Friday, 27 November 2015

Hot Rod - Arcade

There's some rods, they're hot.... Maybe...

Take a television and put in down so that the screen is facing up towards the ceiling. Then take 4 steering wheels and 4 pedals and you've basically got the right layout for this arcade racer. Throw in some colours for the cars, make the tracks increasingly difficult and ensure some short cuts for the cheekier players and you've got Hot Rod.

And nothing happened for ages, then a quick flash of something, then nothing.

The recipe here is perfect for the home console (wait for it...). You've got a top down view racer akin to the old Micro Machines games with similar functionality. Up to four players can race around a track, picking up points and gas in order to race over the finish line and gain more points which can then be spent on upgrades and boosts to the racing car. The grinding is paramount and after winning races, you'll get yourself more and more points in which to buy better things and become an almost unstoppable car. On the assumption you can actually DRIVE the car.

Shopping time!

As a racer, it's bright and bold and flashy, a rainbow spectrum of illustrative prowess brought by Sega here with clearly defined roads and layout, bonus pickups and nice little details in the background from people walking along roads to cattle wandering the countryside while you're driving through it like a bat out of hell. However, there lies a problem with this method of gaming.

On your marks, get set, don't blow your engine on the start line.

As mentioned above, actually driving the car can be a challenge. You're encouraged to floor the pedal and spin the wheel to corner, while there is also NO BRAKES. You can slow down gradually by releasing the pedal but there's no braking at all. So if you're going to lose control, you are GOING TO LOSE CONTROL and likely into a train, or against the wall and bump repeatedly against it while everyone else trundles happily along to the victory line.

You either won or paid enough money to see this shit.

Like the aforementioned Micro Machines, Hot Rod uses the same system of playing. In that it's one screen and whomever is found to be lagging behind (i.e. slipping off the screen) will be bumped to the middle of the screen and a significant amount of fuel will be confiscated as punishment. Do this enough times in a race and you'll be drained of all fuel and out of the game. Fuel pickups are not that numerous and you'll get 10 to 20 points worth each time, while winning a race will get you roughly 80 or so. Win enough races and the card girl gives you a kiss, aww isn't that cute. No.

Despite the image, it's actually quite a smooth game.

In the shop you can buy a whole host of items, from tyres to spoilers, wings and bumpers, engines and beyond. Cash is usually tight and you'll likely only get the change to have one upgrade or less (yes, none at all) when you visit the shop and not every item is available, it all depends upon which shop you go into. Sometimes your engine might blow up and you have to buy another, other times you'll have little clue as to what hazards will assail you in the next level and you'll be left guessing whether to buy the speed tyres, snow tyres, or radials in order to get the most of your control in the upcoming race.

Different tracks with different challenges, sometimes you'll get a clue at the shop.

That said, while the driving can be picky, tricky and finicky at the same time, there's also the fact that there are a LOT of levels in this game. If you can navigate around the tight corners, the horrible chicanes and the occasional traps like rock slides, avalanches, oncoming traffic and such, you might find it's a fun game to play but it does love to punish the unsuspecting player and punish them fiercely. If you can fund the time, it's an ok game, but far too expensive to really get into the meat of the gameplay and discover the marred gem of a game this is.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Gauntlet 2 - Arcade

Whose face is more horrifying between Warrior and Valkyrie?

Why Gauntlet 2 and not Gauntlet 1? Simple really, read on and I'll tell you. Gauntlet 2 is the successor to the largely popular game Gauntlet. A game based around the lovely lore of Dungeons and Dragons, which involve some Dragons and maybe a Dungeon or two. Everything that Gauntlet has, Gauntlet 2 has more of and better.

Mazes, ghosts and monsters ahoy!

Pick your character by holding the joystick in a specific manner and pressing start. Choose from A warrior (Tough guy but slow shots), Wizard (Wuss but heavy firepower, a glass cannon so to speak), an elf and a Valkyre who are the middle ground between the warrior and wizard, and venture forth into the multiple, multiple levels of Gauntlet 2.

New incidents come with a little instruction.

You start your intrepid journey in Gauntlet 2 with a top-down/birds-eye-view display of the local part of the dungeon and can move in 8 directions while either firing your weapon or casting magic (if you have it). You'll have a health counter that steadily counts down, meaning you'll have to find food or other sustenance to survive (more credits help a lot) and battle lots of different enemies that will be keen to drop your health counter further than it already has.

Sadly, some mazes have invisible walls.

That is the basics of both Gauntlet and Gauntlet 2, however the intricacies are what keeps the game going and what keeps bringing people back to the game itself. Through each level, one can find keys to unlock doors and chests that (may) contain treasure (or death... he's not nice at all), locate food to up the health counter and other special power ups that include Invulnerability (Yet the health drops quickly anyway), reflective shots (which can hit AND hurt you), transportation (You teleport through walls, chests, keys, potions etc), IT (makes the enemies run at JUST you), repulsiveness (enemies run away but still shoot back) and various potions that act like smart bombs in taking out most of the junk on the screen or boost stats like strength, attack, defence and speed. There's a lot to be found and used within the game.

Wouldn't be much of a secret if it didn't have those...

To stop you, Gauntlet 2 throws every cliché in the book at you. Ghosts, trolls, lobbers (little people that throw stuff), demons, sorcerers, dragons (rare but damn they're tough) and DEATH to name but a few problems you'll encounter. You can run into most of these things and cause damage (except ghosts and death, they just damage you and Dragons... Well if you're running INTO one you deserve to be crispified) or shoot them. They in turn will cause damage if they chomp, whack, bite, punch or "death" you on contact or hit you with a ranged shot.

The deeper you go, the harder it gets. Said the Actress to the Bishop.

Interestingly, the game has a curious narrator that likes to comment on almost everything and every new "instance" of something happening will pause the game, explain what it does and then carry on without repeating itself. This goes for being hit by a new enemy, being shot by a new enemy, picking up anything you've never picked up before etc. etc. The narrator will happily talk to you about it including when you do stupid things like shooting the food, even going so far as to tell EVERYONE who did it. The narrator will also happily tell you when someone's "Life force is running out" or the most famously remembered line of somebody " about to die" with base notes warning of impending demise.

Eventually though, you just get bored of it all.

That said, unless you're pumping in credits left and right, this game will not let you finish it. Even working in tandem with partners and having a foolproof system, you're going to get butchered one way or another and enemies like Death are designed almost purely just to get credits out of pockets and into the machine. Dragons too if you get too close. Else it's a good fun, smoothly playable game that is worth a visit or two every few years or so.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Zoo Keeper - Arcade

You're a keeper, in a zoo. Speaks for itself really.

The further back in history I with regards to video games, the more obscure, random and quite frankly, uniquely interesting I seem to find the games to be. 1982, a fantastic year even if I do say so myself, brought about such games as Q*Bert, Lasso, Dig-Dug and of course, Zoo Keeper.

It has a nice demo to let you know the scoring system.

The story, if one wants to call it that, is you playing the role of the eponymous Zoo Keeper and are tasked with keeping a large assortment of various animals caged up within pens and if any of those were to escape, to capture them and return them to the pen before they escape again. At the same time, you'll be running around the edge building the walls up to try and keep the creatures penned in so when the timer runs out, you get points for each animal within the boundaries of the pen. Whether those boundaries are still there or not don't matter.

Different animals will cause different levels of damage

Extra levels appear that deviate from the norm with platforming sections that require the player to jump from one to another, while avoiding a mischievous monkey that lobs coconuts at you in order to save a damsel-in-distress before a few more cage levels, then another platform section and finally the last level, which pits you against a stampede of animals all hell-bent on killing you and you get to hop over them to get another life.

Building up your layers will help keep the animals secured.

Zoo Keeper manages to find that happy medium of being a platform puzzler. The area in which most of your play takes place, will have you running around the outer walls of a pen, jumping over and around animals while hoping for the net to put into the game space so that you can capture the animals. While running, the walls underneath your keeper are built up, layer by layer, in order to try and stop the animals from escaping. Knowing where and when to run next forms the puzzle while the leaping (and gravity defying wall running) forms the platforming aspects. This is amplified by the bonus levels where in it's all about platforming and timing.

Whoo!! Points!!

The sounds for Zoo Keeper are a little grating at times but hardly the fault of the game and designers given the hardware available and every animal has distinct noises by which to identify. The music plays fairly well and almost recognisably well when the more well-known pieces are played. Walls being laid have a distinctly solid and synthetic sound to them and dying has a suitably foreboding presence added to it with the audio ambience.

A little big of variation between levels to save the "princess"

Graphically, it's rather simple. Black background but nice bright images and sprites for our heroic Zoo Keeper, though the animals take a little bit of artistic licensing to be able to recognise them, but otherwise the game plays smoothly and for the most part, everything looks like it's intended image target.

You can also die trying and meet a game over...

As a game, it's fast, fluid, a little quirky and brought down by slightly awkward controls when it comes to running around the pen and changing from running on the bottom to the sides as the overarching control guidance may change mid-jump, depending upon where and when the player jumps to avoid the animals. As such, a few lives can be expected to be lost to misinterpreting the controls and not being entirely sure as to why it happened.