Advent Calendar - December 12th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

XII Stag (Playstation 2)

I love a good shooter, me, even if the only ones I'm half decent at were in the arcades 20-25 years ago. I find modern shmups a lot more difficult... whether that's because I wear glasses or as a result of reflexes diminishing through age, who knows? I still enjoy the bullet hell games, though... in the main. Some are just too much for me, even with infinite continues.

XII Stag is one of my large and, if I do say so myself, fairly impressive collection of PS2 PAL shmups. I haven't got a Japanese PS2 so I haven't got any of the imports, but I've bought most of the other ones that are available. I even wrote about them for Way of the Rodent.. That was a fun task! So, this is one of those games that I have played before, but it fits in perfectly with the advent calendar, so here we go again...

Cloudy out, innit? Oh... that's just the smoke from wrecked metal ships.

In a world of vertically-scrolling shooters, XII Stag tries to be a little bit different. In the main, it's same old, same old... you fly up the screen, enemies swarm onto the screen spewing trillions of bullets, you die. Rinse and repeat until game's end. So in order to distinguish itself from other vertical scrollers, XII Stag introduces a completely different weapons system.

"Great!", I hear you cry, "Tell me about these marvellous innovations!". Well, don't get too carried away just yet...

As you'd expect for a game like this, your ship is pretty handy at lashing out umpteen forward-firing projectiles per minute. There are no extra weapons to be picked up, although you can power up. There's no bomb either. Instead, you have a barrier which, when activated, opens a bubble around the ship for a short time, and as long as you stay there you can't be destroyed. You have a limited supply of these per ship, so if you choose the right moments to use them you'll maximise their effectiveness.

The green, green, grass of death.

The real difference, and the reason for the name XII Stag, is the side-shooting weapon. If you emply that, rather than your forward-firing weapon, you start up a score multiplier, which climbs until it reaches a maximum of 12X the normal score. The rewards are lucrative, but as is always the case, they don't come without risks...

And here's where the problem lies. The side shooting is only activated by sideways movement. And as the game is designed to throw stuff at you to take advantage of that, you end up doing as much waggling as in the Activision Decathlon. In fact, it brought to mind the days of activating power-ups in Wizball, way back in the Commodore 64 days. Which is fine if the pace isn't too ramped-up, but XII Stag is a bullet hell shooter, and the last thing you need when you're trying to navigate a screen full of laser death is to be waggling left and right to shoot the stuff that's dispensing it.

Of course, you can fire forwards as well, and the power-ups add more and more bullets to that directional firepower. But considering the amount of stuff you chuck out, it's surprisingly feeble. There's not much point in getting behind stuff and blasting them when it's like chucking paper darts at a tank. So you have to go into spinning whirligig of doom mode, regardless. What a bind.

I don't know of an arcade on the planet that had a XII Stag machine in it, and if there'd been one near me it would have probably only got one ten out of me. That's not because it's a bad game... it's perfectly alright. It's just too complicated and difficult for an aging gamer like me.

Unsung Classics. Number 11: R.I.S.K. (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I'm kicking off what I hope will be a flurry of posts today with an Unsung Classic on the Commodore 64 - R.I.S.K.. It's nothing to do with the famous board game, but is actually a shoot 'em up with a surprising amount of depth, and one that I very much enjoyed back in the day.

R.I.S.K. stands for Rapid Intercept - Seek and Kill. Inexplicably, there's another version of this out there called K.R.I.S.. Being a bit dense, I can only presume that this might be a foreign version and the letters make sense in that language, but I honestly haven't got a clue. As well as seeking and killing, though, you have to rescue stranded scientists from every level. Videogame scientists are hopeless, aren't they?

Yes sir, that one comes in a range of colours. You fancy the green? Certainly, sir.

The game starts a little differently to most shooters, with you and your ship still in a compound. You can wander around here... if you log into the computer, you can change the colour of your ship, or those of the game's borders and menus. It's a nice little touch, and I appreciated being able to cater somewhat to my own personal taste.

There's also a shop where you can upgrade your ship. Naturally, at the beginning, it's only worth visiting to see what you might be able to get later, but as the game goes on you're really going to need to make the most of this place.

Get the capsule! You'll be able to buy upgrades with that.

Once you've finished pottering around, it's time to take to your ship and do some blasting. But first, there's a map to have a look at. Will you ever get to play the game? It turns out that the map just gives you a choice of levels, which is another cool feature.

When you're finally thrown into the action, you're in for a bit of a rude awakening. R.I.S.K. is a difficult game. It's got elements from games such as Dropzone, Wizball and even Chopper Command on the old Atari. The most obvious initial problem you have to overcome is your bouncy ship. When you start out, your ship doesn't have anti-grav, so what goes up must come down. It makes control trickier than you'd like, and forces you to keep your concentration level up. Your ship also feels heavy, which is interesting, and it wobbles quite worringly if something hits it while you're moving at speed. Lovely touches, these.

Oi! Bloody hooligans!

As you fly about, shooting little jetpacked fellows and ground craft, capsules will fly by. These can be collected, and serve as currency once you head back to the shop. The first thing you'll want to buy is the anti-grav unit, but once that's in place you can upgrade all aspects of your ship. You'll certainly need to, because the game gets more difficult all the time.

R.I.S.K. was well reviewed at the time, from what I remember, but I think I'm the only one I know that really played it, having picked it up for cheap at the local bookshop. It's a game ahead of its time, really, being packed with so many good ideas and actually carrying them off pretty well. I've had a few problems with the game crashing, which is a shame, but otherwise I've thoroughly enjoyed this revisit, and it's a game that I think it ripe for a modern remake.

Commodore 64 (iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I've been a fan of the Commodore 64 for nearly twenty-five years now. The original machine is best, of course, but I welcome any new opportunity to play its games on new platforms. Emulation has seen old computers raise their heads all over the place... not just on the humble PC, but for years and years now they've been running on systems from handhelds up to the Nintendo Wii. Now, it's running on the iPhone... sort of.

The program is set out in a cute way, with a Commodore 64 in the middle, tape deck at the top left, cup of coffee and computer mags at the top right, joystick at the bottom right and games at the bottom left. This is purely cosmetic... after a little while, a power button pops up for you to start the program. Once you do, it displays your list of games, plus options at the bottom.

Watch you don't spill that...

Games... it appears that someone has managed to officially license some Commodore 64 games for sale on the App Store. They get around the usual restrictions by offering them through an in-emulator store. It works perfectly well, although there's not a lot of games available just yet. Most of the games are from Hewson (not a bad thing), with a few First Star, Task Set and Mastertronic games also available. Oh, and Wizball.

You don't need to head in that direction immediately, because they do throw some free games at you for starters. At first, I thought that the eight Commodore games they give you were your lot... not bad, as the classic International Soccer and Basketball are among them, as well as Jupiter Lander and Jack Attack. But then I noticed there were others in the store for free, and all I had to do was download them. And there are some bona fide classics in there... Bruce Lee for one, Samurai Warrior (Usagi Yojimbo) for another. There are a couple of Jeff Minter games (Hover Bovver and Attack of the Mutant Camels), which is good to see. There's also Laser Squad, which would seem to be an awesome addition... although I can't figure out the controls for that one at all.

That's what you get for trying to be sneaky!

The controls... that's where the whole package lives or dies, really. And although I don't want to say that this dies, it's certainly a bit peaky.

The level of control you get depends on the type of game you're playing. The first game I played was Bruce Lee, or B. Lee as it's actually called here... I guess your character could be Bernard Lee, or maybe Brett Lee, but that's a bit less glamorous in a kung-fu game. I didn't play this much at the time, and never really knew what I was supposed to do. My mate Reedy played it loads though, and loved it. Actually, I remember now that we had some good laughs with the two player game. He might not have been so keen on this one... it's pretty tricky to do what you want. The problem mainly comes from the "joystick"... the length of travel is too long, making movements imprecise. In B. Lee, that means The Green Yamo keeps kicking me to Kingdom Come. Not great.

Games can be played in Landscape mode, which is probably a bit easier.

Next up was Usagi Yojimbo. I loved this game back in the day. Loved it. In fact, I might do an Unsung Classic on it. For a samurai game, and therefore a beat 'em up, it's quite laid back. As a result, it actually works pretty well on this app. Everything came flooding back straight away, and I didn't have any control issues at all. This could eat up some time.

Finally, in order to test the shop and the joystick's true limits, I downloaded Uridium. Uridium was possibly the best arcade shooter on the 64. Fast and frantic, it requires quick reflexes and a quicker trigger finger. Which means that on the iPhone or iPod, you're dead in no time flat. You just don't have the level of control that you need over your ship. Shame... this would have been an awesome game for the bus.

And this is full screen mode. Now, where's the "accurate controls" mode?

At the end of the day, recommending this Commodore 64 app is difficult. After all, the C64 has been emulated on countless handhelds, to better effect. But this does have some nice features... one of which is the way it automatically saves your game when you exit and gives you the option of resuming where you left off next time you load the game. It's a nice idea, but the controls still need some tweaking. That said, it's free (not sure if that's permanent or not), and as Usagi Yojimbo is also free and is awesome and playable here, it's worth getting just for that. Anything else you happen to like is just a bonus.