Monday, 31 December 2012

Knytt Underground Review (PS3/PS Vita)


For many years Nifflas has been developing games on the PC. The two most notable of these titles are Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Within a Deep Forest had players taking control of a sentient bouncing ball that had to save the world from a bomb. The game focused on the bouncing physics of different types of balls of different weights and materials.

Knytt focused on a little hero of the same name needing to find parts to fix a crashed spaceship so that he could get back home. The mechanics here dealt with the notion of climbing and sticking to walls. Both of these games have now been combined to create Knytt Underground which marks Nifflas’ first move into the realm of console gaming.

Split into three chapters, Knytt Underground has players take on the role of the mute Mi Sprocket as she explores a huge environment. Her aim is to look for human artefacts and complete quests in a Metroidvania style. The first two chapters act as short tutorials to help players understand the mechanics of how Mi and then Bob the ball handle. By chapter three the two characters have magically been morphed together allowing players to change from Mi to Bob at will.

This allows for some situations requiring lightning reflexes as you change from Mi to the bouncing ball mid-air to cannon off the landscape at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles in order to reach new areas. As well as the bouncing and climbing there are different coloured plumes of smoke which give temporary abilities. These range from turning Mi invisible, making her jump higher or turning her into a set that can shoot horizontally or vertically.

Everything is designed as a means for you to get to another locations and this is where Knytt Underground really works well. Nifflas games before this have always focused on short bursts of quick reflexes and skill. When Knytt Underground asks players to do the same it comes to life in a flurry of ever changing physics and colourful plumes of smoke. (Note to developer – a colour-blind filter would really help with those plumes of smoke)

However, in Knytt Underground there are often long stretches of exploration through empty screens to reach these areas. Sometimes the beautiful graphics and sound create a haunting and ambient environment which you don’t mind trekking through. At other times it can all be a little dull as you wander through empty screen after empty screen.

When Knytt Underground works it works well but when it doesn’t it feels empty and lifeless. This isn’t helped by the seeming lack of progress you make. There are numerous quests and items to discover but on completing or collecting them it doesn’t seem to mean much. Of course it all adds up in the end but the game could do with tweaking its risk reward system to help players feel a greater sense of achievement after they have overcome some of the incredibly fiendish screens.

It is worth highlighting just how lovely the game looks and sounds. This game is beautiful and the music is of the highest standard. We expect no less from a Nifflas game and in that department Knytt Underground can never be faulted. When transferred to the Vita (Knytt is cross buy), it looks all the more beautiful.

The Vita seems to be the natural home of Knytt Undeground, which makes it all the more surprising that save points are often miles away from each other. There are a lot of them, but instead of putting them at the start of tricky sections (like in Within a Deep Forest ), they are often located away from the area requiring players to back track.

Back tracking is something that can begin to hinder the experience. We lost count of the amount of times we trekked along a tunnel for five or six screens only to reach a character telling us we needed to bring a certain item to them. This then meant trekking back through all the screens again. There really isn’t a need for this and you wonder if the game would have benefitted from a slightly smaller, more focused, map without many of the empty screens.

Overall, Knytt Underground is a promising start for Nifflas in the realm of console gaming. The look and sound of the game is gorgeous and easily rivals the best of the Playstation Network. The game itself gives players a huge world to explore but many may well feel that it lacks focus and a real sense of rewards for the skill you need in order to progress. Those looking for an adventure set at a slower pace will love it, while others will be left wanting a bit more excitement.

7/10

Read our review of Within a Deep Forest.

Monday, 24 December 2012

SURGE Review (PS Vita)


Future Lab is a relatively new development company, but already they have a strong record in the realm of portable gaming. No matter what they produce it seems to raise the bar with regards to what we expect from our mobile devices. Our love for Velocity is well documented but since then the Brighton based studio has been developing a number of Playstation Mobile games, the latest of which is ‘SURGE’

SURGE is a puzzle game which utilises the touch screen. The aim is simply to connect blocks of the same colour to one another with an electrical current. Using your finger you need to drag from one block to the next to create as big a chain as possible. Like all good puzzle games the premise is simple but in practice it all becomes highly addictive.

The idea is to clear the screen before a pressure gauge explodes. In order to stop this happening you need to clear an entire horizontal row an open valves at both sides of the screen. This releases the pressure and adds a point bonus to the blocks of corresponding colour. On top of this ticking time bomb there is a normal time limit as well. When that expires more blocks fall into the screen. It starts out simply but by the end descends into panic stricken madness of the best kind.

Along with the standard coloured blocks are a number of special ones. These consist of things like bombs (which clear the screen of all blocks of that colour), wild card blocks (which can be used as any colour), and blocks which continually change. The best special block though is one which, for a short period of time, changes all the blocks to the same colour allowing you to rush for a quick clearance and chain bonus.

What really elevates the title is its presentation. The theme of electricity is constant through the design and the blocks glow with neon colour, the electrical lines drawn to connect them fizz satisfyingly and the sound track gives off an industrial electro vibe. This keeps the adrenaline pumping and the enjoyment high. When everything starts working together it creates a real state of flow that’s hard to match in many other puzzle games and gives a real gravity and impact to the game.

Adding to the competitive side of the title are online leader boards and in game trophies. When you start a new game the name of the person who has the score directly above you is plastered right in the middle of the screen for a few seconds. This adds to the ever growing reasons to keep coming back for just one more go. 

There is one problem that could do with being addressed though. The game doesn’t contain any sort of colour blind filter or way of identifying blocks in any way other than the colour they are. This won’t be a problem for most of you but for some it means high scores will remain permanently out of reach. It only really comes into play with the yellow and green blocks - which are near indistinguishable to someone with partial colour-blindness. It isn’t enough to ruin the game but it does become incredibly annoying at higher levels when speed is everything. The addition of some kind of symbol for the colours would be most welcome if it could be implemented in the future.

Overall though, SURGE is another example of Future Lab making us expect more from our mobile games. This is a cut above almost all other mobile device games in terms of presentation and is another utterly essential game for those that want something they can play on the move. The studio seems to move effortlessly from strength to strength and we look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

8/10

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Review (DS)


Following on from the excellent Aria of Sorrow comes the next imaginatively named chapter in the Castlevania story. The title continues the tale of High school student Soma Cruz as he is drawn to a mysterious village to try and stop an evil cult from resurrecting Dracula. The story may not be original but then this Is Castlevania and as the plot has stayed the same since the days of the 8-bit era it would seem a shame to break tradition now.

Aria of Sorrow showed a number of small steps away from the 'classic' Castlevania mould and these departures are continued here. Once again Soma can use any number of weapons to defeat the hordes of beasts rather than being restricted to the vampire slaying whip of the Belmont clan (though a member of the Belmont family is also investigating the village).

Another departure is the gradual change in both music and graphical feel of previous titles. Aria started it with hints of Neo punk overtures. Here the style is integrated a little more into the games structure. This most noticeably with Soma himself being portrayed in a long white coat and looking like a standard Anime hero during cut scenes. The music has also taken on a more Japanese synth feel to it, which, while not unpleasant and expertly composed, does not have the same power to conjure an atmosphere as the elegant chords of something like Castlevania IV.

Dawn of Sorrow may not be classic Castlevania in the strict sense of the word but that does not mean that the game is anything short of remarkable for fans of the series. After calling for Konami to try and make the player feel they are exploring more than simply another castle for the hundredth time we are pleased to see a fresher approach to the game area. For instance, Soma starts out on the outskirts of a village and only a few screens in do we reach the Castle. Even when inside the variety in graphics makes the game world a much more varied place to explore than the last few titles.

Soma himself handles like a dream. There is a certain grace and smoothness about movement in the game- a good thing as enemies do their best to come at you from awkward heights. After three games on the GBA and Symphony of the Night on the Playstation it seems the control system has been refined to near perfection. As classic as it is, Symphony of the Night was a little sluggish and awkward when you needed to react quickly. Soma is far more flexible and agile meaning quick reactions should see you safe from harm.

Making a welcome return from Aria of Sorrow is the Soul capturing ability. Any Enemy Soma kills may release a soul orb that will grant him an extra power. These range from throwing weapons, stat enhancements or the ability to summon monsters and allow the player to find a balance that suits them. The only problem is that collecting souls is all down to chance. This means that while one player may pick up powerful souls early on, someone less lucky may have to struggle through without them.

Boss battles are suitably grand and imaginative affairs. Creatures are huge and foreboding giving a sense of achievement when they bite the dust. They also bring into play the somewhat pointless use of the DS stylus- with players needing to quickly draw a magic seal once the monster has been pounded to the brink of death. Failure to draw the seal in time leads to the boss gaining a small amount of health back and the battle continuing.

Castlevania DS falls is a strange thing. There is very little to pick fault with here and there is certainly nothing you could describe as bad design. However, this is the Fifth version of the non-linear Castlevania series and there really is only so much wandering around a map you can do before you start playing on instinct and memory rather than finding yourself experiencing anything truly new and exhilarating. The game itself is a great title but we can't help wondering how many more times players can be sent around a castle before they start living in a permanent case of De Ja Vu.

Overall Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a stunningly made title; yes it may be 'castles' again. But there is no questioning that this is the best handheld version of the series and arguably the best of the non-linear series (yes arguably even better than Symphony). The Idea as a whole may be heading closer to cliche but once you actually start playing it is nigh on impossible not to feel the Castlevania magic take you over. A must for fans and one of the DS's most accomplished titles.

8/10

Monday, 17 December 2012

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Review (GBA)


Set in the year 2035, Dracula has been completely destroyed and his castle imprisoned in a solar eclipse meaning he cannot reform. The Belmont family have long stopped waiting for his return and disappeared into history (until Dawn of Sorrow).

Enter Soma Cruz who, along with his girlfriend, is mystically transported inside the eclipse. Here a new threat is awakening, as Dracula's powers will soon begin to burn in the heart of an heir. Aria of Sorrow marks a change in style for the Castlevania series; both in terms of look and play mechanics. Long gone is the medieval Gothic feel. Instead characters lean towards a much more Japanese cyberpunk style, all androgynous men and long white hair, far from the headband wearing valiant knights of yesteryear.

The new Japanese style works brilliantly to reinvigorate the mood of the series. There is also a move back to Symphony of the Nights multiple weapons. Furthermore as the adventure unravels Soma begins to find he can absorb powers from defeated enemies. This adds a lot more depth to your play and gives yet more weapons and magic spells to be played around with.

Graphically the game is gorgeous, with ridiculous levels of detail apparent in the background art and the castles evil minions. This is the game that the developers finally realised that though big castles are meant to be dark, the Game Boy Advance does not like it. The move to cyberpunk allows a much lighter colour scheme which allows the player to see what is going on.

Soma Cruz is just about the most playable character to be found in a GBA game. He jumps, dashes, fights and flies with an ease and grace that shames most games. The excellent controls coupled with the games addictive quality will keep you pushing forward to find the next section long into the night.

Cleverly, the learning curve has been set just right. Very rarely do you find yourself in a situation where you feel overwhelmed by what you're facing. When something truly nasty is about to test you to your limits you can be sure there is a handy save room nearby. This means you never come across a boss monster with one hit point and no magic left. Everything just seems a whole lot more fair than in the previous two GBA outings.

Overall, Aria of Sorrow improves and develops upon its predecessors. Better graphics, sound, story, gameplay and style all add up to a brilliant action adventure with a touch of RPG about it.

8/10

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Retro 101's Favourite Beat'em ups Part 3: Capcom, From Alpha to Vampire

Last time we looked at how Capcom used the Marvel license to create some of the most fun and chaotic fighting games of all time. This time around we are taking a look at the most famous fighting franchise in the world (minus certain very bad games), and Capcom's, often forgotten, other fighting series.

Street Fighter 2 Turbo
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Street Fighter 2 is probably the most famous and important fighting game in the history of the industry. When it was converted to home systems for the first time it had an impact that only a handful of other games can come anywhere near to. Capcom struck gold with Street Fighter 2 and they have been bringing out new versions of it ever since.

Though there have been many different versions of the game with various differing features you will never find a better one than Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the Super Nintendo. The turbo edition allowed players to play as the four boss characters and also remixed and balanced the moves of classic combatants.

There is an argument as to if the Megadrive or SNES version of the game is better. For our money the Super Nintendo one wins hands down every time. Street Fighter 2 belongs on the Nintendo system and, fittingly, can be found very easily and cheaply in cartridge form or on the Wii Virtual Console. Whatever you do don't get the awful Live Arcade version though.


                                   Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix
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After Street Fighter 2 came Super Street Fighter 2. The new version added a further five characters which comprised of the excellent Cammy, Akuma and Fei Long and the not so good Dee Jay and T Hawk. Once again classic characters had their move sets tweaked as well. However, it is a little unbalanced if you know how to exploit it.

Though the game is available in various forms on the SNES, Megadrive, PS2, Saturn and Dreamcast, the best version by far can be found on Xbox Live Arcade for the sum of 1200 points. Here you can play the classic version or the HD Remix version which makes certain moves easier to pull off on the awful 360 pad.

The Xbox 360 version really is worth a look as serious effort has been put into sprucing up the game. The new title screen music is worth the asking price on its own.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold/Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper
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The Street Fighter Alpha series mixes characters from the Final Fight universe with classic street fighters. There are three main games in the series and numerous different versions of each with tweaks and the occasionally added character. The Alpha series also introduced numerous new techniques such as air blocking, countering and dash attacks.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold added Cammy into the mix and still holds up exceptionally well. There is something about it that just feels so right and the bright characters and backgrounds help give the game a real vibrancy. It is also the version of Alpha 2 that really got the balance of all the new features right.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper is the final version of Alpha 3 and has an absolute mass of characters to choose from. Any version of Alpha 3 is worth playing but the added characters and slight balancing of features makes this the most tactical of all the Street Fighter games.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper is one of the most flawless fighting games you will ever come across and in a real high point of an already excellent franchise. It is also, arguably, our favourite Street Fighter game ever.

You can pick up Alpha 3 on the Playstation and Dreamcast but the best version (and best place to find Alpha 2 Gold), is on the PS2 Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. Here you get all the games along with Gem fighters. However, you will have to unlock Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper by reaching the boss in the normal Alpha 3 game first.

It also has to be said that there is an absolutely stunning version of Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper on the Game Boy Advance. A marvel to behold, it's unbelievable that the development team managed to squeeze everything into it. It looks amazing as well.


                                              Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
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It took three re-workings but finally Capcom managed to make the game they were trying to. It's not really worth bothering with the first two versions of the game but 3rd Strike cannot be ignored. Characters are much bigger and the tactical elements have been refined down to a core handful. However, the one big addition is the new way of blocking.

Pushing towards your opponent just at the point they strike you will parry and leave them open for a counter attack. This creates a nerve shredding game of cat and mouse. If you want evidence of the chaos this can cause then look at one of the many videos around the net.

Many people don't get on with Street Fighter 3 and it is fairly easy to see why. Aside from a handful of characters everyone is new and unfamiliar. This means players have to learn new techniques. The character designs are also a little uninspiring and certainly not as iconic as many of the others in the series.

If you can overcome this, there is a solid and tactical fighter waiting to be found. Street Fighter 3 certainly has a little slower pace than some of the other games but it also has its own distinct personality.

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is best played on the Dreamcast. It can be a little tricky to find and the game may set you back the price of a new title but it is well worth investing in if you are a Street Fighter fan. An excellent version is also available via Xbox Live and the Playstation network.

Super/Street Fighter IV
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Street Fighter IV may be the new kid on the block but it is a master class in how to revitalise an old franchise. It's much more accessible to newcomers than the Alpha series or Street Fighter III and has had most of the complicated techniques from those games removed. Yet, it still has stupid amounts of depth and some new tricks of its own.

The new graphical style is jaw dropping and the rounds go at a breakneck speed. All the characters from the original Street Fighter 2 are included along with Cammy, Fei Long and Akuma from Super Street Fighter 2, Rose, Gen and Dan from Street Fighter Alpha 3 and several new characters.

All the characters, with the possible exception of Rose, feel right at home in their new surroundings. After you have got to grips with the style of the game and the pad it is simply impossible to put down. Add in a host of new games modes and superb online play and this really is one of the most essential games for years. The 'super' and 'arcade' versions of the game add more characters and moves for an even deeper experience.

Capcom vs. SNK Millennium Fight 2000/Capcom vs. SNK 2
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Not happy with Ryu and co mixing it up with the stars of the Marvel universe, Capcom also secured a deal to have them knocking ten bells out of SNK characters as well. Capcom vs. SNK 1 and 2 are very different games and both are worth a look as they use significantly different control schemes. The list of characters in each also varies widely.

Capcom vs. SNK Millennium Fight 2000 uses the four button system found in most SNK beat'em fighters. Characters only have a light and heavy attack which makes for a much faster paced and less tactical game. This is fine as the vs. series has always been about arcade style fighting.

In this respect Capcom vs. SNK can't really be faulted. The music and sound effects do an amazing job of creating an adrenaline fuelled game and it is incredibly hard to put down. Fights don't last long but they are chaotic, full on and filled with pyrotechnics.

Capcom vs. SNK 2 uses the six button control scheme found in most Capcom fighting games. It also adds characters from the Samurai Shodown and the Last Blade universe and greatly expands the character roster. You can also choose a number of different special bars and styles to suit how you want to play.

The game is massively unbalanced though. Mixing just about every different game from the Capcom and SNK universe creates some characters that simply don't fit together. Furthermore, the SNK characters feel far more uncomfortable with six button controls than the Capcom ones do with four.

Though a touch uneven and messy Capcom vs. SNK 2 is still good fun and well worth picking up for fans. Capcom vs. SNK Millennium Fight 2000 is best found on the Dreamcast. Capcom vs. SNK 2 only made it to pal territories on the PS2 and can still be found if you keep your eyes open.

Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service
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The Vampire Chronicle series, otherwise known as Dark Stalkers, basically takes the Street Fighter template and puts zombies, were-wolves and vampires in the place of Ryu and his fellow fighters. The games may not have the same sort of appeal as the main Street Fighter series but they are undoubtedly good fun and well put together.

The long running franchise culminated in this little oddity on the Dreamcast. Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service is basically a compilation of all the versions of all the characters from the series. This means that if you like a character in his incarnation in the second game of the series then you can pick that version. This idea was later used by Capcom for the Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting Anthology on the PS2.

Originally, the game let you play online using the Dreamcast's wonderfully innovative service. Obviously, that part of the game is now long gone but it remains a very special fighter in it's own right.

There are an awful lot of bad versions of various Vampire Chronicle games around. It's best to avoid the PSP game and anything on the Playstation. This means that you will either need to import a game for the Saturn (We recommend Vampire Saviour), or get hold of the exceedingly rare Dreamcast game which was only ever given away to members of Club Sega in Japan. An HD remake is set to appear very soon so it may be worth holding out for that.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Cruise for a Corpse (PC Review)


We love point-and-click adventures here at Retro101. Even though we've completed these games many times over, we're always compelled to go back and experience them again and again. Unfortunately some games receive less attention than the others, perhaps a brief go on a cover disk demo many years ago failed to capture our imagination, or our busy gaming schedules left some titles out in the cold. Cruise for a Corpse is one such title I'd never given much attention to. However, after playing it recently, I couldn't quite figure out why.

You play as Detective Raoul Desentier, who is invited on a cruise by wealthy businessman Niklos Karaboudjan. On the second day Niklos is murdered, and it's your job to find the culprit. Every passenger aboard has their reasons for killing the host, so you have to search for clues, ask questions and use your skills of deduction to solve the mystery.

Based on that summary, chances are you will have decided whether you're going to like this game or not. It's a title aimed at a more adult audience than most other adventures, and will no doubt appeal more to fans of Christie's Poirot novels, but we ask you give it a chance. If you do, you'll find a game which requires plenty of concentration, memory, and more than a little patience.

Upon release, Cruise stood out from other titles in the genre due to its good looks and streamlined control system. A click of the right mouse button brings up your inventory, and by clicking on an item you can carry out an item-specific action. Lucas Arts used a more refined system in some of their post Monkey Island 2 classics. The lack of verbs filling a third of the screen allowed the graphics more breathing room, which is a good thing as the characters are pretty huge.

The rotoscoping technique from Another World (and later, Flashback) was employed here, yet felt nowhere near as smooth. The adventure genre isn't always renowned for its fast moving gameplay, but Cruise can, at times, really push the player's patience. On investigating one room, Desentier knelt down to pull out a suitcase, then stood up. Then he knelt down to open the suitcase, and stood up. Then, to put the case back, he – yep, you guessed it – knelt down again. The fact you have to wait for the animations to finish their cycle can grate a little, yet the game allows you to travel around the ship by using a map instead of walking, which is a nice touch.

Another positive feature to the game is the clock. After you've found some crucial information, the clock will appear onscreen and advance by ten or twenty minutes. It's a good way of telling you you're making progress, and also suggests the other passengers have moved around the ship, allowing you to investigate rooms without hindrance. So, Cruise for a Corpse is worth playing. Just keep in mind you will need to be patient and accepting of its flaws.

I advise you to keep a notepad and pen with you, as the questions you ask people keep growing and growing, and you may get to a point where you can't remember who's been asked what. It's also advised to check areas previously investigated, as items often appear from nowhere, as your line of questioning triggers a key object in solving the case. It's not a game for everyone, but those who do make it to the end of the cruise, will be glad they did.

Written by Dan Gill

7/10

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Alien 3 Level Codes (SNES)

Here are some level codes for the excellent Alien 3 on Super Nintendo.

Level 2 - Question
Level 3 - Mastered
Level 4 - Motorway
Level 5 - Cabinets
Level 6 - Squirrel
Level 7 - Overgame

Monday, 3 December 2012

Future Wars Review (PC)


Future Wars was the first of Delphine's games to use the cinematique engine. This would later be used in a number of other point and click adventures, as well as being adapted for classic game Another World. The game follows a curious window cleaner who discovers a time travelling machine in his boss' office. The machine sends you into the past and future and along the way some evil aliens turn up for good measure.

As interesting as the setting is the controls really are irritating. Right clicking on the mouse brings up a panel with various options such as examine, talk and use. You select the one you want and then move the cursor over the place you want to use it. Those brought up on the later Scumm engine games, such as Monkey Island, may struggle here. Having to press examine every time you want to see something really is a chore. It seems mad now after the Scumm engine that simply highlights what something is without any need for button pushes. We shouldn't forget though that Lucas Arts titles Zak Mckraken, Loom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade all worked in a similar way.

Adding to the frustration is the fact many of the items appear as a couple of vague coloured dots on the screen. Only when highlighted do they reveal themselves to be flags and pieces of paper. This means many players will be completely oblivious to objects that they need to collect. You can click examine and move it around the screen, but often you need to hit an exact pixel to activate the description. When you theoretically (unless you are looking at a guide), don't know if there's an object on the screen or not it becomes an exercise in frustration.

When you do get a run of puzzles solved it does move at a nice pace. The worlds are well drawn and contain a fair amount of character. You can certainly see some of the graphical style in later Delphine games as well. Aside from this though it is hard to recommend the game to first time players. Most gamers will be completely lost and frustrated due to the archaic control system. Future Wars may well have the set the blueprint for things to come, but there is little reason to go back to it now.

5/10

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Retro 101's 7 Days of Ebay Challenge


Take a look at our 7 days of Ebay challenge feature then try it yourself.

Let us know how you get on!

The Rules -

1. Auctions must end within the 7 days.
2. Maximum spend of £40 or equivalent currency.
3. No Buy It Now auctions!

Have fun.

Retro101 Returns !

It’s taken a while but Retro 101 is back and better than ever.

A new website and a host of new designs are giving Retro 101 a much needed shake up. The website is now much more flexible and allows articles to be published much more quickly and thus give you that nostalgic buzz more often. A host of new graphics created by talented young designers have also added a much needed identity for us.

The new look site is also integrated with YouTube. Here we will upload gameplay and retro video reviews so newcomers and retrobates alike can discover something new or enjoy games they used to play in a more visual way.

Keeping in touch with us has also never been easier. Our dedicated Twitter can be found at @retro101uk and you can also subscribe to the website via blogger, email or through RSS feeds.

Whichever way you want your retro gaming buzz Retro 101 should have it covered. So explore the sites, comment, follow, subscribe and get involved with a great community that loves retro games just as much as you do.

Gareth Chappell
Retro 101 Head Editor

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cobra Triangle Review (NES)


As far as we can tell there is very little in the way of plot that surrounds Cobra Triangle. For some reason there is a bloke in a boat who shoots things, but this is the NES, a more simple time when it was all about gameplay.

Developed by Rare, the game is set across a number of levels, each of which is different from the last. One level may have you simply racing to the finish, whilst another could involve removing mines, saving drowning people, jumping waterfalls, going through an assault course or even taking on a huge sea monster in a titanic life or death battle. Variety is definitely the name of the game and it's this that helps to excel the title to gaming greatness.

Graphically, this certainly isn't the prettiest of games. The boat is a triangle shape coloured in with two colours, the backgrounds fair little better mainly consisting of blue for the water and green for the land. It's animated well with the boat tipping up at the back depending how fast you are going and boss monsters being suitably large and imposing.

Importantly though, everything moves along at a high rate and slowdown never once appears to ruin the gameplay. biggest problem is flickering, which is apparent a little more than it should be, this is mainly because in certain areas there is so much on screen and it moves very quickly. Flickering aside, the game holds up pretty well.

The game may look a touch drab but the boat is superbly controllable and allows you to make near handbrake turns and other manouvers with ease. This is essential to the gameplay as the pace never lets up from start to finish. Furthermore, every level really feels like something fresh - meaning you never get bored of just doing the same thing over and over again and you look forward to seeing what the next level will bring. This element helps make the game highly addictive.

Overall, Cobra Triangle is a stunning game. Graphically its certainly not amazing, but they do the job and it allows the gameplay to really shine. Upon release it was mostly ignored by the gaming public, mainly due to poor coverage from magazines - this is probably why it was never remade for the new consoles. In years to come it would be great to see a remake as this has all the style, and a lot more originality than most retro franchises. It stands as another example of why Rare were the hottest property around back in the gaming golden age.

9/10

Monday, 26 November 2012

Dark Chronicle Review (PS2)


Set in a mythical world, Dark Chronicle has an original, if slightly strange, storyline. The tale goes that on the edge of a dying world sits the town of Palm Brinks. Unknown to the inhabitants, this is the last surviving settlement on the planet. With the gates of the town permanently shut and the train station unused for years, the residents go about their carefree lives not knowing (or even caring to know) what goes on outside of their own idyllic existence.

The only people who enter or leave the district are a group of circus performers who, unbeknownst to all, are really the servants of an evil overlord who has travelled back in time to destroy those places which constitute a threat to him in the future. Indeed he has spared the town of Palm Brinks because it holds an item which he and his servants simply cannot find. Enter Max, who discovers that the amulet which hangs around his neck is this very item that the evil one is looking for - thus begins the ever twisting and turning tale that is Dark Chronicle.

Presented to us as a realtime adventure game, the bulk of your time is spent searching randomly generated dungeons whilst collecting all manner of items and materials in the process. However, to say that Dark Chronicle is simply a realtime adventure is selling the title short of the large amounts of features and depth that it contains. As well as numerous mini-games, players can design new weaponry, make inventions, take photographs, fish, and engage in a sort of fantasy-based Sim City affair whereby new towns are created to repopulate the arid world.

There is no denying that, in the right hands, cel-shading can be an effective visual tool. Luckily, the developers (Level 5), have managed to apply this cel styling with glorious, often breathtaking results. Whether in cutscenes or in-game, the look of characters and their environment is always of exceptional quality - so much so that it is near-impossible to imagine this game looking any other way. Far from the overtly bright colour palette of Zelda on the GameCube, Dark Chronicle expresses itself in a much more subtle manner - with a somewhat earthy and industrial look (perhaps mimicking a cel-shaded Ico, if you will). The graphical style fits in well with the gimmick of the game - that being to build things. Weapons, inventions and towns can be made out of the many things you come across while exploring dungeons.

In order to build up and transform weapons, objects must be broken down to their residual parts, then added to your existing tool of choice. By using this procedure, several differing types of weapons with a wide range of effects can be created with relative ease. Creating buildings and objects to place in new towns is even easier - you simply hunt around for a 'Geo sphere', which then adds information on what materials are needed to create the object. From there it is just a case of finding whatever is needed and placing your new creation on the screen.

Inventing new things however, requires the player to think a lot more laterally than you might expect. First of all, Max must take pictures of objects such as crates, pipes, belts or anything else that may give him an inventive notion. These photographs are kept in your idea book, and from there you must pick a selection of pictures that you believe could be combined in order to make something new. Max will then try to create it - though more often than not he will not be able to think of anything useful to make.

In order to create things, you will need to search the many dungeons on offer while opening treasure chests and fighting off a wide range of monsters and machines. In contrast with the somewhat complicated inventing process, the controls for the adventuring sections of the game are of the 'simple yet effective' variety. One button is used for attacking and one button for locking on to the enemy; though characters do use two weapons for fighting, this is easily catered for by simply holding down L1 when pressing the attack button to hit with your off-hand - all very effective, meaning players can easily engage in battles without fear of being defeated by the controls.

However, Dark Chronicle contains a number of undeniable faults. Most of these concern the random generation of the dungeons. While in theory this should mean that players are never faced with the same thing twice (giving a constantly new experience), in practice it works in completely the opposite way. What happens is that players are thrown into a dungeon created out of the same core parts and characteristics of each chapter. This isn't really a problem in areas where there aren't a huge amount of dungeons to get through, but certain sections of the game present you with massive amounts of levels in order to progress. After you have seen the same graphical features of a chapter adorned with the same enemies for the seventh or eight time, you really don't care that the level is laid out differently from the last one.

Furthermore, the random placement of monsters within random dungeons means that there is no noticeable difficulty curve. Instead you could be faced with almost unbeatable odds only a few dungeons into a stage, then plain sailing over the final stages. This leads to more frustration as your characters can be unprepared for what they are going to face, leading to death after death with very little the player can realistically do about it.

Problems aside though, Dark Chronicle is a truly captivating game. A great story coupled with decent controls, features and more extra bits than anyone could ever think of. While occasionally there is an awful lot to take in, you are never without something new to do. While the dungeons could have been implemented better, it's only a minor point and doesn't take away too much from what is an essential purchase for anyone who thinks they know what a good adventure game is. In time, Dark Chronicle may well be regarded as a classic example of the genre



Thursday, 22 November 2012

Breath of Fire Review (Gameboy Advance)


Over the years, the Breath of Fire series has always managed to be overshadowed by some other title. On the Super Nintendo, Breath of Fire 1 & 2 were overlooked through a combination of Western RPG apathy and the emergence of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Later, on the PSone, things were much the same. Breath of Fire 3 launched to critical acclaim, but few people would look outside of their Final Fantasy 'comfort' zones - so it was inevitable that when the fourth instalment of the series arrived, many more would fail to acknowledge it. The Game Boy Advance now offers players another chance to sample one of the most magical adventures ever made.

The story surrounding the first game in the series (and which may appear a little fragmented if you weren't paying attention) is a magical yarn that helps to pull you in, and really makes you care about what is happening to the world. It starts when our hero Ryu is rushed from a burning building, with the story of a prophecy ringing in his ears. The great thing about Breath of Fire is that very little of the story is disclosed, with Ryu not having a clue what is happening, but gradually uncovering small pieces of information as the adventure unfolds.

Scripting is first-class, with twists and turns that always keep you guessing until the very last battle. The action is presented in a typical turn-based adventure style. Most of the time you'll walk around the map screen engaging in random battles; it then switches to the battle screen where you can choose your commands - standard fare for anyone who is familiar with turn-based RPGs. The action breaks down into a fairly simple scheme- go to a village and talk to people, then go to the cause of that village's problem and enter a tower or dungeon. Kill a big monster at the end, gain some new skill that allows you to enter the next area, and so on until you finish the game.

Although the way things are done is fairly straightforward, the magical setting makes you push on to see the next part of the story. Graphically, while designed for the Super Nintendo, everything is perfectly acceptable. Sprites have been polished to make them sharper, but apart from that things are kept fairly simple. This is in no way a bad thing however. Far from being just functional, the graphics help to give the game a unique look that sets it apart from other role-playing games.

Characters constructed out of limited colour palettes are bright and vibrant, with well-animated movements. When exploring, it is easy to tell where you are in the world as no two areas look the same (and also contain different enemies). Over the years we have played a lot of RPGs, and every now and then one of them tries to do something a bit different - or so we thought. Let us bring your attention to the Playstation 2 game, Final Fantasy X, hailed upon release for the way in which battles were made more flexible by being able to switch characters in the middle of a fight. Well, guess what? You can do that in Breath of Fire too, and this game originally came out in the early-Nineties (and Dragon Quest games were arguably doing it even earlier).

The title has more innovative touches than possibly any other single RPG. As well as the tagging system 'borrowed' by FFX, all the characters in your party gain experience at the same level. This means that while in other games characters outside of your main party remain weak, in Breath of Fire you can switch characters without fearing they will not be able to cope with enemies. Characters also have a number of individual actions available to them - find an object for Gobi for instance and you can travel around underwater inside a big fish- with doing so meaning you will not be attacked, letting players explore areas without fear of constant random battles. Furthermore, when Mina reaches a certain level she can warp the party to any town you have visited - this is positively a breath of fresh air.

It allows players to freely explore without needing to worry if they will make it back to safety when weak. These are just a few of the extremely helpful features that the game offers, thus easing frustration and aiding progress. In terms of difficulty, the game is well-structured with a near-extraordinary understanding of both pace and learning requirements. To start with, you only have two characters to control and they are both very weak. The characters do not really know what is going on and are not aware of their true powers - thus a lot of the time enemies that appear will be too strong for you, forcing you to run instead of fight.

At first this seems like a flaw, but it is only after you have made it past the first quarter of the game that you realise it is intentional. From here, characters begin to get stronger and realise their destinies, this makes battles a lot easier. Everything is set up to merge seamlessly with the storyline and is an amazing accomplishment.

Overall, Breath of Fire is one of the finest RPGs to appear on any format. Though bettered by latter incarnations of the series, the original remains both innovative and a pure joy to play. While not the most difficult game to beat, it offers up a sturdy challenge - and when games are this long, you don't really need a Final Fantasy VIII-style level of hardcore 'comfort', do you? This title has charm, humour and an epic storyline to round it off, and if you tire of the adventuring you can even opt for fishing. How many other games can boast that? A brilliant game guaranteed to get you hooked (no pun intended).



Monday, 19 November 2012

Bangai-O Review (DS)


The poor old DS has had a bit of a dry spell of late (in terms of quality titles, anyway). While Nintendo have been focussing on improving the Wii's software library, the handheld has been left to fend for itself amid a sea of rubbish licenses and Nintendogs knockoffs.

Sure, Mario & Sonic at the Olympics has eaten up the time of many a DS owner, but the quick fix gameplay and screen scrubbing left the dedicated players out in the cold. So, with a smile and arms outstretched, we welcome back developer Treasure and new title Bangai-O Spirits.

Originally Bangai-O on the N64 and Dreamcast saw you control a kid in a mecha suit (or two to be more specific). The games had you shoot the place up, collect space fruit and try to stay alive. It was pure gaming nirvana, with a mental story and explosions aplenty. Bangai-O Spirits ditches the story entirely, and concentrates on more explosions. Oh joy!

The game now lets you select whichever level you want (from a choice of 160), you just play to gain a high score and figure out the fastest way to complete them. This stripped down gaming works very well indeed. The option to choose levels works too – if something's too hard for you, just move on and return later. The fact that levels have no real difficulty curve means this option may well be utilised early on. Alternatively, you could just use your brain and force yourself to complete the stage before moving on (go on, be a man).

It's like Treasure created a bunch of levels, threw them in a hat, hurled the hat towards a wall covered in pritt stick and used a fat marker pen to write stage numbers on them while blindfolded. The thing is, it works. One easy stage after another can become stale, and sprinkling a slight difficulty spike into the mix spices things up.

Bangai-O has always been about unleashing hot rocket death and head scratching puzzling, and that balance translates nicely to the DS. Sometimes a level requires little more than shooting everything in sight with little retaliation. On other occasions you'll start a stage with a hundred rockets heading straight for you with no warning. Its here you must make use of your arsenal (such as freezing time to unleash a barrage of rockets). The different weaponry on offer makes for plenty of replay value, offering different ways to conquer a stage.

If you're the most hardcore shooter/puzzler/fruit collecting Treasure fan in the world, the levels on offer won't keep you going forever. Fortunately, Treasure has given one of the best gifts in the form of a level editor. This adds a near infinite lifespan, and hopefully a dedicated community through which to share levels will develop (they can be converted to an mp3 format).

So, with a formula barely changed, a pick up and play mindset, and the tools to prolong the experience, Bangai-O Spirits cannot be recommended enough.

9/10

Friday, 16 November 2012

Guilty Gear X2 Review (PS2)


Away from the giants of the Beat’em up genre there are very few games worth playing. Guily Gear has a cult following but this game on the PS2 deserves to be experienced by anyone who has ever thrown a fireball.

Graphically, Guilty Gear X2 is beautiful, it looks like an Anime film, from the intro to the build ups between fights, everything is geared to making you believe you are taking part in something epic. In game graphics are equally as glorious. Characters range from the slightly odd to the down right strange, with a cop who looks light a cross between a Jedi knight and a cyberpunk being the most normal and a witch with a heavy metal guitar, a bloke with a bag on his head and a guy taken over by demons being among the more unique.

However strange, it is the characters that make Guilty Gear stand out from the crowd. Each is different enough to ensure that it would take a small lifetime to master them all. This adds a more flexible approach as players can choose to stick with one of the easier to master characters or go for someone who fights differantly. With twenty characters to pick from there are enough freaks to find the perfect fighting partner for anyone.

The game plays brilliantly with all but the most damaging special moves being easy to pull off. Your characters also leap around with the energy of a Sega Zealot who has just found Panzer Dragoon Saga in his local bargain bin. What Guilty Gear X2 does is offer a whole new range of ways to fight such as a Death move which instantly kills the other character at any time in the match. If you miss the move your health and special moves bar disappears- meaning chances of winning the fight are greatly reduced.

Beyond death moves you receive other little innovations such as the ‘burst’ move that can be used to stop or start a variety of situations, a ‘dust’ button that stuns the opponent, ‘Roman Cancel’, combo sequences and countless other things you just do not get outside of a Guilty Gear X game. While the mass of moves to learn will likely put off a rookie, put in a bit of effort and you will soon find everything begins to feel like second nature.

Guilty Gear X2 is a stunning title with great graphics, sound, outstanding gameplay, characters that are innovative and a fight system that is phenomally flexible. This makes an essential game for anyone who likes a good fight.

9/10

Solstice Code (NES)

In the NES game Solstice, go to the inventory screen and press -

B, Start, Start, B, B, Start, Start, B, B Start, Start, Start, B, Start, B,B,B, Start , Start, Start, B, Start B, Start, Start, B, Start, Start, B,B Start, B, Start.

If this has been done correctly the screen will flash.

Now press select at any time to add lives and potions.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Which One Is The Red Button?

Ever noticed how gaming seems to be the only pastime left which doesn't specifically cater to anybody who may have the slightest disability? Think about it: there are world-class runners who may only have one leg, footballers who have lost some- or all- of their sight, and there have even been professional wrestlers who have lost limps. But how many gamers do you know of who would be able to play the latest titles if they'd injured a hand or lost a finger? I dare say, very few.

First of all, let me explain something about myself. Indeed technically, I have a disability (albeit a fairly small one). You see readers, I am partially colour-blind- what this means is that my brain cannot tell the difference between certain colours (for example: red, green, brown and black can all look the same, depending on various shades and tonalities etc). Now, you may think this dosen't inhibit me from enjoying or playing games- and to be honest most of the time you'd be right.  However, recently I have been coming across an ever-increasing amount of games that seem to be causing me trouble.

Let's see if you can spot the problems with the following new and retro games: Pro Evolution Soccer, Fifa, World Championship Snooker, Fear Effect, Final Fantasy VIII, Metroid Prime. Worked it out? Yes, they all require a basic appreciation for colour at some point - something that most people would never even consider a problem, and something that most developers might easily overlook. What this translates to is extreme frustration.

Imagine trying to play Championship Snooker when you can't tell the difference between the red, green and brown balls - or playing Pro Evolution and not being able to distinguish between half of the teams? Imagine not being able to play 3D platform games, as with all the colours blending together, you would fail to appreciate the depth perception? Or even not being able to tell when your handheld battery had switched from free to red. It would become a touch annoying, would it not? But I didn't plan this topic simply to moan about being half colour-blind.

Think about it: how many of you would have realised that (these) games might not be accessible to everyone? Right, now think about how many games might not be accessible to somebody with one hand. Quite a few, I'm sure you would agree.The world is full of people who have differing degrees of disabilities, and in most places (at least in the developed world), steps are taken to integrate people into society; ramps are put in place for wheelchairs, lifts are installed, even that button on the zebra crossing makes a noise when it is safe to cross. So, why not in gaming? Possibly no one has thought about it, and I'm sure that all would be required is a gentle nudge and companies would start creating peripherals flexible enough to cater for various conditions.

Surely it wouldn't be too hard to create a controller that could be used with one hand - or maybe one that could be used with different fingers? Even something that reduced the strain on ligaments would be a start. Hands up - how many people's hands start hurting after playing the 3DS or PS Vita for extended periods? It really wouldn't take too much excessive thought to iron out problems with regards to disability in gaming.

Now, maybe I'm wrong (it has been known on the odd occasion), and there are plenty of companies out there already making these sorts of peripherals, but one thing I am sure of is this: after spending the day at numerous trade shows there were a fair few exhibitions from companies who deal in gaming peripherals, but not one of them had any such prototype on show. So, even if the products are in development (or production), they may as well not be - as there is no outward exposure and therefore the mainstream world cannot easily acquire these items.

Then again, the current games market is aimed very much towards the mainstream gamer. So, could it be that companies don't produce anything that specifically caters for disabilities due to the fact that they don't see enough money in it? Who knows for sure, but in a society where capitalism reigns supreme, without a high profile - and commercially viable - market, it could very well mean that little will change in the coming years. In terms of my own issues, I can easily think of things that could be done to solve almost all of them - for example, stop using red and green as opposing choices within games. What's wrong with red and blue for a change?


This article is an updated piece on something I wrote almost ten years ago. Aside from some games now having a Red/Blue filter very little has changed.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Within a Deep Forest (PC Review)


The idea of the bedroom coder seems to be making a comeback, Services like Steam and the indy game section on Live Arcade now allows greater access for single person productions than ever before. But this happened people were still developing games on their own. The talented developer Nifflas is one of those people and arguably his most iconic game is Within a Deep Forest.

The plot revolves around an evil Doctor attempting to make a bomb that will freeze the whole world. His first attempt failed and created a sort of bouncy ball; his second attempt, however, was successful and now the clock is ticking down to doomsday. For some reason the bouncy ball takes it upon itself to save the day. Okay, the plot is thin, but it's only a means to an end.What we get is a very clever bouncing game (think Cauldron 2 and you are in the right sort of area). Starting off with one ball, you must make your way around the world solving problems and overcoming some difficult jumping sections.

There are a total of ten balls to collect, each of which has different powers such as being heavy or made out of glass - thus very fragile but able to reflect laser beams. They also all react differently to gravity. Each ball must be used to overcome different puzzles, and finding out where each one is most effective is all part of the fun.

Early levels are okay, but it's some of the later sections that are an absolute privilege to experience. Here there is some level design that truly does seem to come right from the golden age of gaming - fantastic stuff when you consider this is an indie developed game.

Another thing that really helps to make the game stand out is the stunning music. Here we have some of the most atmospheric and enchanting sounds ever. The acoustics really help lift the title to another level, and while the graphics are very clean and artistic, it is the music that simply steals the show.

Length-wise, the title can probably be completed in a few sittings and features a save feature as well as a timed run through mode. There are a fair few levels, but they are normally fairly short and rely more on a short skillful play to get through rather than endless trudging around in order to lengthen the experience. Rest assured, skill is what you will need to proceed here, as some sections of the game are very challenging and require a lot of thought to be negotiated. Frustration is kept to a minimum through the use of frequent checkpoints and the fact you can take any new ball form you find to a training area to try it out.

The title also contains a number of hidden levels to aid replay value, as once you have worked out which ball needs to be used where and managed to get through the game, there is little else to draw you back to it (except any need you may feel to try and finish it in as quick a time as possible).

It is clear a lot of care and attention has gone into the title, from the art style and wonderful music to the borderline genius level design on certain sections, not to mention and the thought and planning that has been used to work out how each of the balls reacts to the world around it. If this game was out on a commercial label, it is doubtful many people would begrudge parting with money for it. The fact that it is available for free means there is no reason at all to miss out, as here we have an absolutely brilliant game that shows that independent producers still have a very important role to play for gamers.

8/10

Within a Deep Forest can be downloaded from Here

Monday, 5 November 2012

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Review (Xbox)


For the uninitiated, The Longest Journey is one of the most highly acclaimed point and click adventures in the history of the genre. It focused on the character of April Ryan, an art student with a destiny of great importance. Set in a near future April discovered she could move between what she saw as the real world (Stark) and the realm of magic (Arcadia). Dreamfall picks up some years later with a new character Zoe Castillo.

First off, it's important to point out that not having played the first game will in no way effect your understanding of what is going on. Zoe Castillo, the first of three characters players will control throughout the adventure, knows as little as any new player would coming into the series. Thus she discovers things at the same time we do which allows everything to remain cohesive and players are not left scratching their heads.

In adventure titles such as this to reveal the plot would be to take away a large amount of the game itself so instead we will focus on the many reasons that you should buy and play it through to the finish. What Dreamfall does very well is bring things to life. Characters, worlds and storylines are all presented in such a way that players should be hooked from very early on. While there are a few slow patches to begin with, things soon become very intriguing. Dreamfall is a title that just when you think it is about to get dull it gets even more interesting, indeed if it was not for the fact that sometimes we had to sleep then there would be no reason not to have played through from beginning to end in one go.

One of the main things that bring the worlds to life is the excellent art direction that makes areas look both apt and interesting. There is certainly no generic level design here with the most ordinary of locations being presented in a way that holds the illusion that the game is set in a very unique and real world. Furthermore, the contrast between the two worlds is stunning with some of Arcadia's locations being absolutely jaw dropping.

The next move to keep players hooked is the high level of scripting and voice acting. Dreamfall, is a game that relies on large amounts of conversation and unlike many games we didn't feel the need to skip through dialogue, instead waiting to let the characters speak it rather than simply reading the subtitles. This is mainly due to the three main characters being both interesting and very likable. Most games can't manage to get one character you actually care about, but here you have three that you feel a real need to protect.

The only thing that doesn't really work is the very infrequent combat. Characters have a simple hard attack, light attack and block system and it's very rigid and slow paced. Combat happens very rarely and the few times it does it's normally a formality to dispatch your opponent in order to push the narrative forward. It may only serve as a means to not have to put a cut scene in to move the plot forward but that can't hide the fact it's still a bit ropey.

As with all adventures most of your time will be spent in conversation or solving puzzles, unlike most adventures the puzzles in dreamfall are normally quite simple affairs. The game is set up so you will never have a huge amount of items on you. Most of the time it's about sneaking in somewhere to find a key or using your mobile to hack a lock via one of the short mini games. While this may seem basic it keeps the narrative fresh and moving along at a good pace.

Dreamfall is a very important game for the adventure genre; here we have, without doubt, the best transition of an adventure title from two dimensions to three. There is none of the general silliness of Fahrenheit and the pacing and puzzle structure is much better than Broken Sword 3. If the adventure game genre is to survive this is the way to do it. For the first time (and having played the first game) we see a world that was always thought about in three dimensions and unlike Broken Sword and Monkey Island the worlds of Stark and Arcadia need to be three dimensional because they come across as fully functioning worlds. The two dimensions of The Longest Journey were always holding these worlds back, now they are alive.

We have not seen a game so enthralling for a long time and the only thing that stops it from achieving perfection is the slightly bitter feeling you may feel upon its ending (for more reasons than one). It may be a little short, but then with this amount of quality it could have been any length and people would still want more. In years to come this may be one of the titles people look back to as a moment when a genre truly evolved, for now we can only bask in its brilliance. All in all and absolute work of genius that everyone needs to play from start to finish, here's hoping the next title in the series emerges sooner rather than later.

9/10

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo Review (PC Engine CD)

The now almost mythical Castlevania title was released in 1993 on PC Engine CD. Unluckily for the west the console was dying a death in America and so the game never made it out of Japan. Legal issues also meant that it was difficult to port it to any other systems . Eventually an altered and watered down SNES version did appear but it is far from the game it should be.

This time a dark priest named Shaft sacrifices a girl in order to resurrect Dracula. Shaft wishes to control the world and knows he needs the dark lords help to fight the powers of good. The forces of evil attack Richter Belmont's Village and capture four women, including his girlfriend Annette Renard and her sister Maria. Thus the stage is set and off our hero goes to save the world.

Chi No Rondo really is a master class in level design. Each stage is unique, with most having multiple routes. The fun comes in finding the secret exits, which take you on a completely different journey to Dracula's castle. Along the way, if you look hard enough, you can rescue Maria from sacrifice. Once you have done this she becomes a playable character and brings a different approach to how levels must be tackled.

Richter handles a little different from Simon Belmont. You are no longer able to attack diagonally and the whip always stays in chain form. To compensate for the lack of whip flexibility the sub weapons you pick up can be super charged to cause massive damage across the screen. A back flip move has also been added and you will need it if you are to progress in the later levels.

The level design may be excellent but there is no escaping that this game is hardcore when it comes to difficulty. The new moves are all welcome but removing the diagonal attack can create console-smashing levels of frustration as enemies taunt you from unreachable positions.

Of course in order to play the game you are going to need to be pretty hardcore as well. It certainly isn't a player afraid of a challenge that imports a Japanese console and pays a three-figure sum for an old two-dimensional platformer. Once the new moves have been mastered it is possible to make progress but you must be patient. At least the excellent electronic orchestral score will keep you amused as you plummet to your doom continually.

It was a real travesty that a game of this quality remainws so elusive for many fans. There is a PSP port but it simply is not the same and the PSP is hardly the perfect platform to take the game to a mass audience. However, there is now an much easier way to play the game in the form of the Wii virtual console. Chi No Rondo deserves its excellent reputation and we can only hope it makes it's way onto more consoles in the future.

8/10

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review (DS)


1944, the world is filled with pain and lost souls caused by war. The agony created by this brings forth Dracula's demonic castle, which the vampire Brauner tries to utilise to destroy the human race. Step forward Jonathan Morris, who now carries the Belmont family's legendary whip and Charlotte Aulin, a tremendously powerful magician to destroy the evil menace.

What we have here is a streamlined amalgamation of all the best parts of previous Castlevania games, as well as a few highly effective new ideas. The most important of which is the ability to use two characters at the same time. Upon the press of a button, the second character can be called to aid you. Along with moving blocks and other minor tasks the duality can be used to produce one of a number of powerful combined attacks

Portrait of Ruin features an excellent compromise for fans looking for a more linear Castlevania. Dracula's castle is still there for exploration in the classic Symphony of the Night style. However the main location is somewhat smaller than before, as it contains a number of cursed portraits. Each portrait acts as an entrance to a new world, which houses the more linear elements of titles gone by.

Level design via the portraits is of an excellent standard with each of the four initial worlds following a different style. A highlight is a world set in a town turned upside down. The only small downside to the design is that you will come across four paintings near the end of the game that share the same basic structure as before, only with much tougher enemies and a slightly different graphical touch.

Boss encounters are yet another highlight in this Castlevania tour de force. They contain enough of a challenge to be approached cautiously, but none are overly harsh.  Each of the creatures are wonderfully satisfying to defeat, and require some real thought and lateral thinking in terms of magic and weapons (taking out the two evil sisters with one hit is a touch of genus, all be it a difficult one).

Main adventure aside there are a number of side quests that can be taken on which when completed give up new skills and weapons to the player. While not essential it is advisable, as certain skills such as being able to flail the whip (as seen in Castlevania IV) and the ability to attack diagonally down come in extremely handy. Everything about the game seems to have been set just right. The difficulty level is at a perfect level somewhere between Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow, which means it is challenging but fair due to the support from the second character and there is a far fairer way of dealing out skills and weapons.

Overall, it is clear that only the most rose tinted gamer would fail to agree that Portrait of Ruin is the best Castlevania game in the series for a long time. The best bits of the best games have been stuck together in one wonderful Castlevania cake. It is highly recommended to anyone who likes adventure games, and absolutely essential to Castlevania fans.

9/10

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) Video Review


A video review of the highly sought after Panzer Dragoon Saga on the Sega Saturn.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Review (PS2)


If ever there was one game to show off a love hate relationship with its fans then this is it. For a large proportion of Castlevania players this 3D adventure is just a continuation of the flawed N64 titles. For the rest us more accepting gamers Lament of Innocence is a great, if short, action adventure game.

The game starts with Leon Belmont heading into a dark castle to rescue his fiance from a vampire lord (not Dracula yet). Not ground breaking by any means but this marks the start of the Belmont family's story in the fight against evil. Once inside the fortress you have to guide Leon through five dungeons containing all sorts of ghouls and monsters.

Enemies you come across range from tiny imps and weak skeletons to hulking golems and huge boss creatures. Fighting off the hordes with your whip is a joy as Leon leaps and rolls around easily which helps you forget that the camera sometimes isn't quite where you want it. As you progress and kill monsters you learn new moves, skills and gain a number of magical spells and weapons.

A high point of the game is the excellent tone set by the graphics and sound. Each area of the castle is moody and forbidding with it's own visual style. The music pumps away with a synthetic orchestral sound and enemies whale and shuffle as they march, float and limp towards you. The game may have detractors but no one could ever accuse it of not looking and sounding like a classic Castlevania title.
The game is short, lasting between five and six hours on a first play through.

There are however, secrets to be found and once completed you can play through again with a couple of over characters (one of which is especially nice). If you are feeling brave you might even feel like venturing down to the basement for one hell of a one on one.

It really is a struggle to see where all the bad feeling comes from. Castlevania in 3D may be a step too far for many but this title has the right feel and style. Anyone out there looking to see how the Belmont story started should have no fear of stepping out of the second dimension. Above everything else this is a fun adventure that has more than enough variety in terms of dungeons and enemies to see you through to the end.

8/10

Monday, 29 October 2012

Castlevania Review (NES)


Set in 1691, the first NES Castlevania has Simon Belmont taking on the evil Dracula as he rises from the grave. Simon comes from a long line of vampire hunters who wield the magic whip ‘Vampire Killer’. He heads off into Dracula's huge castle armed with his trusty whip vowing to take down the master of Darkness once and for all.

The game is set over six incredibly difficult levels of platform slashing action. The levels do not differ a great deal and just become harder with enemies getting ridiculously tough and more precision being needed to make death defying jumps. By the time you reach the bosses later in the game expect your hair to be well and truly ripped out as Death, and then Dracula prove to be two of the hardest creatures ever seen.

Graphically the game is horrible. Looking back now all the extra detail just goes to make the screen seem cluttered and confusing, we really do not need seven different shades of brown displayed at once. The fascination with brown continues with Simon as well, giving him a very strange detached look. Animations are basic to say the least with characters consisting of two or three frames.

In terms of gameplay, Castlevania fairs better. The controls are slow and awkward but there is definitely a solid game engine behind it. The main problem is that you cannot change direction in mid air which leaves no room for error when jumping. Furthermore, the whip is not the most easily used weapon. Simon can only whip forward, no diagonal or upward strikes here, which adds even more difficulty to the boss fights.

Overall Castlevania is a solid start for the franchise, though not a game that anyone other than fans will stick with. The controls are too slow, and the difficulty level is extreme to the point of madness. Criticisms aside there is some fun to be had and it is interesting to see the story unfold. However, Castlevania IV on the Super Nintendo is more or less a re-make of this. Given the choice we would always recommend you play that instead.

6/10

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Wipeout 64 Review (N64)

Now, this is an interesting game in the Wipeout franchise. As its title suggests, Wipeout 64 is an N64 exclusive, and marks the last time the series would appear on anything but a Sony console. It's also not really a sequel or a port, and it alters some things and adds others. So, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind us, let's venture down an unfamiliar path.

Set in 2098 (basic math shows us that's one year on from Wipeout 2097), on the surface, little has changed from the previous outing. The weapons remain (mostly) the same, pit lanes are still here and the general look and atmosphere returns. There are a few significant differences however. 64 marks the first use of analog control in a Wipeout game and dismisses digital control completely, there are team specific 'super' weapons such as the Energy Sphere (2097's Plasma Bolt), Cloak and Energy Drains (which would feature in later iterations).

The tracks in Wipeout 64 are modified versions of those in the previous two titles, be it a reversed version or one with other alterations. It makes the game feel like Frankenstein's monster, a chop 'n' swap mash up of the first two instalments, but with the look and feel of 2097. This is still a complete game, but some new circuits would have been nice (the only new track is Velocitar, which has to be unlocked).

The major upheavals here come in the form of challenges (such as destroying a set number of enemies), which expand the single player game significantly, and split screen multiplayer. The previous entries in the series only allowed for two player system link games, which proved unfeasible for many. Psygnosis has taken advantage of the N64's four controller ports, allowing four player split screen (this is the only game in the series to do so), which makes it stand out from its forebears. It's not bad, either. The major problem is with pop-up and a slow frame rate, but the gameplay itself still stands out. Get three like minded friends round and an entire afternoon can be lost.

In moving Wipeout from its natural home, Psygnosis has managed to retain much of the style and playability of the first two games. A few concessions have been made due to the storage media and the music takes one for the team. While the tunes are still great, hearing a couple of segments from Bang On! looped over and over again can grate. The graphics have the blurry filter of most N64 titles, but still look as good as before (bar some awful looking explosions), and provide a gritty alternative to Nintendo's own brightly coloured F-Zero X.

It would be fair to say that Wipeout 64 is the black sheep of the family – Nintendo exclusive, four player mode, remixed circuits – but it is distinctive. Being marketed to a Wipeout starved Nintendo audience it does its job very well. For existing fans of the series it offers multiplayer and challenge modes not found elsewhere and as is essential.

8/10

Written by Dan Gill

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Wipeout 2097 Review (Playstation)

There's no doubting the impact made by the original Wipeout on its release. The trendy design and cutting edge music (at the time) created a tempting package, but the gameplay itself just needed more refinement. Thankfully, Psygnosis realised this and created a truly amazing sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, we present Wipeout 2097.

Set some forty years after the original, Wipeout 2097 (or XL for our US readers) retains much from its predecessor. The same four teams compete (and are joined by a fifth, Pirahna), the Designer's Republic are still on board for graphical embellishments, the finest dance acts of the day are on musical duties (on the PlayStation version, anyway) and the weapons are back. However, it's the various tweaks – subtle but many – that strengthened the series, and led to the Wipeout we know today.

The use of weapons in the previous game resulted in a minor inconvenience to competitors, stalling their ship and costing them time. While that was a fine tactic, it all felt a little flat. 2097 ups the combat element considerably with the addition of health bars for each ship. Once depleted, the craft is destroyed and must leave the race. A 'pit stop' at the end of each lap now has to be considered to replenish lost health, but this will cost players precious seconds and possibly a position. The more combative edge simply makes the game more fun to play. The thrill of being in second place and unleashing a missile on the ship ahead, destroying it and securing a gold medal is hard to describe.

Since the focus here is more on combat, more power ups have been added. Some return from the first game (speed boosts, shields, rockets, missiles), but the new ones, such as quake, plasma and thunder bomb provide much satisfaction when unleashed. The quake causes a wave of destruction along the track, dealing out huge damage to opponents (and looking pretty good as it does it) while the plasma shot can destroy a craft instantly, but requires practice to use effectively. The weapons and their effects add much more excitement and a slightly darker tone to the game – something built upon by the game's general aesthetic.

The tracks and surroundings are similar in design to those of the original title but have, a grimier, more dystopian feel.  From Talon's Reach, a course set in a Canadian industrial complex, to Gare D’Europa, a track fashioned from the remains of a French Metro system, the circuits often feel oppressive, and add to the violent futuristic sports stylings seen in Speedball or F Zero. Combine this with music tracks like Future Sound of London's We Have Explosive and the Chemical Brothers' Loops of Fury and you have a game that's one of a kind (at least until everyone else started to imitate it.

There is no doubting this is a huge improvement on Wipeout. The design tweaks and gameplay additions make it a better game and other reforms such as allowing your craft to graze barriers instead of stopping you dead improve it further. It's the kind of sequel you would expect – take the good stuff from the first game, iron out the creases, add some new features and spread on a layer of gloss. Psygnosis didn't rest on their laurels, they new they had to innovate to keep the franchise going, and it paid off. The only real flaw here is the lack of a two player split screen option (system link makes a return in its place), but the single player offers a challenge with single races, time trials and tournaments. ThereĆ¢€™s plenty to unlock too, such as two extra tracks, animal ships (?) and an extra weapon (the minigun, if you're wondering). It's a game that still stands up today, even with the excellent Wipeout HD available, and hopefully it will see release on the PSN soon.

9/10

Written by Dan Gill

Wipeout Review (Playstation)

There are few pivotal moments in video games, but when they arrive it feels special to be a part of it. Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy VII and GTAIII are among the titles I'd count as truly trailblazing, yet one of the more important titles in recent memory (and one to take some credit for the success of the last two on the list above) is Psygnosis' Wipeout. Seen as something of a poster boy for the PlayStation generation, it has introduced a new crowd to gaming, infiltrated nightclubs and birthed a massive Sony franchise which lives on to this day. But how does the original stand up to scrutiny so many years after its release?

Sadly, not well. As a PlayStation launch title in Europe (and the first non-Japanese game to be released on the format, fact fans), it suffers from the same problems of many games from that era – poor draw distances, ropey controls, and a lack of substance. While there's no doubting there is a game in here, what's on offer is limited. Being an amalgam of Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, Wipeout tends to focus on racing more than combat, so it would be expected that the racing is well honed and exciting.

What we actually have is oversensitive handling and a demanding challenge. This isn't a game you can just dive into and enjoy straight away and you have to play by its strict rules to get the most out of it. The learning curve for Wipeout is steep, but if you have the determination to succeed, you will reap the rewards.

Wipeout is harsh. Make that very harsh. The demands it puts on the player are high, it expects you to make few mistakes on the track. If you do, it will punish you. While replaying Wipeout for review, I found myself swerving all over the track, from barrier to barrier. Any time your craft clips the sides, you stop dead. Now I like to think of myself as a fairly decent Wipeout player, but finishing in seventh place humbled me somewhat. I realised it was merely a lack of refinement on the game's part, and that the sequels had improved on this foundation (but let's save that for another time).

However, it is a decent foundation. The basic principle of Wipeout is sound (race floating craft around futuristic tracks while shooting at other racers), it just needed a bit more playtesting. For instance, the weapons do little more than slow down your opponents, and lack any kind of excitement. It does feature a decent two player mode in the form of system link (if you can find a mate with their own PS, TV and copy of the game), the dance soundtrack and graphics fit the tone and the tracks themselves are pretty good. It just doesn't help that your craft handles with all the grace of a three-wheeled shopping trolley.

Despite all the complaints that run throughout this review, Wipeout still has its place in the annals of gaming history. It was a very important release for Sony, it ushered in a new era for gaming and it laid the groundwork for what was to come. Its problem is that it's a product of its time, and it has lost most of the magic it had upon release. Is it worth playing now? That depends on your patience.

If you have the time to dedicate yourself to a blurry, cumbersome PSOne title and can overlook its flaws, you'll get something out of it. I think it is worth owning for the completists among you, and perhaps even those who want to see where it all began. It's available to download on PlayStation Network for around £3.50, but it may be best to wait for 2097 to make its way to PSN and buy that instead.

5/10

Written by Dan Gill