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Monday, 8 March 2010

PS1 Game Review - Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

I recently picked up Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace for the PS1 at a car boot sale for the princely sum of fifty pence.  I’ve always loved Star Wars (though I thought Phantom Menace was an abomination), and thought that the game must be, at the very least, much better than the film. 

At the start of the game you play the role of  young Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, with the trade negotiations on a ship far above Naboo.  Treachery is afoot and before you know it, droids are all over the place trying to kill you.  There are weapons to be picked up along the way though of course as an apprentice Jedi your trusty lightsaber is always ready.  Throughout the game you travel to many different locations, and as well as Obi-Wan you play the roles of Qui0Gon Jinn, Captain Panaka and Queen Amidala.  The events in the game follow, relatively closely but sometimes with a lot of embellishment, those of the movie.

The controls are fine, some of the more complicated actions do take a while to master but you should feel basically familiar and comfortable with the controls almost straight away.  The game world is massive, with each area quite large, and loads of different areas in the game.  There’s a bit of variety about them both graphically and in terms of the game play challenge they represent. 

Graphically the game isn’t too bad, but it’s not exactly impressive, even by PS1 standards.  There are a few nice effects but certainly the environments don’t look as good or create anything like the atmosphere of Dino Crisis.  The animation is a little basic; the game looks best when things are happening at speed, when this is less noticeable.   The music is good, as are the sound effects, but the voice acting is only okay.

The game itself isn’t bad, mostly a Tomb Raider style game, with some RPG elements such as being able to talk to characters and accept or reject certain side quests.  The level of challenge is rather high; though I did find the game just about enjoyable enough to want to persevere, I can imagine a lot of people giving up pretty quickly.  Another problem is the viewing angle – just above and behind your player, this is often very inconvenient and adds to the difficulty, with dangers often out of view that should really be visible.  There does not appear to be a way to alter either the view angle or difficulty level; the game would have been much better if it had those options.

Overall The Phantom Menace had huge potential for Star Wars fans, but due to the problems mentioned above and a certain lack of aesthetic sophistication it fails to be more than reasonable entertainment.  You would get a lot of playing time if you managed to complete the game, but I do wonder if the ration of enjoyment to frustration would convince you not to bother.  I’ll play it every now and again because I would like to complete it, but it’s definitely not one of those games that you just can’t stop playing.

Since it’s not going to cost you very much at all I would still reservedly recommend the game to PS1 owners; only seasoned game players will likely get very far with it though.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Mega lo Mania - Atari ST

This was one of the best games ever to grace the screens of the 16-bits.  Deceptively simple, this featured an epic campaign of battles over a series of islands, each divided into different territories.  You built up your army, mined resources, researched new technologies etc... but the added strategic component, you could ally yourself to opponents - as long as more than two of you were still alive on that island.  Your opponents could also seek alliance with you.  I think I'm right in saying that Mega lo Mania was the first computer game to ever feature speech samples from professional voice actors.  Each computer opponent had its own personality - in terms of style of play, and type of voice...  The Yellow King, Oberon, would have a very camp voice and say "Do you want to come on my team?", while if you proposed an alliance and he didn't feel like it, you'd get an even camper "no I don't think so".  Sensible Software imbued tiny sprites with great personality, and here showed similar skill in using small snippets of speech to create memorable characters (only Rick Dangerous' "Wah!" when he got killed sticks in the mind with greater clarity).

Combined with all this, your starting population at the final level ("The Mother of All Battles") depended on how frugally you'd used your people throughout the earlier levels.  Therefore you could get to the end but find it pretty much impossible to win.  Eventually you realised that on the very early levels you could afford to take time building up your population - and that though very slow, it was actually possible to do this even starting with just a single inhabitant!

Whichever way you look at it, Mega lo Mania was a classic game.