Wednesday 27 March 2013

Retro 101's Top Ten Game Boy Games

Nintendo's classic system has a whole host of games worth your attention. Below are the ten games (in no particular order), we feel are the ones that every Game Boy owner should add to their collection.
Donkey Kong 94
Arguably the best game on the system is this reboot of Donkey Kong. Designed to make the most of the Super Game Boy add on it still plays brilliantly on the hand held. Tons of high quality levels await as Mario must make his way to a key needed to unlock the exit door in each level. Each area adds something new and it remains fun and inventive throughout.

Kirby’s Block Ball

Taking a simple block and ball game and adding Kirby shouldn’t have been anything special.   However, inventive level design and clever use of power ups end up creating one of the most enjoyable games on the system. Themed areas and the inclusion of enemies add another layer of fun as you fling Kirby around the screen to clear the blocks.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Essentially a Manic Miner clone, this offers some of the best reflex based platforming action on the system. Simply make your way around the single screen levels picking up all the objects while avoiding the enemies. Once all the objects have been collected you need to make it back to your time machine to move onto the next level. Some levels can be completed in seconds which makes it perfect for gaming on the move.

Super Mario Land

It may be a little basic and short but the original Mario game will have you playing through again and again. The graphics are small but still clear and the level design remains strong throughout. This game also sees our hero taking to a submarine and plane for some side scrolling shoot’em up action.

Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Though a colour version is available the original still holds its charm. Link’s Awakening is many people’s favourite Zelda game and it’s easy to see why. The dungeons are among some of the best in the series and the small island hides more magic than most bigger games can manage. Filled with great moments and characters this remains as essential now as it was upon release.

Killer Instinct

It should be terrible but against all the odds Killer Instinct is an essential title. The graphics and speed still do a good job in getting the ethos of the game across and it is surprisingly easy to control. Holding down the kick or punch buttons for different amounts of time decide whether attacks are weak, medium or strong and even the fatalities are included. This is an amazingly ambitious conversation that remains a great portable fighting game.

Pokemon Blue/Red

The first Pokemon game that started it all is still potentially one of the best in the series. It’s hard to beat the simplicity of the combat system mixed with the charm and collecting game mechanic. Building your team and taking on the gym leaders is an epic quest still worth undertaking.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

The first time Nintendo’s antihero takes centre stage is well worth the visit. Superior in many ways to Mario Land 2, the game adds new game mechanics and the ability to put on different hats to power up. There’s a ton of courses to get through and it represents a decent challenge for retro gaming fans. Good level design and inventive bosses help to keep the Mario magic going.


The first and still the best version of Tetris you can play. The repetitive tune will get into your brain and you’ll be rotating blocks in your sleep. Simply create lines of four out of different shaped blocks as they fall from the top of the screen. As the speed picks up the panic of needing a ‘long block’ intensifies to unbearable levels. As a pure gaming experience it can’t be beaten and goes to show that simplicity and a good concept is sometimes all you need.

Castlevania 2:Belmont's Revenge

The other two Castlevania Game Boy games could do with some improvement but Castlevania 2 offers up some classic platforming action. It runs smoothly and each of the initial castles can be attempted in any order with passwords also available. It may be a little basic when compared to later Castlevania games but it’s certainly up there with the first NES title.

Monday 25 March 2013

Castlevania: Mirror of Fate Review (3DS)

We are massive Castlevania fans at Retro101 so any release of a new game is treated with the excitement you would normally associate with some kind of red carpet premier. That said, we have been looking for something new in the franchise of late. We knew Mercury Steam’s take would be a little different but it was with hesitation that we ventured forth into Dracula’s castle once more.

Let’s get this out of the way from the off. This is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.

Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.

The first thing that hits you about the game is how astoundingly incredible it looks. This has to be the best looking game on the 3DS to date. The 3D effect simply blew us away. If there was any doubt about the difference the 3D component of the console could make then this is the game to show it off. The layers of depth and character it adds is simple unbelievable. When used in conjunction with the gothic comic style during the cut scenes it brings the world to life in a way never seen before.

The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. We never believed sound like this could come out of the 3DS. They are much more dramatic orchestral scores than found in classic Castelvania games and add a more serious and dramatic tone to the world. The only slight issues we found with the sound is that you need to make sure your 3DS is turned up as sometimes the softer tones can completely disappear.

The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.

Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress.  This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.

Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.

Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights - which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.

During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.

Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.

Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. Taken on its own merit we can only recommend this to 3DS owners. It’s a dark and forbidding fairy tale told with skill and it conjures an atmospheric adventure which leads into the darker, more brutal side of the Castlevania universe.


Wednesday 20 March 2013

R-Type Final Review (PS2)

Wandering along in the usual gaming daydream comfortably wondering why games seem to be getting easier and easier R-type Final appears from out of nowhere shattering the serenity. In a single moment your eyes explode as your brain melts only to dribble out of your nose. Yes ladies and gentleman, R-type Final really is that hard.

We are not wimps when it comes to the R-type series - indeed it has been known to reach the last level of Super R-type on a single life. Yet time after time we came away from an engagement with R-type Final in a state that could best be described as "beat to living hell." With this in mind the return journey into a world threatened by the Baido begins again.

From the start there is ample evidence that this game has been made by people who really care about their product. The detail and options exhibit exceptional depth. For starters there is the collection of 99 un-lockable craft, all of which are unique. Picking the right craft is essential if you are going to make any progress. Select one not suited to your style and you're in big trouble from the word go. Each of these craft can then be modified to an obsessive degree allowing R-type geeks plenty of opportunity to test out their grand designs on an unsuspecting world. A rather nice picture gallery and seemingly endless library of un-lockable information about enemies, levels and just about everything else completes the package.

After choosing a ship you are thrown right into the action - a lone warrior against the whole Baido Empire. Far from being your bog standard shooter, the R-type series always offered more of a tactical affair. Success (or failure) boils down to effectively using the Force, a pod-type attachment to your ship that is completely indestructible. The Force can be sent off to attack vulnerable parts of bosses or used as a sort of space aged battering ram come shield.

Once you come to grips with how to use the various functions of your ship you may actually get half a second to notice how lovely the levels look. Truly, there are few shoot 'em ups that bring this level of subtle colouring and mass explosions to the table. The underlying beauty of the graphics is complimented nicely by an ambient sound track that seems to try and lull the player into a near drug-induced melancholy while the action unleashes some beasts the size of an original Xbox upon you.

Bosses, when they appear (a frequent occurrence), tend to fill about two thirds of the screen, pinning you into a tiny corner. The last third of the screen is then filled with bullets, lasers and missiles. Somehow you have to dodge these and hit the boss in its weak spot over and over again - and thats just level one. However, although it's difficult, R-type Final is rarely unfair. If you are skilled enough there is nothing here that is going to kill you cheaply.

Hidden pathways through levels that open only with the completion of certain, unknown, criteria add another layer of depth to the game. It is not uncommon for each level to have three or four different versions. These are complete with different enemies and graphics to depict various stages of how far the Baido infection has taken hold. Seeing them all is yet another of the many reasons to play through the game over and over again (that is should you ever finish it in the first place).Yes, the game is hard. In fact, even with the difficulty set to very easy it will test you. But though difficult, few games offer such a feeling of exhilaration and addiction. The bug that just blew you away may have been unthreatening looking, but you can bet you'll want to go back and kill the thing. Everything about the game becomes personal and please do not attempt to play it if you have any form of heart problem.

Overall, R-type Final is the definitive version of an all-time classic. There is nothing else that could have been added to make this title feel any more complete or (pardon the pun) Final. It makes a fitting end to a great series of games, and one that should be taken-on by anybody who thinks they can play. Truly trying to beat R-type is once again the sport of gaming kings. All you need to do is take a deep breath and ask yourself, "am I truly ready for what is about to hit me?"

Monday 18 March 2013

ToeJam and Earl Review (Mega Drive)

ToeJam and Earl has you searching planet earth for missing parts of two funk aliens space ship. The title is set in a sort of top down free roaming environment, players can move around the level in any direction with the aim of finding a missing part of the space ship or the elevator that will lift you up to the next area. Along the way our dynamic aliens can pick up boxes scattered around the levels in order to find new gadgets and items to help you get past the many enemies and obstacles that will attempt to halt your progress.

Toejam and Earl has a very different look to other games on the Mega Drive. However, while the graphics are somewhat different they are also quite bland. Levels on the whole are made up of a few differing shades of green and brown to represent grass with either blue or black used to represent water or space. Furthermore, levels are fairly empty with a distinct lack of creatures present on most occasions which can lead to the aliens wandering around aimlessly for large periods of time.

While levels are somewhat plain individual characters and enemies are varied and imaginative. Among the enemies that you will come across are - hamsters in balls, mad hovering grannies, hula girls and stupid Cupid’s. This enemies are a nice break from the normal creatures inhabiting sixteen-bit titles at the time. The imaginative use of enemies helps to keep the game fresh for far longer than it otherwise would be, and somehow it makes the bland level textures fit the style of the game.

Playing the title is a strange affair as all the game really consists of is wandering around looking for things. Once the level is empty it's off to the elevator to move up to the next one. Our beloved aliens move around nicely, if a little slowly, and the presents help to keep play varied as you can use all manner of strange devices to negotiate each area. However, the game is very slow paced and some players will find things incredibly dull, while others will become caught up in the charming ambience of it all. It really is a game you have to be in the right mood to play and with most people it comes down to a case of ‘you either get it or you don’t’.

What does help to make the title stand out though are a few nice touches and innovations. First of all each level is randomly generated offering something a little different each time you play. Even more commendable is the fact that a two-player mode is present, which considering the free moving level design is a good achievement and a very welcome addition. Finally, of no real importance but fun none the less is the jam section of the game. Accessed from the title screen, it allows players to ‘get down with their bad selves’ by sort of free style mixing over one of the tunes from the game.

Overall, Toejam and Earl is both good and bad in equal measure. If you get to grips with the tone of it there is a lot of enjoyment to be had, however the pace and style of the game may well put off a lot of players as things are very slow at times. As a piece of gaming history it's definitely worth checking out as there is nothing else like it around and it is a nice example of originality from the sixteen-bit era. Like it or not the two funky aliens are good characters and though the most recent game (Toejam and Earl 3), was also a touch hit and miss it is a good thing the ‘bad mother Hubbard’s’ are still mixing it in today’s market.

(if you like the sound of the game but don't have a Megadrive you can find an HD remake on both Live Arcade and the Playstation Network)

Overall 7

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Rick Dangerous Review (Amstrad CPC)

Way back in the days just before the 8-bit consoles took over the world, one man was the hero of the gaming community. Fearless, creative, badly animated and definitely not Indiana Jones the legendary Rick Dangerous was the adventurer of the pre-Nintendo and Sega world. So looking back can the mighty Rick still cut it today?

Set across four different missions in exotic locations such as the Amazon, Egypt and Nazi Germany our hero must negotiate traps, deal with deadly natives and avoid nasty snapping dogs to achieve his goal. Each mission starts with a brief introduction then you are off into the platform adventure looking for treasure and a way out of the level.

Though the graphics are fairly basic there is still enough character and charm present to give Rick Dangerous its own unique style. Though Rick is dressed in classic adventurer clothes and equipped with the sort of hat associated with that other famous explorer - to say he is a complete copy of Dr Jones is a touch unfair, he is more of an Indiana Jones stunt double if you will.

Levels are well coloured and distinctly different from one another, a great achievement considering the limited power of the Amstrad. There is also little or no slowdown and only a touch of flickering meaning the difficulty comes from the enemies and traps rather than any noticeable technical fault. What helps give the game a real sense of personality is the little graphical touches. One example is Rick always having a smile on his face.

Gameplay wise there are a lot of things that lift the title above similar games of the time. Most notably, Rick has three different weapons to choose from. As well as a six shot pistol and several sticks of dynamite you have the use of a stick which you can use to hit natives other the head and press the odd button with. The weapons are more tactical than they first appear. One example is near the end of the Egypt level where you may think shooting all the enemies is a good idea. However, if you use up all your bullets there is no way to activate certain buttons later on, meaning you always have to try and conserve your ammunition for what may lie ahead.

Overall, Rick Dangerous is an example of a good game from years past. The only thing that really lets the game down is the insane difficulty level. Though the game has dated a little it still holds a lot of charm and is one to look back on with fond memories, anyone new to the title and put off by the difficulty may wonder what the fuss is about however.


Monday 11 March 2013

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon Review (Xbox)

Broken Sword 3 follows on from the story of Shadow of the Templars, and apart from the occasional aside forgets about the second title. This time the plot revolves around mystical ‘ley lines’ and an evil man named Susaro. Throw in a few Neo-Templars, some characters from the previous title, and a strange monk that keeps appearing and electrocuting people, and the stage is set for George and Nico to once again save the world.

In a way, the original Broken Sword both escalated and killed off the point-and-click adventure. After 1996 the genre has struggled to recapture the magic of earlier titles. Clearly, if anything was going to survive, an evolution was needed. Escape from Monkey Island and Grim Fandango both tried new approaches, but the mainstream public were largely uninterested. Broken Sword 3 arrived with promises of revolutionary gameplay that would send the genre to a new level.

Everything is now presented in three dimensions, with four action-specific buttons at the bottom-right of the screen used to interact with your surroundings. Anything that can be interacted with causes them to light up. Pressing the relevant button will then see either George or Nico carry out the relevant action.

Along with the new interactive element, there are a couple of other tricks on show. For instance, on rare occasions quick time events will occur which require the player to press whichever button is displayed on the screen. The other, far more overused idea is the box shifting puzzle. While these are relatively simple, it becomes farcical when you turn corners in ancient locations only to see several boxes laid out neatly.

It is clear from the start that Broken Sword 3 is not going to appeal to everyone. The game can move at a slow pace, with some sections almost completely conversation based. Luckily, the scripting is absolutely first-class, at least whenever George is the character. Unfortunately, much like Broken Sword 2, Nico's sections can drag.

When all is said and done, Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is basically an interactive novel. There are sections which consist of constantly walking back and forth talking to people, the puzzles may not be as great in parts as before, and yes, there are too many block puzzles. But we seriously can’t imagine anyone not having a good time with the game. The story is strong, scripting is well-done and characters are likable. If you enjoy a good adventure game or are a fan of the series, this should be enough to keep you happy. Don't expect to play it on Xbox 360 though, as the game hasn't been patched.


Friday 8 March 2013

F-Zero AX Code

You may have heard that those of you lucky enough to own F-Zero GX have had the arcade exclusive version locked away on it all this time. Known as F-Zero AX, it can be accessed using an Action Replay and contains exclusive tracks and events.

The PAL code is -


The NTSC code is -


Wednesday 6 March 2013

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Review (NES)

Set one hundred years before the first NES Castlevania, this adventure follows Trevor Belmont along with Alucard, Sypha Belnades and Grant Danasty as they head into Dracula’s castle intent on sending the master of darkness back to the grave. Dracula had been prematurely awakened by his occult followers in Romania causing the evil one to reappear and lust after the thought of both destroying the Belmont family and turning the world to evil.

Moving back to the style of the original Castlevania game all the role-play elements, exploring and levelling up have been removed in favour of a more standard hack and slash platform adventure. However, there are a few things that make Castlevania 3 stand out from the crowd. First of all there are multiple routes through the game, often with the player needing to choose which path to journey down in order to continue. Furthermore, Trevor is not the only character with three others, each offering their own styles, on hand to join the fight.

While the new elements add to the game you can't get away from the fact that is represents a missed opportunity to build on Simon's Quest. While basic whipping action is good you do begin to get the feeling this is just a remake of Castlevania with a few cosmetic touches thrown in for good measure. Graphically, though containing larger characters than Simon's Quest the graphics are in fact worse. Characters are made out of a very basic colour scheme and often clash with their surroundings, Sypha Belnades showing the least imagination being made out of one colour outlined in black with about three different animations, very poor indeed.

However, it is still clear what is happening on the screen and unlike the original, monsters do not seem to disappear into the scenery due to over detailed, clashing backgrounds. Gameplay does show improvements from Castlevania with characters being more responsive and the whole game moving at a much better pace, slowdown and flickering are also a thing of the past. Saying that though jumping still being far too awkward and there is a lack of maneuverability when you need it most which makes boss battles much harder than they need to be.

Overall Castlevania 3 is a good game, being that it improves on the solid game engine apparent in the first title. However, not building on the innovation to found in the second game is a crime. After the second installment the game seems to lack a depth and character that really shouldn't be that hard to Implement considering the subject matter. However, to criticise the game too much takes away from the fact it is still an enjoyable hack and slash, if one that seems to build up a reputation more on the series as a whole than because of any individual gaming greatness.


Monday 4 March 2013

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest Review (NES)

Set in 1698, seven years after the original Castlevania, we find Dracula has placed a curse on his slayer Simon Belmont. The curse will gradually weaken and kill Simon meaning that when Dracula awakens once more there will be no more meddling Belmont’s to stop him.  In order to break the curse Simon must gather up the scattered parts of Dracula’s body, then resurrect and burn him, thus lifting the curse.

Castlevania II takes a different approach to the previous game. Instead of simple hack and slash levels we are now thrown into a more cultured role-play title. Simon must travel across the land collecting items and speaking to the inhabitants of villages and towns. This reveals vital information needed in order to solve the many puzzles you come across. Solving the puzzles allows you to locate where the castles are that hold Dracula's body parts, the castles must then be searched and the evil monsters that guard them defeated.

The move to a more adventure style of game suits the series very well. Simon now levels up after collecting enough experience points, while there are also numerous magical items and weapons to use against the minions of evil. To say the game is step forward from the original is a massive understatement, there is simply so much more to this than the prequel. The playing area acts as one huge maze as certain towns and castles can only be reached when various items are used in certain places. This acts to make you really think about where you are trying to get to. Furthermore, a day and night system is employed to great effect. At night monsters are a lot stronger and peaceful towns become infested with zombies, an excellent idea especially considering the subject matter.

Graphically, the game is the best looking of all the NES Castlevania games, characters though a touch small, are all excellently done and unlike in the other games never clash with their surroundings. Numerous different environments are all well represented with a wide colour palette being used to create towns, marshes and woods among others. However, slowdown and flickering are very apparent in places, especially inside castles and this detracts from what is generally a well-put together game.

Once you play the game it becomes clear that a lot of development has happened in terms of play mechanics, though you still cannot change direction while jumping the whole way you move around and fight has become so much better than the original. Climbing up stairs is no longer a matter of life and death with Simon going where you want him to, relieving a lot of the frustration that marred the previous game.

Overall, Castlevania II is an excellent adventure game and a massive progression in the series, The third installment moved back to the basic hack and slash action, which really is a missed opportunity (although the game itself is great). Simon’s Quest though is an absolute joy to play with an interesting plot and deep world to explore. Everything just seems to fit into place, even the sound is outstanding, meaning Castlevania II remains not only one of the best in the series but also one of the best adventure game of the eight bit generation.