Sunday, February 28, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Armed Police Batrider

Retro Game of the Day! Armed Police Batrider

Armed Police Batrider by Raizing/Eighting, arcade release in Japan in 1998.

WELCOME TO VIOLENT CITY! And with that, I introduce you to Armed Police Batrider, a nice little vertical shoot-em-up that most readers to this site likely never heard of. I hope you'll give it a look after being tuned in, it's an intense little shooter!

In the early 1990s, outerspace shooters were really the order of the day = probably among the most popular (and certainly the most prolific) genre available in video gaming. (Relatively) easy to program, and flashy with the audiovisuals, these games lit up arcades around the world. Flash forward to the other end of the decade, and you had the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation leading the charge in defining what was cool gaming. 3D had arrived; 2D was dead. Still, these games thrived for a time in Japanese arcades, as the 2D tech was blazing gorgeous and shooters became known as "bullet hell."

Companies such as Raizing and Cave were in top form in these days, and they churned out games of this manner. Armed Police Batrider is one of the more notable releases, in that it's an absolute jaw-dropping speedy and detailed game, loaded with lots of "little touch" animations and a lot of tight visual style.

A padded game, you get loads of characters to choose from (different pilots with different ships/weapons) and plenty of unlockables/secrets in the game itself. No slouch either is the butt-rock J-Metal soundtrack, with tunes such as "Let Ass Kick Together."

Play this game; it is dripping with goodness. If you have a soul, it will smile and delight at the insanity on the screen, and the pure love put into this game by the developers. It rocks.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Zelda II

Retro Game of the Day! Zelda II

Zelda II - The Adventure of Link by Nintendo for the NES, released in Japan in 1987 and a year later in North America. A legendary game!

Here we have the first sequel to one of Nintendo's best-loved series of games which has lasted several generations. This title was a radical departure from the style of play introduced in its predecessor, which is widely regarded as a superior product; for that reason, it has its share of detractors, but personally I loved experiencing this game after it originally released.

I would have loved this game no matter what it ended up playing like; following completion of the two quests in the first Zelda, I was starving for more, and the wait for the sequel seemed like an eternity. To aggravate things, Nintendo slowly teased occasional pictures and info on this game during development, and blamed "chip shortages" for a protracted delay of its release. It was a horrible wait, I needed this game!

Zelda II was obviously a strong resemblance to the first, but with many departures. There were experience levels and magic points now; there were side-scrolling battle sequences, and side-scrolling caves and dungeons as well (top-down map navigation was still utilized, but you no longer fought in this view). Also, you could pass through towns and talk to non-player characters, get items/spells from them, and be assigned "side quests."

A little luster of the first game's style was lost, though Zelda II had a few nice graphical moments - but a lot of it (environments) looked very simple and blocky, though this was not unusual in many NES games of the time. The character graphics were something else though - a lot of the creatures you fought were very nicely rendered!

Gameplay-wise, the game started out fairly challenging and required a lot of attention to detail on the player's part, and a lot of dedication and expoloration. Much of the game was not too difficult to figure out, though I did get stumped a couple of times (I think you needed to high-jump onto a town roof and enter into the chimney in order to learn the upward thrust technique, something like that - I could never figure that one out!)

Overall, Zelda II was a lot of fun; though a marked departure from the original, it was still quite an enjoyable adventure in its own right, even if you were angry at it for not being "exactly what you were expecting." It still holds up as a fun game today that looks and sounds decent, and is worth investigating if you are curious.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Mega Man 3

Retro Game of the Day! Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3 by Capcom, released in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

And so, the eternal question is raised anew. Which is the best? Mega Man? Mega Man 2? Or, Mega Man 3? What is your opinion?

Another iteration in the endless beloved series, who many will argue (likely including series developer Capcom) remains rooted in its 8-Bit style, Mega Man 3 continues a strong tradition of choose-your-own-adventure platforming, blasting away at cartoony robot masters, defeating them and stealing their weaponry. Each level is headed up by a boss, often tough to kill unless you have the proper particular weapon (obtained by defeating another specific boss) in which case he is toast..

A charming series brimming with personality and character, the devs pulled out all the stops with each iteration of these games. Detailed, colorful graphics, bouncy and catchy music, challenging level designs - Mega Man games were among the flagship of NES platformer games, and this one was no exception.

However, criticism where criticism is due. Mega Man 1 was an anomaly, the second one was superior in nearly every way, so how does the third compare? To be honest, though I was thrilled to get my hands on this title when it launched, I did feel a little disappointed. A bigger and badder quest, new weapons, new moves, all of that was here. But compared to the rhythm set up by its predecessors, Mega Man 3 felt like it was kind of a step backwards. It looked, sounded and played great, but just... not as good as what had come before. Enough already - the series was starting to get a little tired. Characters like Top Man and Magnet Man couldn't hold a candle to guys like Quick Man or Air Man.

This was a shame, because many more Mega Man titles followed afterward, and the series - while still wonderful - started to feel steeped in formula and always more of the same. Always enjoyable, but never as groundbreaking as the first two (games which I would find myself more eager to go back and replay, rather than the newer iterations). Only when the series rebooted in 16-Bit with Mega Man X did things start to feel rejuvenated.

Perhaps I am too harsh in my criticism, as Mega Man 3 and its successors are still some of the better NES games by a longshot - but there's so many wonderful games for that system, that it only seems fair to rank them. Again, this is a series favorite for many fans. I enjoyed it as well, but the peak for me will always be MM2.

Look for Headcase Games' action-puzzler 180, coming soon for iPhone and iPod touch! Recalling gameplay elements of classic titles like Tetris Attack (setting up multiple chains and combos to clear) and Bust-a-Move (addictive, vertically-descending Match-3 action), we've added a distinctive gameplay twist where each piece has a front and back side. You can flip any piece on the playfield as you work your way to stratospheric scores! Look for a free demo on iTunes soon!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Pinball (NES)

Retro Game of the Day! Pinball (NES)

Pinball by Nintendo for the NES, original arcade released in 1984 (never mind that title screen!) and launched with the home console as part of the launch lineup in 1985.

And so, here we have another oldie-but-goodie. Pinball for Nintendo is about as stripped-down as you are going to get, but what would you expect - the game originally released when it was still novel to even have colors in a video game, much less multiple options!

That being said, the game was a nice, if spartan, presentation. A two-screen table with some cute little animations to keep things peppy, and you could even get into a "bonus room" featuring Mario and then-squeeze Pauline for some Breakout-style action. A tack-on, but this was not really seen at the time, so back then it was pretty spiffy.

Pinball was a good, clean game back in the day - pick-up-and-play in it's purist form, and it was nice to have a competent Pinball game on the system. No frills, but still quite addictive between the presentation and the physics and all of that. Most probably wouldn't give this game a second look these days, but if you load it up, you might find that you have a hard time putting it down so quickly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Ken-Go

Retro Game of the Day! Ken-Go

Ken-Go by Irem, 1991 arcade release.

Here we have some fancy feudal sword-fightin' courtesy of one of the better developers out there - I have never seen it in the wild, but sometimes you find some random game on MAME and it just fits the bill!

This is pretty standard fare, you are a samurai who must run to the right and jump on things and kill lotsa ninjas. It's actually quite basic (one-button attack, up to jump, down to drop) but kind of nice in its simplicity, if a little stiff.

Something I did notice about this game, it's a bit rough; obviously this was designed to be a quarter-eater, the bosses will pound the crap out of you even though the regular foot soldiers are easily dispensed with. The key to this game is mastering the sword-energizing technique, which registers as a strong hit on many opponents.

Not a bad game, and a fun play through (though certainly not remarkable!) Check it out if you feel like letting off some steam!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Metal Black

Retro Game of the Day! Metal Black

Metal Black (Gun Frontier Part 2, though it's a prequel) by Taito, 1991 arcade release.

Actually, to get a bit stranger, this game was originally intended to be a sequel to Taito's much more well-known aquatic-themed Darius series, but it didn't turn out that way. Instead we have a very bleak game (the story starts out right after the Earth has DIED, and you fly over it, depressingly).

Unlike many of its contemporaries, there are no traditional powerups as you'd expect; no force shield, no options. Flying your ship "Black Fly," you can collect "molecules" of something called "Newalone" to strengthen your standard cannon to some degree, and also powerup your (quickly depletable) mega-weapon - but as you'd expect, that's only to be saved for a crisis situation, and you'll have a hard time finishing any boss off without it's deployment.

This is a strange game, with a very Gothic name; the overall presentation has always felt in league with Konami's shooter Xexex and Irem's X-Multiply, to a lesser degree; both were follow-up shooters to those respective companies' flagship brands (Gradius, R-Type respectively) and both were very far below the quality level of the smoothness of their predecessors. Especially in the case of Xexex as well, Metal Black seems like it is trying to push some fancy tech to the detriment of its own hardware, and looks worse for it at times.

Still, this is an unusual shooter and it does have some merit. It's not terribly colorful, a lot of the bosses make you scratch your head "who designed this?" but something about it's beyond-desperate theme and chilly attitude make it endearing. As you play further through the game, the bland level designs don't do much to excite yet there's constantly a feeling of "I want to see how this winds up." I'll say this much, the final battle and game's end do not disappoint; strange even for these standards!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Frogger

Retro Game of the Day! Frogger

Frogger by Konami (published by Sega and Gremlin), original arcade release in 1981.

Here we have one of the true icons of classic videogaming, the Main Frog himself, a game originally intended to be titled "Highway Crossing Frog" (no joke) and instead changed to the also-bizarre-but-somehow-more-fitting "Frogger."

A very cute, colorful game, this was the result of what must have been a strange relationship between Konami and Sega at the time (one which lead to some red tape down the road). Down the Road! Get it?

In this game you control a little frog sitting at the bottom of the screen, and each game screen consists of two halves; a bottom half full of traffic trying to kill you, and a top half full of wildlife trying to eat you (or water waiting to drown you). At the very top are 5 "bases" which you must steer your frog into one-by-one, fill each base and it's off to the next, more dangerous level.

A definitive classic, Frogger sports some seriously primitive looks but still maintains a lot of charm even today with it's challenging, tense gameplay. The game doesn't get talked about much, but "it's one everyone knows" and it's surprising how much fun this still is! Dig it up and go for a few rounds.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Dynamite Duke

Retro Game of the Day! Dynamite Duke

Dynamite Duke by Seibu Kaihatsu, original arcade release in 1989 and porting to the Sega 16-Bit a year later.

Here was a peculiar little gem from a third-tier (at best) developer - and yet somehow games like these wound up securing a home release on a major console anyway. It always boggles my mind how that wound up happening rather regularly..

Dynamite Duke was a bit of a stylish attempt at recreating an Operation Wolf experience without requiring a gun accessory, something that happened occasionally (Cabal, Nam 1975) with middling success. In that alone it is worth investigation, though shortly following boot-up the average player will realize why this type of game was never particularly successful.

Like Dead Angle, another "behind the back" shooter of the time, you control a soldier who blasts into the screen with your artillery - and since you are controlling an avatar, you can physically move out of the way when you're being attacked (as opposed to a first person game, where basically "YOU"are the screen). This does make it difficult to control your character and attack things, but the game is interesting enough that it tempts you to play a little bit more.

Unique to this game is that you have a "cybernetic arm" as well, and can punch the crap out of enemies (specifically bosses). This is nice for mixing things up, but feels a little half-baked.

Overall the Duke is one of those weird Japanese games which I want to like more than I actually do, and owing to its novelty I will pick it up and enjoy a session here and there. To this day the game has its fans (and detractors!), personally I appreciate the period it came from and the scene that inspired such strange games as this. They may have failed, but at least they were trying something different!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #22

iPhone App Game Development Blog #22

Time to catch-up! Let's do this.

180 development - Well, the game is essentially done. There's a little couple tweaks here and there to be done (always gonna be the case!) and a little work to wrap-up the menus all nice and tidy. The game is more or less on the shelf to go out to submission to Apple any day now; hopefully "real life" will grant a couple of free hours in the next week's time to allow said wrap-up. There's always going to be a few things I wish we'd done differently (with any project!), but I am quite pleased with our final product and I can't wait to challenge YOU on the leaderboards! Expect a gameplay videocapture quite soon (by Wednesday most likely!)

iFist - things are very quit with iFist right now. We'd like to do some updates following the 180 rollout, and we plan to upsell through that game as well. If we get a nice response, that'll likely hasten things. I still show the game during test sessions and it tests quite well, so it makes sense to support it.

Bizdev - understandably, things are very polarized right now. Some aspects of HcG are crazy busy and other important pieces are dormant/quiet. Regular readers of this blog are probably wondering "what's going on, where's the game?" Well, what can I say, it will be out when it is done! As for what to expect immediately following that, as for "what other titles can be expected to be announced/released?" There's a long list of ideas I'd love to follow-up with, but there's a lot that must happen before any concrete plans will be laid down. Independent development is very liberating in certain ways, but can also be extremely constricting. Like a small-time rock band, it involves a lot of scrapping, putting yourself out there, and trying to build up a vocal and supportive fanbase. If YOU enjoy our games, then we need you to help us. Be the face of Headcase. Get your buddies to play our games, to look at our blogs. Only through a dedicated effort can we change the world! I am going to produce a lot of promotional material shortly (stickers/flyers/etc) and if anyone out there is interested in helping cover the World with the Word, get in touch and let's talk. Basically I'd love to put together a Street Team.

What Else is Going on - Being a former Neversoft employee, I was not shocked when I heard of many of my buddies recently getting the Axe as that place is undergoing a huge metamorphosis. I met with a few unfortunate victims this past week to discuss what happened and what's next. This was hardly a surprise to me, and shouldn't be to anyone else who pays any kind of attention to what's been happening in the industry of late. It's a shame and I wish the best to all involved, but really it just fuels my desire to remain adhered to the independent side of things (as compared to returning to my former life as a console flunkie). I will do what I need to, but there's such an abundance of layoffs lately and I really don't see things straightening out for several months, at the very least. The stakes are incredibly high for Big Budget Gaming right now - you can make a ton of money, but with such a high risk. I've spent too many recent years wallowing in poorly-managed environments and I feel it is high time that us "meat and potatoes" guys put our money where our mouths are: specifically, raising our visibility and proclaiming that we, the monkeys who turn the gears and make everything happen, know quite well not only what it takes to make a good game, but that we can affect the new directions this entire industry is taking (and that for the first time in a long time, we can be quite empowered to do that). Mobile gaming, online diversions, Steam and things like WiiWare and XBLA ad PSN all make this possible, it's time to stop muddling about and take the bull by the horns. It's actually a fairly high barrier to entry of course (the money is never instantaneous, getting all the people involved to work together properly requires miracles sometimes) but for those who have the drive and the vision, and some serious patience, they are already being nicely rewarded. This window is just opening now.

What have I been playing? - not much lately, as I have been so wrapped-up with work. Still, there's been a little action on my machine, and here's what can be said about it.

The Raging Dead

Hoorah! Yep, it's a zombie game. This one is an interesting twist in that all the monsters are represented by little red dots, seen from a plane's eye view. You have bombs and guns to shoot from far above, to try to prevent the infection from spreading. The game is a little tough (the enemies are teeny tiny!) but it's a fun little game with a nice presentation that Zombie flick fans will appreciate.

Eyegore's Eye Blast
Recently met up with these devs (Retro Dreamer) and it sparked some interest for me to play through a little more of their recent release, which had been sitting on my phone for awhile. very compelling presentation with an interesting take on the Bust-a-Move concept (something our game dabbles in as well!) This game is tough and takes a little while to get the hang of, but once you start figuring out how to clear large amounts of eyeballs then the groove starts to suck you in, and it becomes one of those "just one more play!" games. A nice feature is the way they've incorporated the achievement system.

I picked this up during a free promotion, which seemed like a steal considering the sharp visual presentation. This is absolutely the dictionary definition of a minigame right here, and though it's not particularly deep it is fun to behead monsters one after the other.

Get Lucky
Another free pickup, this one is interesting in that it's super barebones - there's no options, nearly no modes, not even a credit screen - just turn it on and jump right in. Strikingly simple but colorful and fun, and a nice little take on the slot machine genre. Actually it inspires me to take it a step further, slot is a cool idea!

Low Grav Racer 2
A nice followup to the original, which is a clone of the WipEout/F-Zero genre of hovercar racing. These games tend to look really nice on the iPhone, and it has some nice features and plenty of cars and tracks. Usually I have issues with games like these which require tilting the device to steer, as it never feels precise enough to be anything less than frustrating; though if they alter the design, I think it could work better. Still, a game which you may like and I suggest looking at the Lite Version to see if it is up your alley.