Saturday, 30 May 2009

Now you don't need a Game Gear

Good news everyone

It may have taken fifteen years but Sonic Triple Trouble (or Sonic & Tails 2 for you Japanese gamers) has been ported to the Sega Master System. No longer must we live under Game Gear conditions.

Boasting a larger screen size, Triple Trouble is now a lot less cramped and can join its siblings on hardware that doesn't eat batteries for a living. It takes a bit of a hit on the graphics because the Master System has 4000 less colours to chose from, and because it's the first release of a fan-made hack, it's not exactly glitch free, but nevertheless it's quite an accomplishment. Kudos to the folks at Sonic Retro!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Michael Jordan in: Chaos in the Windy City

Following the trend of basketball stars in video games, here's another underrated Super Nintendo classic of days gone by:

Michael Jordan in: Chaos in the Windy City. Like Shaq Fu people dismissed this game from the get go because it was a platforming game featuring Micheal Jordan. As such, the game has been buried and forgotten about, which to be honest, must be some sort of crime. Though then again digging up a grave probably is as well.

Released for the Super Nintendo in 1994 by Electronic Arts, Micheal Jordan is set up with the task of saving all his team-mates so that an all star charity basketball game can continue (just like Shaq Fu!). In order to do this he must overcome the evil scientist "Maximus Cranium" who wants a perfect basketball team for some reason. Because this is clearly more important than curing cancer or whatever.

When I see basketball players in derelict buildings surrounded by floating eyes and zombies, I can't help but think of Scooby Doo's friends the Harlem Globetrotters. The concept of those guys helping to solve mysteries is a bit strange, but that didn't stop Hannah Barbera making several Scooby Doo specials devoted to them. In CitWC, Michael Jordan fits the role quite nicely as he runs about with a basketball attacking these creatures and opening doors with keys. If I were to write "one of the main parts of this game is opening doors", chances are you'd be turned-off, but don't be, because this game is a fine example of how to make the platforming genre more interesting. You have a colourful array of basketballs to deal damage to your enemies and the SNES manages to deliver a well polished, good looking (and pretty good sounding) title.

Though it's unwise to compare it to what could be considered the king of SNES platforming, Super Mario World, CitWC isn't as far behind as you may imagine. Its main problem is that it doesn't adapt to a PC keyboard that well. Granted, it's not supposed to, but with little chance of it ever being re-released it means you have to hunt down a real SNES (or a gamepad... whatever floats your boat) to get the true feel. Also because for whatever reason ZSNES isn't a fan of my keyboard, any gameplay flaws I may see many not actually be gameplay flaws. All I know is that it's got quite a bit of depth and is pretty damned fun. One thing EA could have done with is a saving feature instead of passwords (I mean come on it WAS 1994) but I suppose this is made up by the fact you can attack the press on your train journeys. In fact, this makes up for every flaw this game has.

Though you wouldn't make the album charts with the selection of music presented here, it's not too bad either. It fits the mood nicely, just a shame some of the tracks were re-used quite a bit. Then again how many EA games have noticeable soundtracks nowadays? Outside of the film licensees that come equipped with them, probably not too many.

But yeah, you can't go too wrong with Michael Jordan here. The real tragedy is that games such as these will likely never see the light of day again.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Arkenstein 3D

For whatever reason, the Super Nintendo was largely pirate free. Despite all the famiclones and piracy surrounding its older sibling, the NES, the SNES's library was pretty clean. Oh except for Super Noah's Ark 3D.

Games involving religion don't generally work and this is no exception. But it didn't stop Wisdom Tree from making these titles again and again. This one is quite famous because it's built off the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D. Now to be fair, Wolf 3D on the SNES is pretty bad because for some amazing reason Nintendo of America decided it was in their best interests to censor everything. They took out the blood, the references to Hitler and the Nazi party and the... dogs, replacing these things with sweat, made-up dictators and GIANT RATS. Shoot at all the Germans and Rats you want, just leave those dogs alone!

There's an urban legend that Super Noah's Ark 3D was made in "revenge", because the censorship policies of the time were so stupid. It's not true, but it should be.

And as it's built on a nice engine, it's probably one of the only decent religious games ever created. Putting animals to sleep with food makes no sense, and it even goes against what was in the bible by having far more than two goats, but nevertheless, it's quite entertaining. Nothing new, but who cares.

The game is actually quite brutal in many different ways. Unlike Wolfenstein 3D, enemies hide around corners and jump on you (probably because goats can't hold guns). The SNES couldn't do 3D that well so like its port of Doom things are pixellated. Tie this with the fact that most of the scenery is brown and the music is dreadful... and you've got a pretty bad mix.

Contrary to popular belief it's not just Wolfenstein with a coat of paint however. The levels are completely different as well. It's certainly no-where near as fun as shooting nazis but as far as religious games go, it's quite high up the charts. I can't really recommend it - the SNES struggles far too much with FPS games and the SNES Wolf 3D wasn't quite up to spec either. Eventually someone will probably mod the DOS version of Wolfenstien to give a better Super Noah's Ark 3D experience (if they haven't already)... probably best to seek that out instead.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Robocop versus The Terminator

Oh my god

After playing a bit of the Terminator on the MegaDrive I came across this relic of the past. I already knew it existed and assumed it was rubbish, but that was before I had this blog feature and enough spare time to talk to nobody.

The first MegaDrive Terminator game isn't amazing. It's alright, but it's short, easy-ish and has numerous gameplay problems. By the time Robocop vs Terminator came about, many of these issues had been fixed. Likewise it's an improvement over the Robocop games that were around at the time too.

Robocop versus the Terminator was released for the usual bunch of consoles in 1993/1994 by Virgin (and Interplay) once again. The NES version was cancelled (which is probably for the better), the Super Nintendo and MegaDrive copies ruled the roost once more, and once again the two copies are ever so slightly different. You know how the Wii and DS versions of that new Ghostbusters game have cartoony graphics while the Xbox/PS3 versions don't? This "changing the mood to suit the console" idea is not a new thing it seems. Sega's copy takes a more realistic uncensored approach while Nintendo's goes for the comic book style. There's a few differences with the weapon systems and storytelling and censoring but they're effectively the same game. Well okay I haven't played the SNES version but still.

The story is an odd one. Basically it states that all the Skynet from the Terminator series is based off Robocop's technology, and as Robocop is amazing he manages to rebuild himself in the future to well... destroy his earlier self. They were going to make a movie about it, but it ended up being cancelled. A shame, though it's obvious it was really just a money making scheme like Alien vs. Predator. Problem is Robocop and Terminator don't mix as well as you might think. Terminator is great because it's always got X person on the run from Y terminator. A horror/action thing. Robocop can easily take care of Y terminator, so there's no running involved. It's just a Robocop rampage which doesn't really need Terminators to work.

RCVtT is one of those side-scrolling shooters that were all the rage in the day. Still not quite up to the level of Contra, but closer than previous attempts. Like Contra, this game aims to make your life a living hell by making everything under the sun fire projectiles at your robo face.

Now it's all fine and dandy up until the Terminators start getting involved. Shooting civilians? That's alright, but when the machines come to town you start losing lives. I don't think it's physically possible to beat some of the later stages without cheating. Even when things explode they still manage to fire at you, and since Robocop is quite big, he's quite the bullet magnet. The last boss is horrible, so much so I had to resort to Game Genie. Of course it must be worse on the Super Nintendo as apparently enemies respawn on that version... but still, this isn't easy.

As well as this, Robocop is a bit clunky and sometimes has trouble with hanging on bars and aiming. But he's more agile than Kyle Reese who had no way to avoid enemy fire (though Reese still has more health... amazingly). It also has the classic "no recovery time" issue, so bosses will literally crush you if you stay in one place. The camera isn't perfect either. Each level presents you with a slightly different mission (rescue hostages, destroy all satellites etc.) though I'm not sure if it makes a difference if you don't do all of these things. The SNES version apparently spices things up with first person shooter sections too. That's nice.

Graphics have certainly improved over previous attempts - animation is more fluid and there's more background effects, though this is to be expected for a 1993 game I suppose. Sound is marginally better too - the sound effects are nicer and Robocop says "excellent" every now and then. The music is hit and miss - there's not a lot of variation and I'm sure the announcer from Action 52 was captured to say "TERMINATOR" for the first couple of levels' music. It's a bit... stupid, but fun I guess. Bosses lack music altogether for some reason. Decent stuff, but there's been better.

But it's really the difficulty that kills this game. With gloomy level after gloomy level where every move must be timed so that you recieve as little damage as possible, it does start to lose that edge it once had. It's the sort of game where you almost feel like demanding a motorbike stage halfway through just to keep things going. I can't see how anyone could play this game to the end under normal gameplay conditions.

However it does have a nice array of cheats. If you input a code you get a nice little message from the game's programmers, and there's even a "real mode" code which adds more blood, skeltons and strangely dressed women with guns into the mix. Why is this an extra option rather than being part of normal gameplay? God knows.

And that's all I really have to say. Nobody talks about these games and I bet many of you don't even know they exist. But there you go - Robocop vs. Terminator. Bring on the movie dammit.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Shaq Fu

Either I've been extremely lucky or there's been some seriously bad information being spread about about this game.

Shaq Fu, a one-on-one fighting game featuring Shaquille O'Neal is another underdog of a game that's worth mentioning. I hadn't played this until extremely recently. I'd heard it was a terrible joke of a game. It... kinda isn't.

Shaq Fu was released in 1994 for the SNES, MegaDrive, Game Gear, Game Boy and eventually Commodore's Amiga. It was developed by the legendary but now defunct Delphine Software. Why are they legendary? Flashback. One of the many defining games of my childhood. Think Prince of Persia (the 2D game), sans time limit, plus guns. It's just a really good game and hasn't really been bettered since.

Shaq Fu didn't get high marks when it was first released. It was panned by critics for various reasons, most likely the fact that it's a one-on-one fighting game featuring Shaquille O'Neal. The story has Shaq fighting all sorts of weird mystical beings in the "2nd World" to save some... child... from some... mummy thing. It makes absolutely no sense and features no basketballs. Yet, unlike many people who see this as a turn-off straight away, I think this is one of the best ideas ever conceived by a video game developer. Why would anyone be possessed to make such a title? It's like they took a random game genre and a random celebrity and mixed the two together with a bit of magic.

Because I'm a Sega fan I'm basing my opinions on the MegaDrive version, which has more characters. The SNES game has the benefit of better sound (sort-of) and probably better graphics, but it's just that tiny bit slower. Handheld versions are likely to be worse and the Amiga version could be all over the place.

I must admit, the controls are a bit wacky. If you're expecting Street Fighter II you'll be disappointed. If anything, it's more like a "more busy" Mortal Kombat. Luckily it makes use of the MegaDrive's six button joypad, though I'm not entirely certain why since it still feels as if you've got "one kick, one punch, one... A button". You jump around and kick people who have the unfair advantage of having projectiles. Oh and there's a taunt button which is useless. One of the highlights is beating up a child (a possessed child, but a child nonetheless) - don't even know if it's politically correct to have that in games nowadays.

I actually thought the game was quite fun. It's not going to win any medals or anything but this isn't half as bad as people said. Then again, most people have been spared from things such as pirated Mortal Kombat games on the NES. There's some garbage circulating about poor hit detection which I'm not seeing. The only major problem with gameplay I had was the fact that the computer cheats... a lot. Well that cat-woman character does anyway. Also Shaq has a habit of getting stunned after a bit of beating which never seems to happen to anyone else. But it wouldn't surprise me if it's just me sucking - I'm not a massive fan of the fighting genre.

Other good things about this game are the graphics. There's some very smooth animations much like those in Flashback and the levels are just generally nice to look at. Some of them even have palette changes as the day progresses. There's also other nice things such as the HUD - your character's face gets beaten up more as your health decreases. It's a nice touch. Don't think it was the graphics that caused the bad reviews.

Sound is okay. The Super Nintendo has the added "benefit" of more digitized samples though it's not brilliant, and for some reason it almost feels as if there's a lack of sound on the MegaDrive version (but maybe it's for the better?). It's really just a matter of preference when it comes to choosing the better console, and the game probably sounds better on real hardware too so I'll leave that up to you to decide. One thing that does bug me about the MegaDrive's sound is that one high pitched note that's used on every track. If you play it you'll understand exactly what I mean.

At the end of the day Shaq Fu is not a bad game. It's not the best thing since sliced bread but it doesn't deserve the title of "worst MegaDrive game" and doesn't need to be hunted down and destroyed like some sites will have you believe. But of course it might be an entirely different story with the SNES version. I would gladly accept this into my MegaDrive collection.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Secret Doom Castle

I've been watching episodes of AVGN recently. Why? I'm... not sure. I suppose good home-made video reviews aren't released in healthy numbers, and certainly not that many are released that cover things such as the 1972 Magnavox Odessy. That system is just crazy.

Two things I thought I'd pick up on that I somewhat disagree with though

First, Milon's Secret Castle

A 1986 platformer game by Hudson Soft. Hudson liked it enough to give it a couple of SNES sequels that have nothing to do with a secret castle (and are henceforth better), plus a few cameos in other Hudson games (though seeing as the western world only got to see Milon in this form... it makes you wonder why). It's one of those NES games that hasn't aged well, but... it was released in 1986, which was still fairly early on in the NES's lifespan. It's aged better than things like Ice Climbers and Urban Champion.

People say it's a lot like Super Mario Bros. due to its colour scheme and looks but honestly I think it fits the role of a Metroid clone a bit better. You go back and forth looking for powerups to get... to the top I assume. The problem with MSC is that its learning curve is non-existant. You start off confused and you finish confused. That's probably the main reason it never caught on, but once you get the hang of it it's not too bad I suppose. It has a lot of nice ideas, they're just not executed properly.

Well, until you realise that the engine sucks.

Milon's acceleration is terrible and he(?) has no deceleration at all. Basically, it takes a few seconds to get up to full speed while walking, and as soon as you take your thumb off the D-Pad you'll instantly stop, no slowing down needed. And seeing as Milon's top speed isn't very fast, well... yeah. You'd have to play it to understand fully. Also the camera seems to have more fun following the large chunk of pixels behind Milon than following Milon. A slow game with a bad camera... ouch. Good job there's not masses of scrolling.

Furthermore everything's out to kill you, and with only one life... you're pretty much screwed unless you can play a perfect game somehow. Sure you have health but you don't start up with a full supply (did Hudson decide to break Milon's arms before he starts or something?). You shoot bubbles though they have limited range and don't fire in straight lines, and basically you've got to hit everything in hopes of finding a door or a key.

Now this process wouldn't be so bad if you weren't doomed to failure by the god-awful engine and hoards of enemies. Every now and then you fight a boss, and then you progress up the castle. Oh and also the music sucks. Lets not forget about that.

But it's not as terrible as people say. Fix up the engine and there's a passable game to be had here. But of course the ROM hacking community is a strange beast - it'll quite happily mess around with games that are already great, e.g. Super Mario Bros. but it won't fix the stuff that's been broken for 20 years. The icing on that cake is that apparently this game has a cult following (which is understandable since people do like those "search for x to unlock y" sorts of games.

Thing is, it's old and outdated now. Not so much in 1986. And lord knows there were much worse games on the market then. At least this shows some effort. But then again it never got to Europe so even Hudson didn't believe in it that much. If it had been released in, say, 1992, it may have been the NES's swan song, assuming Hudson learned from Super Mario Bros. 3.

Second, Doom on the 32X

People knock this one quite a bit and don't understand why.

When Doom was released in 1993 it was probably the most advanced PC game of the time. Some things to note about that sentence - 1993, a good three years after the release of the Super Nintendo and a good half decade after the MegaDrive, the two leading home consoles at the time. The 32-bit generation was coming up and both consoles were starting to show their age a bit. PCs are constantly improving and by this stage they were once again more powerful than the home consoles, so any port of Doom would have been gimped. In fact, with a 32X port in 1994 and a Super Nintendo port in 1995, these consoles were due to be replaced within a matter of months.

Arguably the Super Nintendo version is a better port but it's not without its issues. For one, the walls and floors have no textures. It's got all the enemies of the PC original but everything is a lot more pixellated (though I do prefer the HUD). And though yes, it's music is closer to the PC original... it's still far off. If you're a Doom fan, you probably wouldn't want to play either port.

Issues with the 32X port include the borders and the low quality sound... both space saving measures. Yes sadly even a 32X cartridge had problems storing this game fully. I assume any graphical problems on the SNES were down the limits of the Super FX2 chip. I mean you can only take these things so far. On the other side of things, the Atari Jaguar port, often labeled as the best official home console "port" lacks the soundtrack altogether! It seems to be a case where better graphics = worse sound and vice versa. So all three versions are probably on par with each other. The deciding factor is obvious though - the Jaguar died almost instantly and the 32X was awful. But if you were unlucky enough to buy a 32X instead of a SNES, you've still got a decent Doom.

And lets not forget, the Saturn and Playstation ports that followed dropped Bobby Prince's soundtrack in favour of ambient garbage and lighting effects, and Doom 64 is just... wrong (though it's not a terrible game). The really good ports of Doom are the fan-created ones. There's even one on the ZX Spectrum of all things.

Point is though, Doom 32X is not bad. Sure the SNES version probably has an edge but at the time it was still worth paying for. The 32X console on the other hand... probably not.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Terminator (MegaDrive)

Most gamers have played or heard about a Sonic or Mario or Halo or whatever game. Mainstream titles... the ones that sell consoles and may have even been the reason you got into gaming. Now mainstream titles are nice and all, but they're boring. Yes the majority of mainstream titles are good games and at the top of their class, but the majority of games in general aren't. This means the big bulk of video gaming is simply thrown aside and forgotten about. Even the extremely poor and obscure titles get more coverage than some of these. Those crazy fanboy arguements about certain consoles having a bigger library of games is made redundant if nobody plays anything but Mario. What games am I talking about?


Games that aren't fantastic but should still be classed as games. There were hundreds back in the late 80s and early 90s. Socket, mentioned in the post before this one is one of them - it's not worth a lot but it's worth something. Games that were shunned at the time for one reason or another, or games that simply didn't sell and that's why nobody's heard of them.

The Terminator was one of 1984's big movies. It had a follow-up, Terminator 2, the signifcantly better movie, another, Terminator 3 which was okay and a new one that's coming out soonish. Needless to say the series has spawned a few licensed video games, but unlike nowadays where games are easily ported to every home console and handheld, this wasn't always the case back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. Some 16-bit games were just too complicated for 8-bit systems even when watered down, and likewise some 8-bit games were too simple/broken for them to make money off the 16-bit consoles. Back in 1984 there weren't even any consoles deemed good enough to get a Terminator game, so most of these came half a decade late!

The first Terminator game is completely different on just about every major platform of the early 90s. The majority have you play as Kyle Reese in the future fighting the machines, but no game is identical. How is a Terminator game an underdog you ask? Well I suppose it isn't... but do you honestly remember this game much? Is it at the front of your brain when you think "MegaDrive"? Probably not!

This is the MegaDrive version, devloped by Probe Software and published by Virgin. There's inferior Master System and Game Gear ports of this title were made as well, but I'll leave those for another day. Probe have a history of turning movies into half decent games which are then often overlooked and forgotten about. They're also known for the famous MegaDrive ports of Mortal Kombat which actually brought the blood to the living room and subsequently delievered quite a big blow to Nintendo at the time.

As with Socket the game spawns a good soundtrack but its gameplay has a lot to be desired. Graphics are alright though nothing to write home about and no-where near as nice as the Mega CD game that came out later (though they are arguably more colourful). Kyle spends most of his time throwing grenades at things, then spends most of his time shooting people. There are other weapons, but you can't use them in mid-air, so if you're expecting a side-scrolling shooter on the lines of Contra... you may be disappointed.

Generally the game makes very little sense. T-101 terminators are pretty strong - it took an entire movie for two humans to get rid of one of them. Yet a couple of grenades seem to do just fine here. As for Kyle, he's... stronger than T-101s in this game, being able to absorb quite a few shots to the face before being killed. But then things go a bit crazy because as the movie progresses you're on the run from a T-101, which is significantly stronger than those in the future... or your weapons in the past just suck. If they had T-101s like this in the first level all the events of the first movie could have been avoided!

Overall Terminator for the MegaDrive is an odd game. You think it's going to be insanely hard after the first level... but it isn't, and it's short too. So as far as mediocre games go this definately fits the role perfectly. It's bettered by its Mega CD counterpart in many areas, but it batters the NES version into the ground. The SNES game isn't as far behind as the NES game but it's just another one of those cases where Sega takes the gold.

Terminator on the MegaDrive is a solid game. A hundred times better than today's movie licensed games which are usually quick cash-ins. Kudos to Probe Software, who went on to produce loads of other great titles in a similar fashion to this. Shame Probe no longer exists.