Monday, August 31, 2009

Development Blog #4

Hello out there!

Greetings from th' fore of game development - We here at Headcase Games are powering away tirelessly (well, okay, getting a little bit tired when 5am rolls around) to bring you the best in electronic entertainment. "So what is all new then?"

In attempting to keep up with the spirit of a weekly development blog - give or take a day or two - I am dropping in to say what's up and what's new from a developmental end of things, so let's get right into it.

1st things 1st, our debut iPhone app iFist has been available on the iTunes App Store for getting on a month now. In hindsight the project was quite successful, I'd love to see it move some more units (if you are reading this, don't be shy to go over and plunk down a buck - and if you've done so already, recommend our game to your buddies). Yeah, I know. It gets a little tired when people try to sell me their stuff too.. Well too bad! In all seriousness, we did succeed with a lot of what we wished to accomplish with the launch and follow-up of the app. A further update should appear shortly.

We are well into development of the next game, in fact our programmer got an initial proof-of-concept prototype running this past week. Very bare-bones, to say the least (early graphics, minimal animation, if that - no sounds or effects or anything). We just wanted to see how it translated from existing conceptually in our heads, to a very rough playable version with the basic logic present. Well, all things considered, it's been a remarkable success. I can sit in front of that game for HOURS (I have!) I realize any dev who wants to promote his game is gonna start self-shilling so of course I don't expect anyone to take what I say in here with more than a grain of salt - but this is exactly the game I want to make. It is fun, it is derivative of some of my favorite videogames of all-time, but it is also fresh enough with a new mechanic all it's own that it doesn't feel like a knock-off. THIS is why I AM excited to be doing iPhone development. You have certain restrictive parameters which force you to keep your scope small, but you also have this whole new untouched-world of interface philosophy that really makes it a whole new ball game. It's really the dawn of a new age and I finally feel that little devs like us have a chance to step up to the plate and take advantage of it, to hang with the big-boys..

The game will hopefully be released inside of a month, in the best-case-scenario. Already a lot of the basic assets have been built and refined, and we have the luxury of having created a complete, cohesive framework from our last project - we have been able to just jump right in and start tweaking the basics and getting elements functional. This is not to suggest that our new game will be anything like the first, it's just generic 2D engine with a basic rule-set. Just the same, after this project wraps I'd love to build off of what we've done and do another one in the same fashion, again with the intention of doing something completely different from what we've already released - ultimately, culminating in a nice base of a variety of software, to suit different tastes.

So that's what is happening, in a nutshell - lots of excitement around here, I look forward to getting further into our process as we concentrate less on building this game from scratch and work more on balance and refinement (the meat of any good game) - that is what will make the difference between a game being novel and interesting, to classic and enduring (and fiendishly addictive). Eyes on the prize!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!


Retro Game of the Day! Legendary Wings

Retro Game of the Day! Legendary Wings

Legendary Wings by Capcom, released for NES in 1988 (a more advanced arcade unit showed up a couple of years prior to that).

Yep, at the height of the early Capcom days on the NES. we got a fair amount of stuff like this - really colorful, quite simple gameplay, lots of action and shooting. They had the idea to deviate from the normal theme for these types of games (straight-up hi-tech) and put it into theis weird Greek/Egyptian themed setting instead. Well, it still had it's fair share of tech.

A bit of an odd duck when it hit the scene, the usual audience ate it up anyway. Capcom was no stranger to this style of gameplay (Section Z, and then later with the very popular Sidearms) so you can see why they wanted to shake up the setting a bit. Also unlike those other mentioned titles, this game featured it's fair share of gameplay in a top-view "overworld," periodically your character would be sucked into huge caverns and battle in horizontal mode.

All in all, this felt like a somewhat odd mixture of Xevious, Section Z, and maybe Gradius or R-Type or something (a little!) The winged flying characters were a little funny looking, but that was passable enough back in the day (the slick graphics, big bosses, and trademark funky badass "vintage Capcom" soundtrack made up for any otherwise-goofy awkwardness)

Overall, a nice and solid shooter for the NES, one which was probably a little outstanding in it's field to a degree (I think Capcom's final published shmup for the system, if memory serves). The two-player mode was a nice touch and the Egyptian touches looked nice.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Atomic Robo-Kid

Retro Game of the Day! Atomic Robo-Kid

Atomic Robo-Kid was developed by the weirdos at UPL and released for the arcade in 1986 - can't say I know for sure if it released in the States, though we did at least get a Sega Genesis port courtesy of publisher Treco in 1990 or so.

So, yeah, weirdos indeed - 'cause this is a strange little game. UPL, as noted, obscure developer who's name is lost to history - they have made them some strange (but enjoyable) games, and though even ARK is not the weirdest one (that I have seen - that'd be a little game called "Mutant Night," we will get into that another time!). Anyway, to the point - this is mostly a little shooter game, with all of those trappings - powerup weapons, speed ups, end of round bosses, scifi theme, etc. Unlike most of those, this wasn't a shmup (flying a lone spaceship through the cosmos), it was a little pseudo-platformery in that you controlled this little character who could walk around and jump, or just activate his jets and fly around as you pleased. A nice little option which hasn't really been done much (at all?) like that..

The game was met with mixed reception and nothing really ever happened with it. It was a strange engine, a strange concept, a strange art-style, even the music was kind of kooky. Fr all of these reasons, I mean - look at the boxart, the title, "Atomic Robo-kid?" Really? Who would buy this farce?

Me, that's who! And I am still kind of surprised, in hindsight. I think it was the weirdness of the prospect that captivated me. Also I saw a couple of seconds of video early on, and watching him saunter around then take flight just looked sort of cool. Going from a forest to a half-skeletal/half techno cave was a weird-enough mashup. Maybe just a slow month and I needed something to play. But whatever, I picked it up and I enjoyed this odd little gem.

Sad to say, the title never really went anywhere. I would have loved to see them go somewhere further with this, it had a lot of potential to be an interesting world with some unique gameplay. The actual game was fairly well balanced, fun to play, ambitious in the right places - it did things right. But it was a little too out-there and too much was against it, so it is just a little marker in history for an industry that didn't "get" it. Well, I get it - and I remember it pretty fondly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Freedom Force

Retro Game of the Day! Freedom Force

Freedom Force by Sunsoft, for NES - released in 1988. AH, the good old days. Remember the NES Zapper? Neiter does.. anyone! Kidding - it was "the iconic" light gun of the 8-Bit era. Yeah, Sega Master system users had their Phaser, and Atari XE folks had their... um.. thing they used to play Barnyard Blaster (ah, good name) - but the Zapper was the one with the spring-loaded trigger which was so satisfying to pull. And sadly, beyond Duck Hunt and a couple of other choice games, which no one really picked up, there was not much to do with it. Well, today we'll examine one of those choice games-

Sunsoft. Loved Sunsoft. It's no secret I have a love affair with this developer, they made some of the most lovingly-crafted games back in their day. Sadly they weren't ballsy enough to step up to the plate as the stakes got higher, for whatever reason, and completely disappeared into obscurity somewhere during the 16-Bit era. But for the 8-Bit days, they were one of the kings. This particular game, an early entry into their catalog, wasn't one of "the hot titles" but it still brought me a lot of good times-

Grab your Zapper, Max Headroom, it's time to waste some bag-headed terrorists at the airport. That was pretty much the story of this game, your typical scrolling shooting gallery adventure. Kill terrorists, don't plug the hostages, pick up the occasionally-appearing power-ups ad life refreshes that would appear once in awhile. Pretty basic, but it worked (and there was not much of this game's ilk showing up on the NES' plate otherwise). But Freedom Force wasn't a game which many people seemed to have, or talk about. Gaming was different back then. This game was brutal, violent, a little difficult. I guess people wanted Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, and little else - the game came and went with little fanfare (maybe marketing budget is everything, eh)

Another reason - look at the cover of this game's box. It is AWESOME. I would totally buy a game with a box like this today - I mean, such a throwback - but at the time, it probably kind of faded into the background noise. Sunsoft's early roster of titles (this, Sky Destroyer or whatever, and Especially Spy Hunter) all had these kind of boldly-illustrated covers with some bad-ass 5'o'clock shadow game brandishing a powerful weapon, ready to destroy some Bad News, flanked by some horny hot chick, and surrounded by other elements of 80s style. It looked tacky then and it looks ridiculous now, but I appreciate what they were going for. I guess their audience wasn't too keen on it.

Anyway, a great game which I would pick up in a second on Virtual Console - seriously! Please Nintendo! Release all the old Zapper Games with proper programming hookup so the Wii-mote can be used as a gun! I'd pay in a second for the whole line. It'd be a blast (pun intended).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Ghosts 'n Goblins

Retro Game of the Day! Ghosts 'n Goblins

Ghosts 'n Goblins by Capcom, released to arcades way back in 1985. A classic amongst classics, for several reasons, but one stands head-and-shoulders above the rest - this game is hard. Sadly, it's kind of a cliche to reference the game's difficulty level whenever it is mentioned, but I suppose this is for a reason..

I'd suspect, like myself, that most folks who are familiar with Ghosts n Goblins remember it as one of the earliest releases available on the NES. That's right - it was one of Capcom's original trifecta of releases, appearing alongside Commando and 1942. Commando was a decent enough game, if limited and short. 1942 was.... well, it was 1942. But GnG was something altogether different. I have a feeling that they were a little late to their own party somehow, I believe this title release around the same time Super Mario Bros, the game which popularized the Platformer style of game play. In many ways GnG was a superior product, though I suspect between the darker theme and much harder difficulty, they resigned themselves to "forgettable status" unfortunately..

Here's how the game works - it's a platformer (simple enough!), just proceed to the right to clear a stage. Armed with a throwing spear, you can swap out for several other kinds of weapons (fire, knives, etc), each with their own pros and cons. For HP you are alloweda single hit, after which you lose your armor and run around nearly naked. get hit again and you're gone back to the last level point (halfway or begin). And that's really all there was to it! The game was very well-put together with clever and engaging design - considering how early it appeared on the NES, it was a fairly good-looking (and sounding) title.

GnG is a tough sale - most people speak of it in harsh whispers, the brand really never received the love it deserved. It paid more than a passing resemblance to Castlevania when that originally released, though that game has gone on to much larger fame (and several more sequels) that GnG. I'll chalk it up as Capcom not really ever having much idea of what to do with the brand, they've shopped it around the block a bit (PS2, PSP, most recently) but any hope this series had of continuing a once-fairly-rich tradition really withered away several years ago, by now.

I got to give it credit though - even back in those Dark Ages, this game was captivating and very impressive- overall it was quite fun, certainly ambitious, and absolutely a game worth it's weight in years. I think Capcom's history as a whole could have played out quite differently were it not for this game's existence

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Revenge Of Shinobi

Retro Game of the Day! Revenge Of Shinobi

Revenge Of Shinobi was a Sega Genesis release, appearing shortly into the system's lifespan in late 1989. "What?" you say, "haven't we already covered enough Shinobi games on Retro game of the day?" Apparently, not...

This game was a little ridiculously badass. To be honest, I was never really a convert into the Shinobi way-of-life previously, the first game had made a strong showing in the arcade and was one of the more well-known ports to appear on the 8-Bit Sega Master System - but I was not really hip to any of that at the time. However, when some screens of this forthcoming game reared their heads in Electronic Gaming Monthly, I was more than a little flabbergasted - "what.. is this? This thing looks pretty good!" So I was a little eager to get my hands on it, and I scooped it up when it released - and to no disappointment. The game was pretty rockin'.

Your typical side-scrolling fare, you'd walk ot the right, jump and slash enemies with your sword - collect shurikens (throwing stars) for distance attacks, and of course you could utilize a little bit of MP as well (high jump, lightning force, or the dreaded-suicide attack). It was all very stylish, very cool, and quite well-rendered. They pulled out all the stops on this title, it was a showcase for the system at the time.

In hindsight, the game got a little famously memorable for its "cameos" - there's a couple tongue-in-cheek bosses in here, which a few of Sega's partners took issue with (an homage to Spider-man, who turns into Batman....) also, Godzilla and even the Terminator. But it was all good. An excellent game, a little "easy" for a Shinobi game but a fair challenge nonetheless. This game kid of brought the brand "to the masses," as it were, though obviously it's not made much noise since the days of 16-bit.

I could really go on and on about the virtues of Revenge of Shinobi. They nailed everything - colorful and detailed graphics, Yuzo's soundtrack, the play control, the whole nine yards - you get the point. The game is good. if you like retrogames, and you haven't played this one yet - do it. NOW!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Galaga

Retro Game of the Day! Galaga

Galaga - Demons of Death, or so the NES subtitle would call it, was unleashed by developer Namco to an unknowing arcade populace in 1981. This game changed everything!

Galaga is a strange story for me. Though I like to credit myself as an "old-school gamer," I don't think I ever really gave Galaga it's due time-of-day until several years (decades) after it reared it's Galagan head. I guess by virtue of the fact that I'd had my share of Space Invaders-style games wen I was a young'un, and looking at this, at the time - it seemed to be more of the same. For crying out loud, they had one at the Student Union at my University and even then I probably sunk only a quarter or two into it. It wasn't until a couple of years into firing up MAME that I gave it more than a passing notice. But when I did.. whoa.

So the thing about Galaga is - it takes the basic concept of Space Invaders and goes it one better (well, several times). Whereas SI throws columns of slowly advancing Minions of Death deterministically marching towards you, Galaga has them taking turns swooping down to confront you head-on - it's much more intense and involving.

The big "gimmick" of Galaga is that there are specialized aliens that will kidnap your cruiser with a tractor beam - if you permit this to happen, and then rescue your ship later (this will "cost" you a life) then you effectively double your firepower. Yeah, now you're a bigger target as well, but the game becomes much easier. Anyway, on paper it doesn't sound like much, but this really ups the ante and adds an entirely new strategy to an otherwise "seemingly simplistic" genre.

I am not sure why I gave Galaga a try so many years later. To tell the truth, it was the B/W GameBoy version that got me hooked - once I "got it," I would sit and fiddle with that thing for HOURS, a good 20 years after it's release. The game is really a thing of perfection. It's feel, it's aesthetic, everything is quite minimal but it is so carefully and rhythmically balanced. Whoever made this game absolutely knew what the hell they were doing - Galaga is one of the Top 5 game standards of all time and that is a crown which will never be relinquished.

As for "the kiddies," Galaga is a game which absolutely holds up and I think it's one of those which anyone could enjoy in the same way Pac-Man is timeless. Please.. if you've never played Galaga, and you are still reading this - you owe it to yourself as someone who likes to have fun, give it a shot. There's more than enough in there to engage any gamer, I don't see how anyone could NOT be addicted to this game!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Mystic Defender

Retro Game of the Day! Mystic Defender

Mystic Defender, a 1990 Sega Genesis release. This was hot on the heels of the system launch, the following year after we 1st saw the console bow over here. Releases back then sure weren't like they are now - especially following a system launch, things would come out in a little burst and then slowly trickle out. It would often take at least a year for anything to get up to speed - so different from now, when a console will launch with 20+ titles and immediately afterward, they just keep coming.

Anyway, the point of all of that was to mention this was definitely first-wave Genesis material, and so followed a lot of general rhythms of the games of that early period (aesthetically and gameplay-wise). This was one of the big early "action platformer games" to appear on the system - big in power and scope anyway, but tiny in brand ("Mystic Defender," who ever heard of that? A dude in purple who kills zombies, monks and alien things?) Okay so the band wasn't much to go from - this was a sequel to an earlier 8-Bit pseudo-RPG called "Spellcaster," I have never played it and so can't comment. I'll say this much, that game wasn't so well-received back in the day.

So in Mystic, you're this sorcerer guy who is tasked with saving the world and all of that. You run around and shoot energy bolts from your hands (charge up like R-Type for a big, powerful burst attack), as you progress you can get your paws on other weapons as well. In some ways it feels like if they took the DNA of a shooter, in that way, and merged it with a platformer. Cool stuff..

It was pretty standard fare for any Sega gamer - underwhelming platforming, not bad just not "whoa...!" In those days it was just impressive to feast on these sound effects and graphics as the NES was still king of the hill, otherwise. Thematically, it was also a nice deviation from the usual fare - some fancy demo-world stuff which wasn't usually seen too much in the states, with a bit of tech thrown in.

Not too much more to say about ol' Mystic Defender, he came and went and Shinobi pretty much occupied this general space on the Genesis. Kind of a shame, as the world was rather unique and given a little leeway, they could have brought it out into something special with some further iteration. As it is, MD reminds gamers of an early time when 16-Bit was still a novelty not many knew, or cared about yet..

Monday, August 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Metal Storm

Retro Game of the Day! Metal Storm

Metal Storm by Irem for NES, released domestically in 1991 (strangely, released in it's native JPN nearly a full year later. But who cares) So then - what is the story with this fella? Little robot guy? No head? What gives?

Metal Storm released during a seemingly strange period of the NES. It had a cover story on their Nintendo Power magazine, it was built from respectable game auters Irem, it was a game about.. running around and killing stuff, and yet somehow it's never made a mark beyond being a forgettable little soiree out there in the nebulousness. Wonder why this is..

Well, picking it apart, it is perhaps not to difficult to see. Looking at these screenshots, one notes a distinctively garish colorstyle - though the graphics in this game are largely magnificent, the asshole art director decided it would be awesome to make the game player's eyes bleed, and so we are left staring at striking walls of orange interspersed with large bright-green ledges, popped with fuschia electronic columns. Iccckk. This could have been done so much more justice if only they'd not built the whole game in Inverse Color.

And it's a shame since the graphics, colors notwithstanding, are really something else. Enormously detailed, and with many faked-parallax scrolling effects all over the place (a technique usually reserved for beefier 16-bit systems), this game delivered when it came to flaunting it's tech at you. As well, the (also hideously colored) characters sported some gorgeous animation framerates. This one was a conundrum.

On top of everything else, I am guessing the lack of real character in this game just sort of made it hard for people to connect, during a time when only space-shooter games (in a space ship) were usually the domain of the "no-character players." Your robot character was known as the M-308 Gunner - while he looked impressive, and even his design was striking, something about him didn't seem get the all-important player connection. I don't think I can put my finger on it. Maybe it's because the damned robot didn't have a HEAD.

Aesthetics notwithstanding, there was a good game here, perhaps a bit toughed up by it's presentation that it never felt imperative to get far into the whole ordeal. That's too bad, as it was a nifty little game with some interesting puzzles, and clearly some heart and soul was put into the whole project. Usually Irem knew what they were doing, I guess they were in the market to get a little extravagant this time.

Anyway, Metal Storm - even the name isn't captivating, haha - though I may sound like I am poo-pooing it, this is really one of the more glossed-over gems from back in the day. It's not spectacular, but it is a fun and rewarding little game which deserves some playtime from those interested in the platformer genre. I never got through much of it myself, but I could see myself happily spending an afternoon wrestling my way through it's corridors.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! RC Pro-Am

Retro Game of the Day! RC Pro-Am

RC Pro-Am was a very early Rare effort on the NES, released in 1988. I am not sure, might have been their 2nd or 3rd title for the hardware perhaps? I believe the first was a skiing game called Slalom - anyway, RCP was definitely their first particularly notable NES title!

I remember seeing preview screens for this game back in the heyday of the Nintendo Fun Club magazine (precursor to the more modern, long-running Nintendo Power). What's this, some kind of racing game with - remote control cars? Okay, whatever. Just show me more pics of Zelda II, that's what I really want!

Well, Zelda II turned out to be an inexplicably protracted wait, so other things had to suck up some attention and this game was certainly one of them. After the showing it got in the mags, I definitely took a chance and picked it up - and upon loading the game up, I was impressed! This game was one of the forebears of modern kart racers, in that you had your typical race going on and you could zoom over zip pads for short bursts of speed, and (more importantly) you could pick up a small arsenal of armaments to get a little leg up on the competition. Mostly, this consisted of rockets you could launch at cars ahead of you, or bombs you could set for those poor suckers chasing your tailpipe. Enemies would never "die," they'd just crash and momentarily be out of commission. That's all it takes to lose critical placement in an RC race, though!

In addition there were other track hazards (oil slicks, water puddles, etc) and a bevy of twisty course designs, all of them thoughtfully laid out. You were locked in competition with 3 comptuer-controlled rivals, all vying for first place (but so long as you weren't last, you'd usually be around for future races, if my memory is correct). You could pick up enhancements to your vehicle (left around the track) to basically sweeten your ride's abilities over time - stickier tires, faster boost, etc. The big jewel was collecting the letters to spell "Nintendo," a letter would appear 1 to a track. Get them all and you'd receive a full-car upgrade to a more advanced, more powerful model. This was not easy to do - I seldom got the second model, and the third only ONE TIME. But man. Let me tell you - that was a nice ride.

In all, RC Pro-Am was a wonderful little game, just another quality title in Nintendo's stable which assured them they were top dog for some time! Revisions came out years later (Game Boy and NES, and then even Sega Genesis) most of these supporting multiplayer play - but for me, I only spent real time with the first, and it was plenty for me (in a good way). Cheers to this game and I'd love to find one like it on XBLA or something..!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Development Blog #3


Well, so much for making weekly entries into the development blog. How does monthly sound?? In all seriousness, I'd like to do it weekly to help foster a strong community connection - as a little indie developer, that's really one of the biggest things we here at Headcase Games have going for us, so it is well worth the time and effort. It just takes that much more work, and everything else is already taking so much! Not to say we aren't enjoying it - it's a ton of work doing your own thing, but it is absolutely a blast! Anyway, we'll keep the Retro Game of the Day true to it's name and throw a bone to those interested in dev notes once in awhile, as best we can.

I'd like to take a moment and reflect on the recent release of our debut iPhone app, iFist. It's been nearly a month since launch and, all things considered, it's been successful in what we set out to do. No, we didn't make tons of money - that would be nice, but it's sort of putting the cart before the horse, in a way. Our chief goal was to see exactly what went into penetrating this new market - my partner and I have spent the whole of our careers essentially working in the larger PC and console industries, there's a very set way of going about that in regards to how all the parts work (all aspects of development, marketing and media relations, distribution, sales, commisions, and so on). The iPhone, in a manner very similar to how things like XBLA and Steam and WiiWare and such work, is very much on the vanguard of an entirely new business model that affects everything - and even more so than those listed peers, for more reasons (these are often considered "minigames," you can purchase them wherever you are as opposed to being plunked down in front of a console, et cetera).

So for us, though we had a great deal of knowledge about how development and sales and things worked on consoles and PC traditionally, and we'd spent a lot of time researching how the iPhone development and sales models worked, there's nothing like just putting yourself out there and attacking it headfirst. So we did that, and rather than attempting to create a large and ambitious project for our first outing, it made sense to scale it down fairly bare-bones and see how much work it would be just to do that much, from scratch. Some things we needed to be sure of - our game had to legitimately be enjoyable, it had to look competent, it needed all the usual bells and whistles (sound FX, user interface, et cetera) to be considered a complete package, and it needed to have an element involved that was fairly unknown to us - in this case it was online connectivity for the scoreboards, something neither of us had dealt with at all, but something which seemed very important for the success of our game (small as it was) and something to help it in being "an addictive experience."

Also, we wanted not to spend too much time on any particular aspects of the whole process, but not get too caught up in spit-polishing things, as you can certainly noodle in things indefinitely, no matter the project!

Without getting too mired in technical details, I will say that we approached the marvelously-adept cocos2D framework as noobs, and Ben (the programmer) did a great job of not only sorting through that in record time, but dealing with Mac development for the first time as well. We had an early prototype up and running much earlier than I'd expected, and from there it was a matter of balancing and testing things.

Overall, there's a lot of pros and cons to our project, I will type up an exhaustive post-mortem detailing them all from my POV at some point soon. In the end, we were both very happy to release the game and it felt very reassuring when we got a lot of positive reviews from the gamers who tried our little app.

Armed with the knowledge we've gleaned from the whole experience, and now tempered after having gone through the entire procedure from start to finish, we are well into development of our next title and very eager to show it off. Once again, it's a small team project being assembled within some very strict guidelines, but with that in mind it only takes a certain degree of creativity and proper understanding of how to allocate resources in order to produce some really enjoyable innovative software. Also, there is something to be said for a small group of driven individuals who know what they are doing, without having to jump through many of the hoops imposed by big-budget development - we can spend time working on only what we know we need to craft a finely-tuned, enjoyable experience.

I really believe you guys will like what we have in store for you all! Stay tuned--!


Retro Game of the Day! Actraiser

Retro Game of the Day! Actraiser

Actraiser - man, you really have got to love these "don't-mean-anything-at-all names," don't you - was an interesting hybrid of a game, the liks of which haven't really been seen before or since. It was released by Enix (years before merging with their rival Square) in the early days of the Super Nintendo's career (1990 JPN, a year later stateside, and another year after that for the Euro's. Man they got sticked-to-it a lot back then, eh?)

Anyway, here was the story - you were essentially a deity, and you had been awakened from your slumber to restore peace and prosperity to a world overrun by Monsters. The game was split into two main modes - City Scenes, where you'd guide your little helper Angel in making care of crops and vanquishing mini-demons and basically performing SimCity-Lite tasks to make the immediate area habitable for the denizens of the town - and then Battle Scenes, where you'd infuse a statue of a soldier with life and go forth to battle the monsters face-to-face.

It was an interesting idea - an odd one, to say the least - but they did a good job of pulling it all off and rounding out the entire package quite nicely. Yuzo Koshiro, maven of Sega Genesis Uber-Soundtracks back in the day (Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi) lent a hand in pushing the new Sony Sound Chip in the SNES to the test with a rousing, orchestral score the likes of which had never been heard in a console game before. Graphically, the game was a mixed bag - never "bad," but a fair mix of "plain and simple" with a touch of "some pretty amazing character graphics" now and then, and a fair mix of fancy Mode 7 scaling and rotation effects (only seen in arcades, in those days!). The SNES was still a very young system, so overall this was a good-looking game that I was very pleased to get my hands on.

So how did the thing play out? Well, I wasn't too keen on controlling a hovering Naked Baby over a city, so thankfully the game started off with an action segment, then throws you into the Urban Planning section following that. Honestly, the game was quite easy - my 16-yr-old self plowed through the entire game in a single weekend, never looking back - but never did I regret the purchase, the game was an enjoyable experience for all the parts that made it up. And as I noted, it's never been done again in such a fashion. On boot-up I was leery of the SimCity phase, but found them to actually be at least as enjoyable, if not more than the rather standard battle scenes. Overall, this game was short and sweet.

Actraiser never really went anywhere following this title - a sequel surfaced some years later, ditching the City Building segments and going for all-out action. The graphics looked gorgeous, but I never picked it up (it was said to be punishingly hard, and not in the rewarding way). Honestly, with the gimmick stripped out, I wasn't too keen on revisiting a game which likely was just going to be another Bland Actioner, when there was so much else to choose from at the time. Interestingly, Enix likewse followed-up with an RPG called Soul Blazer which looked like "this is where the Actraiser City Guys went next," and this always sounded interesting. For no good reason I failed to ever pick it up, but at some point I'd love to give that game a spin and see how it holds up. 16-Bit RPGs can still be very enjoyable to look at and play through.

Actraiser, or "Act-Lazer" as EGM originally referred to it, was an interesting experiment that failed to yield any long-standing fruit (as noted, we never really saw more bizarre "genre-mix" games like this that much). The game itself is a good time, I haven't looked at it in years but my memories of it are very pleasant. It's interesting to see how they pulled it off, this is a worthy detour down the History of Gaming.