Spiky Harold (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

If there's one genre that was particularly prevalent in the 8-bit era, it was bastard-hard platform games. I can't tell you how many platform games I played back in the day where you had to collect umpteen objects and get through all the screens to win the game. Manic Miner probably started it, although it was probably its sequel, Jet Set Willy, that made the biggest mark on me on the Spectrum.

Many of these games were great fun as well as being rock hard. Monty on the Run, for instance, kept me playing for ages on my Commodore 64. That one was nails, but I played it and played it and even managed to complete it (twice!) without cheating. Granted, Rob Hubbard's amazing music probably drew me back to play more than I might otherwise have done, but it was still excellent.

Not sure I'm liking that smug look on Spiky Harold's face...

But for every great platformer there were dozens of mediocre or downright awful ones. Games that were ruined by a lack of playtesting, bugs or a number of other dealbreakers. So when I loaded up Spiky Harold and found it was a platformer, I wondered which category it would fall into.

I'll get to that in a bit.

Spiky Harold is a hedgehog. He's in a bit of a bind, though... winter is fast approaching, and he's nowhere near ready! What he needs to do is fatten up a bit for hibernation. Luckily, he lives in an area packed with food. He must visit each of 57 locations and eat the food item contained therein. Once he's stuffed himself, he must return to his chamber. Slight problem... he's only got twenty-four hours to do it.

No wonder this character never caught on. A jumping hedgehog? That's ridiculous.

He's a big, fat bugger, is Spiky Harold. Much bigger than all the other critters in the hedgerow, which makes getting about tricky. Because for all he's fat and covered in spines, the slightest touch from so much as a worm is deadly. That means that pixel-perfect jumping is essential.

And that's where the problem lies. Even with twenty lives at his disposal, it's very difficult to see more than half-a-dozen screens. Timing is everything, and if you're a split-second out, you've had it. Moving onto a new screen poses its own problems. There are times where you'll pause for a second to take in the screen, only to be killed by something coming on behind you. Grrrr.

Jesus Christ! Here comes a deadly snail! Stay out of the way!

Spiky Harold is a very traditional platform game, with very little in the way of innovation. For many, that would have been sufficient, especially at a budget price. If I'd bought it in nineteen-eighty-whenever, I'd probably have played it for ages and done quite well before I gave up. Now, though, it was too frustrating to be enjoyable and I don't want to play it any more. Spiky Harold is going to have to go and find an animal shelter, because he's getting no help from me.

Kokotoni Wilf (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I've played some games with some stupidly-named heroes in my time. I've played Nodes of Yesod. I've played some Final Fantasy games, if only briefly. I haven't really played a Zelda game, but I know they've got some stupid names. It's kind of expected that characters will be named unconventionally. But what on earth would posses you to name your hero Kokotoni Wilf?

Released in the front half of the Eighties, Kokotoni Wilf was the first ever release from renowned company Elite. It's very highly regarded among Speccy owners, and indeed, I remember quite enjoying it at a friend's house. So in an off-period, having trawled through my archives, I thought I'd play it again for the first time in over twenty-five years.

I'm sure I've seen better dinosaurs on the wall of my kid's classroom.

Kokotoni Wilf is the poor, put-upon assistant of Ulrich the Magician. Ulrich is apparently so powerful that he is able to keep all the dangerous dragons of the world asleep. The spell, though, is about to expire, and Ulrich must renew it. Unfortunately, the powerful Dragon Amulet, a might artifact essential in casting the spell, has been broken and scattered across time...

That seems a bit irresponsible to me... how could you let something so important get smashed to bits? Anyway, Ulrich might be powerful, but he's also old and apparently his spell repertoire does not extend to magically collecting the pieces of Amulet, so it's up to Wilf to get out there and physically do the job.

Someone explain to me how that big thing got in this small cave, please.

It's a tricky task, so to give his manservant a bit of a hand, Ulrich give Wilf a pair of magical wings, so he can get to those tricky to reach spots. These will come in handy in your passage through time... jumping over dinosaurs and the like could be a bit beyond a man!

I can't say I remember just why I enjoyed this so much back then. I mean, I had an Atari 2600 which had considerably better sound than the Spectrum. And it's a very hard game to love on appearances. Initially, it looks like something a primary school class conceived and drew, with bright primary colours splashed across childish-looking characters.

Yeah, nice work, smarty-pants. Icarus could do that too, and where did it get him? Eh?

And then, the gameplay itself is terribly slow. For all he's got wings, Wilf limps around from screen to screen with all the urgency of a crippled sloth, which doesn't make the game very exciting.

For all that, though, there's something quite compulsive about Wilf's hunter-gathering exploits. Maybe the trip through time has something to do with that; or maybe it's that urge to see what's on the next screen (for better or worse). Maybe it's just that you don't want to be beaten by its infantile creations.

There you go, old reviewers... three games and I'm onto 1066AD. It's not that hard...

Kokotoni Wilf picked up all kinds of awards on its release, and even to this day is rated very highly on the excellent World of Spectrum website. Those rose-tinted glasses must be prettyy powerful, because it's really not that good. But it's not a dead loss either, and in those days when imagination counted for more and we were more prepared to imagine ourselves in a dinosaur-filled wonderland, I expect it was fairly easy to lose a good few nights after school to this.

As a kind of postscript, I had a read of the reviews for this on World of Spectrum, and was quite surprised to find that a fair number of them appear to have been written by people who couldn't be bothered to play the game properly before reviewing it. A few reviews mentioned not getting past the dinosaur section, which was only twelve or so screens of a sixty-screen game. To be fair, I haven't played it properly either, but at least I put a bit of effort into it, and it's not that hard. It gives you an even greater appreciation for the skills and application of the ZZAP! lads (and by association, the CRASH lot as well). I suppose a lot of games were released back then and time was at a premium, but it explains why ZZAP! 64 and CRASH were so far ahead of the rest... they appear to be about the only ones who actually enjoyed playing games!

On the sixth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... six Vs a-slaying.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Hey! Whaddya know? I'm revisiting another game! And this time, it's the rather wonderful VVVVVV.

I've actually written about this twice before... the first time was on 28th March 2010, which was when I first played the game. Wow. Was it really as long ago as that? The second time was when it made it into my top 10 games of 2010. It really is that good.

Because it's Christmas, I'll be nice and not show any spikes.

There's not much I can say about VVVVVV that I haven't said in those two earlier posts. Run around a spaceship full of spikes to try and rescue your crew. You can't jump, though. You can flip gravity, which is your jumping alternative. And you'll die a lot. That's the game, right there.

As if it didn't sound old-school-awesome enough, it's very Commodore 64-ish in style, so if you had a beige breadbin in your youth and don't own this game already (and are a Steam user), post a link to this giveaway somewhere, then post in here telling me where you've done the deed. That'll give you a chance to win the magnificent VVVVVV!

On the second day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... two Rayman gloves

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Recently, I've been playing the XBox 360 demo of Rayman Origins. It's lovely. Proper, old-school 2D platforming, with gorgeous graphics, great level design and lashings o'fun. I liked it so much, I've bought the game as a family Christmas treat.

Hey! Watch what you're doing with that thing!

But Christmas is still nearly two weeks away! What if I can't wait that long? Well, I could always head over to GOG.com, where it's possible to buy PC versions of the first three Rayman games!

The first game in the series was just called "Rayman", obviously enough, and was released on a number of formats. PC owners, though, saw a number of updates. Rayman Gold added a load of new levels, and then Rayman Forever was released, and that included fan-made levels alongside the content of Rayman Gold. Plenty of bang for your buck then... and that's the game I'm giving away this time.

The key to this lies in those white fists...

The plot of Rayman Forever sees you, looking like the weirdest snooker referee of all time, having to save your world. "What's wrong with it?", I hear you ask. Oh, the usual platform game stuff... an evil dark being has stolen the world's provider of harmony and balance! In so doing, he has allowed a range of freakish creatures to infiltrate the world, and they are capturing all the Electoons!

If this sounds bad, well, it is. It's all a bit nonsensical too, but that doesn't matter... all you need to know is you have to leap around gorgeous levels, rescuing some cute critters and smacking around some other cute critters. This is fairly simplistic to begin with, but you gain extra powers and abilities as you progress, making critter-smacking even more fun.

*whistle* Do you think if I ignore it, it'll go away?

Rayman Forever is a classic platformer, although there's not a lot in there that's new. In fact, it takes many of its ideas from existing classics (Ristar is one game that springs to mind... I think it's the hands...). It does, though, bundle those ideas together with wit and charm, and in doing so creates a classic game in its own right. It's well worth a few hours of your time, and of course, one of you can do it for free! Just post a link to this somewhere relevant (Twitter, gaming forum, wherever you hang out), and post a comment here telling me where you've posted it, and you'll be in the draw! Good luck!

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.

Booty (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Arrrr, Jim Lad (fer that be yer name)... yer on a ship that be occupied by naught but ghost pirates. But this ship is laden wi' booty... and it's yours fer the takin', if ye can outwit those scurvy knaves and scabbards, and empty the hold o' its goodies.

Arrrr... enough of that, Talk Like A Pirate Day is months away! Booty is a platform game where you play the put-upon cabin boy who, sick of his lot in life, decides to gather up as much of the pirates' loot as he can and, to use modern parlance for once, "do one".

Right, so... key 7 gets the gun, but lets that pirate out. OK...

Naturally, they're not about to give up their ill-gotten gains as easily as all that, and they walk the decks, cutlasses in hand, all ready to hand out a damn good thrashing to anyone wi' sticky fingers. Whoops, sorry.

It's a clever little game, is Booty. For all the pirates and their parrots deal instant death, the biggest obstacle is the layout of the ship. Some of the rooms are really tricky to negotiate, with keys having to be picked up in the right order to allow you access to certain rooms at the right times. Oh, and some of the treasure is booby-trapped...

OK, I've got my sea legs, but they never said I'd need my air legs too!

I first played Booty on a mate's Spectrum, and I liked it so much that it was one of the first games I bought when I got my Commodore 64. Pity, then, that the 64 version was wretched and a huge disappointment (and waste of pocket money!). There's no such problem with the Spectrum version... it was a cracking release from Firebird, and gave me a taxing but enjoyable hour or so when playing it again. Arrrr, that it did. Oh, bugger.

Summer Camp (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Following the release of Creatures, all Thalamus' games would feature cute and cuddly things. A far cry from the glory days of shoot 'em ups, true, but they still seemed to do OK. Next up from them was Summer Camp. Now, whilst doing my research I discovered that Summer Camp was programmed by John D. Ferrari. I remembered that name from one of my first ever Commodore 64 games... he programmed Mastertronic's budget release, The Human Race, which is a game I've always loved. You'll see more on that one soon... but that gave me more of an urge to play Summer Camp. I'd always presumed he never programmed anything else after that, I'd never seen his name on any other games!

This game's star is a real work of art!

Summer Camp is set in, erm, a summer camp. We don't really have them in the UK, it's more of an American tradition, where kids are sent during the school holidays so that parents can have a few weeks of peace and quiet. Anyway, this particular camp is about to have its opening ceremony. But what's an opening ceremony without the Stars and Stripes flag? Nothing, that's what! And as sheer bad luck would have it, the camp's flag has gone missing.

Those little helicopters are deadly! Luckily, Maximus' tail doubles up nicely...

Now, this could have happened for any number of reasons, and who knows who could be to blame? It could be anyone's fault, but Maximus Mouse, the wee rodenty fella that lives in the camp's grounds, just knows that the finger will be pointed in his direction. With that thought on his mind, he makes it his business to hunt down and replace the good ol' Stars and Stripes, ensuring that calamity is avoided at the opening ceremony.

After all this time, at last, confirmation of life on the moon.

Of course, and you knew this was coming... that's easier said than done. Maximus is not the only creature to inhabit the camp... there are all kinds of woodland critters crawling, leaping and flying around, and more besides. Most won't actively attack Maximus, but they will certainly get in his way, and touching them is a bit on the deadly side.

Boy, you look like a horse's ass.

Maximus' objective is a tricky one, and in order to be able to complete it he's going to need vehicles ro get about. Being a mouse, there aren't any handy, but there are boxes of parts lying around the camp. Maximus must leap and bound his way to the boxes and pick up all that are lying around a level, thus completing a blueprint and getting him a step further in his quest.

The bonus level. Step on the arrows in the right order to win.

All this leaping around is an energy-sapping business, but luckily there are food icons scattered around each level, which can be picked up to restore some energy. That's not their only use, though... this being a platform game, some things may be a little difficult to reach, until you realise you can jump on the food icons...

Oh good, a bar. You might need a drink at this point.

In fact, there are other little tricks to this game. For a while, I spent my time trying to avoid everything. And then I had a little thought, and decided to try something, and it was then that I discovered that you can ride on kites and balloons. Very helpful indeed! They don't kill you, but the fall from one of them might...

Let's go fly a kite, up to the heighest height.

It's at this point that you're thinking this is one of the best games ever. Sadly, I can't say that's the case. Although it has its fair share of plus points, there's one overwhelming negative... it's just too hard. I can imagine that back in the day I'd have spent ages playing it, and I might even have done OK at it, but with my self-imposed limit of an hour or so it was really hard to make much progress (without the trainer). If you can get the right weapon you stand more of a chance, and there are some fun pickups to be had, but a game that seems to be going well can come to an end frighteningly quickly.

Maximus has met his end. You see this screen a lot.

Summer Camp is a cute game with a real sense of character. The star of the game is endearing, and its filled with cute, cartoony touches (a great example is the way Maximus is redrawn after a death). But that cuteness is a velvet glove wrapped around an iron fist. It's just that bit too difficult, whereas if it had been toned down a bit we might have been looking at a really fun platformer. A visit to Summer Camp should be the time of your life... this one has just a bit too much hard labour.

Advent Calendar - December 1st.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

First Samurai (Commodore 64)

If you've ever picked up a joystick and you're over the age of thirty, the chances are you've heard of The Last Ninja series of games. They're the legendary tales of Armakuni, out to avenge his murdered ninja brethren. Everybody knows about The Last Ninja. First Samurai, on the other hand... not so much.

I'll be honest, when I first heard about First Samurai all those years ago, I figured it was a piss-take, and didn't really pay it any attention. Why else would they call it that after The Last Ninja had been so successful? I suppose the intention was to piggyback off it and hope for similar success, but it was released too late for that.

Having travelled through time, our Samurai learned from The Bride how best to get blood off his sword.

First Samurai is also a tale of revenge, but the plot is a bit sillier sounding than that of The Last Ninja, with waffle about Demon Kings and Wizard Mages. The upshot of it all is that your master is dead, and your angry Samurai is out to avenge him.

So, a noble quest, and it turns out to be a huge and action-packed one. Unlike The Last Ninja's lovely isometric 3D, First Samurai distances itself from that game by being a much more straightforward side-scrolling action platformer. You're able to jump and climb around the landscape, which is very handy as there are some very out-of-the-way platforms, and if you can reach them your agility will surely be rewarded...

John Hurt was worried that he'd become typecast...

Of course, you wouldn't be much of a Samurai without a sword, and sure enough, you've got one. Trouble is, it's a mystical sword and you can't wield it unless you have enough mystical energy. You'd better gather that energy quickly as you're going to need that sword, because you're constantly under attack from a barrage of critters and enemies. And when I say "constantly", I mean it... these little bastards respawn as soon as they've been killed. Like I said, it makes for an action-packed game, but it would be nice if you (and the game) were given a little more room to breathe.

Other enemies may be a little trickier to overcome, so you may be able to summon the Wizard Mage on occasions, and he may be able to help you progress. You must use his powers sparingly and wisely, for you are only able to summon him a limited number of times...

Look, there's no point hiding... get out there and get stuck in!

Apparently, once you get far enough, you travel through time to get at the murdering demon. Groan. Yeah, that old chestnut. I'd rather this had stuck to the traditional if I'm honest. Although, for as long as I played the game, it did... I never got beyond the attractive countryside landscapes. As I mentioned earlier... it's obviously a huge game.

I was pretty sure that this came out on the Commodore 64 first, and was ported to other formats. That might be true, but having done some research on this it seems as though the C64 version might have been scaled back from the Amiga version. I don't know which way it went, but the Amiga version looks like a much better game and I wish I'd been able to play that version instead. That's not to say that First Samurai on the Commodore 64 is a bad game. It's a very big game, and quite enjoyable for what it is. But it's a touch unremarkable and doesn't feel quite as epic as it should (or as The Last Ninja does), which is a bit of a shame.

Super Meat Boy (XBox 360 Live Arcade)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,

I was going to write about something else today, something that I started playing last night, but I didn't bank on XBox Live Arcade throwing three games out on one day, with at least two that I really fancied trying... and ended up buying. So the original offering has been put on hold, and instead I'm going to write about the game that took a solid hour out of my evening without even trying... Super Meat Boy.

To be honest, I'd heard very little about Super Meat Boy before its 360 release, other than the odd comment on a website saying it was "awesome". I like awesome games, so I thought I'd better investigate. It turns out that Meat Boy was a flash game on the Newgrounds website, which instantly brought something else to mind...

She's quite something... you can see why he'd go to all that effort to get her back.

Graphically, it has a certain charm, and this is where the Newgrounds link comes in... it kind of reminds me of Alien Hominid to look at, and Alien Hominid is another game that started life as a flash game and made its way onto the 360. It also reminds me of Alien Hominid in how bastard hard it is. But although there's more to do in Alien Hominid, you're more likely to spend more time with Super Meat Boy, and this is purely down to the superb game design.

You see, the beauty of this game is that when you die, there you are again, ready to throw yourself at the challenge one more time. This instantaneous restart is crucial to the game's hook, because if you had to wait for any kind of loading screen every time you died, your telly would likely have a controller-shaped hole in the middle of it after less than an hour. As it is, every time you die and are frustrated to the point of turning it off, you find yourself unable to resist flinging Super Meat Boy to the right just one more time... nnngggghhhh!!!

Bit like a snail, is Super Meat Boy... just his trail is bloody, rather than slimy.

Adding to the addictiveness is the fact that many levels take between 10 and 30 seconds to complete, and there are tons of them. It's like the most successful handheld games in that regard... it's very easy to just dip in and out of when you've got a bit of free time. If you complete a level fast enough, you get a Grade A+ ranking, and unlock the "Dark World" version of the level... it's the same level, but with loads more added evil. So, effectively you're getting twice as much game for your money. Even better.

I've mentioned that Super Meat Boy is bastard hard. It really is. You're going to die an extraordinary amount of times while playing it. It's also very evil. It has a sick, twisted, black heart... blackened by a profusion of congealed blood. The blood, fantastically, is everywhere. Super Meat Boy himself is blood red, and being a meat boy, contains lots of blood. This blood is spilled, splattered and strewn across the level every time SMB is killed, as you might expect. But the level doesn't reset when you die... the blood remains smeared, caked and splattered all over the scenery. Which is nice.

Replays are hilarious, with every Meat Boy that attempted the level being shown at the same time.

Super Meat Boy is an old-school platform game made new. I've read in a couple of places that it's like Super Mario Bros., which is cobblers as all it shares with that game are the initials and the ability to jump and sprint. If anything it's even more old-school than that. It kind of reminds me of the twisted glee of the torture screens in Creatures on the Commodore 64 in some ways, although the gameplay is pure platform jumpiness, with the odd boss level thrown in for good measure. They've launched it at the sale price of 800 points... I would grab it for that now if you have any interest in leaping about and dying lots.

Rex (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

And so, on to the "proper" game I was going to play today. And after asking for suggestions and getting hold of all the games that were mentioned, I've completely ignored the lot and gone for something that I'd never heard of.

Rex was issued by Martech, a company I know better for Commodore 64 releases such as Crazy Comets, Mega Apocalypse and Nemesis the Warlock. Apparently Rex was planned for the C64 but never released on that format. Luckily, it was released on the Spectrum, thereby giving me a new game to try out for my blog.

"And here we see, in the wild, a species indigenous to this planet... Mercenarius Rex."

The first thing that hit me when I started this game was how colourful it was. It reminded me of a few games all at once; Starquake, Exolon and Cybernoid. In fact, I wonder if this game was ever intended to be a Hewson release. It has something else in common with those games; it's rock hard. Yes, even harder than Cybernoid.

That doesn't mean it's not fun, though. It could have been frustrating, quite easily. But once you take a bit of time to evaluate the scene, watching bullet patterns and enemy movements, you can plot out your plan of action and then get moving. And you have a shield with limited energy, so if you save that and only activate it at the hardest bits, you should be alright.

Rex ain't no John Travolta...

Rex is not merely a platform game. As you're being shot at, it's only fair that you get to shoot back. Rex has (or can have) a number of weapons at his disposal. I say "can have"... you only get to use more powerful weapons once you've collected them from weapons pods around the complex. Even then, you need to have built up enough energy to power them. You do this by blasting enemies and collecting the little energy bubbles they leave behind.

It's interesting, this game, in that you're battling against humans as well as robots... but you aren't human yourself. Rex is kind if a hybrid dinosaur mercenary. Which is awesome, because there aren't enough games where you play as a gun-toting dinosaur mercenary.

When stealth and sneakiness fail, just let 'em have it.

It's worth noting again the graphics in this game. They're really lovely, and I like that the characters are all small as it gives the game more room in which to throw things at you. In fact, all those little characters, missiles and bullets bring to mind thoughts of Bangai-O, although this game really isn't anything like that.

Rex is a great little game, that offers a real challenge. I suspect it was released towards the end of the Spectrum's commercial life, which is a shame and means that many of the more seasoned Spectrum gamers might not have seen it either. If you still like to give the Spectrum a bit of your love,treat it to a workout and fire up Rex.

PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain (XBLA Indie Games)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I've got loads of games still unplayed, and yet I can't help buying more, whether it's a full-priced retail release in a sale, something reduced on Steam or GOG, or a 70p cheapie on XBLA's Indie Games. PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain is one from the latter category, snapped up on a whim after a quick go of the demo. Yep, it's another 80 pointer.

I'll be honest, the main reason I tried this was because I thought the main character reminded me of a character from a Mastertronic game. Points awarded to anyone on the same wavelength that can tell me which game, but no prizes. Sorry.

Jesus! A ghost! And the reason the game is forced to be played as a speed run. The bastard.

PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain is... drumroll... a platform game! Noooooo! Really? OK, so far, so obvious. It's a bit different to the norm, though. If you've trawled much of the internet for games-related stuff, you've probably seen sites devoted to speed runs on various games (Super Mario games being very popular for this). Well, PLATFORMANCE is a game that is designed to be played as a speed run. In fact, you have no choice in the matter.

As such, it's really good fun. It's hard, at least to me... in fact, there's a point I'm stuck at. The word "pain" in the title is quite apt, both for the player and the main character's many violent deaths. So I've never actually completed it yet. And it's not a long game... research has shown that you should be completing it in five minutes or less.

And that, right there, is the entire game. How quickly can you finish it?

Five minutes? So why should you buy it then? Well, I certainly can see it as being a game you'd play repeatedly after completion. With it being a speed run, you'll constantly be trying to shave seconds off your best time. And there are different difficulty levels to try, adding to the enjoyment/frustration. Yes, you'll get frustrated, but in that classic 8-bit "should have made that pixel-perfect jump" way.

PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain is a charming little game. It's got 1985 written all over it (even down to not having online leaderboards, sadly), but turning it into a speed run changes the dynamic into something approaching the present day, and fun is fun, whatever era it comes from. It might be a Mastertronic game at a sub-Mastertronic price, but it's no less worthy for it and will have you shouting abuse at the tell for many an hour.

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.

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.

Go!Go! Beckham! Adventure on Soccer Island (Gameboy Advance)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I was wandering around Cash Converters earlier, as I like to do, because it's quite a handy place for picking up bargain games for the blog. On this occasion, I spotted they had Go!Go! Beckham! Adventure on Soccer Island for the GBA. It's not a game I was familiar with... I'd only ever heard of it once, a couple of years ago, thanks to a fellow forum-goer (and blog follower... thanks, puffle!). Even then, I knew absolutely nothing about it, but for £2.99 I reckoned it was worth a punt (see what I did there?).

I hadn't even whacked it into the DS, though, when I saw that it was made my Denki... and my heart sank. Denki were responsible (obviously) for the previously-played-for-the-blog game, Denki Blocks! (those people at Denki love exclamation marks more than I love putting three full stops for a pause!).

Still, from the screenshots it looked like an entirely different game, so on it went. And although the presentation has a lot of the hallmarks from that game, I enjoyed Go!Go! Beckham a lot more.

Beckham ponders over his next move. Don't think too hard, Dave, it might hurt!

Go!Go! Beckham! is a platform game, where bad guy Mister Woe and his League of Monsters are running wild over Soccer Island. Obviously this isn't right, and look who's here to save the day! It's David Beckham!

If you think that's a slightly strange premise for a videogame, well, yeah, it is. Diddy Dave is a cute looking little fella (apparently there are those that think the same of the bloke in real life), and as he runs around the side-scrolling levels, booting and heading his footy all over the place.

Naturally there's a lot more to it than that. There are monsters on the island... I wouldn't exactly say they're rampaging around the place, mind. They trundle about, occasionally getting in the way, but are soon dispatched with a couple of trademark 30-yard raspers from our Dave.

In a clear case of art imitating life, Dave collects a huge pile of cash.

Strewn around the island's levels are coins (of course) and gems, which should be collected, and keys, which must also be collected to unlock the goal. Collect all the keys on the level, then blast the ball through the goal and the level is complete. With 40 cutesy levels to be cleared, there's plenty to do. The game also saves high scores and best times, so there's plenty of replay value here as well.

Go!Go! Beckham! Adventure on Soccer Island is a really nice little platform game. The football mechanic does add something a little different. I've never played a Kirby game (there's something for the future), but I used to watch Aidan playing, and I see a slight resemblance to those games here, but with plenty of its own charm and ideas, too. What a good little pickup for three quid.

Commander Keen: Marooned on Mars (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Sticking with old-school platformers, today I thought I'd actually play something I've downloaded on Steam for a change. I'm of the opinion that Steam is a great tool... you can always get hold of a great (or not-so-great) PC game for a great price. Actually, I've bought quite a few games through the digital distribution websites/providers just because they were cheap and I'd always fancied them, and then never got around to playing them.

The Commander Keen pack costs three quid, and you get five episodes for that. Yes, episodic gaming has been on the go for years. I decided to start at the beginning with Episode One: Marooned on Mars.

The Red Planet. Not as exciting as you've been led to believe.

Commander Keen sees you crashed on the surface of Mars, with a very pulled-back view of the planet. You can only wander around so much of it, but you can't really do anything much... eventually you have to venture into one of the planet's many structures.

Once you do, the view switches and the game becomes a classic side-view platform game. Goodies are scattered around the place in hard and not-so-hard to reach places, and you have to jump around on the platforms in order to collect them. You must also avoid the indigenous life-forms (of course) on your way to finding the room's exit.

Ugh! Look at that thing! Run away! Run awaaaaay!

It's all pretty standard stuff, and an odd choice of game to make for the time, as surely people were moving onto more complicated games by the time this came out. Still, it's fun to visit in retrospect. The game it reminded me of most, strangely, was Thing on a Spring, the old Commodore 64 game. There's a lot of bouncing rather than jumping, at least that's how it feels, and the game has certain aspects in its look that are reminiscent of that game. I'm not sure how much I'll play this (or the other episodes) in the future, but I think that the pack is priced right for what it offers.

Catwalk (ZX Spectrum)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Never let it be said that I don't listen to suggestions.

Catwalk was recommended to me just a few days ago, and as someone always on the lookout for Spectrum recommendations, I jumped on this one pretty quickly, not knowing anything about it.

It's a straightforward game - you're a cat, and you have nine lives to get across nine screens. Each of those screens is filled with tasty mice, birds and other foods... the perfect nighttime feeds for a cat. In order to progress to the next screen, you have to eat all the food you can see.

Why go through all that effort to reach the cat food, when you can't open tins?

Naturally it's not as easy as that, as each screen is filled with obstacles that must be avoided or overcome. And being a Spectrum game from the early half of the Eighties, you might expect those obstacles to be a bit on the weird side. Surprisingly, they're fairly normal, run-of-the-mill things, at least to start out with. Dogs, boots thrown from windows, workmen... these are your enemies. It does get a bit more bizarre as you go on, but it's quite refreshing to see a game from this time period that's relatively grounded in reality.

I was a little bit surprised to find myself quite enjoying this. It does get considerably more difficult later on, but with only nine screens, you'd expect that. Catwalk is a nice idea, boiled down into a simple platform game, and a lot less epic than the likes of Jet Set Willy (who makes an appearance here). I noticed that this cost £5.95 when it was released. Although nine screens is not a lot for your money, I think I'd have been quite happy with it for that, and it would have made a fantastic release for two quid.

Mirror's Edge (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I missed the first half of the Arsenal vs Man Utd match for this... not something I'd do lightly, given that I love my footy.

Just as well it was, on balance, worth it.

Mirror's Edge, it appears, is a very polarising game. That's probably what comes of being so strikingly original. It looks very different... very clean, sharp and bright. And it plays differently to almost anything else. It's a first-person platform game.

Right a bit... right a bit... woooooaaahh! Eeeeasyyyyyy!

That's a concept that takes a while to get to grips with. It's a bit frustrating at first... actually, it's very frustrating at first... as you mis-judge jumps and timing, and crash to the rooftop, or worse, all the way to the ground. It's quite unnerving to see Faith scrabbling for a handhold on the way to a sickening crash...

And then there's the combat, or rather, non-combat. This is not a game where you're supposed to beat up all that stand in your way. Instead, Mirror's Edge encourages you to avoid or disarm. You're a Runner... so run! It's difficult, and does put you off initially, but again, the fact that it's different means it's worth persevering and it feels a little more rewarding when you start to get the hang of it.

They shouldn't encourage you to play in a construction yard... it'll only lead to trouble.

I like the way the game helps you out in the beginning... progress depends on finding your way quickly across the rooftops, which is really hard. So all objects of use are coloured red, so that you know at a glance where you need to go. It's a gentle piece of handholding... knowing where you have to go doesn't make it any easier to pull off the moves required to get there. Quite clever.

I'm not saying I'm particularly good at Mirror's Edge... not yet. But I'm sufficiently intrigued by the concept to want to carry on. It's rare to find a game these days that's different enough to grab your attention from the off... kudos to Mirror's Edge for managing that.