Friday, July 31, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Batman (Sega)

Retro Game of the Day! Batman (Sega)

Batman by Sunsoft for Sega Genesis, released 1990 (1989 in Japan). Oh boy. This FREAKING GAME. A part of my history, that's for sure..

This story starts in 1989. The new Batman movie by Tim Burton released, driving every teenager into a frenzy and sort of signaling a new beginning for "Summer Movie Events." Sunsoft, a respectable company, scored the rights to make videogames based on it - no Batman game had yet been seen on the NES (few superhero games had at that point - just the godawful Superman game, arrrgh). Anyway the Batman NES game was looking nice as hell, and it was, but then the stupid EGM magazine had to go and print pics of "the deluxe Sega Megadrive 16-Bit version which absolutely blows away your puny NES game." And of course as Nintendo had a strangle-hold on all the licensees in the States, Sunsoft wouldn't be releasing it over here, or so they said..

Long story short, I imported it for $100 (never imported nothin' from nowhere before) 'cause I had to have this, I mean EGM told me so and they were never wrong really. I was excited and felt pretty special to have "the game no one else would see" when it arrived in the mail. I busted open the cartridge housing (to get around the region-lockout) and plunked the PCB into my Sega Genesis ("hmm odd, it's all in English anyway... poor Japanese kids..") Awed by the gorgeous graphics and wonderful music, I plowed my way through this game in short order, probably took me about two days to see it through.

Yeah, disappointing to get through it so fast, but the ride was sweet and I played it several times over the years. Anyway the funny part was when a year later, Nintendo got called out on their illegal treatment of their licensees, the bans were lifted, and Sunsoft released this game stateside. My claim to fame was over, I could have waited a year for Batman and saved like $50, but what ya gonna do. Live and learn, right?

As for the actual game itself, it's your standard "walk tot he right and punch/shoot guys" type of affair. The game was all duded up in some pretty swanky 16-Bit clothes at the time, making the 8Bit version look a little sad by comparison (though it must be sad for the NES, that title was a mighty fine looking game, I will say that!). Also unlike the 8-Bitter, the Sega version had some driving and flying side-view-shooter sequences to break up the gameplay a bit. Nothing special, but they were fun.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed the Big B.M. on Genesis, it was a nice and polished title, it was fun and had some neat tricks up it's sleeve - though to this day I'll maintain that "it's little brother," the NES title which came out a fair bit earlier, was the superior-playing title in the end. Kind of comparing apples and oranges in a way. Let's not get started on the PC-Engine version just yet!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Commando

Retro Game of the Day! Commando

Commando by Capcom, released to arcades in 1985, and on my NES in.. geez, 1986? 1987? What a horrible journalist I am. What do you want, I was just 12 at the time..

The prototype for "running and shooting" guys games, before our Commando became Bionic he was just. plain. But man, could he kill. He'd kill you for looking at his girlfriend, he would..! Never before had I played a game where the goal was to mow down as many enemies as possible en route to the level's end. Sure, games about shooting your foes were nothing new - but usually you were just a spaceship shooting other spaceships and monsters and things. Now you were a (relatively) well-animated little soldier with a whole Gee Dee army trying to do you in!

One of the first NES games I'd ever got my hands on, and one of Capcom's initial in their first round of offerings for support of that system - the others being 1942 (scratch scratch scratch) and of course everyone's favorite whipping boy, Ghosts 'n Goblins. All good games, but perhaps Commando was the most satisfying one of all - I mean, one could actually BEAT this game! In hindsight, Ghosts 'n Goblins has aged better (it's still a blast to play, if you don't mind the abuse) though I will always have found memories for Commando. 1942 - well, we aren't gonna talk about that today. Can't win 'em all, Capcom.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, the premise of this game (as noted) is that you're a soldier trying to defeat the enemy army, all by your lonesome. You've got a weapon which can fire in any direction, and grenades which you can toss northward. Pick up a machinegun to max out your firepower, and free hostages for bonus points. The game is short, and not much to look at now, but at the time Capcom was correct to promote the "high-resolution graphics." The arcade board looked markedly better, of course, but the game play was essentially the same. This game also tempted you to look for "secret areas" where you could free prisoners from underground dungeons. I'd be bombing away all afternoon "is there one there? How about over there? Huh, huh?"

Ultimately, Commando was a stepping stone to bigger things for Capcom. It created a successful new genre, one which ultimately gave us games like Contra and Ikari Warriors - not to mention a little title named Bionic Commando. It's not much to look at now, but at the time it was quite a blast that started to get people excited about what could be done on the NES beyond simple titles such as Urban Champion and Balloon Fight.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Herzog Zwei

Retro Game of the Day! Herzog Zwei

Herzog Zwei is truly a one-of-a-kind. I probably started this retro-blog with the intention that "someday I would write about this game, "and now that the day is here, I am disappointed, since I no longer have that to look forward to! Released in early 1990 according to Wikipedia, which I have a hard time believing because my memory says otherwise, this was a standout title and the birth of a new genre of gaming.

Created byTechnosoft for the Sega Genesis, this game was billed as "something slightly different from the Thunder Force developers." It landed with a thud as people didn't really know what to make of it - Technosoft is famous for shooters, and this looks shootery but what the hellll? Most of the magazines famously maligned it at the time, but I picked it up anyway - to great surprise.

A hell of a game is what I found. I'd never really played strategy games before, but here was a Real Time one (the first, essentially) and you could play it with your buddy (or VS the CPU) in split-screen. The objective was simple - you have a main base at one extreme corner of the screen, your rival has his in the other, whoever's base loses all their (non-replenishable) HP first is the loser. Capture minibases in between to fuel up, generate more cash, and stage closer attacks to the the enemy. That's pretty much it. The big deal here besides, was that not only do you create/program/reprogram units (armored cars, bikes, infantry men, attack boats, anti-aircraft cannons, etc) - you are a soldier yourself, transforming between Jet Carrier mode and Robot Warrior mode, and you can participate in all the same battles.

To keep things fresh, there are a variey of different maps included in the game, each with their own unique spins on the terrestrial chalenges. Lava world, ice world, water world, etc. Everything was fairly well-balanced enough that it was fun to play each level, and the gfx/sound were really sharp at the time.

Herzog Zwei is pretty much a great grandpa in terms of video game age now, it's begat Dune 2 and the likes of Starcraft, Command and Conquer, lots of things have taken from this initial seed and no one really remembers it except for a few of us who serously worship the thing.

This game is a blast. I could still enjoy it as much now as I did then. Game of my Life? Nearly...

Greetings from the Front! Development Blog #2

What's shaking everybody! I thought I would take a few minutes of your precious, precious time to spill out my soul and guts for a few minutes. I spend way too much of this blog talking about retrogames, and not really very much talking about actual development. Not for lack of things to say on the matter, mind you--

Things are going well. HeadcaseGames' debut title, iFist, has been in submission at the App Store for getting on a week and a half now. Hopefully it won't sit in there for too much longer! Watching the scene as I have been, this is normal and I wouldn't be surprised if another week passes before things change. This is how it goes, and I am not going to be like one of those other devs "ohhh I can't stand the wait!" Well yes it's a drag, but really the market is so crazy anyway that when these things hit, it's a whole other kind of anxiety! Personally, I am just excited to have reached the point where we could get to submission. (Now it is in someone else's hands - I can concentrate on something else!)

And yes I have been busy. As any other little indie dev reading this blog knows, when you are a tiny operation, there is nothing except tons of other things to be taking care of, around the clock. Plotting ideas for different games - minding all the marketing, the twittering, the blogging, the facebooking, reading all the boards to see what everyone else is saying, keeping a keen eye on the bigger boys as well (consoles/PC) and what all is going on in that field, maintaining all the in-betweens (support websites to promote the products) and of course keeping a sharp eye on the partners we're immediately working with, both outside and inside of the company. For a guy who used to do nothing besides concentrating on the art end of things, suddenly my schedule is a lot more full..

Well, it is a blast, I will say that much (it has to be, haha!) Though it is tough going at these early stages, one gets a certain amount of pride from wrestling from the ground up and seeing lots of progress wrought at their own hands. Game development is not easy - but it's also not the hardest thing in the world, one just needs to be a little wise, and very persistent..

I will contribute more development entries into this blog in the future, somewhere in the neighborhood of (at least) one a week. I could write in here every day (I'd love to!) but I'd rather use that extra bit of time to concentrate on development - and I think our audience ultimately wants well-put-together games rather than lots of rambling about it!

Next time I will talk about our debut app and how this has come to be. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Street Fighter 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight

Street Fighter 2010:The Final Fight by Capcom was released back in 1990 for the NES. A shameless ploy by the developer to take advantage of two of their then-hot properties, neither of which it really had anything to do with at all, but hey. Business is business, you dig? In spite of that, the game - which was rather strange - did turn out noteworthy enough to be worthy of remembrance.

SF2TFF (ha, ha) came out during the period a bit past the 8-bit NES' heyday, and it reflected this with some classically charming Capcom elements (namely, the art and sound FX). While it was by no means stellar looking, it sort of had this nice futuristic Ninja Gaiden look to it that looked pretty nice. The music was al over the place, but in a good way, I can still appreciate the game's soundtrack. Wacky and kinda goofy but cool sounding all the same.

And what of the game itself? I really don't want to bother getting into the game's story here (I seldom do you'll notice, game storylines are typically laughably bad and this one's the perfect example) - but for what it is, 2010 is an enjoyable romp through different environments where you have to jump, cling, hang, and backflip all over the place and just kill lots of mutants, robo-guys, and insect things. Yeah, typical for the era, but the way they handled it compared to the other action contests of the time was different enough to make it enjoyable.

Make no mistake about it, this was definitely one of Capcom's more out-there games. One that doesn't look very nice if you just watch someone play it, but getting your hands on it (especially at the time) you felt a very fluid connection to your on-screen persona, he had a nice suite of moves and powering him up felt really gratifying (even if it looked rather silly to see him kick "power balls"across the screen). This was Capcom at their stranger and weirder, but that's a good thing!

Overall, a game which never really had a place to call it's own, remembered by a few but largely disregarded between the strange theme, "abuse" of the licenses, and overall weirdness of the gameplay style. Too bad as it's a good game and could certainly have been improved upon, we never really saw the likes of this one again-

Monday, July 27, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Alien Storm

Boom-boom-CHOKK!! That is the sound you first hear at the title screen for Alien Storm, a Sega Genesis effort (developed by a Sega in-house team) which lets you know you are in for some gruesome violence, circa 1990. Well, far be it from me to stand in the way of the commencement of gruesome violence, then..

Famously, the mostly-forgotten Alien Storm is essentially a reskin of Sega's quite popular Golden Axe games, themselves a derivative of the classic Double Dragon formula. The gameplay is quite simple - you move your character around, kill all the enemeis in the immediate segment, are allowed to advance the screen slightly, collect MP, make it to the boss, wash-rinse-repeat. The built-up MP lets you fire a mega-weapon to the detriment of all foes on screen. Basically, same thing as Golden Axe but without the creature riding, and the motif is obviously dressed-up differently. But yeah, same stuff.

It was therefore branded as being trendy and shallow at the time, but so what? It was nice to just have simple games that looked really nice, had 2-player co-op, and involved killing crazy mutants. I mean, what's not to like? Most of the shots being shown here are from the arcade board, though the Genesis version still held it's own fairly well.

I do kind of miss games like this where they wouldn't sweat getting right to the point and throwing you into a crazy world full of colorful creatures and instant action. Not terribly deep, but I could see this being a lot of fun if done properly in hirez. They don't really do that sort of thing nowadays though.

Overall, I concede that there's not much to a game like this, and overall it's largely forgettable. But whatever, it looked cool (still does) and inspires me to want to put together a world like that. Someday!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Gaplus

Gaplus was essentially the swan song to Namco's Galaxian-Galaga series of games. Released to the arcades in 1984, it was essentially "too little and too late" and has never really lived up to the high watermarks set by it's predecessors. That's too bad, as the game itself has some polish and can be quite a blast.

Known to some as "Galaga 3," the stupidly-named Gaplus ("Galaga Plus," you dig?) is a further iteration of the wonderful gameplay refinements put forth in Galaga following ITS predecessor, Galaxian - itself, a genre evolution of the game which started it all, Taito's Space Invaders. Whereas all of the older games limited you to moving a ship left and right along the bottom of a playfield, Gaplus removes that vertical constraint (to a degree) and allows you to move up and down in the lower portion of the playfield.

Galaga's huge hook was that you could sacrifice a ship to be captured by an enemy tractor beam, then "rescue it" and double your firepower, this was monumental. Gaplus tries to build on this by letting you capture several alien fighters at once, but what feels impressive at first becomes awkward and annoying very quickly - it's frustrating trying to maneuver a whole line of warriors along the (relatively) tiny playfield, all in tandem. You get this amazing powerful armada to help you clean up shop, but very quickly you must wrack your nerves trying to protect them rather than concentrating on killing everything.

Gaplus is not a bad game - it looks noticably more polished in the way Galaga was better looking than it's daddy, and the same goes with the sound FX. You can feel how the programming capabilities in these games were starting to get more refined and it feels exciting in that way (yay, we have more toys to play with!) Sadly, they didn't quite catch up so fast with how to properly iterate on their earlier, simpler (yet precise) designs and it shows in a game like this. I mean, Gaplus is fun, it's hard, and it doesn't tiptoe for you - but it does not have that "oh my GOD" grab that Galaga still has to this day, not more than a little shadow of it. Essentially, why play this when you can enjoy the much-more-refined and therefore more gratifying Galaga?

Still, there are those who are Galaga'd out, and still want more - this game was made for those people. It's a little different, it's kind of annoying and sloppy, but it still sticks to enough about what is fun from these types of games and you can get in a good groove with it. I hear there will be an upgrade of it on XBLA or something in the near future, and I look forward to see where they go with the game..!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Shadow Dancer

Shadow Dancer, another entry into Sega's echelon of time-tested classics, released to arcades in 1989 and a port showed up on Sega's Genesis console two years later, I believe. What's the noise then?

A little backstory - Shinobi was a fairly popular Sega property in the late 80s. A beautiful arcade game which inspired an equally incredible spinoff early into Genesis' lifespan, known as Revenge of Shinobi. Shadow Dancer was the "official" sequel in the arcade, though the Genesis version shown here was only loosely based on this arcade. To complicate it, there were direct ports of that arcade title for oter machines, including Sega's own previous-gen console. It sounds a little confusing, but this was all fairly normal back in those days.

I was a superfan of Revenge of Shinobi, and so there was no way I'd not buy this as well. The boxart looked fairly crappy and the logo unspectacular (why did they ditch the better-looking JPN ones? Ah, game politics...) but neither were good enough reasons to dissuade me. Upon booting up, I saw a game which immediately looked much more rough around the edges than either the arcade on which it was loosely based, as well as the console title which preceded it (Revenge). The art and music both felt like a downgrade, and the control seemed a little less exacting. Still, I had just plunked down my $50, so off I went into Ninjaland..

Despite my initial discouragement, the game held up. The visuals, though murky, were still detailed and serviceable for 16-bit. The sound was scratchy and kinda gross, but still catchy and fairly rockin'. Gameplay wise, you were traveling through a post-apocalyptic backdrop fighting weird MadMax-looking goons or... something.. and the style adopted the older Shinobi motif of "rescue hostages to clear the level." Gone was the precision attacking and particular magic upgrades of Revenge (such as high jumping and suicide kill - don't you love that name?) and instead you just had cheesy "hurt everything on screen magic." In spite of these detriments, it was still a solid enough affair, and challenging enough of a contest to keep you pushing further through the game. It just felt kind of like a backstep, slightly, after the masterpiece that was Revenge of Shinobi.

The game did sport some cool Shinobi conventions like the bonus rounds (jump off a building and kill as many ninjas as possible!), bizarre boss-fights, and a fair enough level of challenge that you weren't gonna be Mario cake-walking your way through this game. I am ashamed to say that in spite of my hours of play, I never even made it to the final boss (I was the sort of masochistic player who'd always set the difficulty to hard, mind you!)

Overall, Shadow Dancer is a fun little game that I would still recommend. I kind of downplayed it in this review as it's not the game it's predecessor or progenitor were, but neither is it a bad game by any means. A fun, well (-enough) designed action game where it felt cool to shoot shurikens and lay sword slices into your enemies. The dog was fairly pointless though!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Mappy

Mappy was a game I first saw way back in 1983 during the Golden Age, of course - appropriately my introduction to this title was at a Chuck E Cheese (hmm, just typing that makes me crave for some crappy pizza..!) It was part of Namco's next wave of games following their explosive hits with the Pac-Man series, and of course Galaga. This game was nowhere near as iconic or special as any of those, and it released right before the big Crash - still, a fun little game which is memorable and shows up in Vintage packages now and again, let's have a look!

Another simple premise, here you're a "police mouse" trying to protect items from being stolen by theiving cat burglers (get it?), though as they are cats and you're a mouse, they have the upper hand. You have no gun, rather you can just avoid the enemies and occasionally knock the wind out of them, temporarily, by opening a door on their face. Some doors will unleash Galaga Tractor Beam-looking shockwave things which will clear a path for you-- these are unusual however.

You gain points by picking up items (pictures, computers, radios, etc) and the big mechanic here is that there are trampolines in each house which you can use to traverse between levels. Jumping on a trampoline implies invulnerability - if you're being chased, hop on, so will your pursuer but while you are both in freefall no contact will be made. Push in the direction of a floor as you pass by it and you'll hop to it. Also, beware as the trampolines have very limited "hit points" to keep you from chilling out there all day. Hit it a few times in a row, and it will disappear and you dead!!!!

Mappy was also notable for its scrolling screen, during a time when petty much every game out there was a single screen affair. This made the game's playing field seem enormous! Additionally there bonus rounds (seen above) where you'd hop through trampoline-laden corridors, trying to collect a maximum amount of balloons before the brief timer counted down.

Overall, Mappy was an endearing game back in the day, and as a unique little action game it can be fun for a spell now and again. Considering it's pedigree, it probably could have been something far more special and enduring, but mostly it seems like the designers were trying to break some molds and experiment with some different gameplay mechanics, rather than concentrate on refining more classic stuff. That's fine, but I certainly wouldn't have minded another Galaga-style genre-defining moment instead of this..!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Anticipation

Anticipation - y'all remember this one right? During Rare's NES heyday, they convinced the Big N to put together a party game for NES. It sounded a little unusual to anyone who paid attention, but as Rare was on quite a kick of dishing out some amazing software back-to-back in those days - Wizards and Warriors, Marble Madness (port), RC Pro-Am, for starters - who was going to argue with something else unusual that was coming down their tube? Yeah, the cover looks horribly dated (this released in 1988), and if I was a kid looking at this at a Toys R Us with no context it would have been an easy pass, but hey - I was of the Nintendo Power generation, alright?

Here's the game's shtick - typical board game business here, I believe it supported up to four players (two people would share a controller as the "buzzer" during the board game screen, this predated multitap peripherals!). Like Monopoly, you'd pick some item to represent yourself on the board, roll the dice and jump appropriately around the different-colored squares on the board. "Solve" 1 of each color and advance to the next level, each color being a different category of course.

The puzzles to solve, of course, consisted of a separate screen where you'd see sort of a computer-controlled "pictionary" or "win lose or draw" thing going on - it would draw out, connect the dots style, so item (toaster, the letter B, a hat, whatever) and the first person to guess it would hit the buzzer and "type" the name before the buzzer ran out. The strategy was to try to guess what you were looking at based on as little info as possible, of course (see what you could gander just from the dots).

Sound a little strange? Sure, but at the time this was pretty fun - and it stood alone in it's field on the NES. You never saw any kind of party-type games on these systems at all, really - I think the closest you got was Monopoly on Sega Master System (and who bought that machine, honestly?)

The game was fine for what it was. I fondly remember it as the one my mother actually liked to play with me (she never was any kind of a gamer, at all!) whereas my Dad would at least get kinda hooked on Pac-Man back in the day. This is the type of game I'd actually even pick up nowadays if they released some kind of sensible update, for all I know there's a tons of titles like it.. Not one to look at in terms of the audiovisual experience, but I could see pulling it out at a party nowadays "for something different" after Rockband and Bomberman are petty tired, to try something unusual.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Mr Heli

Mr. Heli is a weird little game for you. Known to some by the (obviously inferior) name of Battle Chopper, this title would be a game put forth by the mighty Irem to arcades (and subsequently the Japanese PC Engine) in 1987. So what have the Makers of R-Type cooked up here exactly?

Yeah, so no two ways about it - Mister H is one funky looking little game, that is not hard to believe. A little cuter than the company's usual efforts (though not overbearingly so like many of it's contemporaries at the time), the star of this show is a little helicopter mech with feet who can walk around and kill stuff. He kinda looks like he wouldn't be out of place in a gangbang with Fantasy Zone's Opa-Opa and Konami's Twinbee. And don't tell me you'd not like to see such a thing either...!

Anyway the game plods around, sometime autoscrolling, sometimes more platformy, you shoot stuff, you lob bombs, you fire missiles. Powerups work by collecting crystals as currency, and then "buying" items which appear if you have enough cash when their item appears. Powering up gets your character from weak to badass mode QUICKLY - you feel it, and you need this, because the game wastes no time and unloading lots of weaponry at your character. If you hangout anywhere for more than a moment, you're gonna be a smear on the ground..

Mr Heli is no easy game, despite it's somewhat cutesy looks. As noted above, guys are trying to do you in constantly. And note that when you die, your powerup inventory (and cash reserves) all revert to zero. I can see it not being very popular these days as it's not exactly friendly to the casual player. On the other side of that, it's quite refreshing to see a game with a solid mechanic, a great feeling of control, and a decent competent level of design behind it. It feels a little cheap from the outset, but it feels like a fun game that you'll want to do some battle with!

Mr Heli - not for everybody, but definitely for me. It's the type of game which will convince me to buy a JPN adapter for my TurboGrafx-16 down the road so I can enjoy it as it was properly intended, slipping around with the (well-) emulated version on my beloved GP32 is just a little too frustrating!