On the ninth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... all kinds of dancing...

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

You won't find nine ladies dancing in this giveaway. There are some ladies dancing, and one in particular. And there are lots of aliens dancing, too. That's because today's Steam giveaway is Space Channel 5: Part 2!

This game is just the geekiest type of cool. It's so cool, it's not cool. Set 500 years into the future, you play sexy ace reporter Ulala, facing off against the Rhythm Rogues as they kidnap innocent people and force them to dance. The bastards! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to dance the enemy off their feet and save the day... and get the best ratings you can while doing it!

Up, down, up, down, shoot! Shoot! Shoot!

It's a really strange game, truth be told, but very charming and great fun to play. It even features an appearance from "Space Michael", namely Michael Jackson, who was a renowned lover of video games, of course. And you wouldn't exactly see him as a character in a beat 'em up, would you?

There's not much more that needs to be said. It's a simple game, and a simple giveaway. Do the old "plugging this link in a relevant place" thing, post a comment here letting me know where you've done it, and you might need to get your dancing shoes on!

On the fifth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... five (thousand) gold rings...

by PaulEMoz in , ,

Alright, I haven't played this game. I've played the demo on the 360, which had some very nice graphics (maybe too nice...) and whizzed around at a fair old rate. And I bought the 360 version for my nephew, on the 360. Hang on a minute, what am I talking about? Why, Sonic Generations, of course!

Ring-a-ding-ding! Sonic does what he loves best.

That's right, you can win yourself a PC copy of the latest Sonic the Hedgehog game (on Steam)! And what's more, by all accounts, it isn't shit! So it must be well worth your while getting hold of this one.

Anyway, it sounds like fairly typical Sonic fare, but with a few twists along the way. Race at breakneck speeds through familiar and unfamiliar landscapes, collect gold rings, jump on robot heads, battle bosses. That's how it's been for 20 years, and it's been massively successful (commercially, although not always critically). You wouldn't expect it to change, but at least they try to freshen it up on the new consoles.

Neeeeeeeooooownnnnnng! This thing really moves!

So, are you a Sonic fan? Do you want this game? It's averaging 82 on Metacritic, which ain't bad at all. Why not post in here to discuss Sonic the Hedgehog in general? And then, enter the giveaway... spam this giveaway in an appropriate gaming place, and then let me know in here where you've done the deed. Once you've followed those steps, you're in with a shout!

On the fourth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... four calling birds?

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

When I first started this blog, I had the intention of occasionally going back to a game I'd written about, revisiting it and posting my thoughts on the game once I'd completing it. You know how many times I've done that so far? None. Not once. I might have written about a game more than once, but not in a retrospective manner. But that's changing today.

Aaahhh... there's nothing like a warming winter fire.

The game I'm giving away today is Alpha Protocol, a game I first played on the XBox 360 and first wrote about on August 15, 2010. I really enjoyed it then, and fully expected to play it to completion... but then, as usual, I was distracted by the shiny and the new, and Alpha Protocol was put on the back burner.

Something about it kept jabbing away at my brain, though, and I kept getting the urge to play it. And so I would, for an hour or so, making a little progress and then putting it away again. It's not the ideal way to play any game, especially one that's so heavily story-oriented. And then, last month, I started it up yet again, but got hooked enough to get to the end.

Something tells me she could be a bit of a... pistol? Does it look like she's got nice... guns? Austin Powers has got nothing on me.

Alpha Protocol is billed as "The Espionage RPG". And indeed, there's an element of role-playing to it, with you earning points so that you can level-up your skills throughout the game. Depending on what you choose to improve, you can either be a suave and sophisticated ladies' man, with a silver tongue and smooth-as-silk stealthy movement. Or you can be a brutal crack-shot agent, with awesome hand-to-hand skills to match.

A lot of people online complained about the poor nature of the gunplay and the stealth in Alpha Protocol. And yes, initially, there's a fair bit lacking. The controls are woolly, aiming isn't especially accurate and there are frustrations in the way you're led down certain pathways, with scope for exploring levels pretty much eliminated.

Oh no! Such carnage! What a waste of arcade machines!

But if you persevere, you'll be rewarded. Many of these elements improve as your levelled-up abilities improve, making the game more fun to play. But that's only the half of it...

The real star of this game is the dialogue, or rather, the way the dialogue is handled. There's a lot of talking here, but it's all necessary, and it's done in a way that makes the game quite gripping. It's certainly more intriguing than your average game, I feel. There are many characters to interact with, and when talking with them, rather than give you a choice of lines to speak, you're given a choice of mannerisms. The way you respond determines your success.

Look at that expression. You'd think I'd come home at 4am with lipstick on my collar.

It could be disastrous, but it really works incredibly well. You have to get to know each character you're interacting with, so that you know how to stroke them in order to get what you want, or how to wind them up until they snap. And depending on how your interactions go, you might or might not open up other missions or opportunities.

I really feel that this is a brilliant engine, and although Alpha Protocol does have its share of gameplay weaknesses, it really is worth sticking with until the end. Not only that, I'm planning to replay it in a completely different way, to see how else it might play out. There won't be a sequel, but the premise and conversation system is so good it would be a real shame if it didn't get used again.

Surely if "Headslam" is an option, you'd use it every time?

You can see just what I'm talking about, if you own a PC and use Steam. I'm giving away a copy of Alpha Protocol on Steam. All you have to do is post a link to this piece somewhere appropriate (Twitter, gaming forum etc.), and add a comment here letting me know how you've plugged me, and you'll be in the draw. Good luck!

Oh... four calling birds? Well, there's an Achievement in the 360 version for "romancing" the four main female characters in the game. And as they call you regularly in the game... well, there you go!

Sega Rally Online Arcade

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I love Sega Rally. From the arcade and Saturn versions right up to its rebirth on the 360, it's a great racing game. The original version was most definitely an arcade game... short, sharp bursts of racing on a small number of tracks, with hardly any cars available. It handled like a dream, and constantly kept you coming back for more in the hope of shaving milliseconds from your best times.

The current-gen update of Sega Rally (known as Sega Rally Revo in the States) was an altogether different beast in a lot of ways. It retained the awesome handling, but added loads of tracks in the form of Championships and Leagues. It was, and still is, eye-wateringly, hair-tearingly difficult. I mean, it's rock hard. Every now and then, I'll find myself loading it up in the forlorn hope of eking out a few points so that I can unlock the next League. It's so, so hard. And yet, I still love it.

Wonder if that place is open? I fancy a bacon sandwich.

Now we have Sega Rally Online Arcade, a Live Arcade title by Sumo Digital, weighing in at just 800 points. What a bargain! Or is it? I've had a good go at finding out.

Sega Rally Online Arcade follows OutRun Online Arcade in updating a classic Sega arcade game for the XBox Live Arcade market. OutRun Online Arcade was amazing, featuring the classic five-ending race and a Heart Attack Mode. It was also a great high score game, and I was involved in some epic tussles on my Friends Leaderboard, with positions changing all the time. In the end, my son Aidan, who was eight years old at the time, emerged at the top. Little swine.

Nothing like a quiet Sunday drive in the countryside. And this is nothing like, etc...

You're not going to get as much leaderboard fun out of SROA, because you don't score points. You're also not going to get as much depth... whereas OutRun has fifteen different stages to master, SROA has only five (as far as I know at this point - oh, and they're all similar to those in Sega Rally Revo). You can tackle three of them from the outset in the Quick Race Mode, and if you try the Championship and race through all three in first place, you will unlock Lakeside... finishing first in that one will see you unlock it for Quick Race play.

The fifth course is the classic Desert course from the original Sega Rally, and you get to race on that using the classic cars from that game. It's a lovely touch... it would be lovelier if you got all the original tracks (I don't know at this point that you don't, they may be unlockable, but it doesn't look like it).

Say hello to an old friend...

I have to say that the car handling feels different in this game to past games. I find that a bit odd in some ways... surely it should feel the same as the first 360 Sega Rally? But it's a bit more arcadey, a bit more forgiving. Whereas I love that first 360 game, it really is rock hard and that's offputting to some. This one can be blasted through fairly easily. It's an exercise in fun. You wouldn't enjoy battling your buddies if you were gnashing your teeth at the difficulty level, would you?

So, it doesn't sound like you get that much, but it's only 800 points, which is a bit less than seven quid. And I think the focus is set more firmly on the Online aspect... this IS an arcade game, and the intention is to fire it up for a quick blast with your mates, with the single player mode being ideal for practicing or if you fancy a bit of high-speed action without any major time commitment. I reckon it does the job very well for the price... see you on the beach!

Top 10 of '10: Number 1 - Bayonetta (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

So here we are, with my number one most enjoyed game of 2010. And who'd have thought that a game released in the second week of 2010 would hang on to my top spot all year? Not many, but from the day I played the demo of Bayonetta, I had a bit of a feeling. About the game... what did you think I meant?

If you ignore the fact that you play a witch who is clothed in her own hair, which becomes a super-powerful weapon at her command... oh, who am I kidding? It's impossible to ignore that. But for all that it's absolutely mind-bogglingly crazy, Bayonetta actually has a good, well fleshed-out story to complement the frenetic gameplay.

That woman's in the nip!

Bayonetta is a witch without a memory... but after 500 years asleep, that's not really surprising. The story begins with Bayonetta trying to regain her memories, and indeed they do come back, piece by piece... usually awoken by some catastrophic event or a character from her past. It becomes apparent that there are two factions of witches, representing the dark and light sides. As long as balance remains between the two, the world will be a good place to live in. But, of course, that balance is threatened, and this threat seems to revolve around Bayonetta...

It's like Kung-Fu... with added kick!

The game plays like Devil May Cry... as it should, both games were directed by the same fella. But I always found the Devil May Cry series a bit po-faced. I quite enoyed them for what they were, but ultimately they were all a bit too difficult for me, and a bit too dry.

That's never a problem with Bayonetta. Right from the start, where you're on a falling clock tower (falling from where, I don't know, but it falls a looong way), battling demonic angels in strange forms, you know that this is an action game with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.

Alright, I can't even begin to stress how much wrong is in this picture.

Bayonetta took a lot of flak before it was even released, all because of its main character. She was regarded as being a blatant sex object, only in the game to sell as many copies as possible to teenage boys and old pervs. However, once you actually played the game, you realised that the sexuality is all done with a sly wink and an outrageously over-the-top sense of style. It's great fun.

See this? This is about as straightforward as it gets.

What's more fun is the gameplay. I can't remember the last game to make me grin quite as much as this one. It's quite preposterous in so many ways, but never in a way that makes you question why you're playing it. You're dropped in at the deep end, being under attack right from the start with little explanation... that comes as you progress.

Once again, Bayonetta finds herself in a hairy situation...

While at first it just seems like a hack-and-slash game with lovely graphics, things soon take a turn for the better... pretty much the first time you encounter any kind of boss. They're massive, and often quite ridiculous, but always imaginative. Any time you're attacked by anything with an upside-down baby head is a bit disturbing. Luckily, you can counter any such monstrosity with a monster of your own, made from the finest jet black hair. Yes, Bayonetta uses her witchly powers to summon forth some incredible-looking creatures from her hair, and these things deal some almighty damage. It might sound ludicrous, but when it happens under your control, it's amazing.

Look, I'm a reasonable guy, but I've just seen some very unreasonable things.

Games such as this do sometimes have a bad habit of becoming samey, but Bayonetta has a few tricks thrown in to mix things up a little. There are "Alfheim Portals" to be discovered... mini-challenges that are hidden away and, if found, can be beaten for a reward. Then there are the little things thrown in as a service to Sega fans... just wait until you see the OutRun and Space Harrier tributes...

Well, I'm very happy to be here...

Bayonetta might not be the most serious of games, and with some epic and perhaps more worthy games being released last year, it probably didn't top many end-of-year polls for Best Game. But I had way more enjoyment out of this game in 2010 than any other. Its action was great, always imaginitive and inventive, and it had a sense of humour unlike anything I'd played before. I completed it, and have gone back to it with the intention of completing it again. And when I've done that, I just might do it again. It's one of the best games of this generation, without a doubt.

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

I first played Championship Manager, the game that went on to become Football Manager, with the 96/97 edition. That makes me a relative latecomer to the game. It also means I retained four or five years of my life that would otherwise have been categorised as "lost".

The game just does that to you. You'll start playing it at 7pm one evening, only intending to progress it a couple of match days before maybe having a marathon session at the weekend. Next thing you know, it's four in the morning, and all you've really done is watch some numbers change on a screen. It's just that evil.

And so, for years, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of blokes all across the globe have lived the dream of taking their club to glory, winning trophies and titles with all manner of unlikely football clubs. And all by sitting playing, to all intents and purposes, a glorified spreadsheet.

The fools! Do they know what they're doing?

But there's one area of the globe that has not succumbed to the charms of The Beautiful Game - North America. And when you're selling video games, that's a huge market going untapped. But all is not lost! America has a number of sports of its own that they love, almost exclusively. Not only that, they absolutely love sports stats. So the Football Manager engine should be perfect for them. Oh... but they don't like football. If only it could be adapted for use with a sport they do like...

Well, Sports Interactive and Sega gave it a shot with NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, based on a game North America has a lot of love for - ice hockey. It's also a game that I have a fair bit of love for, having lived for a few years in the vicinity of Detroit... otherwise known as Hockeytown. Detroit is home to one of the finest teams in the game, the Detroit Red Wings, and I developed quite an appreciation for them, and the game, in my time there. I was always interested in this game, but never actually got around to buying it. Then I forgot all about it... until I saw it in Cash Converters, costing all of 50 pence!

The Captain. No more needs to be said.

Having played it a fair bit now, I can say that NHL Eastside Hockey Manager really is just an ice hockey version of Football Manager. And I say just... that's not a bad thing, in fact it's perfect. It works very well in the context of ice hockey. You get to run the franchise in exactly the same way as you run your club in the footy version, making all the same kinds of decisions, sending out scouts, setting up tactics, signing players.

That last bit is different, though. American sports don't use the same transfer system as we're used to in football. Instead, they go with drafts and trades. That being the case, your scouting network is incredibly important. You really need to be able to sign up the best young talent possible.

This screen is where you select your lines. This bit is deeper than your average football match.

So far, so good. And in fact, it's hard to be too picky with the game. It plays out a really good management game of ice hockey. And the classic text-plus-graphic representation of the game works just as well here as in Football Manager. There are a few things missing that could improve the game, though:

Not enough fights. In fact I haven't seen any yet. Anybody that watches ice hockey expects a good scrap to break out every now and then. Maybe as the season wears on and the tension increases, there will be some... hope so.

No sound. At all. It would have been nice to have the odd ref's whistle, and even nicer to have the buzzer blaring when a goal is scored. That wouldn't take much, and would add loads to the atmosphere.

GOOOOOALLLLL!!! Listen to the crowd roar! In your head... this game is played behind closed doors.

Not enough face offs. I know that the text just gives you the highlights, but you never, ever seem to see offsides or icings. As large parts of any ice hockey match, you'd expect to see some reference to them in the commentary. This is a bit strange, but can be overlooked in the interests of having a quicker-moving game.

These are but small issues, and the game itself is absolutely fine. It is in no way an arcade game, and in fact you'll have had it on for a good hour before you can even move past day one, by the time you've sent out your scouts and allocated squad positions and set up some tactics. But you're not getting into a game like this for arcade thrills... you've already got EA's NHL series for that. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager is a game that will give you hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of play. Just don't buy it if you have any responsibilities...

Alpha Protocol (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

The name's Thorton... Mike Thorton.

Nah, that wouldn't work. Fortunately, your character in Alpha Protocol, the aforementioned Mr. Thorton, has a line of patter all his own. And in becoming the latest videogame spy, you're going to make full use of it.

Alpha Protocol is not a game that was ever on my radar. Even the words "Espionage RPG", although alluring, were not enough to even make me consider it as a purchase. But last week I felt bad for Aidan, as he was looking forward to playing out one day and it pissed down with rain the entire time. I popped into GAME to try and pick up a cheap consolation for him, but that didn't work out. I spotted a Club Penguin game for the DS in the 2 for £30 offer, and knowing he loved Club Penguin on the PC, I thought I'd get him that. But what would be the second pick in the offer? It had to be something for me, but nothing really stood out... but then I saw Alpha Protocol, remembered reading a few positive accounts, and another impulse buy had taken place. Had I wasted my fifteen quid?

Fuck you, Craig! You're too old for this part!

Normally I wouldn't have answered that for about nine months. Games bought in that fashion tend to sit unplayed for yonks. For some reason, though, this one was calling to me. That doesn't mean I can answer the question though, because at this point in time, I'm not entirely sure.

There are certainly flaws. Your character is a bit unwieldy at times, for starters. There will be maddening occasions when he's stuck moving to the left, even if you're not touching the controller. For a spy, that's a hell of a character deficiency. A quick flick of the stick stops him in his tracks though, and all becomes well again.

Fuck you too, Diesel! You're not muscling in on my action!

Another time, I climbed a ladder after the guard had vacated it and scooped up some cash. I then wanted to vault over the little fence and sneak up on the two patrolling guards. But there's no jump button. You can only jump if the game gives you a prompt. And by the time I'd figured that out, I'd taken a headful of lead. I had to climb back down the ladder and go the long way around. Maddening.

So far, it's all negative. But those are niggles. And considering I've never been into stealth games at all, I'm finding Alpha Protocol quite addictive, and somewhat endearing.

Get out. Of my. ARCADE!

The game is pretty dialogue heavy. You'll be sitting through a lot of conversations, but you get to influence them. You don't choose sentences, just your character's attitude in replying. This is done really well. You don't get to pause for ages to consider how you'll reply; instead, a timer ticks down as the other character is speaking, and you have to choose your nature of response before that expires. As a result, the conversations really flow, and it feels pretty natural.

You have to consider your responses carefully, too. You can gain the trust or admiration of characters from the way you talk to them, which can result in perks that help your game, alter the way characters treat you (important, as you might need their help when you're out in the field), or even woo the laydeez. It's not really like any game I've played before, although I'm sure it's not original. It's probably a system used in Mass Effect, but I only played that for half an hour before I got stuck, so I can't remember. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the classic Law of the West.

Gordon Burns was sure that Mike had the ten points in the bag in this round.

The rest of the game is fairly standard action fare. I like the way you can use your connections to make the missions easier... if you have the money. You can "go online" to buy black market weapons, or to pay contacts for information that you can use for your advantage. It's pretty cool, and it does help to draw you into the world of espionage.

With guns, stealth, diplomacy, laydeez, lock-picking, code breaking, international jetsetting, computer hacking, hand-to-hand combat and laydeez all thrown into one package, Alpha Protocol is quite a decent way to spend some gaming time. You probably haven't got anything that compares, and will be a nice change to the rest of your collection.

Number 3.

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Bayonetta (XBox 360)

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was gagging for Bayonetta for a long time before the game was released. Sure, it looked like a Devil May Cry game... no surprise, given that the director was responsible for both games. But the charm, wit and sauciness promised to elevate it to another level.

And it did. Well, that, and the madness. There was oh, so much Japanese madness. Few games cause you to burst out laughing at the sheer over-the-top ludicrousness of your own special attacks. Bayonetta dared to be different, to push its tongue firmly into its cheek and say, "yeah baby, you know I'm a good time".

I see no ships. I don't really know what the hell those things are.

There aren't many games that I've completed on the 360... there are even less that I've restarted on a harder difficulty level. In fact, there is but one. Can you guess what that might be?

Yep... I'm now playing through Bayonetta on the Hard level. That's not something that's ever appealed to me with games before... when they're done, they're usually done. But I still had loads to unlock by the time I'd finished it, and I actually want all those weapons, moves and powers, just to see how I get on with them. Plus, it's just stupidly entertaining. And I didn't find the cutscenes so cheesy that I couldn't bear to see them again... just the opposite. They're full of sly, knowing winks and innuendo, and I'm all for that.

There's just so much wrong here.

Bayonetta is a brilliant videogame, one that was well worth my frothy-mouthed wait. It delivers everything that it sets out to, with style and flair. It's got a sense of humour, but it's not forced or to the detriment of the game. And it's packed with action, and for me, never gets boring. Money well spent, and easily in my top three blog games to date.

Number 8.

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn)

Bit of a cheat, this one. It's not a discovery, but a re-discovery. I picked it to celebrate my 100th post, and here's what I said about it then.

I think it's probably impossible to not love Guardian Heroes. It's such a well-crafted and constantly entertaining game, and to this day I haven't really played anything else quite like it. That's quite rare in this day and age where successful (and I mean that as in a formula that works rather than massive sales) games are copied and diluted to death. It also means that there's no way I'm letting this copy out of my sight... there's no way to play this, other than on the Saturn (the GBA version isn't the same game, and it's not as good).

It's strange, how much fun it is to watch a number go up when it's counting how many times you've hit something.

The pictures I've sourced for this aren't the best quality, but they're better than the ones I took, so you'll have to put up with that. It looks an absolute treat when you're playing it.. the characters are full of, erm, character, and each location is a joy to battle through.

It is, though, a beat 'em up, which might be a bit simple for some. But once you play it, and learn to master the use of your team, you find that the strategy is just deep enough to be satisfying and yet just simple enough to be accessible and, above all else, fun.

Look, don't even ask. Alright?

I still haven't managed to pick up a memory card for my Saturn, to my disgust. Must try harder, the report would read. It would be for my own benefit, though... Guardian Heroes really is worth it and I really want to play it properly, instead of having to discard my game after an hour or two. I'd recommend this to anyone, but it's pretty expensive to get hold of these days... well, about the cost of a new 360 or PS3 game. If you feel in the mood, and own a Saturn, you'll get as much play out of it as you would a brand new game, without question.

Unsung Classics. Number 9: Ristar (Sega Megadrive)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Ristar is a game that seems to have been very highly regarded in general, but its release came toward the back end of the Mega Drive's cycle, and so it probably wasn't seen or played by as many people as it deserved to be. Of course, in this day and age gamers are given second or even third chances, with emulation and retro compilations being the order of the day. Ristar is on the Sega Mega Drive Collection, and also the Wii Virtual Console (at least, I think it is), so there's plenty of opportunity for it to get a good playing. Here's why you should jump at the chance.

Sega, of course, had already created one of the all-time classic mascot characters in Sonic the Hedgehog, and he/it had a range of games, all wildly successful. It's almost a shame that Sonic was so successful in a way, because Ristar could have been a great mascot character, and as far as the game goes, I prefer it to Sonic.

You are, naturally, Ristar, and you live in a world of platforms, which is handy when it comes to making a game. An evil space pirate has captured your father and is using mind control to enslave the planets in your galaxy. It's left to you to rescue your dad, and stop the evil Kaiser Greedy (for that is the space pirate's name).

Grrrrr! I'll thwottwe you, you wascawwy wabbit!

Ristar is a funny and cute looking character, albeit an angry-looking one. But given the quest at hand, he's not very well-armed. All you can do is jump (and not very high at that, and there are no double-jumps here), and grab. The grab is your offensive move... you grab your enemy and then slam into it and bounce it into oblivion. It looks funny, because it looks like you're throttling the life out of the enemy creatures! Larger enemies take a few hits, though. You also have other moves, depending on your environment... for instance, in the second world you can swim, and whilst underwater you can swim faster instead of jumping. Or there may be rungs or ladders which you can climb up or swing across.

Unlike Sonic, this game is played at a pretty sedate pace, which means you've got more time to explore the levels and take things in. This is good, because there are plenty of bonuses to be found, in the form of treasure chests. Break one open and you'll receive a reward... usually a unit of health, but sometimes it'll be a crystal which gives points, or sometimes a full health top-up. Sometimes you'll see a chest, but figuring out how to get it is difficult. I like that... it means you go out of your way to find it out, and see more of the level. And there's no time constraint of any kind, so you can potter about at your leisure.

Look at the size of that fella! Wonder if he'd taste good with tartare sauce?

At times, you will encounter a crank. No, not a madman... a lever or handle, suspended above the ground. If you jump and grab on to this, you'll start to swing around. Hold on for a while, because once you're swinging fast enough, when you let go you'll go zooming into the air, invincible to everything in your path. Usually there's some kind of bonus to be found when doing this... sometimes treasure, sometimes a large "height bonus" (lots of points). It's just something else to keep you interested.

Ristar is a heck of a lot of fun. It's a pretty chilled-out game, not too difficult but quite long and still enough of a challenge to keep it from getting boring. It also looks lovely, with a great art style complementing the action. It's a real shame that it didn't get the attention it deserved at the time... put that right now, while you still can.

Yakuza (PS2)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Cash Converters comes up trumps again! Although I'd heard of the Yakuza series, I really knew nothing about it, other than it was popular and pretty highly regarded. I had no clue about the gameplay, or anything. But it was £1.99. Perfect blog fodder, so I snapped it up.

If I'd known this was a golf game, I mightn't have bothered.

Yakuza puts you right in the heart of the Japanese underworld... in fact, it puts you in the shoes of an enforcer, with aspirations of starting his own "family". Trusted and respected by bosses, and with money, you're in prime position to go it on your own. Until your girlfriend is kidnapped, that is... and a chain of events is set in place that leads to you taking the rap for the murder of your own family's boss.

The first section of a game sees you playing this scenario out, and it serves to get you really involved in the story, as well as being a deent tutorial. You'll learn how to beat up large groups of thugs, which is what the majority of this game is about.

Just the seven of you? You couldn't make it more difficult than that?

The combat system is fairly straightforward. Punches are the order of the day... you can string together some pretty vicious combinations that will leave most thugs struggling to breathe. You're also able to put some other moves in there... a throw can scatter a few guys at once, while a suitably subdued bad guy can be slammed against a wall for maximum damage. And if all else fails, you can reach for the nearest chair or blunt instrument and beat the crap out of them with that.

Once you get out of jail, ten years later (game time, naturally!), the game becomes a more open-world affair. So when you're not on a mission, you have some freedom to explore. In doing so, you'll find a range of mini-games, which involve some daft games or (of course) more fights. Wandering the city is fun, as it's based on a real area of Tokyo. Pity, then, that it's often rendered Resident Evil-style, with fixed-camera views making you hobble around in a confused fashion.

This is what you get for fucking around with Yakuza! Go home to your mother!

Other than that, though, I found Yakuza an interesting and involved game. The gameplay itself is not especially stunning and in fact gets a bit repetitive, but the storyline and setting were enough to get me hooked. I can easily see why the series is up to a fourth game... it's not a world we generally have much access to, and it's sufficiently different to Grand Theft Auto to make it worth sticking with.

Unsung Classics. Number 6: Halley Wars (Sega Game Gear)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Once upon a time, many many years ago, I was wandering around an arcade in Whitley Bay, and I happened across a game called Halley's Comet. It was a vertically-scrolling shooter, and it looked awesome. So I played it, and loved it. I seemed to be really good at it... it only had a six-digit high score, and on my second go I managed 545,000. And then... I never saw the game in an arcade again.

Years later, I bought a Sega Game Gear. I really liked that little system. When I spotted that there was a game called Halley Wars for it, my interest was piqued. And when I saw that it was a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up in the vein of Halley's Comet, I bought it immediately.

And I loved it.

Whoooosh! Those mini-comets cause a fair bit of damage. Best take them out ASAP.

It was quite a bit harder than its arcade parent... partly, I suspect, because of the controls, and partly, no doubt, because the screen was nowhere near the same height as an arcade screen and so there was much less time to react to enemies. Nevertheless, the prospect of saving the planet from an approaching comet remained appealing, and enjoyable.

I played this today using a Game Gear emulator, not something I've ever used before. I really like it... it has a nice Game Gear surround for the "screen". Brings back some happy memories.

Doesn't that look nice? I loved my Game Gear.

The game follows the arcade game of Halley's Comet pretty closely. Alien forces are using the approach of a comet as cover so they can attack the Earth. Your lone fighter must attempt to stave off not only the alien attack, but also the disaster of having a comet crash into the planet. Lasers are always a good bet in these cases, and your ship is therefore handily equipped, but powerups can be picked up along the way to help you on your quest.

This fella's a mite troublesome. He needs to be hit hard and fast.

If anything gets past your ship, be it alien spaceship or mini-comet, the planet will be damaged. Once this damage gets too great, the Earth is detroyed, and you're pretty much knackered up there in space. Or in other words, it's game over. It's a good premise for a game; it adds tension and forces you into taking a few more risks than you otherwise might.

Halley Wars, for an old handheld system, is a good little shooter. It seemed amazing to me at the time, and although it's obviously less so now, especially with the advent of MAME, I still think they did a pretty good job here. For me, it justified the purchase of the Game Gear, which is pretty high praise. Now that I can play Halley's Comet in MAME it's perhaps redundant, but I've had fun with it here nonetheless.

Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Sega Megadrive)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Why do I subject myself to puzzle games? Whyyyyyyyyy? I know what they're about, and I know what they'll do to me. And yet, I'll try them on the off-chance it's one of those rare Puzzle Quest types that'll have me hooked. It hardly ever works out that way.

If you know what Puyo Puyo is, then you know what Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is. Groups of jelly-like coloured beans will drop from the top of the screen, and you have to quickly arrange them in such a way that like colours will be grouped together. Get a group of four and they'll disappear. And as you're facing off against an opponent, the quicker you clear your groups, or better yet, the more chains of groups you make, the more damage you'll cause to your opponent's playfield.

Why don't you do that, then? I'll get on with something else.

It's all very familiar, although this was probably one of the first games of this particular type. And as with all the rest of these games, I'm rubbish at it. There are thirteen stages in the game... I managed to reach the second. The first was actually quite easy. I was pleasantly surprised. But on the second stage, the opponent took off at breakneck speed, and I just can't play these games that way. Defeat was inevitable, every time.

Well, there's no getting out of that. Looks like my time is up.

And so, my time with the game came to an end in predictable fashion. Worth a try, I suppose, but the outcome was inevitable. If you like games like this, well, this one is pretty cutesy and obviously a nice example. But it's absolutely not for me.

Shane Warne Cricket (Sega Megadrive)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

I haven't played many sports games for this blog... odd, seeing as I like a good sports game as much as anyone. So what better way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon than with a nice game of cricket, in the company of everyone's favourite tubby Aussie lothario?

This is not a game that I was aware existed. I certainly can't remember seeing it on the Megadrive shelves in games stores, and I never read a review. Still, videogame cricket is videogame cricket... it's quite hard to mess it up, but it's also quite hard to make it different, or even good.

Thorpe employs the famous "Gower waft", with familiar results.

Picking England in a one day match against Australia, I settled down for a nice gentlemanly sporting afternoon. And it started off in a sedate fashion, with the computer opponent letting me settle in and get my bearings. I wasn't scoring runs, but I wasn't getting out, either, and I was somewhat getting to grips with the controls.

And then my opponents unleashed hell.

It wasn't that they did anything spectacular... just line and length in the corridor of uncertainty, with a few balls dead on the stumps. And as with any cricket game, if you aren't getting the timing right, you're going struggle, and that was the case with me. Athers departed cheaply. Stewart and Thorpe didn't fare much better. Nor did Hick, or Fairbrother. In the end, my entire England team was skittled for... four.

Pathetic. We did have a nice partnership of two in the middle order, though...

Four all out.

Australia won by ten wickets, knocking off the required runs in three balls.

That's a pretty catastrophic result, even by England's standards. But that's how it usually goes with cricket games... it takes a fair while to get to anywhere approaching proficient. I actually quite liked it, despite my drubbing. I can see it being a good game to play on a rainy Sunday afternoon, just whiling away the hours with a good thrashing. I'm aiming for double figures... I reckon I can get there after a few more games...

Alisia Dragoon (Sega Megadrive)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Is Dragoon a Japanese mistranslation? I only ask because any game with a dragon in it seems to be called Something Dragoon. I'm wondering if there was a bit of a Donkey Kong thing going on there.

Doesn't matter.

You want to watch what you're doing with that. Could be dangerous.

Alisia Dragoon is a fairly typical-looking Megadrive game. It also plays fairly typically, with your character slowly wandering about the landscape, jumping when necessary. The difference is that you're accompanied, at least for a fair part of the time, by a dragon.

It's a small dragon, though, and what it essentially boils down to is that it's the platform game equivalent of a Gradius multiple. You fire a big beam of lightning, and the dragon fires, erm, fireballs. It's a handy companion to have.

Which one's your leader? The big grey blobby thing? You're welcome to that!

Naturally, as you explore, you'll find power-ups and health bonuses... that sort of thing. They're possibly the most interesting part of the game, in that you can find more if you go a little bit off the beaten track. There's not that many areas where you can deviate from the path, but they are there and they can be missed if you're not looking.

Other than that, Alisia Dragoon is a fairly standard platform-adventure game. It's not bad, but it's not terribly memorable. I was certainly hoping for a bit more out of it.

Spending Saturday with my girl.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I was looking for games to play for the blog tonight, but I've been neglecting someone, and I thought I should show her some love. She's quite a girl, and as much as I love spending time with her, I've been busy with work, or playing these games. It's quite a new relationship, too, so I don't want to risk letting things go cold.

Let me tell you a little about her. She's very athletic, for a start, with a great body. She's well educated and witty, with a snappy line in comebacks. She's flirty, and more than a little bit naughty. Oh, and she likes to get rough. Very rough, in fact... she can be a right witch.

I've always loved brunettes that wear glasses...

Manx TT Superbike (Sega Saturn)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Sega have been responsible, basically, for every arcade racing game I've ever loved. From Turbo in the really early days, they went on to produce (among others) Hang-On, OutRun, Super Hang-On, Power Drift, Daytona USA, Virtua Racing, Sega Rally... and then eventually they came full circle and released OutRun 2, and OutRun Online Arcade on the XBox 360. There have been other racers from other manufacturers... Chase HQ, Roadblasters, Ridge Racer... but I've either not been that grabbed by them or simply, as in the case of the Ridge Racer series, never played them.

So, Sega have held me captive for about 30 years now. But one racer they released and that I'd never seen, let alone played, is Manx TT Superbike.

It's an odd one, is Manx TT. I'm intrigued as to how this was given the green light. I can't say I know how popular the Manx TT road race is in Japan, but although I would have thought the answer would be "not very", it must have a decent following for a Japanese studio to go to the trouble of releasing an officially licensed game.

You need to be quick, but clip that wall and you'll be sorry.

Once you've got over the initial shock at the setting (and the eerie similarity of the announcer's voice to Stimpy the cat), in the arcade mode you have a choice of two courses on the Isle of Man: Laxey Coast (Easy), and the more difficult Manx TT course. No choice of bikes... you have to take what you're given. If you play in Saturn mode, there's a choice of bike and a bit more depth in the gameplay.

Depth isn't that important, though. What's important is fun, and sense of speed. And Manx TT delivers both, although not in as great a quantity as Sega Rally. It really is quite thrilling, though, to be tearing through traditional British countryside* in a worldwide-released video game.

Not Britain.

It's definitely a game to be played in short bursts, though. Like the majority of high-score games or arcade racers, you want to get in, make your mark and get out. You wouldn't play it for two hours at a time, but you would come back to it for a quick blast again and again. I'd certainly have been happy to have had this in my Saturn collection in the Nineties... it's not as impressive to me now as it would have been then, and although it doesn't have quite the appeal of Sega Rally, but it's a good little racer, nonetheless.

*OK, the Isle of Man isn't strictly Britain... but it sure looks a lot like traditional British countryside!

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega Master System)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Alex Kidd was, pretty obviously, Sega's attempt at creating a character to challenge Nintendo's Super Mario, given that their consoles were in direct competition with each other. And, for a few years there, the attempt seemed to be paying off, with a series of successful games featuring the cute young scamp.

I never got to play them, having not been able to own a console of that generation. I never got to play Super Mario games either, but I've mentioned that already. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a pretty decent stab at a Mario-esque game, with jumping and swimming and hidden cash and so on, but with elements of Sega's own Wonder Boy in Monster Land thrown in.

It is, however, more difficult to play than Super Mario Bros. That's entirely down to the controls... Alex is more floaty and slidey than Mario which can lead to a bit of frustration, particularly when it comes to timing jumps. Many's the time I tried to drop off a ledge only to fly much further and land right on a bird.

It would be nice if the game would let you swim over those blocks...

There's also a little bit too much trial and error involved. There are times when you'll have to drop off a ledge into the unknown, and just hope that you won't land on an enemy. This is especially worrisome, as you only have three lives and it seems to be very difficult to earn more.

Also discouraging is the fact that you don't get any points until you complete the level you're on. And your score is not displayed on the actual game screen. The game could do with throwing the player a bit more of an obvious reward than that.

That's a lot of negatives, I realise that. For all that, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a pretty entertaining and very challenging game, and a decent way to start a series. I'm interested, now, in seeing how the series developed, if it got better and if any of these kinks were ironed out. I'm particularly interested in checking out Alex Kidd in Shinobi World...

Panzer Dragoon Orta (XBox)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I totally missed out on the XBox - I had a PS2 and Gamecube, and had a foot in that stupid "I can play all those games on the PS2 or PC" camp. Of course, there were a few decent exclusives on the old monolith, Panzer Dragoon Orta being one of them.

I may have missed out on the XBox, but I was already very familiar with the Panzer Dragoon series having owned the first one (Eins?) and Zwei on the Saturn. And although Orta is intrinsically the same as those games, the cut-above graphics help elevate it way beyond them. Even now, it looks very decent indeed.

As far as the gameplay goes, there's no denying the fact that it's very similar to Rez, although of course that should be the other way around. Rez kind of stole a lot of thunder from the Panzer Dragoon series, a lot of which was probably down to the way it incorporated music into the game.

It's a shame, because although there is a gameplay similarity, the two have such different looks and styles that it's well worth owning both. PDO has a wee bit of strategy - your dragon can morph into three different types, each of which has a slight advantage over the others in certain situations. Switching on the fly is easy, so once you get to grips with the system and the enemies in your way, it becomes second nature to morph at the right times for maximum effect.

Another thing this game has in common with Rez are the lengthy and often difficult boss battles. I struggled for ages on the first one, only to read online that "if you find this one difficult, you might as well give up now". This is advice that I'm only too happy to ignore, because Panzer Dragoon Orta is worth every minute you sink into it.

I'm doing well so far... I haven't played any stinkers and there's only been one game that I haven't felt an urge to return to. Let's hope this lucky streak continues...