Thursday, 27 February 2014

Robocop NES

You've seen the film, now suffer the 8-bit

In one of those moves to capitalise on the popularity and success of the arcade game, the NES version of Robocop was brought in within a year as a "sort of" port to the gaming industry. In what seems to be an acceptable practise, games would be produced on one machine and then other companies that worked on other formats (i.e. Started in Arcade, then would be made for C64, Nes, ZX81 etc) in order to bring the game to other machines in a way that could be played but wasn't quite the same standard as the original arcade game. Sometimes these games were VERY close to the original (Take Bubble Bobble as an example) and in other cases the game was.. well, let us just say that it wasn't very much like the original and in many cases was either a passing similarity or more of an "in name only" kind of concept.

So instead of getting a near approximation of the arcade game we get this instead... You can likely tell by now which tone I'll be adopted for this review. Well done for recognising a pattern, aren't you clever.

I can only imagine robo is blowing one fat raspberry at this point.

6 levels of platform trawling (you don't jump) where Robocop will walk slowly from one side to another and gradually punch and shoot his way past thugs, mugs and under-world scum, beat off dogs (not like that...) helicopters, large people that are bullet proof (mostly...) an odd assortment of bosses and villains ranging from generic tough guy that can be encountered repeatedly later on, to Miller who held the mayor hostage to ED209 (twice) and so on.

Like the arcade game, there's punching and shooting, though unlike arcade there's the lovely incapacity that is the game deciding "No guns here" and forcing you to punch everything once again. The arcade did this initially and never again, but this game will occasionally FORCE it upon you while fighting pretty much the same enemies you were while having access to the gun. On top of this, you'll have a time limit (which gets VERY tight in the last levels) and a health bar where you tank damage (or not, seriously, at what point did a dog bite through Titanium Alloy armour?). Your weapons range from the pistol to the machine gun to the cobra cannon so it's nice to see that little nod of acknowledgement.

Wow... can we get any more supposedly patriotic? It really doesn't work on non US audiences

There's slightly more focus (ONLY SLIGHTLY) than the arcade game in keeping with the theme of the film. The 2nd level for example is set entirely around the siege with the mayor and your boss being the very guy that Robo punches out of a window (to land on a crash mat that isn't entirely out of shot and used again in the news report, but enough movie mistakes here). Not only do you have to traverse the building and search various rooms, you'll also be able to actually punch through the walls to find secret routes and then take on the boss in a shootout with a hostage and then kill him. It's nice to see that the NES throws in things that the original arcade didn't touch upon.

The third level takes place in the warehouse, akin to the films drug factory. Followed by going to OCP headquarters which is what happens next after interrogating Clarrence Boddicker (yep.. dicker..) followed by the showdown at the steel mill (film again) then back to OCP (like in the film!) If anything that should be praised here is that the game follows the film rather than just using it as ideas for backdrops, it sticks fairly closely to the plot and mimics it in the cut-scenes between levels which is a lot more impressive than the arcade managed to do it.

The problem however is that the arcade focused on gameplay and responsiveness and the NES... didn't.

Possibly the most impressive graphic in the game, and even here it has glitched.

Graphically speaking, this game is ugly. The backgrounds are almost enough to make me puke blood in disgust (especially the first level) but redeems itself by having one of the HUGEST ED-209 bosses I've seen in a game, so big in fact that they boss fight(s) tend to be in dark rooms so the graphics can be focused on rendering him in-game (a shame he's so easy to beat if you have the machinegun).

It can also be hard to work out where the doors are in the game and sometimes the sensitivity and precision required to enter the door can be a nightmare. It's also a little odd in trying to go through a door and having never encountered one before, not realising you can go through the door in the first place. Often a fun thing to witness while you run back and forth trying to find what you're missing until you die of time-out. Yay, use another continue.

You'll learn to love these moments, it's when the music is different

Incidentally, dying = new life = continue = restart the whole level and slowly walk through it again. As you can see, this is a key formula for qualifying for dickmove-university. Especially annoying on level 6 where you start on a backwards moving conveyor belt and goes EVEN MORE SLOWLY for your progress. Aside from this, there's a lot of other inconsistencies where some doors can be walked into on the horizontal plane on which you walk, while other doors are rather more disgusting in that you have to push up to walk through them while they look like these other doors that you can hobble your way through with your oh-so-limited frames of animation.

Controls are an absolute shitbagbastard, of the highest order. Stairs are a nightmare to try and ascend or descend while the actual act of picking up items is still a case of TeaBagging Hit or Miss wherein you need to duck but have to be almost pixel perfect in your positioning just to get a battery or health bar. Later enemies have the lovely ability to hit you no matter where you are and serve JUST to drain your health until you slap it down.

Punch fight. Bullets don't do shit here. Yes it's as dull as this picture looks.

There is far too much dependency upon having perfect timing for the game to be any real fun and it becomes quickly a slog through the hardest and slowest forms of gaming if only because your reaction times need to be super human and your control with the not-so-entirely-accurate-control-system(more hyphens please) has to be above and beyond.

Avoid this. It's a disaster of a game that's ONLY saving grace is that it sticks far more rigidly to the plot of the original film than the first arcade game does.

A boss fight... It's about as many enemies as you'll get on screen at once.

And the music... you'll be begging for a different tune on the levels, it's the same cheese-fest schmaltzy rubbish of the original theme tune. Actually you know what, fuck this. Go watch the original film instead while playing the arcade version.

And avoid the shitty remake film!
...Afterwards, blow my brains out for having to suffer this game.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Law of the West

1985 game about 1885 life

Have you ever wanted to be a Sheriff in the old West? Ever wanted to walk around like you're John Wayne and be Duke to all that you survey? Did you ever consider that maybe it's a risky business and you're more likely to get shot than make it to the end of the day without looking either like a dead man or a coward? Do I know what I'm talking about any more? That last one I might be able to answer, as I've no real clue, but I have played Law of The West on the C64 and this half-week review is on that.

I suppose I have the lack of processing power and the imagination of armies of bedroom-programmers to thank for the huge variety of games we used to get back in the days of the C64 and ZX81 et al. So many different games based on different circumstances and back in an age where making something similar wasn't really the way to go but making something unique was the forerunner to innovation and inspiration.... Gone off on one again haven't I.
Is he telling the truth? Sod it, just shoot the bastard anyway.
LoTW is effectively a "Day in the Life Of" game where you play as Sheriff NoHead (or left hand side as far as we can see) where you'll have to contend with doing the rounds in the town. A town that has its own doctor, deputy, saloon, bank, railway and other usual stock-locations one would expect to find in any half-decent "Living in the West" film/story. I always get reminded of Blazing Saddles at this point. You'll have to chat with various people, select your options from the trees of conversations and attempt to ascertain what might be happening around the town and how best to deal with each situation. This leads to a somewhat more complicated situation than one might initially realise.

That doctor, the one you told to go fuck himself and drink like a fish, well if you get shot he won't be able to patch you back up. Or balls up the scenario so badly that it kills you anyway. Or if you piss him off about how shitty his job is or how bad he is, he won't help you as you've been a right prick to him. (What was that about "do no harm"...).

Bottom option! You yellow-bellied coward.
Likewise various people are inherently good and bad in the game, though your choice of options can sway them from being good to being a dick, or being bad to leaving you alone or giving up entirely their weapons. Some will reveal things like a certain location is going to be held up by robbers and you'll be heading that way shortly after to stop them in a quick-draw shoot out. Other people will just get pissed off and try to shoot you, though you could just shoot everyone as soon as they arrive, including the little kid. There's no blood (unless YOU get shot) and if you kill the person as they arrive, you'll skip onto the next event.

After 12 events have happened, you'll be rated and assessed on how well you did in the day and given a score. Ratings on how much of a lawman you are, how romantic you were with the ladies, how many bad people you killed, good people you killed and so on. For each encounter there are 3 choices to be made from 4 options. Sometimes it's easy to see where things are going, other times it’s not. One particular encounter seems to be confrontational but can turn out to be that the fast-drawing mexican in front of you is NOT there to challenge you but is actually a hero of the people if you play the cards right. Pre-conceived notions are NOT going to help you here (and the use of the minor key in the music when some of the characters come in is not helpful in trying to gauge good/bad)

...In a body bag, cattle rustlin' jezebel.

The controls are a little sluggish for drawing the gun and shooting, the animations a little stiff though the detail on the characters and the sheriff are impressive for the C64. The melodies seem to be inspired very strongly by your usual cowboy films and shows and everything about it could be a slice-of-life game were it not so short. Only getting one day is a little brief but you can always replay it and see what options will get you where. Maybe you can piss the sassy lady off and have to shoot her? Or see if you can talk your deputy down from being a dick? Or perhaps shoot that prick kid in the face for not telling you the secret he has.

But be careful, the game does try to catch you out at times. Sometimes the bank gets robbed ANYWAY if you just happen to be there at the right time when the scenes change. Sometimes someone will walk away and at the last moment draw their weapon and try to shoot you and in other places, someone who comes across as a good person can be a real monster depending on the statements you make and the choices you take.

Option #5 Shove it up your arse and pull the trigger, bitch.

As a result, there's a lot of replay value and there has to be for a game that can be over in relatively quick time, if you take the time and planning to explore all of the possibilities. Otherwise it's a nice functional game that could have been made better by having the time expanded out and the game take place over the course of a week, maybe seeing how that hoe-down went with the teacher, or if you can go the whole week without murdering your deputy for being a smart-arse shitbag bastard. Otherwise it's a shot and brief excursion through what could have been a very promising and very complex game.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The New Zealand Story

Welcome, enjoy your flightless birds.

Once again I only WISH that I was on drugs at the time of writing this, or at least the offices of the planning department of Taito when they came up with the story and idea behind this game. I can imagine it along the lines of them looking out of the window of the office building. Someone comments that we need a new platform game; akin to Bubble Bobble but 'different' and that the new characters and such need a little more grounding in reality. Then someone turns slightly and sees a zoo in the distance turns back to the board meeting and says "I think I have an idea..."

Then comes the bow and arrows, axe throwing cats, giant leopard seals and hedgehogs hanging from balloons. Lasers, bombs, fireballs, dragons, bears with visors, alien UFOs, whales encased in ice and I think I need to take some of that stuff they're on.

What is that thing, on a duck?

The New Zealand Story, based around the islands of New Zealand but in truth has so little to do with it that you might as well have just said "Fuck it, here's some levels" and away you go. Takes the lovely little Tiki, a small kiwi bird with running shoes, gives him a reason to be involved in this adventure which in the opening cinematic is about a large leopard seal kidnapping all his friends (including the one that's either smoking a fag or on drugs, lively bunch in the 80s) and setting across 5 worlds to go rescue them all.

But how do you do this? I hear you ask... or not, since few people will genuinely give a fuck about a game originating some 26 years before this review was written. You take the usual route of platforming, jumping, shooting, flying with the aid of various balloons and such, eventually coming to the cage at the end of the level holding whichever friend you had kidnapped from you, eagerly awaiting release and escape into the same maze you just navigated to get there in the first place.

There's no mention of what they do after, or how they get home, or why they're not forming a small army with you of angry, pissed-off kiwis, hell-bent on revenge and to club a seal to death for kidnapping them in the first place. (Possibly the ONLY time I will advocate seal-clubbing, this one deserves it for being a bit of a naughty boy)

Not a friendly place at all.

Oddly, there's a fuck-tonne of fruit to serve as bonus points within the game, a huge number of bonus warps and different ways to navigate around the levels and a wild assortment of power ups ranging from bombs, lasers, springs, joystick flight controls, time stoppers, fireballs and earthquakers to name but a few of the items available to you. Including the ability to collect letters to spell out "extend" for bonus lives here and a massive, and VERY massive, assortment of enemies to be encountered throughout the game.

Bears, snails, soldiers, bats, dragons, cats, I don't even know WHAT that is but it lobs stones, flaming gremlins, anemones, spike spitting blunderbusses, huge bosses (seriously, one of which you need to go into the boss to hurt it), spikes, HEAVEN itself! And the list keeps on going. Though usually you'll see the warp door open for enemies to come in and either hammer it with arrows or run your arse out of there, pronto.

The seal is a dick, you may hate him.
The game itself starts out with a lot of promise. Nice, bright and colourful, enemies pop out of existence and leave behind something to be collected or ignored, while your happy little kiwi, Tiki, runs around and hops from one place to another in an effort to collect all the things he requires to reach the goal of that particular level. The bigger issues come later on in the game when the setting and scenery takes a back step and it starts to REALLY feel like you're just running around a gravity focused maze... There's no fun to the levels that initially started the game and you're just aimlessly following arrows in the hope they're leading you the right way, it quickly becomes dull and lifeless while the enemies relentlessly spawn in trying to catch you off guard and pepper you with various items.

One down, many more to go.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this game is Heaven. Attained by dying on world 3, 4 or 5 in the game via some form of projectile on your last life of that credit and instead of game over, you go upwards, ascending like the first asshole in the rapture until you arrive at Heaven which is a level populated by spikes, very small (but many) platforms and at the end of it all, the virgin Mary (assumedly, there's no nametag). If you manage to overcome all the obstacles in the level, get to the holy mother herself, your prize is... Death. As if one of the hardest levels wasn't taxing enough, you get to "go to sleep" in heaven and your game is OVER.

Wow, shall I just put on a big shit-eating grin and lay down on the floor waiting for the next kick to my teeth then? As it turns out, you have to escape heaven (no clues on this) by finding walk-through walls and floors that will let you fall out of heaven and allow you to continue your game. While most of this game was likely made by people on weed, I swear this part was coded by the most sadistic bastard alive while on PCP.

Seriously, check this screen out.

Really now?

How fucked up is that? You die and everyone else is waiting for you. Game over, get another coin out and try again from Earth.

Aside from this overly jarring experience, the game is fine save for small issues of being ambushed by instant kill monsters, having the balloon popped that you're in/riding and either falling WAY back in the level's progression or (more often than not) landing on spikes which also negates a heaven visit. (In some cases I'd rather just death than the bullshit heaven) and in some places you need to be pixel perfect in your precision to navigate around some of the traps in the levels (by traps I mean the spikes placed RIGHT in your way). Going up or down a large tunnel will invariably have enemies spawn in that can take full advantage of the location and circumstance and rob you of a life.

Last boss, no contest with this weapon.

It really doesn't help when the penultimate level openly advertises itself as a maze either. And for bonus points, the ending is the story that would have been nice had they showed it at the start. But having said that, it's a fun little game if a little too maze-y which always brings me back to the game Abuse and its level editor which stated "do not design levels that shows you areas you cannot get to directly as it leaves players feeling like a rat in a maze" this game would have benefitted from that idea.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

Continuing with the blue speed freak, I'm taking a look back at Sonic 2 on the Megadrive (ergh... Genesis...)

Admittedly it's hard to be objectively focused on a single game when it's part of a series, that you know it's part of a series and that as the games continue, you realise there are bonuses and deficits that need to be addressed. But here goes for looking at Sonic The Hedgehog 2.

I could in theory just copy and paste most of what I wrote in my previous review as the plot seems to be largely unchanged. You're in control of the eponymous character as you jump, spin, roll, dash and generally do everything you can to get through the level quickly and avoid looking at most of it in the usual speed-thrill (allegedly) method possible then fight a boss on the 2nd level (except in that one zone) and trying to collect different secret gems and emeralds (only one of which is green) in order to stop the last boss from basically, bossing it up and being a shitbag.

And yes, you do most of this by running right.

There are differences from the first game, as one would hope, and I'll list them anyway.

First and foremost, the world’s most annoying contribution to cartoon characters and the furry fandom since Robin Hood in Disney's, Robin Hood. A fox creature with 2 tails that will follow and chase after sonic through the entire game (save for the last few levels). If you manage to out run him or get past various barriers that Tails doesn't, he'll catch up by flying back in and then continuing to run with you. Some find this fun, some make it more fun by plugging in a second controller and letting another player effectively control what is an indestructible character that doesn't affect Sonic upon dying as he just flies back in again. However there are downsides, in some attacks, you'll jump to hit a boss, Tails will jump as well. If you miss and Tails hits, the boss becomes invincible for the duration of the hit impact and if you try to hit again, you'll go through them and likely into something you didn't want to. Like the bottom of the screen.

So yes, sometimes more a hindrance than a help.

During the game you can collect various power ups and such a set of 10 rings, invincibility for a short time from enemies, spikes (thankfully this time) but still not being crushed or falling off the game screen at the bottom, speed shoes for fast running once again, extra lives (doubt you'll need them in THIS game) and the shield that lets you tank an extra hit before losing your rings and lives. There's nothing new here from the original game at this point, but more about that later.

As you progress through the levels you'll encounter a multitude of different enemies, of which there is a greater range and variation between enemies than found in the first game (and the very first enemy in the game usually can kill an unwary/impatient player as they'll likely have no rings). Due to the decreased number of standard level endings (i.e. 1 level then a boss level, instead of 2 levels then a boss level) the game allows for opportunities to win the chaos emeralds whenever the player passes a checkpoint with 50 or more rings. This opens a warp that takes the game entirely in a different direction.

Impressive for the time, the game becomes a sort of 3rd person runner down a pseudo-3D track/half-pipe. In which the player can run around the edges of the tube and try to collect rings as they travel down the track while avoiding bombs that make the player drop several rings (this includes tails as well). At each check point you have to collecting a pre-requisite number of rings to stay in the special stage until you get the chaos emerald, which IF you've collected enough rings for THAT, will be gained and won over.

This 2nd game takes the cake a little further by giving a bonus to players that collect all 7 emeralds (seriously, only one of them is actually emerald coloured, they're fucking GEMS! I'm blaming a translation error on this) then collects 50 coins and jumps, they turn into Super Sonic, which for all intents and purposes might as well have just escaped from a crossover between Sonic and Dragon Ball Z. He turns bigger, turns yellow and moves faster, jumps higher and is invincible to everything save for crushing and falling off the game. While in his Super form, he drains rings from his collection and upon hitting zero rings, transforms back to the usual blue form of being comparatively shit.

This does have downsides as there are a few traps in the game that if you land in them as Super Sonic, you'll have to wait until your rings run down before you can be spiked-pitted to death. NOT a good way to spend time when you're at 150+ rings and watching Mr Needlemouse (Did you look this up yet? I told you to last review) ebb his life away until the slow drawn out death march comes to a halt and the spikes end his prevented existence.

Which is a real fucker of a situation and mood killer to the point of just hitting reset and saying "Bollocks to this, I'm going outside... in the rain... and lightning... with a large metal rod" (do it kids!) To say it's an issue that likely wasn't accounted for is an understatement in parallel getting run over repeatedly and having some twat come up and ask "ooh are you ok?" when it's very clearly obvious that you are NOT.

There are however some improvements over the original. For instance the programmers made an adjustment to the mechanics of the game that means you need not worry about not being able to get up a ramp/slope because you now can use the famous spin-dash move which lets you stay stationary while building up potential energy by spinning on the spot and then unleashing that into a kinetic force propelling oneself forwards in the desired direction at higher speeds. It completely negates the issue in the first game with people unable to walk up small ramps to continue the game. It does however make it far more likely you'll fuck up along the way and get yourself killed, or run the risk of the game moving too slowly and you get stuck in a wall.

But it's not all improvements; the bosses are risibly easy to the point of being virtually no challenge at all, save for the fight against robot/metal sonic and then the very last fight. But those with a keen eye for pattern recognition would kill the first final boss in about 10 seconds and the second boss in about 45 seconds. This game is a LOT easier than the original game with people back in the day posting times of around 2 hours to beat it having just bought the game.

The levels are a lot more open and complicated than the original game with more routes being accessible and the potential for getting all of the chaos emeralds far more quickly than in the original game. The added incentive helps in that you actually get rewarded for it in the gameplay let alone just the ending though the extra will NOT help you in the final level as it takes so long to progress there that you'll start the fight with no rings at all and in truth you're betting off fighting the boss without going Super just so that you have more rings in the final level, until you die and start over with SFA (Sweet Fuck All for the unsure).

The game doesn't stop there though, for those that wondered if the inclusion of Tails was just a one-trick pony, they're right, he is. But at the same time he's also part of the new multiplayer part of the game. A split screen (for the most part) race through several zones where players can hit various power ups and be rewarded with the usual prizes or the bonus ones exclusive to multiplayer that lets you swap positions or just cause you to be hurt. While racing to get to the end and then being assessed on how well you did with regards to time, rings, boxes, etc.

The largest issue with the split-screen is that it's hard to see what the hell is going on and usually is the cause for making wrong moves. However there is the bonus stage that can be used as a contest with both players running down the route of the half-pipe/tunnel trying to get in front so they can get the rings while avoiding bombs. It can make for a fast paced and frantic session of gaming but usually is just annoying more than anything else with players playing a very aggressive game of leap frog and in doing so, collect nothing at all.

As a game it's a vast improvement upon the original and as a stand-alone game, would have made for a far greater and better impression and impact on the gaming world if this had been the first game and the first game had been entirely dismissed. As it stands, it's a vast improvement and worth playing through to see the more recognisable and humble origins of Speedy-McBlueRat.