Sunday, 17 June 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #35: UN Squadron

U.N. Squadron is a side-scrolling shooting game which came out in arcades in 1989. It was programmed by Capcom and released for use on their CPS arcade hardware. I won’t explain what this was but if you look back at my Final Fight review there is an explanation there.

The game was released in Japan under the name Area 88, the same name which was used for the Super Famicom (Japanese version of this game). The game is a typical side-scrolling shooter, unlike many of Capcom’s other shooters around this time such as their 1940 series which are vertical-scrolling shooters. It was based on a Manga series Area 88 which never really came to these shores. But the game has a nice intro which explains the rough idea behind the story.


Unlike some shooters which are one hit and you’re dead this game is a little different. If you’re hit then your plane is damaged but if you can keep it safe from harm for a little while then you’ll be fine. This actually adds to the excitement, you will find yourself going: ‘OK I have got to keep away from the enemies as you keep trying to dodge incoming fire and hold on’. When you manage it you will thump the air in triumph, and when you fail you will curse yourself for not having quick enough reflexes but the main thing is it always feels like any failures are down to your own lack of skills.

Before starting a level you get the option of purchasing special weapons or added defense options from the shop. As you shoot down enemies you gain cash and at the end of the level any special weapons you purchased and did not use get converted back in to funds and added to your cash reserve. This is a great little addition as once you get better at the early levels you can try to challenge yourself with the added benefit of an easier time in later missions by trying to complete the earlier ones on a strict budget allowing you to hold back enough money to kit your plane out with lots of special weapons for the later missions.

 

If you were a big fan of Capcom then the SNES was definitely the machine for you to get your arcade fix on back in the day. If you have read my Final Fight review then you might be asking what has been dropped from the original arcade version?

Well the SNES version is not an exact replica of the coin-op. Yes, it is a port and yes, this port does have certain things missing and disappointingly one of these missing things is once again the two-player mode. Some of the game’s levels are different or modified from the arcade version but it is not always in a bad way. It’s not really a worse version. it’s more of a slightly remixed version. In this case they didn’t just strip things from the game, there are actually a few additions including some more weapons and the chance to purchase different aircraft. Ignoring the missing two-player mode this game is no worse than the arcade machine, it’s just a little bit of a different version.

With bright graphics, enjoyable music and epic action it is hard to see what this game could do better. The end of the level will see you meeting some kind of large end of level boss which you will have to defeat. At this point you better hope you have held something back to save the day. I would have to give this game eight out of 10. It’s a darn good scrolling shooter. The only thing it is really lacking which would make me bump the score up would be a two-player mode, at this point some of you must be wondering if Capcom ever managed to bash out a high-quality SNES game which catered for more than one.

If you want to try this game you will most likely be paying £15 minimum for a cart of it. I managed to get one for £10 but it took a heck of a lot of looking around and waiting. Capcom have actually made quite a few of those classic collections but U.N. Squadron has never seemed to make the cut, and this is probably one of the reasons it holds its price.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #34: Power Drive

When I buy retro games they tend to belong to one of three categories. They are games which I owned as a kid and want to get again because I have fond memories of them, games I remember friends owning and which I have fond memories of playing at their houses, or are games which I can get cheap and figure what the heck I will give it a bash.

 

My PowerDrive SNES YouTube Review 

 

Today’s game comes from the second category. I had quite a few friends at school and all of them owned one console or another, but the most owned console was probably the SNES. Not everyone had the same taste in games though. So sometimes when I would go to visit a friend’s house I would get to play a game that I otherwise wouldn’t have got to try. One particular friend was mad on sports – cricket, football, boxing, motor racing – and unless it was a crazy sports related title like Punch-Out!!, he would have it.

One day when I went round he had a new game, one I hadn’t really heard much about and that game was Power Drive. The first thing I noticed on its case was that it was published by U.S Gold, but at the time I had never heard of the developer Rage Software.

U.S. Gold was founded in Birmingham in  1984 as the publishing division for a software distribution company called Centresoft. Its primary reason for existence was to republish popular US computer games in the UK. For ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC users the U.S. Gold logo became a big part of our lives. U.S. Gold no longer exists and nor does Rage Software. Rage’s first title, Striker, sold more than one million copies and established Rage as a major creative force in the interactive entertainment industry. But ironically the very thing that started them off – a football title – would ultimately be its undoing. In 2000, Rage began to expand into publishing. Due to a long run of games that did not sell as expected, the lack of sales and costs associated with their  David Beckham franchise tends to be considered to be what ultimately led to the company going bankrupt in 2003.

When my friend popped Power Drive into the cartridge slot I have to admit that it was nothing like what I expected. Putting it simply Power Drive is an arcade racing game based around rally driving. There is not a great deal of opening presentation to the game, you pick your car from an initial choice of two and then you start your career.


The graphics are isometric, you can see the whole of your car almost as if its a remote control car that you’re looking down at. This might seem to be a little basic at first but with the tricks under the game’s bonnet such as full sprite rotation and super smooth screen scrolling in every direction you soon realise that what looks on paper like average graphics actually look a hell of a lot better when moving. There are a few tiny issues with screen flicker but this mostly happens when the arrows that warn you of upcoming turns appear over the top of other objects. It’s only a momentary issue and you can still tell what direction the arrow is pointing so it doesnt really affect your game. There are night levels, and the following might sound like a strange thing to praise but the car’s headlights are handled brilliantly. Both of the headlight beams are animated separately, which just looks brilliant. The two lights overlap each other and it’s just a brilliant little touch which I can’t help but mention. That’s enough about the cars and their headlights, it’s time to talk about the backgrounds. They at first seem a little bit basic. The tracks and the scenery both look a little plain at first but they are full of subtle little details which take into account the characteristics of the country you are in.

The music is typical early nineties game music. I can’t claim it’s amazing but then again it’s not bad. Basicaly it does its job which is to be moderately exciting and to muffle the engine noises, etc so that they dont became a pain in the butt. You can turn the music off if you would prefer to hear your engine or if you’re going to play your own music while you play.

The game has three types of stages, they are individual time trials, head-to-head races against the computer, and skill tests. There are eight rounds of gameplay, set across a range of countries. As you race you get prize money for winning races but it is important to note that the cost of repairing your car is very realistic compared to other games, meaning if you have repeatedly ping-ponged your car off of the walls then 90% of your prize money is going to be spent on knocking your car into shape. You can race with a knackered car, but it becomes harder and harder to control and slower so it’s not really recommended.

At first this game will seem hard because it doesn’t control like a lot of other SNES racers, or at least not many of the wildly popular ones. If you have played either RPM Racing or Rock n’ Roll Racing then Power Drive would be down your alley. Once you get used to the controls though it becomes a challanging but fun driving game. I would give this game eight out of 10. I really enjoy it still today and can easily throw it on for a quick hour again and again. This game can be got for around £10 to £15. If you want to try it I would keep my eye on the various sites and try to grab a copy as close to the £10 mark as possible. The game is not wildly talked about and doesn’t seem to have any particularly big cult following.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #33: Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

If I was to say Rare in relation to games to most people then they would probably think about the Nintendo 64 and about Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark and Goldeneye 007.

 

To me though Rare are so much more than that. I can remember their NES games and I also remember even further back when it was named Ultimate Play the Game and was bringing corker after corker out on the ZX Spectrum. Atic Atac and Saber Wulf were much talked about in the playgrounds of my youth. This is  where I need to briefly stop the review and say go buy Rare Replay and play the living heck out of all of the games and then when you’re done, grab everything you can that’s missing from it.


Now it’s time to get back to business. The game I am going to talk about today is Battletoads in Battlemaniacs. It is a platforming beat ’em up game from 1993 developed by Rare and published by Tradewest. Tradewest no longer exists and Rare – well, I could write a whole article about its fate. The short of it is it is still around but now it is owned by Microsoft and has spent a lot of time making Kinect-based games and hats for Xbox Avatars. Thankfully it has recently made a real game again so here is hoping it has a brighter future ahead of it.

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs was not the start of the story though. This series began with the original beat ’em up Battletoads which was released for the NES in 1991 (this title was ported to the Mega Drive, Game Gear, Game Boy and Amiga). The Battletoads were largely created with the purpose of trying to be rivals to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their video games. In fact at the height of Battletoads’ popularity they even managed to get a television cartoon pilot although this – unfortunately or fortunately depending on if you have seen it and what you thought of it – never got spun off into a full series. If you enjoy 80’s television cartoons I recommend you track the pilot down.

The original Battletoads was a very popular game. It was fun but brutally hard. It was a good beat ’em up with a two-player mode, but it also had sections where you rode on hover bikes and these were mercilessly hard. Worse still, if you were playing them in two-player mode and one of you crashed you both had to start that section again, which led to screaming arguments and shattered friendships.

 

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs follows the story of two of the Battletoads, Rash and Pimple, on a quest to stop Silas Volkmire and the evil Dark Queen from ruling over the world while rescuing a princess and their fellow toads. Many of its levels are enhanced or remixed versions of levels from the original Battletoads, so its a sort of semi-sequel, semi-remake.

The first thing you will notice is that the sprites in this game are large and the game in general is very colourful. The soundtrack is kind of basic but the music suits the game well. This game is not just a beat ’em up, it’s a massive mix of things. Yes, you will fight but then there is also hoverboard racing platforming, and much like the original NES version, the game is enjoyable but sections of it might have you tearing your hair out. If you like hard games with a sence of humour then it might be just for you if however if you hate games with challenging pieces that you’re going to be having to try and try again then you’re going to hate Battletoads in Battlemaniacs. This makes it a very hard game to rate because its overall quality depends on the kind of person who is playing it. Therefore a score I give it might in fact be meaningless to you. I have never completed Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, but I have spent a very long time trying in the past. I see it as a challenge which keeps on bringing me back.

Personally I would give the game seven out of 10. it’s fun, there is a fair degree of variety and its a good game to play with friends – as long as they enjoy a challenge. I have to warn again that if you hate games that will see you die again and again on certain segments then this is not for you.

This game was before Rare’s partnership with Nintendo. In fact it was as far as I know the last game it released for the SNES before beginning to work on projects for Nintendo. It had invested its significant profits from games during the NES period to purchase a bunch of very expensive Silicon Graphics workstations. This move made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the UK, and I think most of us know what this led to.

If you want to purchase Battletoads in Battlemaniacs then you’re looking at anywhere between £13 to £18 for the cart, and if you want a copy in a box in good condition then you will probably need to look at around double that range. I looked at buying it in a shop cartridge only for £18 but instead ended up buying a cart from online for £14 including postage. This is the most money I have spent on a game specifically for this series but I also feel that copies of this will become rarer in the coming years.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #32: NBA All-Star Challenge

The game I am going to be talking about is NBA All-Star Challenge. It was developed by Beam Software and published by LJN (Acclaim in japan). It was released in Europe in 1993.

 

Back when I was younger there was only one NBA game that ever got plugged into my SNES, and there was only one NBA related game that I ever played at friends’ houses. To cut this rambling intro short, it wasn’t this one.


The first thing you will notice upon playing NBA All-Star Challenge are the gameplay options. There’s one-on-one, three point challenge and horse. This is the game’s first problem. You will have most likely bought it expecting to play full real games of basketball and here you are playing games that only involve two players one either side, and only involve half a court.

When it comes to picking your player, you’re not met with a list of names or even player pictures. No you’re met with a list of 27 teams, and when you click on one of these teams you will see the player that the team has been allotted. So if you are a fan of basketball you better hope you can remember who played for who back when this game was released and hope that they were the chosen one for that team. Of course if you’re not so keen on basketball as a sport and just like a knock around fun sports video game to mess around on this point is a bit mute. Still the main body of this game feels like something that would be just a bonus/side mode in another game which is not a good start.

On television a one-on-one shooting challenge would be a kind of exciting showdown a chance for ballers to see who is the better man away from the confines of the game, with no help from your team mates. You would think that in this situation if you get two legends facing off then the crowd would chant, scream and explode. Picture this in your mind, then take that picture and turn it into a video game. Imagine the sprites shooting the cheers as they score the painful exhaled noises of disappointment, still sounds like it could be a decent concept for a game if it was treated in this way doesn’t it?

Well now I have made you build a pretty picture I am afraid I am going to smash it. Is there chanting? Is there clapping? No, there is no sound whatsoever, except the thud of the dribbling and that scuffling trainer sort of noise. No crowd interaction, no music to reflect if you’re winning or loosing, no music at all. This same dreariness carries over in to the graphics. Sure they’re not bad but they’re not good either. The players don’t really look like who they are supposed to be. Sure they might be the right skin colour and roughly the right height, but beyond that they just look like a bunch of palette swaps all of them moving running and shooting in the same fashion.

The game is not bad for what it is, the controls were at first a little confusing. You have to press a button to jump and then press it again to shoot. And heck, if you press it but decide you dont really like your shot chances well you’re going to have to just press it again anyways because otherwise you’ll be charged with travelling. The crucical thing to get over here is that this is not a basketball video game in the way that something like FIFA is a football game. No instead it is a small basketball-based minigame collection which is only really any good for a couple of hours of entertainment at best. I am certain if I had this as a kid it would have kept me busy for like one rainy afternoon and that would be it. I do think that the game is slightly better in two-player but not by miles. So when considering this game and what kind of score it should get well I guess it would be  something like four out of 10 taking everything in to account.

If your thinking of getting this game I will tell you that most of the copies I can currently find online cartridge only are around the £6 to £8 mark including postage and packaging. My copy was a NTSC copy I managed to find online for £3 with free postage. I don’t want to name names and spoil things but there is a much better NBA-related game out there and i’d hold my pennies back for that.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Retro Game purchases: May 2018

So I had a bit of a later start this month I didn't grab my first Purchases until the 12th of Ma, so what did I get? Well I grabbed a loose GBA cart of Golden Son the lost age for £6 yesterday. I also got 2 boxed PS1 fishing games for 50p each but mostly got them as the cases look good and I have a few games I want to give nicer cases to. Its always great to get a well loved RPG for such a low amount though so not a bad start at all.
 
The following day I went into a indy shop after work and I grabbed sonic advance 2 cart only for the GBA  for £5. And then on the next day the 14th I grabbed loose carts of Pokemon Yellow and Pokemon Gold for £7.50 each from a mobile phone repair shop that occasionally has a few games.


On the 17th  Diddy Kong Racing Japanese cart only for N64 arrived through my door this cost me  £4 with free postage and was got to go with my slowly growing little collection of 60hz N64 titles. I then visited a shop where I got Shadow Dancer for Master system cart only for £3 and Indiana Jones and the last crusade for Master system cart only for £3

I didn't grab anything else then until a few days ago. On the 29th I grabbed Kwirk for the original Gameboy complete for £10, I thought this was a great pick up especially as not only was it in wonderful condition it also had a plastic cover box on it to help keep it nice. Then I got Final fantasy tactics advance cart only for £5 and Street fighter 2 turbo revival cart only for £5 , the cool thing with this is that I already have the box and manual at home waiting for Street Fighter, they were given to me a month or so ago by the charity shop my daughter works at. There is something kind of nice at getting the chance to reunite a cart with a box.


Then on the 30th I got Super Puyo Puyo for the snes Japanese cart only for £2 and Kirby's dream course for the snes Japanese cart only for £3. I just thought these were really good prices so grabbed them.

I finished the month off today with 2 games arriving in the post these were a Japanese N64 cart of DK64 for £3 and A Japanese cart of Mystical Ninja for £3(Prices include postage), I also went in a charity shop and got Tomas the Tank Engine Hero of the rails complete and sealed for the wii for £1.50.
So I spent £64.50. All in all this is not a bad month I would call it a sort of middling month, even more importantly I have taken far more old clothes and unwanted books out of the house and donated them to charity so I am actually making room not loosing it, I guess that one of the great things about so many of this months purchases having been small handheld game carts they don't take up much room at all.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #31: Alien 3

Alien 3 was developed by Probe Entertainment and Eden Entertainment Software, published In North America, Europe, and Japan by Arena Entertainment, Acclaim Entertainment, LJN, and Virgin Interactive.

 

My Alien 3 SNES YouTube Review 

 

It is half-based on the film Alien 3. I have to say half-based because it’s set on the prison planet from the film and Ripley is shaved bald, but then there are a lot of differences between the game and the film. In the film there is one alien and no one has any weapons. In the game this is completely altered. Ripley, the main character, has all the guns from the previouis film in the franchise Aliens and there is a never ending amount of xenomorphs. I guess it is easy to see why they did this. After all, a game where you spend your whole time running away from one super powerful creature with nothing much to defend yourself sounds a lot harder to get right than a game where you spray lead at a never ending assortment of alien scum.


In fact it looks like it has taken until now – almost 21 years later – for someone to have a crack at a game which is based around the idea of being stalked by one single alien from the Aliens films. I am of course talking about Creative Assembly’s game Alien: Isolation, which delivers exactly that kind of experience and it has done a fantastic job of it. It also made DLC based on the original movie Alien, and maybe with its similar one alien killing people set-up it might one day make Alien 3 DLC. Maybe a game that would have followed the film Alien 3 more correctly and still be good and not cost a fortune in research and development just simply wasn’t possible back then – still, I digress.

Graphically, the game is pretty good for the time. Ripley’s sprite is large and for the most part it’s not bad at all. The clothes look right, the basic shape is right but maybe it’s just me but there is something almost alien about her neck and the lack of facial features makes her look a little like Voldemort of Harry Potter fame. There are lots of little cool touches though, like how her gun swings by her side as she’s climbing the monkey bars so I guess maybe I am being a little harsh. The backgrounds are multi-layered for that 3D style look, they are also very detailed. The backgrounds are overly used though with five or six repeated again and again. Add to that there are bits of scenery in the foreground that you can’t see through. Sometimes there are aliens behind these and this means that you need to either run the risk of being harmed or shoot just in case which wastes your sometimes limited ammo.

There is not a lot in the way of sounds but what is there is good. The gunfire sounds great and so do the screams of the aliens you kill. The game has pretty darn good presentation, a nice opening, I also have to tip my hat to the bits where you log into a computer. They do a pretty good job of making you feel like your chracter is actually using a real computer in the game’s universe and the game over failure screen is also suitably awesome.

What about the gameplay though? Well I find the game enjoyable in small bits but I definitely don’t think it’s a classic or anything. The controls are very good and everything works just as it should which you would think would make this a good game. But sadly there are other issues with the gamplay. I think one of the things the game is lacking is it needs a more detailed map you can easily bring up. Yes, there is a mini map radar thing which lets you know when something is approaching you, but this is more to help keep you from getting hit and doesn’t really help you get around easily. I think what the game really needs more than anything though is a bit more variety. Everything looks the same, you’re always killing the same things, mostly in places that look the same. This game is very time consuming, and can at times be very difficult. It’s easy to get lost and some of the missions seem more complex than they need to be. There are a few alien bosses here and there but they aren’t too hard. The problem is it all starts to feel a bit like a chore at times which is not how a game should feel. I think the maze like quality of the game, coupled with the mission structure, just didn’t quite work in total honesty. I think it would have been better to have strayed even further from the film and offered up something a little more arcade like, something a bit like Konami’s Aliens arcade machine which was primarily a side-scrolling shooter but also had third-person rail shooter parts. Yes, that game possibly soiled the source material even more by introducing blue zombies and other such things to the game but sometimes you just have to say to hell with the plot, let’s roll out the fun boys.
All in all Alien 3 is pretty much an average game so I feel I should give it five out of 10 and simply say it’s not really worth bothering with unless you’re a die hard SNES collector and want every cart you can get, or your a die hard fan of the Alien film series and all of its spin off media. If you’re more of a casual fan of the Aliens universe and you want a good fun retro Alien related game I recommend you get Aliens Trilogy on the PlayStation. It’s a first person Doom-style shooter but it’s brilliant, fun, fast and wrapped in movie sounds and neat touches.

If you do decide you need to own Alien 3 then there are plenty of PAL carts of it about online around the £8 to £10 range with boxed copies starting around the £15 mark. There are several complete copies of Alien Trilogy for PlayStation on eBay at the moment for around the £5 mark including postage. If you own a PlayStation I’d go for that instead for your Aliens retro fix. Oh and if you have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One then seriously give Alien: Isolation a try, it’s an excellent game.

Monday, 21 May 2018

150 SNES games reviewed #30: Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart – what can I say about it that you won’t all have heard a million times?

 

I cant even build anticipation by trying to hold my opinion back until the end and starting this review by talking facts and figures. So let’s just start by saying I love this game and work from there. Mario Kart was developed by Nintendo EAD it came out in 1992 in the US and Japan and 1993 in Europe. It went on to sell nine million copies worldwide. This figure in the end made it the third best selling SNES game overall. If you add this on to all of the sales it has made digitally with its release on both the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles then you start to realise what a golden egg laying goose this game has been for Nintendo.


Nowadays everyone knows what Mario Kart is and the announcement of a new version is met with an onslaught of happiness, sales jumps for the platform it’s coming to and a media frenzy. It wasn’t always quite like this as far as I can remember though. When people first got wind of the original Mario Kart the responses were more on the lines of what the heck is Nintendo doing? Sure Mario had been used for tiny cameos in Nintendo sports related titles and such but a babyish looking car racing game, ‘What were they thinking?’ was the sort of question I remember being asked by other kids at school. There was a genuine belief by some that Nintendo had lost the plot. Yet not one kid could manage to keep this opinion after they had played it. A lot of the guys at school did that thing guys at school always seemed to do when presented with something that proved there initial opinion wrong, they denied ever having said a bad word, they claimed that they had been Nintendo’s biggest supporter all along and knew that Mario Kart would be an all time classic from its inception.


Super Mario Kart received positive reviews across the board no one seemed to have a negative word to say about it. Apart from Sega that is, who tried to use it in their adverts to show Nintendo to be some kind of slow, old-fashioned baby toy compared to their sleek, fire-breathing Mega Drive (the advert were Mario Kart is running on the side of an old caravan. This now seems crazy because Mario Kart is not a slow game)
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Mario Kart is often credited with creating the cart racing genre. More than this though it was the game that gave people a sense of confidence that Nintendo could achieve anything they tried after the first Mario Kart game. If Nintendo had told you they were making Mario’s Bungee Jump Massacre you would just nod and go: “They know what they are doing.”

For those of you who haven’t played the original Mario Kart, the young and hermits, I will quickly talk a little about the game itself. In Super Mario Kart the player takes control of one of eight Mario characters, each with different qualities – high top speed, good acceleration, great handling. All of them are basically equal but lend themselves to certain play-styles. In the single player mode players can race against computer controlled characters in multi-race tournaments trying to win the gold, silver or bronze cups. There are power-ups found on the track, you pick up flashing boxes which then give you one of several power-ups – a red shell which acts like a heat seeking missile, a banana skin which causes anyone who drives over it to skid out, etc. The screen is always split in two with one half showing you racing and the other showing a map. The graphics are not necessarily amazing for the time, they are however colourful and full of character. This is not just some carting game with Mario and co thrown in it, you actually feel like you’re driving through the Mario game lands and this is one of the game’s greatest advantages. The music is brilliant, you can hear noises related to your driving – the car engine, the tyres skidding – but they are always nice little background touches never interfering with the great music that plays.

I just cant fault this game. The SNES version is still brilliant. I wasn’t going to review this game so early on but recently I brought my third copy of this game. I got a Japanese cart for £5 loose and ever since the day I got it I have put it in to my machine and had 20 minutes on it every single day. Some games age badly but this is still brilliant and I feel sure I could put this in the slot 20 years down the line and still feel the need to play it, for this reason I can not help but give it 10 out of 10.

If you want Mario Kart the news is good in that It is still available on both the Wii U and Wii Virtual Consoles and is well worth the cash. With a bit of effort you should be able to get a PAL cart of this for about £17 or a boxed copy for around £40. It’s super popular but it sold by the shed load so there’s no shortage of copies.