Friday, 16 May 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 65: Fantastic Dizzy

Fantastic Dizzy

Released on: Mega Drive, NES, Master System, Amiga, Game Gear, PC, CD32
Played on: Mega Drive
Release date: 1991

Have you ever tried to navigate your way through a complicated one-way system, while wearing a blindfold, some Slipknot playing at 130db in one ear and a parrot reciting the contents of a Delia Smith cookbook backwards?

Well neither have I (as that would be silly), but that's what playing Fantastic Dizzy feels like.

Now that's not to say that it's a bad experience - in fact, I enjoyed the game quite a lot, but it has a certain feel that you don't get from modern games. An overwhelming feel.

For those of you who don't know, Dizzy is an Egg (with arms, legs and a hat - just because) who lives in the Yolkfolk Kingdom (there are a lot of egg puns in the game!) and ostensibly it is a platform game in which you explore various areas of the world in an attempt to find all 250 stars, get to the evil wizard's castle and confront him! But it's slightly different to most modern platformers in the sense that although there are enemies that damage you, there is no way to eliminate them.

Instead, avoidance is the name of the game, which is actually quote a refreshing change of pace! Don't get me wrong, I love traditional platformers - I've gone on about that enough for you guys to know that by now - but having to avoid enemies instead of defeat them gives the game a completely different feel.

So if you don't have to kill enemies, what do you do?

Well, you have to traverse far and wide, locating all the stars so that you can get to the final confrontation. And a lot of this you do by solving puzzles - puzzles in the traditional adventure game mould - using an item with a situation to solve the problem.

For example, very early on, you find a plank of wood. You then find a gap you cannot possibly get across. You use the plank of wood and.. voila! It becomes a bridge.

Now, if someone were making this game in this day and age, you would be able to carry everything you picked up, and then just cycle through them all when you hit a puzzle, but Dizzy isn't that simple. You can only ever carry three things at once. So if you find something, and then put it down, you have to remember where you put it down so you can get back to it if you find the puzzle that requires that item as a solution!

And theis is where the overwhelming feel of the game starts to come into it. The game world is pretty large, with levels that scroll horizontally but are flip-screens vertically, and it can get very easy to forget where things are, where you left items, and where you have and haven't been. Add to this the slightly obtuse nature of some of the puzzle solutions, and before long you have been completely sucked into a world where your entire raison d'etre is "I know I had that, where the hell did I put it down!" Just to make things even harder, it is often possible to put items down behind trees... so you won't even be able to see them...

To make matters worse, you have two lives to start with, and Dizzy takes damage quicker than Mo Farrah runs a race (I know that's an unconventionally sporty metaphor for me - I had the TV on and I've just seen the advert where kids can win an Ultimate Sports Day, and every time I see it I think "I wouldn't like that as a kid, cos surely Mo Farrah's gonna win everything??) so you have to be very careful when exploring - as (unless you get them later in the game) you don't get any continues either, so once you have lost your lives, it's back to the start. Mostly this is OK (there's quite a lot of fruit around to boost his health back up) but there are a couple of slightly unfair situations where you lose a life straightaway with one slightly wrong motion - jumping across the waterfall is one, and the minecart minigame.

"Minecart Minigame?" I hear you say, "Well that sounds fun!" It sort of is - it's a vertically scrolling minigame where you are controlling whether Dizzy's minecart goes left or right at junctions - and it's a neat idea. However, it is implemented very slowly - it feels a bit like a video game version of that bit in Austin Powers where the henchman gets run over by the steamroller? It just doesn't quite get the adrenaline racing...

I know I've listed some negative points there, but I don't want you to think I didn't enjoy the game - I absolutely did! However, if I was going to play it again, I'd be sitting down with a pad of paper and pen, and lots of time to spare, and mapping my progress as I go through!

Graphically, it's lovely. When I was much younger I played a couple of Dizzy games on 8-bit home computers (Commodore 64, Spectrum etc) and even to this day it amazes me how much nicer the Mega Drive version looks. I've spoken about my love of 16-Bit Graphics before, and these really appeal to me. The music, on the other hand, is fun, but VERY repetitive - not so annoying for you, the player, but if there's anyone else in the room, they may want to break the speakers after a while!

On the whole, it was a fun experience, but it's very much an all or nothing game - I'd want to play it to complete it, not just for a half-hour play or anything...

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again? Yes - but only with a lot of time to spare!

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 63 - Ghosts 'n 'Goblins and Game 64 - Ghouls 'n' Ghosts

So for the first time in this experiment, I'm reviewing two games as if they were one. I know this may seem like a cheat, but there's a reason for this (honest!).

You see, recently I acquired some more original Xbox games, one of which was the Capcom Classic Collection, which as it boasts on the cover, contains 22 games....

Now, so far on this playthrough, I've attempted compilation discs in two different ways. Midway Arcade Treasures I reviewed all in one go - and I think that was the right decision for that particular game, as most of the games on it are very simple arcade games that wouldn't entertain you for an hour. However, my two Sonic Compilation discs are being played one game at a time, as they are each a full game.

So what to do with this Capcom disc? I could have played every game individually - but for a start, that would mean I have three MORE versions of Street Fighter II to review, and that would be a boring set of entries!

So I've made a rather unorthadox decision - I'm grouping some games together. I will do one more Street Fighter II blog for example, which will take in all the arcade versions on the disc. Some of the games on the disc will get their own review (Final Fight being one example) and then there are a couple of entries where I have grouped a game with it's sequel, working on the basis that as arcade games were designed for five minute plays, each game might not occupy a full hour of my time...

Could I have played the two seperately? Probably. However, as one is a direct sequel to the other, it did mean that I can compare one game to it's sequel, something I rarely get to do in this blog..

So without further ado....

Ghosts 'n' Goblins
Released on: Arcade - then ported to NES, Commodore 64, Amiga, and then many other later consoles (Sega Saturn, PS2, Xbox)
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 1985

Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
Released on: Arcade - then ported to Amiga, Mega Drive, Master System and then many other later consoles (Sega Saturn, PS2, Xbox)
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 1988

Whenever one mentions either of these game to retro gamers, the thing that people always talk about is the difficulty level - and it's true that this is one of the most noticeable facts about the games, but we'll talk about that in a bit.

So what are these games? They are arcade platformers where you play Arthur, a Knight, who has to rid the kingdom of Ghosties and Goblins and Ghoulies so that he can... feel good about himself I guess? I don't know - I don't think there's really much of a plot! But does that matter?

Well no, no it doesn't. You run around, throwing spears at evil things, and trying not to lose your clothes.

Yes, I said that right. You try not to lose your clothes. Now this isn't because Arthur has some kind of exhibitionist streak (well not that I know of), it's the game's health system. One hit from an enemy and you lose your suit of armour, leaving Arthur running around in his underpants, and then a second hit leaves you dead.

As I mentioned earlier, this game is infamous for it's difficulty level, and consequently Arthur removes his clothes more often than a stripper who has been septuple-booked for stag parties, and is trying to please everyone rather than explain the misunderstanding - Which does lead to some interesting questions - like where the hell is he carrying the infinite number of spears (or flaming torches, or axes) that uses to dispatch enemies? Those must be some spacious Y-Fronts he's got on there!

But I digress (this whole blog post shouldn't be about a video game character's lack of clothing - it's not a review of Dead or Alive Volleyball or anything!) - what are the games themselves like to play?

In a surprising twist, they both stand up REALLY well. The controls are great, the levels are well designed, and there's a definite feeling of accomplishment when you graduate from one section to the next. It is designed for arcade play, and that does mean you will use quite a few continues to get anywhere, as continues would have cost money at the time, but within the home environment, they are both incredibly addictive games.

It takes me back to when I was a lad...

(NOTE - If you have a pipe and some slippers, you may want to grab them and get comfortable now, as this is about to become a misty-eyed look back at some long-forgotten time that probably wasn't at all as it is about to be described)

... when games were designed to be hard. (I told you we'd discuss the difficulty thing later!) Ghouls 'n' Ghosts (and indeed, Ghosts 'n' Goblins) are very hard and unforgiving games - but not once did I feel that I had died unfairly. In this day and age of cheap deaths, glitches, and difficulty curves that resemble a mobius strip, it's a great feeling to be able to master a level by simply playing it over and over again, remembering where enemies or obstacles appear, defeating them, and successfully moving on. It gives a sense of accomplishment that many modern games lack, and I couldn't stop smiling for the entire time I was playing these.

"But Brawny," I hear you cry, "Surely there are bad bits of these games?" 

Oh sure, there are niggles - the music does start to burrow into your mind until it won't ever leave you alone (and not in a good way), jumping back to the start of a section when you use a continue can be frustrating, and there appears to be very little point in choosing to pick up either of the two weapons I discovered (flaming torches or axes) as the spears work so much better!

But these points are me being fussy for the sake of it. These are well-made, enjoyable, rewarding games, which pleasantly surprised me, as I had never played either of them before.

I suppose, before finishing this review up, I should say which of the two games I preferred. Ghouls 'n' Ghosts has the nicer graphics, more variety of enemies, and is slightly harder than Ghosts 'n' Goblins - so obviously I prefer...

Ghosts 'n' Goblins.

Maybe it's just because it's the first of the two I played (another reason why combining two games in one playthrough may not be the best idea) but Ghosts 'n' Goblins just felt more fun - it may have worse graphics, but the levels intrigued me more, and the difficulty level was exactly right for me.

That's not to take away from Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, I just enjoyed my time with Ghosts 'n' Goblins slightly more. So with that in mind...

Rating: Ghosts 'n' Goblins - 8/10, Ghouls 'n' Ghosts = 7.5/10
Time played: A combined playtime of 1 hour 45 minutes, and I would have kept going too!
Would I play them again? Oh yes. I'm sure I can complete one of them... one day!

Next time, it's a game I haven't sat down and played since I was about 12, and I'm very excited about it!