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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.