Tag Archives: 6502

Giana Sisters 2D Review

In a way this almost feels like cheating. It’s all of the stages from Giana Sisters DS on Steam. Why not just refer you to my Giana Sisters DS review? Because there are a number of things that have changed for better, and worse.

PROS: It’s the Nintendo DS game. On Steam!

CONS: It’s the mobile port of the DS game on Steam.

SAD: Still waiting on a re-release of the C64 original.

Between the time Spellbound folded, and remnants founded Black Forest Games, there was one developer who swooped in, and got a license to port Giana Sisters DS to the iPad named Kaasa. The company updated some of the visuals, and replaced a substantial amount of pixel art with updated hand drawn art. Eventually Black Forest Games would have full ownership of Giana Sisters again, but that didn’t eliminate Kaasa’s claim to their DS update. So this release is a port of a port of a game.

Content wise, the game is almost exactly the same as Giana Sisters DS. The artwork does resemble the original version, though the sharp, clean look of everything may disappoint some players. The game itself follows the same path as the original DS version. You’ll start out with a cut scene of Giana losing her gems in a nightmare, and re-entering the land of dreams to reclaim them. From there you’ll see a map screen for each world. Beating each stage will unlock the next stage, and eventually the next world.

Giana Sisters 2D has 8 worlds with 9 stages in each. Each stage also has a bonus stage that can be unlocked. Bonus stages tend to be collection stages, where you can hunt down gobs, and gobs of gems. Every 100 gems nets you a 1-up. Each world has a locked icon. If you can find all of the red gems in each of the 9 stages you’ll unlock the bonus stage. In the original DS version of the game, you also needed to unlock every bonus stage in order to unlock the retro stages.

Retro stages work a little different in this version. Here, you can simply choose to play the retro stages. Keep in mind that these are the DS versions of the Commodore 64 levels. So they have the added secrets, and alterations of the handheld. This means that you won’t be seeing the classic dragon, and spider bosses either. So while it is a nice nod for long time fans, it still isn’t the same. You’ll certainly want to play through them to complete the game, and have a fun time doing so. But don’t go into it expecting the C64 classic either.

Now while the game does have everything the DS version has, there are some oddities, and troubles that keep it from meeting the DS version’s high bar. Again, for some, the updated graphics will ironically turn them off. There is something to be said for the intricate, detailed pixel art of the original game. That isn’t to say Giana Sisters 2D is a horrible looker, it isn’t. Considering the iPad background it has, it’s one of the better ports. But there will be a vocal group of people who won’t like the change. Graphically, the only technical complaint you may have are the rare lines you can point out around certain tiles at times. It isn’t enough to distract you from playing, but it is noticeable.

The other problems the game has are related mainly to bugs. I have yet to find one that genuinely breaks the game, but they are annoyances that impede the enjoyment somewhat. Sometimes the game will show the wrong stage number going into a level or even load the wrong level. Backing out the map screen, and selecting the level again fixes this, but it is a pain when it happens. Achievements sometimes don’t unlock until after you’ve exited the game. Black Forest Games is looking into the issues, but for now, these are things to consider before jumping in. Fortunately the core game play is still here, offering the same challenge, and feel of the DS original. Even Fabian del Priore’s tunes are back to bounce along to the bump, and jump game play.

Also keep in mind, if you’re coming into this game after playing through the excellent Twisted Dreams, the experience is different. Giana Sisters DS was a direct sequel to Great Giana Sisters, and so you’ll be experiencing something closer to a Super Mario Bros. experience. Not a complete clone, but the inspiration is there. That said, the game has a few tricks that became staples of the series in Twisted Dreams, most notably the bubblegum machines. Eating gum gets you into giant bubbles you can pilot through dangers in certain stages. Conversely, if you played the original Commodore 64 game, and missed the DS sequel, know that things are beefed up. Especially in the vein of enemies, and tricky jumps toward the end of the campaign.

Ultimately, Giana Sisters 2D is worth purchasing if you don’t already have Giana Sisters DS. Getting the Game Pak for the DS these days is pretty tough, especially in the United States, where it saw a very limited run. As of now, the DS version goes for its original MSRP loose in most cases, and even more if you find one complete. Giana Sisters 2D is a convenient solution. But do know there are some minor issues as of now.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge Review

Back in 1987 Home Computer gaming was bustling. As Nintendo was slowly capturing, and rebuilding the console market in the states, computers continued to hold their own. Especially in Europe. Every genre continued to grow on home computers. Arcade shmups, and action platformers were also very popular. Many of the best arcade games saw ports not only on systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System, and Sega Master system, but the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit family, and the ZX Spectrum too. This gave birth to a wealth of independent developers, and major publishers on computer platforms. Vying to make original games in these genres. One of these developers was Dinamic. Based in Spain, the company put out a number of titles across several platforms. One of their noteworthy games in the European market was a game called Phantis. A game that melded Gradius style space shooting with flip-screen adventure gaming popularized by the Nodes Of Yesod. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable game, but it was better than one of Dinamic’s earlier games, Game Over, which was a flip-screen adventure game. It was better enough that outside of Spain, the game was officially published as Game Over II. The game put you in a role of woman named Major Locke who has to rescue her boyfriend Arkon from the planet Phantis. The re-branded sequel, swapped the characters, and renamed Major Locke to Commander Serena who appears to have been influenced by the Taarna character in Heavy Metal. Over the years both Game Over, and Game Over II would become cult classics.

What does this have to do with today’s game? A lot actually.

PROS: Music. 16-bit style visuals. Plays homage really well.

CONS: May play homage a little too well for some.

A_RIVAL: Sends things off with a wonderful single.

Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge is one part homage to Phantis, and one part parody. The game opens up with a cut scene depicting Serena S (a play on the Game Over II character name) in her ship after having saved the universe again. She goes up on Spacebook using  ZX Spectrum to discuss it when the Space Prince replies with an insult. Serena then jets off on a mission to put the prince in his place.

The game begins almost exactly the way Phantis does. You’ll pilot a ship through the reaches of space in an R-Type styled shmup. Taking down waves, and waves of enemy ships, and asteroids. Asteroids are actually worth more points, and it’s also worth mentioning the scoring system. Getting a high score is definitely something to shoot for because there are hidden shops later in the game that offer you power ups for points. Doing well in the initial stage can help you be able to buy at least one of the upgrades for your character.

Eventually you’ll find your way to the second stage, which again, is awfully similar to Phantis. You’ll have to explore areas to find not only the hidden stores, but even general weapons, like super jump, and a laser pistol. There are actually four weapon slots, and four armor upgrades, along with a super secret upgrade. You’ll add other abilities to the laser pistol, as well as the armor by buying these. But don’t think it will be a simple matter to grind points, and enter the shops. The shops aren’t always easy to get to, and they require a secret coin to enter. The coins are hidden in the platform stages along with the storefronts themselves. Most of the game is made up of these stages. Overall, there are seven stages called zones, each one progressively upping up the ante. Ultionus isn’t a very long game, and it isn’t a cut, and paste clone of Phantis either. There are entirely new segments, boss fights are here, and the art in the game is spectacular.

Ultionus’ sprite, and background art is a love letter to 8-bit, and 16-bit computers of the late 1980’s. The game itself runs in a centered window the way many Commodore 64 games did, with the bottom of the screen used as a HUD. There are also some Commodore 64 BASIC characters seen in the scoreboard when the second level begins. There is also the fact that Spacebook is blatantly running on a ZX Spectrum in the intro, and all of the wonderful art looks like it could have been done on a Commodore Amiga.  The bosses especially echo this look. Each of them taking up an entire chamber, or a quarter of the real estate of the screen. All of the game’s bosses take a very old school approach. They require you to memorize their patterns of movement, while trying to avoid any projectiles they throw at you. It really makes for some memorable experiences, and joyfully stressful moments.

The game’s soundtrack is also really cool. Jake Kaufman, who is probably best known for his work with Way Forward games, shows up here with some chip tunes that encompass the action, and look. Every track, from the opening through the stages has a sound that takes you back to early Amiga, and early 90’s MS-DOS games like the ones Apogee put out. It’s a great soundtrack, that will sadly be overshadowed by his work on better known titles. Joining him is A_Rival who wrote the end credits theme called Wandering. This is also in the game’s trailer. This track has everything an electronic dance pop track needs, great use of different tones, a good beat, bass, and even some terrific vocals with catchy hooks. Again, it also fits the game’s world, and characters very well.

That isn’t to say everything about Ultionus is going to wow you, or that it is going to be in a pantheon of heralded games. There are some things that will simply drive many people nuts. One thing some people will have a problem with is the short length. Over the years, even indie platformers have delivered gobs, of content, and so we’ve become accustomed to longer games. While Ultionus knows what it is, and doesn’t try to be too much more than that, some may feel it isn’t enough. An average player can clear the game in a couple of hours, while the speed runners of the world can do so in 20 minutes. Ultionus didn’t need to be several hours long, but a couple of extra stages might have helped. Still, there’s something to be said for too much padding in a game, and it isn’t so short that you should be flipping tables either. Keep in mind that this is a love letter to a game that is almost 30 years old. A game, I might add that is substantially shorter than this one.

But while some may get over the short length others might not get over the controls. The game’s platforming stages feature the same walking speed, and low gravity jumps Phantis had. The game is built around these controls too. As such, you’ll be given a lot of jumping sections. Many of which require pixel perfect timing. Falling during these sections can land you in the midst of a horde of enemies. Or you can fall into a trap. Worst of all, you might miss one of many secrets, or an item when you really need it. The game also has a lot of areas where enemies warp in. True this is also carried over from Phantis, but it can be as annoying in that game, as well as this one. Although I do give credit to developer DarkFalzX for authenticity (They actually got the blessing of Phantis creator Carlos Abril during the game’s creation) updating the movement to be a little bit faster could have alleviated some of the ire.

None of this makes Ultionus a bad game. It’s just that it does mean for some it will be an acquired taste. Those raised on games like Phantis, Arc Of Yesod, or even console games like Power Blade or Conquest Of The Crystal Palace will probably get used to the slower movement, and jumps pretty quickly. Those who need all of their platforming to have the tight feel of a Super Mario Bros, or Mega Man game will need to have a bit more patience getting accustomed to it. To be clear; the controls are perfectly functional, everything works the way it’s supposed to. But it is also a different style that you have to be willing to practice a number of times before you’ll become proficient in it. But then many, many, games have done just that over the years. Hit detection is pretty good most of the time too. So even with the challenging jumps, you won’t feel cheated if you miss one. Enemy windows, are also pretty tight, it’s very rare to have a situation where you’ll take damage, and feel like the enemy didn’t actually hit you. Really, there isn’t too much to complain about in terms of functionality.

Fortunately, if you are the sort that feels uncertain about playing a game where timing, pattern memorization, and coordination may prove too difficult, the game has a multitude of settings. Playing the game on easy will give you infinite lives. You can play at your own pace, until you get each stage right. Setting the game on normal will give you the traditional action platformer experience. You’ll get a handful of lives, before having to use continues. There is also a hardcore mode, that increases the challenge a great deal. So those who complete Normal difficulty have an incentive to beat the game again. Speaking of incentives to replay the game, it has two endings, and in order to get the better one you’ll have to find a certain number of secrets. You can also go in, and play the individual levels once they’ve been cleared. Each stage also has checkpoints so if you lose a life you might not necessarily have to start a stage over from the beginning. The game also saves your progress at the beginning of every level. So you don’t have to play through all of the game in one sitting. There are also the achievements for those who love to hunt those down.

Ultionus also has a handful of options you can tinker with. There isn’t much in the way of video options, though you can choose the size of the window if you don’t want to play in full screen. There are some volume options as well. You can also play with the Xbox 360 controller or an alternative USB controller which is going to be the preferable way to play the game. However there are a number of keyboard control schemes you can use including a WASD set up. The lack of options is a little disappointing. Having the ability to bind keys would have been a better option for keyboard users, than trying to decide what pre-set configuration is best to use. If you have a controller, I highly recommend you use one, and if you don’t, you might want to buy one for this, and any other games that are better suited for one.

Overall, I would say Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge is really good. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it makes a few funny jokes, and does do a pretty good job of bringing Phantis to a new generation in a roundabout way. It also improves on the Phantis design, and frankly manages to be a lot of fun in the process. It might not be a flawless game, it might not reinvent the proverbial wheel either.  But Ultionus is fun to play, and when you’re talking about an action game it had better be. The nods to the old school computer games, and the computers that played them are also a nice touch. Everything comes together to make an experience that most will enjoy.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Reposted Review: Forbidden Forest II: Beyond The Forbidden Forest



(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog in 2012)

The archer once again finds himself entrenched in a battle with horrible boss monsters. Is the return to 8-bit action horror worth the re-visitation? Or should you skip this trip down scarred memory lane?

PROS: Omnidimension 4D. The soundtrack. The fatalities. An ending!

CONS: New play control scheme takes getting used to. Arrow system is unnecessary.

WTF?: Google search some of the box art for non domestic releases.

Paul Norman certainly succeeded beyond his wildest dreams with the original Forbidden Forest. Cosmi was becoming a noteworthy publisher of home computer platform games, and had tasked him with creating more content like Caverns of Khafka. With the big numbers FF was putting up for such a small publisher, a sequel was inevitable. Beyond The Forbidden Forest brings a host of wonderful improvements to the table, as well as a few baffling design decisions. Among the better things in the sequel is a new engine called “Omnidimension 4D” The new engine allows objects to appear as if they are going into the background, or coming into the foreground. Or growing or shrinking. Forbidden Forest II makes this a fundamental part of the gameplay, as you have to constantly move in three dimensions to escape, or engage the boss monsters.



Another major change to the game is how the quiver system works. Gone are the limited number of arrows you start with, and instead (To meet the needs of the game’s design) there are instead bars on the sides of the screen. You move these up, and down by holding down the fire button until you get it where you need it. Once you have it placed you can fire in whatever direction you wish, and the arrows will fly at the level of the bar placement. On paper this sounds like an awesome way to get around the fact that joysticks of the time were limited to one button. The implementation in practice however, leaves a little to be desired. The problem with this system is that sometimes you will end up raising or lowering the bar when you actually want to fire. Other times you’ll find setting the bar takes longer than you’d like because you have to manage setting it while running from the boss at hand. Thankfully, the game opens up with a practice mode where you can learn the new system without fear of being killed by a boss monster before pressing F7 on the keyboard to start the game.



In addition to the new firing system, the game introduces a new golden arrow system. In order to get to the second half of the game you need to collect a minimum of four golden arrows. Defeating a boss will summon an orb from the heavens as if it were a spirit or soul of sorts. This orb will grant you the arrows. However every two arrows can also be used to revive you if you are killed by a boss. Some players will want to revisit the first few bosses to store up a lot of arrows to be used for extra lives in the second half of the game. Others will want to speed run the game, and immediately enter the second half upon scoring four arrows.



As in the original game, BTFF has many wildly inventive boss monster stages.

Stage one is a giant scorpion.

Stage two is a man eating worm.

Stage three is a gargantuan mosquito.

Stage four is a violent frog like beast of some kind.

Stage five (Which begins the second half) is a wave of bats.

Stage six is a four headed hydra dragon that breathes fire.

Stage seven is the diabolical Demogorgon.



Just as last time, each of these monsters has it’s own theme music to instill another sense of dread. Every one of these themes is catchy, and has that signature sound only a Commodore 64′s SID chip can produce short of emulation. Parallax scrolling also returns as well as the changing periods of the daylight hours in the over world. The new fatalities are again, a sight to behold. From being mauled by a giant frog beast, to being drained of all bodily fluids by a deadly mosquito to the deadly eyebeams of old Demogorgon himself, BTFF is something that will still bring shock, and awe despite it’s antiquated visuals. Finally, Beyond The Forbidden Forest brings closure to it’s tale with a fitting end for those good enough to survive the seven stage onslaught. It doesn’t hang with the epic storytelling of a lot of other games from it’s time period but it fits the theme well.



You might wonder why I have to score this slightly lower than the original if all of these improvements are greatly lauded (And they are). It’s because of the aforementioned firing system. If not for it’s sometimes wonky behavior this game would easily have reached the lofty goals of a higher numeric score. But by no means am I telling you to skip this title. On the contrary, you should absolutely give this a go if you fell in love with Forbidden Forest. But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out it’s one Achilles heel. As such, it’s certainly going to be a love/hate relationship for newcomers.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10 (For fans)

Reposted Review: Forbidden Forest



(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog back in 2012)

Long before Raiden, Scorpion, Sub-Zero were a mere twinkle in the eyes of John Tobias, and Ed Boon. A humble composer would code, and score an opus of cinematic 8-Bit gore.

Get off the lawn, and try to survive in the Forbidden Forest

PROS: Awesome musical score. Awesome boss designs. Parallax Scrolling. Time. Fatalities!

CONS: A bit too short. No Ending. Some bosses are insanely difficult.


In the early 1980′s when I was a lad, in between the time of the Atari 2600′s console market dominance, and the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System came the realization a computer could be in every home. One of the most popular computer formats was the Commodore 64. Shortly thereafter, the video game industry crashed for a year or so. As Mattel pulled out, Coleco fell by the wayside, and Atari was being divided, game developers found themselves heading to computers. Not only Activision’s talent, but scores of humble little indies. Some of whom went on to become giants years later, like Electronic Arts, and Codemasters.



Around this time there was a musical composer named Paul Norman who had discovered that computers could be used to make music. He was also one of the few people at the time who realized even then, that these video games people had been playing could be used to tell cinematic stories. He coded today’s game nearly entirely in machine language. Forbidden Forest is one of those series that time forgot. Released by Cosmi back in 1983, it’s a series that tells a relatively simple story of an unnamed archer. Wandering into unknown territory, players are attacked by various monsters. The way that the game is structured is that each stage is essentially a boss character. Each boss must be defeated a certain number of times depending on the difficulty level selected upon loading the game.


Stage one assaults you with giant spiders

Stage two will have you battle a giant bee

Stage three tosses giant frogs at you

Stage four features lethal dragons

Stage five is the dreaded phantom

Stage six is a gargantuan python

Stage seven is the dreaded Demogorgon


The challenge of the game is not only trying to survive these horrible creatures, but also trying to be smart about conservation. Your character only has so many quivers of arrows to use against the hordes, so using them wisely is the only means of survival. You also have to reload your bow after every shot whether you hit your target or miss, so you can very rarely sit still, and expect to live. Moreover, some bosses can only be hit in a certain weak point making this management all the more important. Also in addition to increasing the number of bosses, upping the difficulty decreases the number of quivers you start with.



Despite it’s aging, rudimentary graphics the game still has a visual flair that impresses. Forbidden Forest was one of the earliest examples of using parallax scrolling in video games. This is a trick used many times over in countless games since. Layering foreground, and background sprites, and moving them at different speeds allows for a 2.5D look. The C-64′s 16 color EGA palette is also used to great effect, using palette swaps to simulate the various 24 hours in game time. The sky suddenly goes gray, then black. The moon scrolls across as the overnight hours go. This really even wows today when you consider the difficulty some of the bosses may give you. Bosses are a high point in Forbidden Forest too. Each boss kills in a different fashion so in the early goings you’ll almost want to lose because the death animations are blocky, and impressive fun. Similarly, some of the victories will lead to some triumphant boss deaths as well. So triumphant in fact, that your archer will do a showboating sequence to some catchy songs. Music by the way, is where this game always has, and always will shine. Not only does the game open with a really ambient, yet hook induced melody, but each boss has it’s own music. From the dangerous continuation of the over world theme,  to the menacing music of the phantom, each song manages to fit the overall style of the game, while invoking a sense of “You are so screwed” during your playthrough.



That said, many younger players picking this up today will likely point out some of the sprite work can be glitch filled, or that those who are talented vintage gamers can clear it in less than an hour. Some may even point out that this game’s story is rather thin. The one tragedy is that the game has no ending which is indeed, anticlimactic. They would be right. But I challenge those people, as well as anyone who missed it back in their glory days to play this game. I can all but guarantee they will talk about it for hours on end afterwards. From it’s wonderful score, to it’s character designs, to it’s challenging arcade meets management gameplay Forbidden Forest is one of the Commodore 64′s greatest sleeper hits. Not a bad accolade for Paul Norman’s first ever video game.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (Try it out!)