Friday, 5 April 2013

16 bits, 2 bytes - First Event


Here we go then as I look back when the SNES was more important than the wheel.

I went through many, spent too much, lent the necessary off friends and became bankrupt.

The brilliant, the classic, the good, the mediocre, the bad and the downright ugly will all be announced on the loudspeaker.

Let’s just say that some people were drawn into film adaptations like insects are to a Venus flytrap.

When it comes to Neo Geo ports, they will be very briefly touched upon.  For an in-depth analysis, I refer you to my blockbusting Max 330 Mega features.

Some will incur more detail than most and necessary description will be forthcoming.

In an order existing of no rhyme or reason, let’s do this thing.

Another World, Delphine 1992

This simply blew Amiga owners away when it first came out in 1991.

It was an adventure game like no other and was a true cinematic experience.

After unwittingly transporting himself to an alien planet, our man Lester gets into more pickles than an egg.

The familiarity of greatness is still there but there’s one problem, it’s on the SNES as before the inclusion of Super FX, polygons really upset and stressed out this system.

Let’s just say it wasn't exactly poetry in motion and made gameplay more sluggish.

Also, when you buy a cartridge game you expect loading times to be faster than speed of sound, right?

Well this game begs to differ so what the fuck?

It’s not even blink and you’ll miss it stuff either as ‘delays’ see notable seconds pass.

Apart the original, the 3DO version (which added 256 colours) is probably the best alternative.

Gradius 3, Konami 1991

Before we get to this, let’s briefly investigate Nemesis.

Nemesis is basically Gradius for the MSX and the sequels were more story-driven efforts.  Instead of the Vic Viper, some dude called James Burton (an ex Vic Viper pilot) controls the Metalion.

In Nemesis 3, the Vixen fighter was developed by the Nemesis Sci-Tech Agency and the unlucky winner is David Burton, a direct descendant of James to oversee matters of space.

As the third game deals with time travel, David saves James from death and safely returns him to planet Nemesis, before a sequence anti-climax with Venom.

How interesting?

Yes, no?  Oh well.

IMHO, this is second only to Super R-Type in terms of truly atrocious slowdown and I stand by that.

To be fair, the arcade didn't exactly break the speed limit either.

Also, flicker could be equally appalling.

Like R-Type, your power ups and speed are evicted when you die which is really fucking annoying.

However, as this is Gradius, it’s automatically great.

Pilot the Vic Viper and destroy more enemy waves than the ocean could throw at a surfer with firepower such as spread and ripple lazer, together with option, tailgun and missile.

The all new weapon edit means you can choose firepower from different pre-sets.

SNK first introduced Team Edit in The King of Fighters 95 so was this a pseudo steal from Vic Viper and chums?  Probably not, but I like to throw these ideas into the cement mixer.

What makes this core pretty bizarre is that this is a true mash up of the arcade, featuring different and same stages that occur in a re-jigged order and bosses of current and new.

Do you care?  Of course you do.

Let’s start at the top with the intro.

The arcade proudly boasts the legacy of Gradius starting in 1985, spin-off Salamander in 1986 and the actual sequel in 1988.

Now in 1989, the latest battle begins.

I have a few more significant others that also happened during this year.

Microsoft releases Windows 1.0; popular films include Stallone sequels Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Rocky IV and the wonderful Back to the Future.

To settle up, 1985 are tracks by Bowling for Soup and Manic Street Preachers.

An alternative intro is brought with the Vic Viper launching from its mothership.

I personally prefer the static screen legacy but something is better than nothing.

You can expect ubiquitous mainstays of enemies including bubbles, walkers, Moai, lairs, plants, mixed with Salamander heat and jelly.

The arcade gives advice on the location of every boss weak spot but not so here.

Gradius veterans who have had several coins gobbled up by the arcade may notice that the first stage had sand lions and sand dragons but the SNES only retained the latter.

It was hardly a complicated sprite so who knows?

Even the ant lion boss used different attacks as spiders weave web strands but flying spiders flying across the screen seemed more appropriate.

Iron Maiden makes an appearance as do erupting volcanoes, bubbles and vegetation.

The stage occupied by those pesky bubbles is mainly why this moves slower than motorway traffic jam.

It was fairly pointless but the arcade became a 3D dodge 'em up, but is completely missing. 

Konami continue to ring the changes with more stage and boss variations.

Moai heads dominate an early stage and these sculptures become a boss.

At home, we observe two huge Moai heads summoning expendable relatives with rocks falling, while the arcade has several smaller faces firing Moai but these get bloated when attacked before been destroyed.

Hmmmm…

A unique arcade stage in the Salamander mould sees pink jelly with a brainy boss.

When the SNES gets hot, the boss is the same as the regular sand dragon from the first stage, only with more segments.

The arcade has molten lava and bossing proceedings is a two headed flying fire dragon which when destroyed, becomes the SNES boss.

More uniqueness emitted from the arcade is a crystal stage with blocks appearing to scupper progress with an epic boss rush.

Earlier I mentioned 3D as we retaliates with an alternative high-speed stage featuring endless scrolling and a tinkered series of bosses.

“I was born” is what end boss Bacterion blurts out before offering little resistance.

Despite some curious changes, Konami still managed to faithfully recreate the arcade in terms of graphics and sound.

Considering this was the only Gradius you could play on the SNES, there are worse options.

Parodius, Konami 1992

Following on from Gradius, this fits like a glove.

This is often confused with been the first game in the series but it began on the MSX in 1988.

It didn't help matters that it was given the same name for its European release as in Japan, it was known as Parodius Da!

This isn’t even the first port of the 1990 arcade as the NES, Game Boy and PC Engine were faster out of the blocks.

Some stages and bosses were exclusive to whatever version.  For example, the NES and Game Boy versions have an amusement park and alternative ice stage respectively.

Parodius is so-called because it’s a portmanteau of Parody and Gradius.

It’s bonkers, brilliant and packed with humour more wicked than Cinderella’s stepmother, it will bring a smile to the sourest of faces with each game succeeding in being crazier than the last.

The intro suggests insanity as a colony of excited penguins, Moai faces and cheerful clouds pass overhead while we watch a screen burst into life.

The legacy of Gradius is displayed and 1992 sees an octopus wearing a pair of underpants on its head bursting through the paper screen.

Vic Viper, Octopus, TwinBee and Pentarou complete the cast and Octopus was originally known as Tako.

The spirit of Gradius remains in its stage layout and selection bar menu power-up system consisting of Speed Up, Missile, Double, Laser, Option and Shield.

Unfortunately, the power up eviction is also retained...

Weapons from other Konami games exist throughout with players enjoying firepower from Axelay, Xexex and some are even exported from franchises including Thunder Cross, R-Type and Darius.

When I say stage layout, attack waves will give you the opportunity to beef up weaponry before the main background of a stage comes into focus.  These will either be standard or endless scrolling.  If it’s the latter, you’ll still eventually reach the same outcome.

Red power ups cycle through the menu bar and if blue is the colour; it will destroy all regular enemies.  Exceeding the choice bar will give a roulette skill chance and you can even obtain nukes.

Similarly, expect to see many Gradius piss takes in the form of treasure chests, houses, chalices and enemy formations.

Penguins remain the staple diet of ‘flying’ threat.  Well, it is Parodius after all.

Speed Up is generic but unique or a mash up of weapons is given to others.

Other help exists when ding dongs (a la Twinbee) are collected and the amount of shots dictates colour and effect.

Collecting a grey bell means a loudspeaker emitting Japanese phrases and is very useful to destroy vast amounts of enemies.  It can also mean E=MC2.

A green bell means you’ll grow incredibly large and until you shrink, you’re invincible in this state.

Visually, it’s eye candy.  Backgrounds are appropriately designed and detailed to suit each wacky setting while enemies and bosses drip with more personality than the average lit candle.

The ketchup is further added to this burger as animation is far from frigid. 

Sound effects are fairly standard but the musical brilliance of each game is there for all to hear as a potion of original music, famous themes, together with Contra, Castlevania and Gradius.

Predominantly though, it’s the regular influx of classical that sprinkles chocolate on this cappuccino, ensuring audio is nothing short of a triumph.

Seminal compositions of Bach, Wagner, Beethoven, Offenbach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahams and Rossini are instantly recognisable throughout the series.

It’s impossible not to hum to The Blue Danube by Strauss Jr. during the stage dominated by pink clouds and bunny girls trapped in bubbles.

So apart from penguins, you can be sure that killer whales, wasps, chicks, fish, crabs, siren headed clowns, sumo wrestlers, skeletons and pigs all are out to tag your ass.

It’s clear that some are more normal than some but the bosses quickly turn the screw.

How about a sumo wrestling cat/pig hybrid, eight pairs of lips, Viva Core (a pinball machine parody of Gradius), a Geisha girl and an Uncle Sam bald eagle which is why it was never released in America.

If that doesn't sound crazy enough, cherry blossom trees stomp, a giant leggy showgirl causes an obstruction and a feline flying boat complete with miaows are all additional threats.

Instead of Iron Maiden, umbrellas are now the Japanese folklore spirit Karakasa.

As in Gradius, the risk of been overwhelmed is probable unless you are properly equipped.

The mothership stage has a Moai boss firing rockets from its laughing tackle.  This looks very erotic and I can’t believe it was done on purpose.

Keeping with the trend, the exclusive bathroom stage features octopuses scrubbing, pigs towelling themselves down, an overflowing bath, skeletons and pigs.

The boss is the most visually pleasing as a larger than life octopus washing its head attacks with soap bubbles.

In the final stage after the cogs turn, you are taken back to 1985...

Instead of a disembodied brain, an octopus stating “I am strong” is absolutely helpless.

The ending is again similar in its approach to Gradius with expanded quirkiness.

After the planet suffers a comical demise, your player escapes but fails to apply the brakes quickly enough and smashes into camera pane.

During the credit roll, your char is heavily bandaged and hobbles within a spotlight.  The player eventually dies signing off with ‘We Love Gradius 1’ appearing.

Gokujo Parodius, Konami 1994

Known as Fantastic Journey outside of Japan, we move on.

Graphics, chars and bosses are all substantially improved.

Some chars have the all new Grade Up as opposed to Option which basically means dopplegangers create greater firepower.

2P simultaneous play is lost at home and only alternate action exists.

The full cast of eccentricity (new and returning) is thusly:

Koitsu (a stick man flying on a paper plane), Michael (pig), Mambo (fish), Hikaru (bunny girl), together with returning favourites Vic Viper, Pentaro, Twinbee and Takosuke (formerly known as just Octopus).

This boasts more chars than the arcade with Upa (a baby), Kid Dracula and Goemon all making exclusive appearances.

Lord British, Winbee, Gabriel and Samba are mirror reflections of Vic Viper, Twinbee, Michael and Mambo respectively.

So that’s what makes this entry taste different but getting to the nitty gritty, it’s the same awesome commerce as usual.

The music takes a slight turn for the diverse as classical takes more of a back seat.

Standout remixes include a variety medley featuring London Bridge is Falling Down (My Fair Lady) and Mary had a Little Lamb, Mozart’s Turkish March and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.

When you hear Rossini’s William Tell Overture, you know you’re in a good place…

The bald eagle, cat ship and puffer fish bosses exist as regular enemies and many more treats are revealed after pulling this cracker because even classic Gradius bosses are here to fight back.

The design of each stage is more imaginative than before and while it’s a shorter game, the quality ensures this is a minor hiccough.

Surroundings that are bursting with colour and vibrancy include ‘Circo Porto Harborland’, bakery, highway, Salamander furnace, a restaurant and fabricated space.

The highway stage will have you thinking ‘Only in Parodius’ as the truly preposterous is turned up to eleven.

It’s a high speed occasion and road signs appear in advance to tell you exactly which direction this stage will take.

A change of gradient and falling rocks dictate circumstances on some roads but what about falling deer.  Yeah, you see that every day.

The final act of lunacy sees you avoid exclamation marks.  Ha ha!

Old friends making welcome returns are the giant cat ship and showgirl.

The former is given a new lick of paint that this time is above and below water while the leggy showgirl has grown considerably taller with her figure not even fitting on the screen.

At first, you can only see her legs up to her waist and then moves down a level to show face and arms.

That pesky mothership is also back but the main face is now on a spring…

Bosses naturally twirl the baton of normality with a fine assortment of lovelies.

A pirouetting panda ballerina with a bird’s head sprouting from its own, a robot ship thing holding a pair of icing guns (a parody of a Gradius III boss) and a giant mermaid firing destructible Japanese symbols who makes a splash or several.

Others include a bunny ear wearing Japanese girl firing rabbit outlines and what I like to call a capsule cushion firing power ups and spiked bricks.

The defenseless octopus has raided her wardrobe and become a belly dancer.

Keeping with the farcical nature, the ending sees a planet exploding, debris and player floating in space signing off with ‘We Love Shooting Games!’

Upon completion, the special stage becomes available and has the toughest boss of the lot, a robot penguin with a variety of firepower including laser, missiles and rockets.

While undeniably more impressive than its forebear, slowdown is far more pronounced than before.

The finale is technically the best of the rest.

Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius, Konami 1995

Unlike the others, this was not an arcade port and also made its ridiculous way to PS1 and Saturn.

The title translates to something like Chatting Live and explains why the host is constantly providing commentary.

This is one of those high-end SNES carts housed with the SA1 Chip which means the result is one that is most attractive.

It kicks off with a customary intro displaying previous events and a Moai face crashing with a thud.

The final cast choice is confirmed as:

Vic Viper, Takohiko, Soitsu, Sue, Upa, Pentarou, Lord British, Rupa, Memim, Doitsu, Hanako, Belial, Ran, Winbee, Twinbee and Mike.

When comparing the above to the previous game, it’s plainer than a police station’s interview wall of what’s happened here...

This time, the music has far more unheard efforts with KC and The Sunshine Band’s That’s the Way (I Like it) standing out as a famous theme.

Hula hooping monkeys firing bananas, Father Christmas on a unicycle throwing chicken legs, Moai with wigs and macs, cat teapots, sweetcorn, pigs, tortoises, cats, Kabuki dancers, strawberries, balloons, ice cream and chefs is now the norm.

Penguins and chicks are of course ever present.

Stage dolly mixtures boast a school passing through various situations, Lethal Enforcers reminds you to occasionally ‘reload’, entering Twinbee world and a remixed candy tribute to Xexex.

Bamboo and even Cho-Han dice exist as obstacles with a new look showgirl hired to make an appearance.

If bosses were bonkers before, now they are just beyond psychiatric help.

A disco ball shooting shards and when that breaks to reveal the Panda ballerina again attacking with musical notes by singing into a microphone surely means things can’t get any weirder.

Oh but they can, oh but they will.

After observing Dr. Mardock and fluffy clouds from Pop ‘n Twinbee fame, surviving chicken, falling stars and sweetcorn, this is probably the funniest boss you’ll ever see.

An oversized mutant Twinbee attacks with a pair of boobs as eyes (covered by a brassiere), wearing boxing gloves and killer heels.

I mean what the fuck?  He he!

The way she jiggles her breasts before charging is just priceless and altogether brilliant.

What tops this outlandish battle off is when you ‘kill’ her; she becomes naked and retreats while covering her boobs.

Unless you're a miserable sod, you can't help but laugh.

Mystical Ninja is brought in as a floating Goeman head with spiked arms who launches fellow char Ebisumaru against you.

A boss rush features three challenges of Gradius spaceships, a Mystical Ninja ghost spinning plates and another Twinbee with angel wings and a pig tail.

I am now convinced that pigs do fly and this angel isn't finished because a little friend inside also needs taking care of.

For the finale, after a Japanese market stall complete with lanterns and a fish core parody, a blind is pulled down with an unexpected surprise - this octopus actually fights back.

He’s still a cinch though and after an ending that shouldn't impress sea or sky, ‘We Love Shooting Games!’ is displayed for the final time.

Sexy Parodius was another arcade entry in 1996 and only made it to the Saturn and PS1.

Even with the SA1 Chip, this would be a Moai head too far for the SNES.

Considering the first two were arcade ports, quality must be met with penguin applause.

Using the Konami code, an eighth difficulty setting can be made available but the difference is negligible.

The surreal and superb nature provides sheer entertainment and ensures you will revisit each more than once.

Undoubtedly, one of the best franchises of all time.

BlaZeon, AI 1992

In this shmup, you begin as a spaceship and a special zap later from your tranquilander on certain enemy robots allows entry to assume the role of a Bio-Cyborg and with it, their powers and abilities.

When boredom takes hold, you can commit suicide which succeeds in reverting back to your original form so you can jump into another’s skin.

That ensures innovation exists in this Atlus arcade port.

The animated intro is completely missing and while it was beyond the SNES, at least make an effort with a suitable replacement.

Also, enemies and redesign issues gave sick notes respectively.

For whatever reason, the colour of your spaceship is dictated by the difficulty level.

Despite these cutbacks, it looked pretty decent and remains a fairly obscure and insecure oddity.

Super Dropzone,  Eurocom 1995

A souped-up version of Archer MacLean’s important classic (albeit swallowing heavy elements of Defender) sees new backgrounds, looped with familiar enemies and helpless scientists.

What separates this version from the rest is the inclusion of bosses.

The obliteration of your hovering spacesuit is dramatically emphasised and while it’s never as fresh as the original, this is above average fun.

Super Smash TV, Beam Software 1992

Those of a tender age or simply those with a keen fondness for arcades and/or the 1980's will remember two joysticks, one sprite, waves of enemies and 8 way directional shooting meant for some extreme hi-octane action.

I am of course talking about Robotron: 2084.

It will come as no surprise that the 1990 arcade adopts the same Williams mindset and was inspired by the 1987 Arnie film, The Running Man, which was loosely based on a Stephen King novel.

The comparisons between Smash TV and The Running Man continue as the brief synopsis of both is very similar as ‘television has adapted to the more violent nature of man’.

1999 and 2017 is the year as contestants enjoy contrasting fortunes in game and film respectively.

Enough of live action, this is the most violent game show that pixels will ever bear witness to.

The name of this game is to get rich quick or die trying and amusingly, prizes up for grabs are displayed on screen.

Evil M.C is the host instead of Killian and he can’t help reminding you of “Big Money, Big Prizes, I Love It.”

Other quotes include, “Total Carnage”, “Bingo” and “Good Luck, You’ll Need It.”

The glittering host can also say “I’d Buy That For A Dollar!” which suggests he’s seen Robocop.

Apart from your regular pea shooter, a number of other weapons can be obtained including a rotating drone, grenades, three way and rockets.

This alternative firepower has a time limit rather than ammo so be grateful for small mercys.

Every level consists of a series of rooms and fairly predictably, all enemies have to be killed before you can progress.

It is very linear but at least a choice of exits is usually given ensuring that unless you want to experience mild purgatory, the path chosen to the eventual boss can be different (for a limited period of course).

Your death is met with audible audience delight so don’t give these sadists the satisfaction; cleave through all that oppose you with gory glee.

This is not a bloodthirsty game but humans do part with slight claret.

The big bad bosses consist of Mutoid Man, the aptly named Scarface, Cobra Death and the Evil M.C himself.

This was a great conversion and the notoriety of slowdown is practically a myth as even during 2P, the screen is packed with minimal lag.

Graphics and gameplay are suitably authentic to its arcade parent with the controls sensibly translated to the joypad.

Despite bugbears involving grating sound and only four stages, I take my helmet off to this effort.

Total Carnage, Black Pearl Software 1993

Even though evidence angrily prods at this been a sequel to Smash TV as events follow on from 1999, I’m still of the opinion that it’s a spiritual and not a true sequel.

For what it’s worth, the plot is that power mad Dictator General Akhboob goes ape shit, goes on a kidnapping spree and unleashes mutants from his bio nuclear facility.

It’s up to our heroes Captain Carnage and Major Mayhem to tool up and save the day.

You’ll immediately notice that fighting enemy hordes in a static situation seems to be a memory as instead, horizontal and vertical scrolling takes place.

Occasional non-movement of action does happen but is few and far between.

The other thing I noticed is that the music is even worse.

Weapons are basically recycled but things are heated with the inclusion of a flamethrower.

Enemies attempt variety in the form of humans, mutants, egg laying bugs and military vehicles.

So it scrolls in most directions, has plenty of action and still boasts 2P but I just feel this table wasn't applied with enough polish.

The graphics are decidedly sketchier and is less satisfying to play.

I’m pretty sure it only has two actual bosses in Orcus and Akhboob himself.

Orcus is basically Mutoid Man only with a mouthier belly.

This was subject to heavy censorship…

A cinematic featuring an alien now eats a van instead of a human.
The torture sequence involving a stint in an electric chair was totally omitted and to be consistent, Akhboob does time instead of getting a shock.
All gore is now green and the end boss’s facial change of Hitler was removed.

Right, this torture scene was comical and not in any way sadistic so regardless of principle, it causes no harm.  This shouldn't be compared to Snake and his experience of electric current in Metal Gear Solid as that was serious.

So while hardly ‘total’ shit, it still hums like a lingering fart.

Macross Scrambled Valkyrie, Zamuse 1993

This is a stellar shmup and few on the same system can rub galaxies with it.

You have three space cadets (Hikaru, Max and Millia), three different guises and weapons can be powered up, well have a guess?

It reminds me of a song, that one with a ‘magic number’.

The guises I speak of are Fighter, Gerwalk and Battroid which equate to the sprite of spaceship, spaceship/robot synthesis and robot respectively.

Seven stages of accomplished scrolling mayhem stands between you and the staff roll with regular enemies been a variety of mech, biological and turret.

Music is worth a mention as a host of tuneful beats accompany the action.

Stages range from a space graveyard, illuminated city, caves, mountain ranges and alien territory.

As well as Mode 7, graphics are complemented by backgrounds and sprites boasting admirable detail.  Effects such as lightning strikes, heavy rain and wobbly water all add the spice to this curry.

Bosses are more bad than big but they all pose a challenge and their look suggests attractive stairs were climbed.

The lazer spraying alligator head and a hermit crab deserve the limelight.

The end boss hollers R-Type because it’s a child floating in a bubble.

To make things interesting, the bubble eventually explodes and the mutant transforms into a green flying alien bombarding you with nukes, ‘obscuring’ vision and roaring upon death.

According to the ending “He decided to die.”

Excuse me but ‘he’, is surely more of a case of ‘what’?

This has great graphics, smart sound and when your craft is really three, it tops the cherry on this cake.

Great stuff!

Rise of the Robots, Probe 1994

You’re listening to Radio Shit Storm and the heavens are about to open.

Pre rendered models aside, believe the hype because this game is terrible.

Seriously, this is about as enjoyable as walking barefoot over broken glass and would be easier to control a faulty shopping trolley than play this travesty.

The gameplay is so rusty, you’ll need a tetanus jab and no amount of WD40 could make this shit any less creaky.

Making the jump from the Amiga did not help matters.

Unofficial instructions are “To win any match, just use the same move.  The use of a blindfold is optional but won’t make any difference to the outcome.”

I don’t know why you’d want to but when playing against the CPU, you are tortured by playing Cyborg.

This would be distasteful enough even if it was the best nuts and bolts in the universe but as he really is that ‘good’, what a wonderful decision.

The only way to control another robot was by bribing another to interact but wait, it gets even better because ONLY the second player has this privilege so 1P is still stuck suffering with the same fucking tired shit.

Why oh why?  What a gaggle of morons.

I suppose the Supervisor adds light relief as an appalling polymetamorphic titanium alloy T-1000 rip off.

Incidentally, I bet the puddle it becomes smells worse than a cess pit.

Even the rubbish tip would reject such a horror show of frightening proportions

Super Adventure Island, Hudson Soft 1992

The original Adventure Island started off as an adaptation of Wonder Boy, which is why it looked like a blatant rip off.

Hudson obtained the rights from the original developer and redesigned the protagonist to make him look slightly different but the smell of Wonder Boy remains.

This version is innocuous and has enough charm to warrant some investigation.

Throw your hammer, ride that skateboard and travel to the far reaches of any stage and repeat, it’s really that basic.

Enemies native to some quite pleasing looking environments include penguins, walruses, turtles, fish, hostile locals and wasps occupying areas such as the desert, jungle, forest, seaside, mines and snow.

Variety isn’t exactly at a premium but you do travel on rails and be eaten by a Mode 7 whale which predictably prompts a stage inside his stomach.

Bosses posing little or no threat include an octopus, dragon and a skeletal warrior.

You even get to fight a relative of Orko from He-Man and a nasty pink elephant.

No, I’m not jesting.

Although the difficulty is even simpler than its gameplay, the colourful graphics and nice music makes it worth a hammer or two.

Smash Tennis, Namco 1993

There is little doubt that this looks nigh on identical to Super Tennis, right down to cutesy sprites and overall look.

Why suitable changes weren't enforced by Nintendo remains a mystery.

This is playable, featuring a variety of courts and players but its barefaced nature causes the umpire to issue warnings over racquet abuse.

Dirt Trax FX, Sculptured Software 1995

This is one of the few games to utilise the much hyped Super FX chip which allows polygons to be thrown about on your CRT at a modest speed.

The result is a dull racer with fewer colours than a depressed rainbow.

Tracks that you traverse over actually look good but are devoid of hardly any detail.

Choose from a 50, 125 or 250CC bike and decide which of the eight speed junkies (all with strengths or weaknesses) will take to the terrain.

Of these pros and cons, did it actually matter in your performance?  I’m pretty sceptical.

As tracks fell by the wayside, the qualification constraint got tighter as only the top [insert bikes here] qualified for the next race.

If Smash TV and more so, Total Carnage had an annoying tune, this is a different sounding terror.

There was also a strange mud splat left by your bike that doesn't particularly encourage realism.

Soccer Kid, Krysalis Software 1994

Also known as The Adventures of Kid Kleets, Amiga to the SNES strikes again.

The storyline is so cheesy; a mouse would salivate at such a feast.

During the World Cup in 1994, a flying pirate ship steals the Jules Rimet trophy and when retreating to space, asteroids conveniently attack and the cup breaks with the pieces scattered below.

It’s up to the kid to piece the cup back together by travelling to England, Italy, Russia, Japan and back to America before the World Cup Final.

After all, can you imagine the embarrassment of not been able to present Brazil with the famous trophy?

The novelty of performing a modest amount of tricks wears off quicker than tossing a pancake.

Also, the kit design is missing and even Pavarotti attacking with musical notes cannot save a game that is duller than dishwater.

Joe & Mac, Data East 1991

Have no fear because Data East is here.  Neo Geo fans will notice that this heavily inspired the yo-yo twirling heroes of Spinmaster.  Trust me, it remains a great game.

Anyway, rewind so many million years and you can enjoy prehistoric capers with Joe and Mac.

The happy go lucky pair are forced to take a break from Dinosaur Demolition Derbies (Tyrannosaurus Wrecks) and Pterodactyl Hand Gliding (Peakin’ the Beak) because of bogus Neanderthal nerds have frightened off the cave babes.

Yeah, okay.  Ha Ha!

Our heroes (solitary or co-operatively) set about seizing those cave babes and in return for their valour; hope to have their clubs bashed.

The mechanics are almost as primitive as the environment that enemies and our protagonists tread but it does not detract from the fun factor.

C’mon lads, after those babes.

A club is a caveman’s best friend and breaking eggs will not bring an omelette, but projectiles, including bones, boomerangs, fire and stone wheels.

Hmmm, a boomerang?  Yeah, let’s not take this too seriously.

Enemies of this era don’t disappoint as dinosaurs, pterodactyls, piranha and ugs are regular irritations.

The cavemen seem to say ‘Awak’.  Does this mean ‘shit’?

Areas that come and go extend to waterfalls, ice caves, tree tops and a dinosaur graveyard.

Bosses standing in your way of a babe or several include a man eating plant and woolly mammoth.

Budding paleontologists will happily point out that other bosses attempting to wipe those smug smiles off Joe and Mac’s faces include a Pterodactyl, Ichthyosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus and a rolling Ankylosaurus.

I say Allosaurus because it’s hardly as ferocious as the most famous dinosaur of all.

Could you imagine Spielberg’s blockbuster without a Tyrannosaurus?

The end boss throws the rule book out of the cave with a cutesy demon holding a trident.

This is a fine effort boasting bold and colourful cartoonish graphics, jolly tunes and even a decent sense of humour as cowardly cavemen scarper and those hurt display emotional discontent.

Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics, Data East 1993

The boys are back in town so what’s the pork this time?

We quickly learn from the village elder that Gork the Caveman has half inched the Great Crown and the boys must get it back.

I bet it took them yonks to come up with that idea.

Cave babes or great crown?  I know what could be more fun…

This is less generic than its predecessor and forces an emphasis on exploration.

It’s not an RPG though so the burden of level, status effects, magic, knee deep in statistics and random attacks does not feature.

Tiki Village is at the hub of matters where you can bang a gong to get it on with friendlies.

Stone wheels are the currency and can be exchanged for home remodelling, flowers and fresh meat at a shop.

Flowers are the key to wooing a woman and if you play your club right, marriage is a distinct possibility…

You are told that seven rainbow stones are needed before you can fight Gork and are found in the unsurprising way of killing bosses.

An attractive looking world map with clouds passing overhead allows you to navigate stages which in turn, have sub-sections to each.

Apart from a few locked doors, this is commerce as usual but with even more graphical variety than before.

Large obstacles include a T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Plesiosaur.

Our man Gork is fought twice and when the great crown grants him magical powers, he hits back harder.

The graphics and humour impress again but the music is now on life support.

What is about as welcome as a bailiff are fairly frequent message boxes that introduce a stage, section or make you aware of hazards.

These are unnecessary and only succeed in breaking up play.

While this doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does make for a slightly different type of adventure than before.

Personally, I prefer the first but hey ho.

There was another game which acted as a sequel to the first game called Congo's Caper in 1993.  This had a new monkey boy protagonist and you could select stages.  It was similar fare to the first game but with reworked enemies.

Wait a minute, how can that be a sequel when Lost in the Tropics was named Joe & Mac 2?  It therefore makes sense that Tropics is Joe & Mac 3 across other parts of the world.

Whatever, it's bullshit.  

To wrap up this meat, here’s a little history lesson I found etched on a cave wall.

The bumbling Neanderthals appeared a year later in Joe & Mac Returns which underwent a radical gameplay overhaul as things became very much like their earlier solitary screen effort Tumblepop in 1991 that featured ghost busting heroes armed with vacuum cleaners.

Hey, the idea sounds a bit like Luigi’s Mansion.

Incidentally, Tumblepop also featured the then futuristic Joe and Mac cavemen and fire-breathing strongmen.  The latter been Karnov from Fighter’s History, who made his debut in his own crazy game in 1987.

Right, I'm off to polish my club.

Actraiser, Enix/Quintet 1991

If you fused Populous and Rastan, this would be the product.

It’s only great if you can stomach both aspects as neither can be separated.

Each land comprises of two action parts and a simulation section.

‘The Master’ controls angel and pointy stick wielding warrior in the quest to defeat Tanzra.

Action sees you hack and slash your way through enemies, overcome various hazards and showing each boss who’s in charge.

Bosses consist of anything from mythological beasts such as a Minotaur and Chimera, together with a shape-shifting wizard, demon wheel, possessed statue and ice dragon.

There is a very nice Mode 7 spinning zoom effect before each action stage but it’s not really exploited elsewhere.

The best slice of this warm apple pie is playing God.

As a cherub, you oversee proceedings by making sure that the land is free from monsters so the people can control it by themselves and live in peace.

This element was literally a miracle and basically required you to perform many such as exposing land to the elements and sometimes, destroying it too.

Acts of God include:

Rain – helps grow crops
Lightning - destroys rocks, trees and houses
Earthquake - connects land and sea
Sunlight - dries up marshland and snow

All the important stuff is accessed via a menu friendlier than a word search designed for children.

When you clear an area from whatever obstacle, only then can you start building houses, roads and bridges which prompts ‘Town under Construction’.

This is directed within a small grid that only affects that area and importantly, controls are simple.

Even livestock can be seen grazing in the sunlight.

If you’re doing something right, hints and information are given by the people that you’d be a fool to ignore.

Still, it’s not all liver and onions because bats, devils and dragons regularly frequent this space and threaten to interrupt the party by inconveniently destroying economic growth and even kidnapping innocents.

Your handy bow and arrow easily rids the land of this malevolence but a monster’s lair emits infinite beasts.

The only way to destroy a lair is to seal it by having the people surround and destroy it.

As civilisation improves, your level and HP grow and you can expect things to only get better when a population milestone was reached.

The destinations of Fillmore, Kasandora, Marahna, Bloodpool and Northwall will be visited draped in forest, ice, desert and swamp.  Naturally, this is reflected in the simulation situation.

The final battle of Death Heim is a boss-rush comprising of seven deadly sins.

It’s not particularly exciting as you've already fought six of these, only this time they are a bit more energetic.

Defeat recycled laziness and Tanzra awaits in wobbly space.  He is presented in the form of a floating face that rains fireballs.

After slight effort, his body comes into play producing more firepower as a final act of defiance.

When you've finished applying the necessary punishment, the world becomes verdant and the cherub reminisces throughout each land.

Apart from the simulation setting, it also benefits from having a superb soundtrack by music maestro Yuzo Koshiro.

Mega Drive owners will fondly remember his arrangements in Streets of Rage.

On the downside, some games of the 90’s age gracefully or disgracefully and this falls somewhere in the middle.

This is frustrating because it can look good but then lets itself down with drab and colourless backgrounds.

Animation suffers with limited frames and pokes further insult towards the ever present disgraceful bits and bobs.

Remember that iniquitous message used in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest?

“What a horrible night to have a curse.”

Well this has its own variation.

“I know it’s unexpected, but our people in [insert land here] have something to tell you.”

For the first time, that’s fine and even second time but this happens more times than a song repeating itself on the radio.

Okay, we get different information but why the fuck do we need to be reminded of the same bastard message again, again, again and again?

To rub further salt into the slug, this can’t be avoided.

The people may as well come out with this.

“I know you already know, but the people of [insert land here] have something unexpected to tell you.  It’s something even less unexpected and trivial than last time and it comes as no surprise that it’s not in the slightest bit unexpected.”

Despite these ‘faults’, give it a whirl and a twirl as it deliciously combines simulation and action without been infatuated with unnecessary stats and fussy controls.

Actraiser 2, Enix/Quintet 1994

The part action, part simulation hybrid has become all action leaving gameplay to be thinner than a motivated anorexic.

We see the new look Master sprite with wings and a shield defeat Tanzra from the original game which leads you to question if this is meant to be a prequel or sequel?

You are told by your angelic associate that 13 demons have joined together to raise the monstrosity from the underworld and with their hate for The Master, his cohorts are sent to cause general destruction.

If you’re not already in a flap, why not use them to ascend and descend as necessary.

The gliding aspect is much like Soul Reaver.

Magic is also at your disposal including fire, lightning and frost.

The angel guides and explains the troubles of each land infected by demons.

I believe that levels can be tackled in no particular order and moving the sky palace over an area is the only way to progress.

The Mode 7 rotation and zooming on the overworld map is improved by way of flipping and is altogether great.

This time, lands are affected by demonic activity and the head denizen occupying a particular area manipulates and influences humans to destroy each other.

To briefly explain, Industen hurts Diligence, Modero and Demon’s Cave upsets Temponia and Death Field brings unrest to Justania.

You catch the Tokyo Drift…

Gratis, Demon’s Cave and Altheria are other lands to feature.

The only way to predictably cleanse each region is to ‘zoom in’ and attack so normality can return.

“Master, please prepare yourself for battle.”
“Master, you've done it!”

You’ll see those messages frequently before and after each stage respectively and they quickly become annoying.

There are worse places to go on holiday as sightseeing guarantees opulence is held in high regard.

Swamps, submerged cities, waterfalls, castles, battlefields, volcanoes and palaces are all on the agenda with some consisting of several sections and in turn, offering a decent dollop of variety.

Some are smarter than a flower arrangement as they contain foreground scenery that scrolls nicely upon forced movement.

Unfriendly inhabitants which aren't as cool as the environments range from insects, goblin warriors, bats, faced spiders, plants, sharks, seahorses, armoured knights, flying skulls and fire imps.

Swirling skies, falling snow, light poking through clouds and active volcanoes all add to the sheen.

Mid level bosses such as vultures and man eating plants are recycled throughout and when will games learn that painting a sprite in a different colour does not make for a new challenge.

A stupid setting is the Tower of Souls which includes robots, Castlevania cogs and just to aggravate me even more, a second-hand boss rush.

The proper bosses are of interesting design and possess names such as Deception, Fatigue, Jealousy and Fury.

There are ‘seven’ significant others with Gluttony represented as a scorpion and Greed as a fire breathing dragon.

Greed is actually called Doom and ripped straight from Lord of the Rings as this deviation of Smaug is surrounded by treasure.

Sloth, Envy, Pride, Wrath and Lust are all manifested but not as we know it so why Gluttony was retained begs belief.

Before reaching Death Heim, you are told that in order to break in, you must use your sky palace to gate crash the party.  Ridiculously, you are even asked if you want to.

Of course you’re going to give up after spilling several pints of blood.

So assuming you haven’t switched the game off, something is lounging in Death Heim.

Before passing on, innocents inform that seven demons have been revived and a shoot weapon is also handed over.

Why not just call them ‘sins’ but whatever Trevor.

Anyway, off you go to enjoy or seethe at the flow of recycling until you reach Tanzra, who himself is frozen waist down in his own hell.

Now that is familiar isn't it?  Satan suffered a similar chill in the Ninth Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy.

He looks cooler than a cucumber but has minimal animation.

The ending sees The Master as a statue gradually aging and eventually falling apart.  This infers that the people have learnt to be independent and able to live without him.

As there is nothing else to do, combat had to put on weight and enjoys a few more kebabs.

So I conclude this to be more solid than a soundly built Jenga tower boasting great graphics and Yuzo Koshiro is up to his old tricks.

Despite all this, the process of not being able to construct and perform miracles that was more satisfying than popping bubble wrap just leaves you wanting.

Cool Spot, Virgin Interactive 1993

This attempted to do for 7UP what Action Biker on the Speccy did for KP Skips.

Unlike the snack that Clumsy Colin tried to shift, this hardly melts in the mouth.

Cool Spot wears shades, presumably to block out the glare of unoriginality, must rescue other ‘cool spots’ in cages at the end of each stage.

Oh, I’m so bitchy.

He defends himself using soda bubbles against various stereotypical pixels on stages such as the beach, sewer and toy shop including rats, frogs, spiders, robots and crabs.

To assist the player, a gloved hand points the way to the exit.

This red blot on the landscape must be swift as time is the enemy.

Pointless bonus stages broke up the action which just gave an unchallenged opportunity to collect more bonus spots in a can of fizz.

This was a fairly attractive looking game featuring nice animation with our ‘spot’ at least having a bit of personality but we've seen it all before.

It held my interest about as long as it takes to drink a can of the carbonated stuff it endeavoured to sell.

King Arthur’s World, Argonaut Software 1992

You want an alternative to Lemmings, but in medieval times?  Look no further.

Before we take a bite, this is in no way endorsed or connected with Arthurian legend.

In other words, if you want to dine and dance a jig on a roundish table egged on by larger than life knights, fantasise elsewhere.

Your job is to protect King Arthur by issuing commands (via mouse or pad), to a variety of units including engineers, knights, archers, wizards, shield and barrel men.

Those barrel guys have not eaten too many pies...

If Arthur dies, whoops.

Archers can angle their trademark pointy weapon high, medium or low.
Barrel Men can disarm traps and make things go bang.
Knights are basically a melee weapon so kick ass up close and personal.
White and Black Wizards are akin to magic and weave different spells such lightning, invincibility, strength and fireball.
Shield Men are handy to deflect projectiles.
Engineers construct contraptions such as catapults and battering rams.  They can also build platforms over pits.

Whether that sounds daunting or not, you are not thrown in at the deep end as Arthur has organised a series of training stages allowing familiarisation with each unit.

Whether this is forced upon you before you can play the actual game, I’m not sure.

There is a ‘look’ function so you can have a scan about and assess danger.

Units emerge from a tent and you must work as a team to defeat the opposing army and progress to the next challenge.

Members of your army can obviously die but reinforcements aren't in short supply.   Also, Arthur can be revived using gold.

A password system allows you to return later providing you can be bothered with a pen and paper.

There are only three worlds and enemies that occupy each range from soldiers, knights, demons, goblins, thugs, mutants and zombies.

It sounds like a very short game but a generous amount of levels dismiss this notion including a challenging boss to care of with various weak points to locate.

Of those bosses, a very decent rendition of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries plays so that’s fine and dandy, mixed with lemonade shandy.

The main gripe is that even in the heat of battle; your troops are never in a hurry.  You really wish there was a ‘run’ command or basically able to give them a firm kick up the ass.

This is undeniably a fun little obscurity with decent mechanics and while graphics don’t raise the roof, enjoyable gameplay renders this insignificant.

All in all, you can do a lot worse.

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