Thursday, 19 November 2009

Nintendo 64 - Super Mario 64

Nintendo 64

Super Mario 64

If ever there was a game series that was going to last forever, or at the very least die trying, the Mario games are precisely that.

Mario’s appearance over the years has barely changed. Alright, he’s joined the realms of 3D since his first appearances in Donkey Kong, but he is still the recognisable game sprite even today.

But his first foray into 3D was on Nintendo’s 64 bit console, and the game was received very warmly. So warmly, in fact, it is still considered as one of the best games of all time by many gamers, and regularly tops the “reader’s charts” that appear periodically, even above Super Mario Kart, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Ocarina Of Time, although sometimes Ocarina Of Time does jump above it.

Strange, they’re all Nintendo games. Well, it’s no secret that Nintendo consoles have been blessed by more than their fair share of classics. With the advent of Super Mario Galaxy, then, are we going to see another regular chart topper?

I don’t care, it’s not a retro game. Super Mario 64, on the other hand…

Quite simply, you need to play this game. It’s one of those that grabs you by the scruff of the neck, drags you in kicking and screaming, and refuses to let go until you reach a particularly tricky level, and then lets you make a choice; do you give up, you sad, pathetic wuss? Or, do you keep having a crack until you finally complete the game?

Well, in my case, I waited about 5 years before returning to it and finishing it off, but even then there’s plenty left to do.

Let me explain a little better. The object of the game is to find the Power Stars hidden around the castle. Most of these are in the individual levels, and obtaining them requires completion of a specific task, such as beating Koopa the Quick in a race to the top of the mountain, or beating the penguin in a downhill sliding race, or even just reaching a certain location. As you obtain more and more stars, doors in the castle unlock, opening ways to new levels. Each level has at least 8 stars to collect (There’s bonus stars available, such as collecting 100 coins or all 8 of the red coins on each level), and there’s also some hidden stars around the castle too.

Once you’ve collected enough stars, you’ll get the chance to take on Bowser in the final battle, and release Princess Peach from her imprisonment. But even then, there’s more to see as you will need EVERY star in the game to open the cannon to shoot you to the castle roof. I never did manage this, but I’m not one of these people who needs to see EVERYTHING a game has to offer, so I’m not right fussed. Actually, always having that little bit extra to achieve adds to the game’s longevity, so as far as I’m concerned it’s all good.

The important thing here is that Mario didn’t lose any of his charm as a character and indeed as a playable game through the transition to 3D, and thankfully Nintendo got it spot on. Amazingly the game feels as natural as the best 2D platformers, the analogue stick was simple and intuitive to control and the finer points of Mario’s acrobatics are explained by reading signs around the castle. And trust me, you’ll need them all as you try to collect all the stars available.

Mario’s finest moment, then, or at least it has been regarded so until the recent Super Mario Galaxy game. If ever you get a chance to play this on a real Nintendo 64, grab it with both hands.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Nintendo Wii - Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Nintendo Wii
Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Ever since the days of the Amiga, I can’t think of another game of this genre since Life And Death 2 (the one where you do brain surgery), so when the Trauma Center series arrived on these shores, I was instantly attracted. I think the DS version was the first to arrive, but then this version for the Wii proved to be one of the games I would get with the console.

Reviews marked it highly, magazines recommended it, surely it was going to be pretty good?

Absolutely. It was a fresh challenge of steady hands, quick reactions and a nice difficulty curve. Well, until you get to the final missions, that is.

The magazines raved about the steep difficulty level, but to my experience, it wasn’t all that hard to complete the main game. The final levels (the ones where you basically found out WHY the main diseases in the game had been created) were awfully hard, but rewardingly so. There was a reason why they were saved to last, and why you didn’t need to complete them yet still feel you’d beaten the game.

So, how easy is it to don the gown and surgical gloves and start slicing your way to someone’s innards?

Pretty straightforward. Grasp your remote in one hand, nunchuck in the other, use the nunchuck joystick to select your tools, and direct the pointer on screen with the remote. Pressing the A button will utilise your tool, so if it’s the scalpel, you’ll start slicing your way in. Occasionally you will need to use the defibrillator, on these occasions you must actually move toward the screen and time your charge to get the heart going again.

You do also have what’s known as the “Healing Touch”, but I won’t give away too much, you need to play the game, follow the story (which, by the way, is brilliantly delivered by way of lots of cutscenes and dialogue) and you’ll understand what it is, what it does and how it benefits everyone.

As you complete some missions, you’ll find a secondary story going on in the background. Once the main game is completed, the two storylines converge, building up to a not-entirely surprising ending.

Trust me, if you haven’t played this game yet, you have steady hands and like a nice challenge (and I stress, NICE challenge. It’s not as difficult as some magazines make out), invest in this title and begin operating on everybody who comes through Hope Hospital’s doors. Or do what I did at first and see how many times you can stab a heart with a scalpel before it gives up.

Commodore Amiga - Walker

Commodore Amiga

When I first discovered this game, I was but a child still, a spotty teenager schoolboy who had managed to see the ED-209 scene from Robocop at some stage in my life, and thought how cool those big droids were.

So, the opportunity to BE one of these droids… well, that doesn’t come along very often. But when this game found its way from a friend at school to my grubby little paws, I inserted it into the floppy drive of my Amiga and was transported into a world of one massive ED-209, millions of bullets, and tiny human sprites getting splattered in a gory mess of blood and lead.

Sounds good? Oh, it is…I’m not quite sure about the whys and wherefores, but basically you seem to have got stuck in some kind of timewarp, and find yourself transported to different times and places around the world. Your opponents reflect the era and location, but all will succumb to the enormous amount of  firepower you have at your disposal. Twin Mini-Guns (you know the one, rotating barrels and a ridiculously high fire rate, made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator II) provide your arsenal, and with an unlimited supply of ammo (Realism? What’s that?) all you need to worry about is overheating.

Although bullets hit you pretty much instantly (as you would expect), the more powerful rounds can be avoided by simply walking backwards and forwards as they arc towards you. Trust me, you still have the ability to die if you take enough damage.

The control method was remarkably simple, and probably quite revolutionary for the time, but a combination of mouse and keyboard was the order of the day here. You only needed to walk forwards and backwards with the keys, but your heavy guns were aimed by mouse cursor, which was a great idea, and worked exceptionally well.

But, for the ultimate humiliation, when it came to the little soldiers, you could walk all over them, resulting in a satisfying squelch (imagine Duke Nukem’s shrink ray). It was the little touches like this that set this game apart from an already crowded genre, and remains great fun to play even today.

New version, please. On the Wii. I’d buy that for a dollar. (Wow, I waited a whole 5 paragraphs for the final Robocop reference. Self-control or what?)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Arcade - Mad Dog McCree

Mad Dog McCree

Back in the early 80s, there was a smattering of games using the "cutting-edge" technology of Laserdiscs. You'll remember them, they were pretty distinctive with their high-quality graphics (compared to what was around at the time), usually using high-quality cartoon animation or real explosions or something, trying to create a new experience in arcades. Unfortunately the games were either too hard, too boring or too broken to be playable for any length of time.

Fast Forward to 1990, and my holiday to Eastbourne. In the arcade on the pier, I found a Simpsons arcade machine to waste 40p a play on, only to find that I was beginning to get a bit squashed while playing... due to the crowd surrounding the latest "hot" game they had acquired... Mad Dog McCree. 

This was Eastbourne, for God's sake. Every gamer for 20 miles must have been there! There was no other explanation! Due to the crowd, I didn't dare try to get near the game until a year or two later when the fuss had died down a little, but this game was seriously popular. What I didn't realise at the time was that this was a machine not entirely dissimilar to Dragon's Lair et al from the early 80s.

American Laser Games resurrected the old laserdisc format, but this time used live action film sequences to string together a wild western themed shooter that allowed you to be the mysterious gunslinger who comes to clean up the town. Various ham actors served up a visual treat of typical schoolyard cowboy "deaths", your story's progress governed entirely on your speed and accuracy with the pistol. A basic concept, using comparatively basic technology, delivering a very basic gaming experience. It's as "on the rails" as you can get in a shooter.

But wait! The game kept you on your toes, sometimes changing the location of the hideout from what was on your map, or changing what to shoot to disarm the booby-trapped mine. So you did need to pay some attention to what you were doing.

Well, yippee-ki-ay. At the end of the day, it was still the same basic premise as Dragons Lair and any other
Laserdisc game, perform an action at the right time, see the next bit of the film. Get it wrong and lose a life and see a different bit of film. Being the first of a line of this style of game, it probably delivered the best experience, later games in this style tried to over-complicate the concept. Looking at some of the best-loved light gun games of all time, it's plain to see that simplicity works best (Virtua Cop, anyone?)

So, has time been kind to Mad Dog McCree and his henchmen? Believe it or not, despite its lack of real depth and longevity, this game is still worth hunting out for a quick credit or 2. It works best in small doses, has a bit of a challenge to it if you're rusty, but I wouldn't say it's a game you must play before you die. It certainly has its place in history, and if I found a working one, I'd play it, but it's not one for the collection. Laserdisc games were often unreliable at the best of times, but for some reason I saw more of these switched off than on after a few years, and those that were on often didn't work for shooting on one side of the screen.

"Looks like it's time to take this old boy to Boot Hill." as the undertaker would say. The final nail in the coffin for this game is the unfortunate release of this game, along with Mad Dog 2 and The Last Bounty Hunter, on the Nintendo Wii. Now, being a big fan of this game in the past, I bought it. Whilst the conversion isn't bad, as such, there are a couple of niggles that have, quite frankly, put me off recommending it whole-heartedly to anyone. For instance, the quick draw showdowns are near-impossible, and very often the timing window for a successful shot "feels" wrong, and there's STILL the baddies you can't see who will shoot you without even being visible (e.g. the Corral scene). This one's for true hardcore retro-fans only, not for those who are thinking about getting into retro.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Arcade - Double Dragon


Double Dragon

Back in the heady days of arcades, there were always certain games I would approach before others to put my 10p's into, and Double Dragon wasn't one of them.

WHAT? WASN'T one of them? But Double Dragon is a classic game! A genre-defining moment in the history of Video Games! Well... yes, that's true. Let's not forget I was but 7 years old when this came out, and when I became a regular arcade hunter, I was more interested in the likes of Paperboy, Indiana Jones, Rampage, etc. I'd watched people play this, but always kept myself away from it.

But why was this? Maybe I considered the outright pugilistic nature of the game too "adult" for me? That's a laugh looking back at some of the other games I played... Anyway, I remember an occasion in the "Oasis" amusements in Southport where a guy had put a quid in for 7 credits. I asked him if I could join in. I eventually used my credit... and all his... and reached the end of the game.

And thus, I began playing on my own, and discovering that the whole game was terribly easy except one part of the forest section.

This bit, with the broken bridge. I spent entire credits trying to jump this and dying every time. But hey, adopt, adapt and improve, practice makes perfect and any other phrase I could coin, eventually I got the hang of it.

Hold on, I've written all this gobbledegook and not one mention of the game itself, the story or anything! That can be swiftly remedied. Plot wise, it doesn't get much more standard, to be honest. Bad guys kidnap your girl, you go off to rescue her, beating up anyone who tries to stop you, and if you have a friend you can take your brother along for the ride. All the basic ingredients of a fighting game are there, and with buttons to punch, kick and jump, there's many combinations available, and different moves available according to what position you and your enemy are in. For instance, you can punch three times to knock over your opponent, but move in a little closer during the combo and you'll get them in some sort of lock position and pummel their head in, or even give them a throw. You can combine buttons for flying kicks and the infamous back-elbow move that virtually ensures completion of the game. Or, most controversially, a double tap of the joystick engages the head-butt move, which you will only use to look good, because as moves go, it's crap.

Enemies range from standard bad guys to huge hulks and to fast martial arts experts. Oh, and there's a couple of women in there too. And a man with a gun. No-one else could afford one, it seems. However, they do manage to afford some Baseball bats, rocks, dynamite, knives and whips. All the best weapons to use against one man in his quest to get his woman back, then.

But was it any good?

Well... yes. It was. If you can discipline yourself not to use the back-elbow move all through the game. It really does spoil it, because using everything else in your move set allows the game to remain a challenge throughout. As soon as you start to use that move, though, it becomes more than just easy, it's an absolute doddle. The scenery becomes more of a hazard than your opponents.