Monday 30 November 2020

Tanglewood and Xenocrisis (Evercade Review)

While the main selling point of the Evercade has been emulated collections of software, this cartridge tries something different and has grouped together two new games made for the Sega Mega Drive. The two games could not be more different either with Tanglewood being an atmospheric platformer and Xenocrisis a top down shooter. Individually the games will set you back somewhere around £15 each so to get them together for the usual Evercade cartridge price is an attractive proposition and one that we can see the Evercade using more of in the future.

Xenocrisis is a game that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Smash TV and the Chaos Engine are the clear inspiration for one of the most intense shooters we’ve played in years. Players have to clear all monsters in a room before moving onto the next. Eventually, a boss monster will be found resulting in all hell breaking lose as you frantically avoid a storm of projectiles and roll out of the way of their often huge forms. It takes a little while to click but when it does it's pure, adrenaline fuelled gaming from the 16-bit era and it’s glorious.

There’s a basic levelling system in play as well which allows you to increase life, ammo, strength of weapons and buy extra lives by picking up dog tags from defeated enemies and rescued soldiers. It gives a reason to try and find all the secrets on each level and put yourself in danger to get hard to reach rewards and in this respect it does the job really well. We should point out that the game seemed to improve massively with the 1.3 firmware update. Before this there seemed to be a lot of missed inputs which in this type of game is pretty much fatal. Once applied though everything really stepped up a gear in terms of how the game played and was much more enjoyable.

Tanglewood is a much slower and calmer game. A puzzle platformer at heart it invokes memories of Abe’s Oddyssey, kind of. The basic premise is that you need to get your fox-like creature Nym through each stage by moving rocks, avoiding the wild life and picking up special abilities. Abilities include being able to float on air streams, slowing down time and taking control of creatures in the forest – but they only last for a limited time and require activating by rolling a little glowing creature into the correct place.

There are some rough edges here though. We found the game world felt a bit empty and the screen really could have done with being pulled back a little as it is often difficult to tell where you are jumping. Leaps of faith is one thing from the 16-bit era that we would happily leave behind. It’s also very slow in the early going and that may put some players off. Stick with it though as it does begin to come to life more after the first few levels. The whole thing looks absolutely lovely as well.

Overall, though there are only two games on this particular cartridge, this still feels like good value for money. Both games are very much worth playing and the juxtaposition between their styles means players have two very different experiences ahead of them. Both games deserve to do well on the more traditional platforms but here they serve as great evidence as to how good carefully selected indie titles can be on the Evercade.

Game Ratings

Xenocrisis 4/5

Tanglewood 4/5

Monday 23 November 2020

The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy (Evercade Review)

The story goes that once upon a time the evil wizard Zaks kidnapped Dizzy’s girlfriend Daisy, and took her to his castle in the clouds. Dizzy must now find the castle and rescue her solving puzzles along the way and engaging in some all-round platform action. For the uninitiated, Dizzy is an egg who had a great deal of success on the 8-bit computers before facing his biggest adventure in this game on consoles. They simply don’t make games like Dizzy anymore, the action is basic, but brilliant, and to finish an entire adventure is a challenge.

The idea of the game is to solve puzzles by picking up items and taking them to a place where they can be used, thus allowing you to continue on. This may sound easy but Dizzy can only carry three items at once - meaning if you miss judge what you need to take, then progression will be extremely difficult. On top of this all manner of hazards and traps will need to avoided along the way.

Graphically, Dizzy is presented in a cartoon style, big and colourful with simple, charmingly drawn characters set against decent enough backgrounds. Everything is very clear on screen with slowdown and flickering rarely occurring, even when the screen is packed. The landscapes in the game vary from woods and towns to underground caves and sunken pirate ships - each represented in its own way and looking different from the last.

Gameplay, is both very simple and very difficult. Initially the game seems daunting, as puzzles can be obscure and it's easy to get lost if you're not careful. However, after a couple of tries you soon realise the necessary approach needed to solve puzzles and progress. Dizzy can be a difficult to control, but (like the puzzles), once you work out how far he can jump and what distance he can fall from, everything comes together. Producing a well-executed title that offers large doses of quirky platform fun.

As well as the basic platforming action there are several mini-games present such as going down a river in a barrel throwing apples at enemies. However, the most enjoyable section is where Dizzy is shooting people with a crossbow taken from a first person perspective and reminiscent of the arcade Shinobi bonus level.

Overall, Dizzy is a magical title, and while you cannot argue that it feels a little dated, it is a fine example of how great games used to be. Functional graphics, challenging puzzles and enjoyable mini-games mean that this a great slice of retro action and a strong addition to the Evercade line-up.

Overall 9/10

Monday 16 November 2020

The Oliver Twins Collection (Evercade Review)

It’s no secret that we love Dizzy here at Retro 101, so when a collection from the Oliver Twins was announced we got very excited indeed. The fact there are a selection of other games from the pairing here as well and that some of the Dizzy games are previously unreleased NES versions just helped to further our anticipation.

There are five classic Dizzy adventures on offer and they all more or less follow the same pattern of having to manoeuvre dizzy around platforms, avoid hazards and pick up objects. The objects then need to be taken to appropriate places to solve puzzles. The amount of lives you have and the amount of objects you can carry varies but at their core the five games follow the same template.

The good news is that each of the games is great fun to play. Treasure Island Dizzy is the crazily tough one, Wonderland Dizzy is the NES version of Magic Land with an Alice in Wonderland Influence. Dizzy the Adventurer is a good place for newcomers to start as a more forgiving version of Prince of the Yolk Folk and Mystery World Dizzy is the NES version of Fantasy Land Dizzy and is themed around fairy tales. The biggest and best of the games though is the Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy which takes influence from all the games in a sort of epic greatest hits adventure.

Dizzy also appears in two other titles on the collection. Panic Dizzy is unfortunately, a fairly poor puzzle (much like the home computer version), but Go Dizzy Go is an excellent maze type game. Very loosely influenced by Pacman and block pushing games it has Dizzy traversing a single screen maze avoiding enemies and picking up fruit. Once all the fruit is collected it’s on to the next level. It’s similar to Kwik Snax Dizzy on the home computers but this is by far the best version of it.

Four other Oliver Twins games also make the collection and show what they could do away from the iconic egg. Dreamworld Pogie is a spinoff featuring Dizzy’s pet mouse. This is a more traditional platform game with players traversing a linear level to reach an exit while collecting stars along the way. It’s colourful, fun and often crushingly difficult. Super Robin Hood is another platform game with players avoiding traps and taking out enemies with arrows. It’s not amazing but again, provides a solid and fun experience that will likely keep you interested long enough to finish it.

Fire Hawk and BMX Simulator round out the package. BMX Simulator is the only game here which is genuinely bad with a top down view used to display four bikes racing around a single screen track in the style of Super Off Road. It’s frustrating and not implemented in the best way and is destined to be played once before players quit out never to return.

Fire Hawk is pretty much what you would expect from an 8-bit version of Desert Strike. Here you fly a helicopter over enemy territory to complete a host missions such as rescuing POW’s or destroying buildings. It also has the added gimmick that when the helicopter goes into a descent to pick up a passenger the game switches to a first person view where you have to shoot down incoming enemies. It works well enough but is very difficult and playing it can be frustrating at times.

Overall, the Oliver Twins collection is the strongest reason to own an Evercade we have come across so far. It collates an often overlooked group of software from two industry legends and includes two games that may well have been lost to time otherwise. The main reason to own this is of course the high amount of Dizzy on show but the other games are mainly solid as well and it all adds up to a very nice cartridge that will likely stay in your Evercade for a long time. This is exactly the sort of thing we need for the console. Simply put – it’s Eggcellent.

Game Ratings

Treasure Island Dizzy                                         4/5

The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy                    5/5

Go! Dizzy Go!                                                    4/5

Dizzy The Adventurer                                        5/5

Panic Dizzy                                                        2/5

Wonderland Dizzy                                              4/5

Mystery World Dizzy                                         4/5

BMX Simulator                                                  2/5

FireHawk                                                            3/5

DreamWorld Pogie                                             4/5

 Super Robin Hood                                             3/5

Monday 9 November 2020

Interplay Collection 1 (Evercade Review)

Interplay are a company whose golden age came during the 16 bit era where innovative, fun and iconic games seemed to be spilling out of the company one after the other. The first Evercade collection from the company brings two of their most well-known characters together along with four other games in a small but interesting group.

The filler on this cartridge comes in the form of Titan and Battel Chess. Titan is a potentially interesting but slow and clunky puzzle game where you have to deflect a ball around room removing blocks. It’s a bit like Arkanoid with the twist that the reflector can be moved anywhere and the only way that you can lose a ball is if it hits one of the dangerous spots around the room. Battle Chess is a really poor rendition of chess. The whole thing moves so slowly that it becomes tiresome after only a few moves. The sequences are nothing special either and most players will leave it to gather dust very quickly.

The inclusion of Incantation is interesting as it was one of the last games released on the SNES and as such commands a crazy price to get hold of a legitimate cartridge. Unfortunately, the game itself is really quite poor with it being a very basic and simplistic platformer. That said, it’s still nice to experience something so highly sought after and offering these types of hard to get titles is a good route for the Evercade to go down in the future.

The highlight of the package is unquestionably Earthworm Jim. The character is so iconic that it spawned its own cartoon series and toy line and still remains firmly imbedded in every retro gamers mind. Apart from the severe difficult the action platformer remains a joy to play and the innovation and humour still shine through to show just why so many people fell in love with it in the first place. This is the Mega Drive version as well which means all the levels are included (as the SNES version strangely lost one).

Jim is backed up by another fairly well known oddity from the 16 bit age in Boogerman. Another game that is a touch pricey, it has our hero jumping through a snot and toilet inspired world taking out enemies by flicking boogers, belching and breaking wind. If that all sound disgusting, don’t worry it’s meant to be. The game handles a little loose compared to Earthworm Jim but there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had and like it’s slightly more iconic stable mate it just does things that little bit differently from your everyday platformer.

The package is rounded out with Clayfighter which is a 2d Street Fighter clone that takes the unusual approach of having the look of a clay made stop motion animation. At its core the action is quite generic but the look and characters help to add some charm and replay value which will probably see you dip into it every now and again.

Overall, the first Interplay collection is an easy recommendation. Earthworm Jim is a classic, Boogerman is very enjoyable and Clayfighter is a nice distraction. The novelty of Incantation is welcome as well and in terms of value you can’t get much better than this for £14.99. Getting the games on their original system would set you back an awful lot more than that. In our view it’s worth it for Earthworm Jim alone with everything else as a glorious bonus. A great collection.

Game Ratings

Earthworm Jim 5/5

Boogerman 4/5

Clay Fighter 3/5

Incantation 2/5

Titan 3/5

Battle Chess 2/5

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Hotline Miami Review (Switch)

Hotline Miami’s legacy has lasted long after initial release on the PC. A retro themed, neon trenched, blood bath, It has found favour with both gamers and critics alike. It now seems to be an ever present in the gaming world, moving from system to system as each new console releases. It has now arrived on the Nintendo Switch and is still as vibrant and frenetic to play as ever.

The game casts you in the role of Jacket. An unreliable narrator, we view the world through his eyes as he commits acts of horrific violence. Without giving too much away it’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right and you will likely spend much of your play through trying to work out exactly what is real and what isn’t and what on earth is going on.

Our anti-hero is drawn to each new location via the answering machine in his apartment. Each night a new message is left detailing a location and time. This then leads into the next level where you must choose which mask to wear and go about causing chaos and mayhem.

Viewed from a top down perspective, the game has a highly unique visual aesthetic. It’s certainly retro styled and characters and levels are built to look like this in an old eight bit game. The colours used though are often vibrant and strong. This makes things like the constant flow of blood seem to stand out and highlights just how much damage you are doing. Indeed, we can’t recall when pixelated violence looked quite so painful and disturbing.

Along with the strong visuals comes an incredible soundtrack that keeps the adrenaline pumping throughout. The film ‘Drive’ is a heavy influence and the sound certainly seems to have taken inspiration from artists who had their music on the film. Kavinsky is the heaviest influence as the beats pump and pound away while the bullets fly and bones crack.

Indeed, if it ever came out that the game was based on the Drivers untold back story it wouldn’t really seem that surprising (minus the surrealism perhaps). Although it’s very hard to tell, it seems to us that the main character in Hotline Miami is also donning the iconic white scorpion jacket, but perhaps that’s just our imagination running away with us.

Of course, all the style in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the game doesn’t work. There’s no need to worry on that count as once you get used to how the control system works it becomes almost second nature. The ‘gimmick’ as such is to chain kills together for as long as possible. In order to do this you need to move quickly. Taking a single shot or hit will also kill you and require a restart of the current stage.

There are a vast array of weapons at your disposal to deal out the death and destruction. Guns are plentiful, but firing one will alert other enemies in the level to your presence and send them charging after you. It’s often better to use a bludgeoning weapon and sneak up on enemies before dispatching them. Simply punching also works but only stuns your opponent (see also - hitting with doors or throwing a weapon) and you will then need to spend a few seconds finishing your opponent off by smashing their head repeatedly against the ground.

To aid your progress are the different masks which can be worn throughout. Some you get for completing stages while others will need to be found hidden away in the levels. These all have different properties and allow you do things such as kill with punches or kill people by bashing them with doors. Finding a mask to fit your style is all important as you will want to return to completed stages to better your time, score and overall grade. It’s incredible how much better you become at the game as you progress and stages that took ages will soon turn into a race for the biggest kill combo. Levels also never become repetitive with the layouts offering up different types of scenario to play around in. There are also more than a fair few surprises to keep you on your toes as you progress.

Each stage is set out to test not only your reactions but also your puzzle solving skills. Often gunmen overlook corridors safely from behind windows or an enemy may be sitting down and thus hiding the weapon they carry. Working out the order to take out enemies is as vital as actually trying to kill them as one wrong move and it is all over. There are variables as well and enemies don’t always patrol in the same way or carry the same weapons upon restarting after death. This means you also need to be able to think on the move in order to make it through.

The games controls do take a bit of getting used to and feel awkward to start when using handheld mode as the Switch buttons are just that little bit too spaced apart when using multiple inputs at once. As you progress things do become second nature though,

The lock on control can also be a bit fiddly. It would have perhaps been better to lock onto the enemy who is nearest to you as you can often be left firing a gun at a character two rooms away rather than the three gangsters bearing down on you. We also found the lock on cursor to be very hard to see on the handheld screen and colour blind gamers will struggle even more. A number of times we had to unlock, and lock over and again to try and work out exactly who we had targeted. These are very small flaws though and there was nothing here that prevented us from making our way through the game.

A few (mostly colour blind related), niggles aside it is no over exaggeration to say that this remains a master piece of game design. It’s hard but fair and it always leaves you wanting one more go. Aesthetically perfect it has managed to capture an ethos and moment in time and as such remains visually iconic. This remains one of the most essential games to come out on any format and is perfect for the handheld nature of the Switch.