Sunday, 28 February 2010

Bobsleigh - Speccy

Digital Integration earned a reputation for technical excellence, and their game Bobsleigh (with the winter olympics and all that, this game was brought back to my memory) was no different.  Bobsleigh put you in charge of a 4-man bob team, with the game split into team management - financial and technical - training (joystick-busting) and the races themselves.  The filled vector graphics might not look much now but at the time they were great, and anyway with minimal graphical detail they gave a realistic impression of bombing it down an icy track.

Bobsleigh is a game I have very fond memories of, though it's also one that I was never much good at - and it destroyed several perfectly good joysticks into the bargain! Skip to 1:40 in the video below to get to the race itself - I know it looks pretty slow but believe me, it felt very fast back in 1987!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Manky - a C64 Game in Development (Demo Available)

I've been keeping a lookout for new games being developed on old systems, and while I haven't had time to look at the demo for this one so far, there's a video of the game in action so take a look, and visit the official Manky website (er... well I know it doesn't sound good, but that's what he's called it!) for more info. Meanwhile, take a look at the video below.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Pirates! - Atari ST

Since I've just reviewed the 2005 game Sid Meier's Pirates!, which is a classy update to this game, I thought I'd post something here about the classic seafaring game here.  Pirates! is one of my all-time favourite games and stole many hours of my youth.  The combination of strategy, action, trading and sailing in a dynamically changing game world continued to hold my imagination in thrall for many months.

Becoming really successful in the game, particularly in the higher difficulty levels (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer and Swashbuckler) required a great deal of practice and quite a high level of finesse.  With different time periods to play in, four nationalities that constantly switched allegiances (as you could yourself), both sea and land battles requiring completely different strategies, a ranking after retirement ranging from Beggar to King's Advisor, different women to marry, missions to complete, long-lost family members to find...  Pirates! had it all, and it had me (and many others) coming back for more time after time.

Of course on top of everything there were Evil Spaniards aplenty - what swashbuckling adventure would be without them?  Managing to capture the Silver Train or Treasure Fleet always felt like a real accomplishment, capturing heavily fortified towns often required great skill and daring, and keeping your crew happy without having to divide up the plunder earlier than you wanted was always a fine balancing act.  

Anyone else who has fond memories of Pirates on the 16-bit machines (or the 8-bit computers for that matter)?  Leave a comment as testimony to the genius of Sid Meiers!

Friday, 12 February 2010

rOx Review - Atari STe

I had a good playtest of this game yesterday and found it to be an enjoyable game.  It's an "avoid-'em-up", which basically means that instead of shooting things, you have to simply avoid them.  Adding to the difficulty and challenge are several factors; some rocks can be mined (collected), there are power ups and power downs to avoid / collect, spacemen to be resuced, and letters to be collected - if you can collect each letter in the word EXTRA, you get an extra life.

The graphics are nice, with the whole style and colour palette rather reminding me of Speedball 2.  The various asteroids have a slightly 3D look to them and are nicely designed, not just uninteresting slabs of colour coming at your ship.  The scrolling starfield is simple but effective, and all the sprites move very smoothly.

I was a little disappointed that chip music was used, bearing in mind it's an STe only release, but it was okay.  There were some digitised sound effects and speech samples though.  They didn't sound like they were sampled at a particularly high rate but that wasn't really a problem.  
The gameplay started off a little pedestrian but it soon becomes quite frenetic - when the asteroids and other objects are just coming straight down the screen at you it's simple to avoid them, but once you get things flying around in all directions, survival becomes a mad dash from one place to the next.  There's a good balance of avoiding / collecting with the objects, and quite a lot of both manual dexterity and ability to think ahead is required to do it well enough to score big points.

Another feature is that you don't simply get points for avoiding asteroids - you get points for getting as close as possible without crashing.  You can scrape your wings against the big rocks for mega points, but of course a slight miscalculation will turn your ship into subatomic particles.  This adds an element of risk and extra interest to a game that could have become somewhat stale otherwise.  There is also a 2-player mode which looks good, but I haven't had a chance to try that properly yet.

Overall rOx is a good game, I wouldn't call it amazing but it's fantastic to see that even now people are producing more ST games.  Check out the Official rOx Wesbite for the download.  You'll need the STEEM Engine emulator or another ST emulator to run it if you're not fortunate enough to have the original hardware (still wish I'd never got rid of mine!  Sniff...)

Setting up your emulator to run rOx.

In order for rOx to run, you'll need to have an STe version of TOS installed - v1.62 (2.06 or higher should be fine too, but for gaming 1.62 is the obvious choice), and set it to have 2Mb or more of RAM.  You can get the TOS ROM from several sites; I used this one.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

rOx - Atari STe

I'm a bit late seeing this, but an Atari STe game was released sometime in 2009 and it looks extremely interesting.  Named rOx (rocks), it's an "avoid-em-up" where you have to avoid crashing into asteroids / meteors / whatever.  True, that might sound a bit boring - but some novel gameplay features are promised and I can't wait to give it a go.

Check out the Official rOx Wesbite for a bit more info and to grab the game.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

PS1 Game Review - Bust-A-Move 2

I was slightly dubious about Bust-A-Move-2 for the PS1 initially, having been told by the person I bought the console off that it was her favourite game - she obviously wasn't much of a gamer and you know what we gamers are like about non-gamers' opinions.  Still it turns out that she was quite right - of the games I bought with the PS1, Bust-A-Move 2 was definitely one of the most fun.

It's a simple concept that's been seen countless times on web-based games since - there are rows of balloons of different colours, and you control a machine at the bottom of the screen that produces more coloured balloons - you can't control which colour, but you can see one balloon ahead.  Getting three or more balloons of the same colour next to each other pops them, and if other balloons are connected underneath then they also will explode.  The object is to score points by popping the balloons, as well as stopping the balloons from reaching the bottom of the screen - then they turn to concrete and you've lost.

Featuring Bub and Bob, those two loveable dinos from Bubble Bobble and many games since, Bust-A-Move 2 contains colourful, cartoony graphics with a number of backgrounds and some fun animations when your player wins or loses.  There aren't a huge number of sound effects but there's okay, and the music is nice enough - bouncy and just about enough variety to it, cute without becoming nauseating. 

There are two main game modes - normal, where the game gets progressively harder, and challenge, where you can take on the AI or another human player.  There are a few little variations on these ideas but I didn't find that they really added much variety to the game.  However this wasn't much of a problem because the basic concept stays fun for a surprisingly long time - it seems like it should get boring quite quickly, but somehow it doesn't.  Particularly in 2-player mode, this game is really quite addictive. 

The one thing I really would have liked to see is a 2-player co-operative mode.  The one-player mode continues to be a challenge and there's quite a bit of scope for creating strategies, and because things move quite fast it also feels a little manic at times (in a good way!).  The skill comes, of course, in not blocking yourself off with a badly judged (or badly aimed!) balloon of a colour that ends up in the way of setting up a chain of another colour.  The fact that the colours don't come to you in a predetermined order adds a randomness to the proceedings, but skill plays a major role.

The 2-player, particularly against another person, obviously is the same game and largely requires the same strategies; however because when you do well it dumps random coloured balloons onto your opponent's side of the screen, it feels quite different (and even more manic).  Competitive play is done on a split-screen display and it works very well.  Despite everything you'll find yourself getting quite hyped when you win and quite tense when things aren't going your way.  Playing your spouse shouldn't lead to divorce proceedings though, unless one of you wins too frequently of course...

I have to say that the replay value isn't endless, I can play the game for quite a while but then I need to have a rest from it before I play it again.  Therefore although I do think it's a good game, I wouldn't quite say it's excellent; however, even if you're not a fan of puzzle games, you're probably going to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it.  In fact it's one of those rare games that even someone who's never played a video game before can probably enjoy right from the start, which is probably what lead to my friend to say it was her favourite game when she sold me the console.  This doesn't mean that seasoned gamers can't still like it though - it's fun and easy to pick up, but mastering it isn't going to happen overnight!

For a very different dinosaur affair on the Playstation, see Dino Crisis.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

PS1 Game Review - Dino Crisis

Well I thought it was about time I started putting some proper PS1 game reviews here, so... here's the first.

Dino Crisis is a game from the makers of the Resident Evil series, and to be honest it's not a title I would have thought likely to appeal to me.  Like all my Playstation 1games, I got it in a batch of cheap second-hand games; in this case however, I ended up being extremely impressed with the game.

You play the role of Regina, a Lara Croft-esque agent who along with two colleagues has gone in to investigate strange happenings at a research station.  When they get there it seems that the place is deserted, and signs of a break-in by extremely strong animals is evident.  Given the game's title, it doesn't take too much of a leap of imagination to work out what sort of creatures we're talking about here...

For the time, the graphics are very good indeed - the game engine (revolutionary back in 1999) creates a very detailed, realistic game world to explore, and that world is pretty big too.  The character graphics aren't bad either and have good animation, though there is no lip movement when the people speak - something that takes a little getting used to bearing in mind what we're used to today.  The music is quite minimalist yet still manages to help create a genuinely tense and creepy atmosphere.  The voice acting is good too - the only real problem being that Regina sounds a bit too smug for her own good a times (though I'm guessing the game designers would describe is as "sassy"), though at times the speech is a little indistinct and difficult to make out against the music.  Still, aesthetically it's really a good example of what could be done a decade ago.

The game play, based around achieving objectives as you explore the research facility and try to avoid getting killed by big scary dinosaurs, is very involving most of the time.  Since the person I bought it from had managed to lose the manual it did take me a little while to work out exactly what all the controls were, but they're pretty intuitive.  The only real criticism I have is that you don't appear to be able to use the analogue controls, which I would have thought would be perfect for a 360° motion game.  As it is you have to use the arrow keys - not too bad but could have been better.

Surviving the dino attacks always takes quick reflexes and there aren't so many of them that it gets boring - in fact every new attack in a new area has come as a bit of a shock!  One of the few things I don't like about the game is that there is a fair amount of gore - when a dino goes down a pool of blood slowly appears under it.  Slightly to my surprise the combat element of the game is almost a background issue - there is a strong emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving.  There are a number of well designed logic puzzles throughout the game, along with collecting and decoding keys to get to new areas.  It's nicely paced - every time you seem to have explored all the available areas, you find that a new area has become open to you one way or another.  Despite this I have to admit that the game does sometimes - just a little too often - force you to double back on yourself, which is one reason why I've rated it 4 stars not 5.

There are some good cinematic touches in the cut scenes and the in the game itself, and effects that involve the player more - such as when you get injured, Regina's stance and movement reflect this until you use a health pack.  The game's pretty touch on Normal mode, so unless you've already completed the game I'd definitely recommend playing it on Easy.  There are some points in the game where you can choose which objective to take, which adds a little to the reply value.  It's certainly not something you'll be completing particularly quickly even in Easy mode.

You have a fairly small inventory space, which I found a little irritating at first but there are areas you can access by collecting "plugs" that let you store items in convenient places, and also you are able to combine some items to make new, more effective thingies.   This is quite a good addition to the game but I still wish you could carry a few more things at a time!

Overall Dino Crisis is a very good game, well-balanced between action, puzzle and exploration elements, and a good level of challenge.  I found it a little too repetitive in places and am not a fan of the amount of gore on display, but overall it's still a very good game.