Sunday, 21 February 2010

Insert Coin: Four of the best.

Being a kid in the late 80's to early 90's, I managed to play some cracking games in the arcade. The graphics, the music and controls all made the game awesome. Nowadays, you can play the same games on your PC, thanks to MAME. Here's 4 to try:

4: Asterix - Konami

 I found this game in Southend in 1993, and it enthralled me ever since. You play as either Asterix or his best buddy, Obelix in a quest to save Panacea and push back the might of the Roman Empire, who have set up camps outside Asterix's village. To help you in your quest, Getafix sends some of his magic potion your way to help slap the Romans into the middle of next week. The graphics were of normal Konami standard and are excellent, and really drive the game along. The controls don't fight against you, making the game a chore, but rather help you along and there's quite a lot of the book's humour involed as well, making this a joy to play. There's also bonus levels, like a Chariot Race after the first level to get your teeth into. So, if you like Final Fight, you'll like this.

3: Knights of the Round - Capcom

I've only really sampled this by emulation, but its a great title that, funnily enough, I've never found in an arcade near me. Playing as one of Medieval England's heroes, like Sir Lancelot or King Arthur, you go around, like Final Fight also, hack and slashing with your sword taking down the evil guys who have taken over Camelot (no, not the Lottery comapny) and it's your job to take it back. You level up by giving as good as you get, which gives you XP and collecting money, as well. It looks good, it sounds good and played brilliantly. It might be the same as the last game (only with weapons), but its really enjoyable all the same.

2: Taito Football Champ - erm......Taito

Mentioned in my 5 Gaming Moments, Football Champ sees you pick a team, ranging from England to Japan and Brazil, and then a special player. Once you take to the field, you then pick a special move and then play a normal, family friendly game of Footy.....or so you'd think. You see, Redcard introduced the 'beat the other team to death' tactic to the Gamecube, XBOX and PS2, but Football Champ introduced it to the Arcade, and done with a lot of comedy. You see, not only can you knee the players, but you can also give the ref a good slapping as well. So, basically, you can knockout the ref and then go on a kicking spree which can send the opposing team flying all over the shop with flying knees, sliding tackles and the occasional punch as well, all while the ref is sparko on the floor. Its a great football game thats quite a challenge, and one that can give you a chuckle a well.

1: Gun:Smoke - Capcom

Hey, there, pardner! Grab your 6-shooter, and get to town. There's a gang takin' over! Yes, well, enough of that Wild West type talk. Supposedly based on the 60's US show, Gun:Smoke sees you as a sheriff trying to clean up the town of a gang. Viewed from a top-down perspective, you have the generic joystick and two buttons. But, one button shoots left and the other shoots right. Both pressed together shoots straight up. This control method takes a while, but once mastered, makes the game really enjoyable. Finally, your chance to play as a character from a John Wayne movie....only without either Dean Martin or Robert Mitchum as a sidekick, unfortunately.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Moderner # 2 - Bioshock 2 (XBOX 360)

Bioshock came out three years ago and was widely received by critics across the board, and even garnering a Game of the Year award. And quite rightly so, because it was so engrossing and had a storyline that could have been written by Arthur C. Clarke and pulled you in. The graphics were outstanding and it played like a dream. Now, in 2010, the sequel has arrived after much hype on both the 360 and PS3 adn also the PC. So, how does this follow up measure to the excellent original. Well.....

Original receipe or extra crispy?

The game starts off in 1959, with you as a Big Daddy. Well, a prototype Big Daddy known as Delta. You are looking after a Little Sister known as Elenore, who gets found by a woman claiming to be her mother. She commands you to take off your helmet, take a gun and point it to your head and then fire, which you do. Ten years later, you wake up (ok, just been shot in the head and then you wake up. I can('t) see the idea there....however crap it is) in need of some answers. Sound familiar? The plot nearly echoes the one found in the original (apart from the Big Daddy character you play), with you wanting answers and needing to get out of Rapture alive. So, shall we look at Big Daddy in all his glory?

This won't hurt...until I jab you with this pointy thing!

The first thing you'll notice when you load this up, is that the graphics haven't been updated at all. They look the same and, in some instances, they look worse. Some textures take a while to update, making them look like an N64 game. The Splicers look exactly the same as in BS, and move in exactly the same way. The only additions to the roster of enemies is the Big Daddy Mk2, which can fire rockets and deploy mini turrets and a Big Sister, which can use Plasmids like Incinerate and Telekinesis and is incredibly fast and Brute Splicers who look like they've done an Arnold Schwarzenegger and have been pumping iron, are quite tough and, for some reason, have an English accent. Now, the new Big Daddies/Big Sisters look good. Very good, in fact. The Brute Splicers look awful and are textureless monstrosities when up close. The Art Deco scenery is the same as in BS as well, and hasn't been updated. It just smacks lof laziness where they just taken the first game and changed the levels without reskinning it or, at least, making the place look old.

Trust me, I'm a dentist!

Gameplay is, surprise surprise, the same as the original. Controls are the same, with the bumper buttons changing the weapons and plasmids, respectively. Left trigger fires your Plasmid, Right fires your weapons. Saying that, though, the controls are intuitive and are very responsive indeed. But, the weapon and Plasmid dials you can open up are the same and haven't been changed at all. The Weapons you can pick up have been changed, though, which includes a Double Barrel Shotgun, Spear Gun (which, I have to say, is awesome to use), Rivet Gun, Drill and a .50 Caliber Automatic Machine Gun. The camera makes a comeback, which not only takes photo's so you can research Splicers and things, but carries on filming until the subject is dead or goes a certain distance from you. You get research point for taking photo's of various splicers and even get hints as to what to take them down with. Again, its been done before in the orignal, so it no longer feels fresh. The combat seems to be a bit easier aswell, but you can only carry 5 EVE hypos and 5 First Aid Kits, making it that bit harder, but by the time you reach the third section, you would have lost interest. It just plays lazy as well. Having to go to one place to find one person who has certain object for you to carry on. Instead of the Blathyspheres, there is an underwater Train System, which you can only go each stop once, so you have to make sure you've done everything before carrying on, unlike Bioshock, where you can go to whatever stop you want. One gameplay mechanic they've added that was only sampled in the first one, is the chance to protect Little Sisters as they gather ADAM for you. You can also Harvest or Rescue them, all of which effects the ending, much like in the first......again. And thats the problem. Because you've seen it and played it before, it no longer feels new. It's a problem that runs through the game. To have taken 3 years to develop it, you would have thought that it would be something special. But, it's just more fo the same, and it's just like FIFA: the same every year with one or two tweaks and they have the cheek to charge £40 for it. I will say, they deserve something for adding Multiplayer, but it's like the Multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2. Pick your weapons, pick you plasmids and gene tonics and even your clothes and off you go. Even this feels like a last minute addition and is just plain boring.

Sorry, but, like Dante's Inferno, I feel ripped off for paying £40 for it. It's just not worth it at all. Plays ok, looks crap but, I will say something, in that the music and sound is good. But thats it. Mind you, even they are recycled from Bioshock.

Sorry, 2K, but this is just a big of're fired!

5/10 JSW's Lazy Arse Award.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Moderner - Dante's Inferno (XBOX 360)

They say no man has ever seen Hell. Dante has. He's fought through it to get back the one he loves: Beatrice. To find her, he has to go through the Nine Circles of Hell and face the devil himself, Lucifer. On his quest, he will face Hell's minions, be tempted by Lust, Greed and Gluttony, stare Death in the face before ripping it off his head and ride a Hell Beast.
The story, adapted from Divine Comedy, makes for a cracking game plot, indeed. Facing demons from the very depths of Hell is a not akin to fighting the bad guys in Knights of the Round, only this time you get to use a Scythe and an array of moves and Beatrice's Holy Cross, with which you can send forth Righteous Force to help subdue your enemies. Right, that's the story covered. What's next?

To the left, scratch a little to the left

Right, the first thing you notice after booting it up and setting options is the Intro before you start slaying merrily. Lavished with care, attention to detail and incredible voice acting, it sets the scene quite nicely. Now, a word of note, this game isn't for the squeamish. There is plenty of claret and guts (litterally in one of the sections), impalings and people on fire. But the graphics are so rich and deatailed also, that it is, easily just one of the best looking games I've played. It's a shame that a couple of the bad guys you face (especially in Gluttony) aren't well deatiled. Sure, they look gross, with loads of flab and slime, but they are just a bit bland. the Hell Beasts, Riders and some of the tougher enemies are well detailed though. There's even people falling on fire from the sky when you have to get on Archeron's boat, accompanied by screams of pain and torment. The boat that you have to ride on is well animated as well, with the Head being alive and at the 'head' (funnily enough) of the boat. Lust.....well....let's just say that it has images of personal parts as soon as you get through the Storm Wall. But that's not to say that it isn't as well detailed. Even Dante is awesomely animated, detailed and voice acted. It sure does smack of professional. With the cross stitched to his chest, the excess ribbon wrapped around his arms and hanging off his hands flaps when he walks and blows a tad when he's standing still. This amount of detail is what makes looking at it so great.

So, the graphics are great, but what are the controls like? Well, they're simpler to use than in Bayonetta, thats for sure. With one button for Strong attack, one for weak, one for your Holy Cross, one to block, one to jump. right stick dodges and the left moves Dante. Dante moves with ease, but sometimes doesn't always do what you want, especially against bosses. Actually, that might just be me being inept.

My, thats a big one you have there!

So, gameplay then. Sometimes likened to God of War on PS2/PS3, its a hack 'n' slash affair with magic thrown in. It starts off well enough, with you bashing buttons and throwing Righteous Force around willy nilly at anything that looks like it's going to use it's weapon to pick your nose. But after a few levels, it becomes...well...boring. There's only so much hacking and slashing you can do before you wish for something else to do. Also, some of the levels are unimaginative and quite bland. Sometimes, you can never tell where you're supposed to go, especially when absailing down walls). I mean, yes, you can climb walls, ride Hell Beasts, use a variety of moves (with more to unlock after you've leveled up your Holy and Unholy sides and purchased them with the souls you have collected), pull switches, use levers and such, but it gets samey after a while. You can also save certain people scattered around Hell or Punish them for their sins. If you decide to Absolve them, then it becomes a 'press the right button when the icon gets over it' sequence, which is quite a good bit, as it gets harder the more buttons you press at the right time. You can also collect 3 stones which make your Absolutions more powerful and easier to pull off. You can also collect items to make you stronger, extend your life and so on. But for the price of £39.99, it's not really that worth it. Yes, its good fun for the first half hour to an hour, but after that I can only feel that I've been ripped off. Don't get me wrong, its presented well, with excellent music (an original orchestrial score of the highest quality that wouldn't be out of place in a Roman/Sci-Fi epic), excellent voice acting, great graphics (apart from some bland textures) and the way its presented, but I just feel it needs a bit more variety in it.
Its not a bad game, its just a case of style over substance, and for that, it suffers.


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Classic Telly time - CI5: The Professionals

If the Americans had Starsky & Hutch, then we can have Bodie & Doyle, .ie The Professionals. Spanning 57 episodes, across 5 series and some 6 years, CI5: The Professionals (which had the provisional name 'The A-Squad') debuted in 1977, and was the brainchild of Brian Clements, who created The Avengers for ITV. Starring Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins and Gordon Jackson, The Professionals saw George Cowley (Jackson) head up a new unit that had nothing to do with the police, but was a seperate intelligence agency designed to deal with terrorism on the shores of Britain or the protection of a diplomatic official, or missions that go beyond the police or military. Ray Doyle (Shaw) is an ex-cop, whereas William Bodie (Collins) is an ex-sas operative, brought together by Cowley because of their experience and because sometimes, they need to get the job done 'by any means nesessary'.

Although it only ran for 57 episodes, it didn't go without some controversy. The episode 'Klansman', was banned for a time because of it's storyline was based on racism (although Alf Garnett was racist at every opportunity in Til Death do us Part in the 60's through to the 70's, and again in In Sickness and in Health in the late 80's, although all in comedy form). Also, some people did complain because of its violence, with them having a shoot out or punch up every episode or, for example, one episode shows a policeman being shot, at point blank range, with a shotgun and in another, someone was thrown out the window. Saying that though, Miami Vice in 1984 had loads violence, with one storyline of a drug barron getting rid of the competition, which included Crockett, and another with Tubbs going undercover in a crooked jail. None of those storylines would feel out of place for this series, though, and unfortunately, the only way to see them is in their uncut form which have been remastered, but are worth it.

Some episodes might seem a bit 'stale' nowadays, with a Ford Capri as the chase vehicle (which the stars said handled really badly), chasing an old looking Mercedes, but back then, it was edge of the seat stuff. With the baddies screeching around the corner, firing their Colt.45's or Six Shooters at the Capri that was fiercely chasing them, who had Doyle firing back with his own Colt.45. But, like The Sweeney, it's what make 's a good 70's/80's cop show: loads of chases, loads of fights and some language. But, to me, I grew up with programs like these, and being born in 1982, I got to watch the repeat showings a few years later (mainly in 1988 on Friday nights) and I was enthralled with it. It's what I, and many people, grew up with. Yes, it might seem incredibly dated now (especially with the hairstyles), but it's still one of the best cop shows around.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Arcade Conversion Madness - 5 of the best Arcade-Spectrum conversions

The golden age of arcade gaming came about in 1984. It brought with it Mikie, Gradius, Rush 'N' Attack (Green Beret for us westerners) and Pac-Land. Kids pumped their quarters and 10p's in the slots, trying to get that bit further. The following years brought with it the classics R-Type, OutRun, Afterburner, Sunset Riders, NARC and the game that revolutionised the 1v1 brawler, Street Fighter II and again, people became interested in the arcades. Of course, People like you and me could only dream of having these games in their arcade form in our homes, but software houses like Ocean (and their Imagine brand), U.S Gold, Konami and Tengen (Domark) decided that they would have a stab at re-creating those games for the home market. Whereas some succeeded, some fell flat on their arse like a drunk at a disco. These are my 5 of the best, that are nearly or just as good as their arcade fathers, for the humble Speccy.

5 - R-TYPE (Irem -Converted by Software Studios and published by Electric Dreams, 1988)

Some people thought this would be just like the conversion of Nemesis on the home micros (poor) with awful collision detection and dire controls. But, it came as a bit of a surprise when it turned out to be just as good, if not better, than the Arcade version. The Spectrum version especially, featured all the levels, all the bosses (including Dobkeratops and the Airship level) and rather excellent graphics, it didn't even have any slowdown when loads of enemies featured onscreen. But it done it's job, and some people say it's harder than it's arcade parent, which I'm not even going argue with. The only casualty was the C64 version, which was rushed.

4 - Golden Axe (Sega - Converted by Probe Software and published by Virgin Games, 1991)

Released late in the Speccy's life, Golden Axe was your typical side scrolling hack 'em up. You slap people around the head with your sword, collect magic to use on bigger foes and generally avenge your family/people. It wasn't all that different for your normal run of the mill slap 'em up, but it played great. The home conversions were just as good. The Amiga was, surprise surprise, almost identical to the arcade version in every way. The 8-bit ports did suffer, but coped rather well, even the Speccy. As always, they managed to ramp up the difficulty making it harder than french kissing a cobra, but it was still enjoyable. The graphics matched their arcade counterpart very well indeed and played just as well. The Spectrum could never be able to do an exact replica of arcade games, but this certainly came close.

3 - Shadow Warriors (Tecmo - Converted by Teque Software and Published by Ocean, 1991)

Being one of the toughest arcade games I've ever come across, it also became one of the toughest home conversions. Shadow Warriors (Ninja Gaiden in Japan) sees you as the last Shadow Warrior (all your pals who also posses the same powers have been taken control of by a demon) and must go around beating the shit out of your former comrades. With moves like the Phoenix Backflip and the Flying Neck Throw, you must traverse through 6 levels, 5 end of level guardians and finally, the Demon himself. You can make use of poles to kick from, can smash phone booths and barrels, tightrope walk across pipes and cross a very packed road. The Spectrum shows that it can do large sprites, but this game shows that it can also do speed as well, even with 2 enemies on screen with you. As I said before, the game is rock hard, but if you can find the sweet spot (where you can't get hit at all, but you can still hit the enemies), then you've got it licked. It doesn't work against the level guardians though. This is a competant port of a good, if rock arcade game.

2 - Strider (Capcom - Converted by Tiertex and published by U.S Gold, 1989)

Tiertex and U.S Gold normally spells the words Crap, Game and Conversion (look at Strider II). But, for some reason, they hit the nail on the head with this. It plays like the arcade game, with all the levels and looks like the arcade game as well. As with some aracde-Speccy games, there is a huge status bar at the bottom. But, with this, it just looks right. It fits right in. There's not a sound of music but there is some sound, like when you use your sword, but when you get engrossed, it doesn't really matter. This, along with their conversion of Thunderblade, rank as the only Arcade-Speccy games to, at the very least, try.

1 - Chase HQ (Taito - converted by John O'Brien, Bill Harbison and Jonathon Dunn and published by Ocean, 1989)

Without a doubt, one of the most ambitious conversions ever, Spectrum Chase HQ is a masterpiece of Spectrum coding, with speech, speed and flashing blue and red lights on the display when your chasing a suspect! The game plays just as well as its arcade forbear, only without the wheel (boo!) pedals (hiss!) and gear stick (sod it!) but that doesn't get in the way of a solid game with graphics that match the arcade and a scaling road with more twists and turns than an episode of Ashes to Ashes. So, fire up the Quattro (well....Porsche) and go after those armed bastards like a bat out of hell and dish out some good, old fashioned justice.

Let's go, Mr. Driver!!....and why not?