Friday, April 30, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Batman - Return of the Joker

Retro Game of the Day! Batman - Return of the Joker

Batman - Return of the Joker by Sunsoft, original release on the NES in 1991. Ported (up) later to 16-bit as well.

Here's another game I have been meaning to write about for awhile. As usual I have to proclaim that Sunsoft was absolutely one of my favorite developers back in the day, their games usually oozed with such craftsmanship in their presentation. Maybe they weren't constantly the deepest, most enthralling experiences, but they were always very fun to play and they looked and sounded great. ROJ was no exception, though (and this is silly) the box art always bothered me. Appropriate for a 1970's comic book cover, for certain - which should make it more than appropriate in this case - but the Batman in this game was quite far removed from That Bat, and something either grittier or techier should have been used. Maybe something more like this, at least..

But, whatever. If there's one thing that ultimately matters least about the game at the end of the day, it's the box design, so I don't mind!

Anyway, the game was a follow-up to Sunsoft's previous movie adaptation which released a couple of years earlier. Like that one, this game took several liberties with the Batman mythos; actually ROJ almost completely has nothing to do with Batman whatsover, it's almost as if the developer had little knowledge or consideration of that character/world in the first place. Comics purists would be miffed, but there was a very nice action game here anyway and that more than made up for the lack of "playing it straight," besides how many garbage games have we seen that tried to stick to the license at the cost of actually being well-produced?

That being the case, this is a straightforward non-Batmannish adventure with some awesome sights and sounds (especially for 8-bit!) that played an enjoyable, if formulaic action contest. You walk to the right, ascend towers, collect powerups, shoot enemies, and topple bosses. There's even some side-view shooting levels. It all looks great and it's a ton of fun, and while non of it was "fresh," it was a solid job all around.

The thing that will stand out in my memory the most is the graphics in this game (if I've not mentioned them enough in this review by now!) But it is worth going over and over, because they are some of the most beautiful you will ever witness coming out of the NES' PPU. I don't know if I can honestly think of a game which, punch-for-punch, could have matched this game's technical prowess. There's a lot of darkness and some pretty drab color choices, but overall the entire game was a spectacle. Huge detailed characters, tons of frames of animation, giant elaborate mecha. I was not expecting this, Sunsoft really brought their A-game.

A true classic which is seldom mentioned. NES-heads, this one's for you.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #26

iPhone App Game Development Blog #26

Yes, time to plunge into the deep end of iPhone App development. Grab your water wings and dive in..

180 Development -well, what can I say - it's here! We've finally released our sophomore effort, and oh boy has it been a journey. Here's a link to the iTunes page should you like to purchase the game for yourself; it costs $1.99, it has 3 gameplay modes, 2 levels of difficulty, openFeint Leaderboards and Achievements, okay if you are a regular reader of this blog then you already know the skinny, just buy the blasted thing already :) We had been in submission for nearly 3 weeks (counting our initial rejection and re-submit) - not as speedy as I had hoped, but it certainly could have been a lot worse. When I saw the game sitting on the App Store last night, I was actually quite surprised.

Anyway, we are not out of the woods yet. As I have mentioned, we are doing a "soft launch" and aren't doing much to promote the game right off the bat. I want to wait until the Free Version is completed and passes through submission, because as everyone knows, people hate paying for iPhone games, especially from tiny developers. When we reach that milestone, then I will launch with a nice trailer, a Press Release, email all my contacts, et cetera. At this point I've made a pretty low-key thread posting on TouchArcade to try and drum up some interest, but it's very hard to command much attention at a place like that unless you've got a powerful presence. That being said, if you're a TA forum member I'd appreciate it if you could drop in the thread and help us keep it aloft. These things require a bit of nettling before the dam can burst!

Likewise, if you've bought the game, please help us out and give us a rating on iTunes. Be honest; if you don't care for the game, if you're disappointed, rank it accordingly. But definitely give us a moment and rank it somehow.

I'm going to use this blog to reach out to this community more, after the Free version becomes available; right now we don't want to make much noise, but at that point it will be critical to seek some grassroots help from those of you out there who enjoy our product. Something as simple as mentioning the game to your friend, maybe you have a "fun stuff" thread at your office where people post pictures of cats all day. Again, I am only requesting help if you actually enjoy the game, and appreciate what we are trying to do; if it's not your cup of tea, that's fine too!

These next couple of weeks will be very critical for 180 and my future as an indie developer. I feel like we have a potentially powerful product here, it just needs room to get out there and find its audience. As you can imagine, this is quite stressful, but honestly it is the most exhilarating point in my 13 years of game development. This is the most attached I have felt to anything I have worked on (that's a lot of good stuff too, if you've seen my resume) and I am completely satisfied with how things have wound up to this point; I feel like great things can come of this, and I'd like to be able to produce more projects that are even better experiences for the gamers out there.

So, do your part, Headcasers! Give us reviews, pound on our thread.. play the game, get some openFeint achievements! The first person who can trounce my high score (good luck!) will get a special prize!

Bizdev - things are really quiet right now as we are launching the game and wrapping up the Free version. I am having a few meeting with folks regarding getting the word out there, and porting the game to other mobile devices. Best-case scenario, I'd love to do a Droid port of 180 (it's not impossible) and make it a Deluxe version, but right now I am not gonna put the cart before the horse. Also I am moving forward with another programmer to wrap-up his game as well, and that should be submitted to the Appstore within the coming weeks. Following that production, it is hopeful that we can start on something fresh as well.

What Else is Going On -Well hey, a lot is up in the world of video games. It's not hard to understand how topsy-turvey things are right now, with Activision dominating the news lately for good and bad reasons at the same time. What a mess, right? Anyway, all we little guys can dois sit back and watch as the world reforms itself in strange ways. Activision Exec resigns; 2nd lawsuit filed by Infinity Ward staff; Respawn "spawning" out of the ashes of that whole mess, signing with EA; Bungie and Activision making a deal. My head spins, thinking about it. Never mind all this "next gen" iPhone "leak," and the announcement of the overhauled new iPhone OS. On top of everything else, as the months wear on, we shamble closer and closer to E3, I need to wrap up my registration for all of that.

What Have I Been Playing?

The iPhone scene has been pretty electric lately. There's a lot of things clamoring for the consumer's attention; let's dig through and see what is on my i-Thingie.

Okay, I am a sucker for Excitebike, that's never been a surprise. Apparently quite a few people share my love of this game, and a few derivatives have popped up on the Appstore. Giant Moto is a recent one; looks great, feels pretty good to play. Instantly when I tried this I though "man... the iPhone really needs a button sometimes." I just can't get over that fact when I try to play a game like this, still it is fun and I keep coming back to it.

Motocross Challenge is, surprise, another Excitebike-style game! Well, what do you want from me, I really dig these! Unfortunately, this one even more than the first game I mentioned, I really wish there was a button control for these things. Still, a fun game, and worth the money - lots of colors, lots of worlds, lots of content packed in there. Word has it that this was originally intended to be a Gameboy Advance title or something, but just never came out. Well, here it is now! A little sloppier in it's control than Giant Moto, but still a fun ride.

I gotta hand it to the staff at No Monkeys, they do a bang-up job of producing some of the most aesthetically wonderful iPhone games I have ever seen. This one does a marvelous job of maintaining the status quo (marvelous, wonderful, what am I, Billy Crystal?) They try to take the line-drawing genre in a different direction with this little game, it's instantly easy to understand and fun to play; though it does feel claustrophobic rather quickly. Worth a look, for sure.

Okay, these guys really don't need me pimpin' their game in my blog.. they just showed up barely a couple of weeks ago (if that) out of nowhere, and now they are literally dominating the paid charts with this little $0.99 app. It's quite remarkable. I am very curious what the story is behind it all.. anyway the game itself is pleasant, one of the true pick-up-and-play wonders that hits all the marks, and it's so simple that your head will spin. It's fun and I am glad I picked it up, I am interested to see where these guys go from here. A fun little test of reflexes, though it gets difficult to tell what is going on at times.

Who what huh? Did I accidentally try to review my own game which is conveniently available right now at this very link? Oh my God. So shameful. Skip this and buy some farting app instead.

Retro Game of the Day! DuckTales

Retro Game of the Day! DuckTales

Disney's DuckTales by Capcom, released in 1990.

Well how about this! When I was a kid, DuckTales was the beginning installment in their long-running (modern) Weekday Afternoon cartoon shows. It sounded like it would be very juvenile, but the show was a combination of excellent animation and storytelling (and they weren't trying to sell toys, if you can believe it!) When the NES adaptation was announced, I still expected it to be a cheap tie-in kid's game; what surfaced instead was as excellent character action-platformer, among the best to ever show up in the 8-bit period.

Essentially what we had here was a somewhat dumbed-down version of a Mega Man game; it should come as little surprise that there was some common staff involved in the production. No, Scrooge McDuck doesn't kill evil robots and steal their powers, but the gameplay/layouts/character controls all feel quite familiar to Capcom's well-known series. In this game you are not jumping and shooting, but rather pogo-jumping and, essentially, butt-stomping (as in a Mario game).

The worlds are all very well realized, Capcom's staff was absolutely in their stride when they developed the game. Wonderful detailed graphics were complemented by one of the happiest, bounciest soundtracks you ever did hear. People still rave about "The Moon."

This is one of the true classics from "back in the day," and sadly it will stay buried there due to obvious licensing issues. A true gem from Capcom's past, the game may be a bit short and easy but it's an enjoyable action game from beginning to end. Don't miss this.

Our new game 180 has released for iPhone, $1.99 on the Appstore! Destined to be one of the best-playing games of the year? Decide for yourself...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Osman

Retro Game of the Day! Osman

Osman (aka Cannon Dancer) by Mitchell, released in 1996 in the arcade.

Welcome, Reader, to one of gaming's best-kept secrets. Strider is one of Capcom's memorable, enduring hits which still gets talked about to this day; for some reason, a proper follow-up has never surfaced. Unless you count Strider 2, which I guess you kinda should, but the game was a fairly large departure from the source material. The secret in question is that there sort of was a "proper" Strider 2 - this game, Osman, was it.

The quick story is that much of the original dev team from Capcom Strider (arcade version) split from their studio of origin and went over to the far-lower-profile Mitchell (creator of Pang/Buster Bros. and Puzzloop/Ballistic - geez what is it with all these dual names today?) There, they made this game which follows very much in style and gameplay from the cues put forth by Strider, though set in a different world with different characters. One go at the controller, however, and you will see exactly what I mean.

He's got a lot of the same moves, attack patterns, the level designs all feel quite similar. No nifty sword-wielding here, as Osman is all about the punching and kicking however, but he does it with style. Overall the game feels a lot more well-crafted than it's predecessor, with nonstop challenge, more lush graphic design, and a much less stuttery presentation (Strider always felt, to me, like it was having a hard time keeping up with itself).

For a number of reasons, this game flew below the radar, and no one ever really gave it any time in the press. That's a shame, as this game is an excellent action tour-de-force and any period gamer will eat it up. Go find it, play it, and know.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Discs of Tron

Retro Game of the Day! Discs of Tron

Discs of Tron by Midway, Rob Dinnerman design. Arcade release in 1983.

A favorite of arcade maniacs everywhere, DOT was released a year after the landmark film (and original Tron arcade game). Word on the street is that this was originally intended to be one of the minigames which made up that original arcade, but as it wasn't ready in time, they scrapped that idea and released it as a standalone.

DOT was a very unique machine in its day. You stepped into the cabinet enclosure, which was unusual (this was more common for sit-down racing games) and engaged in over-the-shoulder combat with a rival who faced you, head-on. The game graphics were projected onto a transparent overlay which was backed by a hi-rez cardboard image, something also uncommon (well, this feature also did show up in Space Invaders I believe!)

The game had a tricky control setup - you used a dial to "aim"you attack disc, and a special controller to move your character around the larger levitating disc. A little awkward but it was different and novel. Between the whole setup the experience was very immersive for the time, and this cabinet (and game) absolutely stood out from the crowd.

I remember playing this for the first time as a (very) young kid at my local arcade, I fed it a quarter and got into it right away - I was doing quite well, too, but I swore I could smell something burning in the cabinet and it freaked me out, so I ran out of there and forfeit my game.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road

Retro Game of the Day! Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road

Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road by SNK, released to the arcades in 1986 and ported to the NES in 1988.

Alright! Ikari Warriors! One of the OG Nintendo games, love it or hate it, many of us played it and had a decent time with it. In due time SNK rolled out a sequel, how did that turn out? Read on and see.

The first Ikari was a pretty straight-forward military themed action shooting game. Advance up the screen, blast troops, dodge enemy fire. Basic, but fulfilling. Compared to rival game Commando, Ikari was a little nicer with it's multitudes of enemy variations, 2-Player simultaneous combat, and extremely long levels (not to mention the arcade's rotary dial sticks). And tanks! It was definitely noteworthy when a sequel was announced; unfortunately, the sequel chucked a lot of what worked so well in the first game and there was a pretty haphazard presentation in its place.

The new game takes place in a futuristic fantasy setting, instead of fighting enemy soldiers you are tasked with blasting vampires, mutants, and monsters. That's fine; unfortunately, most of the designs just look strange and everything animates very sloppily. Worse yet, the gameplay generally feels sluggish and loose. You keep playing "just to keep playing," but the motivation to keep going and see further levels never really gets terribly compelling.

Still, it's not a horrible game. History has not been kind to the Ikari franchise, but honestly there were not that many games where you could mindlessly just walk and blast for hours, and the Ikari series did fill a niche. Sadly they could have crafted a much more compelling argument if there was a little more TLC here, instead what we have is rather forgettable, if quite strange. Amazingly, as a kid I sat through the opening cinemas which are texted out in real-time morse code. What was wrong with me?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Pocky & Rocky

Retro Game of the Day! Pocky & Rocky

Pocky & Rocky by Natsume, released in 1993 in the West for the Super Nintendo.

And here we have one of the HARDEST GAMES KNOWN TO MAN. Alright it's not that difficult, but the kiddy looks of this game are extremely misleading!

Pocky & Rocky is essentially a "walking shooter," for lack of a better term, in which you control a girl and a Tanuki (raccoon-ish creature) rather then, well, spaceships. You walk around and blast, blast, blast. This game is actually a nonstop flow of continuous firepower - let up and your game will quickly end.

A strange choice to be released over here, though this kind of cutesy anime style is definitely quite conventional now, 20 years ago it wasn't exactly mainstream so much. Combined with the play style and difficulty, it seems an odd choice to release for the Western Market; perhaps if they reskinned it as a proper Contra clone then it could have gone down in the history books more successfully.

Don't let my tone dissuade you however - despite the underappreciated theme, what you have here is honestly a demon of a 2-Player game (and it's quite a blast to play!) There is great attention to detailed lavished over the entire presentation, and those who partake will find themselves enjoying one of the true hidden gems of the SNES lineup. For shooter fans, or just solid 16-bit action game fans, Pocky & Rocky is gold!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Spider-Man (Arcade)

Retro Game of the Day! Spider-Man (Arcade)

Spider-Man (Arcade) by Sega, released in 1991.

Whaaaaat's this now? Spider-man in a video game - can it be true, I say rubbing my eyes? Well, once upon a time it actually was a bit of a novelty, believe it or not. And even though most of his pre-3D escapades were not very good, they were usually worth checking out because, you know, it was Spidey.

Here we had a classic example of "hey let's make another beat'em-up." I guess it's kind of a no-brainer to take superheroes and stick them in the fighting genre, though kinda disappointing when they play it so vanilla. The character of Spider-man generally has a lot of charm and personality - in a game like this, though, he just walks and punches. Not too exciting.

To break it up, at least they have a couple of platforming segments where the camera pulls back; it's nice to have a little variation like that once in awhile and at least get a sense that they were interested in trying something a little different.

Graphically, this was pretty good in its day. Not fascinating, but quite colorful (if a bit awkward looking). The cast of characters was sorta strange (Namor the Sub-Mariner? Why not?) but at least they crammed tons of Spidey villians in there for good measure.

Overall, not a bad fighter in it's day, if a bit underwhelming and shallow. Come on Sega, where's your heart! If anyone could have the potential to make a crazy-fun Spider-man arcade adventure, you know it would be them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Sky Shark

Retro Game of the Day! Sky Shark

Sky Shark by Taito, arcade release in 1987 (and later ported to the NES).

Another Toaplan game, ported to NES by Software Creations. Not your normal shooter-devs, how did it fare?

Quite wonderfully, actually! They totally took some pages out of the good book of Capcom's 1943 and ran with it, to produce one of the most satisfying shooters the NES ever saw!

A little colorful (in, perhaps, an unattractive way), the game is rock-solid and intense the likes of which you would seldom see in this manner. SS was a favorite of mine and I am ashamed to say I never actually picked it up - rented it, but now is the time to right that wrong!

If you love intense blasters, and aren't a little shy about getting your butt a bit beat - definitely check this game out. There's a lot of meat here, despite the blase screenshots. Hectic combat, peppy music, and heavy (but satisfying) challenge!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Donkey Kong Game & Watch

Retro Game of the Day! Donkey Kong Game & Watch

Donkey Kong Game & Watch by Nintendo, released in 1982.

Ohhh, boy. This has to be one of my favorites from when I was a little kid. I think I was seven years old when I got this for my birthday or something. I saw a picture of it in the newspaper insert for Child World or something, and rushed my parents "It's ORANGE! It's so cool! I need this! Donkey Konggggggg!" (I was the original N64 kid.. call me the Game & Watch Kid)

G&W DK played a fairly different variation of the original arcade game, but I didn't mind. In fact, I might have enjoyed this one quite a bit more (it didn't hurt that you could take it everywhere with you, which was something very special those days!) You guided Mario up two screens of girders and construction equipment, avoiding (what else) barrels and the occasional cable-carried girder. Go up ladders, jump over obstacles, try to rescue your lady. New to this version was grabbing 4 keys to "unlock" rivets that supported Donkey Kong's platform. Grab each one and he'll fall, and then the round resets (only faster!)

The whole affair looks incredibly primitive by current standards, but to a kid in the early 1980s this was magical. The game was dripping with character (each "frame" of Mario emoted a different feeling.. fear, triumph, uncertainty, glee, etc). There was a special challenge to make it to 30 points on your first man and then you could double your scoring. Also - it had a watch!

There's been many famous old-school Nintendo Game & Watch titles, this is hands-down my favorite of the lot. So funny to see how the DS harkens back to it's design, too..

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