Thursday, 23 December 2010

Commodore Amiga - Yo! Joe!

Commodore Amiga
Yo! Joe!

Y'know, some things I'll never understand. The popularity of retro gaming, for instance. No, I understand why retro gaming is popular, but there's certain games I've either never played or never understood the hype behind them. Take Head Over Heels, for instance, or the original Batman game. I've just never got into them as much as apparently most people did.

Then there's the games that I really liked that no-one ever mentions. In all my time of retro-gaming, I haven't heard a single mention of Yo! Joe! for the Amiga, except by myself, and I don't know why. Me and several other of my friends loved the game, having originally been hooked on a playable demo of the first half of the first level... and that's not as bad as it sounds because the levels were HUGE.

Basically, then... you, with or without a friend, must make your way through some big levels of various designs, beating things up along the way. Animation is wonderfully smooth, the graphics are highly detailed, and the controls are simple and easy to learn.

The reason you're in this situation isn't abundantly clear. All you can tell is some evil magic circle wants to cause Joe and Nat (the playable characters) pain and suffering, and so make you fight your way through their domain. Well, it's easy enough to just say "Whatever" to the plot, it could be about being pulled up for not scooping the poop for all I care, as long as the main game mechanic remains as it is, because this is one enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

It wasn't particularly difficult, but you did need to exercise a little brain power here and there and choose when to back off a bit. Attempting to simply plough forward was just a little too dumb and would cause you to die fairly readily. Ducking and weaving a bit delivered far better results.

Magazine reviews were mixed, public opinion was and still is mixed. I would be very interested to know what other people think about this game, so please post your comments below. If you haven't played before I'd say it's worth hunting down for a quick blast.

TI99/4A - Munch Man

Munch Man

Pac Man has been cloned in many different ways. It’s often said, however, that despite all the different versions, the original remains the best and nothing’s going to top it. One thing’s for sure, the new “DX” version of Pac Man certainly doesn't.

Anyway, that’s a whole different article and story and in no way helps set the scene for Munch Man. Munch Man was the TI99/4A’s version of Pac Man, and is, in my humble opinion, just as good as the famed game, although in quite a different graphical style.

First off, gone are the dark backgrounds of most games of this genre, and in comes a bright white background. Gone are the dots to eat, instead you have to make a chain round the maze (until later, anyway). You still have your power pills, though they're shaped like Texas Instruments logos. The ghosts are replaced by "Hoonos", baddies that come in a variety of shapes and speeds.

Graphics are colourful, and the animation is simplistic yet effective. The sound effects are marvellous, especially the satisfying "crunch" as you eat one of the Hoonos. As far as gameplay goes, it's no more complicated than Pacman, but just as fun. The speed of the game starts off alright, but increases steadily to a stern test of nerve, especially when you reach the last couple of levels in the loop... rather than having your visible maze and filling it with chains, now the walls are invisible, but paths are marked by tiny TI logos that you must eat. Unfortunately, as you eat these logos, you take away your map, leaving you reliant on your memory as to where the paths are.

Let me be honest... if you're a Billy Mitchell type who can deliver a perfect high score on PacMan, you're NOT going to find this overly challenging. However, a regular everyday joe like most of us will find Munch Man a refreshing and fun alternative to everyone's favourite yellow ball. The further you get, the faster the game is, so the challenge is constantly increasing.

One last thing... the game contains one of the earliest known "Cheat" modes. At the start screen, before the title animation begins, if you hold the Shift button and type "838", you can select what level you want to start on and how many lives you have.

Thanks to emulation, you can get hold of this game to play within moments, which I've tried, but I have to be honest... I still prefer the real thing every time.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Sinclair ZX Spectrum - Batman: The Movie

Sinclair Spectrum
Batman: The Movie
Ocean software were, for a very long time, considered quite rightly to be one of the best (if not THE best) software houses for converting a movie licence to a more than reasonable game.

Sure, they missed the mark every now and again, but usually they delivered the goods with alarming regularity. And the good thing was they stuck to a simple formula, where they would take certain key scenes from the film and base a level on each one, creating a multi-level multi-style extravaganza (unfortunately occasionally leaving out 48K owners).

During one of their most awesome phases, Ocean produced licensed wonders such as Robocop, The Untouchables, and the subject of this review, Batman: The Movie.

Distancing itself from the original Batman isometric 3D adventure and the “Batman: The Caped Crusader” game, this game was divided very simply into 5 levels, with you donning the cape and assuming the eponymous hero’s role.

Levels 1 & 5 are superb platform levels, the first in the form of the Axis Chemical Plant, where you had to basically defeat many of Napier’s thugs (armed with guns or grenades) by means of Batarangs and your Bat Belt, avoiding natural(ish) hazards such as long falls and chemical drips. The level is pretty big, and to get to the end you’ll need to get the hang of using your Bat Belt (and Bat Rope) to swing and hoist yourself up to platforms above. Once at the end of the level, you must knock Napier from his platform into a VAT of chemicals (much like the film), turning him into The Joker.

The player and enemy sprites are large and detailed, and, remembering you lose a third of the screen with the score panel and energy meter, it did make things a bit “Close Quarters”, as in you didn’t necessarily see an enemy until they were upon you. However, minor gripes aside, the first level was a nicely balanced affair, with enough challenge for first-time players to come unstuck, but not overly difficult.

Level 2, then, and it’s into the Batmobile and one of the more challenging and frustrating parts of the game. Viewed from the side you must drive through the streets of Gotham city, avoiding other cars on the road and blockades, occasionally turning left (and left only) to get to the Bat Cave. Getting to the end within the time limit is no problem, but without careful maneuvering your energy level wouldn’t last the distance.

You had two choices at turning left, either fire the bat rope to the lamppost on the corner and swing round (the fastest and most stylish way), or skid sideways and attempt to drive through that way. Whilst I preferred to skid, it was definitely cooler to use the bat rope.

Reach the Bat Cave, and it’s onto the puzzle mini-level. Several products are in front of you, 3 of which are contaminated by the Joker’s evil poison thing. You select 3 products and are told how many of those are contaminated. From this you must use logic to determine which three are the correct answers.

It’s a simple enough problem, made more difficult by the (very tight) 1 minute time limit. Of course, you could be lucky and pick all 3 right answers first time.

Onto level 4, then, and probably the most difficult part of the game. The Joker has decided to release his poison in the form of Gas, and to do so has staged a parade with lots of balloons, all filled with the poisonous gases. Taking control of the Bat-Wing (Seriously, was EVERYTHING in Bat Man some form of “Bat”-thing? Need a shower? Use the Bat-Gel. Bad case of diarrhoea? You’ll need Bat-Roll and Bat-Suppositories. Anyone for Cricket? I’ve brought the Bat-bat), your job is to fly through the parade, cutting the connecting cables of the balloons, releasing them into the air and away from the city.

No doubt you’re saying “That doesn’t sound so hard!”. Wait until the helicopters come along, matey. One touch equals death, so you’d better be good at manoeuvring past them, or you’ll soon end up as Bat-Soup.

To finish, then, it’s a final chase of the Joker up to the roof of Gotham City Cathedral. This time, you’ve got spiked floors to contend with (instant death!) and also crumbling floors, so you’ll need to be on your guard all the way through. Taking the Joker out at the end is slightly different, but I’ll not spoil that for you. If you got that far, you deserve to discover it for yourself.

So is the game any good?


OK, so that was a bit of a short, to-the-point answer, but this is a short, to-the-point game. Even with the time limit of 10 minutes on the platform levels, you’ll easily do that once you know where you’re going. But even so, it’s a highly polished product with some superb graphics, and lots of nice touches, so it’s certainly worth hunting down and playing through.

Among my favourite of the touches is the energy bar, something that was used in The Untouchables, too, where the energy bar is in fact the picture of Batman at the bottom of the screen. As you lost energy, Batman’s face was replaced by The Joker (In the Untouchables, they used Al Capone, obviously). This was probably why Ocean’s games often had a big status bar, to fit in the score, number of lives, time limit AND A GREAT BIG BENKING ENERGY BAR PICTURE!

Whilst it is a nice touch, sometimes you did wish the play area was a little bit bigger.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning the music. Whilst I don’t know if it’s based on music from the movie (I’ve not really watched it that closely to be fair), the 128K soundtrack is most enjoyable, and suits each level REALLY well. In fact, it’s so good, I have the Batmobile level music on in the car sometimes.

So yeah, I’d advise you to check out this little gem of a game, you may well finish it in one sitting, but you’ll have fun doing it, and maybe you’ll want to check out Ocean’s similar movie tie-in licences such as Robocop and The Untouchables.

Magazine - Your Sinclair

Your Sinclair
Whilst we’re off the topic of video games themselves for the moment, why not turn our attention to one of THE most popular and influential magazines of the Spectrum era, the amazingly spectacularly crap (in a funky skillo sort of way) Your Sinclair.

Your Sinclair, or YS as it was affectionately referred to, started life as a slightly more technical affair called Your Spectrum, however due to the QL launch (and much hyped potential), the magazine closed and relaunched as the Your Sinclair we knew and loved so well.

Unfortunately for myself, I missed out on a lot of the “Golden days” of Your Sinclair, only beginning my collection from issue 49 (with N.O.M.A.D. and Bilbo and the Lizard King on the covertape), but straight away YS had its impact on me. The way the reviews were written, the way the letters were answered, just about everything in there really, all contributed to the way I spoke and talked about things.

Stuff wasn’t “rubbish” anymore, it was “crap”. If something was good, it was “Brillo”. Scary statements could be proceeded with “Yikes”.

Sarcasm and humour were key ingredients to most articles, which is probably why it was such a cult smash magazine, outlasting both Crash and Sinclair User by a long margin. Among the regular sections were the usual “Tipshop” and Letters pages, supplemented with columns from the Pico family (long story), Marcus Berkmann’s clinic, the Trainspotter award, Around The World (a section where people from foreign lands could write in with profuse amounts of Engrish). Other regular features included Program Pitstop (type-in listings and hexadecimal machine code), Input Output (Classifieds), Pssst (latest industry news and sneak-peeks), Megapreviews (first in-depth look at forthcoming games) and more. Some features ran for a limited time, such as Spec Tec (Technical queries answered), the Programming Launderette (spawning the amazing game, The Pathetic Pablo Brothers), Crap Game Corner (Readers’ games reviewed, some were actually pretty good!), Haylp! (problem page introduced to TRY and pad out the dying mag with the distinct lack of reviews forthcoming) and “Complete Guides”, which covered whole genres of games such as Beat ‘em-ups, Shoot ‘em-ups or platform games (and the rest), giving a humorous look at the essential ingredients for each genre, and a run-down of the best and worst examples.
Occasionally we would be treated to a photo-love story, or the brilliant “Competition on every page” (issue 50!) or some other wonderment of one-off article (Rich Pelley’s Guide to YS-Speak was particularly enlightening).

Blessed with a covertape practically every issue (certainly from when I started reading it), some fantastic full games were given away over the years, from N.O.M.A.D. on issue 49 (a game I would have hunted down from playing in Comet), including Chaos (twice due to popular demand, and stretched tapes from the first time round), Dizzy, Ninja Hamster (eventually), Captain Blood, Advanced Lawnmower Simulator and many MANY MANY more.
Advanced Lawnmower Simulator - The original "Crap Game".

The magazine writers (Joystick Jugglers, as they were known) were a varied bunch, the first lot I remember included Matt Bielby as editor, Dave “Whistlin’ Rick” Wilson, Marcus Berkmann (who I think went on to write for a major national newspaper), and Johnathan Davies (famous for owning a pet Warthog called Farty). Other faces to come and go included the hippy Andy Ide, Jon Pillar, Maryanne Booth, Andy Ounsted, Rich Pelley, Duncan MacDonald (Yibble), Jon Nash, my teenage crush Linda Barker, and freelance/regular contributor Stuart Campbell (whose crowning achievement was probably the all-time top 100 games article).

It got that even regular readers became well-known through the letters/tips pages, including the Ellesmere Port Elf, Leigh Loveday, (who put together the Complete Guide to Your Sinclair for the Big Final Issue), Stephen “Not Sven Andersson” Anderson, and the comic-strip by Phil McCardle that became a regular feature, Ernie the Psychotic Madman.

Being a Your Sinclair reader was like being part of a special club, I felt it a great privilege to be a reader, in the same way a regular watcher of Monty Python’s Flying Circus felt it a privilege to see that particular form of comedy.

When I read that Your Sinclair was closing down, and there was to be a big final issue, no matter what the cost, I wasn’t going to miss it. I had to hassle the newsagent I usually bought the magazine from to get it in (they were reluctant, but finally convinced), and despite the slightly high price tag it was absolutely worth it, and is still a treasured possession today. No matter what, I won’t be selling it for many years to come. Seeing the page numbers (which counted down to the end, a great touch) and the back cover (2 cowboys riding into the sunset, with the slogan “Your Sinclair… our work here is done”) still brings a lump to the throat, because, quite simply, no other magazine has come close to reviving the feel and spirit of YS. No other magazine (with the exception of Retro Gamer) has made me want to purchase it month after month. No other magazine (even with old YS writers) has been able to nail down the persistent entertainment that YS sustained to the end.

One of the final articles in the Big Final Issue was a Chaos battle between some of the editorial team. That was truly a fantastic article, and worthy of the price tag alone.

Fortunately for everyone, the World Of Spectrum archive has preserved Your Sinclair in digital format, and with a site like the “Your Sinclair Rock and Roll Years” keeping us up to date with the old writers and anything new that might crop up in the world of Your Sinclair, or indeed the Spectrum, rare as it may be these days. You can find that website HERE, and the World of Spectrum archive? Right HERE, my friend. 

With that in mind, it’s not too late to check out the glory of the perfect magazine. Believe me, I could write for hours about the content, quality and humour contained within the many pages of Your Sinclair. Even when they had to introduce pages like Haylp! and The World to pad things out a bit, they were still done in the YS way.

Their work here may be done, but their legacy will live beyond all expectations.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Board Game - Dingbats

Board Games

Some games are a stroke of genius. Others are more of a damp squib, cashing in on a licence or relying on a daft gimmick. This applies to board games just as much as computer games. Take Headache, for example, with the “pop-o-matic” dice system. It’s basically Ludo, isn’t it? Yet we own both. BOTH!!! Why?

One game has been copied by TV and the puzzle pages of many newspapers and magazines, but NOTHING holds a candle to the original and best version of the game.

That’s right, it’s Dingbats.

So what is a Dingbat? It’s a puzzle, essentially, based on word play. There’s usually no pictures, however letters, numbers, mathematical operators and shapes might be used. Usually the position or size of the letters is important too. But the answer might be a little bit less straightforward than you’d like. The most readily available example of Dingbats is the popular TV quiz show Catchphrase, with the motto “Say what you see”, but they’re usually blindingly obvious. A true Dingbat is slightly trickier than that. For example, what’s this one?

OK, so you’ve got the word “Grass” there, in the middle is a plus sign. The only clue I’m going to give you is… WHAT is a plus sign, and WHERE is it? Think about it, I’ll give the answer at the end.

The board itself is nothing too exciting, however the two piles of cards are the genius behind the games. Like most board games, you’ve got to get from the start to the finish, solving puzzles on the way (if you land on a puzzle space). There are two types of Dingbat puzzles, the Standard or “easy” ones, and the Diabolical, or “Stupidly obscure”. Like all puzzles, you’ll find there’s many that can be identified/solved in the blink of an eye, others that you’ll never get in a month of Sundays, but when you hear the answer you’ll be kicking yourself.

Solving Dingbats is done against the clock, 1 turn of a 30-second egg-timer for the easy ones, 2 turns for the hard. Some Diabolical Dingbats are played as  “All-plays” where everyone tries to guess the Dingbat in competition.

And… erm… well… that’s basically it. The winner gets to wear the “I’m a Dingbats Winner” badge, and there’s not much more to be said.

Except, of course, you are in for hours of fun and laughter as you try to reach the end of the board. Those fiendishly difficult Diabolical Dingbats will have you shaking in fear, praying you get one you’ve seen before (but there’s a lot to get through!), although we deliberately didn’t share the answer on those that weren’t guessed correctly.

The concept of the Dingbats puzzle has been copied in magazines and puzzle books everywhere, however compared to the slightly off-the-wall nature of the true dingbat puzzle, they’re often far too easy, requiring 5 seconds or less to solve.

Dingbats – The Board Game… the original and best.

Oh, the answer to the above Dingbat… “Snake in the grass”. Did you get it?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Arcade - NARC

Continuing with the theme of controversial games, how about this gory little side-scrolling shooter?

My history with this game is accompanied by an amusing back-story. Back in the days of regular holidays to Cornwall, we stayed at a little holiday site which had a large shed for a games room. It’s one of those things, I always loved going on holiday to a new site because I wanted to see what gems were in their games rooms. This particular one had a Ghosts & Goblins, Gladiator (a.k.a. Great Gurianos), Mat Mania (with only 1 button instead of 2, making things nearly impossible), Chase HQ, and a Q*Bert. Because they were working on a new building, we were offered a cheap return to the site for the October holidays, which we took up.
When we returned, not only had they finished the new pool and the block of new buildings, but they’d removed the old shed, and all the games from it. Instead we had a new games room, with a Pac-Land, Renegade (the only time I’ve EVER seen it in the wild), Iron Horse and Enduro Racer. And not much else. I was disappointed they’d removed the Ghosts & Goblins and Mat Mania, mainly because in the previous holiday someone had knocked open the coin doors on them and we’d been playing them for free for 2 solid weeks.

Part way through the week, Enduro Racer was removed, only to be replaced by NARC. And here’s where I manage to bring the review back on topic.
Y’see, Pac-Land, Renegade and Iron Horse were all excellent games. Iron Horse is in fact one of my all-time favourites, and fairly rare. But I didn’t play any of them again for the rest of the week, saving all my 10p coins for NARC instead. It didn’t matter that it was twice the price per play (a massive 20p!) of all the other games. It didn’t matter that parents who saw the game in there didn’t approve of the disconnected limbs flying round the screen when you shot people with a rocket.

Nope, all that mattered was getting as far as I could. Which wasn’t greatly far in one credit to be honest.
So, on to the game. First off, nice big cabinet, excellent hi-res graphics, partially digitised, and sampled speech a-plenty. Nice simple concept, you (and a friend) are part of some kind of special anti-Narcotics squad, and must find and stop Mr Big’s drugs operation. Mr Big has a LOT of people on his side, from the thousands of trenchcoat-wearing pushers, to syringe-throwing maniacs, muscle-bound PCP-addicts, perverted clowns and more.

You have two ways to deal with the enemy, kill them or arrest them. Killing enemies often leaves behind ammo, cash or drugs. Collecting these will go towards a bonus count at the end, as do all arrests, or “Busts” as they call them.
You’re armed with a machine gun and a rocket or grenade launcher, and each kill is nicely detailed, from blood splatters when hit by bullets to complete dismemberment when using your rockets. There are also dogs who simply shrink to puppy size when shot, detracting slightly from realism, but then again so is the whole plot of the game.
Once you discover how to “Bust” the enemy rather than kill them, you’ll discover it’s a quick way to rack up a lot of extra lives early on. You get points there and then for removing an enemy from the scene, and you get extra points in the end-of-level bonus. Busting an enemy is easy enough, just get close to them for about 3 seconds. Don’t be stupid with it, though, you can’t bust the tough, headbutting thugs or the dogs. And probably a few others as well.

But believe me, when you reach the end of the game, you’ll need those lives if you want to stand any chance at all. Mr Big turns out to be a fat guy in a motorised wheelchair, then a massive robot head thing, which takes an age to damage, after which he becomes a skull robot. After that, you gain access to a vault full of Gold for your final bonus.
I know I’ve still not mentioned the fact that you get to drive a big red sports car (It could be a Ferrari, but I wouldn’t know one if it ran me over.) on a couple of levels, and the enemy occasionally take to the sky in helicopters.
Overall, NARC is an enjoyable shooter, with an insanely difficult final few levels and boss. The controls take a little getting used to, but once you’re up and running, you’ll be having no problems controlling it and arresting to your heart’s content.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

PC - Carmageddon

So, you’ve designed a driving game. It takes place in huge sprawling cities (kind of like GTA3, perhaps). You have to drive through checkpoints to complete laps to win the race. Sounds very bland, doesn’t it?

OK, how about you can also win by smashing your opponents to death. For some reason, you running head on into them damages them, and not so much you. Now, that’s more like it.
How about you’re up against a clock? And there’s nowhere near enough time to complete the race, and you can earn more by smashing the opposition up? Now, that’s more like it.

How about if you smash up certain cars you can actually pinch them and use them yourself? Ooh, now that sounds good. And you’ve got to have power-ups too, but make them interesting, like “Instant Handbrake” and “Solid Granite Car” and “Electro-Bastard Pedestrian Killing Ray”.
Hold on… did I just say “Pedestrian Killing”? That’s a breach of the Green Cross Code, right?

Now wait just a minute, because like all truly memorable games, Carmageddon did not avoid the glare of the censors, but the story isn’t exactly straightforward. You see, Carmageddon first came to my attention thanks to a playable demo on a PC Zone coverdisk. The demo was time-limited, but very intense, and included the game as it was intended… the streets crowded with innocent pedestrians whom you could mow down with your vehicle in a shower of blood and guts. Furthermore, you could win the race yet another way, by finding and killing all the pedestrians on a map.
HOWEVER, when the game came to be released, there was much disappointment as the pedestrians were changed at the last minute to “Zombies”, given green skin and blood. Why was this? Why wasn’t the game quite as enjoyable? Does this mean I’m a psychotic murderer deep down?

I don’t think so somehow… but yes, something just didn’t feel quite “right”, it felt a little bit like Shadow Warrior, where the Shurikens were suddenly replaced by “darts” for the UK market. For some reason, SCi had to swap the pallet colours of human flesh and blood.
Fortunately PC Zone came to the rescue by supplying a coverdisk with a “gore patch”, which restored the original graphics from the demo into the main game. So, back we went to zooming along straight roads and then hitting a sideways skid through a large crowd of the general public, hearing them scream first in terror, then in pain, then the satisfying splat… Yikes, I’m beginning to scare myself now.
You’ve got a choice of 2 drivers (whose reactions cam be seen on the “Prat-cam”) and a selection of difficulty levels ranging from very easy to ridiculously hard (a.k.a. As hard as French Kissing a Cobra) You would start out at Rank 99, gaining 1 or 2 ranks for each race you won (Depending on the difficulty selected). Your rank dictated which races you could select, usually 5 races at a time were selectable out of the list of about 36. The races themselves took place over about 8 different maps, but these maps were big enough to hold several different tracks, although you invariably would go exploring elsewhere anyway for more points and pedestrians to slaughter.

There’s some incredible jumps to hit, and in the mineshaft levels some insanely deep pits to fall down, and between levels you can add better bumpers and defences to your car. Most races are won by wrecking the opponents, but sometimes you realise they’ve gone completely off to the other side of the map for some reason, therefore you’ll have to complete the race to win, or earn enough time to hunt them down. Killing every single pedestrian isn’t really an option, as they really are all over the place. You can call a map up, but without a certain power-up pedestrians don’t show up on there.

There’s many amusing moments in the game, the Harvester power-up for example, or zipping into the stadium and hitting the line-up of American Football players with a skid straight over the top of them. But absolutely my favourite power up was the Electro Bastard Pedestrian-Killing Ray, which would zap any pedestrians within range of your vehicle as you passed by. Obviously, through big crowds or long straight streets this made for huge combos, giving you the chance to increase your measly 1 minute 30 seconds timer to well over 10 minutes, and a good chance to enjoy a nice speedy bloodthirsty drive around the map. Of course, the fact that it’s totally hilarious helps too.
But was all this necessary? Carmageddon got rave reviews at the time based on the excellent gameplay and physics involved. Take away the controversy and the gore, and you’ve still got an excellent driving game. The question is, would I have bought it? No, I probably wouldn’t. On that basis, I’m glad they went down that route.

Still not convinced? Trust me, it’s worth a go. Strap yourself in, hang on to your helmet, and drive to survive.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Arcade - WWF Wrestlefest

WWF Wrestlefest
Wrestling: Big men in tights and boots, pretending to kick the crap out of each other. Hear them roar in pain as a boot glances off their shoulder with a feather-light touch. See them glisten with sweat as they run from rope to rope, seemingly unable to stop running because they were Irish-whipped. See them land atop their opponent with what would be a devastating splash, if it wasn’t for the fact that they landed on their knees and arms first. Watch them fight in a pre-scripted battle of might and will.
I like Wrestling. Don’t get me wrong. It’s funny to watch, and for the most part is well delivered. Without the knowledge of the ring and the techniques used, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s real sometimes. Who can forget trying a Figure-4 Leg-Lock out and discovering it really does bloody hurt?

It’s known these days as “Sports Entertainment”, and is more about technique these days than the in-ring personas that it always used to be. Back in the days when the Undertaker was thought of as something invincible and Hulk Hogan was the Real American, wrestling was as much about ego and popularity.
It was the meteoric rise in popularity of WWF (now known as WWE thanks to the other WWF… confused? You will be) that prompted a stream of computer and arcade games dedicated to Wrestling, licensing the big names of the era. There had been a game already in the arcades, WWF Superstars, but when this one came out, it was enormously popular.

And deservedly so, because it’s one of the best Wrestling games of all time.
First off, I must point out that there’s ALWAYS the fundamental differences between Wrestling, REAL Wrestling (the ACTUAL sport) and Wrestling Video games. Real Wrestling is an Olympic sport, is very technical, and relies on real pain thresholds and endurance to determine a winner. However, it is devoid of storylines, egos, flashing lights and Pyrovogues. The more popular form of Wrestling, sometimes known as American Wrestling, is what you see on WWE/TNA etc. The moves aren’t meant to cause lasting pain or damage, everything’s scripted and pre-determined, and you can’t place any reliance on how things turn out being down to an individual’s skill. Look at Mr Script-writer in the office instead. However, it’s a spectacle of showmanship, and as such fantastically popular.
Video Games of Wrestling always take the best of both. Imagine combining the finesse and showmanship from American Wrestling with the reality of Real Wrestling… well, that’s what the Video Games always assume. Wrestling’s real, and all moves hurt and drain yours or your opponent’s vitality until one is so hurt/tired they can’t kick out of a pin by a 3 count, or are forced to submit to pain in some sort of hold.

Hold on, hold on… I’ve not explained this very well. All that is if you assume a standard match, of course. The game in question offers you a choice to begin with… Saturday Night’s Main Event, or the Royal Rumble.

Choosing the former allows you to choose a tag team from several different stars. Quite alarmingly, many of these performers are now dead in real life, for example Earthquake, the Big Boss Man, and Mr Perfect. There may be more…
Simple concept, take your tag team through 3 or 4 matches to win yourself a chance to take on the WWF Tag Team Champions, The Legion Of Doom… one of whom is also dead IRL now. Working as a tag team, only one of each team is allowed in the ring, however the other wrestlers may interject if a pin is made. With high energy levels, the chances of a wrestler kicking out of the pin is very high, however as energy levels deplete, the pinned wrestler may have to rely on his partner making the save before the 3 count. Alternatively, if energy levels are low and a submission hold is applied, there’s very little chance of avoiding defeat.

After a few successful victories, you then have to face Hawk and Animal, the Legion of Doom (or Road Warriors if you’re a purist) for the title, and believe me, their energy meters and regularity at winning the grapples make life very very difficult.
The grapples… of course… I should tell you the physics of the game… well, to be honest, they’re fairly random. You can punch and kick, however if you and your opponent get close enough, you’ll engage in a grapple. Button bashing will usually win this, bashing the kick button will normally result in an Irish Whip, bashing the punch button will perform a seemingly random move from the wrestler’s repertoire. For example, you might perform a body slam, or a backbreaker, or, if the opponent’s energy is getting low, you may perform your signature move, although some wrestler’s moves are performed on downed opponents only, for example Hulk Hogan’s leg drop or Earthquake’s sit-splash. Others you may even need to make your opponent run to the rope (Big Boss Slam, for instance).

You can always tell when your opponent’s ripe for a pin, they lie diagonally on the floor instead of horizontally. You will too, once your energy’s low enough. Keeping your partner on the side out of the ring for a certain length of time will cause him to “Power up” and get all anxious to get involved, like, giving a boost of energy too.
Another nice feature is that your wrestlers can “team up” at the tag, resulting in a nice easy way of keeping your opponent in your corner and draining his energy. Don’t expect it to work for a whole match, though.

And let’s not forget the Royal Rumble mode. This time you’re on your own, trying to pin or throw out your opponents to be the last man standing. A nice feature of this mode is that when a man is pinned, another wrestler can jump on top the pile to aid the pinfall count-out!

So the game’s entertaining, is there anything wrong with the game?
Well, now, that would depend on what type of cabinet you played the game. Unfortunately, the most common form of this game was the upright 2 player cabinet, thankfully with working speakers and the volume turned up (the thumping bass background track and the slightly grating voice synthesis do need to be heard for maximum effect, especially as the in-game commentary talks about every single move you do… for example “Warrior… Gorilla Press!”). However, with some searching you may have been lucky enough to find the 4-player buy-in cabinet, similar to the Simpsons or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles cabinets (or even Gauntlet) that were commonplace. This meant you could have a proper 4-player Tag match or 4-players teaming up in a Royal Rumble, and really made the difference to the game.

The ONLY real problem was the big, chunky graphics. Whilst stuffed full of detail and character, they did sometimes get a little confused, and with the view being so zoomed in, an opponent sent to the ropes often ran off-screen to return, or even caused the screen to scroll slightly annoyingly, and the problem can be more pronounced in multiplayer as the game tries to keep all players on screen at the same time… But that’s a minor gripe, the game wouldn’t have been the same without it.
In summary, then, it’s one of the best executed wrestling games of all time, even down to the little things like the wrestlers looking tired and winded after a bit of punishment, there’s a steel cage match too. It’s well worth finding and playing, even if only through MAME. But if you’re really really lucky and you stumble across an original 4-player cabinet and you’ve a few friends in tow, that is certainly the best way to experience this game.