Monday, May 31, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Mercs

Retro Game of the Day! Mercs

Mercs by Capcom, arcade release in 1990 and ported to the Sega Genesis in 1991 by Sega.

Another game emerges from the mists of the past - this one, a sequel of sorts to the much-loved older game Commando. Alright, I guess Bionic Commando was also a sequel to that game, though more in name only while Mercs actually evolves on the original's gameplay (and there are zero ties to Bionic to be found in here).

When Mercs hit the arcades, the game was touted in the press as being a "Turtle Killer" (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game, in all it's 4-player glory, was absolutely cleaning house). I am not so sure why it was expected that Mercs would dethrone the king, and I can't say that this happened. The game was alright, it was definitely a good time (and for what it was worth, the 3-Player simultaneous mode did go a long way to enhancing the experience) but I'll expect that run'n-shoot games were never as popular as walk'n-slash games..

The game basically did a turbo of everything that was cool about the source material, and played all the better for it. It was still a top-down "kill everybody" adventure, although new weapons were added, tons of new enemies, much better graphics, power-up vehicles (tanks, etc). More and better, more and better..

The home port was alright, and should have been a more memorable game. They added in a special remix mode as well as an arcade port, so you got a lot of meat for your dollar. Unfortunately, they pulled a huge Lame and stripped the multiplayer mode out, which was a very good reason for me not to even bother renting the game. I still scratch my head when I think about how great an 8-bit military action game like Contra was, augmented by the fact it was 2-Player - and then what should have been a superior follow-up with a title like Mercs, and they remove the 2P feature for the home version? At the end of the day, I'll recommend checking out the arcade version of Mercs, it's the superior experience.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Shadow of the Ninja

Retro Game of the Day! Shadow of the Ninja

Shadow of the Ninja by Natsume, released in 1990 (Japan) and 1991 (Western) for the NES.

Long ago, in the days before they were one of the reigning champs of the Farm Simulation RPG genre, Natsume were a fairly no-nonsense company when it came to releasing incredible action contests for the 8-bit systems. All of their games were dark, gritty, heavily action-oriented, challenging. Never particularly original, but always with wonderful execution.

Shadow of the Ninja was an early effort which obviously borrowed from more well-established properties such as Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden. Maybe not with as much credibility or character, Shadow was hardly a bad knock-off with different enough mechanics to hold its own.

This game pushed things by giving you an aggravating (though not unsurmountable) difficulty weapons, a choice of two characters (one stronger, the other faster), different weapons, the ability to cling to surfaces, and oh yes - 2-Player simultaneous play, which was actually a rare thing in those extremely sprite-display limited days.

Strangely, Shadow never got a lot of support (it might have showed up too late, the game might have been a bit too drab and gritty for it's own good, or maybe it just hit when a wave fo software was already drowing it out). For me, I always thought the boxart was a little amateurish compared to the contemporaries, and I don't deny that such superficialities can go a long way in affecting the fickle customer.

Whatever the case, Shadow of the Ninja is a fine effort from a young dedicated publisher, a classy game which is still fun and challenging today. It looks quite dated when held up against some of the 16-bit offerings also available at the time of its release, but it's a nice solid action-platformer which is worth any retro fan's attention.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Solstice

Retro Game of the Day! Solstice

Solstice by Software Creations Ltd, published by Sony CSG Imagesoft for the NES in 1990.

Here we have a very interesting game on several different levels. When Solstice was first announced, it was noteworthy because it had the Sony name attached to it (this was pre-PlayStation - and Sony generally had very little to do with videogames, at all, prior to the 16-bit era).

The name and the premise both were intriguing, but for me the most interesting thing was the screenshots. Yes, the graphics were on the small side, but nothing I'd seen on the NES looked anything like this before. So stylized, so clean, and somewhat like looking into a diorama. The world of Solstice was a unique, magical one that beckoned with something different and appealing.

I remember putting Solstice on my short list of "must-buy" games, but for some reason my Spidey-Sense kicked in and I decided to give it a rental first. Good thing, too, because Solstice was not anywhere near as enjoyable experience as I was expecting.

The game was not bad, and I really wasn't angry about it - I just could tell the style of play was not for me. The whole layout was confusing and cumbersome, and the feel of the control/sense of interaction in the world was difficult to say the least. Solstice presented a compelling and unique world, but I wish they'd tested it a bit more before deciding to release it to this market. A shame, because even now looking at these (awesome) screens I feel like I should pick it back up for another try..

Friday, May 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Magic Sword

Retro Game of the Day! Magic Sword

Magic Sword by Capcom, arcade release in 1990 (and later ported to the SNES, rather unceremoniously).

Here's a game I should have been pretty ga-ga about, back when it was released. Seems it didn't permeate too many arcades, though we had one at ours. I guess it must have showed up during quite a busy time because I never gave it much of a look, and probably for a reason.

A very pretty game, as Capcom was usually quite capable of delivering, Magic Sword is another straightforward "walk to the right and hack guys into bits" game of a style which was already disappearing upon its release. Perhaps that's why it failed to impress, though the game did have its' fans. Still, any game with a brutal theme and medieval fantasy that lets you chop away with a buddy isn't all bad, even if it is sort of flat. Magic Sword may sound rather bland, but that doesn't mean it's not still fun!

Perhaps this arrived too late into the post-Final Fight world (and for that, Capcom can only really blame themselves), though the style and theme certainly harkened back to more loved Capcom classics like the lesser-known Black Tiger, and maybe a little less directly to the Ghosts 'n Goblins series.

As for the SNES port, not bad, but removing player 2 is never a good thing in a game like this (especially when the play is so flat). I wouldn't say it wasn't still worthwhile, as it's a wonderfully presented package, but you really got spoiled when they had a 2-Player source and then strip out P2 in a 16-Bit conversion. Come on guys! I'll put up with a little flicker and slowdown if I can slice and dice with my buddy by my side! This could have been such an amazing medieval Contra, think about it.

At the end of the day, Magic Sword is an interesting footnote in Capcom's history for several reasons. Now I am all riled by what I wrote just above (medieval Contra could be so awesome) but I guess we can only wait for someone else to pick up that one. Hey, who knows! Maybe Magic Sword is going into my Secret Book of Secret Plans...

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! The Punisher (Arcade)

Retro Game of the Day! The Punisher (Arcade)

The Punisher by Capcom, originally released in the arcade in 1993 and ported to the Sega Genesis a year later.

Ever hear of a little beat'em-up game called Final Fight? Me neither, but apparently it was a pretty big hit for the Capcom, guys who developed it; because after it's huge success they really capitalized n it and churned out several titles which aped the gameplay to a T. Lots of other studios did the same, but of course the Capcom games (Aliens Vs Predator, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Captain Commando to name a couple) were a some of the very blatant ones. Also in that list, would be this game.

For that matter, ever hear of a guy called Batman? Me neither (ok, this is getting old) but apparently in the 1990s the charater was pretty big and he revolutionized the comic book industry (it's happened a few times!) Rival publisher took a few cues from this and tweaked one of their own characters to make him a lot more Batmannish, in some ways (excessively dark, gritty) as opposed to how colorful and spectacular/fantastic comic super-heroes had been for decades. Thus, the Punisher was often referred to as "Marvel's answer to Batman."

Fitting, then, that during the period the character should grace a few videogames and mooch off the franchise a bit. The Punisher actually lent itself very well, stylistically, to a game (and still would) but the franchise has never properly transcended its' source material. Still, they tried, and marrying the character with the Final Fight engine during those peak times was not a bad way to go.

Ultimately, the result was sort of a "Super Final Fight" style game, with less-than-colorful Marvel characters (Punisher and Nick Fury.. why not!) The gameplay and art style were strikingly familiar, they may not be much to look at now but in those days, gamers would gobble this stuff up and ask for more.

Unknown to me until now, it appears a console version was released for the 16-bit Sega Genesis as well sometime following the arcade original. It looks like they probably captured the essence of the gameplay pretty well, but with a heavy hit on the visuals. This was part of the charm however, so I don't think you had too many people rushing out to scoop up the home port.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Psycho-nics Oscar

Retro Game of the Day! Psycho-nics Oscar

Psycho-nics Oscar by Data East, arcade release in 1987. (Or just plain vanilla "Oscar," if you prefer, works for me!)
Here is a little gem that no one, I mean no one, knows about... a little arcade platformer which I like to think of as Karnov in a robot suit. Same developer, maybe a similar engine, graphical style is not too far away, hey it is not that much of a stretch...

Basically this is your standard walk-to-the-right-and-kill-foes game, like a much slower and more cumbersome Contra with a weapons system from Gradius implemented. Definitely not a bad recipe, even if the execution wasn't stellar.

Unfortunately, this was one of those games which could have gone onto some fame if given half a chance (the theme always did well) but it was never meant to be, and I rarely say the game around. It wasn't a game which grabbed you at hello, more of a thinking man's run'n-gun I suppose.
Still, a game worth it's salt and absolutely worth your time. It will never be thought of now, but if I ran the Virtual Console service (and why don't I? Wasn't this a job I was made for?) then this would be on my short list of games which deserved a second chance. A solid, fun little game which is said to be the inspiration for the much more memorable Turrican... check out Oscar!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Road Rash

Retro Game of the Day! Road Rash

Road Rash by EA, originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1991.

I have to say, looking for images on a Google Search about a game called "Road Rash" leads to some pretty disgusting results. Do yourself a favor and avoid this, unless you happen to work in a meat kitchen and are desensitized..

Road Rash was one of EA's early efforts on the Sega 16-bit system, back in the day when they were considered fairly rogue (they started out releasing their own carts unlicensed on the unit, before becoming buddy-buddy). Lots of the games they released often stood in stark contrast to the mostly-Japanese-produced stuff that filled out the stocks otherwise, for better or worse (usually the latter). But you had to give EA some credit for trying to forge their own path, with often interesting (if imperfect) product.

Road Rash represented a period when the quality of those games started to step-up, considerably. The only previous (notable) motorcycle racer to appear on the system was Sega's own Hang-On, which was a fun (if choppy) arcade port. Road Rash showed up and showed that game up quite a bit, with much smoother and impressive scaling graphics, and more to do.

The game puts you in the boots of a lone racer, driving across the California freeways. You are racing for money, which can be used to buy enhanced equipment. The big deal here was that you could attack other racers (punching or clubbing them), "fighting dirty" as they call it. It was a refreshing experience unlike any which had been attempted on the system before.

Road Rash wasn't without its' issues: the framerate felt a bit skippy, the colors were rather grainy, and the handling was a bit loose. But overall this was a fun (if unconventional) racer which went on to be a successful and respected franchise, for some years.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Ghostbusters (NES)

Retro Game of the Day! Ghostbusters (NES)

Ghostbusters for the NES by Activision, released in 1988.

Sigh. I dunno where to even begin with this one. It goes something like this.. Ghostbusters was one of the weirder-but-cool properties in the kid-friendly 1980s, evenryone loved the movie, the TV cartoon, yadda yadda. For some reason, a proper video game never made a strong showing. There was a PC version that released following the movie in 1984, but none of us console gamers really had exposure to that. Eventually Sega ported it to their "doesn't get much love otherwise" 8-bit Master System and suddenly they had some bragging rights, by virtue of just having a game with this name.

A couple of years passed, and I played a Ghostbusters arcade machine and this was just wonderful. The game itself, developed by Data East, was nothing to get too excited over in and of itself, but being able to finally play a standard action game as a Ghostbuster just felt really cool. Didn't hurt that it was a 3-player title (which was weird, but cool). All of a sudden it was announced that the GB's would be making an appearance on the NES. At last.. the boys were coming home.
Almost as quick as it was announced, I spotted the cartridge and at Kay-Bee and ponied up the $60 those bloodsuckers were asking. No matter.. this game needed to be mind. I sat down, fired up the ol' black and grey box, and let 'er rip.

And what I saw, when I played the game.. made me very disappointed. I was no fool, I didn't expect this to be a straight port of the cool arcade machine I'd been feeding quarters to; but I expected to at least be running around and blasting at some ghosts, I'll tell ya. What we had here was an exercise in frustration. Drive around in some awfully dull driving sequences, equip some arms and traps, and try to slowly maneuver your two nearly-uncontrollable (and lifeless) characters so that they could snatch a disinterested apparition and suck him into a box. Wash, rinse, and repeat, for hours.

It was disheartening, but my money was already spent and I was not going to let this godforsaken game beat me. I was going to do my time and see this thing through to the bitter end; the final scene, awful as it looked, felt strangely triumphant as I finally showed this crappy game who was the boss. This is how it went back in those days.. if you bought Ghostbusters, Hydlide, or Dark Tower.. if you were 11 or 12 and actually somehow managed to have enough money to buy one of these garbage games, you had to spend a good chunk of time at least seeing the thing through, even if it made you hate your life for a little while. There had to be something in there worth uncovering.

At the end of the day, Ghostbusters NES soured me on the source material for a good little while. I finally felt justified when Sega produced a 16-bit version that was actually a pretty fun outing, but I am sure I would have liked it more had my palate not been so embittered by this travesty. Anyway, in spite of it all I can't say the game was a total wash; it still has its' fans, and winning the thing gave me some kind of bizarre pride. Make of that what you will.