material is relevant. For example a game based on a film must hit the shelves when the film is in the cinema or when its released on physical media. While the different Mega Drive and Snes 'Aladdin' games illustrate what can happen when two different developers secure the rights to the same film on different formats this is unusual. Usually a publisher secures an expense license to produce a game on all platforms and to recoup this cost will endeavour to put something on every platform possible. "It was a phase where it made business sense to get our games on as many platforms as possible" recalls 16bit game designer Simon Phipps.

Of course in an ideal world all consoles will have the same game as it seemingly adds expense to develop a different experience for each host machine. So a lead system is decided; typically the system that is the most powerful or which offers the largest target audience. The development team makes their game to this machine's specifications. This version of the game is then used as a template, with the developer (or a third party) adapting the code, graphics, sound and gameplay elements according to the restrictions of the system to which it is being ported. For years it's been considered the most cost effective way to get the largest return from an expensive license. As a result many systems will have a version of the same game and the developers have saved money by adapting rather than creating a unique game for each console.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Mega Drive Review - Kid Chameleon (Game 130)

At a time when every other game involved running and jumping on things, are the unique gameplay quirks of 'Kid Chameleon' enough to stop it blending into the background ?
Developed by Sega Technical Institute
Published by Sega
Released in 1992

I'm sure everyone who played video games as a child had a parent telling them that they were wasting their free time and should be doing something constructive. However in the face of criticism we justify our time spent playing games, subconsciously or otherwise. As an adult I claim it's keeping my mind active or improving hand eye co-ordination but as a child it was training for much greater things. I'm sure that on many occasions I'd claim that should there be some sort of apocalypse is be ready; primed by years of battling zombies with a joystick. Of course the idea of someone saving the world with incredible video game prowess isn't exclusively mine. Films like 'Tron', 'The Matrix' and even the diabolical 'Pixels' were built on the premise. Novels too revel in the idea. 'A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away' by Christopher Brookmyre and Ernest Cline's fantastic 'Ready Player One' both explore the idea that a video game addict can become a real world hero. Given how self serving it is, many games have also explored this narrative idea and it was the plot of the 1992 Mega Drive game 'Kid Chameleon'.
In the world of this game a new virtual reality game called 'Wild Side' proved hugely popular amongst those who frequent early nineties arcades. It's popularity is a surprise given that anyone who plays it  mysteriously vanishes. It transpires that the game's boss, Heady Metal has been kidnapping the kids who play and lose. According to the back of the box "Only Kid Chameleon, the coolest kid around, can foil Heady Metal and his gang of gruesome thugs!”

Friday, 17 March 2017

Mega Drive Review - General Chaos (Game 129)

There’s a huge demand for old games to be dusted off for modern consoles. However, is console based RTS ‘General Chaos’ worthy of a remake?

Developed by Game Refuge Inc
Published by Electronic Arts
Released in1994

Each new console generation presents publishers the opportunity to resell old games. It seems sometimes a fresh lick of paint is all that's needed to tempt gamers back to an old title and it happens with such regularity now that remakes are even being remade. In 2016 Capcom managed to sit atop the download charts with their PS4 reissue of 'Resident Evil'. This was of course an up-scaled version of the GameCube 'Resident Evil' which was itself a remake of the PlayStation original. It's easy to be cynical and say these polished up games are just trading off past glory but they also present chance for undeniable classics to be enjoyed by a new audience. Twenty year old ps4 gamers weren't even alive when the original 'Resident Evil' was released after all.

Sometimes however you have to wonder why certain games are treated to modern updates. A 'Putty Squad' remake was sold as a PS4 launch title, though very few picked it up with their brand new consoles. Similarly new versions of 'Super Frog' and 'Alien Breed' were released on digital platforms to a lukewarm reception. Sometimes it seems people simply don't want to tread old ground again, even if the original was critically and commercially successful.  Being remembered as "a cult classic" doesn't guarantee that people will want to lay down cash and buy a new shinier version of the same game. This was something legendary designer Brian Colin discovered the hard way.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Mega Drive Review - Fix It Felix Jr (Game 128)

'Wreck it Ralph' was a film that lovingly embraced video games as a source of inspiration. But would a fictitious game featured in the film actually prove an enjoyable experience for jaded Retro Gamers?

Developed by TobiKomi (aka Disney)
Converted by Future Driver
Released in 2012

Rich Moore is a gamer. "Video games are something that I love. That’s a part of my childhood and my whole life. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed and that’s been close to me for a long time". Rich More is also a director creating episodes of 'The Simpsons', 'Futurama' and closest to his heart 'Wreck it Ralph'; Disney's love letter to games of old.  "To depict this universe of worlds that come from things that I used to play as a kid, and continue to play today, has been really fun. It’s really great!" For the uninitiated Moore's 2012 blockbuster was named best animated feature by the Broadcast Film Critics Association; a critical and financial success that made over $471.2 million at the worldwide box office. 'Wreck It Ralph' follows the journey of eighties video game villain Ralph. Tired of playing the role of a bad-guy Ralph takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a game-hopping journey to prove he too can be the hero. By befriending tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun from the FPS 'Hero’s Duty' and Vanellope von Schweetz from the cart racing game 'Sugar Rush', Ralph ultimately learns that just because he is a villain in a game, he doesn't need to feel like a bad guy outside of it. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Mega Drive Review - Gods (Game 127)

When they think of games by The Bitmap Brothers, very few Retro Gamers name 'Gods'. Is there a reason why the attractive action platformer is largely forgotten today?

Developed by The Bitmap Brothers
Published by Renegade / Accolade
Released in 1992

I often find myself trying to justify the fact that as a father, husband and fully grown adult I still like playing video games. I tell people that it's a huge billion pound industry that's enjoyed by as many adults as children. I remind them that there are thought provoking mature games that are rated for adult consumption and not just because they have nudity and violence in them. I preach that games are art, games are emotional, games can make question your values or morales; they don't always listen. However while these revelations seem new to some, the games industry has always had games that were better played by adults than children. Not just games like 'Leisure Suit Larry' or 'Mortal Kombat' which were clearly inappropriate for children to play, there were also games that required patience planning and restraint. 

Although 'Gods' might look like little more than a very attractive "jump and run" platformer, such simple assessment would be unfair. "It's not just a shoot 'em up - there are lots of intriguing puzzles to solve and objects to discover" Noted CU Amiga magazine. " Even if you complete the game, there will always be something you've missed".
'Gods' is a game were precision and timed jumping are required to succeed. It's a adventure that you must cautiously move through, mentally mapping switches and memorising when and how frequently enemies will attack. 'Gods' is a game of planning, not just a game of knee-jerk reflexes. As a result it's a game I hated as a child simply because my gung-ho approach so frequently led to failure. I was not the only one who experienced this though. "Truth be told, older, more experienced players than me probably had a better time with 'Gods', as I could never finish it " Mike Diver noted on the Vice website. "The game couldn't be rushed – doing so would cost you health, always – and yet it had the look of a speed-run friendly arcade platformer. In practice, caution was always advised."

Friday, 3 February 2017

Mega Drive Review - Red Zone (Game 126)

When the visuals that originally stunned critics have aged, is there much reason to play this brutally hard over head shooter?

Developed by Zyrinx

Published by Scavenger Inc / Sega

Released in 1994

We take for granted how easy it is to share our creative endeavours nowadays. Video creators are well served by YouTube. Those with a passion for writing can distribute their thoughts through the world using a plethora of blogging sites. If you've sufficient talent to make a game you can even get it into the hands of gamers using a range of digital platforms. The expansion of online technology age has meant it's never been easier to get your creativity out into the world, but twenty years ago things were very different.