Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Arcade / Sega Saturn / Dreamcast - Daytona USA

Arcade & Sega Saturn & Dreamcast
Daytona USA
Doo do-doo doo doo doo doo doo dooooo doooooooooooooo…. DAYTONAAAAAAAAA!

If you visited arcades in the late 90s or early 2000s, you couldn’t help but notice the enormous quantities of racing games arriving, mainly “front of house”. You couldn’t go by without coming across a Manx TT, Sega Rally or a Daytona USA, and many arcades involved themselves in a “willy-waving” contest by trying to have the biggest Daytona USA setup they could.
Yep, this was a racing game with the potential to daisy chain together several units, as well as other optional extras. I recall visiting Newquay and the excellent Carousel amusements on 3 consecutive years to find they’d added another 2 Daytona seats each time… However the top prize had to go to Mr B’s in Blackpool, with a 4-player setup with the addition of cameras pointing into each players’ face and a big screen over the top showing the race along with the faces of the competitors.
At a standard rate of £1 a race (and often a race consisted of 8 laps of less than 20 seconds each), this game was unsurprisingly the highest grossing arcade machine of all time. People rarely ventured from the Easy level (777 Speedway, basically a big oval with long sweeping curves), as the other tracks were far more difficult, and not suited to multiplayer so much.

The big puller was the graphics, they did look amazingly realistic, but most arcades had the volume turned up too. This was a bonus as the music really was superb, from the theme tune (see the start of this review) to the familiar war cry of “ROLLING STAAAAAAAART!”, the music is so good I have the soundtrack in the car for long distance driving.
As far as longevity goes, this game really doesn’t have any. There’s only 3 tracks, and whilst there’s plenty multiplayer fun to be had, Single player gameplay is decidedly limited.

So, was bringing the game to the home console market a good idea? Well, the Saturn versions (yes, there was two of them) didn’t quite cut it visually, plagued with clipping, pop-up and a lower frame rate. Gameplay wise, they weren’t so bad, the action was still fast and handled very much like the Arcade Original. But was one player racing any good?
Not really, especially with a title like Sega Rally around (which was REALLY good). Even in Endurance mode, trying to squeeze playability out of the game without getting repetitive was an impossible task.

During this era, driving games suddenly improved, but got much smaller and shorter. Prior to this, driving games at home boasted huge numbers of tracks, or at least that was the primary selling point. For example, Network Q RAC Rally came out with around 30 tracks available. All of a sudden racing games were cut to 3 or 4 tracks but vastly improved physics and graphics. Fine for the arcades and the quick, sharp burst of fun, but not so good for a game you’re expected to pay £30 or more for at home where most play is by yourself. Until the advent of online gaming, this kind of racer signified to me both the high point of arcade racing experiences, and the low point of the home racing experience.
Daytona’s success will guarantee its deserved place in the annals of history, tarnished only by comparatively poor home versions. What I do hope will live forever is the awesome music.

Blue, blue skies I see...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Arcade - Crime City

Crime City
I’m going to keep this short and sweet here, because the best thing you can do to get to know this rare little gem is read Lord BBH’s review. Be warned, there is some colourful language in there, but that doesn’t detract from what is an excellent and hilarious read.
All I will say is that this game, which follows a formula based on Rolling Thunder / Sly Spy / E-Swat, is littered with Japlish / Engrish, and as a result you spend the start of each level wiping the tears of laughter from your eyes. The game itself is decent, but not exactly all-time-classic time-enduring quality material.
While you’re at it, you should take the time to read the rest of Lord BBH’s reviews, there’s some interesting and well-written material in there, and if you’re a fan of sarcasm you’ll be on cloud 9…

Well, go and read it for a kill time.

ZX Spectrum - Barbarian

Sinclair Spectrum
(I know it's the Commodore 64 box, but the art's the same. See that man? That's Wolf from Gladiators, that is...)

Harking back to the days of Mortal Kombat, where death-moves were really taking off and violence in video games was almost a necessity, blood and guts were a staple of the modern era of gaming. This has continued somewhat as more and more games receive age rating certificates akin to Hollywood movies, games become more realistic and immersive… but back in the “Good old Days”, when everything was made of wood, a game with shock value often found itself on the receiving end of more unfavourable press than Saddam Hussein buying his horde of PS2s to control his war machine.
 Such a game was Barbarian, a straight one-on-one beat-‘em-up on the humble 8-bit Spectrum. Whilst sword-fighting was nothing new, the sheer number of moves and combinations used on your humble joystick represented a huge technical battle against some of the tougher AI in the game. But it was the violence that really stirred things up. Some of it comic violence, like the way the little Gremlin would come across the screen to drag away the dead man’s carcass, but the ultimate triumph (or tragedy if you were on the receiving end) was the spinning neck chop. Whilst most fights were won and lost by the process of draining your opponent’s energy, you could cut a fight short by simply decapitating him with this move. Usually the first 2 opponents were easy enough to hit with this manoeuvre, after that it was nigh on impossible,

Amusingly, the gremlin that collects the dead body will kick a loose head along the floor, probably just as disturbing to the death blow just dealt, but in the mid to late 80s this was like heaven to any teenage (or pre-teen for that matter) boy.
 Unfortunately, this is pretty much it, 8 fights of increasing difficulty, followed by the final showdown with the evil Drax, who, by the way, once you’ve figured him out, is exceptionally easy to beat. But the combat system is very thorough, with lots of moves to choose, using a tried and tested system similar to Way Of The Exploding Fist, so whilst the 8 fights can feel very samey, they’re a challenge for sure, and to win them all requires some skill and smooth moves. The “rolling knock-over” attack is a bit of a cop out, but once you get the hang of jumping, blocking and retaliating with a variation of moves, you’ll be looking pretty impressive, especially if you manage to land the fatal head-lopper in the process.
On the plus side, there is a two player mode, so you can decapitate all your friends. Video game violence had never been so much fun. And until the dawn of Mortal Kombat, this was definitely the place to dispense that pent-up aggression.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Most 16bits - Speedball II

Commodore Amiga, Sega Megadrive...
(In fact, most 16-bit formats)
Speedball 2

Think of the greatest team sport in the world (Rugby League, naturally). Completely change the rules, and you’ve pretty much got Speedball 2.

OK, so I just wanted to get a Rugby League reference in there. To tell the truth, it's closer to Handball... But  if Speedball as a sport existed today, it may just about surpass Rugby League as the greatest sporting entertainment you could ever hope to see.

Whilst the first Speedball game descended into relative obscurity, the second game in the series has been widely recognised as one of the all time greats of gaming, and certainly The Bitmap Brothers’ finest moment.

Cutting a fairly short story even shorter, the basic back-story is that the original sport of Speedball was destroyed by greed and corruption, revived as Speedball 2, and onto the scene bursts a new team, Brutal Deluxe. This is where you come in, as their coach and on-field controller.
The basic rules of the game are easy enough, there’s no offside or handball or penalties for violent conduct, simply score more points than your opponent. Points are scored either by putting the ball into the opponent’s goal (worth 10 points), injuring an enemy player (also worth 10 points) or hitting certain target areas around the arena (some are worth 2 points, some have other properties).

You can throw the ball in any direction, you can punch or slide tackle your opponents, or if you’re fast enough you can run around and try to collect some of the bonus items that appear randomly. Coins boost your funds (there’s a shop/training facility you can use between matches depending on which game mode you play), whilst other pickups boost your player’s abilities or even have a temporary effect on the whole team, or opposition team. For example, there’s a power up that makes your team invincible to tackles for 5 seconds, another knocks all the opposition over, another roots them to the spot for 5 seconds, giving you the opportunity to make some easy yards and hopefully score.
Teams consist of 9 players, a goalkeeper and two defenders make up your defence, 3 midfielders sit across your middle line, and 3 forwards for your main attack. The closest player to the ball is automatically selected for your control, which can on occasion be frustrating, but for the most part makes controlling your team a cinch.
 Between matches you can manage your team, building up their abilities using the money you earn from winning and what you may have collected on the field. Whilst the “buildup” method may result in maximum achievable results, it costs a lot as you have to build up the whole team to increase maximum potential. However, you can buy souped-up players (for a price, of course) to give your team a quick boost.
Action on the field is fast and frantic. Whilst trying to collect as much money as possible, you still want to win by as many points as you can, and to this end the arena provides a couple of helpful tools for your use. First of all, there’s the multiplier ramp. Located at either side of the arena, all you have to do is through the ball around it, and your score from that point on is boosted by 50%. Do it again, and it’s boosted by 100%! Of course, your opponent can do the same, but first either one of you must reduce any multiplier the other has to zero. Potentially, you can rack up huge scores if you get the multiplier and play against a crap team where you can just keep on scoring!

There’s also a “Hot Ball” target. Hit this, and the ball becomes dangerous to the opposition for a little while. As long as you’re not caught in possession, you can hurl the ball toward the opposition goal, and watch as they are knocked over by the deadly ball. However, beware that if you are tackled with the ball in hand, the ball becomes dangerous to you instead!
A simple concept, a simple sport, but the playability factor is so high, you just keep coming back for more. You’ll find yourself pushing your skills to the limit to finally beat the likes of Super Nashwan and Lethal Formula, laughing as you brush aside Baroque, injuring their centre forward 3 times in one match, and joining in with the calls of “Ice Cream! Ice Cream!” as the ambulance droids carry his prone body away.

Sport doesn’t get much better than this. If you have never played this, hunt it out and give it a go. It'll be worth it!