Sunday, January 31, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Flicky

Retro Game of the Day! Flicky

Flicky by Sega, original arcade release in 1984, and ported to several other systems (such as the Sega Master System and the Sega Genesis) in the years following.

Flicky is the product of a bygone era to be sure, a time when many games were simple, cute, and cuddly.. before they largely embraced things like decapitation and mutilation. Oh, the simpler days.

In this adventure, you a blue bird tasked with rescuing your little bird babies (chirps) from the hungry housecats who would eat them. You must pass by a chirp to get him to follow you, then lead him to an exit for safety. To increase your score drastically, get a line of chirps following you and then deposit them all simultaneously.

The playfield scrolls horizontally, and warps around after you reach the boundary (similar to another game of the period, City Connection by Jaleco). Picking up a train of chips drastically increases the real estate that your line could be hit by a cat, meaning you'd need to go back and try to pick up the Lost Soul in order to get that max point value. It's tricky stuff!

A simple game, but not an easy one to get right into. You don't have much to defend from the cats and must be good at avoiding them and protecting your little birdies. A challenging game, but also quite fun!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Karnov

Retro Game of the Day! Karnov

Karnov by Data East, originally released in the arcade in 1987 and ported to the NES (and other systems) the following year.

Alright! So there were some NES games that you'd rush right out to by as soon as they released (Mega Man 2), and then there were those that you'd pick up second-hand from some other kid at school who would be selling his NES games to get money to buy drugs or whatnot. Karnov was of the latter variety.

A strange game, this - you controlled a fire-breathing, retired circus strongman with a big beergut who sought treasure in strange lands. That's really all the setup that was given with this game.

And it is pretty much just your run-of-the-mill platformer. Other than the pretty fancy-looking title screen, Karnov never really seemed to have a lot going for it: You run around. You pick up "K's." You shoot fireballs. If someone touches you, you become blue (again, and you die). Karnov did have a bit of a nifty item-collection system going on: shields, powerups, scuba gear, high-jump boots - even a ladder - all that stuff was pretty cool!

Unfortunately, the game had kind of a dreary aesthetic - the graphics weren't bad, they just didn't look very fun. The soundtrack consists of a single heroic-sounding tune with a bit of a Russian flavor, but the same tune plays out through the entire game which gets a bit old (it is a half-decent chiptune though!) The sound FX are particularly grating however. There's a lot of bleeping and garbling in this one. It just makes you feel a bit nauseous - what were the designers thinking?

At the end of the day, I will say this of Karnov - I picked it up for a cheap price, essentially to have another NES cart to fill out my shelf. I gave it a couple of plays and actually found myself digging it - any game where you run, jump and shoot in any manner similar to Contra can't be all bad! Karnov might not be the bee's knees, but it's a fun little platformer to kill an afternoon with, and some of the sights will make you laugh and scratch your head, wondering - who the hell writes this stuff?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Spider-Man (Atari 2600)

Retro Game of the Day! Spider-Man (Atari 2600)

Spider-Man for the Atari 2600, by Parker Brothers. Released in 1982.

Sigh. Every time I bring up one of the 2600 games it is bittersweet. On the one hand, a lot of these games are so old and primitive that they really look like absolutely nothing at all - screens composed of rudimentary, primarily colored shapes with some incredibly abstract representation of a scene being played out. On the other hand, the memories of those long-ago days reminds me just how fascinating and novel the idea of playing a game on your own TV at home once was. Further, having a recognizable comic-book hero like Spider-Man as the protagonist was icing on the cake!

A simple game amongst simple games, the object was to get Spidey to the top of a building to disarm a bomb before the timer went out. Not merely able to crawl up the side of a building with his hands, you'd need to shoot short webs and slowly pull yourself up bit-by-bit. You could also perform horizontal swings (to catch "bad guys" or disarm smaller bombs). Climbing wasn't easy, as you'd need to blast your web onto a solid patch of concrete (trickier than it sounds) to keep mobile - otherwise, you would lose grip and fall.

Very rudimentary, but at the time it was pretty enjoyable. Spider-Man's sprite was about as decent a representation of the super-hero as one would expect given the limitations of the system - and the villianous Green Goblin, who guarded the super-bomb at the very top, was definitely cool looking as he floated on his glider. The only real letdown of this game was that it didn't feature any combat - if you could at least blast the Goblin with a web or something it would have been really satisfying. But what was there (climb, dodge, collect) was still enjoyable.

A cute game to go back and look at now, it is always interesting to plumb the depths of home videogaming from 2 decades ago, when a lot of this stuff was still in its infancy. I don't expect most people would get much of a charge of playing this now, but at the time it was pretty hot to have this for your Atari!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Sonic the Hedgehog

Retro Game of the Day! Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog by Sonic Team, for Sega Genesis - released in 1991.

So, what am I gonna write about today? Battle Pinball? Master of Monsters? Warsong? Faery Tale Adventure? Sigh... all week it has been obscure games already (my favorite!) I guess I should throw you a bone and write about a game some people have actually played..

Sonic exploded onto the scene in the heat of the 16-Bit wars. Nintendo was preparing to release their new system in the fall of 1991, and along with it a new sure-hit blockbuster Mario game was packed-in. Sega had been a successful steward with their 16-Bit dominance in the meantime, but now Daddy was coming home to clean up. Something needed to be done.. and fast (get it?)

Alex Kidd was Sega's previous would-be "Mario Killer" mascot - unfortunately for Sega, the only person he seemed to be killing was himself, as most Western gamers dismissed his adventures with a yawn and a shrug. Sega went back to the drawing board and created a more accessible character, essentially spawning a whole new style/generation of "anthropomorphic mascot characters with lots of attitude." Nearly all of them failed, but for one reason or another, Sonic has stuck it out all these years.

The new game was remarkably simple. Ditching Alex Kidd's punch attack and item acquisition, Sonic used all three Genesis control triggers to jump - otherwise, all you would do in this world was run. Taking a major cue from Mario, you'd jump on enemies to "free" them (kill!), there were a couple of the prerequisite powerups (shield, 1UP, speed sneakers) but overall the game was about collecting rings, getting to the bosses, and saving the day.

Sonic was a lot more technologically impressive than many of the Genesis titles which came before it. Every world was dripping with lush color and detail, and lots of nice animated touches. The world of Moebius was beautifully styled and illustrated to so much stronger of a degree than what you'd usually see in these otherwise slapped-together manner of games. Character Action games had never really been the Genesis' strong suite up until this point, so it was very refreshing to see what could be done (and it certainly stood in stark contrast to the opposition which largely existed on the system's 8-Bit rival). Also, as noted the game moved really fast, much faster than any action game seen before.

The game was rounded out with a peppy, matching soundtrack, and of course very well-designed levels. Nothing too difficult, but enough was there that required a certain level of patience and interaction from a dedicated player (you couldn't merely hold right and spam the jump button to get through any level - many required precise movements and careful planning). Sonic was a hit that no one expected, and rightly so - and when the much-beefier Super Mario World followed on the higher-tech SNES some months later, that game was not looking much better than what we had here running on "the inferior Genesis hardware." In fact Mario's game was starting to feel a bit stale in light of this new freshness.

Sonic has been around for ages now, and while many of his 3D games have been less than satisfying, the original 2D iterations are still absolutely classic gaming at it's best. They hold up very well today, and are still being reissued for play on modern consoles. If you've yet to attend this party, it's high-time you made an entrance!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Abadox

Retro Game of the Day! Abadox

Abadox by Natsume, released in Japan in 1989 and the following year stateside for the NES.

So, what is this strange little shooter all about? Doesn't look very hot - certainly isn't terribly visually appealing at first glance. Shooters should be colorful, detailed, and fun - Abadox just looks brown, orange, and.. veiny. And the box art is among the worst I have ever seen. Upon firing up the game, the player is greeted with immediate challenge, sludgy and stiff controls, an unappealing main character, and lack of auto-fire capability.

Many of those who get that far into this game are likely to dismiss it following that less-than-stellar first impression. That's a shame, because Abadox is certainly more than just another slapped-together game! Sure, it's "just another shooter" and it looks like a low-grade ripoff of the much more stylish Life Force. But those who spend a little time getting to know their Abadox will be in for a treat - a well-designed shooter and a true challenge, this appears to be Natsume's first foray into the game industry (from my uneducated standpoint) and they really wanted to make a splash.

The game has a lot of heavy challenge on par with shooters like R-Type, though again, not as stylish or aesthetically pleasing. You almost could argue there's not many reasons why Abadox can't go toe-to-toe with a game like that, but certain deign choices really prevented it from getting there. Again, R-Type - also a game known for being drippy and gooey (remember level 2?) had a nicer overall layer of polish and a more satisfying main character. Abadox sports some wonderfully intense challenge and design, but the price of admission is just a bit too high.

When this title was first announced, I believe it was billed as "a product of Natsume - new company started by former employees of Capcom and Konami," sounds like a dream team right? This isn't hard to see, and though history has really forgotten Abadox, what it has left behind is a challenging, good-looking 8-bit game which still is worth a (patient) modern gamer's attention. Dig this one up and see how well you can handle a vert shmup that scrolls downward!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Blue Lightning

Retro Game of the Day! Blue Lightning

Blue Lightning by Epyx for the Atari Lynx handheld system - released at the system's launch in 1989. This review is dedicated to RJ Mical, 1/2 of the creative team behind that videogame system (and possibly this actual game, at least to some degree) - it's his birthday today!

This is no small feat - before there was a Sega Game Gear, before there was an NEC TurboExpress, before there was the..., there was only the black&white GameBoy by Nintendo, and the color Lynx by produced by Atari. These were the only two systems going head-to-head in the handheld arena at the time. This is extremely important to note, since games in general were still considered a novelty at the time, smaller-scale entertainment medium - as compared to the present day, where it is honestly a a billion-dollar business. PC and console games in the late 80s were the highlight at that point - and the mobile/handheld market was absolutely in its infancy, so Lynx and GameBoy were the beginning of what would eventually become a huge market cornerstone (look at where the Nintendo DS is today - it's considered one of the most successful platforms of all time, portable or otherwise, and it's lineage can directly be traced back to this period in gaming history).

Blue Lightning is particularly important to recognize as it was really the game which showcased the Lynx' graphical prowess at it's launch. Titles like California Games and Rampage were useful for showing off the system's ability as far as connecting several units together for multiplay (hence the system's name, "Lynx") - but Blue Lightning was a strong display of the raw graphical ability that the system's powerful hardware was capable of performing. In short - this was the game you needed to buy as your first purchase, if you were going to get the system.

Blue Lightning was essentially a simple aircraft combat simulator, in the heavy arcade style. taking many cues (graphically and gameplay-wise) from Sega's original landmark After Burner, Blue Lighting sought to recreate a similar experience at home or on the go for those who didn't have a personal version of that @ $20,000 arcade setup (or however much those insane machines would have cost at the time).

Did it work out? Absolutely. Thanks to the superior Lynx hardware, the machine was more than capable of displaying a 3D scrolling pixel-playfield which constantly rushed at the player. Mind you, this preceded the Super Nintendo by a couple of years on the consumer market - you really couldn't find an experience like this anywhere else, and even when the SNES did finally show up with it's Mode 7 graphics trickery, it was still pretty hamstrung compared to what the Lynx could do in several cases.

Blue Lightning was a dazzling tech demo that showed off the system's capabilities - you could fly your craft over several different landscapes, unlike After Burner you had a much stronger feeling of immersion in these worlds. Rather than just "go-go-go," you could navigate through desert mesas and over rivers - if you wanted to engage the enemy, you could blast away (or just try and evade and enjoy the scenery). This was absolutely a trip at the time, unlike any other.

Blue Lighting was a game which launched on a very nice device. It got a fair amount of media coverage, but sadly the Atari Lynx never had the necessary support of its technologically inferior competition. It was a shame, and those who paid attention noticed a steep decline in the quality of software following the Lynx' initial launch lineup. There was a fairly solid base of games which followed, but few fulfilled on the wild promises made by games such as this. Blame politics, blame economics - ultimately the cards fell where they did, and ultimately the system and its games are just a footnote in gaming history. But for those of us who were there to experience this when it was the new hot thing, we can remember a time when it looked like Atari was going to kill everyone.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Cosmo Gang - The Video

Retro Game of the Day! Cosmo Gang - The Video

Cosmo Gang - The Video by Namco for Super Famicom (Japanese version of the 16-Bit Super Nintendo), released in Japan in 1991 in the arcade and the following year for the console.

So what have we here? Namco, purveyors of alien blast'em-up classics such as Galaga, Galaxian and Gaplus (my tongue hurts now) retooled a familiar formula yet again, this time with a popular Japanese redemption machine theme. How many times can you go to the well?

Cosmo is a simple retelling of that tired old story (okay, I don't mean to be so harsh!) with a fresh coat of pixel-paint. Very cute, very colorful, the game tasks you with shooting down wave after wave of the cartoony Cosmo Gangers in due process.

It's very fluid, very bouncy, very cutesy. If you liked the earlier iterations of this theme, then you will no doubt feel right at home in this installment as well.

Pretty standard fare, which deviates from the norm as you progress through the journey (somewhat interesting powerups, fire-breathing foes, and of course the expected bonus stages!) Cosmo isn't a breakthrough of any sort, but it is nice and solid and good for some mindless happy cheery blasting.

180 for iPhone - Hi-Score Contest on Facebook WINNER!

180 for iPhone - Hi-Score Contest on Facebook WINNER!

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Hyperzone

Retro Game of the Day! Hyperzone

Hyperzone by HAL labs, released shortly into the SNES' lifespan in 1991.

Yes... Hal. they made Kirby. they made Kabuki Quantum Fighter. Of course they made Smash Bros. And they also made what should have been a much more represented genre on the SNES, but strangely it wasn't - the on-rails cyber shooter, presented in glorious pixelated Mode 7.

So what of Hyperzone then? Effectively, this is something of a crossbreed of rail shooters such as Space Harrier and racing games like F-Zero. Unlike the latter, there wasn't really any racing going on here, but the presentation was quite similar (and certainly the tech matched quite well). You control a ship flying into the screen - your mission is to merely blast the baddies, enjoy the scenery and music, and just.. try not to get shot down too much alright kid? These space pods don't grow on trees ya know.

Of course, this game has the distinguishing feature of letting you actually fight against a SNES controller. Imagine that! Otherwise, not much going for it - Hyperzone might have some fans, but really it's quite a boring little ride. As I say for many games of this ilk, it looks good and holds some promise - I'd still love to play a game with tech like this but some actual meat on its bones, gameplay-wise. Perhaps there's some wind in those sails yet! Check out Hyperzone for a look back at yesteryear, when games that looked like this sold SNES units - but remember what came after was the real meat and potatoes!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Flashback: The Quest for Identity

Retro Game of the Day! Flashback: The Quest for Identity

Flashback: The Quest for Identity by Delphine Software, published by U.S. Gold, originally appearing in 1992 on the Amiga and ported to several other platforms the following year.

To me - this will forever be "one of those games which got away." I rented the much-ballyhoo'd "Out of This World" which preceded it, and sported a very similar look - and though many folks loved that game, it honestly was not my cup of tea. For whatever reason, I decided to give this follow-up a shot - and though I was skeptical, it sucked me in, in a way that not many games can. But, I never ended up buying it (or completing it).
(NOTE: Before people call me out on this, Flashback is not actually a sequel to Out of This World" - stylistically and gameplay-wise, they share many similarities, but the storylines/devteams/gameplay styles are quite different. At the time these games were released, it was common to hear both mentioned in the same breath however, and many in the media considered the games siblings).

The whole affair takes place in a European Cyberpunk "Blade Runner"-ish universe, with more than a bit of some Total Recall overtones. You wake up in an exotic jungle, your memory has been wiped out, and you find a pre-recorded video of your earlier self explaining some of this (and bits and pieces of an alien takeover plot, et cetera, et cetera).

The game was rendered Prince of Persia fashion with rotoscoped graphics (filmed live-action, then drawn over with pixel art) which was strikingly effective in its day - the animation looked so fluid and lifelike compared to the usual low-frame-count business that was the order of the day. The graphics of the game's backdrops were likewise beautifully rendered, with much care being applied to creating the nightmarish futuristic cyberpunked-out world in which the story unfolded. This game was a pleasure to play through, and it looked very different than the usual "hi-tech Japanese 16-Bit" or "thrown-together Western developed games" that were otherwise quite common. So special was the presentation, that the game was marketed as being "a CD-Rom quality game packed into a regular game cartridge!" I will have to remember to use that line...

The game also utilized the familiar (but not too overdone) Prince of Persia style of play mechanics. As opposed to the regular run and gun style of play that many of these types of games employed, Flashback required you to make much more delicately thought out motions through it's world. Running and rushing through most areas with guns blazing would mean lots of dying and repeating over and over. Perhaps this meant it would not be too popular with casual console gamers - it was more about thinking and planning one's actions beforehand, rather than mindless blasting and dodging.

There's a lot to say about this manner of games and a simple retrospective won't do it much justice. These screenshots may not be so provocative now, but back in the day they looked absolutely stunning and the story and world the game laid out was quite compelling and interesting. It's a shame that we never saw much more of these games - they still hold up quite well, and are worth investigation by modern gamers. Pick up Flashback, play a little patiently through its early story, and don't be too surprised when you find yourself getting sucked in as well!