Friday, 17 August 2018

Mega Drive Review - Pocahontas (Game 168)

Action intensive film adaptations were always money makers for publishers. But at a time when the medium was believed to promote violent behaviour, how do you turn an “anti-conflict” animated movie into a video game? 

Developed by Disney Interactive
Published by Disney Interactive
Released in 1995

In the mid Nineties video games were getting a bit of a bad reputation. More realistic graphics had lead to more realistic depictions of violence, ultimately leading to game certification. Of course, despite the opinions of the mainstream press at the time, not all games were violent. However, in even the most cutesy platformers it was implied that you should kill anyone standing in your way. For games aimed at children the player wasn’t murdering everyone in sight of course, designers would mask all the death. In these games your playable avatar would liberate possessed foes, knock them out, put them to sleep or embarrass them until they ran away. Typically Aggression was justified in a games’ plot; the prince would have no choice but to flatten everyone in sight it was the only way to save the princess. If the brave hero didn’t massacre every invading monster the world would fall to an evil oppressor. The end justified the means and violent acts, though undesirable, were necessary to achieve the best outcome. What happens then if you’re tasked with making an action platformer where any form of aggression can’t be justified by your playable protagonist? It was an issue faced by Disney Interactive when adapting the film ‘Pocahontas’.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Snes Review - Beauty and the Beast (Game 167)

The moral of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ film is that desirability shouldn’t be judged based on appearance. If anything the action platform game based on this movie carries the opposite message. 

Developed by Probe
Published by Hudson Soft 
Released in 1994

According to the Time Out film website, one in three people will pick ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when asked to name a Disney film. Maybe that’s because the 2017 live action remake has reminded everyone just how magical the original 1991 animated film was. Perhaps it’s because the movie became Disney’s first animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical in 1994. There’s a chance many remember it because ‘Beauty and he Beast’ was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture academy award. Though most likely, people simply pick ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as their most memorable Disney film because it’s superb. Reviews from 101 critics average 93% and it represented the peak of the nineties’ animation renaissance; taking nearly half a billion dollars at the box office.  

The story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is therefore well known. Belle, seeking adventure outside her quiet French village stumbles upon a Beast’s Castle while searching for her lost father. Papa’s freedom is granted by this beast on the agreement that she will
remain, as the beast hopes that one day she will love him as that would break his curse. With this being an optimistic romantic film, naturally the beauty sees kindness within the beast and with the help of a castle full of enchanted characters the pair fall in love.

While Beast maybe a furious imposing mix of man and lion, the film shows us that Gaston, a heavily armed muscular man can defeat him. However even this former war hero can only best-the-beast after a mighty struggle across roof tops then unfairly striking from behind. While the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ game attempts to follow the film’s story there is one significant difference: Beast may look a lot like his cinematic counterpart (with a wonderfully detailed sprite) but he is hilariously weak, a cumbersome oaf who lacks the agility seen in the film’s exciting final scenes.

“The beast is a slow moving lumbering sort of character who’s only offensive move is a swipe with his massive hairy hand” notes Nintendo Power magazine. The main character of the game would not fare well against the angry mob or vicious wolves seen in the movie, given that he can be killed by brushing against a bat or being bitten by a House-spider.

 “You main priority is trying to fight off all manner of dreamlike out of context foes” observes critic James Leach. Fans of the shooter genre are well aware of “bullet hell” games; where a constant bombardment from enemies presents a huge challenge to the player. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is the closest I’ve come to finding a bullet hell platformer. Because your playable character is so weak and moves so slowly, without advance knowledge of enemy placement you simply won’t stay alive. “Sure it looks great but it’s slo-o-ow and can get ridiculously frustrating” noted Super Play Magazine. It gets to the point where you must pre-emptively react to every level foe as Beast’s claw swing literally takes two seconds to do damage. To get any enjoyment from playing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ I had to use a cheat that made the beast invincible. I was simply fed up with getting taken down by fast moving level enemies that I couldn’t see until they were right in front of me and by then it was obviously too late to react without taking damage. You feel compelled to inch through the stages so you can continually check for potential threats but the game makes this impossible. The beast’s rose at the top of the screen acts as a level timer and if you take too long you’ll find yet another way this frail monster can be easily killed. 

Nintendo Magazine System reported that “‘Beauty and the Beast’ [was] written in the UK by Probe” and you have to at least applaud their efforts. Film licenses were a huge deal in the nineties especially for Disney properties. Tying a game to a successful film provided a pre-established customer base eager to continue the cinematic experience at home, but not all films work as the basis for a game.  “The storyline follows the film almost exactly” observed Nintendo Power. Attractive intermissions consisting of text below stylish stained glass windows bookend each Level, but the problem is the story the game retells is essentially a romantic musical. While there are a few action scenes in the original film, its better known for its large scale flamboyant song and dance numbers. “Be our Guest”, “Gaston’s Song” and “Belle” are all great songs to sing along to in the car and while they are fairly faithfully recreated in the game they are not the best basis for action platforming levels. Instead the movie’s few brief scenes of drama are artificially extended in the game. Notably the beast spends most of the game fighting wolves, something he did for less than two minutes in the film. The rest of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ comes from the game designers’ imagination;
they have taken ideas from the film and run with them. For example, playful scenes in the film shows Belle throw a snowball at Beast which he shrugs off without any injury. In the game this translates into an awful section where the player must guide the beast to a precise pixel perfect position to catch the snowballs. It’s something that can only be achieved if a button is pressed at an exact time and a total of twenty seven snowballs must be caught to progress to the next stage. Missing more than three costs Beast a life. It’s a level that should be at most a mini game, not a difficulty spike that stops a player in their tracks. Worse still, it’s not the only illogical choice the game designers have made. 

While it may not make any physical sense, generally most games allow a player some degree of control after initiating a jump. Typically you can alter the direction of your character mid flight, fine tuning their landing. This Super Nintendo game doesn't really allow this. Throughout the game, I couldn't seem to course correct. It’s a minor irritation that makes small jumps across ledges harder than they need to be, but it’s larger jumps that pose the biggest problem in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Like an Olympic long jumper, unless you build up momentum with a run up, you simply can’t make jumps of a great distance. Obviously the further you get into the game the more jumps you have to do, and before long the player is expected to string multiple jumps together. Stopping removes the required momentum and without it The Beast doesn’t cover the desired distance.  

If you became frustrated and enraged by the snowball fight level you’d best not play the Library stage. This awful part of the game will surely have even the most placid gamer throwing their controller in a furious rage that would shame even the beast. It’s a part of the game that doesn’t really exist in the film, where Beast inexplicably has to jump between many vanishing books upon a bookshelf. If you mis-time a single jump in a chain you have to start from the beginning of the level. Unlike games like ‘Mega Man’ where vanishing blocks follow a pattern, the books in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ seem to appear and disappear randomly. Many are even off screen when you start your jump, meaning success in this penultimate level is undeniably down to chance. “It’s clumsy, pedantic and too often you find yourself relying on leaps of faith to reach platforms” James Leach claimed in his review. “Survival is a question of luck rather than skill”. 

Impressive videos on YouTube show players completing the stage in less than a minute but after an hour of playing I still couldn’t get further than half way through the stage. To make things worse, I stared at my thumb and was shocked to see an imprint of the DPad where I had been pressing so hard on the controller that I had actually caused literal injury. “Okay so it’s quite a challenge but for all the wrong reasons” agreed James Leach. “The challenge is to see if you can stay alive for more than 30 Seconds rather than a cunning problem [to] solve. What a disappointment”.

To fall back on an obvious cliché, this game may be a beast to play but it’s still a beauty to look at. “Graphically ‘BATB’ is a stunner” notes Super Play Magazine. “The sprites are all detailed and the animation of Beast is particularly impressive. He leaps, roars, climbs, hangs and fights beautifully and easily rivals ‘Aladdin’ as a spectator pleaser”. The magazine was also impressed with the game's dark gothic environments. “The backgrounds are totally in keeping with the film and utilise parallax scrolling to good effect.” According to Nintendo Magazine System, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ “contains some of the best backdrops the Super Nintendo has seen for ages”. 

It’s nice that so many minor characters have been included too, although as Nintendo Power points out “other characters from the movie show up albeit in cameo roles. You’ll see most of these familiar faces only between acts”. Cogsworth, Chip and Mrs Potts are represented in pixel form in continue and point-total screens. Meanwhile Lumiere and Lafou appear in the first and final level respectively.  The former acts as a guide through the opening stage while the later shoots at you while you try to kill Gaston in the game’s closing moments. Super Play however felt their inclusion was simply there to please the fans. “You can’t help feeling that these are merely gestures nodding a wink of recognition to the film rather than making the game an extension of the film as was the case with ‘Aladdin’”. 

The release date for the game is somewhat surprising. Hitting the shelves some three years after ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was in the cinema, clearly the game was not made in a rush to coincide with a fixed cinematic or VHS release date. The fact that Hudson Soft also released a similar version of the game on the NES suggests it was in development for some time, as by late 1994 very few people (in Europe at least) were playing 8bit games.  ‘Beauty and the Beast’ wasn’t even available in Europe until February 23rd 1995 and by this point there were four other completely different games based on the film to be played on rival system. Despite the SNES game’s short comings, it still remains the best video game to be inspired by the original ‘Beauty and the Beast’ film. Sadly while ‘Aladdin’ got two superb but different games, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ didn’t get a title on any system that does justice to the source material. There are fun moments to be had playing this SNES game but there’s many many more times when the game is just so frustrating you’ll wonder why you continue to play. Despite my very best efforts I could only see the later stages of the game by skipping the Snow Ball stage and applying an infinite energy action-replay code. This of course removed any challenge but even that didn’t dampen the relief I felt when I saw the game’s ending credits.

 While the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ film is remembered by so many, I imagine people will remember the Super Nintendo game for the wrong reasons. Attractive yes, but brutally hard, un-necessarily unfair, cruelly cheap and, more often than not, a lumbering slog. No one would question my love of Disney, and I consider ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to be a masterpiece. The film teaches us to see the beauty that exists beneath the unpleasant, but if I struggle to see the good in this game I am left wondering who could ever love this Beast?

Where did I get this game from?

One of my closest friends sent me ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for Christmas knowing full well it would test my patience. Apparently this game turned her into the gamer she is now and playing would make me understand her better. Meanwhile I’m just delighted to be one step closer to owning every 16bit Disney game. However, I wonder how much I would have played if this game didn’t feature a Disney princess that I have a crush on - even if her presence made me hate snowballs!

Friday, 20 July 2018

Snes Review - The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Game 166)

A glance at the box may put you off playing ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’ but perhaps the amount of Japanese cultural references should entice rather than put you off this RPG platform hybrid.

Developed by Konami
Published by Konami
Released in 1992

During the 16bit era Japanese publishers couldn’t seem to agree on what European gamers actually liked to play. Two decades ago Square decided that we didn’t have a taste for RPGs, so ‘Chrono Trigger’, and ‘SuperMario RPG’ and ‘Seiken Densetsu 3’ never reaches our shores. Konami however felt we actually had an appetite for Japanese oddities. Europe was the only Western region to get to enjoy ‘Parodius’ and all the non-sense that came with it. ‘Pop ‘N Twinbee’ didn’t reach America but found a home here and then there was ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’. 1992 was a time when, in the UK at least, when anime was considered niche and only broadcast late at night. Sushi was misunderstood and not sold in restaurants or super markets. Samurai were only seen in parody movies and were it not for Honda in ‘Street Fighter 2’ it’s likely that the British wouldn’t even know sumo wrestling was a thing. The West was embarrassingly ignorant of Japanese culture yet someone at Konami decided that a translation of ‘Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki’ would be welcomed in America. Admittedly it took a further two years for the game to be available in Europe but many believed it was a game worth waiting for. Super Play magazine called it "one of the best games for the system (if you like this sort of thing), mixing RPG adventure-style wandering with side-on platform action.” It was celebrated in the book ‘1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die’ and years later Games Radar ranked it as their 45th best SNES game owing to it’s "stellar ancient Japan-inspired soundtrack and beautiful graphics alive with colour” concluding that ‘The Legend of the Mystical Ninja’ is “definitely one of the top games on the SNES."

Friday, 13 July 2018

Switch Review - 60 Seconds

As the Switch grows in popularity more and more indie developers are porting their successful mobile and PC games. But despite enjoying huge unexpected success on Steam, do Console players want to play a game that’s part 3D scavenger hunt and part text adventure?

Developed by Robot Gentleman
Released in 2018

For a game called ‘60 Seconds!’ I seem to have sunk an astonishing number of hours into Robot Gentleman’s quirky survival comedy. It’s a game of two distinct halves and the name actually alludes to the part you’ll play first. The Reds are about to drop a nuclear bomb on a small American town. You have just one minute to collect as much as you can before diving into your personal fallout shelter. Playing as Ted, the game is viewed from above as the slightly portly Dad rushes around his small house clumsily knocking over as much as he grabs. However as he is limited by how much he can carry, what should Ted prioritise? Should he make sure his wife and two children are safely secure in the shelter or selfishly ensure his own survival by gathering water and food? Is a rifle more beneficial than an axe, is there a need for a radio in a shelter or would a gas mask be of greater use? In each play through the house layout and the placing of the items is randomised, which certainly adds a sense of panic to the item hunt. A player may want to take medical supplies with them but unless you can find them in the strict minute limit you’ll have to leave them behind. Thankfully you are granted a brief amount of time to scout out the items in your home prior to hearing the whaling sound of the warning alarm. How long this is depends on the difficulty setting, but its Seconds rather than minutes. 

When a section of a game must be completed in a tight time limit it’s imperative that controls are responsive. Frustratingly this isn’t the case with ‘60 Seconds!’ Ted will only pick up something if it’s directly in front of him which frequently wastes valuable seconds. Equally annoying are moments when there are two items in front of him, as half the time he’ll waste an inventory space picking up the wrong one. It’s telling that for their follow up ‘60 Parsecs’, Gentleman Robot have made the foraging part of the sequel 2D. In 3D there simply isn’t the precision needed especially when the consequences of your item selections matter so much in the second half of the game. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Switch Review - Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop ?!

With a title like ‘Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!’ You’re never going to expect a sensible game. But with impressive depth and addictive  gameplay this is one management sim you laugh along with rather than at.  

Developed by Daylight Studios 
Release by Rising Star Games
Published in 2018

Reaching the destination is satisfying, but any true RPG fan knows that it’s the journey that’s more exciting. No one can save the world alone though, a hero needs a party and they need to be armed for the task at hand. This is why the merchants in an RPG are the real unsung heroes. After all, you can’t vanquish a screen filling end-game boss with a wooden sword.

 But while we depend on these “Armoury Retail Assistants” to stand a chance at success, how much do really know about them? Do they tend to a store filled with expensive weapons, discreetly praying for an apocalyptic event to occur so they can finally shift the Holy Arrows they bought in bulk? Do they spend their downtime regretting establishing a potion shop in a cave that is only accessible once a bomb is used to expose the entrance? Has there ever been an occasion when accounting books have had to be fiddled to disguise where they acquired their rare unique stock?

It’s clearly something that Singapore-based Daylight Studios has pondered and in this “wacky” simulation game they foreground the true heroes of the RPG genre (albeit it potato form). “[its] is a look at an RPG from the other side,” says Don Sim, CEO and executive producer at Daylight Studios. “We wondered: ‘What do NPCs do when they’re not repeating the same lines over and over again?”. Faizan Abid, the game’s producer, however recalls that it wasn’t specifically RPGs that inspired the game mechanics. “Our team members really loved games like ‘Game Dev Story’, and ‘Game Dev Tycoon’. It was around April/May [2014] when we were reaching the end of our other projects that we decided to really work on one.” Evidently Don Sim, Faizan Abid and art director Julian Futanto sat in a coffee shop and discussed how to fuse the two thoughts. “What we all agreed on was that a team simulation game about making and selling weapons would be awesome. The RPG references were a natural part of it since heroes in any RPG world needed weapons!”

Friday, 6 July 2018

Mega Drive Review - Donald Duck in Maui Mallard : Cold Shadow (Game 165)

When is a Donald Duck game not a Donald Duck game? Disney Interactive’s first original IP was a superb brave platformer that broke from traditions & was closer to ‘Earthworm Jim’ than ‘Castle of Illusion’. So why did it never sit on American shop shelves?

Developed by Disney Interactive
Published by Disney Interactive
Released in 1996

Today The Disney Corporation is a huge media conglomerate encompassing television, cinema, theme parks and retail outlets. Forbes recently placed it in the top five Regarded companies but as founder Walt once said “this whole thing all started with a Mouse”. What Mickey represented was innovation and a belief that “if you can dream it you can do it”. From creating the first feature length animation and changing the face of theme parks through to designing an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the early days of Disney were built on trail blazing ideas. However, following Walt’s death, the Disney Corporation became a follower rather than a leader.  Their animated films traded on past glory and their live action films pushed a more edgy tone inspired by other studio’s successes. Yet there was one emerging type of entertainment media that the company really failed to anticipate. Throughout the 80s and 90s the video game market was growing exponentially faster than theme parks and animation. Billions of dollars were being made by the gaming industry and Disney characters were losing their appeal.  A national survey taken in 1990 found that Mario was more recognisable among American children than Mickey Mouse. Disney executives reacted in the worst way; they handed over their IP to other companies able to make video games quickly. While this did lead to the creation of ‘Duck Tales’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Castle of Illusion’, there was also a lot of dross including notably ‘Fantasia’, which Disney later labelled a betrayal of the film. Despite the varying quality though, games carrying Disney branding were typically amongst the year’s top sellers and the House of Mouse was sharing profits with developers and publishers. “With console games, we weren't a publisher then. We were strictly a licensor," says David Mullich, the first game producer Disney hired in 1987.”There was a Disney drive to regain control, to ensure quality and also to tap into this new lucrative industry”.

There was some excitement in 1995 when it was announced that Disney's own development group; Disney Interactive, were going to deliver more than just film tie-ins. Market research had shown that audiences had a preference for fast paced action and though risky Disney followed the market’s lead. The first original title Disney Interactive developed was an all new Donald Duck game which, in many ways, was bold in both visuals and tone. It seemed the Disney Company was once again taking risks, treading unfamiliar ground in a developing medium.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Switch Reveiw - ICEY

With frantic intricate hack-and-slash gameplay and stunning 2D Graphics, ‘ICEY’ should be a game to delight many. But with an abstract story is it all just  a bit too complicated to be enjoyable?
Developed by FantaBlade Network
Released in 2018
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of ‘ICEY’, a game created by an unknown Chinese developer that arrived on the eShop with little fanfare. However on this occasion ignorance may actually aid your enjoyment of this obscure and intriguing title. Like so many other fourth wall breaking, meta stories, the less you know about ‘ICEY’ the more it’ll surprise and delight you.

With this in mind its worth noting that some of the games surprises will be revealed in this review, so if, like me, you'd prefer to go in completely fresh stop reading now.   

Friday, 22 June 2018

Mega Drive Review - Cosmic Spacehead (Game 164)

Imagine a 2D platform game when your character’s jumps seem to randomly vary in height. Sometimes the agonisingly slow leaps will reach a ledge yet other times you’ll fall short trying to get across the same sized gap. Imagine a platform game where bouncing on an enemy’s head hurts your playable avatar rather than damaging the foe. In fact, imagine a 2D platform game where you have absolutely no attacks and a single hit sends you back to the start. Imagine a platform game where you do the same thing every stage, where no new game mechanics are introduced and your view is limited to a small circle in the middle of the screen. I would bet right now you’re imagining a 2D platform game that no one would ever want to play, and yet despite this ‘Cosmic Spacehead’ may be more than it initially appears. 

Developed by Supersonic Software 
Published by Code Masters
Released in 1993

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Switch Review - Pode

With a focus on friendship and cooperation, this visually stunning puzzle game should appeal to families, but is there enough here for a lone player to enjoy?

Developed by Henchman & Goon
Released in 2018

Cynical mainstream media has always tried to perpetuate the belief that the only emotions Video Games inspire are negative. Tabloid newspapers talk of video game addicts, fuelled by rage and aggression. As players we are portrayed as ruthlessly competitive, introverted and blood thirsty. However, developer Henchman & Goon believe a game should inspire the opposite feelings in a player. It’s a belief that leads to the creation of ‘Pode’ an enchanting artistic platform puzzler that should only be enjoyed with a friend. 

From the very start, game director Yngvill Hopen “wanted to create a positive gaming experience” she says. “I wanted more games I could play with my young son”. Unsurprisingly this has lead to the creation of a game where two players take control of an adventurer each and together you must utilise your character’s unique talents to solve environmental puzzles. 

Glo the brightest of the pair can jump higher and can also float in a way that mimics Yoshi in the majority of his platforming adventures. She can also drift on air currents and doesn’t sink in water. At the touch of a button this “fallen star” radiates light, a technique that activates specific switches and adds paths through a level; primarily by causing plants to grow. This creates platforms and lifts for her companion Bulder to use. This rock like cube is smaller and can pass through tighter spaces. These holes usually lead to Bulder’s own type of switches that manipulate a stage’s rocks; typically adjusting the height of platforms so Glo can reach previously inaccessible parts of a level. Like Kirby, Bulder can also inhale objects and carry them around a level. Glo can even be inhaled and when inside Bulder she becomes a directional light beam used to activate switches out of reach. The two characters can also stand on each other‘s heads and ride to safety should the level demand it. If this wasn’t enough, as the stages pass you’ll be introduced to even more abilities unique to one character or the other. Levels start off simply but quickly become very complicated as more and more environmental hazards and additional abilities are introduced. However death is never really a concern as a misstep will simply see your character transported to the start of a stage, unharmed and free to try the puzzle once again. The only thing that limits the players’ progression is their inability to use the character’s skills to navigate an environment. 

Friday, 15 June 2018

Switch Review - Henry the Hamster Handler

With a bizarre name and a child pleasing aesthetic you’ll likely have dismissed ‘Henry the Hamster Handler’. But for less than £3, is there more to enjoy than many realise?

Developed by Pocket Money Games
Released in 2018

In an attempt to make me understand the value of money, my parents gave me pocket money for chores. The more jobs completed around the house the more I’d have to spend at the weekend. I would always aim to get at least 79p per week as that was the amount required to buy a game from the ‘16 Bit Pocket Power Collection’. These were cheaply made or old Amiga games that were sold as individual 3 1/4 inch discs wrapped in plastic. They were usually found hanging on a display looking dubiously like bar peanuts. As is often the case, cheap in this case didn’t always mean good. There was a reason shops stuck to 79p for some of these games; after playing, people would have felt conned if they’d paid any more. For a young boy they presented a way to buy a game a week but for the team at Pocket Money Games, these 79p games were inspiration for a company ethos. 

“I remember them” company director Frankie Cavanagh once said on Twitter, “My first job was selling these!” Years later, as their name implies, Pocket Money Games are once again selling (and now creating) games that children will want to spend their Pocket money on. “The intention of all of our games is to be affordable” claims Cavanagh. However, while their output is suitable for children, PM Games are keen to point out that their titles shouldn’t be over-looked by older players. “Our range is designed for kids and kids at heart, [those] that remember spending their last 50p on ‘ghost and goblins’ in their local arcade” explains Cavanagh.

According to their website this fiercely independent game development studio “are dedicated to creating fun and exciting titles at a price that won't break the bank.” After dabbling in VR Titles on Steam, PM Games have now started producing Switch content. For Cavanagh making games for any Nintendo console was always the dream growing up. “I had to do it” he jokes “it’s Nintendo they made the consoles I played as a kid”. 

Their first Switch exclusive game is ‘Henry the Hamster Handler’ which offers gameplay that’ll be familiar to anyone who has played ‘Mario Vs Donkey Kong’, ‘Troddlers’ or ‘Krusty’s Super Funhouse’. “All of our games are influenced by our love of classic arcade and console games” admits Cavanagh. “‘Henry the Hamster Handler’ comes from my love of ‘Lemmings’”.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Mega Drive Review - Pitfall : The Mayan Adventure (Game 163)

'Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure’ is a platform action game; a sequel to the well known Atari 2600 game. While it may remind us of a certain PS4 exclusive that features a wise cracking treasure hunter, is this a relic that is worth unearthing?

Developed by Activision
Published by Activision
Release in 1994

I’ve recently become hooked on ‘Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion’. While it shares a name with the ‘Epic Mickey’ 3D games released a few years ago, this 3DS game is actually a sequel to the Mega Drive Classic ‘Castle Of Illusion’. It’s a 2D platformer, but built for a modern system. It’s includes music and gameplay mechanics from the 1990 Sega prequel but introduces elements that today’s gamers expect. While it may have remixed versions of the fantastic 16 bit Mega Drive music, it has continue points, it saves your progression and it also has touch screen inputs. ‘Power of Illusion’ is a game made deliberately to please those who loved the earlier 16bit ‘Illusion’ games. But it’s not the only modern game designed to court players who loved older games. Massively popular titles like ‘Shovel Knight’, ‘Retro City Ransom’ and ‘Golf Story’ are modern games made with one foot in the past.  The internet is also awash with “De-makes”; fan made versions of modern games restricted by the technical limitations of older consoles. While many of these are incredibly impressive I couldn’t help but wonder what my favourite PS4 games would be like if technology had been frozen in time. So I went on a mission to see if there were already existing 16 bit games that foreshadow the games I love to play today.

Obviously prequels in the same series share the same DNA. ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ on the Switch has sections where you play ‘Super Mario Bros’ like levels with the familiar NES visuals. But what would a game like ‘Uncharted’ have been like back in 1994?

This was the year that ‘Pitfall: The Mayan adventure’ was published by Activision. The game is a platforming action sequel to the original Atari 2600 ‘Pitfall!’ game and the key elements of the game will be familiar to fans of Naughty Dogs’ incredible series. You explore environments, swing on vines, ride vehicles, find treasure, kill enemies with explosives and rescue someone close to you. There’s nothing here that Nathan Drake hasn’t got used to doing. 

Monday, 28 May 2018

Switch Review - Earthlock

Retro gamers are certainly guilty of romanticising the past. But does this nineties inspired JRPG stick too closely to the PlayStation games that have inspired it? 

Developed by Snowcastle Games
Released in 2018

Many long-term JRPG fans have been dismayed by the direction Square Enix have taken with the ‘Final Fantasy’ series. Once the poster child for the genre, the latest iteration is less “Japanese Role Playing Game” and more the “Role Playing game Japan thinks the modern West wants to play”. Turn based battles have vanished in favour of active real-time combat. The sweeping epic stories have been lost with a shift to a focus on unlikeable generic characters instead. A modern numbered ‘Final Fantasy’ is no longer a single entirety; they offer narratives that only truly make sense if you immerse yourself in a plethora of accompanying anime, spin-offs and manga. “There is so much good here, so much heart” IGN noted when reviewing ‘Final Fantasy XV’. “It just comes with some changes and compromises that were, at times, difficult for this long-time ‘Final Fantasy’ fan to come to grips with”.

While hardcore ‘Final Fantasy’ fans can’t seem to agree if the seventh or sixth game is the best, there is also an awful lot of love for entries 8 and 9. For many the series hit its peak in the nineties with the PlayStation 1 era polygon games. 

For Snowcastle, a small development team in Oslo, this was certainly the golden era. “The 3D JRPGs of the 1990’s we all loved and grew up with” remembers game designer Nikola Kuresevic. The team decided to create “a love letter” to those games, specifically for fans that were turned off by modern sequels. “‘Earthlock’ is a traditional take on the 3D JRPGs of the 90’s with (thoroughly reworked) mechanics that encompass both the new and the old love for the genre” notes Kuresevic. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Snes Review - Marvelous (Game 162)

In 2017 members of the ‘Sonic’ fan community managed to do what Sega themselves could not. Lead by Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, bedroom coders and small independent developers (who had proved their worth with unofficial HD remakes) banded together. The result was ‘Sonic Mania’ a 2D side scroller that not only shamed twenty years of official games, but also stood toe-to-toe with the much loved original Mega Drive games. Series producer Takashi Iizuka described the project as being made "by the mania, for the mania", explaining that the title came from the developers being "maniacal" about the series. It was labelled a "passion product" born out of the fans' love for the early ‘Sonic’ games.

While this game lingers in the memory, it’s obviously not the only time when fans of a series have made tribute games. What’s more unusual is that this game has been legitimised by Sega. Typically, fan coders are sent threatening “cease and desist” letters by copyright holders but ‘Sonic Mania’ was officially endorsed. It was given the thumbs up by the original creators of the ‘Sonic’ games it so lovingly took inspiration from.

There are few series as well known as ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, bit if retro gamers were to name beloved legacy franchises ‘The Legend of Zelda’ would sit atop many a list. When it comes to the minds behind the series, Shigeru Miyamoto will always be mentioned first but the reality is that since the transition to 3D, series producer Eiji Aonuma has probably been of greater significance. He has worked as director or producer on every major release since ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ but like the ‘Sonic’ fan-community he had to prove his appreciation for the series before he was given the keys to the ‘Zelda’ kingdom.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Switch Review - The Banner Saga

The multi award winning much loved turn-based strategy RPG finally makes it to the Switch. But with complicated combat and a demanding story is this a game that’s practical on the Switch?

Developed by Stoic 

Release in 2018

Any RPG fan knows that in any exploration party you need an elemental mage, a tank and a healer. It turns out that to create these games you also need a core of three individuals with very distinct skills. Writer Alex Thomas, programmer John Watson and artist Arnie Jorgensen all met at Bioware. After working for five years on ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ they felt compelled to leave “one of the biggest names in console development to make a visually stunning passion project.” They ambitiously wanted to make a strategy RPG driven by an intelligent story, one where a player’s choices weren’t simply black and white. “Getting back into a small studio environment has gone a long way to making me feel alive creatively again” notes Jorgensen.