Thursday, 30 January 2014


The Endless Runner type of game has been around about half a decade for now, being the kind of the game where a character of some non-specific denomination, is set to run forever within a setting or scene on a mixture of traps, incidents, tricks, platforms etc. that are procedurally generated within the game until such a point occurs that the player fails to make a jump, collides with an obstacle or drops dead of a heart attack (which is more the player actually having the heart attack, but we're not talking about Evil Otto at this point)

Canabalt is one of, if not THE first, of this Endless Runner type of game. The premise and controls are incredibly simple and this is a saving grace for the game. While other games might have controls like jumping, ducking, boosting and other such things that overly complicate an issue, Canabalt just has JUMP as the sole control. You do get some variation in this single command in that holding it down will make your runner jump higher.

The game is entirely monochromatic but that's not a reason to dislike it. The style is almost bordering upon the arty classification of imagery. Greys and whites adorn the scenery and background, forming the buildings and skylines and the very weird alien geometry. Having said this, the game is rich in hidden back-story all of which leads to wild guesses but easily backed up by the graphics on display.

From what can be ascertained, you're one of (if not the) last person around and decide that to escape, you're taking a full speed run at the nearest window of your skyscraper and saying "defenestration is my bitch" before hurling yourself out of the window and (hopefully) onto the rooftop of a nearby building. The longer you run, the faster you get while leaping from one rooftop to another. Sometimes you'll be required to leap into a window of a building and out the other side in a sort of "jump, but not too high" trap, which all adds to the random challenge within the game.

Other things to navigate around are the cracked buildings which will fall when you land upon them, so if your speed isn't quite sufficient you will end up falling to your doom. Other tricks and traps are the boxes littering the rooftops that CAN be beneficial in slowing your speed, but hitting too many too soon will drop your speed beyond what you'll need to make the next jump and you'll slap face-first into the wall and slide to your death.

In so far as the only real enemy involvement here, there are bombs that can be fired from off screen to land upon the buildings while you're running across them. Which can be heard to be fired if you have the sound up or headphones in (with some sound at least... I swear, some people are so overly literal...). While there is in some versions, the giant leg of one of the silhouetted monstrosities in the background which will come crashing down upon a building and take it out entirely, leaving you to land on the "knee" of the leg and jump off again quickly to the next building.

All of this occurs randomly and no two runs are ever really the same.

But that's half the story, the backgrounds and scenery do tell a sort of story. Some large mechanical quadrupeds are roaming the background and either scanning or lasering the area while plumes of cloud steadily rise from place to place. Getting to further distances show very odd and very alien looking architecture in place such as what appears to be UFO mother ships, obscurely built and positioned (ominous even) towers that are so striking out of place you can't help but ponder the origins while forgetting to leap across platforms. Ships occasionally fly past and sometimes mask partially the sounds signalling the incoming attacks of bombs or legs and it ALL adds to the atmosphere and mystery within the game.

We may never know, but we don't need to know.

The game itself is responsive, considering it's built with the idea of just one button for control; it should be and needs to be. Thankfully, it is and does its job rather well in being the sole controllable method the player has (boxes, not quite 100% controllable), and the audio of the music tracks accompanying it are testament to the talent of the composer. The game recommends wearing headphones for playing it and it really should be undertaken, if only so then nobody else has to listen to your obnoxious gaming on the bus! (Along with your Justin Bieber records, you shallow shit)

Adding into the replayability of the game (still not sure if that's a word but oh well) is the inclusion of a leader board in most of the non-flash versions, allowing you to compare yourself to thousands of other people who managed to press button repeatedly at random intervals in a non-scientifically qualify able comparison of alike and almost alike. You might get to 30,000m and doing some of the most bowel-tightening difficult jumps you've ever seen with reflexes so fast that the Flash is going to be impressed, or run 300,000m and occasionally had to hop over a few gaps with no bombs or legs turning up to fuck up your "impressive" distance.

With this realisation, there's no achievement in getting first place, or any place, or getting better if the game is bowing down and sucking the knob of the God of Random Numbers and you're getting the sloppy seconds defined as either simple running and jumping, or parkor-ering your way around orbital minefield central. BUT, ignoring the poorly situated idea of a leader board, the game itself is well worth a use as a casual time-spender or long term session burner depending upon how well you like it. It's worth a check at least if only because a) it's one of the first Endless Runner games and b) it does it REALLY well that many other types of this game could and should learn from it.

Monday, 27 January 2014


Nearly everyone has played this one. If you yourself are too young to have played it, I can almost 100% promise that your parents have. Originally made in 1985 and world popularised in 1989 by being released with the "new at the time" Original Gameboy, Tetris was THE addictive puzzler in computer gaming and by god was it.

The premise is fairly simply, as should be with all puzzle games that want to welcome in anyone and keep them a long time playing the game. You have a blank area that's about 9 blocks wide and about 30 blocks high (depending upon versions, some go to STUPID lengths of having thousands of blocks wide). Within this area, Tetriminoes (Check the official company for the spelling, they don't like "Tetrominoes"), descend from the top of the area and fall steadily towards the bottom. These are shapes made up of arrangements of 4 blocks to form 7 unique shapes. Once they hit the bottom, they stick and become immobile, where upon a new shape will fall from the top again.

The game is about making entire full rows of blocks line up by fitting, slotting and shifting the shapes into an appropriate position so that a whole, horizontal line can be completed from one side to another. Once this is achieved, that line disappears and everything above that line drops down to fill the now-empty space. Giving the player more space to keep playing. The score goes up depending upon the number of lines cleared (a maximum of 4 lines from using a 4x1 shaped piece) and while the score goes up, the speed of the game goes up too.

Different game modes allow for playing either to get to 200 lines and by extension, level 20 in speed which leaves you virtually NO time to shift falling blocks into place or rotate them. Or the other mode where you have to beat the game by getting 25 lines but starting with arenas that have randomly filled walls-with-gaps already in place. Other variations of the game include things like having special blocks within the shapes that act as bombs, or using the ability to store a piece for later use, or getting specific back-to-back combinations of line removals for further bonuses. Or even a vs. mode where getting rid of sets of lines will bump up your opponents lines but in such a way that they could quickly reverse the lines being sent to them and send them back with interest.

Other games and variations have Wordtris where the blocks are made up of scrabble shapes and you have to make words rather than making lines, or you have the ill-conceived Sextris where you're dropping in naked people in various positions and have to remove them by getting them into hump-able positions (I had a very odd childhood didn't I...) before they vanish and allow for more naked people to fall into the fray. Or it could be that you're playing the game in 3D and have multiple layers in the Z-Axis to fill too, or you're playing it in First Person Mode or it's about using shapes to create platforms for a platform jumping character (Mario usually...) to progress across the level in some fashion or another.

Later iterations of the game would play online and allow people to compete around the world in 8way games and having team modes and such. Basically as the technology increases and new elements of gaming are found, someone somewhere is going to add in a Tetris effect along the lines from porn to faces, hats, 3D shapes, rotating the arena rather than the pieces, gravity/physics effects and so on.

The base game however, is still just dropping blocks into an area and filling up a space neatly. It appeals on a LOT of levels and in particular, the OCD group, as this is the ultimate cleaning up game.

It's because the game is so simple and accessible that virtually everyone and their parents have played this at one time or another in some fashion or another. Even adventure games have variations of sorting and arranging spaces, such as Resident Evil 4 where in the inventory, you had to make sure everything was neatly packed away or you'd have difficulties buying new items and such. A bit of a weak example, I know, but the influence is still there and can be found in a great many other games through the ages, even parody examples in games like I Wanna Be The Guy (Press R now, just do it)

As such it's hard to just review Tetris given that it's the phenomenon that it has become, but perhaps that should be the focus rather than the game itself. This is a game that started as a puzzle game and ended up transcending time space and the 4th dimension in some versions of the game where a 2D plane has 4D shapes represented by 3D displays in the 2D plane and changes through versions of itself bending inside and outside to form tesseracts (Hyper cubes) and then fitting THOSE into the area to clear out lines.

How the hell someone is going to get their head around that one ... Actually it's quite a fun game once your mind starts to see things in 4 dimensions.

But this just shows how adaptable a player can become from such humble beginnings within a game. There's no save function it's just you and the area. While there have been a GREAT many contenders to the throne, from columns to bean games, to puzzle fighter and so on, Tetris remains such a firm staple of video game history that very rarely can a falling block puzzle game be made that doesn't owe something to Tetris. It's quick, easily playable (especially the original versions, new versions sometimes over complicate things) and of such a pick-up-and-play focus that you can sit down for a session or two and be done within 5 minutes or find that you're looking outside and the 4 Horsemen are looking over your shoulder and waiting for you to catch up with the rest of the apocalypse because you were too busy to join the rapture.

And I bet they'll want to play it before claiming your sorry soul, and they'll likely be better at than you.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Chu Chu Rocket

Possibly one of the greatest gaming achievements in console gaming and for the Dreamcast initially, Chu-Chu Rocket is one of the forerunners for online gaming that the Dreamcast and Sega pioneered and was the first game with major popularity and online support through consoles. (Of course we're already enjoying Quake and Quake World on our 56K modems, fast back then and a death sentence these days)

The premise is simple. Get mice into rocket. Get more mice than your opponent to win. Avoid cats. I really cannot make it any simpler than perhaps Mice good, Cats evil, Save mice. It's a wonderfully simple little game but like a lot of party games and multiplayer games, it gets awkward, complicated and rage inducing, fast! And fast too.

You get to control a cursor, the same colour as your rocket and you can place down onto a board, up to 3 arrows that will guide the mice (and cats) along routes until they hit a wall, hit a rocket or hit another arrow. You will guide them from their generators and into a rocket upon which you score points. When you lay down a 4th arrow, the first one will vanish. Arrows also vanish after a short while and fade out which means you'll have to lay down more arrows... if you can. Because at the same time, some little sneaky bastard AI or other Player, is going to be laying down THEIR arrows and trying to get mice into THEIR rockets. (Or the really shit-bastard-gitbags will be guiding the cats into your rocket and you lose a 3rd of all mice in there). So now we see where a) the challenge and b) the added appeal comes into play.

Each mouse is worth a point, Gold mice are worth 50 and pink mice spin the roulette wheel. This is the games way of determining that all you’ve set up is going to be for nothing and there’s nothing left you’re going to be able to do to prevent the madness and chaos that is the random effect. This can be from anything like everyone else gets an immediate cat to the rocket or someone gets a vacuum effect for WAVES of mice into their rocket. It could also be an immediate game of Change Places and now you're where player Yellow was and they're where player Red is now. It could also be all the arrows are removed while the game freezes for a moment, or it's just PURE MICE for about 30 seconds or the more destructive and vile cats only for about 30 seconds and then all arrows will be quickly rearrange to keep things OUT of their rockets.

The game comes into its own when 2-4 human players are trying to stitch each other up and get the monopoly on the mice from the generators while trying to negate the cats and send them into each other’s bases. While playing against the AI is an entertaining prospect for a while, it lacks the immediacy of the human-factor which pits mind against mind rather than mind against occasionally malfunctioning algorithm and false Artificial Intelligence, even the computer will make mistakes and you can't help but think that you're still not up against a good attempt at a human, but rather you're against a bad attempt at a computer.

But this is just one mode of the game.

You can play solo all vs. all, or in teams. You can choose from a great many layouts or make your own, play offline or online against other humans or play against the AI/People-within-punching-distance in your own living room with some half-eaten pizzas strewn around the place.

Other features include puzzles where you'll have to save all the pre-determined mice without losing any while using a specific number and set up of arrows. Or you can make your own puzzles, though there's plenty already on the game and in most cases with the right set-up, you can download more of the fiendish little buggers. Though the menu should be listed as "Would you like to download potentially even more pain and suffering than you've already been through?" and for uploading puzzles "Click here to make the rest of the world suffer your bullshit", but instead the game remains nice and colourful and pleasant about everything. Which is probably for the best. There's no gore here, just a fading mouse with a little halo when it touches a cat (that includes it running into the back of the cat). So it's all family friendly and happy cutesy game of tag between mice and cats with arrows and rockets thrown in for fun's sake.

And yet, every game I've seen played has some of the most coarse and abusive language known to mankind, I've seen people change languages to swear at others, dipping into Spanish and French (international friends... what can you do...) because they get so caught up in the furious paced action and "fun" that they transcend speaking in one language and drop back into their own.

This game can really drag you along on a wild madness if you're gaming against other people, especially on levels where there's not much space between your rocket and the generators and there's only enough space for 3 arrows and 12 of them can be placed at once on the level, that's when the anger and annoyance kicks in and long standing friends become bitter rivals, brother and sister turn upon each other and the end of days is soon upon us with family pitted against family in pockets of civil unrest.

So yes, this game is designed to bring about the apocalypse, but at least it does it in a very cute, playable and colourful manner. If you see someone spray painting cats orange, you know to start building rockets.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Seaside Special

It's 1985, the Conservative government has been in power in the UK for... far too fucking long if you ask me. One group of programmers thought it'd be funny to lampoon the Prime Minster and their immediate cabinet members and make a game that ultimately allows you to kill the ruling government and in a rather amusing, tongue-in-cheek, Spitting Image kind of way that only British comedy seems to get these days.

The concept and background is firmly steeped in Britain and hard to get into if you don't get the subtle nuances of the politics at the time. Basically, the country was on hard times and the people blamed the ruling branch of government that seemed to do the one thing it knows really well how to do, look after itself and its posh, rich, friends that ran companies. Privatisation being a lovely by-word for the time and we end up with a Prime Minister that became infamous for decades long after their rule.

Watch any political satire comedy and you'll hear quotes of Thatcher's Britain where the working class is solely the plucky underdogs and the middle/upper class are usually toffee-twits with more in common in their portrayals, with the 3rd Reich than anything else. Anyone in a uniformed job was usually portrayed as a Gestapo member and police were seen as the bodyguards of the rich and in-power.

Now we're getting an idea behind the game.

The game's premise is simple enough. Get down the beach where another nuclear reactor has leaked and pick up the radioactive seaweed that gets periodically washed up on the shore. Once you've got 10 or more of the lovely glowing muck, you can rush it down to 10 Downing Street, the ruling government's address, and proceed to hurl it at the various cabinet members while they try to bombard you with various comedy themed items. Except for the PM who tries to nuke you with a lovely H-Bomb, we know it's an H-Bomb because of the big fat H on the side of it. Nobody ever said Maggie played fair.

The game is split into two sites, the Beach and 10 Downing Street. The Beach is where you navigate a rudimentary maze of rocks and gather up the seaweed while fighting off the effects of radiation poisoning (your in-game timer), mutant jelly fish which kill on contact, a goose-stepping (read: Nazi, see above for reasons) guard and his rifle that only shoots if you're on the same X-Axis value and only hits if you're twat enough to hang around long enough to be shot. Later enemies include crabs that bump you around, quick-sand that can claim you if you're too slow and seagulls that can abduct you. You can shoot the seaweed at the enemies on the beach, but then you're stalling the real fight and time isn't friendly.

The battle at 10 Downing Street, has you running back and forth firing your collected seaweed up at the politicians-in-power, scoring a hit has them change colours until green, upon which they'll die. The more colour changes they go through, the faster that they appear and change from window to window and the more rapidly they throw things at you. Being hit will cause you to drop a seaweed and once all seaweed have been fired, it's back to the beach where the layout and difficulty has increased somewhat.

The game is very tongue-in-cheek regarding the humour and political satire, doubling up as both a stab at the ruling class and those in power at the time, while also taking a dig at the use of nuclear power and the hazards of such things failing, made at a time shortly before the Chernobyl disaster (1985 as opposed to 1986) and as such grimly foreshadowing events. Though I know of nobody running around in Pripyat with radioactive seaweed, but then we ended up with S.T.A.L.K.E.R as inspiration to be reviewed at a later date.

Audibly, the game utilises a pseudo-white-screen hiss for the sounds of waves breaking on the beach, renditions of "I do like to be beside the sea-side" for the game's death-notes and intro/attract music and a few sine wave effects for the projectile events of tossing seaweed at the enemies, there's little else on the table for this game though regarding the sounds and effects.

The shift in graphics from the beach area to 10 Downing Street are rather jarring the first time you do it, with your character effectively 3x-4x the size they were on the beach level, but this allows for more detail and easier identification of the Tory cabinet ministers and Maggie herself, which would have been a lot more difficult to render on the previous set up and likely not been as engaging within the game.

All in all, an ok game if you get the background and understand/appreciate the politics, otherwise it's a generic, run-of-the-mill 8way directional maze game with a side mission in shooting at pixelated turrets. While the flow and speed of the game is rather quick, it's not enough to keep the appeal going.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Ghost Chaser

For some, it's an obscure title from way back, for others; it's an obscure but fun title from way back. Ghostchaser. The premise is simple enough and quite amusing even for a C64 game. There's a shitload of treasure in a house, way way down in the basement, but it's haunted and if you try to go and get it, you could die!

It's not going to win the prize for best written plot, but at least it has one and there's rules to go with dying. For a start, you can touch anything 3 times within any room and then you'll die, be it spooks, small ghosts or water drops. Even the Big Ghost that can randomly turn up and patrol the rooms can be touched up to 3 times within a room. If you leave the room and come back in immediately again, it's back to be touched up three times and then dying. Not exactly the Jimmy Saville approach but it's close enough.

Your character, the wonderfully nicknamed Twatz McGibbons, who decides with his apparently receding hair-line, to brave the mystery of the haunted house (and from the outside it's JUST a house but becomes the fucking Tardis on the inside). Armed with what can only be described as balls, will be able to shoot his balls at the Big Ghost and scare it off temporarily, while the smaller ghosts will ignore that shit and continue to try and kill you anyway.

Falling too far will kill you, falling through the floor will kill you, being hit by the crusher will hit you (A one off trap) or touching any spook/ghost three times within any single room, will kill you. The problem with this 3 hit rule is that when you're hit you're forced to watch Twatty-Boy shake back and forth from the "shock" and all control of the character is frozen. This means if the ghost or spook is STILL touching you by the time it wears off, you’re getting hit AGAIN.

When it happens the 3rd time, you're angry enough to rip the game's bollocks off with your teeth before you start the room again and await to have to do the same dance again. The unfair-frustration level is quite well established here on this one. But, I hear you say "why should I give a shit?" and instead I'm translating that as "How can I defend myself?" which leads me more nicely into the next point, that you can run, jump, dunk, shimmy and shoot balls at Big Ghost.

But therein lays the problem, the controls. Up is jump/climb, left is left, right is right and down is duck or climb down a ladder. Shooting requires you to hold still, then press the fire button and THEN in the direction (1 of 4) you wish to send your balls flying. So shooting left, will send you slightly to the left as you WALK that way. The same with moving right and shooting downwards will invariably make you duck.

Now, for a bonus point and a slice of Bod's patented "State the fucking obvious" pie, what is going to happen when you shoot upwards? Yep that's right, you JUMP. A slice of pie for you and a big hearty... heart attack for being a smart-arse. Yes, you jump upwards on an upwards shot, which is NOT helpful when trying to avoid a plethora of slow moving enemies that could be coming from all manner of directions.

But while you scout every room in the house from the Kitchen, to the Greenhouse (in the upstairs rooms... the fuck?) to the Bathroom, Bedrooms and more. Find the key to get into the painting with the "watching you" eyes and then into the bowels of the under-house where the architecture and graphics begin to really represent a deep, dank and uninviting place (not where Berk lives, that's Trapdoor, another dank and uninviting place), where the number of spooks increases, you'll find graves, wine cellars and more deadly traps on your search for the large treasure (immediately followed by the 'GAME OVER' as if you lost... maybe you have? Ooh the mind fuck!) and take on the Big Ghost while he steadily haunts you for trying to take (assumedly) his treasure.

Musically, there's the little haunting melody at the start of the game, and then silence throughout from the orchestra. Probably watching you fuck up that one small jump at the start of the 2nd room a few times and giggling their philharmonic balls off at you. All you get are shuffling footstep noises, sliding sine-waves of jumping screams and the high-pitched "you dropped a bollock" squeal each time you get hit. Now, I could argue "Hey 1984! We should be happy with Twatz McGibbons here in all his bald-headed glory!" but I won't. I'm not helping that out at all.

There's some slight replayability in the game but ultimately, there's one ending, the same rooms in the house no matter what with the same ways of beating them, the same traps in the same place and the same effortless ending. Ghostchaser this game might be, but you'll want to run the fuck away from it after the first play through.