Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sega Saturn - International Victory Goal

Sega Saturn
International Victory Goal


I also dislike Football Games as a general rule.

The problem I have with football is pretty simple. It's so BORING. Seriously, 90 minutes, and no goals? In pretty much any other sport, if a game was held to a nil-all draw for its length it would be exciting end-to-end stuff exercising superb defence, and would be quite exhilarating to watch. In football, these namby-pamby ham-actors are quite content to continually kick the ball in the air and not really get anywhere.

So... Football. Yawn. Booor-ring.

However, over the years, there has actually been some games that transform football into an attractive prospect. One of the main reasons for this is the much shorter game time that is usually imposed. 3 minutes is about the perfect length for a half of football, and as such would cause the players to put in 100% effort for its entire length.

Whilst I never "got" the fuss behind Sensible Soccer (except of course the Bulldog Blighty version with a hand grenade for a ball), I did enjoy Striker and Goal on the Amiga... and International Victory Goal on the Saturn most of all.

There's one very good reason why this game stands out above all other football games EVER. Y'see, at the time this came out (around the same time as Daytona / Sega Rally / Virtua Cop and so on) Sega were in the flow of producing amazing musical soundtracks to accompany their games. International Victory Goal delivered this with so much conviction; it has to be one of the single greatest musical scores ever committed to a game.

Alright, back to the game a second... the graphics themselves aren't the greatest ever seen, but they control so well and handle so realistically, it's like the physics from Virtua Tennis have already been conceived. Sliding or shoulder charging in the wrong direction stymies your progress up or down the field, and when you're chasing a breakaway player on the attack, you find yourself desperately trying to will your player along in the chase, hoping when you finally make that tackle you don't get sent off for it. A shot from close enough to the goal is rarely saved, so time is always of the essence in these situations.

With the tactical choices you can make before each match, you have a level of control not often seen in football games at that time. And you can cycle your priorities towards defence or attack at the press of a button.

I’ve played football games before and football games since, just to see if anything can ever deliver the fun and excitement this title managed to achieve. I can safely say... nothing has come close. Ever.

Whether you like Football or not, take away the boring nature of the sport and think of it as an action game. It becomes exciting in its own way. If you have a Saturn and want a decent sports game, this, Athlete Kings and World Series Baseball are the picks of choice.

Even if you don’t play the game, at least go over to the Galbaldia Hotel and download the soundtrack. Because it’s awesome.

PC (DOS) - Pyro ][ - World Terrorism

Pyro ][ - World Terrorism
OK, you’re going to have to bear with me on this one. At least, I assume you will.

Whenever the topic of “Best game ever” comes around, there’s one or two games that you can guarantee are mentioned, mainly (it seems) Nintendo games. But there’s always a few “outsiders” who get their names out there, for example the Sim City games (in particular Sim City 2000), or World of Warcraft might get a nod or two.

Then there’s the obtuse games that one or two people will shout out for, but no-one else has ever heard of, or at least can’t remember.

For me, there’s a game that falls into this category. If given the chance to name my “top 3 games EVAAAAR”, this one always sneaks its way onto the list.
I’m pretty sure it was a freebie, too, back when PD (Public Domain) Freeare & Shareware games and demos were distributed from PD Libraries rather than simply flung up to the internet. Pyro ][, whose prequel I’ve never played, was discovered by me in the relatively early days of CD-ROM technology, on a CD called “Hot Sound & Vision 2”, which was essentially a collection of PD software, add-ons and images, put together to save you having to download it all.

The game itself boils down to a simple puzzle game, but requires speed and forethought to complete to the best of your ability.

Forgive the primitive “Worse than an 8-bit” graphics, they’re not important. What matters (and always has mattered) is the gameplay.

The basic objective, then, is to burn down various famous buildings. You start out on the top floor of each one, and must work your way down. You drag a fuse along behind you, which usually takes around 15 seconds to start burning. Most walls are flammable, with the exception of the corners. To reach the walls though, you must either go past petrol cans, or you can spill a can on the floor if you prefer, creating a pool of petrol, which will also light. Then you must escape down the stairs to the next level without setting yourself on fire.

Repeat this for the hundreds of levels that face you. Easy!

Except it really isn’t. It’s FIENDISHLY difficult to make any real distance into the game. Pass your fuse by a petrol can and it will explode, spreading the fire around. Cause too big a chain reaction and you’ll end up having your fire catch up with you. Set fire to the stairs and you cut off your only escape route. Whilst you might think you can just escape without doing too much damage, there's the temptation to burn all the walls down after you’ve left, as you’ll earn a generous “Completion” bonus.

Y’know, writing this, I don’t feel I’m doing the game any justice. Maybe it’s just me (it usually is), but this game had that “one more go” factor. Back in the nineties, when all I had to worry about was school and my weekends consisted of almost all the free time I could desire, much of it was spent trying to progress through this game. I was never good enough to beat it, never good enough to make significant progress, but I couldn’t tear myself away.
It’s a sign of a great game, and if you can put up with the DOS graphics, you might well lose an afternoon to it too.

It looks like it’s still freely available on the internet through the usual abandonware/old DOS games sites, so you shouldn’t find it too hard to unearth, dust off, and set fire to it. BURN BABY BURN!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Arcade - Vendetta

  I can almost imagine how the conversation between the Design team on this one went.

Designer no. 1 – “So, we’ve enjoyed a lot of success with that 4-player cabinet and cartoon licences. It seems the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Simpsons converted well to a 4-player side-scrolling beat-‘em up, what now?”

Designer no. 2 – “How about we do another one?”
Designer no. 1 – “Have we got a licence?”

Designer no. 2 – “Let’s just make one up, we could have our own characters who bear a slight resemblance to famous fighters.”

Designer no. 1 – “Right, so Mr T, Hulk Hogan, Jean Claude Van Damme, and… erm…”

Designer no. 2 – “Mike Tyson?”
Designer no. 1 – “OK, but only if we can have some bare-chested randy men in leather hats attempt to gay rape the players.”

>cough, splutter<

Alright, seriously, you might think I’m on the wind-up, but I’m actually genuinely not. Apparently they were removed from the British release of the game, but I SWEAR I saw them in there in a real arcade in Newquay.

We’ll come back to that in a minute. “Vendetta” is actually an alterna-title for “Crime Fighters 2”, but is quite far removed from that slightly archaic-by-comparison game. The sprites are large and detailed, the animation is smooth and realistic, the sound is a million times better, and the game…
Well, it’s pretty damn good. Many will compare it to Final Fight or something like that. In my opinion, this beats Final Fight hands down. The violence is sometimes a little more comic-book than FF, but it’s certainly much more solid, and don’t forget where the game engine and design mainly came from… TMNT and The Simpsons, anyone?
You may remember in my Pit Fighter review, I talked about your character falling down different ways… well, this game includes a very similar feature. Get hit from the front and you’ll fall to your back, where you can kick on your way up! What a great idea! Get hit from behind and you’ll land on your front, and just pick yourself up a little quicker.

The same goes for enemies, except they don’t attack from the ground. However, you CAN attack them on the ground.
There’s a nice wide variety of weapons you can use... spikey baseball bats, tyres you can throw, boxes and so on, but then there’s the more unusual weapons, like bags of flour (or maybe cement, I don’t know) that make enemies cough in a cloud of dust, or the bucket that you can throw over an enemy’s head, causing him to walk around blindly until you smash him one.
The bosses are an interesting bunch. The first two are pretty easy to deal with, but when you reach the “Missing Link”, things start to get harder. It’s worth it, though, even if just to see the next level, the usual “Seedy street” level.
Yep, you guessed it, this is where the randy men try to play at bumming with you. At least, they will if they’re enabled. The thing is, I don’t get WHY they’re in the game. How did they make it into the gang? “If someone attacks you with a knife, how do you defend yourself?” “I’ll BUM them to death!”. And yes, I couldn’t help but think of Bo Selecta’s version of Elton John when I wrote that.

Comedy value aside, there’s no real reason for them to be there. Simple as.
Still, I’m detracting from reviewing what is, at the end of the day, probably the finest incarnation of the 4-player side-scrolling beat ‘em-up genre. The gameplay itself is finely tuned… you’ll have no trouble with the first couple of stages if you’re a seasoned beat ‘em-up player, but once you reach the 3rd boss (The aforementioned “Missing Link”), the difficulty ramps up quickly and the whole thing gets much trickier very very quickly. But this happens a lot in this genre, look at Final Fight as a prime example, not forgetting that it is often considered the ultimate side-scrolling beat ‘em-up.
For my money, and I would in no way suggest Vendetta is the best game ever, I think it beats Final fight in almost every department hands down. The only thing I would say to Final Fight’s benefit over Vendetta is the speed of it all. Vendetta is definitely not quite as hectic, but that’s no bad thing. Where you had a “scatter” move in Final Fight, you don’t here in Vendetta, so being completely surrounded just isn’t an option.

But then this game was always meant to be enjoyed as part of a 4-player party rather than a single-player.
If nothing else, play it under foreign settings so you can experience the hilarity of the dry-humping members of the Blue Oyster Bar.