Solaris Japan

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 "Normal sexual desires for another person have been replaced by porn, and in turn this allows people to avoid normal sexual relationships" claims former dominatrix Ai Aoyama who now works as a Tokyo based relationship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".

Three heroes take it upon themselves to defend Earth against this alien invasion. The player can choose between Karen, armed with a flamethrower; Garth (sometimes called Gordon), equipped with a lightning gun; and Slammer, a sentient robot who uses an energy whip.
Perhaps inspired by a famous film released years before, the trio call themselves Alien Busters, and despite looking different all three heroes seem to handle identically. It's a shame as other games where you move across the screen fighting an endless stream of foes feature characters that behave noticeably differently. 'Streets of Rage' and 'Final Fight' for example offer a diverse cast and choosing the one that best reflects your play style is key to success. However in 'Alien Storm' Karen, Garth and Slammer all move at the same rate, run and tumble at the same speed and offer the same attack range when fighting foes. Though each character uses a different style of weapon, it turns out to just be a cosmetic difference and if the Internet is to be believed "they're all running on the same engine under the hood".

Like most other side scrolling brawlers, ‘Alien Storm’ features an attack that can be used to clear the screen, provided enough magic or energy has been accumulated. Karen calls down a nuclear missile to set the screen ablaze, Garth summons a rapid-firing chopper, and Slammer just causes himself to self-destruct, leaving his head lying on the ground until a fresh robot body appear and reattaches it. The problem is while all of these attacks look different they are functionally the same. Indeed the special attacks are attributed to different characters depending on the system on which the game is played.

It is not hard to see why 'Alien Storm' is frequently described as "'Golden Axe' with robots and aliens". The bulk of both games is identical with the faults of the earlier game are replicated in the second. It's still frustrating when you're surrounded by enemies unable to fight in two directions at once. Of course the similarities would be more of a surprise if both games weren't made by the same people. Both 'Golden Axe' and 'Alien Storm' were created by one Sega's internal development groups; Team  Shinobi.
Both were released in arcades using similar hardware and both were ported to the Mega Drive to satisfy Sega's claims that they were bringing the arcade experience home.  'Alien Storm's Garth even looks like 'GoldenAxe's Ax Battler, only in futuristic clothing. Both games are presented in a 2.5D view which allow players to move in and out of the screen. "We had seen the 2.5D view used in other games and chose to adopt this approach" remembers Uchida talking to Keith Stuart In the 'Mega Drive / Genesis Collected Works'. "However this decision tremendously increased the amount artwork required" recalls the game's designer. To increase the sense of depth the backgrounds in 'Alien Storm' employ the classical Trompe-l'œil effect: an optical illusion that fools the brain into perceiving depth on flat surfaces.  The streets that seem to vanish into the distance are there but the perspective doesn't change in relation to the character's positions. "'Alien Storm' is virtually arcade perfect! The graphics are spot-on with a whole host of brilliant aliens and decent backdrops" suggested Richard Leadbetter. Side by side the arcade and mega drive versions do indeed look similar especially the sprites. The backgrounds on the home port are marginally less varied and the level transition animations have not survived the journey home but otherwise it's a faithful port. Comparing the audio is less complimentary to the Mega Drive version; the sample speech has all gone and the sound effects are confusing, far too loud in the mix drowning out the music. Not that the background tracks are that special. They're noisy, repetitive and tinny but that seems to be in-keeping with the gameplay.

It's a shame the catchy melodies that existed in 'GoldenAxe' weren't carried over to 'Alien Storm' in the same way the gameplay was. Especially as 'Alien Storm' does set itself apart from other generic brawlers by offering a couple of different play styles that show up typically after each standard level.  A first-person gallery shooter sequences pop up fairly frequently. During these the perspective shifts to behind the player's weapon as you shoot at aliens in enclosed areas like warehouses and convenience stores. Enemies leap out at you from behind stacks of boxes and the environments progressively deteriorate as the rain of gun fires continues.
It's all reminiscent of 'Operation Wolf' and a very similar mini game was also a part of the developer's earlier output, something game designer Makoto Uchida admits to. "They were inspired by 'Shinobi' which was created by my senior. That title also featured a first person bonus game which I referenced in 'Alien Storm'". But while they provides a change of pace from the scrolling fighting, some reviewers believed the sections to be so badly made that you'll miss the main game. Dan Whitehead even called them "atrocious shooting gallery stages" when he reviewed the digital re-release for Eurogamer. "Collision detection is fussy, meaning you have to be on the exact same horizontal plane as an enemy to cause any damage, while the treacle-slow cursor pace does little to keep you engaged".
Perhaps more successful are the "endless runner" style levels in which your character is constantly moving towards the right side of the screen almost like they were in a scrolling shoot em up. Along with shooting you can leap over enemies and change your position relative to the constantly moving ground; not unlike the infamous speeder bike stages in 'Battle Toads'. Uchida believed frequently changing the style of play was essential to keep a player's attention. "If the gameplay is intense for more than a few minutes they get tired [...] Apparently our concentration levels go down if we watch TV constantly for 15 minutes so we also felt it wise to insert something like a bonus stage every 15 minutes too".

15 minutes suggests the normal stages are larger than they are as even the least able of players can finish 'Alien Storm' in less than an hour. "The game is so incredibly easy" confirms CVG magazine journalist Paul Rand. "I reached level seven on my first go, and I wouldn't exactly call myself the world's greatest shoot 'em up expert." It was something fellow reviewer Paul Glancey agreed with. "Even with the game set on the hardest possible level (single player mode, rapid fire off and hard energy level and game difficulty) 'Alien Storm' presents little lasting challenge to anyone more skilful than a sedated pineapple".  "'Alien Storm' is about as difficult as putting on a pair of trousers!" claimed Mean Machines magazine, making use of another obscure metaphor. "Virtually everyone in the office completed the game within half an hour of its arrival - it's that simple [...] It is a real shame that the extra difficulty levels don't really add that much of a challenge to the game." Perhaps the game was made so easy simply because the ending is so hilariously superb. After beating the screen filling final boss it's revealed that the three protagonists likely died on their way to Earth. Despite this the end credits still show them and the game's enemies performing a choreographed dance routine that wouldn't look out of place in 'MoonWalker'.

While the original arcade game allowed three to play simultaneously on the Mega Drive this has been reduced to two. However, naturally having a player aide you halves the difficulty. "This one is fun with two players but unfortunately it is too easy that way" claims EGM magazine.  "It's all about playing alone". This is probably why in 1991 Mean Machines magazine suggested that buying the game was actually a poor use of your money. "For £35.00, you should get a lot more value for money, and in this respect 'Alien Storm' just doesn't deliver." EuroGamer's Dan Whitehead was even more brutal. "It is, quite frankly, a bland, flavourless slog. Amusement comes only from goofy animations - such as the robot character and his self-destruct smart bomb move - but that's no reason to waste [your money]". "'Alien Storm' simply isn't the type of game you want to keep coming back to" agreed critic Tim Boone at the time. "It's great for a few goes in the arcades, but when it comes to splashing out notes for the cartridge you have to ask yourself how long you'll be playing that game, and there are plenty more games out there which will keep you playing much longer than this." On the Mega Drive you'd be well advised to look towards, 'Golden Axe' or indeed a number of other very similar games. As the Nintendo Life website suggests "simply put, the 'Final Fight' and 'Streets of Rage' games have held up infinitely better than 'Alien Storm' and as such must rank higher in purchasing priority".

If this game were the only side scrolling brawler you've ever played you'd probably enjoy it and finish it. But if you like 'Alien Storm' you'll likely love either 'Golden Axe' or 'Streets of Rage 2' both are superior in almost every way. While my knowledge of obscure side scrolling brawlers has certainly grown by becoming aware of 'Alien Storm' my favourite game in this genre hasn't changed. I don't know if I'm any better off.

Where did I get this game from?

Like the majority of my Mega Drive games I got this game as a bulk buy, intact it was on a compilation cartridge. Sadly when the other games on there are 'Thunder Blade' and 'Super Monaco GP' this is probably the best game in the collection.

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. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Mega Drive Review - Aladdin (Game 125)

'Aladdin' is the best selling non-Sonic title on the Mega Drive and it's frequently called one of the best games on the system. But how does it compare to the Snes version? 

Developed by Virgin Interactive
Published by Virgin / Sega / Disney
Release in 1993  

Travel back in time to a nineties playground and you will hear the sound of geeks arguing. 

"My Snes is so much better, it's got Mode 7. Yours has only got Blast Processing and that's not even a real thing". 

"Yeah but 'Mario' is so slow and boring. It's like a baby's game. 'Sonic' is way faster and cooler."

Of course such comparisons were retrospectively ridiculous. Each machine had their own strengths, and despite both being 2D platformers, Mario and Sonic inhabited very different styles of games. However when each console received their own ‘Aladdin’ game, playground arguments quickly shifted to an obvious point of comparison. 

Interestingly it wasn't just fan boys who judged one game against each other though. According to Internet rumour Capcom felt the need to entirely rework their Snes 'Aladdin' game after seeing the visually superior Mega Drive take on the Disney Film. The Super Nintendo game was frantically reworked to better mirror the Virgin published Sega game. Quite a challenge given that both games had fixed release dates of November 1993; essential if the games were to sit on the shelves alongside the 'Aladdin' film's video release.  "It was all about having a game for theatrical, or for the most part, video release" designer David Bishop told Games TM magazine.  "It was a massive thing back in those days".

However, despite the confident Chicago CES demonstration that had so worried Capcom, development of the Sega game was stressful for the production team. "We had to have the game done for when the video launched " Bishop notes.”[This] meant we had to put together a team and build the game in five months. It was almost an impossible task". Completion of the game leaving enough time for "the various Sega testing shenanigans" was only possible thanks to the involvement of an Industry legend, one who was already making a name for himself following the creation of 'Cool Spot' and 'Global Gladiators'. “David Perry was sort of at the epicentre of this thing, driving the whole thing forward" Bishop readily admitted to Games TM magazine.