Wednesday, 21 March 2012

M-Tanks (MSX)

MSXDev is a great competition that injects fresh life into the MSX scene every year. It gave us Heroes Arena, a great homage to the NeoGeo and Konami; Deep Dungeon, a fun mindless roguelike; British Bob, the greatest Elizabethean arcade platformer ever; Caos Begins, a Maze of Galious inspired metroidvania; Dr. Pill, a crazy text adventure; for nearly a decade it's really been the rallying point of fantastic ideas from a hard-working community. If you haven't played any of the games just mentioned, you owe it to yourself to dig deep into the history of the scene. In fact, you might as well, because the game reviewed here just can't compare.

Ruari's recent Mecha 8 review was spot-on. I didn't just agree with every single point; it completely captured my feelings on the entire competition as a whole. What the hell happened this year? I can't be the only one who is depressed by the paltry turnout this time around. Even at its best (with Zombie Incident), I can't say MSXDev '11 was more than "barely competent". And M-Tanks? In what would be considered an afterthought entry any other year, somehow managed to score third.

Sqrxz 3 (PC/Mac/Linux/Dreamcast/GP2X)

Do you enjoy going to the gym and performing the same rigorous workout day after day, each time pushing yourself just a little bit further, beyond the threshold to completion and experiencing the rush of victory through a blinding fog of muscle burn? Do you enjoy crunching through a difficult problem, banging your head against the wall for hours, just to find the ultimate answer?

If the answer is yes to both these questions, then Sqrxz 3 is probably the game for you.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Ms. Particle Man (PC/iOS)

Originally created for Alverno Presents: Sexy Results (a post-modern variety show inspired by the search for the elusive Higgs Boson), Picobots' Ms. Particle Man was introduced to the elite crowd at the Turner Ballroom, Wisconsin, in the form of a one-of-a-kind, hand crafted arcade machine. It's a unique inception that matches the equally original game concept, one that is fully entrenched in the serious world of physics yet represented as an unashamedly retro and non-serious videogame about colliding particles.

Mecha 8 (MSX)

There have been quite a few times when I've picked a game to review and then given up on it, not because I disliked it but because I found nothing to write about; basically I just didn't care enough about it to either damn it or praise it. However, that's not the case with Mecha 8, one of the entries in the MSXDev 2011 game design competition.

I really wanted to enjoy this game, and while a few good points stood out in my runs through this vertical scrolling giant robot shoot-em-up there just weren't enough sparks of brilliance to make me fall in love with it.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Driar (NES)

By it's very nature RGCD showcases games that are all in some way harking back to an earlier time of video-gaming, but Driar (by Stefan Adolfsson and David Eriksson) manages to distil old-school platform games into a NES package that makes absolutely no concessions to the modern era whatsoever. No score, no save points, no passwords, no timers, no plot, no hub-world, just a series of single screen levels for you to carefully complete, in order, from 1-38 or until your 10 lives are used up.

Ocean Detox (Atari XE/XL)

When it comes to simple game design, it doesn't come much more basic than Blitz. Based on an Atari 2600 game called Canyon Bomber released back in 1977(!), the primitive concept of the original involved a constantly descending and non-controllable aircraft flying across the screen and dropping bombs on the pillars of rock below, with the goal being to clear the ground so that the player can can land safely. Exciting stuff, wouldn't you agree? Looking back, its clear to see that the replacing of 'boring rock towers' for 'populated skyscrapers' in Commodore's multi-platform clone/rip-off was nothing short of genius. Children around the world rejoiced at the prospect of playing a game where they could level an entire city, and this combined with it's addictive one-button gameplay resulted in Blitz becoming a massive success.

Over the years I've played dozens of Blitz clones on a wide variety of systems; it's very simplicity makes it a perfect 'first project' for many coders and I even recall seeing BASIC listings for the game printed in old magazines as a tutorial program. So understandably, when I came across Ocean Detox for the 8-Bit Atari back in 2010 I made the mistake of immediately dismissing it as 'another Blitz game', which is why it took me until just recently to begrudgingly fire it up in an emulator. Now, a couple of hours after first loading the game and much to my own amazement, I'm still playing it. In fact, Ocean Detox is currently running in the background while I'm typing these very words, waiting for me to finish this paragraph so I can return for another quick attempt at beating my previous score.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hexagon (PC)

It's hard to believe that it was only a couple of years ago that Terry Cavanagh released his gravity-shifting platformer VVVVVV. Captain Viridian's epic adventure seems such an integral part of the indie community that he, much like Terry himself, has now become something of an icon. Which is why it is particularly heart-warming that despite the game's commercial success (with VVVVVV now being available to buy on a variety of platforms), Terry still has time to contribute back to the freeware scene that nurtured his beginnings - even if it is only for one day. And one day is exactly all that it took to create Hexagon, Terry's contribution to the GDC-bound 'Pirate Kart V'.

Looking back at VVVVVV, many will recall one particular intermission scene involving a brutal test of endurance, memory and skill; The Gravitron. Encountered by the player after the fourth level of the game, poor old Viridian ends up trapped inside this evil contraption, repeatedly bouncing off the wall and ceiling, attempting to survive for sixty seconds whilst wave after wave of deadly projectiles are fired at him from either side of the screen. For some, that minute seems like forever and it's often complained about as being one of the most difficult obstacles in the game to overcome. Of course - on the other side of the spectrum - for some, the Gravitron with it's set length and fixed patterns was not enough. So for the hardcore few foolhardy enough to attempt to outlast eternity within those gravity-reversing walls, Terry included an unlockable 'Super Gravitron', an endless mini-game that is both insanely hard and additive in equal measure - and Hexagon, with it's dizziness-inducing rotating perspective, primitive geometric design and incredible difficulty plays much like its evil, LSD-fuelled successor.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

They Came From Verminest (PC)

There's a reason for this late review of Locomalito's They Came From Verminest, and it's not because I've been busy. Well, actually I have been busy, but that's not the issue here. The thing is, I was fortunate enough to be involved quite early on with his latest game as a beta tester, and as part of the team who ultimately shaped the final release with Locomalito making careful tweaks to the design based on our feedback, until now I just felt far too attached to the game to be able to review it without being completely biased.

After going cold-turkey from this incredibly addictive retro title for the past two weeks, I finally felt ready to return to it with a clear head and fresh perspective - at least that was the plan. But like a former-addict returning to his vice, after a single hit I am completely hooked; I have fallen in love with Verminest all over again.

Out There Somewhere (PC)

You'd have to be dead from the neck up not to get a massive feeling of Zero Wing nostalgia from the introductory cutscene that kicks off Out There Somewhere, and before you can say "all your base are belong to us" the intro segues into a frantic horizontal space shooter.

And here's where I've got to throw in a spoiler really early on, because Out There Somewhere bowls a googly (I'm sick of saying things throw curveballs so I thought I'd go all cricket for this review) very early on by making the shooter section one of those sequences in which the player is meant to lose (similar to Photon Storm's excellent flash game Cat Astro Phi). Following this frenetic exchange of laser fire the player's ship is shown plummeting to the surface of a planet, in pursuit of its quarry.

(I know, big spoiler, and I admit I've probably dulled its effect a little bit by making the big reveal, but I couldn't have spun about 15 seconds of shooter into a review of at least 500 words! I suppose I could have gone on a tangent and talked about Kung Fu for an hour like my Year Nine music teacher used to do, but there's probably a good reason he isn't teaching any more).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Gloop Troops: The Lost Crown (ZX Spectrum)

A few years ago, ZX Spectrum developer Little Shop of Pixels introduced themselves to the retro scene with their debut release, Gloop Troops. However, due to the memory restrictions of the 48KB machine, not all of their colourful whimsy fit within the confines of a single game, resulting in an additional Christmas-themed rework (Crimbo) and then this bonus level pack released soon after (originally exclusive to the Spectaculator iOS emulator). Adding to their original premise with 15 new levels, The Lost Crown is a sort of Gloop Troops 1.5. Continuing where the first game left off (with the princess from the original now safe from peril) your new duty here is to simply act as her personal 'lost and found' - an amusing step down from your previous role of hero that makes me smile.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Slayin' (PC)

I hate playing games in an internet browser window. I would go so far as to say that I absolutely loath it - especially via those online gaming portals. Call me old fashioned, but for me a 'proper' game will always be one that you can download (or perhaps even buy from a real-life shop) and install or copy over to a computer or console; not something that I have to be online to access or put up with adverts being shoved in my face before or whilst playing. And that's why whenever I come across a browser-based game that I like the look of the first thing I do is email the developer and beg for a downloadable version. My efforts don't often pay off (as the adverts that I hate actually pay people's wages, you know), but amazingly in the case of Pixel Licker's popular flash game Slayin' I'm happy to announce that it did, and as a result I now have a copy of the game sat happily on my PC here that's actually an improvement over the flash version!

Phantomas Tales 4: Severin Sewers (ZX Spectrum)

Our hero Phantomas spends his 25th birthday "jumping in a trampoline with a naked woman eating tortilla," until, in a fit of randomness, he changes tact, pulls out his encyclopaedia, and entertains himself reading a bit of galactic history instead. He reads about the old Metro City, an ancient place famed for its arts, culture and wealth. Now a mouldering ruin, he discovers it is awash with gigantic gold coins. An alternative birthday celebration occurs to him: he will travel to Metro City and go "back to his old ways." By which he means, steal a sackful of gold! This, indeed is the object of the game.

This rudimentary plot tells me two things. One: authors The Mojon Twins do not let anything so distracting as a decent storyline get in the way of a good game. Two: I really need to revisit how I celebrate my birthday this year.