Monday, 18 October 2021

Unmetal Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

It is surprising to me that there aren’t more send-ups of po-faced action games, and films for that matter. Indie darling Broforce was the last I can properly recall, but it was a through and through celebration of over-the-top action. Unmetal is Metal Gear done by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, and is crass and clever, vintage and innovative, and most importantly, funny.

Jesse Fox is as absurd as Solid Snake. Exaggerated, hyperactive and farcical. Kojima’s weird family of mercenaries bickering about global espionage is as unbelievable as UnMetal’s world of pompous characters and bizarre situations. The developers, UnEpic, have skewered the tactical espionage action perfectly. Fox is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and we play out the actions of his adventure while it is being discussed in an interrogation. This framing allows the gameplay to bend to this more than unreliable narrator. In-between the stealthy knocking out of guards, crafting of items (in a point-and-click style) and boss fights, Fox tells his tale to a dubious intelligence investigator. Were there piranha-men born from a botched artificial insemination procedure, lurking in the sewers? Why not. The flicking between gameplay and narration is effortlessly handled, allowing for a compelling mixture of story and action.

The gameplay is pretty challenging, often switching modes. This means that the segments of any gameplay style don’t really reach any true depth. There is little to master here, but the sheer number of ideas, pace changes and reversals means UnMetal is agile. There is a more puzzle-style challenge, even to the action. There isn’t anything you would be surprised at, level-wise, but the areas are contained and well designed. I got stuck a few times just by missing a path to travel, but most sections don’t outstay their welcome. The boss fights (presented with Street Fighter-esque title cards) break up the chapters, giving the player a sense of progression. As does the simple upgrading system, providing a small amount of player choice. The aforementioned interrogation-gameplay duality, however, provides the most effective impact. The dialogue choices made in the interview impact the action, with little discernible hint at the effects of the different lines. Some make the game harder, some easier. All are amusing.

The voice-acting is superb, sending up all the stereotypes of the genre. There is something joyful to me about people putting on gravely, gruff-man voices for this amount of time. There is dedication here. The music is tightly wound and evokes just the right feel to remind you of levels from oh-so-many titles. Aesthetically, the design just works, it falls into place to feel nostalgic, but without the drawbacks, limitations and frustrations that playing the inspiration material sometime bring.

The last time I had this much fun with a parody game was Darkside Detective, and much like that sublime title, the balance between homage and nostalgia with the subversion and innovation make this a rare gem. This is goofing off at its most elegant.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 11 October 2021

G-Darius HD Review (Switch)

We reviewed the excellent Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ recently which proved to be a stunning and very welcome addition to the wealth of side scrolling shooters out there. Now Switch gamers can take a look at something from a little further back in the long running franchise with this arcade version of G-Darius.

The most notable thing to begin with is that this game isn’t meant to be running on dual monitors like it’s more recent entry in the series so you don’t get the small screen size which proved a controversial choice for Dariusburst. The visuals are rough around the edges though, taking on the polygon heavy style of the era. There is an HD port here but in reality it barely looks any different. So, unless you are a fan of the look of the 32-bit age then this may be too much for you to bear – which is a shame as beneath the look of the thing there is one hell of a blaster here.

The core Darius mechanics are still in place with the colour orb power up system working much the same as always. The key gimmick is that players can trap enemies with a kind of electric lasso and draw them back to their ship. Depending on the enemy captured these then add things to your ship such as extra blasters or a shield. This technique can also be used to counter the boss’s energy discharges leading to big scores. It’s a simple system but one that adds options to the players arsenal while encouraging experimentation and flexibility.

General level design is of a consistently high quality and each area is varied and packed full of things to blast. At a point in each level you also get the chance to choose two different routes through the game as well meaning replay value is massively increased as it’ll take  a while to see all the different variations on offer. The bosses are of course insanely awesome as always but then this is a Darius game so what else would you expect?

Another thing of note is that the slowdown from the original game is still present here. This is somewhat controversial as on one hand you might have expected this to be removed (especially in the HD version of the game), but on the other hand this was tried in other recent versions of the game and it could certainly be argued that they suffered massively in terms of how they played because of it.

Overall, it’s always good to see classic games like this make their way to new systems and new audiences. On the other hand we can certainly see how people not familiar with the game the first time round might not get into it. It’s certainly one for fans of the series and the original as this is very much the game you remember but we wouldn’t recommend it as the place to start for those looking to get into side scrolling shooters. Especially not when Dariusburst is sitting right next to it on the eshop with its crazy array of options modes and general flash.

 

Overall 7/10


Friday, 8 October 2021

The Sega Master System Visual Compendium Review

While we have a pretty decent knowledge of all things retro there are always blind spots. Despite the fact we’ve gathered a modest Master System collection together it would be fair to say that we are far from experts when it comes to the console. This latest Bitmap Book seemed a perfect opportunity to remedy that. So with thoughts of Alex Kidd in our head it’s time to take a look back at the much underrated ‘other’ 8-bit console.

As is standard with the visual compendiums you get the usual high quality cover and slip case. This time the colour is black which means your book won’t visually match other compendiums you have but makes sense in the grander scheme of things. As usual, the cover features a host of characters from iconic games which hits the nostalgia button right from the start. The compendium also comes with a set of old style Red/Blue 3D glasses to view some of the pages with. It’s a nice touch that ties in with the Master Systems hit and miss attempts at playing with early 3D in some of its games. Sadly, we didn’t get much from the 3D effect when looking at the pages – but then this could be down to colour-blindness so your experience may differ.

The book follows the now proven route in terms of content. You get the usual excellent intro full of information to both make you an instant expert and also pique your interest into what’s to come and an excellent selection of interviews from developers and industry veterans of the time such as Mutsuhiro Fuji and Steve Hanawa. The games are mainly presented with a single, well chosen, screen shot spread over two pages with decent amount of text to give further information about the game. 

Where this book does differ from other visual compendiums we have seen is in that some games have extra sections attached to them which fold out. This normally takes the form of level maps showing a large area of the selected game. These also come with extra written content as well as an added bonus. It’s a really nice touch that makes the compendium stand out and offers up a great physical Easter egg of sorts.

Away from the individual games there is also a host of excellent pictures of Master System peripherals sprinkled throughout and some features which focus on certain parts of the catalogue such arcade games and a section dedicated to different parts of the hardware – the photographs of which are absolutely sublime. There is also a section dedicated to the box art from different regions which showcases some of the best designs of the time so get ready to look at a lot of white square covered boxes.

Perhaps most interesting though is the section dedicated to the Master System release in Brazil. This covers a lot of the regions exclusive game and gives a good insight into the history surrounding the whole operation. Just try and resist looking for those games on Ebay or you may have a small cardiac event.

Overall, The Master System Visual Compendium is up to the same high standards of Bitmap Books other releases. We felt that this book in particular gave us a real urge to go and find a lot of these games and add them to our collection. As we weren’t experts on the console in the first place we found it a great way to get a detailed overview of the interesting and diverse back catalogue and also the systems place in the market in term of historical context. We may not have known much about the life of the Master System before this but after reading through we certainly love it more than ever.


*picture taken from the Bitmap Books website.

Monday, 4 October 2021

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

Wise-crackin’ angels vaguely playing out a mangle of lesser-known Judeo-Christian texts? Sursum corda! You got it! And somehow, wherever I looked for information on El Shaddai, it was sprinkled in the risky words “cult classic”. Sadly, I simply do not see it.

This is pitched as a third-person action game (feat. Mild platforming) with some other bold claims than it’s cultish-classicism; “deeply artistic”, “outstanding aesthetics” and “exceptional setting”. Shaddai is proud of its design, and in a way, it probably still stands out after 10 years. It is “unique”, but I find it hard to apply “artistic” in the way I feel that the marketing wants me to feel about it. Stylistic might be better; it is an interesting blend of crisp, heavenly brightness with piercing colours that provide a jarring, otherworldliness, or even between-worldliness to it. In this way, Shaddai puts a lot of burden on the visual adornments to hook us in.

But it falls apart as soon as you squint past the divine rendering and play the game after a run of bargain-basement story-telling cinematics (these pop up constantly throughout the game, never once being interesting, tense, moving, funny or any such thing). You play as Enoch (quick search… ancestor of Noah… wrote a bunch of guff about demons and monsters to make ancient people (and the modern day credulous) terrified of everything) who is writing a bunch of stuff out in a bunch of books and is led by Lucifer (who has a cell-phone which he uses to smart-talk Yahweh on) to defeat seven fallen angels who have confused reality on Earth. Or something.

And I mean, or something. Because, despite the interest I personally have in the development of superstitious cults, like Christianity, this is not a compelling interpretation. Primarily, as the player never once cares about the fate of Enoch himself. He is devoid of sympathy and interest, there is no character arc to speak of. His struggles against amusingly designed enemies and bosses with his divine weapon-stick (looks like that awful company Tesla designed a Bat’Leth) are without risk. Not just in a narrative, conceptual sense either. The combat is, at best, functional. There is little to no development beyond a couple of mild combos. If you consider that Bayonetta was released two years prior to this, it really shows its weaknesses.

On the more positive side, yes, this is an interestingly designed game, and the mixture of 2D platforming into the 3rd person action is a nice idea. It never quite translates, however, going no deeper than mild changes of perspective and settings, thinking aesthetic abstraction is enough to win the day. It simply is not enough for me. For a game to not excite me that has as it’s primary game loop as hack-n-slash action, is shocking. Again, I just do not see the appeal. Neither fantastic enough, thrilling enough to inspire anything in me more than a resounding, Godly, meh.

Overall 5/10

Monday, 27 September 2021

Indie Heroes Collection 1 Review (Evercade)

While most of the Evercade carts have been collections of games from yester year the team has also dabbled with modern developers who make games for older consoles. The Mega Cats cartridge was pretty strong overall and the double cart of Xenocrisis and Tanglewood was also great. Now Blaze have gone one step further by collating a collection of games from indie and homebrew developers and it’s an interesting mixed bag.

The majority of the games on the collection are of the platform variety and range widely in quality. At the bottom end of the scale you have Ploid which is filled with reused assets, repeated rooms and slowdown. It actually plays ok but is basically an unfinished tech demo. Then we have the solid but flawed Doodle World and Foxy Land.

Doodle World has a great hand drawn visual style and gives off major Gameboy Mario land vibes. There’s a few bugs in it with some pickups not triggering and certain places can see you get stuck in a death loop until you all your lives diminish. Foxy Land starts off well but is let down by an inaccessible colour palette meaning objects like switches are difficult to see and whoever put that Monkey Boss in needs a serious word about level design.

Another in the ‘fun but flawed’ category is Debtor which is a sort of puzzle platformer. It’s great fun but there are serious issues with blind jumps that just show a lack of external testing. It’s still good but without those save states it would be a massively frustrating experience. There’s a couple of real winners on here as well though. Flea is basically the (even more), indie version of Super Meat Boy. Yet again it suffers from a strange colour palette at times but it’s consistently strong and fun throughout. Top of pile though and by far the most polished and well realised game here is Twin Dragons. This could have easily been a retail released NES game. It’s creative, fun and high quality in every aspect.

Away from the platformers there’s a host of other gems to discover. Kubo is incredibly short but it packs in a host of different game types and is a fun adventure game that you’ll likely return to from time to time. We just couldn’t help but like it. Angua, is a solid action RPG which basically involves you walking around dungeons hitting blobs and finding keys. We did get bored with it but it looks lovely and it’s a pretty accomplished experience. There’s also some filler here with Homebrew Wars a completely forgettable Smash Brothers alike and a special place in hell should be reserved for Uchusen which is the worst game we have ever played.

That’s right, Uchusen is the worst game ever. Worse than anything we played right from the Amstrad all the way up to present day. It’s a side scrolling shooter where you can’t move diagonally which has one repeated boss and about three enemies. You can complete it in under a minute. Which, to be honest, is still too long spent playing it.

Chain Break is an interesting Gameboy game where players have to run a side scrolling gauntlet avoiding obstacles and spikes. Aside from some strange scrolling it actually plays really well. It is great fun and a really inventive use of the Gameboy limitations. Deadeus, also does excellently with its Gameboy backbone producing a gripping adventure which you’ll want to continually return to as it has multiple endings. It’s dark and brooding and pretty horrific in subject matter in places but it tells an excellent story from start to finish.

The last two games are both cart highlights. Quest Arrest is a charming police based adventure running on what looks like the Pokemon engine. You get the colour version here exclusive to the cart which is nice and it sees you as a cop trying to clean up the mean streets of a town. The only down side is that combat is somewhat basic with no real change in tactics needed for the enemies. There’s a bug towards the end that resets your police points if you tackle a gang outside the bank as well but nothing that really derails the experience.

Alien Cat 2 is an awesome puzzle game where you have to make your way through a single screen maze picking up tokens before exiting through a door. It’s a well tried concept but it just works really here with a clever cloning gimmick. Again, there is a bug where one level has a missing bomb graphic but once you know where it is it’s easily avoided.

Overall, the first Indie Collection is a success. You can very much tell these are homebrew games as most of them needed better testing both in terms of how they play or in terms of bugs but that aside the majority of them are fun and creative ideas that are well realised. There’s also some real highlights here that show off serious talent. Twin Dragons and Alien Cat 2 especially are great and probably justify the purchase price alone and with a bit more refinement to combat system Quest Arrest could really be something special. There are a few duds but overall there’s a lot here to enjoy.

 

Overall -

Alien Cat 2                        4/5

Angua                                3/5

Chain Break                      4/5

Deadeus                           4/5

Debtor                              3/5

Doodle World                  3/5

Flea                                    4/5

Foxy Land                         3/5

Kubo                                  3/5

Ploid                                  2/5

Quest Arrest                    4/5

Homebrew war               2/5

Twin Dragons                  5/5

Uchusen                           1/5

Friday, 24 September 2021

Spelunky 2 Review (Switch)

So here we are. Almost ten years on from the first time that Spelunky made its way onto consoles and the sequel to one of the greatest indie games of all time is now here. Sequels to such high profile and iconic games often leave fans disappointed and you can’t get much more of a cult game than the first Spelunky. But somehow Spelunky 2 not only does not disappoint but also sparks all those glorious original Spelunky feelings once again.

For those that haven’t encountered the game before it’s a rogue-lite platformer where your progress is measured in tiny steps as you inch towards your adventuring goal. It’s possible to create a few permanent shortcuts to later levels but aside from that you are starting out with the same equipment on run one that you will be using on run one hundred.

In truth not an awful lot has changed with Spelunky 2. The aim is the same as you guide your character to the door at the bottom of each stage that sends them through to the next level while avoiding enemies and traps. The tunnel system remains pretty much the same and you are still equipped with the rope and bombs as before. The main change comes with the new environments and enemies that you encounter along with more bosses to survive.

The original mines, jungle, Ice caves and temple setup has now been replaced with more adventurous stages including lava filled volcanoes, Japanese inspired water levels and Egyptian inspired temples. There are also far more routes through the game with the final stage of each area leading to at least two different routes. There are of course the huge amount of secret areas and secrets still here that the original game was famous for as well. Stages are also far more varied in terms of enemies and look than in the original.

The game has also had a general visual upgrade. You may well not notice as it probably looks how you remember Spelunky did. But returning to the original reveals the increased use of colour, clarity and sprite size which shows the level of care and attention that has been put into it. One thing that hasn’t changed is the difficulty. Spelunky 2 is tough, perhaps even more difficult than the original and many players may well never see the later stages. If you are going in be prepared for a serious challenge.

Overall, Spelunky 2 is a welcome return for a much loved game. It’s more of the same but the levels and secrets are different enough that both games have their own identity and the sequel doesn’t simply feel like a re-tread. It’s also similar enough to the original to make hopping back and forth between them a fairly natural experience without needing to learn a load of different techniques or master a host of new skills. It’s a great achievement that Spelunky 2 still feels as special as the first and means players can happily buy both knowing a wealth of adventure options await them.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 20 September 2021

Spelunker HD Deluxe Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

I’ve a long history of digging myself into a hole, and I suspect it’s this experience which led to a code for cave-diving platformer Spelunker HD Deluxe landing in my inbox. For those who aren’t as old as me, this is a remake of Spelunker, a game released for the Atari 400/800 in 1983. It was later ported to various platforms and is something of a cult hit.

The aim is to delve into the dankest caves, unearthing treasure, avoiding pitfalls and dodging enemies on your way to the next cave, just like in the original title. And that’s the thing; this is exactly like the original game in terms of gameplay, clunky jumping and all. The tiniest error will lose a life. Yes, this is Spelunker as those of a certain vintage will remember it, albeit with some updated graphics and audio (although you can go blocky if you wish, as the original game is included). It’s a game that’s a bit janky and archaic in game design terms, so it’s worth keeping that in mind if you’re going to play it.

While the aim is to make it to the next cave, it’s worth exploring levels to find treasure to boost your score, bombs to destroy blocks, and oxygen to keep you alive. The oxygen tank can also be used to get rid of ghosts. These spectres (whose arrival is announced with a spooky howl) will glide through walls to track the player down, and with the levels being so tightly designed there’s not always a way to escape. Other cave-dwelling beasties cause trouble, and their movement patterns need to be learned so a safe path can be found. There’s a fair amount of variety in each cave, and this pushes you on to see what awaits in the next room.

A variety of gameplay modes add to the original game’s one hundred or so levels, offering competitive multiplayer, a challenge mode (which offers another few dozen levels) and an endless mode with a procedurally generated endless dungeon. This may be the toughest mode, since the base game relies much on memory as it does quick reactions. Some of the pitfalls are tough to spot when playing with the updated visuals, so you’ll need to be eagle-eyed and nimble to spot these on the fly. However, all are a nice addition, and offer more challenge for those demanding more. Whether that justifies the price of the game on the eShop is something that depends on how much mileage you can get out of it. At north of £20 for what is essentially a 38-year-old game seems a little steep. I can’t help but feel it would have been better pitched at a slightly lower price for what it is.

All in all, Spelunker HD is a solid retro platformer. It makes no concessions to modern design, and the quality-of-life features are limited to the multiplayer and endless dungeon modes. At this point you may well have decided whether the game is for you or not. Those of us who cut our teeth on tough platformers in the 80s may carry a torch for these types of game, while others are happy to have moved on to games that take it a little easier on the player (ask most adults with a family how much time they have to play games, let alone how long they have to learn its ins and outs in order to get better). Personally, I like hopping back in time to play something like this, partly for nostalgia, but also to see how it fits in to gaming history (it feels like it’s not far off the original Mario Bros’ platforming). In terms of gameplay, it feels like something of an unearthed relic itself – a little dusty, perhaps, but it cleans up well.

Overall 7/10

Friday, 17 September 2021

Prinny Presents NIS Classics Vol 1 Review (Switch)

While Disgaea has gone from strength to strength in terms of releases, a number of other NIS releases have seemingly fallen by the way side. Phantom Brave for instance has remained fairly dormant aside from a PSP and Japanese only Wii release since it first arrived on the PS2 back in 2004. With Nippon Ichi now seemingly looking to revive some of these forgotten franchises through the ‘Classics’ series gamers are getting to experience them again. As well as Phantom Brave, this collection also contains the even more obscure Soul Nomad and the World Eaters and both are well worth looking at. 

Phantom Brave follows the story of a 13 year old girl named Marona who is protected by a phantom named Ash after losing both her parents to an evil spirit some years before. Marona is a young Chroma – a sort of sword for hire, and your initial goal is for her to earn enough money to buy the island she lives on. 

The humour and art style is very much in keeping with other Nippon Ichi games though it is perhaps a little less full on than when Etna appears in Disgaea. This is a PS2 game at heart and there is little chance of disguising that. The menus now look lovely and HD but level textures look decidedly muddy, sprites are pixelated and it is hardly a graphical tour de force. That said it looks a whole lot better in handheld mode. Soul Nomad is set up in much the same way.

There’s also a bit of a clunkyness to it but on the whole the Switch controls work well for both games. Once you have got used to the controls it’s clear that Phantom Brave remains a really good game and the depth of the thing begins to come to light quite early on. It shares a fair bit with Disgaea in terms of it being a turn based RPG and in terms of classes and skills levelling but there are key differences that the game is built around. The most obvious is the fact that you no longer have the grid system and instead everything is done with range circles. This really took us some time to get used to and to be honest it seems an odd design decision that doesn’t really add anything. 

A more significant and important difference is the summoning system which is the games whole ‘thing’. Instead of lining up characters to take into battle your game will revolve around Marona summoning phantoms to aid her. Marona confines phantoms to objects which then come to life for a set period of time. For instance, if you want a tough fighter then confine them to a rock to give them strength and defence bonuses. Mages are best confined to plants as that boosts their magic ability. The options are long, complex and incredibly deep. The catch is that after a set number of turns the phantom will turn back into the original object and not be summonable again. This means that if you aren’t careful you won’t be strong enough to down the enemies and complete the level.

The range of classes you can summon is huge and then you can give them all sorts of weapons and objects as well. You can also give phantoms bonuses by confining them to objects which are receiving environmental bonuses. There’s the whole being able to pick up and throw things off the map as well but we suspect your head is already spinning enough.

If Phantom Brave isn’t hard core enough then Soul Nomad will push you that little bit further. The game revolves around the idea that your hero is bonded with this crazy super powerful being. You can draw on this beings power to overcome enemies but if you sue it too much then ‘Gig’ will overpower your body and cause chaos again.

As well as this risk/ reward element the game also focuses more on a sort of squad system where when you engage in battles you fight as a team instead of one on one. It seems to be where some of the ‘room’ mechanics have stemmed from for later Disgaea releases with part of the research element of the game about setting up new rooms that allow different formations and bonuses depending who is in which slot. Perhaps even more so than Phantom Brave, Soul Nomad will take hours upon hours to truly understand the nuances of.

Overall, Phantom Brave and Soul Nomad are both showing a bit of age in their presentation and control scheme but put that aside and both are good games. Phantom brave in particular has got to be one of the deepest and most rewarding games out there. It’s a massive level grinding dream which is easy enough to get into but will take hundreds of hours to master. There is also a stupid amount of secrets in here and it would take the most dedicated of fans to see everything both games have to offer considering you get all the extra content included from the various releases over the years as well. Even if a lifetime of grinding doesn’t sound like you it’s well worth giving this if you are a Disgaea fan or someone who is into strategy games and wants to take on something a bit different.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 13 September 2021

10 Second Ninja X Review (Switch)

One of the creative minds behind Castles in Sky is back once again with an upgraded frantic mixture of killer robots, spikes and ninjas. 10 Second Ninja may have been around for a while but the Switch may well be the perfect home for it.

A platform game mixed with a heavy puzzle element, the main gameplay gimmick is that you only have ten second with which to complete each stage. The timer only starts after you make your first move which means you can spend some time surveying the single screen style levels in an attempt to work out the best route to victory.

Your Ninja has a couple of skills to help along the way. You can use three shurikens in each level and also double jump. You’ll need to work out the best enemies to hit with throwing stars in advance as it can be the difference between victory and defeat if you use them in the wrong place. Shurikens can also be bounced off certain surfaces or used to trip switches which in turn can crush robots for you.

You’ll need to complete levels as quickly as possible as well as you're awarded between one to three stars upon completion. You’ll start out completely mystified as to how you get the two or three star ratings but as you progress it all becomes clearer. Getting three stars on levels does require almost Jedi like reflexes though.

The levels themselves are a mixture of floating platforms, spikes and collapsing stones. More obstacles and enemies are added as the game progresses and you also have to contend with some good old fashioned ice stages as well. Everything is there for a reason and that reason is for you to plan your assault and deal with the robots as quickly as possible.

The star system does create a problem however, as you are required to collect a certain amount before moving to the next area. In our view the requirement is set a touch too high and we can see players hitting a complete dead end at times. In a game all about speed and momentum the need to better a high score and get higher amounts of stars is high enough without the enforced star barrier at the end of each level. There is helpa t hand though with an easy mode and hin t system in place to help.

Overall, 10 Second Ninja X is a swell rounded and upgraded version of the core game. It’s also outlasted many of the similar games that were around at the time due to its own distinct personality. It’s a fast, slick and fun game and one that will provide bite sized chunks of twitch gameplay. It achieves pretty much everything it sets out to and is certainly a game that we’ll come back to again and again and it’s found it perfect home on the Switch.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 6 September 2021

The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games Review

Bitmap Books have built up an excellent reputation now with a string of extensive and informative releases. As long-time fans of the point and click genre it seemed a perfect opportunity to dive into their hefty tome based on everything involving using obscure items and dialogue trees.

The first thing to say is that this is another release that certainly gives a good impression with it being the size of a small bus – both in general size and page count. This edition of the book now contains around 500 pages organised into chronological order spanning from 1984 all the way to 2020. An excellent opening laying out the history of the genre draws readers and also gives a great overview for those looking to know more or who may be unfamiliar with it.

If there is a criticism here it’s that there is no glossary to allow you to get straight to a particular game. Luckily the exhaustive interviews in the book are indexed alphabetically meaning it’s easy to find which legend you want to read about. The amount of people interviewed is unbelievable. Pretty much every icon and legend of the genre is here meaning you get insights into just about all of the major publishers and developers that made their name in this area. Multiple legends from Lucas Arts are here such as Tim Shafer and Ron Gilbert, Sierra games such as King’s Quest, Gabriel Knight and Police Quest are spoken about, Revolution and Westwood get a solid nod and even people behind Future Wars and the Discworld games are on hand.

In fact, the only real omission we found was that Ragnar Tomquist wasn’t interviewed about The Longest Journey series. That and the interview with Jane Jensen about Gabriel Knight had some strange questioning considering the game was remade in 2014. It would also have been nice to delve a little deeper into the issues regarding Discworld and what would be required to bring the games to a new audience. These are all minor point though as the amount of stuff in here is mind blowing.

The exhaustive collection of information also covers just about every major point and click game you can possibly think of. Being as pedantic as we are though we would have liked to see a 2004 mention for The Moment of Silence. Aside from that though we really couldn’t think of anything that was missing. There are hundreds of games here and it will likely send you racing to eBay to try and find adventures you’ve missed out on.

Mass of information aside the other big selling point of the book is of course the art work. As usual this have been handled expertly. Most of the titles are treated to at least a double page spread of an iconic image from the game. Key games are also given extra pages to show off more of the locations and key art work. All these pixels and screens and are presented beautifully.

Overall, The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games is an exceptionally high quality release from Bitmap Books. It works both as a casual coffee table book to be browsed through and looked at just for the art and also as a more thoughtful read containing all the information you would ever need for those looking to learn about an important and iconic genre. It’s easily worth the asking price and stands out even against Bitmap Books other excellent releases.


*picture from Bitmap Books website

Monday, 30 August 2021

Space Invaders Invincible Collection Review (Switch)

Following on from the recent Space Invaders collection that featured three titles, ININ games has decided to now release the Invincible Collection digitally. Previously the compilation was only available physically via Strictly Limited Games and hopefully this means more of the deluxe versions of their games heading to the download services in the future.

Space Invaders needs little introduction being one of the icons of the gaming world. But what many people may not be aware of is just how many games there have been in franchise and the fact that new releases are still twisting the formulae to this very day. A large number of these games are here, though there are some glaring omissions that really dent the appeal of the collection in the long term.

There are three major omissions which stop the collection really being able to label itself complete. First of all the most recent Space Invaders Extreme 2 is absent, though it was exclusively a DS game so there could be a solid argument for its omission. Return of the Invaders from 1985 is also missing, this isn’t a deal breaker but it seems an odd one as it leaves a considerable time stamp gap in the collection. The real hit though comes with the omission of Space Invaders 95. Previously included on the Taito Legends 2 collection it’s an awesome and crazy take on the Space Invaders game and it’s really a big miss from this collection. If this had been included then collection would be essential.

What is here are eleven games for you to get your alien blasting thrills with. In terms of going right back to the start of the series you get the black and white and colour versions of the original Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part 2 which adds a few things such as reinforcements and the mixing up of attack patterns. They are good for quick goes every now and then and the core Space Invaders gameplay stills holds up but it’s unlikely you’ll be spending hours of your time on them. Space Invaders DX follows much the same vein as these early offerings - but with the choice of a multiplayer and parody version of the game based on the SNES release.

Also included are Lunar Rescue and Space Cyclone which are two games which used the Space Invaders board. Both are fast paced, old school, arcade games and it’s really nice to have them included. Lunar rescue has you landing a spaceship on a planets service while avoiding enemies and then blasting off back up the screen to deliver your rescued person to a space station. Space Cyclone is an arcade rarity and requires players to blast insect like robots riding across the screen on clouds. Then every now and then a UFO turns up and blasts you with lightning. It’s a tough but fun game and both are welcome inclusions.

Space Invaders 91 and the Majestic Twelve version of the game are the first big steps forward for the franchise. Here the stage backgrounds and ship design vary from planet to planet and the enemies are far more diverse in terms of design and attack patterns. There’s even a bonus game where you have to defend cows from swooping UFO invaders. This is one of the main reasons to own the collection and will likely see you returning often to better your scores and move on to the next area.

The undoubted highlight of the games though is the wonderful Space Invaders Extreme. This moves the franchise into the modern era of shooters with stages to progress through, bosses and a wide range of enemies to blast. A Tron-esque techno vibe hangs over the design and music which takes its pixel heritage and presents it in a vibrant and fresh way. It’s a joyous game and one everyone should spare some time to play.

Rounding out the package are Space Invaders Gigamax and Arkanoid vs Space Invaders. Gigamax is a multiplayer focused offering which sets up to four tanks against a veritable horde of invaders across a huge screen. There are also massive bosses to overcome and teamwork is vital to progression. It’s a great fun game but one that really struggles in single player. Arkanoid vs Space Invaders is a conversion from a mobile game that’s only playable on handheld mode. It’s a gimmick game at best and won’t hold your attention for long.

Overall, The Invincible Collection does just about enough to warrant a place in your collection. It’s obviously great for fans of Space Invaders but falls down both as a historical collection and vital purchase for everyone due to the rather baffling omission of a few key titles. Throw Space Invaders 95 in here and it becomes impossible to ignore. As it is it’s a solid revival but in reality only two or three of the games present are likely to have you coming back for anything like long term fun.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 23 August 2021

DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ Review (Switch)

The side scrolling shoot’em up has had a mini revival on the Switch recently with R-Type Final 2 and Cotton Reboot making their way onto the system in recent months. While both those games were welcome additions neither of them were the stand out titles we were hoping for. DariusBurst however is something different entirely.

It’s difficult to keep up with the endless revisions of the games but the Switch version contains the original game, the EX version of it (which is more difficult), Chronicle Mode which adds missions and objectives as you blast around different planets and Event Mode which contains missions from the arcade game as well as some new stuff. However, the mode it hasn’t got is Chronicle Saviours which is where the problems start.

Saviours was designed to work with handheld systems and unfortunately this isn’t. The original multi-screen display is simply crammed onto the screen with huge borders at the top and bottom. It makes the action very very small and there are no configuration options to change it. Unless you are playing on a large TV screen it makes the chaotic action pretty much impossible to deal with. It also means any text or instructions relating to ship load outs or how things work are also almost impossible to see meaning this can be a harsh game for newcomers as without some kind of guide you’ll have no idea about some of the options available.

For instance, being able to remove the burst laser and place it around the screen. We had no idea about this until we started looking into the game in more detail and it’s one of the key dynamics of the game. You can even use it to kind of dual with the bosses when they release their energy blasts. With the text this small the game really needed some kind of basic training option to show players how this all works.

On a big enough screen though this is incredible stuff. The visuals, the music and action all come together to provide one of the best and most intense blasting experiences we’ve played in recent times. The fish based enemies swirl around the screen in hypnotic manner and the vast array of bosses are both creative and challenging.

All the different modes also add a serious amount of content to get through and it’s likely to keep you playing for a significant amount of time. The stages are also strong enough to mean replaying them never becomes a problem and the quest for ever higher scores will keep you continually pushing forward. The wide array of ships available also helps to keep things fresh as most of them handle significantly differently and provide firepower to soothe the soul of even the most hard core of blasting fans.  

Overall, DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a difficult game to nail down. It is a truly stunning shooter but it’s not been optimised and presented in a way that makes it the perfect match for the Switch. We did enjoy playing it in handheld mode but chances of chasing scores or making it through the tougher stages are minuscule when you can’t really see what is going on. We also can’t overlook the fact that the mode of the game optimised for handheld screens hasn’t been included despite the fact it’s in other versions of the game. That said, there are few games out there that provide such a blasting experience. With that in mind it’s hard not to recommend it to fans of the genre as the visuals, music and action are up there with the best in the genre.

Overall 8/10

Monday, 16 August 2021

Nintendo Switch Roundup 7: Shantae

 

With the recent release of the Gameboy Colour game on the Switch you can now get hold of all five Shantae games on Nintendo’s console. Metroidvania’s at heart, the series has become something of a popular cult classic among fans and physical copies of the games can go for crazy money. The basic gimmick that runs through the series is Shantae being able to transform into different animals by dancing in order to overcome obstacles and barriers.  Here we look at how the five games in the series hold up.

Shantae

The original GBC game is certainly the most difficult one to go back to now but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored outright. It’s a solid Metroidvania adventure for the time and has some clever morphing abilities and spells to liven things up. It is only really let down by poor check pointing and confusing sign posting. Though being a port rather than a remake, the Switch version allows for anytime saving along with a few other quality of life features that makes it more tolerable. It also includes the enhanced GBA version of the game which boosts the colour palette a bit. It’s not massively expensive either (especially compared to the actual cart), so fans of Shantae who have played the other games should get something out of this.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut

Originally released as DSi Ware, Risky’s Revenge is a big step forward in terms of both look and general design. Again, this is a port rather than a remake so expect pixel work and borders rather than upgraded visuals and widescreen. It’s bigger and bolder than the first game as well but is slightly clunky compared to later games in the series. The biggest issue is that dungeons have no map at all and the world map is borderline useless but the game does remain fun and entertaining to play – just be prepared to spend some time trying to work out where that key is you need. It further develops the formulae of having a big, interconnected, world which require abilities to be gained in order to progress and the level design holds up remarkably well.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

At the start of Pirate’s Curse Shantae has lost her genie powers so now has to find and use various magical Pirate items in order to add to her abilities. Instead of the dancing transformation Shantae can now also use her genie lamp in order to suck up magic and various different types of gas to further expand her repertoire of moves. It’s one of the tougher Shantae games but also one of the best with clever puzzles and dungeons to explore. The adventure aspect of the game is also different with players heading off to multiple islands in search of ‘dens of evil’ instead of the interconnected world layout of the previous games.

Pirates Curse is certainly a highlight of the series and also an essential purchase of platform fans. We looked at the game in more detail here -  https://www.retro101.co.uk/2015/02/shantae-and-pirates-curse-review-wii-u.html

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Shantae’s first foray into HD is a mixed bag. This is arguably the weakest of the five games though it does look great. It lacks some of the sparkle in its design that the other games have in abundance and is just a bit dull. It’s not the longest game either, though there are a host of other modes and characters that can either be purchased as DLC or that come included in the complete edition. It’s bright and colourful but ultimately easily forgettable when compared to the other games.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens

The most recent of the games has our half-genie visiting Paradise Island along with her genie friends. They are of course all captured and players have to explore under the island to rescue them. Each genie then grants Shantae a new ability which she can use to access further into the underground city. This is the game that most closely follows the format of Symphony of the Night with players exploring one big castle like level. It works really well with a colourful design and a light hearted script throughout. It may be a little easy for some but it’s also a decent length and some of the boss battles are challenging until you work them out so there’s plenty here to scratch your exploration itch with.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Within The Blade Review (Switch)


Written by Dan Gill

As a games reviewer you may expect me to be knowledgeable, have an interest in multiple genres, and be a proficient gamer. You’d be mostly right, I’ve been playing games for well over thirty years (yeah, I’m old), and I dabble in all genres (I’m currently getting into driving and racing sims. Euro Truck Simulator is strangely mesmerising). While I will do my best to see a game through to the end (especially for review), my skills will sometimes leave me short. I’ve tried to get into SoulsBourne games, but spending my precious free time dying isn’t the most enjoyable experience. With this admission out of the way, I can move on to my Within the Blade review.

A throwback to the hardcore ninja platformers of the 8 and 16-bit eras, Within the Blade wears its influences on its sleeve. We’re firmly in Ninja Gaiden/Shinobi territory here, with your character fighting for his clan to restore order to a 16th century Japan destined to be ruled by a demonic warlord.

Rather than being a straight platformer, Within the Blade expands on its forbears by adding stealth, a crafting system, cutscenes and a progress wheel. This adds some meat to the bones, as the initial move set is limited to blocking and slashing. As you progress, you can unlock simple moves (assassinations, spinning blade), health buffs, and more complex moves. The micromanagement side of the game is generous, offering the ability to craft weapons and items from material found throughout, and various merchants in your clan’s village. There’s a lot here to sink your teeth into should you want to.

Progression throughout is linear, so there’s no Metroid style backtracking (you can return to the village to stock up on supplies between levels), and there are optional objectives that can be met to earn a better score on each level, which provides further rewards. As mentioned, initially you’ll be hacking your way through the basic enemies on offer, but it’s not long before you come up against foes who will block, dodge or parry your attacks, so often hiding in the grass and sneaking up on them is the preferred approach, but you can barge in, shurikens flying if you wish. Just don’t expect to last too long.

The game is a challenge, though not unfair. With planning the levels and bosses can be overcome. It’s not as tough as some titles - I remember some of the original NES Ninja Gaiden sections being particularly unfair to the player – but it has its moments. While some of my frustrations through certain sections were down to my own lack of skill, on more than one occasion I felt let down by the controls.

 By jumping at a wall and pressing up, your character will wall run, then bounce off in the opposite direction. More often than not I would inadvertently trigger this, sending myself flying into a pit of spikes. While I may have been able to avoid this by using the digital controls rather than the stick due to the Switch’s button layout (I can’t really get on with the d-pad substitute), it still felt clumsy.

The game has a few other shortcomings in the form of the aforementioned crafting system. Menu navigation is cumbersome, and when attempting to purchase items from a particular merchant there was no indication as to which item I was currently hovering over. As you’ll need to use at least one of these methods to keep weapons in stock (your arsenal wears over time, vanishing from your inventory once its own “health” bar depletes), it really dampens the experience. There are some issues with dialogue too, and I still can’t decide whether this is down to a slightly ropey localisation, or if it’s a deliberate attempt to ape the broken English of games past. However, this isn’t a major issue, it just triggers the grammar policeman in me.

That said, Within the Blade offers its fair share of stylish violence and beefy combat that will satisfy Sengoku shinobis up for the challenge. The RPG-lite systems add some depth to a game that’s let down by a few minor design flaws and uninspired level design. As for me, I’ll be bumping the difficulty down to “Easy” and will continue to plug away at it. After all, it takes some of us longer to git gud than others.

 Overall 7/10

Monday, 2 August 2021

The Falconeer Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas Sharpe

It’s hard not to be impressed by a solo developer who attempts to furnish the player with a multiple-perspective story, aerial combat, open-world, falcon straddlin’ experience. This is, however, thusly and therefore, a tall, tall order.

The story is introduced by a sort of shaman as a delving into the past, asking what memories will be discovered through your choice of falconeer, the titular role you play. You discover an ocean world that is charmingly and capably realised; outposts sit atop atolls, volcanic islands seep, lightning ripples among storms, and fluid dynamics are cleverly subverted in watery valleys. The world itself oozes atmosphere, sitting somewhere between Magic Carpet and Windwaker. The palette is undeniably reminiscent of Sea of Thieves (the previously joyful breath of salty sea air, but now full-blown wallet-centric pirating jaunt) with rich, vivid colours and stylised touches abound. The character portraits are not quite as impressive, but just about hold up. The world does feel special, but I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by the rather generic lore that populates it.

The player is presented with a jostling miasma of factions that are quite familiar to us, but this is not enough to dull the experience alone. The player engagement with them was the mood-killer for me. The primary loop is exactly that. A loop. You have a briefing for a mission, travel across the wonderful world, pick-up an item/destroy a target/escort/meet a character (or a blend of one or two of these), and then return. You can often skip the travel to get to the key mission “beats”, but the aerial combat is only just compelling enough.

There are several elements to the combat, balancing stamina of your bird with positioning, evasion and aggression. This is an arcadey, fantasy experience, not Il-Sturmovik 2, or even the equally repetitive Star Wars: Squadrons, and so it has this Panzer Dragoon and Magic Carpet feeling to it. There is nothing really very wrong with it, but it is just shy of being exciting. Most weapons lack impact and guts, and there is little sense of tension during the falcon equivalent of dog-fighting. This sense of a lack of excitement can carry to general travel, as there is a distinct lack of speed. It favours this, admittedly nice, sense of soaring, wheeling and swooping. I was eager to feel speedy dives and screeching hard turns. It is nice being like that irritating kid from The Neverending Story on that weird dog-worm atrocity, calmly breezing through the air, but you also want to be Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, screaming and flapping to victory.

There is so much heart in The Falconeer. The spirited voice acting is naive yet joyful, puncturing any sense of over-seriousness. This is fun, wide-eyed and wondrous stuff, but invested in the wrong areas to keep my interest. It is crass to suggest what the developer should have done, but to have this world uncoupled from a main mission as a sandbox with some quests to achieve, a-la Sunless Sea or even Mount & Blade, may well have served the strength of the world better than a rather unconvincing story-mode. I ached to be able to trade, swoop about, encounter pirates, discover fantastic scenery, but I could only really access any life in this wonderfully realised world through the main quest.

I played The Falconeer with a controller on a PC, and I feel it would also be an effective diversion on the Switch. This title is proof that developer Tomas Sala has real potential as a top-class indie developer, even if I wasn’t fully swept away. A studio to watch.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 26 July 2021

Cotton Reboot! Review (Nintendo Switch)

In terms of games you may have been expecting to make their way to the Switch, it’s fair to say that a Sharp X68000 version of an arcade shooter featuring witches may well have been near the bottom of the list. But none the less the cute’em up with the cult following has not only made its way to the system but has also managed to secure a Western physical release thanks to ININ game.

The release contains both the enhanced reboot version and also the original X68000 release. The X68000 version is included over the original arcade version due to it generally being held up as a superior game containing changed attack patterns and extra bosses. The reboot is based on this version as well. That said, both version of the game present are dramatically different in terms of look, speed and generally how they play so you are effectively getting two games for your money.

Cotton is a side scrolling shooter in the vein of R-Type and Deathsmiles – Just with witches taken from a studio Ghibli movie backed up by a laser toting fairy. The gimmick with Cotton revolves around coloured gem pickups and the magic system. The gems act as power ups and give different shot types, add to your magic and bomb stock and also raise your experience level which in turn improves your damage output. The gems do more than this as well though and are key to building your score. When shot, the gems split your shots meaning you have increased fire power. This in turn also acts to raise the score multiplier. Once the gems turn black though your shots no longer split and instead simply block your shots which acts as an effective risk reward system.

The magic system effectively gives you a host of special skills you can use such as raining boulders down from the sky or blitzing the screen with lightning. You pick up the various spells from gems as you go through the game and can also raise their level and set off a sub version of what they do. I had real issues with this system as it’s completely colour coded so not great for the colour blind. As a result I would normally just be pressing the button and seeing what happened next without the ability to plan any sort of real strategy.

The reboot version of the game also presented some issues in this area. The sheer amount of stuff, enemies, bullets, background art and general beauty hitting the screen did cause a lot of problems with bullets and enemies disappearing into the explosion of colours. Again, this could be a colour blind thing but I suspect this will cause issues for a fair few people – especially in handheld mode. The same issue doesn’t really effect the X68000 version as the different colour palette and slower pace of the game reduces the issue significantly.

Both versions of the game do look decidedly lovely though. The cartoon visuals of the reboot match the original style well and though incredibly busy at times it does make you want to stop and take screen shots at every possible moment. The original version of the game also looks great in its retro way. It has a slightly more low-key colour palette but it’s a remarkably well designed game from a visual point of view.

Overall, Cotton is a fun and worthwhile shooter for fans of the genre to experience. Aside from the look it doesn’t really do anything particular outstanding or different compared to the big hitters in the genre but it’s certainly strong enough to warrant a purchase. Not many games look as good as this either and it’s clear a lot of care and attention has gone into bringing a fairly niche franchise to a Western audience. All in all it’s a great fun package that will serve shooter fans well.

 

Overall 7/10

Monday, 19 July 2021

Piko Interactive Collection 1 Review (Evercade)



Piko Interactive are a company that specialise in collecting unloved IP and then packaging it for modern platforms. Sometimes they get IP outright and sometimes they spend the time to acquire prototypes, unfinished or foreign language games and then work on them to get them ready for market. This first collection from the company for the Evercade contains a wide range of games from different genres and backgrounds and is the very definition of eclectic.

Seven of the twenty included games fall into the realm of platformers. 8 Eyes is a relatively poor NES game much in the vein of the original Castlevania titles and Radical Rex and Dorke and Yimp are fairly lose in terms of their controls and are more frustrating than fun. Jim Powers is a SNES game which has been completed by Piko Interactive and must be among the most difficult games ever made.  But, there are some hidden gems here. Power Pigs is colourful and fairly solid but for us the two standouts are Tinhead and Switchblade.

Tinhead is a very Amigary platformer (think lose controls), but it’s inventive and the save states help alleviate the ‘memory test’ elements that many games of the time where known for. It’s certainly a game we have been going back to often and well worth playing. Switchblade takes a bit of getting used to but once you work out its single button combat system (another game with home computer roots), it’s an engaging and addictive adventure platformer where you explore one huge level looking for pieces of a magic sword.

Aside from platformers there are also a host of games which involve punching people in the face. Power Punch is a truly awful Punch Out clone and Way of the Exploding Fist is the NES version of the game which Piko Interactive has again taken the time to complete from its prototype. It’s fairly solid but does lack some of the character (and the bonus stage), from the other versions.

The Water Margin on the other hand is an excellent side scrolling beat’em up. This really is the definition of a hidden gem and it has been localised here for a Western audience. It’s big and bold with great special moves and is a must play. Also well worth playing is Iron Commando. Another really solid side scroller it has bags of character and is only let down a touch by the fact it’s a bit unbalanced in terms of the difficulty.

For those that want to go adventuring the cartridge also has you well catered for. There are two traditional RPG’s (officially translated for the first time) with Canon: legends of the New Gods taking the Fire Emblem like approach and Brave Battle Saga the more Breath of Fire/Dragon Quest route. Canon is incredibly tough due to players not having access to information such as how far enemies can move. But it’s pretty solid throughout and fans of the genre should get on with it well. Brave Battle Saga is excellent and if you are into your traditional JRPG games then this will keep you busy of around forty hours which makes this cart very impressive in terms of value for money.

3D adventuring is also well covered here with Drakken and its sequel Dragon View included. Make no mistake, both games are tough as nails but also great fun to explore. Drakken uses the more traditional four player party system whereas Dragon View changes to a side on action game once destinations are reached. Just make sure you’ve got a guide nearby unless you want to become truly lost in the wilderness.

Isometric adventure fans aren’t left out either with cult Mega Drive game The Immortal also here. It’s clunky and slow but there’s still very little like it out there and is a massively ambitious game for the system. Again, the save states are very handy here for alleviating any mounting frustration. If you have some patience with it you should be rewarded with another solid quest.

Four unique games round out the package. Top Racer (Top Gear), is a solid SNES racing game, but the far superior sequel is included in the second Piko cartridge. Even though, it’s still good fun and has the added depth of being able to upgrade your car.

Magic Girl is a short but sweet vertically scrolling shooter that’s good for a quick blast and The Humans is a unique take on the Lemmings format. Again, its natural home is on a computer system with a mouse but despite the slow pace it certainly has a charm to it. Yet again the save states are here to save the day as well.

The final game on the cart is Nightshade which is an ambitious NES game that’s part point and click adventure and part action. It has a great atmosphere and look to it but the NES was never the natural home of this type of game so again, some patience is required to get the most out of it. It is worth sticking with though.

Overall, the first Piko Interactive Collection is a weird and wacky selection of games from all sorts of sources. There is bound be something that you gravitate towards here and equally games you will never touch again. The good stuff far outweighs the bad though and the inclusion of real heavy hitters such as Brave Battle Saga and The Water Margin backed up with cult classics and solid games such as Drakken and Tinhead means it deserves a place in any Evercade owners collection.

 

Overall -

Brave Battle Saga                                                            4/5

Cannon – Legends of the New Gods                               3/5

Water Margin                                                                   4/5

Iron Commando                                                               3/5

Way of the Exploding Fist                                              3/5

Power Punch II                                                               1/5

Tinhead                                                                           4/5

Radical Rex                                                                   2/5

Jim Powers – The Lost Dimension                               2/5

8 Eyes                                                                            2/5

Power Pigs of the Dark Age                                          3/5

Dorke and Yimp                                                            2/5

Switchblade                                                                   4/5

Dragon view                                                                   3/5

Drakken                                                                          3/5

The Immortal                                                                  3/5

Magic Girl                                                                       3/5

Nightshade                                                                       3/5

Top Racer                                                                         3/5

Humans                                                                             3/5

Friday, 16 July 2021

Atari 2600/7800: A Visual Compendium Review

For those of you that read our recent review of the SNES Pixel Book you’ll know we are becoming very big fans of Bitmap Books. The visual compendium series now stretches across a whole range of computers and consoles and we thought the best place to start would be with one of the earliest games machines of them all.

As its name suggests the Atari 2600/7800 compendium covers an absolutely massive range of games from the two systems. There are screen shots galore, interviews and short features from a host of industry legends and developers and it has all been curated as thoughtfully as ever. If you are a fan of gaming history then this book alone will give you a well-rounded understanding of the games, systems and general state of the industry at the time from an Atari point of view.

The cover and slip case are of the standard we have now come to expect from the company. A simple design featuring a host of characters from iconic games is used which allows for clear visual identification of which system the book is aimed at. The slip case also has a hologram element to it so you can see the characters move to different poses depending on what angle you are looking at it from. It’s a nice touch that mimics the animation style of the games in a fun way.

The book starts with an excellent and extensive historical piece before leading into the beautifully captured shots of the blocky pixels that the 2600 produced. Most games are presented as a single shot spread over a double page with decent chunk of text from industry veterans included to tell you about any interesting trivia or historical context surrounding it. Despite the basic level of graphics the 2600 was capable of producing the pictures used are incredibly crisp and show the minimalist design off to its absolute best. It’s a wonderful achievement to make some of these games look so good.

Aside from the games there are also detailed interviews with important figures from the time such as Carol Shaw, Joe Decuir and Dennis Koble and profiles of important publishing houses such as Activision and Imagic. These pieces really help to give greater insight into the time period and the process of developing and publishing for the systems and further moves the book closer to being a sort of one stop shop for all the information you might need.

As you work through to the end of the 2600 games you’ll find that an interesting section dedicated to unreleased prototypes. Here, designers and programmers give information on the aim of the titles and offer insights into where they may have fitted into the market any why they never made. It’s a brief section but again shows the level of detail that has been included when compiling the book.

There’s also a great section focusing on the box art of the games which highlights some of the awesome designers and art work that has been produced for the system. It’s guaranteed to get anyone who remembers buying games purely based on the picture on the front drowning in a sea of nostalgia.

The 7800 section of the book is just as detailed with the superior graphical power showcased in just as careful and considered a way as its predecessor. It also helps to show there was much more to the 7800 than just Ninja Golf (which everyone seems to have discovered via the Evercade).  

Overall, this is another release from Bitmap Books that is absolutely packed with content. There is so much in here that it’ll take you a good while to be able to take everything in. It’s not just the information or screenshots that set the book apart though. Everything here is considered and thought about from placement of graphics to curation to overall page design and visual signification. If only all books would take this sort of care and attention when it came to their subject matter.