Saturday, 28 March 2015

Introducing the Amiga CD32 Review Project

I don't know if any of you guys remember, but I used to release pages for my upcoming Amiga book as posts here on the blog. I haven't been releasing any for quite some time now though. The reason for this is simply that Sam Dyer (aka. MrSid) got there before me and through a successful Kickstarter campaign he raised a shitload of money to do his book "Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium" (yes, he misspelled compendium, and yes it's on purpose - it's a comm-pendium because it about the Comm-odore Amiga, get it?) I worked on my Amiga book because I thought I could probably get it published once I finished it, but now that Sam is doing his excellent book, I doubt that anyone would want to get mine, so I needed a new project to work on - preferably one that involved my beloved Amiga in some way. On a side note, I did back Sam's book and I'm really looking forward to seeing it. If you didn't back it but would still like a copy you can get it here at Funstock.

Growing up I owned an Amiga 500 and later on an Amiga 600. The A500 was, and still is, the most precious piece of equiptment I have ever owned. I spent two years working and saving up all my money in order to buys a used A500, and when I finally got it it was all worth it. When the A1200 came out I of course wanted one of those, but there was no way I'd be able to afford it. So I never got an A1200 back in the day, and the CD32 eluded me as well - so many beautiful AGA games that I never got to play! Of course, that has been remedied and I now own both an A1200 and a CD32, and I really want to get into the games on offer for those platforms.

Photo by Evan Amos

After getting my Amiga CD32 I immediately fell in love with the platform. I don't know what it is exactly - I guess it's just because it's an Amiga, which I love, and it's a console, which means that games just work when you pop them in. I have therefore decided that my new project will be dedicated to the CD32 and I hereby present to you the Amiga CD32 Review Project. My goal is to play and review every single game released for the Amiga CD32 - in alphabetical order. I have already done quite a few, and I will be releasing them here on the blog once a week. I hope you guys want to be along for the ride!

The dogma for this project is simple:
1) I will play and record each game, on original hardware, for at least one hour.
2) I will spend an hour or two researching the game.
3) I will then create a 3 to 5 minute video review of the game, referencing both the recorded gameplay footage and reviews from back in the day.

The first game I have looked at is Akira - going in alphabetical order I had to start with that title, which sadly is kind of a stinker. But have a look and make up your own mind. And don't worry, the next game I will be reviewing is great :)

I hope you enjoyed the review. Next week I will be releasing my review of the excellent platformer Alfred Chicken.

Until next time... stay retro!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

What A Year - 1994

Article written by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton

I loved the 90's!  As the product of the early 80's I felt I was the perfect age to experience and enjoy everything the world of gaming had to offer me.  I can remember so much and I hope it stays with me for the rest of my life because no matter how blue I may be feeling, a single trip down memory lane back to my youth in the 90's is more than enough to take me to my 'Happy Place'. 

But one year sticks out the most for me and that year is 1994.  It was a year absolutely choc full of gaming goodies and I for one can't wait to revisit it.  Just for the record, this visit to 1994 will not be chronologically in order but I promise I will try to cover all the good stuff!

The battle rages on
Contra: Hard Corps was one epic Run and Gun
The 'Bit Wars' was still raging on heavy as ever even though it was coming to a close to make way for the fifth generation of consoles.  Both Sega and Nintendo still had a few tricks up their sleeve even though some of those tricks didn't fool the audience like others.  Early in the year the two Titans released their latest killer app and neither left the masses disappointed.  Sega unleashed Sonic 3 for the Genesis / Mega Drive and Nintendo made an offering to the community in the way of Super Metroid which was the largest SNES cartridge at the time with 24 megabits.  As the year progressed the competition didn't look like dying down at all with each company releasing a steady stream of games.  Sega released the 'lock-on' cart Sonic & Knuckles for the players to get even more out of their newly acquired Sonic 3 and not to mention the cart also breathing new life in to Sonic 2.  Konami had a great year on the Genesis with both Contra: Hard Corps / Probotector and Castlevania: Bloodlines / New Generation making their debut.  And let's not forget about Sega's AM2 department creating the SVP chip and releasing the impressive (for the time) polygon racer Virtua Racing.  Both consoles had their fair share of multi platform releases for the year too.  The Wacky Earthworm Jim was unveiled, the long
SNES - Gloriously bloody MKII
awaited sequel Mortal Kombat II hit the homes and this time Nintendo holding nothing back when it came to the blood and fatalities.  Super Street Fighter II also made its way to the homes to try and take away some of the glory that was Mortal Kombat II with the Genesis version going even further by having the game released on a massive 40 meg cart which allowed for extra voice samples and some added content.  And let's not forget about one of the best sports games ever to come out on a console, NBA Jam.

Nothing could compete to DKC

It wasn't until  Christmas when Nintendo really pulled out the big guns with their next commercial blockbuster exclusive.  Sure they had a solid year of exclusives with titles like Mega Man X and the beautiful Final Fantasy III (US) but nothing could compete with Donkey Kong Country.  In the eyes of the Developers it was a break through in tech, in the eyes of the consumer it was a masterpiece and kids, teenagers and adults alike all had to get their hands on it.  And in the end it definitely showed with over 9 million copies being sold worldwide and taking 2nd place in the best selling SNES games category behind Super Mario World (20.6 million).  It was definitely a year for the 16-Bit systems, after all Nintendo even stated that 1994 was "The year of the cartridge" so you know they were 100% dedicated to producing some top notch games.

Killer Instinct - Another great Pre Rendered game by RARE
One of the best things about gaming in 1994 was that arcades were still available everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  And it wasn't a bad thing either, the more arcades there were meant a plethora of gaming venues to hang out at and spend a few dollars.  Shopping Malls, Restaurants, Theme Parks, 7/11, movie theater foyers. Even buildings were constructed entirely for the purpose of being an arcade gallery.  So what games were we blessed to play in this fine year?  Gee, where do I start?

Windjammers - If you have not played it, PLAY IT!
The Neo Geo MVS 'Big Red' was starting to become very well known and hit the year running releasing the first in the King of Fighters Legacy, KOF 94.  Samurai Showdown / Spirits II, Windjammers and Puzzle Bobble also being released on to the MVS platform.  But it didn't stop there, no Sir!  Killer Instinct came out from RARE who taught us the art of ultra combos and also gave us  Battletoads.  Tekken and Primal Rage both came out and entered in to the 1-on-1 arcade fighter genre, Super Street Fighter II Turbo also entered the ring and was one of the heavy hitters.  Point Blank showed us that light gun games didn't always have to be about cops shooting the bad guys. Sega released Virtua Cop which then showed us how satisfying it is to be a cop shooting a bad guy but they didn't stop there.  Sega had an absolute stellar year in the arcades with titles such as Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 2 and the one and only Daytona USA.

2, 4 or 8 players, everyone loved being behind that wheel
Now before you go "Daytona was actually released in 1993" I have given Daytona a 1994 release due to it having only a limited release in 1993 and it was recognized internationally as being released in 1994.  But which ever way you look at it, everyone loves Daytona USA and would have some great memories racing against your friends in those big beautiful deluxe cabinets.  It really was a fantastic time in the arcades and if you were there and can't remember how much fun the arcade scene was then I suggest you check your pulse.

Let's not forget about the gaming hardware of '94 either.  It was the second dawn of the next gen era.  The 3DO and Jaguar were released in the previous year but neither doing very well gaining the attention of the gamers out there.  The Neo Geo AES was a well known name among the hardcore gamers but was owned by very few so to help make some more ground SNK released the Neo Geo CD.  It was a much cheaper option whilst still being able to play most of your favorite Neo Geo titles if you didn't mind the aging process whilst waiting for your game to load.  For most, the first of the big hardware releases for the year was the Sega (Mega) 32X.  It was certainly an impressive addition to your Genesis / Mega Drive but unfortunately fell between some very tough competition.  One of the competitors which happens to be Sega's own Saturn, was only around the corner for release in the US, Europe and Australia and was already available in Japan.  Not exactly the smartest move releasing the predecessor after the successor has already been released.  With that said, the Saturn and 32X live very close to each other in today's retro gaming world and most of those who own both would consider them to both be a necessity in any gaming collection.
The Saturn, loved more now than it was at launch
The third was in the form of the Sony PlayStation which only saw release in Japan in 1994 but was still enough to start the road the victory and leave all other consoles in its wake.  Something else happened in 1994 regarding hardware that got the attention of a lot of people but was not yet available, the Ultra 64.  Nintendo's 'Project Reality' had finally become something more than just tech specs and early design models.  In April of '94 the Ultra 64 became a physical console that could show off some very impressive things indeed.

One of the best launch games for the PlayStation, Ridge Racer
Unfortunately 1994 wasn't the best year for everyone in the industry.  Commodore, one of the founding fathers of computer based gaming and entertainment called it a day and closed their doors.  For many the Commodore range of computers lives on in today's world and still has a strong following from dedicated gamers and enthusiasts.

I think I have made it very clear that the 'old days' of gaming (for me) are held in very high regard and I consider myself very lucky that I have a wife that understands and allows me to leave reality behind every now and then so I can venture off in to the world of my past.  I have some great memories and I plan to take care of them for as long as I can as I truly believe there is no harm in enjoying our memories and forgetting about the problems of today when we need a bit of a break and I conclude this article to urge you all to do the same.  Live you life, Enjoy your life and cherish your loved memories.

Until next time...  Stay Retro!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

GROW: Arabian Nights

Review by @madsdk

Developer: Krisalis
Publisher: Buzz
Year: 1993
Platform: Amiga CD32
Genre: Platform / Adventure

While working on a video project, that I will be sharing with you guys and girls soon, I recently discovered Arabian Nights - a wonderful little platformer come adventure developed and published in 1993 by Krisalis. Krisalis are perhaps most well known for their Manchester United soccer games on the Amiga, but they did a lot of other brilliant titles in various genres, including two excellent platformers: Arabian Nights and Soccer Kid, both released in 1993.

Arabian Nights starts off with a beautiful little hand drawn animation sequence, showing our protagonist, Sinbad Jnr., working as the "chief gardner's assistant helper 2nd class" in the gardens outside of a palace, while watching the beautiful princess Leila on one of the palace balconies. Princess Leila is then kidnapped by a flying demon, and our protagonist rushes off to save the her, only to be thrown into the dungeons of the palace after being wrongfully accused of being behind the princess' disappearance. This is where you gain control of Sinbad.

At its heart Arabian Nights is a platform game. It sees you controlling Sinbad as he runs, jumps, and fights his way through various levels. The platforming is quite good, the controls sufficiently tight, and the graphics are pleasant to look at, and in true action platformer style, there are some really fun boss fights to tackle as well. You soon discover that there's more to the game than platforming though, as you already in the beginning of the first level meet a man who's hanging chained to a wall. In order to free him you need a crank, the crank turns out to be a snake that you can get from a snake charmer elsewhere in the level - provided that you collect 65 jewels for him first. Typical adventure game fare that has you running around the levels, going on fetch quests, looking for hidden rooms and so on and so forth. If you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you'll like. The backtracking is luckily made easier by the fact that enemies don't respawn, so once dealt with they stay dead - thank God.

The game is not all platformer though - sadly. For some reason unknown to me, the developers saw fit to add a shoot 'em up level in the middle of the game, where Sinbad is flying on a margic carpet whilst dodging or shooting flying thugs and what looks to be jumping goats perhaps. While I do love a good shoot 'em up, this level was simply atrocious and annoyed me to no end, because its difficulty got in the way of reaching the next platforming level.

But don't let that one bad level deter you, if you like platformers and enjoy adventure games, I highly recommend that you check out Arabian Nights on the Amiga CD32.

Until next time - stay retro!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

GROW - Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire

Review by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton

PLATFORM   PC Engine - Super CD Arcade
DEVELOPER  CAProduction               
PUBLISHER  Hudson Soft                
RELEASED   24th November 1995         
GENRE      SHMUP                      
PLAYERS    Single & 2 Player Co-op    
MEDIA      CD-Rom                     

Every console released since the dawn of video games have had exclusives.  Some games could dominate the market to the point where they have the power to be able to sell a system just for that one game like Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  And then you have the other end of the scale, exclusives that make you wonder "What the hell were the programmers thinking and why on earth would I want to go out an buy a Atari Jaguar to play Cybermorph"...  My apologise to all you Jaguar fans.

The good news is that this review is one of those exclusives that not only showcases the ability of the console, but is also full of solid game play and will keep you coming back for more.  Strap yourself in to your fighter jet and join me as I nose dive straight in to this amazing shmup for the PC Engine Super CD, Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire / Galaxy Policewoman Legend Sapphire....

Due to the length of the name, I will refer to it simply as 'Sapphire' for the duration of the review.

Everybody knows that the TurboGrafx 16 / PC Engine had a plethora of exclusive top notch shoot em ups for the console, but for me Sapphire is the culmination of all those years of great shmups to grace the PC Engine.  Now I know there would be a lot of people out there who would disagree with me on this as it is not the most challenging, rewarding or even deep game on the platform but it's because of some of those reasons why I hold it in such high regard....  It's just a fun game that isn't too hard nor is it a walk in the park, it looks great and sounds epic!


You are an all-women police team called the 'Burning Rabbits' who follow a group of terrorist through time to uncover their hoard of weapons and other prohibited items that have been hidden in the past.

Sapphire is a vertical shooter that borrows from the bullet hell genre games like DoDonPachi and combines it with the slower paced pattern memorization games like the Star Soldier series.

You get to choose between four characters each having their own individual strengths and weaknesses.

Sapphire White (Blue Hair) - The 'hothead' leader who is your all round attacker.

Charotte  Syphon (Pink/Orange Hair) - The fastest ship but also the weakest fire power.

Helena Evangelin (Green Hair) - Slowest ship but does the most damage to enemies.

Jasmin Willoung (Purple Hair) - 2nd fastest ship with slightly more damage output than Charotte.

There are three different colored power ups to upgrade your ships weaponry and will effect each character differently as each ship has its own individual primary attack style.  The 'Red' power up is your spread shot, 'Blue' is a powerful straight laser and 'Green' is like a floating shot as it tends to move around in different patterns.  As you continue to pick up the power ups your weapon system will change and become stronger.  It might take a while for you to find what you are comfortable with when choosing what character suits what colored power up for your play style but in my opinion I enjoy experimenting with all the different weapons so for me this learning curve is all part of the fun.

As you make your way through the levels you will be greeted with sub-bosses and also navigational challenges similar to the way Radiant Silvergun makes you choose a certain narrow path to follow before the auto scroll catches up with you and corners you with no place to go except in to a wall.

Each level has its own unique style and gives you a variety of indoor, outdoor land and outdoor space environments.  Take note that each level you progress through is actually going further back in time.  Until the last level that is, when you fight the final boss in the current era of the future....  Make sense :P

I would have to say that Sapphire could quite possibly be the most striking PC Engine game when it comes to the visuals, but again many people might not agree with me as some retro enthusiasts out there don't believe in the following technique.  Sapphire was born in the mid 90's when the struggling 16-bit consoles were starting to use pre-rendered sprites to create 3D and polygon effects so they could live a little longer in the emerging 32-bit era.  And this is exactly what CAProduction did when creating Sapphire and I can't get enough.  They created an environment of both pre-rendered and hand drawn sprites which co-exist beautifully in this game.  This game could have easily found its way on to the Saturn without any changes and it still would have looked amazing.  

Although it might not be as colorfully bright as others games like Star Parodier and Magical Chase it still has a color palette that shows off the capabilities of PC Engine.  The PC Engine might have only had a 9-bit color palette of 512 colors but people tend to forget it actually had the capability to produce up to 482 colors on screen at once which is almost twice as much as the SNES could do natively. 

There are also some really neat visual tricks done I would not have thought possible on the  PC Engine.  In the first stage you will see some really cool holographic effects of morphing faces and in a later stage you will be required to fly through a dimly lit room but your ship enables a 'headlight' effect to light the way.

Like the music in Lords of Thunder?  Well, you're in luck as Sapphire has the same composer and doesn't let you down in the music department at all.  It's full of electric guitar and solid metal riffs.  I think hard rock / metal is the best music to accompany a shmup and this to me is the pinnacle of shmup music.   The sounds effects of the lasers can seem a little 'high pitch' at times but the music will always be there to pick you up again.  It simply is outstanding composition when it comes to the score.

The PC Engine wasn't exactly known for it's advanced controllers when it was competing with the Genesis and SNES.  But for a platform that was released in 1987 the only other console to compare it to at the time was the NES.  It might have only had 2 buttons but 2 buttons is all you need.  Shoot and bomb!  Controlling your ship is nice and smooth too, I have heard of some complaining it's not as responsive as other shooters on the platform but I certainly didn't have any issues adjusting to the game controls.

Sapphire was one of the few games that required the Arcade Card Duo/Pro to be able to play the game so simply owning a Turbo Duo was no longer enough to play all the games released for the PC Engine.  But that is not the only downfall any more.  This game can sell for an easy $500 these days if you want a CIB and even then you need to be very careful you are not purchasing a reproduction.  But on the flip side Sapphire was released on the PSP in Japan as part of the Galaxy Fraulein Collection compilation and will only set you back $30.

It's very unfortunate this game commands a high price as it is such a fun game to play.  So if you ever get the chance to play this gem, don't pass it up as it is one of those games that looks great, sounds great and most of all...  Plays Great!

Until next time....  Stay Retro.