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Jumpman Review

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You wouldn’t know it at face value, but you’re on a mission to defuse bombs on another world. A world of bombs, killer robots, and a lethal pixel. In addition to a host of other horrific adversaries. It all sounds like a side scrolling action platformer or run ‘n gun. But you’d be wrong. Jumpman is one of the strangest, yet greatest puzzle games ever made. Debuting on the Atari 8-bit family of computers, it appeared on the Commodore 64 soon after, along with the IBM PC, and Apple II.

PROS: Excellent gameplay. Fun animation. Great musical numbers.

CONS: Bland graphics.

APOGEE: The Duke Nukem publisher felt the ire of Epyx.

Jumpman may seem a bit esoteric today, but there was a time when he was almost as popular as Bomberman. That’s because he starred in two of the most fun arcade puzzle games to ever grace a computer screen. As I mentioned at the start, the storyline of the game doesn’t accurately describe what is going on at face value. You really have to start playing the game before you realize that it does.

The goal of Jumpman is easy to grasp. Defuse all of the bombs in the level before losing all of your lives for big points. If you manage to do this, you’ll move onto the next level. You’ll also get bonus points for having more Jumpmen in reserve. So a high performance level is key. Created by Randy Glover, and released by Epyx, there is a wonderful use of the easy to learn, lifetime to master principles behind many great games.

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The game eases you in, with a couple of pretty simple to understand levels. You’ll go about your goal of defusing bombs, and slowly notice changes to a given stage. Pieces of scenery disappear, creating new gaps to jump over. A floating pixel will chase you down, and kill you if you get in its line of sight. But the obstacles only increase as you complete levels. It isn’t long before you see killer robots that change position every time you defuse a bomb. Or a plethora of bombs falling from the sky. Or flying saucers. Or rabid bats. Sometimes the challenges aren’t adversaries. Sometimes they’re things like moving ladders or other scenery.

Every one of these attempts to impede you can be overcome with enough practice. Over time, you begin to recognize patterns, and figure out what you’re supposed to do. But it doesn’t become a cakewalk, because actually doing what you’re supposed to still requires dexterity. When you clear a level, you’ll hear one of a multitude of cheery carnival tunes. These go along with the circus-like feel of the game’s introduction animation.

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Jumpman gives you nine lives to get through the stages. You can choose from several difficulty settings which will start at a stage where the appropriate difficulty jump occurs. You can also select Grand Loop which does all 30 levels in a row. Or you can choose the Randomizer, which plays the levels in a random order. Beyond that, you can also choose a game speed. The center value of 4 will run the game at the standard speed. The max speed of 8 is probably too fast for all but the most devoted player, and the minimum speed of 1 makes the game exceptionally slow. The speed setting is a nice option though because it can make the game a bit more interesting. The game can also be played by up to four players alternating turns.

Visually, Jumpman isn’t much to look at.  stages are made of simple shapes, and a handful of colors. Jumpman himself, is little more than a stick figure. But the gameplay in Jumpman is amazing. Moving about the levels is very smooth, and the controls are tight. One interesting thing the game does is allow Jumpman to climb anything he touches. If you go for a jump, and your hand nabs part of the scenery, you’ll climb it! There are also some cool navigational variables thrown in, in the form of ropes. Green ropes can only be climbed up, while blue ropes can only be climbed down. Between this, and the other mechanics introduced through enemy character types Jumpman becomes surprisingly deep for such a simple game.

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There are a few minor differences between the different versions of Jumpman. The original Atari 400/800 version features some really slick transition animations between levels as you clear them. It also has a pretty cool stage destruction sequence when you run out of lives, and get a Game Over.  The Commodore 64 version has a little bit more detail in the graphics department. It gives our hero a shirt, and pants through some simple colors. The music sounds a tiny bit better too. It is missing the stage transitions, and if you lose you don’t see the level explode. Instead, you get a harmonious musical number as the backgrounds, and characters slowly become the same color.

Over on the Apple II, you won’t see the transitions. Visually, it’s somewhere between the Atari, and Commodore computers. It has the Commodore’s background colors, but the Atari’s blank Jumpman. The IBM PC port was outsourced to another developer. It pretty much plays the same as the other versions although the terrible PC speaker sound, and CGA color scheme make it the worst in terms of visuals, and sound.

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Jumpman was also followed up by Jumpman Junior, which is really a companion version of the game. It was made for Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit users who didn’t have a 5.25″ Floppy drive. Being a cartridge game makes it one of the more sought after games for collectors. It’s pretty much exactly the same game as Jumpman, except it has only 12 stages. At the time cartridges didn’t have as much storage capacity as the floppies, and cassettes did. Still, for many retro fans,  it isn’t the full Jumpman experience unless you have both games. It was never available for other computer formats, although it was ported to the Colecovision.

Long after Randy Glover left the game industry, A programmer named Dave Sharpless ported the game, and it’s expandalone to MS-DOS under the title Jumpman Lives! The game was published by Apogee in 1991. The thing is, that while Epyx had long been a shell of its former self, it was still around. The remake caught the ire of Epyx, and Apogee would cease selling it immediately. Epyx wouldn’t be around much longer though, after getting out of bankruptcy, and focusing on Atari Lynx development the company was sold off, and dissolved.  Jumpman Lives! Is a fairly rare computer game as a result.

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In the end, Jumpman, and Jumpman Jr. are games that really deserve more recognition than they get. At least when compared with other retro games. Things may look more like a carnival than a space station, and the bombs may look more like flowers. But once you get past the rudimentary look of everything you’ll be engrossed in one of the most addictive puzzlers of all time. If you can find the original floppy disk, the cartridge based companion edition, or even the unlicensed, unofficial, Apogee remake, give it a go. Jumpman Junior was also included in the C64 DTV, as well as the recent Colecovision Flashback by AtGames. So if you don’t have one of these old computers or consoles, there are other legitimate ways to add this masterful game to your collection in some capacity.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Rise Of The Triad Review

The reboot of the late 90’s many shooter fans have prayed for is out now. It delivers the fast paced carnage, and exploration of the original game. But along the way are a few caveats.

PROS: Wonderful retelling of the original 1995 2.5D First Person Shooter.

CONS: Bugs, micro stuttering, and a lack of optimization.

WOW! THEY PULLED A DOOM II:  Four super secret retro stages!

To say there is a new Rise Of The Triad is nothing short of a miracle. Only a handful of people thought there could ever be another one. Especially seeing how Apogee/3DRealms was barely on life support after losing millions on Duke Nukem Forever, and then selling the rights to Gearbox who merely got it functional enough to sell to the unsuspecting public.  Many of us, if not all of us, figured Apogee was all but gone, and their backlog lost to history.

Enter Interceptor Entertainment, who managed to get Apogee’s blessing to reboot one of their more obscure releases. I’ve reviewed the original game so I won’t go gravely into it again here. But Rise Of The Triad was a really good game that did a lot with dated technology. So much so, that for awhile it actually hung with the big boys of the time.

Born of an abandoned sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, it brought jump pads, destructable environments,  and multiplayer staples like CTF to the table. It did a lot of amazing things with a then five year old engine. Things some newer releases hadn’t done. In short it was awesome. It grew a devoted cult following over the years. Ironic, seeing how ROTT’s villians are helmed by a murderous cult.

Interceptor is a small team spread out over the globe. The creation of the reboot is an interesting one because it is such an unorthodox one. Developers created the game through nearly two years of internet conferencing, uploading, assets, and involving community feedback. It’s something you rarely see in the creation of any sort of ambitious project by such a small team.

Overall, this did work to their advantage. Rise Of The Triad is crafted with love for the IP, and it shows. Stages are built with the spirit of the original in mind at every turn. But entirely on an Unreal 3 engine. No longer restricted to 90 degree tile set design, the developers built stages with more of a building block approach. The stages are almost entirely open to you. With the exception of searching for keys for certain areas, and stage outskirts you can pretty much go anywhere.

With the advent of the popularity of Half-Life, Call Of Duty, and other contemporary big games, campaigns became more of a linear, cinematic experience. One of going on rail like segments where you can see things happening, but can’t explore them. ROTT throws this out the window,  embracing it’s 1995 era fully.

Exploration is one of the best things about the game too, because it will lead to a lot of power ups, secrets, and in four cases, retro levels themed on the 1995 original’s graphics. You will want these power ups too because ROTT is challenging. Even on lower difficulty settings, you will find yourself realizing the odds are against you. Gone are the regenerating health bars of modern design, and returning are the bowls of priest porridge  from the old game.

Managing health, and ammo is a staple of arcade shooters. There is little difference here. Although the bullet weapons like the handgun or MP40 supply unlimited ammuntion, going up against tougher enemies proves that they’re not ideal. ROTT’s meatier weapons are all variants on the rocket launcher. On top of the stock one, classic favorites return like the Flame Wall, Split Missile, Drunk Missile,and Firebomb. Each has a secondary function now to put another spin on the classic gameplay.

These weapons are a must against bosses, or heavy enemies. Also returning to help you out, are the powerups. There’s the wings to allow you to fly for a short time, dog mode which helps you find certain secrets, bite bad guys, and barkblast an entire room of badguys into paste. Also returning is the classic  god powerup giving you the familiar yawning sound, invulnerability, and force lightning balls of the original.

Interceptor also brought back the joke powerups. Shroom mode impedes your movement, and Ball mode makes you ricochet off walls. Finally, the excalibat, an enchanted baseball bat that shoots baseballs, and the magic wand that shoots force lighning.

ROTT’s story is told through comic book panels at the beginning of the game, and through radio chatter between levels. The game is broken up into 5 levels across 4 episodes. At the end of each episode you’ll face a reimagined version of a boss from ROTT 1995. Most of these will be multipart affairs with multiple forms. It’s another way the game attempts to bridge the gap between old, and new conventions.

Multiplayer is also a very fun return to form for the arena shooter. Not since Unreal Tournament 3 has there been a deathmatch focused arcade style game where twitch skills are key. Of course there is some luck involved as the stock pistols don’t get you far, and starting near a pickup is ideal. But at the end of the match it’s those with the best hand, and eye cooirdination who can claim success. That is if they can stave off anyone who picked up god or wing powerups. This is Rise Of The Triad after all.

ROTT also includes an editor which is great news for those who wistfully remember making their own stages to share with friends, and other fans in this era of paid DLC maps, and micro transactions.

The original game was also heralded for it’s over the top, goofy violence. ROTT also doles this out in spades. Enemies spin around in flames. Enemies lose limbs or heads. In many cases they’ll explode. When this happens you’ll find the developers were so devoted to recreating gibs that they modelled individual organs. It never gets to the clown shoes level of Mortal Kombat 3’s fatalities. But it will certainly wow anybody who has fond memories of the original game.

Fond memories of the original’s soundtrack can be found with most of the fandom. This was another thing that was celebrated in the reboot. All of Lee Jackson’s classic chiptunes have been painstakingly covered in heavy metal. But the game also gives players the option to hear the original Jackson soundtrack instead. To their credit, the covers are awesome. Any hard rock fan who plays the game will find themselves jamming to the tunes inbetween waves of Triad soldiers. But those who aren’t big on loud guitar work will love turning on the original tunes.

ROTT isn’t a visual powerhouse, but it does have a lot of special effects, and graphics options for players to tweak. It goes out of it’s way to allow you to setup all of the various settings you’re accustomed to, and then some. Unfortunately it’s here where some of the game’s problems begin to come through.

As fun, exciting, and all around awesome as Rise Of The Triad is, the lack of optimization is disheartening. If you are on anything other than mid tier or higher intel, or nVidia hardware, expect to run into some micro stuttering. Setting the graphics options lower, honestly doesn’t help much unless your computer is honestly that old or running onboard video rather than a discrete card.

To it’s credit, Interceptor has been much better about fixing these issues than even many AAA developers. Since launch they have been working with community feedback on patching the game starting with it’s editor for mod makers. They’ve committed to releasing a stream of small patches, and updates to get the game working right for their customers.

But with that said, ROTT is still a product, and as such customers expect a game to work when they get it home, or get it installed on their computer.  Even if it is only $15.  If you are a die hard ROTT fan who still doesn’t have this game, you will probably be able to grin while bearing the periodic performance hitches. For those curious or on the fence, while the game is nowhere near as glitch filled or broken as something like Brink was in it’s launch you still may want to wait for a patch or two.

One can only hope the hitches are hashed out soon because the multiplayer has the potential to bring back UT or Quake style arena shooting to a new generation. The campaign is a fun, engaging affair that is one part Quake II, and two parts Return To Castle Wolfenstein.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (When the problems are solved make it a 9)

Reposted Review: Rise Of The Triad

Rise Of The Triad

August 15th, 2012 TheDeviot

 

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

Released as I was escaping High school through graduation, Rise Of The Triad (Or ROTT as it would be referenced for short) was one of the coolest under the radar releases of all time.

PROS: Wildly inventive weapons, cool environments, fast multiplayer, awesome chiptunes.

CONS: Dated engine, came out a little too late, buggy at times.

WTF?: The disembodied head of Apogee bigwig Scott Miller

Rise Of The Triad was one of the last First Person Shooters to be released before fully polygonal 3D engines would take shape. It ran on a heavily tweaked, and modified Wolfenstein 3D engine. In fact it’s legend is that it was born out of a rejected Wolfenstein 3D sequel. The engine tweaks allowed for things not seen until Duke Nukem 3D, and Shadow Warrior would come into being. Even years later, Quake III Arena would borrow one of it’s greatest elements.

The additions allowed ROTT to have shattering glass, destructible sprites, skyboxes, and sector tag switches allowing for new ways for the push wall concept to work. Back when Wolf 3D was king of the shooters, players would jam on the spacebar across entire segments of wall hoping to find new areas, secret ammo, secret jewels, or secret exits. ROTT continued this trend, but with sector tagging, players needed to shoot a certain object, step on a certain tile, or reach another benchmark to make certain walls move.

 

ROTT continued the tradition of keycards too, as it forced exploration of the stages to find the keys to get to other inaccessible areas. It also featured secret levels much like Wolfenstein 3D had. On the subject of levels ROTT featured 32 levels. Some of which can take over an hour for the average player to get through. The game had a handy overhead feature similar to DOOM where pressing TAB would show where the player was standing, and he or she could plot their course. Players also had the option of choosing through four characters, each with their own minor tweaks to health, speed, recovery, and so on.

 

The game also featured some really over the top, and fun powerups. Some of them necessary to be able to progress further. One of them was a pair of wings. Running over these allowed players to temporarily use the look up, and look down keys to float over obstacles in the map. (More on those in a minute). Other power ups included the bouncing ball mode, (Which forced players to ricochet off of walls), and ‘shrooms mode, (Which made players movement go awry, while echoing any sounds in the environment.). This mode did however highlight any threats or movable objects in the field by making them flash all sorts of colors. There was also a GOD powerup. This was the game’s wisecrack at other games’ invincibility cheat codes of the time. Not only did this power up cause one to be invulnerable to almost any threat in the game until it wore off, it also added a lot of humor.

 

Your guns were replaced with a giant hand, while an ominous voice yawned loudly into a microphone, and subsequently through your speakers. Running into a room full of enemies, players could press fire, and the hand would cast an electrical orb that would mow through all of them, and vaporize them in the process. Finally, there was DOG mode (A play on GOD as it’s the spelling of DOG backwards). This mode turned players into a small dog, who could bite people to death, and increased movement speed.

ROTT featured a fun arsenal that mimicked the endlessly grand weapons of other games, but also implemented the idea of only carrying so much at once. The first player slot featured the standard pistol implemented in every shooter of the genres earliest days. Players could pick up a second one to dual wield, and they could find the MP40 upon killing the right guard or through exploring secret areas. These ballistic weapons had limitless ammo. This meant you would never have to worry about running off to find more bullets when outnumbered. But the real meat, and potatoes of the game were the rocket launchers. Players could only hold one of these at a time, but there were a lot of fun ones. There was the classic launcher seen in countless games, but from there it expanded to heat seeking rockets, to the drunk rockets that fired them in a haphazard fashion. Probably the most amazing of these was the flamewall. Firing one of these created an unavoidable wall of fire that turned any unfortunate enough to be in it’s path into a skeleton which would fall apart into dust shortly thereafter.

 

In addition to that gory scenario, many launchers caused enemies to gib (From the word giblets). Gibbing left piles of gory guts strewn throughout the field. Not too many games outside of Quake kept that feature going, but it was very popular in the 90′s, and something ROTT did really well. Late in the game some mystical weapons showed up including the hilarious excalibat (An enchanted Louisville Slugger baseball bat), and a wand that fired GOD bolts.

Enemies not only included hordes of Nazi soldiers, crazed cult members, and cult clergy but stage hazards as well. Whereas DOOM would feature acid pits, and lava floors, ROTT included fire walls that moved, spikes coming up from floors, and down from ceilings. It featured flamethrowers protruding from floors. There were fire cannons on walls. There were moving columns of blades. ROTT also had floating discs players could use to get to inaccessible areas, or bounce pads to nab floating coins. Collecting enough of these would net extra lives. It also brought along the ability to fall out of a map and die, as some parts of some levels had ledges that ended near areas without walls.
Texture work, and features aside, one of the greatest things about ROTT has to be the music. Most of the chiptunes in Rise Of The Triad are catchy, capturing the action movie feel of the game. The best of these is easily Going Down The Fast Way.

 

ROTT also added a pretty comprehensive multiplayer package into the mix. Called Comm-Bat (A play on the fact most games of the time had over the phone multiplayer) ROTT supported the typical deathmatch. But it also had a tag mode, where the tagged player was “It”. A coin collection mode, and even supported a Capture The Flag mode. Players could go in using any of the four main characters, and between the supplied maps, and community maps made by countless fans ROTT was a multiplayer winner. It never reached the numbers of DOOM or Duke 3D or Quake but it did have a small dedicated following.

 

“So if Rise Of The Triad is the awesome game you’ve been gushing over, why have I never heard of it?” you may be asking yourself. There are several reasons. The first reason is if you’re under the age of 25 you likely wouldn’t have been around during it’s heyday. Rise Of The Triad came out in 1995. But to be fair even older folks didn’t catch on, and again it has to do almost entirely with it’s time of release. DOOM, which had a fresher, more advanced engine had been out for three years. DOOM was also being shopped around for console porting, and it’s sequel was about to hit stores if it hadn’t already. On top of that, Duke Nukem 3D was going to follow in just under a year. Compounding that was that iD had licensed out the DOOM engine. A lot of other great games built on it were coming out. ROTT was simply lost in the shuffle. Even if it hadn’t been, DOOM was rereleased several times over since it launched way back when.

 

ROTT isn’t a perfect game, and it certainly hasn’t aged as well as other shooters of the 90′s. While map design is pretty extensive, and well made some levels do begin to drag somewhat. People who are new to this antiquated style of 2.5D first person shooter may find themselves tiresome after being used to games made during this, and last decade. Because everything was on a tile based layout, pushing on walls to find hidden keys, shortcuts, and exits may grate for some players.

But don’t let that turn you off from wanting to play it. The fact that ROTT did so much with a dated engine, and managed to be better than some of the Doom clones coming out back then is a testament to just how great it truly was. In fact, there are too few modern first person shooters that still implore players to search out every nook, and cranny of a stage for secrets, items, shortcuts, or even Easter eggs. It’s almost strange how in an age of graphically advanced game engines, and increasing photorealism Rise Of The Triad for all of it’s faults can still manage to feel fresh to anyone tired of today’s hall, and cutscene design.
For anyone curious about the beginnings of a modern genre, looking for goofy fun, or preparing for the recently announced reboot, ROTT is worth a look.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 (Try it out!)