Top 10 of '10: Number 8 - VVVVVV (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I just about squealed with glee when I first played VVVVVV. That was just before I nearly put my controller through the screen of my laptop in frustration...

VVVVVV is another indie game, although it's now available through the mighty Steam, so it's not exactly difficult to get hold of. The reason I almost squealed with glee is that VVVVVV loads like a Commodore 64 game... and then when it's loaded, it looks and almost sounds like a Commodore 64 game. The reason I almost put my controller through the screen is that it plays like a Commodore 64 game...

But I don't mean that in a bad way.

Old computers are so fiddly...

VVVVVV is a platform game in the grand tradition, albeit with a slight twist. You can't actually jump... instead, you can do a gravity flip. So from running along a floor, you'll flip onto the ceiling. And then you'll flip back down onto the floor. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do it works well, and lends itself to some pretty tricky puzzley manoeuvring.

Stopping you from getting about are spikes... that's where the game gets its title from. In another homage to the old-school platformers, each screen has its own name. Unlike those games, you might not spend long on some of those screens. You whizz about at a fair old pace... too fast if you're not careful. It's all too easy to overcook it and land on a rack of spikes. Ouchie.

Who the hell builds a spaceship like this, anyway?

I've bought VVVVVV twice now... once it was released on Steam, I picked up a second copy in the sale, and it's now only £3.99 at its full price, so I'll once again recommend it to anyone that's a child of the Eighties and loved a rock hard platform game. I was torn about whether or not to put this above Hydorah, but despite its difficulty I actually progressed further with VVVVVV than I did with Hydorah and had more nostalgia-fuelled giggles, so although I probably enjoy Hydorah a little more now, VVVVVV just squeaks in as my eighth most-enjoyed game of 2010.

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.

Advent Calendar - December 13th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,


I've tried not to make obvious picks where possible... but, fair enough, I've failed this time. No matter... XIII is a game I almost played once, so I've quite fancied giving it another go sometime, and this is the ideal opportunity.

How did I almost play it, you might wonder? Well, I had it when I lived in America. I can't remember if I rented it or bought it, but I got about five minutes in only to find the disc was scratched, and I couldn't get any further. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Thankfully, nowadays you can pick up most old games for a couple of quid, so here we go again...

Oh, that's a bit of a shame...

XIII is based on an Eighties comic book, which I haven't read... probably because it's Belgian. The only Belgian thing I usually have anything to do with is chocolate. Mmmmm... chocolate... what? Oh, the game. Yeah.

Well, it's a first-person shooter. Oh joy. It's a conspiracy-laden affair which finds you waking up, injured and with no memory, in the wake of the assassination of the American President. In true Jason Bourne style, you must set about finding what was your part in proceedings, if any, and get to the bottom of the devious goings-on.

Up a bit... left a bit...

Well, I say true Jason Bourne style... that's not entirely true. Jason Bourne is a bit on the hard side, with some awesome fighting and martial arts abilities. You, as XIII, are voiced by dull sex addict Hollywood legend David Duchovny. You have an arsenal of weaponry at your disposal... all of which is a bit shit.

It's a funny beast, XIII. It's one of the most stylish FPS games you'll find... astonishing in its time, it still stands out today. It's not just the cel-shaded graphics (and it was one of the first games to employ that style)... it's the way it stays true to its origins with comic-book panels and cutouts... especially effective when it shows the viewpoint of the person you've just shot, so you get your view and his view on the same screen.

It's a long way down. So let's look at it twice!

But on the other hand, the action is generic and, dare I say it... dull. It's all very well having the looks, but if there's nothing going on under there, people get bored pretty quickly. XIII isn't awful by any means, but when the gameplay is so by-the-numbers it's pretty difficult to play through to the end, no matter what the graphics or storyline are like.

Clive Barker's Undying (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Clive Barker's Undying is not a game I've ever played before. It's not a game I would have ever picked by myself, nor would I have bought it if I was browsing the racks in the game shops. So why on Earth would I pick it for this blog? What brought it to my attention? Well, years ago, my wife used to play it. And she really enjoyed it, too. When I spotted it in a "3 for £10" offer, I snapped it up... mostly for her, but also in the knowledge I could write about it myself. Two for the price of one.

I've... got a pocket full of... Kryptonite

It's a First-Person Shooter... and there's the reason I hadn't played it before. If you've read much of this blog in the past, you'll know it's not a genre I'm particularly au fait with. Still, as I've said before, I'm not averse to a good blast now and again, and Lorraine promised me that this was quite an intense, creepy game. Excellent... I like a game that has something to make it stand out from the crowd.

And Undying certainly does stand apart. At first, it sets just the right spooky atmosphere, with a nice scene-setting intro to get you going before you're dumped outside a lightning-enshrouded mansion. Good stuff. Unfortunately, after five minutes of play the scariest thing is the voice acting. The accents are atrocious! If you thought Dick van Dyke's "Gawd bless yer guvnor, me cheeky Cockernee sparrer" accent was a shocker, you ain't heard nothing yet. English, Irish... doesn't matter. They're mangled beyond belief.

That's them! The source of all troubles. Well, the middle one's alright... isn't he?

Not to worry, though. Although the story is important, it comes across well enough that the dodgy accents don't ruin it. In fact, they provide a bit of light relief in among the frights and the action.

Undying has a lot of action, once it gets going. As things unfold, you learn more and more about the Covenant family, who occupied the mansion until their untimely deaths. Only one remains, your friend Jeremiah Covenant, but even he isn't well and he wants you to find out what's going on before the seemingly inevitable happens. Unfortunately, although his siblings are dead, they still make their presence felt... strongly. They're to be found in ghostly form, roaming the mansion's rooms and corridors, frightening servants and generally getting up to no good. Your task is to stop them and, ultimately, the Undying King, who plans to be a bit naughty in our realm.

What are you laughing at?

You have a trusty old revolver to start with, and this comes in handy for dispatching Howlers, nasty looking things that think nothing of ripping off your head and eating it. Yuck. Other weapons can be found, along with spells which you can activate with the mystical green stone that you keep around your neck for protection. You're going to need everything you can find, and your wits, as everything ramps up toward its (no doubt terrible) conclusion.

Clive Barker's Undying has all the ingredients of a classic FPS, and thankfully it mixes them just right. The action is tricky and satisfying, the story is interesting and there's a good amount of scary stuff going on. For a game that's almost ten years old, it still feels good to play today, and is more interesting than a majority of the more generic shooters with rubbish, cobbled-together storylines. Given that it can be picked up for so little these days and runs without issue on a modern PC, I would recommend that anyone pick this up. I'm heading back in there now...

A Good Walk Spoiled. Part 1 - Ups and Downs.

by PaulEMoz in , ,

Sid Meier makes awesome games. Alpha Centauri, Pirates!, and of course the Civilization series are just some of the names that leap from the pages of gaming history. Pity I don't like any of them (well, I haven't actually tried Pirates! yet). I'm just not strategically minded. I always end up getting wiped out by my opponents in no time flat in strategy games. I don't get them at all. Sorry, Sid.

But there is one of Sid Meier's games that I do get... Sim Golf.

First things first... where to build this thing? Each locale offers different terrain challenges.

I love Sim Golf. It's like the Sunday afternoon of games... you can just potter about in it, having a nice relaxing time, adding a bunker here, taking away a water feature there. Sure, there's some micromanagement to be done... and I'm not that great at that. But I don't care. It's my ultimate chill-out game.

That said, I rarely finish anything I start on it. This doesn't matter... I really enjoy every game of it. But I thought I'd start up another new game and blog it, and see how that goes. Maybe I'll build a complete 18 hole course this time. Maybe it won't be very entertaining to read and I'll knock it on the head early on. Or, maybe, I might have a successful game and the blog posts will be fun too. That would be a result.

Doesn't that look like a lovely place for a golf course? Let's get cracking...

The scope for building courses is enormous. You can spend hours just on one hole. Will you make it a par three, four or five? How big will the green be? Will you have bunkers or water features? Or both? What kinds of trees will you have? And how will the terrain lie? Actually, the land-shaping tool is amazing. You can have all kinds of hilly layouts if you want. You can build up a massive elevated tee, and have a long downhill hole, or you can make the green difficult to reach on the top of a plateau. But you have to bear in mind that your patrons might get tired...

Micromanagement plays a big part in the game. You have to employ staff for various duties... gardeners to keep the courses free from weeds, marshalls to move along slow players, vendors to offer refreshments around the course. It's important to get the positioning of these right, not just for coverage but bearing in mind the layout of the course. Build holes that are too difficult, and there's not much the marshalls can do with everyone struggling. Build holes with too many undulations, and people will get knoackered, so although you'll make a killing with the refreshments, again, the marshalls will be unable to keep things moving.

Hole 1. A par 4, dogleg through the trees, with sand around the green. Nice start.

And then there's the "Sim" aspect of the game. For "Sim", read "Sims". Yes, the people on your courses are little Sims people, with their own strange sounding language and little emotion icons. Luckily, you don't always have to guess how they're feeling... handy speech bubbles will let you know if they like or dislike any particular hole, but will also let you in on little titbits from their personal lives. It's for your own benefit to try and encourage these to play out... it's also quite entertaining, and all you really have to do is keep them happy enough to keep coming back to the course.

You can probably tell I love this game... I've waffled on about it for ages without actually doing anything. So without further ado, hole number 1 is complete and open to the paying public...

vvvvvv (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I like to keep something of an eye on the indie games scene, because that's where a lot of the original ideas are, or you can get some cool little games for a bit less than full retail releases. Either way, they make for some good blog opportunities, and I've used them to good effect so far.

The next one I fancied a crack at was vvvvvv. Or is it VVVVVV? I'm not sure. And no, I don't know how to pronounce that. It doesn't matter... it's not called vvvvvv because of any of the characters' names, or anything like that. It's called vvvvvv because the game is filled with spikes.

Yep, and you have to collect it. Without the ability to jump. Good luck!

Yes, vvvvvv is a platform game. And, indeed, spikes are the order of the day. The game's setup is simple... you're on a spaceship, something weird happens, and the crew are teleported randomly about a space station. You, as captain, take it upon yourself to go and retrieve your crew, little realising that every single room is a treacherous nightmare to navigate. Mostly because of spikes.

Yes, I said spikes. And here are some. Oh, and a ghost. You should avoid that, too.

The game's controls are simple. You can move left. You can move right. You can't jump... what you can do is a gravity flip. So to get past some obstacles, you'll have to flip upside down and walk along the ceilings, or the undersides of platforms. It takes a fair bit of getting used to, but soon becomes an important and fun part of the game.

Now, this sounds a little bit simplistic in this day and age... so to help out in that respect, the game is unashamedly old-school and retro in every way. It's not an exaggeration to say that this could be a Commodore 64 game. From the way it loads, to the character set, to the graphics, to the SID-meets-NES music, it's presented perfectly in the style of a game from 1988.

You should look happy, seeing as I've just teleported here to rescue you.

The gameplay, too, is similarly old-fashioned... it's evil! It's flick-screen, rather than scrolling, and each screen is named in a time-honoured fashion, and some screens are very devious indeed, while others give you a little bit of a breather. And although some will have you tearing your hair out, eventually you'll suss them and wonder how you ever got stuck.

vvvvvv is a throwback in the most delightful way. Even the price is a throwback... it's about a tenner, which is what you would have paid for it in 1988. That might seem a bit much for what it is, but if you ever got any joy from vicious games like Monty On The Run, you should at least download the demo of vvvvvv... I reckon you'll get quite a kick out of it.

Darwinia (PC, Xbox 360 (XBLA))

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I've read a lot about Darwinia over time, and it's always been highly recommended. I've never been sure that it was for me, though, but with it being on special offer on Steam a while back, I figured I'd pick it up for the purposes of this blog, and if I liked it, so much the better.

It gets off to a good start, with lots of lovely retro touches appealing to the old-school gamer in me. There are distinct throwbacks to the Spectrum and the Amiga, providing an instant pull, although they're purely presentational. Still, they got me in, which was a good start.

Trouble is, the rest of the game had me baffled.

He's telling me I need to create an engineer to fix that building. The place to do that is quite far away...

I lay part of the blame with the game itself... it doesn't really signpost you at the beginning. Seasoned strategists will no doubt not view this as a problem, but for me, I spent ages scrolling around the landscape, looking at the nice things but wondering what on Earth to do with them.

Eventually, I accidentally discovered how to create some units. That was good. Then I put them on the map, and they were all wiped out by the virus that was spreading across the landscape. That was bad.

And there he goes, on his way to repair the building. Sadly, he will be obliterated before he gets there. Every time.

After an hour or so, I stumbled across a set of goals for the level. So I was making progress of a sort, although after another twenty minutes I still didn't have a clue how to achieve the first of the goals.

I swear that as I get older I'm becoming stupid. Also, impatient. I was already aware of the second one... I used to spend hours figuring things out in games, and now I just can't be bothered. It looks like I'm falling victim to today's world of instant gratification. These are two things I'm quite determined to shake... I need my brain to be of a certain standard for one thing, and for another, there's a lot of reward to be found for just a little patience. Darwinia deserves my patience, and the use of my brain. I may be down with this one, but I'm not out just yet...

Irukandji (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

An irukandji, if you didn't know, is a jellyfish. I didn't know that, but now that I do, it makes sense. That's because Irukandji (the game) is an underwater shoot-'em-up.

Beyond that, it makes as much sense as any bullet-hell shooter does. You manoeuvre up the screen as an assortment of underwater critters make their way towards you. You can fire sraightforward, or bank your ship to aim left or right. Along the way you can pick up powerups or score multipliers.

Irukandji looks lovely. Glowing, neon critters wriggle and undulate as they filter downwards. They almost look as though they've got tiny light bulbs in them. Very pretty indeed.

See? Lovely.

As for the game... I reckon it's probably a good shmup, but as yet, I'm not good enough at it to be able to judge it properly. I can sail through to the end of the level without taking a hit, whereupon a GIANT ENEMY CRAB!!! causes MASSIVE DAMAGE!!! In other words, I can't get past the end-level boss. It just spews out too many bullets for me to cope with, for now. I'm getting better at it, though, and I reckon I'll have it cracked before long.

Ooh, that's a pretty GIANT ENEMY CRAB!!!

Going by the website, that's the end of the game, which makes it quite short. But, it's a score attack game, meaning you need to go back to it repeatedly to try and maximise your scoring. The game also has achievements, and a number of different ships to unlock. I'm looking forward to seeing how these affect my scoring... if I ever get any.

Best of all, Irukandji is available from Charlie's Games on a "Pay What You Want" basis, with a minimum price of one dollar. I paid six... if you don't want to stump up, try the demo first.

Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I think it would be fair to say I'd need more time with this game to appreciate it. I didn't have very long today, but I thought this would be easy enough to get into... load up, pick one of three species, and kill lots of things. So in that respect, I found it somewhat disappointing.

Aliens vs Predator, this original version, is interesting for the fact it lets you play as either the classic Alien (from the films, of course!), the Predator, or as a Colonial Marine. I started off with the Predator, thinking that would easily be the best. Not so. You start off armed only with what looks like a dog's paw and your invisibility cloak, which amounts to nothing as the frightened marines will shoot you dead whether you're invisible or not.

These 3D glasses will never take off...

Still, after a bit of sneaking around I was able to kill all the marines in my immediate area. And then... nothing. There were about six rooms available, and I couldn't find any way out. There was a walkway high up, but I couldn't use my grappling hook so I couldn't get up there. Stuck. Bah. So next, I tried the Alien.

I started off in what looked like an Egyptian pyramid. I slid down something that looked like I would imagine a birth canal might look like, into another room... with no exits. What? So with the Alien, I had a total of two rooms and no enemies. This was turning into more of a puzzle game than a FPS!

Die, alien scum! Oh hang on, I've used that, haven't I?

And so, it was on to the more boring and traditional human character. At least, now, I was given a game to play!

It's a very typical FPS, albeit made more tense by the atmosphere that's generated by the standard elements you'd expect. The high-pitched beeping of the alien tracker will always, always set you on edge, and when you round a corner and there's one right in your face, it's jumping-in-fright time. And that's always good.

Still, that alone wasn't enough to keep me in the game. I might go back to it at some point, but I have other FPS fish to fry, and unless someone tells me how to get into the Alien or Predator versions of this, then it'll sit in the Steam "My games" tab, untouched until 2020, more than likely.

Crayon Physics Deluxe (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a game that I've been reading about for quite some time now. I've heard nothing but praise, but to be honest, it never really appealed to me, and I hadn't so much as downloaded the demo before today. So when I saw that they were offering the game on a "pay what you like" basis, I gave in to temptation.

I'm pretty glad that I did, too. For although Crayon Physics is basically a puzzle game (and I generally hate puzzle games), it's very enjoyable.

The basic premise is very simple. You have a ball on a landscape, and there's a star somewhere else on the landscape. You have to roll the ball across the landscape to collect the star.

How the heck am I going to get to that star, using only a crayon?

It's obviously not as easy as it sounds, though. There are gaps and obstacles in the way, and you have to figure out how to bridge these problems using only a crayon and your drawing skills. Unfortunately, I draw like a seven-year-old child. Fortunately, as you're using a crayon, that's almost an advantage.

There's not much more I can say about it, other than go and try it for yourself. The game encourages you to experiment and figure out solutions for yourself, and there can be several ways of getting to your goal, so each player should have a unique experience. As I said, it's being offered on a "pay what you like" basis until January 15th, so check it out.