#149 Xybots

Posted: 6th December 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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562nd played so far

Xybots

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release:  1987
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games

Early 3D games are weirdly fascinating to me. Games like Ultima and 3-Demon (or Monster Maze) (I know, not famous, but I remember being amazed by it) did it by using wireframes and simple constrained viewpoints. It slowly build up using more textures – systems like those used in the Ultima Underworld series, which we’ll discuss later, deal with flexible viewpoints and more complicated scaling, until proper 3D graphics and modelling really kick in.

Still, for me as a developer, it’s interesting to see how these things build on each other – the basic principles of culling, determining what to show on your screen, come back from these games. Sure, they’re a lot simpler and we’ve learned a lot more, but it feels like this is where some of these basics started. I can easily understand this, and build on that understanding to create more complex solutions.

Xybots does take it one step further. Based on the screenshots, it has scaled textures, even if movement and design isn’t as free as it is later on. More interesting will be to see how this translates into gameplay.

Our Thoughts

Xybots is certainly fairly simple, being in between the above modes. There is certainly more depth than the wireframe options, you can look around corners and have nicer wall textures. It’s still not fully free movement, and the overhead map is needed – but the accuaracy and relative freedom of movement in there feels quite nice.

In gameplay, there’s nothing special there now, nearly two decades on, but it’s remarkably refreshing. You go around shooting things, but there’s some exploration as well that, because it’s not as refined as later, feels fresh in its oddness. There are teleporters and hidden passages, leading to some additional bonuses, through more levels than I would have expected at first.

After that, the game becomes an over the shoulder shooter, moving in a 2D set to try to kill the enemies as you encounter them. That’s fairly standard, competent but not too innovative.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, while the shooting is standard, the exploration aspects of the game feel fresh for the time and even now work well. They are constrained environments that makes exploration a lot focused, and through that more rewarding. Maybe a bit simle now, but still a good game.

#57 Spy Hunter

Posted: 2nd December 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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561th played so far

Spy_Hunter_side_art

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Bally Midway
Publisher: Bally Midway

After Klax and Marble Madness, here’s our third game from the Midway collection… or extravaganza.

Not to be confused with Spy vs Spy, a cartoon that was turned into a game (that I actually remember), this is a top down car chase game.

Our Thoughts

Spy Hunter isn’t necessarily the most complicated game. Almost Paperboy like, you run down the street, avoiding a variation of hazards, although here to catch someone rather than throwing out papers. Well, and not looking quite as good.

It’s simple but effective, racing, avoiding other cars or crashing. As you advance, you can gain some additional weapons to stop the spy, as long as you can get into the truck, Knight Rider style.

It’s addictive enough, exhilarating as you run through the remarkably varied environments. Crashing is easy, but the game gives you some time to get used to it. Only after you’re some distance in do you start losing life when you crash – at first you get your chance to just play. It’s remarkably merciful for the night and useful.

Final Thoughts

Spy Hunter isn’t a very complicated game. It’s simple and straight forward, and fun in that simplicity. It’s worth getting lost in.

#75 Marble Madness

Posted: 28th November 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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560th played so far

Marblemadnessscreenshot

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games

For our ongoing Midway PSP trials, Marble Madness is next. One of those games that I remember playing on the NES in my youth, the isometric perspective seeming really special.

Replaying it today, I know what to expect – but what do I still remember?

Our Thoughts

The core conceit of the game, guiding a marble across the field (by controlling it directly, no twisting as we saw with Mercury Meltdown) to the goal. The isometric perspective creates these towers with plenty of places to fall down and slopes that mess with your ascent. Soon, other mechanisms show – enemies that push you away or kill you, tubes for jumps and bridges that open and close.

The difficulty of the game actually ramps up quite quickly, probably thanks to its origins as an arcade game. The interactions feel relatively complex too – there’s a lot going on in each level, making for a varied experience, but presumably also one that would be a bit much for a lot of systems. The ramp up is still frustrating, though, because as a home player I just can’t get as far as I want, with too many failures on each go.

Final Thoughts

Marble Madness is a good, fun concept for a game that probably would have been too simple for later generations, but was there at the right point to be entertaining. Its complexity might have meant that the game had to be shorter and ramp up difficulty quicker than I’d like, but that also means a relatively large amount of content was pushed into these areas. Still worth trying.

#181 Klax

Posted: 24th November 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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559th played so far

213378-klax-lynx-front-cover

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games

Welcome to my Atari/Midway arcade-a-thon! Some time ago, we picked up a PSP collection, Midway Arcade Treasures for a decent price, which contained several games on the list. We have used it for a few games already, but it now made for a good companion for watching TV – playing some simpler games while doing other things.

First on the list is Klax, one of the block-stacking puzzle games that has always been popular.

Our Thoughts

Klax is a pretty straightforward puzzle game. It’s about stacking blocks, and if you get three of the same colour in a row, in any direction, they disappear. It works as a pretty standard set up. The conveyer belt setup, requiring you to catch the blocks and move them, adds more of an action element, with timing even more important (drop too many blocks and you’re dead) and moves it far enough away to make it its own game. It works especially well as an additional theme for the game.

What adds the extra dimension is that the game isn’t just about forming lines. You need to meet certain goals to advance that differ between levels – completing a certain number of lines, getting certain numbers of points or using a certain number of tiles. Of course they go up and get more difficult as you go along, but it means switching up your tactics to meet different goals all the time. There are a few additional power ups that unlock, adding some additional distractions, but the formula develops quite nicely based on this.

Final Thoughts

Klax is not a very complex game, but its goals are far more interesting and diverse than most other puzzle games like it. There are some more action elements, which are nice, but it’s the variation of what you do that’s far more interesting.

#623 Transformers

Posted: 20th November 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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558th played so far

Transformers

Genre: Action
Platform: PlayStation 2
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Atari Melbourne House
Publisher: Atari

I don’t think I ever owned a Transformers toy, but the idea was so cool when I watched them on TV. Giant robots that transformed into cars an other machines? Awesome. Even if the one that turned into a small tape recorder boggled my mind even when I was younger but overall the idea was exciting (and when you had several of them combine, Power Rangers style, I think my mind was blown).

Transformers the game is a 3D action game set in these large semi-open world level – like many more 3D platformers, although it’s not as platform-like. Beyond that, I don’t know much of what to expect.

Our Thoughts

For a large part, this game does what it wants to do well. You go out as a Transformer (in my case Optimus Prime, of course), explore these large areas, shoot Decepticons and progress. It’s good and plays well within the franchise. Not all of it works that well though.

While you can transform, you mostly really need the robot form, and I didn’t find myself playing as the vehicle much. There was a lengthy mountain path with jumps set up for it, but it felt quite situational – I don’t see how you’d include it, and it might be better outside the jungle the first level is in, but it certainly felt lacking here.

If you miss the jumps in the mountain path, you end up in the ravine. Supposedly there’s ramps or places where you can race up to get out of it, but it’s dark and brown enough that I couldn’t distinguish anything except for the main path out (which is back to the start of the path, rather than allowing you to get partway through as they imply).

Still, a lot of the time these are the blemishes on a decent action shooter. The waves get overwhelming, but respawns frequent and gentle enough that they’re rarely a real problem. Collectables are plentyful and easy enough to find. Some of these power up your character while others give access to art and audio related to the franchise, giving a nice background look. There’s a lot of nice variation there.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure this is the perfect game for the series. It’s close, but squanders some of the potential. You don’t quite feel like a giant transforming robot, sometimes you’re just another shooter protagonist (thinking back to it, the ruins can actually seem a bit oversized when you realise how large Optimus Prime is). Still, it’s a lot of fun to play the game, as long as it stays bright enough.

557th played so far

Wipeout_pulse_cover

Genre: Racing
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: SCE Studio Liverpool
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I must admit, I’m quite surprised we’re at the third of the four Wipeout games already, after we played the first Wipeout and Wipeout HD. They’re fun games, but so, so difficult to keep up with.

Wipeout Pulse has been a frustrating game to obtain. In trying to get it, I believe we bought three copies of Wipeout Pure, another PSP Wipeout game that isn’t on the list and turns out to be quite a bit more common… At least we eventually nailed it.

Our Thoughts

Wipeout Pulse is both a lot of fun and difficult. I didn’t quite make it past the first few rounds before I gave up in frustration. That’s just as much my fault, I can’t quite keep up with the speed of the game.

I also can’t say that I can’t notice many changes from the other games. The graphics are better than the original Playstation game, I’m sure there’s some powerup changes, but it plays mostly the same. I understand there’s more gravity bending, similar to Mario Kart 8, but it wasn’t as noticeable.

Which is fine, it just doesn’t leave me with much to say. Does that mean it shouldn’t be on the list? As an example of this style of the genre, it does. But really, it is a Wipeout game.

Final Thoughts

Wipeout Pulse is a big, flashy game. It’s a good Wipeout game… but doesn’t add much new to the franchise. That’s fine, it just leaves me with little to add.

556th played so far

MercuryMeltdown-boxart

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Playstation 2/Playstation Portable
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Ignition Banbury
Publisher: SCEI/Ignition Entertainment/Atari

Mercury Meltdown and its sequel Mercury Meltdown Revolution are games that have intrigued me from the first time I saw them on the list. Moving blobs of mercury around a field sounds like an odd game on its own.

Our Thoughts

In Mercury Meltdown, you tilt a game board to make a blob of mercury move around a playing board. It’s like those plastic games with a metall ball inside that you had to put through a maze or past hills to get it to go through a hole. I remember them mostly with logos of different companies on the side. This being a videogame, there is of course more to it. The blob can split in parts, you can lose part of it by it falling off the playing field, and there are points where it changes colour and the like to up the difficulty further.

With the PSP having no tilt controls, the game doesn’t quite play as naturally as you’d expect, something I’m sure will be different once we get to the sequel (which we have a Wii version of). Even so, the control sticks sort of simulate the feeling already.

A bunch of puzzles come in that deal with making your mercury have different coloured blobs. As much as that sounds like an interesting twist to the game, it actually annoyed me slightly. There’s enough challenge in the different room designs, challenging you to get through them. A bit of colour mixing makes them more interesting, but often it made the game’s controls just more frustrating in a way that isn’t any fun. There are a few places where it became a bit too much a bit too soon.

Final Thoughts

Sure, the puzzles in this game are a bit more difficult than I would have wanted – some more variety and slower ramp up would have been appreciated, as moving the blobs around the stages is a lot of fun on their own. It still plays as a good game, looking nice with a sheen you want. I’m looking forward to playing the sequel.

#195 Smash TV

Posted: 8th November 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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555th played so far

smashtv

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Williams
Publisher: Williams

Smash TV is a shoot ’em up descended from the likes of Robotron 2084. Its apparent twist? It’s meant to be a TV show.

This worked for me, in a way, in some of the Wipeout setups (I believe 2097), at least at the time – it’s probably horribly over the top now – but as a top down shoot ’em up the idea certainly has a lot of potential.

Our Thoughts

Smash TV is an interesting concept. The basic gameplay – twin stick shooter with large hordes – isn’t quite that special, but the way the story informs a bunch of gameplay elements helps a lot. You’re dealing with big waves of extras, and process through a level while surrounded by cameras. It’s set up as a series of rooms – and more layouts as you go up levels in the game.

With the way the waves are set up, you get few breaks, and some of the area-based hazards – by which I mostly mean gunners spawning on balconies in the wall, meant to be shot but more out of reach – make it feel more orchestrated. To be fair, these waves feel more natural than in most games.

They also drop a nice number of interesting weapon upgrades. Nothing too outrageous (multiple directions and so on), but having to race around tp ick them up, when they’re often out of your way, adds a bit of a challenge.

Final Thoughts

Smash TV feels like one of the better twin stick shooters. The setting works really well and helps it be a proper manic shooter. A decent fun challenge.

#647 Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Posted: 4th November 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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554th played so far

Fire_Emblem_PoR_Boxart

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

It really has taken me a while to start on a Fire Emblem game. There aren’t that many on the list, but it’s a major and influential franchise. I played a 3DS iteration before, but that’s at the point where, I believe, things are already less harsh than they were at the time of this game. Good luck on this one.

Our Thoughts

Before starting this, I was trying to remember what games like this we’ve played. Advance Wars is vaguely there, but Jeanne d’Arc – a long time ago – is probably closer, with Disgaea being near as well. There’s more focus on the individual units than the latter, which keeps it contained and possibly more interesting.

That makes me even more ambivalent about one of the special features this game has – permadeath. If a character dies in a level, they die permanently. While there are games where it works – Nethack for example – it makes Fire Emblem feel harsher than it needs to be. Or, to use a better term – it makes save scumming a thing that you want to try. Someone dies? Restart and try again. Maybe a different route is available. Other, later games in the series allow you to turn it off, and I can see why. The game wasn’t easy (at least for me) and while experienced players may not be bothered as much, it turns me off.

On the other hand, it must have taken a lot of work to make everything match up here, dialogue and all, while it might also explain why some characters don’t actually join your group until later. It’s an interesting way to limit the game and punish you for failure, it’s just the sort of punishment that leads to a vicious circle downwards if things start to go bad.

More to the point, the battle system is quite engaging. The basics are simple – a rock-paper-scissors system for weapon types, with some other additions for bows and, of course, magic. It’s not too difficult to remember, but provides enough complexity when the map layouts are taken into account, as well as some map-specific elements. Of course, units are slowly introduced, giving you time to get used to each layer (as long as you survive for long enough).

Final Thoughts

I would have loved to turn off permadeath for this game, or limit its impact (out of action for a few battles?). I realise it wouldn’t have been as impactful, but for a beginning player like me it feels like the characters don’t have as much of an impact. I don’t see the changes anyway.

Even so, it’s a good, fun strategy game in here that works well within the limitations consoles bring – a good tactical RPG.

#674 The Warriors

Posted: 30th October 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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553rd played so far

Thewarriorscover

Genre: Adventure/Fighting
Platform: Playstation 2/XBox
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Rockstar Toronto
Publisher: Rockstar Games

The Warriors is a 1979 action movie starring… well, to be honest, I can’t say the names are that familiar to me. It’s a movie about street gangs and one’s attempt at dominance. This one was made into a game some twenty five years later for… well, I’m not quite sure why.

So here we have the prequel game, having several returning actors (and some sound-a-likes) to show how the titular gang revived itself. It’s an odd choice – and the game ending up on this list indicates it might well have surpassed the movie in fame. We’ll see how well that worked.

Our Thoughts

The Warriors probably feels closer to Yakuza 2 than anything else. Both have some amount of open world action with a focus on close combat fighting action. Both focus more on large levels rather than a full open world, with more open action in these areas. At the same time, the way your events are structured are quite different. While Yakuza focuses on small focus bits integrated into the world, The Warriors direct you to specific missions in the level.

This applies to story as well – while that mostly stays in the world in Yakuza 2, The Warriors has its own set of levels for these. They aren’t really reused as far as I can tell, and allow for more focused playing/storytelling, including some stealth sections and different mechanics. So far they also all mix it up – some are just about causing as much damage as possible – which made for some nice changes in pacing. They get mirrored in the open world activities too, which have smaller versions of those goals.

The game doesn’t quite get there compared to modern graphics, using the usual realistic at the time, but looked outdated now – not bad, but clearly trying to get somewhere with what they had available at the time. It’s contrasting enough to make sure it’s not too bland or fades into the background too much, making it functional – but it certainly doesn’t hold up as well as it could.

Most interesting there are the sounds. As said, the game uses a number of the original voice actors, supplmented by some new voices that I assume are soundalikes. It sounds good, and adds to make the game more convincing than you often hear in these games.

Final Thoughts

While this isn’t the Grand Theft Auto series, in this case the added story in this game that comes from absorbing an existing world into the game. Banter feels a lot more natural and a lot of story feels like it grows organically. It certainly has its flaws, but the game plays well enough to want to try more – and indeed it took me a while to put the game down.