Top 10 of '10: Number 9 - Hydorah (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Finding new games in the genuine old arcade style these days can be a bit tricky. The current generation of consoles is a decent place to look, with big name companies producing updated versions of their classics, and services like XBox Live's Indie Games being an outlet for bedroom coders to release their latest homages to games from yesteryear. WiiWare and Playstation Network are great outlets for indie innovation, and the iPhone has risen to great heights as a gaming platform. The PC though, as ever, still seems to be the main breeding ground for small-but-great arcade games. Even so, it still takes something really special to stand out... and Hydorah is something really special.

Don't have much choice here... liberation of the human colony it is!

I'm not entirely sure where I discovered Hydorah, but I will remain eternally grateful to that person or place. The reason for this is that Hydorah is a Gradius/Nemesis-inspired shooter, and I happen to be rather fond of that particular arcade game.

Of course, there are plenty of Gradius-inspired shooters that aren't very good. But with Hydorah, programmer Locomalito obviously took a lot of time, care and attention in making sure that this game was a fantastic and authentic shmup.

Isn't the countryside nice? Lush green grass, rolling hills, deadly enemy spaceships...

Hydorah features sixteen levels, although the chances are you'll never see most of them. As I said, this is an authentic arcade shooter, and that authenticity extends to its difficulty level - it's rock! Actually, in saying that, if you're careful then you should progress quite well. Any time you die, it's your own fault, the game will never cheat you. But you do have to be good... really good... if you want to get anywhere.

In a way that's a bit of a shame, because there's so much to love in Hydorah. Of course, there's a huge amount of stuff to blast. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and sounds great too, with some music sounding similar to classic SNES tunes. It's even got little secrets tucked away to try and discover. But as I said, you might never see most of them.

In an interesting twist, if you destroy that factory you'll lose points.

Still, Hydorah is truly worth persevering with, particularly if you have any love at all for Gradius, or any 80s arcade shoot 'em up, really. It's a wonderful piece of work, which makes it all the more surprising that it's free. I would seriously pay good money for this game. I'm not sure if there's a Donate option because the website is down at the moment, but you can download the game here: Hydorah download. I would seriously recommend anyone download this immediately. If it's your thing, there are also two soundtracks available: the original soundtrack, and a selection of arranged tracks.

Hydorah is a brilliant homage to the glory days of the arcades, and a fantastic game in its own right. The only reason it isn't higher on my list is because I'm rubbish at it. But that hasn't stopped me from playing...

EDIT: The website is back up now, and there is indeed a "Donate" button. So I'll be chipping in, it's well worth it. Have a look at the site, there are some cool extra materials, such as an instruction manual, and everything you need to make a DVD version of the game.

Armalyte (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,

If ZZAP! 64 had courted controversy over Thalamus' releases in the past, either with the awarding of Gold Medals that people didn't agree with or the supposed under-rating of Delta, there was nary a murmur when it came to their opinion of Thalamus' sixth game - Armalyte. Why the quiet? ZZAP! 64 gave it a Gold Medal... but this time, almost everyone agreed.

Once more, unto the breach... do they have to make it so claustrophobic right from the outset?

The plot of Armalyte is... oh, who cares? Some twaddle that loosely ties it in with Delta... apparently, it seemed like a good idea to market this as a sequel to that game, as if this wasn't good enough to stand on its own. It's more than good enough, and certainly doesn't need the Delta II subtitle it was lumbered with.

With no structures to run into, this doesn't look so bad... just don't get rammed.

Armalyte is a game that takes every other shoot 'em up on the Commodore 64, and ramps up all their best bits by a few notches. It starts in classic Nemesis/Gradius fashion, with your ship flying from left to right as waves of enemies fly toward you, intent on your destruction. The power-up system is different, though... rather than collecting pods left behind by the destruction of enemy formations, a la Konami's classic, weapons pods are to be found floating in space, and you activate them by blasting them.

Mmmm, eggs. Wish I'd had a proper breakfast before I left...

Shooting the floating pods repeatedly switches them through a cycle that includes increased forward fire, rear fire and vertical fire, among others. And if that's not enough for you, you have two huge laser weapons you can switch between that are very satisfying to unleash. Oh, and you start the game with a drone ship which replicates your firepower, which is just as well, given everything you have to attempt to cope with...

Don't go spitting that stuff at me. That's just rude.

There are a few things that elevate Armalyte beyond the bog-standard shooter. The first thing you're likely to notice is the number of enemy ships that you have to deal with. The attack waves come thick and fast, with each containing a good number of attackers. They're relentless, and they're difficult to deal with as they whip about at an often alarming rate. It's overwhelming at first, and you'll find yourself crushed to dust far more often than you'd like.

OK, big fella... get a load of what I'm packing.

Then there are the levels themselves. They're huge, and you'll often be praying for the relative safety of deep space, as you'll frequently find yourself with just a small gap to squeeze through, which mightn't be so bad if it wasn't for the alien attack ships waiting on the other side... There's quite a bit of variety to the levels, which is highly commendable. OK, so the game loaded each level separately, but I can think of plenty of multiload games that didn't try so hard. The levels change in colour as you move through them, and each has its own style, giving the game a massive sense of scale.

It's not the scary heads I'm worried about. It's that giant wall beyond them.

Should you negotiate the countless minions and treacherous landscapes, you'll find that each level has its own gigantic boss to overcome. These are actually probably the weakest points of Armalyte. They're not bad, don't get me wrong, just a bit too similar to each other. It's always been pretty difficult to come up with good enemy boss ship it seems, and for all they look impressive, especially when they take it upon themselves to fly across the screen at you, I can't help but feel they could have been better. But that's as much a constraint of the horizontally-scrolling shoot 'em up as anything else.

Die, alien scum! OK, I've used that one before. If it ain't broke, etc...

Armalyte is pretty much a wonder of the 8-bit era. It came at a time when people thought they could no longer be surprised or impressed by a Commodore 64 game, and were proven wrong in slack-jawed amazement. It was easily Thalamus' most impressive release to date from a technical standpoint, although whether it's actually a better game than Hunter's Moon is something we can argue about over a pint down the pub one day. Regardless, it was fully deserving of its ZZAP! Gold Medal, and any other honours that may have been thrown its way. It's good enough to make me want to play again now that I've finished writing about it... the sign of a top-notch game if ever there was one.

Delta (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

If Sanxion was seen as something of a contentious effort, Thalamus' follow-up Delta, it could be argued, could be regarded as being even moreso. ZZAP! 64, being affiliated with Thalamus' publishers, had taken some frightful stick over their review of Sanxion, being accused of bias after rating it highly. So when the magazine hit the shelves and ZZAP! had only awarded Delta 74%, eyebrows were raised. Were they deliberately over-compensating on this occasion?

Mix-E-Load. What a great idea! Just don't choose the "Nolans" setting.

On the face of it, Delta takes everything that was good in Sanxion and ramps it up a notch or five. Whereas Sanxion had a fantastic loading tune from Rob Hubbard, Delta revolutionised game loading by using something called Mix-E-Load. This game you the opportunity to play with a Rob Hubbard tune as the game loaded, using different instruments and effects to alter the tune in a good number of ways. It was a really cool idea that was appreciated by everybody I knew that played it... I'm sure it was almost universally enjoyed.

Shoot the core! Well, the one in the middle, anyway...

Once the game loaded, another fantastic Hubbard tune played, fast, upbeat and uplifting... really putting you in the mood for a good blast. And the musical piece de resistance came in the game itself... a Philip Glass-inspired piece, again by Rob Hubbard. Lasting over ten minutes, it was a moody number, without the trademark Hubbard drums... it felt very atmospheric and well-suited to the strange alien landscapes, and the levels were timed so that changes in the music seemed to fit perfectly with changes in the game.

Oh come on... they were easy to shoot. You're throwing money away!

Graphically, Delta shifted from Sanxion's planetside plains and cityscapes, instead moving into deep space. Flying through ruined cities, warped rock formations, boiling seas and bizarre jelly-like structures, the imagination on display was a joy to behold. And the alien craft and formations were similarly inspired, moving with grace, fluidity and purpose.

Pity the actual gameplay couldn't live up to any of that.

Oooh, pretty colours! Prettttyyyyy.... Kill it!

Delta came not too long after Nemesis had made weapons upgrades popular. And indeed, there's a fine array of weaponry here for the taking; from the usual speed-ups and bullet upgrades to multiple bullets, multi-directional fire and shields, you can really tool yourself up to the wazoo in readiness for the alien onslaught.

I realise I'm still not saying anything that comes as a downside. So... here goes.

Sometimes I feel like there's some kind of wall between us...

The biggest problem in Delta comes with those extra weapons. Like Nemesis, shooting whole formations of enemies will get you a credit (automatically added in this case, rather than floating around waiting to be picked up). At times, a group of icons will appear, like a corner shop in space, just waiting for you to spend your credits. Blue icons can be "bought", simply by flying over them. Grey icons will kill you if you touch them, so don't be so silly.

Let's see... I'll have a Marathon, a packet of pickled onion Tudor and a multi-directional laser cannon, please.

The alien enemies move in strict formations. So once you've learned where they appear, theoretically you'll remember and wipe them all out, every time. But what if you don't? Well, if you don't have the right set of power-ups at any given time, you're in big trouble. This is true right from the off... miss any of the first wave and you can't buy a speed-up, which means you'll miss the next waves and can't buy a power-up, which means you're effectively dead in the water. Might as well start again.

I don't want to crash here... I can't swim!

The whole game is played out on this knife edge. If you miss anything, you're going to have to be very lucky to stay alive. And if/once your weapons start running out, particularly the speedup, then you're as good as dead. It takes the emphasis away from the shoot 'em up part of the game, and almost turns the whole thing into a puzzle game. In that respect, it almost reminds me a little of Ikaruga, although it plays nothing like that.

Uh-oh... looks like you've found your Nemesis...

The final act of cruelty comes with the apparent predecessor to Burnout 3's Heartbreaker icon in the Crash Mode... eventually, you will discover that shooting certain alien formations actually removes credits. That just isn't fair... you should never be penalised for doing well, and in a game where you're so utterly reliant on collecting power-ups, it's a real kick in the teeth.

When I see you, I just turn to jelly...

Delta is not a bad game. The production values, as expected, are of the highest standard. I've seen me load the game just to listen to the two outstanding tunes. And if you happen to be into shoot 'em ups where you need to learn patterns, then you'll be in spacey nirvana with this. That's not my bag, though, and as much as I've always wanted to truly love this game, playing it again just reminded me of all the reasons why we parted less-than-amicably all those years ago. As a technical demo for the Commodore 64, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better game. But if you're looking for a great game, I happen to think that ZZAP! 64 got that review just about right. For all its aural and visual splendour, as a game, Delta falls sadly short of the mark.

Hydorah (PC Indie game)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I can't remember where I read about Hydorah. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that I have it, and I can play it. And you've probably never heard of it before now, either. You're probably at a complete loss as to what I'm talking about. So I will elaborate.

Hydorah is the best arcade game you've never played. You've never played it because it wasn't actually in the arcades. But from just one play, you'll feel as though it should have been. You'd have ploughed countless tens into it, and come away bruised but satisfied. Just like you did with most of the best arcade games.

It all looks quite sedate here. Aren't the trees pretty?

At this point, I should actually describe the game. It's Nemesis. Or Gradius, if you prefer. That's the core (haha! See what I did there?), although it's got a few bits of R-Type in there too, but yes, it's pretty much a new, independent entry into the Gradius series. And it's absolutely awesome.

The programmers have deliberately made Hydorah as 80s as possible. And they've done a stunning job. It looks, sounds and plays the part to absolute perfection. That means it's hard. Very hard. It's sixteen levels of arse-kicking. Well, they say it is... I haven't seen a quarter of them, if that's the case. But it's not unfairly difficult. I knew what I was doing wrong every time, I was just too rubbish to cope.

Eye-eye! What's going on here, then?

In fact, if anything, Hydorah is quite generous with its difficulty. There's never too much filling the screen, there's no harsh collision detection, no cheap deaths. Just a feeling of "next time, I'll do better". It's a bit naughty in one way, I discovered... shoot the wrong stuff, and you'll lose points. Again, it's not done in a cheap way... if you think about it when you're playing, you should know better.

It does have a bit of a weird weapons upgrade system, which might be a detraction for some. You collect tokens, much like in Gradius, but you can't instantly "spend" them on stuff... you have to accumulate a certain number of them, and once you have, your lasers are powered up. If you die, you lose some of your tokens, setting you back a bit.

It does all look a bit familiar, but comfortingly so.

There are some insta-perks though, such as shields or an extra ship. And as you progress, there's a nice choice system in effect, where you can take your pick of earned weapons for the next level. It might have been nicer to go out there fully tooled-up, but it would also be easier...

Hydorah is a really lovely Gradius-type game. It looks and sounds absolutely superb, and it plays like an 80s dream, and I don't mean that in a bad way. I guarantee that if you have any kind of love for these kinds of games, you'll lose best part of your first afternoon with it, and will re-develop that long-lost trigger finger cramp. Best of all? It's absolutely free. There's no reason not to play this at all. So head over to developer Locomalito's website, and download Hydorah right now.

Project X (Amiga)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I seem to be all Team 17 and Bitmap Bros. with my Amiga selections at the moment. Not that that's a bad thing... they're renowned as having produced some of the best games on the Amiga. Still, given the range of games, apparently good and bad, that I've got, maybe I should spread the rest of them out a bit...

Anyway, Project X. It's a fairly typical Amiga horizontally-scrolling shmup. It certainly is extremely polished... it's got loads of huge sprites whizzing about, albeit in sadly predictable (and typical) patterns, some of which are more like demos than attack patterns.

Ooh. Swoopy. Swirly. Deadly.

But enough of the negatives... Project X is a lot of fun to play. It's obviously inspired by Gradius (or maybe Salamander, with the helpful speech) above anything else, with a large range of weapons to pick from, and collecting power-ups lights up the icons in turn along the bottom of the screen. A quick "Wizball Waggle" activates the power-up, and you're good to go. Simple, and effective.

There's not really anything revolutionary to Project X... like I said earlier, it just polishes everything until it's really shiny, and delivers a good time into the bargain. The version I've got cost a tenner... I reckon that would have been more than fair back in the day.