Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 30 - Midway Arcade Treasures

I have a sneaky confession to make. This game wasn't supposed to be my next game on the playlist. A couple of weeks ago I bought a new console - an original Xbox. It cost a pound. Bargain. And over the next few days I picked up 3 games for it. Once I put the games on the list, however, it meant that two of the Xbox games became the next ones on the list. Sadly, the first one was Outrun 2 - and it turns out the disc is so scratched it won't play. Which makes me very sad, as I was desperately looking forward to playing it. So then I plugged in Midway Arcade Treasures...

Midway Arcade Treasures
Released on: Xbox, PS2, Nintendo Gamecube and P.C.
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 2003

Midway Arcade Treasures is a compilation of 24 retro arcade games from the 80s and early 90s. And you know what? It's great fun. I mean, I don't pretend that all of these games are solid gold - and they're all arcade games, designed for short blasts rather than long-term play. So I played all of them in my hours worth of playtime. And here's a game-by-game breakdown of the results.

720°  - An isometric skateboard game which is fun, if slightly awkward to control. Fun, fast and funky - very 80s, but good fun nonetheless. - 7/10

Blaster - Now this is trippy. It's as if someone built an obstacle course of neon Lego blocks and then propelled you at three-hundred and fifty-three thousand miles per hour towards them, knowing that you're going to crash and burn. But it's such fun anyway. - 7/10

Bubbles - You control a water droplet around a sink picking up gum and fighting off spiders. Yes, this game is as awesome as it sounds. Very little longevity but fun 3 minute chunks. - 6/10

Defender / Defender II aka StarGate - It's hard to say bad things about a game that is considered to be an absolute classic, and I will state now, that this version is a lot better than the one I reviewed back in Game 1. It is entertaining, but it's still just nothing special to me - and the sequel is just more of exactly the same - except this time, it has portals. - 5/10

Gauntlet - I feel I didn't give Gauntlet a good chance, as I enjoyed the 3 minutes of it I played. OK, so it may throw more bad guys at you than the patented zombie-fling 3000 ("Flinging zombies at your enemies for more than thirty years), but it was an enjoyable top-down hack and slasher, and it may well see me try it out again at some point soon. - 7/10

Joust / Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest - Just like Defender and it's sequel, Joust is a famous game, and one that I've already encountered on the tiny screen of the Game Boy in playthrough Game 1. Sadly, like Defender, it's a game who's reputation sadly outshines it. It's hard to control, it's a bit bizarre and slightly dull. Sorry Joust. - 4/10

Klax - A puzzle game! And an addictive one at that. It's a classic "match-3" style game, which becomes ridiculously fun and involving. I had a copy of this on the PC when I was young, and I'd completely forgotten about it until today. And it's so awesome! I'm definitely going back to this when I have more time. - 9/10

Marble Madness - It's quite simply fun. Controlling a marble around a course. Yes, the isometric 3D and touchy controls mean that you quite often fall off the edge when you don't mean to, but it's still a lot of fun - I came back to this one more than once in my playthrough! - 7.5/10

Paperboy - I love this game. Always have, always will. It kind of reminds me of doing my own paper round as a teenager (although I didn't just fling papers at people's front doors. Well, not always anyway - obviously it depended on my mood at the time.) Again, like Marble Madness, the controls are slightly flaky, but it's still an entertaining play - 8/10

Rampage - A game that doesn't quite live up to it's concept. You can play as a giant King Kong-style ape! You can smash up buildings! You can pummel soldiers who are shooting at you! Except, the controls are really rather wonky and the collision detection is rather off, so in fact you spend most of the time walking/jumping/punching at random and hoping. Shame really... - 5/10

Rampart - As dull as watching beige paint dry. Seriously dull. Granted, I have very little patience with strategy games at the best of times, and this just held no interest for me whatsoever. - 1/10

RoadBlasters - Now this is deceptively fun. As I stated earlier, I had been disappointed that I wasn't able to play Outrun 2 on this playthrough, and while RoadBlasters is no Outrun, it's still a very entertaining arcade-style racer where you have to keep picking up fuel to keep going. Plus, your car has guns, which is always fun. - 7/10

Robotron: 2084 - A classic that truly lives up to it's reputation. I hadn't played Robotron for many, many years, but on firing it up, I re-discovered everything I loved about it. Granted, it's very basic, visually, and that can cause a little confusion, but it's still one of the most energetic yet claustrophobic shoot-em-ups ever. And it's great. - 8/10

Root Beer Tapper - This is a bizarre game - where you have to keep refilling everyone's glasses and make sure at no point does one hit the floor. It's a good idea, but sadly I was very bad at it, and it didn't grip me enough to have another go. - 5/10

Satan's Hollow - Unmemmorable, un-exciting. No more to say - 1/10

Sinistar - Another shoot-em-up, but again, this one is quite fun. Bouncing around in a spaceship shooting at a whole bunch of enemies. Unlike Defender, you can at least see what's going on and identify bullets as they are fired, so that rates it a little higher for me. - 6/10

Smash TV - One of the best games of the bunch for me. A quasi-sequel to Robotron, it takes all of the good bits of that game and applies some lovely looking graphics to it. Don't get me wrong, there's not a lot in the way of variety, but who needs variety when you have guns that fire grenades, and multi-bullets and you can just mow down people in a hail of gore... wow. I sound disturbed, don't I. Never mind, it's all fun! Although, as Neety pointed out, "If this is a gameshow in the future, who are all the people who volunteer to run in and instantly get shot down by bullets?" - 9/10

SPLAT! - This is the most bizarre game in the bunch. And considering others of them have included filling peoples pint glasses, guiding a droplet around a sink and the neon insanity of Blaster, that says a lot. Basically on this game, you have to catch pies and throw them at your enemies. If an enemy hits you, your head falls off, and you have to chase around to catch it. Yes, I'm not making this up, it's totally true... - 3/10

Spy Hunter - A vertical scrolling driving game where you shoot other cars. It turns out that you're trying to shoot a spy off the road, but I just killed a lot of civillians and then blew up. - 3/10

Super Sprint - A top-down fun driving game, that I am awful at. Really bad. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed playing it - I just couldn't win anything. - 6/10

Toobin' - Now this was a real disappointment. Toobin' was one of the reasons I bought Midway Arcade Treasures 1 (I had a choice between 1, 2 or 3), and I did so because I used to have a version of it on the PC, which I remember loving. Having played it again, with it's awkward controls, I am left to wonder whether the version I had used an entirely different control mechanism, or if my younger self was just deluded. It's supposed to be a fun time racing down a river on a rubber tube, but sadly, it's just bloody frustrating. - 2/10

Vindicators - Sadly, my experience with this game was as follows. Drive a tank around, and then die. - 1/10

So, I know that this has been a huge blog, and I thank you for sticking with it (unless you skipped over all of the middle and have just jumped to this final paragraph, in which case, shame on you! Go back and read it properly!). Overall, Midway Arcade Treasures was a real blast, and whilst I do have three or four obvious favourites (Klax, Paperboy, Smash TV, Robotron), I also got to enjoy games I had never played before (Blaster, 720°, RoadBlasters) and try out a whole bunch of games, the type of which you rarely see nowadays, due to the lack of arcades. I miss arcades. Anyone want to lend me the money to establish one in Bournemouth?

Rating - 8/10
Time Played - 1 Hour 10 Minutes (I had to, to get one go on each game!)
Will I play it again? - Some of it, definitely.

Next time on Brawny's Great Playthrough, it's back to some 2D platforming! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Great Playthrough - Game 28: Metroid AND Game 29: Super Mario Galaxy

Yes, once again today you are getting value for money with a double-game blog post. It's a double-dose of Nintendo goodness, contrasting the old with the new...

Released on: NES
Played on: 3DS Virtual Console (Ambassador Game)
Release date: 1986

So let's start with the old.


As I've banged on about in these columns before, I'm a big Nintendo fanboy. Couple that with the fact that I got this as one of my 3DS Ambassador Games, which meant I didn't really give it a fair play at the time, since I got 20 games at (almost) the same time, so didn't have time to try them all, and I was excited to try this.

Picture, if you will, a balloon. A Helium balloon. That represents me. The helium inside? That's the excitement I had to play the game. Now imagine this tiny pin represents reality. As the pin touches the balloon, the helium slowly seeps out and the balloon falls, dejectedly, to the floor.

If you didn't follow my frankly bizarre metaphor, here it is in simple terms.

I was really disappointed with Metroid.

This was especially gutting as I did, in my teens, own and thoroughly enjoy Super Metroid on the SNES, so I was hoping that this would be the same experience. But while it shares various traits with that game, I didn't warm to this at all.

There are a few problems - some of which would have been technical limitations from back in the day, and some of which are just, well, design flaws.

Firstly, the levels are rather sparse. Now, I didn't initially take this as a bad thing, because I am fully aware the point of Metroid games is to explore the setting, not to be in a fire-fight every 2 minutes. But the problem with this original game is simply that because all of the areas look very alike (occasionally undergoing a palete change), I found quite quickly that I was bored of walking around the same areas over and over again.

The game's also quite hard, although not as bad as a lot of the retro games I've played on this blog, but the frustrating thing is that whenever you die you start from the beginning. Granted things you've picked up (like the morph ball) stay with you, but still. For a game that encourages exploration, to go back to the beginning when you die and have to fight your way through the same enemies is (for me, at least) just irritating. And yes, I know that this is a partly due to me being so used to modern games where you have save points all over the place and instant respawns etc etc, but still, this blog is supposed to be honest, and that is one of the things that kept putting me off.

And yes, I know that I've only played the beginning, and maybe these flaws get fixed over time, but I'm not going to spend my time playing through a boring game in the hope it gets better. That's like people who tell you to watch a TV series because it gets really good from mid-way through season 3, but you have to watch from the beginning to understand it all..

My final criticism is not the fault of the game designers at all. But because I'm playing this on my 3DS's small screen, and it was originally designed to be played on a big TV (OK, maybe not THAT big, since it was released in 1986 and most people had TVs the size of a hardback book at the time, but you take my point), it's just not designed for portable handheld play. It's too small.

So all in all, Metroid was a real disappointment for me. I played it for 15 minutes, and I was happy to stop..

Rating: 3/10
Time played: 15 minutes
Would I play it again? Unlikely.

Super Mario Galaxy
Released on: Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo Wii
Release date: 2007

Now I know what you're all thinking..

"Oh no. It's Brawny reviewing another Mario game. He's going to insist it's amazing and praise it to the heavens just because he's a Nintendo fanboy."

Well, I have pre-empted this reaction, and prepared my mature, adult response as follows.

*Takes deep breath*

*Blows raspberry*

Are we clear?

OK - here's my even more mature, adult response. I am a Nintendo fanboy, yes, and I make no apology for that. However, that doesn't mean I'm just going to love the game unequivocally, does it?

No, it doesn't.. As hard as it may be for me to be critical of a Mario game, Super Mario Galaxy does have it's problems, and sadly for this blog, a lot of these problems occur in the first hour of gameplay.

For years I was distrustful of 3D Mario games. I put off playing Mario 64 for years because I didn't like the idea of it, only eventually playing it when I got the DS remake, and Super Mario Sunshine is a stupid brave attempt to f*ck up evolve the gameplay...  (I may be being too harsh on Super Mario Sunshine, I haven't played it for ages - we'll see how I feel when I get to that playthrough). Super Mario Galaxy, on the other hand, I warmed to on my first playthrough, and was therefore looking forward to revisiting it.

And sadly? I was slightly disappointed. Unfairly so, in fact, because I know that this game is full of brilliant and innovative levels, and I know that before you can get into the more complicated ideas, new players have to learn and understand the mechanics of the game but the opening is very... how can I put this?

It's very .... meh.

(Note - In the Braunton Dictionary, "Meh" translates as "That noise you make when something is disappointingly average.")

The problems start at the beginning, with the cut scenes. Seriously, who needs backstory with a Mario game? Peach is Kidnapped. That's all you need to know. Three words. In fact, for Mario Galaxy it should have simply stated "Peach is Kidnapped... IN SPACE!". In fact, they could have hired the announcer from the Muppet Show to announce "PEACH. IN. SPAAACEEEE!" And then, the game just starts.

But anyway, once you've spent about ten minutes in cut-scenes and pointless tutorials, you finally get to visit your first galaxy.

And it's very pedestrian.

Again, I know that the opening of the game is designed to teach newcomers, and as I've played both this game and it's sequel to death, then maybe I'm just spoilt and too used to it, but...

Well, let's put it this way. I can play Super Mario Bros World 1-1 and I enjoy it immensely. I love the design of Green Hill Zone in Sonic 1, and it entertains me every time I play. So why does the first level in Galaxy have to be so dull?

"But Brawny," I hear you say, "It's a modern game. The player needs time to learn the controls etc."

OK, that's definitely an argument. But it's still possible to do teach the player how to play the game ina  fun and interesting way - take the opening of Batman: Arkham City for example - that's a modern tutorial level which is also gripping at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we should have started Super Mario Galaxy with Mario handcuffed and walked through a corridor of guards and prisoners (That'd be an entirely different game - Super Mario Vigilante maybe?) I just want a first level that's gripping and fun. Is that too much to ask?

In this game, sadly, yes. Apparently it is.

It gets better. The 2nd and 3rd missions in the first galaxy get a little more exciting, although still rather bland, and then from the second galaxy, enjoyment begins to occur more frequently.

But in my first hour, that's as far as I got. Obviously there's a lot that is good about the game (the music is great, graphics are very pretty, controls are exceedingly intuitive), and I know from prior experience that the game has some wonderful sections. Sadly though, the slow start meant that more of this hour of gameplay ended up being full of frustration rather than enjoyment. It's still fun, but it could have been better.

Rating: 7.5/10
Time played: 1 hour
Would I play it again?: Yes - but probably not from the beginning.

As for what I play next time? That's a surprise. Why not tune in and find out?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 27 - The Lion King

All together now.. "It's the Cirrrrcle of liiiiifffeee......"
(Notice George the Turtle in the back of the photo, acting out the part of
every animal in the opening of the film, i.e. standing still with head raised.)
The Lion King
Released on: Sega Megadrive, NES, SNES, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Gear, Amiga and PC
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Release date: 1994

Before we get into this blog post - let's address the elephant in the room. (Not that there's an actual elephant in this room you understand - apart from Trundle the Elephant of course - but he stays in the corner and generally keeps himself to himself)

DISCLAIMER for RSPCA/PETA/Any other militant animal rights campaigners - THIS IS A JOKE!

The elephant I'm talking about? The fact that this is a tie-in game, and you know what they say about tie-in games, they are notoriously pieces of rubbish that are knocked-up quickly with no consideration to game quality, right?

Normally I'd agree with you. And indeed, if this was a modern tie-in game, the odds would be weighed heavily against it. Tie-in games nowadays tend to be less entertaining than playing "Watch that Rock" for 3 consecutive hours, followed by spending the rest of the day cleaning a rug with a toothbrush. That wasn't always the case, though, as The Lion King proves.

This game contradicts both of the most commonly held beliefs about tie-in games:

1) They are badly made and awful to play.
2) They are short and/or incredibly easy.

Tackling point 1 first (as any sensible person would do), we'll look at the quality of the game. And I'm telling you now, it's a good game. It's a well-designed 2D platformer with great graphics (the individual sprites were designed by Disney animators) and it plays funky 16-Bit audio versions of the famous songs from the film. How can you not love it?

Point 2 now, and I can only disprove one half of this question, because of the other half. (I know that's a confusing sentence, but bear with me, I'll make sense of it, I promise.) I don't know if the game is short - not from personal experience anyway. I guess I could answer the question if I cheated and looked it up on Wikipedia, but that's true of anything. You can cheat and look up anything on Wikipedia. Granted, an answer from Wikipedia can often have a dubious relationship with the truth, but there you go.

Wow, I digressed there, where was I? Oh yes - difficulty.

This game is hard. Bloody hard in places. In fact, it's harder than a Diamond coated in Kevlar and surrounded by Titanium Reinforced Concrete. (I did have a cruder analogy, but I decided that it would be too rude for your sensitive ears, so I spared you it.) I'm not proud of this fact, but I lost all of my lives and used all of my continues, and still did not get past level 3 (Elephant's graveyard) on my first attempt. So I went into the menu system, changed the difficulty to Easy, and started again.

And that time? I made it all the way to.... level 4. (The Stampede). Now I could complain about that particular level being unfairly hard, as it is a level where you are controlling Simba (as you do throughout the game), running away from the stampeding buffalo. (You remember the relevant bit of the film, don't you?) The problem with this level? It's designed so that you control Simba as he runs into the screen. And then you get to the bit where rocks are appearing in front of you....

Yes, I got frustrated at this point, but it didn't stop me trying over and over again - until I had once again lost all of my lives. This coincided with my time running out, so I stopped.

I know it seems that the vast majority of my opinion about this game is complaining about the difficulty, but that does become the one overbearing feature. I have played the opening two levels of this game hundreds of times, (Which isn't a problem in itself, level 2 in particular (Just can't wait to be King) is an absolute delight to play - as long as you figure out which pink monkeys you have to roar at), but I genuinely don't know what levels happen after the Stampede... maybe one day I will find out.

So all-in-all, it's a fun 2D platformer, brought down, in my opinion, by it's ridiculous difficulty level (and the fact that it has no save game/password system to help you carry on) but it's still great.

Rating: 7/10
Time Played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again?: Yes. Definitely.

Next time - It's a return to the 3DS for another retro game - It's Metroid.