Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Alien Breed Tower Assault - CD32RP Episode 5

This time around the Amiga CD32 Review Project takes a close look at Alien Breed Tower Assault. Go see if we liked it...

As always, I 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, 24 May 2015

GROW - Lords of Thunder

 Review by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton

Developer(s)Hudson Soft, Red Entertainment
Publisher(s)Hudson Soft
Platform(s)TurboDuo, Sega CD
Release date(s)TurboDuo
  • 1993
Sega CD
  • 1995
Genre(s)Horizontal scrolling shooter

When most people think of 2D shooters they usually think of an outer space themed environment with a
futuristic shuttle blasting its way through a barrage of bullets and enemies.  And you would be completely correct too.  Ever since Star Wars was released back in 1977 we have been treated to a countless amount of space war type shmups.  But every now and then a shooter comes along which breaks the mold a little, sure it's still undoubtedly a shooter but when your main protagonist is an exposed human (type) character with wings or possibly on a broom you may think twice about playing it.  For some reason this type of shooter does not sit well with all of us and I am among those people.  I don't know why, I can't really explain it but it's just the way I have felt over the years and I know I am not alone with this.  But along comes Lords of Thunder and completely throws a spanner in the works when it comes to my set ways.  Maybe it's because it's set in a mysterious far off land with some really colorful environments, maybe it's because it's the perfect combination of challenge and enjoyment or maybe it's because it has a kick ass soundtrack that makes you feel like you are in a Man O War music video...  Or maybe it's a combination of all 3.  Let's go check it out to find out what makes this game one epic shooter.

Turbo Duo
The evil god Deoric has unleashed slithering vermin, mechanical dragons and phantom Viking fleets upon the lands mistral.  As the sole survivor of a dynasty of knights, you have inherited four suits of mystic armor that harness nature's most powerful elements - Earth, Water, Wind and Fire (and heart for all you Captain Planet fans).  Only you can use the elements to defeat Deoric's demonic horde.....  Now is that metal or what?!

Although Lords of Thunders is a horizontal shooter to its core it adds a few new elements of game play to the mix to help you get more out of it.  The best way to describe it is Fantasy Zone on Bull Shark testosterone.  Each enemy you kill will drop either red or blue crystals that you will want to collect so when you finish of a level (or die) you can visit the shop run by a sexy sorceress and stock up on bombs, life, power ups, shields and life restoring elixirs so when you enter in to the next stage you are fully loaded to defeat your enemy.  Unfortunately your health is not restored after each level so you will always want to refill your life before you purchase anything else.  My recommendation is that you will want to try and collect between 1500 and 2000 crystal dollars by the end of each stage as that will be enough for a full life refill, 3 bombs and the majority of your weapon power ups.
Sega / Mega CD

Lords of Thunder follows a similar level selection to Mega Man where you can choose what order you wish to play through but if you follow the natural selection of levels you will essentially start off at the easiest level and work your way up to the hardest.  As stated in the story you have four elements to choose from at the beginning of each level, each element offering a different type of offensive weapon.  Some people believe it's important that you avoid certain elements for certain levels, for example don't use the water element on a water stage as it will counteract and take longer to defeat the end of stage boss.  I for one do not think this is true, from my experience I will always just use the fire and water elements as they are strongest and the wind and earth are the weakest regardless what stage you are in.  But hey, I could be wrong?

Sega / Mega CD
I will quickly touch on the difficulty levels too....  There aren't any.  It's hard as steel balls all the way through so you will definitely be spending a lot of time learning patterns.  But if you are lucky enough to own both the Sega / Mega CD and Turbo Duo versions then you will want to go for the Sega version to start out with if you want the easiest possible difficulty.  Even though both games play almost identically you will find the Sega / Mega CD version is considerably easier than the original Turbo Duo version.

The best thing about 16 bit shooters is that 99% of them only require two buttons, shoot and power up and Lords of Thunder is the perfect example of this simple button configuration.  Having played both console versions I can say they both control almost the same with fluent but snappy directional controls and possibly the most important button setup for a shooter and that is auto fire...  Yes, both versions have default auto fire so you wont be getting an carpel tunnel from this game.
Turbo Duo

If you only know one thing about this game it will be its 'most excellent' soundtrack and that very few games retro and modern can compete with the high level caliber of music Lords of Thunder provides for the player.  It borrows beautifully from the 80's hard rock and metal era and I have no doubt Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and Eric Adams would approve of the music without giving it a second thought.

The visuals are pretty damn good looking too.  Both consoles offer bright and vibrant environments and well drawn sprites.  Although the Turbo Duo  does have a higher color palette over the Sega / Mega CD and does indeed use it throughout the game, in my opinion in doesn't make the Turbo Duo stand out that much more in the graphics department.  Let's not forget about the intro either, both consoles have an anime intro that is smooth, bright and not a single grainy pixel to be seen, so for those Sega CD haters out there that think it could only produce grainy animations, think again.

Sega / Mega CD - 32 colors
Turbo Duo - 65 colors
If you are looking for a hard as nails shooter that actually allows you to learn the game and the enemy patterns so that you may advance that little bit further each time whilst looking at some sweet graphics and listening to possibly the best metal soundtrack in any video game period, than Lords of Thunder might be the game for you.

It really is hard to say which is the better version as both have all the right boxes ticked where it matters.  If I had to call out the differences I would say the Turbo Duo is the better looking game but the Sega / Mega CD has some voice overs (mainly in the intro) that the Turbo Duo does not.

Good news is that it is available on the Virtual Console and PlayStation network so there is really no excuse for not giving this game a play through.

Until next time....  Stay Retro!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

ReMEMBeR: October 1998, Nintendo Power

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Nintendo Power
Cover Date: October 1998
Country of Origin: USA

Nintendo Power was the quintessential in-house video game rag of the 1980s and 90s.  Being published for most of its impressive run by Nintendo itself, it was the go to place for strategy guides and tips, as well as new release information for all of Nintendo's systems.  The magazine of course had limited coverage of general gaming industry news and was even a bit snobby in the heyday of the NES

It's easy to be mouthy when you own 90% of the video game market. 

By late 1998 though, the situation had dramatically changed.  The halcyon days of Nintendo supremacy had long passed.  The N64 was finishing off its second year on  the market and it was clear for everyone to see that cartridges were no longer going to be able to control the market.  Sega had already discontinued the Saturn and the PSX now had a market share very similar to that of the NES in its glory days, only with a much more lucrative business model (CDs) and an older, more affluent target market (teens staring at Lara Croft's bum).  Nintendo Power couldn't stop the downward trend and the magazine's tone reflected this.

The magazine's news section is all the way on page 114.  Apparently it wasn't as important as promoting the current games already out on the market at the time. 

We get a preview of the soon to be released Game Boy Color, which apparently in 1998 is amazing with 54 colors (guess they never saw the Game Gear or TurboExpress).

Body Harvest, a game that had originally been slated as a launch title for the N64, will finally see the light of day.  It was a fun title ultimately living up to its ambitious design.

Other games talked about are Space Circus, VR Pool, Lode Runner 64 and Hype (a Playmobil licensed game).  The legendarily terrible Yoda Stories port for the Gameboy is also announced, Duke Nukem Zero Hour is coming from the masters of amazing game design, Eurocom (yes... that should be read with a heaping of sarcasm) and Castlevania 64 gets delayed a month... I guess they still had some camera and jump mechanics that still worked in the game and were in desperate need of destroying.

In the letters page, the editors promise us that GBC carts will run on all Gameboy models just not in color... this proved, thankfully, not to be true.  Imagine if all the games had to have had lower powered monochrome editions included on them.... no Shantae, no Scooby Doo and no FMV Dragon's Lair.

The big selling point of Nintendo Power had always been the strategy guides, and as the number of monthly releases for Nintendo systems dwindled in the late 90s (only to take off massively again with the Wii, of course), the strategy guides got longer and longer and were no longer limited to the most important releases.  This issue has a whopping 8 pages dedicated to Turok 2, ten pages dedicated to the awesome Space Station Silicon Valley, seven pages to the, at the time of publication, unreleased Twisted Edge Extreme Snowboarding, eight pages explaining all the ins and outs of WCW/NWO Revenge and finally  six pages go to Nascar 99 (yes EA used to make yearly updates of "turn to the left" simulators) for the N64.

Gameboy gets a four page guide/preview of Disney's Mulan with the wonderful line "Only THQ could make a game that features both full-speed snowboarding action and a a bit of modest skinny-dipping".  (the double "a" typo is in the mag) Why are they:

A. praising THQ for anything... they were the Acclaim of the late 90s mostly
B. talking about the mix of levels like its amazingly innovation... remember Cliffhanger?  Well maybe its good you don't...
and ...
C. Why is there skinny dipping mentioned in a game clearly targeting the youngest kids, on a monochrome screen?

A four page preview of Fighting Force, nine page comparison of the upcoming Madden '99 and NFL Quarterback Club 99, four pages for Buzz Bumble and written like a news paper article, as well as three for Bomberman Hero make up the coming attractions section.

A six page preview of Zelda: Ocarina of Time makes the bold claim that it "will redefine gaming."  While I can appreciate good hyperbole as much as the next guy, my god were these guys stretching!  Final Fantasy VII had been released almost two years earlier, as had Tomb Raider.  Ocarina of Time was a good game but hardly did anything new, other than just having a consistently high level of quality throughout... except of course for the endless horse riding. 

Did I mention that this was a publication owned and operated by Nintendo?

Finally an article that is both informative and fun to read!  Eurogames is a six page look at a series of "European" developers (limited to the UK and France actually... although Factor 5 does show up to answer some questions).  It is interesting to read some of the developer comments about their approaches and how they see the international market.  Granted big players of the time, like Core Design are missing from this profile because of their lack of N64 development plans.
Counselor's Corner, an answer section seems a bit anachronistic at a time where the Internet was already pretty omnipresent.  But here are four pages explaining how to beat scenes in GoldenEye, Mission Impossible and Legend of the River King on Gameboy... yes, that's a fishing game. 

So now we got through the exciting strategy guides and previews... what do the scores tell us! 

Well we get four pages of reviews with two reviews per page... yep that's right kids!  Four pages of actual opinion on what you should buy. 

Madden gets a whopping 8.3 out of 10, Space Station Silicon Valle 8.1, WCW/NWO gets 8.1 as well, Nascar 99 scores a 7.4 (the quip about "who has time to race 500 laps" was pretty good) and Mulan (the game that got all that praise and four whole pages earlier in the mag) comes in at a measly 4.6 with it being deemed frustrating and too short. 

The big deal though in this issue is the review of Pokemon.  Released in the USA almost two years after it was launched in Japan, the game gets a very basic score of 7.2 with the reviewers comparing it to traditional console RPGs like Dragon Quest.  There is no mention of the Red and Blue variants or the multiplayer battle modes trading, etc.  Oh, if they only knew then what was to come...

As the N64 got delayed and was outclassed by Saturn and PSX, Nintendo adopted the "where the hits keep coming" slogan for its SNES releases.  The echo of that slogan is evident in this Nintendo Power ad highlighting Banjo Kazooie and Conker (back then still scheduled for the kid friendly Twelve Tales: Conker 64 a game that would never be released but instead (d)evolve into the amazing Conker's Bad Fur Day) and touting the systems upcoming titles which in all honesty are just shadows of glories past (Ken Griffey, F-Zero and Zelda).
Is this ad telling me to be a weiner?

Nintendo Plushies... oddly look like flat low poly N64 models....

Knife Edge: Nose Gunner, a game pretty horribly panned for being terrible and not just for the poor Engrish used in its title, gets an appropriately bad ad that looks like it was drawn by a ten year old on the back of a notebook during a really boring geography class.  And just ten pages later we get a proper ad for the game.  So three pages for basically one game?  Given how much space most ads get in this mag they must have been giving away two page spreads like they were candy.

The official pros guide to the Gameboy Camera
Really, do I have to say anything more about this?

SCARS was a slightly amusing racing game and its ad shows us how happy we are that the 90s are over.

And finally... the rebirth of Nintendo in ad form:  Pokemon.

In Conclusion:
In 1998, the once great Nintendo empire was crumbling.  The N64 was suffering from a dearth of titles and 3rd party support.  A handful of innovative titles were trickling onto their systems but not enough to stem the hemorrhaging.  The Gameboy was in its last throws, but let's face it, it was already 9 years old at this point and was yet to give birth to its greatest franchise, Pokemon.  Gameboy Color and 3D Zelda would keep the Nintendo going until the Wii would introduce casual gaming to the masses a few years later.

A dark moment before a new dawn for the big N, that Nintendo Power didn't see coming.  But that didn't stop it from being the shill fanzine it had always been. 

Yes, I admit, never cared for the rag and this review hasn't made me any more of a fan...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Alien Breed SE / Qwak - CD32RP Episode 4

In this episode of the Amiga CD32 Review project I have taken a look at two great games: Alien Breed Special Edition and Qwak, released on the same disc by Team 17 in 1994.

As always, I 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, 6 May 2015

Alien Breed 3D - CD32RP Episode 3

It's time for the third installment in the Amiga CD32 Review Project. This time around I have been playing Alien Breed 3D on my CD32, which was developed and published by Team 17 back in 1995. Go have a look for yourself!

I 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!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Game of the month May 2015

The game of the month for May 2015 is Space Station Sillicon Valley, an N64 title by DMA Design. It was later on ported to the PlayStation under the title Evo's Space Adventures, but it is the N64 original that we will be taking a look at this month.

DMA Design is probably best known for their numerous Lemmings games, but us Amiga fans also fondly remember their earlier titles Menace and Blood Money. Later on DMA Design became Rockstar North of Grand Theft Auto fame, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Check out this favourable video review of the game by "N64 Glenn Plant":

I know very little about the game, but I have heard only good things, so I'm very much looking forward to giving it a go. If you would like to join us in playing and discussing this game, head on over to the forums of the Retro Game Squad podcast, sign up, and start talking to us in the "RGC: Retro Gaming Club" forums.