Tag Archives: Amiga

Time Soldiers Review

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While the world was getting hyped about E3 last week (and yeah, there are some cool looking games coming down the pike. I’ve been peeking in on conferences when I can.) I was hunting for some additions to my collection. I stumbled upon a Master System cartridge I’ve rarely seen outside of conventions, and it was pretty cheap so I thought “Why not?” The box art alone was worth the price of admission. But I got a fairly compelling action title in the process.

PROS: A really cool take on the classic top down run n’ gun.

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

WOAH: Giant dinosaurs with laser guns. What’s not to love?

Originally a twin-stick arcade shooter by ADK (The folks who gave us World Heroes), Time soldiers was ported by Sega to the Master System.  Before you even open the box to put the game in you’ll marvel at the artwork. It has everything a child of the 80’s was into. Dinosaurs, rocket launchers, and tanks. Once you start playing, you’ll see it lives up to the lofty promises the box advertises.

The setup is that in the distant future, a despotic, intergalactic Warlord decides to conquer the Earth. To do this, he traps many of the world’s best soldiers in different time periods throughout history. The guy basically looks like the Anti-Monitor from The Crisis On Infinite Earths, and probably has a lot of the same powers. So “Why couldn’t he just destroy the world with antimatter?” seems like a good question to ask.

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Anyway, you have to go on a quest to rescue each of these warriors from their cells throughout history. On paper, this seems pretty straightforward. Go kill bad guys, and blow up stuff in a sequential order, and roll the end credits. Time Soldiers takes inspiration from earlier run n’ guns like Ikari Warriors, and Commando. You play from a top down perspective, and do just that. Kill hundreds of enemies who come charging at you guns blazing.

But what makes this game stand out from almost every other game of its ilk, is the fact that it is never the same game twice. Time Soldiers, places each of these hostages in a different place every time, and you have to kill a boss in order to proceed. Often times, the game will not place you in the proper time period from the get go. So you’ll play the first stage, and then be sent to a new era.

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Each of the eras has a few different versions, and these will vary depending on when you’re sent to that era. So if you get sent to the Prehistoric era on stage two, it will have one version. But get sent there again a few stages later, and it will be a variant. The game will also make you fight a mini boss if you’re in the wrong era for the current hostage you’re tracking down. Defeating the mini boss will then either open another time machine (which look suspiciously like the portals from Stargate) where you’ll have to go to another time period or it will summon the actual boss.

The bosses are pretty cool. They’re not nearly as difficult as the stages are. But they’re large, and interesting sprites. They remind me a lot of the encounters of Alien Syndrome, though the patterns are much easier to learn than in that classic. But don’t be fooled by a lower difficulty. Time Soldiers only affords you two continues  on the Master System. Since you die if ANYTHING touches you, this game still isn’t an easy one. Especially since the game may send you on longer paths during certain rescues. The saving grace are some boss warps that can skip you ahead to a boss fight. On the other hand, if you aren’t powered up, taking them down with a pea shooter makes things more intimidating.

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Time Soldiers does offer a wide variety of weapons. In that respect it can feel like Contra. The thing is, these armaments aren’t permanent. After so many shots, or so many seconds they run out of ammo. So often times you’ll want to conserve them for taking down bosses, or mini bosses. You get these, power ups, and boss warps by shooting specific enemies in any given level. Basically, you’ll want to shoot as many targets as possible, because as the game goes on things will only get tougher.

Time Soldiers has a really nice look to it, and embraces the absurdity of everything. Dinosaurs shoot lasers. Ancient Romans have shields that can take a ton of bullets before going down. The mini bosses continue the weirdness, with cutesy, pink helicopters just being the tip of the iceberg. Everything is colorful, and some of the backgrounds are interactive in a sense. Going over tall grass or mud will slow you down. There are a few catchy chip tunes to thump along with the action, and the sound effects stand out against some of the other titles in the genre.

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Overall, it’s a really good action game for the Master System, and easy to recommend you add to your collection. It’s also one of the more affordable obscure games out there. It was also available on some computer formats, but as I don’t have any of those versions, I can’t really comment on them. Still, if you have a chance to check one of them out, you just may want to. If I had any major issues with this Master System version, it would be the occasionally weird collision detection. Most of the time things go the way they’re supposed to, but I did notice a few occasions where I passed through enemies I shouldn’t have, or got stuck on a piece of scenery in one game, but not on a repeat attempt. It isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it is something holding it back a little bit. Otherwise, it’s a solid addition to any collector’s library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

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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

DEATHBOTS Review

A few years ago I stumbled onto an unlicensed game for the NES. By now you’re probably familiar with the concept of unlicensed NES games. They’ve been covered by all of the greatest gaming personalities over the years. Several vendors back in the days of the NES opted out of Nintendo’s licensing program. At the time, Nintendo had an ironclad list of demands for anyone looking to get their software on its console. Publishers could only publish a limited number of titles a year. Cartridges (called Game Paks) had to be manufactured by Nintendo, and Nintendo was paid for doing so handsomely. To ensure that publishers had to meet their demands, the NES had a chipset that checked to see if the cartridge inside was a legitimate Game Pak. So a number of companies tried to go on their own by circumventing Nintendo’s lockout technology. Some, like Tengen reverse engineered the lockout chip in the console to find a way to get their titles running.  American Video Entertainment followed the path of others, using a voltage spike to temporarily disable it. Speaking of voltage spikes, here’s Deathbots.

PROS: The cover art is on par with big box VHS B movie covers.

CONS: Nearly everything else.

WEIRD: The disembodied heads that first appear in stage five.

Originally, an Amiga game, Deathbots is a terrible three-way blend. Combining elements of Berserk,  Gauntlet, and Alien Syndrome. You move a robot around in an isometric set of levels. Each of the stages operates in a maze-like fashion, as a vast amount of enemies spawn in to come, and get you. You might not think combining three arcade classics would result in something this terrible. Oh but it is terrible.  But how is it terrible? Oh let us count the ways. Let us count the ways indeed.

For starters, the visuals are atrocious. Absolutely atrocious. Sprites are chunky, with muted colors. Some of which are indecipherable. Deathbots looks barely better than games on some of the Golden Age consoles did. One wouldn’t be faulted for thinking this was running on a Colecovision. Backgrounds sometimes blend in with the sprites making it difficult to see them. This becomes problematic because you can’t always see when you are being shot at. Compound that problem, with the fact that there are often times hundreds of things attacking you. Right away things start to feel less, and less playable.

But that’s just the beginning of how horrific this game is. The game continues to fall apart when you realize there are no visual ways to tell that there are finite shots your weapon can fire. Or which weapon you are using. There isn’t a bar listed anywhere while you are playing. Except your health meter of course. But you won’t even realize it is your health meter at first because there are zero words or symbols indicating it.  The meter is made of relatively thin rectangles that slowly or quickly turn into periods or hyphens before disappearing. When all of them disappear you’ll see a black screen with a cut scene depicting you clutching your stomach, and keeling over. If this happens four times, you lose. The game gives you three continues, for a total of twelve lives.

It won’t be until you have to pause the game, and accidentally press SELECT that you’ll even realize there is an inventory for ammo. Unless you are one of the few who has a manual. When you do enter the menu, you can cycle through whatever guns you’ve picked up, and whatever explosives you’ve picked up. This is also where you can go through your medical kits to regain some health.  You use the D-pad to move, up, and down through the various icons of items you’ve gained while playing. Keep in mind, the game doesn’t simply give you a number of any given item next to the icon. So that means if you’ve picked up five medical kits, you actually have to scroll through five medical kits. The game also doesn’t group these icons together. So if you have five medical kits you need to use, you may find yourself starting from a medical kit. From there, scrolling through fifteen different weapons before you get to the next one. Plus, because during game play you can’t really see any of this, you will be pausing it every thirty seconds. That isn’t hyperbole either. You will chew through ammo, and health like a hot knife through butter.

But it still gets worse from here. Weapon pick ups also vary. There are boxes on the ground with initials, and icons representing them.  There is also a second way you can find new weapons. Occasionally you may see a monitor on the wall. Walking up to a monitor will sometimes give you a weapon, other times they will give you an ACCESS DENIED message.  If you luck out, and find the former, you can add the weapon to your arsenal. If you forget to go into the inventory menu, there is one other way to tell you’ve run dry. You’ll stop shooting. Which again, is why you’ll be checking the menu every thirty seconds in the first place.  But wait! It gets so much worse folks. So much worse.

You see, Deathbots has another huge problem. Collision detection. Or rather the lack thereof. As you run through the stages you will find doors that will open that you won’t be able to walk through. But surprisingly, you will be able to clip through a chunk of wall next to that open door. You’ll be able to run past an enemy with ease. But then one of its clones on the same line of pixels will trip you up. One laser will go through you but count as a hit. Another laser will hit you without visually showing up on the screen.  Sometimes you’ll walk over a pick up only to have the game not register that you’ve picked it up. Taking damage feels absolutely arbitrary, as if the game is making up the percentages on the fly. This is where the game becomes nearly unplayable. Worse yet, all of these problems sprout up within the first few minutes of game play.

As for the soundtrack? The music is dreadful. The annoying loop of buzzing, beeps, and screeches almost never stops. In fact, the only time you will experience a brief reprieve, is when you go into your inventory menu. Or if you pause the game. The same awful soundtrack plays in the background of every moment of every stage. The other sound effects aren’t much better. Killing enemies gives off a sound synonymous with early Atari 2600 games. Weapons do have different sound effects to try to differentiate them from each other to some degree. But frankly, it really isn’t much help, as you’ll still be going into the menu to figure it all out. Listening to any sound coming out of this game for more than a few moments will have you muting your television.

Deathbots goes on like this for six stages. There is a very minimalistic storyline about a base built on Alcatraz you need to infiltrate to destroy a robot. But beyond that there really isn’t much of a narrative. Most of it isn’t told through screen text, or cinema screens but rather the box, and manual. Unless you count the elevator doors that show up between stages. But even if you do, you still aren’t going to care.  All of the six stages follow a similar pattern. You have to move through the beginning of the area, to get to an exit. The exit is drawn almost like an inverse D-pad. In any case, getting to this exit brings you to the next area of the stage. Each area works the same way. Try to find a path to the tile of floor fitting the description of the exit.

For what little credit I can throw its way, Deathbots does try to add a puzzle element with teleportation devices. In some areas, there are huge chunks of tiles with black outlines on them. Running onto them will place you on another huge chunk of tiles with black outlines on them. Most of these teleport between two specific areas. So in the stages that use them, you’ll need to figure out which teleporters are synchronized. This quickly becomes a case of trial, and error. The problem with this mechanic is that the bad hit detection often can’t tell you’re on a teleporter properly.  While you are trying to bounce to the next one, you’ll also be fighting off enemies. Bottom line, if you’re lucky you’ll teleport. If the game doesn’t detect it properly, you’ll be dead from 1000 bad guys surrounding you.

Most of the earlier levels don’t have very many areas. Quickly running through them, and past enemies is a fairly sound strategy. But if you manage to survive the first half of the game, you’ll find the developers at Odyssey shoehorned in a lot of areas. The last few stages go on for eons. Being an action game, each of the stages ends with a giant boss battle. Each of which are poorly designed, and take a ton of punishment before they go down. Not only that, but much like the rest of the game, they give no indication of how injured they are. They don’t flash red. They display no health meter. It’s an entire crapshoot. A couple of the bosses are even cheap palette swaps of earlier bosses. There is a giant robot that does a march. There are blob monsters, there are a couple of electric blasting bell-shaped robots, in addition to the final bosses.

As for the regular enemies that swarm you throughout the game, there are actually a large variety. But, much like the bosses, they are uninspired, and drawn terribly. There are androids that resemble stick figures. There are robots with giant spheres in lieu of legs. There are small bots with  tank treads. There are some helicopter robots. Grey boxes that are supposed to resemble robots.  But strangest of all, are the weird, floating, disembodied heads. They’re not threatening, or imposing. They’re not well detailed or visually impressive. But they are fascinatingly odd, almost guaranteed to make you wonder what went wrong. If by some miracle you can get through to the game’s end you’ll contend with not one, but two final bosses. If you manage to defeat them, you’ll experience one of the more sub par endings to ever grace the NES. Deathbots is horrible. It’s one of the worst games ever released thanks to its myriad of glitches, and numerous other problems.

Nevertheless, as of this writing it seems to be following the trend of some other notoriously bad games. In that it’s a collector’s item. That is, a certain version of Deathbots is a collector’s item. Before going belly up, American Video Entertainment released the Maxi 15 cartridge.  It’s essentially a multicart compiling fifteen of the company’s games on it. Deathbots is one of them.  I won’t be going over the Maxi 15 as I don’t have one. But it can fetch a couple of hundred dollars in online auctions. As for the game I do have? Well that’s Deathbots. It isn’t very good. It isn’t worth a lot of money. If you’re morbidly curious, and like collecting fairly esoteric cartridges for your Nintendo Entertainment System you might pick it up. On the other hand, there are so many other things one could better adorn their shelving unit with.

Final Score: 2 out of 10

 

Reposted Review: Another World

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(Originally posted on the inactive Retro Retreat.)

Not as iconic as Pac-Man or Space Invaders. But equally important.

Not the first cinematic adventure game, but one of the best.

PROS: Storytelling. Atmosphere. Gameplay.

CONS: Once you beat it, replays make for a short game.

DID YOU KNOW?: Interplay made an unofficial sequel for the Sega CD.

My first experience with Another World was on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I was in my teens, and for my birthday one summer I was graced with a copy as a gift. Of course, I knew the game as Out of this world. The box art was kind of odd. It became even odder seeing the original European Amiga cover years later, when I would discover some of the history behind the game.

Another World or Out of this world (Depending on which title you prefer) started life as an Amiga game. Designed by Eric Chahi, the game would go on to be hugely popular throughout Europe, and become a cult favorite globally. It’s a unique game in terms of it’s combination of stylized Virtual Reality visuals, and puzzle platforming. It is one of the few video games that can tell an engrossing story using almost no dialogue whatsoever. It’s also a very interesting game in it’s software technology. Chahi actually coded his own 3D graphics engine, and used rotoscoping techniques. (For any of you budding programmers out there, pick the anniversary version up off of Steam or GoG. The 20 minute video on it’s creation is really great stuff.)  Rotoscoping had been done in Kareteka, and some of the platforming style had been seen in Impossible Mission. But Another World uses these elements in it’s own atmospheric way.

The game starts out with an opening cinematic. Like a lot of early 3D, and 2.5D games you’ll notice models aren’t the super textured, bump mapped, action figures modern gaming has gotten us accustomed to. Instead, much like the original Star Fox, Hard Drivin’, or Test Drive 3 you will see plain, single colored sides of the shapes that make up the characters. Plus, being a 2D play field you won’t see much in the way of a Z-axis. But this all works in the game’s favor. Unlike most of those other simplistic polygon games, Another World has a certain charm. In fact going completely whiz-bang  would probably hurt the game rather than help.

The low poly models actually complement the art style of the world. This aesthetic creates a world you want to explore, and the things you run into will get an emotional response out of you. Whether it’s the beast you run into early on, or the first time you meet an alien convict. The story of the game is that of Lester Chaykin. A physicist, the game opens with him arriving to his lab in his shiny black Ferrari. After opening a soda, he runs an experiment on his high-tech super computer. While the experiment is running however, a thunderstorm brews outside. When a lighting bolt hits the lab, a surge of electricity hits the equipment, and explodes. This explosion rips a hole in the space-time continuum.

Arriving on a mysterious world you now have to try to find your way around, and hopefully a way home. Another World sets up every stage in a similar way to vintage Atari 2600 games like Pitfall! but with a little less openness. Each area is a single screen. But on each screen you must figure out what to do next. Stay in the water of the first screen for instance, and Lester will be pulled to his doom by alien seaweed. There are a LOT of fatality cinemas in Another World. Every screw up will result in one, and force you back to a checkpoint. Much  of the game is very puzzle oriented. Even much of the combat is when it arises.  It never tells you how to solve the puzzles, or how to progress. There is almost zero dialogue, and the little there is tells you nothing as it comes from aliens you won’t understand. Along the way you do meet a sympathizer who tries to help you throughout the game. But don’t worry about him becoming a boring escort mission. He mostly leaves you to your own devices, and when he does become important it’s to move the story along.

Even though it is a simple story, it’s a very well told one. You will actually care about the strange world you are on, it’s inhabitants, and even the musclebound alien trying to help you. It’s not a very long game once you figure out all of the puzzles, and decide to revisit it. But the first time you play it you will spend days on it without a walk through as I did way back in the day on my Super NES. Movement is done with a D-Pad, or arrow keys if you’re on a keyboard. There are also two buttons. One for jumping, and one for action. Action can be anything from pushing levers, to firing a gun. In one chapter you will find a gun which is about the only real weapon in the game.  The gun has some versatility. Firing it will shoot a small laser beam to disintegrate enemies. There are also two charges. Holding it until a small charge appears will form a shield. Shields are important against enemies who have weaponry. A full charge however will blast a super beam that not only kills enemies, but also destroys certain scenery, as well as enemy shields. You can’t waste shots either because eventually the gun will stop firing, and you will be pretty screwed. It enhances the gameplay because even the gun becomes an element in some of the puzzles you need to solve to progress.

There are a few minor differences between versions. The original Amiga version’s blood was reduced on the SNES. The SNES also had a minor alteration in one scene toward the end I won’t spoil here. Interplay also wanted to change the music around when it published the game on other platforms. Chahi fought the company on this, and eventually the development studio he was contracted with, Delphine Software was able to work out an agreement with Interplay. As such the original scores are the same on every version except for some dynamic music that was added to the Super NES. The SNES, and Genesis also had text crawls of Lester’s journal entries added to the introduction sequences. The port to the 3DO also changed background graphics around which while well made, don’t have the feeling the simplified visuals of the other versions behind them. The one major change the ports brought to the table is one added puzzle section near the end of the game. It actually does enhance the experience, and makes the game longer without feeling like padding. In fact, the 15th anniversary remake, and the recent 20th anniversary re-release left this addition intact. Although the dynamic music introduced in the Super NES version does not appear in these reissues.

Another World may be over two decades old now but it remains a cult classic for a reason. It’s one of the most fun cinematic games ever made. It’s presentation holds up very well, and it inspired many of the story driven games you have likely played over the years since it’s release. If you missed it back in the day, or were too young to have played it definitely check it out. Collectors can find the Super NES or Genesis versions fairly cheap these days. The 3D0, MS-DOS, Atari ST, and Apple versions are higher. The most expensive version of course, is the original Amiga game. As of this writing it’s getting about $150 on online auctions.

If you want to simply experience it, or re-experience it pick up the recent 20th anniversary package on Steam or GoG. Eventually Eric Chahi regained the property from Interplay. This allowed him to do a 15th anniversary edition. So everything in that version is here. It’s a mere $10. It gives you the game with the option for newer high-resolution backgrounds you can turn on or off on the fly. A really nice 20 minute inside look at the game’s creation with it’s creator.  It also gives you the original game’s music tracks (Not the ones added to the Super NES), and you get some scans of the development artwork, and documentation. Plus, you can easily play it with a gamepad if you cringe at the thought of playing on the keyboard. Buying this on Steam also includes some achievements for those who simply need them in their games.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Reposted Review: BODY BLOWS

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(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

All of the Hadokens with none of the Ryu.

Every so often a game developer realizes a platform is lacking titles in certain genres. Then decides to do something about it. The year was 1993. The developer was Team 17.

PROS: Huge cast. Decent visuals. Nice chiptunes.

CONS: Nearly everything cribbed from other fighting games. Asinine 90′s DRM.

WTF?: The final boss is a T-1000

Body Blows was both a reviled clone, and timeless classic at the same time. Originally released on the Commodore Amiga, then ported to MS-DOS shortly thereafter, the game filled a need for fighters on home computer platforms. Up until Body Blows, computer gamers had the odd port of Street Fighter, Street Fighter II (Which were both poorly coded, and terrible), and Acclaim’s port of Mortal Kombat. (One of the first good ports of an arcade fighting game to the PC.). Outside of those one had to go farther back to 8-bit computer platforms to find stuff like World Karate Championship. Another game Body Blows oddly enough cribs from.

Only a paragraph in, and it already seems like I’m harping on just how much BB lifts from other games but it’s true. Many of the characters have the styles, and moves you’ve seen in countless fighters. Street Fighter II is probably the biggest one. But  you will also see elements of Fatal Fury, World Heroes, Mortal Kombat,  and a few others under the hood. The story is pretty much non-existent, as you play through nobody really gets dialogue or much in the way of exposition. It’s your typical tournament fighter, with typical short bios during the intro, and little else in the way of narrative.

Characters in Body Blows are hugely influenced by Capcom, and SNK, and it shows.

Dan is a streetwise Ken Masters.

Nik is the game’s Ryu in clothes that remind players of Terry Bogard..

Kossack is this game’s Zangief.

Maria is our Chun-Li stand in. (Though to be fair is surprisingly different)

Ninja is a strange cross between Blanka, and Mortal Kombat II’s Reptile.

Dug is a power character who is an awful lot like certain Final Fight enemies.

Mike is a suit who turns into a whirlwind. (Okay, one more different character)

Junior is Boxer  powered with E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap.

Lo Ray is a Monk character who does cartwheels, and mind projectiles. (Another original.)

Yit-U is a Ryu clone with Mortal Kombat teleport moves, and specials.

Max is the final boss, playable via a cheat code. He also turns into a Terminator.

Out of eleven characters over half are derivative of those from much more widely known games. The fighting system is also mostly taken from World Karate Championship. This is largely due to the fact, that at the time most PCs had one button joysticks, assuming players had a controller at all. That said, it actually does work in the game’s favor.

Moving the joystick (Or movement keys if you mapped them to your keyboard) will move your character about the screen. Holding the fire button when you do will perform your regular moves, blocks, and specials. You can perform Shoryukens, and Hadokens with ease. The game also does allow for players to get a few two in one combos, and even a cross up or two. Considering the time period that is actually a pretty good thing. Body Blows isn’t the most balanced game either. Some characters simply cannot compete against the rest of the cast when playing in capable hands. Compounding this are the supers everyone has by simply holding down the fire button.

Visually, the sprite work is actually really nice. Especially the backgrounds. The environments in this game can hang with many of the fighter games of the time period. From the invading submarine on the Kossak stage, to Maria’s town, to a construction site, to an office. Body Blows  is a pretty game.

Sounds are mostly pretty good, from the midi soundtrack, to the sound effects. They don’t set the world on fire with iconic music but Team 17 gets it’s job done. If I had any major problems besides the general sameness to it all, it would have to be the DRM built into the game. This was just before the time of CD-Key protection, and so like many other games of the time they went with manual protection. Manual protection  requires players to have the actual game manual on hand to type in information to log in. Body Blows WOULD have been one of the nicer manual protections as it doesn’t make you go through insane hoops like finding word one in sentence four, paragraph 4 on page 45. Instead, the game simply tells you to punch in a three digit code out of a chart in the back of the booklet that goes on around six pages. This would be much easier except that like a thesis in a comic book by the Ultimate Warrior, it prints the grid in a yellow color on an all white page. While it isn’t impossible in a dimly lit room, it’s difficult to read in a few situations, and you may find yourself crashing to the DOS prompt several times before finally getting it right.

Despite all of the cloning within it, Body Blows does succeed in being a fun fighting game.

I remember originally finding it in a game bundle at a KB Toys shortly after our family had gotten our first Windows 95 box. While it certainly didn’t stop me from playing my SNES ports, it did manage to keep me enthralled enough to finish it. In the context of it’s heyday, players who only had an Amiga or MS-DOS computer were really getting something special as GOOD Street Fighter ports didn’t happen until Super Street Fighter II would see a proper release on computers. So for anyone who didn’t have a Super NES or a Genesis, Body Blows made for a nice ad hoc fighter. In fact, the Amiga would see two sequels, Body Blows Ultimate, and  Body Blows Galactic.

To go back to it now is really an act of either nostalgia or collector curiosity. It’s still certainly not a bad game, but there’s no way you’re going to want to play it instead of the games it stole from, or the games that have vastly leaped it since. I’d still recommend checking it out at least once should you ever get the chance. The MS-DOS version runs under DOSBOX with little to no trouble, and it’s just one of those things you have to see to believe. Especially when you realize the guys behind the successfully long running WORMS series can do a fighting game when they feel like it. For it’s time, Body Blows proved  that tournament fighters could, and should exist for computer platforms. It won all sorts of praise from the Amiga gaming community when it came out, and even managed to give DOS users a decent fighter.

It also sent the message to other publishers to put some effort into their porting duties.

Final Score 6.5 out of 10 (Not bad, but not great either.)

Reposted Review: The Great Giana Sisters

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Move over Mario Bros. it’s the Great Giana Sisters

(Originally posted on Blistered Thumbs forums, then Retro Retreat.)

 

Twin sisters use the Mario bros. template without permission.

PROS: Nearly spot on gameplay, and stage design.

CONS: The key word is “Nearly”

WTF?: The cliché’ paragraph ending.

Super Mario Bros. is synonymous with Nintendo, and console platform games. Nintendo’s series has been one of, if not the most popular line of games ever made. Featuring likeable characters, challenging gameplay, and well crafted level designs. Even when Mario misfires (Sunshine anyone?), it’s still a really good game.

There have been many, many other companies with their own mascots trying to invade Mario’s turf, each with their own level of successes or failures (But mostly failures). Sega has Sonic of course, but before Sonic came Alex Kidd. Accolade tried ripping off Sega AND Nintendo when breaking out Bubsy. Over time we saw Aero, Bonk, Joe & Mac, Sparkster, and a myriad of licensed characters including those from Viacom, Disney, Warner Bros., and Television Networks. What’s so different about The Great Giana Sisters? Pretty much that it’s not very different from Super Mario Bros. Creator Armin Gessert came to a conclusion back in the mid 1980′s. Nintendo would never port it’s first party NES games to computer platforms. As such, there were no real rival platformers in that vein available for any competing console or computer. Sure the Sega Master System had Alex Kidd, but Alex would never come close to dethroning Mario. Armin instead made a Super Mario Bros. Clone that would satisfy Commodore 64 owners who didn’t have an NES. It was published in the UK by Rainbow Arts, and touted “The Brothers are history!”. It was a huge hit, and saw ports to Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad, and MSX2. But it wasn’t long before Nintendo of Europe would take notice, and sue Rainbow Arts. Rainbow Arts lost the case, and all copies went out of production. A Spectrum port was canceled, and today boxed copies fetch a high price among collectors.

This history lesson isn’t exactly new for many people. With the proliferation of Youtube, Bliptv, and a lot of independent internet review shows out there, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the footage. But for those who haven’t I’ll continue on with the review.

The Great Giana Sisters starts out with a really iconic chiptune by famed video game music composer Chris Hulsbeck. When you start the game it opens almost exactly the way you remember the original Super Mario Bros. In fact, here are screen shots of the first screen of GGS, and the first screen of SMB.

But from there, the cribbing begins to slow down. Gameplay is very similar to SMB. Giana goes from left to right, jumping on enemies, over chasms, and utilizing pixel perfect timing to get past obstacles within the allotted time.  But there are nuanced differences. In SMB Grabbing a mushroom will turn Mario into a giant, grabbing a flower gets him fireball shooting. Getting hit shrinks him down again, and if hit in small size, Mario dies.

In GGS, Giana grabs a beach ball, which gives her a mohawk, and the ability to smash blocks. Lightning bolts allow her to shoot fireballs. Double lighting bolts get her balls to ricochet. There’s also a clock that freezes the timer, and bombs that clear enemies. 1UPS are rare, but come up as lollipops. Getting hit by any enemy in this game will kill you instantly no matter how many power ups you have acquired. Upon the next life you go back to normal losing any upgrades nabbed before dying.

Like SMB there are also warp zones to skip ahead, but these are also executed differently. Instead of hidden areas with warp pipes, there are invisible blocks (Like the first 1up block in World 1-1 of SMB) that will warp players ahead. (There is also a cheat where holding certain keys of letters in Armin Gessert’s name will warp players.). Levels are also structured much differently. Instead of 8 worlds broken up of 4 levels, GGS throws that out the window, and calls each level a world. So all 32 levels are in essence, stages.

Stage designs are eerily similar to SMB in some spots, and completely alien in others. There are some underground coin areas in some stages but instead of going down a pipe, Giana rides a hidden platform. Another major thing of note that many people gloss over is the fact that there are no underwater stages in GGS. Some stages float above the ocean, but none involve swimming, or sea enemies.

Enemy variety is also pretty akin to SMB. Owls look suspiciously like Goombas. Clams look close to the Buzzy Beetles. Bullet Bills are replaced with bees. Some of the “Fake” Bowsers are replaced with giant spiders, and Bowser is replaced with a dragon. There are other enemy types that are wholly original creations though, like the jumping suction cups, bouncing pink balls of doom, and these tiny blue monsters who can only be defeated by landing on their heads. (Any other part is instant death.)

Graphically the game is very much in line with SMB. The color palette is similar, featuring a lot of blues, reds, and greens in over world stages. Shades are used fairly closely to SMB in dungeon stages as well, a lot of white block textures, black backgrounds, go a long way to bringing that feel to the game. Musically the Commodore 64 version shines. With only 3 songs, the game still comes together well with the music lending itself in the right way. The overworld song while, not as iconic as the music in SMB, will likely play on loop in you mind long after you’ve stopped playing. The dungeon theme gives the game a more serious, perilous tone than the known music of SMB’s World 1-2.

With everything else being nearly equal is GGS a flawless masterpiece? Well, no. The game does have some minor control problems due to the floatier jumping in it, and also because of it’s reliance on a one button control scheme. During the 8-bit era most computer games did not take advantage of two button pads or joysticks because not many people had them. As such, GGS maps the jump function to moving the joystick up. The fire button is only ever used to shoot fireballs when you manage to get them. Because of this, you’ll likely blow an otherwise great round from an unintentionally botched jump. The game also has a couple of glitches in it. For instance, firing the fireballs around level exits can sometimes corrupt the background graphics, and Giana to fall through the play field, and die. To be fair one usually has to try to make that happen, but when it happens on fluke it can be really irritating.

The Great Giana Sisters is one of those knockoffs that leave the impression it was done right. So often when a successful game is cloned ad nauseam, those trying to outdo the original don’t even come close. But GGS hits all of the most important notes, leaving one to wonder why more of them fail to get anywhere near the target. Never mind the fact that this game grabbed the attention of Nintendo. If you ever do get the chance to play this classic gaming example of cribbing I suggest you take it.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10 (Buy it now! [If you can afford it])

(Some worthy notes of post review info) After the game was pulled way back in 1987 it ended up on some public domain catalogs, where a group of people modified the sprites to Mario characters. From there it slowly faded into obscurity. Arimin Gessert stayed in the game industry after GGS. In fact he went on to found Spellbound, makers of the Desperados series. He died of a heart attack in 2009 however. Ironically his last game was a Great Giana Sisters game for the Nintendo DS. It was only published in Europe initially.