Sunday, 16 October 2016

16 bits, 2 bytes - Ninth Event

Equinox, Software Creations 1993

NES original Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos was hugely influenced by Ultimate classics such as Knight Lore, Nightshade and Alien 8.

Ocean copied perspective for Batman in 1986, with Head over Heels expanding matters a year later.

Known as Solstice II in Japan, father Shadax is kidnapped by evil apprentice Sonia and son Glendaal must grit Arabian teeth and brave the eight dungeons of Galadonia.

When bumbling about on world map (which can be spun in glorious Mode 7), bats and trolls often appear from clouds.

(Frowns).

Bumping into and destroying these hazards reap the reward of gaining strength.

These aren't random battles, but they do have a habit of zoning in on you.

Most rooms have multiple exits, with some blocked by portcullises that only coloured keys can open.

Things get more complicated and become quite troublesome, particularly when spikes are introduced.

Pushing blocks off a platform can make ‘stairs’, cover spikes so items can be got and manipulate other rooms.

If cock ups are made during puzzle solving, leaving and re-entering resets the situation.

Of course, rooms aren't without other problems.

From knights, ghosts to blobs, enemies feel the collective brunt of scimitar, sword, dagger, shuriken, mace and axe.

Apart from throwing star, you'd expect to 'hold' melee weapons, but all are thrown.

Ha ha ha!

Colours dictate intelligence and attack patterns become more unpredictable than the weather.

Occasionally, enemies must be destroyed for a gate to open sesame.

Geezer isn’t without magic, as spells including heal, slow, freeze, damage, zap, reveal and save.

Adding strings to harp eventually gives the ability to teleport.

Aztecs, Egyptian and Ice Palace aside, the coolest area to frequent is a ghost ship as camera constantly moves to induce sea sickness.

Boss spirits haunt whichever land and can’t be harmed, so to give bad boys a physical body, 12 tokens scattered about each dungeon must be found.

Once got, entering a special room will see tokens summon a Guardian.

Unfortunately, bosses suck smelly ass.

What is Bonehead?

Yeah, a skull.

I really wish Pincha wasn’t a crab, but…

(Sigh).

We also get a Dollop of slime, Sung-Sung (mountain with a face), Eyesis (pyramid with eye) and end witch Sonia teleports.

Why didn't they just call Egyptian boss Eye of Providence?

What can’t go unmentioned is how incredibly atmospheric this baby sounds.

Haunting murmurs and minimalist tunes come courtesy of home computer maestro Tim Follin and co-composer Geoff.

Icy wind blowing through ice palace and ancient timber creaking on ghostly vessel are sounds of subtle genius.

As you've probably gathered, I'm a massive fan of this game but holy shit, it's extremely weird to play.

Eh?

In order to make majority of jumps, one should position Glendaal in a way he's guaranteed to fail.

Even when objects look 'grounded', they usually aren't.

Providing disorientation can be tolerated, optical illusion on crystal meth is an underrated gem.

Micro Machines, Ocean 1994

Whether it be home computer or console, everybody has taken control of ‘original scale miniatures’.

Courtesy of multitap, competition becomes fierce as up to four players battle it out to claim glory.

Or, up to two friends can try their luck against computer AI.

Vehicles range from rally car, quad buggy and speedboat.

Like comedic characters, courses aren't without personality.

Unconventional tracks include breakfast table, garage floor, beach, pool table and school desk.

Expect each to have a variety of hazards and no chequered flag exists.

Instead, your aim is to steal and protect hit points.

Leaving rival for dead and forcing them off track are effective techniques.

For every hit point received (dubbed ‘bonus’), an amusing little victory dance follows.

It’s all jolly good, harmless fun.

Inconsequential sequel Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament was released in the same year and included time trials, new courses and various tournaments.

Krusty’s Super Funhouse, Audiogenic 1992

Was this game really made?

Oh rats!

Using blocks and items, Springfield’s favourite clown rids vermin by forcing them into static traps operated by Homer, Bart, Sideshow Mel and Corporal Punishment.

After each area is squeaky clean, find exit and repeat.

Hazards include water droplets, lasers and snakes.

If exciting gameplay doesn’t kill you, the music will.

Jurassic Park, Ocean 1993

With no home system at the time able to handle Sega’s high speed on-rails arcade of same name, like NES and Game Boy, we had to settle for birds-eye adventure.

Dr. Grant wanders about green space giving genetically engineered types a taste of anything from gas grenades, shotgun, cattle prod and er, rocket launcher.

Triceratops, Raptors, Dilophosaurus and Gallimimus all appear.

Dino tips selfishly pop up on huge transparent orange cards and tediously repeat.

Like Boris from Goldeneye, T-Rex is invincible.

Mr DNA’s dishes out scientific trivia we're supposed to believe and Nedry dishes out fucked up advice such as “The T-Rex will give you a 1-Up if you approach him.”

Electrified fences are a shock to the system and getting wet kills.

ID cards gain access to complex and transforms top down lethargy into mouse supported FPS.

Texture mapped graphics are decent and move surprisingly well.

Escaping Isla Nublar involves clearing dinosaurs, collecting eggs, rebooting computer system, activating generator and getting to the helipad.

Graphics and sound impress to a degree, but surprise surprise, doesn't incorporate famous John Williams score.

Like many games of this ilk, expect one huge level.

While difficult to a degree, extra lives and health can be found.

Guess what?

There's no map, continues or passwords.

Best of all, you can't save.

What an inspired decision.

At least the pretty, but ultimately boring Amiga/DOS game gave passwords.

This also has one of the worst endings EVER, as invisible helicopter takes off from spinning logo at boot up.

Bluesky Software's completely different Mega Drive version did feature passwords.

Highlights include T-Rex amusingly growling 'Sega' and after choosing Grant or Raptor, blundering through missions that never happened in film.

BlueSky did release update/semi-sequel Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition in 1994 and again, you can play as Grant or a Raptor.

Set after events of the first movie, the Sega CD game spliced FMV with point-and-click, as a scientist is dispatched to search the island and retrieve eggs from seven different dinosaur species.

Featuring lookalikes of film's stars and truly bizarre mini-games, Jurassic Park Interactive on 3DO will blow your fucking mind.

Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, Ocean 1994

This non-canonical 'sequel' even predates Michael Crichton’s 1995 novel The Lost World.

Professor Challenger reminds Crichton copied name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 literary classic

Just in case you need reminding, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World is the official follow up to Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster.

Anyhow, here’s what licence shat out.

One year after the Isla Nublar incident, Hammond sends Dr. Grant with armed personnel to restore order so park can re-open for business.

However, newly introduced Biosyn Corp. aim to destroy InGen so island can be theirs.

Play as Grant or tactical sergeant Michael Wolfskin.

Finding scientists, reconnecting power feeds to incubators, protecting dinosaurs, gassing Raptors and disarming bombs are all mundane necessities.

Snore bastard snore.

Think your average Probe game, less the polish.

Backgrounds ignore authenticity as volcanoes, mountains, jungle and caves insult movie classics from yesteryear.

T-Rex is brought in for desperately drab jeep sequence and blows up following success.

Whatever.

Actual end boss is Biosyn airship fought inside chopper.

Run and gun mission-based shmup isn’t the worst - it’s just very, very ordinary.

With or without simultaneous play, enemy placement is often cruel and becomes extremely frustrating.

You still can’t save or get passwords, but continues do exist and infinite opportunities can be obtained via a cheat code.

Game Boy version ditched Biosyn premise and had Grant complete a variety of missions (commonly involving key cards), in a tepid side-scrolling affair.

Earthworm Jim, Shiny Entertainment 1994

Princess What’s-Her-Name has been kidnapped by Queen Slug-For-A-Butt.

Motive?

She wants Jim’s robotic suit, invented by villain Professor Monkey-For-A-Head.

First on Mega Drive, 24 megs of platform popcorn not only looks superb, hand-drawn animation also possesses pristine personality and a wicked sense of humour.

16 bits largely mirror each other, but Intestinal Distress from Mega Drive is missing.

Racing against Psy-Crow through galactic tunnel in Andy Asteroids? borders on overkill as the only time you don't ride rocket is after connected stages Down the Tubes and Tube Race.

Backgrounds rich in colour consist of volcano, alien base, darkness and space.

Together with a dizzy mix of original themes, ears are spoiled with renditions of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.

Bosses are frankly terrible, but Slug-For-A-Butt spoofing Queen Alien compensates.

Jim exclaims ‘Groovy!’ at stage end, possibly referencing Evil Dead II?

Significance of launching cow at start of game is revealed during ending as Princess is farcically crushed.

Featuring improved visuals, new stage Big Bruty, extended New Junk City, 1000 extra animation frames and obligatory CD quality sound, Special Edition on Mega CD was the version to own.

Portable versions should be given a wide berth, (especially GBA travesty).

Apart from greater vibrancy, Gameloft's HD remake for Xbox Live and PSN didn't really do anything better.

Earthworm Jim 2, Shiny Entertainment 1995

Mega Drive and SNES games were released simultaneously.

This time though, no Special Edition would appear.

An interesting fact is this uses patented Animotion II and Silicon Graphics 3D characters (a la Donkey Kong Country).

Psy-Crow replaces Queen as antagonist and cylindrical hero is boosted by more flexibility, greater vocabulary and five new guns.

Stick or swing? Your wish is new friend Snott’s command.

Stephen Fry's Lord Snot formed part of University Challenge Footlights College Oxbridge in unforgettable Young Ones episode Bambi.

Avoiding falling grannies while ascending on electric stairlift ensures occasion is off its tits.

Therefore, chewing stage gristle is obligatory.

When tackling Udderly Abducted, don't be a silly moo.

Speaking of which, slices of prime beef now state “Well done” after every stage.

Puppy Love replaces Andy Asteroids? and is mercifully less infrequent.

Using marshmallow trampoline, Jim bounces Peter's nephews thrown from window by Psy-Crow to the safety of Uncle's chimney.

You may recognise instrumental of famous Italian song Funiculì, Funiculà.

Mega Drive version doesn’t have huge moon in background.

C64 junkies should raise very suspicious eyebrows as principle is identical to ‘interlude’ from Creatures 2: Torture Trouble.

The Flyin' King changes perspective to isometric shmup. as hot air balloon and bomb must be protected.

In the aptly titled Inflated Head stage, Jim must avoid colliding with light bulbs and resist the persistence of a vicious leaping cat.

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata plays during Villi People and disguised as blind cave salamander, Jim must negotiate intestinal maze.

During which, action suddenly transforms into nonsensical trivia quiz.

For example:

"In what year did the battle of Hamstrings take place?"
"Can Jim speak German?"

Believe me, answers are more stupid than questions.

Filing cabinet acts as relentless terminator in ISO 9000 and boss of Level Ate gives food for thought, as pork steak attacks with plate.

In same stage, secret area 'Totally Forked' can be accessed using Snott parachute about halfway through.

Final stage See Jim Run, Run Jim Run is a traditional 2D race against Psy-Crow.

Rescuing Princess from nefarious feathered fiend wins back her heart, but she, baddie and hero present themselves to be cows.

Err, words fail me.

More diverse yes, but new sections are gimmicky and shifting focus away from platform action disappoints.

Password system (if you like) is bullshit, as before stage is completed, three hidden flags (Earth, Worm and Jim) must be found.

WHY?

Even with improved soundtrack, Saturn and PS1 versions shouldn't make SNES/Mega Drive owners jealous.

Having said that, passwords are told to flag off and automatically given after each stage.

In DOS version The Whole Can 'O Worms, Rainbow Arts bundled both games together and slightly redrew pixels, but doesn't include Lorenzen's Soil.

2002 GBA abomination had horrific graphics, atrocious sound and glitched beyond belief, rendering experience almost unplayable.

Even worse than Bydo shit storm R-Type III?

Holy shit – surely not.

Operation Thunderbolt, Aisystem Tokyo 1994

Considering home computer ports of 1988 arcade sequel came in 1990, you'd think that would be that.

Is it coincidence that digitised arcade exclusive Operation Wolf III came out in same year?

Abul Bazarre, warlord of Bintazi People's Republic have commandeered a flight and unless comrades are released, we'll regret it.

Roy Adams and Green Beret buddy Hardy Jones are given the boot and six new soldiers Sonia, Erica, Dan, Shin, Kinte and Chamkaur step up.

Commanding officer Colonel Jones (not Hardy), gives you a choice of targets and off you go.

Aside from standard pad, you can also open fire with mouse or Super Scope.

T2: The Arcade Game is another to support all three.

Mission complete screens are redrawn but unlike arcade, dialogue isn't spoken.

Other than that, it's what we remember.

Jerky scrolling manoeuvres poor graphics and 'lack of' enemy presence bores.

Overall, don't bother.

Contra III: The Alien Wars, Konami 1992

Out of respect for what I imported many years ago, I'm using North American name.

This is known as Contra Spirits in Japan and infamously, Super Probotector: Alien Rebels for PAL region.

Why the name change?

For the benefit of those who don't know.

In order to bypass German censorship, the 1990 NES port of arcade original (which ran slower than its North American and Japanese 'Contra' counterparts), was perversely renamed Probotector.

Remember, home computers tagged it Gryzor.

Appleseed tributes Jimbo and Sully came in for Lance and Bill.

So it's apparently more acceptable for robots to kill aliens.

How fucking stupid does that sound?

To maintain localisation continuity, console versions followed like sheep.

Before getting to that, let's focus on stonewall classic.

Whether controlling robots or geezers, experience remains identical.

A.D. 2636

The alien wars begin!

Six stages boast relentless action, impressive variety and ingenious use of Mode 7.

Never before seen Alien Breed-esque overhead stages first require player to select starting point and then it's up to you to rotate freely and destroy enemy bases.

Bosses are tough bastards and take massive punishment before biting the dust.

Giant tortoise and zombie skeleton prising wall open remain iconic.

Final stage is upgraded combo of Contra and Super Contra, but Jagger Froid's brain extends fight.

Once safely subdued, a hero's welcome awaits.

While I respect importance, uber outing hasn't aged well.

Colour shy backgrounds lack imagination, stage complete screens couldn't be goofier and mid bosses are almost pointless.

Sounding like a whimpering baby on crack, gotta love camp death scream.

Music outclasses standard sound with catchy and occasionally dramatic numbers.

Ports

Developed by Factor 5 and Andreas Escher providing visuals, cut down version and final Game Boy entry came in 1994.

Contra: The Alien Wars (North America), Contra Spirits (Japan) and Probotector 2 (PAL).

This is not a sequel to Game Boy original, so why pretend to be one?

Here's fun.  Why not Probotector: Alien Rebels?

Yeah, too logical.

Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX on GBA is mostly SNES, but Mode 7 areas are replaced with two stages from Hard Corps.

The P word

Let's analyse absurd confusion.

Super C was the 1990 North America NES conversion of first arcade sequel Super Contra and when stepping on European soil in 1992, was slapped with the monkier of Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces.

Screwing everything up was first Game Boy outing Operation C (North America), Contra (Japanese) and Probotector (PAL).

Here's the problem.

This was not another port of first arcade, remake of PAL NES original and jack all to do with Return of the Evil Forces.

Oh no.  It was actually a unique game and marked the debut of Black Viper (sister of Red Falcon).

As spin-off Contra Force was only released in North America, at least title couldn't annoy.

Introducing branching paths and multiple endings, take a look at what titles assholes gave superior 1994 Mega Drive addition.

Probotector (PAL), Contra: Hard Corps (North America) and Contra: The Hard Corps (Japan).

Counting back, Probotector can be three separate games.

BRILLIANT!

It wasn't until 1996 name was finally abandoned in Europe with rubbish PS1 entry Contra: Legacy of War.

You and I both know series continued, but that's another story.

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