Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Arcade - Q*Bert


Sometimes, the simple ideas work best. If a game can be summed up in a fairly succinct sentence, it's a simple game, and in the 80s that was a recipe for success. For example: Run round a maze, eat all the dots, avoid the ememies, repeat ad infinitum. Shoot alien spacecraft before they shoot you. Make horizontal lines out of blocks to prevent them reaching the top of the screen. Or how about turn all the blocks the right colour by bouncing on them, avoiding the enemies?

Well, if that wasn't a giveaway, I don't know what is, because that is basically all you do in Q*Bert. Simples!

Simple doesn't mean easy, though. In fact, it's devilishly hard. First off, the games in a 3D perspective, and the game's physics plays real tricks on you as you progress.

Let's start from the beginning then... You start atop a pyramid made of cubes, and must commence jumping on all the cubes to change them to the correct colour. However, other creatures will soon start to show up, like bouncy balls that will go from top to bottom, trying to intercept you on the way. You'll notice first of all, however, that the purple ball will stop at the bottom, and turn into a relentlessly chasing snake, able to travel in exactly the same way as you... but slower.

There's a way to deal with it, but it's only temporary. The little discs at the side of the maze (you may have noticed them) are acutally lifts that take you back to the top of the pyramid. If you jump on one of these with the snake in pursuit, he will jump off after you, to his death... only to be replaced by another one seconds later. Still, there's bonus points in it for you.

From level 2, it starts to get harder very quickly indeed. Blocks will need 2 or 3 bounces to cycle through colours until you get the right one up, and enemies will start coming from all sides, almost as if gravity to them is sideways rather than downwards. The 3D view does you no favours here as they skip along the sides of cubes, and you try to work out what bloody way they're going, and which way you should go to avoid them.

But that's the game, that's where the real challenge lies, and that's where you'll keep coming back for more, no matter how frustrating you find it; A sign of a great game indeed! Somehow you never tire of seeing the nonsense-swear-word-speech-bubble pop up again and again and again...

Your chances of finding an original working cabinet (complete with solenoid to cause a "bump" inside the cabinet when you or an enemy plummet to your death) are slim, but worth a little effort to find. If you get nowhere, though, there's always MAME.

Finally, is it just me who thinks our hero in this game looks like a bodyless Cyril Sneer from The Raccoons?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Arcade - Rampage


Ah, the old monster movies... Godzilla, King Kong... erm... quick, think of one involving a big wolf. Alright, I can't, but there probably is one. How great would it be if all three monsters got together in one movie?

Well, the wheels have been in motion since the mid-80s, when Bally Midway released the arcade game Rampage. 3 players can play at once, each assuming the role of one of the aforementioned monsters, or rather a non-copyright-infringing equivalent. The storyline is that you are actually a mutated human, the mutation being caused by some super vitamin or a radioactive lake or something.

And your aim? Well, pretty much cause as much destruction and devastation to the single screen play area as you can. Destroy all the buildings, and move onto the next screen. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it would be, but unfortunately there's a lot of people none too happy about that. In particular, the armed forces are out to get you, with soldiers, helicopters and tanks all coming to try and take little bits off your health.

Luckily, your energy bar is pretty enormous, and it'll take a fair few hits before you finally succumb, at which point you revert to your naked human form, hastily sidestepping away whilst covering your vanity. Nice touch!

So, how do you bring the buildings down? Pretty simple, climb them and punch the living hell out of them. Using the joystick, you can aim your punch in different directions, so you can, for instance, punch directly upwards to take out a helicopter, or even behind you. But whilst you're on the side of a building you need to be punching either the outside walls or the windows. Once a building takes enough damage, it will start to crack, and then collapse. Unfortunately, you're probably still attached to the building, so you'd better jump off before you come down with it and receive a fair bit of damage.

Luckily, there are ways to give your health a boost, people and objects appear in windows, and you can eat some of these; beware, however, that some items will actually cause you damage. A good example of this is the toaster. Try to grab it and it electrocutes you... unless the toast has popped up, in which case you will eat the toast. Clever, huh?

The problem is... that's all there is to it. That's it. There's no official end to the game, you get a bonus every 128 levels, and after level 768 you go back to level 1... but this isn't a game to play score attack on. It's a game for a sharp burst of fun, a good laugh, even better with 2 friends. The high-res graphics remind me of Atari's games, but with typical Bally Midway cartooniness.

But now we come full circle... the game ripping off 3 major film franchises / monsters, is set to be made into a movie itself! It's almost unbelievable.

Whether it'll be any good or not, of course, is an entirely different story.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Arcade - Track & Field vs. Hyper Sports

Track & Field vs. Hyper Sports

OK, time for some controversy. Konami released a couple of athetlics games in quick succession back in the early 80s, specifically Track & Field (a.k.a. Hyper Olympic) and Hyper Sports (a.k.a. Hyper Sports). Popular opinion seems to be that 1983's Track & Field was the better title... but I've never been popular, and I'm going to take a contrary viewpoint.

You see, event for event, I think Hyper Sports wins hands down... But first, the plot: You're an athlete. Press the buttons to win. Repeat. Erm... no, I'm actually serious, that is it. Alright, there's more timing and accuracy involved than the usual bashing in these types of games, but I'll discuss that when it comes to the relevant events.

In each of these sections, it's Track & Field vs Hypersports, ok? So the first event is from Track & Field, and the second is from Hypersports. Make sense? Really? Good, then I'll continue.

Event 1: 100m Sprint vs Swimming

OK, this is fairly straightforward. Bash the buttons for speed. For the 100 metres, that's it... for the swimming, you need to breathe every few seconds or you'll slow down. Breathe too early and you'll swallow water and stop completely. It's a no-brainer choice for me, Hyper Sports' Swimming event every time. Just that extra skill alone would even beat hurdles hands down any day.

Event 2: Long Jump vs Skeet Shooting

For the Long Jump, bash the buttons to build up speed. Close to the line hit the action button to set the angle, and see how far you go. Skeet Shooting is a little less strenuous, you have two square aiming reticles on screen which will vertically follow clay pigeons shot from the side. Simply press the corresponding run button to shoot the appropriate side, left or right. Timing is everything. Look, I'm not great at explaining things like that, you should learn by doing instead, go and play the game!

So which is better? Well, Skeet Shooting made it into the BBC quiz show First Class, and that's good enough for me. In fairness, it's actually pretty fantastic, and the sudden appearance of the duck if you shoot perfectly almost catches you by surprise...

Event 3: Javelin vs The Vault

For the Javelin, bash the buttons to build up speed. Close to the line hit the action button to set the angle, and see how far you go. Hold on, I've got a bit of deja vu here. That's the same as Long Jump, just different graphics! The Vault, meanwhile, was another staple of First Class. The run-up is automatic, but you must time the springboard launch and then the subsequent vault from the horse with the action button, and then perform somersaults with the run buttons, landing on your feet for maximum points.

Once again, the inclusion on First Class helps, but also the ability to land on your head and bounce along ensures that for comedy value alone, Hyper Sports takes the third round... this could be a clean sweep!

Event 4: 110m Hurdles vs Archery

NOW we have a battle. Hyper Sports' Archery is a challenge to say the least. First, hit a button to randomly select the wind speed and direction, then each target travels along on a belt or pulley of some kind. Using the action button, you must hold down to select the optimum angle of 5 degrees, timed correctly to land as close to the bullseye as possible. The 110m Hurdles over on Track & Field is another button bashing game, where you must hit the action button to jump over the hurdles.

You would expect me to say Archery wins this, right? Almost unbelievably, no, and it's all down to the Hurdling Physics. See, in a lot of athletics games, your hurdle jump should be taken as close to the hurdle as possible to maintain maximum speed. But here you have quite a long jump, which is slightly unrealistic, but infinitely more fun. Round 4 goes to Track 'n' Field.

Event 5: Hammer Throw vs Weight Lifting

Finally, a Track & Field event where you don't have to bash buttons! Speed increases constantly, it's all about the timing as you hit the action button to release the hammer and set the angle... just depends on your nerve getting the throw at the last possible moment to ensure maximum speed! Meanwhile, Weight Lifting is a button bashing MARATHON. Select a weight, then you have a limited time to bash enough power to lift it. You'll need to press the action button a couple of times at the right moment to change stance, then keep bashing to keep the arms locked vertical until all 3 judges are satisfied. Trust me, on heavier weights you'll wish you'd played something else. For that alone, Track & Field takes this one.

Event 6: High Jump vs Pole Vault

And now the challenge... both these play very similarly. Don't worry about power, that's automatic, it's all about the timing. Time the jump or dropping the pole, and the flop or the snap of the pole, and the landing, all with the action button. As a result, and seeing they both deliver the events very well... we have a tie.

Which means, without any doubt, we have a winner. The better of the two games is undeniably, unquestionably, Hyper Sports. Because I said so.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Arcade - Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
In the mid 80s, Indiana Jones was hot property. The first 3 films were a major Hollywood success, so much so that nearly 2 decades later, there was a market for a new film. And, let's face it, the whole basis and plots for Indiana Jones films provides absolutely perfect fare for a wide variety of games and genres.

Here's the weird thing, if you ask someone to name an Indiana Jones film, chances are they'll say Temple of Doom, yet, bizarrely, it was the least successful of the three 80s films! However, it converted brilliantly into an arcade game...

80s Atari games were quite distinctive, they often had much higher resolution graphics than most other games, not to mention larger cabinets. Indiana Jones was no exception, the cabinet was just a shade bigger then a normal arcade game, and the graphics were exceptionally well detailed, especially the excellent title screen image of Indiana himself.

Into the game then... When you insert your coins, you'll find Atari did their own "Value for Money" package for the punter, for 1 credit you can have 3 lives, or for 2 credits you can have 7. The only other game I can think of that ran a similar deal was another Atari game, Road Runner.

The actual action of the game can only be described as "Typical Ocean". Look at Batman: The Movie, The Untouchables or Robocop on the home computers, for example... the approach Ocean employed for their movie tie-ins was simple: Take a few key scenes from the film, turn them into a sub-game and join them all together. So Atari did, the only difference is they were first. They also give you the option to choose your starting difficulty level too!

So, the game concentrates mainly on the latter part of the film, starting off with fighting in the caves, rescuing captive children along the way. Indy is armed with his signature whip, which you can use to kill Snakes, collapse piles of skulls, cross small gaps (swinging on a small strut), stun Thuggee guards and free children from caves. Wow, it really is the whip that can do everything. There's plenty that can kill you though, contact with a snake or guard is an immediate loss of a life, as is falling too far, and if you dawdle about too much, Mola Ram himself appears and launches a fireball (or possibly a flaming heart) in your direction, which you can whip if you react quickly enough. On harder difficulty levels you've got mad bats to worry about as well. Rescuing the children isn't essential to your progress, but if you're playing for a high score, you'll need to find 'em all.

Once you find the mine shaft you can escape in the cart, which opens the next stage, the cart chase. Here you need to tilt your cart to follow the correct route down to the end, avoiding the carts chasing you and dead ends. There's guards and barrells you can whip to gain points and also provide another way to block the chasing carts. Whilst in the beginning this section is a simple task, it suddenly gets ridiculously hard to get any distance down the track in 1 life, and WILL result in swearing and hatred.

At the end of this section you will then enter the Sankara Stone chamber, where you must steal the Sankara stone and escape. You can either walk across the ricketty plank onto the opening and closing floor, which is quick but VERY risky, or attack from the side, which may take long enough for Mola Ram and his fiery projectiles to put in an appearance. Nick the stone, and leave via a door. Simples.

Now you have to repeat those stage twice more, until you have all 3 Sankara Stones, then, just like the film, you must escape across the rope bridge, give it a whip and send all the enemy into the crocodile-infested waters below. Apparently after this is a bonus stage where you must collect idols until you die, but I've never seen it, never got that far, so I'll have to get some research done and find out what it's like.

Truth is, though, simply because of the steep difficulty curve as you progress, I should imagine VERY few people ever get that far. Never mind, the levels you CAN reach are challenging and entertaining, and of course there's the wonderful rendition of John Williams' famous soundtrack. It's worth surviving as long as you can just to hear that over and over again, along with the Gauntlet-style sampled speech.

Whilst your chances of finding one in the wild are slimming rapidly, this is absolutely a game you should play if you haven't already. Preferably at the same time as the Indiana Jones Fruit Machine by JPM! But that's another review...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Arcade - Operation Wolf 3

Operation Wolf 3
So, I recently covered Operation Wolf. The thing about Operation Wolf is that to anyone who knows anything about retro gaming, it's one of the "Heavyweight" names, one of the games that could be found in almost every single arcade in the day, a red-hot licence that publishers for the home market were eager to sign up. Operation Thunderbolt followed, adding multiplayer and 3D scaling, but unfortunately at the expense of the sheer quality Operation Wolf oozed. However, it remained a decent game.
When I first saw Operation Wolf 3 in Mr B's, Blackpool, I was intrigued. After my first play, I was disappointed. After subsequent plays I was devastated at the way the licence had descended to absolute crap. Which is a shame.
So what went wrong? Erm... everything, really. First off, the game went down the route of digitised graphics, which as we all know is subject to an unbelievable amount of hit and miss when it comes to the end result. The Mortal Kombat games were hits, Pit Fighter and Guardians of the Hood were epic misses (in comparison, at least, I know I've confessed a degree of love for Pit Fighter and its faults previously)... switch genre, and it's a case of Lethal Enforcers is a hit, Operation Wolf 3 is a miss.
Is that all that's to blame? No.

Probably the most bizarre aspect of the game is the ammunition system. Gone are the magazines and limited bullets... and in its place a totally unrealistic "wear-down" system. Basically, you hold down the trigger and you fire continuously full-automatic until the ammunition bar is exhausted. If you release the trigger at any point, your ammo is IMMEDIATELY refilled. However, keep the trigger down and you will keep firing, just at a much reduced rate. Seems very silly to me, but hey. Probably the only improvement on the ammo side of things is the new weaponry you can collect, which looks as though it's directly inspired from Lethal Enforcers, even down to the graphics used for the ammunition bar.
In fact, while we're on positives, let's cover the rest of them very quickly. The graphics are nicely detailed, the gun's accuracy seems good, and I actually like the shotgun-style "bomb" launcher on the gun rather than just a button near the barrel that Wolf & Thunderbolt had.
Unfortunately, these points aren't enough to save the game from being banished to the pit of distinctly average games. Levels are too short, and later levels  get ridiculous as enemies pop up ridiculously quickly and with unbelievably fast reaction times, sometimes shooting you virtually immediately... which in a game with only 3 lives as opposed to the longer energy bars of Wolf and Thunderbolt, is just too much.
Maybe I'm being harsh, maybe I wouldn't dislike this game so much if it had an original name and completely disassociated itself from the distinguished name of Operation Wolf. But it really came across to me as if Taito had made a new light-gun game, realised it was pretty crap, and decided its best chance to sell a few units was to tack on the Operation Wolf name in the hope that would do the trick.

And it probably did. Dirty trick, Taito. Very very dirty.
In the interests of gaming history, however, I'd recommend you give this game a quick go, just one credit, if you stumble across it somewhere. You'll probably complete the first couple of levels, but by the time you get to the "Tower of Them" (Ah, Taito, at least some things never change... your Engrish is excellent) level, don't bother wasting money continuing, just call it a day, and move on to the next, better game.