Sunday, 29 November 2015

Black Viper - CD32RP Episode 17

In this the seventeenth episode of the Amiga CD32 Review Project we have been playing the motorbike racing game called Black Viper. It was developed by Light Shock, published by Neo, and was released in 1996.

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

How to retro: Playing backup CDs on old systems

Next to floppy disks, CDs are the worst medium for storing games when you're a retro gamer. CDs are susceptible to disc rot, they easily become scratched, and are generally a pain in the behind to get to work on older systems after some years. Because of that, it is of paramount importance that you back up your CD and DVD based retro games! I dump all of mine to disc images that I store on my computer (with a remote backup elsewhere, of course. Who's paranoid?). But having a backup is one thing - you need to be able to actually use that backup as well. For some of the older systems, like the ones I normally play around with, this is not a problem because they don't have any copy protection. You simply burn the images back onto a disc, pop it in, and voila you're playing your favourite game in no time.

It doesn't always work though... For example, when burning images for my SegaCD they would only very rarely work at all. The console would try and try to read the discs, but often it would simply give up - sometimes in the beginning while loading the game, and sometimes in the middle of the game whilst trying to load new content. I tried several different types of CDs, but to no avail, so I began thinking that my SegaCD had a broken laser or something. That wasn't the case though, the CDs were simply being written at too high speed in my modern PC. I tried fiddling with settings in a myriad of burning software, but soon found that modern CD/DVD writers are incapable of writing slowly, they often have a minimum speed of 8x or 12x. I therefore went on the hunt for an old CD burner and found an excellent Plextor IDE drive capable of writing in 1x speed! The only problem was that being an old drive it only connected to an IDE bus, which is nowhere to be found on modern PCs... Sigh, nothing seemed to be working out for me. But then I got the fantastic idea (simple yes, but fantastic nonetheless) that I would try to rip the controller out of an old USB drive. Most of us probably have one or two old USB harddrives laying around that we don't use anymore, and within those are an IDE-to-USB controller that fits perfectly on that old CD burner drive. So using a screwdriver and some brute force I disassembled the USB harddrive, pulled out the controller card, and attached it to my Plextor drive. I plugged it in to my Windows 7 PC and it was immediately recognized as a CD burner, and now I can finally burn CDs at 1x speed. AND THEY WORK PERFECTLY ON MY SEGA CD AND AMIGA CD32! Sorry, I just got really excited there.

I hope this little post has inspired some of you guys to try this. Playing backups are becoming more and more important, if we want to be able to enjoy our CD based retro games in the future, so remember this:
  1. always have backups of your beloved games, and 
  2. a backup is worth nothing if you can't play it ;-)
Until next time, stay retro!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Big 6 - CD32RP Episode 16

In this episode of the Amiga CD32 Review Project we have been playing a collection of six Dizzy games, released on the CD32 in 1995. I really wanted to have this episode ready for the biy Dizzy reveal at Cambridge Computer Museum recently, where the "new" NES game, Wonderland Dizzy, was revealed along with the launch of Chris Wilkins's Kickstarter for his book on the Oliver Twins. But I couldn't get it done in time, so here it is now instead :-) If you haven't already, please visit the Wonderland Dizzy page - you can actually play the game in a browser there. Also, if you're interested in gaming history, consider backing Chris Wilkins's book here - I know I did ;-)

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Friday, 23 October 2015

Benefactor - CD32RP Episode 15

In this episode of the Amiga CD32 Review project I have been playing the excellent puzzle/platformer called Benefactor. I never experienced this game back in the day, but boy am I glad that I learnt about it by doing this project. Go watch the video and see if it's something for you as well :-)

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Sunday, 4 October 2015

ReMEMBeR: Power Play February 1992

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Power Play
Cover Date: February 1992
Country of Origin: Germany

Welcome back to another instalment of ReMEMBeR.  This month we are venturing outside of the English speaking world, for a look at one of the most legendary German language game magazines of all time, Power Play.  Started in 1987 as the games section of home computing magazine Happy Computer and in 1990 spun off as its own publication, Power Play was for a long while the sales leader in multi-platform game magazines in Germany.  Finally shuddered in 2000 (the multiformat of the magazine had become untenable due to the diversity of the marketplace so they shifted to PC only gaming, but weren't able to handle the competition from rival magazine PC Games, founded by ex-Power Play staffers, which was the established market leader in that segment) it had been a real powerhouse, with excellent standards in its writing, massive tip sections and news coverage from around the world.

To set the stage, in early 1992 (this magazine would have appeared sometime in January of that year), the SNES had not officially been launched yet in Europe, the PC was just starting to become a real contender for home gaming, with hardware prices dropping and most players were still using 16 bit standalone computers like the Amiga and Atari ST, as well as many C64 holdovers.  Add to this that the German government was still "indexing" games (this was a practice by which citizens or groups could request a media product, be it movie, game, book or music, be placed on a list of restricted media.  If the work in question was found by a panel to "endanger youth" it would still be available for sale but advertising and/or promoting it in public would be illegal.  This meant it was a crime to advertise, review or display the product, thus making it essentially unmarketable.  This applied mainly to violent games and was almost unheard of in regards to sexual content.  So it wasn't all bad.)

So let's check out the headlines!

No real news this month, as this would have been right after the Christmas holiday, the only news bits are a few blurbs, including the fact that Wing Commander 2 had broken the 100k sell through milestone in the US and few preview releases coming down the pipeline.  

Sensible Software is talking up their forthcoming Sensible Soccer, the company's second go at the sport after the amazing (and if you haven't played it, shame on you!) Microprose Soccer for the C64 (the ports are terrible and should be avoided at all costs... trust me!)
There is much talk about comparing this game, due to the shape of its sprites to another Sensi game, Mega-lo-Mania and getting into the console market.  An add-on data disk for Mega-lo-Mania is also mentioned that would never appear sadly and Cannon Fodder is also in the works but not talked about in depth.

RPGs were really hitting their stride in the early 90s, with systems finally able to handle massive game worlds, complex interactions and ever more immersive graphics (yeah kids, 320x240 VGA was once considered immersive... yes, it's ok to laugh, kids... snot-nosed-punks!)

Microprose discusses their first real go at the RPG genre, Darklands, which boasts a medieval setting, taking a more realistic approach to the genre and eschewing classic fantasy tropes.  The graphics were smooth and crisp and as the designer, Arnold Hendrick, says in the interview: "We can't simulate all the interactions between a gamemaster and players, but... (you will find) hundreds of different menus with different graphics."  And a swamp of almost unmanageable menus they did deliver... sad actually, a more intuitive system would have made this a hit, as opposed to the cult classic it became.  And of course the massive requirement of 16 MB of HD space at the time was a lot to ask for.

German developer, Attic, is getting in on the action with The Dark Eye (Das Schwarze Auge) license and what will become the Northland Trilogy of games.  The mix of first person dungeon/city crawl and isometric combat is clearly inspired by the gold box games being developed over at SSI for the AD&D license, but the series adds some impressive visual upgrades and the extremely detailed (some might say overly detailed) character building system from TDE.  A game classic that got little notoriety outside of the German speaking world (it was released in the USA as Realms of Arkania.)  The preview talks about the MS-DOS version, while Amiga, Atari ST and C64 versions are also in development (ultimately only the Amiga port would appear).

And speaking of SSI's AD&D license, they kept mining everything they could from the ageing Gold Box engine developed originally by Westwood Studios back in 1988.  Buck Rogers 2 was previewed, with a side note about how the first Buck Rogers game in the series was going to be ported to the Genesis/Megadrive, an interesting choice for bringing western style RPGs to consoles (as opposed to the better known D&D options).  The announced port of BR2 for the Amiga never made it to stores sadly, even though it was reviewed by a few Amiga magazines.  It wasn't a big loss as it felt much like just another tacked on scenery disk, rather than a new game that could keep up with the current pack.

Revolution Software gets a nice spread for its new Virtual Theater engine, a point and click adventure game script system to compete against Sierra and Lucasfilm Games.  The first game scheduled for the system, and the one shown in the screen shots, is Lure of the Temptress, a fun fantasy game that would be overshadowed later on by Revolution's better known Beneath a Steel Sky.  Both games are available for free from here and here.  Revolution would go on to make a big name for themselves in the point and click arena with the Broken Sword franchise.

Showing that point and click adventures would continue to be massively important to players in the game market for a few more years, we also get a quick blurb about a Swiss developed Never Ending Story game, which would never see the light of day, but does explain why their The Neverending Story II: The Arcade Game, had that moniker.

There is also a preview of a new Knightmare game, based on an English TV show, that combined bossy friends, fantasy worlds and 3D graphics (the first game licensed off the show came out for 8-bit systems in 1987).  Seriously, this show would have blown my mind as a little kid.  This makes Double Dare look seriously crappy and backward back in 1987.  The computer game will be a one step at a time, 90 degree turning first person affair, similar to Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder, but looks really nifty. 

Special Features:
Arcade at Home is an article about the Mega Arcade Console.  It's a Jamma standard adaptor so that you can plug in any Jamma board that uses joystick controls.  The joystick ports are NeoGeo standard but the manufacturer offers a service that will adapt other controllers (like the Genesis Arcade Power Stick) to work with it.  A fascinating bit of kit I had never heard of before, and it is still sold today.  The original price of 700 DM in 1992 would have been about $500 back then, and the current version of the unit is selling for 450€, so about $500 at the time of writing this.  So much for inflation, right?

The magazine boasts 74 reviews (many are quick bursts for ports and the like) so here are some highlights:

The Wizardry series goes into its 7th outing, and, for the first time, as a PC exclusive (despite the review stating that an Amiga port was on its way).  The venerable series, which started way back in 1981, would get one more release in the regular series before being shuddered and only occasionally resurrected as a license for console titles and an Online variant.  This entry boasts a massive map, improved AI and over 600 items.  A true marvel, especially since it was still delivered on floppies.  Hardcore RPGers should still take a look at this game today.

Megatraveller 2 is the second attempt to convert the Traveller pen and paper system to computers.  Like its predecessor though it comes across as a bit rushed and rough around the edges.  Glitches, flaky interface and all around weak design prevent this from capturing the magic of the original game.  A missed opportunity.

Heimdall tries to combine amazing graphics with action and rpg elements.  A game a bit ahead of its time (point and click mechanics would become the toast of the industry with the release of Diablo a few years later), but at this point it is simply a slow and plodding experience with too much emphasis on animation and not enough on thought-out gameplay.

Conan the Cinmerion is another action RPG that shows off what a fancy-shmancy VGA card can do.   The reviewers loved it, but apparently did not mention the save bug that could wipe out your save or just not allow you to store hours upon hours of progress... oops... patches were a tough thing to do in the days before the interwebs.

Moonstone gets derided as a shallow action RPG that tries to make up for it with a lot of blood.  While I loved this game back in the day and had a lot of fun with it, as a full price title, it really was a bit weak in the game design department... but damn that blood looked nice!
 Riders of Rohan was yet another attempt to bring Tolkien's classic to the digital realm.  Mixing real time strategy (in a pre-Dune II way) and mixing in occasional arcade segments, and rendering it all with hand drawn 2D images that jumped straight off of a 5th grader's MS Paint doodle floppy disk, this game fails in every conceivable way.  It's sad since this comes after Mike Singleton's War in Middle Earth, which had been quite good and almost got close to cracking the code of doing strategy war gaming in that setting.

Sticking with Hobbits, Interplay's Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (a roleplaying trilogy that never made it past part two) gets an Amiga port... and is just as dull and boring and poorly designed there as it was on DOS machines... only now a bit slower).

Finally getting away from roleplaying games (seriously, we all didn't just live in a turn based world full of on screen stats in the 90s kids) we get to that other age old PC stereotype of yesteryear: Simulators!

Geoff Crammond released the first of his Grand Prix games.  After creating great 3D game engines for groundbreaking titles like The Sentinel and Stunt Car Racer, this is where he started his 12 year obsession with F1 racing sims.  A great racer that changed gamer expectations for realism and detail in gaming forever and would indirectly inspire titles like Forza and Gran Turismo.  Nowadays the first entry does come off as a bit jerky and dated, but still a wonderful milestone.Also it's telling that the first version released is for the Amiga, as opposed to MS-Dos.  The relatively weak Amiga hardware (especially when dealing with vector graphics) was still so commercially viable that this version was the more economically valuable one at the time (or at least when they started development).

Birds of Prey gave us 40 different planes to dogfight against.  Sadly this great concept is mired by a lack of a campaign mode, and that the matches were pretty pointless for the most part.  I actually remember a buddy buying this and our first bout was between a WWI double decker and an F-15.  The F-15 kept flying past my slow, plodding wood crate, its missiles couldn't lock onto me because I wasn't putting off enough heat, and my machine guns would only land a round or two if I was lucky in the two frames I got to see of the jet as it whizzed by.  A pointless exercise that was the result of a three year long development hell.

Special Forces, the spiritual successor to Airborne Ranger, gets a rave review, mixing military tactics with real time action gameplay.  The review recommends you grab the game fast, before it gets put on the German government's index of restricted games.  (which I'm sure it was)

Knights of the Sky gets ported to the Amiga, giving us the second great WWI flying game the system would be blessed with (there would also be a port of Red Baron, but it would be so slow that no one could actually enjoy it sadly).  Great simulation, extremely well programmed (aka fast moving) 3D visuals and a ton of atmosphere make this a must have for dogfighters, especially with its multiplayer over a modem or null-modem cable.

Space games were also still a big deal back in the day (we even used to have a thing called a "space program", kids... ask your parents):

Nova 9, the successor to Stellar 7, shows off what Dynamix could do with 3D.  Again you drive a tank around alien worlds blowing-up critters and meanies.  The reviewer says that vector graphics had almost become superfluous after the release of Wing Commander (which used bitmaps for greater detail).  Of course, we all know that textured vectors would change that equation completely a few years later (hello PSX!) but at this point, flat polys were still all the rage.  Sadly the game is almost unplayable on slower systems, so anything shy of a 386 is a pre-req.  Sorry people running at 12 Mhz.

The (other) venerable Team 17 series, Alien Breed, sees its debut this issue.  Launched for the Amiga, by a group of ex-demo sceners, the game "borrowed" liberally from the Aline movies and gave us an unbelievably hard but engrossing top down action game that really knocked it out of the park in no small part due to the two player mode.  It was like a really great arcade game but at home.

Speaking of arcades... Arcade ports were also an important pillar of the game business back in 1992 (remember this is the pre-Street Fighter II era when arcade games had plots and weren't just about 30 second battles to the death).

Smash T.V. gets ported to the Atari ST and Commodore 64.  While technically impressive (lots of stuff is moving on the screen, especially for C64 standards) the game is criticized for being a bit repetitive and missing a certain urgency that the arcade cabinet inspired.  Still fun if you want a remake of Robotron 2084 though.

Teenage Mutant Hero/Ninja Turtles The Arcade Game also gets the home computer port treatment.  The review looks at both the MS-DOS and C64 ports.  The criticisms here stem largely from the original design (no power ups, special moves or big innovations in comparison with other titles in the genre, which is probably accentuated by the lack of four player modes in the home versions, with the DOS port only having two player simultaneous play and the C64 being limited to just one turtle on screen at a time).  Beyond that though, the ports capture the look and feel of the arcade game and offer enough variety in enemies to keep it interesting throughout.  I went back and watched some video of the different ports and I think he was being very kind to the MS-Dos port (that scrolling is half a screen at a time... ) and the C64 version is surprisingly good given that the system was celebrating its 10th anniversary in 1992.

Sega's boxing game Final Blow gets a port on the Amiga and... well the game wasn't that good to begin with in the arcades, with its side view which is wholly ineffectual for boxing (Punch-Out is still the gold standard here), so not much could be added in a straight port sadly.

Pit Fighter brings digitized brawling to the C64... and it's just as dull as in the arcades. 

And last but not least, point and click adventures!  Nothing quite beats the frustration of staring at a static screen for hours in perplexed befuddlement, wondering what the heck the developer had smoked (or how badly they had caved to marketing's urge to sell more hint books) as you can't figure out a particular puzzle.

Les Manley gets a second outing.  This wanna-be Leisure Suit Larry clone from Accolade had given us a mildly entertaining game with his search for the King, but this time around it all feels a bit too "been-there-done-that".  The addition of digitized actors in some scenes doesn't help the situation sadly and despite some good writing, it doesn't justify its existence beyond being an also ran or stop gap until better games show up.

That concludes the most important home computer "food groups" of the time, so let's look at the other side of the gaming industry.  Consoles have their own review section in the back half of the mag.  Some of the highlights include:

Quackshot for the Megadrive is a fun jump and run with puzzle elements and upgradeable weapons that brings the feel of the Duck Tales cartoon to life without using that particular license.  A great game, especially for the younger set.

The Megadrive also got a few new ports from the Amiga.  The Immortal from legendary game designer Will Harvey (Zany Golf) is a fun action-RPG,  Shadow of the Beast which loses the awesome sound and some color depth but gains a much easier difficulty level fails to impress,
Speedball 2  is a tough but fun game, with a password system and slightly dimmer graphics than on the Amiga and Robocod gets even smoother scrolling than on the Amiga but the lack of features shows how console jump and runs are considerably more sophisticated than their computer brethren making for a short lived bit of fun.
Atari releases a port of Ms. Pac-Man for the 16 bit console, adding a ton of new mazes, two two-player modes (co-op and adversarial), making this the best release of the Pac-Man concept yet.  Still somewhat simple compared to games of the time.

SNES import games are still a big deal, as the SNES wouldn't be launched until June of 1992 in Europe (a year and a half after Japan).  Castlevania 4 gets a good review, but not glowing.  The lack of new game elements in comparison with the original game and the somewhat too colorful graphics (which according to the reviewer prevent any real sense of a horror atmosphere from developing) hold the title back a bit, but he still recommends the purchase.  Interestingly, and telling about the computer gaming centric nature of the German market at the time, a side box explains the history of Castlevania to the readers and also mentions how Castlevania 3, released in Dec. 1989 in Japan and Sept. 1990 in the US, still wasn't out in Europe yet (and wouldn't be until Dec. 1992)

Final Fantasy 2/IV/'I got not clue', gets a review as a US import title.  This is the Japanese IV game, and the first SNES title in the series.  The game is lauded as beautiful, even outshining Sega's Shining in the Darkness (see what I did there?), but still not fully taking advantage of 16 bit graphic potential.  The content of the game is so good that nothing else really matters, though.

Square wasn't done yet, because we also get Final Fantasy Legend 2 and Final Fantassy The Adventure on Gameboy.  Both games get top marks and while the game mechanics are a bit paired down they still hold up.  Legend 2 would lead to the development of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (an intro to RPGs title for the SNES using the same mechanics as the Legend series and released originally as a North American exclusive with later releases in Japan as Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest and in Europe as Mystic Quest Legend) and The Adventure would spin-off into the Mana series.

This is the early 90s so Turtle mania knew no end, so in addition to the home computer ports of the arcade game, the Gameboy gets Turtles 2 which gets a great rating for its awesome graphics.

And while we're on handhelds, the technically impressive STUN Runner gets a port on the Lynx (only held back by being a bit thin as far as the game concept is concerned), Sonic comes to Gamegear (in a port of the Master System game) and a very polished but extremely difficult port of Double Dragon 2 hits the Gameboy. 

The ads in the magazine kick off with a one page for the new Sound Blaster 2.0.  Seeing the four floppy disks and cable in this add (to say nothing of that board chock full of circuitry) really is a flash from the past. With the then current exchange rate of 1.50 to 1, the card is retailing for about $200 US.

Populous 2 gets a wonderful two page spread.  The tag line "The gods are here and soon all hell will break loose" is awesome.  I played this game for days on end on the Amiga and the null modem multiplayer just added to its longevity.

Microprose proves that you can truly make your software, no matter how good it actually is, look drab and boring, with three single page ads for their upcoming releases.
Lucasfilm pushes Monkey Island 2 with a fun little tagline "No one laughs when this pirate plays with dolls."

While Interplay goes for a more low key but still impressive tagline of "The voyage continues" for Star Trek 25th Anniversary edition.  Considering the dirth of Star Trek games we had at that point (the only passable ones being the Sega arcade game from the early 80s and Star Trek the Rebel Universe), the simple announcing of this game was enough to get us all in a tizzy. 

TMNT 2 the Arcade game gets an appropriately large ad, covering the computer ports .

Epic, the long delayed space sim that was to be Ocean's answer to Wing Commander and help move it away from arcade ports and movie licenses (and didn't really work on either level, even though I still thought it was a lot of fun) gets a full page ad.

And, of course, because its Europe, we get cigarette ads!

In Conclusion:
Early 1992 was an interesting time on the European and especially German market.  Unlike the rest of the world, consoles had not really made a comeback yet.  PC and Amiga games were the order of the day, even though it was clear that the Amiga was on its way out and with it was the more action oriented game library it carried.  Complex PC games were taking over the market and would eventually make the adoption of consoles in homes an easier choice as the younger set was going to find it hard to get into giant RPGs and strategy titles.  A golden age of adult gaming fair was coming to the PC (within the next year and a half we would see titles such as Dune II, Settlers and Wolfenstein 3D), but Germany would (officially) miss out on almost all of the action fair on the PC due to restrictive advertising regulations for violent games (a later print run of an issue of PowerPlay would actually be destroyed by court order due to running an ad for Phantasmagoria) making consoles the only place to still enjoy action games.

The burgeoning war between Sega and Nintendo hadn't yet reached these shores, with the SNES still almost a year away from launching, but the fact that the number one selling game magazine in Europe's largest economy was printing full page reviews of gray imported titles, proved that there was a hunger for this new type of gaming.  There is even an ad in this issue for its fourth special spin-off magazine called Video Games (which would actually become a monthly magazine dedicated to consoles shortly thereafter).

Consoles wouldn't really be a meaningful part of the market until the 32/64 bit era hit, but there was no denying that the days of keyboard integrated computers was waning and a replacement for gamers with a lower budget for hardware was inevitable.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Beneath a Steel Sky - CD32RP Episode 14

In this the 14th episode of the Amiga CD32 Review project we take a look at our first graphical adventure game - Beneath a Steel Sky from Revolution Software. An excellent game, but does it hold up on the CD32 as well? Watch the video to find out!

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Saturday, 26 September 2015

How to retro: Controlling your Amiga CD32

In this new series of posts, we here at the retro gaming club would like to bring your our best practical tips and tricks when it comes to retro gaming. In the very first post I will tell you about how I do my gaming on my Amiga CD32.

The Amiga CD32 is a wonderful little console, but it has one massive flaw: its godawful controller. The CD32 controller is notoriously known for its lousy D-pad. Even a brand new controller is bad to control anything with, but to make matters worse on most older controllers the D-pad is loose in a way so that the disc spins around while you're trying to use it, making it even worse for controlling the games.

Picture by Evan Amos

Some people swear to the Honey Bee Competition Pro control pad for the CD32, but those are hard to find and therefore quite expensive. Before I begain my CD32 review project I therefore had a look around, to see if I could find a reasonably priced controller for my CD32 that I would enjoy using. I've always liked the PlayStation 2 controller, so when I found a guy on Ebay who had created a PS2-to-db9 adapter I was overjoyed. I immediately bought one and I was not disappointed: it works like a charm!

Not only does it support the Amiga CD32, it also has modes for my C64, Amiga (one or two buttons), and it does mouse emulation. When using it for my CD32 I simply use the CD32 mode, but when using it for my C64 and my Amigas I often use some of the more advanced features. The most powerful feature is the key clone feature. Using it you can re-map the buttons on the controller, and I can't even begin to tell you just how much better a lot of the old C64 and Amiga platformers feel when you re-map "up" to another button, so that you can control using the D-pad, jump using one button, and fire using another button - just like God intended it! I love my C64 and my Amigas but why oh why did they not include more than one button on their controllers! Well, that problem has finally been solved through the wonders of modern technology :-)

If you want to take a closer look at what this adapter can do, you can check out the manual here. If you are interested in buying an adapter you can use this listing for the next couple of weeks, but if you are reading this at a later point in time, you can probably find it under the Ebay user who is selling them.

I would recommend that anyone with a C64, an Amiga, or a CD32 go buy this PS2-to-db9 adapter immediately. It comes highly recommended freom me at least ;-)

That's all for now folks. Until next time... stay retro!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Beavers - CD32RP Episode 13

In the 13th installment of the Amiga CD32 Review Project we take a look at the platformer called Beavers. It was developed by Arc Developments and published in 1994 by Grandslam.

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Battletoads - CD32RP Episode 12

It's that time of the week again, and here we are with the most recent episode in the Amiga CD32 Review Project. This time we have been playing the CD32 port of Battletoads. Does it hold up to the NES original? Check out the video below to find out :-)

We hope you enjoy watching the video - please leave a comment either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or comments.

Until next time... stay retro

Monday, 31 August 2015

ReMEMBeR: GamePro, November 1994

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: GamePro
Cover Date: November 1994
Country of Origin: USA

Last month's ReMEMBeR (Game Player, May 1994) saw a world excited for new machines that were merely speculative sketches and great dreams.  Six months later the world had turned a few times and we had a somewhat different set of circumstances.  The wild speculation about next gen consoles has calmed considerably, turning more to concrete bits of info and greater focus is spent on the 16 bit games coming out for the holiday season.

There is a ton of content in this mag, with a lot of games reviewed.  I won't cover all, or even most of them but will try to look at the most interesting developments, especially from an historical standpoint.  So let's delve right in and see what was going on at the tail end of 1994.


Two more Next Gen contenders from Japan are entering the very crowded field (remember at this point we have CD-i, 3DO, Amiga CD32 and Jaguar already on the market and launch dates for Saturn, PSX and 32X are all less than a year away).  Bandai wants to make an FMV powered system called the BA-X (released exclusively in Japan in September of 1994 as the Playdia) which only got two years of full software support, with no third party developers showing interest.  The other contender is NEC, with a quasi followup to the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 called the NEC-FX that will be a 32 bit 2D console.  It's reliance on 2D and Japanese exclusivity meant it enjoyed little support and was discontinued by early 1998.

In other news, Panasonic decides to get into the game making business to help support the 3DO.  Titles like Guardian War, Burning Soldier and a golf game do not bode well for their efforts.  While in other 3DO news, the M2 Accelerator is announced as a way to keep the system up to speed with the new 32bit competition.  The M2 would soon morph into the 3DO successor console and fizzle out before ever hitting store shelves. (no doubt the 32X became a cautionary tale about power boosting add-ons).

Nintendo loses a suit against Alpex Computer Corporation over patent infringement.  The patent in question dealt with the displaying of bitmap images stored in RAM on a screen.  The damages awarded of $208.3 million were immense (especially since the company had long since gone out of business by then).  Nintendo appealed and later got the decision reversed.  And thus the big N won again!

Capcom and Data East were going to duke it out over a copyright infringement suit brought by Capcom due to what they claimed were "similarities" between Street Fighter II and Fighter's HistoryCapcom would lose the bout though because the similarities were too generic to be copyrighted.

In other Capcom news, a MegaMan cartoon is launching!  Here are some early pics to promote it.  It ended up running for two seasons and produce 27 episodes.

Here's a taste of the intro:
And yes, that IS the single most annoying theme song ever conceived by a five year with down syndrome... or a really bad Japanese translator.  Take your pick.

Primal Rage gets a preview, showing the behind the scenes model making going on.  The detail required to capture the 400 frames of animation per character shows how much the new generation of consoles (and Hollywood's growing reliance on CGI to dazzle crowds) were forcing game makers to push fidelity and realism in their games.  Probably even more interesting though (especially given the Previews use of the King Kong vs. T.Rex analogy) is that the article is immediately followed by a multipage ad for Donkey Kong Country, the first game where the graphics were made up almost exclusively from pre-rendered 3D models.  Pre-rendered CGI vs. Digitized real world graphics would be a battle that would last a few more years (MK3 vs. Killer Instinct) and ultimately be made mute with the advent of real time 3D rendering in the 32Bit generation.

The battle to make 16 bit graphics look more and more like 3D graphics, either through pre-rendering and/or digitization is really felt in another two page spread Nintendo bought in this issue. 

Just like in last month's ReMEMBeR, Nintendo has bought another double spread to "educate" consumers.  This time though the education component is less visible and they are clearly just bashing on the competition.  16 Bits is more than enough is their main slogan as they are touting the wonders of pre-rendered graphics, they attack the 32X head on, with side jabs at the Sega CD, Jaguar and 3DO.  There prediction of the 32X having a life expectancy of just a year was actually generous, it is still a bit galling of them to be poo-pooing everyone else.  They also claim that the SNES doesn't need extra chips, which is funny as just six months earlier they nonchalatntly mentioned Star Fox as a selling point for the system.  

In January of 1994 they had declared 1994 the Year of the cartridge... while the best console software of the year would be cartridge based, someone was really hoping the future wasn't coming.

Considering the number of Genesis titles reviewed in this issue (and mostly quite positively, especially when both Genesis and SNES versions go head to head) and the relative dirth of SNES titles (FFIII being a notable exception), Nintendo was feeling the pinch and did NOT like being in second place after dominating the market so thoroughly just a few years earlier.

We also get an update on the Street Fighter movie, that is full of the color blue.... and Capcom confirms that there will be a Street Fighter the Movie arcade game, but it won't be an in-house development (you KNOW that can't be good) and an enhanced 32X version will be Capcom's first release for the system (Capcom would abandon all support for the system before releasing this or any other titles, sadly).

Which is a wonderful transition to the Arcade preview coverage....

Cruisin' USA, from legendary game design guru Eugene Jarvis (Defender, Robotron 2084), gets a nice colorful preview.  It was a fun arcade racer that went up against the likes of Ridge Racer and Daytona USA.  While not nearly as technically impressive, it combined 3D graphics with the fast and fun action of older sprite scaling games like Outrun to deliver solid fun in small doses.

Personally I always chose Cruisin' games over Daytona in the arcades because I could drive a big yellow school bus!

The fact that it was the first arcade game supposedly running on the Ultra 64 hardware from Nintendo, was just icing on the cake.  Of course the final home hardware wouldn't be nearly as powerful as this, and the cartridge based medium would force many of the textures to be scaled down dramatically, leaving us with a halfhearted port of a great arcade racer.
PSX gets a fat spread dedicated to its processing power.  Tech demos showing off the number of objects it can simultaneously render, including the famous T.Rex demo (yeah... Jurassic Park was still in the air) are shown as well as it's video playback capabilities.  No sign of actual games yet, but if you were a consumer you had to be wondering what was coming.

In the arcades, Darkstalkers launches another popular Capcom fighting franchise taking advantage of the new CPS3 board already in use with SSF2Turbo and introducing the now iconic out-lined anime art style that would be the hallmark of most CPS3 games, such as Street Fighter Alpha.

The often overlooked T-Mek gets a rave review.  While it is little more than an update of Battlezone, it still plays well with immersive surround sound in the cabinet and seat based rumble effects. 

I remember seeing this machine around 1996 and it didn't impress me much.  Then again I had my full long ago of Stellar 7.  :)

On the console front, Beavis and Butt-Head come home  with three games, each with a somewhat shared story (they want to get to the GWAR concert and can't afford it).

The SNES and GameGear variants are jump and run action games, while the Genesis gets a mix of object hunt and action gameplay that doesn't satisfy.

Sadly, like the show, it has a hard time maintaining a person's interest for long.  Do yourselves a favor and pick up Virtual Stupidity for the PC instead.
Earthworm Jim for the Genesis wows the reviewers.  The brilliant animation, insane enemies and scenarios, multiple pathways through a level and very high difficulty rating, make the game both a must have and value for money.  A classic that would sadly not spawn the massive franchise it deserved to birth.

The SNES port is lauded for much more colorful graphics but super sensitive controls make some levels more difficult than they have to be.

Genesis is definitely the way to go here.

Sonic and Knuckles is the fourth game in the series, adding another playable character, but also, due to a cartridge slot built into the cart, it allows for extra features to be unlocked in Sonic 2 and 3! New levels and areas are now playable with the Knuckles character.

Sega had a knack for innovative game ideas and this was a great brainstorm that showed their dedication to their 16 bit system, even though the Saturn was right around the corner.

Contra Hard Corps brings one of Konami's greatest franchises to the Genesis.  Brilliant graphical effects and amazing numbers of things going on on-screen, show the power of Sega's machine.  Sadly the difficulty level is so high that some of the enjoyment is lost in the process. (heck, they admit it!  Just check out this ad for the game!)

Urban Strike for the Genesis is a sequel to Desert Strike.  The action is once again shown from a 3/4 isometric perspective and you pilot a helicopter blowing up both air and ground targets.  This time you aren't repeating a thinly veiled version of the first Gulf War, but going after drug cartels operating out of cities such as San Fransisco and New York.  A great game, but sadly lacking the amazing MOD intro music from Desert Strikes' Amiga port.

Zero Tolerance, an FPS for the Genesis pushes the hardware as far as it will go, but mainly stands out for including a custom cable allowing two Genesis consoles with the game to be linked for co-op playthroughs of the game.  A nice feature I'd love to try out.

Rock n' Roll Racing is one of Blizzards greatest achievements.  A fast paced and fun game that looks a lot like RC Pro-Am, but classic computer gamers will instantly recognize the roots of the game in Racing Destruction Set.  The sci-fi atmosphere and weapons system make it a joy to play even today. 

Mickey Mania is a romp through the famous rodent's illustrious career with levels marking many of his cartoons, including Steamboat Willy and Jack and the Beanstalk and featuring his perspective defying ears (seriously look at 'em!)  Smooth animation and fun scenarios make this a great title on the Genesis, while the SNES version loses points for super precise jumps and a high difficulty level, even on Easy mode, especially considering that the game is targeting kids.

Lethal Enforcers II brings western style lightgun action to the Genesis.  The reviewer loves the game something hard and as someone who always fantasized about actually owning a lightgun for home, I am a bit jealous right now... But Lethal Enforcers was never really my cup of tea.

Star Wars Chess is an odd little game for the Sega CD.  Cashing in on the hype of games like Battle Chess, the advent of CDs to store massive amounts of non-interactive video and a lack of clues as to how to best use the Star Wars license, this game is an interesting historical remnant that is still entertaining for a quick round of chess today.

Demon's Crest for the SNES is the second followup to the original Ghosts N' Goblins spin-off, Gargoyle's Quest.  Beautiful graphics and depth almost on par with Metroid, help make this a classic.

Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures takes the basic mechanics of the Super Star Wars games and applies them to the Indy trilogy (yes, we do not count Crystal Skull, in fact the last person who tried to convince us it was part of the series is currently chained to a Gamecube in our basement and being forced to play Aquaman for all eternity!).  Ultimately the game, while good, never managed to be great and felt a bit rushed, despite having Factor 5 behind it.

Shaq Fu gets 4.0 out of 5 rating, in what I can only assume is a payola scam gone horribly wrong or the reviewer sees something in the game we all missed.  He mentions the extremely smooth animation and the ability to counterstrike while blocking.  I almost want to play this again to see if there is some level of detail I missed the first time around... or maybe not. 

Ghoul Patrol is an unofficial sequel to Zombies Ate my Neighbours, developed once again by Lucasarts and probably using the same game engine.  Nothing innovative, but given that we weren't going to see another good Ghostbusters game for a while, not too shabby.

Street Racer takes Mario Kart and doubles the number of players possible to four.  A game that often gets overshadowed but is loved by many (and got ports to DOS and even AGA Amigas).

A fun addition to the genre.

Aero Fighters 2 for the Neo Geo gets blasted for being just another shooter with nothing new to show for it.  I used to love playing this in the arcades, but then again it only cost 25 cents a go.  I agree, if I'd be shelling out Neo Geo cart prices for the game, it would have been way too little.  But as an arcade game,give it a go!

Road Rash for the 3DO is heralded as brilliant breakthrough in tech that it was.  The potential of 3D gaming is on display here, taking the already fun 16 bit mechanics and adding a buttload of digitized graphics and smooth background animations. 

Alone in the Dark for the 3DO gets blasted for being slow and clunky, which it was.  I've never played the 3DO port, but I can imagine that it wasn't quit as fast as the PC game, and the slow plodding nature of the mechanics would not have gone over too well in the days of the 16 bit consoles.
RPGs were still a niche market in 1994, so they get their own review section at the back of the mag, which only includes one review in this issue, but damn is it a doozy!  Final Fantasy III (aka 6) on the SNES.  The epic game gets the accolades it deserves, as well as a five page review.  Historically it is scene as the game that popularized JRPGs in the west, but while looking through this mag, I found a slew of other RPGs being advertised, which makes me think that the breakthrough was just a matter of time.
Most telling is the Lord of the Rings ad, where the headline reads:  "Before Zelda, Before Secret of Mana, before Seventh Saga there was..."  The revolution was coming... Final Fantasy was to JRPGs what the Silver Surfer was to Galactus.

Clay fighter 2 is parodying terminator 2... gotta give 'em credit here... while the game wasn't really all that good, this is kinda cool.

Final fantasy 3(6) gets a nice two page teaser ad, which shows their confidence in the games' success.

Rocket science was a development studio that came on the scene with a lot of hype, but failed to really deliver.  They launched a few interesting games, but lots of features like multiplayer functionality ended up not making it sadly.  They were also mainly a PC developer, making their choice to advertise in a console gaming mag a bit odd.

Still the ad is pretty 90s radical.

WildSnake:  Alexey Pajitnov could finally start to profit from his games and his name appeared on a mess of puzzle games in the 90s.  Obviously none of them approached the popularity of Tetris, but they definitely made him some cash while he waited for the rights to revert back to him.

Kasumi Ninja desperately tries to sell some Jaguars.  Why they didn't include a shot of the Angus MacGregor upskirting his opponents and firing fireballs from his crotch is a mystery to me.

The Marvel Masterpieces collectible card series, featuring the Hildebrandt Brothers (famous for their Lord of the Rings artwork) reminds us that the 90s was also the time of the comic book speculator bubble.

Accolade tried desperately to break into the console market in the 90s after being a major player in the computer market throughout the 80s.  Here is there pretty cool add for the Genesis FPS Zero Tolerance.

A rumble backpack that will give your back a massage if your game is loud enough, called the Interactor gets a two page spread.  These guys actually had a five million dollar ad campaign and signed a deal to feature MKII in its ads.  Kinda weird.

Blizzard's second game published under that title, is Blackthorne, a blood and guts heavy take on games like Flashback and Prince of Persia.  An awesome game that would give us our first glimpse of the company's now famous Orcs, while the cover exuded 90s Jim Lee style comic book artwork.

Have I mentioned that the comic book speculator market was big at the time?

Sega is still hawking the Sega CD, saying it is already delivering the next generation experience and that you'll get old waiting for someone to top it (of course they would be stocking Saturn's on US shelves by May of 1995, just 7 months after this ad was published).

And at the same time, 3DO is also making you feel like you'll be wasting your life if you don't buy their console now! (or maybe they just mean they will cease to be a credible option within 6 months...)

Konami is promoting their amazing Batman & Robin for SNES, by pointing out how close the games graphics are to the animated series... and boy did they look pretty.  Great game too.

Snatcher, an unapologetic Bladerunner rip-off for the Sega CD, gives us one of the freakiest ads I've seen in a LONG time.

God bless them.

Battlecorps is an ad that does a good job of selling the awesome Mech based Sega CD game... just look at that guy...

Sega gets an exclusive with Mighty Mophin' Power Rangers.  Wonder how much that cost them.

And even more important, how much did it piss Nintendo off?

This ad for Viewpoint, the super fun 3/4 view space shooter from the NeoGeo, is absolutely crap at explaining or making me interested in the game at all.

Bad Sammy.... very bad!!
This is the mid 90s so we get a slew of cute mascot jump 'n run games with "attitude":
Radical Rex is a firebreathing skateboard riding dinosaur... oh my god, why would you let marketing people come up with game concepts?!?!

Zero: The Kamikaze Squirrel... because it's never to early to teach kids about suicide....

And Aero the Acrobat gets a sequel (yes, they were even doing sequels at this point... fortunately the trend would not survive the transition to 3D graphics... thank you Sofia from Toshinden for making anything wholesomer than a whip wielding dominatrix look uncool)

The originator of the trend, Sonic, gets a GameGear sequel with not one, not two, but THREE attitude animals on the cover...

Earthworm Jim proved he was too cool for flashy graphics (and as the harbinger of the end of any trend, mercilessly mocks the entire concept of the mascot game by being neither cute, nor fuzzy, but otherwise adhering to all of the genre's staples and doing them wonderfully in the process).  The sarcasm is palpable in these simple black line drawings.

 And finally, Rayman teases his debut on the Jaguar.  Ok, this mascot was cool and would go on to feature in a bunch of cool games.  Guess something good did come out of the Jaguar original titles after all...

And speaking of failed 90s consoles...
Mutant Rampage: Body Slam... a fighting game for the CDi... oh my goodness, I forgot that anyone had tried to market that as a game system!

And BurnCycle gets a  CD-i ad too.  My goodness... you might almost think the thing was capable of playing games!

That was until you tried a demo of it at Sears.

Creative is hawking their 3DO compatible PC add-on card.  In the day and age before 3D accelerators there would be more than one attempt to merge video game console tech with the PC, but this was a fun looking bit of kit, that had the system gotten more quality exclusives, could have really sold well.

The Jaguar's finest hour, Alien vs. Predator, gets a beautiful two page ad.  I actually wanted a Jaguar back in the day just for this game... it would have been my first console.  Fortunately sanity prevailed.

And Sega sets up a free telephone hotline so you can get "the scoop" on the 32X before all your friends do.... I wonder if someone has a recording of that service....

 To close it out, we have the obligatory ad for a Don Bluth game on CD-Rom!

Oh, Dexter, will you ever beat Borf?

In conclusion:

Late 1994 was a time when everyone knew 16 bit was coming to an end.  Sega was launching gimmick after gimmick, some good (co-op FPS gaming via connector cable), some bad (vibrating backpacks), but they were trying to guess where the future was without sadly developing the ideas to their conclusion.

Nintendo was stubbornly pretending that there was no next gen coming, that pre-rendered graphics were a perfect substitute and that family friendly entertainment would continue to appeal to the ever ageing gamer demographic.  They would succeed in many ways and deliver some beautifully polished experiences, but the future missteps of the N64 are being broadcast in a most agitated and almost childlike way.

The "next generation" consoles already on the market were failing because they either cost too much or did little innovative with their tech as far as the games they could produce, or were ignored by the big publishers who were still busy pumping out titles for 16 bit hardware that were still impressing.

And third party publishers were tickling the last few tricks possible out of the 16 bit hardware, with games like Contra Hard Corps, Earthworm Jim and Final Fantasy III pushing the limits of 2D sprite based cartridge gaming.  Brilliant gems, both technically and gameplaywise that would live well beyond the hardware that birthed them.

Oh, and we could go to the movies and see Melissa Milano make a fool of herself in the first video game to movie adaptation the world would get the dubious pleasure of seeing.