Saturday, 31 January 2015

GROW: Tenchi O Kurau II / Warriors of Fate

Review by Clint 'Thorn' Thornton

Platform(s)Sega Saturn
Release date(s)September 6, 1996
Genre(s)Beat 'em up
Mode(s)2 Player Co-op

So I was playing Battlefield 4 the other day and even though I am quite good at it when it comes to the online multiplayer universe I was getting very frustrated from making simple mistakes.  I would find myself trying to place a few M2 Slams but instead pressed the wrong button and would turn my laser sight off.  So I took a moment and looked down at the controller on my PS3 and realised that every single button had a use.  That's 12 buttons and that means 12 different functions.  No wonder I was getting frustrated, this wasn't a game I was playing, this was more of a memory test. 

Good news is that you don't need 12 buttons and to play online to have fun with your friends.  Now I am not saying I am against it as I do enjoy my multiplayer Battlefield but for me nothing can compete with a good old fashion  Beat 'em Up that only requires 2 buttons with a buddy sitting next to you whilst drinking a couple of beers.  And I reckon Tenchi O Kurau II / Warriors of Fate might just be a perfect example....

Normally I would tell you the background to the game but this is a little tricky as it is based around the very indepth historical novel 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms' but here goes the abridged version.  An evil warlord Cao Cao has attempted to seize his neighboring lands but Liu Bei and his warriors do not want to let that happen so five warriors set out to conquer the evil tyrant and bring peace back to the lands.

Tenchi O Kurau II / Warriors of Fate is the sequel the 1989 game Dynasty Wars.

It's a Capcom Beat 'em Up, what more do I have to say:)  But I will as this is a damn fine game and it is definitely worthy of an appraisal.  You have to battle your way through nine levels whilst constantly taking on hordes of enemies who will attack you with swords, spears, arrows and even bombs.  You will also encounter a boss at the end of each stage and even a sub boss in some levels.  Warriors of Fate feels a lot like Final Fight in almost every way but still differs enough so you don't feel like you are playing a Final Fight clone.  It's just good clean (yet still violent) 2D brawling fun.

You have the choice of five different characters to choose from:
Please note that character profiles have been taken from the arcade English version but remain the same for the Sega Saturn.

Name: Guan Yu / Porter
Weapon: Bare Hand
Horse Mounted Weapon: Guan Dao
Special Ability: Flying Elbow
Dash Attack: Head Butt
Throw: Jumping Backbreaker

Name:  Zhang Fei / Kassar
Weapon:  Bare Hand
Horse Mounted Weapon:  Viper Halberd
Special Ability:  Crushing Punch
Dash Attack:  Sliding Shoulder Strike
Throw:  Jumping Vertical Suplex & Pile Driver

Name:  Zhao Yun / Subutai
Weapon:  Sword
Horse Mounted Weapon:  Spear
Special Ability:  Uppercuting Slash
Dash Attack:  Rushing Shoulder Strike
Throw:  N/A

Name:  Huang Zhong / Kadan
Weapon:  Bow & Dagger
Horse Mounted Weapon:  Bow & Halberd
Special Ability:  Triple shot & Uppercuting slash
Dash Attack:  Somersault
Throw:  Over the shoulder Powerbomb

Name:  Wei Yan / Abaka
Weapon:  Katana
Horse Mounted Weapon:  Katana
Special Ability:  Flash kick
Dash Attack:  Sliding elbow
Throw:  Rotating power slam

It may not be quite the graphical achievement of Dungeons & Dragons but it still looks fantastic and  is better than most games that were built from the CPS1 as it was built off the CPS Dash which was an updated CPS1 board.

Although there might not be any giant bosses to awe at, all the sprites are well drawn and fluently animated.  Most of the stage environments are static but there are a couple with some really nice fire and water effects going on around you to help liven things up.  Overall the color pallet of the environments tends to stick to the brown, green and blue shades but the backgrounds are still well detailed and there is plenty to look at as you progress through the stages.

THE CPS Dash board did have updated audio compared to the original CPS1 and you can most certainly appreciate the audio in this game.  The music itself is very cinematic and has more of a 'movie score' sound then your typical video game music.  It almost has a John Williams orchestral sound to it and is something you would expect to hear in Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  The only thing I can fault it on is the stereo separation, it has a fairly strong mono sound but I can't be too negative on it as that is the way the CPS Dash sound was designed using the Q Sound technology.

The sound effects are all there, everything from the sound of you beating the crap out of your enemy to the grunts they make as they fade away in to death.

Ahhh....  The simplicity of arcade controls, Attack and Jump.  It's all you need for when you embark on this great adventure.  Like other Beat 'em Ups you can use a combination of these controls like the 'attack and jump' button at the same time to deal out large amounts of damage, but be warned this is the type of attack that drains your life at the same time if you make contact, so use it wisely.  The Saturn version does utilize the 'C' button as a single button to replace the Attack and Jump simultaneously but it's nice to know Capcom left in the original arcade controls too.

As I said in the beginning of this review, this is  the type of game you want to play with a buddy over a few beers.  The game itself will take an hour to an hour and a half to finish and for me that is spot on.  Tenchi O Kurau II / Warriors of Fate might not be as popular as some of the other Capcom Beat 'em Ups but in my opinion is right up there with Final Fight and very close to arcade perfect and deserves to be played through.

Until next time...  Stay Retro

Saturday, 24 January 2015

GROW - DuckTales

Review by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton
Disney Interactive Studios
Producer(s)Tokuro Fujiwara
Designer(s)Yoshinori Takenaka
Programmer(s)Nobuyuki Matsushima
Artist(s)Keiji Inafune
Naoya Tomita
Hironori Matsumara
Miki Kijima
Composer(s)Hiroshige Tonomura
Source: Wikipedia
Release date(s)Famicom/NES
  • NA September 14, 1989
  • JP January 26, 1990
  • EU December 14, 1990
Genre(s)Action platformer
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Everyday they're out there making
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Tales of derring do-bad and good
Luck Tales! Woo-oo!

Remember those lyrics?  Well I sure do!  It was one of the catchiest cartoon theme songs to come out of the 80's.  Come to think of it, it was one the better Disney cartoons to come out of the 80's as well.  Can we get the Trifecta with one of the best NES Disney games to come out of the 80's?  Well.....  That depends who you ask but most will agree that this is one game that left an impression on most kids.  Let's go find out why and play some DuckTales old school Nintendo style!

This is one of the simplest stories for a video game yet somehow creates a game that is far from simple.  Scrooge McDuck has decided to travel around the world collecting treasure to become the worlds richest duck whilst rivaling against Flintheart Glomgold....  Yep!  That's it.  It's basically the whole premise of the DuckTales cartoon all wrapped up in to one neat little package....  A little package that will kick your butt every time!!!

Remember Mega Man?  Remember that guy and the games he was in and how as a child you were  first introduced to a world of frustration by playing those games?  Well guess what, this game isn't much different.  Yet somehow still retains fond memories for most of us who played.  DuckTales is essentially a Mega Man game with a different skin.  It's built off the same engine, consists of the same platform style and has a million and one reoccurring enemies.  But even after taking all that in to account, this game still feels like it's own unique game if you don't try to compare it to that little blue guy with the helmet and is a very enjoyable experience.

Scrooge's travels take him to five different locations to not only find diamonds on his journey, but to also search for the five different treasures scattered throughout the five locations which are The Amazon, Transylvania, African Mines, The Himalayas and the Moon.  During the stages Scrooge will encounter enemies and platforms that are only there for one thing, to see you die.  So when these two combine and when you're trying to platform and there is a bee flying your way....  Good luck with that!

Scrooge has two attack styles both useful but both requiring the right time to use them for success.  The simplest of the two is the 'golf swing' with his cane.  This can be used to launch rocks at enemies as well as open chests and throw different objects.  The second is the Pogo stick attack, again with his cane.  This is a very effective attack and enables you to continuously take out enemies as long as you keep the Pogo momentum going.  The only problem is learning the button combination that enables the attack so it works all the time, every time.  But we'll look at that later.

You can play each level in any order and can also revist them to find new areas that have been unlocked from the other levels.  This can sometimes feel a little repetitive but at the same time doesn't feel like a cheap way the programmers added longevity to the game as you are visiting new areas so it tends to balance itself out in the end.  Each level ends in a boss battle that you must defeat in order to retrieve the treasure for that location.  After you have completed all five levels you return to Transylvania one last time for the Final Fight (Like my Capcom  After you have finished the game you will get to experience one of the three endings.  Each ending is dependent on how much money you make throughout the game as well as finding hidden treasures.

The music is definitely a strong point for this game with each levels' melody being very catchy without it sounding like it's on a continuous loop.  Although it is catchy music it doesn't really suit the stage environment it plays in except for 'The Moon' level and possibly 'Transylvania' depending on what music you think Ghouls and Ghosts would listen to (Wow....  Another Capcom  This can be easily looked past but take notice when you play it next.  My only real gripe is with a few of the sound effects, most notably the sound when you Pogo attack an enemy.  After the 50th time it starts to sound like nails on a chalk board and this I can't look past.  The graphics are all nice and colorful with each level having its own unique feel.  The animations are smooth and each character has been well drawn and all have been given their own personalities.

This is one of the few NES games that really would have benefited greatly from a third button.  The controls are tight and responsive with zero button lag and Scrooge stops moving on a dime as soon as you take your fingers off.  But unfortunately even with 99.9% of the controls being spot on, learning the skill to use your cane as a Pogo stick can be very, very, VERY frustrating.  Some people don't have any issues, but many do and I did.  Its combination of both buttons and down on the directional pad and although there are a couple of combinations to make it work it's still a pain as it just doesn't feel natural.

When people talk of this game being a must have for your NES collection I certainly wouldn't argue.  Yes, it's a very difficult game and will require many attempts to learn the patterns, but it's still a fun experience learning everything.  If you are a Mega Man fan (and who isn't) then this is the game for you.  You are met with challenge but also met with reward if you succeed so it is a very satisfying experience once you get the hang of the game.  It has replay value as you can always go back and challenge yourself to get more money if you haven't been awarded with the best ending and even if you have seen the best ending, you will no doubt be called back subconsciously to pop this cart in to your NES as time goes on like you do with Mega Man (II), Super Mario Bros 3 and Contra.

There might be a remastered version of this game out there, but in my opinion it really doesn't compete with the original.

Until next time...  Stay Retro!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

GROW: Heart of the Alien

Developer: Interplay Entertainment
Platform: Sega CD
Year: 1994
Design: Jeremy S. Barnes, Michael Burton & Doug Nonast
Genre: Platformer / Action adventure

Picking up where Another World left off, Heart of the Alien puts you in control of Buddy, Lester's alien friend. At the end of Another World, Lester is carried away in Buddy's arms on the back of a pterodactyl heading for Buddy's home village. If you pay attention in the first minutes of the game, what you are shown are the events that led to Buddy being captured in the first place, how he ended up in a cage together with Lester, and some small glimpse of what he was doing while you were controlling Lester in the last game. I especially like the part where Buddy crashes through the colored glass mosaic and joins Lester, because that scene had a strong impact in Another World, so stitching the two games together in this manner is genius.

Sadly Eric Chahi, the creator of Another World, had nothing to do with the design of Heart of the Alien, and I guess that shows in a lot of ways. The storytelling is much less potent, the level and puzzle design not as finely tuned, and as a result the overall game is not nearly as strong as its predecessor. That being said though, if you're a fan of Another World, you should definitely give this game a go; and while Chahi may be missing, this game does bear the name of one of the veterans within the industry: Brian Fargo of Fallout fame. Fargo was credited as being the executive producer on Heart of the Alien. Initially Eric Chahi was on board, and was asked what he would do in a sequel. His answer was that it could be interesting to redo Another World from the Alien's point of view. The developers from Interplay may have misinterpreted this, or simply found the idea to be uninteresting, since they instead chose to continue the story where Another World left off. Subsequently Chahi made a public statement saying that the game did not represent his vision of the world.

The story of the game is as follows: Once Buddy returns Lester safely to the ruins of his village, he sets out to recover his weapon, a kind of laser whip that doubles as a laser blaster, and then returns to the prison to free his people from the oppressors. Strangely enough Lester joins you twice on this adventure, even though you just left him unconscious and badly wounded in your village... Of course Buddy succeeds in his quest to free his people, and the end scene is a happy picture of aliens enjoying life in their village which has been restored to its former glory. As for Lester though - well I'll let you find out about Lester's fate yourselves. Suffice it to say that the ending is way less open than it was in Another World, leaving nothing for the player to interpret and build new stories upon.

If you know what you're doing, and you have got luck on your side, you should be able to complete this game in about 25 minutes, but don't think that means the game is easy! This game is hard, even harder than its predecessor, but I found it to be also fair, so when you die for the 100th time you still only blame yourself and not the game. There is this one point though, where you are facing two guards at once... Boy, if I hadn't used save states for that I would never have gotten past that place. Taking care of a single guard soon becomes second nature, but taking down two guards that are positioned such that their shields protect the both of them is damn hard.

The gameplay builds on what was established in Another World, but it further extends on this by introducing Buddy's laser whip, which can be used Indiana Jones style to swing over gaps and other dangers. There are also some places where Buddy can jump upwards and grab onto ledges, reminiscent of Prince of Persia.

All in all I rather enjoyed Heart of the Alien and it is definitely a title that I'd want to find for my Sega CD, but that could just be me, a huge fan of the prequel, looking at it through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia. If you enjoyed Another World, and would like to see what Interplay could do with that license, please give it a go. You'll probably be a bit disappointed with the story, but gameplay wise it's still a good game I think. If Another World was a 9 out of 10, I'd say that Heart of the Alien is a 6 or 7. It's definitely one for the fans ;-)

Until next time... stay retro!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

GROW: Knight Games

Title: Knight Games
Developer: English Software
Publisher: English Software (later Mastertronic)
Year: 1986
Systems: C64 (reviewed), Amstrad, DOS (CGA/EGA)

Knights in shining armour, damsels in distress, chivalry, quests, kingdoms.... all the things we have seen a million times in gaming.  From Dragon's Lair to Skyrim, the trappings of the middle ages, with the immediacy of pre-fire powder weaponry and a world in which danger lurked around every corner, the dark ages call to us even today, enticing us to dream of adventure and danger, fame and fortune!

Of course the reality of the medieval knights life was a bit less swashbuckling and a bit more mundane.  It was mostly posturing, killing peasants that dared to rise up and the rules of chivalry gave great leeway for sacking, pillaging and raping.  So how would one show off as a real knight?  Why with tournament shows of skill!

This brings us to today's gem from years gone by: Knight Games.  Coded and designed by John Williams, with graphics by Colin Brown, it brought the expositional martial arts of medieval knights to our 8 bit computer screens.  At a time when sports games were all the rage, Knight Games added an innovative twist to the genre.

There are eight events (even though two of them are basically what Ryu was to Ken, simple graphical remixes of one another).  There are five weapon based one-on-one contests: Swords (twice), Quarterstaffs, Ball and Chain (no... you don't club each other with your spouses... ZING!  Ok... that joke was just horrible, I'm sorry), Axes and Pikes, in addition to two shooting galleries, once with long bows and once with crossbows.

The one-on-one contests are great two player fun, with a myriad of offensive and defensive moves available through a combination of the eight directional points of the joystick (horizontals are defensive moves, up, down, left and right are offensive) and the fire button activates walking.  An at first awkward choice from a modern standpoint but at the time a very unique solution that gave the action a feeling of immediacy through translating movement into combat as opposed to the pressing of a button.  The moves at times seem slow and plodding, but given that you are wearing full plate in all but the quarterstaff event, this seems perfectly legitimate and appropriate.

The shooting galleries involve multiple moving targets, with reloading times and wind factors coming into play.  Nothing spectacular, but still good fun when competing against human opponents.

The graphics are quite stunning, especially for 1986, even if the backgrounds are stationary.  They do invoke a rather epic feel.  Considering this was released the same year as Defender of the Crown, it truly can hold its own on a tiny little C64.

While it does feel a bit slow today, it remains a unique experience.  No magical special moves, no wild jumps through the air.  Knight Games gives us medieval one-on-one combat like it never existed before, or since on home computers. (the closest comprison I can draw is Square's PSX classic Bushido Blader)  If you have a buddy, plug in some old one button joysticks and have a few rounds.  I guarantee you'll have fun and wonder just how much brain damage a quarterstaff to the noggin' really would do.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Computer Game Museum Berlin - Visit

Hi guys,

In December, I took a trip to Berlin to visit the Computer Game Museum there.  It was a really awesome little place, curated with a ton of original hardware, recreations of classic games, a replica 80's arcade, recreated period rooms and a bunch of displays on the history of gaming.  So here are some pics to share with ya all.  :)

This is a recreation of a machine from the 50's being demoed with TicTacToe.  The input was a telephone dial.  Really fun and smart.

Recreation of a 60s computer demo from a world's fair, playing a line crossing game.  Damn good AI.
Display about the old Winky Dink and You TV show, that had kids sticking a piece of plastic on their tv screen and then following the announcer's finger with a crayon to create pictures.  Basically the first interactive TV program.  Very cool and weird.

Recreation of the original Brown Box designed by Ralph Baer.  Not sure if this is one of the many replicas he built himself or not.

Computer Space... sadly not up and running... still... Computer Space.  The sign said "Do not touch".  I touched. 

And more Computer Space... seriously, is that not the coolest cabinet EVER?!?!

Original Pong Arcade cabinet.

Innards of said Pong cabinet.

Apple II Plus signed by Woz.

One long wall of the museum was dominated by a set of displays with classic consoles and computers, organized by year, with pull out boards giving info on each of the systems.  There were a lot of them, so just a few highlights here.

And another massive wall was this display.  Using a small joystick, you controlled a green target pointer across the wall and this would trigger a demo of the game in question as well as a screen with game information.  The games were given markings related to their societal impact, technical innovation, originality, etc.  Some pretty interesting choices that all made a lot of sense, inclusing Mystery House, E.T., Elite, Lemmings, Leisure Suit Larry and Pokemon.  Here some highlights:

There were also a ton of games to play, usually highlighted for specific game play experiences. 

Wipeout in 3D

A car racing game where the acceleration was connected to a stationary bike.

Five Player Pong

Poly-Play, a multi-game arcade cabinet, and the only arcade game ever released in East Germany.  It is running on what was then standard Z80 based computer hardware (got to play it for the first time a few weeks ago at a museum of East German computer tech, that's here in my town of Halle... probably should have written a post about that as well).  The games are all completely atrocious and/or derivative.  But still interesting to see it.

Then they also had display corners set up to recreate period gaming scenarios, including a 70's living room with a Pong clone console:
An early 80's game room (with a C64 running a Galaga clone) and home office (with a Hercules graphic PC and a weird little ASCII graphics game):
A late 80's kid's bedroom (with an NES running Zelda):
 And finally a mid 90's college dorm room (with a PSX running Tomb Raider):
There was also a mock Arcade, with four player Gauntlet, Super Hang-On, Centipede and Puck-Man (yes... the original board, not the US Pac-Man release) as a table top game.

And a quick video:

There were also a ton of displays, covering history, industry personalities, controllers, etc.  All with little interactive video displays, interviews with creators (very cool interview with the curator of the MAME project, talking about preserving data) and old news footage.  There was even a really cool ad video for Habitat the first graphical MMO by Lucasfilm (which looks to be running off of the Labyrinth engine)
I found the film on youtube:

Ok, so if you're in Berlin, definitely check it out.  Also all displays are both in German and English.