Friday, 16 September 2011

Arcade - Ghosts 'n' Goblins

Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins
If you were any kind of arcade rat, there isn’t any way in the world you won’t have heard of this one. The big talking point whenever this game is discussed is the absolutely UNFORGIVING and totally EXTREME difficulty level. And it’s true, and you’ll discover very quickly, if you somehow haven’t played this before, especially when you first encounter Red Arremer.

If you’re saying “Who?”, tell you what… Stop reading this article, either hunt down MAME, or a Flash version of the game, go and play it for a bit, and when you meet an enemy that isn’t a plant, zombie or crow, that’s Red Arremer. He probably killed you. Twice.

Now, I played this game a LOT. It was probably one of the most common games around, probably almost as common as Double Dragon, if not more. It was one of those games that an arcade would have as long as it had electricity. But one particular instance of this game stands out in memory more than any other, and that was at a holiday campsite in Perranporth, Cornwall.

Y’see, their Games Room was basically a shed, away from all the rest of the site’s buildings. Inside the Games shed were several well-known games… Gladiator, Q*Bert (in fact, this was where I discovered Q*Bert for the first time), Mat Mania (a.k.a. Exciting Hour), G’n’G and Chase H.Q.

G’n’G and Mat Mania resided down at the bottom end, and these had someone on them from opening to closing, guaranteed. There was a very good reason for this… someone had broken the locks on the coin mech doors, so opening the door and jiggling a little piece of metal behind the coin mech rewarded you with as many credits as you could eat.

EVEN WITH THIS, progression beyond level 2 was asking too much.

No explanation of the game yet… hmm… ok, here we go. You play the role of Arthur, Knight of Legend (King, even?), and whilst relaxing with your good lady (Princess Guinivere or Prin-Prin depending on where you’re from), she is suddenly snatched away by one of Satan’s demons. On goes your best suit of armour, and with a seemingly endless supply of lances in your pocket, off you trot to try and save her.

Forgetting to question exactly why you were camped in a graveyard (How romantic!) that is where your quest begins. Zombies rise from the ground to attack you, Venus Fly-Trap style plants spit balls at you, and one hit from any of these will knock every last piece of armour from your body, leaving you running around in only a loincloth. One more hit will strip every bit of flesh from your bones, signifying the loss of your 3 lives. Believe me, you’ll see that a lot.

Reaching Red Arremer will result in 1 of 2 possible outcomes… you’ll get lucky and hit him sufficiently to kill him almost straight away… or he’ll avoid your feeble lances and sweep down straight through you, and if that didn’t kill you, the next sweep or his fireball will. And this is only the mid-way point of the 1st level, believe me, it gets so much harder.

The graphics are great, little touches like how your skull comes to rest on top of the pile of bones as you die, or the different weapons you can pick up along the way (look for enemies with a pot attached to them). The weapons vary from Daggers (usefully fast)

You may find yourself accidentally summoning an enemy from one of the graves… these enemies can actually turn you into a frog or a duck! It might seem pointless, but it’s not… killing the magician type thing is worth 200 of them. Apparently.

But why make life harder for yourself? Well, truth be told, the first level is POSSIBLE. Frustrating, but definitely POSSIBLE. After all, even I’ve completed the first level. But after that? Not without cheating. Unless you’re really and truly an excellent games player. There’s a very good reason this game regularly features in lists of “The Hardest Games Of All Time”.

Oh, just so you know, say you do manage to beat the game, you have to do it twice to see the “real” ending, and the second time through you’ll be facing faster enemies… Wonderful!

Still, there’s worse ways you could waste a few hours…

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Arcade - Sunset Riders

Sunset Riders
Yeee-haw! Saddle ‘em-up and git riding with those Sunset Riders!

>ahem<. OK, that was probably the most clichéd and downright cringe-worthy opening of any review I’ve ever done. I apologise unreservedly, and promise that the rest of this review will not contain any more “Wild-West” themed jokes, puns or clichés whatsoever. No siree, not a one.

So, what in tarnation is this game about? Well, the “Sunset Riders”, as far as I can gather, are a bunch of Cowboys out to clean up the town and bring in the outlaws, dead or alive. Basically, it boils down to a side-scrolling run-and-gun platformer, similar in vein to Rolling Thunder more than anything else. In fact, that’s probably the best comparison you can imagine, you can hop between the ground and a higher platform, nip through doors to hide or grab power-ups (occasionally getting a kiss from a bar floozy and perhaps a drink too), and one hit equals death. In fact, this game is punishingly difficult, especially when you’d more than likely find it set to at least “normal” difficulty in the arcades.

The graphics are knee-slappingly good, with some hilarious touches, such as the standing on a rake and getting slapped in the face, or getting blown up by the spectacularly tall explosions, but don't worry, you'll no doubt get to see all the funny death sequences since you are so likely to die with alarming regularity.

You've got a choice of four heroes to take the game on, there's Steve and Billy who wield pistols akimbo (firing 2 bullets at a time in slightly different directions), then there's Bob and Cormano with their shotguns, which basically just means bigger bullets. I've never seen one, but apparently the game was available as a 4-player simultaneous cabinet as well as the standard 2 player one. Whether this would work well with the massive cartoony graphics, I don't know.

The side-scrolling shooting action is occasionally broken up by different styles of gameplay, for example you’ll find yourself riding a horse (chasing a train) and there’s also the occasional “Shooting Gallery” level, where you basically have to flick your joystick to one of the nine possible positions and hit fire as the outlaws pop up.

Whilst I did play through the whole game once (cost me a bloody fortune, it did), it would take an enormous amount of skill to get through the game in one credit. But then you wouldn’t see all the hilarious graphical touches… it’s a two edged sword if ever there was one.

Add to that the great sound and gameplay, it’s well worth a few credits to try again. If you can find it.

Friday, 2 September 2011

SNES - Rock 'n' Roll Racing

Rock ‘N’ Roll Racing

If it wasn’t for the musical score, this game would play in near silence, and would simply be called “Racing”.

Yep, there’s nothing Rock ‘N’ Roll about the game itself, but the choice of music on offer while you race is spectacularly good. Of course, just as graphics alone do not a good game make, neither does a soundtrack.

Luckily enough, then, this game was pretty good, at least for a while. Taking a kind of isometric viewpoint, the graphical style is reminiscent of Skidmarks, or even RC Pro-Am, and the handling’s fairly similar too. You will find yourself skidding quite nicely round corners, and the whole thing moves at a fair old whip.

Let’s get some semblance of order to this review. You get to choose one of various racers to take through some kind of racing league, where you must earn a set number of points to progress to the next division. The racers you choose from have their own benefits, some accelerate better, some handle better, some have a higher top speed. Leagues are held on a series of planets, and in order to be competitive you will need to upgrade your vehicle when you can.

There is, as you might expect, hidden characters in the game, one is Olaf from The Lost Vikings, the other is a mysterious shadowy character, and they both have the benefit of improved stats above anyone else. Whilst Olaf is accessible through a button combination on the character select screen, “The Shadow” is only accessible through a password.

And so we’re off to our first planet, and the races begin. The first set of tracks are very uncomplicated efforts, which is a good job as your car’s handling isn’t up to much at this stage. For that matter, neither are your power-ups. With each race you’ll earn points, and you need a certain number of points to progress to the next set of races, or indeed next planet. However, as you earn money in each race, you’ll probably not want to move on early, maximising your money for upgrades or new cars.

Upgrading your car is simple enough, there’s the usual components that can be upgraded; the tyres, engine, and armour, for example… but then there’s the weaponry. No futuristic race game is complete without some form of weaponry, right? The actual weapons used depend on your vehicle, but you can increase the amount of ammunition you carry… which is magically replenished each lap.

So the weapons then… there’s 3 categories of weapon, your “Forward” weapons, “Rear” weapons and “Boosts”. To begin with, they’re all pretty crap, you’ll get weak little bullets to fire forwards, “Slipsauce” to drop behind you, and a Jumping ability which can be used to cut corners, but is more likely to cause you to fall off the track than give you any real benefit.

They get better though, missiles and “Sundog Beams” (imagine fireballs with homing capabilities) will become available, as will nitro boosts (far more useful than “jumping”!), and various types of mines to drop behind you.

Trying to stop you conquering the game are Rip & Shred, they’ll always be two of your opponents in every race (except if you’re playing a 2 player race, obviously.), the other will be the current planet’s resident champion.

Gameplay aside, then, the “Rock n Roll” aspect of the game came from the music. And what a great soundtrack it was… With tunes like the Peter Gunn theme, Paranoid, Born to be Wild and Bad to the Bone, it tied into the game very nicely, but became a little on the repetitive side after a dozen races... as did some of the races.

Thankfully the gameplay and track layout remained varied enough to keep you interested, whilst Larry, the in-game commentator, will repeatedly tell you who’s “about to blow”, or who finishes a “weak 3rd” in the race.

Whilst I doubt I’d have the inclination to play the whole game through again, I’d enjoy playing through the last planet or something, and I’d certainly recommend giving it the time of day. If you’re a fan of sliding your way round corners at breakneck speed to a great soundtrack, you might just get drawn right in.