Saturday, 23 October 2010

Old Codger's Corner: The Simpsons - Bart Vs. The Space Mutants (Amiga, Acclaim/Ocean)

Having been a gamer for the best part of 23 years, I've played many great games: Rescue on Fractalus, Beach Head, Rambo and Space Hulk to name a few. but, when I first got my Amiga waaaaay back in 1990-ish, it came with Captain Planet (bollocks.), Lemmings (pure magic), Deluxe Paint 3 (how many pictures can you draw where all the faces say Arse?) and The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants. Playing Craptain Planet (so called because the game is shit) first, I thought hopefully the rest aren't like this. And, luckily, BVTSM wasn't.

Half way through loading, you're greeted with one of the most impressive 16bit intros I have ever seen. Featuring the voice of Bart, Nancy Cartwright (it might only be some sound bites, but it's still impressive), the animation is of a high quality and looks like it could have come from an episode. Bart's in his bedroom through being grounded. Whilst staring through the window out of boredom, a spaceship hovers in his back yard, beaming down two aliens in human form. Bart finds a pair of shades to shade his eyes from the brightness of the transporter beam, but, through the glasses, finds out that it just a ruse, and that they're aliens (a nod to They Live right there!). Climbing out of his window, he has to find a way of enlisting the help of his family in stopping the aliens plans of invasion of Earth. Obviously, because of his many pranks, his family doesn't believe him, so has to go around, stopping the transformed aliens, and collecting proof of their existence to enlist their help with the end of level bad guys. 

The objectives of the levels change from level to level. On the first, the aliens are after purple objects, so Bart has to go around and cover them up, or spray paint them red to stop the aliens from taking them. The Springfield Mall level requires you to destroy hats so they can't be taken, and so forth. Upon find the mentioned earlier 'proof', one of the members of The Simpsons clan will appear at the end of the level to help you. The family member doesn't change with every play, but stays the same. Maggie helps on the first level, Marge helps on the second, Lisa's on hand for the third, Homer comes to your aid in the forth, and all four help in the last level. The levels change from the Springfield, to the shopping centre, the museum, the amusement park to the final level which is the Nuclear Power Plant, each with it's own hazards.

The graphics are nothing short of excellent, and highly detailed, even thought the MD version has more in the background, but are still impressive. The aliens themselves have a 'Simpson'-ness about them, with the same round eyes and bulbous heads. The level design is really fiendish, especially the Amusement Park and Museum levels, the latter of which to this day I have never gotten past. Sometimes, you do find yourself fighting the controls, especially  trying to do the long jumps. To this day, I've never been able to pull one off on purpose. You can also buy stuff from the shops with coins that you can find throughout, like paint cans, fireworks and keys, which you can use in various levels. You can also use the X-ray specs to find out who's human and who's not. Once you find out, you can jump on their heads and collect the proof.

Games back then were made hard, either unintentionally or otherwise, and that was part of the games charm. Yes, the graphics were great, the music and sound effects were awesome, but boy was the game frustrating. Gamers today have it too easy. Games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty Modern Warfare last roughly 5-6 hours, and are easy, even on hard. This was a fiendish game, with no option to change the difficulty level. That's what makes older games attractive. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Old Codger's Corner: Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters (Spectrum, TENGEN)

The rather awesome box art. Shame they don't do 'em like this anymore!
What would you do, if the greatest scientific minds were put on another planet to work on some scientific stuff, only to find that aliens have taken over, enslaved the scientists and forced them build a bloody massive robot army, and have plotted world domination? Simple, you hire Duke and Jake to take out the robots and aliens, save the slaves and save the world.

Not a tall order, is it? But, it made for a stonkingly fun arcade game. Using an isometric game field, much like Quazatron and The Immortal, EFTPOTRM (because the original name is so f*cking her-uge!) pits our heroes against hordes of said robots, whilst trying to save said scientists. You can go up ladders or escalators to get to the next part of the level, or to complete the level. Now, the graphics on the Speccy part are something special. Heavily detailed, although monochromatic, you do get the feel as though you are on another planet. There are various kinds of robots to shoot, and even smart bomb to oblivion. You can even see the nerdy people playing about with their controls (oo-er!), and a simple touch saves them. Once you've done that, you can blast their control panel to stop more from being produced. Plus, you can also collect gems to boost your Ray Gun's power, and can also collect more bombs to aid in your mission.
One of the best loading screens I ever seen on a Speccy!
Having said that, the controls are very difficult to get to grips with. Using the same sort of system as Resident Evil (but in a more primative form), you move the stick left to rotate clockwise, and right for anti-clockwise, while up moves forward, and back fires your smart bombs. As I said, it takes a hell of a while to learn, but once you do, it does make the already tough game, that bit easier. But, not by much. The stick is very sensitive, and more often than not, you'll find yourself overshooting on where you're supposed to go. I can't see why they couldn't inpliment the control system of the Amiga version (left for left, right for right, up down as normal, and space for smart bomb), as it just makes the game a test of endurance.
Undeniably blue, isn't it? Still a cracking-looking game, though.
One other great thing about this game, is the comic book-like story panels that help set the scene while the game loads. Again, these are in monochrome, but they work effectively.

Another great Spectrum game, if marred by clumsy controls, but worth a bit of patience to get to the great gameplay underneath. Worth a blast.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

What's new, Pussycat? - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Konami, 360)

A foul darkness has cursed the land. Beasts, monsters and evil has covered the world in darkness. Only one man, Gabriel Belmont, can stop the Lords of Shadow, with his Combat Cross, some killer moves, and with the power of magic, all in the name of revenge. Can Gabriel defeat the 4 Lords of Shadow, reunite the pieces of the God Mask, and resurrect his loved one, Marie?

Not a bad storyline, that. With a hint of classic Castlevania running through it's very heart, this is not like the MetroidVania games that dominated the GBA/DS and Symphony of the Night on the PS1/Saturn/XBLA/PSN, but harks back to the hack, slash and jump games of old on the NES and SNES (Super Castlevania IV), but with a flavour of God of War, and a sprinkling of Dante's Inferno (but a lot better than DI). You start off with a basic set of moves, and just the standard Combat Cross: a handle in the shape of a cross (funnily enough), with a whip inside. You fight against Lycans (werewolves), vampires, huge bugs, trolls, goblins, and a whole host of other nasties, all intent on making your quest more than walk in the park.
How cool is that artwork? Thats the quality throughout the map stages. Great, isn't it?

The first thing you notice, is that this game shows how old the DVD format is, by coming on TWO discs on the 360 (one on PS3, because of the marvel that is Blu-Ray). But, even though it's on two and not one, don't let that put you off. The presentation is superb, from the cut scenes, to the in-game graphics, right down to the phenominal voice work by Sir Patrick 'Make it so!' Stewart and Robert Carlyle. Everything smacks of expertness, thanks in part to being co-developed by Kojima Studios and MercurySteam. It does feel like Castlevania: The Movie in the cut scenes. Example: one of the first things you do, is ride on an enchanted horse. You move the right stick left or right to dodge, and the X button (triangle on PS3) to attack. Once you've gotten the Large Lycan's health down, you can jump on its back, kill it's rider, and take down the huge, rampaging beast, all in glorious HD (plus, it looks fantastic on a standard CRT telly as well!). So, it's presentation is a high factor. But, with that high factor, I did encount some niggles. 1) there were one or two moments of chopness in the cut scenes 2) some do not move smoothly, apart from that, it's nigh on faultless.
The grappling hook. Handy? Yes. Looks cool? Most definitely.

Now, controls can also make or break a game. Thankfully, these ones aren't too bad, but are thoughout methodically. Once you've picked up the Light Magic Amulet, you can absorb orbs that increase the meter (with a press of the left stick inwards), and a tap of the LB button enables you to use it. Once it is enabled, any hit causes you to gain health, but the magic meter drains. Pick up the Shadow Amulet, and it works near enough the same, but instead of gaining health, your attacks are much more powerful. Again, orbs can be absorbed by a press of the right stick this time, and used with the RB button. This does seem to be a bit like Dante's Inferno, but it works so much better, and is implemented better as well. One move, once you've purchased it or course, means once you've jumped, a tap of the RT button sends the chain out of your Cross, pull them towards you so you can take them down. You can mix up your attacks to maximize the damage dealt.

The music is what you would come to expect from a Castlevania game: dramatic, atmospheric, and put you right in the moment. It never detracts from what you were supposed to be doing, and would not look out of place in a big budget Hollywood movie, something Hideo Kojima always does with his games. Take Metal Gear Solid. A solid game, but has a good few hours of cinematics that set the scene. And again, you've got the voice work from Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Natasha McElhone, which again, puts you right there in the game. You can definitely tell it's a Kojima game.
He''s bit, isn't he? Oh........fuck it.

For a Castlevania game, those are expecting a game similar to Symphony or Dawn of Sorrow, then you won't find it here. And I think, thats what might put some people off. However, I think it's the reboot the series desperately needs, otherwise the whole franchise might have become stale (EA take note). Yes, it's a hack 'n' slash at heart, but then thats what Castlevania is at heart, and it does it well.

Verdict: If you're looking for something not set in a God of War-esque setting, give this a bash. But, come to it not expecting a Castlevania game. 9/10

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

In Tune: 5 of the best movie soundtracks

A soundtrack can either make or break the atmosphere of the movie it's accompanying. These 5, I think, are the best, and really add something to the movie they feature.

5: First Blood (Jerry Goldsmith)

From the opening bars of Home Coming, right up to the opening lyrics of It's A long Road, everything clicks with this soundtrack. Even when Brian Denahey arrests Rambo, the music fits. One of Goldsmith's best (along with Star Trek: The Motion Picture), it's worth seeking out to also hear the instrumental version of It's A Long Road.

4: Star trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner)

As mentioned in my post about the film, this is another soundtrack that just fits perfectly, from when we first meet Khan, to the penultimate battle in the Mutari Nebula, right through to the aftermath of Spock's sacrifice, there's no bum notes. A powerful score, perfectly executed.

3: Detroit Rock City (Various)

A KISS movie wouldn't be a KISS movie, without a rocking soundtrack to make every comedic moment go with a bang. From Foxy On The Run, to the title track Detroit Rock City by KISS themselves, the soundtrack does come as a bootleg with more tracks from the movie, as the original release only had a selection of the tracks. Out of the two, go for the bootleg. Plus, the US theatrical poster is much better than our one (which was pure bollocks!)

2: The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams)

The Battle of Hoth, the Deception at Bespin and THAT plot twist, ESB was, is and always will be the best Star Wars movie ever made. So, the best Star Wars movie needs the best soundtrack, and Mr. Williams came up trumps with this one from 1981. The first of the movies to use the Imperial March, it finally gave Darth Vader a theme to fear him by. 'You don't know the power...of the darkside!' We do now!

1: Flash Gordon (Queen)

Oh, come on. Why not? It's QUEEN, for shit's sake! It has the awesome Flash theme, The Hero end theme (which, has two versions. The second part, which is part of the Flash theme, has different vocal harmonies on the DVD end credits, useless fact fans!), the rather brilliant Battle Theme, and Brian Blessed with his 'Second Wave......DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!' over the top shouty voice on it. So, it's win-win all round!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Crap Game Corner 5-pack - 5 more of the worst games ever!

A companion piece to original flavor Crap Game Corner, here's 5 of the worst that don't even deserve more than a small paragraph (but might want a damned good kicking all the same).

5: Pit Fighter (Any Conversion - Tengen)
Pissed again, eh?
A woeful arcade game, given a woeful conversion. The Amiga one had great graphics, but knackered your joysticks (and was sodding fiddly with trying pick up weapons and Power Pills), the Master System one was just awful, and the original Arcade Coin-Op was just shit. Only the Mega Drive version is worth playing, as it makes use of the MD pad's three buttons and is, to some extent, enjoyable.

4: Primal Rage (Anything it was converted to)
I don't remember this in Jurassic Park!!
Another day, another 1v1 fighter. But, wait, this one has DINOSAURS in it! Epic win, yes? No. More like Epic Fail. Mundane moves, naff looking graphics and a crap storyline (if there is one), the only good thing was that in two player, you could use your tails to smack a bystander back and forth, like tennis. Shoddy, shit, and rubbish.

3: Batman Returns (Amiga)
Frankie, Where Time Stood Still, Cosmic Wartoad. All Denton Games, all better than this!
Oh, Denton Designs, how the mighty fall. Small, fiddly, shoddy graphics, zero gameplay, it's obscene that this ever got made. Absolutely terrible. Do yourself a favor: buy it on the SNES or MEGA CD. It's much, much better!

2: Fifa 64 (N64)
The graphics are passable. Shame that the rest was anything but.
Released at the same time as the console, this was supposed to have shown what the machine was capable of. Instead, it showed how inept EA really were. Elasto-nets, players that had piles when they ran, and a kick that made both feet come off the ground. The only saving grace was the John Motson commentary (what there was of it). One of the worst footy games ever!

1: A View To A Kill (Spectrum)
Doesn't look like Paris, does it?
The names Bland....James Bland. License to get lost in a city that's actually a poorly disguised maze, never to be seen again. And that's just the first level. Make it past that, and let me know what happens, as I couldn't be bothered! Biggest bag of arse I've ever played (and I've played quite a bit!). Plus, it's ultimately boring. Not worth the tape, packaging OR time for loading it. Play License To Kill or The Spy Who Loved Me (the better 48/128k Bond games in my honest opinion), or even GoldenEye 007 on the N64.