Saturday, 15 November 2014

GROW: Tetris Attack

Review by Trantor

Grow: Tetris Attack
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Composer(s) Masaya Kuzume
Platform(s) SNES (Satellaview), Game Boy, 3DS Virtual Console
Release date(s) SNES
  • NA August 1996
  • EU November 28, 1996
  • AUS 1996
  • JP November 3, 1996
Game Boy
  • NA August 1996
  • JP October 26, 1996
  • EU November 28, 1996
3DS Virtual Console
  • JP December 11, 2013
Genre(s) Puzzle
Mode(s) Single player
Distribution 8-megabit cartridge   

The sweat is pouring down your forehead.  You manage a furtive twitch of your bloodshot eyeballs to the other half of the screen... you see small square stones being lined up.  Horror grips you as you frantically look for an escape strategy.  You then hear the most horrific sound of them all... a high pitched "Weehoo!"  Stone death rains from above.... your hopes dashed, you have fallen...

Ok, time for just one more round.

This is the typical experience of a two player Tetris Attack game.  A phenomanlly fast paced and exciting action/puzzle game from Intelligent Systems, one of Nintendo's many in house development studios and also one of its main technical design hubs.  Intelligent Systems is famous for games such as Super Metroid and Advance Wars.

The game can be divided into three main modes: Puzzle, Story and Vs.

In Puzzle mode, the game is a fairly typical match-three variant.  The big difference is that the only means of switching blocks out with one another is through a small two block horizontal parser, which lets the player swap the positions of two blocks sitting side by side with one another.  This limitation makes solving puzzles very challenging in advanced levels and forcing the player to think many steps ahead to create complex chains in order to clear all the blocks from the screen.

The Story and Vs. modes have a very different gameplay mechanic.  While the two block swapping mechanism is still in effect here, the goal is now not to clear the screen, but to create large chains of combinations that result in stones dropping on an opponent.  Using a split screen, both sides are constantly bombing the other with flat, horizontally laid stones which eat up valuable screen real estate.  These stones vary in size and ease of elimination, based on the number of stones destroyed and the type, because beside regular colored stones there are now also "rock" stones that create stone slabs dropped on your opponent. 

The story mode allows you to play as Yoshi, as you are on a quest to free the other characters of the Mushroom Kingdom who have been caught in a spell cast by Bowser.  This mode features a level cap based on the difficulty level (you don't get to actually beat Bowser on Easy or Medium difficulty, with the game stopping you before that.)  This gives the game an impressive replay value in single player as you try to finally beat it in Difficult mode.

Tetris Attack was a relatively low key release back in 1995 in Japan as Panel de Pon, where it featured a cast of original characters.  The US release was made a bit more high profile through the swapping out of the characters for those from Super Mario World 2 and the Tetris license.

The 2 player VS mode though is the real reason to play this game... again, and again and again.

The frantic pace of the game and the limited movement ability, makes this game very easy to pick up but devilishly hard to master.  The strategies employed to create combos can become very intricate for advanced users and games can run as little as 30 seconds all the way up to 4-5 minutes when both sides are evenly matched.

Personally I've been playing it for years now, as one of THE go to party games in my home (beside Scorched Tanks and Street Fight Alpha III).  The matches are quick, deep and you never feel like you just got a bad draw, like in Puzzle Bobble.  The game does absolutely everything right and pity the fools who have yet to feel its glory!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

GROW: Red Zone

Review by ThoRn
Publisher(s)Time Warner Interactive
Designer(s)Mikael Balle
Jesper Vorsholt Jørgensen
Composer(s)Jesper Kyd
Platform(s)Genesis/Mega Drive
Release date(s)
  • NA 1994
  • EU 1994
Genre(s)Helicopter, Real-Time, Shooter
                                                               Source of above information: Wikipedia

It's 1994 and the 16-Bit wars has been raging on for a few years now, with each side still in contention for video game domination.  It's at a point where Sega and Nintendo really need to start trying new things and pushing the limits of the hardware to their full potential.  The Super Nintendo already had the Super FX chip doing amazing things and not to mention Donkey Kong Country hit the stores in time for Christmas 1994.  The Mega CD was somewhat of a fail but the 32X was on its way to breathe new life in to the Mega Drive but what about the Mega Drive as a stand alone console.  What did Sega's black box have to show the world it still had a few aces up it's sleeve?  The Answer, RED ZONE.......

Zyristan, a small Eastern European nation has been invaded by a group of communist following the collapse of the USSR.  Cities were invaded, nuclear weapons had been seized by the dictator of the group.  All seemed lost until a team of specialist have been sent in to disable Zyristan's nuclear weapons and take out the dictator and his group of communist rebels.

There are two different game modes throughout Red Zone, the first being overhead, shooter Helicopter stages.  It feels somewhat similar to Desert / Jungle Strike but with insane difficulty and awesome graphics.  Unfortunately this is a one life, no continues sort of game so you will need to spend the time getting to know the levels. Anyway, back to the helicopter stages.  Even though you are met with insane difficulty you are equipped with an array of arsenal which can deal out quite a lot of damage to the enemy.  But you only have limited ammo so use it wisely.

The 2nd game mode is another overhead style shooter but this time you are inside buildings and bunkers on foot.  I wouldn't say the 'on foot' levels are quite as challenging as the helicopter levels but they do offer some great close quarter combat gameplay and again great visuals.  Speaking of...

As soon as you power up your Genesis / Mega Drive you are met with some very impressive visuals.  Somehow Zyrinx managed to create an amazing rotoscoped Full Motion Video intro.  It may only be in red and black but it still looks absolutely brilliant and you wont see this on any other cartridge game on Sega's 16-Bit platform.

As for the gameplay, once again it is amazing to see what this developer could do with the hardware.   You have full 360 rotation with multiple layered sprites and scaling.  The best way to describe it would be to think of Sega's Super Scaler games from the late 80's.  Everything is still a sprite but uses multiple layers to create a very effective 3D experience.  It looks great in the helicopter scenes but really shows of in the 'on foot' stages as you can see the depth of the walls and not to mention the ability to drop down levels which really shows off the multiple layers and scaling.

Some people are not a fan of the music in this game but I for the life of me can't figure out why.  The music is composed by Jesper Kyd who is the composer behind the 'Hitman' franchise.  It's some of the best use of stereo separation I have heard from a Mega Drive game but is also some of the best deep bass techno you will find on a 16-bit console.  If you have played 'The Adventures of Batman & Robin' on the Mega Drive then you will have a fair idea of what you are in for when it comes to the audio for Red Zone.

It's a very difficult game and can become quite frustrating very early on.  But you need to treat it like we did back in the day.  You need to take the time to learn where the enemies are and their attack patterns.  Once you get past that you will have some great solid gameplay with some outstanding visuals and music to accompany your experience.

Until next time...  Stay Retro.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

GROW: Armored Warriors

Review by ThoRn @RetroGameRevive
Armored Warriors

Composer(s)Takayuki Iwai
Release date(s)October 24, 1994
Genre(s)Beat 'em up
Mode(s)Up to 3 players simultaneously
Arcade systemCP System II
DisplayRaster 384 x 224 pixels (Horizontal), 4096 colors
(Source for above information: Wikipedia)

When you think mid 90's arcade, you will probably think of a few things but chances are two of those things you think about is the word 'Capcom' and the phrase 'Beat em Ups'.  Capcom and Konami were the Kings of 90's 'Beat em Ups' but in my own opinion I will have to give Capcom the larger of the two crowns as they just kept them coming every year, and never released a sub-par game.  Now, the majority of Capcom Beat em Ups were released on the CPS 1 board but for the few that were released on the CPS 2 board these games were just epic!  The hand drawn animation, the music, the fluid gameplay mechanics.  The CPS 2 was the peak of 2D in the arcades (CPS3 was great but limited to only a few fighters).  So with all the great things this Capcom board could do, Let's go get in some Mechs and play 'Armored Warriors'...

It's the year 2281 and former Raian captain Azrael has converted himself in to a cyborg to try and become the perfect warrior. He and several thousand cyborgs have declared war against the Raian Kingdom.  He has stolen mobile weapons from the army and invaded Merkid, the captial of Raian.  Not only that, he has also taken the Raian civilians as captives.  The United World Government has started to organise a response to the attacks and has dispatched its elite corps squadron called 'Bloody Armor' to go to planet Raia to take out Azrael and his enemy forces as well as rescuing the captured civilians.

'Team-Up' mode
If you have played any other Capcom Beat em Ups then you will be right at home with 'Armored Warriors'.  There are 7 levels in total, each consisting of a different mission and ends in a Boss fight.  What sets this game apart from others is the ability to augment your mech through each stage.  As you progress through the level your mech can take on upgrades in areas such as the arms, legs and hand held weaponry.  But you can lose them if you take on too much damage.  The best part of this augmentation feature is that you can engage 'Team-Up Change' which essentially combines all the players mechs together to form a 'Voltron' type mech which can deal massive amounts of damage.

Oh, did I mention this was a 3 player cabinet :)

You are given the option to choose from 4 different characters each having their own strengths and unique abilities.

1st Lieutenant Jeff Perkins, Call Sign: RASH (AEX-10M BLODIA) - The 'All-Rounder'.  His Mech is suited to most combat situations.  He lacks the firepower of some of the others but makes up for this with his long range attack abilities

Captain Ray Turner, Call Sign: JUSTICE (SVA-6L REPTOS) - A melee master. His light and mobile mech is designed for close range combat as well as being very proficient in high speed situations

Major Glenn Reed, Call Sign GRAY (AEX-10H GULDIN) - The Heavy Hitter.  This mech can dish out the damage and also has the ability to absorb it as well whilst charging through the enemy.  The down fall to his strength and power, low speeds.

2nd Lieutenant Sarah White, Call Sign: SIREN (AEX-12J FORDY) - Built for speed.  This mech is the fastest of the group, it has high mobility and uses 'rush' attacks for primary offense.  Unfortunately this mech lacks the defensive armor but when used well, she can use her speed to avoid most incoming attacks.

This is actually one of the earlier games to be released on the CPS 2 board but you wouldn't know it when taking in the visuals.  It might not be as visually striking as 'Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara' but it suits the gritty mech and war look perfectly.  Your characters hand drawn sprites are fantastic to look at and the detail in your mechs is outstanding with the hydraulics and pistons all moving fluently as you lay a 'beat down' on your enemy.

Hand drawn Goodness
You also get a great sense of size when you see the cyborgs come out and attack you.  They do very little damage and I don't think they are there for any other reason than to give you that feeling of being a giant machine towering over these human sized Borgs.  Take note of when you pick your character and you watch the animation of your pilot getting inside for a great size perspective.

I wouldn't really call it a gripe, but I guess my only negative about the visuals is that the color palette of the levels doesn't really change a great deal from stage to stage.  The location and environment changes on a regular basis but I just felt they didn't push the brightness and the depth of the CPS 2 color palette to it's full potential.  But I can easily look past the backgrounds as there is always so much action going on you don't really have time to take in the scenery not to mention the stunning animation and amount of frames of your mech is where the true beauty in this game really is.

The final battle

I think it's quite obvious I am a Capcom fan but the one thing I could never fully appreciate was Capcom's QSound.  I understand the technology behind it and think the idea was great but I always felt QSound had this slight muffle when listening the effects.  Maybe it's just my ears as the music was always clear but the sound effects just felt a little low on the bit-rate.  Maybe it was just the way it was compressed.  With that said I still feel the audio in this game is top notch, especially the music.  There is guitar and synth keyboard and it's all ROCK BABY!  It's hard to go past the music as it was composed by the brilliant Takayuki 'Anarchy Takapon' Iwai who is responsible for such great games like the Darkstalkers series, Marvel Super Heroes, Red Earth and Street Fighter Alpha 3.  It's the perfect accompaniment to the hard hitting sounds of the mechs bashing together and the destruction of metal from your enemy.

Simple yet effective arcade controls.  Melee attack, Jump and Fire!  Three buttons is all you need to save the day.  You can also engage other attacks depending on what weapon you pick up.  For example if you pick of the grappling arm, you can grab your enemy, pick them up and bash them into the ground a few times before letting them go.  You can also do multiple hit moves by using joystick combos, such as double tap forward then melee can initiate a slide attack which can take out multiple targets at once.  The best advice I can give is play around with the controls and I have no doubt you will discover new moves that are not only effective against the enemies, but also look awesome!

It's a Capcom Beat em Up.  It has everything you need for a great co-op experience.  So if you ever get the chance to play this great game, don't let it pass you by.

Until next time, Stay Retro.