Monday, 28 April 2014

Rampart



Graphically sterile, slight puzzling flavour.

Forts. What used to be a lovely game for kids to play involving both sides setting up a large amount of barricades, walls, plastic model soldiers and marines, perhaps some barracks and tanks, then throwing objects at your brother's stuff and knocking most of it down/apart while he cries at how mean you are. Think I got side-tracked a little there. Ramparts, is a game of that kind of play time. Where in you'll get the chance to build a castle, develop some defences and then have it pitted against an opponent that wants to break the walls down and ruin your little stint of creativity.

As opposed to using the blender to select a castle.
In what is a simple game, with a very simple concept comes a rather strategic element if you look beyond the simple idea of hammering someone with cannonballs. The premise is simple enough, you have several turns per round. In which you'll initially set up a castle in a land, you can have it far from the oceans/seas or near them. Bearing in mind that in singleplayer, ships will be your main enemy so do you want to be a long distance from boarding parties or near the waters to be able to hit the ships sooner, but they will damage you too in quick reply.

How? I was playing defensive the whole time!
Once you've chosen your castle you get to place cannons within the walls. You can only place cannons (which take up a 2x2 area) inside of a fully closed off wall. Incidentally if you've no closed off areas with a castle inside, you're out. Given that inside space is essential for getting MORE cannons and more firepower, you'll want to be fairly well organised with the space you're given otherwise you could lose out on putting in a lot more cannons. A 4x4 space will happily hold 4 cannons if placed next to each other but if you slap in a cannon in the dead centre of that space, you've lost 3 cannons worth of firepower you could have positioned.

Oh yeah, 3 cannons and 3 ships, this will be... painful.
Battle then commences, you'll be tasked with launching your cannonballs at the enemy. Either the moving ships in single player that are shooting back or if you're playing a multiplayer game, at your opponents walls and cannons. While blowing up a cannon takes CONSIDERABLE firepower and damage, they cannot be repaired and becomes dead space. Unusable and an obstruction for later rounds. Alternatively blow apart their walls and hammer them repeatedly to cause damage in the hope they'll not be able to rebuild, which is the next round.

Puzzle mode, borrowing from Tetris and playing "Go"
The action stops at this point and the game switches over to a sort of mix of Go and Tetris. You'll be given a short time span in which to place shapes (mostly tetrads, some bigger shapes too) to build more walls. There's no limit on the number of pieces you can have other than you HAVE to place it in order to get another but can rotate the shapes and place them as necessary. Building and expanding will gain you more points, more castles and ultimately more cannons. IF you manage to make a castle with a surrounding wall by the end, you'll have qualified for the next round and it's back to cannon placements and fighting again. Fail to keep your keep or castle inside a solid perimeter, you're out.

In multiplayer, that can also mean execution. Unless your friend is nice about it, usually they aren't.

So... How badly did you do? Note the incoming doom at the top-left.
Graphically the game is fairly unimpressive, particularly when you're laying cannons and walls but then the key focus is really in showing how much space things take up and not confusing the players with the pseudo 3d images of the walls when in combat mode. The ships look different enough that you can tell which are going to be faster, which will have land units that will become a big problem if they get to beach and invade, while the walls look at least slightly better than greyed out blocks and such that the game takes a visual wipe facelift between puzzle mode and combat mode, you'll ponder why they didn't just stick with it in the first place.

More exchange of firepower, ships destroyed but need those gaps plugged.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag in that the game has synthesised speech samples of commands "Ready Aim Fire" and "Cease Fire" they even have the right inflection so that you would expect maybe to hear it said this way in the field of battle. The music is a rather lacklustre affair of low beeps and attempts at percussion, even for the NES. So what we have on one hand is impressive, is quickly dashed by the other hand.

I feel sorry for Fred Uxford Charles Kevin
The control system is considerably better on the NES than on the arcade, which used a trackball for most of the versions out there. It's more precise and gives you a faster and more reliable method of placing in walls and cannons while the arcade version was prone to letting you place walls in erronous and often fatal places rather than where you needed it. The real positive is that the game isn't just one game, it's effectively two with the puzzle element and action element (not seamlessly) switching and giving players a flavour of both. However the flavour is rather thin on both accounts which makes the whole experience rather dry and not very fulfilling overall.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Super Mario Brothers 3



Looks a lot better than the first 2 games did.

Go back (not to Jail, you may pass Go) and recall a time when games were new and fresh and exciting. That the latest game in a series didn't just introduce a single new gimmick like riding in a car, or throwing in bigger areas with more guns. Back when a sequel meant something worthwhile like a complete revamp of a game, adding in many MANY new features, spruced up graphics and a much bigger and more appealing adventure than the previous instalments of the games had produced. Now think of Super Mario Brothers 3.

Sadly the "Dogshit filled kebab" did not live up to this claim

Having reviewed game 1 and 2 (Doki Doki Panic re-skin version) it's about time I look at what could possibly be the BEST game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. So first of all, what's new and what's the same. Well, we still have Mario and Luigi doing what they normally do which involves jumping up and hitting blocks of "?" to gain coins and powerups. You still get bonus lives every 100 coins and you still can kick shells after jumping on them. There are also levels, 8 worlds and that's about where the similarities stop from the original game. Oh and Mario is still spelt the same but I'm running out of things to say here.

Every 80,000 points, you can find this little bonus. Match the cards to gain the item.

What's new? Roughly everything. It's still a platformer, you still move left and right, you still try to get to the end of the level and you still have bosses to kill at the end of each world. One of the biggest and foremost changes are that there's a world map. You can see each level on the map and routes to take to get to those levels, you can skip some levels or elect to do them all. You can see where bosses are and where item houses are for bonus items that can be used at the start of a level, giving you that item's effects before you begin the level.

This game does throw lives at you like it's going out of fashion.

Your items now range from mushrooms and flowers (larger and firepower respectively) to a leaf (giving flight and a tail to smack things) frog suit (for swimming) Cloud (to skip a level) hammer suit (turns you into a hammer brother) Tanooki suit (let's you change into a statue while able to fly like the leaf permits) stars (the old invincibility trick again) a hammer to smash blocks that can open access shortcuts or bonus places in the world map, whistles to warp across worlds, anchors to stop the boss flying across the land and a P-Wing which gives you unlimited flight (until hit).

Or have him castrated and toilet trained.

The sheer size and scope of the items themselves, is enough to make one wonder how it all fits into the game. Each world has between 4 and 11 levels that need to be navigated (or avoided) skipped and tackled as you navigate each level from start to Boss where upon you fight the boss in their flying airship (of wood and cannons) and then jump on them a few times. Within such levels you may encounter a whole host of different level types. Some will be standard levels with no height change, some might race up into the clouds if you can fly, some might be auto scrolling levels, some can be underwater levels (AND Auto scroll for bonus shit-kickies) and some are mazes of pipes and warps and doors where your biggest enemy is simply finding an exit before the time runs down and kills you.

Later levels really begin to throw the challenges at you.

The controls are much more precise than previous iterations of the series. You'll run, jump and smash blocks with surprising ease and accuracy very shortly after playing the game and making those "pixel perfect" leaps are much easier in this game than in the earlier ones. The use of the powerups is performed suitably well save for the idea that really it would have been nice to have had 3 buttons, one jump, one run, one "item/power" use but instead it falls onto the run button. However this ties in better with the flight mechanics as one needs prolonged running in order to build up the speed to launch oneself into the air with the grace and majesty of a turd covered brick with its arms out.

Big difference #1, a world map. It does give you some size and scope of the world.

Some of the earlier levels however feel really short in comparison to the earlier games. While some of the later levels can feel like overly long slogs through an unending onslaught of adversity and increasing difficulty where there's so much going on and so many potential routes that you'll want to try and visit them all but there's not enough time in the level in which to do that. While some of the powerups are so rare and infrequent that many players can go through the game repeatedly and NEVER see them (such as the hammer brothers suit, which for many a year was refuted as being a myth by many during the days before the internet was available as the World Wide Web).

Yay.... An ice world... Everyone loves those...

Though if you've seen the film "The Wizard" (California!) you'll already know about one of the warp whistles found in possibly the most unlikely and randomly hidden of places. But I'm not here to rip apart what was ostentatiously a film for the release of the game, it's shit and that's all I'm going to say on the matter regardless of comments and feedback. Back to the game.

It's not a series of Space Invaders shots, it's meant to be coins.

Each world brings a new theme and with it, new (usually) enemies. The variety and differences are quire stark for specific enemies. Going from the Goombas to the Angry Sun and Fire Snake to Bob-Ombs and beyond. Some enemies are simple sprite swaps and variations of other enemies while there's those that rarely and infrequently appear (Goombas in green boots on just ONE level in the entire game) and different sprite sets for every single boss, it's a lot for a game to have and this game does very well with it, especially compared to the original.

Line the face up and get bonus lives! Or balls it up like I have.

There's little here to criticise about the game save for it perhaps being TOO much new in too short a span of games. But that's a ridiculous comment and a poor one at that, just a comment for the sake of a comment that's barely relevant. It's a large, impressive and enormous expanse of a game that takes many players by surprise with the sheer scale and scope of the game, especially when compared to various games made later and made on more capable systems.

Sadly, this one doesn't want to be walked to the Slime Dungeon...

Accompanied by a very memorable soundtrack, clear and crisp effects that go almost perfectly hand-in-hand with this game, Super Mario Brothers 3 is one of THE games that everyone should play at least once in their lives. Take a look at a good platformer that's been done well and executed nearly flawlessly back when a game needed to be good to draw people in rather than being tagged with enough money to qualify for "Triple A" status.

One plumber vs. One Tank Platoon... Sounds rather fair.

And now to wear a turtle shell and lob hammers at people. My record was three windows, a car and an old lady before I was handcuffed, I hope to beat this record.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Smash Hit

Yes it's free, no I didn't pay.

In a change of events, I thought I would take a look at Smash Hit. Oddly for me, it's a new game and was released recently upon the iPhone. As a medium I've yet from which to properly take a review. Released in the last few months, Smash Hit is one of those games that's proudly wearing the "experimental" tag on its game, which is to that it's a game with a gimmick that has been invented and then fashioned a game around that gimmick hoping to make a game, rather than make the game and building the engine into that game. In so far as to say, there's one thing you do here and that's it.
 

The further you go, the more devious yet intriguing the designs become
In what seems at first to be one of those tunnel flying games, where one would expect to navigate around obstacles and traps by turning or tilting the controller; you instead take the guise of travelling on a straight path through the Z axis while watching a rather surreal landscape pass you by. On your way you'll encounter various objects that for some reason have irked you enough that you can hurl large steel ball-bearings at them to break them and reward yourself with more balls. If you've ever been the kid that went they threw a rock through a green-house, wanted to throw more instead of running away, this game is for you. 

Hitting the edges and such won't help, the one point you need to worry about is in the dead centre

Each time you hit one of the crystals, you'll be rewarded with more balls, while the game will also throw at you various translucent obstacles made of glass that you'll have to hurl balls at in order to smash, obliterate and remove from your pathway otherwise you take a hit from the glass and spew out ten balls right there and then. Run out of balls and you run out of game and have to start over. If you manage to hit ten consecutive crystals without missing any of them, you get to fire more and more balls per shot at the cost of a sole ball to your collection, up to a maximum of five balls at a time in a large 'X' formation.

The whole game reeks of that pseudo-futuristic cleanliness, which does add to the atmosphere, admittedly

Like a lot of games on the iPhone, it's quick to pick up, quick to play and quick to learn. Which is essential given the fast and rapid flow of gaming these days on mobile devices where the gamers will want to be in the game, playing and out again before the next bus stop, or by the time they're called in for their usual VD clinic check-up. This game is of no exception to that situation and fulfils the requirement dutifully.

 
It's a shame I can't show this as a fluid animation, it's impressive to see

Graphically speaking, it's impressive to see in action. The movement remains fluid through out and glass in the game has that slightly refractive surface while being at the same time, translucent to seem like the panes of glass in bathrooms. The physics engine happily gives room for breaking parts of the glass and watching large chunks of it fall away as one might expect but don't get your hopes up for having breathtaking shatter effects. Chunks will disappears around where your ball hits and as long as you can get your view point through the obstacle, you won't really have to worry about much else.

 
Yes, I lost a combo just to take this shot, but the translucency was impressive
The difficulty ramps up suitable with the first few areas just an exercise in aiming the balls and gathering more by destroying crystals, before stationary glass obstacles begin to appear. Later levels have sliding glass, glass that flips up into position, glass swinging from ropes, glass hanging from ropes in suspension and will break and move depending upon where the tension gives up first, glass that rotates and spins and an assorted host of different shapes and structures to smash your way through.

 
Each zone has a doorway that has one or more buttons that require to be hit, good luck
Some parts of the game allow for a rapidfire item to be collected while gives you ten seconds to effectively "machinegun" your way through the game, spewing out ball after ball towards whereever you have your finger pressed down upon the screen. This doesn't make you invincible however and you can still crash into things, lose more balls, or miss crystals and lose your multiplier effect and becomes a little jarring the first time it happens and realise that the power-up isn't that much of a power-up.

 
It does get hard at times to judge what's going to actually hit you are be a near miss
The music jaunts along merrily enough in the background as an ambience to the game and doesn't really add much to the experience but then again it doesn't really subtract from it either. The glass breaking sound effects have just the right pitch and frequency to be satisfyingly close to what you're seeing and don't seem to be muted down or overblown in that regard.

 
Spinning glass, another problem is working out WHICH glass will hit you and making sure not to waste shots
Overall it's a fun little arcade style romp that's found a gimmick within an engine and put it to fairly good use. You'll likely play this a few times to see the effects and feel somewhat impressed by what your device is capable of doing and a fair few people will play it to see it through to the end or to score higher and higher against their friendslist. But without something new to challenge people, there's little replay factor beyond a week or so at most for the majority of players. Give it a go, you might be surprised.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Contra Hard Corps (Probotector)



Get ready, it's going to be a bumpy ride of explosions
The Probotector and Contra series has been an odd one as a victim of censorship over the years. Contra, being simply 2 guys running and gunning their way through bigger and bigger levels, against bigger and bigger bosses and so on. While Probotector doesn't like the idea of humans and humans killing each other (especially in Germany) so Probotector is basically Contra but you've got robots instead of humans doing most of the killing against other robots and aliens.

Some of the bosses make sense. This is not one of them.
Contra Hard Corps (Probotector on Megadrive) follows the same routine as before but with far more bosses and monsters in the games. Becoming what is in essence, a Boss Fest of a game. The difference between this and other types of running and gunning is that normally you'd get someone running along and fighting a boss at the end of the level. In this game you'll fight multiple bosses on the way through each level and usually the last boss of a LEVEL is often multiple staged and sometimes multiple stages within a stage.

Contra Hard Corps, certainly takes the latter approach in almost every single level, and it's crazy.

Another boss, often killed before it can do anything creative. Turns it out it makes a cup of tea.
It gets to a point where you realise that the standard level and enemies are so insignificant that eventually you'll barely remember they're even there. Shown further by the fact there's so many throwaway enemies in the game. Fight once and never seen again, when most games like to recycle things at least once to validate their existence.

One of the last bosses, a giant mutant head with a another that cries blood, and coughs up maggots

You've four characters and only the robot really makes a difference in control with a double jump and low stature that means they're always ducking and dodges all body-aimed attacks automatically. Which each character has their own four weapons. So rather than picking up the spread gun, you actually pick up one of four lettered weapons that "unlock" your characters weapons. While bombs are rare but everyone can pick those up and use them in the same way. Dying while having a specific weapon selected will remove it from your inventory until you collect it again.

A boss referencing the final boss of the 3rd game.

Some weapons are very odd, some are crazy and some are overkill. There's a very one-sided balance with specific characters and once you realise which weapons slaughter the enemy, you'll have an easy time with most of the game aside from new bosses attacking you with new patterns and methods you'll not have been prepared for. Incidentally you do have a new move from previous games, along with running, gunning, climbing and such, you've a ground slide that leaves you invulnerable while doing it. Which in many cases is the ONLY way to get past certain boss attacks and situations and if you miss-time it, or forget you can do it because it's not listed in a lot of games, you'll lose a life.

Given this boss is the hero in the prequel game, he should have known better.

This seems to be the biggest issue with the game. It's bright, it's flashy, it's loud and fast paced, but in some places you can fight a boss and kill it without it even getting a single attack off. In other cases you'll be killed on the first strike simply because you were stood in the wrong place and the wrong time and that's just where the boss was aiming to be and you're not one life down with a weapon lost and barely any idea as to even why. In some cases you'll be hit by an attack that won't be telegraphed too clearly. Some bosses will attack directly and some will attack in every direction except the one in which they're clearly aiming at.

Yep... you're still a berk.

Aside from this, there's little really in the way of running and gunning, more often than not, particularly in the endgame, (of which there are many) it's just gunning and dodging, or finding that soft spot where you can't be hit and kill everything easily (too many bosses let you do this). But speaking of endgames, there's MANY different ways through the game and endings to be gained. One of which has you fighting in an arena before being sent back in time, another will have you duelling the last boss atop a giant space station, others will have you gunning the hell out of an alien creature while riding a giant missile whilst another is a huge mutant battle in a tripped out arena. With this, there's the multiple routes, your first end-boss for the first level depends upon which option you take, which then affects your 3rd boss and it's attack patterns. Same boss but different attacks. There are subtle changes in some places that are explained if you pay attention to the game.

Multiple characters, but few have the best weapons.

The replay factor is very strong with this one as you've a lot of game and a lot of possibilities, even going so far as to side with the bad guy and become his bitch in kicking arse and ruling the world. Failing that you can be embodied in the stars or just marry an ape and rule the dinosaurs (historical accuracy not applied here).

Riding a jet-copter, punching flames at a jetpacking assassin. Nice.

The music is hard to pick up in places as the most common sound effect is gunfire and explosions, in the calmer moments when you're transitioning from one scene to another, you'll get to hear some very well composed pieces of music and the shift and change in tone and atmosphere within the ambience is usually a clear indicator when you're fighting from boss to end level boss or final boss. It sounds more serious as the game gets more serious and adds to the adrenaline flowing pace of the action within the game.

Take 1 alien, combine another, fight the result. The professor gets devoured.

Konami seem to have managed to pull all the stops out for this game, making full use of the system available to themselves. The game is fast, fluid and certainly visually appealing though the spikes in difficulty and the inconsistency in the flow of gameplay leaves a sort of hit and miss sensation between and during some levels rather than playing as a steadily increasing challenge or a rapidly increasing pace. It's an odd one for the planning but the execution of the game is impressive considering previous games in the series and even games on the Megadrive (....... Genesis....fucks sake).

Arms crossed, shades on, look like prick. It's all here.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ghostbusters (C64)


You too can sing alone, in 3...2..1.."Repetitive Music.... repetitive music"

It's odd, but there's a lot of conflicting views around this particular game, more specifically based around which port of the game you happen to be playing. Some will slate and attack the Spectrum version, others will lambast the NES, some will applaud and love the Megadrive (.......genesis) version while I'm taking a look at the C64 version of Ghostbusters.

At least one of the cars lets you pretend you're in the film. It's shit too.

Let's start off. "GHOSTBUSTERS" and that's the digitised speech coming from the faithful old Commodore 64 (k of ram I'll have you know) and introduces us to the splendours and wonders that are voice synths. Followed by a slightly charming rendition in SID of the original theme tune with bouncy-dot lyric sing-a-long session for those thinking they bought a karaoke set instead of a game. And it might even work at first.

Whoo I caught it, only about 40 or so to go... for fucks sake.

The sad part is that this is the ONLY song in the entire game. On loop. You'll relish the start and end of the game where it's silent. At least, not at first. The novelty of humming along while singing "something strange...... in the hood.... call.... GHOSTBUSTERS!" while trying to recollect the full words and option just to belt out the chorus. While singing dee-duuh repeatedly in time with the music. Ray Parker Jr must be spinning in his grave... Or will be some day.

"He Slimed Me!" Sounds great, gives you a chuckle, you'll be ripping your hair out after the 5th time

The game itself is firmly based around the film (ignoring the library scene) where in the game takes place having bought and set up the company, you then get to decide upon which car you want to buy, which upgrades to install upon it and then set yourself off to playing the actual game. You've your traps to catch ghosts, a vacuum to suck up the ghosts on the street, marshmallow sensor to detect a Marshmallow Man attack, bait to stop him attacking building (which you WILL need and get a bonus few thousand on successful preventions), glasses to make the ghosts easier to see (instead of behind the backgrounds) and if you've the cash, a portable containment field to reset traps (you'll only need 1 and never need replace it).

Part of the driving experience, racing down the road and sucking up ghosts.




You start with 3 men and will have to drive to HQ if 2 of them get taken out (read: Slimed, with voice synth for it too) and have to visit the HQ if you fill all your traps (or not if you have the VERY expensive portable containment unit). Gameplay is broken down into 3 parts. Firstly, you have the map, which shows your logo, part of New York City including Zuul, the key master, the gatekeeper and 4 wandering ghosts. During the game these ghosts will make a straight line for Zuul and if they get there, they'll boost the PKE reading, which is your in-game timer. The higher it goes, the faster they move. They can be stopped by you running you logo into them but the further you go, the longer your next car drive will be as you're planning your next car trip.


Replenished. Notice the lack of Winston in the game. Racist developers.

This however, does not get the cash in. The money (to repay the bank loan at the start of 10,000) comes from visiting buildings and removing Slimers. A bit like in the film where you'll have to wait for a call, try to get there in time before it fucks off and/or slimes one of your people. Each Slimer will net you a few hundred dollars and then you're back to hunting more Slimers, stopping ghosts and baiting Marshmallow Men.

Me vs a big fat man. It's bed time all over again.

The game quickly devolves into getting to a red flashing house, dropping the trap, running a man to the left, running one to the right, launching the streams (don't cross them) and trapping the ghost (hopefully) in a long series of mini-games that don't really deviate aside from the backgrounds shown at each building. The map section becomes repetitive until the Marshmallow Man shows up and usually will catch you off guard unless you're fast enough to hit the bait button and net your few bonus thousand dollars, or it causes a building to break apart and you get stiffed with the fine for it.

Mwahahahahahaaa... Now you don't have to play this game. Incidentally, "spoilers"

Once the game picks up speed with the ghosts moving faster, more calls being registered and quickly enough, it becomes much more intense and worth playing, just a shame it has to start so slowly and leave you waiting quite a while for something to actually happen. The lack of difference between Slimers makes you feel like you're not really removing an issue but the spectral form of catch and release, in essence cheating people out of their hard earned cash as you become the slackers of the ghost catching community.

So... fucking... boring... Crossing the streams kills both men, let's do that!

IF (and it's not always going to happen) you raise enough cash by the endgame, you've seen the various Marshmallow Man attacks and been summoned to Zuul after the key master and gatekeeper have met (and they serve no real purpose on the map aside from just BEING THERE to show a sort of urgency that leaves you guessing "no really, what's the fucking point?"), you get to attempt to get into Zuul past the badly dancing Marshmallow Man. You've 3 lives and you need 2 to get into the building by running through his legs. Once 2 are in, you've done it. You kill Zuul, destroy the gateway and wreck up a building in the process while the game gives you more cash to play over with better equipment and cars. (Since you can't buy car #4 at the start)

It's nice at least to see a huge sprite like this adorned with all the items you ACTUALLY bought.

But would you want to? Not likely. You might save the state or write down the code and MAYBE give the purple car a go to see it race through the streets quickly, which then leaves you waiting even longer periods of time between ghost calls, a curse as much as it is a blessing. Beat it once and you'll likely never look back again.