Saturday, October 31, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! F-Zero

Retro Game of the Day! F-Zero

F-Zero by Nintendo, a launch title for the SNES - late 1990 in JPN, Fall 1991 in NA, and the following summer in EU.

When Nintendo started to roll out the hype wagon for their anticipated 16-Bit console, all eyes were on them. Would they merely match the power of the competition (Sega's Genesis) or go them one better? Screenshots of games like F-Zero, a futuristic arcade racer, started to dribble out, slowly. The game looked alright in screenshots - a small car, a stark raceway. Sure, there were a lot of colors on the screen, but why should someone get excited about "another choppy racer?" The name didn't reveal much to get excited over either.

The game (and system) launched and I picked them both up on the same day. By now I was very excited to have my hands on this new hardware, and despite my cautious feelings, I was eager to see what it was capable of. I hooked up the unit and plugged in the game. What happened next? F-Zero blew my mind!

Never mind what the pictures showed - F-Zero was all about what the game was doing in motion. Never before had I seen a game that really felt this close to an arcade racer before - the intense feeling of speed, the incredible scaling backgrounds, the cheesy (though complicated) J-Metal music. It wasn't perfect, it was better!

This was the very definition of an arcade racer. You didn't meddle about with stats and upgrades, you picked a general car style (each with strengths/weaknesses), a difficulty, and off you went to the races. The game was packed with several tracks in different themed "worlds," and each felt unique and interesting. The game had some flaws, but at the time this released it was really much more enjoyable than any other racer (console OR arcade!) I'd experienced before.

The game launched a somewhat successful franchise, and moreover a new genre - popular games like WipEout obviously crew direct inspiration from this title. Interestingly, this is the only F-Zero series game I have played to any large degree, I suppose I should really pony up for the N64 version at some point.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Super Space Fortress Macross

Retro Game of the Day! Super Space Fortress Macross

Super Space Fortress Macross by Banpresto, 1992 arcade. Man. I am scared to type about this topic. In certain circles, talking about Macross is akin to discussing religion.. don't wanna piss people off!

Growing up in the 1980s, of course I was a fan of the Transformers. It shouldn't really come as much of a surprise at this point! Certainly, I was one of the lucky spoiled kids who had a "Jetfire" toys, complete with the spring-loaded landing gear which would smash into your finger when you deployed it (ouch!). And soon enough, when Jetfire was feature on the television cartoon, they renamed him to Skyfire and he looked nothing like his toy counterpart, either in Jet Mode of Robot Mode - why was this?

Because of Macross, fools! I don't even wanna bother getting to the bottom of whatever Toy Licensing politics must have gone on - someone in a suit must have had a pretty good hissyfit. Anyway, to me this game has always been "that Jetfire game."

And what a game it is! This was one of the cabinets in the short list of dilapidated machines in our Student University at UMass Amherst - actually, compared to several of the other uprights, Macross was in some fairly good condition. Unlike the rest of the roster (Galaga, Spy Hunter, an Addams Family Pinball) this seemed to be a fairly uncommon machine (I'd never seen one before, or since - and I have kinda been around!) so it was always a treat to play.

Pretty standard fare actually, you pilot your Variable Valkyrie Fighter, which could transform between it's 3 modes (depending on which arms you acquire, I guess). The action is fairly relentless and you are constantly picking up different weapons to lay waste to the intruders. It's not too thought-provoking, but certainly was great for letting off steam in-between classes!

Also of note, the game had some very beautifully rendered cinematic shots bordering the action. This isn't something that is very noteworthy today, but back when this game was new it was still fairly jaw-dropping to see something that looked like a fairly well-represented Japanese Anime running piped through a game engine somehow. Sometimes it was just fun to play through these games in order to just watch the nice graphics!

And yes - who could forget the "credit up"screen. This has to be the best goddamned "get ready" screen I have ever seen in ALL of videogaming. I can tell you I spent an extra 15 minutes today trying to find this screenshot, in fact you might say it was my excuse for writing this review. And I don't even like seafood!

Headcase Games' new game is being prepped for release! We are looking for some Beta Testers to give us some feedback on our newest game, which I like to refer to lovingly as "Digital Crack." (But we decided to go with "180" instead for our reasons). If you'd like to apply to be one of the select few, contact me and I'll see about hooking you up with a build.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Chiller

Retro Game of the Day! Chiller

Chiller by Exidy, arcade release 1986 and NES (unlicensed) port 1990 - I had no idea there was a port of this, until just now!

Ohh, Exidy. I suppose there's a reason why we haven't heard from you guys in several years - mind you, this was the same company that developed "Death Race" even before this, which became famous for letting you run over people. Exidy was Rockstar notorious, back in the day - before that became in vogue, anyway.

So! Chiller! What have we here? This is one of the reviews where I feel like I could just cut off right here and let the pictures speak for themselves. The arcade was one of those units that only consisted of a big rifle bolted to the cabinet, and all you had to do was shoot, shoot, shoot before the timer expired. A very morbid horror-themed shooter, the goal was to kill bats, creatures, monsters, and (ulp) poor tortured people. Gruesomely!

I almost feel a little strange to list this in here alongside the likes, Mr. Do! and Jr. Pac-Man, but this was what I saw in my arcade, growing up! Obviously, this game was made by some very disturbed people, to be enjoyed by that same niche. Well, it did stand out, I will give them that.

It does make one wonder, what if a modern-day Chiller were released? There is no way this thing could come to market, but then I guess we have things like that game Manhunt, so it's not impossible. The cheesy/cartoony graphics of this title make it a little easier to swallow, but if they released such a gratuitously violent game in the modern age, you can be it would be met with more than a little opposition.

And, yes. On the NES box, it does say "Dead People are Cool" on the Tombstone. 'Nuff said.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Mr. Do!

Retro Game of the Day! Mr. Do!

Mr. Do!o, by Universal, released to arcades in 1982. This is one of those games whose history is lost to time, and by the looks of things, there must have been some rather interesting story behind it's development. Who the heck was Universal? What did the game have to do with Taito? Why did Coleco manufacture the game for play on the rival Atari 2600 system? And lastly, does anyone care about this stuff besides me? (a resounding "No!!" echoes across the whole of the Internet)
A further question - what does this game have to do with Namco's Dig Dug, and who was first to market? The games seem close enough to be cousins, at least - both involve digging through a static screen, dropping obstacles on enemies (or being crushed by them). Whereas the goal of Dig Dug is to eliminate all the monsters in order to proceed to the next level, in Mr. Do! the object is to collect all of the cherries (while avoiding or killing the monsters).

A strange little game to be sure. Quite eye-catching with its bold colors, especially "back in the day," Mr. Do! was a fun little quest through the dirt where you had to keep moving or you would die - quickly, and often. I remember always wanting to like this game, but it did such a good job of killing me over and over that I never had much patience for it. Unlike in Dig Dig (where you shoot a pump into your enemies), you have a single "powerball" that you throw at your foes - unfortunately, it might wind up traveling down a long corrider before returning you, and you'll be left defenseless in the meantime. It makes the weapon's use one more of strategy than of.. spammery.

I admit, it is a little strange you don't see clowns in many games. I think people have some sort of deep dislike/distrust/fear of them or something, otherwise it makes sense that you'd see more clowns (especially in the early 80s) starring in game roles. Easy to illustrate with the limited hardware of the day, Mr. Do! stuck out like a sore thumb when compared to the likes of Frogger or Dirk the Daring. He even made Mario and Luigi look rather boring by comparison. Okay, maybe this is stretching it.

Overall, a strangely fun little game whose popularity has endured in some form or other, despite the mascot being completely forgotten for decades now. The game is held in some esteem by older game enthusiasts, which is a testament to it's depth and design. As for me, well I still am quite bad at it - I just like the noises made by the cherries when you pick them up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Defender

Retro Game of the Day! Defender

Defender by Williams Electronics, though to be proper we'll just say Defender by Eugene Jarvis - a 1980 arcade release that ported to several consoles.

Alright so - has a video game ever made you want to cry before? If not, play this one - Jarvis' games often have that effect on people. Often a little simplistic in the visuals, the games more than make up for it with their jarring complexity and absolute insistence that the operator be under some severe amount of mind-altering drugs in order to withstand a couple of waves of enemy assault in his games. His games are difficult.

Defender is an interesting little contest - it marked a lot of firsts when it appeared on the gaming scene. Mini-radar to show a multiple screen playfield, multiple button controller, and it probably must have set some sort of record for amount of sprites on-screen trying to kill you. The game throws a lot at you and expects you to understand from he get-go - otherwise, you're toast.

The play works out thusly - you are protecting humans from being nabbed by flying saucers. Blast away at the invaders, and if the quarry has been picked up, grab them before they fall to their doom. You have at your command a powerful straight laser, likewise a (limited-supply) super bomb which will wipe out all enemies in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, you've got a thrust button (in the arcade) and a hyperspace "escape" to get you out of trouble (or, into more of it, if you are not lucky). The horizontal playfield loops around, so you can just keep continuously flying over the entire field again and again if you so desire.

The arcade machine is a BEAST. Even now, on the rare happenstance that I come across one, I cringe - it's got too many buttons, it's so hard to play. The designers of this were not men - they were monsters!! The NES version is a little more approachable, and definitely enjoyable - though it can't help but feel neutered next to it's arcade big brother with that imposing control scheme.

Speaking of neutered, the Atari 2600 version pulls back on so many of the game features that it almost feels like it'd be not much more than a shadow of its subject matter - but the designer did a good job in working around the limitations (ONE action button!) and conserves the spirit, and fun factor, appropriately.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Quarth

Retro Game of the Day! Quarth

Quarth by Konami, a puzzle game released in various formats in 1990 as part of the Tetris knock-off craze.

SOooo, what is this Quarth, you ask? Sadly, Quarth is another in a long line of unspectacular games, the most fascinating memory of which I have is it's television advertisement, which very briefly showed a nifty little 3D ship blasting cubes in outer space (hmmm, why don't they just make that now). The actual game itself was less than stellar-

So why even mention it? Well, in spite of my dour attitude, the game was actually a bit of fun - I did spend a long dentist's waiting room visit once, just sucked into the GameBoy version. You control a little ship at the screen's bottom, and Tetris-esque shapes fall towards you. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to fill in the holes with your (ahem) "Block Gun" to make them complete shapes and therefore disappear. Otherwise, the odd shapes will fall on you and crush you. And you will be dead. Forever. And no one will even remember that you existed, because you died alone in space at the hands of some big floating green blocks.

Anyway, the game was not bad but it did get rather old after a bit. There was some strategy in trying to setup large-fill "combos" and knock out bigger points that way (more gratifying too!) But it was too easy to play it the duller way and just while away time. No wonder we never saw a Quarth 2.

Still, for all of Konami's ingenuity - let's face it, they are one of the top-tier developers in the world - I am a little surprised that this is probably one of the highest-profile puzzlers they've ever produced. Am I wrong - what others have they created? I will likely pick this game up again someday for the heck of it (like I said, the 3D version would be a cool game to make!) but until then, I am probably the only gamer in the world who has any interest in playing Quarth..

Development Blog #12

iPhone App Game Development Blog #12

Sigh. It is late, and I am tired, and I still have some fonts to look at (and a car to park) before calling it a night. So this will be a quickie.

As usual, lots to say but I am gonna pare it down and try to get to the meat. Overall, things are going really well. A ton of developments going around at HcG lately, which is always good, and our new game "180" is coming along very nicely. The biggest point to note is that as of late last week, the last crucial gameplay element was implemented at last (it required a fairly substantial rewrite of a lot of older "proof-of-concept" code) and as such it was hanging out for awhile, but now that's settled and we have a very near-final gameplay experience in our hands over here. Some tweaks and adjustments need to be dealt with - and the whole issue of overall presentation, which now comes into the fore - but overall I am very pleased. The game was quite addictive before, and with this new version I am there all over again. Now we just need to do it justice with the layers of polish, and it's off to the races!

I am spending a lot of time investigating other apps at this phase, to see how ours holds up (gameplay and aesthetically) to them. In my travels, I've come across some games worth mention - here's some (controversial) thoughts to chew on:

- Mr.AahH!! - cool little game, nice presentation. Pretty thin, you play it for a few sessions and then you never need to see it again! But, a great "feeling." Swing on ropes, tap the screen to try and land on a target.

- Gangstar - chugs on my old device. Extremely impressive - I would love to make a game like this!

- I Dig It- people rant and rave about this game. I couldn't make myself play it long enough to get the gist, I don't like games where you have to go back and forth and buy equipment immediately.

- Canabalt - I only played the flash version on the PC, it's not bad but I was over it pretty quickly

- Swingaling - I had expected this to be more immediately captivating. I'll go back to it, but the controls were a big turn-off.

- Line Up - after my own in-development game, this is the one I keep coming back to. So rock-simple but addictive. If you can make yourself play longer than a few rounds, this game will grip you and won't let go without a fight. Marred by some slight tech issues but not enough to be a buzzkill.

- Peggle - heard of this game for ages, between the name and the screenshots it was a huge turn-off for me. I wanted to examine their interface so I gave it a DL. Oh boy - great game.

- Horror Racing - was described to me as RC Pro-Am-ish (Pro Amish!) Yuck. The controls are unwieldy, at best

- Stoneloops of Jurassica - best "marble popper" I have seen on iPhone in awhile, looks like this just got pulled off of the App Store. It's a scary landscape out there right now with this stuff happening, and yet - if your game is a very close rip of someone else's work, should you be able to get away with it? Several other games I have been intending to look at have similarly disappeared - sketchy times, indeed.

Other notes - we have a local iPhone App Dev meetup in Hollywood coming up Wednesday night, hope to see you (that's YOU!) there! Every time we do it, always a blast -

Also, heading into the office for the startup I am helping out with, so I will be double-time busy these days. Whew - exhausting! I guess that'll have to hold you for now, I need to wrap up some things and try to get some shuteye. Thanks for tuning in, keep following us and spreading the word - we appreciate it!

-Ron & Ben

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Dracula X: Rondo of Blood

Retro Game of the Day! Dracula X: Rondo of Blood

Dracula X: Rondo of Blood by Konami for the Japanese PC-Engine CD-Rom, Original release was around Halloween, 1993, with no release outside of that territory (until a PSP port surfaced in 2008). That didn't stop many of us from playing it, however!

Hmm, so yes, it is October, and that being the month when Halloween is celebrated, it's a good excuse to go and double- and triple-dip into some of the myriad of Castlevania releases, I don't think it's not gone unnoticed that there's been a few of them popping up here on Retro Game of the Day lately. Well, as the month grows late, might as well get it over with and have a look at the Big Mother of Castlevania games then, eh?

This game was such a legend, in its own time and beyond, for so many reasons. It was a 16-Bit (mostly) sequel to the highly popular series which returned to it's gameplay roots (Super Castlevania IV was starting to mess with the basics a bit too much). It was a CD-Rom game, and an enhanced one at that (it required a RAM upgrade card to run). It released on a system that was hugely popular overseas, but flopped in the West, and so no domestic release. It was "ported" (with huge alterations) to the SNES, a much more popular system, but seemed neutered in the process. And the game itself looked like a labor of love on the part of the developer. All of this added up to something which people talked and dreamed about, but only those with deep poclets would get to enjoy if they didn't live in Japan. I remember seeing it at an import steel under a glass cabinet with a $150 price tag on it (and no console or CD unit, etc to my name) so no sale..

The game is your very basic Castlevania fare, before it got all.. Metroid-y. Walk, whip, jump, evade, destroy. Collect powerups to get the leg-up on your foes. Bash walls to find Pork Chops (thank you Angry Videogame Nerd). This game spun things a bit with RedBook Audio (that means it wasn't just straight MIDI music, but actual CD-Quality Audio, the likes of which no other console system could perform at the time - and it sounded incredible). Semi-animated cutscenes. And the big deviance was the second playable character, which had been experimented with in the past, but not to the same degree (she could throw kittens at enemies!). All of this added up to quite a gaming experience.

I remember the game was ripped to MP3s and distributed across the internet, and some folks were making a very concerted attempt to bring it "to the masses" - finagling playlists that would work with the compressed MP3s and play back properly thru the big emulator of the time, MagicEngine. They got fairly far with it too, until Konami stepped in and threatened to sue. I remember downloading and trying to burn it all on my 1st company's CD burner (which was before such hardware became standard issue) and nearly busting the thing, and fearing for my job! Years later I did get it running through that emulator, and save-state'd my way through much of the game, I felt cheap and decided to quit while I was ahead. Finally, several years later, I got my hands on actual hardware, shelled out for the damned RAM upgrade card, and played the thing as "it was meant to be played, " and let me tell you - it was worth it!

This game has quite an impressive history beyond all of this - it did eventually surface as a port, of sorts, on the SNES under the subtitle "Vampire's Kiss." Though far from a bad game, the port managed to be a poor reworking of it's source material and is far from a comparable experience in the eyes of fans.

Inexplicably, the game finally released as a port to Sony's PSP device a year ago. They made quite a package, rebuilding the whole game in 3D (!) and including the original PCE version as an unlockable (wha?) I have never laid my hands on the 3D version, but the screens didn't look terribly enticing to me (I strongly dislike it when they "port up" like that). Strangely, the original PCE version released on the Wii Virtual Console in Japan, but only there. Why?

All in all, a wonderful game that deserves to be unearthed and enjoyed in some format or other, the original being the best. Get your hands on it if you can - hopefully Konami will throw us a bone and finally get it out on Wii Virtual Console over here!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Retro Game of the Day! Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2, by Sonic Team (who else would be developing it!) for the Genesis, released late 1992.

I have some qualms about reviewing a game like this, in that a. it's been done to death and b. it's still constantly being re-released all the time in different compilations and such. But it's been awhile since I have personally looked at it, ergo-

This was a follow-up to Sega's watershed moment with the original Sonic the Hedgehog - it was very important that their follow-up effort be at least as well-put-together. In spite of some strange politics (the first being developed wholly in Japan, this sequel being a collaboration between Sega Technical Institute in Northern California and the Japanese dev house) the game turned out quite nicely, and was well-received - though some would argue it was not as novel or balanced as its predecessor.

This platformer puts you in the shoes of Sega's faster-than-fast (thanks to blast processing TM) mascot, run to the right and clear each stage - navigate around obstacles, bounce of springs, kill mechanized enemies, take down bosses at the end of each stage. There's always a prerequisite "crazy pinball" level for Sonic to play around in, plenty of lush detailed jungle levels, and several of the ruins, caves, and tech-themed levels the series has been known for. The entire game is fairly well-laid-out, with multiple paths, secret pickups and shortcuts, and tons of verticality.

Graphically and aurally, the game is a nice successor to the first Sonic, which was already pushing the limits of what the Genesis was capable of delivering. Stylistically, number two was a bit more over the top (and less elegant), whereas the first one was a bit more subtle and carefully assembled. Though both games are quite pretty, I have to give it to the first one for delivering a much more compelling world, in this way.

Sonic 2 does have a few improvements on the original - the bonus rounds are decent mock-3D (as opposed to the spinning levels in the 1st - which were more fun). Sonic has a spin dash (you can blast from 0-60 MPH standing still), collecting chaos emeralds in the bonus levels will enable you to become a golden Super Sonic (I've never done this!), and of course there's the (tacked-on) 2-Player feature.

Overall, a very cool game, if falling a bit shy of the coolness/novelty of the original. Sonic 2 is a harder encounter, in fact I never defeated the final boss (shame, shame!) Though the first was a pleasure, it never gave me a huge amount of enthusiasm to see what else the series would bring to the table (as opposed to, say, the Mario games - I'd be drooling over the release of each one - Sonic always elicited kind of a "meh.. I will buy that.")